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Posts Tagged ‘Naples’

“We ain’t tourist’s honey — travelers, buy there or mail it back.”
A friend of the Old Pirate.

 

 

 

Remember July 15 in National be a Dork Day.
Be a Dork, I know you can do it.

 

 

 

A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN CROATIA:

 

It was a lovely sunny warm morning when we left for Croatia. Our first stop, of course, was at Lucia’s Petite Cafe for coffee, brioche, and hugs. For me, it was especially sad, since at my age I cannot know if I will be back again. I even hugged Danielle, Lucia’s somewhat dissolute and shaggy boyfriend. Then we were off.

The drive to the border of Italy and Slovenia was relatively brief. We passed Trieste on the way, a surprisingly small city nestled among relatively gentle hills surrounding the bay and the Adriatic.

After a drive of not much more than a mile from the Slovenian border we reached its border with Croatia and passed through without incident. This portion of Croatia, Istria, had been part of Italy or some Italian City State since Roman times except for a period of Austro-Hungarian rule in the 18 and 19th Centuries but eventually passed to the old Yugoslavia after WWII.

After a brief drive through some low hills, we entered a low flat plain containing Mediterranean type forest vegetation and few people. According to Hank, Goldman Sachs plans to buy up just about everything it can get its hands on in this area, even its toll roads (one or more of the people we will be partying with over the next two days is [are] involved somehow). They want to make it into a tech hub for Europe like Silicon Valley (Facebook already is building a facility) and some sort of Adriatic vacation paradise. In the meantime, it remains someplace one would like to visit, easy going, pretty and slow moving.

Our first stop was at some Trulli type buildings. Actually our first two stops. Initially, we halted at the side of the road to view an abandoned Trulli. A road maintenance vehicle then appeared to see if we needed any assistance. After explaining that we stopped only so I could take a photograph of the abandoned building, the worker then offered to sell us truffles, olive oil, and grappa. Hank bought some truffles, I took some photos and we continued on our way.

A short time later we stopped at a place with considerably more of those buildings, in fact, the whole area was some sort of archeological park. Trulli-type buildings are conical stone buildings common throughout Europe in one form or another. They were built mostly in the 19th century as agriculture in Europe moved into less ideal areas because of rising demand. The buildings (and walls) were built from the stones taken out of the cleared lands. The most famous or at least picturesque of these are the large conical stone homes In Puglia, Italy. Since that portion of the trip had been jettisoned for logistical reasons, I felt that a photograph of me standing beside any like structure would be a satisfactory replacement.
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Pookie and the Trulli in Croatia.

 
We eventually arrived at our hotel near Pula. A nice little place not too far from the harbor where the ferry to the Island National Park disembarks.

Many stories I either heard, saw or experienced on this part of my trip — much too many to write about here but some of those I remember most vividly follow. Many were told by Hank. But, be aware, their veracity depends upon: the accuracy of my memory; may be affected by what I may have thought I had been told; my additions where I could not recall what I had been told; what for one reason or another I avoided; and whatever I have added in an effort to make the story more interesting, After all, isn’t that what history is all about, a few truths surrounded by a lot of little lies and highlighted by a few big ones.

To pass the time on the drive, Hank told me the story of Paul Bingham who was Tennessee Williams lover at one time and lived at Hank’s house and died there. Hank ended up with many of the letters that passed between Paul and Tennessee which he still has. He also told me about someone he called “Doc.” Doc was one of Hank’s professors at college. When Doc retired from teaching he also retired his suits and other clothing replacing them with bib overalls, tee shirts, and black work boots. With the time on his hands that often comes with retirement, Doc got involved in various dicey projects and would often persuade Hank to join him — apparently a not too difficult task. Projects like growing okra for profit. One time Doc went into the illegal fireworks business and blew up his house. Homeless, he moved in with Hank and stayed there until he died.

We arrived at our hotel, a pleasant little place not too far from Pula and near the warm where the boats depart for a national park located on an island a few hundred yards away. After checking in we left to visit our friends at Tito’s old vacation estate.

We arrived at Marshal Tito’s vacation estate in Pula on the Adriatic coast at a place called Volkane.
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Tito’s villa.

 

Tito had the villa built to his specifications. He also had all the lands that could be seen from the Villa which were treeless, reforested — planting over a million trees in the area. Now that the trees have reached maturity some of the people in the area complain that the trees obstruct their view of the water and of the other trees.
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The view from the terrace.

 

At some point, Tito gifted the villa to his chief of intelligence. That spy’s daughter lives there now with her husband an ex-marine officer who at one point had been an Assistant Under-secretary of Defense for the US by the name Jolly (he was the tallest man in the marines at the time and was nicknamed the Jolly Green Giant shortened to Jolly. He liked the name and it stuck.) He was a trained psychologist and was sent around the world to, as he put it to me, “Find out the truth.”
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Jolly.

