I visited this little town located in Umbria, my favourite region in Italy, during a week I spent on holidays in a neighbouring city, Assisi, a few weeks ago.
Spello frightened me.
As someone who have struggled with anxiety for the most part of her life, I sometimes don’t react very adequately when faced with a situation that I’m not prepared for. We were staying in my beautiful, beloved albeit pretty touristy Assisi and decided to take a day trip to Spello which was just a short train ride away.
Don’t get me wrong, it is a pretty place. Spello is famous for two things – Art and flowers. This little town has more Art galleries and artisan shops than I’ve seen in many much bigger cities. As for the flowers – they’re literally everywhere. Every tiny narrow street in Spello where a bicycle could hardly squeeze through (although they still seem to have bus stop signs in those which remained a mystery to us) is covered in flower pots. There’s literally no escaping the all-consuming blossoms. From what I gathered, the city hosts quite a famous flower festival. I am fond of flowers although I much prefer blooming trees or wild flowers, as opposed to homely pot-based pelargoniums.
However, it took me rather a long time to be able to see even a glimpse of beauty in this city. Spello immediately caused me an anxiety attack, one like I haven’t experienced for many years.
The city is not popular with tourists so walking through its streets you immediately notice a crowd of eyes directed at you. It’s a foreign country and a new city so these kind of looks are most unwelcome to me. I wouldn’t call the locals “friendly” either. The prices are high and the people seem to mostly ignore you and go about their day even if it’s their shop you’re in and you’re desperately trying to get hold of some coffee which it would be in their interest to sell. The sounds that most characterize this city for me are the yelling of schoolchildren, the running of water in empty squares and the moderately annoying sound of bad TV programmes watched by some local women in dusty and rather tackily decorated sitting rooms.
When my anxiety reached its peak and I couldn’t walk anymore, we sat down at a little coffee place with a terrace facing a beautiful old church that was more reminiscent of the Roman times than the Middle Ages. The crumbling white stonework with rose windows has become a favourite resting and nesting place of some lazy pigeons. Not ten minutes have passed before a sturdy van arrived and a few men in black suits came out of it carrying a casket. It seems that the little church became a place of final farewells to some locals that day. The whole scene looked like it was taken straight out of a Fellini movie. The lazy little square bathing in sunshine, the quiet crumbling church, the coffee shop, the funeral procession and the four or five men in black suits who, after the casket-carrying job was done, sat down right next to us in a café as if it was just another job that has finally earned a break. At that time I started seeing the charm of this city.
Spello is not the town a foreign tourist expects to see. It is not all friendly and welcoming, but it is a place where real life takes place. With its suspicions, jealousies, annoyances, griefs and daily toils, but also not, I believe, without its charms. I still much prefer friendlier cities but it was interesting to catch a glimpse of an Italy that’s not straight out of a tourist booklet. Honest, tired, raw.