Aaron and I boarded a huge ferry at midnight in Greece bound to Italy.
We had some hours to wait so we watched a terrible comedy on Aaron’s laptop and then went through the boarding gate to get to the docks. Once we left the building we realized there was no indication whatsoever of where our dock was, and no one bothered to tell us. We walked to the water and found the dock number on our ticket, and sat with our luggage, alone, except for a police officer with a dog who sniffed out a person who was hidden underneath the berth of a waiting tractor trailer.
The boat did show up, though, and by next morning, we were docking in Bari, Italy.
My cousin Marta lives there and she has a smart, energetic Italian boyfriend named Giovanni who, along with his friend Mike, typified the southern Italian spirit. We five spent a Sunday crammed in a car talking and laughing loudly and gesturing dramatically.
We had so much fun. Do you know anyone who laughs passionately at things, and whose laughter makes you laugh? That was Mike. Mike’s the kind of guy who makes everything hilarious and fun.
But besides that, he’s a professional photographer, splitting his time between New York and Italy. He taught me a few things about composition and editing. He specializes in gorgeous, dramatic stormscapes.
Mike and Giovanni took us to start the day with cappuccinos in their beautiful little hometown, and then took us to an olive oil press to learn the process.
Then we went to Polignano a Mare, a gorgeous town perched on cliffs over the sea.
Last they took us to Alberobello, a mystical village with cone-topped buildings that had astronomical and religious symbols painted on their roofs.
We were sad to leave our new friends after such a short period, but my cousin is a hustler. She’s related on my mom’s side, and she shares that family’s signature trait – what we call our German trait – that she works hurrd. She had a packed schedule that week, so we had to move on and get out of her hair.
So we left our new friends and headed to Napoli, a chaotic, dirty, fascinating city that shares Puglia’s energy but in a tough and gritty kind of way.
The food was insanely delicious. Delectable dishes for €4 at lunch counters in the market. Pizza for €4 at a 130-year-old pizzeria selling only two kinds – marinara and margarita. Pasta, salads, espresso. Soy cappuccino for €1. We’re total pizza and coffee snobs now.
We visited Pompeii in a whirlwind during a morning before work. The ancient ruins were preserved by the ashes of Mt. Vesuvius’ eruption. We were intrigued by the influence of Egypt on the culture, including a temple of Isis. There was also a bordello, with five stone beds and faded frescoes of erotic scenes on the walls.
We had to rush to make our train so I could start work on time. I was hungry, since we’d awoken early and hadn’t brought snacks. We got to the train platform, and looking at the time, I figured we had five minutes until our train arrived, even though there was an announcement. I went to the shop across the tracks to buy potato chips. Just as I chose a bag the train pulled up. I screamed “Sorry!” and threw the chips on the counter, sprinted down the stairs, across the underpass, and up, arriving just as the train was pulling away. Aaron’s teasing me hard about that one, saying, “Remember that time we missed the train because you were buying potato chips?”
So Napoli was a tough, gritty city but we got used to it, put at ease by the charming Christmas market which, apparently, operates year round.
And there was another aspect took the city’s edge off – a park that was full of cats. It overlooked the Bay of Naples, and people brought food to feed the fat, lazy felines.
We’re heading home in a week, and we are ending on a high note – Rome!