Relax, I still have both of my eyes, but it is a fair analogy. I have been planning this lovely trip to Bari for a while. Although it means I will use up all my available cash and a little of what will come next month, I really want to leave the school on our Spring Break-equivalent. There will be a group of visitors from California here for a “Taste of South Italy” and it will be a review of what we have learned in the first two weeks, so I thought I would head out to the town of my maternal heritage – Terlizzi.
My careful planning included taking advantage of the free trip to marketino on Friday morning saving me 15 € in cab fare to the train station. Of course, it was howling and raining and my 5€ umbrella from Florence was starting to show its craftsmanship. Rolling the suitcase over and through vast puddles was not helping things and since I had my laptop in there I decided that a second umbrella was a wise investment. I used the first to cover my suitcase and the second, a much bigger, better and expensive-looking unit for the same 5€, to protect me. Once I garnered a small smoked scamorza and a loaf of homemade bread, I dashed for the train station to wait out the time. Unfortunately, the tiny train station was a wind tunnel since the front door wouldn’t stay closed and the back door was missing. Well, at least it wasn’t raining on me, directly.
I spent considerable time on the internet scoping out the details of this trip. I planned a stop in Rosanno because it allowed a break in the 7 hour train ride and the departure times for Bari were various and many so I could enjoy the morning at the lovely B&B I selected in the old city surrounded by olive orchards. I booked my car through Expedia and another B&B in Terlizzi which I planned to use as home base as I took short drives to other places in Pulgia. Internet connections in both places assured me that I could keep in touch as well as do some detail planning for my stay in Pulgia. I managed to keep the whole trip to about 500€, knowing full well I would spend another 100€ on ceramics from this town. Through the magic of technology I was able to translate the train schedule, the B&B websites and the Tempesta Bus System that would get me from the rail station to the airport to pick up my car. What a pleasant electronic trip I had planned. Then I began the implementation- with no electronic translation avvailable.
A soggy start is no reason to complain, wind and rain have been de rigueur here, and I have a handy Alaskan wad-up coat, so I am not cold or particularly wet. The train arrived on time, well Italian time, and I chugged off to Rossano. Once I reached Rossano it was 3 KM from the train station to the B&B according to the website, and the recommendation was not to walk. I approached the grey-haired driver of an idling bus and asked if he was going to the old hospital, no, but I should wait over there as he gestured to the other side of the road. Soon enough another bus pulled up and the grey-hair driver gesticulated to the young driver of that bus that I was waiting to go with him, then he hailed me over as well. Once I was loaded up his work was done. I didn’t understand a word of any of it. The dialect had changed as much as the geography. I told the driver in minimalist Italian that I wanted to go to the old hospital. He nodded and took my 80 cents and I sat down about mid bus. We lurched through the tiny town and picked up a few more passengers and then we headed out of town. I thought for sure I was on the wrong bus so I checked, yes, the old hospital was this way (annoyed look). It was a very long 3 KM I thought to myself when we had been on the road for 20 minutes and then I saw the sign for Rossano Historic Center. I realized we had to go up the mountain and that 3 km was a fantasy. We wound our way up so many switchbacks at such a breakneck speed that I was starting to get motion sickness. I noticed the young passenger with upswept forelock whom we picked up in town was standing and chatting with the driver and made the sign of the cross and then kissed his fingers. I assumed we passed something sacred since he didn’t seem fazed by the road trip. We reached the top of the mountain and started dropping people off at several locations. I saw the driver checking his internal mirror and trusted that he would let me know when we got the right place. I knew I was in trouble when he started jamming down the hill.
