And so our last day arrived with a 90% forecast of rain all day after a week of perfect weather. We gathered in the courtyard post-breakfast to bid farewell to two of us heading out early to Sicily. Being who I am, I insisted on a little closing circle of appreciation and indeed, it was well-earned. Lorna, Marcia, Mary, Carol, Geri, all part of a weekly bike group my wife Karen has been with for some 30 years, are all people I have met, but not hung out with much. Karen often comes back from the ride appreciative of the quality of her friends and having spent the week with them, I understand why. Gerri’s husband Dennis and I were allowed to crash the party and we hit it off great. I opened the circle by quoting a mutual friend who had complained that much of her time with friends was spent sharing past memories and she was missing creating new ones. This week was exactly that— the shared adventures that were indeed memorable, each and every day.
So off the remaining six of us went on wet cobblestone streets and once out of town, rode on an actual bike path hugging the sea with emerging sunshine. (It never did rain the whole day.) The wind at our backs, the road stretching out before us, the landscape reminiscent of a Greek island, me singing a Greek folk song I remembered that was the perfect soundtrack for the promise of the morning. More olive groves and lunch off to the side where a Neolithic Dolmen sat tucked in amongst the trees. Finished the bag of hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, figs and roasted fava beans we bought in Matera.
Some 25 miles later, the white town of Ostuni loomed before us, perched on a hill overlooking the sea. Settled into the hotel and out to explore. Stopped by a street accordion player playing the most perfect live music I had heard all trip and I accompanied him on body percussion, disappointed that I didn’t bring my sopranino recorder in my pocket. He was a Roma gypsy and was excited to hear I was American. “Americans very smart!” he exclaimed and I resisted responding “Really? Have you heard of Marjorie Taylor Greene or Tucker Carlson or he who shall not be named?”
We came to a park and sat under a brilliantly blooming redbud tree, watching the children and groups of older men and listening to the cooing of mourning doves. Ambled over to a nearby church and heard a group of women singing a call and response kind of chant.
On to the ritual restaurant search and stumbled into one with a table tucked away in a kind of a grotto setting, with one of the chairs a swing bedecked with flowers! It was a perfect atmosphere except for the loud American 50’s rock-‘n’ roll soundtrack. Better than the disco beat, but still. So I said to the waitress after ordering:
“We are Americans who came all the way to be in Italy to be in Italy. Do you have any Italian music you can play? And whether yes or no, can you turn it down a bit?” Lo and behold, she did both and it made all the difference in the world. A perfect farewell dinner with some new dishes—vegetable caponata, eggplant parmigiana, a wonderful cheese plate with green bread, topped off at the end with a limoncello liquor.
And so ended the Puglia bike trip, eight glorious days of adventure, exercise, comradery and unrelenting beauty. No better summary than these lines from the Navaho Night Chant.
There is beauty before me.
There is beauty behind me.
There is beauty above me.
There is beauty below me.
It is finished in beauty.