Monday, April 30, 2018

Coppi Capers

Coppi Capers
My guess, Margaret wanted out.  “Wanted out” borders on a colloquial understatement I once heard as a child from a house painter my dad had hired.  It was his way of telling us that his mother had up and left home.  He’d said, “She just wanted out”.  In my time, I have no equivalent.  The closest turn of phrase I can come up with to describe literally walking out on responsibility, as when someone hasn’t studied for a test and has no care in the outcome would be “I’ll take a zero”, or as my granddaughter describes it these days, “Take the L” (loss).  For those new to my rants, Marge, who often wants out and takes a zero at our loss, is our GPS of many years. By now she is well indoctrinated in our ways and familiar with our haunts.  You’d think that after so many years she would have developed some loyalty, but absent anything approaching a neural network or an artificial intelligence, she hasn’t learned a thing.  Nowhere near as good a listener as Alexa or as talkative as Siri, hers is a free-spirited mind, known to stray.  With so much GPS trickery, God help us if the world ever does go completely driverless and future descendants of Margaret, coupled to a car, are let loose on their own.  Forewarned of her tendencies to explore new places and recalling the time she took us through a cow paddy where I’m sure few had ventured before, we bridle her with maps the old-fashioned way and keep close watch on her, just to be safe.  A recent case in point was the time she brought us to a stonewall lined road in the middle of nowhere, in the heel of Italy known as Puglia, and announced in her English prissiness that we’d arrived.  Yes, she speaks in the British vernacular, which with her “roundabouts” and “slip roads” approaches something intriguingly exotic to our American ears.
And here my story begins to unspool ... This being completely unfamiliar territory, we’d relied on Margaret to get us to our destination.  By this point, pulled over to the side of the road, a quick look through the shimmer of the Apulian heat, revealed not a structure or sign of civilization in sight other than the wildment of boundless fields marching to the horizon bordered by sun-baked stone walls.  No-doubt, the only

nearby homes belonged to darting geckos and little else.  It was evident, we weren’t even close.   We’d hoped to have been on Strada Provinciale Turi approaching Gioia del Colle, home to the Coppi Winery under the longtime leadership of Antonio Coppi, but at this point, only God and possibly three orbiting GPS satellites knew our whereabouts.   We had arranged this visit months earlier with the help of a friend in the States, a former RAF pilot turned sommelier by the name of Rufus.  Ah, that romantic British influence again, this time simply in a name.  Rufus had been to the Coppi Winery and knew our host.  With no one about to ask, I called for help, not to the Italian Auto Club but to one of the Coppi numbers I’d brought with me for just such a situation.  A man answered; I could hear a baby crying in the background.  Could this be the home of the Coppi Winery?  Doubtful.  It just didn’t sound right.  After a few interchanges, I had quickly exhausted my knowledge of Italian only to discover that I’d reached a home in Benevento, a city hundreds of miles away in Campania, near Naples actually.  I must have misdialed, at least I prayed I had.  Maybe the heat was getting to me.  Might I next expect to see a shimmering mirage-like image of some wine bottle off in the distance?
I punched at the numbers again.  Thankfully, this time, Roberto, the operations manager of the Coppi Winery answered.  Apparently, I hadn’t gone completely daft.  Although for my part I couldn’t explain where we were for lack of any landmarks other than rolling countryside and some cactuses, he advised us to find SS172 and head toward Polignano, and of all things, look for a giant wine bottle.  A giant bottle?  The thought of that misty mirage returned.  Apparently, the bottle was real, not some invented figment of my imagination.  Off again, we entered a new destination into Margaret, this time an entire town to be exact, soon found the highway, and drove for a while until we came to a rotary. At the rotary I took the first exit with my fingers crossed in hope that I’d made the right choice.  After a while, I pulled over and asked a man in a nearby field where the winery might be hiding.  At his direction, we turned around.  Why not, when you’re basically lost?  He said it was 4 km in the opposite direction, right by the rotary!  By then, I wasn’t a bit surprised by anything.  Sure enough, of all things, a giant Coppi wine bottle rose near the roundabout.  It pointed skyward like a missile ready for launch and marked the entry to the Coppi headquarters and processing plant.  How we’d not seen this beacon to Bacchus earlier, I’ve no explanation beyond our fixation on trying to quickly read the rotary signs that peppered the rotary exits or gone round and round a few times trying to take them all in.  Nevertheless, there it was, as advertised, off to one side of the roundabout. 
I like roundabouts.  They’re efficient and in the scheme of things their numbers make them economical on saving gas without having to wait around for lights to change.  However, in this case, offered in my defense, if we’d had to stop at the intersection, we might have had time to look around and spot that bottle rocket.  Inefficient and bungling as it had been, we certainly found our destination in a round-about manner.  After our morning ride from Calitri, Margaret’s navigational antics, and missteps going round’en round roundabouts, right about then, as I homed-in on the giant bottle, a glass (or two) of refreshment was more than appealing.  As for Margaret, she’d stay in the car.
The Coppi Winery is a family run operation with a story stretching back to 1882.  That was the year, absent any fanfare or ribbon cutting, that things got underway.  Times were far simpler then; the phenomenon of the 24/7 news blitz hadn’t even been imagined.  Understandably, its opening didn’t make headlines.  The modern winery we’d visit that day owes its birth and history to oenologist Antonio Coppi, who bought the wine cellars in 1979 when the previous owner moved to Tuscany.  Antonio and his wife made the perfect pair; his wife,

the daughter of the previous owner, had a deep understanding of place, a visceral bond with the land, and knew the fields while Antonio knew the art of making wine.  Together they nurtured the grapes and turned the business into the modern “vinicola” it is today.  Its location between the Ionian Sea to the west and Adriatic Sea to the east, on hilltop terrain 250 meters above sea level make an ideal climate to grow grapes.  Fanning gentle breezes, a warming southern Italian sun, and soil rich in nutrients combine to create a microclimate capable of producing the best wines of Puglia.  We’d heard all this before we arrived from Rufus, so it was with anticipation that we watched the entry gate swing open and drove into their reception area.
Roberto greeted us at the door.  He was a tall, lanky fellow with a receding hairline of short curly hair, graying on the sides.  While he was casually dressed in a red sweater, what caught my  attention were the blue rimmed glasses he wore, a popular accent in Italy, above an infectious smile. Thankfully, he had an excellent command of English.  Following introductions, he led us on a tour of the facility.  I had a sense of what was coming from the blend of the modern with old ways out in the yard where laundry fluttered from a line adjacent to a stone wall corralling a solar collector field.  My interest was piqued from the start when a truck happened to arrive full of grapes.  It likely came from one of their 100 hectares of vineyards or the additional 100 hectares of leased land that combine to produce just shy of a million bottles of  wine annually. Once the truck was parked for unloading, a lance, like a giant bee’s stinger, was lowered into the grapes.  I’d never seen such a device.  Roberto explained that what we were seeing was a probe to sample the must, the juicy mix of skins, seeds, and fruit stems at the bottom of the truck-bed.  Testing was underway to insure the grapes met the winery’s strict quality requirements.  It was our first indication, one of many, of how nothing was left to chance.  Strict control of the variables involved in winemaking, from the “training” of the vines to exacting temperature regime maintenance and continuous laboratory analysis affirmed their sophisticated approach to every phase of production.  Theirs was a story that continues forward with innovation and advanced technology, where passion, tradition, and innovation join to spur on the family’s dream first formed many, many years ago. 