I must have been in his blind spot because he didn’t know I was still on the bus, and I was the only one on the bus, until we reached the lower town. Once he saw me there he started a tirade about something. I believe he was saying I missed my stop, but then I hardly needed to translate to realize that. He was irate and he repeated the same sentence at least three times. I responded with the same dumb look. I had considered tears or terrified as a facial expression to get him to calm down, but I just couldn’t pull it off. Eventually, he said something I understood. “You don’t understand anything!” I provided the same dumb look as that seemed the best route at that moment. He said something, but the hand gesture is what conveyed the message, he demanded that I sit in the front row, presumably so he could shove me out the door at the right place or perhaps so he could make direct eye contact while he reminded me what a knucklehead I was. We picked up another passenger and he had someone to complain to about me and he seemed much happier. I am pretty sure he called me a cucumber, but it may have been another vegetable. He never really got over the anxiety of it, even though I offered to pay again for the second thrill ride up the hill. He kept on and on telling every new passenger about how he had to drag me up the hill and down the hill and around and around. Actually, I had a certain level of anxiety going on myself since he needed at least one hand to talk to me and everyone else with and he used his other hand to alternatively smoke or talk on the phone. That left no hand for the steering wheel as we went back up that incredibly steep hill. When he made the sign of the cross and kissed his crossing fingers I thought the moment of religious contemplation would cause him to rethink his verbal assault, but it didn’t.
I was perched on the edge of my seat straining to see anything that might look like an old hospital as soon as the town came into view, but before that happened we pulled over. He got out of the bus, told me to get out of the bus, and then took my luggage out of his bus and deposited me into another bus. Guess who was driving. It was grey-haired driver. He told him the story and left. We sat there and waited. There were 5 men, old in varying degrees, and one young woman. In the front of the bus, standing and chatting with the driver was young passenger with forelock fashionably aimed. I was in the standing zone- that part of the bus, near the middle ejection doors, where there are no seats but room for your luggage. That put me in center stage for the elevated rear section of antique kibitzers and the solitary observer from the front. The young lady was right next me to in the only seat in standville. I felt like a chimp at the Bronx Zoo. People were watching my every move, talking to me in a language I didn’t understand and I was throwing poo at them, no wait, I wasn’t throwing poo, I was trying to explain where I wanted to go. It is an interesting thing, the language barrier. I would say a word in Italian like Hotel, or use the name of the hotel and they would all get an “Aha” moment, discuss this one word amongst themselves, bat it around, argue a bit, of course, and then all look to me for another word. I, by then, have forgotten everything I know and stumble around for another word to help make my point and then they seize on that one and chew on it for a while. Young lady has the audacity to disagree about the word B&B. She seems to know what and where it is and maintains that it is not whatever they have concluded it was. She nods, gives me a Mona Lisa smile, and lowers her head. The old guys have a lot more to say about this one word. When all else fails, get a young person and shove them into the mix. It doesn’t matter that the young person doesn’t speak any English either, but at least they are in the cage with you. With no more words to provide, I pull out a piece of paper where I have written the same words on paper, La Terraza B&B. “Ah, Ah “, it’s like I have produced the map to the arc of the covenant, THIS is the key to understanding. Young person looks at the paper; he concurs with an Ah of his own, and then starts keying in the phone number I have written down. He checks a few times regarding the numbers 7 and 2, since we Americans make such weird looking numbers, and then has a high speed conversation with the proprietor of the La Terazza. Did I mention it was pouring rain in Rosanno? The old guy audience is enraptured, I am now chopped liver, all the action is with young person and the phone. He hangs up, turns to the crowd with an update and then to me. His only English is “OK”, followed by an explanation in Italian but is basically reassuring. He apparently knows where I am going. Eventually, the bus departs and goes a short hop and then releases me to the wild. Young person points across the street and up. I smile at young lady, thank young man, bow to all the old men and grazie’s all around.
I cross the street, head up. I cannot even see the top of this hill. After a stop or two to allow my heart to slow down I reach the Diocesan Church. I am confused but keep walking. Eventually, there is a man standing at a locked gate to the left of the church and convent and I have arrived.
Once I am settled in my lovely room I check the train schedule to book my trip. Seems that all those options have disappeared and my only choice is 7:10 AM. Apparently, on Saturday, there is not much call for train travel to Bari. Oh, well, tomorrow is a new day and maybe it won’t be raining.
Ciao for now,