Sorry for the silence yesterday, but I had lots of thinking and processing to do. Over the weekend, my dear companion and I went to the south. Not far south, but about 2.5 hours south of Rome (in macchina) to a teeny town outside of Benevento called San Giorgio del Sannio. My dear companion is a regular at a particular gym here in Rome and one of his gym friends invited us to his family home to eat and eat and eat and eat and eat. From a tourist point of view, there’s not much to do in San Giorgio del Sannio. There is a bit more to do in Benevento, which I will describe shortly. However you certainly won’t hear about either of these places in any sort of guidebook. Benevento only shows up in my Lonely Planet guide as a place to change trains to get to Caserta. I think this is flawed. I don’t want to suggest that Benevento is a great destination, but of all the places I’ve been thus far, it perhaps has provoked the most interesting thoughts about Italy, tourism, and travelling.
The countryside around Benevento is gorgeous. When you start heading south from Rome the landscape begins to subtly take on aspects of the desert. There are still the pines, and tons of vineyards, but here and there you’ll see a cactus as well. The landscape appears rougher, wilder, it is obvious at a glance that you’re no longer amongst the easy hills of Tuscany or even Lazio. It’s stunning. But then you notice a few other minor cues that indicate you’re descending into the chaos of the south. The vista of a jagged hillside with a vineyard with grape leaves that have turned violent red and bright yellow also contains bags and bags of garbage; one bag of trash has split open and spread its contents all down the hill. You see construction projects left half-unfinished, and you get the sense that they have been that way for a long, long, long time. I didn’t believe it possible after the madness of the Roman roads, but the drivers disregard even more rules, seemingly there are no road rules, simply a free-for-all. Everyone, not most, or a lot of people, but truly everybody, smokes. I saw an Italy that seemed nearly untouched by foreigners or visitors, an Italy that wasn’t shined up and polished and sanitized. Benevento simply is.
I stood on the stage of a Roman amphitheater in Benevento. I walked around an Imperial arch. I crossed a first century bridge, and kicked up leaves along a Longobardian wall. I lost myself in a hortus conclusus, and saw a black swan in a park that looked like Belle Époque Paris. I entered a Cathedral with a medieval facade, but with a nave that was completely rebuilt after being leveled in World War II. I heard an accent and dialect I will never understand and witnessed signs of corruption and organized crime.
I also said to my dear companion, after sitting down to dinner at 11, and not receiving our food until 11:45, in a restaurant that rarely, if ever, had americani within its walls, “we are really in Italy now.”