Leaving behind the paraphernalia of winemaking, a mix of piping, hoses, stainless steel tanks,
pumps, and rubber boots, we moved inside.   We were immediately struck by how modern the facilities were.  There were the upper cellars, of course. with barrels and tanks, some made of concrete, in addition to the ancient underground cellars referred to as the “Temple of Primitivo”, a major varietal.  There was also the innovation of a small colorful tasting room for just about each of their wines.  Unknown to us, northern Italians apparently like to stand while they sip their wine as opposed to southerners who would rather sit, two to three hours at a time, with food and wine.  This correlated well with our own experience where without the accompaniment of something to eat, you just didn’t see people sitting around in Calitri sipping wine.
As an accommodation, this behavior may explain the existence of the struzzichini, a finger food on the level of Spanish tapas, something small to eat while enjoying your wine.  With the idea of accommodating northerners, a room was arranged with long, narrow, double-sided tables suspended from pipes, floor to ceiling, providing a pub type counter to stand around.  Another highly impressive feature was their banquet center.  This more formal area, that included a fireplace and an open kitchen, served to entertain large groups, possibly those southern Italians who like to sit a spell and “manga” while savoring their wine.

There was little chance that their heritage would be lost in the blinking lights, dials, spectrometers, and gauges of their modern facility.  To this end, the Coppi headquarters showcased a museum featuring their winemaking past.  In fact, while we were there, a school group was examining the museum’s carts, presses, scales, barrels, wall maps, demijohns, and photos that capture the history of the Apulian wine industry once little known and considered third-rate.  In many ways it had been snubbed by the rest of the Italian wine “mainstream”.  But all this has changed from the days that wine firms in Apulia could be counted on the fingers of one hand and their wines were used as “fillers” and “mixers” for wines produced as far away as France.  That has all changed.  Today Coppi wines are the pride of Apulia wine production. 
With all the buildup, we eagerly awaited a taste of their sunshine in a bottle, for proof in the pudding lay in the tasting.  That moment arrived when we entered their beautiful wine bar.  It was a challenge to decide on what to try for they produced a variety of both red and white wines.  The reds included various types of Primitivo wines in addition to their “Pellirosso” Negroamaro and “Sannace” Malvasia grape varietals.  Antonio had been a Senator in the Italian Parliament, so we were interested in the D.O.C. “Senatore” Primitivo, a wine brewed to commemorate his achievement.  The whites were more limited but included Falanghina and Malvasia, with one, a bubbly “frizzante bianco”.  We relied on Roberto to guide us, who proved generous with the choices and pours.  We may have tried them all, I’m not sure.  Thankfully, we had only four kilometers to go to arrive at our hotel which we’d passed along the way during our hunt for that elusive wine bottle mirage.
Our visit concluded with a stop by the office where we met the family patriarch himself, Senator Antonio Coppi.   During his celebrated career, he’d also been an auto enthusiast and took us to see his cache of classic automobiles.  Approximately twenty vintage Alfa Romeos, Ferraris, Peugeots, Fiats, and many others I could only guess to name filled a large garage.  Clearly Antonio’s love for automobiles, a common trait among Italian males, was evident.  Our visit had been worth all the angst of getting there and we departed with our own cache -   plenty of bottles of Coppi wine to later celebrate the memory of our visit for days to come.  As we pulled away from the facility and passed the bottle poised for launch, I had to admit that this was the most advanced and aesthetically pleasing winery
we’d ever visited.  While it hadn’t been rocket science, it had been all about wine science.  It was an eye-opener to glimpse the achievements of a man who from the beginning considered it his mission to bring dignity and prestige to Apulian wine production.  His mission accomplished from a lifetime of demanding work, steadfast persistence, sacrifice, and farsightedness, today his wines occupy a leadership position and are known the world over.

     It took only minutes to arrive at Hotel Relais Antica Masseria.  Surrounded by acres of grapes, we found it immediately both tranquil and relaxing.  For a late lunch, we were fortunate to be able to share in a much-attended luncheon prepared for a centenarian’s birthday celebration then underway.  We congratulated her on achieving her happy 100th and though we didn’t join in the official festivities, we did get to share in the fare at a side room table since the kitchen was totally preoccupied with the birthday and ordering from the menu was out of the question.  There was so much food, it didn’t take much more than the antipasto before our appetites were more than satisfied.  Our festive repast and all the top-notch wine nicely tucked away, it was early to bed.

We were off early the next morning.  The day started promising enough.  Our plan was to visit the Grotto di Castellana caves in nearby Putignano followed by lunch in Monopoli, a timeless coastal town washed by the flickering waves of the Adriatic.  Unfortunately, both would have to wait another day for we had our first sort of breakdown with Bianca.  Honestly, in the scheme of breakdowns, it was a minor inconvenience just serious enough to prevent us from continuing our vacation within a vacation, though not so serious that we couldn’t continue to drive Bianca.  As they go, this was a simple one, we just couldn’t close a window!  We needed the electric window fixed.  There were several reasons why; a forecast of rain the most immediate.  More importantly, a fix was important for the safekeeping of the items inside our car like luggage, a computer, my camera, even our passports.  If we chose to stop to visit the grotto for instance, Bianca would have been wide open.  Since our plans for the day had been altered, we chose a safer course and headed home to Calitri.  So much for plans that at times seem only useful to start a second set of plans.  Our new plan - along the way, it being only 10am, we’d try to get Bianca fixed. 
We would be passing close to Canosa de Puglia.  Canosa, known to the Romans as Canusium, is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in Italy.  Fiats, as ubiquitous as they are in Italy, and Canosa, being as large as it is, we were confident there would be a garage there that could fix Bianca’s window.  The only issue was where.  As luck would have it, our friend Pietro lived in Canosa, so I gave him a call.  I caught up with him at work.  He recommended "Point Service Autofficina" a garage on Via Balila.  Ironically, this “auto doctor" was just down the street from the city hospital.  The miracle of it was that we were in the garage’s “operating room” within minutes of our arrival.  After a while, it seemed the only issue would be in getting released from the “autofficina clinic”.  There were complications beginning with the hour it took to dismantle the door.  The door mechanism had a kinked cable and the entire unit had to be ordered which would not arrive until 3pm.  Then there would be the time needed to reassemble everything.  Tick-tock, tick-tock - thankfully we weren’t in any hurry.  If there was any consolation in the delay, it lay in the fact that at least it was during the shop’s normal afternoon shut down period.  Fortunately, one delay didn’t follow the other; for the most part they were concurrent. 

