It is a full time job keeping up with the shenanigans of the inhabitants of our little corner of Italy.
Check here for monthly updates (the news from Mareno di Piave), photos, updates on my writing, recipes for seasonal foods and all the gossip.
Mareno di Piave (40 miles north of Venice) is a town of 8500 inhabitants clustered around a church originally built in the 1500’s which, like most churches around here, was spitefully dynamited flat by the retreating Austrians at the end of World War I. Before the bricks even cooled, the residents began rebuilding. As a sometimes California resident, I live here most of the year with Luciano, a man of wit and wisdom who happily fits perfectly in neither of our worlds. Hmmm, perhaps I don’t either.
We live next door to his parents and grandmother, La Nonna Italia. Luciano’s mother, Anna Maria, tells us that the name Mareno comes from someone long ago asking if the sea, or mare, was nearby.
Imagine a traveler hailing a farmer who has just finished loading up one more ox cart of grapes and is leaning for a moment on the rough edge of the wagon. He blows his nose in a grey handkerchief, stuffs it back in his wine-stained overalls and gazes at the stranger with mild curiosity. The traveler pauses to catch his breath in the heat and gestures to the town and the surrounding land.
Thus, according to Anna Maria, was born the name Mare-no. The di Piave was added for the nearby sacred river, the Piave. The river is sacred because of the ferocious battles there at the end of the First World War. Hundreds of soldiers died in those battles and the hills around the river murmur with long stilled voices. Belying its violent past, the Piave is a placid, shallow river that today is more a dividing point between dialects and mentality.
“Oh, you are from that side of the Piave…”
In such a small town one would think that life slows down to a mind-numbingly pace and nothing happens. In fact, I hate to leave the house to go to work in the slightly bigger town of Treviso for fear that I will miss something. Not only that, I find that I just want to stay home. After a previous life of the corporate stress of meetings, deadlines, budgets and one report after another, yesterday I baked a cake for la Nonna, rode my bicycle to purchase ant spray and discussed the repairs of a jean jacket with Anna Maria. And feel I fulfilled.
Anna Maria scolded me for owning such a rag and pushed and pulled on the fabric clucking in disapproval. Giancarlo, Luciano’s father watched her muttering in despair over the hole and then started adding his two cents. “You could add some flowers here, and put a seam there.”
Anna Maria gave him a withering look. She had been challenged. She said to me, “Leave this with me. I need to concentrate.”
I know she will resurrect it, but I will hear about it for years. A small price to pay, I’d say.
The daily activities of the family, neighbors, my students, or the pigs that live down the lane end up in stories that I couldn’t possibly invent. Why is it, my brother asked, that normal every day life is more entertaining in Italy? I firmly believe that stories exist everywhere---from the strip malls in suburban LA to the ancient stone underfoot in Piazza dei Signori. The key to storytelling is noticing the details and reporting them with honesty and affection.