15 March 2011

Dramma Naturale

After the week of movie-still scenery, magazine photo meals and paperback interaction with locals while my mother was here visiting, we decided to drive ourselves outside of the Italian tourist comfort zone. As soon as we made that decision, heading over toward the regions of Abruzzo, Molise and Puglia, Mother Nature - and Italia itself - decided to kick things up a notch.
In Vasto, we took a walk down to get our first views of the Adriatic Sea, passing this ridiculously tall grass the entire way. It added to the eeriness created by the fact that the town was almost completely shuttered up. Our lunch was a bizarre four hour affair at a mostly empty restaurant. It was one of the best meals we've had on the entire trip, cooked by an Australian-born Italian man named Michael who schmoozed as much as he cooked, and we could do nothing but laugh when our sixth or seventh little course came and there was no end in sight. We were joined by a table of four construction workers who sipped sparkling rose as they gnawed on slabs of beef and a couple who fought and made up and fought and made up for around three of the four hours. Mamma Natura isn't the only dramatic Italian.
As we reached the Promontorio del Gargano - the little bump above Italy's heel on a map or, as we lovingly call it, the callus- a storm began to blow in. Perched up in the hilltop town of Vieste, it was particularly dramatic. The cobblestones became slick and the already bundled up residents, pulled their coats in tighter.
The waves could be heard crashing all around us, literally, and the cobalt blue sky was crisscrossed by slivers of blue clouds. Vieste was fairly empty, in its typical seaside off-season slumber, so there wasn't much din or tires on cobblestones to content with the natural soundtrack. It's quite a way down to the water, but it sounded much much closer.
We scaled the steep steps, which our elderly B&B hostess had done earlier in the day with astonishing ease, to get a view from the roof. The inn used to be a convent and standing up there, looking both up and down, it was easy to see why they chose the location. If you're going to give your worldly pleasures up to a 'higher power,' you might as well get a front row seat to some otherworldly views.
The next morning, the storm had passed, leaving our car covered in a salty film. We drove her down into the Foresta Umbra and then out and up onto one of the steepest, windiest, craziest roads either of us have ever experienced. It was hard to tell exactly where it was leading us, as every thirty feet or so there would be a complete switchback. The sights out, or more accurately down, were mind-boggling. At the very top, about 2500 feet above sea level, we drove through the town of Monte Sant'Angelo, which is apparently one of Europe's most important pilgrimage sites. This view is far from the most dramatic, but pulling off the road wasn't really an option.

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