While we weren’t in the city’s center, there were a few distractions nearby to keep us occupied, one of which included lunch.  First, we took a walk and poked around a few stores.  It seems we used
our time in support of globalism when we bought some BIC razors made in Greece and a kitchen sink garbage strainer from Canada in of all places, a Chinese operated casalinghi (a home-goods store).  I should add, sold to Americans in Italy.  We had a few nearby choices for lunch.  Immediately across the street from the garage was “La Braceria”, a welcoming place that specialized in pollo alla brace (grilled chicken).  They also offered the choice of a pizza and a drink (7 Euros) or just shy of double that, a “tourist menu” of either salmon, swordfish or shrimp, a drink, and coffee or an Italian herbal liqueur called Amano.  While appealing, we kept looking.  It was on a corner, a few doors away from the garage, where we came upon another choice, the one we settled on named the “Locanda di Nunno”, after its chef, Antonio de Nunno.  Our light lunch, as we waited on our repair, turned into something more like a full-blown dinner.  If there was any grease on my hands, it came from the grilled steak, potatoes, and salad on my plate that Chef Nunno’s description had sold us on, not the greasy insides of our car door.  Seldom do we order the same meals but on that particular afternoon, as the sky darkened heralding an approaching storm, we did.  Although for me pasta is my go-to food, sometimes the craving arises, and I just have to cut into a steak.  For Maria Elena, steak is always welcome.  It had all the makings of an American style barbecue too, especially with all those crosshatched grill marks on the steaks.  There was more.  Mare finished her lunch with a Cassatina di Ricotta con Gelato al Pistacchio, a Sicilian cheese filled dessert with ice cream while for dessert drinks we enjoyed “Muscotto Passito”.  Passito is an Italian word for wine made by the appassimento process where grapes are partially dried on straw mats in airy rooms to concentrate the grapes’ flavors and sweetness prior to vinification.  As the grapes shrivel and lose water they become full of concentrated sugars.  Most passito wines spend time in oak barrels to develop further complex flavors in addition to time resting in their bottles prior to sale.  It seems car problems can have their silver linings.
When we reluctantly set off for the garage under lowered skies, we were thankful it wasn’t raining ... our umbrellas were inside Bianca.  With fingers crossed, we returned at 3pm hoping the garage team had beat us back.  They hadn’t.  The garage doors still down and locked, we waited, sitting on a stoop outside the garage.  Minutes later, as the tattoo of rain made its debut, first one, then a second mechanic arrived followed soon after by the boss, Ciros.  He favored us with an innocent smile as he waved a box to signal that he had the part.  Apparently, there wasn’t a parts delivery
service that I thought we were waiting on.  Instead Ciros stopped off to get the part while he was at lunch.  About an hour later, Bianca’s window was once again responsive to the push of a button. However, when they put her in reverse to back her out from under another car up on a lift (it was a small place), I noticed that one of the back-up lights wasn’t working.  I pointed this out to the mechanic only to learn I was both right and wrong.  First off, there was no reverse light on one side, but according to the mechanic and Ciros this was by design in Italian vehicles – only one reverse taillight is required.  Such an asymmetrical arrangement seemed strange to me.  I wondered what other countries required only one reverse light?  Funny, I’d not noticed this before.  I wondered, could they have been playing a practical joke on me?  Had this turned into something on the order of a “snipe hunt” fool’s errand or was I rhetorically being baited to believe in a “left-handed monkey wrench”?  Doubtful.  I took their word for it, hesitantly aware of my foreignness on the matter.  Instead, having dodged a need to wait for a bulb to be replaced and now with all windows A-ok, we were discharged from the car clinic.  The team at Point Service Autofficina had certainly been wonderful.  They’d understood our urgent concern and resolved the problem, all as walk-ins, without an appointment. 
Hours later, after we’d arrived safely home in Calitri and Bianca, windows up, was parked in the borgo piazza, Maria Elena was not feeling well.  Her feet ached, her head was feverish, and she’d developed a cough that could be heard over and over throughout our 80 square meter home as she lay in bed, wrapped in her thick bathrobe.  Riding so long with her window down, the swirling stormy air had probably taken a toll.  I’m pretty sure that’s what nine out of ten Calitrani would have pointed to as the culprit.  For times such as this, I turn for help to her favorite comfort food - some hot tomato soup and crackers.  When I asked her if she wanted some Coppi vino to accompany her soup, I knew she wasn’t going to die when she replied, “I’m sick, not crazy.”  As poet Pablo Neruda once eloquently said “…. He dies slowly, he who does not travel, …”, but not Maria Elena, not that day.

