Travel as Metaphor

The blog of novelist Sue Swift.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Monday, 18 September: At 7:15 I walked auntie to a taxi which will take her to the terminal, then went back to our room for an extra bit of sleep. The glow of "I'm in Italy and never have to leave" is somewhat dimmed by the unbelievable level of street noise. Even in our tiny little alley, the Via Margutta, building projects resume early Monday morning. As I mentioned, Rome is an ancient city undergoing constant renovation.

11:40: I've checked out of the hotel but left my bags there since my train to Ferrandina doesn't leave until 3:45 (1545 around here). It's a gorgeous sunny day, the kind of day I anticipated all weekend in Rome...oh well...I'll have a wonderful scenic train trip to the south today.

I'm kickin' it in a café on the Via Sistina, book open, nibbling pistachios and sipping a latte. Life is good. 1:30 it was raining again...

3:30 p.m.: Though the rain had stopped, I nevertheless took a taxi to the Termini. The terminal is massive, covering several city blocks. It contains an upstairs shopping mall, plus countless restaurants, snack bars, newsstands, clothing and other shops. The USA could take some hints from the Europeans about transportation, that's for sure!

Or not.

I talked to three different employees of Trenitalia about my e ticket and got three different answers. I decided to take the word of the signor in the first class lounge and just got on the train. He assured me I could get a proper ticket issued on board.

A girl on the train showed me a full-page spread in an Italian mag called Tu
about Matera, calling it "trendy Matera" with a sidebar about the Women's Fiction Festival. Liz will be pleased.

5 p.m.: the sun is out for the train trip across Italy. The terrain is varied and quite lovely. 5:30 and we're pulling into Naples. The approach is disfigured by scores of apartment blocks, square, ugly and uninspired. Why are the postwar buildings so atrocious? The European tendency to make everything beautiful doesn't exist near the Naples train station, but the views of the ocean are gorgeous.

As we leave Naples I glimpse a beach through an unattractive metal barrier. We pass a villa with statues. There is a breakwater and islands off shore, and the volcano looming over everything. The sun is still high and bright.

6:30 p.m.: We enter Salerno. More choppy apartment blocks, but the station itself looks aged and charming, with arched recesses framing windows and doors.

Some guy sits next to me. Honestly, the train is half empty and he's gotta crowd me...why? The fact he looks like Viktor Krum in Potter 4 doesn't make up for the stupidity.

7 p.m.: Sunset, with enough clouds in the sky to make it interesting as we roll through the countryside. Italy at its best, a pastiche of cultivation and wildness, dotted with solid, square houses clad in warmtoned stucco with red tile roofs.

11 p.m.: Arrived in Ferrandina at 9, met promptly by Signor Eletti and driven to Il Vicinato, my B&B in Matera. As we descended from the hills into the valley that cradles Matera, we saw a lightning storm flashing over the Sassi--the third such storm I've encountered in the few days I've been in Europe. In fact, every time I have gone to a new city, there has been lightning in the sky the first night. What can that portend?

We drove through the less attractive, modern part of Matera to the Sassi, with me wondering if I've made the worst mistake of my life. When we were not immediately met at Il Vicinato, I worried some more.

But no problem...we had tapped at the wrong door. We left #2 for #3, and Luigi promptly met us. He led me up an angular, twisting set of stone stairs to my rooms--a vestibule, a nice bath and a bedroom with a tiny kitchen alcove. I have a balcony and a huge window with a view of the chiesa. Tiled floors and a huge bed. Places for all my stuff. Huge vaulted ceilings...A gorgeous space, three times the size of our little room in Rome for less than a quarter of the price.

When he left, I cried, it is so perfect.


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