There are parts of rural Italy where the act of existing is an arduous feat, where populations wither and fade. Moving to the cities or abroad has become the simplest alternative and, with the birth of new lifestyles, the loss of provincial communities seems inconsequential.
"Surviving the rural exodus" focuses on some of the most resourceful people contributing to the culture of Abruzzo, despite dwindling populations, natural disaster and global crises.
As Italian cities billed to do well from tourism scale back and shut-down, there’s something that the lure of the metropolis can never take away from the provincial village: the self-sufficient drive of a hardy community.
And whilst for many Abruzzo remains a completely unknown part of the world, if fully explored, it’s powerful and enriching culture teaches you how much effort and care there is behind that bottle of olive oil, or piece of fine cloth.
Meet Raffaele Di Prinzio
At the foot of Mount Maiella, there are the roots of one of the most ancient activities of the region: wrought iron.
The history of Ferro Battuto Di Prinzio dates to 1856, when Raffaele's grandparents opened a small shop.
In a short time, they stood out as cutting-edge blacksmiths. Then, the main production was aimed for agricultural purposes (knives, scythes, picks, horseshoes).
Over the years, the company changed. Even if today, progress has brought many innovations in the art of manufacturing, Di Prinzio's factory retains the characteristics of ancient works, also underlined by their motto: 'Iron is not a noble metal, but its soft and lively forms are noble'.
"It is a job you have to believe in, you start in the morning and go out in the evening... it's a lifestyle," Raffaele tells me, as he heats the iron for a quick demonstration. Seeing his enthusiasm for taking the hammer is exciting and with a few strokes, he can already give shape to the material.
His bond for iron is strong. "You don't know how lucky I am that I can come here every day and do something I really believe in. I also work when it's holidays and I often have to fight with my family about this".
His company is now in the hands of his sons, who take care of the biggest projects for customers around the world, whilst Raffaele can devote himself to his artistic endeavours - which are still all handmade today, without technicians or surveyors.
Meet Lino Renzani
Lino welcomes everyone with a smile, a joke, but we do not recommend jokes on his football team, the Juventus!
Like old school barbers, his shop in the heart of Caramanico is full of memorabilia, a visually complex space but it reveals one of the most hospitable and easy-going characters you can meet.
Barbers have always been interesting personalities, with many stories to tell, "Look, this gentleman wanted me to do his last beard before he died", while he proudly showed me an old photo on the wall - among the hundreds of newspaper articles, football achievements and pictures of historic snowfall.
Despite the thousands of regulations on hygiene today, going to the barber is still a tradition in places that seem not to have been affected by time, with straight talk and bespoke cuts.
Meet Antonella Marinelli
Antonella works the wool in her studio, just under the clock tower in Fontecchio.
For nine years, she worked as an employee. "One day, I got tired of that muffled world and I decided to bring my dreams into reality". She created “A Field of Dreams".
She has a deep knowledge of materials, weaving techniques, and color and she specializes in unique pieces. Her works are even more unique because of the colors, often obtained using herbs or typical local flowers, such as saffron.
Through her journey, she met bright and fearless women, all from neighboring villages - and together they formed the group "Donne D'Abruzzo Mondano" to create a support network for all women who live close to the mountain where accessibility is still a problem.
Antonella wakes up every morning with new ideas and the desire to invent. "Because otherwise, the market swallows you ... these are niches and you have to build your own niches".
Meet Carmine Bottone
Carmine opened his shop back in 1973 where, with his wife Nina, armed with chisel and brush, started an artistic journey full of experimentation and research. "I started making puppets to entertain my daughter", he tells me. "I have learned many of those secrets in Pescara with Giancamillo Rossi” (among the greatest puppet players in Italy).
He is passionate about classical art, ceramics, painting, sculpture and any form of expression. "I found this log and it's perfect, I'm making a sea trumpet with this". Then he tells me about 'I Guitti' (a nomadic community of Middle Ages) a work full of symbols but sadly still unsold "because few can grasp the essence".
Today, unfortunately, the local craftsmanship is fading, with the role of the studios, capable of transmitting data and techniques that allowed you to work from generation to generation.
Rather than moving to the city, Carmine preferred to remain in the quiet of Ovindoli, immersed in his creativity, in his space and alone, continuing to produce work after work.
Meet Beniamino Toro
Salle is a small place with less than three hundred inhabitants. Small, but known by all great musicians for its harmonic strings, gut strings, a technique used in this place since 1700.
A long time ago, there were strings-makers in almost every family, now there are very few. Among the best known, Beniamino, who with his brother Pietro, maintains an activity founded in 1965: Toro Strings.
He takes me inside the workshop where he shows me step by step all the work it takes to get to the rope - from raw casing to fleshing, twisting and drying, a long and patient process which requires patience.
"Once upon a time, the gut strings were made with sheep, there wasn't any cattle. Then, they discovered that even cows could be convenient in agriculture. And automatically they also started making strings", he tells me.
The clientele has always remained the same, despite being such an exclusive product, there is still a strong appeal to the authentic high-quality music that comes from those strings.
Meet Annamaria Sigillo
In the erarly 2000, Annamaria used to live in London, way before it was such a popular destination for Italians.
After many years, she returned to Abruzzo to dust off her family business and add a modern touch.
Masseria Sigillo is located within the regional reserve of Lago Di Penne (an oasis protected by the WWF) characterised by 150 hectares of unspoiled nature.
"We always had a foundation for organic products, for 30 years", she tells me, but now the approach is also focused on sustainability using techniques in agriculture to reduce the impact on the environment: from sowing wheat on hard seeds (for minimum processing) to GPS systems to track plowing and minimize the use of fuels.
From one garage you can see vintage cars, a Beetle, a Topolino... many vintage cars that Anna wants to re-use as ornaments for her next project. She is building a glamping site where her customers can immerse themselves in nature and take advantage of the laboratory for the creation of aromatic herbs, essential oils and soaps - everything strictly organic!
Meet Tonino Palmeiro
When you get to Pretoro, you just ask around and you will find him. "Mastro Tonino? He's at work, in his shop".
Nicknamed "the wooden man", he still lives and works in his old warehouse where every day he creates works made of wood, recognized all over the world. "They came from Japan a few years ago to make a documentary".
His production is still very high and his life is still etched in his memory, he who started working at 8. "After school, I would go and use the manual lathe, we didn't have electricity yet". Then the war, the deportation of the Germans and the escape.
Unique in its kind, the Mastro maintains an agility and a touch that, despite the age, remains precious. He continues to work during my visit and he tells me he takes his cue from the books. "I see everything I do in the books or the newspapers, I never left Pretoro. I read at night, and I imagine what I can do tomorrow".
As I greet him, the sound of his chisel continues to fill the silence of the countryside.
Meet Carmine Tini
The scent of good oil, the live pressing and the courtesy (and experience) of Carmine make this place unique.
Tini Oil Mill is nestled in the hills of Castilenti, with almost one hundred years of activity behind it. Since 1921, the mill has passed from father to son, from squeezing with animals to innovations in recent years, a production that continues to improve every year.
The olive harvest represents a very important tradition in the agricultural calendar and every year, at the end of October, as a ritual that celebrates the availability of resources and the end of hard work.
Often, the exchange of mutual help in work between families still represents a very important aspect of social life in the countryside.
While he's giving me a sample of lemon oil, I can not stop to look at Carmine's hands, hands that tell stories of commitment and passion in the continuous search for perfection.