Day 6 -9 in a Small Town
Coming to Cagli! Oh what a breath of fresh air to finally see wide open spaces and large country homes out in the distance on their colorful swaths of land. We took a 5 hour drive in our two rental cars in order to house our 7 people and all of our luggage. 5 hours went as fast as it could because that is what happens when you are so excited to get to where you are going. Being able to stop at the Autogrill doesn’t hurt either. Let me explain. When traveling by car in Italy, look for the big gas stations. They have food bars inside that may earn them Michelin Stars if all things were equal. I will never forget my first trip from the Bologna airport into Cagli in 2001 with Oscar’s uncles. My young children were tired and hungry, so they pulled over at one such place. The look on my middle son’s 5 year old face was unforgettable when I handed him a steaming plate of pasta from a gas station!! Why don’t we have this in America over 22 years later?? In so many ways we are so advanced, but as it pertains to the culinary arts we will never ever catch up.
Arriving into Cagli everything seems greener, the air is different and fresher as it is when one arrives in the country. As I saw the signs “CAGLI” I could feel my husband’s emotion that he did not convey, but I know that it is there bubbling up beneath his tough surface.
Oscar was born up this mountain on a large farm with his family that included grandparents once, 3 uncles, 2 aunts and several cousins. They did not own the farm back then. He left to the USA when he was only 8 years old, but returned to go to agricultural boarding school and live on the farm for 3 years when he was 15-18 years old. His 3 uncles still seem more like his brothers than uncles, and whenever he comes back into town the party begins. My son's presence here gives me the sensation that their great grandfather’s land was jipped of them and the work they could’ve done here. It almost got to keep Oscar, but his parents' decision to put off coming back permanently was just soon enough for him not to fully call it home. Home is with us back in Redwood City, while Cagli holds on to his heart no matter how much time goes by. Oscar's 2 cousins to an amazing job of raising cattle and crops, but the mountain is huge and I am sure extra hands would be welcome to work it. This is where our sons love of western life took root. Luckily their girlfriends seem to like it here too.
Sofia carries the spirit of Cagli with her constantly. She loves the country and her great uncles and their old world ways. This is her 6th trip here to her brother’s 3rd. She knows the history backwards and forwards and has been in almost every church. Last time we were here 2 years ago, she toured with us through the cemetery as if it were some famous museum letting her grandmother recollect the names of the town’s passed & past residents out loud. I like watching my family here. It is their history, not mine, but I feel blessed that we can get them here to experience it.
Thanks to Oscar’s 40 years at Recology we can come more often now while he is still young enough to enjoy it. I jokingly like to say that the prodigal son has returned when we arrive. Up the mountain road in their area there are only a few houses dotting the grade here and there. In order to get to their farm you have to pass his mom’s house on a 10 acre parcel. Down a small lane inn between the parcels is the small farmhouse she grew up in. Although it is not large and on a high knoll, it is referred to as the palace for its view over all of Cagli down below.. His parents bought this current home in the 80’s as it neighbored his dad’s parent’s place. At that time it was a rundown stone shell of a home Oscar would feed the cows in. Little by little over the next 20 years they sent money over every month to his mom’s brother to fund its renovation. Today it is a beautiful yellow home in a fenced in parcel surrounded by emerald green English laurel. The fact that the owner of this lovely home was once a young sharecropping neighbor who only got a walnut and an orange for Christmas is not lost upon me. Life is long and funny that way.
So, we are here! The relative visits from farm to farm have begun. We were originally welcomed by my mother-in-law with a huge platter of tortellini bathed in our favorite cream sauce with ham and peas, another large platter of “fatine” breaded/fried and pounded meat cutlets surrounded by lemon wedges, and another bowl of aromatic chickory and chard sauteed in garlic. Yum!
I love Cagli for the food, the people and the history. I also love the way it welcomes my children as if they truly belong here. Like the people, nothing in Cagli changes much, and that is exactly how we like it. I mean some things have changed, but I will leave that for another time and another feeling. Today we have been here for 2 days, are finally rested, and need to go visit all the familiar places. Cafe Italia owned by the Bucci family is #1 and has my heart. It is owned by 2 brothers Enzo and Silvano, their lovely wives and sons that literally look like models. We also love Krystos Jewelry whom we have always bought our special pieces from over the years. I need some repair work done today on a 22 year old pair of hoops I wear daily. I haven’t made it on time yet, and now we have been here 5 days!
One of the biggest challenges of arriving in IItaly is the time change, the jet lag and the siesta period where all the stores close. We always seem to be most awake when everyone else is resting and all the stores are closed from 1:30-4 pm. We are struggling and working on it though!
If you are interested in reading more about this amazing place, Gonzaga College has brought a large group of students to study it for the past maybe 30 years. Their professor “Professor Emeritus” had discovered it as a young man if I remember correctly, and loved it so much for its incredible history, affordability and innocent nightlife that he bought an apartment here in the piazza. Here are a few articles and their Facebook page. I see him sitting in piazza sometimes, and everybody loves him.
If you ever want an affordable and real Italian experience I encourage you to visit the Le Marche region inn the Province of Pesaro. The piazza alone has everything you need all tucked into medieval stone buildings surrounding a large beautiful fountain. A dinner for a family of 8 here has averaged about $170 with drinks, compared to $500 in the Positano area. I don’t have to go on about why I like it here more I am sure. Best of all, when you bring a big family, there is a REAL grocery store where you can find absolutely anything and would make Whole Foods look uncultured. There are dozens of churches that resemble mini vaticans to see.It is a 20 minute drive to the beach, or up the large Monte Petrano. Assisi is maybe an hour away, Derutta and Gubbio maybe 30-45 minutes. We have driven to Rome and Venice from here in under 4 hours.
All I am saying is that the typical tourist towns you hear about are packed, and you basically get to walk by stores set up for tourists and designed to exercise your finances. There is a much richer experience out there not everybody knows about.
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