I learned early in my walks around Sessa of the town’s trick of hidden streets. The old houses in the center, built one upon the other, jut irregularly into narrow, meandering streets, making it impossible to judge from any sort of distance what is the corner of an intersection and what is just the end of a façade. Narrow alleys, often stepped, intersect with streets at irregular intervals, looking like flights of stairs that lead to houses. I learned to suppress my shyness and walk confidently through spaces that seemed private, and sometimes the reward was a new street or alley I hadn’t seen before.
Over a year ago, or maybe two years, I thought that I had found them all. The last one had been a particularly spectacular discovery (from the point of view of someone who likes to walk around old towns looking at crumbling buildings) but it was a bit disheartening, because I took it to mean that Sessa no longer had any surprises for me.
“Have you gone up this street?” N asked.
“Oh yes, I can’t tell you how many times I tried to photograph its diaphragm arches. I gave up perhaps a year ago.”
“Then you know it lets out near our house.”
At the end of the little street, at its very end, or rather at what seems like its very end, a narrow flight of steps turns ninety degrees, invisibly to anyone who is not standing directly before it, and leads to another level where the street opens up again. Then, at its end, its real end, it widens into a piazzetta, with a water fountain on one side, and a gated niche that holds a statue of St. Anthony of Padua on the other. At the far corner, a narrow flight of stairs leads to one of the wide streets that mark the edge of the newer part of the historic center, which is our neighborhood.
It was gratifying to feel that old sense of excitement at having seen something new and it made me laugh to think that after all my years of exploring the town, I had been unable to find its last hidden street, as close as it was to where I pass almost all my time, without the help of someone who knew Sessa better than I did.
A very clever trick, indeed.