 

The villa and part of the estate stand upon an old Nazi bunker one entrance of which remains. An ancient Roman wall surrounds part of the estate.

Every year on or around the 4th of July, Jolly and his wife hold a party for about two hundred of their nearest and dearest friends among which, due to Hank and Camille, I found myself included.

On my first day at Volkane, I met some of those that lived there, the sisters of the spy’s daughter and other relatives and friends who visited during the day. I also stared a lot at the pleasant view of the Adriatic. The air was warm, full and restful. I walked several times through the gate onto the rocks by the water and along the shore to a bench where I would sit for a half hour or so after which I would make my way back.

In front of the villa, there was parked a large black Mercedes. I was told the Mercedes once belonged to Tito. It now belongs to an aging local rock star who lives in one of the three units the villa had been divided into after Tito’s death. The name of the rock group was Atomic Shelter and had a bit of a reputation in eastern Europe.
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Tito’s wheels

 

 

A lot of time was spent telling stories. Mostly by Jolly about his life and times in the military and going and coming from some clandestine doings in some backwater somewhere, but never about the nature of the clandestine doings themselves. Most of the stories, I do not remember, or remember vaguely, his time in Thailand, his selection for his job or jobs and so on.

He told one about his great-great-grandfather, Christopher Sheats. Sheats from Winston County Alabama was one of the delegates to the convention of southerners who drafted the Articles of Succession that began the Civil War. He objected to secession but lost. Upon returning to Winston County he, at a meeting of Union sympathizers held in Looney’s Tavern, a local meeting place and center of Pro-Union sentiment, declared the county a free state arguing that if states had an inalienable right to secede from the Union than counties have the same inalienable right to secede from a state. He called it the Free State of Winston and sought to join the Union. The Confederate State of Alabama arrested him and sentenced him to death by hanging as a traitor. The rope broke saving him. He was imprisoned and escaped, fought for the Union using freed slaves and, according to Jolly, never lost a battle. After the war, he served in Congress. Because of threats on his life, President Grant appointed him Ambassador to Finland. After he died, the county refused to bury him in the whites-only cemetery so he was buried in the Blacks-only cemetery with many black people attending the ceremony. Since then almost all members of the Sheats family have chosen to be buried in that same black cemetery. The Incident at Looney’s Tavern, a musical drama performed regularly in Winston County, tells the story of Christopher Sheats and the Unionist meeting at Looney’s Tavern. It is the official state outdoor musical drama of Alabama.

Another story I remember from lunch the following day — Jolly had been asked to serve as a chief judge in the court-martial of a women soldier who, when told her husband had taken a women into their bed while she was at the base, bought a 45, went home, and promptly shot he erring husband in the nuts.

The young military attorney from the Judge Advocate General’s office chosen to prosecute her charged her only with assault with intent to kill. At the trial, when questioning her the young attorney asked, “Sergeant ___ when you shot your husband you intended to kill him did you not?” She pointed to a gold marksman medal on her uniform. “ See this” she responded, “I won the pistol shooting competition at the Olympics and when I qualified as a marine marksman they gave me a gold marksman medal rather than the silver in honor of my Olympic victory. I assure you I intended to shoot him in the nuts. If I wanted him dead he would be dead.” Jolly and the other judges ruled her innocent of the charge, stating, “The defendant may be guilty of many things regarding the shooting, but not of the only charge before us today, shooting with the intent to kill”

A few years later it happened that the sergeant was assigned to Jolly’s unit. When he asked her about the trial she told him that, had she been charged with anything else, she would have pleaded guilty, but not to the charge of intent to kill. When Jolly inquired as to how she has been doing since then, she responded, “Pretty well sir, but it’s been hard to get a date.” (Note, I suspect Jolly made this one up because I seem to remember having heard tales like this before but who knows maybe those tales were about Jolly.)

We had lunch, with a small group on the terrace that day.
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Lunch on the terrace.

 

After the lunch, Hank told me a story about the sister of Jolly’s wife, Mary (she is the blond woman second on the right in the photograph). When she was about three or four years old she had been captured by the Nazi’s but released in a prisoner exchange. A year or two later she was trained by her parents to operate the clandestine radio transmitter that was secreted in a place too small to get into for anyone but her and thereby able to avoid the Nazi search teams.

