In Search of Gods – Trani to Termoli
The first words are always the hardest. ‘Sorry,’ ‘I love you,’ or the opening sentence of a blog post – they are all the same. Our brains scramble into overdrive. What should we say? How should we say it? Is the moment even right at all? The penitent brings flowers to accompany their apology, cleans the house, puts fresh coffee on the stove. The lover orchestrates sunset walks by the shore, plucks a heart shaped stone from the sand to hold out in their palm with the offer of their soul. And the writer? The writer performs rituals. A favourite pen, a certain kind of notebook, a particular sweater, snack, drink, or place.
For me, I like to walk. To take myself out into the world and let it swirl itself through me like the milk in a perfect cappuccino. Blending into my skin to just the right degree. Until we are one and the same, but still, I am I, and everything else is distinctly itself as well.
As I walk the stories crowd and gather in my head, flowing through my brain in a constant stream. Here and gone in a moment without a pen to catch and strap them down, until finally I find a likely place and stop. Grab myself an actual, bona fide cappuccino, settle with my laptop and release the restless words to fizz and tumble to the page.
This morning I was racing the weather as I slipped quietly from Iggy at a quarter past six in search of coffee. It was May bank holiday Monday in Termoli, Southern Italy, and Iggy was parked up at the marina sosta for a very reasonable €15 per day. As I climbed the steps to the old town in search of a coffee the sun climbed with me. Pulled dripping from the creamy eggshell blue of the Adriatic for all the world like some huge, lushly ripe tomato. Lifted on unseen fingers from an enormous sink by an invisible giant. Chef to the Gods, serving offerings of freshly picked sun, stirred lightly with olive oil and rosemary to their morning table.
It’s easy to think of gods in Italy. It’s difficult not to. In a similar fashion to their cousins in Greece the Old Gods of antiquity live side by side here with their younger, crucified brother, Jesus. The monotheistic notion of a one, true God, liberally drenched with accompanying Saints, disciples, and the beloved virgin Mother who intercedes for all.
It occurs to me that I do not know if Italians feel the same as I do about the gods here, and I make a note to myself to ask. But for the moment it seems hard to see how they could not. The Ancient Romans have left the fingerprints of these gods throughout the length and breadth of the lands that were once their vast and long-lived empire. But, as one would naturally expect, that mark is nowhere stronger than here, in the land of their home, where the children of their children’s, children’s, children, dress in their finest and race modern day chariots on twisting roads between mountain and sea.
The Christ god and his entourage are everywhere here, churches, cathedrals, the Holy Father in Rome. In Termoli itself, the sculpted white facade of the old cathedral holds two glass coffins and the bones of the Saints that they contain. Come here for yourself and you can see, simply, and with no pomp or circumstance. Just enter the church for free and walk around, pull aside the curtains and ponder how special a man must be to have his very bones preserved for centuries for others to come and view.
I think of these bones that came as such a surprise to me on our walk around Termoli’s beautiful old town yesterday afternoon. And I think about that blood red sun this morning, rising dripping from the creamy green blue sea. I wonder why the bones belong to men, and why everywhere we wander we see the same. Churches, temples and war side by side, statues and bones of menfolk, killing and dying on one side, and offering forgiveness and a life eternal on the other. With the mother standing gentle, somewhere behind. Always there waiting to kiss away the tears of wayward boys and lay a salve on their broken hearts and knees. The face of love without condition and the promise of an endless second chance.
It is something in that clear and creamy sea. Something in the soft, scented, Mediterranean air, in the way the mountains leach into the plain and in the ever present sense of time stretching back, back and away. Back to the ancient Gods and their temples still standing to this day. And back to our mother’s, mother’s, mother’s, mothers, washing tomatoes by this same green blue sea. Bleeding us into the world on love and tears. Nothing but girls, fierce in their mother love as Diana, the huntress, the virgin goddess who Mary replaced. Standing, trembling in their inadequacy, between the world and their children, but steeling themselves regardless for their ceaseless, defiant attempt to be a shield.
Three days in Italy and this is where it has brought me. To writing about Gods on the terrace of the cafe in the marina of Termoli. The rain that had been promised to start at five has been drizzling sparse drops for the last two hours, but my slightly frozen fingers are brown from the hot sun of our first two days. Just looking at them brings me straight back to day one and Trani. It has been a glorious journey so far, and Trani was a near perfect place to start.
Fresh off the boat at Bari I had checked park4night for suitable places to stop and found the sadly not unusual spate of comments about vans that had been broken into. There were two sostas close to Trani old town. One had services and the other, cheaper one, that was just a guarded parking and no more. With our low budget we opted for the cheaper €10 choice, and found ourselves in a not particularly attractive, but definitely secure yard, just a few minutes’ walk from the castle and hosted by the delightful James from Ghana.
