Friday, December 31, 2010

A Need For Speed

A few years back, the zany folks at Disney produced a movie entitled “Cars”. It was a kid’s movie with a cast of animated characters that took the form of vehicles of every sort. Disney does this sort of thing well, so well that its success led to a sequel entitled, you guessed it, “Cars 2”. My six-year old grandson, Dominic, tells me that Mater, a tow-truck character from a fictitious nowhere place called ‘Radiator Springs’, saves the world in this installment. "Cars 2", now bigger, grander, and international in its scope, could be a winning formula. Will they spawn a "Rocky" and manage to parlay it all the way to "Cars 5"? I’m standing by for further reports from my car-loving Dominic.

Dominic’s Italian heritage may have a hand in his love of autos, for Italians have an ongoing love affair with their màcchina (machine, but often used for automobile). Companies like Ferrari and Alfa Romeo have hedged on Milan’s smart aesthetic styling and fashion savvy for years. Today, theirs and other automaker’s successes are measured by the more than 33 million cars on Italy's roads in a country of 60 million. By way of comparison, the U.K. with its 62 million inhabitants caters to only 28 million cars. Italians clearly have a fixation with sleek lines, shiny chrome and powerful engines.

While they fawn over their cars, especially when small and sporty, Italians operate them at a level approximating irresponsibility. Their individual rules of the road would give pause even to a madcap keystone cop. That individuality may in fact be one reason for their sometimes risky actions behind the wheel. They are individuals at heart and convention and rules be damned. This is true especially in the big cities where a free-for-all, no holds barred temperament is more apparent and individual patience further strained. As a result, visitors to Bella Italia are, to say the least, averse to driving in this fracas, be it real or imagined. All may be fair in love and war but for an Italian, they may as well expand the expression to include driving. As crazy as they can drive, I’ve seen few accidents. Instead, I’ve witnessed near mayhem and many near misses that can catch your breath. Driving from Calitri to Naples and back, for example, can serve as a human laboratory on this type of behavior. Unfortunately, there is no remuneration for it, unworthy of even a college credit or two.

No matter how fast you drive, there is always someone who wants by. For me, life in the far left lane is parlous with little warning of a fast mover, but for a surprising flash from his headlights. Where they materialized from and so quickly, I had no idea. While it may be all clear to move over one second, your check on reality can bounce moments later when someone suddenly appears on your rear bumper, if not already in your trunk! While I’m not accustomed to this, it really isn’t so bad, at least they restrain themselves from simultaneously mashing their horns. Their impatience has at least some restraint. I recall driving out of the Catania Airport in Sicily once, just after arriving. It was truly a baptism by fire as I not only tried to negotiate a road buzzing with cars and motorcycles to both my left and right, but at the same time, tried to read signposts plastered with countless 'this ways and that'. Pure sensory and information overload it was. I was essentially boxed in, unable to turn either way. I wound up a prisoner much like that "European Vacation" character, Clark Griswald, stuck in a round-about, condemned to watching Big Ben go by for a few laps. So much for the movies, but it was hair-raising real life in Sicily that day. More often, it is the passing that is hair-raising, even for an observer further back in the line of traffic. This is more along the lines of the Pamplona running of the bulls with much zigging, zagging and last minute dodging. Even on a two-lane highway, I can certify that their impatience often gets the better of them, with or without a broken, white dividing-line signaling that passing is permitted. I can only marvel at how much they will chance just to get a few cars ahead. At times, when I expect to witness a head-on crash, the defensive drivers seem to accommodate the wayward passer, somehow managing to squeak by, on one occasion three abreast. It seems that even the flagrant sinner is given absolution. Just don’t try it with the trailer trucks, especially when loaded to spill-over full with tomatoes from Puglia on their way into the many sauce making plants around Salarno! They simply won't tolerate any early squeezing action!

While in Calitri, we may have many Marios, Antonios and Guiseppes, there are fewer Alphas and Romeos. The Fait, Lancia, Opel and the ever utilitarian Ape (pronounced "ah-peh" and meaning Bee in Italian) appear to dominate. I just love those three wheeled Apes, which, not being really autos, are more like an affair gone wrong between a motorcycle and flatbed truck! Unfortunately, I’m a bit too tall to comfortably fit inside one (recall that photo above). No matter what the size or shape of their vehicle, not all of their roadway antics occur while driving. Some surface in the creative ways Italians choose to park their vehicles. When people really need to do something, like park a car, they will figure out a way to do it, giving fresh meaning to the idiom that "necessity is the mother of invention". Can the way they park be a further reflection of their impatience? For instance, in the Italian section of Boston, called ‘The North End’, in addition to double-parking in the middle of Hanover Street, which is common, about as bad as parking manners get is how the parking spaces themselves are reserved by their presumptuous owners. No one really owns these curbside spaces but don’t try to object because that would, at the very least, be like fighting City Hall – you won’t win. At worst, that's when you could come to understand that there are very few personal problems that cannot be solved through the judicious application of a sharp knife into the sidewall of a tire! You don't want to go there either. In Boston, a common tactic is to place a chair, trash barrel or rubber cone to signal, no, better I say warn, that a space is reserved. But here there is still fundamental order. In Calitri things are different. Here, self-parking on the streets is simply a marvel to behold. There are just so many ways you can park a car. You’d think so, right? And who ever said you needed to stay in the road? The adage, "think outside the box", or should I really say, "think outside the street", acquires artistic expression here, if not throughout Italy. One day while out and about I took pictures of how the native Calitrani satisfy their parking needs (see photo album). The different parking maneuvers are striking in their variety, almost comical to behold. Here are a few, as best I can recall and describe them:

• The ‘cut or turn’ where the driver parks on the side of the street facing oncoming traffic. Either they do a u-turn or cut across oncoming traffic when departing.

• The ‘tilt’ where they park with two wheels up on the sidewalk while two remain in the street.

• The ‘wheelie’ (a variation on the tilt technique) where the two front wheels are up over the curb and the rear wheels remain in the road.

‘Russian roulette’ where someone decides to park so that two vehicles now face-off, nose to nose.

• The ‘quick getaway’ with the empty car facing almost perpendicular, plus or minus, toward the curb with the driver’s door wide open.

• The ‘squeeze play’ where the auto is totally up on the sidewalk to the extent that a pedestrian has to squeeze between it and any adjacent building. Care must be exercised not to pull a Pamplona and impale oneself on the mirror when squeezing by - ouch!

• The 'peek-a-boo' where a car is parked on a corner, with or against the flow of traffic, such that half juts into both streets, hindering pedestrians in the process.

• The 'raft' where the auto is parked some distance from the curb. Essentially double-parked but with no other car near them as when classically double-parked.

I tried to imagine streets lined, both sides, with parking meters with pretty Italian meter maids issuing tickets for both expired and rebellious parkers, but failed. Had the municipality thought of this yet as a means to raise revenue and institute some order? A nice, practical thought indeed, but somehow I couldn't see that boat floating at a town council meeting. It simply belies the true nature of things and reeks of big city strong-arm tactics.

Sinner that I am, I confess I’m getting into the habit myself. I'm still leery of passing, however. The road would need to be empty for I know that as soon as I pulled out, I'd see flashing headlights from someone more impatient then myself in my mirror. In a way though, I like to look on my gradually morphing behavior as a form of assimilation, if not adaptation to the Italian lifestyle. Hopefully, my actions are not a reflection of my impatience or frustration, although you can be assured, I can and do go there on occasion. This is Italy after all. Frustration can get stored up, like static electricity and in proportion to a general dynamo of malaise over what they perceive as a jaded system, not known for clarity and let me add, simplicity. I suspect driving can cleanse their inner spirit, releasing that pent up energy in a therapeutic spark of road rage, expressed in a need for speed, free from the shackles of jam-packed traffic. On the parking side, I've 'pimped the style' as they say and I love it, though I do feel some guilt when I do, even without my conscience, Maria Elena, aboard! I'll look around just in case the polizia (police) may be nearby. Actually, from the degree this goes on, I doubt that the local constabulary even care. No one ever seems to get a ticket for their infractions. In my defense though, I will say that I haven't yet succumbed to the 'quick getaway' technique, but I may soon. Life is short, you need to break the rules now and then just to feel alive!

That Rogue Tourist, Paolo

For related photos, click here on Eyes Over Italy. Look for and click on a photo album entitled “The Streets of Calitri”.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Tinker Toys of Holzbau Sud

I, like many of you, have a workshop. Mine takes up a portion of my garage. Years ago, when our boys were young teens, there was a Christmas morning when a lot of noise erupted from downstairs. When I moved to investigate, Maria Elena advised that I stay in bed. Turns out it wasn't Santa on his rounds and she knew it. Apparently, surprise-making for dad was in the making down there, for this was the morning that Chris and Eric lugged a radial arm saw over to our home from its hiding place next door. The clatter was from their struggle to negotiate the cumbersome thing through the garage and on into the house. Boy were they proud at getting it done. Needless to say, it didn't fit under the tree. After all these intervening years, I still use that saw. Telling from the tools I've accumulated here and there over the years, like the Christmas present of the radial arm saw, I'd say my shop is now well equipped for woodworking.

