Ascoli Piceno is a small pre-Roman city located in Central Italy about 30km from the Adriatic Coast. It is, for me, a magical place where serendipitous events happen frequently each day.
My grandfather and father worked in the City. On my last trip, I found the actual space where my grandfather ran his business until 1952. A small room along Via Praetoria where he hand-made shoes is now a painters studio house by an artist that works with recycled materials.
With a population of 51,000, it has culture, hosting an Andy Warhol exhibit that included rare early drawings. The exhibit had people traveling from all of Europe to experience.
I feel eerily at home and at complete peace with the city and the nearby land. The painter is Lucio an accountant by trade that in his early 40’s gave into his artistic dream and began painting full time. His work is made from recycled materials and is exhibited often. The space in which he works was home to my grandfather’s business during the second world war and through 1952.
Across the rua from Lucio is Silvio DeAngelis, who is a 92 year-old cobbler that works in his shop repairing shoes. He walks to his shop daily, approximately one hour in the morning and is given a ride in the early afternoon by his daughter. He has been at this location since before world war two and knew my grandfather well. Silvio told me over pranzo of his experience in Fascist Italy and a prisoner of war in Africa. I asked Silvio how was it that he and my grandfather were both able to sustain the same type of business across the way form each other in such desperate economic conditions. He clarified that he and my grandfather worked with different clientele, my grandfather working in predominantly dress shoes while Silvio worked with more industrial footwear. But moreso, he continued, it didn’t really matter, we still were competitors, but it didn’t matter. We were all desperately poor. Though we had work, few were able to pay us. All of us went our periods without food, but we never went hungry. As one of us came across a bag of flour or a piece of meat, we shared with the other artisan along Via Praetoria. Rarely did more than one of us have something to eat, but we never went hungry. We each had something at various times, so when we did come across food, we shared it thereby no one ever went without food. We all took our turns in sharing, and in the sharing we survived. As he put it, we were poor but we never went hungry. Though none of us had consistent food to eat and we would go days without having anything, we each had something at various different times. In sharing what we had with the other artisans, none of us ever went hungry.
It is one of the most beautiful and profound things I’ve heard…
In the Spring of 2011, it is as if the land had called to me, inviting me to visit it. At the end of August of 2011, I answered the call and spent 10 days there.