Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Ripacandida in The Basilicata 1.22.06

On Sunday we took a drive east of here to another region in southern Italy, called The Basilicata. It sits between Campania to the west, Calabria to the south and Puglia to the east. It stretches across the ankle and the instep of the boot of Italy and touches both the Mar Tirreno in the east and Mar Ionio to the west. (the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas, parts of the Mediterranean). This was uncharted territory for us and the main reason we wanted to go there was that it is the birthplace of our friend Pino, whose pizzeria (at 139 West Thomas, just west of Central) was our favorite in Phoenix, Arizona where we lived before moving to Italy. We shared a pizza or pasta or whatever happened to be the special of the day, at least once a week and our favorite times were those when the restaurant was not crowded and Pino would sit and visit with us. We witnessed his tiny pizzeria expand and grow and we happy to see his business succeed.

We shared our dreams for living in Italy with him and he would try to help us with our Italian. In those days, when we were just learning he teased that he had to use "baby talk" with us. Now we say that we speak Italian like "Tarzan" (you know, "me Jane, etc.") - we've improved somewhat from those days where we could hardly put together a coherent sentence or understand a more complex one than "Come sta?"

Before we left Phoenix, Pino gave us his father’s address in a small village in Basilicata, near Potenza, in the northwest part of this region. We have wanted to go there since we arrived in Campania but couldn't remember where we put his address until this weekend and decided to go now before we ran out of time.

Driving across Italy is like passing through the United States, each region has its own unique features and seems to change dramatically in some cases as you go from one to the other. As we passed from Campania into Basilicata we drove through the most gorgeous scenery, green rolling hills, mountains dotted with farms and little villages, it felt a bit to us like driving into the interior of Sicily, unspoiled, virgin territory not yet marred by too much tourism, hotel signs, gas stations, souvenir stands. The area is lush with rolling fields of still green wheat, the silver green grey of its olive groves and castles built by Frederick II and his son Manfred. It has a sense of expansiveness and openness and it is an area we wish we had more time to explore.

We passed the city of Potenza, shrugged off by the guide books as a modern city with little to show for its illustrious history as a Roman city, where so many earthquakes have washed away its past but know there is more there than the guidebooks indicate. In spite of having our GPS system, we still got lost trying to find our way to Ripacandida, Pino’s village. We misinterpreted some of the directions and drove past the turn off but finally came in sight of a lovely city on the crest of a hill, its bell tower reaching for the sky and layers of buildings toppling down the hillside and were delighted to find that this was the birthplace of our friend.

We are embarrassed to tell you that we did not give them any warning that we were coming, not sure we would actually be able to find it and not wanting to really make a big deal of it. We thought we would just stop there, say hello, tell them we were friends of Pino’s and wanted to visit his village. When we arrived in the town we asked directions of some people walking by and they pointed out the house and even rang the doorbell for us, letting Pino’s lovely mother Antonella know she had company. When we told her we were friends of her son she immediately called his father who was working repairing fences on their property and he hurried home, much to our increasing embarrassment, now having interrupted his work!

Their son-in-law Gerardo kindly offered to take us on a tour of the city and we walked with him through the streets of the town and up into the center, as he pointed out the sights. As it was a Sunday, and during pranzo to boot, everything was closed but it was still evident that this is a sleepy little place, much in need of restoration but a little town with a lot of character and charm, filled with marvelous little nooks and crannies and we detected a sense of pride and frustration in Gerardo who is an architect and well appreciates what he has there. There is some restoration going on, some done in keeping with its historic nature, others not. He pointed out that once this city was white, gleaming, like Ostuni in Puglia and that is what he would clearly like to maintain. We saw some palazzi that had been restored whose owners decided to add more color – some horrible greens and even a shocking pink faux finish (An American is restoring this particular palazzo with an eye towards investment and should be slapped for not doing it in a way that respects the authentic qualities of the city, in our humble opinion.)

We walked back down to their house to find them all ready to go off to lunch and thought we would say our goodbyes at this point and get out of their hair. Nothing doing! They planned to take us to lunch to treat us to a typical meal of their region and a bit embarrassed again that we had made them change whatever plans they had previously had for the day to entertain us, we piled into Pasquale’s car. They were so kind, so friendly, making us feel welcome.

We dined with Pino’s sister Paola and her husband Rocco, Gerardo and his adorable 3-year old daughter Chiara whose mom was home with their 6-month old baby who had been sick and Pino’s Mom and Dad, Pasquale and Antonella. The meal was delicious! We drank local wine, had antipasto of different types of prosciutto, salami and cheeses (including a fried scamorza that was delightful), both sweet and salty ravioli in a mushroom and cinghale sauce, and fettuccine with mushrooms. Already stuffed by now, this was followed by a mixed grill of different meats – veal, lamb, and pork, all delicious. They finished it off with a gelato-filled crepe topped with berries and of course, a caffe! When we told them how much we appreciated their generosity and kindness they denied having done anything special, saying something like “Is hospitality dead in the north??” We hope they understood that we really did appreciate their stopping everything to show us around and make us feel welcome and apologized for not calling prior to showing up on their doorstep.

Paola called Pino long distance and we had a chance to say hi to him and we hope he got a kick out of knowing we had made it to his hometown. Bob took photos of the family and we promised to return, sharing phone numbers and giving them the address of the blog before we said our goodbyes.

Rocco and Paola escorted us to the medieval “Castel Lagop├Ęsole” that sits on a high position overlooking the valley below and the views are nothing short of spectacular. We missed seeing the sunset however and do hope to get back to this area for another closer look at some of the other cities in the region, like Matera, with its cave-like homes cut in the steep rock of a ravine and Maratea, a pretty hill village tucked between cliffs by the sea. We also want to spend a few days in Puglia so perhaps we can combine our travels and see more of Basilicata at the same time. Clearly there is more to see and we are excited that we still have nine weeks left. Not enough time really but it will have to do!

Today it’s stormy and rainy. We even had some hail on our terrace. This morning there was a break in the weather after a rainy night and we bundled up and took a walk down to the sea. It’s colder than it has been, but not unbearable. The tide is high and the waves are larger than we have seen, and it would not have surprised us to see surfers out there but did not. We stopped for a cappuccino at Martine’s bar in Marina and when the rain started up again we headed home. We need to go and do some grocery shopping later on. Our “German daughter” Andrea and her husband Vincent are coming to visit us for the weekend from Germany. Tomorrow we will drive up to Rome where we plan to spend the night, picking them up and taking them back here on Friday evening, after a whirlwind tour of Rome! We are looking forward to having them here and can’t wait to see them again.

Now we’ll say ciao and buona giornata.

Buon fine settimana (Have a good weekend!)
Rosemary and Bob

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