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The Abruzzo. Even the word describing Italy's beleaguered region does not roll off your tongue correctly. It gets stuck. There's that harsh tzzz sound of the double zeds, as what drops jaggedly from out lips when we say "pizza".
The Abruzzo is a strange land. It is a dangerous land. Earthquakes have more than rattled it. Stones lie where they fell. Your GPS tells you to point your car where the going is impossible.
The Abruzzo in spring is particularly awful. The green is torrid. Too green, like the green of Liguria's Pesto that Olive Garden initiates say is way too green, thus unappetizing.
Who'd want to stand there and stare at a scene just green? Sure, there are the mountains. Bare. A few trees, far apart like they don't want to mingle. Also mostly bare. Where is the life?
And yes, there are the castles. Ruins! And you have to hike up a mountain to see them! They should be ashamed.
The towns huddle together in deep mountain pockets bitterly, like they are afraid, like they are crystallized Spackle filling in a void. Mountain houses--not the cheery, bright pastels of seaside houses--conform to the color of bones long laid to rest.
Trees flower over roofless houses in the Abruzzo. Abandonment is everywhere.
Spring skies are threatening. Saints and angels are all who cannot whither under a sky's nastiness.
And then there are the fortresses, plain and strong against an enemy who never comes.
Of course, well, you can stay in this one. Yes, and the rooms are quite fine. Nothing to complain about. And the food! Oh, the food they prepared for us, eked from the well-shaken ground in this strange and unruly land! Breads like you've never had the pleasure of eating! Mountain lamb tended by grizzled shepherds and their junkyard dogs. The isolation of this mountain retreat has produced recipes like no other place on earth. And then there is the wine, from which one can smell the aromas of the land, to the tongue the liquid feels rough and beguiling in equal measure. There is something to be said for lying back, hand on paunch, sated in a strange land. The folks of Monestero Fortezza di Santo Spirito certainly have it all together.
Still, don't go. I'm warning you now, there are challenges. You might be taken in by it all, as I was. Pure treachery, no doubt involving invisible witches. Perhaps it was just the wine. I'd return in a split-second, oddly enough. Certainly I am mad as a hatter.