Thursday, August 25, 2011

WHEN GETTING INTO THE BACK OF A VAN IS OK

Sunday, August 21, 2011
“Wow, it’s late for you.”  Aiko said to me as I walked out to the central area of the hostel.  Maurizio sat on stool, a blank expression on his face as always; something I found highly odd for an Italian, to only have one face of emotion.  “You want breakfast?”  She asked me.  I shook my head.  I was going for a walk.
    “You know, nothing will be open.”  Maurizio added.  It was Sunday, in a small town, in the south of Italy.  I knew.  

Walking along the street, in the heat, and lack of wind, the humidity starting slowly to escape out into the atmosphere. I wanted to turn back, but yet my want to actually be out of the hostel was of more extremity than that of my sweltering skin,  thus I mustered on.

When I came to the street with all of the vendors, the first bread shop had a giant sign reading  “DOMENICA APERTO”.  The first thing to be open.  I walked on, hoping the bar would be open where I purchased my cream filled pastry the other morning.  It wasn’t; but there was a fish shop and another bakery.  I went into the bakery and bought a handful of taralli normale, e piccante; the tiny bread rings of Puglia...one of the normal version, the other flavored with a bit of spice.  The woman behind the counter handed me my 85 cents worth of flakey goodies and I placed them into my purse.  I didn’t get but 6 feet away from the shop before I dug into them.  So much for my train snack tomorrow.  I would find something else.

At the hostel I sat and ate my complimentary breakfast of watermelon, drank my delicious almond scented cappuccino courtesy of Dillon’s experimental concoction while hanging around with the girls.  We all wanted to go to the beach, but with waiting for one person to get off, and for the staff to eat lunch and such, it would have to wait until later in the afternoon.  However by later in the afternoon, we were thinking 2.

After a series of small happenings; a large blow out fight between Maurizio and his girlfriend who stormed out on him as he screamed after her “Why do you always fucking walk away from me when I’m talking?!”.  He continued his rant for another 2 hours in the kitchen, something about him and some other girl, before he went to the store. He took Dillon with him to get ingredients for lunch and then returned to cook something that needed, what seemed like, hours in the oven.  We did not leave until closer to 4...and then there was the problem with the bus(es).

Finally out of the hostel, Aiko, Ellie, and I were only too excited to lie on the sand and swim in the salty sea, but first, we had to get there.  We stood at the stop across the street from the hostel, waiting for number 4.  But number 4 never came.  Number 3 did, and when we asked him if he was going anywhere near the beach, he shook his head.  Then it was as if a lightbulb went off, as his head swung upward and he told us to get on.  He dropped us off 80 seconds later down the hill and told us to cross the street and wait for number 4, which should be coming in 5 minutes.  

There was no “4” written at the stop, and after ten minutes, we had only seen a bus 3, and A.  There was no 4.  Despite being told by another bus driver it would come, and talking to a biker who told us to go somewhere else for a completely different bus all together, there was no beach bus coming our way.  Then we got the brilliant, somewhat of a serious joke idea, to hitch.  

We got a lot of honks as we positioned ourselves there on the side of the road.  Aika, not knowing the international hitch sign, was waving at everyone who passed.  Not sure as to what she wanted, there was a sudden extraordinary slew of honks, a few waves, some smiles and laughter.  Then I showed her the normal hitch symbol.  I let the girls do the work, standing at the side of the road in short attire for the beach, their arms out and thumbs up.  Eventually someone stopped, 100 meters ahead of us, in a white van, and slowly backed up.   Now, does everyone remember one of the first lessons they ever learned, that being, never get into a stranger’s car, especially, if it’s a van.  Well this went against everything we had learned as children, but seeing the bubbly smile of the plump old woman in the passenger seat and her tanned cheery equally old husband, we figured we would be ok and hopped into the back of the van.  

There were 2 small stools on the floor of the back on which the girls sat, along with 2 giant blow up pool mattresses.  In between the back and the front was a barred opening, kind of like a prison door to a much smaller degree, and I stood up, talking to the couple through that.  They were on their way to the beach to visit their family, the woman had explained, her crooked smile and lack of teeth now being shown as she lit up speaking of her children and grandchildren.  She was heavy, wearing a purple tank top that went neither with her figure, her skin tone or her dyed black hair.  Her husband was pudgy, solid for an old man and so tan that he would make any girl in LA jealous.  He wore a red basketball jersey style red tank, had short white hair and his smile, too, was lacking teeth and dental care.  His accent was thick and hard to understand, her voice was high and jolly.  They were like a summery Italian Santa and Mrs. Claus.  I loved them.  

The wife explained if we saw a cop, to get down, because this was not allowed.  I laughed and told her not to worry.  Soon we were at the first of a stretch of beaches.  The first was all rock and  part of it was closed off.  
    “Is there one with sand?”  Ellie asked.
    “´Cè una con sabbia?”  I asked them.
    “Si. Si.” they both answered...and we continued to drive along a winding road over looking beach after beach.  The first sandy beach we came to, we decided was it and said our goodbyes.  Crowded and completely overfilled with people, we had to search for a spot, but once found, we were golden.  We set up in between a large family gathering and a group of friends, and lay down to catch the end of the sun’s day at work; her rays still beaming down, strong and fierce, but slightly less than earlier.

After enough of a relaxing rest, we ran for the water.  The girls gently allowed themselves time to acclimate to the water  while I went in, slightly ahead of them, and  dove into the waves.  The guys next to us played water soccer.  It consisted of 3 guys.  2 of them very big guys, their sagging stomachs and man boobs (or moobs as I like to say). The third was so stereotypically Italian looking, it was almost funny.  He wore a hideous bathing suit that was short and tight and meant to look like jeans, and a silver chain around his neck.  He had a tattoo on the front of his right shoulder in the shape of a sun, and another on his left hip bone saying something.  He was tall, dark, and handsome. His jaw bone was especially spectacularly chiseled and atop of it sat a really sexy bit of groomed stubble.  He was hot and he knew it.  He stood in the water along with one of the other guys, while the third stood on the beach running after the ball; his stomach and moobs jiggling with each run for the ball.  I wanted to hand him a sports bra, but refrained.  

Back on the sand, couples were playing with rackets and a little ball, bouncing it back and forth.  Children were running around with ice cream and popsicles, and everyone was having a good time.  Free slices of (warm) watermelon were being passed out and a DJ was playing music, testing his microphone in between songs with creepy voices and odd noises.   

There was a group of women in front of us.  One in an orange bikini got up in a flash, like she knew she was late for something, and began to dance as soon as she heard the music.  She put her hand in the air like she was at a party and moved back and forth.  She had no perception of other people around her.  She just got up, and did what she wanted, for the hell of it.  It didn’t matter that her stomach wobbled round as she shook.  It didn’t matter to her friend who stood up to join her a second later, that every time she wiggled from side to side, her muscle lacking ass wiggled too.  And it didn’t matter to their other friend who later joined them, that her cellulite, stretch marks, and pock marked thighs swayed with each back and forth step.  They just wanted to have fun and didn’t care what they looked like doing it or who saw them.  The same went for the boys playing soccer.  They didn’t care that they were big and jiggly, they went to have fun, and that’s just what they did.  This whole thing about body image and stick perfection, well of course it exists in Italy.  But down here, most of them really could give a fuck.  

After a free piece of sun heated watermelon cut by a large man with a larger knife, handed out by tiny women who weighed less than the trays they were carrying,  we went to get crepes from a few women who set up a stall on the sand.

The crepe stall consisted of 3 women, hand written signs on old cut up card board boxes and some nutella.  They also had panini and drinks, but we came for the crepe.  The main woman running the show, making the crepes was about 5 foot 2 inches.  She wore (what used to be white) a beige colored backwards baseball cap that came down to right above her eyes.  She wore a pair of short shorts and a black tube top bikini, showing off her older woman figure, and chewed gum with her mouth open, like a cow chewing its cud.  I ordered for the girls;  2 crepes with nutella and white chocolate.  

The woman looked perpetually pissed.  Like some terrible thing was happening to her, when all it was was dropping a spatula or needing another utensil.  Her face became contorted, a look of being unhappy, she would roll her eyes and her mouth would drop into a slightly disgusted, partially aggravated expression, caused by just about anything.  She made Aiko’s, then Ellie’s and finally mine, with “solo nutella” smiling at me and joking with me while I patiently stood there waiting.  She handed it to me and we sat down to eat.   2 minutes later she looked over, “Buona?”  she asked.  We all smiled and nodded.  

