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Joseph Mele, Jr.

Mountains—solid, cold, strong—funnel winds along forest green valleys and silver lakes. Rivers meander then rush to the sea. Willows and reeds and diving grebes crowd choice spots along the banks. Ospreys’ piercing calls claim the air above the Apennine trout shimmering in the clear water. The sun’s fiery finale fades to gray. Half-darkness stirs nesting owls, and wolves and Marsican brown bears dozing in their dens. These I see. These I love.

Such natural wonders are created by unseen, unheard shadow gods - slow, imperceptible, relentless, encroaching movements and collisions that crumple our earth’s crusty plates, revealed to us only in violent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. These I fear. Each flows into the other, my loves and fears, and they are one and the same.

Amidst the mountain spine of the Italian peninsula, I find them both. And here I find my maternal grandparents I knew only through a few second-hand, sometimes conflicting stories, lovingly, fearfully or reluctantly told.

Twenty miles or so inland from the Adriatic coast, the town of Alanno emerges atop a small rise just North of the Pescara River. In the distance, are the hazy forms of surrounding mountains—reclining giants that protect or invite or threaten: Majella, Monti dela Laga, and Gran Sasso. In the hills and vales between Alanno and the mountains, farmer’s hands shape the vineyards of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Trebbiano grapes, and the groves of olive and fig trees. They prune the chestnut, apricot and nespoli (loquat) orchards, and sheave the wheat. At harvest time, they pray the hail does not tear or crush the ripening fruit. A blessing for His Goodness, or a curse for His Wrath follows. If the crops survive, they share the harvest with just a few landowners. The farmers may own one or two small scattered parcels to grow kitchen crops or grapes for their own households. It has been this way since the glory days of the Roman Empire.

This rugged and beautiful terrain shaped the strong but gentle people of Alanno. In 1859, their love of the land culminated in the founding of an Agricultural Institute that provided for the education of orphans whose parents had been farmers. The school grew, and was guided by Pietro Cuppari - an advocate for agronomic sciences. Because of his leadership, in 1880, the Institute became the Pietro Cuppari Royal Agricultural Practice School.

 

 

 

 

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