As a young child, I recall playing with my wooden Tinker Toy set. It was a fabulous creative toy, which today is in the rarified pantheon of classic American toys. Unscrew the tin cover from the cardboard storage cylinder and you were rewarded with a tube filled with pencil-like dowels and wheel-like sprockets used to interconnect the dowels. In those days, none of the pieces were made of plastic and there wasn't a "Made in China" stamped anywhere! I could 'tinker' with three dimensional shapes and structures to my heart's content. As time went on, I eventually graduated from toys to real tools for the actual construction of wood projects based on the simple principles developed from my hours of play on the living room floor. Using my tools, which have moved along with us from workshop home to workshop home, I've made, built and repaired plenty of things. They range from simple glue repairs to much larger projects such as the construction of multiple decks, a couple of gazebos, a finished basement and even a pergola over our bricked patio. You might think we've moved around some and you'd be right. After a while you are knighted with the honorarium of "handy" by your wife when the topic comes up with friends. What I've been able to accomplish with my sweet set-up, however, is nothing in comparison to the large scale, and I do mean large scale, kind of woodworking I observed recently in Calitri.

From high up in Calitri's Piazza della Repubblica you get a great view of the valley far below. Down there, close to the highway running alongside the historic Ofanto River, are a hand-full of light industries. One in particular is Holzbau Sud, a subsidiary of the Rubner Group, which focuses on wood products for, as they like to say, "a healthy and pleasant world to live in tomorrow". The Group is headquartered in the northern Italian town of Chienes, near the Austrian border. Here, building conventions are steeped in the construction traditions of Italy's Trentino-Alto Adige Region, where timber, a local building material, is king. The group is vertically integrated within the wood industry with assets anchored in the timber forests of Austria all the way to tailored, turn-key building projects manufactured at distributed assets across Europe such as Holzbau Sud. In Calitri, they specialize in the pre-manufacture of technically ambitious, load-bearing structures. With their ample supply of wood, Holzbau custom structures are designed to cover expansive open spaces, as for instance the kind you might find in a mall, cathedral, theater or sports auditorium throughout southern Italy and beyond to include Sicily, Turkey, even the Middle East. Operating from Calitri since 1991, they are essentially active throughout the Mediterranean.

My introduction to the Calitri plant occurred, as you might guess, while I was in Mario's Caffe. You may well wonder, doesn't this guy ever stay home? Well, yes I do but in the morning I like to get out early, while Maria Elena is still asleep. I direct my feet toward Mario's for a few hours just about every day. One of many other morning regulars is Giuseppe Pasqualicchio. He's like clockwork. Giuseppe arrives for his coffee while I'm well into my second cappuccino and about halfway through the morning giornale (newspaper) attempting to decipher what's going on in the world, along of course with much help from Mario. Over my many visits, I've gradually gotten to know the ever smiling Giuseppe. He is, I'd estimate, in his thirties and though never having been formally introduced, I know he is married and has a young child. My wife says I wouldn't make a good detective but I uncovered this fact during the Italian ritual of la passieggiata (the evening stroll), where new and old romances as well as spiffy shoes and shoulder swathed sweaters are on review. It was on one such occasion that I saw him and his wife behind a stroller. He enjoys practicing his English on me, explaining things, and I reciprocate with conversation and more questions. Curious as I am, I once asked him where he ran off to each day after his espresso by asking him, Cosa fai per vivere? (What do you do for a living?). It was then that, neo-sleuth that I am, I learned that he, along with about 50 other Calitri brethren, worked at Holzbau Sud. I knew nothing about the place and even had a time pronouncing it.

It was only a day or two later that Giuseppe presented me with a professionally prepared brochure about his place of employment. The colored booklet was impressive and like any other red-blooded tourist with a camera perpetually slung around his neck, I asked if there was some way I might visit. Not many mornings later, following our coffees together in Mario's, I trailed him down the mountain to the plant. He had arranged my visit with Giorgio, the chief engineer, who met me at the entrance to the yard. The site consisted of a technical and engineering office augmented by two large construction sheds each approaching a football field in length. Between the two lay a supply of spruce and silver fir shipped in from Austria.

Giorgio, who spoke excellent English, showed me around the operation for a time and then excused himself, leaving me on my own while he checked on the status of a large shipment headed to a customer in Sicily that morning. Time was apparently getting short as the flatbed trucks had already arrived. The projects underway, to say the least, were sizable and I'm not referring to how large an order may have been. It is more on the order of the 'Colossus of Rhodes' sizable that I'm referring to. I don't know what I may have eaten or drank at Mario's that morning but in Alice in Wonderland like fashion I’d apparently become small. I had the feeling I'd shrunk due to the gigantic size of the tools and the suspension beams being made around me (see photo album). Their forte is the design and construction of load bearing structures using glued laminated beams, which they refer to as "glulams" (glued laminates) and they were dead serious.

Before I continue to describe my visit, however, I must first lay some psychological groundwork as to the worker's reaction to my visit. Have you ever driven down a highway, along with your fellow motorists, only to see the sudden appearance of a fast moving parallel column of red taillights coming straight at you? Yes, everyone has abruptly altered their driving behavior, hitting their brakes (even when well below the speed limit) and now it's your turn. More often than not, the cause is the intimidating presence of a highway patrol car sitting alongside the road or possibly already busy with someone he's recently detained as in "license and registration please". There's a technical name for this type of phenomenon, which my bookish readers with Psychology 101 behind them will know as the Heisenberg Effect. This effect is nothing more than the simple observation that the very act of becoming a player changes the nature of the game being played! Whether it be the case of the appearance of a new player like a highway patrolman among a group of motorists or my presence at Holzbau Sud, where, by my mere act of observing, I altered the behaviors of the workmen I was observing. Uncertainty, fear, a lack of information, a desire to please, a sudden change from the norm, any of these can trigger it. Apparently now, trigger-happy with my camera for purposes unknown, I'd assumed the antagonist's role of the highway patrol cop!

The entirety of one building was surprisingly occupied by just two men. Together they were working to attach metal flanges to either end of massive curved laminates, apparently major supports of some enormous roof. They worked in silence, without apparent need to communicate, as if so well choreographed from endless repetition of the same procedure that words were superfluous, only getting in the way. But I suspected there would have been animated dialog between the two, as only Italians can perform, absent my being there. The workmen remained silent with no reaction to my presence. Apparently, I was the cat that got their tongues! It was as if I was invisible, though I knew they were watching my every move and click of my camera! Who could blame them? My first appearance, alongside Giorgio, must have passed along some inconspicuous signal giving me a modicum of officialdom, or at the least by their count, official sanction. Later this may have been reinforced when they again saw me while I observed on my own. For my part as a "player" in the drama, I did not interfere with what they were about nor did I ask them any questions. Though no doubt some of the workmen may have recognized me from Calitri, my very presence and lack of engagement, though with all good intention, may have only added to their anxiety. I could almost hear their synapses firing, as in their nervousness they attempted to calculate the meaning of my incursion into their colossal tinker-toy domain. While their thoughts were going round and round, only Giuseppe, who knew all, was relaxed enough to smile and wave to me when I passed his work area.

The adjacent building hummed with the activities of far more workmen, though here again they were equally humanly silent. It was here that I hesitated as giant gigs bent freshly glued planks into requisite shapes, holding them fast until dry. There were also wood shaping machines, which could join two planks, end-to-end, transforming short boards into continuous 'you-name-it' length beams. It was fascinating, at least to a woodworker like myself, to watch as they cut matching finger joints into the ends, added the glue and then jammed them together, all automatically. It was as though a hundred of my manual type biscuit joints materialized within seconds. The other end of the building hosted near completed supports, some of which extended outside due to their length. An army of workers literally clambered over, across and under these giants, like ants, adding finishing touches. Some teams planed the surfaces smooth, others filled imperfections, cut slots or marched atop their lengths staining the behemoths using roller brushes on poles. It was amazing to see how easily they maneuvered these monsters by expertly using a hoist and a single strap positioned at the precise balancing point (photo above). Suspended in the air, they would flex and sway on either side of the support strap like the wings of some enormous phantom beast. As heavy as I suspected each of the members was, once lowered, incredibly only a few metal saw horses were all that separated them from the floor. To my surprise, I also don’t recall seeing any helmets, goggles or other safety type devises being used. Thinking back, as a child, I'd ridden my bike like a madman all without the protection of a helmet. By today's mores how could I possibly have done that, let alone survived? Could their shoes have been steel toed? I doubted it.

Toward the very end of my explorations in Holzbau tinker-toy land, I found myself close to the exit beside a cluttered workbench. It was here that I snapped my very last picture. The subject of this photo had nothing to do with what was going on in that particular part of the plant but when I composed and snapped the shot, it was the only time during my entire visit that I got any reaction whatsoever from the workmen. Almost in unison and no matter where they were in this massive staging area, theirs was a resounding cheer! And their cheer wasn’t because I was nearing the door, signaling my intention to leave either. They were reacting to what I’d decided to photograph and telling by their reaction, signaling that they approved. Their reaction only went to support my contention that they had been discretely watching my every move. My photo subject was of something common to many workspaces of one form or another, large or small. Universal as it is, it has more to do with male sexuality than what the particular work activity might be. Be it a greasy auto mechanic’s lair, a chatty barbershop, a hole-in-the-wall cafe or even a home workshop like mine, might I propose, like it or not, that the annual pin-up calendar is a common accouterment! My subject was akin to the artful female silhouettes painted on the sides of WWII bombers and just as then, served as a reminder of what they were fighting for or in this case, working for. Telling as it was, this tattered, dog-eared ‘Holzbau Madonna’ had seen better days. No Vargas girl, she now sported a mustache along with other graffiti touch-ups here and there. In a vague way, it was reminiscent of the many street shrines seen throughout Italy, although here, the naked, ribald nature of this Madonna spoke to another interpretation of veneration. With that, I can say I’d now literally seen it all!

