So who is Pepe, what is he doing in a box, and what is BFI? I think you are all familiar with BFE, just change out Egypt for Italy and you have it. Pepe is the voice in the box(scatola) called Garmin and everyday we remind ourselves what a good investment he was.
I met up with my friend Rene in Bari after both of us had had long travel days, hers much more taxing since she had zero Italian and had to navigate from the Rome airport to the Rome train station and then get a train across the country to Bari. That is no small feat. My trip was merely long, very long, 12 hours long, so since I was traveling on the fly this time (instead of planning it down to a gnat’s eyelash) and I hadn’t bothered to see just what the travel time was from Torino to Bari, pretty much from the top to bottom of the country, I decided to fly, which sounds easy, but nothing really is and I will spare you the details (mostly because I cannot remember them). Well, I do remember one detail, the plane was late – surprise! No direct flights from Torino to Bari, so a stopover in Rome was essential and if I missed it I had no idea when the next one might be. As it was, I wouldn’t arrive until about 10:30 pm. So, I anxiously waited and watched as the time slipped away and the agent at the gate calmly and earnestly lied to us at regular intervals about what time we were departing. I can’t imagine he expected us to believe that we were departing in 20 minutes when the previous guests on that Alitalia flight were still sauntering off the jetway like there was nothing but time. When he called us to board finally, there was a semi-polite crush of businessmen and luggage. Everywhere I saw signs that stated that there to be only a single small carryon, and everywhere I saw two and three bags apiece, which was good, because I had my suitcase loaded with cheese, my good ole breathing apparatus, and a bulging purse. The medical device doesn’t officially count, but it is real and I hoped it would sail through. The stewardess of course, wanted to help me load my luggage in the overhead compartment-poor old Nonna’s need help lifting bags- however one tug and she called for help. She communicated to me that it was too heavy for her and I should have checked it. There was a weight limit, 8 kilos. Really, a weight limit. Why wasn’t that posted somewhere? I had 8 kilos of cheese alone, forget about socks and underwear. OK, scolded and a tiny bit regretful I sat down in my middle seat and wished the plane into the air. The pilot took over for the gate agent lying to us about our arrival time. There was nothing to do but take a deep breath.
When we finally approached Rome the truth came oozing out over the PA system. “Well dear passengers, it seems we are a little late in arriving (like it happened all of sudden while they were in the air). We know that you all have connecting flights, but unfortunately we are parking the plane a little far away from the main terminal. Actually, we are parking in Greece, but don’t worry, we have a bus that will meet our flight and take you to the main terminal. So, we are in the air for an hour, we departed over 30 minutes late, and they KNOW they need buses to meet us – but the buses are late, really. All these business men and women and me are toting our luggage down the narrow metal stairs to the tarmack, running for the buses, squeezing in and hanging on while the bus rumbles past a dozen gates and finally drops us off. Those under 30 literally ran off the bus into the terminal, I assumed I would miss the flight because it was taking off in under 10 minutes and I had no idea where the heck it was, but the running youth gave me hope. I doubled checked my ticket for the gate and ran like hell. I followed the bulk of the crowd but started to lag behind. When I got to the foot of the stairs and called out “B gate” to the calm fellow directing traffic he simply pointed to a staircase wide enough to grace an Italian museum flanked by two escalators. I saw others going up a flight of stairs further down but he pointed right in the direction of those stairs so up I went. Pause here for a mental picture, CPAP machine slung over my right shoulder (10 pounds), purse in hand (4 pounds), suitcase lifted off its wheels and being lugged in my left hand (35 pounds). Hold that picture and then see me running, yes, running, up the stairs, three full sets of 20 something stairs each. You would think that the fact that the two escalator were going down would have been a clue to me that the up escalators were somewhere else, but I was pretty committed to my current path. I reached the top, kept running, already amazed that I did not have a heart attack, saw the B gates, followed the path to B-19 – of course it couldn’t be B-1 or 2, could it. Down the hall, hang a right, still hoping I could make it. I arrive and they are still boarding, what incredible luck! Eyes glance at the gate number -B19- check, glance at the destination- uh, what? That does not say Bari. It says Catania. Catania is in Sicily. What the heck. I run back a bit, find a flight board, my gate has changed – it’s B-4. Well, that’s good because I know where B-4 is, I f-ing past it to get here. I turn and run back, yes, run. I have not run this much since they made me do the 440 in high school. A woman with my breasts does not run. I could hear my own breathing and I thought I sounded like an exhausted bull in a fight for his life in the ring.
