Lazing through days of Italy,
O life of lovely hours!
The soft wine & festivity,
The sunshine & tranquility,
Where street cats speak, eloquently,
The Language of the Flowers.
There is a place where you must go
To hear the street-cat patter,
Where sweet Rondini swoop & show,
The river glistens far below
A maze of streets, then you will know
The magic of Calcata.
The cyclic nature of the world is not in question, its how it works that is the mystery. Scientists say that every seven years, a quarter circuit of Saturn round the sun, we have completely changed our atoms, thus seven years ago it was a different me who first arrived in Calcata! Now this place is something else, the most beautifully preserved medievil town in Europe, capping a great crop of volcanic rock, surrounded by thickly forested ravines where the birds swoop & swirl across the great space of air betwyx town & valley-side. It is famous in Catholic circles for being the home of the foreskin of Jesus, hidden in the nearby caves by a knight fleeing the seige of Rome. I came here back in 2004 & wrote a beautiful poem called the Language of Flowers (LINK). As I was 27, peaking I guess with the ladies, I’d flown one girlfriend into Rome, took her to Calcata, then dropping her off at their airport met another lady off the next plane in. Those days are over now, I’ve met a lovely girl & being in my mid-thirties all that kinda nonsense is over. A case of sewing your wild oats, I guess, & a poet playing with his muses.
Roll on seven years & I’m here again with Victor & Paul. We got here from Rome on a train & a bus (paying a euro each in total) & they both immediately fell in love with the place. There is a certain magic to the wee town & its citizens, & our arrival couldnt have been timed better. Twenty years ago the town was practically deserted, but suddenly a bunch of hippies & artists moved in, opened galleries & restaurants & the place is now thriving. I’d met an American here last time, the dance teacher of Greta Garbo among other Hollywood dignitaries, who I was sad to hear had passed away last year at the age of 88. Im not surprised, tho, he was smoking & drinking wine like crazy when I met him. I got the news by popping round to his house to borrow the same guitar that I used to, from another American, Pancho. Being American he’d instigated some Halloween festivities in the town a few years ago, a festival not normally celebrated by the Italians, but one they have taken to like crazy in this wee pocket of the world.
Pancho told me to see Bruno, the long-haired owner of the only bar in town, where we were intercepted by an English photographer called Stephen, who took charge of the situation & led me off through a world slowly Halloweening up with ghoulish decorations. At Bruno’s the magic of Calcata kicked in, & an hour or so later, being passed around from house to house & person to person, we had a fuckin’ gig for Halloween in the piazza! The Saraswathi reunion was on! Our main help came from Terril, a thirty-ish New Yorker who’d shacked up with an older Italian guy called Oswaldo. She found us guitars & a place to practice in this Dutch ladies theatre-cum-gallery with a beautiful grand piano on the stage. Waiting for the gig we spent our days lazing outside the 2,500 year old Etruscan caves we were camped by. I’d even found a bed & moved into one of them, while a much larger affair had been turned into something like a Hobbit-house, where we cooked on an open fire, the smoke billowing from a chimney someone had hewn from the rock.
Then to the gig itself. The warm up was cool, watching the kids in fancy dress trick or treating while I consumed copious amounts of red wine – you can get a litre of the stuff, thats a bottle & a third, for 65p. After blagging guitars off the main band – a cover-chomping rockathon all in English – we went on stage to about 3000 people, who were all wandering through the narrow streets or bustling in the main piazza. Somehow we pulled it off, with Victor dancing about like a hippy-Bez, blowing wild notes through his melodica. Up front Paul rattled confidently through a great set which had the piazza jumping, driven on by a drummer – allessandro – who’d joined us half way through the set. It was there that I felt another of those cycle grow to a close. I guess I began my singing career on the streets of Burnley when I was about 8, plucking up the courage to knock on some old grannys door to sing a rendition of ‘Halloweens coming.’ Roll on twenty odd years & I had to do the same again, only this time the crowd was 3,000 rowdy & random Italians.
At the end of the gig a few folk even gave us cash – which as I write today is proving hard to spend. Its All Souls day, y’see, & Halloween derives from All Hallows Eve. To the Protestant traveller that means all the shops are shut & the restaurants are charging £30 for a seven course meal. Not expecting this, after we raved it up last night including a wicked djembe session where I tamborined myself into wine-soaked bliss, we came back to our caves & gorged all the food, except for a bag of pasta & an apple. Improvising, however, in a proper Bear Gryls style, I cooked us some nettle-pasta, beefed up with the apple. Honestly, it was pretty tasty, spiced up with pepper & oregano it went down a treat. It was at this moment that Victor showed his middle-class roots, & had already made his mind up that anything with nettles in just had to be awful. I dont think he realised that up until about 100 years ago, nettles were an important part of the British diet. Anyhow, he sampled one pasta tube, declared the whole thing tasteless & plumped for a ten pound chicken dish later in the day… which was so meagre & unsatisfying for him I even gave him a quarter of my pizza to fill him up! He should have had the pasta methinks!
After a lazy night by the fire, listening to Vivaldi & the rustling of wild boar, we set off yesterday morning on our mission to get to Brindisi. Travelling like this is a bit like playing Monopoly, rolling the dice & seeing where you end up. Our first few rolls were quite low. We had three hours to wait for a bus out of the rural district which Calcata studs like a ruby-stone, so I took the chaps on a walk through an old stomping ground to Mazanna Romana. The journey is a lovely, yet at times quite steep, 4 kilometers through the greenest forest, past the ruins of an etruscan temple, across a swirling river & up into a delightful piazza where we bought our lunch. A wee siesta in the sun later we rolled another low number & got dropped off by the motorway. From there, however, we rolled four doubles in a row – a bus to Saxa Ruba, a train to Rome, a metro under Rome, & then a bus ride 60 k or so south to Frosinole, where we took a hotel (with a hot shower – bliss!) for the night. The whole journey cost us a euro each – the Romans have this rule that a one euro ticket lasts you 75 minutes, which got us from Saxa Ruba all the way onto the Frosinole bus. Cool stuff.
Woke up this morning to the sun shining for seventh day in a row. After catching a cable car thing to the the old town of Frosinoned, perched invariably on a hill, complete with magnificent views of mountains & plains, we are in a bar doing with free wi-fi uploading our blogs. Later today we’re heading to Cassino, for another trip, for me, down memory lane…