Outside, I could look up and see sunlit Calitri cascading down the side of the mountain-like bluff toward me. From high atop its perch, it had witnessed the cavalcade of mankind pass by from the footfalls of Roman legionaries on to this day where a legion of workers busied themselves loading flatbed trailers. As throughout the Mediterranean basin the ancient initialism “SPQR” (Senatus Populusque Romanus) meaning “The Senate and People of Rome" emblazoning everything Roman from coins to the feared standards of the mighty Roman legions, today’s shipment of immense gracefully bowed roof supports marked “Made in Calitri” would send a new message.

In the end, all we have are memories, sometimes mere faded memories of memories. I was fortunate to have formed a unique memory that day, one that I know will last, thanks to the largess of both my coffee mate Giuseppe and Holzbau Sud's head-man, Giorgio. It's a long way from my comparatively tiny workshop in the States to Holzbau's glulam headquarters in Calitri. Even further apart are the gradations of difference in the scale of woodworking undertaken at the two. In comparison, mine is and will forever remain at the tinker-toy level and in a space not much bigger than the living room rug where it all began. I'm glad for that. The nub of the thing is that by visiting Holzbau Sud I’d gotten a glimpse at the bright side of progress, surprisingly located of all places, right there in the shadows of enchanting Calitri, a place equally surprisingly defined, not by some throwback to its limitations, but by its potential.

That Rouge Tourist, Paolo


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Cono - that Perfect Package

My gaze was drawn immediately to the domed ceiling. In Sistine Chapel like fashion its elongated surface portrayed a painted sun, whose brilliant yellow rays gradually transitioned about mid-way over the span of the ceiling into the cold darkness of space, accented with a moon and stars. Here was a clear depiction, in the extreme, of oppressive heat at one end and absolute cold at the other. This imagery was totally befitting for Maria Elena and I were about to experience a ritual borrowed from the bathing practices of the ancients. To be exact, we were about to take part in a modern reenactment of the Roman bath ritual.

For me this would be my first spa experience. I’d always sympathized with the cliché that real men didn’t eat quiche, nor I thought did they frequent spas. Protection of my real man persona would rest only in the fact that no one would know of my indiscretion since we were so far from home. Unfortunately, we were also far from the birthplace of the Roman bath, Italia. We were in California’s Sonoma Valley to be exact, at the thermal spa of the Fairmont Mission Inn Resort. I doubted the Romans ever had it this good even in the giant baths of Caracalla!

Roman bathing tradition consisted of three distinct phases, each marked by ever increasing heat therapies: the frigiderium, the tepiderium and the caldarium. Today’s modern technology allowed all three to be hosted in one room at the Fairmont resort. Large urns in true Romanesque style decorated a stone shelf perched high up at the base of the domed ceiling. Pillared porticoes, lining the perimeter of the room supported the shelf, separating Earth from the heavens. One segment of niches held showers with drenching sunflower showerheads. These substituted for the cold immersion of the frigiderium (cool bath), which if you allowed it, could produce a deluge as cold as a plunge in the North Sea. Centered beneath the dome, in the floor of the room, was the tepiderium (warm bath) with the temperature of the mineral water maintained at body temperature. The caldarium (hot bath) was a ‘trifecta combination’ starting first in an oversized hydro-massage jacuzzi of 102˚F (39˚C) mineral water, augmented by two adjacent hot rooms – one a dry European sauna and the other, a eucalyptus herbal steam room which could suck your very breath away.

As I experienced the heat of the caldarium, what especially filled my mind was something most probably totally anti-spa … the coolness of gelato. The soothing thought of it right at the moment of consummate heat was like the refreshment of a cold drink following a few hours of yard work in the heat of day. No, better than that. I imagined how ingratiatingly refreshing a scoop or two (due gusti) would be right then. The eruption of another cloud of steam, as though emerging from Hades itself, quickly melted that thought just as it would have any gelato, suddenly leaving me with only the cone. In no time, like ice or gelato before sweltering heat, only the host or the cone soon remains.

While gelato and a cone go together like TV’s Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon, it is the gelato that garners the fame. The simple cone (cono) is straight man Ed, playing second fiddle to the gelato. Yet in Calitri the cono is king, although the gelato, especially when made by Lucia at ‘The Bar Jolly’, is fabulous. Even absent my steam room analogy, I had recently seen the remains of many cones in Calitri, for cone making is an industry there, as I was fortunate enough to realize during a visit to the local production facility of I. Co. Cialde (The Waffle Company).

I first become aware of the Cialde ‘cone confectionery’ a year earlier while visiting the fiera (fairgrounds) at the western edge of Calitri. Regional businesses and light industry throughout the Irpinia region of Campania were showcasing their products in a fair-like atmosphere. We'd expected to be inundated with information on agro-products like cheeses and wines, even a tractor or two, and we were. However, the discovery of a booth featuring an ice cream cone producer caught me by surprise, especially when I learned it was based right there in Calitri. The booth promoted an assortment of cones of all sizes, shapes and colors - some as small as your baby finger. I discovered that these tiny cones with their tops cut on a slant were used to scoop-up ice cream in lieu of a spoon. There was apparently more to this cone business.

The Waffle Company is located behind a complex of Italian beehive high-rises very near where the new highway tunnel exit now deposits you into Calitri. Looking at it from outside its walled compound, 12 Contrada Sambuco doesn’t strike you as anything special. I had no clue I’d arrived from the look of the non-descript buildings. Maybe I was expecting a giant cone or something more 5th Avenue smart, but there was nothing like that. Only a paneled delivery truck with their name and a cone or two on its side, parked inside the courtyard, confirmed I had arrived. The company had been there since 1979. Over the intervening years they had acquired the needed experience and honed their skills and today continue a long and colorful tradition of cone making. From the piles of empty wooden pallets, no doubt from sacks of flour and sugar, it was evident they were very busy.

The cone and its crowning ‘ice cream stuffing’ is a friendship grown from need - a need for each other. With their union, the crispy crunch of the cone perfectly complemented the frosty smoothness of the ice cream, making for an interesting taste combination. But who first introduced this combination? There are almost as many hotly contested stories of how the cone first got together with ice cream as there are flavors a cone can hold. To this day there remains heated controversy over who first orchestrated this marriage. History records that at first, paper, glass, cups, and dishes were used to facilitate eating ice cream during the 19th century in France, Germany, and Britain. Before the invention of the cone, ice cream was either licked from a small glass (a penny lick) or taken away wrapped in paper, called a "hokey pokey." The term "hokey pokey" presumably evolved from the anglicized distortion of the Italian vendor's cry as he hawked his ices topped with a small piece of paper called the 'kibosh' (a là "put the kibosh to it"). By the late 1800s, ‘hokey pokey men’, as these Italian immigrants were called, had spread throughout Europe and the United States selling their ‘ices’.

One of the first references to an eatable cone, called a "cornetti", can be found in a British cookbook entitled "Mrs A. B. Marshall's Cookery Book", written in 1888 by Agnes Marshall. Her cookbook contained a recipe for "Cornet with Cream". However, the person credited with the invention of the edible flat bottom cake cup, a predecessor of the true cone, is Italo Marchiony. Italo migrated to the US from Italy in the late 1800s and produced what I’ll call his 'semi' ice cream cone in 1896 in New York City. On December 13, 1903, he was granted Patent #746971 for the "pastry comet", a cone making mold. The patent describes his invention as "a mold split in two like a waffle iron and producing several small, round, pastry ice cream cups with sloping sides”. The machine resembled a long waffle iron with enough space to cook ten cups. He used these edible "cuplets", as they were called, made on his patented mold, to increase his street-vending business. He is also credited with building the first ice cream sandwich using two waffle squares.

Still it was in Saint Louis, Missouri at the 1904 World's Fair where the history of the edible ice cream 'container', in true cone shape, really began. For it was here at the fair that a new American immigrant and a former sailor from Damascus, Ernest Hamwi, ran a waffle stand where he sold 'zalabia' - a thin, crisp, syrupy Persian waffle. Ernest went to the aid of a neighboring ice cream vendor, Arnold Fornachou. As the story goes, Arnold had run out of serving dishes, which customers tended to walk off with or drop. To help out, Ernest folded a still warm ‘zalabia’ over a sailor's rope mending tool to form a cone and proposed it as a substitute for Arnold's wayward dishes. According to most accounts there were more than 50 ice cream vendors and more than a dozen waffle stands selling their treats at the fair. Word quickly spread among the venders thus leading to confusion as to who actually first invented the cone, since with the cone's instant popularity many took credit. Born of necessity, the World's Fair "Cornucopia", as the first cone was called, was an instant hit. So Ernest is typically credited with creating the classic cone shape we’re so familiar with today and introducing it at the fair, quite unintentionally, but leading to its eventual international fame. Helping thy neighbor can truly pay off, which it did for the rest of Ernest's life!

When I arrived at the Cialde cone company, I had no appointment. I doubt if they ever got any requests to take pictures or simply just look around at their operation. In fact, I may have been the first ever cone factory crasher! However, their almost munchkinland-like innocence and friendliness kicked right in. They had no objection to my looking around the facility and observing how they went about the process. This was a far cry from a time years earlier in Murano, an island hop away from Venice. On that occasion I couldn't get close to the glass blowing then underway. It had something to do with their paranoia over the theft of trade secrets by Chinese industrial "glass" spies. Nothing like that going on here, however. In any case, I didn't look Chinese! Other than the formula for the confection they whip-up at Cialde each day, there isn't much to protect, since everything is done by machines, which anyone can go ahead and purchase for themselves. Who knows, the machines may even have been Chinese made like seemingly everything is these days! I didn't ask.

