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Panorama of Picinisco by Nick

In 1959 the bus from Sora took a long winding road slowly climbing up to its final destination, a small group of stone houses by a bridge over the river Melfa - Ponte Melfa in the Valle di Comino. Here, a special bus, it's suspension ruined by the daily trip to Picinisco, climbed up the steep, narrow, twisting road made of crushed limestone - (una strada bianca) at each corner, the rear end of the bus projecting alarmingly over the precipitous edge, stones squirting from under it's wheels. There were few cars in Picinisco.

Agostino and MariaCivita De Marco were again living in the house they had built in 1920. They lived a simple life - so much so that the house remained practically unmodernised during their time there. Grandfather would rise early - at sunrise to water his garden and tend his crops and chickens before the heat of the day became intolerable. The lower slopes of his terraced garden were sheltered by the grapevines which grew over wires suspended from steel frames. The grapevines were blue with copper sulphate spray, when ripe, they would be fermented and pressed with the help of his cousins Antonio and Domonic the bottles stored in the large cave behind the house.

Their diet was simple, much of it from their own garden. The house was cold at night and in the kitchen there was a large open fireplace lit every morning. A great cast- iron pot was suspended over the fire, the fire kept alive by a giant pair of bellows, pasta was cooked here almost every day, usually eaten with the simplest of sauces, sliced onion with rich red tomatoes cooked in the local dark cloudy olive oil.

Everything was done by hand, a garden well with a washboard attached served as a washing machine. There was no refrigerator, food was eaten fresh or preserved.

Despite continuing emigration, the old walled village was still crowded and noisy. Trains of overloaded and complaining donkeys carrying wood or crops spread their dropping in the narrow streets and their smell and flies were everywhere. There were only a couple of shops, the villagers did most of their shopping in the local markets. There was still a blacksmith and a carpenter in the road leading up to the village square.

the village water fountain was still in daily use most houses did not have running water, women carried large tins or pots on their head back to their houses.

The focal point of the village is the main square with its baroque buildings. On the western side there is an arched entrance to the old village and an ancient tree, its foliage pollarded to form a giant sunshade. On the north and east sides the town hall, the church and one or two shops with apartments above. Outside these ancient dwellings there was then usually a group of grannies in black dresses, white aprons and blouses and white head-dress deep in conversation (probably discussing their neighbours). Right in the corner there was a 'cantina' a simple bar where Agostino liked to play cards.

At noon each day a canon boomed out across the valley to tell field workers it was lunch time, the whole village disappeared indoors for the siesta, not emerging till late in the afternoon. Then, after the evening meal, the village bar, usually half-empty would suddenly fill to capacity with whole families carrying chairs, they had come to watch the television.

Later at dusk la passeggiata began, ithe whole village - family groups and friends would walk from the village square down the via San Martino to where the road curved, then back again, stopping periodically to chat with their neighbours. Agostino and his wife moved the hall table under their colonnade and sat their with a flask of wine ready to greet and gossip with the passers by.

On Sunday morning, the square came alive. A few market stalls appeared mainly selling brightly coloured local vegetables. An old woman dressed in black bought green beans, the stall holder placing the required amount in his scales suspended from the roof of the stall. Before they came to rest, the woman, shouting angrily, adds another handful, the smallholder doing the opposite. After several handfuls had been added then removed with much shouting on either side, the transaction completed. Everything was seasonal, so, when the season for watermelon commenced, mountains of striped melons appeared in the square. The seller threw his wares high up into the air catching them on the point of a knife, splitting them open and showing the bright red interior to any one who came near. Serious shopping had to be done in nearby Atina which had a large market - you could hire the village taxi, a vast ancient brown Fiat salon and share it with half the village.

The whole south side of the square was open to the view across the valley, it was built so that this side projected over the steep slope which fell away to the valley below. The valley, framed by mountains, was densely populated with farmhouses and smallholdings, invisible by day, at night their lights made it appear as if there was a great town spread below. Under the projection was the communal washouse, still in use, women twisting the washing into flails which they struck with great force on the stone slabs which ran with ice- cold water. Next to the wash house and visible from the square above were courts for playing bocce.

In mid September the weather changed. Almost every day, storm clouds rolled down from the mountains behind Picinisco which, because of it's southern aspect, remained sunny until suddenly the clouds would pass overhead releasing a torrent of rain accompanied by flashes of lightning and great claps of thunder the sound bouncing off the mountains circling the valley. Then the clouds would briefly envelope the village in a damp mist before the sun broke free, shining down on the whole valley,, which, for a moment was completely obscured by cloud.

1969 Postscript
By 1969, everything had changed. Ponte Melfa had grown into a sprawling ugly village with no heart or soul, unrestrained by planning. The road still twisted steeply up to Picinisco but was now properly surfaced. The village square had parking bays complete with expensive cars. the local shop had a freezer stocked with ready meals. The old village was less crowded, the donkeys were gone and with them the smells and flies. Picinisco had entered the modern world

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