Calabrian Chronicles Continued: Serra San Bruno Encora


Hillside Serra San Bruno
View from above Serra San Bruno

Every few days there is rain in Serra San Bruno; this is not good for the filming. Most of the movie takes place out of doors where the charcoal burners are working. There is lots of expensive equipment, including a camera that costs as much as two houses which needs to stay clean and dry in an environment full of wood smoke, charcoal, and rain. In sum, this is not an easy combination for getting things done on schedule. Today the wind was so fierce that half the film crew came back black-faced from the charcoal smoke.

White Wood
Papa's Sticky Wood
Matthew Broussard
Matthew Broussard

The structures built by the charcoal burners (or carbonai) are incredible, they look like sculptures by Andy Goldsworthy and seem more beautiful being constructed so of necessity rather than invention. The movements, the decisions, the rhythm of constructing these “scarrazzi” (in english this translates as a ‘charcoal clamp‘ are intuitive for these men. For the film Matthew needs to make some pieces of wood to be used in the construction of the centre of one of the scarrazzi appear very white and as if the bark was trimmed off by hand…so he’s trimming it off by hand with a big machete. The wood is fresh pine and exuding resinous sap, Robin calls it “Papa’s sticky wood” and is very excited to see the capo of the carbonai, Artemio, using a chain saw. In general she likes the men in their black dusted clothes and faces and remembers all of their names: Artemio, Bruno, Zeno, Salvatore.

Scarazzo being built
Scarazzo (or wood clamp) being built

The smell of woodsmoke chases through the town on the tail of the hard wind like the ghost of a warm fire searching for a place to sit down. I am unsure if it’s smoke blown down the long river bed from the charcoal burner’s works or from the cumulative fireplaces of Serra San Bruno, long and narrow; clustered along both sides of the river like Lancelot and Guinevere on either side of Arthur’s sword. Robin and I go out and take our walk in the wind and smoke…amidst the baroque granite landmarks remains the rest of the town, getting on with it’s normal life in the south:

There is a store that sells real fruit and fake flowers, the sales woman inside is wearing her winter coat and a hat, the small heating stove is off, we are the only customers I have seen in this store in a week of passing by the door twice a day. The saleswoman will not take my money, she gives Robin an apple for free. This is Calabria.

Corner in Serra San Bruno
Corner in Serra San Bruno
Side of a house facing the river Serra San Bruno
Side of a house facing the river Serra San Bruno

We keep walking and pass by facades of ridged brick both holding up and falling down, the sad leftovers of Mussolini’s vision, shoving up against both the slender, solid granite posts of the old houses that support gracious granite arcs as well as the concrete walls of apartment blocks made to ward off both earthquake and beauty; battened down with corrugated steel that sends streams of rust enriched rain water down into the flaking plaster of the house next door.

Brick Facades Serra San Bruno
Brick Facades Serra San Bruno

What a place. And next we’ll be going to another paradoxically beautiful and squalourous Calabrian town, Caulonia.

Matthew is anxious to get back to Caulonia because there are many other things that need to be worked on there. On the one hand, it’s been a real break for me, staying in a hotel; there are other people doing the cooking and cleaning and lots of big spaces for Robin to explore as well as lots of new people to make friends with. Still, I think we are all ready to be in a place where we can wake up in the morning, make our own coffee and drink it in bed. So we’re looking forward to being in Caulonia where we can stay in an apartment with a kitchen.

By bonniemcclellan

Mother, poet, american ex-pat from Texas living in Northern Italy.

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