We booked at San Severino Marche with only slight information. The history offered by wikipedia which one does not manage to finish unless one is a genealogy freak, the attractive airbnb offering (having looked at listings for perhaps a hundred other apartments in the region), the google street view of the town.
It's hard to find literature on Le Marche. I ordered from Betterworld books a second hand copy of Footprint Italia Umbria & Marche USD9.48 and found that the author, a serial writer of travel guides, spent four months in Italy, based in Perugia. The section on Le Marche is difficult to find, it occupies a space at the end about the size of an index and reported on a couple of drives, no doubt reading over coffee pamphlets and over wikipedia at dinner.
Enter the Touring Club of Italy and their The Marches: A Complete Guide to the Landscape and National Parks, and One Hundred Towns Including Urbino USD18.21 delivered, which from the jump has historical and cultural depth (and of course the mention of Urbino probably trebled its sales).
Having enjoyed the introductory perspective in the TCI guide on why this region is as it is (which time to write about when there) the authors come (in road trip description) to the ancient centre of Camerino and then, of San Severino Marche, they say:
Camerino's long-time enemy, the Ghibillene town of San Severino Marche, lies to the northeast, at the end of the upper Potenza valley, and is surrounded by the natural beauties of the Grillo valley and the centuries-old Canfaito beech woods on Mt San Vicino. An important town in Picine and Roman times (as the remains of Septempeda just outside the town demonstrate), it was influential in the 14th and 15th centuries in the development of the International Gothic style in European painting, through the brothers Lorenzo and Jacopo Salimbeni. Still today, the aristocratic appearances of San Severino Marche, with its palaces and frescoed churches, blends beautifully with the medieval atmosphere created by the many lookout towers and ruined castles in the surrounding area.Aha, so that's why we found it interesting. You can look up the unfamiliar words in wikipedia and follow trails on and on from there. Where this (to me) stands out from most guides in is in the way it succinctly orients the reader to thirst to understand more. The harking back to history reminds me of conversations in 2010 in Viterbo with a man whose family had lived in one house there from the 1300s and a man on a train who said that the reason why Vitorchiano was still intact was that they kept onside with the Romans. I still puzzle of questions I did not ask of the man in Viterbo because I was too taken aback by the thought of a family being in place from the 1300s: did they buy when real estate prices crashed as I imagine likely after the pope moved from Viterbo to Avignon? Were they lawyers who profited from the estate work after the Black Death? Were they artisans who improved themselves and escaped feudal ties when their laws of supply and demand shifted their way after all the deaths? Towns in Italy are not simple.
I also have, a heavy weight to fall on you when it puts you to sleep, the Oxford History of Italy. I agree with the reviewer Greenberg at Amazon, the book is a tiresome puzzle, like trying to read a biochemistry text.
I went, pleased with the TCI's Marche book, to see if there is something as good on Romagna. And instead found this marvellous 'review-in-place' of a travel book by Edith Templeton (whose 1960s Shades of Grey novel called Burton was banned, less famously than works of Lawrence and Joyce). Which among other things gave me some reinforcement for decisions not to stay in Ravenna or Urbino. Yes, classy you say, I've taken a positive view of something that supported my unarticulated hunches.
I think that I am perhaps a part-time shabby semiotician at heart. Wikipedia tells us that semiotics is
the study of meaning-making, the study of sign processes and meaningful communication. This includes the study of signs and sign processes(semiosis), indication, designation, likeness, analogy, allegory, metonymy, metaphor, symbolism,signification, and communication.or put more simply, taking in many aspects at once to form impressions; .... reading too many books at the same time. Partly my training in anthropology; never to run with a single line of interpretation.
The great semiotician (among other things) Umberto Eco died this year. I have returned to reading his Baudolino. Which it seems to me embodies perhaps much autobiographical (as good books must) and also a being-in-the-past-and-present-at-the-same-time as well as a desperate entanglement of mythical and 'real'. Some resemblance to the (lesser but large) complexity of Paolo Sorrentini's film Il Divo; or an array of other writing and film in Italy, which some simpler cultures find hard to engage with. See also the discussion between musicians in John Turturro's Passione, pointing at the way immensely complex Neapolitan songs have been taken to America in particular and turned into mush (reimported to Italy, of course, the lubricate the machinations of the 'latin lover' among the tourists). Baudolino helps me open my eyes and heart to different things, as well as helping me smile and feel alive. Vale Eco. Grazie Turturro.
Oh and also down off the shelf Sandor Marai's Conversations in Bolzano, a wonderful tale of Casanova in Bolzano, in the Austrian corner of Italy, the Alto Adige, fleeing north, escaped from prison in Venice. Reminder of Austria-Hungary's influence and occupation of this end of Italy for so long, but also just plain rewarding as a delicious multicultural or vibrant-cultural work by an author who should be more widely known. More than seems evident in the tourist-tramped areas of Italy, Le Marche (compare perhaps with the similarly named The Borders in the UK), this somewhat isolated region, is a place of multiple languages and cultures with long histories.
In Baudolino Eco says, through his character the Greek scholar Niketas, in Constantinople almost a millenium ago:
There are no stories without meaning. And I am one of those who can find it even where others fail to see it. Afterwards the story becomes the book of the living, like a blaring trumpet that raises from the tomb those who have been dust for centuries. ... Still, it takes time, you have to consider the events, arrange them in order, find the connections, even the least visible ones.In the generality of the tourist experience people are lined up to hear a bunch of settled conventions, a set of notions for looking at specified objects, texts crafted to meet a commercial purpose and to avoid losing customers by being complicated.
I have no desire or capacity to do as Niketas suggests in terms of finishing, tying all the knots. Rather, to hunt and identify strings, to swim among a diversity of stories and images and ideas and sounds and voices, hope to hear and notice them and achieve at least a sense of the incompleteness of the strands.
My discomforts at this travel begin with the unease of burning the carbon to get there, then have me conflicted not enraptured at the sight of castles and palaces build by bastards to hurt or exploit, the work of artists indentured to such bastards and bigoted hypocritical churchmen put in place from feuding dominant families. I am sucked in, nonetheless, and will try to keep my values.