Collepino is a very small village on Mount Subasio, completely built from the pink and white limestone taken from the quarry on the mountain (which has now been closed for many years). There is not an unpainted shutter or door in the village, and it is spotless—but very small, with about 40 inhabitants. I understand much of what is there was rebuilt after the earthquake of 1997, and that may explain why it looks so new and perfect. There are, however, not any soft places to fall in Collepino—it is stone in every direction, with old defensive towers from centuries ago, piazzas and a small church, and arches and walkways under many of the buildings.
After dinner one night, Paola, Leonardo, her cousin Giuseppina and I got into the car and went to Collepino for a walk, and to visit Flavio (the handyman I used a year ago to get my kitchen window to stop leaking), who now runs La Locanda, the one and only bar in the village.
We arrived late, after 9:30 certainly, walking in from one of the parking spaces surrounding the village (there are none inside the village, and no one walks far, anyway). The name “Collepino” comes from two Italian words: “colle” (hills), and “pino” (pine), up high enough on Mt. Subasio to be surrounded by pine trees, but with a beautiful panoramic view of Spello and Foligno, far below.
There is little chance to get lost in such a small place, and many of the homes are vacant during the week. The falegname (“carpenter”) who refinished my doors last year has a second home there, only minutes from his home in Spello, but it’s always cooler in the summer and often covered in snow in the winter. A small change in the orientation and the altitude results in a microclimate in Collepino that is always different than that of Spello.
We surprised Flavio with our arrival, and he could not have been more enthusiastic to see us. After a round of kisses for all, he was immediately setting up drinks for Leonardo and me, and Paola and Giuseppina chose ice cream bars from the freezer, instead. Leonardo had a gin and tonic, and my eyes stopped on the Varnelli, a distilled liquor like Greek ouzo, but made in Le Marche, a region to the east of Umbria on the Adriatic coast. I have been a fan for several years, nicknamed “Varnish” by a friend, and I refused both ice and water—“Solo Varnelli, per piacere.” Flavio was instantly delighted—he called me “veramente Umbra,” a “genuine woman of Umbria,” and could not stop smiling. (Who knew that was a test?)
Flavio lives and breathes music–rock and roll, country, blues, jazz, more. Instead of corpuscles, his veins run full of musical notes, and he has more CDs than anyone I have ever seen, stacked all over in his tiny bar. (We arrived to Johnny Cash, loud and very familiar to me–“I Walk the Line.” In the small central piazza there, he has been mounting a series of concerts, inviting mariachis from Mexico, rock bands from all over Italy, and he also has been screening some independent films there. He is attracting young people who bring business to his bar, and who also stay and eat in the one and only restaurant, nearby across the piazza. The problem, he says, is that the piazza is half public and half private, and the restaurant owner makes him pay to use half of the piazza when events are held there—entirely missing the point that his restaurant is filled by the people who come for the concerts, and that he is making more money from the business Flavio brings to his door. The restaurant owner has it both ways—rent for the piazza, and business for the restaurant—since there are no other choices in Collepino but the one restaurant.
The time that Flavio came to fix my leaking kitchen window, he pulled out handfuls of silicone that had been laid down by the previous owners, but a job done so badly that the window was not only an eyesore, but was not watertight. He then sealed the window, calling the previous work “criminale.” I had been told that he was the best handyman in Spello, and no one seemed to want to give me his number because they had more work for him to do, and didn’t want to share him with me. Finally, I got his phone number and called him, he came in a few hours to see what he needed to do, and returned the next morning to finish the job. Done. Watertight, at last.
“One more thing?” I asked him. The men who had installed the hood over my stove, when they installed the rest of my kitchen cabinets, never connected the top of the hood to the wall. I asked Flavio if he could tip it back to the wall, and attach it more securely, and more level. He reached up with one hand, tipped it backward to see if it would move back toward the wall—and all of the contents of a shelf attached to the hood cascaded to the quartz counter, and then bounced and shattered all over the tile floor: several bottles of liquors, a copper teakettle, a Deruta ceramic wine holder, a heavy brass candlestick, and an angel formed of ash from Mt. Vesuvius.
I’ve never seen a more stricken face, when neither of us could save a thing as everything began to fall. The original carpenters had only put one nail in the shelf to hold it up, and tipping the hood allowed the shelf to rotate forward on that nail, dumping everything it held. Instead of standing in a puddle of rainwater from my leaking window, we were both standing in broken glass, sticky sweet liquors, shards of ceramics, and pieces of a “fallen angel.” It took us a good hour to mop up the mess together, and I think my window repair price was significantly discounted, to make up for the losses of the things on that shelf. Neither of us had thought to empty the shelf first. But, I took it lightly, Flavio put the shelf back in place (and I knew not to put anything heavy back up there), Paola restored the damage to my Deruta wine holder, and my window didn’t leak any more. Now, Flavio and I share a funny story he and I will never forget, and I get enthusiastic kisses on the cheeks whenever I see him.
He is pressing me to give him one of my photos to hang in the bar—and I’ll think about it. Maybe. Probably. What a character he is, and it is always so nice to see him again.