Sunday, August 20, 2006

CAMERANO (part XVI): An uphill climb to see cool caves and more

ARRIVING IN CAMERANO, riding in a large turquoise van, one of the first things that is pointed out is the playground bar.

At first I think I’ve misunderstood.

We pass by and I see a children’s playground and something that looks like a snack bar in the corner of the park.

“Playground bar?” I say in confusion to Philly, my colleague on this program. She nods back and I start to wonder what kind of town is this that I will be living in the next four weeks.

My next observation is the hills. If your parents are like mine they love to remind you that when they were you age they had to “walk to school uphill, both ways.”

I used to laugh at such a thing, but now I feel like I am experiencing just that. It seems everywhere we go is uphill. It’s no wonder that of the 4000 people living in Camerano most of them are physically fit, despite the overly available gelato.

We finally arrive at a row of apartments that will be my new home. Our driver Marco Bravi squeezes our Scooby Doo mystery machine look-a-like car into a parking spot between the smallest car I’ve ever seen and a Vespa. These two vehicles would be a common sight from now on. Walking up three flights of stairs I hear the lock click and the door swings open to our apartment.

Our purple apartment.

There is a poster of Vespa’s on the bathroom door. The Kitchen is orange. These bright colors are typical decorating for Italians. There is no dishwasher, we wash dishes by hand. We have a washing machine but it’s broken and so we do that by hand too and hang it on the clothesline to dry. I feel like I’ve gone back in time instead of to a different country.

But it is just a different country and these surprises in my apartment wouldn’t be the only ones in Camerano. Many other hidden secrets lay throughout this town and the only way you could ever find them is to talk to the locals… or read this.

The most wondrous of Camerano’s unknowns is the network of caves that is carved beneath the entire town. Walking into a store in the middle of town you would never guess that it contains a secret door that is an entrance to caves hundreds of years old.

The caves are a chilly 55 degrees, give or take a few degrees. This is due to the depth which can be up to 60 meters deep. A sweater is definitely advised. The tunnels range from very narrow with low ceilings where you have to duck your head if you over five feet tall to large rooms that could hold a hundred people. There is evidence that some rooms held mass when religious freedom was restricted by the town’s occupiers.

Camerano was founded by the Piceni tribe in about 600 BC and since then there have been many turnovers in rulers.

During WWII the Germans occupied Camerano and the citizens used the caves as a safe-haven from Allied bombing. The elder Cameranesi tell their grandchildren stories of living in these caves. At one point the citizens of Camerano were forced to retreat to the safety of the caves for eighteen days straight. Looking around the caves, with rough jagged rock in some areas and no privacy not to mention the areas that drip water, it is almost unimaginable to think about having to live there for almost three weeks.

There are large decorative arches carved into in the room walls and smaller arches which held lanterns to illuminate the temporary abode. One room is intricately carved in a fashion so that when one stands in the exact center and speaks it sounds as though you are hearing your voice in headphones.

The caves, since originally dug, have been repaired for the safety of visitors. Brick walls have been raised to make sure the ceilings don’t falter and arches have been given extra support with brick as well. Although these addendums are rather unsightly it’s worth it so the history of these remarkable caves is not lost.

Other stones have also been brought into the caves, but not for support. The original caves were connected through many tunnels which lead up to the basements of several homes in the center of town. Since then the Camerano citizens have built stone walls to close off the tunnels to use the portion of the caves that lay under their homes as personal storage space such as wine storage.

Emerging from these caves you are faced with a beautiful view of the Adriatic Sea. Camerano sits in close proximity to the Conero Peninsula which is a coastal terrain with added culture because of the roman ruins and history that lay within. A twenty-minute bus ride can deliver you right to the shores of Numana, one of the nearby beaches. The last bus brings you back to Camerano at 8pm, which means if you don’t have a rental car you’ll be spending your evenings in Camerano.

There is a piazza in town, although it is rather small and lacks typical nighttime activities. The senior locals tend to gather here, men on benches and the women linked arms and doing laps around the perimeter of the piazza. This can be seen any day of the week but if you want to hit Camerano’s nightlife you need only walk down the street where you’ll find an outdoor corner bar with view of the sea, a pizza restaurant/ bar and a club.

After that there doesn’t seem to be much going on in Camerano, but with the right people, these few watering holes are enough. The pizza place doubles as a gelato hotspot and only €1.30 can buy a small scoop of heaven. During the day you can get pizza, salad and cold drinks there and it is one of the few places that stays open during pausa.

As far as sight seeing goes in Camerano you won’t want to miss the San Francesco church with famous painting of Loreto. It has a crypt that’s closed up and doesn’t have much appeal from the outside is a gem inside. For those sports fans there is a stadium located in the southeast corner of town. Supermarkets are all around but never open, or so it seems (they all shut down for pausa from 12:30 until about 5). The G&S has the most selection, but it is quite a hike from the center of town and on the hot July days in Camerano, trekking uphill with a full load of groceries can be a task and a half.

Trattoria Strologo, Osteria Kren, Hotel 3 Querce and Piccolo Mondo are restaurants we visit when we’re too lazy to make the trip to the market.

To get your political fill, tours are available in the City Hall and if you’re lucky you can meet with the mayor and ask question such as the effect the new Ikea will have on the traffic around the Camerano area.

- Caitlyn Slivinski


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