From that Rogue Tourist

Saturday, March 31, 2018

La Prima Colazione – Have it Your Way

La Prima Colazione – Have it Your Way

“I’ll have two sunny side, hash brown potatoes, bacon, a short stack, and a side of corn beef hash with wheat toast please.”  Thus it begins, a typical farmer’s breakfast, American style.  And there can be more, to include creamy grits, muffins, sausage, steak, quiche, waffles, ham, cereals,
beans, creamed beef, fruit, jams, jelly and syrup and let us not forget butter, heaps of it, along with omelets galore packed with just about anything you might fancy plus cheese, just to name a few.  In fact, breakfast has become an industry in itself with what we refer to as diners or greasy spoon eateries just about everywhere.
They specialize in the morning fare for the morning crowd, their advertised delights spread across glossy laminated multi-page menus.  For the home crowd, supermarket shelves feed the morning frenzy with row after row of breakfast items both of the fresh and frozen variety.
Maybe this breakfast mania can be explained by the fact that Americans typically eat supper much earlier in the day, usually in the vicinity of 5 to 6 pm.  By morning, twelve or more hours have passed and a substantial refueling is warranted.  Contrast this with a European lifestyle where it is fashionable not to even consider having the evening meal before 8 or 9 pm, even later in the summer.  They not only eat out later, but with the ritual of multiple courses, it also continues much longer, only to conclude hours later.  In Italy our experience has been that the evening meal at home is more modest than that at lunch.  Yes, it is lunch in Calitri that dominates, making it hard to understand why with so modest an evening meal, breakfast follows suit and is also negligible.
Wherever breakfast is served, coffee plays an essential role.  In Italy of course, it is referred to as “espresso”.  It’s a sublime name derived from the act of forcing or “expressing” a small amount of
nearly boiling water, under enough pressure to quickly squeeze the flavor from finely powdered coffee beans.  The term implies speed, speed in its hissing steamy creation and in the end result made “expressly” for you … so much so that some refer to it as “expresso”.  The technique results in a highly concentrated fluid, generally thicker than coffee brewed by other methods.  As the black fluid gradually spread across and down the Italian peninsula from its imported point of origin, Venice, it took on many forms.  There is Caffè Latte with its steamed milk emphasis, and Caffe Macchiato, milk with layered marks sometimes served in a tall glass to appreciate the gradations.  Finally, Caffè Americano features a one-to-one espresso hot water ratio (water replacing the milk).  For us, however, none compare to the satisfaction of an American style cup of coffee.  The closest to an American cup of joe might be what is called Caffè Lungo, an espresso diluted with about twice the normal amount of hot water making it slightly longer lasting (lungo), though weaker tasting and lasting only a shot longer by volume.

Some patrons will have their espresso “spiked” with grappa, sambuca, or brandy for an added jet-assisted energy boost.  It is called caffè corretto.  It can be ordered as “un caffè corretto alla grappa”, “alla sambuca”, or “al cognac” depending on your taste.  Apparently, the idea is to “correct” the coffee.  Depending on where you are, some bartenders will pass you the bottle
so you can “correct” your coffee to your heart’s content, limited only be the size of the demitasse in which the espresso is served.  To help sooth your stomach, it is usually accompanied by a “chaser” of water, although some patrons have a side of water with straight, unmodified espresso.  Adding water is a good idea, but I’d much rather have the water added hot to my coffee, more consistent with the volume of an American cup of coffee.  God forbid, I’m not trying to change things like doing away with espresso machines and replacing them with percolators or drip type American coffee makers.  We don’t like all those American type coffees either.  Take Starbucks for instance, which to us has a burnt flavor (sorry all you Starbucks drinkers). 
But everyone has their particular taste.  Mine (ours) happens to be mugs of coffee, in a real mug have you.  While you can find demitasse cups galore suitable for an espresso, try shopping for an American style mug in Calitri!  Will a beer stein from Double Jacks Pub do the trick?  As you might expect, a mug full of steaming coffee lasts much longer than the time it takes to knock your head back to inject a shot of espresso before walking out the door.  It seems that  once the espresso is gone, so are they.  For such
social people, the social side of dawdling over a cup of coffee is missing.  To us at least, it must last longer.  If socializing lasts too long, however, the coffee begins to get cold, but I don’t care.  Just warm it up with more of the warm stuff.  Then again, ice coffee is popular too and I’ve had plenty grow cold on me at my desk or when I flew, just to keep awake on long missions.  In fact, as I tap these keys, I’m sipping a cooled cup of java. 
While I can safely say that Italians are passionate about coffee, try as we might, we still can’t get Italian visitors to our home adventurous enough to try a cup of our drip coffee when they drop by Casa della Feritoia, our Italian address.  Is it taboo for them to violate their coffee culture traditions? 
Does the filled twelve cup decanter somehow look intimidating?  Might they think they’d have to drink it all?  Perhaps it has something to do with a mug’s volume, where by Italian norms such an amount, pretty much all at once, might be considered harmful.  I may be on to something here for this just might help explain why Italians make the rounds to so many baristas in a day, drinking tiny amounts at each stop.  In any case, we’ve never had an adventurous type willing to take the plunge, with or without the water chaser, “corrected” or not.

Speaking of traditions, I once stumbled upon an old Neapolitan coffee custom totally by accident and totally unrelated to some special nature of Italian coffee.  Neither was I in Naples at the time.  It is referred to as “caffè sospeso”, meaning suspended coffee or what the world may know as “paying it forward”.  It’s the practice of paying for two coffees but only consuming one, leaving the other for a stranger to enjoy gratis.  It occurred during an especially important American election.  I was in Mario’s Caffè, coincidentally around breakfast time, when news arrived of the election result.  Following my rather boisterous announcement of the outcome to all those present, I gave a surprised Mario a 20 Euro note with instruction to use it to pay for patron’s coffees until it ran out.  It was on the level of an American Western where some cowboy in a saloon shouts “drinks are on the house”.  This may have been a first in Calitri, it certainly was for me even shy of a ten-gallon hat and hip-slung gun belt. 
As a momentary aside and entirely unrelated to coffee or breakfast rituals, I credit Maria Elena for introducing the idea of a gift card to the Calitri marketplace back in 2014 when she wanted to
thank a good Samaritan for his help in “shooting-up” her husband.  Let me explain.  I’d pulled my back and was confined to bed, not on a doctor’s direction, but because, as if I were playing an Italian version of “dead bug”, I couldn’t get out of bed if I’d wanted to.  He wouldn’t accept anything as an expression of our gratitude for giving me a daily hypodermic shot.  Maria Elena had the idea of getting a gift card for him and his family at a pastry shop.  When she tried to purchase one, she was greeted with a blank stare.  The owner explained that you got “cards” at the cartolina (card) shop a few doors away.  Shopkeepers apparently operated only in cash, even a running tab was foreign, and you could forget about “what you call gift card”.  After explaining the concept, the owner agreed to the idea and created a sort of gift card in the form of a receipt for 25 Euros worth of pasticcino (pastry) and gelato to be purchased over time.  Oh, the evils of capitalism when confronting the Italian Guardia di Finanza (Finance Police) insistence on a receipt!

