That Shitty Town

A seemingly peaceful stay turns into suffocating, deafening nothingness.

Creative Voices

By Ilenia Reale / Matthew staff || Edited by Sara Segat

Every year since I can remember, my family, alongside my uncle Gabriele and grandma Elianda, go for two weeks in August to Sentino, a little town in the Italian central region of Marche. My grandma from my mother’s side was born in the main district Camerino, and her parents decided to buy a vacation house in Sentino before moving to Rome.  

We drive there all together in a 7-seat Chrysler. My dad is always the designated driver, and my uncle always calls shotgun since he is in a wheelchair and that was the only easy seat to get him into. Instead, my mom and grandmom take the comfy central seats, while the youth of the family, my sister and I, are confined to the back seats. Apart from the little space to rest our legs and the exhausting heat, I endure my sister’s high-pitched singing, my mom’s ogre-like snoring, and my dad’s suffocating cloud of cigarette smoke.  

I wish I could say that this unpleasant three-hour trip is justified by an outstanding destination, but I would be lying. After 20 years, I still see Sentino as a living hell. It’s a deserted town–not even, just a fraction. It’s essentially a hill with one main rocky road skirted by rural farmhouses of a yellow tone, apart from one that was recently painted in an inappropriate fuchsia. And yes, that’s pretty much Sentino for you. 

There is nothing in this place, and that’s precisely why my family likes it. My mom always describes Sentino as her escape to finally take a break from the constant frenzy of Rome. Instead, my dad says that in Sentino he can finally cultivate his main hobbies: eating, drinking, sleeping, and pooping with no time pressure. 

Indeed, that’s all we do. On our way to Sentino, we usually stop at a nearby bigger town called Muccia where my grandma systematically picks up a loaf of bread, a tart with plum jam (because she refuses to get apricot), and the so-called rotolone al cioccolato, a long roll filled with chocolate cream. This is all we need to survive the first day, since my grandma always brings a bowl of rice salad so big she could feed an army. The next day my parents go shopping for two months’ worth of groceries, even though we are in Sentino for just two weeks. They always take a detour by Bartolazzi, our trusted butcher, where they stock up steaks and sausages for a ridiculous number of barbecues.  

When the locals realize “the Romans” are back in town, they come by bringing welcoming gifts. There’s Alberto, a chubby man who I only recently noticed has lost a finger working on a machine, and who comes with baskets full of fresh tomatoes and eggplants. My uncle lights up every time he shows up. “Don’t worry, I got them for you, boy.” My uncle always hopes to find zucchini flowers; even though, when that happens, he gets mad with my grandma because she “wastes” such a delicacy to make pasta rather than frying them.  

There used to be also an old woman, Ersilia, who had a limp and a constant grin on her face. My family never liked her, and she never liked us, just like the rest of the town, for reasons I have no access to. However, people in Sentino prefer to keep a peaceful appearance. So, Ersilia used to come and drop a “Look who’s back in town” every time we showed up, and brought us two dozen of her fresh eggs, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she spat on them occasionally.  

Ersilia is just like everybody else in Sentino: nosy and closed-minded. When we drive into the town all the old ladies move the curtains on their windows; it’s like they have a sixth sense for any outsider that disturbs their elite ecosystem. There are often people walking in front of our patio and stopping to check out what is going on, and sharing cutting looks, especially with my grandma. They also have their own inaccessible language, a song out of tune full of ‘U’ sounds and question marks where there shouldn’t be. 

To my surprise, I discovered that there is a whole website on the demographic of Sentino. Apparently, there are 66 people living there. The older citizens are way more compared to the young ones, and that’s very concerning if we consider that just three people have a university diploma, while 17 only graduated from elementary school. The website also mentions the buildings of Sentino, solely meaning San Nicolò, a church that was abandoned after an earthquake that made it collapse. I don’t understand how they could make a town out of those houses and a church. Not to be cynical, but I doubt a church is able to provide for the people’s basic needs.  

My main issue with Sentino is that it is disgustingly still. The only regular movements I have seen are people taking the garbage out or feeding the lousy chickens that wake me up at 6 a.m. without permission. There’s not much for me to do here. I either read on the hammock (when my grandma doesn’t claim it for her daily nap), or stuff my mouth with ciausculo, a soft salami that beautifully spreads on toasted bread. Even though I enjoy these activities, I can’t bear doing them for two weeks straight. I would like to do something outside, but the only thing that doesn’t involve driving to another town is taking a walk with my sister down to the cemetery. 

I know my family has deep roots in Sentino, but I don’t feel like I belong there. I simply can’t stand the small-town mindset. I need dynamic people with whom I can talk about topics other than butchering pigs and town gossip. I need places that go beyond an abandoned church and a cemetery. I am sorry, but this year there is no chance I’ll be forced to go back to that shitty town.