Sostila, Forcola, Italy
Quiet, as always. The silence that enwraps me every morning is addictive. I spend my days outside cutting wood, shooting photographs, growing my own plot and greenhouse. Name any fruit, I have it, unless the birds have eaten it.
I live in Sostila, a tiny mountain hamlet in the Italian Alps. I’m the only resident. Sostila is a ghost village, a bunch of medieval houses. In the 1960s, people fled here in search of a better life. But I made the opposite choice: I came back for a better life. people think I’m a crazy kind of hermit, living here all alone, with no one to talk to or spend the days with. But I love it, I’m the guardian of this place. It’s like living in a fairy tale — time is frozen. My house is an old stone cottage that once was my grandmother’s. I used to come here when I was a boy, and when I retired — after a marriage, two daughters and a divorce — I decided this is where I wanted to spend the rest of my life. This is where I came for a fresh start.
I said to myself: Hell, so far I’ve been doing what others expected of me, be a good husband, father and nuclear medicine physician, follow society’s rules. Now it’s my turn to choose. I’m free and happy, and sometimes I’m ashamed of saying it. I’m 65 and I think I deserve it.
Not having a woman in the house means I do all the chores.
For 22 years I ran marathons across peaks and glaciers. I love hiking. On weekends friends come over and we go out, discovering the valleys and peaks. My nephew also visits; sometimes he dresses in medieval garb and brings tourists up here to admire the village and the abandoned school, which still has kids’ books spread on wooden tables.
Curious folks ask me how I can bear the isolation and solitude. No road leads here, you have to leave your car down in the valley and walk for more than an hour through a dense, steep forest. That’s what I do once a week when I run my errands at the nearest town, fetching food and visiting my daughters. It keeps me fit. For me, it’s not isolation, it’s bliss. No sounds, no one bugging you. No cars, no pollution. Just mice scuttling across my rooftop and fresh mountain air filling my lungs. I never lock my door.
I’m alone but not lonely. Sure, winters can be tough; when it snows I’m totally cut off for a couple of days. Hard to believe, but it gets even better then: I laze in front of a crackling fire, eat roasted chestnuts, write poems, play with my cats, read books.
The only time I would like some company is during meals. It can be quite sad to eat alone. I’m a good cook, but cooking just for myself has no sense. And not having a woman in the house means I do all the chores.
Whenever I do go to the city, I can’t sleep at night for the noise. After 12 hours, I feel an itch to get back here.