SARONNO, Italy - Most writers keep journals and I am no exception. This is an excerpt from my journal on my one and only train trip to Puglia. My destination was Bari and Lecce, but in this segment I’m not there yet. These are random notes, scribbled over the course of the journey.
|The Adriatic Coast|
I left Saronno at 5AM. I’m going to Puglia today. On the train. It’s going to take 10 hours, but I want to take the train because I’ve never traveled along the Adriatic coast and I’m curious to see what it’s like.
It’s 11:45. We are somewhere between Ancona and Pescara, passing a town called Guilanuova. It’s all new construction here. Most of the time the train follows the sea and as usual the shoreline is gummed up with either bathing establishments, i bagni , but not this stretch – just open fields to the sea – then a tacky campground with a huge pool.
Oh man, ugly motel under construction. No idea where we are. Train’s a little shaky. Sea is divided; close to shore it looks gray, but further out its deep blue. In the distance a ship. Nice grove of umbrella pines diminished by rows of campers. Outside staircases seem to be popular here, look like they’ve been super glued to the outside of the buildings. Another nice grove of umbrella pines – seems to go on and on and on. Now open sea, sandy beaches.
Out the right hand side window, steep hills topped with occasional fortress structures. There is an old man sitting across from me who is very attractive. That’s what I like about the south. Southern Bells, Sauce of the South, with a wife who must have heart trouble because she was breathing like a racehorse at the end of the Kentucky Derby when they got on the train in – Bologna - maybe.
|Cruising the Adriatic|
The old man is deaf. Nothing worse than a conversation between two deaf people, a whole lot of eh? Eh? EH?. We’ve gone through a few tunnels now, glimpses of the sea through the open arches. It’s not the Mediterranean. I guess that’s why Crayola chose Mediterranean blue and not Adriatic blue.
We are going through Ortona. Looks like an industrial port, sailboats tied up out on the dock. There seem to be a lot of power boats for sale. Another tunnel. This time a long one and when we come out of it the sea has disappeared from view – replaced by grape vines growing on the hill sides – and yet another tunnel. This a long one too. And another.
Tuscany it ain’t, although there are steep hills, planted with vertical rows of grapes. Another tunnel. The guy across from me is making a career out of reading the newspaper. He is reading EVERY word – talk about getting your money’s worth. More grape vines, this time on the sea side.
Whizzing along in this high speed train I feel like I’m traveling to the end of the world, but its only Termaoli. You can see how vulnerable Italy is as we go along the open coastline at 100 MPH. No wonder they were always under attack. Lots of soft underbelly.
Now an ugly town on top of a hill. This whole area lacks character. Sweet Dreams hotel in Campmarino – somehow I doubt it.
Only 1PM, is it possible there are still two hours to go? One hour to Foggia according to the woman sitting across from me. Both husband and wife have phones. She calls the son, the father calls the daughter. The son is sick and she has called him at least 3 times with advice – eat light, stay in bed. She is at least 80, so even with a conservative guess, the son is must be 40, if not 50.
|San Marino, Italy|
I can almost picture her young. Now her cheeks are sunken, her face a web of wrinkles, hooded eyes, hook nose, a look from another time. Her hair is colored a no color if that is possible. He has a full face, those half closed eyes I love, white hair,
Where are we now? Chieti? 2 more hours to go, this time confirmed by the conductor. The town we are passing is Chieti Serracapriola. There is a little bit of breeze here, I can see the leaves moving on the tree. It looks like New Jersey. There is not a soul in sight. Oh, I forgot, it’s 1 o’clock, lunch time.
|The Adriatic Coast|
Next town is Ripalta, the sign is bigger than the town. We’ve seem to have lost the sea. Now on what used to the sea side there are undulating hills of green, planted fields and I keep thinking I see a town/city in the distance, but it must be a mirage. We’ve come inland because the next stop is Foggia – then we will head back towards the sea. There is a city in the distance on the sea side. It wasn’t a mirage after all. It’s windy here. Sento di avere fatto un salto su la luna, as they say: I feel like I’ve landed on the moon.
Another stop in the middle of nowhere. Pink house out the window reminds me of The Leopard, by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. Another house has a large terrace set over a car port. There are a lot of electrical towers and industrial buildings. Now a small stand of olive trees, a patch of grape vines, on the other side, more of the same.
|Train Station San Severino|
S. Severo first sign of civilization – lots of graffiti and the old woman is calling her son again! Senti Paolo, hai mangiato? Listen Paulie, did you eat something? Her husband keeps on reading, probably thinking for Christ’s sake, he’s forty years old, he can handle a cold.
Miles of fields, grapes mostly, interspersed with fields of green. Here and there a house or small concrete building. The isolation is unsettling to me. But you do, or I do anyway, get a sense of distance.
If I were the King of Italy I’d knock down all these ugly towns and say, there you go, now try it again. Even the buildings under construction are ugly. Another town in the distance. Train is going too fast now to read any signs. This car is practically empty and very quiet. I think there are only 4 of us. The other 1st class cars were jam packed, but this one never was. I feel like I’m in Sicily. Where the hell are we? This place definitely gets the ugly prize. (To be continued).