The next day was Market Day in Pula, the streets were full of stalls selling whatever and everything. I could smell the aroma of freshly baked bread. The cafes, like the streets, were awash with people. The place seemed vibrant and alive as did many of the tourist cities in Italy when I first visited them 40 or 50 years ago. Now with prosperity, restoration, tourism, and the departure of the young to the largest cities they often appear dead, dying or mausoleums celebrating a culture that never existed. Cities are always becoming, a mixture of despair and of hope. When they don’t change they die no matter how pretty they may appear.

I strolled through the town, drank prosecco in the cafes, browsed the stores and visited the port and the Roman ruins. There’s a bitchin Roman Arena here also. It seems those Romans dropped them everywhere like rice at a wedding. When one considers the cost and turmoil surrounding the building of the relatively few large sports areas around the world today, the efforts of the Romans seem even more amazing.

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The Amphitheater.

 

.The following evening was the big party. It was also the night of the World Cup match between Croatia and Russia. A large screen was set up so everyone could watch the game and eat hot dogs and hamburgers before the party began. There were many local notables including the head of Goldman Sachs for this area and much of adjacent Europe. I was told he was an ex-Mossad agent.

Now you must be wondering why and how over the last month or so I have managed to come upon so many ex-spies or relatives of ex-spies — Two in the Enchanted Forest; one who I met two days before in Sacile retired from the military whose job he said was to examine military construction sites in areas of American troop deployment; Jolly; his wife; and now the Mossad agent and god knows how many others were at the party. One must remember, however, all these people are from my generation and the following one. The generations who lived their productive years from the sixties through the eighties, the Spy vs Spy era when anyone who was anyone spied on someone or believed one lived under their bed or were entertained by stories about spies. It was the James Bond era.

Croatia won. The crowd went crazy.
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Croatia scores.

 

The music started. Everyone drank too much. I got kissed by two Young Croat women who I am positive either they only wanted to take a photograph of themselves kissing the old codger staggering around with the cane or they were drunk.

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The next morning we left for Southern Italy and the rest of our trip.

 

B. TO NAPLES AND BEYOND:

 

We left Pula at about 8:30AM and drove south through Italy, getting lost only once until at 5PM we arrived at a surprisingly nice hotel with the improbable name of Hotel Gentiluomo just outside of Arezzo. It was owned by an Indian company and we shared the place with an Indian tour group all saried and caste marked up. While they ate various curries, the smells wafted through the hotel, we dined in good Italian fare that alas I have forgotten so I guess it was good but not particularly notable.

The next morning, we left and arrived at our hotel above the Bay of Naples early in the afternoon after becoming lost in those little towns south of Vesuvius that I have been getting lost in each time I have come here for the past fifty years. The marvelous and inexpensive Hotel Torre Barbara in Vico stands high on the bluff above the bay. We drank some prosecco while sitting on the veranda admiring the view of the volcano looming over the towns clinging to its slopes like barnacles on a ship’s hull. Intending to swim in the pool with a view, I returned to my room but lost myself playing with my computer and dozing until dinner time.
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Pookie with the Bay of Naples and Vesuvius in the background.

 

On the veranda, I had dinner of shrimp risotto accompanied by prosecco and finished off with a chocolate mousse ice cream and grappa while we watched the sun sink into the sea beyond Capri and the lights\ come on and twinkle like a necklace of fireflies around the base of Vesuvius.

The following morning, I arose early and with my cup of cappuccino and a glass of fruit juice I sat alone on the veranda and watched the sun climb above the hills behind me and strike the bay. I tried to understand why in the many years I have been coming to Italy and having so rarely planned to visit Naples, I seem almost always to end up here for at least a day or so. Beautiful the view of the bay and the volcano may be but, I have seen many places more so —although while I sat there, I was hard-pressed to name them.

As I continued to stare at Vesuvius across the bay with its string of buildings encircling its base I began to think about how wretched those buildings and neighborhoods actually were. They began to look to me more and more like a disease creeping up the slopes — as though the volcano suffered from psoriasis and would wake up someday from the itching on his flanks and burn it all off. That’s what Naples signifies, I thought, beauty and horror together — Pompey rich and licentious ending buried in lava, the Bourbon dynasty of the Kings of Naples, squalor, and corruption alongside elegance and art.

Caravaggio spent much of his career here in Naples. A drunkard and a vicious murderer and perhaps the greatest painter that ever lived. His painting of Narcissus gazing at his reflection in the pool of water is beautiful until you think about what the painting is about, someone imprisoned forever.
C. MATERA — A CITY CARVED FROM THE ROCKS.

 

 

The next day we were on the road to Matera in the Province of Basilicata. The drive took only about three hours, a relief after the grind of the past few days.

After leaving the hills of Calabria, we drove through the weary plains of Basilicata. The approach to Matera left much to be desired. We passed from forested mountains and rolling hills green with vineyards, fruit trees, and vegetable gardens, onto a large undulating plain of dry farming almost all of it wheat leaving the land with a bare desolate desiccated look.

