“Knowest thou the land where angels wear a moustache and gardens bear forgotten fruits?” Goethe himself would have been delighted by this corner of Italy, a visionary land stretching out from Rimini – on the Adriatic coast – to the Tuscan-Aemilian Appennine, named Valmarecchia after the Marecchia river which runs through it. This wondrous land, where time seems to have stopped, is one of my favourite places where I take refuge when I need to re-set my mind. A place of Wordsworthan memory where the “inward eye” feels at ease or – to say it with one of my literary myths – Charles M. Schulz – some sort of Linus-blanket-for-the-soul state of mind.
TO drive along the Marecchiese road (SP 258 on the map) that links the coast to the hinterland is to take an inner journey where time is still and yet so present. This is why I prefer to reach Pennabilli – my favourite destination – by driving up to Rimini along the high-way (35 kms) and then turn left along the Marecchiese, instead of leaving Pesaro, my home town – and only incidentally Gioachino Rossini’s birth-place! – and head inwards for Carpegna. I like getting stuck in Rimini’s hectic traffic knowing that soon I will be leaving the chaotic Riviera life behind my me and that in just 1 hour and 2 minutes (according to the Michelin recommended itinerary) I will be sitting in Pennabilli’s Garden with forgotten fruits (a unique garden in Italy hosting fruit-trees belonging to the spontaneous flora which once grew in the old farmers’ houses but which today are disappearing).
Before arriving in Pennabilli (Penna and Billi being once two rival villages facing each other which decided to merge together in the 14th century) I usually stop in Villa Verucchio. Villa Verucchio – only 18 kms far from Rimini – boasts one of the oldest settlements of the area dating back to the Villanovan period together with an impressive well-preserved Malatestian Fortress.
I love to call at Casa Zanni, one of the most famous local restaurants for meat lovers, and enjoy a meal at Casa Zanni Steakhouse – a restaurant inside the restaurant – where you only get to eat meat with side dish (no main course – nothing else but meat and piadina romagnola made with wheat, lard or olive oil, water and salt). Unfortunately I usually get there too early to have lunch, so I just pass by taking a glance at the Fortress on my left and keep driving towards my final destination.
I have 17 kms to decide whether I should stop in San Leo – perhaps the most famous locality of the Valmarecchia – or make for Pennabilli. To stop or not to stop: that is the question. While trying to solve this existential problem I generally turn on Corelli, the Concerto Grosso Op. 6, n. 8 “fatto per la notte di Natale” (composed for Christmas Night). I adore the second movement. I used to listen to it over and over again when I was pregnant and it was playing in the car the night my husband took me to the hospital when Costanza, our daughter, was born three years ago. Corelli is one of my life’s steady points. To me it is the musical counterpart of the Linus blanket (see above). As Franco Battiato – Italy’s most cultured and cerebral singer – says in one of his latest song: Inneres Auge which, in German, means “the inward eye” (ok, I told you he was cerebral), “mi basta una Sonata di Corelli perché mi meravigli del Creato” (a Sonata by Corelli is enough for me to get amazed by the Creation). Corelli entrances me when I am suddenly stunned by the Rocca of San Leo – proudly showing on top of the incaccessible limestone spur – where the alchemist Count of Cagliostro died in 1795 under mysterious circumstances.
The Rocca in San Leo seems to draw me and I cannot but yield to its tempting siren call. So, I usually end up drinking a caffeine-free soya cappuccino in San Leo, bearing the barely hidden annoyance of the waiter mixed with a sardonic grin (a caffeine-free soya cappucino is the Italian equivalent of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with neither peanut butter nor jelly!). Then I take a glance at the remarkable Pre-Romanesque Pieve (9th century) and at the Duomo – built between the 12th and 13th centuries – both facing the main square (Piazza Dante Alighieri) – I enter the three-nave Pieve dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta which, according to tradition, was built over the place where San Leone used to retire in prayer in the 4th century.
Upon entering I am captured by a deep sense of timelessness and a treacherous tear falls from my inward eye. I feel like a sissy and I rapidly make my way out of the church. But – alas! – as soon as I get out my attention is caught by the Rocca overlooking the square (could it be otherwise?) and a blissful feeling pervades me making my soul swell with awe. My feet seem to be rooted in the stone pavement and I would never go away. Please God cover my body with marble and let me rest here for ever – I think.
But then again, my feminine realism – the same that urges me to start the laundry machine before going to work in the morning – hits me and I have an insight: myself immortalized for eternity wearing worn-out jeans with my hands strongly needing a manicure! No perfect Canovan hands but the neverending scorn of posterity instead.
I fill my eyes with the sight of the Rocca, which owes its present beauty to Francesco di Giorgio Martini who – at the orders of Federico da Montefeltro – transformed a medieval construction into an impregnable fortress, and leave San Leo, while my imaginary statue shatters behind me and my glorious dreams vanish with it.
