There are very few reasons an American would ever go to Sulmona, Italy, unless you are George Clooney and you are making a movie called The American. Very few people in this town can speak English…actually only those that have gone to college recently. It’s a modest size town with a medieval, and fully functional, aqueduct and a stature of Ovid, the town’s favorite son. It is big enough for the Pope visit, but doesn’t really appear in any of tourist guides. So why go there and how did it end up being the one place I vow on visiting again and again?
Because Cristina is from there. More specifically, it’s where her father was born and raised before he set out for America. So, it is where Cristina is from and if we have children, it where they will be from too.
I arrived at Sulmona probably more nervous than I was any other town. Every other town we were there for the sights; here, we were there for the people. People who don’t share a common language. Or, so I thought.
Apparently, Cristina can understand Italian well enough to get by. On the ride from the train station her Uncle Emilio explained to us that the Pope would be appearing in Sulmona in July. I was taken aback about how Crisitna could do that. Her father taught his daughters some Italian but not enough to be fluent. Yet, with time she could make it all out.
The first night we were treated to a feast of pizza. Tuscan ham and mushroom was the toppings on one pie while hot dog and French fries were the topping on the other. I’m not sure if this is something they liked or it was something they thought us Americans would like. It was interesting but not as good as the ham.
We stayed in Sulmona for three nights. This was the first time I missed air conditioning. We didn’t always have it in our rooms but it was that hot in these rooms. It was hot here. It was fine during the day but it was strange sleeping with it that hot.
The first morning we went pay our respects to my (now) father-in-law. I never met the man but I know that he would be proud of his three daughters.
I learned many things in Sulmona. First of all, the entire country shuts down when Italy is playing in the World Cup. A view from the balcony showed every TV was on the event. I learned that their farmers markets are heaven for someone like me. Fresh vegetables, meats, cheeses, and fish lined the outskirts of the town square. If you don’t like shopping for food, then the same market turns into a shopping market of what ever item you need whether it be clothes, pots, or toys. I learned that Cristina’s aunt Lydia makes an amazing gnocchi with meatballs. We learned the hard way that you don’t serve the meatballs with the pasta and you definitely don’t serve the bread with the pasta. I learned that wine is for drinking water is for cleaning. I discovered an alcohol that is more potent than any moonshine you can produce. I learned south Louisiana isn’t the only place for amazing fresh shrimp.
What I didn’t figure out was how they stayed in such reasonable shape after eating so much. Sure they pulled out a little extra for us but according to them not much.
The best thing about Sulmona was that it doesn’t have any real tourist attractions. It’s just a small town. It’s people are it’s attraction. Watching the merchants and customers haggle at the market using Italian at a speed that the millenium Falcon would be jealous of was a sight to behold. Watching old men fill their water bottles from a running fountain at the base of an aqueduct and then solving all the problems of the world is a sight that escapes most tourists. And sharing meals with family an ocean away is truly priceless.
One of Cristina’s uncles is a police officer. In fact, one night on our way to a pizzeria in the mountains, I had to hold a folder that said papa. As a catholic, I didn’t dare look into that folder. At his house was a signed and personalized autograph of Mr. Clooney. Cristina’s aunt explained to her how he shook her hand, gave her a hug and kissed her on the cheek. Cristina’s didn’t need to translate any of that. I got the feeling our visit was a big deal but we were the second on the list of Americans that made that trip to Sulmona that year. Who can blame them….I mean he is George Clooney.