Forgot your password?

We just sent you an email, containing instructions for how to reset your password.

Sign in

  • At night from beyond the village walls, neighboring hilltowns appear like a string of party boats, all a-twinkle, the velvet dark coursing between them. A set of car lights putt-putts along a far road like a tiny fishing boat heading in for the day. At this distance and in this light, little could feel more benign.

    But those lights are street lights, not the warm spill from dwellings. And this unsettles me as I climb the hill. I tell my husband to hold his story until we've reached the house. Our voices are too loud in this emptiness, our feet too clattery against the stone.

    No one, it seems, chooses to live here anymore. We have exactly one neighbor on our street of tightly packed stone buildings of three four five stories. One. Uno. That's it. And a score of doors. As though to stress this fact, our neighbor's dog cries as we pass by.

    The village is hopelessly picturesque. And intensely still. Lonely in the way that only an empty town can be.

    We are 30 miles from Rome.

    No, this village and its neighbors were not hit by the earthquake that three years ago cracked and shattered towns across the hills in Abruzzo. Towns like Santo Stefano, where nearly every building is embraced by steel or wood, girded, supported, buttressed and held until repairs can be done, as though someone wants back in. Or L'Aquila, once known as a gem--with its now silent and closed off heart--the old town a no-go zone still, bleak and bloodied. Life sprouts around L'Aquila's edges, a new city pouring lava-like out into the countryside away from the cracked and fallen--make-shift shops in temporary structures, enormous malls and new apartment houses: brightly colored, cheerfully modern...a counterpoint, a release, a turning away?

    Our town isn't like that. I see no construction. No spilling. Lots of Vendesi signs. Men hanging out all day at the one bar just outside the walls.

    No, and it wasn't a malaria town. Villages a bit further south felt that sting.

    No, villages like ours were hit more by the slow leak of livelihood, I think, and by the pull to the urban and to the emigrant stories. People tired of climbing all these steps home. How quick was the decline? Did people leave son by daughter by son, dribbling away, or did whole clumps of families abandon the old stone for new dwellings in the olive groves or for Rome's beguiling promise?

    Will some wealthy benefactor buy the village and restore it for tourists and returnees and artisans? Or will families return as cities dim? Or by the next time I return to Italy, will these sparkle-y lights blink out one by one, snuffed like candles?
    • Share

    Connected stories:


Collections let you gather your favorite stories into shareable groups.

To collect stories, please become a Citizen.

    Copy and paste this embed code into your web page:

    px wide
    px tall
    Send this story to a friend:
    Would you like to send another?

      To retell stories, please .

        Sprouting stories lets you respond with a story of your own — like telling stories ’round a campfire.

        To sprout stories, please .

            Better browser, please.

            To view Cowbird, please use the latest version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.