A Day at Rocca di Benano

Our friend and travelmate Brendon remembers a day at Rocca di Benano:

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We’ve been back from Benano for about a month now, and I’m still thinking every day about this wonderful, first trip to Italy. I’ve given up my afternoon coffee and replaced it with a shot of espresso, though I’ve been unable to find spremuta, the delicious fresh-squeezed orange juice  that’s everywhere in Italy.  I’m still trying to relax, and instead of running from meeting to meeting, I’m trying to talk to people with a more Italian-style, less rushed attitude. We found farro at the grocery store, and though it’s scarcer, there are a few good gelato options back home. Bottom line, I’m not there, but the week has stayed with me in very tangible ways.

But when I think about a day in Italy that I remember the most, it was Sunday, our second day. It was the day of l’incidente.

The day started out with a rough sketch of a plan, which is all you really need in Benano. Get in the car and go explore all the amazing towns nearby.

IMG_2927That day, we started in Castel Viscardo, where we met the two lovely grocers Serena and Marta.  We browsed their “superstore,” which is about the size of a Jackson Hewett tax preparation shop in the U.S. The food is stacked high and they stopped to talk to everyone who dropped in.  And not just the “buongiorno” that is the appropriate way to greet people. They stopped to talk, ask about their families, ask what they were looking for—it was incredible.  It was like shopping in your neighbor’s pantry. A truly wonderful experience.

From there, we returned to Benano to drop off our food, and then went on to Castel Giorgio, nearby to Benano. Something was afoot. There was an unusual amount of activity outside the café, and we soon discovered there was about to be a Madonna processional. Pastry and espresso secured, we settled in to watch the townspeople walk through the street to celebrate as the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) was walked through town.  A lovely celebration. We made our way back to the car, intending to go to Civita di Bagnoregio.

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And then, the teenager.  As Paul was about to turn into a driveway, an eighteen-year-old kid in his mother’s Citroen rear-ended our car. We turned perpendicular, and he went off the road. Everyone was fine (except for Karen’s glasses, which could have used an airbag.) We were in front of this gorgeous house, and within seconds, all of the residents of the house had poured out to check on us—with chairs, ice, water, and offers to use the restroom.  An unnecessary ambulance, which had been attending to the Madonna festival, raced over. The carabinieri showed up to investigate (though we suspect they spent most of their time talking about where they would get espresso that afternoon). And the kid’s mother showed up—turned out she owned a lovely restaurant in the town–and encouraged us to take her son back to America with us.

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Just to be on the safe side, we called Alex, who lives in Torre Alfina with his lovely wife Olga. They take care of Benano and the guests and are terrific resources for Benano visitors. Alex was at the scene of l’incidente in an instant, offering us help communicating with the police and advice on how to sheepishly call our rental car agent.  He was a tremendous help—IMG_2495especially when he muscled our bumper off of the car so that it wouldn’t drag on the road.

Because we were pressing on. We weren’t going to let un piccolo incidente ruin our day. So we drove off to the ruined city of Civita di Bagnoregio. We opted for a higher octane espresso, this time adding in some sambuca, so that we had what’s called a café corretto. That righted our ships.

IMG_2499After lunch and another walk around the dead city, we headed to Alex and Olga’s house for a mid-Sunday snack.  And this is why our Sunday will be cemented in my memory for a long time. We sat in their lovely kitchen, around their dining table (not huge—probably typically for four, but we sat close, with six) as Olga brought out cheese with incredible homemade marmalade (pepper and pear was amazing), a cake, and of course, wine. And then the limoncello, fennel and “cherry” liqueurs. Alex and Olga are amazing. As our conversation shifted back and forth from Italian to English to Italian, I found myself thinking about how special it was to be seated in the kitchen of this family.  They were about my age, living in rural Italy, thousands of miles away.  Yet  we were connecting about family and food and life.

Growing up with an Italian family, Sunday afternoons were all about crowding around a table and sharing food and laughs. To do that, this time in Italy, was beyond special.

One more word about Alex and Olga. There are people who do their job and there are people who care. Clearly, Alex and Olga are the latter—they are passionate about the guests who visit Benano. You are welcomed as part of the loosely defined family that exists in Umbria. It’s so comforting to have that safety net on a trip like this, and Benano visitors are blessed with two of the most wonderful people to lean on.

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We returned home, relaxed, and then had a simple dinner, prepared with the food we purchased that morning (though it seemed like weeks before), laughed plenty about our adventures, and played some games.

Benano is like that. I thought about how we would have reacted if we had a car accident in the U.S. We’d have probably busted up our entire day, choosing instead to call friends, posting pictures to Facebook, and then dealing with the bureaucracy of insurance, etc.  Benano is different. Was it the café corretto?  Was it the BVM? Was it Alex’s quick help?  The expectation of Olga’s cake and limoncello?  Probably all of that and a little more. It was just an Italian experience, one where you just let the day take you where it wants to go. And it was amazing.

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