The first time I fell in love with Italy — and with every 15-year-old Italian boy who said CIAO to me — was in 2005. I was 15 and my mom let me go on a 3-week summer trip to Morrone Del Sannio, the small — as in maybe 500 people live there full-time small — town my maternal grandparents are from. At the time, I was just an awkward teenager with braces in her not a girl, not yet a woman phase.
When you grow up in a big North American city like I did, it can be hard to picture what a small town in the middle of Molise, Italy’s most made fun of region (Italians who aren’t from Molise often joke that the region doesn’t exist and it’s annoying), is like. And even though my grandmother and grandfather had told me countless stories about the hometown they left behind in the 1950s for a better life in Canada, it was still hard to picture. I just assumed the population was mainly 98-year old women in long skirts who farmed all day and spoke Italian dialect like my grandparents did. BOY WAS I SURPRISED when I got there and saw cute Italian teenagers on their scooters with their cool Nokia cellphones (it was 2005) roaming the streets. That was the summer I planted the “I’M MOVING TO ITALY ONE DAY” seed at the back of my mind.
I spent a few more summers in Morrone Del Sannio in my late teens and even DATED ONE OF THE BOYS FROM THE TOWN FOR A FEW YEARS WHILE I WAS STUDYING IN FLORENCE, IT WAS VERY JUICY GOSSIP — and that love story, like most Italian love stories, ended tragically in a DRAMATIC break up at the Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence — but don’t worry, we still wish each other Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas on Facebook. #blessed
But BACK TO MOLISE. It’d been 15 years since my first time in Morrone Del Sannio (I mean, my first time was when I was 2 but that doesn’t really count) and I thought it’d be nice to go back this summer for Ferragosto (a major Italian holiday) and spend a few days in the town I have a forever crush on.
So I got on the bus, then got on the train ,then was told to get off the train early to get on another bus, then the bus was late so I missed the second bus and couldn’t find a bathroom because Covid-19 so I asked 14 different military guys in the train station and finally got on the last bus to Morrone after a 10-hour trip from Florence because Italian public transportation in August is WILD, BABY!
At 839 meters above sea level, Morrone Del Sannio sits high in the clouds on a mountain top. It takes a few curvy turns and uncomfortable ear pops to get to, but once you do, things start to look a lot like the movies. On the main road, there is one tiny grocery store where you can buy all of the essentials, two bars where you can get coffee, gelato, pizza, cornetti and beer (do you need anything else in your life? The correct answer is no), a florist and a forno (bakery) with fresh bread, the best biscotti you’ll ever have and sometimes pizza. There are also a few more tiny stores and bars scattered around town.
But don’t think you can just hang out and walk around if you’re not from the town. Well you can, but the locals WILL stare at you if you don’t look familiar and ask each other who the HELL YOU ARE. It’s just what they do. And if you’re pale like me and don’t have a very Italian looking face, you’ll probably be referred to as “L’AMERICAAWWWNNNN” (The American) even if you’re not from the United States, but it’s kind of endearing and you’ll get used to it.
In Morrone, just like in most small Italian towns, the elderly women are exceptionally talented private detectives. They know when you turn on your lights, what time you come home, when you went grocery shopping and who you talk to. THEY KNOW EVERYTHING. So if you decide to get a lift home on the back of someone’s motorcycle after a few too many beers at the bar, KEEP IN MIND that the ENTIRE town will know. They’re always watching.
Because I still have family in Morrone — my aunt, uncle and cousin live right in the middle of the action on the main road — I get to live the authentic Southern Italian experience every time I visit. It looks a lot like this:
This is us on my aunt’s bench as we say hi to the neighbors. It’s not TECHNICALLY her bench and it’s not even in front of her house, but it’s her bench. For four nights in a row, we sat on this bench for hours after dinner and said BUONASERA to the same people who walked by us, over and over… and over again. Some pretend they don’t see you, some stop to talk and some will yell things at you from far away. My inner Molisana loves sitting on benches and smiling at people.
On August 15th, Morrone Del Sannio has annual Ferragosto festivities that include a morning of vendors selling pots, pans, clothing, bracelets and more. This year, a new apiculturist was selling his Made-in-Morrone honey and I really wanted to buy some, but because my aunt THREATENED me by saying she would never talk to me again if I bought it myself, she gifted me with TWO JARS OF ORGANIC HONEY. And I’ve already had some and it’s the kind of liquid gold that DREAMS ARE MADE OF.
On the night of Ferragosto, there’s usually a concert in town, but it was cancelled this year because of Covid.
So there you have it! This town is where my grandparents grew up and the only reason why I was able to become an Italian citizen and move to Florence. And even though I’ve become allergic to the bugs in Southern Italy and had to take a few pills to make the swelling go down and even wear pants in 33 degree weather to avoid more bites (but NO WORRIES BECAUSE THEY STILL BIT ME IN THE FACE), I love this cute little town of endless sunsets and afternoon gelato.
Have you been to a small town in Molise?
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