We honestly could not have finished our crepes at a better moment.  
    “We should probably get going.”  Aiko announced as she sat there waiting for Allie and me to finish.  I happily consumed my last bite, now Ellie just needed to eat hers.  It  sat in our bellies like sweet stone, after really filling each of us up.  Ellie took her last bite, we thanked the woman and walked up the sand, scoping out people who were leaving to catch a ride back with, when we saw our bus.  I ran for it, but got trapped behind a bicycle.  Aiko bolted ahead, running across oncoming traffic to stop the bus.  He looked at us like we were nuts, stopped the bus and we ran on.  Had we not gotten it there, we would not have made it to the actual stop.

The bus filled up quickly, growing hot, mucky, and humid.  It was gross.  We all desperately needed a shower.  Aiko stood on the bus, still wearing just her bikini top, and no sandals.  People were looking at her.  The Italians, for what ever reason, like when u wear shoes, even inside the house.  It prevents your feet from getting dirty, keeps them warm, and blah blah blah blah blah.  I told her to put them on, people were looking at her funny.  

We were coming up soon to the hostel, the question was, which stop was it?  We all soon began to recognize, but decided to wait one more, thinking it would continue to go straight.  When we passed the hostel and went down a hill, we realized we had missed it, as a guy next to us pointed at the hostel and laughed and a Polish woman told us she used to stay there.  We got off at the bottom of the hill and walked back up; none of us very happy with that, Ellie even less so as she walked 8 paces ahead of us, swearing under her breath.  

That shower could honestly not have been better.  Well, ok.  Aside from the dirty shower, the hair clogged drain, the lack of water pressure  and the inconsistent  temperature, it was great.  I was clean.  I sat out with the girls, skyping with Dario, my friend from Sardegna. One by one, they all came over to see him, saying things about him while they thought he could not hear.  Just because I had head phones on and they could not hear him, did not mean he could not hear them.  It was beautiful.

While the girls ate dinner, I looked for more flights and more trains to better prepare myself for the following days, coming up with nothing and just stressing myself out.  I shut the computer and decided to just lie down until they came to get me.

Unfortunately Ellie had to work, Dillon was going on a motorcycle ride and Cat had to stay with Ellie, but Aiko, the new English girl Kelly, a lone American Matt and I walked down the road, to the sailor’s monument to get some gelato.  After ordering for everyone, we walked out to the wall overlooking the water and ate our goodies.   

“Cé L’hai un acendino?”  a guy and his friend asked in passing.  
    “Does anyone have a lighter?” I asked.  They all shook their heads.
    “Ah. Lighter. No?”  The guy asked again.  They walked away and came back ten minutes later.   “Tu parli italiano?”  He said to me.   
    “Si.”  I said.  He began asking a bunch of questions, what were we doing here, how did we like it, how long were we staying, saying it was odd because they do not usually see a lot of tourists hanging around and for that he wanted to know our story.
    “What’s he saying?”  Aiko would ask from time to time, just as I was about to translate.  

“Ko-may Ti Kee-ami?”  (Come ti chiami?)  Kelly asked in her british accent. His name was Enrico, his friend was Gabriele.  Enrico did most of the talking.  He was cute and seemed sweet, wanting to invite the girls to meet with him and his friends another night to show them the city.  His friend didn’t talk, except in private conversation, I overheared something about “sciffo” (disgusting) and he just stood there, like a good wingman does I guess.  He had a monroe piercing, the one above your lip where she kept her mole, his hair, which was spiked, had probably taken him an hour to do, and he was wearing tight clothing.  They were both fairly on the short side.  

Aiko asked if he wanted to go to Lecce tomorrow.  
    “Oh Lecce.  It is a good city, but not for me.” Was his response.  Instead they would meet tomorrow night at 11 p.m. and he would show them down town Brindisi.  They waved good by as they walked away and we left within a minute after, trailing slowly behind them, and then meeting them as he backed his car out.
    “He has a volvo!”  Kelly squealed.  Since when was that a cool thing?   

Walking back along the road now, it was nearing 1 in the morning.  I walked ahead with Matt and we talked about traveling and and how he missed Pompeii.  The girls slowly doddled far behind.  Cars were still honking or yelling at us...and at some point I heard one of the girls scream at one of the two.  Matt laughed; he said it reminded him of where he grew up.

When we got back to the hostel  Matt went to bed and Aiko, Ellie and I went to hang laundry.  Aiko lost it.  She was laughing at anything and everything, until Ellie stuck her face through a sheet, scaring Aiko into a scream from a thriller movie.  We sat around and chilled, one by one slowly dropping off like flies.  First Cat, then Kelly.  Dillon came back soon, giggly and giddy from her 2 hours of motorcycle riding.   She would one day get one.  On that note, I went to bed.  It was nearly 3 and I still had stuff to pack in the morning.  I was screwed.
©2011 Jami Cakes™ All Rights Reserved

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Lesson in Life from the Italians

PLEASURE
Every so often whilst I’m away, I like to read the weekly food section of the LA Times...just to check up on what’s going on in my end of the spectrum in my line of business.  What’s the new craze ingredient....what new restaurant has opened up...who has Irene bashed or loved this week.  But now, I’ve found myself sitting in small southern Italian town reading a recent article, growing slowly aggravated with fury and frustration.  Only in LA.  Only in LA would chefs be asked to make their food less caloric in an experiment to see if patron eaters could actually tell the difference.  Now I understand if one were to do this in their own home....to take their favorite foods and try to make them a little more friendly for the average meal; but in a restaurant, you go out to eat and have an experience.  This is when I ask, well then why go out?  Why do it?  If you want a lower calorie version, then stay home and eat your lettuce...and this is when I am so glad to be in a place like Italy.  

The Italians are something out of a storybook with their food.  I imagine myself one day tucking my children into bed and reading them recipes out of an Italian cook book so that when they sleep, their minds will dream of beautiful dishes, multiple courses, appreciating the ingredient and eating for pleasure instead of necessity.  Sorry, what was that?  PLEASURE.  The Italians eat for pleasure, solely for enjoying themselves and not worrying about anything else.  

Counting calories? Not with their cheese and olive oil and fatty salami, and gelato!  You will never hear anyone saying they don’t eat carbs at an Italian dining table.  Ever.  And if one ever did, well there’s a reason we’ve never heard about it.    I am so inspired by the Italians and their food.  The order that they eat in, the way they eat, the quality of ingredients.  They eat seasonally.  They know the ingredients and their life span and they respect them to the fullest degree, pairing them with other ingredients that match their seasonality and go well together.  The happy marriage.  The pairing and simplicity of their dishes is something that makes me melt with utter happiness at every meal I am lucky enough to enjoy.

I love LA.  I love the diversity of it...and the hidden underground bits that not even all locals know of.  I love how 30 minutes in a car is close...and how the weather is pretty much great all year round.  But I hate the stereotypes because they are a constant existence in my life. This never changing constant craze to diet and stay skinny. To worry so much about your outer appearance, instead of enjoying your life by going out and living, tasting everything life has to offer and living for pleasure.   Well, it’s something I will never understand.  I’ll take chubby and happy any day.

I’m in Italy loving life, taking in the sun, and enjoying what the summer has to offer.  The flavor of the ripe red tomatoes with their creamy white mozzarella. The deep yellow peaches and juicy pink watermelon after a long slow paced lunch...and the sweet soft figs matched so perfectly with the luscious fatty salty prosciutto crudo..  I’ve been influenced by the Italians...and maybe one day LA will take a lesson from them too.  But in the meantime, I’m just gonna pleasurably enjoy my summer in Italy.


©2011 Jami Cakes       All Rights Reserved

QUESTA ´E COME SI FANNO LA BURRATA!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My alarm went off at 7:02.  I tend to wake up immediately in hostels, not wanting to wake everyone else with my musical alarm.  However, just because I shut my alarm off, and get up, does not mean I am actually all that awake.  I brushed my teeth and zipped up my bag, then headed off to the station, a good ten minute walk away.  I bought my ticket through the machine and headed to platform 6, boarding the  train going to Foggia.  I saw a backpacker sitting in the middle section and went to sit across from her.    Behind her sat a blonde girl who had previously been standing outside in perfect view of the window of the guy ahead of me.  I knew this because I watched as he sat staring at her for a few minutes, her short dress and long golden glamourous locks just asking to be admired.  As I sat with my luggage waiting for the train to leave, I realized I had not yet stamped my ticket.  Something that if you’re caught without, could result in quite expensive consequences.  

I exited the train and walked a few feet to the right to validate my ticket.  However both machines seemed to not be working.  I asked a man standing near if they were broken.  His reply was to shrug smugly and utter “Uh”.  Thanks for the help.  A flustered angry old man came up to me and pointed right, asking if it were the train going to Lecce.
    “Non lo so.”  I said to him.  Did I look like I worked there? This aggravated him even more, and he paced off in an infuriated hurry.  Not knowing how much time I had until the train left, and having left my bags at my seat, I quickly walked over to the next ticket stamping machine.  It too was broken.  At the front of the train stood 2 men in train uniforms.  I asked them about it, and they wrote something on my ticket and told me it was fine.  As I began walking back, I heard noise somewhat like an engine starting and began to worry I would not be back at my post in time.  However seeing as Italian trains are “sempre in ritardo”  I made it, with time to spare.

