Sunday, December 17, 2006

from the sole of Italy: guides, saints and automobiles

You can lead a horse to the water, but you cannot make an Ed do too much “touring” in a week or his internal drive will start sending error messages. And so on this day (I’m speaking of Friday now) I suggest we go into the Regional Park, the greatest, grandest of the south, a mere stone’s throw from the Agriturismo. There, we will hike.

It is a glorious day. Just about sixty, with the sun out – perfect for the outdoor life.

We leave our farm… (did I yet show you the main house where our landowner, Maria, lives? It was once her grandmother’s farm. Here, a corner of it:)

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…and we drive into the hill towns.

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I wont bore you with how many hill towns we went to...

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… before we found one where a local agenzia employee could suggest a “piccolo” hike – a small one, because she said larger ones require a guide. A guide? I have nearly fainted on summits on the Canadian Rockies! Why a guide?

Never mind, we set out on the piccolo hike. Oh, it’s mildly boring at the beginning. Ed is delighted by the cats we encounter…

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…I am taken in by the mushrooms up there, in the woods…

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…but we are “hiking” on a trail that is close to the village and I can tell that the natural elements aren’t having their full effect on my hiking buddy. Nor on me for that matter.

And then we get lost. I get it. You need a guide because the markings aren’t always there to help you along. Our own trail marker has vanished. Naturally, the path we choose turns out to be the wrong one. Discouraged? Not us! We are cross-country specialists! We have scaled precarious Sicilian mountainsides, we can find the summit of this wee bit of a hump.

We nearly slide down with the granite chips.

Undaunted still, we persevere. Polish peasant stock, I tell you! And by the way, Polish peasant stock can get pretty hot with the exertion of it all. See this – on the summit, down to my tank top, in the middle of December.

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The views are magnificent. We are reunited with the trail and the forest is wonderful and the sunlight makes everything look terrific. What more can one ask.

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Still, all trails end sooner or later, especially piccolo trails. We leave the forest and pick up random dirt tracks, so that we can experience the hike that much longer. I ask Ed to mark the point where we leave the forest so that we can retrace our steps. He is placing a strategic rock, but I laugh at him and point to someone’s orange peel – more visible by far. (Clearly the message of Hansel and Gretel has been lost on me.)

We walk along the dirt road, enjoying the silence of the hills. Not a total silence. The hills are alive, aren’t they? I hear …dogs barking. Strays? Ed, we must protect ourselves against stray packs of dogs. Look for a stick! Move slowly back! Speak soothingly! I can fend off bears, but stray dogs can be wicked.

Not strays. The bells tell it all. A herdsman appears with his mixed flock…

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… stopping to talk to us as we pass. Where are you from? Germany? No, America. Oh… America. Brazil, maybe? No, the United States.

Even if I hand them the continent, they never believe in Europe that I am American. Am I not American? My Polish friends may be the only ones who see me these days as more over there than over here (here being Europe and Poland).

The flock moves forward and the dogs – there must be ten of them – bark at the outliers and it is all so magnificently picturesque…

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We turn back. I am searching for the orange peel, but I cannot find it. I am sure we have gone way past the point of reentry. Ed retraces his steps and finds his rock marker. Near it there is merely a crumb of orange peel left. Goats like orange peel. Who knew…

The sun is getting awfully close to the land and so we head back. The mountains take on bluer tones…

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…The villagers are stirring up the wood-burning fires for the evening ahead and the smell of burning wood is everywhere.

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It’s time for us to return to the Agriturismo. I need to coax some hours of dialup out of the farm phone line.

And it is a very, very slow connection. So that it is ten by the time we set out to dinner. I’ll just say this about our dinner destination: no, signora, it is not 15 minutes from the farm. More like 30 and only when I speed. Moreover, if you recommend a restaurant in the middle of a town that has streets just about as wide as our Smart little rental car and if they twist and turn uphill in a most confusing way – why that’s another thirty minutes of meandering time.

Thank you, kind strangers who escorted us way up to the proper place. Thank you, whatever saint made sure that I did not lose a door or a fender to the houses I brushed ever so lightly with our car. Thank you, good waiter who escorted us back down again.

Basilicata forever!

Dinner? Yes, we ate. Past eleven. No menus again. Just endless plates of appetizers (fish, sausages, spiced an oiled as only the southerners can do it), followed by pasta, followed by grilled fish, salad, dessert. I was not surprised when the check came out to be exactly the same as last night. Such food they have here! Such wonderful food!

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with porcini and mussels

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grilled, from the sea