In the following interview Sam Dunham kindly tells us about her blog “Life in Abruzzo“, her favourites stories, food, places and the great project ahead: an online Abruzzo marketplace.
How was the idea of the blog Life in Abruzzo born, and what is motivating you in dedicating time and energy in promoting the region to a larger public?
When we first came to the region it was quite hard finding online information in English, where as in Tuscany there are so many blogs in Abruzzo there was none!
I thought I could utilise the skills I use in my day job as a web content marketer, I could post about the places and things I’d experienced and enjoyed within the region as a hobby in case it was useful for anyone else and it subsequently grew.
We were accepted by our neighbours with such generosity and helpful tips that I saw the blog as a lovely way to mirror that and perhaps channel their community spirit, that is why it’s dedicated to my neighbour Italia.
Obviously, I wish I had more time to devote it but obviously one has to pay bills and play afterwards. A lot about the region remains unknown, particularly to those of Abruzzese ancestry, if the blog, Facebook page or group can spark interest, knowledge and a trip by them to the Region, it’s job done!
You “cherry pick” your topics, how is the choice made and how do you find your hidden gems?
Lots of research! Once in a blue moon a local business will contact me with a press release.
What are your favourite parts of this job, do you have any special anecdote to share?
My favourite part of the blog is meeting some fascinating people who are such an inspiration, and of course eating. I love how something small can be picked up online and morph into something incredible on the other side of the world. I recently posted my photos of the San Antonio Abate fuoco celebrations in Tossicia, and award-winning artist, Carolyn Marrone in Victoria, Australia saw the image and asked if she could use my photo to draw the scene. She emailed it [the painting above] through last week and then shared it on her feed, so even more people got to discover the music, tradition and rites of this small town without leaving their home and perhaps who knows are now curious enough to one day make a visit.
I know you have different ambitious projects within your blog, would share one or more with us? What are they about, what is their story?
At the end of the month the blog will no longer just be a one-person slow travel and food guide to the region but a co-operative English language Abruzzo marketplace. Unfortunately due to the pandemic its original Easter launch is running late due to juggling home schooling, my day job & the blog put the brakes on its launch.
The aim is to join the dots so to speak of travel and business within the region.
It will enable individuals, families and businesses to buy direct from Abruzzesi producers, business and artists, visitors to the website will be able to book lessons and accommodation, order food whilst enjoying all the usual tips.
There is a need to create a more sustainable business model than one that solely relies on tourists visiting the region, as the recent coronavirus proved. By increasing knowledge of the region with an easy way to purchase, an individual or businesses can increase their market to those outside the region, outside of the tourist season without an enormous financial outlay or expensive maintenance contact.
I think it is all very well promoting individuals and small businesses blogging, but stories do eventually die and quite often there is no e-commerce or booking functionality to link everything together for those who aren’t in the region or in the country. The people I write about are brilliant at what they do, but not at necessarily managing an ecommerce website or having the language skills to be organically found on Google outside Italian.
This is where this cooperative comes in, they will be able to sell their produce, cooking lessons, holidays and accommodation, etc. and the content is in one place, without site visitors having to dash across to the multiple specialist platforms that exist within the region trying to find what they are looking for.
With the Facebook “Life In Abruzzo group” it’s been possible to view how many wonderful Abruzzo voices there are who are all keen to contribute and share. There is a lot of passion and it’s worth harnessing that whether those contributions are Italian, from those who have made their home in the region or from those of Abruzzese ancestry.
Trade and storytelling are an awesome combination and will hopefully provide sustainable promotion and economic benefit to both rural and urban Abruzzo.
If you were to suggest an article to start reading your blog, which one would you recommend to our readers?
What a hard question!
Perhaps this one: No Ordinary Abruzzo Truffles – Poggio Umbricchio’s White Truffle Festival
I love this because it shows the human relationships that can be formed by blogging.
Ten years before this post, my partner and I went up to Poggio Umbricchio to see the vigil/watch dedicated to their patron saint, the Loreto Madonna on the 9th December. I was curious, I’d read a book that hadn’t painted the town in the most positive light, I saw a flyer for the evening and thought we should see for ourselves. Most of the town now lives in Pescara or the USA, today there are probably 8 retirees that live there full-time.
