Bridgwater’s link with Priverno is going from strength to strength and this week it was the turn of Mayor Steve Austen to pay his first visit to the hilltop Italian town with a small delegation to see what projects we could bring about for the benefit of both communities.
For the past few years we have taken students from Bridgwater college, footballers from Bridgwater and our Czech win town Uherske Hradiste, and the Voice of the People choir –who will shortly be returning for their second bite at the mozzarella.
Priverno is less than an hour south of Rome. That’s a 5 € train journey. However, it’s also not far from the sea, so we started our expedition this time at the Hotel Oasa di Kufra in the nearby seaside town of Sabaudia where we often accommodate touring groups who are attracted by it’s private beach access, sand dunes, stunning lagoonside location and spectacular views across the Med.
Every room has a sea view (apart from the few that don’t) , the sea laps almost at the beach-side terrace and the restaurant with it’s wide span of ocean facing windows provides diners with terrific sunsets.
Less than half an hour away is Priverno. To get to it you travel across the former Pontine marshes, drained in the 1930s, to present a landscape reclaimed from the sea and not too dissimilar to Sedgemoor. As the marshes reach the Appenines the landscape is dotted with fortified hilltop towns, the first of which is Priverno – formerly Privernum in Roman times and with a wealth of archaeology from that period which it displays in a town centre museum.
Mayor Angelo Delogu was there to greet us with Chairman of Council Roberto Antonini and the youngest set of town councillors you’ve seen this side of S-Club Seven. In fact it would take 3 Piverno councillors to equal the average age of their Bridgwater counterparts.
Now, most of this trip involved one long conveyor belt of Italian food which seemed never ending, so I’ll just describe the programme in between that and if your mind starts to wander, just imagine another stream of plates of Mozarella, polenta, prosciutto, olives and artichokes filling in the gaps.
One thing they wanted to show us was the opportunities for economic co-operation, particularly in the field of food. The San Martino castle, where the group was staying, happened to be the venue for the ‘Slow Food’ co-operative who were promoting the precise opposite of ‘fast food’- natural, organic, full of taste and obviously best eaten in the courtyard of a Medieval castle.
One key member of the organisation was the Orsini Olive Oil firm, based in Priverno, and very keen for us to find an outlet for their excellent quality virgin brand and so we were taken to the factory and given an ‘oil tasting’ – first thing in the morning when your taste buds are at their best apparently. It didn’t help when Mr Orsini demonstrated the art of oil tasting by snorting the luminous green substance through various nasal orifices and nearly choking himself in the process. The olive oil smelt of cut grass and tomatoes and had won world wide awards.
Another local product was Mozarella. The famous cheese made from the milk of the Buffalo. Indian buffaloes. The wet marsh land of the area was ideal for this and so we went to the farm of (yet another insanely young) councillor Enrica Onorati to meet the buffalo themselves and then eat them in their restaurant.
Italian bread is a must for any dinner table, and in Priverno they make Falia, which is their own brand. So we were invited into the Panificio Bilancia to see Mr B himself making the Falia and then handing it over to us 30 minutes later piping warm and loaded with ham.
Employment is a big issue in Priverno, where the agricultural output is not matched by an equivalent in traditional industry. We saw two sides of the coin when we first visited Sibelco, a major employer , which had dug one of the largest holes in Europe in order to extract it’s silica and brought with it well paid jobs for the local economy, whilst at the nearby SAPA metalworks the behaviour of the multinational company there in attempting to transfer the plant to Vietnam and throw 135 families onto the streets had been met by the workers occupying the plant to stop the company asset stripping and keeping open the chance for a buyout by another company.
Striking workers were on the SAPA picket line and our delegation had no hesitation in joining them in the spirit of international solidarity in defence of their community.
The main purpose of the visit was to firm up the school to school links. Bridgwater College Italian department had offered to set up an exchange project, initially based on pen pals, then homehosting. To promote the link the delegation was invited to the Teodosio Rossi High school where students spoke of their keen interest to visit Bridgwater and had the chance to demonstrate their proficiency in English.
Teodosio Rossi school is situated down one of Priverno’s many typical narrow backstreets but once you’re through the iron security gates and find a window it suddenly opens up with spectacular views across to the not so distant hills.
Mayor Steve Austen praised the students for their ‘bravery’ in speaking before an English speaking audience before himself demonstrating his own bravado by launching into an impromptu promotion of Bridgwater and bigging up future links….of which MANY are planned, including the Voice of the People Choir, Bridgwater College Italian students, a senior and junior football project, a UK summer camp, economic co-operation and a support fund for the striking workers. Bridgwater and Priverno are well on their way to a full twinning with support catered for wherever it’s needed.
The delegation of 7, including teachers and councilors, had to be shovelled back onto the plane home lest they exploded with the quantities of Italian food bestowed on them by almost everyone they met in Priverno. A special thanks has to be said to the hard working Luigi Teodonio (Mayor Angelo’s left hand man) who translated, drove the minibus, organised the programme and even refrained from drinking for the weekend.