Christmas in Ascoli Piceno

A lot of you have asked for pictures along with my infrequent updates.  Here are a few photos from the town we are living in now, Ascoli Piceno.

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Piazza del Popolo

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… with Christmas decorations and antique market

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… with schoolkids celebrating St. Cecilia’s Day in song.

The Piazza del Popolo, the “people’s piazza” fittingly has no traffic.  The pavement is in travertine marble, and it is considered one of the prettiest squares in Europe.

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Piazza Arringo, with Cattedrale in the rear … market day

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… with the local Bersaglieri band.

The city’s second main square, the Piazza Arringo, fronts the cathedral of St. Emidio (who guards Ascoli from earthquakes).  The name Arringo either means “herring” or “harangue” depending on who you talk to.  Each of these main squares is used for all sorts of public events, from weekly markets to impromptu music concerts.

Perhaps because the city was Papal territory, it has a number of other churches, some with fascinating architectural details.

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The symbol of the city is the woodpecker (Picus in Latin).  According to legend, a group of Italic tribesman crossed the Apennines (slantwise, no doubt) to escape the Romans, following a woodpecker, and stopped where the woodpecker did.  These days, live woodpeckers are hard to spot, but the symbol appears in various spots around the city.

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As in many Italian towns, Christmas decorations pop up everywhere, sometimes in unexpected places.

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The city sits between two rivers, the Tronto and the Castellano, and a number of bridges cross the town, allowing for some lovely views.  And, of course, the Apennine mountains are not far away.

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Ascoli, looking over the Tronto

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…. with snowy wintertime Apennines in the distance

The city has a jewel box of a theater, which offers musical and theatrical performances.  Here we are waiting for La Boheme.

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Teatro Ventidio Basso

We’re about 45 minutes from the Adriatic here.  Along the coast there are a number of small towns which are quite peaceful in the off-season.

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Cupra Marittima

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Grottamare

One of the nice things about being in Ascoli is the ability to take trips to other parts of Italy without getting on a plane.  Here we are in Montefalco (just over the mountains in Umbria).  The 15th C fresco of St. Jerome taming the lion is by Benozzo Gozzoli.  As you can see, Jerome’s colleagues are not particularly amused.

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Gozzoli fresco of St. Jerome

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Where’s Linda?

It’s been two months now since we moved to Italy, and I haven’t written a thing.  Some of you must be wondering if I fell off the face of the earth.

Almost.

About a week after I got here, I broke my wrist falling UP a stone staircase. I missed my footing and fell forward, with my whole body weight falling on top of my right wrist.  A trip to the ER confirmed a fracture.  Unlucky.

Fortunately, medical care is good here.  ER services (broadly defined to include full treatment of my broken bone) are free here, regardless of insurance status or residency.  After nearly 8 weeks in two different casts, my arm is finally liberated.  My wrist is still stiff, which I understand is completely normal and is being addressed by follow-up physical therapy (the first medical service I am actually paying for, but not very much). I’ve never broken a bone before, and the healing process has been frustratingly slow. I may be young at heart, but my bones know how old I am.  But at least I’m typing with two hands now.

Other than that, things have been going very well here.  We have rented a nice apartment in what was once an 18th C palazzo, subsequently divided into 9 individual apartments.  Most of the other residents own their apartments, and seem to have been here for a while, which means we are living in a small community instead of an impersonal apartment building.  We feel very fortunate.

Setting up phone and Internet service was a lot easier than we thought it would be.  Cell phone services operate by short-term contract here, in amounts that sound cheap but, once you total up all the additional service charges, is not as good a deal as it looks. Internet service is very good.  We even have streaming TV, which gives us access to international Netflix and Amazon offerings.  Just as well, since Italian network TV really isn’t very good.

We even managed to get a bank account, which means we finally have a debit card that will work in European toll machines and automated gas stations.

Food is good everywhere in Italy, but we seem to have stumbled into a hidden food paradise here.  Ascoli is in the heavily agricultural Marche region, and is just across the river from the Abruzzo region, which is even more agricultural.  The local farmer’s market runs 6 days a week, with plenty of green vegetables even as winter approaches.  The vendors also bring whatever other products they happen to have available – eggs, olives and olive oil, dried beans – all at amazingly cheap prices. Most of the meat found in stores is also locally raised.  Farm-to-table never stopped being a reality here.  It’s hyper-local, though — you can get oranges and tomatoes from Sicily at the local supermarket, but if you want asparagus in November, you’re out of luck.

Ascoli itself is a charming town, with two squares, Piazza Arringo (limited vehicle traffic) and Piazza del Popolo (no vehicles) which act as virtual living rooms for the whole community.  There’s always something going on, whether it’s the monthly antiquarian market, an impromptu school concert, or a seasonal ice skating rink.  And it has a surprising amount of cultural activity for a town of 50,000 – chamber music concerts, theater, even opera – which we’re taking full advantage of.

Not that many people speak English here, but they are very accepting of my high-school Italian.  Each of us is doing some online learning, and a bilingual friend comes over once in a while to work on conversation.  The Italian government offers free language instruction for new residents, but we are waiting for Ted to catch up a bit so that we can both be in the same class.

We chose Ascoli in part because you can live here without a car.  Everything you need for daily life is accessible on foot or by public transportation (bus or train).  However, we soon discovered that if you wanted to visit wineries, explore one of the many hill towns in the area, or even cross the mountains into Tuscany or Umbria, it was very helpful to have a car.  We rented one for a month and enjoyed the experience – we will probably seek to buy a car of our own after the New Year.

That’s all for now – I hope it won’t be too long until the next update.