02 October 2011

LIFE: Journey to Puglia Part 2

SARONNO, Italy – This is the continuation of my notes and observations during the 10 hour train ride from Milan to Bari and then Bari. To recap at this point of the trip what I can see are miles of fields, grape vines mostly, interspersed with fields of green. Here and there a house or small concrete building. The isolation is unsettling to me……… Where the hell are we? This place definitely gets the ugly prize.
Barletta, Italy - Maybe I Spoke Too Soon
Roses along the side of the track are in bloom, antique pink fuzzy ones, not classic and not anything like the roses you can order from the Burpee Seed Catalog.  Now a sign. The town is Barletta. There is a big factory of some sort, and now more industrial buildings.

I know that looking down at the streets while passing by on the train is not a true picture of any town, and there was a glimpse of a cathedral that looked interesting. I’ve yet to find an Italian town I didn’t like, so I may have spoken too soon. Now out of town with lots of industrial buildings along this stretch. Strange white beehive looking buildings in the middle of an olive grove. Oh my Gawd, those are trullis.

 Pugliese Trullis 
I remember reading about trulli. They look like giant stone beehives with cone shaped roofs and they are only found in Puglia. I’ve always associated them with the  town of Alberobello, how could I not know that if they were in Alberobello they would be scattered throughout the region as well. Sometimes I worry about myself.

This must be wash day in the south. Hardly a balcony that is not decorated with sheets and underwear. A nice group of rather good looking apartment buildings. Now cactus plants, huge ones, bigger than a Volkswagon are starting to appear and lots of fruit trees but no fruit in sight.

More Pugliese Trulli
Just saw two more trulli, these were made of stone on concrete and not painted white. They look like ..  wedding cakes. The sea is black and it is blue. These last couple of towns are very nice, good size, good architecture. We are about 15 minutes from Bari and barreling down the track.

Finally Bari. I’m worried about this town. All I can think of is that Italian teacher I had in Philadelphia who was from Bari and how she always talked about how terrible and dangerous the city is. My hotel is on the edge of the historic center, I’m worried about it. 

Bari Harbor
(The reason I’m in Bari is that I am working on a project for the Italian Ministry of Culture. It involves going around to all the historic buildings, monuments and churches in the historic center and writing a short piece about them. Sounds easy, but as all of the buildings, monuments and churches already have all you ever wanted to know about them printed and placed behind glass cases out in front of them for all to see, the challenge is to find some interesting detail about the building/church and add to the information that is already there.

What I write for each location will be turned into an audio tape that visitors can listen to on their phones by dialing a special number. The next part of this article are the notes I took walking around the historic center of Bari, the place I so dreaded going to.)  
Bari's Historic Center
Centro storico Bari is clean and colorful, houses open onto the ground floor, unlike the rest of Italy where apartments start on what is technically the second floor. Curtains cover doorways, to let the sea breezes in. Sounds of life inside, dishes clinking, voices, mother’s calling to kids, ‘Giacomo vieni qui’, Giacomo, come here.
Little man tells me his life story – he’s divorced, now lives with his mother, doesn’t know the streets because he lives in another part of the city. All I asked was do you know where this church is. I ask a young woman pushing her baby in a stroller along the sea walk. The view is so breathtaking and I can hardly concentrate on what she is saying to me. 

Life at Street Level, Bari, Italy
Wandering the streets I see an old woman in a housedress sitting on a chair next to her door. The door is in made in two sections, and the top half is open. She sees me looking around and checking my map and gives me one of those lift the chin gestures which means  - what’s your problem. I go over and start to ask where xx church is, she put her fingers to her lips to shush me, there is obviously a baby sleeping on the other side of the door.

Question – why do they tell you what it isn’t? It’s not the first street, but the one after that.

The Real Deal - Orecchette
Ladies in doorways of old Bari making orecchiette, the trays for drying them look like large flour sifters set out on racks that do double duty as clothes lines. They offer to sell me some. 

Teenagers sprawled out over the steps of a church that is more than 1,000 years old, arguing about last Sunday’s soccer game. The neighborhood butcher comes out of his shop to show me what street I need to take to find my next church.
The Cathedral of San Nicola
Lots of green, tree shaded streets, trees used like the porticos of the north. Bar next to the Column of Justice – how old are these buildings? Was there a bar here when the bad guys were tethered to the column for all the town to see?

My favorite moment in Bari – a little kid, no more than 5,  all by himself, kicking a soccer ball around in front of a tiny ancient church wedged between two apartment buildings. He sees me standing there taking notes and kicks the ball to me. “Tira,” he says, “kick it back.”  
The Column of Justice - What the Bad Guys Were Tied To
What a wonderful place this is where kids can play outside without fear, where they see strangers as possible playmates not predators, where busy butchers put down their knives to come outside and walk you halfway to where you want to go, where teenagers feel at home hanging out on the steps of the neighborhood church. Where a simple question can bring a a twenty minute conversation, like running into an old friend. I don’t know where my Italian teacher lived, or what her life was like here, but I confess that Bari and the people of Puglia, absolutely stole my heart. 

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”  Mark Twain

1 comment:

  1. Thank u for sharing your experience. I live less than an hour from Bari (have for the last five years) and I have never been because of other people's bad experiences. I too love my Pugliese people and although its not always 'pretty', it is home now and its nice to hear others like it too! If your ever back and want to come a bit further south, we'd love to show u the Brindisi area. Check us out www.holiday-rentals.co.uk/474866