As I walked back into the section that carried my bags, I noticed the carriage behind me, containing a considerable number of foreigners.  By that, I don’t mean tourists.  I mean that sitting there, all coming together under one common ground, were those, that had immigrated from that of Africa, China, Bangladesh, India and so on.  They sat there, watching their carts which were positioned in the central area where the doors stood. From behind the glass windows of their carriage, they made sure all of their goods were still there with every exit and entrance of a person.  The carts were full of random items for the beach; jewelry and scarves.

38 minutes later, as the schedule said, I arrived in Trani.  I got myself ready earlier, placing my giant back pack onto my back where it belonged and when the train arrived, I was pronto per usire, or ready to exit.  I walked off the train and began following people down a stairwell towards the way out when I heard a form of my name being called.
“Jani.  Jemmi.  Jaammi!”  I turned having only gotten half way down the stairs and saw Valeria standing at the top, sunglasses on, hair done up, a giant beaded necklace around her neck, wearing a long sleeveless black dress, looking nearly the same as the last time I saw her.

    “Vedi comé Lissy!” (You look like Lissy!) She said to me as she came to greet me with the two kisses.  
    “Tu vedi lo stesso.”  (You look the same) I said back to her.
    “Si si, ma piu magro, no?”  Having mistaken magro for fat instead of skinny, I began to shake my head.
    “No, no.”  I uttered.  Thus telling her she looked like she had not lost weight.  After thinking about it for a second, I made slightly shocked face, surprised at myself for my stupidity, and then shook my head up and down and uttered,  “Oh, si si!”   We could now leave the station.

“Adesso, andiamo a vedere comé si fa la mozzarella se vuoi.  Non lo so, sei stanca?”  (Now, if you want, we’ll go to see how they make the mozzarella.  I don’t know , are you tired?)  I shook my head.  
    “No, no.  Andiamo!” (Let’s go!)  I was all too excited by the fact that within 60 seconds of exiting a train, we were already speaking about la mozzarella!  Valeria explained however, first we had to stop at a flower shop, thus I could drop my bags off.  I wasn’t sure what she meant by this, but when we came to a small flower shop, a man was still setting up as it wasn’t even 9 o’clock yet. Zia asked if “La mia amica Americana” could leave my things there, I got the gist of it.  The florist, with his goatee and shoulder length grey curls, used both of his hands in the style of a game show girl to point me in the direction of a corner, where I could place my bags.  I did as told, and left my bags in a flower shop, with a person I did not know, in Southern Italy.  It seemed, at the time, the right thing to do.  

Now, having left everything of any importance to me, other than my passport in that tiny open shop, it was time for la mozzarella!  No no, wait.  First, we had to have breakfast.
    “Hai fatto calazione?”  (Have you had breakfast?) Valeria asked me.  I shook my head.  “Ok, prendiamo qui?”  (Ok, should we have it here?) she said as we stood in front of a cafe.
    “Si si, dove vuoi.” (Yes, yes, where you’d like.)  So, we stopped at the cafe, where a few people sat, eating their brioche, cornettos and coffees.  I pointed to a pastry behind the glass at the bar.  It was a brioche filled with nutella.  A perfect low calorie way to start the morning.  I’d have one of those.  We sat, and ordered.  Zia asking for a piccola brioche (because that was okay on her diet) and un caffe. I got a cappuccino (because according to Zia, Americans only drink cappuccini) and she ordered me the brioche filled with nutella.

10 minutes later, arrivano.  But wait.  Our coffees were correct yes, but our pastries, not so much.  My brioche had turned into a cornetto, and Valeria’s baby brioche had turned into a big one.  
    “This one will make me fat!”  She said to the guy (in Italian).  But of course, a slightly smaller one, is fine.  He went to change the order, and I said I’d just have a baby brioche too.  Brioche are all butter and egg yolks, but being that it was so small, and Valeria was allowed it on her diet, I figured it was a nutritious way to start the morning.  Note to self for future, never take diet advice from an old Italian woman.  NEVER!

I have to make a point here.  I don’t know how to express this in any other way than pure love.  The Italians, they know how to make a coffee.  And unlike London, where a crap coffee will cost you the equivalent of five U.S. dollars, in Italy, you get an espresso for less than a dollar, and a cappuccino for less than $1.50.  I’m okay with that.  The coffee that  I had that morning, was so far superior than anything I’d had since last time I’d been in Italy, and it was the most fantastic beginning to my day.  I was now ready to see how loro fanno la mozzarella!

Caseficio Le Bontà Casaerie does one thing, and they do that one thing to pure perfection.  Perfection is a word that is not thrown around lightly.  For something to be perfect, well it has to be just that; Flawless, unsurpassable, superb and without compare.  It is, the best of the best...and here, in my opinion, and the opinion of nearly every person in town waiting in line throughout the day to get their choice of mozzarella, this was as good as it gets.    

A lot of smaller Italian shops don’t have doors.  Instead, they have a doorway  where roped or long strings of beads dangle, which you push to the sides as you walk in and announce yourself. “Buon Giorno”.  We did exactly that, moving away the pendulous pieces as we walked in.  A rather large woman sat behind a desk in the front, not looking too pleased at us, or anything around her, while 2 woman stood behind the cheese counter; 1 looking just as nonchalant about life as the one behind the chair, the other excited for people.  The store was unchanged since, well at least the last time I was there, 2 years ago.  A giant bowl in the center held the stracciatella, to the side of that were ceramic containers of water, filled with different sizes of mozzarella, and to the side of that, la burrata. There were other types of cheese as well, and some hanging harder mozzarella pigs, but my real interest were the first 3 products.

Mozzarella, is a commodity of which we all know.  It’s a white, fairly subtle flavored cheese.  It can be eaten “fresh”  in caprese, or generally families in America buy the slightly drier variety, usually pre-shredded  for ease, and put it on anything that might be better with the addition of a little melted cheese.  Here, in Puglia, it’s a different thing all together.  If there were a separate food pyramid for Puglia, it would consist of, bottom row: fruit and vegetables. Next row up; carbs and granita.  Next row up: Sea food and gelato...and finally, reigning king at the top, La Mozzarella in all of its forms.  Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, but it is a part of La cultura Pugliese.

Stracciatella, words can not describe how fucking amazing it truly is.  Imagine fresh mozzarella, shredded into long tender salty creamy strips, and then placed in a vat of thick, fresh cream.  Well, that’s what it is.  It’s fresh cheese, placed into fresh cream, mixed up, left to mingle for all of 5 minutes, and given to the people such as myself, who are in desperate need of a diet.  

Lastly, la burrata.  For those who don’t know what this is, you should.  Everyone should.  Take steps one and two, and put them together.  The cheese maker will take fresh hot mozzarella balls and place his thumb into the center of it. Placing his second and third finger on the outside of the ball, slightly turning his thumb and fingers outside,  he will have now stretched the mozzarella out into something that can be stuffed.  Another cheese man will place a substantial amount of stracciatella into the void and then close it up, tying the top with a green ribbon....then presenting it to you, the customer, as one of the best presents you could ever receive.  

The three of these, are something out of a story book for a cook/chef/foodie/someone who just likes to eat/someone who enjoys life’s simple pleasures.  Sure, they’re fattening.  Sure if I ate a bite of stracciatella everyday it would be enough to make me put on a stone in less than a week (which after one week with Valeria I’ve probably done), but how often am I in Puglia, and how often do I get to eat these deliciously rich fatty creamy made fresh an hour before products?  Well the answer, is not that often.  So if I’m here and going to eat, I may as well do it right.  Right?

The nicer of the girls behind the cheese counter pleasantly greeted us with a grand smile and a little conversation.  Valeria asked if we could learn how to make the cheese, and we were escorted to the back where the experts worked.  The men were all dressed completely in white; white shirts, white pants, white paper hats, white aprons, and tall white rain boots.  There were 3 guys (most likely) under the age of 30 who had been doing it for about 9 years, and then there was the father of the girls, the master himself.  Having been doing this for at least 30 years, his hands moved swiftly, quickly, and precisely,  (something you don’t always see in an Italian work place) as he worked with 100 degree Celsius temperature water and agitated the cheese curds until they were stretchy and pliable.  Then he would rip a piece off, test it for salt and if it was to his liking, he would form perfect mozzarella balls, place them into a bowl of cold water, where the other guys would tie a bow at the top, and transfer them to a giant pool of water where all of the mozzarella waited to be picked up and brought to the shop front.  Now that was a pool I wanted to be in!

