Thursday, November 18, 2004

Day 4 - Scanno

On the map, Scanno, our destination this afternoon, is approximately 15 kilometers (about 10 miles) from Sulmona. The drive, however, takes about 45 minutes, as we wind back and forth along a mountain road to this beautiful, but isolated paese, home of di Masso Dolciaria, maker of Pan dell'Orso, another version of the famed peasant cake of the Abruzzo.

We have been told that lago di Scanno (lake Scanno) is one of the most beautiful lakes in Italy, but it is lago San Domenico, less a lake than a slight widening of the Sagittario River, that brings oohs and ahs from the crowd. A milky green color, the lake follows the road for about a mile, giving way to a clear blue color at its source, where we pass through an ancient gateway, marking the final portion of the road to Scanno.

We arrive in the small town at dark, the temperature having dropped precipitously from the afternoon warmth. We make our way to di Masso, where Signore Gino di Masso, owner of the dolciaria welcomes us. Signore di Masso tells his unusual story of reverse immigration, where his father, who had emigrated from Italy to the United States returned to Abruzzo after the war. Although born in Italy, Signore di Masso has an affinity for the United States and is determined to bring Abruzzo (and, of course, Pan dell'Orso) to the attention of America.

We tour the facilities, once again impressed by the how these family businesses are able to meld machinery with the human touch. It seems as though there is a specially designed machine to do every task - mixing the dough, making crepes, covering cakes in chocolate, packaging and sealing finished products - but each process is monitored and nudged by human intervention. Dough is tested, crepes are crunched, chocolate is monitored to ensure it is at the correct temperature for coating and finished packages are boxed by hand. While automated, these are artisinal products that reflect the craftsmanship and care of the humans that make them.

We sample products and then retire to the café run by di Masso to talk about his products. The conversation turns to Abruzzo, however, as Signore di Massso is fiercely proud of his region and Scanno in particular. He asks us how he and his fellow Abruzzese can bring Abruzzo to America and Americans to Abruzzo. A thoughtful conversation follows. Selling Abruzzo to American will not be easy, we agree. It is practically unknown to Americans and lacks the sex appeal of Tuscany or the major cities of Rome, Florence or Venice. It seems to me that Abruzzo will have to grow into the American consciousness over time, slowly building and audience that can spread the word and build a following. It seems to me, too, that it is a goal that is extremely worthwhile, for Abruzzo has so much to offer.

We take leave of Signore di Masso and return to our pullman. Dinner has been planned this evening in Scanno, but the group, swollen from lunch at Gino's, samples of confections throughout the day, and the cumulative gorging of the past several days, decides that we have had enough. We take a stroll around the lovely town of Scanno, retire to the pullman (where Daniel and Monty have been kind enough to supply us with prosecco for the return drive) and head back to Pescara for an evening on our own. Many take the opportunity to fast for an evening as we prepare for our final day tomorrow, which will take us to the capital of Abruzzo - l'Aquila - where we will visit to two torrone producers. Who would have thought that not eating dinner in Italy would be such a welcome pleasure?

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