MOMENTS 2: MY CORTONA - NO. 9

Cortona...is more than the sum of its parts, more than the architecture, the setting, the winding via Nazionale...

When I was small, I assumed that everyone’s parents packed their children into the car each summer, in a time when seatbelts were just a notion, and drove for days on end to distant countries. My father loved languages and my mother and he were both adventurers. They drove a Fiat always; every few years, a newer model, a 124, 128, then a 131 supermirafiori; my father had a certain bias towards all things Italian and claimed, that because Fiats were Italian they were designed to drive up and over the Alps in blistering heat and that was that, no other car would do.
My father died young leaving my mother at 50, to rear the remaining few of us to adulthood which she did with incredible love and commitment. She continued the family love affair with all things Italian and we continued our yearly adventures. One restless day, on holidays in the village of Lisciano Niccone, I drove over the mountain from Mercatale through La Dogana and Pergo and as the road rose uphill and rounded a bend Cortona displayed itself in all its grandeur, owning the hillside, radiant in brilliant sunshine. The domed roof of the 15th century renaissance church, Santa Maria del Calcinaio distracted me with its proud presence as I navigated the hairpin bends uphill. Having parked and finally reaching level ground, I stopped to absorb the spectacular view from the Piazza Garibaldi of the Val di Chiana and Lake Trasimeno in the distance. I strolled along the via Nazionale to the Piazza della Republica, the Piazza Signorelli, Via Dardano; climbing ever upwards, diverting through impossibly steep streets rich with history and beautiful architecture.
I’ve made an incredible discovery, you’ll love Cortona I told my mother and she replied that she had been there with her love, my father, many years ago. During that holiday, we drove over the mountain from Mercatale many times and we all fell in love with Cortona, my mother once again. She had recently sold our family home and with careful consideration bought a little slice of heaven in the foothills of this special place . Mum would come here 3 or 4 times a year for long stretches, immersing herself in the rich culture that is part of life here.
My mother exuded friendliness and warmth and drew people to her. She died as she had lived, on an adventure with friends. Her life abruptly ending as she stood in the shallow surf on a beach in the Galapagos islands. We recieved so many heartfelt messages of love from so many people in Cortona and the surrounding villages; their words leaving us in no doubt of the esteem and affection they held her in. I recall those messages in the shops and restaurants she frequented still, 8 years later, and it is heartwarming.
Cortona to me is hard to describe without a dictionary of delightful descriptions. It is more than the sum of its parts, more than the architecture, the setting, the winding via Nazionale with its vertiginous alleyways seducing you to climb in the heat of the day, the numerous wonderful restaurants, new ones sprouting each year; for me it is not the inanimate existence of these beautiful things, but the richly layered tapestry constructed by generations of people who inhabit this magical place.
I love sitting on the steps of the Palazzo Comunale and watching local children chasing each other around the piazza, older residents greeting each other, catching up on the days news, tourists delighting in their find, photographing every building, every pretty street view; I love the language spoken with such melody and the gracious apologies for not speaking my language when it is I who am ashamed of my own lack of Italian fluency.
Cortona is part of me, that part that I try to recreate when I am back in Ireland and working as a nurse in a busy hospital and life is stressful and the weather is cold and miserable. Then, in those moments I escape, summoning my treasured memories of Cortona and in that escape I find peace and happiness.
Alexia Kelly, 25/09/2020 07:50:27
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