They made the giant balls of mozzarella, smooth and white, looking like perfect white rounds of marble.  They did little knots, in which the hot cheese would be stretched into a rope and then tied at the end and broken off until no more rope was left; also done rapidly and with the look of ease.   After making these and letting them cool slightly, they brought one of each to Valeria and me, allowing us to try them.  Uh! I think the proper way to describe the utter insanity of these delicacies is to do as the Italians do when something is too good to be true.  They close their eyes for a second, kind of fold their pinkie and their ring finger slightly into their palm, their third and pointer finger pointing out, thumb slightly standing, and kind of rattle their hand around in teeny circles, kind of like a queen’s wave, as they bring their hand from about chest height up to above their head.   

There were long sheets of mozzarella were be used for a roulade where they’d place inside of them, pickled vegetables and prosciutto cotto, and then roll it up, and slice it...or they’d use it for the stracciatella, speaking of which, they soon began making.  The youngest of the group began ripping long thin strips of mozzarella into a giant bowl of cream, mixed it around, and brought it to the front of the shop, placing it in the refrigerated glass section.

Valeria, by this point, had to leave, as it was too hot for her in the back section, so she went to the front to wait with the women, in what was supposedly cooler quarters.  I stayed back, waiting to see the first step of making the mozzarella, which I had missed earlier, watching the men as they continued to the cheese, agitating more curds with hot water until they became pliable.  As I stood there, I began talking to the men in my bad Italian, telling them that they should come open a shop like this in LA.  Everyone would love it, pay a substantial amount for a ball of artisanal mozzarella, and, therefore, they’d make very very good money.  They laughed, and then gave me more samples, probably trying to shut me up.  After this visit, I would not need to buy anything.  

Il padrone, the head of the cheese shop, was the man who had been doing it for the last 43 years, and it showed.  His arms were thin and muscular from years of kneading the curds with his hand and his giant white paddle, but his stomach was giant from years of testing each batch, and probably eating it at home as well.  Two of the younger men were slowly, very slowly also developing small bellies, but then the youngest of them who continued to sneak me pieces of mozzarella, he remained a stick.  How, I don’t know, because if I worked there, within two weeks I’d be 350 pounds and loving my life filled with cheese.   

They were onto the original step now.  Making the curd. Milk was boiling in a giant vat in the corner.  One of the guys continuously kept his eye on the thermometer inserted in the liquid waiting until it reached a certain temperature.  Of this, I was not sure as the first 3 times he told me, I could not understand him, and just nodded.  When it reached the right level of heat, the thermometer was removed and the pot was stirred with a giant round whisk looking object that cut the curds into tiny pieces, resembling that of a a block of soft tofu that had been broken up, but in a much larger quantity.  This would rest for a bit and then they’d separate the curd from the whey, thus creating what I would later eat. I had now seen the entire process of making these cheeses which I loved so much.  My life was now one step fuller to being complete.

I thanked the men and walked around to the front, where Valeria sat behind the desk, and a large cluster of people now stood waiting for their turn to purchase their cheese of choice.  Valeria smiled at me, stood up and showed me two bags of products she had just purchased.  This meant, I had a lot of eating to do in the next few hours because this cheese was not meant to be kept past one day.  Hopefully we could manage two.

We thanked the women in the front, walked around to the back and thanked the men there. Just as we were about to walk to her house, we saw a chair outside of someone’s downstairs apartment next door.  Sitting on it was a crate of beautiful, bright, green figs.  Valeria looked at me and in unison we had the same thought.  We now walked 5 feet to these gorgeous little fruits and for 1.50 Euro a kilo, we bought a giant bag from the old Italian who had the hands of a man who had worked the last 60 years of his life.  However, now that we had these figs, we had to get something to go with them; Prosciutto.

We walked around the block to another shop.  This in English would be the equivalent of a deli, but the Italian’s have a far better sense of what a deli should be.  There were meats, cheeses, pre-made salads, fresh pasta for the purchase, olives  and marinated vegetables.  Their choice of products were far better than ours of cole slaw, potato salad and bologna.  I much preferred the look of mortadella, insalata di mare, and marinated eggplant. The fact that everything behind the display case was made fresh that morning and lacked preservatives was another selling ploy that I loved.  

Valeria requested a prosciutto piu dolce, and got about a kilo of that for us to eat that afternoon.  For a woman on a diet, she was trying to kill us both.  I could see it now, my gravestone.  It would read; “Jami, beloved daughter, dog owner and cook.  She died gorging herself on freshly made mozzarella, half a kilo of prosciutto and figs, and bread.  She was found with her head on a plate, cream streaming out of her mouth from her last bite of stracciatella.  She will always be remembered as the sweet glutton.”  If Dante’s 7 sins were of any truth, I would be going straight to hell for my gluttony.  I guess if I were going to hell for any of the immoral acts, at least gluttony did not hurt anyone, except my stomach.  

Now that we had 3 kilos of lunch in hand for 2 people, I could pick up my luggage from the flower shop (fingers crossed it was still there).  Valeria waited on the opposite side of the street and I walked into the small flower shop, where the vendor was showing some of his prime plants to a couple.  I headed for the corner where my luggage still luckily sat, picked it up, thanked him and left, getting odd looks from the couple and a woman sitting in a chair inside the shop.  Those are the looks I love.

A ten minute (or five minute if Valeria moved faster) walk, and we were finally at Valeria’s apartment building.  We both squished into the elevator (a luxury in European apartment complexes) large enough to fit maybe one medium sized American.  Shocked that we both managed to squish in with still a bit of room remaining, I announced that I was surprised.  Valeria explained that it was because she was skinny, and thus we could both fit.  We laughed together until we reached the seventh floor, exited the elevator in a slight tizzy with all of my bags, and then Valeria deactivated her alarm and unlocked her 5 bolt door.  I dropped my luggage in her spare room and we had a little bit of a rest.   

She came in about an hour later to search for something, in which I asked her about her sewing machine on the table and all of the needles and thread next to it.  Turns out, she was quite the seamstress, and I used the opportunity to ask her to sew my sweater in which, with every wearing, the hole on the shoulder became bigger, and bigger.  She finished it in five minutes, it now looking better than new.

After a bit more rest, it was time for lunch.  I laid slices of prosciutto out on a plate, while she washed figs and cut melon.  Bread was placed onto her special gold plate for pane, and we placed the stracciatella, ricotta, and roulade of mozzarella onto the table.  We sat and feasted upon the simple pleasures, and I happily sighed at the end of the meal, now completely stuffed.

After lunch, we had our digestivo, of a cup of espresso.  Valeria made sure I knew that that was without milk, once again pushing her point of Americans always wanting to drink a cappuccino.  I told her I understood, and we quickly drank our little shot of hot tasty espresso.  After our caffeine boost, it was now time for another nap.  

Something I never do at home, is nap.  I feel it a complete misuse of my time.  I can sleep at night, but during the day, there are things to do, and to waste any precious hour of the day on closing my eyes in my bed, seems like an utter tragedy.  However, stomach full, and with the heat of the day growing stronger, it seemed like the perfect thing to do.  Head resting upon my pillow, my eyes slowly closing.  Three and a half hours later I awoke, tired, overheated and wanting to go back to sleep.  And with that, I decided going for a walk to the sea would be a better choice.

I called to Valeria through her closed door.  No answer.  I tried again.  Silence, other than the residual noise of her Italian soap opera echoing out of her T.V.  I wrote a note out, knowing I was misspelling every other word and left.

Walking down all seven flights, I left the building already feeling hot.  I turned right at the end of her tiny street and another right onto the bigger road at the next opportunity.  I walked down it, passing closed shops and old men sitting outside of cafes drinking coffee and smoking, until I reached the water.  I walked along it first turning left passing a very very small carnival like park where children went around in circles on cars or could sit in spinning swings.  Shakira’s “LOCA”  played in the background.  The only people there over the age of 4 were the parents and two young men playing foosball.  I walked back in the opposite direction passing a guy in a ridiculous outfit.

He couldn’t have been more than 19.  He had on army shorts and a white sleeveless v-neck colored shirt; far too tight for his body.  His hair was spiked, and he wore a pair of giant sun glasses and a gold chain with a cross around his neck.  He stood there, leaning against a stone wall along the pathway  overlooking the water, talking on his phone, thinking he was as cool as could possibly be.  

I have a complicated view of these kind of Italian men.  In one way, I find them repulsive; their dress, their cocky attitudes, their gold chains!...and in a completely different way, I find them utterly desirable, solely based on the fact that they are so confident in themselves.  I have never seen men, women too, so sure of themselves.  They could be as ugly as could be, but thinking they are the hottest thing, because their confidence is at such a high elevation, they are, in their own way, attractive.

