Damaris West

This is a blog about Damaris West as a writer. She lives in Valtopina, a small town in a rural part of Umbria, Italy, and is keen on natural history and natural history photography. She lives with her husband Clive and three dogs in a rebuilt farmhouse.

Valtopina: First impressions written by a guest

As I stumbled down the rolling hill from Via Collebudino down into the little comune of Valtopina, there was a very definite sleepy feel about the air. It could have been because it was a Sunday and everybody was inside, taking their Autumn afternoon siesta. Nevertheless, there were a few strolling couples - mother and son, boyfriend and girlfriend, elderly gentlemen, softly chattering away.

The heat from the midday sun could only be felt if I stood still in the same place for 10 seconds or more. Otherwise, there was a cooling breeze that carried itself through the children's playground and rustled the crispy red and orange leaves at my feet. Continuing past the playground, I reached a football pitch and a stream. After some time figuring out how to cross to the other side, I looked up to see a sign pointing me in the direction of an 'accesso pedonale' (path for pedestrian access) and so I followed it. The path took me around a corner, over a little bridge and under an arch into a residential side street that continued on, if you decided so, to the main high street.
The high street provided quite a comprehensive collection of services from a post office and a church to a town hall sprouting lawn-full of grass from its roof, a hardware store and a petrol pump.

Cars passed by the road fairly infrequently and so the only sound pollution that day came from the dogs barking at my apparent intrusion from behind the gates of nearby houses. The houses were all pale shades of yellow, pink and white and, to my eye, looked much prettier than the red-brick lego-style ones they build in Britain. Then again, the Italians here would probably think our houses possessed an organised charm that theirs didn't. The grass is always greener on the other side.

After getting barked at by every dog in the municipality, I found the only bar open on a Sunday: 'L'incontro'.
I picked up a cold black can of 'piƱa colada analcolica' from the fridge inside and sat outside on the sun-warmed porch to enjoy it. Apart from the lady at the bar inside, I appeared to be the only female around. During my 30 minutes on the porch, I nodded my head with an accompanying "Ciao" at about 10 different men who came in alone, one after the other. They were all in their late 50s, early 60s and clearly had all the time in the world as they spoke very slowly to one another and yelled like spoilt kids at the bar when they lost a bet they'd placed on the results of the football that day. It made me wonder whether growing up in such a remote, close-knit (and possibly closed-minded) community like that of Valtopina meant that people stayed young forever.