Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

  entry 2012


    – or,  How to Live Like a King even if you Can't Get to Albania


Ever since the magazine International Living ran an article a few years back called "Nine Places Where You Can Retire and Live Like a King," a number of sources have cited that list. There are the old stand-bys such as Cuenca in Ecuador..."lush greens, luminous flowers, babbling rivers..."  and almost anywhere in Costa Rica. There are also a few big cities such as Vienna and Capetown. There is one place in Italy on the list (presumably, as a retired monarch you will not need a car, so the ten dollars a gallon will be of little import) and it is a mere 100 km (60 miles) from Naples! It is called Calitri. Cited in one source:

Calitri is unspoiled Italy at its finest – overflowing with classic building designs, fine wines and delicious food. The cost of living in Calitri is amazingly affordable. For only $15,000 USD, you can purchase a small, unrestored apartment complete with kitchen and bathroom accommodations... Unrestored, classic homes in Calitri can be purchased for as little as $42,000 USD. Those looking to live modern in classic Italy can opt for the restored “luxury” models for around $64,000. The town of Calitri is surrounded by lush green fields and forests along rolling hillsides, offering great opportunities to wander off and take in the untouched scenery. What’s more, you can also receive free health care if you become a European citizen as part of your move to Calitri.*

[It's even better than that. If you are in Italy, maybe just wandering around (!), health-care is free.]

Calitri is a small hill town in that part of the Apennines known as Irpinia. It sits at 600 meters (1800 feet) along the Ofanto river near Avellino due east of Naples. It has around 5,000 inhabitants (down from a high of 8,600 in 1951). According to a town official, since that article ran in International Living 60 British and/or Irish families have bought places and moved in for some of “unspoiled Italy at its finest." Calitri even has a yearly festival called the Sponz Fest –- great food, films, music –- all that. The term Sponz comes from a dialect word sponzare, a term from the good old days, meaning to soak a dried cod (the only fish available back then) for three days until it became edible. During the three-day cod-soaking people would get sloshed, married and party till the fish got chewy. A good time was had by all.

Strangely, on that Live Like a King list, there was no mention of Albania! I specifically remember an article (ok, it was an ad) in the International Herald Tribune a few years after Albania had overthrown its loony Commie overlord, Enver Hoxha (see this link) and the fish were jumpin' and the cotton was high. At the time I was fed up with my puny and meaningless little life and was looking to turn my innermost rapacious and swashbuckling robber-baron fantasies to life! The ad appealed to me:

The once isolated country of Albania is now free and democratic. For men of action this provides an opportunity to get rich …in a country which lacks just about everything. In the process you can enjoy the pleasures of Europe’s last and most unknown paradise…

Forget the rapacious and swashbuckling grammar for a moment (“…most unknown…”). The main point of this full-page ad was that Albania was so poor that I could live like a king on US$35 a month! Indeed, I could lead a “feudal lifestyle” —that meant land and servants— (“surrounded by undemanding domestic helpers”). Also, I would pay no taxes. Then I could become an Albanian citizen and cash in on the benefits, two of which were that I could buy a “restored noble title” and then become a minister without portfolio! It was reprivatized boom-town benevolence all around.

I was tempted. First: Could I scrape together the $35? OK, I could wash a few more windshields at the street-corner near my house. Wait. What if my nation didn't recognize Albania?! I looked it up. Not a problem: “Albania is easy to recognize; it is approximately 5’ 10” tall, swarthy and shaped like a vegetable.” My ship had come in. Stop. I checked to make sure that there was a port in Albania with docking facilities for my ship. Yes! And, as it turned out, the entire harbor was just a metaphor, too, so it was better than I thought. I was on a roll, and pass the butter, please!

Hoxha's leftover two-man bunkers still dot the Albanian
countryside. I wanted to let my serfs live in these things.

started pandering to my feudal fantasies, big time. I saw myself unrolling that wad of one-dollar bills. Thirty-five big ones. The ooh’s and aah’s of the admiring peasant hordes swept over me, and “undemanding domestic servants” hoisted me to the sedan-chair which they had acquired just for the occasion (by removing the passenger-side front seat of the one sedan in Albania). They paraded me in triumph over to my inauguration as Restored Duke and handed me my passport. I started worrying about my title. If I was nobility and a minister without portfolio, what did people call me? What was the proper genuflection before me? Mother Teresa (an Albanian!) (photo, below) wandered into my daydream, smiled at me and told me not to sweat the small stuff. I was amazed at how well I understood Albanian. That language is called "Shqip" in the Albanian language, itself. Albania, is called "Shqipëria," which is probably what has deterred large-scale movements of foreigners into that nation in the past.

Mother Teresa, bust in Naples

Wait. That flash of Mother Teresa unleashed a pang. I thought of the Book of Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning forks; nation shall not lift up a sword against a nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” My conscience twinged at my lack of compassion. I made an e-coli bacterium look like Buddha. I thought of the remark in the ad that “Albania lacks almost everything” and asked myself, "What can I do?" It came to me. I’d set aside some of my $35 to import swords and spears into Albania and then set my serfs to beating them into ploughshares and pruning forks. I then recalled singing that passage in a church choir when I was in school and changing it to “tuning forks” instead of “pruning forks.” I started to giggle and wondered if Albanians had my droll sense of humor. I made a note to myself to brush up on sheep jokes.

But, alas, I never went. Various things intervened, and I had to content myself with articles in magazines and now even on Italian TV that tell me that I can live like a king in Calitri not too far way from my own princely place overlooking the bay of Naples. Maybe I can still commute! there something they are not telling me? Ah, there it is...

The study covered by this paper was focused on the historical case of the Calitri landslide, which was repeatedly reactivated by earthquakes, as reported since 1694. The town of Calitri (Southern Italy) is located on a ridge whose southern slope, from its top to the Ofanto river valley floor, has been historically affected by major landsliding. The last record of recurrence of the Calitri landslide leads back to the 1980 Irpinia earthquake, which caused significant damage to the town and had pervasive and visible ground effects. [from] "The role of the seismic trigger in the Calitri landslide (Italy): historical reconstruction and dynamic analysis" in Soil Dynamics and Earthquake Engineering, Volume 25, Issue 12, December 2005, Pages 933–950 Martino, Salvatore; Gabiele Scarascia Mugnozza. Elsevier Ltd.

I'm not saying that Calitri is not a great place to visit, get married, soak your cod, enjoy the traditional palio (horserace), the fine religious architecture, the numerous food festivals, or even meet the Scazzamauriegghje, a delightful invisible imp of local folklore. He wears a red beret (how do they know the color of the beret if he is invisible? I don't know.) Yes, all that. Live like a king if you must. Dance with the villagers, but know that there is another dance going on just below you, a perilous tectonic bump and grind, for Calitri is in the dead center (perhaps a poor choice of words) of the Irpine hills, the earthquake capital of southern Italy.

Maybe it's me. I'll stay put.

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