Morning breakfast drinks aside, and never having touched on the ubiquitous Cappuccino (a named derived from the brown capes of Cappucin Friars visible with a swirl just beneath the froth) at all, which custom ordains should never be ordered after 10 am for some mysterious reason (that is
unless you have the dispensation of being a tourist), there is next the matter of where to have breakfast in Calitri and what it might consist of.  If you are an American looking for the familiar, you can forget about the customary storefront crowded with ten or so tables and a counter with round swivel seats to one side and a skillet heaped with hash brown potatoes on the other, decorated or not decorated in a chicken motif.  You will not find one of these, and I doubt if one ever opened it could survive.  Oh, you certainly might find something approaching this in a large hotel found in bigger cities like Naples or Rome.  Such places cater to visitors from across the world, passing through to see the sights but unwilling to abandon the comforts of a home style breakfast.  Here the Germans will find their sausage links, the British their Oxford Enervating Marmalade, the French their crepes, the Americans their scrambled eggs and bacon.  So, lacking a major hotel in Calitri, the closest we can come to a breakfast meal is in a pasticceria (pastry shop), heaping full of delicate decadence.
We have a few including Jolly Bar, Idee Golose, and Zabbatas, the largest being Zabbatas.  Inside Zabattas, to the left, there is a long glass display case running the length of the room overflowing with everything from soon to be rum
soaked babas, ricotta-filled clam shaped sfogliatelle, cream-filled tubes of cannoli, and everything else sugary under the sun.  Straight ahead is a counter, absent any seats to stand by, behind which an ever-hissing espresso machine is continually being attended to by the Zabbata sons, momma Zabbata, and occasionally papa Gerardo when he isn’t busy at the bakery laboratorio.  With people coming and going so frequently, there is no suggestion to stay a while which might be simplied by some form of seating, for true to form, the coffee downed, they are off.  Along the final wall are a couple of small, round, patio-style tables and chairs usually covered not
with a caddie corralling salt, pepper, sugar, and catchup, but with the sport and daily newspapers for the day.  You’re lucky if you are timely enough to get one of the few available seats.  Some of the sweets are consumed on the premises, but most go out the door on trays, nicely wrapped, ready for Sunday dinner at mom’s and customarily as anytime gifts and daily treats at home.  But what might the fare be for breakfast along with that shot of espresso while standing at the counter?  The usual choice is a cornetta, a sort of croissant injected with chocolate, cream, marmalade or simply plain.  Depending on where you are, you might find them kept in a heated glass-sided box, where with a slick, napkin-like sheet of paper, you can select your own, once you know the layout in the box as to which cornetta has your choice of filling.  So if you were to stop by, looking for breakfast, you’d have to essentially be satisfied with an espresso or cappuccino and a
 cornetta, on the equivalent with toast and coffee. 
In Italy a month or so, we sometime fantasize on enjoying an American “farmer’s breakfast”, like the one I described earlier.  For our British friends in Calitri, I’m just as sure that at times they entertain fond thoughts of a full-blown English breakfast of bacon, sausage, eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes, black pudding, hash browns, baked beans, and toast followed by more toast, these with marmalade along with a good old cup of English “Rosie Lee”.  Tongue-in-cheek, I think it might mean certain death if an Italian tried to consume such a large breakfast at La Prima Colazione!  The plating alone would more than overfill the mini-tables at Zabattas.  While Jewish dietary tradition calls for milk and meat dishes to be treated differently to the
point that the plates not be mixed when used or washed, the art of Italian eating hinges on a one type of food at a time mentality, where tradition dictates sequentially savoring a single item like pasta, meat, and vegetables at a time.  This has translated to one item being plated at a time.  Use of a partitioned plate, one divided into sections, would help-out and also serve to keep food from touching, but at the same time it would be heresy and dash every food taboo Italian mothers have taught their children.  While the Brits might not mind their mashed potatoes colliding with runaway peas (in fact I think they encourage it and call them mushy-peas), a true Italian would be appalled.  In fact, I’d even go so far as be willing to bet that these divided plates were not invented by an Italian. 

We have never been invited to an Italian home for breakfast.  Even for Italians, this may be a rare event.  If we had, we might realize that some of these impressions were factually wrong.  Nevertheless, it is apparent that while breakfast is the prima (first) meal, it certainly is not the most important meal to Italians.  Until that day, we have our share of cornetti and at times brew our coffee in a macchinetta, our Italian stove-top percolator.  When a back-home style breakfast urge strikes, we do our best to sometimes scratch that itch with a run to Naples for a supply of maple syrup, American style ground coffee, cans of corned beef hash, or sliced bacon.  We have our sources.  At other times, Maria Elena will whip up a batch of hash brown potatoes, enough to insure leftovers, or a skillet of eggs-in-a-nest.
Our mix of traditions, that encompass generations, continues.  Where exactly they originated is clouded in the murky fog of time.  From the ancient Romans, we know that for breakfast (jentaculum), bread was dipped in wine and eaten with a mix of cheese, olives, wheat pancakes, and for their sweets, honey and dates.  American breakfast traditions derive from the bounty of the American farm as influenced by the colonial English breakfast, the two being so similar.  Today, it seems they differ in the degree of importance each culture assigns breakfast as the beginning meal of the day and in their composition.  
It was in a painting where Norman Rockwell once immortalized the diner experience, sanctuary of the American breakfast.  Given its lower priority in Italian culture and beyond the image of an espresso machine, symbol of a vibrant beginning to an Italian day, I cannot think of its counterpart

in the repertoire of Italian iconography.  Regardless, whichever way you have it, “eggs over easy” or “un cornetta con marmellata” (a croissant with marmalade), it always comes with a bill.  Well I’m off … time to warm-up my cooled coffee. 

From that Rogue Tourist

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful Ruins
All roads lead to Rome including those from Calitri.  In fact, we can attest to it.  To get there from hometown Calitri, you can ride in Italian style aboard a sleek double decker DiMaio bus.  Fortunately, the ride is nothing like Kathleen Turner’s character, Joan Wilder, experienced on her misguided trip to Cartagena, Columbia in “Romancing the Stone” with a squealing pig in someone’s arms.  No, nothing like that.  It’s not quick mind you, seeing it passes through town after town, but from about 7ish to 11ish it is a scenic ride.  It begins from the lot across from Amelia’s  
espresso - biscotti café in Calitri and continues on into the bedlam of Rome’s Tiburtina Train Station.  Oh, we don’t know all the ins and outs of the route, but we’ve done it enough that it has almost become routine.  On most occasions we board the bus with some remorse for it both marks an end to our stay and the prelude to a long day of travel.  Just ask Maria Elena; She hates travel day.  But on one particular run, there was still adventure to be had.