I first watched as they made cake cones with flared tops using an arrangement of upright injection molds. As the precise amount of cone batter was squirted into each mold, an additional conical mold was inserted to form a sort of mold within a mold and in the process squeeze the batter between the opposing surfaces into a thin shell. Then in carousel fashion this arrangement of multiple molds rotated through an oven to emerge, following one rotation, for the molds to separate and voilà, a crispy cone was born. They would then be automatically ejected from their molds to shuffle down a series of shoots, seven abreast, for boxing and shipment. Other machines on the floor added to the throbbing fugue as they hummed, clicked, squished and continually ejected their particular style of cone. It was all a very clean and orderly process bathed in a toasty scent with only a handful of operators to service the machines and load boxes. I could only imagine and would consequently want to avoid the place on a sizzling day in August .... the very thought gave me a caldarium steam-room flashback!

The most impressive operation I observed was the production of cannoli shells, a blood relative of the ice cream cone. Here again the process was largely automated. The centerpiece of the operation was a mammoth machine I'd estimate to be about 30 feet long. It was basically a 30 foot conveyer belt, totally enclosed within a metal housing, top and bottom, that stretched across a room. Operators were positioned at either end. One, an older woman, was in charge of feeding the monster at the input end while three workers, scrambled to keep up at the output end where the finished product emerged in true Lucille Ball candy factory fashion (if you are too young to have ever seen this TV classic or would like to see it again, simply click here on I Love Lucy). I soon understood why they flip the switch to start the cannoli machine only on afternoons. It must have taken all morning for someone, or team of someones, to make the batter concoction for the circular, mini pancake-size waffles that went in at the front end. I suspected it was the older woman’s job. Her hair was in something resembling a shower cap and she wore an apron over her smock doused with flour as she loaded them in from tray after tray of as yet uncooked cannoli. I observed her as she feed the gluttonous machine. Was hers affection or frustration to rid herself of her charges and call it a day? She had a wry expression on her face akin to verbally saying "take that" or "now, how about that one" as she shuffled the 'cannoli ammo' into the breach. Hers had to have been a lot of prep work for not only did she apparently make the cake batter and shape it into patties stamped with a waffle-like pattern, but she then had to carefully roll each onto short metal cylindrical molds and refrigerate them for a time. The insatiable conveyor belt slowly moved the cylinders deeper inside to disappear as it descended, along with its charges, into a vat of heated oil. What else went on inside the belly of the beast was invisible to me but eventually this horde of metal cylinders emerged still shiny but now encrusted with a pair of crisp, toasted shells. The operator's task at the far end was to quickly remove the cannoli shells from the rods, toss the rods into a box and gently return the cannoli shells to the conveyor, without breaking any. They disappeared once again, but only briefly this time, for some final treatment before reappearing to continue on just a bit farther to then cascade off the belt in a blizzard of cones into waiting collection boxes, apparently now much tougher.

So there you have it, the inconsequential yet utilitarian cone, quietly fashioned out of necessity over a century ago, is today being mass-produced in this seemingly insignificant part of Italy only to spread far and wide. The manner of its actual birth may be shrouded in the mist of time but it was a fun, eye-opening experience to have had the opportunity to see how they are being made today at the Cialde cone company. As in the ritual of the Roman bath, where we transition from frigiderium gradually to caldarium, so to in the self indulgent ritual of enjoying an ice cream cone do we first move through the enjoyment of the rich coolness of the gelato to reach that satisfying crunchy final destination of the cone itself. Shortly after that last lick, the cone itself is consumed signaling the completion of our brief flirtation with guiltless pleasure. Just as Ed McMahon each night for 30 years served to bolster the host of the 'Tonight Show' with his resounding "H-e-e-e-e-e-ere's Johnny!" introduction, so too the loyal cone has and will no doubt for centuries more to come serve as the loyal, though subservient sidekick to its glorified companion.

That Rogue Tourist, PAOLO


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Calitri at War

From British Military Archives, meet the Men of OPERATION COLOSSUS

Close by our home in the Calitri borgo in what I refer to as Teresa's Piazza, because not surprisingly Teresa lives there, is an innocuous water fountain still in use today mostly by, you guessed it, Teresa. Though I've passed it many a time, I never gave it much notice. Printed on it in raised metal letters are the words 'Aquedotto Pugliese 1914' (see Photo Album). This date was when modern running water apparently first debuted in Calitri. The water was supplied from an aqueduct then newly completed, which ran by the base of the mountain on which Calitri is perched. Calitri, I understand, was the first town to tap this new water supply with the water being pumped up the hundreds of feet into town using a steam driven pump. Ah, the marvels of modern technology ... and if we reorder the date just slightly into the year 1941, it was still all about water even then .......

The lumbering twin engine bombers coasted in from the Tyrrhenian Sea after what for those aboard must have seemed like a lifetime since departing RAF Station Luqa on Malta, south of Sicily. These Armstrong Whitworth Whitley medium bombers were already obsolete when WWII had begun, a stigma unworthy of any aircraft, yet true in their case. None the less, they were available and times being what they were, would have to do for this mission.

For some of the aircraft on this mission hasty modifications had converted them from their primary mission as bombers into transports. Unlike conventional bombers their cargo would fall through a fairly small opening in the floor of the fuselage and was not of the explosive or incendiary type but of the flesh and blood variety for six of the aircraft carried a squad of six British paratroopers each *.

The flight crews busied themselves now with final preparations as they approached the drop zone. This was a time long before inertial navigation or ground-mapping radar would simplify the lives of future aircrews on future missions much like theirs. For hours, relying on precise headings, adjusted for the winds aloft, the group of eight Whitleys had headed north across the Mediterranean. With the approach of sunset, the muted features of the terrain far below would now have to guide them. A landscape of deep valleys and jutting peaks typical of the southern Apennines would call to each crew, as had the Sirens of old. Their miscues would attempt to deceive the flightcrews … turn here, head further to the right, stay the course a little longer … but it would prove to no avail. The Sele River and a mosaic of villages here and there along their route would guide them to their destination. Crossing a towering ridgeline (today occupied by wind turbines), the interphone would have crackled as the navigator, crosschecking his charts, announced over the cabin noise .... "Pilot, there at ten o'clock, that has to be Cairano". There was no mistaking it, jutting there precariously on the angled brow of that imposing mountain. Just a little farther down the valley and they’d find Calitri. It was the early evening of 9 Feb 1941.

Yes, Italy was at war with the Allies. Calitri, in fact, had offered its young men to the cause, but the war was distant, far removed from them here midway between either coastline. Absent the sound of gunfire to disturb their tranquility, the war as yet remained something to read about in the giornali (newspapers), and for some, a personal death lottery as causalities among the local cadre were announced each week. Life for the most part went on as usual with the townspeople descending the mountain each morning to work in their fields, only to return in the evening. The sound of approaching 845 horsepower engines, in an instant, changed all that.

The local Calitri ‘contadini' (peasants), looking skyward, must have marveled at the sight, the likes of which had never before been seen in this part of Italy. In fact, Antonio Caruso, then a young nine year old shepherd, told me in Mario's Cafe there how he’d taken his vigilant eyes from his flock that evening to scan for the source of the approaching sound. The advancing drone of engines now resonated across the valley. Having abandoned the course of the Sele, which the aircrews had relied on since coasting inland, some in the staggered flight hesitated momentarily, circling over the valley below Calitri, before moving just a little further up the valley to their objective, the fresh-water aqueduct across the Tragino River.

Aboard the troop aircraft, responsibility for the success of the mission now transferred from the Royal Air Force flight crews into the hands of Major T.A.G. Pritchard of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, the commander of X Troop of the No. 11 Special Air Service Battalion. The shiver of the engines down the length of the 69-foot fuselage undoubtedly reinforced the palpable reality of their mission, the first ever of its kind. Having made military parachute jumps myself when much younger, daring, and yes, more impulsive, I can only imagine how some aboard may have been reluctant to jump. Training was one thing but to jump in combat over enemy territory was altogether different. Their hearts must have pounded from an adrenaline rush as the command to jump echoed down the cold interior of the Whitleys and the commandos frog-walked to the open floor hatch to one-by-one be swallowed in the evening void. Their only comfort now lay in their training, their collective will to succeed and the fact that they were not alone. All told, among the various aircraft, there were 35 of them composed of seven officers and 28 enlisted men of various ranks. In that instant they were forever mates as together they exited into the advancing night only to be instantly thrown horizontal by the slipstream like rag-dolls as each awaited the tug of the static line and the reassuring jerk from their inflating chute.

Training for this, the first paratrooper operation ever undertaken by the British military and, in fact, what was the first Allied airborne operation of WW2, had begun in the summer of 1940. Impressed by the achievements of German airborne units during the Battle of France, Winston Churchill had called for the establishment of a similar capability for Britain's military. Training of this all-volunteer force was conducted at RAF Ringway, near Manchester England, at what was to become known as the ‘Central Landing Establishment’. By December 1940 a small force, designated No. 11 Special Air Service Battalion, had completed its training. From the battalion, a smaller group of men, designated ‘X Troop’, was selected to conduct what was code-named ‘Operation Colossus’. Their target, off in the fields just east of Calitri, lying just inside in the territory of Basilicata, is visible even today with the naked eye from the balcony of our home in the borgo storico (historic village). Today a grove of trees attempts to conceal its history, revealing only a thin sliver of its white bridge-like silhouette.

