Will the real Santa Lucia please stand?

I’m near enough to launching The Castle of Santa Lucia that Keith and I are discussing cover design.  I say discussing, but in reality, I’ve already ceded all authority. You see, I gave him carte blanche to design my covers for both Il Bel Centro and for The Road Taken. He chose the photos (the former by our friend Alison Cornford-Matheson and the second by The Road Taken contributor Kirsty Larmour).

For Santa Lucia, however, I had a clear vision. Which he executed per my specifications.

These tunnels connect the concentric pathways around Armenzano, i wish I had included that detail in Santa Lucia!

I loved it at first because it fit that vision, but over time, I don’t feel as good about it. It looks like a memoir, not a page-turning saga. I’ve decided I’m no good at knowing what I want, so I told him he has carte blanche again (and in fact, we’ll likely change the cover of book one to match the vibe of book two).

So now I tell him ideas and he nods with a mischievous grin, like, just you wait. I have to tell you, I’m super excited to meet my new cover. It’s funny how much this book writing process is like a birth, only in reverse. Keith presents me with a cover and I think, “THAT’S what my baby looked like all this time.”

The castle in Armenzano, different from the one I imagined for Santa Lucia, but the idea is the same.

I cried when I met Il Bel Centro and The Road Taken. I didn’t when he presented Santa Lucia, even though it exactly met my description. I should have known then.

 In any case, this morning, I was telling Keith about the castle featured in Santa Lucia, in case he wants to put it on the cover (which, for the record, he says he does NOT). It’s not a fancy castle, it’s short and squat and quite humble. It’s the yard that’s lovely, with views over the hills. All of a sudden, it hit me and my hands fell to my sides.

 I’ve been to Santa Lucia.

Siena enters the castle (see photo grid below for what we found there)

 All this time, I thought I’d made Santa Lucia up, that it was a distortion of Spello (which, yes, it is in many ways), not a real place. But I’ve been there. I’ve walked those streets, I’ve admired the surrounding olive groves through boughs heavy with cherry blossoms, I’ve played with the cats, I have literally pushed open the door and walked into the castle.

 The town is Armenzano. Il Bel Centro readers may remember that it’s one of the two towns Angelo took us to during our “lezione aperta.” The first was San Giovanni, a village completely abandoned after the earthquake that devastated it. I remember being besotted with the stone ovens located outside each front door.

 Then we arrived in Armenzano. When you live in a region, you begin to realize how every little town may look the same with a mere cursory glance, but there are fundamental differences. San Giovanni had those ovens that I loved imagining families gathered around, shouting across the small piazzas about what they had cooking. Armenzano was built in concentric circles, with a castle at the top and center.

Gabe and Angelo walk the castle yard

 After we parked and approached Armenzano, we met a woman who eagerly told us about her husband’s museum. We gladly joined her for a tour of “things farmers find while tilling fields on Mount Subasio” (photos in grid below). Afterwards, we walked up to the castle, and Angelo showed us how the door pushes right open. Then we wandered the castle yard. I remember standing transfixed, feeling the ghosts rise and move through me.

 They must have lingered because hello Santa Lucia.

 It’s miraculous, isn’t it, how a place can become part of you without you even knowing? I mean, how did I write about the table full of antique plates in the dining hall of Santa Lucia’s castle and not remember I saw exactly that in Armenzano? I can only plead an allergy to trespassing and I know I kept waiting for some alarm to go off.

Can I buy this abandoned schoolhouse?

 Armenzano is much smaller than Santa Lucia. The woman we spoke with while our kids played at the park told me there are more cats than people (Wikipedia says 40 villagers reside there). Two other notes, that I’ll no doubt be adding to future books now that they have been unearthed from my memory. There is a trough on the edge of the town, with spring water fed in and then drained out the other side. Angelo told us it was for doing laundry, hence the partitions, probably for scrubbing (the bottom) and rinsing (the top, near the fresh water). Across the “street” (the town is pedestrian only, like Santa Lucia) there’s an abandoned schoolhouse that I desperately wanted to buy.

Nicolas and Gabe befriend the town cats

I stood there for long after everyone else bored of looking at the building and its view, wondering what it would take to repair the earthquake damage and imagining cooking dinner with that view and tables set on the lawn to eat and drink wine and feel connected to the earth and the valley and the town. I still want that schoolhouse. But clearly there’s a part of me that already lives in Armenzano.

In any case, it makes me wonder about our upcoming trip around the world. What places will seep into our unconscious, will move us in ways we can’t predict and may not even notice?

 How about you? What places have shifted into your DNA, with or without your knowing? Tell me all about it, and please share this post with friends so we discover places of meaning.