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This was one of those times when decisions are pretty much made for you. The plan had been to go to a school in the area of Italy which had captured my imagination, not too far up the coast from Fano and only a train ride from Roma. It all seemed so perfect, until they emailed me to cancel the contract. Admittedly they did direct me to another school which I think would have suited me, but in essence being dumped in this way left me needing to find another Italian job in a fairly short time.

So I logged on to www.tefl.com and checked out the vacancies being advertised in Italy. There were about 35, I wouldnít have stood a chance with some of them but I think would have been in with a shout of at least half. So I started applying, and in the absence of any clear favourite made my mind up to accept the first offer I received.
And no more than a few days later I was offered a job in Roccabernarda, in the southern Italian region of Calabria.
Rocca is a village not too far from Crotone right in the toe of Italy with about 3,500 people, all of whom know each other and who were very quick to notice a stranger in town. A knowledge of Italian would be essential to anybody moving to that neck of the woods, even though the locals generally communicate in a wonderful dialect which I did toy with learning, and would have were it not for still needing to improve my Italian.
But there was never any trouble communicating, partly because of the openness and warmth of the people, all of whom made me very welcome from start to finish. Social life revolves around a few small local bars and peopleís homes, but many people chose to sit out in the fresh air and take in the evening ambience. I made some good friends there and am disappointed not to be in touch with any of them any more, but as Iíve said in other places on the site, I think there does come a time when it is time to leave, I loved Roccabernarda and have not found anywhere so peaceful since, but I couldnít have stayed any longer.

The nine months I was there were eye-opening and reassuring. The town itself is small and not enormously prosperous but people are hard-working and comfortable. Their generosity also knows no bounds, regular invitations to dinner were unhesitatingly accepted and their local delicacies enthusiastically consumed. Many people have smallholdings in the countryside and grow a lot of their own produce, including olives, which they take fresh to the press and turn into the best olive oil ever to grace tables. Iíve tried and failed to find anything remotely approaching it in quality and taste, even when once or twice splashing out a bit.
Although diets revolve around meat, the local shops and the local town supplied me cheaply with more than I needed to eat a balanced vegan diet, better probably than anywhere else before or since bar Cambridge. I didnít earn a fortune there but more than enough to live comfortably and eat very well. There were a few local restaurants although I canít say how good they are. The cafe just a few doors up from my flat was relaxing and a good place to watch the football, which I did in spite of the shocking season Roma had, much of the latter half seeing them threatened with relegation. Most people support Juventus in Rocca, they went on a parade when they won the championship. I wonder how they reacted a few months later when the same team had two titles stripped for corruption.

Roccabernarda is set in varied landscape, semi-arid, mountainous, flat, interesting and fertile. Much of it is turned over to agriculture, and for the most part farmed responsibly. The sad thing would I suppose be the amount of rubbish dumped outside town, often by the same people who ostensibly complain about it. There was a fountain down town with the clearest water, I never bought drinking water in all the time I was there, the only place Iíve felt comfortable enough doing this.
The town has an old quarter which has sadly fallen into disrepair. I donít know what state is will be in down the line but most development seemed to be happening away from the traditional centre. This is a shame, the number of houses there needing more than a lick of paint seems to top 50%, even those inhabited have seen better days. The heart of the community is still the adjacent square, where there was a great festival a few weeks before I left, but as with so many traditional communities they are battling with changing times. Progress has led families to move to the outskirts of the town, I would like to feel others desire to move back to the old quarter before it is laid waste and falls into a state beyond repair. Granted, people do still live there and when I was there the church was still in the old quarter, and very busy too, but I think by now the new church will be finished and another part of the community will have migrated down the road.
This said, people are not leaving town totally, they love their people and roots, quite understandably, and itís a long way from being a ghost town. I can only hope that there is an influx of capital in order to keep it this way. Provided of course it doesnít mess with the delicate balance of people and nature which some of my friends there were very keen to preserve.

Just down the road however is a town called Cotronei, which is for me one of the best few places Iíve ever been, a lively but peaceful town with a passion for life. I taught there on a Saturday and actually found working at weekends a bonus because I could go to Cotronei. Saturday nights there saw a passeggiata round town which rivalled that of even Fano. The whole town emptied onto the streets to see their friends and make new ones. I miss that.