Fabrizio Cardinali, 72, does not crave the bright city lights. Indeed he has no use for electricity and for more than half a century has lived entirely off the grid.
Cardinali, whose long white beard makes him look like Karl Marx, the poet Walt Whitman or a slimmed-down Santa Claus, lives in a stone farmhouse in the hills of the Verdicchio wine country near Ancona, on Italy’s eastern Adriatic coast.
By choice, he has no electricity, no gas, and no indoor plumbing.
“I was not interested in being part of the world as it was going. So I left everything – family, university, friends, the sports team, and set off in a completely different direction,” he said, sitting in the kitchen and wearing patched corduroy trousers.
“Giving something up is not masochistic. You give something up to obtain something else that is more important,” he said.
In the past, he has lived entirely alone.
Right now, he has two housemates, a rooster, three chickens and a cat in a community he calls “The Tribe of the Harmonious Walnuts”.
Visitors seeking Cardinali and his friends are told by locals in the nearest town to take the narrow dirt path that starts next to an oak tree flying a multi-coloured peace flag.
Cardinali and his housemates, who gave their names only as Agnese and Andrea, rely on a wood-burning stove for cooking and warmth, and read by lamps fuelled with used cooking oil donated by neighbours.
“I feel privileged to have the freedom to choose my freedom,” said Agnese, 35, who moved in two years ago. Andrea, 46, spends the week there but goes home to Macerata, about 31 miles away, each weekend to look after his mother.
The “harmonious walnuts” grow fruit and vegetables, olives to produce olive oil, and keep bees for honey. A local cooperative sells them sacks of legumes, cereals and wheat, which they grind to make their own bread.
When possible, they trade any surplus production for anything they need.
Although some people have dubbed him “the Hermit of Cupramontana”, Cardinali says he is not one.
Instead, he believes life is best lived in small communities.
His first piece of advice for anyone tempted to follow his example is: “Throw away your so-called smartphone.”
Cardinali occasionally travels short distances to visit friends, take olives to a stone press to make oil, and walks or hitch-hikes to the nearest town to have a coffee with locals or visit the doctor.
“I’ve been living this way for about 51 years and I have never regretted it. For sure, there have been difficulties, but they never made me think that I made the wrong choice or thrown it all away,” he said. “Absolutely not.”
Photography by Yara Nardi