Here and there the plain was crisscrossed with steep stone canyons invisible until looking down on them from the bridges spanning them. On the top of a broad rise in the terrain stood a large city, much larger than the small hill towns we had seen in Calabria and Basilicata so far, and much uglier also. I was quite disappointed and contemplated urging Hank to turn the car around and retrace our tracks to Naples.

We checked into an attractive newly built hotel that seemed to have a swimming pool with stepped smaller pools cascading into it. Excited, I put on my swim trunks, strode through the lobby and out to the pool. Alas, when I got there I found it was only a decorative fountain built to serve as a background for photos of lavish nuptial celebrations that seemed to be the main reason for the existence of the hotel. Dejected, I changed back into touring clothing and we set off to the town to see what the travel brochures raved about.

After a lot of aimless driving about the modern town looking for the rock city, we parked and followed the signs and suddenly came upon the amazing city carved from the rocks and perched upon the largest of the steep stone canyons, the smaller versions of which we had crossed while driving here.
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Matera — almost every building in the photograph of a facade covering the cave which provided at least 80% of the building’s interior.

 

We decided then that we could not fully appreciate the city without a guide so Hank asked the driver of a small tuk-tuk style tour vehicle how we could find a guide, “Wait here for Vito” he advised. So, we waited there for Vito. While waiting, Camille and I explored a nearby church containing another church buried underneath containing fascinating frescoes on the walls.
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The mosaics painted on the walls of the cave church.

 

And, one of the more bizarre statues I have ever come across.
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The Saint who steps on naked fat women.

 

It is a statue of Saint something or other (I do not remember his name) with his foot on the back of a naked woman. Finding this odd, I moved closer in order to read the information card. I translated it as either Saint what’s-his-name with his foot on a fat woman or, Saint whoever driving out fatness from women or maybe something else. Perhaps, he is the Patron Saint of diet scammers.

Vito arrived in his bitchin red tuk-tuk (as far as I could tell the only red one in town). He turned out to be a delightful young man who entertained us during the tour.
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Vito and his bitchin red tuk-tuk with Hank and Camille.

 

(if you should travel there an want pleasant knowledgeable guide call Vito at +39 3931772506)

I could go on about the wonders of the town, but T&T is not the place for it. I will mention that Matera is the third oldest continuously occupied town in the world. Across the canyon stands the neolithic caves in which the ancestors of the townspeople lived before crossing the canyon to settle the current site when agricultural technology reached the area.
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The Neolithic caves.
Matera, despite being almost abandoned 30 years ago when the government forcibly relocated the penniless agricultural workers living in the rock homes, had experienced a rebound when that policy was abandoned and the original residents, artists, and others were allowed to move back in. Next year, according to Vito, the UN will declare the town the World Artistic Capital (or something pompous like that).

That evening we dined in what Vito declared was among the oldest and finest restaurants in town and was the favorite eating place of Mel Gibson who dined there often during the filming of the “Passion of Christ” (the crucifixion scene was filmed on top of the rock outcropping in the above photograph). While we felt that last was a dubious recommendation we dined there anyway and found it excellent and well worth it.

The next day we set off for Altamonte back in Calabria.
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D. A PLEASANT DAY IN ALTAMONTE.

 

Altamonte a pleasant little hill town in Calabria, remote from just about anywhere with little to recommend it other than the Hotel Barbieri. Started by the patriarch of clan Barbieri a hotelier and master chef he has built up a small industry here and in the US selling regional Calabrian foods and folk art at the hotel and at a string of elegant delicatessens in Philadelphia and Pittsburg owned and operated by the family whose members have been sent to the US to manage their interests.
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The view from my room.

 

The hotel started small on a hill with a great view of the town and the countryside around it, grew in a comely hodgepodge of rooms, verandas and a pool and a spa. Members of the family still run it day by day. “It serves the best Calabrian food in Italy,” Hank claimed.
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The pool and newly built terrace (we ate dinner on the terrace to the right)

 

We had a snack that included a local specialty, chips made from the local long red sweet peppers dipped momentarily in hot olive oil until they become puffed and brittle. Marvelous. We ate them and washed them down with prosecco under the trees on one of the verandas with a view of the town, a cool breeze and three children of the family playing and running around the tables.
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Hank, the daughter of the Patriarch, Hank and a bowl of sweet pepper chips.
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Camille and Hank on the terrace waiting for lunch.

