Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Of small towns and museums and walks through narrow streets


I always dreamed of finishing my days on a small Greek island but I am equally drawn to one of the little walled towns somewhere in Italy.

Over the years we have visited quite a few from the impressive city of Bergamo in Lombardy to the smaller settlement of Silvi in the Abrruzzo region and even smaller ones down south.

What they all have going for them is that mix of urban living set just minutes away from the countryside.

And then there are those narrow steep streets which let out on to a tiny piazza with its water fountain, small church and cluster of bars.

All very touristy I know and perhaps in a community of just a few thousand a little claustrophobic but I rather reckon I could live with that.

The downside might be that your rather old underwear flapping on the washing line in the mid day sun might become a topic of conversation amongst the house proud couple at the corner of the block, but the self same people will stop for a conversation shouting up encouragement as you sit on the balcony struggling with an article and gazing across the hills to the sea beyond.

And perhaps it is a scene which does suffer a little from romantic tosh and has to be measured against rising prices, the uncertainty of the Euro and Italian TV which especially on a Sunday bombards you with hours of celebrities, game shows and showcases of the pop music of the 1960s.

But I do like the life style, and the inhabitants are proud enough of their town to want to share it with you.

Here they seem to say is why we like living in this place and we want you to enjoy it too.

And nowhere is this more so than in the tiny little museums often no more than a room off the main piazza which tells the town’s history.

A few fading sepia pictures adorn the walls, a glass cabinet of some treasured artefact's pulled from the ground and a ponderous account of the communes role in the history of the region.

My favourite was the one in Alghero.*  It is one of those little places which owes much to the enthusiasm of its members and is defined by what they have been able to collect.

So if there was a theme or underlying logic to the collection it was just that.  Religious postcards sat beside memorabilia from the time of Italian unification, the Fascist era and the Second World War.  There were mannequins dressed in uniforms a few helmets, some guns and German army magazines from 1943.

Tucked away on one wall was a display dedicated to the Italian resistance against Fascist rule and the German occupation, which fitted with those on Garibaldi and his Red Shirts.

And on some evenings the museum mounted its own live entertainment.  It started with the presence of four of the group dressed in military uniforms from the 1860s with a demonstration of the firepower of their muskets.

In an age of sleek presentations, interactive displays and the ever popular heritage reconstructions there is something quite refreshing in these more simple museums which however amateurish they might appear are close to the people and the towns they record.

Pictures; street scenes from Alghero, Bergamo Silvi from the collection of Andrew Simpson

*Sardinia, http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Sardinia

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