Carmine Superiore is a unique mix of old and new : from its ancient cobbled streets to the tv aerials perched on its roofs. Electricity and telephone lines have reached the village, but the same cannot be said for the gas supply or a modern sewerage system, to say nothing of the absence of vehicle access that makes Carmine such a special place.
In the last 100 years, this tiny village has undergone immense change. It no longer has a fixed population who rely on the labour of their own hands in its meadows, on its terraces, and among its woodlands. The population waxes and wanes with the seasons. Some houses are inhabited perhaps only once in the course of a year, others see their owners only during the summer, and there are only two or three that can be said to be occupied on a permanent basis all year round.
Heating the oldest of the stone houses by electrical means would be prohibitively expensive, and for this reason we decided to follow the route taken by most of the other proprietors in Carmine and use wood for heating and cooking, cutting what we needed from the woodland that now encroaches on the village. My husband and I quickly found that collecting enough wood to keep us warm, heat our water and fire our cooking stove was a year-round activity, that it took all our energy when not working at our day-jobs, and that it was an activity that forced a certain division of labour according to sex. For the first two years I was determined to do my bit, to put into practice my ideas of the equality of the sexes even when it came to physical labour. But when I became a mother, it became abundantly clear to me that I would have to settle for picking up sticks rather than knocking wedges into tree trunks, and that I would have to look after my toddler rather than chop firewood.
For me as a full-time mother, living in Carmine Superiore has negative and positive aspects. I am able to raise my family in a car-less environment, without the stress of constant traffic noise and breathing the fresh air of the woodlands. On the other hand, Carmine now lacks any of the 'services' taken for granted by mothers in other places : healthcare, grocery shops, even the proximity of the extended family to help with childcare. This makes life with children a complicated proposition as mothers everywhere will be able to imagine.
The physical resources required to climb the hill have diminished with my second pregnancy and at the same time my first child, who is still not quite able to walk up under his own steam, has grown heavier every day. And it recently occurred to me that instead of being a paradise, as so many visitors have called this place, it could become a prison. The pregnancy will shortly come to an end, but it has made me realise that if I want to continue living in Carmine Superiore I will have to stay in good physical condition into old age. Paradoxically, the solution to this is living in Carmine : to live here one must stay in peak condition, and living here keeps one in peak condition. I for one don't need a gymn subscription.
In previous centuries there was nothing more natural than having a family in Carmine. But in the modern era nothing has become more fraught with complication than giving birth to a child here. In a few days after writing these words I expect to be starting the long walk to the labour ward. I'll be making the descent in my walking boots and carrying my walking stick, probably in the dark - I hope not in a summer downpour - pausing every now and then to breathe through a contraction. It will be important to choose the right moment to go down. I must leave home soon enough to get down the hill (and then around the lake another 30 minutes) without actually giving birth, but if I arrive at the hospital too early in the labour I run the risk of being sent back home, that is, to make the ascent and then descend once more a short time later. God-willing I will return home to Carmine three days after the birth, ready to face the climb, probably in the heat of the day and carrying in my arms the most precious of bundles.
And as I anticipate meeting the newest Carmenitt, I find myself remembering the women of Carmine who have lived here before me, having their children up here without the security of modern health care. Facing the real threat of death in childbirth. And the inconveniences I myself face pale into insignificance.
All told, one thing is certain. Life in Carmine Superiore requires an almost daily re-evaluation of my principles and beliefs. It was I who chose to leave behind the many advantages of city life in favour of the many advantages offered by this unique place. It was a choice that I made not only for myself, but also on behalf of my children, and I hope that one day when they remember the years they spent growing up here they also will think it was a good choice.
A couple of days after submitting this piece for translation, I did indeed take that long walk to the labour ward. I paused for contractions some twenty times on the walk down, and arrived at the hospital only a very short time before giving birth to B. Three days later we came home on foot in the heat of the day. The weather was very kind to us.
And now B is two, life on The Rock is still fairly complicated, but I'm still sure I made the right choice.