Friday, May 17, 2013

Why Sulmona?

Piazza Garibaldi before and after the mercato

"What is the fatal char of Italy?
What do we find there that
can be found nowhere else?"
~ Erica Jong

"i've never heard of Sulmona," one of my friends said to me what seems like ages ago when I was planning this trip.  "Why do you want to spend time there instead of in Rome or Florence or Venice?"  I tried not to cringe (at least visibly).

"It's close to my grandparents' village," I replied.  I don't know why I felt I had to defend my choices. "Besides, it's a city but not a large city, and it has so much to do."  I think he (You know who you are!) didn't believe me.  Sigh.

Mike and I both enjoy Sulmona very much.  When we stayed here in 2010 and 2011, we stayed in a flat about five-seven minutes from the town and drove in every morning and evening to have coffee or take part in the passegiata.  Of course, if we were here on Wednesday or Saturday, we had to go to the mercato.  More on all of those in a minute.

"See if you can find a place in Sulmona this year," Mike advised me when I started researching places to stay.  "Even if we have to pay a few dollars more, we'll save that on gas and time."  As luck would have it, I found an apartment that is a two-minute walk to Corso Ovidio (the main street), more comfortable, and about the same price. (More on that later, too.)

So, Sulmona....Let me introduce you to this birthplace of Ovid and give you a two of the reasons why we love this town.  

Sulmona is about an hour and a half east of Rome, and it's easy to get there via train, bus or car.  The closest airport is in Pescara, a city on the Adriatic about 45 minutes east.  The town existed before Rome and is mentioned repeatedly in the writings of both Ovid and Pliny the Elder (Ok.... How many of you remember *those* names?).  About 25,000 people currently live in Sulmona, making it large compared to the hill towns that surround it.

The 13th century aqueduct (See photos above and below) is the main architectural feature of the town.  About 100 meters long and composed of 21 archways, it survived the massive earthquake in the early 1700s.  Located on the west end of Piazza Garibaldi, it is a meeting place of both young and old all day.

Piazza Garibaldi on market day

Piazza Garibaldi (Again, see both photos above.) is the main piazza in town. Twice a week,, vendors set up tents for the morning mercato.  They sell everything from fruit and vegetables to hardware and underwear. As I mentioned, Mike and I attend it anytime we are in the area. To tell the truth, we'll go to any market because they are great places to people watch if nothing else. 

The market does have such a variety, as I said before, but it is not really a flea market.  For the most part, everything is new, and a lot of the items are also for sale in stores.  For example, I see Bialetti coffee pots of all sizes for sale at the mercato.  If I walk into a brick-and-mortar store on Corso Ovidio, I can find the exact pots

One of the things that amazes us the most about the people who go to the market is that most of them are dressed up.  Please note the two photos below that show both the women and men in good clothes. 

It's quite interesting to watch the people interact, too.  Many times, they will stand and talk for just a few seconds before moving on to the important business of the day — shopping.  However, many people have long conversations in the aisles of the mercato, often oblivious to the fact that they are blocking them.  But that's one thing that Mike and I really enjoy about Sulmona:  The people talk to each other.

Speaking of talking to each other, we usually see many men in groups (See photo below.) near the aqueduct while their wives shop the mercato.  

"When we move here, that's what I'm going to do," Mike joked with me the other day.

"You're going to sit with the men while I shop?" (You know I rolled my eyes.)  

"Yes. I'm going to dress up and look dapper with all of the other men. We'll talk while you shop with the other wives."  (My eyes were doing cartwheels at this point."

"You don't speak Italian."  I'm still waiting for his reply.

By the way, if you saw the George Clooney movie, The American, you might recognize Sulmona and a number of nearby towns in some of the scenes. 

Sulmona is also home to confetti or, as most Americans know them, Jordan almonds.  A staple at Italian celebrations (particularly weddings), confetti are sugar-coated almonds (although there are other varieties now) that represent the sweetness of love (the coating) with the bitterness of life (the almond).

When we were growing up, we always had confetti at holidays, First Communions, wedding showers, weddings, baptisms, etc. We got them at Lariccia's or Rulli Brothers (Italian grocers in Youngstown) of course. along with torreone.  We always had pale colors, white, pink, blue, yellow.

Imagine my surprise when I aw the plethora of confetti stores in Sulmona during my first trip here (just a couple in photos below).  There are at least, by my count, four manufacturers of confetti here, and one even has a museum dedicated to the confection.

Today, you can buy confetti in different flavors, colors, nuts, fillings, sizes and shapes. I bought a mixture when we were here last, and it included plain chocolate, mint and orange fillings, almonds, hazelnuts and something else I didn't recognize.

One of the things that amazes me most is the fact that they now make "items" out of confetti.  If you look at the photo below, you can see the sunflowers, Black-eyed Susans, and daisies.  They also make ladybugs, swan, birds, frogs, butterflies, and more.  It's pretty amazing.

Tomorrow is market day, so you know where I'll be about the time a lot of you are heading to bed.  I'll let you know if i break down and buy something.

Sweet dreams

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