When Angelo Carchidi returned to Rosarno in 2012, the peak of Europe’s debt crisis, the place of his birth and home of his youth had become a ghost town. The piazzas, the public squares that are at the heart of Italian social life, were quiet and empty. Homes and apartments were boarded and padlocked and “for sale” signs hung from their façades. Persistent neglect from all levels of government had spurred the collapse of social services, including the public library—one of the town’s only cultural spaces, which seemed neglected and imbued with the smell of mold. Thirty-year-old Carchidi, an architect by trade, was accustomed to the city’s rural slumber. But this time, it was if a malaise had descended upon the town.
Once known as Medma, a name given by the ancient Greeks for this city in southern Italy, Rosarno now exists at the margin of a margin. The town of 15,000 people is located in Calabria, one of Italy’s most disadvantaged regions and the stronghold of the ‘Ndrangheta, the country’s most powerful mafia. For decades, the violence of poverty, crime, and a lack of opportunity has caused young Calabrians like Carchidi to flock to the prosperous north, or others—like my own grandparents—to emigrate elsewhere.
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“The place you are born forms you, it makes you grow, it makes you frustrated,” Carchidi said. “But in some way, you are indebted to it.”
Seated outside Rosarno’s Bar Spagnolo on a languorous late summer evening last year, Carchidi recounted this story to me, interrupting his musings on urban renewal to joke in Calabrese dialect with friends who pass by. Humble and welcoming, tough and stubborn, Carchidi embodies the Calabrian character that is magnified in the people of Rosarno. When he returned to the city seven years ago, Carchidi was lucky to find people who shared his interests—and more so, his hopes for what Rosarno could be. Along with four friends—Ettore Guerriero, Giovanna Tutino, Umberto Carchidi and Miriana Zungri—the group formed A di Città, an association that exists somewhere between an arts collective and a cultural enterprise. Their first project was a Festival of Urban Regeneration, an attempt to resuscitate the city through art and, in turn, revive the community. But, once the festivities ended, the city’s local council—who were, for a time, attentive to the needs of the people—relapsed.
“We realized that our work through the festival had limitations,” he said. “So we asked, if we were to recount Rosarno in a book, a tourist guidebook, what would we include in it?”
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“When you say to a person who has always lived in a place, who sees it every day, ‘If you could tell the story of this place, how would you tell it?’ It awakens a whole series of questions that can bring out even the possibilities of a place,” Carchidi said.
In late 2014, A di Città began work on Kiwi: Deliziosa Guida di Rosarno, or as it translates from the Italian, “a delicious guide to Rosarno.” The guide’s name, Kiwi, is both ambiguous and fitting. Across the plains of Gioia Tauro, an area that encompasses Rosarno, the juicy, prickly kiwifruit has begun to supplant the region’s orange groves. While the switch from oranges to kiwifruit is driven by economics, the latter—foreign and exotic to Calabria—is representative of a changing region. The guide would encompass both the old and the new, the local and the foreign, the past and the tentative future.
Over the course of three years, A di Città held workshops and meetings, involving the public in the planning, writing, and distribution of Kiwi. The team decided that their office would be the city and held meetings, much like my own with Carchidi, in the cafés, pizzerias, and piazzas that dot the historic center. During Kiwi’s production, the public library became a makeshift editorial office and the “beating heart” of the guidebook. But just before the book was published in early 2017, the council decided to close the library.
“Culture is not a priority in this city,” Carchidi said. “And this was a question of priorities.”
Kiwi, on the other hand, was the product of prioritizing culture through storytelling and, to paraphrase the Italian writer Cesare Pavese, prioritizing the stories of those for whom Rosarno is “in their blood beyond anyone else’s understanding.” As a hardcover book with more than 200-pages, the guide is punctuated with color photographs, historical illustrations, and chunks of lime green paper that divide it in two. The first half follows the structure of a conventional guidebook with maps, history, notable people, and places of interest. But the preface to this section, aptly titled “before you leave,” begins with a rumination on the perfume of orange blossoms and ends with a note about the book’s underlying purpose: to tell a nuanced story of a typecast city.
“The media have often (and sometimes with reason) written about Rosarno as the land of mafia and exploitation,” it reads. “Before continuing, we recommend leaving the labels and prejudice at home and being open to discover a contradictory place, full of contrast and surprise, with which you will fall in love.”
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At Bar Duomo, as we snack on olives and crunchy bread, Carchidi opens a copy of Kiwi and flips to this second half of the book entitled, Rosarno Ulterior. The section begins with a preface, written by the A di Città team, on the idea of “possible places” and the importance of paying attention to the everyday spaces in which we spend our lives. What follows is a series of essays that together form an oral history of Rosarno and, more so, an ode to places that exist on the periphery.
Here’s the introduction to a video about the book (translated from Italian via Google Translate):