Updated: Dec 23, 2019
For today's post we wish to thank our guest blogger - Marie Manidis - who spent a month in the little town of Ceriana, located about 110 kilometres southwest of Genoa, and loved it so much she wrote this piece to the people of this wonderful off-the-beaten track village....
Mi perdonami per aver scritto in inglese ma è un po 'più facile per me che italiano ...
I have just spent a month in your incredible medieval village, Ceriana. When I first arrived, I
found the age of some of the houses almost unbelievable. It seemed that there was much that could be done to polish the stones, replace the broken roof tiles, fix the gloomy
passageways, take care of the cats etc. But as time passed, it was the timelessness of this ageing and benign neglect that grew on me - the survivability of the village - despite the weathering of time and history.
The village is a place that people want to return to - many from other countries. I thought
long and hard about why this might be so. Based on my reflections I propose a couple of
reasons why I think the village attracts people so effectively. I do this by drawing on the
works of one of Italy’s most internationally well-known learning and social theorists, Silvia
Gherardi and those of her partner, Antonio Strati.
Ceriana is geographically defined by its main street, Corso Italia - 300 metres of public road
– that affords a natural space for people to congregate in. Here, most of the public 'action' in the village takes place. Mobile technologies aside, everyone has learned that if you want
company, this is where you go. If you're looking for someone, this is also where you go to
find them. If you want to participate in events, you go through, or along, Corso Italia. If you
want to relax, this is where you find the restaurants and bars to drink your favourite Campari
or Aperol aperitivi. If you want to shop, Corso Italia provides fresh food, goods and services
and it is also where you can buy, reputedly, the original and best Ligurian gelati. Here too is
the library, the Comune, a doctor and a dentist with hairdressers close by. As a consequence
of this activity, the high street at most times is a mammalian playground of toddlers, dogs,
cats, parents, children, friends, shopkeepers, waiters, shoppers and tourists. They scatter to
the edges or benches on the side of the road only when a motorbike, car, truck or bus comes along.
Corso Italia is a recognised and manageable space to navigate, spatially and socially. The
geographic space does not alter - the road can't grow, can't extend, can't and won't change.
This is because the natural geography has shaped the road which follows the narrow valley,
bounded by high hills on either side and a stream that becomes torrential in Spring and
Autumn. This road comes in and out of Ceriana, itself clinging to the side of the Valle
Armea. The town can grow a bit along the valley, but its East-West axis will always be
hemmed in by nature.
The Church and church square spaces are also spaces where people congregate for spiritual
and playful get-togethers. Here elders come to worship, children play in the square and
mothers and others often meet after work.
Within these geographic parameters, the social fabric of the village weaves a familiar pattern.
Many of the same people return year after year because they find social, cultural, climatic and health benefits here they cannot find in their own home towns and countries of origin. For these outsiders, Ceriana offers a world away from the rest of the world: the air is fresh, the steps within the town exert all who walk there and country hikes offer less taxing but equally beautiful landscapes to lose themselves in. Many locals have lived in the village all their lives. The foreigners know the locals, the locals know the foreigners, the foreigners know each other and the locals know each other. Almost everyone is a known quantity - there is very little unpredictability - and this makes Ceriana socially safe.
In short, the geographic and social concentration ensures community: the continuity of the
everyday social practices is reassuring, persistent and prevailing. The sense of belonging to
something fixed and faithful is felt by all. Everyone invests in the place - foreigners, locals,
visitors, passers-through. The village sings - literally and metaphorically - a reminder of the
historical, relational and creative efforts of the talents and traditions that are carefully and
conscientiously maintained. There is permanence, there is consistency and importantly, these practices are never dreary, but renewed and reinvigorated every season.
I thought long and hard about what La Dolce Vita means, and I’m sure there are screeds
written about this concept. From my perspective, part of the secret to La Dolce Vita would
have to include simplicity, a quality that Ceriana embodies in the warmth of its people, in its
spaces, in its buildings and in its offerings. Choices are simple, food is simple - fruit and
vegetables are seasonal and local – life is simple and because of this simplicity, there is
beauty and goodness in doing daily things. Simplicity breeds its own aesthetics – in
architecture, in living and in eating. No doubt other things go on in the village’s subterranean spaces, but not where they can be seen, and not by those we know!
Don't change Ceriana!