I spent the past four days with Fernanda and Mario in their beautiful house in the countryside of Marche, nearest the tiny village of MonSamPolo, not far from the coastal city of San Benedetto del Tronti. They are incredibly generous hosts, in addition to being very enthusiastic conversationalists, avid Nowtopians, and protagonists of the “Happy Degrowth” movement here. After all the busy days prior to this stop, it felt like a writers’ retreat, or an oasis, a place of true rest and hospitality (not to say everyone prior to this wasn’t also wonderfully hospitable, but I had to keep moving the whole time, so I was growing more and more tired as the days went by).
I had met Fernanda via Skype a year ago when they interviewed me online, and I’d seen photos of Mario. Also meeting me at the station was Paolo M., whom I’d met briefly in Siena. He loaned me his bike and we took a great ride on Wednesday, but I’ll get to that in a bit. Sometimes you meet people with whom you share an automatic affinity, and for me and Mario and Fernanda it is like that. We just enjoyed each other’s company enormously!
Fernanda is an incredible live-wire, always laughing and telling stories or bringing an unyielding earnestness to her thoughts and inquiries. Rather tall, she doesn’t sit still for long, with an ebullience that is totally endearing. She’s originally Portuguese, and spent her childhood in Mozambique where her father lived for 50 years before choosing Portuguese citizenship when the revolution decolonized the country. She has a lot of experience in EU-funded projects, lived in Belgium for some years, and has a son in Lisbon. Mario has a charming daughter, Francesca (or Kika as she’s known) by another woman who lives nearby, andÂ he’s a dentist when he’s not tending his horse, his garden, shooting video, working on his amazing home, or agitating with friends against the privatization of water in Italy, for a degrowth agenda, etc. Unlike Francesca he’s not quite so frenzied, always relaxed, curious, with a huge heart and a sweet warmth. He and Fernanda also maintain a close relationship with a community in Guinea-Bissau whom they visit every year, and will be helping at the Slow Food Terra Madre Congress later this month in Turin.
The capital of this region is Ascoli Piceno, which apparently was once considered as a candidate to be what became Rome, but lost out and remained a fairly small city. It’s on the Via Salaria, or “Salt Way,” the road by which salt was delivered from the Adriatic Sea to Rome. Fernanda and Mario live on a small hill beneath the aforementioned village, about 20 minutes by car from Ascoli Piceno.