Sunday 30 September 2007

Stories from the South: The road less travelled

Most towns and villages go all out for a festa, especially the ferragosto celebrations in August. Last year I remember spending the ferragosto in Policastrello my dad’s tiny village inhabited by 150 hobbit like people. I had taken the bus from Rome, which takes 7 hours and leaves you literally in the middle of no where. It was my second time to the village, and the first time I had ever taken the coach. My hobbit sized cousin like family friend, whom we shall call cugina, had told me to get off the bus at Altomonte somewhere high up in the mountains as there was no actual bus stop in Policastrello. If you have never taken a bus ride through the south then you are missing out on a merry affair! Everyone becomes friends, the old ladies get out their food and share it around to those poor young foreigners (or just one poor foreigner who did not packed snacks for the journey south). The driver plays music and we even watched a D.V.D while everyone swaps stories about where they are going and what they are doing. Luckily I befriended some people as I did not really know where I was going, or where to get off.

It was night time and the scenery for the past half an hour had been a pitch black. I was daydreaming, staring out the window as we drove down another dark stretch of road. I do not know what I was staring at since there were no street lights but I was shaken from the addictive game of trying to spot something in the dark by some commotion up the front. The bus driver was talking to some of the old ladies and I managed to understand that we were here at my stop. I looked around confused as the bus had pulled up on the side of the black, nothingness road, claiming to be Altomonte. It was night time by this stage, but being the courageous foreigner I got off the bus, thanking the driver and the old people telling them to have a nice night.

Signornina che cosa stai facendo? Veini qui!

This is the south don’t forget, and the further south you go, the more friendly they become. I - the ignorant foreigner - was expecting the bus to leave me on the deserted highway. On the contrary. The bus driver jumped off, as well as a few of the younger passengers while the old women continued to yell caution to me from the inside. This road is unsafe, no place for a young girl to wait alone. Is there not someone coming to get me? This is what I think the bus driver said as I couldn't really understand him. 

In very, very bad Italian I motioned to my mobile and called cugina. She is very worried and is waiting at the bus stop in Altomonte and wants to know where I am. Without a word I hand my phone over to the driver, as I have no idea how to communicate where I am.

I watch on as there is shouting (is it a bad line?) now there is laughing (good I think) and now the old women are nodding their heads and smiling (that must be good). I stand silently waiting to be updated. Since the ferragosto is the next night, festive feelings are in the air. It's a warm night and soon everyone is out of the bus, lighting up cigarettes or stretching their legs. Even the old ladies have stepped out for a bit of air. I am quite embarrassed when I manage to understand that cugina is on her way. Everyone is talking at once, wanting to be involved. They are all yelling, patting me on the back, smiling and smoking. 

The bus and all the passengers will wait with me until cugina comes. She is apparently 10 minutes away at the ‘day time’ Altomonte bus stop. Come night time, the drivers don’t like to make the de-tour through town.  After living in London for so long, I had forgotten the kindness of some people. I was imagining the bus would dump me onto the side of the road, and speed off with dust blowing into my face. But no. This is southern Italy and the whole bus will wait with me.

We spot headlights on the road and a car abruptly pulls to a halt. Cugina jumps out and after a lot of hand shaking, waving, some more handshaking we are able to leave the bus and the nothingness road behind...

Here are some pics of my dad's village Policastrello:


Anonymous said...

That is such a heart warming story. How very kind and caring of them. l must say you have guts woman l would have been so scared, luckily they didn't leave you there.

Leanne was in Italy now in Australia said...

I know...imagine since I had been left there!

Anonymous said...

Great story! my dad and grandparents were born in policastrello as well! now we are living in montreal, canada.
im visiting the town this summer, but i dont know anyone there. any suggestions?

Darryl said...

i am new to your blog and starting from the beginning. my grand parents were from altomonte. i had the pleasure of visiting altomonte and found the people extremely friendly. they went out of their way to be helpful. even the restaurant stayed open for us to have lunch..

i am looking forward to catching up to the present on your blog