It is early April, the week of the Sagra del Carciofo (artichoke festivals) in central Italy, particularly in Lazio. On the rich soil flatlands near Latina, the temperature is an early summer 30 degrees.
We are driving to Sezze which can be seen from afar strutting the escarpment of the lower Lepini mountains to the east. The road zig-zags up the hills, all the way surrounded on both sides by large luscious Fichi d’India (to those of us from the English world, Prickly Pear). We could be in Sicily on this balmy day. We park on the edge of the old city, walk up Via Umberto to Palazzo Rappini and then go our separate ways, one to do business and the other to find a piazza with a spare seat in the shade and maybe come across the Cathedral of Santa Maria.
I take the next street to the right, via Fulvia, aiming for the top of the town, in search of the inevitable church. It is half past three and the town has not yet woken from its ‘pranzo’ slumber. There are few locals about, and no tourists. Dark blue and crimson pennants hang from the buildings, maybe the colours of Sezze, but there is no-one to ask and definitely no internet cafes. A billboard announces that between April 7 and April 10, Sezze celebrates its Sagra del Carciofo.
I approach a large building from the seventeenth century announcing itself as Auditorium Comunale near to which is the inevitable sign of via Garibaldi and then a little further on to a sign for a church ’San Pietro’, but it is bereft of an entrance. I am standing in a square, Piazza dei Magistris, quite large for an old town, but it is absent of any seats and seems to be simply a carpark for the denizens of officialdom. So I follow the building line around the corner into Piazza Margherita.
There is a wooden cross on the wall, but no sign for entry. God is calling his faithful in strange ways in Sezze, maybe through the eye of the needle. The next door announces itself as Biblioteca Comunale, the Town Library. Next to the door I note , for maybe the fourth time on this short stroll through old Sezze, a plaque reciting an article (Articolo) from the Italian Constitution, but dated 2012, which leaves open the reason for this late constitutional loyalty in Sezze.
At the end of the Piazza is a small park, not grassed but with tarmac, yet it has seven fine middle sized evergreen trees that I cannot name, and a statue in the middle surrounded by low bushes.
But before selecting one from the six green painted steel benches in the deserted but pleasantly shaded haven, I must sneak a look into the narrow alleyway at the end of the library building to search for a solution to the enigma of the church of San Pietro (of 1589). Yet still finding no immediate answer, I approach the copper-coloured statue of a man kneeling on a rock cradling another man.
The sign tells me it is a statue of San Carlo of Sezze who lived from 1613 to 1670, but was remembered here in 2002 with the words ’Il comitato promotore, pose’ – an interesting eulogy.
Four youngish men join my ‘tryst with the trees of the park’ though their joy comes alternatively from sharing a few mandarins, fulfilling the Italian need of chatting, and smoking. A bell in an as-yet unseen bell tower of San Pietro chimes once to register half past four.
A couple double park their car, turn off the blaring radio and walk past me to occupy the fourth bench in the rapidly filling park for their own tryst. Maybe these are the only seats in the old town, but they do get a little hard after an hour or so – possibly a design planned to prevent too much laziness from the women of Sezze.
Looking back through the opening of the Piazza I can gaze up into a wonderful sight of the highest treeless slopes of the Lepini mountains, that saw little of their customary snow this just-passed winter.
Returning to the Piazza dei Magistris, I test every opening but singularly fail to find how to greet San Pietro and must conclude that maybe God has moved his Sezze seat from this building to the not yet found Santa Maria.
I am left with the opportunity given to every traveller in an Italian town, to enter a bar and select either a coffee or a beer. Well it is 5 pm, it is an unseasonably warm early spring day, and the sun is over the yard arm. We will return to follow our ecclesiastical search of Sezze and its old town, perchance sip another beer with the patron of the bar, and venture to parlay with a woman of Sezze.