 

I then took my much-delayed swim in the pool, napped and had dinner on one of the more formal terraces. We ate a variety of traditional Calabrian dishes and ended with a delicious homemade fusilli in a sauce of tomatoes and eggplant. The noodles are freshly hand rolled into long curving pasta with a hollow center and were delightfully chewy and went perfectly with the sauce. Grappa and dessert ended the meal. It was everything Hank said it would be.
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First course.

 

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Second course.

 

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Fresh-made Fusilli.

 

The next morning, after another great breakfast we said goodbye to the patriarch and his daughter who came by to see us off. And so I left for Sicily and a week ar Antonio’s.

 

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I. England

In 1968, I was living in London with my two and a half years old son Jason and decided it was time to visit my relatives in Sicily.  No one on my side of the family had visited there since 1912 when three of the four siblings of my maternal grandparents emigrated to America. So, one rainy and foggy London morning I, with my son and my luggage, walked to a nearby used car dealer and bought a Trojan 200. I bought it not because I thought about whether it was suitable for the trip, but because I liked the way it looked and it was cheap.
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The Trojan 200

Britain’s Trojan Cars Ltd under license from Germany’s Heinkel Flugzuegwerke sold the Heinkel’s bubble car as the Trojan 200. The car had three wheels and weighed a little over 1000 pounds. Powered by a one-cylinder four-stroke air-cooled engine it produced a grand total of 9 horsepower that could push the vehicle to a top speed of a little more than 50 miles per hour over level ground. Portions of the automobile were constructed from surplus WWII airplane parts.
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The Engine

I immediately piled my son, the one suitcase that held our worldly goods and a huge supply of disposable diapers into the vehicle and took off in what I had hoped would prove to be the general direction of Sicily.

The first problem we faced was the British convention of driving on the left side of the road. I exited the used car lot directly into a busy one-way street in the opposite direction of traffic. There was not enough time to panic (as I am sure I would have preferred) so, I maneuvered my way through screeching tires and blaring horns until I reached a place where I could move on to the proper lane.

The second was escaping from the maze that is London in the general direction of Dover where I was reasonably confident I could find a ferry that would transport us to the continent. By keeping the River Thames on the right side of me, I was able to make my way to the edge of the city where I located signs pointing the way to the coast.

We soon found ourselves driving along a pleasant rural road towards our goal. Suddenly the car stopped cold.

I tried to suppress my worry by attending first to change my son’s diaper and carefully depositing the used one behind a nearby bush. (In 1968 I had not yet become environmentally conscious or for that matter socially responsible.) We then went for a short walk to observe the visual pleasures of the English countryside.

Upon our return, I placed my son back in the car, went to the rear of the vehicle and opened the cover of the engine. There I saw staring back at me a grimy little thing that seemed too small to propel a toy wagon much less an automobile.

My working thesis was that by staring at it long enough I would either be able to figure out what was wrong or frighten it sufficiently to scare it into operating again. After a few long minutes, it was clear the first option was not going to work, so I closed the cover, returned to the cab and turned the key to start the engine. I do not recall whether or not I was surprised but the engine started right up and we soon found ourselves back on the road.

Every now and then, throughout the rest of the trip, this mysterious stoppage would recur. Rather than worrying, it gave my son and I the opportunity to commune together on beauties of whatever countryside we were passing through at the time.
Not too long after, we arrived at Dover or Folkestone or wherever the ferries docked. I originally wanted to take one of the hovercraft that had been newly introduced but the fare was too expensive. So, we parked in the cavernous hold of one of the regular ferries and immediately went up to the top floor and sat in front by the big glass window.

The sun had just parted the clouds leaving us in glorious sunshine. We chattered happily to each other and bounced up and down on our seats as the boat sped across the silver water towards the dark line of the continent on the horizon before us.

II. France

I do not recall where we landed, Calais perhaps. Jason and I got back into the Trojan 200 and drove off the ferry into France.

I had never been to Europe before. As for France in particular, for some reason, I had been convinced the French were rude, arrogant and anti-American, and so it was my intention to drive through the country as quickly as possible, hopefully in a day or two.

It was late afternoon when we entered the old town of St Omer, not too far from where we disembarked. We were both hungry and tired so I checked us into a small hotel with an attractive restaurant on the ground floor. I thought a good night’s rest and some food would better allow us to push quickly through France and into Italy as I had planned.

The room was pleasant and after we rested a bit, cleaned up and played around with the bidet and giggled (we had never seen one before), we went down to the restaurant for an early dinner.

As we entered the little restaurant, a rather arrogant looking waiter, a bit chubby with curly reddish hair, a bow tie and striped starched shirt and apron approached and motioned for us to follow him. After we were seated, he said something in French that I did not understand. I responded, in English of course, that I would like whatever he considered appropriate for dinner with an extra plate for my son. I also requested a glass of the house wine. He reddened a bit, made a slight noise like the chuffing of a hog and disappeared in a huff.

