We took up residence at the family home on Via Marina, the commercial street of San Martino which together with the muraglione, a pedestrian walkway, are the core of the village. At one end town is the Church of San Pietro Apostolo and communist club where men track shade over endless cups of espresso, at the other end the local crypt and passage downhill to the Adriatic through fields of sunflowers and olive trees. The rest of San Martino consists of narrow cobblestone streets and stone homes each with their own story, life and balcony for roosting pigeons and chatter as the washing is hung out. From my mother- in- law’s patio you have a view not only of the countryside, but also the ever present water tower. This tower is considered by my family as the tower of irony for at 1 pm every day, without exception, the water to the village is turned off, all life comes to a grinding halt and the notion of bathing is a thing of memory sacrificed for the sake of conservation. For our family the irony of the tower throws a large shadow, we can see the water, but we just can’t get it. Water from 1pm to 6am who needs it? Just rest, sleep and enjoy life, and so San Martino does, from 1pm to 4pm not a soul is in sight. At the stroke of 4pm the street comes back to life with the first signs of civilization being at the bakery, and later the market. By 7pm the town is fully awake and at 11pm, after dinner with family and friends, it is breathing heavily with most of the town’s 4000 residents strolling the muraglione.
The muraglione is only 25m long, yet is vital to the social fabric of this town. Each and every night young couples walk it hand in hand, elderly couples arm in arm, teenagers do whatever it is teenagers do and young children run unsupervised. A stroll down the muraglione will inevitably involve a visit with Jack. Jack, at first glance a stray, is in fact the town dog, fed and loved by all. Jack possesses a sixth sense; walking quietly in funeral processions and possessed the wisdom to know that we were from “away”. Jack, with love, escorted us back to our home each time we strolled the muraglione and only loped home when he was confident that we were safely inside.
San Martino, with ferocity, hangs onto its traditions bucking the trend of many Italian villages. Unique to San Martino is pampanella, a pork dish named after the vine leaves or pampins once used in the cooking process. Today, the pork is marinated in salt, garlic and chili pepper, covered in straw rather than vine leaves and cooked in vinegar. This dish has garnered some foodie press with city types arriving to purchase bags of pampanella for their dinner. Peppino LaVecchia creates the pork of choice and given our family connection with the most popular pampanella vendor securing the choicest piece was easy. Each afternoon my husband lingered outside his shop taking in the aroma, speaking Italian with family distant and not so distant and perhaps, just perhaps, taking a break from his mother. Eating pampanella requires little effort, it cuts like butter and is best eaten with your hands, finger licking is encouraged and expected. Suffice it to say, we ate it every day for 10 days and never once got tired of it.
After 32 years and four visits to the center of the world I can say with love that my father in law was right. There was no exaggeration in his adoration for his home in the heart. It is a special place where tradition is loved, cherished and happily shared. Here cherries are more than fruit, pork is art and the seeds of the past are planted in the present. Here, in the center of the world, time travel is possible and as for eating, it is a celebration of nature’s abundant bounty and family each time you sit down to feast.