A Blessing in Molfetta Waters
After a long day with caves, bread and sinkholes we finally made it into Molfetta, a surprisingly big city nowadays 10 miles away from the even bigger city of Bari where we would return the Volvo and catch the high speed train to Roma. At first, Tommy drove us through some weird little streets (some barely wide to make a turn around a corner!), but I straightened him out with my own sense of direction.
We then pulled right up to the port next to the Duomo where our apartment waited... above a restaurant and tabacchi shop where we had to check in. The man in the tabacchi was very nice, especially when I mentioned my dad being Molfetese... then he talked about people he knew in Hoboken! The two towns are twins in the eyes of Molfetese and share the same patron saint and festival day, the Madonna di Materi.
The location of the apartment could not have been better... right on the port, view of the harbor, next to the Duomo and its bells, and part the historic old center, or centro storico. It was one flight up with a door on a tiny alley through an archway in the old building.
The apartment itself was a stark contrast to the 500 year old building it was in... ultra modern, sleek, kitchen, bath, even a laundry with dryer. I went straight to our balcony and soaked in the view. There was a pot garden on the balcony with limes and kumquats on the trees. The harbor is beautiful... as my Dad told me, lots of fishing and sail boats, the buildings all white, and the smell of the sea. Many still use wooden boats with a stand up paddling technique using two long oars. I spoke to my Dad... we made it, Pop. I could feel him.
Lisa went into laundry mode, cleaning what we needed for our last week before heading home. The trouble is, these machines are not like our washing machines. It took way too long and the dryer kept shutting down every few minutes. While she was busy and since it was late in the day, Lucas and I hit the twilight streets of Molfetta for the first time on a quest for dinner supplies.
We walked to the main street named for their saint, Madonna di Matieri, looking for an alimentari for pasta, cheese, wine and anything else we could make dinner with. The street was lit up and lively, but definitely not touristy. This is a local scene. One church (there are four on this street alone, not counting the Duomo around the corner on the harbor) was busy with a service... singing and all. Men were sitting in front of various clubs and organizations... veterans of war, political parties, the festival committee, fishermen, etc. Some were playing that odd southern card game we saw back in Castelmezzano, using baroque looking cards without numbers. Many people were just out for pasagiata--the evening walk.
We talked to several people, asking directions and the like... no matter who we spoke to they were always very friendly with a big southern smile...kind of like my Dad always had. The contrast from northern Italians is obvious. Northerners are more businesslike, curt and talk fast with immaculate pronunciation. Southerners seem happy, casual and talk with that southern garble, smoothing off all the sharp edges of words. In fact, hearing the Molfetese dialect reminded me of when my Dad spoke Italian. I had almost forgotten what he sounded like, but these people are bringing back memories. Dialects can change down here from town to town, village to village. As I am writing this while already in Rome, I can tell you how on the train from Bari the announcements were in three languages... Italian, English and southern dialect. They are distinctly different.
Lucas and I bonded that night... he felt the town the way I did. He kept squeezing my hand and telling me how glad he was to be here with me. He had a glowing smile on his face all through our walk. What a son.
We found an alimentari and brought the goodies back to the apartment to make a simple dinner of pasta, sauce, cheese, wine and focaccia. We even had a surprise for Lisa... a take-out liter container of gelati for dessert. A simple meal, but again... one of the better ones. By the way, all around Italy we've been buying very good bottles of wine in alimentari for 3-4 Euros... less than five dollars. They have all been good. Even the house wines in restaurants have been fine.
The next morning we didn't have much time since we had return the car and catch a train in Bari for Rome. But we did have a couple of hours to take a stroll around the centro storico, take pics and imagine my Dad and grandfather here. I imagined my grandfather living in the historic section because it was close to the port--he was a sailor. As we watched the early morning activities of the residents today, I imagined my ancestors doing the same sorts of things... hanging wash on their balconies, sweeping the already pristine marble streets, hosing off the steps, walking the dog, watering the plants and spices growing on the balconies, or simply sitting and getting some morning sun.
Maybe I'm being romantic about it, but in Molfetta we found the most real lifestyle in Italy. Simple, honest, clean, and robust. For the first time we've actually seen people with well fed bellies... the people in the north are amazingly skinny in comparison. These people love life, simple as it may be.
We headed over to the old fish market which looked very lively, but Lucas couldn't take the fish smell, so we walked the harbor wall on the way back to the apartment. Lucas and I went down the marble steps to the water and both cupped some Adriatic water and blessed ourselves in honor of Angel Grandpa, as we call my Dad.
When checking out, yet another man at the tabacchi talked about Hoboken and the link with people in Molfetta and said of my Dad that he is part of our bodies... pointing to me and Lucas and touching a hand to his heart. His big southern smile choked me up as we said our goodbyes.
Yea, Dad... we made it... with you.
Jerry Finzi, Sal's son.
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