VII From Heart to Heel

Last night me, Vic & Paul arrived in Brindisi, a charming port city, full of white buildings & polished streets that glimmer in the street-lights. The waters of the harbour are a creamy affair & the place is a rare idyll on this often soul-sapping Adriatic coast. Yet my feet were still moving, & with Greece only a boat ride away I urged the boys to head for Hellas. Unfortunately Vic was having none of it. He flies out of Brindisi next week & didn’t want to risk any fuck-ups & would prefer a nice comfy apartment by the sea than fannying about up Greek mountains. So we’re staying, & are heading down to Lecce in an hour or so to find a nice spot on Italy’s heel.

It took 5 days to get here from Frosinone. Our first port of call was Cassino, & the abbey of Monte Cassino that towers over the town like a drunken headmaster hovering over your homework. You can catch a bus up to the top which rewards you with the most amazing views of the mountainous country all round. Indeed, in the Second World War, the Germans held this vital strategic point for six-months against all the might the Allies could throw at them, leading to the inevitable bombing of the 1000-year-old abbey. This only served to provide the Germans with more cover, & despite the Italians rebuilding the monastery to spec, the barbaric act still sticks in a cultured man’s throat.

After a night’s camping we walked back down the hill, so high up it seemed we were human gliders, with the views changing awesomely as we twisted & turned our way down the serpentine road. At the bottom we carried on our journey, crossing the Apennine spine of the country, pausing at Venafro for lunch under great gargants of rock, before racing through Campobasso to get to Termoli. We were now back on the Adriatic, not far down the coast from Pescara, on a lovely beach beneath the castle & walls of old Termoli, which jut into the sea like the QE2. The rest of the place is funky as fuck – lots of cool bars & a lovely gentle slope down to the sea.

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Waking to the waves we continued our journey – but the train-jumping gods were against us. It’s not easy when there’s three of you / with big bags / setting off from starter stations – & we had to wait three hours at first stop out of Termoli… a ghostly place where I spent a couple of hours trying to hitch a ride for us, which though unsuccessful I enjoyed immensely thanks to the copious amounts of wine I’d been drinking. Swallowing my pride I relented to the lads wish to buy a ticket – which at a fiver equaled everything I’d spent up to this date on travel – a grievous blow! This got us to Foggia, an uninteresting city, & somewhere we had to get out of to find a decent camp-site. So getting on the next train, we were kicked off at the next stop again – which was essentially a big industrial estate. As we trudged past the gloomy buildings & along the motorway Paul wasn’t happy, but cheered later on when I led him to where the karmic gods had brought us. About 2k from the station lay the small village of Incoronata, & two k after that the sanctuary of Incoronata. Lo & behold, on arriving we were offered genuine Catholic hospitality & given a room with hot showers for a couple of nights. Albeit we had to share it with Antonio, a wee, balding funny middle-aged Italian man, who was so adorable I wanted to take home with me!

The gods really were working in our favour, for the Sunday was a miserable day of rain, wind & thunderstorm as a weather front came racing over Italy. The boys rode it out in a bar – part of the commercial bullshit that lay outside the sanctuary. It was like being in Puttu-pathi all over again, where a place of great spirituality is surrounded by tat-sellers trying to make a fast buck. Still, the lads were happy, & spent the day drinking like Brits abroad – in the meantime I found a quiet chapel to write my book on the Homeric Question – quiet that is until a load of school kids poured in to do Mass. It was funny watching them watching me watching them & I quite enjoyed the Mass – lots of praying, singing & handshaking & the solemn tones of a priest who probably doesn’t believe in God.

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From Incoronata we headed south on the trains once more, passing through a massively flat plain & the city of Bari before arriving in Brindisi, where this blog began. Then, an early start got us down to Lecce, the gateway to the coastal beaches of the Heel, where I’m now writing this in the salubrious city library.

Lecce
8/11/11

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