July 19, 2011

Maratea in Basilicata

Cortona was hit by an intense hailstorm. Looking out the window, it was easy to imagine that the gods were enjoying an ice ball fight.  With the lashing wind, the hail whizzed by sideways, straight up, down, and on the diagonal.  I stepped back from the window when one hunk the size of a golf ball broke through the old glass.  In half an hour, calm descended, the grass was covered in ice and our garden was destroyed.  It looks innocent enough:

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All the gaily tumbling geraniums, cut to the nub.  The lemon leaves shredded.  The roses torn to nothing.  Wind brought down limbs and practically stripped the pine needles from the trees. The trailing surfinias, masses of blossoms moments earlier, were simply gone–just a pile of broken petals.  Two more of our wavy glass windows broke. All over town, the same story.  We could no longer complain when we heard that many lost their crops.  And we were reminded of all the really terrible tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes that terrorize people all the time now. Fabio and Carlo appeared the next morning to survey the damage and start the clean up.  Fabio seemed close to tears–all his work wiped out in half an hour. We all worked for two days and Bramasole is clean again, if bleak. I replanted a few pots from the diminished nursery stock but, still, we will have a green but sparsely flowered summer.  I can barely look at the hydrangea hedge.

We had been planning a brief trip so once order was restored, we took the fast train to Rome, changed there for another fast train–there are many new ones and I love to travel by train with my bag of sandwiches and water, a good book, and all of Italy flashing by the windows. We changed trains again at Sapri, onto a dinky little train with bright blue seats, yellow walls and blue ceiling, which whistled and swayed all the way–15 minutes–to Maratea. There we met four friends, two Italian women and their English and Australian husbands, at the lovely art nouveau villa Hotel Cheta Elite.

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Basilicata is dramatic.  The mountains run into the sea, creating secret coves and the kinds of beaches you dream of when you imagine the Mediterranean.  From our airy, large room:

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You can’t see the crescent of pebble beach or how clear, clear the water is. We took our snorkling gear but didn’t use it because you could see all the way to the bottom anyway. The water was fresh according to Ed and cold according to me but we swam for hours, floating and somersaulting and really swimming, as you can when there’s not much surf. All around the hotel were strenuous hikes. We passed many houses abandoned around the tiny town of Acquafredda near the hotel. Here’s one awaiting your cosmetic touch. I think it needs a white goat, too.

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The town of Maratea, about six miles away, has as much charm as a Tuscan hill town, plus views of the sea. In the churches, I liked so much the exuberant use of tile.

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That blue must always remind the worshipers of the sea. Such a dramatic setting offers the possibilities of hiking to villages that make the best ricotta, mozzarella, and bread. One local specialty is cedro marmalade, made from those gigantic lemons you see in the south of Italy. The food of the area is lusty and intensely flavorful.  One of the best pastas ever was served at our hotel–paccheri with eggplant, peppers, zucchini, tomato, onion, garlic and topped with the grated mozzarella and the creamiest ricotta I’ve ever seen.  It had the texture of whipped cream. I’ve made it since I returned and mine was good but I was reminded of just why food that is truly OF a place is so hard to duplicate.  I’m not going to find that exact ricotta anywhere but there.  So, the elusive ingredient becomes a part of memory.

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It’s fun to meet friends in a new place and explore together. A new level is added to the friendship that way. You step out of your usual patterns together and see the new through your own eyes and theirs.  I love short trips; they imprint themselves indelibly because your focus is tight.   I’m going to hold that pleasure of the sea in mind all summer.

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