#4 So. Italy, October 11, 2006

Dear Everybody,

A blessing in disguise—the day I was leaving Amalfi there was a bus drivers’ strike from 9:00 to 1:00 and then from 4:00 to 7:00. So I took the ferry instead and it turned out to be really great! The weather was perfect and from the boat I could see the Amalfi Coast with all the little towns to Salerno, where I stayed for three nights.

From Salerno I took a train 36 km south to go back, back, back in time to the 6th century BC when I visited the ruins of the Greek temples at Paestum. Three of the temples are quite complete—they resemble the Parthanon. There were also foundations of houses, a theatre, an amphitheatre and miscellaneous pillars and blocks. I had to wait at the site over lunch for a bus so I had some beer and (poor) pizza—even poor pizza is good!

In Salerno I stayed in a really nice hostel that was a converted convent. From windows in the upstairs hall one could look directly into the adjoining church while the priest was saying mass, and imagine what it would have been like to live there as a nun, a couple of hundred years ago.

A strange thing happened last week. When I went by bus from Sorrento to Positano, I asked directions from the young Italian woman who sat next to me on the bus. Two days later when I took the bus from Positano to Amalfi, who should sit next to me but the very same young Italian woman! And yes, I asked for directions again, and yes, she remembered me, too.

I decided that I had to trim my roughed out itinerary as I have too many towns even though I still have five weeks left. I prefer spending two or three nights in each town, just absorbing the atmosphere, so I’m not going to the east coast, but will go directly to Sicily. My eyes are always bigger than my stomach when I plan these trips!

I’ve been eating a lot of shellfish (mussel soup—spaghetti and clams) and drinking a lot of local white wine. As always, in Italy the food and wine are delicious. I had Sunday dinner at a really ‘local’ restaurant—I was the only tourist. The man seated next to me helped me order as I had trouble reading the hand-written menu. I had pasta with eggplant and sugo, then baby octopus with porcini mushrooms, mixed grilled vegetables, wine and baba for dessert. It was loud, lively, and packed with families. Southern Italians seem to like lots of noise and commotion! It was very busy and they had trouble keeping up. When the man next to me complained about waiting, the proprietor brought me an ‘assaggio’ (taste) of the pasta that I was having to keep me going, I guess. I was enjoying watching the families. Then the proprietor undercharged me and then gave me too much change.  What a switch from the tourist places.

I took the train south from Salerno to Reggio Calabria, which is way down in the ‘toe’ of Italy—kind of a modern town since it was pretty much rebuilt after a 1908 earthquake. Nevertheless, visiting the local archeological museum was a stellar experience—not only because of the two newly (’70’s) discovered bronze statues from the 5th century BC, but all the relics of the Greek cities that flourished hereabouts from the 6th to 4th centuries BC.

And the two bronze nude male statues—Wow! They dug them out of the seabed as they had apparently gone down in a ship that was transporting them somewhere a couple thousand years ago, and voila—two of the loveliest statues of all time!

I got the ferry to Messina, Sicily, on a beautiful sunshiny day. While I was waiting for the ferry there were two women, strangers to each other, having a conversation. They visited for a half hour while we waited and, in the southern Italian custom, both talked at once. For at least a third of the time, they were speaking simultaneously and neither gave way. I have heard this several times but this was extreme. Do they listen and talk at the same time? I don’t know because I couldn’t understand the Italian.

This morning I did a tour of Messina. There is a free trolley that goes around town from which I got off and on, looking at churches, fountains, palaces, etc. I wound up at noon at the cathedral, as it has a campanile with a big noontime show. A gold lion roars, a gold cock crows, angels ring the bell, and gold people parade past and bow to the Virgin Mary. The cathedral, while pretty, was pretty much destroyed in the 1908 earthquake, so it looked pretty new. It was originally built in 1150, but not much is left of that.

Have to go, the place is closing for lunch!


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