Saturday, September 3, 2016


     Saturday morning, September 2, Agropoli (SA) Italia.  Lots more gossip to record.  First off, all is well.  But it was a bit of a haul to reach this point.

     Three days ago, back in Durham, we were making last-minute preparations and trying to stay calm before we set out for two months in this gorgeous little seaside town in southern Italy,  I was doing some rather unenthusiastic research on cheese and decided to check email.  And there was a message from my production editor at Brill reporting that the typesetting on the wine book was complete and the pdf file was attached.  And it looks beautiful!  Well, no way to fake calmness after that.  Not that I’m complaining, mind you, but sleep has been at a premium since then.

     Our journey here was about as glitch-free as we could reasonably hope, just exhausting for two of, shall we say, advanced years, especially ones not well rested to begin with.  Our dear friends Anne and John drove us to the airport early Thursday afternoon  I explained how antsy we were and how infuriating it is, at a time when old bodies need to recharge, to spend half the night fixated on some remote potential problem with the trip.  Anne and John are very experienced and adventurous travelers—Anne recently broke a metatarsal hiking on Mt. Rainier—and Anne quickly interjected, “Xanax, Dave!  Get your doctor to prescribe a few Xanax and enjoy the experience again!”  What a putz, I thought I was the only geezer who experienced travel anxiety, but of course it’s a ‘thing’, especially among people of our age.  Thanks for the tip, Anne, once again you’re my hero.

Waiting in a long queue at JFK

    Our flight from RDU to JFK was delayed (what a shock!), but only for an hour, and meantime there was another flight rerouted to our original gate which was scheduled to fly to La Guardia, and it seems there was such a heavy downpour in that part of Queens that all landings and departures had been suspended, so those poor folks were scrambling.  But not at JFK!  We had two-hour layovers in New York and Nice, the perfect amount in my opinion, so no problems there, and we made the connection fine.  We sat in the tarmac queue for 45 minutes in New York waiting our turn to taxi—we were number 35 in line, they were so backed up, and I don’t know whether to attribute that to the rain or the usual inefficiency at JFK.  But, again, we had a nice cushion in the schedule, so no worries.  The flight over was short, only 6 1/2 hours, but bumpy.  Not frighteningly so, unless you were obsessed with that recent news item about the flight to London which had to be diverted to Ireland because 12 people were injured when the plane had two sudden and dramatic drops in altitude while NOT flying through a storm.  No names mentioned.  But enough to make sleep almost impossible.  You’ve doubtless had the experience when you’re a passenger in the car and just as you’re drifting into that silver fog right before sleep, your spouse hits a pothole.  Again, and again, and again….  So we bumped and thumped our way across the clear skies of the Atlantic.  Finally the captain dispensed with the niceties and just announced, “Seat belts!”

Flying over France

The Côte d'Azur

The beautiful city of Nice

Terminal at Nice

    Nice was nice (or should that be Nice was nees?), at least what we could see from the air and from the dramatic, glass-enclosed terminal of the airport.  Easy to see why the Côte d’Azur is so popular as a vacation spot.  But no nicer than our beaches here.  That’s a strictly unbiased opinion, you understand.  But as we reached passport control we were alarmed to see the whole room crammed with people, easily 500 or so, and no movement!  Nor any announcement to let us know why.  Nor do we yet.  But eventually the maze of queues was set up and things began to move.  Perhaps a terrorist threat?  After recent sad history you can certainly understand why people in Nice would be especially vigilant.  

Ouch!  Trying to go through passport control

     The biggest hassle here was the security, where both our carry-ons were targeted for inspection.  Obviously we fit the profile of suspicious terroristic sorts.  The women who inspected Sandy’s bags were as nice as they could be, but painfully slow and thorough:  you have two plastic bags of toiletries instead of one!  You monster!  Your saline bottle is 350 ml!  That’s 50 ml over the limit!  Madame, have you no shame?  And meantime, the clock was ticking and Dave was feeling the dread.  But after some 15 minutes, they let the ‘terrorists’ escape, and the gate was practically a stone’s throw away, so we were fine.  The hop from Nice to Rome was smooth and beautiful, but at this point we knew we were almost home free, relaxed, and both nodded off until we approached Fiumicino.  In the terminal, I ducked into the toilet before we tackled baggage claim, and by the time I returned, there was Sandy with both bags!  I was in total shock, it couldn’t have been more than 10 minutes from the time we deplaned till we were off to the car rental!  And this in Italy!

