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The International Writers Magazine: Italy

The Castello
• Lorenza Bacino

The journey -
Our summer trips to the family castle on a hill in the north of Italy were an endurance test from the word go. Car sickness and boredom prevailed on the two-and-a-half day marathon trip across France - and it was only when we’d crossed the Alps that I drew breath, knowing the ‘Castello’ and all that came with it would soon be mine to enjoy for the duration of the long hot summer.  I would go up to the huge imposing wooden gates through which we’d painstakingly have to steer the car, hoping to avoid the inevitable scrapes and dents, to arrive at the entrance.

family on stairs

Pulling back the rusty bolts on the wooden gates and easing the car through the awkward entrance, I yielded to the soft breeze and the coolness of the shady trees and drank in the scent of the laurel leaves.

As soon as we crossed the threshold and entered the grounds, leaving behind the searing heat below, my memories of years gone by would be unleashed and I would be anxious to relive the joys of summers past. The intermittent whirr of the water pump, and the monotonous whine of the mosquitoes are the only sounds to break the eery silence, the only signs of life in the old castle grounds. I’d pull the spiders’ webs away from my face as I ploughed through the untamed greenery and my sandals kicked up clouds of dust behind me.

The Castello –
My beloved ‘Castello’ was once a fortress in its heyday and dates back to the 14th century. Umberto Eco mentions it in his novel, ‘The Island of the Day Before’. Now it’s just a big old rambling house, full of memories and trunks of paintings and dusty indecipherable objects. As the generations have passed, it has became harder to remember exactly who is depicted in the portraits and how we are related to them, and an overwhelming sadness overcomes me as year after year, objects degenerate and more memories are lost. Although we call it the ‘Castello’ it really doesn’t bear much resemblance to its past glories. Each year would see a few more stones missing from the crumbling walls, the window frames would be a little more weather worn, the ivy a little wilder and higher, forcing you to use your imagination as to what the original shape of the castle might have been. Layer upon layer of bricks and mortar have irretrievably mutated its appearance.

People react to things I no longer notice when they come inside. They are incredulous at the way the stairs are hacked out of the limestone rock, on which the Castello has perched for hundreds of years. They are amazed at the eclectic mix of architectural styles hiding myriad repairs. Who do all the books belong to? Where did they come from? Who used the rifles left lying carelessly on a dusty old chest in the hall? Who is that haughty-looking lady in the old black and white photo wearing a turn-of-the-century frock? I simply cannot answer these questions.

Leafy Castle Childhood -
As the generations have passed, it has became harder to remember exactly who is depicted in the portraits and how we are related to them, and an overwhelming sadness overcomes me as year after year, objects degenerate and more memories are lost.
Books, hundreds of years old, their pages worm-ridden, yellow and parchment-like line the bookshelves, gothic lamps shed a dim and ghostly light along the stairwell. As a child I’d bound up the stairs as fast as I could to reach the safety of my room. But now I am never afraid and only feel the mantel of history around my shoulders. 

I have lived in the ‘Castello’ every summer since my childhood. At first, as a young child, I felt very alone and isolated, perched on my wall gazing down at the other children in the piazza, their chatter and laughter reaching me on the breeze. But I was too scared to go down and join in their banter.

My heart would miss a beat if I met them at the ‘panettiere’ (the bakery)  in the morning for the traditional bread run.....I was too shy to smile, but they knew who the ‘inglesina ’ was - the little English girl - who would spend her summers in their village. Then one day when I was aged about 11, four girls appeared in the drive, they enticed me to go with them and I was swept into another world which radically changed my life for the next decade, the repercussions of which will ensure my love of the ‘Castello’ passes down to the next generation.

The passage of time   
As I grew older and reached that age between childhood and adolescence, romance seeped into our innocence. It rather complicated matters as it was always heartbreak at the end of each summer. I was inconsolable at the thought of leaving my paradise and my magical existence to return to the reality of school in grey rain-soaked London. The contrast could not have been starker.

Endless evenings were spent just ‘hanging out’ in the piazza in anticipation of who would arrive that evening, which group of boys from which village? What would we do, where would we go? It didn’t really matter where we went –to me it was always magical, evening after evening riding over our hills, on the back of a motorbike, with the wind in my hair thinking over and over, ‘this is a perfect moment, I never ever want it to end’. All we had was our friendship, our sense of belonging, our love for each other, and of course - a vespa!

The onslaught of time has blurred my memories and I can no longer distinguish events from each other. But forty years on I still go to the ‘Castello’, this time accompanied by my own children. My initials and those of the boy are still etched into the wall, the water pump still spurts into action breaking the silence, the ivy is wilder and taller, twisting its way up and into the rocks, the peaches and the apricots are still squashed on the ground, the pine needles still clog up the car’s air conditioning. 

But I have changed and however much I want it, it is no longer the same. I have grown up and moved on. I cannot relive the past and it’s futile to think that I can. Even if the place is the same, the ‘Castello’ impervious to time still perching there, the laurel bushes, the spiders’ webs and the mosquitoes whining - but we cannot experience again what has passed. Sometimes I feel as though I am trying to find a perfect match when peering into a cracked mirror. But for me, the two sides never quite match up.
© Lorenza Bacino May 2012
Khatmandu by Lorenza Bacino

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