X Troop's mission was to seize the aqueduct and destroy it. Based on intelligence from the English engineering firm who had originally built the structure, George Kent and Sons, a plan was formulated to strike it because of its importance to Southern Italy. When my friend Mario first mentioned 'Colossus' to me, I'd wondered why the British War Office had chosen to attack this simple structure and why then? I learned that the aqueduct supplied water to an estimated two million Italians in the southern province of Puglia (Italy's 'heel'), and more importantly, to the ports of Bari, Brindisi and the vital naval base at Taranto, all of which supported the Italian war effort. Deprived of fresh water, morale, if not support for the war itself, would diminish. Its destruction would hopefully have the added benefit of disrupting Italian military efforts in Africa and Albania. Beyond its strategic importance, there was also psychological value. Following the disastrous results of the Battle of France, concluding with the disheartening evacuation from Dunkirk (May,1940), success here could spur British morale. A successful raid would demonstrate to the world that Britain hadn't succumbed and yet remained a potent force with the ability to globally strike at its enemies. The aqueduct, being a significant distance inland from the coast, also made it unlikely that a raiding party, delivered by sea, could reach it undetected. Moreover, it was believed that the aqueduct was too strongly constructed to be destroyed by aerial bombardment, inaccurate as it then was. An airborne raid, conducted by paratroops, was thought to be the ideal way to eliminate the aqueduct. Beyond this, Colossus would serve to test the effectiveness of this newfangled paratrooper force and the adequacy of their equipment. Additionally, the RAF's ability to accurately deliver a strike team to a predetermined location at a specified time would be put to the test. Since this was all new, the lessons learned would lead to more refined airborne operational procedures. In a nutshell, a lot was riding on X Troop and the success of this mission that in theory, on paper at least, checked off a lot of 'nice to have' boxes.

Besides Tony Caruso that February evening, I wondered how many others might have noticed their approach. Had anyone noticed as their silk chutes billowed and stealthily lowered the men and their equipment to the ground? No one I spoke with seemed to recall, though they did say that for years afterwards many of the locals sported fine silk made clothing! They all, however, became starkly aware of the operation when thirty minutes after midnight on 10 Feb 1941 a tremendous explosion erupted from the cleft in the valley, formed between the surrounding rising terrain, where the aqueduct is located. Equipment failures and navigational errors on some aircraft resulted in a significant portion of the explosives as well as the explosive specialists themselves to land miles away. Yet Major Pritchard was able to assemble most of his scattered teammates, locate the aqueduct, emplace what explosives they could muster, and as planned, destroy the structure. Mission accomplished, it was now all about getting his team safely out of there and on to the planned recovery point.

For Major Pritchard and his men, getting to the recovery point would prove far more difficult than it had been to reach the objective. The raiding party split into groups and began the approximate 60 mile trek, as the crow flies (even farther for some), to the mouth of the Sele to meet a submarine, HMS Triumph, scheduled for the night of 15 February. Unfortunately the Italians had not signed up to this! Now aware of the attack and alerted to the presence of hostile boots on the ground in the area, the local Carabinieri (paramilitary police), Italian soldiers and civilians quickly mobilized into search teams and with the aid of local farmers began their hunt. For X Troop, expected to cover about 12 miles a day, it would not be an easy stroll through the bucolic Italian countryside to the rendezvous point. Neither the locals nor the winter terrain would cooperate. Meanwhile other teams, these of workmen from Calitri, to include Tony's father and the family donkey, quickly began to repair the aqueduct. Michale, another person I spoke with at Mario's, recounted how his dad had found containers of weapons to include pistols, rifles and associated ammunition. With fewer men, the paratroops had had to improvise. Upon landing, I learned they had pressed into service a farm worker they encountered to carry equipment to the aqueduct. I suspect they must have tied him up until after their hasty departure, left to be discovered by first responders to the scene.

Unbeknown to the Major Pritchard and his men, who were now doing their darnedest to escape and evade, the foggy unpredictability of war, whose disruptive presence first emerged with errors in the jump zone location and equipment failures on some aircraft, decided to play another card. The bomber formation had included two aircraft assigned to carry out a bombing raid on the rail yards in Foggia, about 60 miles beyond the aqueduct. This was meant to divert attention from the primary paratrooper assault. As fate would have it, one of these aircraft developed an engine problem after rolling off the target. The pilot radioed Luqa airfield that he was preparing to crash-land. Coincidentally, he'd chosen a flat area near the mouth of the Sele River south of Salerno, the precise area where the rendezvous with the submarine was scheduled to occur! Talk about bad karma! Red flags went up at British headquarters on the news. Fearing first that with Italian vigilance heightened due to the crash, and secondly, that because the Italians may have intercepted the transmission, the recovery area was now compromised. Concluding that the rescue submarine might be sailing into trouble, the HMS Triumph was recalled. With no way to inform X Troop, still deep inside Italy, they were basically written off as lost. Major Pritchard and his men would not know of this fateful change in plans and the impossibility of their recovery, had they ever reached the coast, until after the war, for they were all eventually captured, swept up in the course of a few days. The long slog they faced, compounded by winter weather conditions and a very tight schedule, had forced them onto roads. This had greatly reduced their chances of going undetected, resulting in their quick capture. Their supposed 50-50 chance of return was now zero! Like romance, the essence of war is uncertain with intrigues sometimes determined haphazardly, no matter how thick the plot or in this case, the planning.

There had been some clashes and brief firefights, but without any losses. In all, there was but one casualty in Operation Colossus (not including what may have happened to the bomber crew that crashed and a training accident) and his death was totally unnecessary. He was neither British nor from Calitri, yet Italian nonetheless. On Palm Sunday 1941, one of the mission's interpreters, actually a civilian named Fortunato Picchi (using the cover name 'Dupont' and purported to be a Free French soldier), then in the custody of an Italian Fascist paramilitary group, the Blackshirts, was tortured and shot for his part in the operation. Indeed, it was a sad ending for someone named Lucky ('Fortunato'), who before his recruitment had been a waiter at London's Savoy Hotel.

There were injuries, however. One paratrooper landing in a tree broke his ankle. He extricated himself from the tree, hid is a straw roofed hut the night, but was captured the next day. The grandmother of another Calitri friend hid one of the paratroopers for a time and he rewarded her with his silk parachute, probably all he had to give her. He was also later captured. I learned that some prisoners were held in the Calitri town jail, then located inside the present day commune office building, for approximately one month before they were moved to nearby Sant' Angelo dei Lomdardi and later to Naples. For the men of X Troop the war was over. They were interned in POW camps for the remainder of WWII.

Recently Maria Elena and I were fortunate to be able to visit the aqueduct and actual target of Operation Colossus (see Photo Album). It is still in use today, attested to by Teresa's fountain. It lies in the backfields of a farm owned by relatives of our friend, Antonio, who arranged the visit. With 70 year old Giovanni leading the way, we walked through tall grass and brambles to the structure. Along the way, Giovanni related to us how a few years back one of the men of X Troop had himself returned to the site. It seemed strange, at least to me then, to also hear him say that he'd apologized for what he had done. But thus is war, where in its aftermath, if we are lucky enough to survive, there is time for reflection. Looking at the aqueduct, it is hard to imagine today how this structure could have commanded so much attention in 1941. It looked very much like a boxed-in bridge with railings spanning the distance between sloping terrain. Maybe 150 feet all told. But for the drop-off in the terrain, it wouldn't be visible at all. At either end stood a squat, white, windowless building, which we were told served as access into the aqueduct. I walked it, one end to the other, imagining the Major and his men scrambling over it on that fateful night in '41 with the lights of towering Calitri serving as backdrop on the horizon. Grass and moss cover its top surface. The sole evidence of violence I noticed was a discharged, rusted shotgun cartridge dropped there no doubt by some bird or cinghiale (wild boar) hunter. I imagined it looked today much like it had after its prompt repair following the attack. Contrary to the best of British intensions, repairs were made in a few days time. With a quantity of the explosives lost, the limited amount that remained had been insufficient to permanently knock out the aqueduct. Damaged yes, but still repairable. The rapidity of the repairs had insured there had been little impact to recipients of its water, who in the interim had relied on reserves.

Thinking it over, had this all been a colossal waste of time, resources and more importantly, men’s lives? Was this but folly, some sort of elaborate shakedown exercise or experiment under real conditions? Had all the detail been in planning the attack and scant on recovery of the team? Had X Troop been essentially sacrificed on a one way mission? Where apologies really in order and by whom? The questions keep crowding in but not their answers. Answers are elusive because ambiguity is in the nature of war. In retrospect, history says that because of this attack and fear of others like it, Italy diverted much needed resources to guard dams, power stations and bridges throughout Italy, when they could have been better employed in combat. In so doing, had the lives of these rear guards been spared the ravages of war? Had the outcome of the war in some miniscule immeasurable sort of a way been affected by what happened here in the shadow of Calitri? Had the events at the Pugliese aqueduct changed the course of history **? History, at least for the men of Operation Colossus, had certainly changed forever, and maybe, just maybe, it is only they who can judge, and if they so choose, apologize.

That Rogue Tourist, Paolo

* With one man taken ill prior to takeoff, one aircraft contained only five paratroopers.

