May 22, 2008
Village life three months in
It’s nearly three months since we moved to our little house in Torri, so it’s time for a retrospective. Up till now, personal reasons have prevented my saying much about where I live, but I’m pleased now to be able to paint a fuller picture.
Torri is a village of a few hundred inhabitants, about six kilometres inland from Ventimiglia, in Italy but only just, being very close to the French border. You might expect the French influence to be strong here but in spite of many of the cars carrying French plates, the two cultures overlap but mix very little.
Torri has a very Italian feel to it. It’s the last in a line of three villages spread along the Bevera valley; beyond here it’s just footpaths along the river and up into the mountains that form the border with France. The village is unchanged in decades if not centuries; a cluster of stone houses built around the church and next to the river. In the main cluster the houses all join onto each other and are accessed by the usual ‘carruggi’, the narrow streets suitable for nothing larger than a hand cart, and there are a number of separate buildings, all also multiple occupancy. The one we live in is adjacent to the church but not joined to it, though this doesn’t stop the sound of the bells penetrating every corner on the hour and half hour. On the hour they ring twice, apparently to allow workers out on the distant terraces to check which hour is ringing if they missed it the first time. Most essential for a culture hooked on fixed meal times but with the arrival of the wristwatch the need for such a public reminder was somewhat lessened. Given the nature of this place it’s not really surprising for tradition to take precedence, so the bells duly ring, day and night. It pays to develop sleep habits that can ignore the clamour; I managed it after only a couple of days.
All around the village are mountains. The road arrives round a bend so the enclosure is almost complete. To each direction of the compass is a different view, varying from pretty to stunning. In summer, walkers arrive and take to the hills; there are good routes to Ventimiglia, Airole and Breil sur Roya in France. And on a bend at the edge of the village there’s an area of river big enough to swim in, for those willing to brave the cold mountain water.
The village is definitely going up in the world. Every day recently the gentle rushing sound of the river has been drowned by the clatter of road drills, concrete mixers and motorised wheelbarrows carrying rubble in one direction and building materials in the other. There seems to be hardly a building that isn’t having some work done on it. Two floors below me, Sergio is renovating the first floor apartment; at the moment the whole space is just bare stones, empty windows and iron beams. Every Saturday the work continues, slowly but surely; the completion date is still a year or more away but he’ll get there.
There’s presumably an overspill effect from Ventimiglia, which is also undergoing a similar transformation. Go away for a few months and on your return the place is subtly changed. A new shop here, a small piazza where there once was a street and above all an impression of purpose. Given the cost of property in Menton, just a few kilometres away, it’s hardly surprising; neither that prices are steadily rising here too as French workers overspill to escape the cost of living and find a quieter, more gentle way of life.
Even the road to Torri hasn’t escaped. Mains piped gas is arriving, along a trench that slowly creeps between the villages. The work only proceeds when the weather is dry, which has certainly slowed things down this year given how wet it’s been. And the other day they chopped through the water main, leaving the village dry for a few hours till someone could get to repair it.
Torri isn’t well known, least of all among foreigners, and it’s not somewhere you go to by accident. But it’s the friendliest place I’ve ever lived in. The piazza is right under my window and the front door opens onto it. It’s rare not to find a knot of people sitting on the benches under the trees, eager to include a newcomer in their conversations. I have a most comfortable and attractive roof terrace and I feel a little guilty about sitting up there, hearing the chatter against the sound of the river, and not going down to join them. It’s the sort of place where a newcomer will be instantly noticed.
The pictures above were taken on Sunday morning a week or two back. I’m not sure exactly what the event was all about; something about giving prizes for a fishing competition (the river here is plentifully stocked with fish). The bustling started at about 8am; helpers were in and out of the church storeroom carrying plastic chairs, while someone set up a public address system. Then more people arrived and they had a brief awards ceremony, after which food and wine appeared. It was close to my own lunchtime and the sight and sound of people consuming pizza slices made it difficult to resist going down and joining in, but we were expecting visitors for lunch so I made do with taking a few photos from my balcony and from down in the piazza. Then the whole thing was suddenly over; everyone disappeared and all the furniture was packed away again. If you’ve never lived in the middle of a village it’s a slightly strange feeling viewing all this from your own house.
So that’s the initial impression. Of course not everything is perfect, but it’s not the purpose of this diary to whinge about life’s shortcomings. I prefer to record the positive things, which are in any case usually more interesting than banging on about noisy neighbours or aches and pains. As long as the reader doesn’t come away with the impression that I’m living in some kind of mini paradise. Torri is just another Italian village; nicer than some and maybe not as nice as others. But if you have a positive outlook you tend to get attached to the place you call home, and you tend to ignore its shortcomings.
I can’t close this page without revealing the crop being grown on a tree just round the corner in a riverside allotment. Was it something in the water, I wonder? I hereby present the village “rude fruit” award.