I walked on a little further, passing couples walking hand and hand...groups of teenagers on bicycles...women pushing babies in their strollers and people eating gelato at cafes overlooking the sea.  It was something I wanted to be immersed in, but being that it was after 7, and I was feeling over heated, I headed back to Valeria’s not sure as to when she ate, and hoping that it would be cooler there.


 She asked me where I went and I pointed out, telling her I was by the water.  
    “Ma fa caldo!”  I said, explaining I felt hot.  
    “Eh, ma si certo!”  was her response.  Of course!

Dinner would have been light, had she not made me finish the stracciatella of which I ate too much at lunch.  We had a salad of shredded chicken, lettuce, olives and pickled vegetables, drizzled lightly with olive oil (because unlike the rest of Italy, on Valeria’s diet, a lot of olive oil was not allowed.  But a brioche was?). It was delicious, and perfect for the hot summer’s eve. However, the cream covered shreds of mozzarella over a piece of toast, though something I enjoyed, were far too heavy for that night.  
    “Devi finire questa, perché é una cosa fresca.”  Valeria told me as I struggled to eat it all.  She lifted out the few remaining pieces of mozzarella, and then, like it was nothing, said, “solo questa, e basta.”  The other part was just cream, luckily for me, she allowed me to leave that.  Phew!  Then, because we hadn’t eaten enough, we had to finish the melon from lunch.  1 piece each.  I now, could not, move.

Dinner over with, we went for a walk to the park’s garden  (or the Villa as the Traniese called it) and listened to live music.  When we got there, nearly ever seat was taken as a high school jazz band played Italian oldies.  They were god awful, reminding me of when I was in my school’s jazz band...hoping we were good; the crowd always clapping and whistling with support pretending we were, when in reality sure, we were ok, but great, we were not.  

Valeria saw a bench filled with a few old couples sitting.  She asked if they’d move over so we could sit and we all managed to squish in...though I would not say, comfortably, at least for me.

90 percent of the crowd was over 40.  I’d say at least 60 percent was over 60.  About 30 percent were families and the remaining ten percent were babies/toddlers of the families. A few teenagers walked through the area and then those such as myself and a few other young adults were brought along with their elders to watch.  A giant group of those over 60 were seated in the middle of the garden in front of the stage and whistled, danced and clapped along with the music as songs from their generation played.  “Questa é dell anno sessanta!”  Valeria said with joy as they began playing a song from the 1960s.

The jazz band finished with  an interpretation of the Italian national anthem, in which the conductor stood in front of the crowd, his right hand over his heart.
    “Come gli Americani! hahahaha”  Valeria chucked at this with amusement as they finished up by playing a climactic final note, completely out of tune with each other, and then bowing, giant grins on their faces, proud of their performance.  

There was a ten minute wait as the next band set up on stage.  The first guy to enter the stage was an 80 year old man, holding an electric bass, a giant white mustache covering the majority of his face.  He plugged himself in and then began practicing while everyone else in the group, at least 20 years younger, began doing the same.  He, like the rest of the men on that stage, thought he was hot shit...and I suppose for a man of his age, to be doing what he was doing, he was.

Now ready to amaze the audience, the band started playing.  What they were playing, I did not know, but they did a good job.  Then the front man, an unattractive man, his hair line severely receded, wearing trackie pants and a t-shirt, began speaking, explaining the band and then going into song.  He was alright at the start; hitting his notes on key for the most part but trying too hard, probably because he did that normally, but also because his microphone was turned down low. To be heard he had to sing louder.  He danced or tried to dance as he sang; standing in a slightly bent knee position, swaying back and forth to the music.  Though, what music, I’m not sure, as he was completely off rhythm, moving like a drunk white boy in a club to a song he loves...off beat, but enjoying himself.   

After a few Italian songs, the band went into the English genre; singing U2, mumbling words he did not know, and mispronouncing the others.  Then there was a disco mash-up which featured “At first I was afraid I was petrified, kept thinking I could never live without you by my side, but then I spent so many nights thinking how you did me wrong and I grew strong, I learned how to get along...” and a few others.

Valeria, now growing tired, and probably having enough of the English songs, of which she did not know, decided it would be a good time to have a “quick” walk around.  We visited a gallery in the garden with a few modern pictures and then did a round in the garden, Valeria saying “buona sera” to everyone that walked by.  Many smiled and said it back, but then there were the few who were weirded out by someone they did not know telling them good evening, and thus looked at her oddly, nodding back.  She just laughed it off and then we exited the garden.  At the gates of entrance and exit, a man stood selling nuts, seeds, and little snacks for munching.  Valeria bought 1 Euro worth of pumpkin seeds “salata?” making sure they were salted and walked around munching on those, biting the outer layer and picking out the seed from inside; not the most attractive of things to eat.

We walk to the port, which is covered in a sea of people walking in every direction, and then on the way back, stop to sit at a fountain, Valeria feeling tired and hot.  Valeria continues to eat her seeds, offering them to people she knows, who continuously say no, until finally one man takes one, making her one bit happier than she was before.


When she’s good to go, we go.  Nearing her house, walking through Piazza Republica, also crowded with people, Valeria sees a book tent across the street, lights bright, people still shopping at 11 at night.  Being that she needs some books for her grand children, we go in so she can find a few she likes.  30 minutes later and another 10 minutes of talking to the man behind the counter while he removes the stickers on the books, we are ready to leave...that is until she sees the 1 Euro section of books, looks through that for ten minutes and then goes back to purchase 2 more.  Finally happy with her selection, two bags in hand we can exit the tent.  I offer, as we walk out, to carry the books, but she says no, then a minute later asks if I can carry them because they’re too heavy for her.  There was obviously an error in communication somewhere along the lines.  I take them from her and we walk the 5 minutes back to her house.

Finally there, we get in the elevator and both let out a sigh of relief as we enter through the front doors of the house.  She runs into the bathroom, lifting her dress up to get herself prepared, allowing me once again to see far too much and leaves the door slightly ajar as she goes to pee, talking to herself and breathing heavily as she empties her bladder.  She comes out, says good night, and goes into her room shutting the door behind her.  Buona notte.

©2011 Jami Cakes    All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

BARI STEREOTYPES & ENDLESS DIRECTIONS

 Wednesday, August 10, 2011                           

I’ve witnessed several fights today.  Several displays of Italian male testosterone.  Several incidents where I’ve nearly been run over by something much larger than me...  and several spectacles of stereotypical Italian behavior at its fullest.  Mind you, this is all within a six hour period of arriving in Italy, some of which I saw just coming off of my plane. 

I knew I was in Italy (Southern Italy) when I saw the guys.  Standing around, extremely tanned, gelled back  black hair, wearing silver and/or gold jewelry around their necks, pinkies and wrists, their shirts too tight for their bulging bellies and their uniforms too loose for their otherwise short physiques.  They were waiting outside of our plane’s freshly opened door, doing no work, except for what they knew best; checking out every female body that walked out in front of them.  I smiled with joy, and walked by them at a quick pace, feeling the South’s warm air hit my face and fill my nostrils with its dry heat and a hint of cigarette.  Only in Italy would you get off of a plane and smell nicotine.  

I walked outside to catch my bus from the airport to la stazione in the center of the city.  However I was not sure as to when any bus would be coming.  A flamboyantly accented, gay as gay could be Italian, wearing a pair of at least 200E jeans that had been pre-faded and ripped for him, brown leather shoes, a dress shirt, and a purple sweater tied over his shoulders in a preppy fashion walked up to me as I stood at the bus post.  I must have looked like I was a native, or at least like I half knew what I was doing, because the small man wearing glasses, his hair twisted into a 60’s Danny Zucco grease puff, asked me about the bus.

“Scusa,”  he uttered, a thick lisp coming across in the double S sounds made as he formed the word.  “Ma posso prendere la bus qui per la stazione?”  (Excuse me, but can I get the bus here for the station?)  

“Penso di si...”  I managed to form words, slowly.  “Ma, non lo so per securamente.”  (I think so... but I don’t know for sure.”   He huffed off in a little man diva tizzy and came out 3 minutes later, still rolling around his little suit case, smoking a cigarette, and tossing his hair out from his face.   He stood approximately 12 feet to my left leaving us both space, far away but still close enough that it just felt awkward.  As we stood there, each looking in our own directions and then occasionally making eye contact (something that probably lasted for a good 30 seconds but felt like 6 1/2 minutes) a small blue bus pulled up next to us, and I looked at him and smiled; that kind of patronly smile of togetherness.  He just smiled awkwardly back and went to talk to the driver.  His lisp was as prevalent as ever.  