** Somewhat akin to the "butterfly effect" of chaos theory (à la Monday morning quarterback, only visible in hindsight), where sensitive dependence on initial conditions (like the flap of a butterfly's wings) can sway events ... in the case of a butterfly's actions, on the formation of a storm or in the case of the removal of thousands of troops for guard duty, on the outcome of a war. In a nutshell, small differences may produce large variations in the long term behavior of a dynamic system, be it storm or war. Remember that proverb, "For Want of a Nail"?

For related photos, click here on Eyes Over Italy. Then look for and click on the photo album entitled "Colossus".

To view historic WWII footage of Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Bombers practicing early paratrooper drops to the tune of Jimmy Dorsey's "Jumpin Jive" click here on Paratroopers. Be sure to shut off the blog's music (I love that tune), if you have it running.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Exploring the Leg of Bella Italia

I Was Awake. Without my glasses it took more than a few moments to be able to make out the numbers on the digital clock - 10:30 am! We had overslept, but not really, since we'd gone to bed around 3am. I'd been dreaming. Something about our first attempted flight to Rota on that Martinsburg Air Guard C-5, a fire bottle warning light in the cockpit and that plaque in the Dover passenger lounge which read:

"For those who've fought for it, Freedom has a flavor the protected will never know."

I'd wanted to remember that perceptive turn of phrase and now I was, albeit in my dreams. Now it was already late morning, approaching checkout time. I had to get moving and back to the terminal to rent a car ASAP. My nagging fear – Sicily’s Naval Air Station Sigonella was a small place and they could easily run out of cars, especially with the weekend at hand. We'd arrived in Italy the night before, although there are more than a few Sicilians who will take exception to that. Sicilians are a breed apart - first and always Sicilians, then maybe, just maybe, Italians.

The Sicilian Sun was already making its presence felt as I trudged along in what I thought was the direction of the passenger terminal. It had been early that same morning, past 2 am in fact, when we'd first made the trip from the terminal to the Navy Gateway Inn, where we had stayed overnight. Now by daylight, everything looked different. I was trying to spot the tower, which I know rose above the terminal. I wasn't really sure on the direction so I waved at an approaching security police vehicle and the young driver was kind enough to drive me there. At every turn, I was still being amazed at the polite service I was receiving - he could have easily just said it was up ahead. It was a short ride. I'd been on the correct heading. A few blocks later, I was deposited at the Europcar rental office beside the terminal. I soon departed with DX518XH, the plate number of my Alpha Romeo MiTo. With six forward gears, this two-door classy lady was made for speed but over the 30 days we'd spend together, I'd learn her flaws. Yet, as I left the rental office, someone mentioned zero to 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph) in 5 seconds. I'd have to see about that but I doubted I could shift that fast!

After Lunch at the Navy Galley we were on the road headed for Massina. This is the major jump-off point by ferry to mainland Italy. There is no bridge yet. Along the way, we passed familiar haunts, especially touristy Taormina and the charming mountaintop village of Forza d'Agro. Forza d'Agro is an interesting place and now part of Hollywood lore. Reached via a twisting corkscrew road from the coast, Forza d'Agro is the site of Sant'Agostino. It was this church, in the second film of the Godfather epic where, if I have it right, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) marries Apollonia. It is now part of Sicilian lore as well and not for the 16th-century castle overlooking the coast toward the Strait of Messina. Instead, word is that mafia fathers come to this church to proudly give their daughters away, an offer you couldn't refuse. Not quit Grauman's Chinese Theatre, noted for its memorabilia, but a start. When we visited, the church was lavishly decorated with flowers like something we've never seen before. There had been a wedding that morning. I still recall how in the coolness of the interior, the intoxicating perfume of the flowers, some strewn down the center aisle, added further to the sensual dimension to the scene.

Messina is a Mini-Naples with cars, buses and especially hoards of screeching motorcycles everywhere. This time, we used a more northerly exit from highway E45 to bypass the adventures experienced when traveling through the center of town. Getting tickets for the ferry is always a novel pastime, especially for the uninitiated. You follow the traghetto (ferry) signs until you come to an area of utter confusion with cars parked or I should say stopped every which way in the street, while hucksters selling bogus CDs or attempting to wash your windows, ply the traffic jam. Some, sensing a straniero (outsider) amongst them - someone new to all this fun, try to help you get to the ticket kiosk when you exit your car in the midst of this melee, expecting a finders-fee in return. A few words in Italian usually puts them off and on to more fertile prey. Italians can easily circumvent any attempt to get them organized into lines. Painted lines on the ground are laughable. If there is a way to somehow advance, even at someone else's expense, they'll try it. Their driving is a classic example. The worst repercussion might be a hand waving verbal broadside from someone less imaginative. But here, they are dealing with fellow Italians who know all the angles so the ticket booth is buttressed with sturdy metal handrails, which define the lanes. They would give the merrymaking operators of Disney World pause to reconsider their crowd control techniques. The use of these parallel steel rail queues avoids five or so people with their hands thrusting money through the window slot all at the same time. It also keeps them in a tight line like cattle headed for slaughter, where by slaughter I mean the fee to cross. When you reach the ticket clerk, you learn that the tariff is 30.50 Euro for two passengers and a light auto. Of this, the city of Messina is reserved 1.50€. Included is a 20% VAT (Value Added Tax), something some politicians here want to introduce. God help us! No wonder only President Berlusconi is interested in building a suspension bridge across the Strait. It is doubtful, however, that there will ever be one with all the politics and intrigue involved. Pockets run deep in these parts, far deeper in fact than the waters of the Strait. Promise of the start of construction has been going on every year, I think, since the Romans ran the place! While Marie Antoinette may have said, "Let them eat cake", around here the equivalent is "Let them talk of building a bridge".

Fearing They Might be Left Behind, vehicles from two to eighteen wheelers eagerly scramble aboard the ferry under the eagle-eyed supervision of dockworkers who efficiently choreograph the loading with the sidestepping precision of matadors. Once parked tight as Sicilian sardines in the bowels of the ship, you can go upstairs to the passenger lounges. I recommend you do because some of the trailer trucks keep their engines running throughout the crossing and the fumes can be overwhelming. You can watch your progress crossing the Strait from either the deck in nice weather or otherwise inside. All told it takes about an hour to get across. When the ferry’s behemoth boarding ramp drops open at Villa San Giovanni, it’s as if the green flag at Daytona has been waved in everyone’s windshield – let the race begin!

And So We Too Were Off, along the A3 Autostrada on a meandering journey north. We had decided earlier to take our time and see some of the province of Calabra first, followed by Basilicata. While in Sicily we’d entertained stopping at Siracusa but decided to do that another time. We were in no particular hurry yet wanted to get across – you could never be sure there wouldn’t be a strike or some sort of slowdown. Recalling what Elwood had said to Jake in “The Blues Brothers", “we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses”, Maria Elena said ‘hit it’ though neither of us smoked and it was broad daylight! The route, marked by the green ‘RC-SA’ (Regio Calabria to Salerno) signs, is pocked-marked with galeria (tunnels). There are times you are inside them long enough for your GPS, we call ours ‘Margaret’, to lose its signal even in a speedy Alfa Romeo. That in itself isn't bad and can be expected but there are places where these tunnels are so close together, one following the other, that as you exit a tunnel there isn't enough time to reacquire the satellite signals before charging headlong into another galeria! Luckily, there were few roads to mistakenly take in the meantime, allowing time for Margaret to catch up in a clear sky.

This Highway is an engineering marvel. Once you have driven it and seen its jagged saw-tooth landscape for yourself, you can understand how prior to its construction the Mezzogiorno, or Southern Italy, was uniquely isolated and consequently remained underdeveloped. Bridges with amazing superstructures span the breaches formed by the deepest of ravines between formidable mountain peaks. You sometimes get a glimpse of an approaching bridge spanning one of these Mariana trench-like abyss’ as you round a turn. Simply amazing. It is hard to imagine even attempting such a project. Where would you begin? Along the route, which for a time keeps to the Calabrian coastline, you can sometimes catch sight of an azure sea embroidered with beaches, some sitting beside small villages, off to your left, far, far below. Within sight, but still out of reach, they beg to be explored but not today, even if we could figure out how to get down there.

We Exited the Autostrada near Lamezia Terme in favor of the coastal road (S18) hugging the shore of the Tyrrhenian Sea to continue our casual drive north. Our goal was to reach the village of Maratea, which I’d read about years before. A few hours later we saw a road-sign and realized that based on the remaining distance we needed to cover and our pace thus far, we would be wise to stop somewhere now. We had passed an interesting looking place a few kilometers back and decided to double back. It was the seaside town of San Lucido, named after a monk who once occupied a nearby monastery there. We had noticed what looked like a curving palm-tree lined street overlooking the sea almost like a balcony as we'd driven by and wondered if this might be near some hotel, seeing that the setting was so perfect. We made a couple of loops through the town, which like so many others is dominated by one way streets, to get our bearings. I'd passed a local policeman on one pass and decided to ask him on my next go by where there was an albergo (hotel). He didn't seem to mind when I double parked to ask, stopping traffic. Following his directions we indeed passed down the tree lined avenue we'd seen from the highway. With the aid of a group of old men, startled like a covey of pigeons by an American stammering for directions in his own pigeon Italian dialect, I was able to find Antico Ristorante Da Peppone and its adjacent hotel, 'Catherine's House'. I swear it was a scene right out of a Fellini movie, for with the knot of senior citizens at my back, mostly to satisfy their curiosity but ostensibly to insure I was on course, I found one of the restaurant’s family members busy setting up outside for a World Cup match and got a room. He'd produced a scrap of paper scrawled with names and nodding toward it while asked me if I had a reservation. On my negative reply he shrugged and I consequently shrugged in disappointment, then moments later producing his cellphone, he chatted briefly with someone and announced he had a room for us after all. Explain it as you will but I think the lonely castaway look I gave him triggered some primal disposition Italians seem to have to make the current situation acceptable. It was just barely a hotel room anyway, situated three floors up, essentially in the attic. Our only window resembled one from a basement foundation and true to form was on the floor. On hands and knees you might see out! It, however, had all we needed for the night including an air conditioner mounted high on the wall, which made staying there bearable. A short nap later, we were on the streets of San Lucido. Dinner this evening would be at La Venere Ristorante.