We were not flying off for a few days yet.  When we arrived at “the end of all roads” in Rome, our plan was to stay over and follow another road, this time out of town, to visit the well-preserved archaeological remains of Ostia Antica, an ancient city close to the sea, the Fiumicino Airport, and the mouth of the Tiber River.  Fortunately for us, we knew just where to stay, Il Tulipano D’Oro, The Golden Tulip, a modern and comfortable four-star hotel, located only a few miles from the Leonardo Da Vinci Airport in Fiumicino.  Filled
with Italian hospitality, by all measure, it is a wonderful place to stay.  So, after rolling our luggage (thank God for that invention) from the bus to the taxi park, we were soon off, adventure underway.
There is something about arithmetic and taxi drivers.  Once, in notorious Naples, even after negotiating the fare with the driver beforehand, he refused to give me back my change and simply drove away.  The takeaway here is to have exact change or at least small bills!  It was about then that my abilities at bilingual profanity first began to emerge.  We’d made this run from Tiburtina to the hotel before.  The agreed to fare then was very reasonable, maybe too reasonable, because on this, our Ostia visit, it had doubled.  By the time the driver finished explaining why this was and how the previous “taxi” had to have been illegitimate, we had already passed through Rome’s Porta San Paolo gate in the old city walls and were well on our way.  My mind, however, was back a few miles wondering how to find that earlier driver again.
We had a gorgeous room at The Golden Tulip, this one overlooking an extensive garden complex and pool area.  Once we were settled in, we headed for the pool where we enjoyed what else
but Aperol Spritzes.  After all, if there was need for justification, it was in Rome where we had had our first spritzes.  Later that evening, we enjoyed dinner in their poolside restaurant.  It began with grilled octopus with barbecue sauce along with toasted bread with Burrata cheese and anchovies from the Cantabrian Sea.  It is amazing the number of seas carved from the Mediterranean.  The Cantabrian Sea, this sea part of the Atlantic, is the coastal sea that washes the northern coast of Spain, otherwise known as the Bay of Biscay.  The long and short of it, ours were Spanish anchovies being eaten just inland from the Med’s Tyrrhenian Sea.  While there were no claims on the origin of the
octopus, I’m voting for Polignano a Mare.  In fact, I think we know the guy who catches them (see earlier blog, “Part II, Polignano a Mare)!  Following these, I enjoyed a traditional dish of spaghetti with eggs, pecorino cheese, bacon, and  black pepper.  Not to be outdone, Maria Elena, in a flashback to being wined and dined once again aboard our earlier Viking river cruise through France, took on Tagliata di Manzo con Olio al Basilico Nocciola e Spinacio Croccante, a rather long moniker for grill angus beef with basil flavored extra virgin olive oil and crispy Spinach.  Like marathon runners, we were certainly fortified for our outing the next morning to Ostia Antica.

The following day arrived with the bluest of skies.  We were given instructions on how to get to Ostia by the desk clerk.  Other than taking a chance on another taxi, we could first take a bus and then a train to the
Ostia archeological site.  For the moment we were done with expensive taxis.  Instead, we opted for the bus and rail mode.  As the hotel desk clerk had advised, we were able to purchase bus tickets at a small café down the street from our hotel compound.  I’m getting ahead of myself, but only later did I learn that we should have purchased round-trip bus tickets.  If by some miracle, however, we had been that prescient, the ending to this tale would have been entirely different.  Soon afterwards, we hopped aboard the bus to the train station and from there were soon on a train to the next station up the line, conveniently located adjacent to the site.  Following a short walk through a housing area and finally a parking lot and we’d arrived at the Parco Archeologico di Ostia.Antica.  We purchased entry tickets along with audio guide headsets and were

soon on our way.  Before us stretched a long avenue approaching a mile in length, the Decumanus Maximus.  It ran through the heart of Ostia, heading toward the sea, just about parallel to the Tiber River.  Though frozen in time, this lengthy avenue was illustrative of the immense depth of time, then to now.  The sea and the Tiber are at once mother and father to Ostia, whose name derives from the fact that it was situated at the ostium (“os” being Latin for mouth) of the Tiber River.  Walking its length that day, in the cooling shade of towering pinea

