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Growing Up Teen in Cagli

Story Story-LH Finalby Lisa Hagen

Bzzzzzzzzzzzz. The Piaggio velo zips by as the young rider bounces and sways along the narrow and rugged cobblestone street.  Her wavy brown hair dances in the wind beneath a pale pink helmet.  Three more scooters whiz by at nearly full throttle.  Their converse sneakers touch ground just long enough to acknowledge the stop sign.  A quick hand gesture to each other and they’re off, a pack of teenage girls navigating their way around this 40 square mile ancient Italian city nestled in the Apennines.

Don’t let the Roman era Duomo or the city’s 14th century piazza deceive you.  Although the buildings and streets date back centuries, teen life in Cagli is all modern.  Life here focuses on familiar adolescent themes—friends, family and the future.

It’s late afternoon. A stone wall separates the youth center from the street.  A crowd gathers.  It’s basketball time.   Some boys warm up on the court while others sit on neighboring grass and picnic tables.  Inside ping pong and foosball games are in full swing.   The center director playfully wrestles with a younger boy, ruffling his hair and tickling his ribs. 

Seated at a picnic table, Sylvia laughs and jokes with her friends.  A wisp of hair dangles over her expressive eyes.    Her feet wriggle and curl as she talks.   A dancer, she studies hip hop, jazz, and ballet. 

Cagli is her home, it always has been.   If  Sylvia has her way, it always will be, like many of the 9,000 residents that call Cagli their home.   Like her peers, she waivers about the type of work she would like to do but not about the where.  She wants to stay in Cagli.

Across town, wedged in a corner of two privately owned shops, nine boys and their bikes cluster together.  His hair combed perfectly, Gianpaolo sits atop his bright blue motor velo. Written across the back of his blue collared shirt are the words Baci & Abbracci, a popular Italian designer label akin to Abercrombie & Fitch.     For him and his amicos life in Cagli is la dolce vita.  Life consists of mornings swims in the nearby river, afternoon games of basketball and soccer football, continued by ping pong matches at dusk, and drag races through the streets at night.  

Gianpaolo is 15 and attends school thirty minutes away in Urbino.  As part of the Italian school system, students are tested and then select one of six tracks to pursue career training in liceo or higher secondary school.  Interested in banking, he is rare among his peers in his desire to pursue a Universite education following liceo.   Nearly all of his friends in Cagli find their life here satisfying and see themselves continuing family businesses or finding local jobs.

 “ Cagli is too small,” he blurts. “No way, I want to move away to a bigger city.” His English is impeccable as he defends his position.  Among the group that has gathered, Gianpaolo serves as the interpreter.  English and French are both taught in the Italian school system to prepare students for the international marketplace.  Gianpaolo is ready. 

Night falls in Cagli casting a warm glow on the clock wall that centers the town.   Conversation competes with the sound of the fountain at the center of the piazza.   Around it, Cagli springs to life as locals gather for evening gelato, vino, and conversation.  There are few strangers here.  Families walk dogs and push bambini strollers.  “Ciao!” Men with graying hair and weathered skin perch on the rock wall below the bell tower, as younger men stand nearby awaiting their turn.  “Ciao!”  Teen girls dressed in zippered capris and bright colored tank tops giggle as they walk by. “Ciao!”  A pack of boys emerge from a side street, laughing and gesturing to the girls as they pass. “Ciao!”   In the distance, a scooter roars.


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