Thursday, April 28, 2022

Biking in Puglia: Day 4

Today the bikes stayed in their racks, like the horses in the stables getting a rest. We set out on foot, happy for another locomotor movement, different pace and freedom to walk hither and thither on and off the beaten track. 


Leaving our hotel, a family passed by and greeted us. The man was contagiously affable and when I found out they were from the Netherlands, I sang  Fietsie Foetsie, a Dutch song about a stolen bicycle I learned some 30 years ago. My repertoire of songs from around the world is proving to be useful as an instant and delightful connecting device. No sooner had we walked for 10 minutes when we ran into a street musician singing songs with his guitar. I requested a song I had heard some 45 years ago called Il Partigiano and he knew it and I sang along on parts of it. Fun!


On we went to the cathedral and were treated to paintings and sculptures from the Medieval to the Baroque and the highlight was a bagpipe player. (For those who know me, they’re nodding their head thinking “Of course it was.”) Lunch with our “stolen” breakfast snacks on the church steps and on we went, threading through the winding, twisty streets, treated to view after view of this extraordinary town made of stone. Stopped at a museum that gave a film history of it and learned that all the charm had once been dire poverty and squalor with people living in the caves without any bathrooms, much food or even much air. Much as Dorothy Lange and Walker Evans made public the poverty of the Dust Bowl folks and people in Appalachia, an author named Carlos Levi shone the light on the situation with a book he published and in the 1960’s, people were moved into public housing. Two films, the Mel Gibson “Passion of Christ” and the James Bond “Live or Let Die” were filmed here, the city was declared a Unesco Heritage Sight and in 2019, won an Italian prize as a place of note and the tourist industry grew, though at the moment, less invasive than in other places. 

Working our way to the town square, I wrote a poem describing our experience (though in actuality, we did go left and didn’t take a bus):

Three roads diverged

In a Medieval town.

Eight tourists deciding,

Which one to go down.


“I want the left!”

“I want the right!”

“Let’s just decide or

We’ll be here all night!”


“This one is good.”

“But this one is great!”

“I think the best 

Is the one that goes straight!


Who gets to choose?

Who will decide?

“Here comes the bus!

Let’s get a ride!”


A stop for coffee and there I recognized the couple who shared my pleasure in the singer we had met. I started talking to them and the women sang in a folk song group and gave me fascinating background on the Il Partigiano song (to be saved for a later post).  A delightful conversation and surprised at how easily and happily I can talk with strangers, me who never starts conversations on airplanes. Soon after, I hear two couples speaking Spanish and starved to talk in another language I knew, I began chatting with them, ten minutes of sheer pleasure. A few minutes later, a car came by and the driver honked and waved and it was Vincente, the man from yesterday who recognized me because he thought I looked like “the Fonz” from the TV show Happy Days. My second day here and I feel  as if I know people!


In the square, there was a public piano and I rushed to it and played The Maple Leaf Rag and when kids came around, variations on Twinkle Little Star. Ah, music. Such a wonderful traveling companion and takes up no space or weight in the luggage I bring with me.


Back to the hotel late afternoon to do some handwashed laundry. Laundry is always an issue in European travel, not many laundramats and the people who will take your laundry charge by the piece. So into the sink it goes and hung on the heated towel rack or patio. A bit on the labor-intensive side, but satisfying.


The day ended at a lovely restauarant with no background music and the pleasure of actually being able to talk to each other at the table. My wife tried a new dish with an unappetizing name— crapiatta (I kid you not!)— but a delicious stew with barley, beans and vegetables. Midway through the meal, two musicians come into the restaurant and it was almost delightful except that they carried a boombox playing most of the music while they accompanied on washboard and a friction drum. And not very rhythmically precise at that. Still better than the recorded pounding disco beat!


And so we finished Day 4 without ever mounting our bikes. There are rides to do from here and back, but tomorrow I believe most of us will be out walking again. Simply too much to see and do in this wonderful town. 


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