“umbrella” trees, was an out-and-out walk through antiquity.  One of our challenges would be to try to understand the reality of what lay before us, the “then”, unencumbered by the perceptions and judgements of today, the “now”.
We had often talked of going to Ostia but never made time to visit.  Thankfully, time waited for us.  My first through last impression of the city was how well preserved it was.  As an added bonus, and unlike other sites we’ve visited, very little was fenced off.  We could understand it being referred to as “The Better Pompeii”.  So much is intact that Ostia Antica ranks as the best preserved Roman city in the world.  It is far larger than Herculaneum whose advantage lies in the many preserved homes, their walls adorned with dimensional art, mosaics, along with some furniture.  Ostia is more commercial in scope, where a peek at middle class Roman lifestyle includes docks, bakeries,
shopping arcades, many baths, public toilets, warehouses, mills, in addition to private homes showcasing impressive mosaics and fresco “wallpaper”.
Additionally, there is opportunity to:
·         Near the beach, visit the ruins of the earliest synagogue yet identified in Europe constructed by the Jewish community of Ostia at the end of the first century.
·         Pick your seat among the tiered benches of one of the oldest theaters anywhere still in use.  This impressive 12 BC theater, built by Emperor Agrippa, its stage still intact, could hold 3500 spectators.  Today, the three-story backdrop to the stage is no more as are some of the plays presented there such as Ovid’s only tragedy,
     Medea.  Around 530 AD, the last inhabitants of Roman Ostia retreated to the theatre that had been turned into a small fortress.  As Ostia had been in the beginning, having grown from a military fortress in the 4th century BC to defend against pirates, so it was once again a fort at the end.
 ·      Close to the Tiber, walk the ruins of an early firefighter’s (vigils) barracks and the vital grain warehouses.  In 205 AD, the number of vigils in Ostia numbered 320 men whose duties involved not only fighting fires (some of which started as a result of an earthquake), but also police duties such as nightly patrols and the recovery of runaway slaves.  Under the Roman Republic, owners of slaves were allowed to inflict whatever punishment they wanted on a slave.  Runaways were therefore more than motivated not to get caught.  Slaves had no rights.  Perceived as mere commodities, not people, no punishment, including death, was considered criminal.
Ostia thrived until the 5th century AD, when on threat of barbarian invasion, it was hastily abandoned.  Just how quickly this occurred is anecdotally evident by the lack of any attempt to
remove valuable flour grinding machines.  Simply left behind, to this day a group of these rotating stone pillars, absent the wooden turnstile type arms used to rotate them, sit idle.  The city empty, it was soon forgotten.  In time, the city gradually filled with silt from the Tiber and was lost in memory for more than 1000 years until it was rediscoverd in the 19th century.  In its heyday, due to immigration and the import of slaves, it saw upwards to 100,000 inhabitants of which 20% were slaves, most likely doing for the citizenry, as we say, what no Roman was willing to do.
In the courtyard of the Guild of the Builders (Caseggiato dei Triclini) we came upon a large, intact series of toilets.  I have not seen anything that social, totally lacking in privacy, since my military days at paratrooper training, where much like the Ostia setting, you went to the “latrine” in a large open room among strangers.  In Ostia, it was at least possible that you might know the person next to you, a fellow guild member perhaps.  At this particular 20 “holer” a person sat on a marble seat above one of the holes, while to the front,
between their legs, was another hole to support a stick with a sponge at its end that was used like we use toilet paper today.  That was only the half of it, for you shared your sponge tipped stick with people on neighboring seats.  Talk about social interaction!  Water running through a trough in the floor in front of the patron was used to get your sponge wet and hopefully cleaned a bit before being reused.  Another trough beneath the seat also had water flowing through it to wash away the waste.  There was no evidence of olive oil dispensers (used as soap), some way to wash their hands, or anything approaching air fresheners.  A possible offsetting saving grace was the presence of an adjacent public bathhouse.
In an imperial city like Ostia, there was the ever present need to wash and whiten clothing.  For this the Fullonica (laundry) and its staff of slave workers (fullers) were on hand.  These laundries can be identified by the large open-air basins and three-sided horse stall like enclosures beneath shading roofs.  Fullers stood with their feet in pressing-bowls, usually made of terracotta. These bowls were filled with water and a mixture of alkaline chemicals.  It was the fullers job to trample the clothes by jumping, described sometimes as dancing, while supporting themselves with their arms on the low
side-walls.  This action helped remove grease and enhanced colors.  They also employed urine as a bleaching agent collected in public urinals.  Urine was so important to the fulling business that it was taxed.  Stale urine was a source of ammonium salts and assisted in cleansing and whitening clothes.  Sulphur was also burned under wooden frames over which clothes were suspended.  The fumes produced were used for whitening.  Fuller’s earth, what we today refer to as cat litter, was another important ingredient in the cleaning process.  It resembles clay in texture, absorbs oil, and grease, and served as a detergent.  The combination of old urine mixed with this clay dissolved grease and helped remove dirt.
These facilities lacked walls because of the chemicals employed.  They had little understanding of chemistry and even less concerning the effects of chemicals.  You can imagine the stench, from the use of these detergents and urine.  As could be expected, the health of the slave laborers was affected from prolonged exposure to these chemicals, especially to their limbs, which were daily bathed in a chemical brew.  Knee deep in tubs of human urine and repeated exposure to fuller's earth inevitably led to their feet and legs being exposed to bacterial, viral, and fungal infections.  Eczema with thickened, dry, inflamed and cracked skin was common as were severe respiratory complications from the daily exposure to burning Sulphur.  The whitest whites thus came at a cost.  It must have been a hellish life with little to interrupt the day-to-day drudgery.  One diversion especially celebrated by the fullo workforce was Quinquatrus.  This annual event in honor of Minerva, the goddess of a thousand crafts, was a feast celebrated on 19 March with four more days to follow.  During this time the laundries of the Ostia fuller’s guild, called Corpus Fontanorum, were closed.  This in itself was enough justification to warrant celebration.
Down a street overgrown with summer grass, well off the Decumanus Maximus and past the laundry, we came upon a temple dedicated to the ancient cult of Mithras.  Only a simple sign identified it as one of the seventeen Ostian temples dedicated to this deity.  We’d run into another Mithraeum, a temple sanctuary of the cult of Mithras, in a second century, damp, pagan temple beneath the present-day Basilica San Clemente near the Coliseum.  It seems that the Persian god, Mithras, was popular with the Roman military, who introduced the mysterious eastern religion to the Roman capital.  Its mystery centered on participation being reserved only to inductees and the secrecy associated with the particulars of initiation and associated ritual practices, none of which could be revealed to outsiders.  The initiated called themselves syndexioi, those "united by the handshake".  To give it some present-day perspective, the ruins we came upon took the form of a lane in a bowling alley, a long, narrow, rectangular mosaic floor system decorated with the seven grades of initiation, one square at a time, one following another.  Unfortunately, other than for some passing references in Greek and Latin literature, no written narratives or theology from the religion survive.  Mithraism has at times been viewed as a rival of Christianity.  As the pagan Romans had sought to destroy Christianity, so the early Christians sought to quash Mithraism.  This may explain why their temples are commonly found underground and speaks to the secrecy of the cult.  What limited physical materials that do exist are derived from inscriptions, monuments, and artful depictions.  One very common scene presents the birth of Mithris from a rock while another depicts Mithris slaughtering a bull.  Their exact meaning remains a mystery and thus denied to us, since after all, we do not know the secret handshake of the syndexioi.
The busy offices of sixty-one maritime related companies bordering three sides of the spectacular grand plaza, referred to in Italian as the Piazzale delle Corporazioni, lying just behind the theater,
gives us a vivid glimpse into the city’s commercial activity.  These connected, side-by-side offices, on the order of a present-day strip mall, afforded one-stop business shopping.  Each of these rather small offices featured a mosaic entryway advertising the type of business services offered by that particular captain, ship owner, or trader.  An elephant might represent trade in ivory.  Several depict grain measurement, since the import of grain from Africa and Sicily was one of the most important businesses in Ostia Antica.  Looking closely at one complex scene revealed the surprising presence of a swastika.  Many are amazed to learn that Adolf Hitler was not the first to use this symbol.  In fact, it was employed as a powerful symbol thousands of years before, across many cultures and continents from Hindus and Buddhists to the Greeks of Troy, Celts and Druids, Nordic tribes, the Teutonic Knight Christian Order, including North American Navajos Indians.  We’d first become aware of just how

