La Mia Bella Italia - part II

Trip Start May 31, 2006
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Trip End Ongoing


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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Through the serene hills whose paths were united by dark brick tunnels, we sped across the highway toward Lanciano.  I had read up a bit and learned that Lanciano was an ancient Roman city whose archaic name was Anxanum and founded in 1181 BC, but astoundingly enough, the archaeological findings have proved that the Lanciano area was settled as far back as the 5th Millennium BC. So when Giovanni, Adriano's older brother, mentioned that Lanciano was older than Rome itself, I believed him.
 
Not only this, but Lanciano is thought to be the birth place of Longinus, the Roman centurion who thrust the spear into Jesus' side and then repented, so Lanciano actually means "of the spear".  These magnificent details made a seemingly quiet and unimportant Italian city become the gleam in my eye.
 
As we entered the city I wasn't too impressed: unkempt buildings and houses, rusty train tracks, dirty streets and old shops.  I was waiting for the magic that I had read about, the old center of the city, the 5 million years of stories, the vestiges of old pagans and the modern flair of Christianity.  I'm sure they were hiding behind the modern cement, bricks and pavements.....and I was sure to find them sooner or later.
 
So we got to Adriano's place where his folks greeted us with hugs and kisses as if we were their own kids, which made us feel right at home in no time.  While the guys drank beer in the balcony, Adriano's mom and I drank tea in the kitchen while getting to know each other.  I could tell right away we were going to be spoiled when she mentioned that they already knew we were vegetarian and had the menu all planned out for the weekend.  Adriano's father is a professional chef, and although he's suffered some health issues which have prevented him from going back to work, he puts great effort and love into his dishes, which are made with wholesome healthy ingredients.  Ed and I couldn't wait for dinner time.  
 
There's nothing I love more than watching a master cook in his environment, crafting his magic, so I silently lingered around the kitchen observing and savoring the spicy plumes of tomato and chilli with red peppers and large plum peas.  I noticed Giovanni Sr. wasn't using any oil in his pasta sauce which I thought was curious, so I asked and he said that because of his liver transplant he could not eat oily foods so he simply cooked with water.  I was astonished that a dish cooked with water could smell so incredibly rich and full. Double the merit. 
 
After our exquisite dinner of a very light but voluptuous penne arrabiatta accompanied by ice cold fennel and sparkling Italian red wine, we were more than satisfied but still very energetic.  I always say the real quality of food is tested not by your taste buds by how you feel after eating it.  So after thanking our hosts for a delightful welcome and an even better dinner, Adriano, Giovanni, Ed and I set out for a night time stroll around Lanciano.
 
I was eager to see the old part of the city, the one I had read all about, so Giovanni took us right into its open heart only a few blocks away from the house.  The scenery changed quite quickly turning the run down buildings suddenly into old stone walls and narrow streets where frail lampposts shone their ghostly green light into the empty walls.  We came upon old churches whose pillars and gothic arches were broken and fading. 
 
We walked up the city walls overlooking the hills and other far away towns which at this time were only tiny lights floating in the dark, like fireflies. We bordered the walls, trying to keep warm from the icy cold winds.  The small houses that were built upon the walls had the cutest balconies and wooden window shutters whose old crackled paint was peeling off, with tiny pots of flowers and drooping plants on the sills. 
 
We could hear the soft taps of our steps echo on the silent streets in this town which was already fast asleep.  Such tranquillity made us sleepy so we started heading back home, but before we stepped away from the old Lanciano city walls I took one deep breath of the cold hilltop breeze.  I was looking forward to my deep sleep and smooth dreams.
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