It was 12:32 when the bus pulled up.  It was 1:01 when we left.  In the 29 minutes between putting my luggage into the back of the bus, and leaving, I watched an English speaking couple try to speak English loudly to the Italian bus driver in hopes that he would understand them if they deafened him.  He in turn  spoke English with Italian attitude back to them and pointed them in the right direction.  There was the group of Italian boys, one in particular looking like a rugged CK model with his 2 day facial hair growth and chiseled jawline, keeping his face at all times as if posing for an invisible camera while the rest of his crew waited around like dorks.  I kept my eye very closely on him for a majority of the time.  There were the 2 couples, the girls very hungry, the guys very chill, following their lovely women into the airport to get their blood sugars heightened and in a better mood before the bus journey commenced.  And then there was me, getting on the bus at 12:40, bumping my head as I sat down and waiting, until we finally left.   Next to my very gay friend, sat his lady friend, who complained the whole time about how she too bumped her head, how the bus left one minute late, there was traffic, and about the fact that the bus was too cold.  Even saying “Siamo gelati?”  (literally: Are we ice cream?  Figuratively: are we frozen)  at one point.  

A half hour later, about 1:32, we reached la stazione, and I knew I was only a short walk from the check in of my hostel.  The problem was, close or far, I had no idea where I was going.  When everyone exited the bus and went on their separate ways, I asked the driver for help.  He chuckled, and like all good Italian directions, it started with “Sempre diritto” or, just keep going straight. When I reach the street where I can’t go anymore, I turn left, and then it’s there.  Should be easy enough right?  

I walked straight as he said, passing a man who’s entire crotch on down was wet.  I think that a middle aged man just pissed himself.  I walked faster.  I got to the square and 2 men were eating their lunch on a bench in front of the church that made up the Piazza.  One was an old man, wearing a beret like cap on his head, thick glasses covering his eyes and a cane to his left side.  He held a sandwich in his shaking hands.  To his right sat a younger man, aged by weight.  His hair was frantic and thin.  He wore a washed out black shirt over black sweat pants and he, too, ate a sandwich, out of a paper bag.  I passed them as I looked round for building number 4.  There was a 1, a 2 and a 3.  But 4 was nonexistent.  

I asked a woman in passing if she knew where it was.  She spun in a fast circle, seeing the 1, 2 and 3 as I had, shook her head, and kept walking.  I had 12 kilograms on my bag, another few on my front and my purse.  Not that it was that much, but holding it while repeating your steps several times on a hot Bari summer day was not the most pleasant of things.  I ran into another person, this time a man, looking like he was in a rush.  Apparently he was not though, as he stopped dead in his tracks to help me, took down the hostel’s number and then called them, finding out the exact destination for me.  He walked with me till we were nearly there, pointed to the last door on the left and said goodbye.  So far, the people of Bari were all too nice.  

I rung the hostel, and was told to go to the first floor by a female voice, very different from the scruffy male voice I had spoken to the night before.  By first did she mean ground, or actually go up one?  I looked around and as I did so, a group of people came in the front door, pointing up.  I followed them.  Two girls sat in a room playing around with a computer and gossiping.  
    “Spanish, Italian, English?”  One of them asked me?    Italian or English would be fine. I was told that I could not check in until 5 p.m. as my bed was not made...that I should go visit some surrounding towns...that the best place to get gelato was here, and focaccia for 2 euro was there (pointing to a map).  I could leave my bags and get them when I came back, and, did I want to pay now or later?  Well, considering my things are in a random apartment, I did not yet have a room, and I was being sent out and about, I’d like to pay later thanks.  I sat with a giant black dog, looking like a mix of a lab and a great dane, as they looked for a set of keys for me, and then I left, heading out to explore, or attempt to explore.

I love getting lost in cities with small roads.  Where you know in the end you’ll find what you’re looking for, but you’re not afraid to explore to get there.  That being said, I like to have some form of general idea as to where I’m going.  But with my map reading skills and lack of direction, this proves to be a near impossible feat, without a little but of guidance.  That’s when I met Bari Angel number 3 of the day.  
    “Scusa, ma la spiaggia é qua?”  (The beach is there?) I asked pointing to my right.  I got my 2nd laugh of the day as the lady hid a few beneath her breath before answering me and shaking her head with smiles.  She pointed straight ahead (sempre diritto in Italia!) and told me to follow her, she was heading in that direction.  She told me about different things as we passed them.  That’s the theater, that’s the national bank, that’s the sea, that’s the old town, and so on.  She spoke of her travels and her job and then she left me on my way, making sure I had some form of idea of where everything was.  It was hard not to, as I could now see aqua marine waters on one side of me, and old stone buildings in front.  I decided I would see the old section, after a gelato.  

I walked down the main road, Corso Cavour to the suggested gelato place of the hostel.  I decided on 2 flavors that always sound good, but that I never get.  I tend to stick to the same few gelato flavors, trying them at different places to compare.  However today, I thought yogurt and walnut sounded like a good decision.  Though from now on, I will probably stick to my usual flavors, it was a nice change.  As I went to pay the man sitting behind the counter, I took a bite of my gelato.  He in turn, happy that I was eating like every other Italian,  told me to continue eating “mangia! mangia!” and went on to the next customer while I finished my bite.  I walked outside and walked across the street to Barivecchia to explore even smaller roads, cobblestone streets, stone buildings and anything else that I would find fascinating.  

Coming from such a large modernized city like LA, the small, quaint, old style, cities/villages I come across in travel are really captivating.  I feel like I’ve stepped back in time as I see an old Italian woman waddling down a narrow pathway in her long dress, skin colored stockings, little black shoes, her hair short, a gold chain around her neck, usually a cross hanging from the end of it, slowly making her way home, still remembering after all of her years of living there, that turning left at the tunnel will bring you to another tunnel that when you go through it will bring you to the church, after which if you continue to go sempre diritto, you will come to yet another church and after a few more narrow pathways, a restaurant, and another tunnel, off to left is her small home on the fifth floor, where when you look up, you can see her garden box growing small red flowers, basil, parsley, rosemary, and sage.  Across from her on yet another fifth floor is a mother hanging out her children’s laundry, and below on the stone street is an eleven year old boy riding his bicycle, his younger sister running after him, holding her doll by it’s arm as it flails along behind her, she, trying keep up with the speed of the wheels ahead of her.  The rugged stones placed down upon the pathway 400 years before, are still there, and after running for blocks, she trips on one uneven stone, scraping her knee and crying out for help.  The mother from 5 floors up has to stop hanging laundry and come down, while the brother turns around to check on his younger sibling.  The old woman finally returned home, makes it up her five flights of stairs while all of this is going on, just in time to put up a pot of tomato sauce for dinner, going outside to clip some basil from her box, and looking over to see, just another day on her small street.  Or you know, something like that.  

I debated at the main square whether to go left or right.  I opted for left.  It looked like I’d get a bit more lost.  Though as I began walking left, so did two boys, probably around the age of 17, thinking they were far too cool for this place, with their rat tails and faux hawks, their polo football jerseys, knee length once folded jeans, and their giant white rimmed somewhat of an aviator type, glasses.  I walked close behind them as they turned around and looked at me funny, until a car came down the middle of the road and I used it as an opportunity to quickly run ahead.  

On my stroll, I passed the old woman trudging slowly on the cobblestones with groceries on hand.  She left me as she turned into a tunnel.  I passed the boy riding his bike.   I passed young girls carrying together, the weight of a garbage bag over to the big bins.  I passed the woman tending herbs in her window box and a mother hanging laundry.  I passed the old men smoking cigarettes and cigars as they sat along a stone wall with their canes pushed off to the side.  I passed a glass encased baroque version of a crucified Jesus at every new corner.  And I passed all of the tourists with their cameras out, just as captivated by it all, as I was.  It was sheer brilliance, everything you’d imagine a small town in Italy to be.

A few turns and streets and window boxes later, I came to my first church.  I kept walking.  Through a few tunnels, following an old woman for a bit, I came to another large square, containing a statue of one of the Popes doing his 2 finger pose, and a rather large cathedral.  Its outside lined with pillars and archways, it’s front, with intricate floral leaves lining the entire shape of the large doors, with fading carvings above them.  Inside was even better.  I’ve never been a religious person, but if I were to start, it would be in Italy.  The downright beauty of their cathedrals is enough to make anyone want to find Jesus, really.  

I strolled briskly around the aisles, until I finally looked up, and had to sit down.  I sat there for a good ten minutes, staring up at the elaborate ceiling.  The borders were all carved floral trim, painted over with gold.  The pictures consisted of angels and saints, painted in the richest of reds, and blues.  By the time I finished gazing, dumbfounded at its beauty, I had a major pain in my neck.  I headed down to the tombs, but the real interesting part, observing 2 women, heads covered in bright scarves, deep in prayer as construction went on behind the gates at which they knelt.  

