Saturday, May 10, 2008

the city that is dying

The air is hot because the sun is strong and there isn’t a cloud in the pale blue sky. The wind is even stronger as we walk across the long, snaking bridge from Bagnoreggio to Civita di Bagnoreggio. Bagnoreggio is a pretty, quite town on the edge of two regions: Umbria and Lazio. It’s not far from Orvieto, not far from Lago di Bolsena, not far from Viterbo. Civita di Bagnareggio is an old town outcropping high on a basalt cliff reached only by walking paths. Not all that long ago, travel from Bagnoreggio to the Civita was done by donkey. The walking bridge is relatively new. You can walk there, ride a bicycle, or motorcycle. But there are no cars. Civita di Bagnoreggio is far from everything. The sign says Civita di Bagnoreggio and underneath in parentheses is says la citta que muore, the city that is dying.

Civita di Bagnoreggio was abandoned to the elements over the last century. The difficulty of living there and the difficulty of sustainability there drove the young to cities and abroad. Those tenacious enough to remain eventually left for more sound and easy-upkeep housing on the “mainland”. Yet architecturally it is a gem. Yet, as with many derelict but dramatic settings, Civita di Bagnoreggio begins to live again. Italians flock there as tourists for the day. Guides can be hired to take visitors out the country paths that lead into a verdant valley to see native flora and fauna. The Italian Cultural commission has promoted the rebuilding of houses and gardens. Italian and foreign artists have bought properties and done them up, renting them out in the high season. We think of a couple of nights of sophisticated camping, walking to town with only a couple of backpacks. A handful of very simple eateries of opened to feed the hungry and fearless who walk across the vertiginous bridge.

We eat at a bruschetteria (pronounced brus-kett-eria) in an old cantina and olive oil press. Inside is a cave filled with tables covered in flowered tablecloths and lighted by candles even at mid-day. The food is prepared in one fireplace, a grill over burning olive wood, the bread charred and blackened in places, then topped with a number of homemade condiments: tomatoes, eggplant, mushroom/truffle spread, sheep’s milk cheese, lardo(silky fat), and olive. Inside, the fire feels good. Outside, a long table is positioned in the sun. We eat a mix of bruschetta with a half carafe of house red wine. In this high perch, sitting out of the wind, we taste renewal. Salt, sun, fruit, and earth.


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