In an earlier blog I claimed that I was through with Hertz in Italy, but we have previously had a good experience with Hertz Rome, and Sandy wangled an extremely good price, important for retired teachers who are renting for two whole months.  The counter was mobbed at the time—2 pm local time—but there was a take-a-number system and places to sit and the young lady who finalized our paperwork could not have been kinder or more efficient.  And we have our car of choice, a new Fiat Panda, the little hatchback which is the perfect size for luggage and such, fun to drive, even on tortuous mountain roads, and with a hatchback that makes grocery shopping and such very convenient.  She’s a cute little royal blue beauty whom we have dubbed Azura in honor of our first ersatz visit to the ‘Azure Coast’ and of her color.

Our cute little Panda, Azura, in our driveway

      The drive south on the A1 had its usual frivolity, but nothing too extreme.  One small misstep when I failed to catch the exit for the A30 around the eastern side of Vesuvius in order to avoid Naples.  But we exited, paid the toll, found a local street in Caserta and asked directions of a kind gas station attendant, and were back on the correct route in 10 minutes, so no major damage.  And Dave only lost three years of life driving this Italian road.  The route through Naples is 20 years minimum.  Plus no hair instead of increasingly sparse gray hair.

     The drive above Salerno was a breeze, and we exited at Battipaglia onto the SS18, and immediately encountered stop-and-roll.  Yeesh!  Thirty-five miles of bumper to bumper when we’re both exhausted?  Finally the traffic began to thin a bit, and by the time we approached Agropoli we were zipping along at 45 mph on this major highway.  The exit at Agropoli Sud indicated that the road collapse 5 km further down 18 has still not been repaired after a mere  six years, no surprise there but considerable disgust.  Basically Camorra, which controls road construction in this area, deliberately built a defective stretch of road which, inevitably, collapsed, and now various levels of Italian government are into their sixth year of wrangling over who should pay what for the repair.  Meanwhile, the hidden cost in lost time and productivity and tourism is bound to be in the hundreds of millions of euros.  In an area which so desperately needs every possible euro it can eke out.

     But that was a momentary downer.  Around the roundabout in Madonna del Carmine we go, out of the little frazione and the short if hairy short cut under the rail line, up the Via Fuonti and up, up, up the ridge and into the driveway, and there are all our friends waiting with hugs and laughter and kiss-kiss and much joyful banter, and, Whew!  We made it!

     Some changes.  We now have neighbors downstairs in the other apartment, Federico, a childhood friend of Fabio, and his lovely wife Mini, who is of Indian extraction and speaks beautiful English.  Rolando is still his same gentle, quiet, dignified, wonderful self, Filomena still pure heart but a bit drawn.  It seems she had a serious bout with stomach problems this winter and is still recovering.  Fernando is…Fernando.  What can I say, except that he is one of the finest gentlemen I’ve ever known and he is my brother.  Fabio looks hale and happily married and, as always, eager to help us in any way he can. 

The apartment is just as cool and inviting as ever and Filo has supplied us with all sorts of basics and luxuries, not least homemade wine, olive oil and vinegar.  A quick wash and change and we’re off with Fernando to Pizzeria Galleone at the Port for what has become a tradition:  first-night victory pizza.  Absolutely delicious.  Even more delicious, sharing news and gossip with our beloved friend.

Fernando went for Napolitano....

And Sandy for Caprese

And so, at 11:30 pm, back to our little apartment, which now feels so much like home that we both quickly fall into ten hours of the most blissful, uninterrupted sleep we have had in weeks.  The Romans, those masters of legalese, believed that the gods sent signs and omens to us all the time, but that you could, if you knew how to work the system, circumvent the potential outcome simply by refusing to acknowledge the sign!  Or, if it was a positive one, you could quickly claim it as your own before someone else did.  Omen accipio, caro Dio!  Omen accipio!

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