Now, my mother was a great cook and my family owned a number of Italian restaurants so I was used to eating good food, but I never had experienced the wonders of a full French meal before. I was stunned. Course after course was brought out and, for at least an hour and a half, Jason and I happily and greedily ate them all. (I learned a few years later that this place was a Michelin two-star restaurant)

The only problem was the wine. I asked for a glass and he brought me a bottle. I thought that I was about to be charged for the entire bottle. I was determined not to give the arrogant bastard the pleasure of fleecing me, so I drank the whole thing. (Much later I learned that they only charged for the amount of wine one drank.)

I was no stranger to drinking wine, being Italian-American, but this trip occurred long before the American wine revolution. The wines available in the US then were generally straw encased bottles of cheap Chianti, Italian Swiss Colony Red, Almaden white and the like. They always tasted as though the winemaker left a bunch of metal shavings at the bottom of the bottle. This wine was different, as smooth and mellow as a good night’s sleep.

Following the meal, I staggered with Jason back to my room and after putting him to bed fell into a long deep dreamless slumber.

Thereafter, my plan to race through France was at an end. Every day I would wake up a bit groggy, pack Jason and myself into the Trojan, drive two or three hours then stop to check into a hotel. We would eat lunch at which I would drink the entire bottle of wine. After this, I would stagger back to our room and we would nap until dinner. As a result, my intention to traverse France in a day or two turned into a ten-day trek before we caught sight of the Alps.

One day shortly before reaching the mountains, we were traveling along a lovely two-lane road through the French countryside when I heard a large clank at the rear of the Trojan and it abruptly coasted to a stop.  I got out of the car to find out what was wrong. What I saw appeared to me as though the Trojan was a giant prehistoric bug that had just taken a metallic crap in the middle of the road. The pile of metal was the car’s engine. This, I realized right away, was probably a much more serious problem than the mysterious stoppages.

Nevertheless, I proceeded with my usual approach to these things — changed Jason’s diapers, threw the used one into the bushes lining the road, walked with him a while and returned to the car. There I sat cross-legged on the road next to the pile of metal with Jason nestled on my lap and began to contemplate my options. I certainly did not relish the thought of hitch-hiking the rest of the way to Sicily. Nor was it appealing to contemplate finding a French mechanic who might be able to fix the machine. Eventually, I noticed that the pile was composed primarily of two large pieces of metal and a number of smaller ones. This fact seemed to demand a closer investigation.  Jason by that time had fallen asleep so I carried him back to the cab, laid him on the seat and returned to the pile.

I picked up the two large pieces and found that they fit together perfectly. I then opened the engine cover and discovered I could fit those prices snugly around whatever was remaining attached to the vehicle. So, taking a long piece of thin wire that a prior owner of the auto had left in the cab, I carefully fitted the two pieces in place and then wrapped the wire tightly around the whole thing until it seemed relatively secure. I then fitted what small pieces I could back into the engine, throwing the remaining ones into the car just in case they proved to be important.

Satisfied with my efforts, I returned to the cab, turned the key and after a few coughs, to my great surprise, the engine started and we drove off towards the looming mountains.

 
III. Italy

Not long after entering the foothills of the Alps it became obvious to me that a vehicle with an engine producing only nine horse-power had little chance of climbing 10,000 feet or so in order to find a pass through the mountain range. So, I began searching for an alternative —which led me to a train on to which I drove the Trojan and in which Jason and I sat for the duration of the trip under the mountains. It was so much fun. We jumped up and down and squealed with delight as the tunnel lights flashed by the car’s 360-degree view or when we would pass out of one section of the tunnel briefly, see the huge mountains and blue sky and then plunge into the looming dark again.

Eventually, we were deposited on the other side of the Alps. We seemed to be quite high up because the road snaked a long way down in front of us. I did not know what country we were in but assumed it was Italy since the signs indicated we were passing through the Val d’Aosta and we could see small villages and large castles dotting the valley or clinging to mountain outcroppings far below. We continued coasting down the south face of the Alps until we hit the hills of the Piedmont and Turin.

At that time Turin (Torino) looked like most industrial cities, dark and grimy. Instead of the floral exuberance of classical and baroque architecture, we were met with the basic brutalism of 20th-century factories and worker housing. We took a room on the outskirts of the City and left early the next morning for Rome.

A few miles from the city we came upon the Autostrada to Rome. This was the first limited access highway I had seen so far in Europe. The Italian system had begun building a few years before and the road from the North to Rome was the first section completed.