Walking back up and through the aisles again, I couldn’t help but gaze above as I walked out, or attempted to walk out.  I could not figure out for the life of me, how to reopen the doors in which I came through, so I tried pushing a few ways until I realized people were looking at me, and then discovered there was another door off to the right.  I exited there, and strolled past the archways, through a large tunnel, out to the sea.

There was no beach at this particular area.  But there was a stone wall separating the cement sidewalk from that of the small bit of sand and giant rocks.  While one old man stood fishing, another old man off to his right lay on one of the rocks atop his towel, taking in the hot sun.  As I strolled along the sidewalk that followed the sea, I noticed countless graffitied penises.  I’m not sure what this person’s infatuation with decorating the walk along the sea with this phallic symbol was, but I did not really think it added any form of artistic matter to the walk.  That was just my personal opinion.  The artist must have thought it did.  To each their own.

I soon witnessed one of my favorite sites of the day.  No, it was not anything historic, or of any great importance, unless you count great bodies as a noteworthy aspect of substantial prominence.  But that wasn’t it either.  It was the absolute perfection of the site.  Here, in front of me, walking along the path stood a group of five Italian guys; 2 of them still dressed in jeans and tight shirts, the other 3 already stripped off before they had even reached the beach.  One, still had his jeans on, his shoulders and arms covered in tattoos.  The other 2, were down to their short short briefs, and one of them, though not wearing much, still managed to wear  a murse over his muscular shoulders and chest also ladened with tattoos.  But this was not just any murse, but a fake Versace.  Briefs, tattoos and a faux designer murse.  It’s Italy’s new male fashion.

They were now playing around on the small beach area, and sadly I walked past them, leaving a little piece of joy behind and carrying on to see more of the city.  My plan was to walk along the water’s edge, until I reached the actual beach area, however as I continue to keep realizing, things never go according to my plans.  I walked a bit more, and feeling very tired from my 3 hours of sleep decided to sit on a bench looking out at the water and read.  This, was a terrible idea.  Reading, if the book is good, is something I do enjoy, however, no matter how amazing the book is, and how much I want to continue reading, when I start, after ten minutes I begin to get very sleepy...and if I’m already sleepy, well the combination is fatal.  I sat, re-reading a paragraph several times after only 8 pages, and realized I was now falling asleep.  

“Hmm, I’ll just lie down on this bench for a little bit and close my eyes.”  I thought to myself.   “I won’t fall asleep though!  I’ll just let my tired eyes rest.”  And with that I shut my eyes, began thinking of the beach further down, and thus, fell asleep.  I awoke in a sweat as the sun beat down on me, wiped my face, wrapped my purse around my arm, and fell back asleep.  When I awoke again, the couple that had been sitting a few benches to my left was now gone, as was the family a few benches to my right.  It was just me, lying like a back-packing bum on a bench in the middle of a city, falling asleep.  It was siesta time!  When I checked my watch I found out it  had only been 12 minutes.  What a great power nap!

My watch also told me it was only 38 past 3, meaning I still had nearly an hour and a half until I could check into the hostel.  So what was I to do?  I wanted to continue to sleep.  It was the perfect time, because all of the shops were closed, the weather was hot, and very few people roamed the streets because they were all inside doing what I had just done, but in a more appropriate place for a more extended period of time.  I longed to lie there  basking in the sun and allowing myself a gentle slumber beneath its rays, on a bench, but I knew that I had one day there, and I should keep wandering around.  I sat up, smacked my lips together a few times (the way you do when you first wake up in the morning), stirred my fists at my eyes and reopened them, not feeling brand new or awake by my 12 minutes of peace.  Getting off of that bench went against everything my body was feeling, except for my mind, and that usually steers me in the wrong direction.  I should have listened to the rest of me, when I began walking, and everything was closed, most people were walking home, and I was there standing on small streets, alone, with nothing else but the wind.

I kept walking though, in search of something.  I did not know what that something was, but something.  I passed a phone shop, but it was, closed.  I tried to remember the location in my mind so that in a half hour when it were to reopen, I could come back to it.  I kept walking, and began to notice more people, and slowly more people, and then, even more.  I came to a street surrounded by clothing stores, mainly designer, e qui ´cè le persone!  Old men sat along walls in the center of the street lining trees, a man sold gelato e la granita out of his cart, another sold pop corn, and women with children strolled around carrying bags of freshly bought clothing in one hand, a stroller in the other, and at times both in one hand and a gelato in the other, while they yelled after their small children running ahead of them trying to manage everything, while taking a giant bite of their chocolate ice cream as it ran down the cone onto their hand, and talking on their cellulare that was tucked under their neck, on their shoulder.  It was quite the site.  

I had nothing better to do, I stepped into a shop and stayed there until I came out 10 euro poorer, and had killed a bit of time.  By now, the phone shop was open, and I could now go and get myself a sim card, meaning my phone would work!  I followed where I thought I was to go and ended up in front of a familiar store, but from there, I was not sure which direction to go.  I went with the Italian motto sempre diritto (knowing it was full well wrong) and though it wasn’t the shop I came across before, it did bring me to a phone store.  I went in, gave the man my passport, and came out with a new phone card and another 20 euro spent.  The day was turning out to be an expensive one.

Standing on the street, in front of the phone shop, in between a motorcycle and a neighborhood garbage bin, I had not the slightest idea as to where I was.  What else was new?  I turned a corner, and saw a young man in a pink polo shirt sweeping the floor in front of his shop, smiling and whistling as he did so.  He looked nice enough, I’d ask him for directions.  If I were to translate the conversation to English, it would (sadly) go a little something like this;
    “Excuse me, but where is Corso Cavour?” I asked.
    “Well what are you looking for?  For shopping?”  he replied with an adorable smile of sincerity and pearly whites.
    “No, I’m just looking for the street, because I don’t know where I am.”
    “Well you’re on Via Dante!”  With every word he spoke his smile became more and more genuine.  I was suddenly smitten.  “You just go straight (diritto) and then turn right at that light.”  He was still smiling, using his hands to explain and point out where I needed to go.  Truth be told, by this point I was not really listening, completely lost with infatuation.  
    “Grazie!” I exclaimed.
    “Da niente.  Sé hai bisogno piu aiuto torni qui.  Sono qui, ok?” (It’s nothing.  If you need more help, return here.  I’m here, ok?)  After one last look at his pearly whites,  I had to walk away before I forgot everything he told me in lost enamor.  

I did as he said, and ended up, what do you know, where I wanted to be.  That was probably a first.  Walking down the main road again, I was struck with hunger, and heat.  I so wanted another gelato, but tried to refrain.  Instead, as I walked by the same little gelato shop as before, I saw a cart outside, a girl behind it, asking if I wanted to try some granita.  Well of course I did, and after I did, of course I wanted more.  So I bought a cup with almond, mulberry, and lemon granite.  And she was outside, so I could pay there, without having the man from behind the counter inside see me.  It was perfect.  

Unfortunately there was a flaw in my plan.  As I took out my money to pay, she directed me inside, and I again, had to wait in line and re-face the man who had seen me before chowing down on my melting gelato.  As I stood there, ready to pay, I looked down, hoping he would not recognize me.  I held up my granita, and watched my foot.  He in turn grinned cheekily and asked me,
    “Ma, che cosé ´cè l’hai?”  (But what do you have there?)   I held up my cup.  “Ma il nome, cosé?”    (But what’s it’s name?)      
    “Granita”  I whispered.
    “Che?” (What?)  he asked.  I just shyly smiled, to which he loudly answered his own question, and then so everyone in the bar could hear him, asked where I was from.  The few people in the place, waiting for their gelati, or to pay, turned to look at me as I muttered out “negli stati uniti” (from the United States) and then tried to pay.
    “Ok?”  I asked.  
    “No.  Devi aspettare per il tuo biglietto!”  (No.  You must wait for your receipt)  he said with yet another humorous smirk.  I took my long awaited receipt, walked out as quickly as I could, and crossed over to the middle of the street to sit on a bench and eat my granita in peace.  That was until a group of loud elderly Barese came over to sit with me and eat their gelati in a now noisy environment.

I decided to stop at the train station before I returned to the hostel, because it was (from my view) on the way.  It would be a quick stop, where I could ask about trains for the following day, get myself a little more organized.  Go in, come out.   Just get a little info and be done with it.
Walking down Corso Cavour, I reached nearly the end.  An old man wearing jeans that were faded and dirt stained from years of wear, a pin striped shirt, and suspenders, his head quickly balding, passed me on a bike far too small for him.  It was the look of a clown riding a child’s tricycle, his knees constantly hitting his chest at every pedal stroke.  Why are the people near the train stations always so peculiar?

