The vibrant resilience of Castelluccio di Norcia

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The following year, in 2016, I transported 40 people to Castelluccio to celebrate my birthday; six of them were Cooper’s age. Watching a child play on the Piano Grande is fun; looking at seven of them puts a permanent smile on your face. Peppe, at Taverna Castelluccio, was a champ, especially after I emailed him ahead of time what we all wanted to eat: nine wild boar pappardelle, six penne alla norcina, seven strangozzi funghi e tartufo, nine agnello scottadito alla brace, four Bistecca maile in dolcezza, nine filetto di trota fario, gratinato al forno and parmesan spaghetti for the children. And, oh, two green salads.

That day the sky, as always at the beginning of July in Castelluccio, was cloudless and vibrant. After lunch, with a full stomach, I sipped a nightcap of Trebbiano sitting on the terrace of the tavern while looking at the Pian Piccolo, the smallest plain on the other side of the village. My friends had dispersed – some to the village shops, others to climb to the top, others to frolic in the colorful plains below. “You can have the universe,” wrote Giuseppe Verdi, “if I can have Italy.” Moments like these were surely what he meant.

Now, five years later that day, we were finally back, after the earthquake, the slow reconstruction, the ongoing pandemic. We had planned a group horseback ride and had emailed Peppe weeks before, of course, to make our lunch reservation. The photos he’d posted on Facebook over the past few years had supported me, after all.

A few days before we were due to travel to Castelluccio, a handful of people at the equestrian center tested positive for the coronavirus.

We canceled our ride, put on our masks and headed for Castelluccio anyway, making sure to stay outside. We were a much smaller travel group this time, only four of us. Cooper has come.

Going up the switchbacks of Norcia, the sight of the Rifugio Perugia lodge made us stop the car. The entrance was still flattened by the earthquake. We took the bend and the Piano Grande spread out in front of us: the same open immensity, the same magnificent flowers.


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