We Dined Alfresco at La Venere. Not to be confused with the Italian verb 'venire' (come), which I managed to do, La Venere means 'The Venus'. We learned of it when we asked about a place for dinner while people-watching outside the 'John Bull Pub'. Mare likes a 'Black & Tan' beer now and then and with Guinness available we had every reason to linger. It was hard to believe that of all places, you’d come across a pub in Calabria! There must be a modicum of British influence about. If it had been American, I'm sure there would have been a Planet Hollywood around! As with Botticelli's celebrated painting, 'The Birth of Venus', La Venere essentially emerges from the sea below San Lucido. Turns out La Venere was over the railing of that palm-lined street in a lower part of town about 200 feet below. Like Venus, we too were in essence born anew for here and for the first time since returning to ‘Bella Italia’ we once again tasted purple sunshine on our tongues flowing from an excellent bottle of Nero d’Avola. I recall enjoying 'fritti di mare' (seafood pasta) but what we ate, though excellent that night, was nowhere near the fabulous time we had later with fellow diners. It was not until we’d finish our meals and were preparing to leave that two men at a nearby table waved us over and proposed that we join them for an aperitivo. They had observed us during the course of the evening and whether out of curiosity or the need for companionship wanted to share grappa and conversation with us. They soon learned we were American, not British as they'd suspected, and we in turn that one was a lawyer and the other a bookstore owner from Paolo, a town a few coastal villages further north. The grappa flowed and we had a wonderful time together until well after midnight talking about everything from politics to football, which in Italy is almost politics itself! They must have been regulars for soon our foursome had grown to include the chef and his wife, who had been our hostess. It rekindled in us that epiphany in awareness that anyone who has spent time in Italy will one day or another realize of how hospitable, generous, charming and otherwise almost childlike in their friendliness Italians can be. Our moments together adding weight to the notion that a memorable dining experience is not what is on the table so much as who is at the table. The assent up the steps to town, followed by another assent to our attic sanctuary in the Hotel Caterina was a further rebirth in the knowledge of how out of shape our legs were. Not withstanding our previous night's convivial soiree, we were on the road once again by mid-morning headed north into Basilicata.

Our Next Overnight Stop was at La Locanda delle Donne Monache (, in Maratea. We arrived early enough later that morning to be able to enjoy practically a full day in Maratea. La Locanda, like Maratea itself, is a secluded retreat nestled in rugged mountains just inland, overlooking the breathtaking unspoiled coastline of Basilicata. It offers luxury accommodations in a restored 18th century convent painstakingly converted into one of the finest hotels in the area. But for the lack of an elevator, we were told, it would be classed five star. Its layout precludes the use of elevators and instead substitutes artfully decorated corridors, which wind up, down and around the complex like a Chinese paper dragon on parade. We, neither of us, knew what might lie ahead and where we might emerge and therein lay the fun. We did just that and after passing through a Moorish decorated sitting area surfaced into a garden with cushioned chairs dominated by a large mural beckoning you to linger. Maria Elena (Mare), now intoxicated with the mood of the place, used this quiet retreat to write in her journal. It was on one of these explorations, following a turn and ascent of a short series of stairs that we discovered a wonderful kidney-shaped swimming pool. It was hemmed by gigantic blue hydrangea bushes, and if that wasn’t enough, an ancient church and square campanile (bell tower) served as the backdrop, completing this Italian canvas. Here was a stunning example of Italian design congruity set amidst its crumbling heritage, rivaling Feng Shui principles in its balance. For the time we had there, this became OUR spot. Here we enjoyed ourselves immensely, meeting people, having drinks or doing both while soaking at the edge of this wonderful pool. I'm sure the former nuns never had it this good. Adjacent to the pool was another find, the hotel's celebrated restaurant, 'Il Sacello' (The Shrine). I don't believe I actually did it but while playing lizard, or should I say turtle in the water, by the edge of the pool, I actually called a waiter over and made a reservation for dinner there for later that evening. Given time, you could quit easily get used to this lifestyle and I was making great headway at living life large without any problema! Reality soon sets in, however, for the cost in Euros for this tryst was in the stratosphere. When you made the mental conversion into dollars, it became obscene. If you recall, I jokingly remarked in a recent post that I was sparing no expense on this trip, it being our anniversary! Here was painful proof. I just had to think about it like I had the time we took a gondola ride in Venice - just imagine the cost amortized over ten years or more and then it isn’t so bad. But now about that dinner …

Il Sacello, located in a long glassed-in portico running alongside the pool area, was both intimate and welcoming. Its staff spoke faultless English, which made the evening go especially smoothly and the maitre'de added to a memorable time by his occasional visits and frank chats. Mare and I shared the dinner-for-two special featuring 'Bistecca alla Fiorentina', the grilled steak signature dish of Florence similar to what we'd called a Porterhouse, balanced with such local treats as grilled vegetables served over creamy polenta. This was gourmet cuisine at its finest, accompanied with fine wine and topped off with a dolce (desert) of Tiramisu. Bring on that slippery-smooth mascarpone cheese! Tiramisu remains the most heavenly Italian dessert I've ever eaten. Its name is derived from 'pull me up' in Italia and it does just that. No wonder it is the signature dessert of Venice. We’d eaten deliberately, savoring each flavor, and hated to see the meal end. We even hesitated to leave the next day, after all we had plenty of time, but our vacillation was abruptly overcome by the sobered affect of il conto (the bill)! We cut inland away from the sea and its coastal road and within a few hours were in familiar territory.

Soon We Were Climbing that zigzag ascent to lofty Calitri. There were the 'fashionable' with their never-worn sweaters cast about their shoulders, sleeves knotted on their chests; clumps of old men on the shaded benches lining Corso Garibaldi; Benito in the doorway of his magazine shop; mustachioed Paldo in his bar; Francesco in his furniture store and I was now positive, God in his heaven. My inner Italian had now regained its sense of place. We had arrived in Calitri, slipping up the peninsula like a hand deftly exploring a sheer nylon on a shapely leg – a journey just long enough to cover the sculpted subject but short enough to still remain mysterious, beckoning a return.

That Rogue Tourist,


For related photos, click here on Eyes Over Italy. Then look for and click on the photo album entitled "San Lucido & Maratea".

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Italia - A Galaxy & Metroliner Away

No Doubt You've Heard the expression, “that and twenty five cents will get you a cup of coffee”? Well, one of the few benefits of having been shot at while in the military (or for that matter, for never having been shot at all, while in the military) and otherwise surviving to retirement, is the ability for Maria Elena and me to take military space-available flights. From the savings realized, you might even possibly be able to buy yourself a small coffee plantation and all the coffee you want!

The First and Until Now the last time we tried this was in 1973 following my return from flying in Vietnam. So on the occasion of this, our 41st wedding anniversary, we tried it again hoping to eventually reach ‘Bella Italia’. Since I was now retired, however, our priority for seats had changed, unfortunately in the negative direction. We could now count on being in the lowest category, which wasn’t saying much, especially it being June with crowds of active duty personnel and dependents cramming the military departure terminals. At least for a few days, it was worth a try at sitting around terminals, since the cost savings was so attractive. If all went right, our total cost would be $4.25 each for a sack lunch! You can see I was sparing no expense on this anniversary celebration! Not many wives would be willing to put up with this but Maria Elena is a first-class trooper and willing to give things a sporting try. I recall how once, although she doesn’t like heights, she’d hesitated to climb the sacred Mayan Kukulcan pyramid in the ancient city of Chichen-Itza, Mexico. She drew up the courage from somewhere, however, and climbed it anyway saying, “I came this far, I’ll probably never come back here again, so I’m going to do it”. Later, at the top of this archaeological wonder, she climbed down those same steep stone stairs backwards in order not to look down! How’s that for a game gal?

Everything Depended on Timing and Outright Luck with some planning thrown in for good measure. Seems life is like that too. We began our adventure on a Monday in June, by driving from our home to Dover AFB in Delaware. Arriving late that evening, we were informed of a flight leaving just after midnight for Rota, Spain. Things were seemingly falling into place quickly. The secret is to take any flight headed in your desired direction. After all, Europe is Europe and once there you can always find alternate transportation like a train or Ryan Air flight. Unfortunately, by 1 am this flight had not materialized. I checked only to find out that due to a maintenance problem, it had slipped to 4:25 am. Not for long though. About an hour later it had again been postponed until 2 pm that afternoon! Are you beginning to get the idea? We are not dealing with a scheduled airlines like Delta or Alitalia here. Surprisingly, the 2 pm flight was moved up to an earlier show time of 7:30 am! Fortunately, I just happened to call from the motel we had retreated to in the early morning hours to learn this news. Out of 73 available seats on a C-5 Galaxy transport, only 11 of us got word in time to return to the terminal, process and get aboard. That had to be a mélange of timing and luck and very little planning on my part!

