Candela is one of Italy’s dying towns. Different countries deal with their ageing demographics, – the result of young people leaving, families having fewer children and people living longer – in different ways. Georgia grants 1-year visas on arrival, presumably in the hope that visitors will fall for the enchanting scenery and stay. Japan’s solution seems really Japanese; rather than encourage immigration, their solution is to build robots to look after their elderly. In Italy, the towns worst affected are offering money to people to populate their towns or, in some cases, are giving away property for free.
Up until the 1960s, Candela was known as “Nap’licchie” (Little Naples), due to its busy streets full of wayfarers, tourists, merchants and noisy vendors. These days, however, the Neapolitan buzz has been replaced by the silence of the surrounding green hills and pristine forests. In the 1990s, more than 8,000 people lived there. Today, there are just 2,700 residents.
“What on earth happened here?” asked Michael.
The name Candela is ironic considering how many young people have fled in search of a brighter future elsewhere, leaving behind the elders. The town is dotted with empty white houses with wraparound terraces, quaint little alleys, arched passageways and Baroque buildings. There are several churches, whose bells ring out whenever a baby is born. Funerals are much more frequent.
“It’s a ghost town” I answered.
As darkness was falling we decided to give up for the night and went in search of somewhere to stay. The first few places we tried didn’t answer. The first door that opened expressed to us that his guest house was closed for the winter. He looked us up and down and ushered us into a car. He drove us down a winding road with no houses or street lamps. The low lying fog gave the darkness a rather claustrophobic quality.
As soon as we got out of his car, the porter quickly looked around him, before speeding off back from where he came.
“If this place is full or it’s too expensive, we’re pretty much stranded here in the middle of nowhere,” I said to myself as much as to Michael.
We stood in front of the huge door, flanked on either side with grand pillars covered in dead creepers.
“I guess we should knock then”, said Michael.
“Go on then”, I replied.
“You do it”
We clasped the huge brass knocker together and it screeched back away from the door on its rusty hinge. It must not have been used for a long time. We knocked three times.
Three deep booms echoed into the depths of the dark house: Boom, boom, boom. We waited. A gust of wind blew behind us, onto our backs, through our wet clothes, chilling our spines. We knocked again: Boom, boom, boom.
I looked behind me into the garden. Nothing was growing, except a few weeds. There was also a dirty greenhouse with several smashed panes.
I heard the sounds of slow, heavy yet careful footsteps behind the door.
“Ok, no one’s home, let’s go”, Michael joked. The footsteps stopped on the other side of the door. Whoever it was, was looking at us through the spyhole. I had a bizarre urge to tickle his balls through the letterbox, but I thought best of it. I stifled a grin.
Michael nudged me.
“Did you just think about tickling his balls through the letter box?” he whispered quickly.
“Yes”, I replied, chuckling again.
We heard a large bolt, slowly and meticulously turn and clunk. The door opened and a tall, pale man, with hair too black to be natural, stood over us. He took a step forward and from our position, three stairs down, we both had to look upwards to meet his gaze. We negotiated a price, which I thought was fair, considering how far away we were from anywhere else and how late it was. Even so, it was still the most expensive accommodation we’d stayed at thus far on our journey.
We walked into a grand hall with a huge marble staircase in the centre.
It was off-white and veined with black, twisting awarkdley up and to the left, up to the first floor. The firstfloor had an internal balcony all the way around, overlooking the great hall. Mounted on the walls of the hall were stoic portraits, painted in thick pastel tones, all sharing similar features as our host. The eyes around the room watched us approach the stairs as the wind rattled against the windows.
The man showed us into our room without saying anything more. We stepped inside to see a double bed with a brass headstand. Apart from that, the only other furniture was a bedside table, near the foot of the bed against the wall. It had a T.V. on it that looked like it could have been made out of Lego. As I went to check out the en-suite, Michael turned on the T.V.
“They’ve got the static channel,” he called through.
In search of something to eat, we made our back down the winding road in the fog. We had our dinner in a petrol station.
“So how far have we got today?” Michael asked me between bites of a dry pannini.
I had a look at the schedule.
“We’ve done 131 kilometres today. So that’s 1’800 km from home”
“And we’ve got six more days?”
This day, day 93, sat in the service station, trying to summon the courage to swallow my bland panini, was one of the grimmer moments of our trip. Europe was proving to be a real challenge for us. We needed to do 300 km a day and we were struggling to even do half of that. Our enthusiasm, like our time, was slowly ebbing away. I could feel the weariness seeping through my limbs and into my minds.
We went back to our creepy house and I ran myself a bath. I must have fallen asleep because when I woke up the water was cold.