From Tuscania, with Love
As we talked about in the cherry festival post, when we talk to people about living in Italy most people imagine us living in a quaint little outpost in the middle of the Italian countryside, kind of straight out of the Godfather's Italian scenes before poor Mrs. Corleone had her first (and ultimately last) driving lessons. The truth is that it's not really like that, but it is a pretty remarkable experience for us. So while this post may not be strictly speaking about food, it is about our project. Because really, the town of Tuscania is as important to the project as anything else.
(Don't worry, tomorrow there will be more food.)
I'm from New York, and Mark is from London. While not wholly explanatory this one short phrase tells you a good deal about our respective histories as well as a general idea of the world-view we've each developed. Small towns are not in our immediate vocabulary: outside of large cities we've both been part of what films and TV shows have crafted as the Suburban Experience, a particular condition that varies surprisingly little between the US and the UK.
For the most part however, we are city kids. Neither one of us drives because we have never seen the utility in doing so; particularly in my case the NYC Subway map is its own circulatory system running parallel to my own veins and I know each curve and bend and station. While it's true that Mark lived in Greenwich, Connecticut for a few years and I have lived in a good many places in various corners of the world, there is something essential in us that only makes sense in the context of these great cities. We met whilst working in a restaurant together in Manhattan and we bonded over a shared love of 4 am deli sandwiches, a thing which in itself defines the metropolis and its subsequent mental life.
So imagine our surprise that almost three years later we find ourselves living in Tuscania, a town of 8000 people located about 100 kms/65 miles north of Rome; imagine our even further surprise that we love living here. For a while yes, it is a lovely and picturesque town with a great many attributes people often ask us how we manage to not be bored, or how we could have made such a drastic decision to relocate. Strangely enough, we are often asked how it is that we would have chosen here, of all places, to put down roots. But that's the thing, isn't it? Sometimes you don't choose a place, it chooses you.
Tuscania's got a great history as well, one of those mythic histories that is simultaneously apocryphal yet undeniable and dates back too many thousands of years to debate it anyhow. During the Etruscan period it was a highly strategic city and a great center of commerce and trade; the Via Clodia runs through the town and was an important commercial road for both the Etruscans and the Romans who came after. Tuscania maintained a pretty important position through the middle ages until the point when a failed military expedition against Pope Boniface led to Tuscania being stripped of much of its prestige and importantly, its name. That's right, the Pope just went and changed the name of the town to 'Toscanella' (or, little Toscana) to punish them for having tried to oust him. Things continued to go downhill from there: plagues, fires, ravages and the like seemed to very much confirm the idea that indeed one does not mess with the Pope, and until the unification of the Kingdom of Italy in 1870 things were in pretty steep decline.
By the way, I am in no way an authority on the town's history and for those of you that can, please do check out the Toscanella blog for more detailed info (in Italian): http://www.toscanella.it/
The first visit that we had to Tuscania was in 2013, over the month that we volunteered at Casa Caponetti and then accepted the offer to come back and work full time on the farm. I remember walking through the town and taking a photo of the landscape and thinking, yeah I could live here and look out onto this everyday. It didn't occur to me at the time that there would be no 4 am sandwich runs, that I wouldn't be able to find peanut butter anywhere, that Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, insert-ethnic-food-here restaurants would be a thing that I would literally dream about. We also didn't think about the fact that the public bus system in the area is, let's say, eccentric, and that it would very often determine our ability to go anywhere at all.
None of these things mattered when we signed on to work here and to be honest none of them really matter now. Because for all that we miss by not being in one of the cities that we came to know so well, we get something back that has become irreplaceable. We get to feel something in and for this town, rather than the kind of creeping numbness that tends to accumulate in urban life. Because while it may have had its share of plague and pestilence, Tuscania is actually a really special place that continues to surprise us (even if there still isn't peanut butter anywhere for sale). When we go to the bakery or the pharmacy or the supermarket we speak to the people working there, and we actually tend to talk about things that we care about. We actually get a chance to care about each other, rather than maintaining that strange distance between the 'personal' and 'professional' that never really seemed to make much sense anyhow.
Our daily lives operate on a very human level, and we get to experience that together. One of the things that makes living in Italy, and in a town like Tuscania really fantastic is that families work together; surely there are downsides to this convention but our experience of it has been overwhelmingly positive. As a husband and wife we get to build something together and share it as partners, and we get to live in a place where that's not only accepted, its encouraged.
Is this an idealistic view of Tuscania, and of our lives here? Absolutely. And so what if it is? Don't we all relocate to new places with the idea that we'll find something that we hadn't had before, and that it will make us into the people we always wanted to be?