A friend sent me a link to an article about a Tuscan “Sleepy Valley” recently. The valley the author referred to was the Garfagnana, the valley just to the east of my little corner of Tuscany, La Lunigiana, the boundaries of which happen to embrace three sleepy valleys.
It was a decent article. Getting away from tourists is a “thing” these days. You go, you eat good, wholesome and local food while your eyes drink in the craggy, marble mountains that surround you. It’s all good and worth a day.
But…sleepy valley? I’m not sure. The observation, methinks, lacks depth.
About a thousand years ago when I was smaller and had hair I was a Cub Scout. One of the things the grown man in the ridiculously large Cub Scout uniform made us each do was to string off a square yard of soil in our front yards and then, by raking the soil with our fingers ever so gently we’d discover a tiny landscape teaming with creepy, crawling things, lost coins, and bits of errant paper chopped by the lawn mower blade. Our sleepy little square teemed with life and clues to mysteries unsolved. You just had to look for it.
Lesson learned. Mommies blanched, daddies danced. Hurray for creepy, crawly life on planet earth.
So, let’s examine closely the concept of these sleepy valleys.
If you just drove the narrow and winding roads of rural Lunigiana you would likely observe little hamlets jammed along the side of the road, spaced out between a patchwork of vineyards, fields and vegetable gardens. They have a certain charm, but a charm that is not lacking in other European places.
What are you missing? You are missing Armando, who, after coming home from work on a winter’s day might decide it’s time to slaughter one of his pigs and make a variety of things from it so that the good eats will last into the next summer.
There are also turkeys, as you can see. That is, there are turkeys that look like the turkeys that God made, not the bloated, tasteless, can’t-seem-to-lift-my-breasts-from-the-ground industrial monstrosities sold in America. These turkeys get to wander all over, eating those creepy crawling things they love. They also come to get fed food out of bags. They play the field.
You’re missing Enrico, who might, after a day’s work, commence beating the olives off the trees in his little grove high in the hills above our village. They will become excellent olive oil. Another neighbor will make wine in the fall. His cantina is just below our apartment, and the dregs of last years wine will wend down the hill, a wet red flag alerting us that another batch is about to be fermented. Another neighbor makes honey.
We lack nothing. Our village never sleeps.
In the unsleepy cities of Italy the industrial smokestacks might pump a fetid stream of crap into the air. In our village a thin ribbon of smoke might mean Nicolo is heating up the pizza oven out back, always cause for a village celebration.
Francesca might be foraging for acacia flowers for her fritters in spring, or she might be hard at work showing us how to make the traditional torta d’erbe while informing us of the variations we might find in the torta made in other villages in the area.
Meanwhile, the folks of my village, the ones with the corn drying on their terraces, might be waiting for drenching rains. When the storms of autumn come and the little torrente fills with water, they will use the mill to grind the corn into flour for polenta. In 1887 there were 427 water mills in the Lunigiana. Today, you can stay in some and pretend you are king of the mill. But others, like ours, churn on.
And then there’s the thing that stops you dead. You are walking the idyllic countryside and along the road you spot a little memorial. Father so-and-so’s abdomen was filled with bullets right here because he dangerously rang the church bells alerting the town folks to angry Nazis marching up the road. There is drama everywhere.
Yes, you have to rake the surface with your fingers, because you might think you’re on a little pathway outside a little hamlet, maybe it’s San Terenzo Monti where the folks have created the stations of the cross quaintly. It is immediately clear to you what is going on. You don’t have to read the writing on the wall because you are smart to perceive the quaintness in a mere glimpse.
So, thus nagged, you walk up to the sign and you read. The last paragraph strikes where it hurts.
Here they were tied with barbed wire tightly around the neck to trees, hedges and support poles of the vineyards, and after a slow agony, were gunned down with a blow to the neck.
You have walked into a parallel universe. Christ, bearing the heavy cross, stumbles while Roman soldiers look on threateningly. At the same time, those who believe themselves genetically superior slaughter those who genes (evidently) don’t make the grade.
Sleepy valley? Bah. Nessun dorma. Look hard, be curious, and come north on your Tuscany vacation and see what it’s all about. From acacia flowers to wartime atrocities, you might be surprise at the world you’ve discovered.
The story referred to is This Sleepy Valley in Tuscany Is Your Dream Italian Getaway
To read in depth about the atrocities committed in the area around San Terenzo Monti, see A Walk to Remember: The WWII San Terenzo / Bardine Reprisal Atrocity.