The Path of the Red Ants

By Ida Fadelli

I used to call the red earthen path that passes in front of the nuns’ house and leads towards a shortcut to Gessopalena "the path of the ants". The country track suddenly narrows, so much that we needed to go in single file. To the left there was a strip of more secure land, to the right a dangerous ravine. When as little girls we passed by, to get further forward towards the blackberry bushes, with the calm ignorance of any dangers I used to look down towards the precipice; maybe I shivered a little or maybe not, but certainly I traveled up and down that very short mountain track with much interest because the depths attracted me as the mysteries of a seemingly infinite abyss attract. My games companions were the D’Annunzios and the daughters of the Town Hall Secretary, Emma and Maria Sabatini, who were all older than me and they showed me the way and went ahead. I was the last one and I slowed down a bit to admire the green of the bushes at the edge of the overhanging rock. It was right at the point of the pathway that was liable to landslips, which became narrower every time (we went there), that the earth seemed to be moving, but really it was invaded by ants who were running to and fro, one against the other, huge ants as red as the earth; they looked like grains of earth that were rolling around. They were real fighting armies. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Then I decided (I needed to move on). My little friends were already far ahead and had begun to leap on the precious gifts of the bushes and they were all set also to search in the fields for the sweet "cicerchia[1]". From that place, we could see the village of Gessopalena, a little lower down, in the sun.

In that happy period of my childhood I found it easy to populate my mind with talking shadows and to hear whisperings and voices emanating from the cracks in the rocks. Sometimes it seemed to me that mysterious eyes were looking at me from within a dense bush or through the branches of a tree and that gave me a sense of sweet enchantment. The ants, who were fighting in a corner of the earth which fed my fantasy more than anywhere else, clashed with my imaginary world and awakened me to reality, a bloody reality. Those fights to annihilation took my thoughts for the first time to an intuition of the confines between life and death. It was a fascinating discovery but it gave me an obscure sense of suffering. If today I think that later on those places would become part of the theatre of the Second World War I ask myself if I had any sense of premonition. Some years after my stay in Torricella what will be changed of those pathways, during the period of war? And the houses? Everything changes: plants chopped down re-grow, nicer new houses are put up, and the roads are made more practicable.

….. And the generations pass with their times: fathers tell their children about history, legends and events; sons hand it on to the grandchildren with the same love and so the rites carry on, traditions which are felt intensely only by those who love, who have suffered, who rejoice and who hoping know how to wait. This is the secret of the marvellous strength of the people of Abruzzo. In this secret lies the future of Torricella which keeping to the customs of the ancestors is able to rebuild, in the name of its traditions, a life that is consistent with the present day. I can see in my mind an ancient village that is always renewed by the initiative of its inhabitants who have roots in the magnificent land of the Peligni and will give it new shoots.

[1] cicerchia – (Lathirus sativus L., Leguminosae)

The cicerchia is an almost forgotten legume, in Italy it is only grown in certain Central and Southern regions, usually on the mountains. It is an annual similar to vetch and its pods contain seeds not much bigger than peas but more squashed looking.

They are only available for sale in the dried state and need a long soaking (at least 8 hours) before being cooked; the soak water must be discarded as it contains a substance that can damage the central nervous system.

It tastes like a cross between lentils and chick peas, is of a good consistency and has a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Its history goes back to before Roman times when it was grown in the Middle East; the Romans who greatly appreciated its delicate flavour, brought it back to Italy where it was known as Cicercula.

There are about 20 varieties, from the large tasteless ones used in America as animal feed, to the tiny little ones that can vary in colour from grey to pale brown and that today are found in Central Italy, especially in the Marche.

It is a hardy rustic plant, does not need to be tended and grows even in difficult conditions such as drought. It is a climbing herbaceous leguminous plant similar to the pea, beans and chick peas.

It is planted in the spring usually amongst the maize, utilising the spaces between the rows and after the corn heads have been harvested it can ripen in the sun. It is harvested in August, entire bushes are pulled up and hung in bunches on a sunny wall to dry for several days until they are ready to be beaten. Once beaten the last dried remains of the pods would blow away in the afternoon wind when the cicerchie were ventilated by hand under a large tree such as an elm.

The cicerchia has been at risk of extinction, but luckily it has been rediscovered by regional cooks who are using it instead of beans or chick peas with great success.

© Amici di Torricella

Translation courtesy of Dr. Marion Apley Porreca

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