Believe it or not, the plane was still there, waiting for me. I was the last passenger on moving as quickly as I could to my row where I just watched an Italian business woman make a switch from her middle seat to my aisle seat. I must have looked like that pissed off bull because I didn’t say anything but thrust my ticket towards her to indicate she was in my seat. She scurried out of there so quickly that the stewart came over to see what was the matter. I heard her say, “Niente, a sbaglio”. “Nothing, a mistake”. He then proceeded to assist me in loading my bag into the overhead compartment, which I had already scoped out and thought was particularly small. Wherever he manged to put my luggage he returned to tell me politely that next time I would have to check it, it was too heavy. By that time the woman next to me had apologized, I said I didn’t understand Italian and waved off any ill will, which was good because when the steward came to scold me she came to my rescue and explained I didn’t speak Italian. I sat regaining my breath while wondering if perhaps I had a career in track and field still ahead of me since I had run that course without dying, but focused instead on the funny flashing light in my right eye.
After an 8 euro cab ride to a hotel that was supposed to be 500 meters from the trainstation and a grateful night’s sleep, we went down to the most magnificent breakfast I have ever had at a hotel. Well, OK, there was that one down in Naples that was spectacularly broad, from fresh dates to Swiss chocolates, but this one was absolutely homemade. Everything on the tables, from the cakes, and crostatas to the breads, sundried tomatoes and eggplants in vinegar (worms to us, as kids) and every bite was delicious.
There is emerging scientific evidence that taste preferences are genetically passed (which explains why Italian babies happily eat bitter greens while American children would spit them out of their highchair like ballistic projectiles and probably be scarred for life that their parents were practicing infanticide. This genetic programming might explain that while I have eaten broadly over Italy I really love Puglese food, which is the homeland of my maternal grandparents. I will, of course, be hitting Napoli, on my way home for sfogliatelle, caffe’ and pizza, which not surprisingly is the homeland of my paternal grandparents.
Every bite of the food I ate at this Puglese hotel was such a treat, even though I didn’t actually touch the sweet table and went back a second time to the bread, salami and handmade mozzarella. On the other hand, my friend who is somewhat uncertain of her heritage, but her blonde hair and blue eyes suggest perhaps it is not Sicily, was also completely enamored with the food.
After that 9 euro breakfast, which was lunch as well, we headed out to find our car. Since I carry my laptop and buy an internet key for connectivity everywhere, we were able to have a peek at a map of downtown to see where our AVIS shop was. This was not as helpful as you might think. Our first surprise was getting from the hotel to the train station and discovering that it was truly only 500 meters, but 400 of them were straight down and straight back up. With a suitcase that had already been packed with a huge piece of extra old provolone, chunks of Parmeggiano-Reggiano and a a kilo of flour that was gifted to me by a vendor at the Salone del Gusto (more about that in another post), lugging that thing down and then up again was a serious chore.
Eventually, we found the rental shop, right where it was supposed to be, and got our car. That is when we made the excellent decision to add the Garmin to the package. Rene dubbed our car the Rollerskate, I dubbed the Garmin Pepe and as we edged our way out of medieval Bari’s narrow streets midst honking horns, fearless pedestrians with the undisputed right-of-way, and drivers who take the game of chicken as a birthright. Pepe in scatola was paying for himself already.