While hastily heading to the parking place, I walk right in front of a restaurant (La Corte di Berengario II) named after King Berengar II who made San Leo – would you believe it? – capital of the Kingdom of Italy beween 962 and 964. It happens to be one of my favourite restaurants (actually it’s an osteria) because the menu displays courses strongly tied to this territory: Fossa cheese, Porcini mushrooms, local ham, home hand-made pasta and the finest local wines. The ingredients are those of the tradition and remind me of my grand-mother’s cooking.
Talking about grand-mothers, I can’t wait to reach Pennabilli and stop at Peppa’s. You can hardly believe it but Peppa’s (Dalla Peppa) is a little home restaurant, practically a private house, with no more than six or seven tables where this old lady named Peppa (actually it’s the short name for Giuseppina which in Italian is usually abbreviated in Pina or Peppa) prepares delicious home-made dishes. It’s like going to your grand-mother (my grandmother’s name was Pina: an omen for good-cookers?) and if you don’t have one anymore – like me – you feel a little more “at home” than other people might. Remember the Madeleines Proust wrote about? Same thing but with a higher caloric content…
Finally, I get inside the car and make for Pennabilli. As soon as I get there I almost run to the Garden with forgotten fruits (Orto dei frutti dimenticati) which is one of the visionary dreams Tonino Guerra gifted Pennabilli with. Tonino Guerra, Federico Fellini’s screen-player and friend (together they won the Oscar prize in 1974 for best foreign language film with Amarcord), was born in Sant’Arcangelo di Romagna – not far from here – and now lives and works in Pennabilli.
One of his fanciful creations is the Garden with forgotten fruits: a garden hosting fruit-trees belonging to the spontaneous flora which once grew in the old farmers’ houses but which today are disappearing like several kinds of apples, wild pears and berries (i.e. the azzeruolo – a small red or yellow apple-flavoured berry with big seeds and little pulp, the corniola – some sort of long cherry, the giuggiolo – producing sweet olive-shaped fruits and the biricoccolo – a blue plum with a velvet-like skin similar to that of an apricot). Entering the garden through the stone arch is like entering a time loop: time means nothing there and I alternatively feel five or five hundred years old but so peaceful either way.
The Garden with forgotten fruits is part of the so-called Soul places (Luoghi dell’anima) conceived by Tonino Guerra and disseminated through Pennabilli like the Church with the Angel wearing a moustache (l’Angelo coi baffi), perhaps the smallest and most poetic museum in the world, now hosted by the former Fallen Church. It tells the story of an angel – “unfit for anything” – who, instead of flying around the Almighty, used to fly down to the Valmarecchia inside a hunter’s house and feed his stuffed birds. Everyone laughed at him but one day the birds opened up their wings and flew away singing like they had never done before. Inside the church – besides two panels showing the poem by Tonino Guerra, “An angel with a moustache” (one reading Un ànzal si bafi in local vernacular and the other in Italian) – you may admire the large diptych by Luigi Poiaghi portraying the angel. All around is stuffed birds and recorded twittering. And a magical atmoshpere reminding the beholder that we should never give up our inborn aspirations and that dreams – sometimes – really come true.
I cannot believe it. I am actually in the Garden with forgotten fruits. The sun is shining and I feel at home (how come that I cannot think anymore of the expression “the sun is shining” without recalling the strip by Charles M. Schulz where Snoopy wakes up and goes: “The sun is shining, it’s a brand new day and I’m alive… So what?”). Well, so what? I don’t know but a silly smile depicts my face making me look more like a wild pear than a human being but – still – a very happy wild pear.
From Pennabilli I look down at the Marecchia valley and my sight roams until Rimini on the coast, the home-town of the film director Federico Fellini who owed much to his visionary city. The grotesque and short-tempered characters in Amarcord for instance, as well as the naïve and sexy ones, needed not to be produced by their creator’s mind: they simply had to be shifted from reality to the motion picture as those characters did really exist and still exist.
The streets and the squares of Rimini host today the most vivid memories of Fellini’s imagination: the central square, Piazza Tre Martiri, the Corso Augusto (with the legendary Fulgor cinema), the historical center (the Borgo, as it is called in Amarcord), the fabulous Grand Hotel with its sinful attraction (who cannot recollect the unforgettable scene where the smiling Magali Noël offers herself to the Prince while laying on the bed cushions at the Grand Hotel saying: Your Majesty, please help yourself)?
From up here the hectic Rimini is no more than a blurry vision where the sea meets the sky. No, I know better than that. It is similar to the sweet shadow produced by the two bronze doves which, in another of Tonino Guerra’s creations – the Meridiana dell’incontro (the Encounter sundial), meet in the afternoon outlining the faces of Federico Fellini and his unforgettable wife, the actress Giulietta Masina.
A tribute by Guerra to his two lost friends and another poetic, visionary corner in Italy.
Please, help yourself.
[…] Last Sunday our family headed to Sant’Agata Feltria (about one hour and a half from Pesaro) to pick chestnuts at Monte Pincio in the heart of Valmarecchia. You may have heard of the magic of this land so full of history and unforgettable landscapes. I wrote about Valmarecchia and its treasures a few years ago when this land still belonged to our province of Pesaro and Urbino (Amarcord – I remember: the land of Federico Fellini). […]