Ambling to Bari and Matera

Ambling because that is what one does here, at least on foot.  Amble through the streets, through meals, through tiny cups of impossibly strong coffee, through lazy glasses of wine.   Not much time, since there is an American man waiting rather pointedly for this computer (and funny how much pressure his tidy shoes makes me feel) , but a few notes to keep you current….

—Bari is a small city on the east coast, decidedly un-touristy, though it appears there is a large port from which ferries and cruise ships sail.  We arrived by train (Eurostar, not the locals, which would have meant changing three times).  I felt quite cheered by navigating the purchase of tickets and accomplishing our transfer and the comfortable ease of the train itself, a chance to read and rest and observe the endless miles of valley through which we traveled, mountains to the north and to the south, and between, vast vineyards and olive orchards, with hilltop towns in the hazy distance like watercolors of wine labels.   

–we spent Tuesday meandering around Bari’s old town in the gentle rain.  We had good umbrellas andArch_into_the_old_town_bari
decent shoes and the clerk at the hotel said there had been no rain for 150 days, to it was hard to mind it.  In truth, it lent the day a certain moody grace.  We ambled around the warren of medieval streets in the walled old city (which was notorious for pick pockets and petty crime until recently, when it has been cleaned up). There is an enormous old castle, remarkably well preserved, which delighted me for the dual wall construction (curtain wall and inner courtyard) plus the Norman keep.  It was not possible to see a lot of the inside, nor climb the tower, but it is remarkable nonetheless, with a now grassy and enormous moat.   

–Tuesday night (the man has left, exasperated that his sighs did not make me type any faster), we went to thIlprofumodelleoree book event at Feltrinelli, and that was quite an adventure.   A crowd gathered forBari_feltrinelli_book_event the discussion of Il profumo delle Oro (Madame Mirabou├ás School of Love here), where I met several gracious and interesting readers.  One in particular, a beautiful woman with a cloud of silvery hair and the elegance of a model, asked most intriguing questions.  An interpreter translated for us.  I signed
some books and we drank some
coffee, then a driver picked us up in the now pouring rain, and drove us south in the dark and we to Matera.   My first glimpse of the sassi will stay with me, as we rounded a narrow, twisting road and suddenly, there were the tumbles of pale yellow stone studded with lights, as fantastical as something from a half-remembered dream or a book read long ago, and across the ravine, a black darkness, vast and impenetrable. T We lugged our suitcases up a series of steps and across a cobblestone courtyard, getting soaked, and tumbled into bed in our long, churchlike cave….

—In the morning, emerging like children from ensorcellment, we came into the bright blue morning, and the ruined and renewing tumbles of the town of sassis, stairs trailing hither and yon, climbing into dark passages, emerging into dazzling sunlight, and churches upon churche upon churches.   A cathedral whose roof fell down last summer, cave curches carved into the mountains, and across the river rushing through the valley far below, an austere bluff with tiny ant figures on the top, staring back at us. 

I have eaten amazing food.  Orchiette (sp) with spinach and butter and tomatoes.  Rabiit (rabbit! me!) roasted to such savory tenderness it melted on my tongue, served with potatoes cooked to buttery perfection.  CR had lamb and sausages today, while I feasted on mashed fava beans and roasted cheese and drank a big hearty glass of red wine (which we shared) and came back to nap in the hot of the afternoon.

Oh, and one final note: last night, the cocktail party was held at a small cafe on minor piazza, facing a larger piazza (that backs up to another piazza).  Handsome waiters served white wine and proscuitto and two beautiful young creatures enacted the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet in Italian, she curving over the edge of the balcony above, he earnestly looking up to her from the square.  Old men leaned on the walls to watch, and the evening shoppers paused to smile tenderly, and it was piercingly, wildly beautiful, so much so that I had to look away and recite the words under my breath, for I memorized it entirely at the age of thirteen and still can whisper every word….But soft? What light from yonder window breaks?


2 thoughts on “Ambling to Bari and Matera

  1. Oh! I memorized the whole scene too, at about the same age. How wonderful that must have been.

    How silver-sweet sound lovers’ tongues by night, Like softest music to attending ears…

  2. It really is such gorgeous poetry, and heart-rendingly romantic to girls of 13 or 14 who love words.

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