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Torri, Imperia

Only in our third week here and we are learning that there is a lot to know about the tiny village that has become our winter home.

The real heart of the village is the piazza, ‘Piazza Caduti per la Liberta’ to give it its full title, which is a daytime gathering place for some of the more weathered inhabitants as well as being the focus for a random set of local events. The other evening as we returned from one of our lengthy walks a steel caldron set up on the piazza was being lit on which, from 7pm, castagne (chestnuts) were roasted and served to the villagers together with a highly spiced mulled wine. It was warm enough for us to sit around acknowledging the locals, even if conversation was difficult, and admiring the way the young and old were mixing and enjoying themselves. Such events are so much a part of life that there is no advance publicity and to newcomers like us, the way things just seem to happen, without advance notice, is baffling.

To one side of the piazza lies the ancient but well preserved church, appearing quite small from without but somehow larger than life within – carved saints with expressive faces lining the walls and a classic crucifix figure dominating the nave. Aside from it being a place of worship the church has a way of forcing its way into almost every waking moment, and some less wakeful ones too, for atop the church roof there is a tower which contains two bells. And in Italy, bells are meant to be rung.

Looked at in simple terms, the bells are an audible clock. On each hour of the day and night there is a mechanical striking of Bell 1, one blow for each hour. This same peel is then repeated some two and a half minutes later. It is clear from this that both peels cannot be striking the correct time… and as it happens, neither does. Then on the half hour, or thereabouts, Bell 1 strikes once, followed a few seconds later by another complete peel from Bell 2, one blow for every hour. For those interested, Bell 1 is pitched at approximately Bf and Bell 2 is a major third lower than this. Thus at midnight and midday we are treated to 24 strikes and half an hour later, 13 individual strikes. (Incidentally when the clocks went back the bells struck 12 midnight twice in succession, a total of 61 strikes in two hours.) As if this is not enough, at 7 am each day there is a longer less regular peel of bells and on Sunday mornings both bells are rung together as a call to worship in the church.

Trying to look on the positive side of being woken at three am by the ringing of bells one could argue that it is a handy way of knowing that it is too early to rise from bed, the bells saving us the chore of raising the head from the pillow to look at a bedside clock. How have we managed all these years without these aural signposts to guide us through the night? It might also seem strange that Torri’s inhabitants, many of whom live much closer to the church than we do, need such signposts when their wristwatches provide far greater accuracy than the church.

Such speculation is idle in Italy, however, for church bells are not a timepiece, they are a tradition. For Torri’s bells to be silent whilst those in the village of San Pancrazio just down the valley, or indeed any other village all over Italy, were swinging would be inconceivable, unthinkable.

But let us return to Torri, this time using the Via Basso route which follows the lower slopes of Bevera valley northwards from the village until it meets the bridge below an amazing hanging village called Collobassa. This ancient footpath, in its heyday, an essential supply route to the upper valley, remains an impressive construction clinging as it does to the steep slopes using both natural and man-made ledges. Today it is in poor shape but in the past these ledges carried not just people but also water along channels, small aqueducts, still visible beside us as we walked. The drop down to the river is considerable but would have been an everyday part of life before the new car-bearing roads were built. The route dips in and out of the strong sunshine and once again there are strong smells that assault us as we walk. Where there are no olives planted there are pine trees and resin is coaxed from them by the sun, blasting us with scent as we bounce our way along the narrow pine needle-covered highway.

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