Pilgrims in the middle earth. A journey of discovery and relaunch – Corriere.it

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One might say: when they were young they wanted to make the revolution, and when they grew up they made the Via Francigena on foot. Reality, as often happens, is more complex.

The cover of Gaetano Quagliariello’s book «Along the way. Walking along the paths of middle Italy “(Rubbettino Editore, pp. 134, euro 13)

Along the way (Rubbettino Editore) is the story of a journey in the “middle earth”. The journey of a generation: from the waste of 1968 to the intimacy of maturity, passing through a season suspended between the myths of the fathers and the new world of the children. The journey of four friends: a politician (the author, Gaetano Quagliariello), a priest (Don Liberio Andreatta) and two journalists (Antonio Polito and for a while Franca Giansoldati), walking in the footsteps of San Benedetto along the paths of the « middle ground ”which leads from Norcia to Montecassino. The journey of Apennine Italy: “middle ground” par excellence, a treasure chest of a hidden Italy that preserves the heart of our tradition, from an apparently ineluctable destiny of abandonment and depopulation to the opportunity to make a serious socio-economic crisis determined from the pandemic an unexpected opportunity to relaunch.


On this scheme, the book has a tripartite structure: “before”, “during” and “after”.

Gaetano Quagliariello (Naples, 1960) is a professor of contemporary history.  He was also a senator and minister
Gaetano Quagliariello (Naples, 1960) is a professor of contemporary history. He was also a senator and minister

The “before” is divided into two chapters, both autobiographical, in some ways specular. One narrates, uncensored, the youthful summer holidays “on the road” of the generation immediately following that of 1968; the other the intimate and at times compulsive paths in the ghostly Rome of the first lockdown. All this in a sort of ideal trajectory: from the “road” of Kerouac to the way to Santiago de Compostela; from the myth of the “commune” desecrated by the first visionary Houellebecq to the encounter as mutual enrichment between people in search of the meaning of life; from the body as an object of “consumption” and an instrument for the satisfaction of momentary impulses, to the body as part of the being and a means of carrying out a physical and spiritual path that must therefore be preserved.

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The “during” is the diary of the Way of St. Benedict, which he brought three wayfarers (four for a while, before an unfortunate accident) to walk, in the footsteps of the patron saint of Europe, the road that from Norcia (place of his birth) leads to Montecassino (place of his death), through caves , lakes and mountains, valleys and villages – from Cascia to Subiaco, from Arpino to Orvinio -, meeting the traces of other saints (Rita, Maria Salome, Tommaso d’Aquino), along a physical and spiritual itinerary dotted with charterhouses and abbeys with their evocative stories (Trisulti, Casamari, Montecassino) and local communities immersed in our time and yet so authentic as to appear out of time. In the story of the ten days the stories and vivid naturalistic descriptions are intertwined with the conversations of pilgrims, with present and past anecdotes, with the confrontation with a class of local administrators struggling with the difficult daily life of wonderful lands tormented by earthquakes and depopulation, too often forgotten by national politics. At the end of the journey, on the way back to the capital, a decompression stop in the city of the four Popes, Anagni.

The “after” is a sort of programmatic manifesto for the areas inland Apennines. That “middle Italy” that the pandemic has placed in front of a crossroads between a definitive decline and an extraordinary opportunity to relaunch. It goes without saying that the author, who among other things is a senator elected in the L’Aquila-Teramo college, favors the second option. And, after having outlined the history and current events of a crisis with distant roots, he proposes a sort of decalogue for internal Italy: that portion of territory, rewarded by nature and penalized by fate, which roughly coincides with the craters of earthquakes of 2009 and 2016-2017, but which can be assumed as an ideal type for the internal areas of the whole peninsula. It is a question of modernizing institutions to redefine intermediate bodies and facilitate the governance of common problems; guaranteeing security to contain the consequences of disasters in a highly seismic country; ensure health care even in the most inaccessible areas by combining, also through organizational rationalization, the structures of excellence, the recovery of proximity medicine and the potential of telemedicine. And again: governing smartworking by seizing the opportunities it can offer for the repopulation of the villages without falling into opposite extremisms; canceling the technological gap, another – today crucial – face of the infrastructural gap; «Networking», in the «software» sense of using the web to overcome some difficulties in internal areas, and in the «hardware» sense of guaranteeing essential services on the territory.

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Other points of the decalogue: promoting tourism to do the “neo-rurality” and the rediscovery of slow tourism a driving force for integrated development and not just a passing trend; enhance the Apennine mountains so that the natural heritage becomes a resource and not a ballast for the socio-economic development of local communities; create the University of the Apennines by overcoming the exasperated parochial fragmentation and bringing study plans closer to territorial peculiarities; revitalize local credit, put in crisis by the blows inflicted in recent years on cooperative credit and the network of cooperative banks.

The program proposed in the decalogue is accompanied by a project concrete, matured in the dark days of the first lockdown and in an advanced stage of realization: a new path, the “Way of the Mountains and Saints”, which will start from the basilica of Collemaggio and will return there after having crossed the splendid and uncontaminated territories in a ring of the L’Aquila area. From Cammino to Cammino, to unite tradition and future, “along the way” so that the heart of internal Italy continues to pulsate.

May 26, 2021 (change May 26, 2021 | 21:59)

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