I decided to take the highway believing it would knock several hours off my trip. Almost as soon as I entered on to the highway I realized my mistake. It was an Italian system, which meant its purpose was to test top speeds of the vehicles and the nerves of the already high-strung drivers. Since the top speed of our little car was somewhere between 40 and 50 MPH, even driving in the slow lane I was greeted with the loud crashing of horns, red faces and hand gestures, predominating with the extension of the middle finger.

Rather than exiting the system, I decided to try driving on the broad shoulder. This seemed to work somewhat. At least the faces of the other drivers now were less red and sometimes even smiling, the toots of the horns less insistent and the previous hand gestures for the most part replaced by putting the thumb, index finger and middle finger together and shaking it up and down.

In this way, we traveled from Turin to Rome dutifully stopping at all the wonderful rest stops in between where we ate and played. Luckily Jason was as willing to eat anything placed in front of him as he was to dispose of it without notice. The only concern I had was the tremendous whomp that would strike the car whenever one of those large two-trailer trucks whizzed by.

We arrived in Rome. After driving around a bit, we checked into a small hotel across the street from the Barberini Palace (now the national museum). The hotel still exists. There we stayed for two or three days. I was too exhausted to run around touring so Jason and I mostly would walk up the Via Veneto stopping at one of the sidewalk cafes for an hour or two. I would order an espresso and Jason would have a hot milk and some cookies. At that time the places were still primarily coffee houses and had not turned into the expensively bad restaurants they are today.

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The Hotel

The ladies of pleasure still displayed their wares along the street. At times when one would take a break, she would come over and play with Jason for a while. On the second day, she decided to take a long cigarette break and walked with me to the playground in the Borghese Gardens. The Gardens had not yet been crisscrossed with highways and was still a wonderful park. I let Jason loose. She went to stand near the kids’ playground and smoke her cigarette and I laid down on the grass and stared through the pines into the blue sky beyond. I must have dozed because the next thing I remember is her shaking me and telling me she had to get back to work.

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The Borghese Gardens

The next day we left Rome.

Ever since entering southern Europe the three-wheeled bubble car became less a car than a curiosity. So it also was in Rome as I tried to find my way out of the city. People would come out of the shops a stare or wave as we drove by. Years later I discovered that one of those onlookers was my cousin “Gecco.” He greeted us as I drove by with his favorite hand gesture — the first three digits spread wide and twisted like a corkscrew.

I decided against the more direct route over the Alban Hills and chose to hug the coast. Somewhere south of Anzio we passed through the area where the finest Bufala Mozzarella was made. At that time a few rude stands lined the highway where a traveler could buy some of the cheese — as well if they wanted, some bread, wine, tomatoes or fried peppers and olive oil. I loaded up and then crossed the highway to sit on the large rocks bordering the Tyrrhenian Sea to eat lunch (actually several lunches) with Jason. I then watched him play by the water before we got back into the car and proceeded on.

We arrived in Naples in the evening. The city still bore the horrendous scars from WWII. Whole neighborhoods remained bombed out. Knowing the city’s reputation for crime, I drove directly to the docks and on to the ship taking us to Sicily.

The staterooms I thought were too expensive so Jason and I curled up on the airplane seats in the hold of the ship used by backpackers and were quickly lulled to sleep by the thrumming of the engine.

In the morning we were awoken by a blast from the ships horn announcing we had come in sight of Palermo.

 
IV Sicily

Jason and I stood on the ferry’s deck as it approached the Port of Palermo, the three-thousand-year-old harbor originally built by the Phoenicians. The morning sun was shining brightly —the water a deep blue-green and the low-lying city a dusty brown with red Arabic cupolas here and there and the cathedral a mix or gothic and Moorish architecture rising up in the center.

At that time, 1968, the city had not yet sprawled beyond its medieval walls. Along the shore, those walls still bore the scars WWII bullets. Mount Pellegrino loomed over the city like a frozen storm.
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Palermo Harbor with Mt Pellegrino in the background

As the ferry docked Jason and I ran down into the hold, squeezed into the Trojan 200 and waited for the doors to open. They opened slowly. Light penetrated the gloom. The noise was almost painful as the engines in the vehicles revved up together, and then we moved down the ramp and into the city.

We drove into and through the city looking for the road that would take us across the Island to its southern shore and the town of Canicatti our destination.

While driving through the city we passed San Cataldo, The Cathedral, and the Opera Houses. Then we passed out beyond the city walls and headed toward the center of the Island.
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San Cataldo

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Palermo Cathedral

At that time, there were no highways in Sicily. Mostly two lane roads often rural and, at times, unpaved crossed the Island. Each road connected a town with the nearest one to it. Then it would pass through the center of the town and meander on to the next village.