We Were Airborne by 11am. We were feeling very good about it especially since the four massive turbofan engines had started just fine, and once airborne, the landing gear and flaps had cooperated and successfully retracted. Sweet – time to sit back and enjoy. Italy here we come and just in time for the World Cup playoffs. Unfortunately, ‘feet wet’ and thirty minutes out over the Atlantic, the Fates intervened. We had an engine problem. The apparent fix had not taken and we were returning to Dover. Following the announcement, you could feel the mood of all on-board slump like the unwinding needle of the altimeter as our Galaxy limped home. Back in 1973, we had flown on a C-5, possibly the very one we were on. We were younger then and in turn, so was the fleet of Galaxies. Together we’d somehow gotten old.

Back Inside the Terminal, we now had to re-compete anew for seats with our fellow travelers who had since returned to the terminal or recently just arrived. I have a theory. I believe that when you are tired, wrinkled, unwashed and disheveled enough, the heavenly powers that be become compassionate on your soul and decree “let them go, it’s been long enough”. Something on the order of a stint in airport terminal Purgatory is mandatory! Thankfully, there was a flight leaving shortly for Germany. Many opted to wait for this flight instead, which took much of the pressure off a second flight leaving for Spain. A few hours later, for a second time that same day, we were once again airborne over the Atlantic, this time with all systems go. Our C-5 slid into a dimming easterly night sky with Maria Elena and myself ensconced within the tail of the beast, seated facing backward.

A C-5 Galaxy is a Monstrous Aircraft designed to provide strategic airlift over intercontinental distances. In fact, it is the largest aircraft in the U.S. Air Force inventory and one of the largest military aircraft in the world. Lockheed delivered the first operational Galaxy to Charleston Air Force Base, SC, in June 1970 - forty years ago to the month that we were now aboard in Dover. To give you an idea of its size, its main landing gear has 28 wheels and its cargo bay is actually a foot longer than the distance the Wright Brothers flew in their first powered flight at Kitty Hawk. Every time I see one, just airborne on its departure climb-out, I marvel that something that large can fly. At this point on its departure, nose high and slow in its assent, with the distinctive whining strain of its engines buzzing like a cicada on a hot summer’s day, all I can do is watch in amazement as two thousand years of human ingenuity mesh to make the impossible happen. It’s as if a three-story house was creeping into the sky.

Our Flight was Smooth and Uneventful. With so few on-board, we were able to commandeer an entire row of seats, allowing us to lie down and get some much needed sleep. Just before sunrise we landed at Rota, a Spanish Air Force base located near Cadiz (the city Columbus sailed from on his second and fourth voyages) and the mouth of the Mediterranean.

The Official Word for Our Status was ‘transient’ but when you are ‘car-less’ walking along the side of the road rolling your luggage along behind you in the early morning light without a place to stay, I call it homeless. The Navy Lodge was unfortunately full but they were kind enough to allow us to store our bags until something freed-up, hopefully later in the day. In the meantime, we returned to the terminal for breakfast and to await sunrise. We also checked on upcoming flights. In two days, another C-5 was scheduled to depart Rota for Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily. Getting a room now became even more important. On our return to the Lodge, to essentially camp-out in the lobby, we detoured first to the base gymnasium long enough for showers. There was an annual physical fitness test going on - a mile and a half run in so many minutes. I decided not to participate! The navy personnel there were more than helpful. They graciously providing us with towels and even locks for the locker room. Maria Elena was especially appreciative for a chance to freshen-up. A few hours later we were in our room and fast asleep.

Around 6 pm, while taking some photos of the area, another retiree, knowing of our desire to get to Italy, told me he’d just learned of a flight leaving shortly for Sigonella. It seemed things were changing faster than the Euro-to-dollar exchange rate! After a call to confirm that the flight was indeed on, we scrambled to get back to the terminal. Sure enough, there was a small Navy C-26 scheduled to land within the hour.

There is a Saying in the Military, “Hurry up and wait”. Well, we had already hurried up and now it was time to wait. Time passed and by its scheduled landing time the aircraft hadn’t materialized. When I inquired, the terminal personnel had no idea where the aircraft had gone since its departure from Sicily. They checked with Air Traffic Control and they had no idea where it was either. Was there a Bermuda Triangle operating somewhere in the Mediterranean? With nothing better to do, we continued to sit in the terminal. We agreed to give it until 9 pm. There’s another saying, this one purely related to standby military travel – “never leave the terminal”. So we sat and continued to wait at least until the whereabouts of this phantom aircraft could be determined. While we waited, a Colonel in his flight suit passed by on his way to crew operations upstairs. I introduced myself as a former Air Force pilot, explained our desire to get to Sicily and the mystery, at least to me, surrounding the whereabouts of an overdue inbound flight. He promised to check on it and tell the crew, if and when they arrived, that we’d appreciate a lift. At this point we not only didn’t know where the plane was but also had no idea whether they would accept passengers.

Low and Behold, about three hours later it arrived. The mystery of its whereabouts was resolved. It had dropped in on an island along the way. It seemed to be a pretty freewheeling operation. I began to wonder where we might wind-up later that night - Mallorca wouldn’t be bad but Sicily would be better. Good to his word, one of the crewmembers came to us in the terminal, got us processed and onboard within minutes. We were in hurry-up mode once again since they were in a hurry to gas-up and get home. At exactly 10 pm we rumbled and yawed down the runway and rotated into a clear night sky. At this point in the Mediterranean, Spain is off the left wing and, close-by, Africa is to the right. Being aboard a Navy aircraft, however, I guess I should use port and starboard.

The C-26 Metroliner provides light passenger and cargo airlift support for the Navy. First made in 1998 by Fairchild Aircraft, the Metroliner features twin turboprop engines, a crew of two (with no door to the crew cabin that I could see) and a range of approximately 2000 nautical miles. It was pretty small, even smaller than the aircraft used for shuttle flights by Delta Express or United Airlines. There was no way I could stand in it. I had to frog-walk while crouched over to my seat. I am too big for many things and this aircraft was just another example. Being this small, passengers are limited to 30 pounds of luggage. Before we departed the States, we’d planned for this situation and packed accordingly. Luckily we have a washing machine at our place in Calitri, Italy so we could downsize on clothing. Along with sleep, here was another example of a trade-off we had to make for the sake of space-available flexibility. We were still concerned about it even then. In fact, since we had plenty of time as we waited for the ghost flight to materialize, we weighed our bags and made final adjustments into and out of our hand-carried luggage to insure each weighed exactly 30 pounds. Oh, the games we plan.

By this Time you might ask yourself why we hadn’t settled for that flight to Germany back in Dover and then take a train to Naples. Our goal was to get to either Naples or Sicily, with Naples being optimum for getting home to Calitri. We’d therefore opted for Rota as our initial destination over the flight to Spangdahlem, Germany simply to get into the U.S. Navy airlift system since the Navy routinely conducts a circuit of its Mediterranean bases.

It Would be a Four-hour Flight. We flew close to the African coast as we headed east. Two hours into the flight there was nothing outside our porthole-sized windows – not a glimmer of light or even the glint of the moon off the sea, which we knew was somewhere in the distance, far, far below us. Down the narrow aisle, the red night-vision lights from the pilot’s instrument panel glowed ahead of us. I wondered what they did to keep awake after a long crew-day – did they resort to ribald jokes over interphone as we had years ago? In the tail of the passenger cabin where we sat, we withstood cycles of being too hot and too cold. In keeping with the cycling temperature, Mare bundled and unbundled herself in a scrawl while I alternatively draped and undraped a jacket over myself. Not exactly sure, I suspect we dozed off and on. Our seats fortunately faced each other so there was legroom. Mare’s legs lay parallel to mine. A little after 1am, I could just make out the lights of some distant islands. Marettimo and Levanzo? Had we already run the slot between Sardinia and Tunisia and crossed the ancient wakes of Scipio Africanus’ triremes enroute to Carthage? A few minutes later our location was confirmed for there was Trapani, Sicily apparently with every light in the city turned on! For a moment I sensed this may have been on the order of how Lindbergh may have felt as he coasted the Atlantic and first spotted the outlying islands off of Europe decades earlier.

We Touched Down at Sigonella at Exactly 2am. Outside a hanger where we parked, I watched as the pilot, a Lieutenant Colonel, walked to his car by the side of the hanger and drove off. He’d had a long day. We boarded a small van and were driven the short distance to the terminal. Surprisingly, there were two uniformed Navy personnel practically standing at attention when we exited the van. Somehow and for some reason we were being given VIP treatment. Again, I suspected the pilot had radioed ahead and arranged this. I’d never be able to repay the courtesy. Two in the morning and again without a place to stay it couldn’t have come at a better time. Quarters had already been arranged for us. A female Petty Officer brought us to our room, turned on the TV, ceiling fan, air conditioner and even provided us with a much needed 2-liter bottle of cold water … hospitality and service on the par with a four-star hotel concierge! We flopped into bed, without ceremony, minutes later.

So There You Have It … a C-5 Galaxy and C-26 Metroliner later, we were once again in Bella Italia. As unkempt and tired as we were, we’d made it. We hadn’t arrived in Calitri yet but even on the base at Sigonella, we could tell we were in Italy. Something, about just about everything, was different. A month of Arcadian lifestyle in a land of ochre walls and terra-cotta roofs awaited us. All I’d need to really convince myself that I’d arrived was the taste of the sun in my mouth but that glass of wine would have to wait for tomorrow and Part II of this story.

The Rogue Tourist,