I came to a coffee shop that I recognized from earlier in passing coming from the train station, and turned right.  There, a minute and a half ahead of me, stood the salmon colored, white lined building, that was the train station.  I passed one van of cops, and then a few standing by, doing as usual, nothing until I finally came to the doors, and entered the building.  Remember how I said this would be a quick stop?  Io sono una propria scema!  How could I, after all of my time spent in Italy, think that something so simple could be so simple?  How something so fast, could actually move that fast?  This was Italy after all.  Everything, is always, always delayed.  

There was a line of at least 20 people waiting to talk to the 3 people working behind the ticket counter.  I would not be waiting in that line.  Then there were the machines, where a person of my generation who should know a little something about technology, should be able to use.  You press what language you want, where you need to go, what day you want, and an estimated time.  The machine in turn, gives you all of that information, and you can, then buy your ticket.  I waited behind one person.  A woman came by and asked if I were waiting.  Seeing as she actually had to buy a ticket for a train she was waiting to catch, I let her go first.  Then another woman came by, I was going to do the same for her, until I realized she was doing the same as me, and in not knowing what she was doing, we both lost our spot as a couple swooped in front of us and stole the machine.  Now, I was pissed.

I went to wait in line behind one man, who then took ten minutes after he finished to stand in front of the machine and repack his bag.  Ugh!  As I stood, trying to be patient, waiting for this idiot ahead of me to move, I watched as a fight in line broke loose.   True Italian style.  There was no blood.  There were no bruises, no blood, no punches.  No violence at all.  It was done, 10 feet apart, behind glass screens, with shouting, and full use of the hands as use of expression.  Though I am not sure what exactly happened, here’s what my interpretation of the situation was.  One of the 3 people working behind the ticket counter, left his spot, now leaving 18 people standing in line, with just 2 people working.  An old man, decided this was a stupid thing, and that they should all be working (which I completely agree with) and got mad at what had happened.  The ticket man, now angry that he was being yelled at, decided to waste his time, that he could have been selling tickets, yelling at the poor old bastard in line, and thus, a beautiful beautiful thing, fight of the hands and voices broke loose.  

As their fight settled down, the old man finally putting his hands down, making sure to get in the last word “Eh!” and the ticket man walking the opposite direction into the back of the office, I finally got use of a machine.  After looking at my options, I decided that I would go for the 8 am train, and if I didn’t make it, the 12:30.  The odd thing about these tickets was, that those two times happened to be all of 2.90 Euro, where as anything else in between those two times was up to 16 Euro.  I opted for the earlier, cheaper option, as one does.

Finally feeling like I may have accomplished something with my day, and it was now almost 6, I could check into the hostel.  I walked to the hostel, again being passed by the man on the small bike, with the suspenders.  As I neared the check-in point, the girl who was supposed to check me in was outside walking past me.  She told me no one was inside, and  to just go into the apartment and wait while she went to get a coffee.  As I walked towards the entrance door, there were all of the people who I had previously seen in the hostel, working outside next to a van.  They waved at me, and then I went upstairs.  I opened the door, and went and sat on a couch.  The whole thing was just odd.

The girl came back ten minutes later, a few minutes later a couple coming in.  The girl from the pair came to sit next to the other girl, and they began gossiping while I sat on the dog hair covered red couch waiting for someone to take me to where I had a bed.  After what seemed like forever of the two girls talking about some other girl who worked there that they both seemed to dislike, the main girl finally turned to me and asked,     “So, you pay now?”   That was fine with me, as long as I was actually paying for a bed.  I paid.  Sat there for a few more minutes, and finally the two girls stopped talking.  The couple escorted me downstairs, and we were about to leave for the hostel, when, another woman came, rolling a bag, and we were told to wait for her.  As we waited, I was told that the room I was staying in contained a guy who was absolutely gorgeous, and how lucky I was.  The boyfriend wasn’t too happy to hear that, but laughed it off.

The old woman came down a few minutes later, and walked off by herself.  So pretty much we all stood around waiting, for nothing.  The couple escorted me, the guy holding my smaller back pack, as we trudged along, reaching the end of the block, where the old woman stood looking lost, at a church.  She was told to come with us, and we all walked now to the hostel, a ten minute dawdle.  On the way, we passed the “gorgeous guy”, a blue eyed, blonde army cut hair, french guy, on his way to the market.
    “Questo é il ragazzo bello!”  The girl said to me.  Once again, the boyfriend wasn’t too happy with this, and tried to lighten the situation.
    “Ooh, I loove him!”  He said excitedly, holding his hands to his hands together near his cheek as if smitten.  Then we arrived at the hostel.

We walked up 2 levels, reaching a wooden door, and entered.  A group of 5 Italians was waiting around, blocking every square inch of space.  We finally managed to get through.  The old woman was brought first to her room, I was shown the kitchen, and the bathroom, and then brought to my supposed room.  It stunk of boy, there were clothes everywhere, one boy lay sleeping on a bottom bunk sleeping, another sitting on the top bunk watching something on his lap top.  It looked as if every bed was taken, and I was now being switched to another room, thank god!  

I was put into the room with the old woman, a much larger, nicer room, with a bathroom consisting of a toilet, a sink and a bidet.  Strangely enough, there was a shower, but it was outside of the actual bathroom, and put into a corner of the room.  This way everyone could watch you as you lathered soap all over your body and then washed it off.

I sat on my bed for a few, trying to catch up on emails and checking for future hostels.  A boy came in carrying a motorcycle helmet, looked at me, said sorry, placed the helmet down on the bed, and walked out.   I took that as a sign to leave, and decided that before everything closed, or it got dark, I should go get a few things for dinner.  We had passed a lovely little fruit and veg shop on the way to the hostel, and I decided to go there and get some healthy things for once this week.  

A small white haired man sat on a chair in the door way of his closet sized fruit shop and told me to pick what I wanted.  1 peach, some grapes, 2 figs, a handful of pomodorini, and 2 Euro later, I had a delicious selection of things to choose from.  However I was not satisfied with just this.  Next to the delicate old man’s fruit shop, sat an all purpose little shop.  I went in, got 4 fettine di mortadella (by far one of my favorite deli meats ever!) and I was now happy.  I went back to the hostel, and in the dark (because the lights were not working) made a salad of my baby tomatoes with a bit of fresh basil from the hostel and some olive oil, laid out my mortadella in little elegant flower bundles, and washed the fruit, placing it in a bowl off to to the side, slicing my peach a top the other goodies.

Alongside me in the kitchen, was a couple, an adorable little blonde girl from Napoli, and her Barese boyfriend who had previously entered the room with a helmet.  They had just eaten and were now washing up.  Boiling a pot of water was the “beautiful” French boy, and we all began talking.  The blonde girl was visiting her boyfriend.  The French boy was here to see where his father was from, and I was just here.  After I ate,  depressed by the dark, I decided to go back to the room and just do nothing.  My plan was quickly ruined as the blonde girl and her boyfriend decided to enter.

Now, normally there would be no problem with this.  But in this particular room, there lay 3 beds.  One was on the other side of the room, and the other 2 were about 1 foot and a half away from each other.  I happened to be on one that was very very close to theirs, and as the couple spooned, and made out, and whispered sweet nothings in Italian, I sat there, on my laptop, witnessing the whole show.  Trying to keep myself contained with writing, and music and what not, but I could not help laughing at times, to the predicament I had gotten myself into.  Oh, how I love hostels!

They finally decided they had had enough, as the boy left and the girl changed.  They were going out, I was staying in and that was that.  A bit later the old woman came back, and decided to have a shower, to which I witnessed way too much of her and her saggy wrinkly arse, and decided that was probably my cue to go to sleep.  I made sure all of my things were pretty much packed up, and lay down to close my eyes, for a few hours.

A bit later, the blonde girl’s phone went off and for about 2 minutes there was an extremely annoying ring playing through our room.  Around 2 in the morning, the tiny Napoletana came back, da solo, and decided to try to make as much noise as she possibly could.  She bumped into things, opened the dresser, and turned on the bathroom lights which spread over the entire room.  

She then hopped into bed, and had a 30 minute conversation with her boyfriend with whom she had just spent the entire night.  That’s fine.  If you want to speak to your beloved, by all means, go for it, but don’t do it, in your bed, in a room where other people are sleeping!  I looked at my phone, thus making it known that I was awake.  She continued to talk, and then finally after ten “Ciao amore, si si. Ti amo. Ciao amore...”  She hung up.  An hour later, I stirred and she began talking to me, apologizing for disturbing me.  I told her it was all okay, and went back to bed for another few hours.


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