Our summer trips to the family castle – castle is “castello” in Italian – on a hill in the north of Italy were an endurance test for me from the word go.
Car sickness and boredom prevailed on the two-and-a-half day marathon trip across France – and it was only when we’d crossed the Alps that I drew breath, knowing the ‘Castello’ and all that came with it would soon be mine to enjoy for the duration of the long hot summer.
The huge imposing wooden door – ‘portone’ in Italian – through which we’d painstakingly steer the car, vainly hoping to avoid the inevitable scrapes and dents, signalled our arrival at our ‘summer residence’ in Italy.
Pulling back the rusty bolts, I’d squeeze through the gates and hold my face towards the soft breeze and soak up the coolness of the shady trees. The scent of the laurel leaves hung heavy in the air. As soon as we crossed the threshold and entered the grounds, leaving behind the searing heat below, my memories of years gone by would be unleashed and I would be anxious to relive the joys of summers past. The intermittent whirr of the water pump, and the monotonous whine of the mosquitoes are the only sounds which break the eerie silence, the only signs of life in the ancient Castello grounds. I’d pull the spiders’ webs away from my face as I ploughed through the untamed greenery, my sandals kicking up clouds of dust behind me.
My beloved ‘Castello’ was a fortress in its heyday and dates back to the 14th century. Umberto Eco mentions it in his novel, ‘The Island of the Day Before’ for the part it played during the siege of Casale by the Spaniards.
Now it’s just a big old rambling house, full of memories and trunks of paintings and dusty indecipherable objects. As the generations have passed, it has become harder to remember exactly who is depicted in the portraits and how we are related to them. An overwhelming sadness overcomes me as year after year objects degenerate and more memories are lost.
Although we call it the ‘Castello’, its appearance today does not really bear testament to its past glories. Each year sees a few more stones missing from the crumbling walls, the window frames are a little more weather worn, the ivy a little wilder and higher, forcing you to use your imagination to recreate the original form of the castle in your minds eye. Layer upon layer of bricks and mortar have irretrievably mutated its original appearance.
Stop reading, start speaking
Stop translating in your head and start speaking Italian for real with the only audio course that prompt you to speak.
People react to things I no longer notice when they come inside. They are incredulous at the way the stairs are hacked out of the limestone rock, on which the Castello has perched for hundreds of years. They are amazed at the eclectic mix of architectural styles hiding myriad repairs. Who do all the books belong to? Where did they come from? Who used the rifles left lying carelessly on a dusty old chest in the hall? Who is that haughty-looking lady in the old black and white photo wearing a turn-of-the-century frock? I have have to admit that I simply do not know the answers to all these questions.
You could say it is a castle of full of long forgotten memories.
Part 2 to follow soon.
By Lorenza Bacino
Lorenza was born in Italy but grew up in London although she has spent most of the last 20 years living and working abroad before returning to London with her family. Her ties with Italy remain strong and she spends most summers at her family’s ‘Castello’ in Piedmont. The travel bug never really left her, and she can’t wait for her kids to be old enough for her to go backpacking with them. Ageing knees permitting of course.
Lorenza is a freelance journalist who has contributed articles to The Guardian.co.uk and she is available for hire. You can see examples of Lorenza’s writing here: Lorenza Bacino on Cuttings.me
You can contact Lorenza through her Linked In profile: Lorenza Bacino on Linked In