Their village’s welcome to this odd British couple who arrived for what turned out to be a very intimate evening was incredible. The fire was so warming on that frosty night in the piazza, there were probably 20 of us in all including the priest.
We met Enzo the local truffle hunter who made us white truffle bruschetta, the first time we’d ever eaten white truffle, the old ladies squished their spicy Teramana ventricina onto more toast that warmed every bone up up and of course we drank wine whilst hearing the story of the vigil and the town. It was an unforgettable evening and we wrote a post on it: A Sanctified House Celebrated in Poggio Umbricchio
Later when the town began to have its white truffle sagra organised by Enzo, he got in touch asking if we remembered him and inviting us to go out truffle hunting with him which we did much to the joy of my son who adores truffles. Last year we made it to the sagra itself.
Community blogging shouldn’t just be a one off post but a series of posts over time that knits history, folklore and most importantly the characters of today into something interesting to read no matter where you are in the world.
What brought you originally to Abruzzo, and why you decided to stay?
My life at the moment is actually straddled between St Albans in the UK that sits some 25 km north of London and Bascianella, a small frazione in the comune of Colledara (TE).
My partner and I bought our house in Abruzzo some 17 years ago. We didn’t think we’d ever have enough money to buy anything in East London where we then lived at that time. We thought buying a little house in Italy would act as an alternative way to have an active ‘pension’ which would provide a travel adventure without having to wait till we were old. When we do get old it would mean that we would always have a roof over our heads.
We both really liked Italy, I’d studied History of Art in Firenze in my late teens so had had experience of living in the country. My partner is Scottish, he likes mountains and beaches as do I, so we popped that phrase into Google and it came back with Abruzzo, a place neither of us had heard of! We visited and so began our little dream, learning about and exploring a culture and region that had both fantastic mountains, coastline and exceptional food and of course possibly live full-time if and when our work allowed us to.
In 2007 we bought a very small affordable house that needed completely restoring which we did with a small mortgage. Luckily our house wasn’t damaged by the 2009 earthquake, a lot of other properties and the church in Bascianella were badly affected. The comune has repaired many though there is still some way to go.
What kind of challenges you faced in adjusting to your life in Abruzzo, and how you came over them?
‘Popping out’ somewhere took some adjustment. You don’t just pop out if you live in the foothills or the mountains, you drive down a hill/mountain and then onto where you are going to. All that time adds up, and I realised I would need to be a little more organised if I didn’t want a morning to run away with me.
The majority of those who live in my village up till recently were elderly and answered my questions in dialect which could be a challenge!
Remembering to always carry cash! Although over the last year the need for this has decreased with the use of Go cardless, there remains the high probability that a local ATM won’t be working, so carrying a few Euros in your pocket is a good safeguard.
Finally, what are your favourite Abruzzo’s…
My favourite place in Abruzzo is Campo Imperatore. I love the winding mountain pass drive via Castelli from my village of Bascianella up to there. Each drive is a vividly different experience, the seasons, the light, the weather, the animals. To have all that space to walk in and cloud watch is something that not many city dwellers have the luxury of when trying to think straight and decompress.
My very favourite dish would be Timaballo alla Teramana. I think it personifies so much about Abruzzo, it’s barely known outside the region yet its rich flavour and textures makes lasage seem such a poor cousin. It’s become a family tradition to now make it for our Christmas lunch each year.
My favourite proverb is Miije l’ove huije che la gallène dumane. There are so many wise interpretations of this proverb. Value today and the little things rather than waiting for a grand tomorrow that can leave you without anything seems the very best advice in this unstable world.
It’s interesting when we returned to the UK after living in Abruzzo for a couple of years, my little boy wouldn’t eat the eggs on his return. He was used to my neighbour Gilda coming by the house and giving him a still warm, delicious egg for breakfast straight from one of her hens. We should have been perhaps happy with such love, such a wonderful start to the day rather than jumping into what turned out to be the brexit ship of horror!