Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Biking in Puglia: Day 2

Day 1 ended with dinner at the A. Pilieri di Bagnoli farmhouse where we stayed. Out came the antipasti — burrata, bruschetta, bufalo mozzarella, zucchini fritter, grilled peppers/ zucchini/ eggplant. Each one exquisite and by the end of that course, I was full.


But we were just warming up. Primera plati was orchiette pasta with rape, the ubiquitous chicory-like green, segunda plati, gnocchi in tomato sauce. Much too much food, but all of it delicious. 


But we were just warming up. Then came a third plate of sausage and potatoes and when they found out that I was vegetarian, a salad appeared along with mushrooms in cream sauce. 


Now it was getting serious. How to stop eating without insulting the hosts? How to eat way beyond our capacity both to be polite and because the food was delicious beyond reason? We found out that she had cooked more than usual because she knew we had bicycled a long distance that day. But laughed when we clarified, “Yes, but they were electric bicycles!" And then brought out the dessert of fruit and sponge cake and glasses of limoncello. I kept trying to convince myself that eating slowly with love and appreciation would magically diminish the calories, but my body knew better!


The next morning a buffet breakfast that could have been excessive, but I showed some discipline and was content with muesli and banana, squirreling away some cheeses and breads for our lunchtime stop. And I couldn’t help but think, as I often do in Europe, about the Ramada Inns breakfasts of stale muffins on Styrofoam plates and feel deeply the lack of attention to beauty, to food, to family, to history in my strip-malled-suburbed-fast-food-industrial-parked-flouresecnt-lit culture. Though being surrounded by history, beauty, good food, strong family relations, time to savor and enjoy, those gifts of so many European cultures, doesn’t guarantee superb human beings, it sure helps. As we feel every day in the warmth of people offering to help us, enjoying the 15 words of shared vocabulary in English and Italian from both sides, the generosity, the smiles. All of which magically disappears when seated in an automobile— then the honks and gestures come flying if you dare to wait 1 second at a green light or drive the speed limit in the left lane. Many times I just happened to look in my rear-view mirror and see a car 10-feet behind me—at 70 miles an hour! In daily life, the pace is slow and relaxed, but something happens once in cars!


As for relaxed pace, we thoroughly enjoyed our second day of biking. The weather has been perfect, hovering between 65 and 70 (Fahrenheit), sunny, sometimes a bit of wind, but not much. Today, we had many stretches of some 5 to 10 miles without having to read directions, winding happily through fields colored with yellow mustard, red poppies, white Queen Anne’s lace and the feathered green of fennel. Some chose to stop often and look closer at the plants and flowers and soon formed the “dilly-dally club.” Others enjoyed the rhythm of the riding and simply waiting at crossroads for the dilly-dallyers without impatience. And some just dillied without the dallied. With just eight of us, it’s all manageable and I enjoy all the different configurations— leading in the front, hovering in the back, chatting away in the middle. 


We arrived at our next town of Gravina at 2:30 and our hotel was closed, so we decided to wait patiently until 3:00 when the Italian day begins anew. But it turns out it was closed for good! So again, with the kindness of strangers, we figured out an alternative hotel where our luggage was actually waiting and now have the afternoon to explore. More in a bit.


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And quite an afternoon it was. A walk out to and over the Roman aqueduct, the gaze outwards at layers of ruins and caves and cathedrals, upwards to a dramatic cloud-filled sky, downwards to an interesting procession of ants and fascinating watching them pass each other in two directions. Then stumbled into a guide willing to show us—for a modest sum— some subterranean caves where people used to live. The catch? He spoke no English and our best on-the-trip Italian speaker is definitely at a beginning level. So it was the dance of pantomime and clutching at words that sounded familiar in either English, Spanish or Italian while descending a few levels down to where people used to live somehow and make wine. 


Then on to dinner and while I praise the beauty of Italian architecture and its aesthetic attention to food— and of course, its long legacy of famous artists and sculptors and filmmakers and fashion designers— I’m finding myself cursing every restaurant we enter with its non-stop disco beat music, cranked to intolerable decibels and often turned down when I plead with them, but still always audible. We requested some Verdi or Puccini or even Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra at our restaurant tonight, but to no avail.  I guess every culture has its shadow and the propensity for the worst music my own culture has exported is certainly, from my point of view, the Achilles heel in Italy’s boot. 


Tomorrow awaits. Andiamo!

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