After leaving Palermo, the first village we came to was perched on top of a mountain. The road swooped in long switchbacks until it entered the village. We started up the hill but soon the 9hp engine could go no further. So I got out of the car and pushed it up the mountain to the edge of the town. It was getting very hot and I began to sweat a lot. I got back into the car and drove it through the village.

As we wound our way through the narrow streets, The people came out to watch us pass by. Unlike towns in other parts of Italy where the people would shout, smile and gesture, the villagers here lined the road in silence — the women mostly dressed in black and the men with their caps slouched low over their foreheads. Only a child now and then would smile. When we came to the end of the settlement, I saw that the road swooped down from the mountaintop, crossed a small valley and then careened up another mountain upon which sat the next village. And so it went. I would leave a village, drive the car as fast as it would go on the downslope so that I could get as high a possible up the next slope, then get out of the car and push.
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The Road up to Mussomeli

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(The above photograph taken in 1970 shows the single narrow road up to the village. It also shows the land as treeless, barren and rocky. It no longer is like that today. After 2000 years trees are again returning to Sicily.)

Finally about eight hours later, I had traveled a total of 80 miles, my clothing drenched with sweat and every muscle aching. I decided I could go no further than the next village but as we emerged, I saw below not another mountaintop village at the end of the road but a rather large town in the valley, Canicatti.

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Canicatti

It was late in the afternoon when we arrived in the town. It was larger than I thought. That was a problem. I knew the last name of my relatives, Corsello, and the town in which they lived, Canicatti but that was all, no address and no first names. I had thought Canicatti would be a small village where everyone knew everyone else, but it was a rather large town instead.

I drove into the town past a small park where I learned later my mother used to play as a child and stopped by a coffee-house with chairs and tables sprawled haphazardly about. The wall by the cafe was pock-marked with bullet holes. I was later to find out that is was the site of the Canicatti massacre where American soldiers slaughtered a number of townspeople for no reason.

So, I started asking if anyone knew where a family named Corsello lived. Someone mentioned some people by that name lived just around the corner. We drove there. It was a new building one of the few in the town at that time. I found the name on a card and pressed the button. “Qui e” someone responded. After a somewhat difficult conversation since I did not speak Italian and they did not speak English we managed to discover that they were, in fact, the right family and they came down from their apartment to greet us. They invited us in. But before entering Vincenzo the patriarch asked, “What are we going to do about the car. We cannot leave it here where it will be stolen.”

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Giovanni, Vincenzo and I in 1968

 

V. Deterioration and Renewal

In order to store the car during my stay in Canicatti my cousin, Giovani called a friend who had a large garage attached to his home. The friend, Luigi (Gigi) Gallo, came over and we took the car to his garage. I was convinced the car was on its last legs or wheels. The engine stopped working before we got to the garage. We pushed it the rest of the way. Once we arrived and settled the car in the garage, I unceremoniously turned my back on it and walked away.

Today forty years later I feel bad about that. After all, it safely took my young son and me almost 2000 miles across a continent from north to south, through one of the earth’s great mountain ranges. Yet as far as I was concerned its use to me was finished.

During the next four years or so while I lived in Sicily and Rome and even after I returned to the US, I would, at Gigi’s urging, return to the garage and check on it as its tires slowly flattened and dust and grime turned its white surface a pitted grey.

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Gigi and I in 1970

Eventually, Gigi took it out to his farm in the country where the children could play in the slowly rusting hulk. One time, for some reason, thieves stole it. Gigi called the police who found it and returned it in even worse shape than before.
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As restoration began

Gigi eventually became a locally well=known race car driver. When his son, Marco, was about 14 years old Marco decided to restore the thing he played in for most of his life. According to Marco, he remembered the stories his father told him about the strange American and his young son who drove in the automobile across Europe from London to Canicatti. He wanted to see what the car originally looked like. So he contacted the Trojan Automobile Club and began assembling the car’s original parts and restored it.

There now are only two Trojan 200s in Italy, one in Sicily and the other in Rome. Marco also became a successful race car driver and now lives in Milan and is a practicing sports nutritionist.
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Gigi and the Trojan shortly after restoration

Today the Trojan 200 of my journey sits in a garage in Caltanissetta Sicily along with Gigi’s race and classic cars. I finally got to see it again after forty years.
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Pookie with the Trojan 200

A few months later I returned to Sicily. This time with my son, Jason. He was too young at the time of our trip to remember it. Nevertheless, he had heard about it many times and was eager to see the car.
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Jason, Gigi and the restored Trojan 200

The joy, as well as the pain of any journey, are increased by who and what one travels with. For this somewhat epic trip, I was fortunate to have my young son and the Trojan along. I could not ask for better traveling companions.

End.

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