This Spring we spent the better part of May in beautiful Le Marche. In our camper van we traveled this relatively unknown region in Italy. Only accessible through the coastal highway from the North or by curvy mountain roads from the West, this area, once serving as the granary of the Papal States has not yet transformed into a tourist-laden Lonely Planet destination. Nature is abundant as well as culture with plenty of old cities such from the old Roman era such as Urbino and Macerata.
We started our trip in the North, in Mercatello sul Metauro, close to the border with Tuscany and this where we met Marco, a remarkable guy running a family agriturismo and agricampeggio called Ca’ Montioni.
The place itself, although special, wasn’t the reason why I liked our experience there so much.
Aside from having created a serene place to spend some time relaxing and recharging, Marco also is an excellent cook. The agriturismo features a great restaurant that comes highly recommended.
When asked how life is in Italy these days, Italians alternate between using the words crisis and politics in the first sentence of their response
On evening, just having finished a three-course meal, he poured us a limoncello and we got talking. These days it seems impossible to not end up talking about politics and the economic crisis with an Italian. I tried to steer clear of that subject by asking Marco about the recipe for the coniglio in umido con olive nere and Marco told me he just slaughtered the rabbit the day before. The vegetables were in season and came from his own veggie patch. Elder blossom fried in a tempura batter, green beans, most if not all was obtained from within 50 meters of the restaurant.
The salumi I asked. Where did they come from. I hadn’t seen any pigs rolling in mud in the backyard. “Sant’Angelo in Vado”, he replied. “I go there every Tuesday to help out a friend. He raises pigs and uses 2 every week to create the best meat. I help with butchering and get a few salame, pieces of pancetta and whatever else I need”. There were literally very few ingredients Marco purchased in exchange for money. After a quick calculation, Marco told me he probably had paid €10 to prepare the 3-course meal he served us; the rest was all from his own garden or bartered with people close by. Hardly anybody needed to help Marco to serve a beautiful local 3-course meal.
The next day Marco took me to Azienda Agricola Luzi, his friend’s place. I saw the meat being transformed into beautiful salame with no more additives than wine, pepper and salt. Later that day, I also visited the farm where the pigs are raised. Here as well, the farm is largely self-supporting with all of the food for the pigs grown on the fields surrounding the farm. Hardly any external input is needed to raise pigs and cure the best meat I’ve tasted for a long time.
In crisis-ridden Italy, people seem to get on just fine by self-reliance and bartering
Whenever we did talk about politics or the economic crisis, Marco, as well as numerous other Italians had a very strong opinion: Merkel and her politics of austerity should stay in Germany; the Euro had done more bad than good and there was nothing wrong with the old days where everybody where everybody drove a 20 year old Fiat 500.
Most of them also complained about high unemployment rates and soaring taxes.
Interestingly, at the same time, we continued to come across businesses that were largely running without money, supporting themselves just fine. Restaurants, farms, veggie outlets and so on, shops selling local crafts.
It’s an angle of life I have forgotten about in the past 15 years running startups, chasing investment deals, setting up attractive propositions, building teams to sell them, competing for market leadership and pursuing large-scale entrepreneurial success.
Self-reliance, localism, bartering, small-scale initiatives that easily survive, even in economic turmoil; I’m really glad people like Marco open my eyes.
Starting somewhere mid-October, we’ll be in Le Marche for a 4-month period and I’m already looking forward to meeting plenty more Marchigiani showing us a different way of living.