ancient this symbol was in the museum at Paestum where a Greek statue was ornamented with the iconic shape.  It was also interesting to learn that business deals would conclude with a sacrifice in the Capitolium, a temple dedicated to Juno, Minerva, Jupiter, Ceres (goddess of grain) among others, only steps away in the center of the Piazzale delle Corporazioni square, facing the back of the theater’s stage.  Because of the cosmopolitan multiethnic nature of the city, where people from all over the known world were present, the temple could accommodate just about anyone’s deity.  I can imagine the celebration afterwards in the best known of Ostia’s taverns, the Thermopolium on Via Casa di Diana, today still complete with shelves, a counter, and a small sink.
Seeing the Thermopolium was closed and had been for thousands of years, we instead took a break in the shade afforded by a canopy of lofty umbrella pines surrounded by a countryside decorated with the relics of an empire.  With not a twittering soul about, without the modern distraction of automobiles, absent any wispy contrails from nearby Fiumicino Airport, and void of power lines to disturb the illusion, the solitude broken only by the timeless song of cicadas, now as likely as then, it was easy for my imagination to drift and take me back to an earlier time …
Felix couldn’t help but re-examine his situation.  In the refreshing tranquility of the early morning, as he swept the mosaic floor at his feet, he’d often used this time to think.  He was that type of a person, rare in a slave – cautious but always looking for opportunity to advance a little, very little it seemed, then stop to take measure of his circumstances.  Most of the slaves he knew, like those from the nearby fullonica, lived life by rote and were content to simply survive but he hadn’t given up, not yet.  His name, Felix, meaning “Happy”, was the most common of slave names.   He certainly appeared happy for a cemented smile across broad lips helped put people at ease.  When he’d been bought by his master, his striking features and the pleasing natural lay of his face had thus earned him the name, as common as it was.  Nevertheless, there was nothing common or everyday about him.  Vastly tall with a brawny frame and olive skin put him in the vicinity of good looking - an amalgam of strength and attractiveness.
Still relatively young, he held fast to the dream of manumission.  His thoughts regularly entertained the dream, “Ah, to be a freedman, to be master of yourself.”  It was a dream big enough to sustain him.  Indeed, it was a strange phenomenon, like the transformation of men like Emperors into gods, here a metamorphosis from lowly slave to full-fledged citizen.  He couldn’t quite think in Latin yet, his inner voice still spoke Egyptian, something about the way the tongue had to maneuver to be able to produce those brief, sharp, Roman sounds.  He would continue to adapt and conform to the new ways.  He had already replaced his gods with the Roman pantheon of gods, especially Mithra, a favorite of his master, Septimius.  The Dominus was a stocky bulldog of a man, fair, but tenacious as a pitbull.  He was someone well suited for this tough, competitive, no-frills town … all business, built on sweat labor, and a “just do your job” attitude.  Best keep him happy.  Felix had learned this quickly since arriving from Egypt four years earlier.  So far, diligence, conscientiousness, and his agility with numbers had gotten him this far, assisting in his master’s office.  He just might be able to get by, even grow old as a freedman, if he could continue to please the Dominus.
He swept that morning with an added earnest, for today, his master’s backers in his import business would visit to help them decide whether to provide additional funds to expand his horreum, the warehouse bordering the Decumanus  Maximus, needed to store the ever growing demand for grain, olive oil, and wine before they could be moved to Rome on barges pulled by oxen.  One of the two aediles, Sextus, who supervised the markets, standard weights, and measures would also attend.  The master was clever to have secured his attendance.  It would confirm to his backers his influence here in Ostia.  After all, they were free to invest in other businesses, many of which surrounded Felix there in the Piazzale delle Corporazioni.  The office now in order, he hurried into the warehouse.
When he arrived, Felix discovered Master Septimius issuing orders, making final adjustments to the imported samples that had been prepared and model of the warehouse additions, insuring all was in order before his guests arrived and the warehouse tour began.  Great bins of grain marked with date and source filled this particular room while giant urns of oil and amphorae containers of wine filled adjacent rooms.  All appeared in order following days of preparation, which the Gods, all of them, would gladly attest too.  Then the noise began, a distant, paltry sound at first, but like none Felix had ever heard, along with a quiver that quickly grew to a shudder as the floor began to shake.  As they increased in intensity, coming again and again, maybe a fourth time, portions of the ceiling began to fall as a web of fissures appeared in the stone wall behind the Dominus that held back a sea of grain.  An instant later, in a rush without further warning, the wall gave way and grain burst from its confinement to quickly flood the room.
Its movement was so fast and the volume so vast that in moments, even before Septimius could turn to investigate the growing crack, it had engulfed him, burying him alive in grain.  Everything happened quickly, so rapidly that Felix, who steadied himself holding fast to a column, could later not explain how he managed to avoid the fate of his master, although his distance from the breach had certainly helped.  While scrambling to survive, he fixed on the spot through the murky fog of dust suspended in the air to where the Dominus had disappeared following his being thrust across the room.  The motion stopped, the sea of grain now static, Felix crawled and squirmed to the spot and feverishly began to dig in a race to the bottom.  A fury surged in his hands.  It was a blind business as he dug and desperately continued to dig against collapsing sidewalls until nearly emptied of strength.    Feet below the surface, an arm appeared which spurred the ferocity of his tunneling, only to result in uncovering his masters head.  As Felix cleared his face, Septimius opened his eyes and mouth to the piercing sigh of escaping air.  Death had been avoided by mere inches.  As he spit and gasped to breath, the first image burned into his mind was that of Felix, his slave, his smiling slave, staring down at him.  His first thought, “I’m alive thanks to the gods and most certainly because of this slave.  As I am freed, so he shall be.  A life for a life.”  How suddenly the Fates had stepped in and altered the destiny of both master and slave.
… My whimsical vision of the past complete, the Roman god of dreams, Morpheus, left me for the reality of the present.  Once again as the song of the cicadas continued at full bore, there among the bones of an empire, the beautiful ruins of a frayed red brick world enveloped “me.
Time to leave, we reversed our steps and returned to the Ostia Antica train station where we caught the train back to where the bus had dropped us off.  Arrived, we were surprised to discover that we had to take a train to the Stagione del Lido in Ostia proper to get a bus back to our hotel.  A station policeman was nice enough to explain that the Lido station was the only place where we could get the necessary bus tickets.  It seemed odd that one station would sell the tickets while another wouldn’t.  So we backtracked in order to switch our mode of transportation to go forward.  Now in helpful full-service mode, our good Samaratin policeman hopped aboard and brought us to the ticket window at the next stop, explained which bus to take, and told us where to wait.  It was a rather long wait as buses of assorted numbers, none of which was ours, came and went.  I would swear that some made their rounds a few times before eventually ours appeared.  For good measure, we confirmed it was the correct bus with our guardian angel and as we pulled away I shouted to him, ”Come ti chiami?” (What is your name?) to which we heard him reply, Felix”.
From That Rogue Tourist