The parking got five stars for location, friendliness and helpfulness, and for me the only real drawback was not being able to get out when the gate was locked without asking for it to be opened. Not a problem for the average user, James was almost always present, and only a quick phone call away if there was nobody to be seen. But I didn’t feel comfortable disturbing someone at five in the morning to let me out on a writing ramble, so that side was a little frustrating for me.
That apart we were happy with our choice, particularly with James who really is as lovely as the park4night reviews say, and even happier with the town itself. Trani is beautiful, and a delightful place to while away an afternoon on our favourite pursuit of aimless wandering. Like many of these old cities of southern Italy, shade is sparse, the streets and squares bright empty expanses of chiseled creamy stone.
In the afternoon siesta we often had them almost to ourselves as we meandered through silent, balcony hung alleyways. Shops lay in darkness, flowers, sparrows and the occasional perfunctory snore of a scooter wandered with us. Hordes of schoolchildren on an outing rested along the moat wall of the castle, and we began to feel the heat in earnest as we passed on by to exclaim at the carvings on the cathedral. Marley and Jay both hugged to the walls for shade as we turned the corner and first laid eyes on Trani marina.
Luxury yachts whose prices I couldn’t even begin to guess preened themselves on the perfect mirrored skein that was the harbour. The colours were phenomenal. How can eyes look upon such perfect shades of blue and green and not think again and again of those ancient gods? To believe is a different thing.
But my heart… my heart is slammed, churned, soothed, broken into a billion pieces and put back together whole, just from the meeting of my eyes and this simple scene. Just from these colours, this wondrous play of sky and sea, the old fishing boats, and the creamy weathered frame of the quay. Paradise is a feeling in the soul, and it is no wonder that those that drank on it every day thought they could see gods at play.
Wherever gods play men seem to follow, bringing their wares for sale. Tavernas, gelataria, restaurants – all decorated in classy finery with prices elevated to match. Smartly dressed places for smartly dressed people. Paradise has a price tag, and the more men have, the more they can buy. We have walked for a while now and want food, coffee and rest. But beautiful as the marina and its pretty enticing eateries are, I want somewhere better to stop. Somewhere that local people would go on an ordinary day. Somewhere that is nice, with character, and a little less of the high price facade.
As luck would have it Trani had exactly the place, just round the corner, by the old Duomo, in the waterside park. The shade was bliss, the breeze from the open sea more so. We walked straight to the fountain to find Marley water and discovered countless terrapins swimming through the little pool there. Heaps of them lay piled, three and four deep on each other’s backs, on the rocks and the fountain itself.
As we exclaimed in delight and took photos and videos the bright green flash of a parakeet flapped past my delighted eyes. Another followed, and another again, each trailing long strands of nesting material in their beaks. The air was full of the raucous sounds of their squawking, and we followed hoping to catch sight of them better in the trees. We were not disappointed.
The old pines were not very tall here, and very quickly we spied multiple nests scattered in clumps above our heads. We’d never seen nests before, and marvelled at the large ball-like structures, entered from below by a round opening in the weave. Parakeets popped in and out, some carrying fronds, others simply opening their beaks to screech. We watched, laughing at their antics until my neck was sore from craning overhead, then wandered towards the old gelataria and cafe sitting nearby on the edge of the trees.
Two retro, mini pinball machines stood, slightly rusted, on the terrace outside the door. An elderly couple beamed a welcome and exclaimed over Marley. We ordered coffee, Peroni, and ice cream and took our seats in the shade with a view of both the park and sea. The woman brought our order, huge ice-creams, very cheap, and fed Marley biscuits while explaining that she loved animals and pointed out her big ginger cat. We think she said she fed the strays. She spoke in Italian, in gestures and smiles and eyes. Nice people always find a way.
Nice people. The best of the things that we meet on the way. And we met more the very next day, our day exploring Manfredonia, a further hour northward up the coast, immediately waylaid by a chance meeting with some new friends. Irish, English, Scottish and Italian we all talked the afternoon away in the free parking by the marina.
We didn’t much care. It is not every day that we come across four such amazing people all together in one place. The Irish and Italian were travelling a circuit to and from Rome, the English wandering the world at will. Gill told us about their recent backpacking adventures in India. Tony, it turned out, was a pretty amazing, and rather well known, Elvis impersonater. Each of the four had a world full of fascinating stories to tell, and the only problem was not enough time for them all to be told.
Words tumbled over each other, laughter fell faster and harder than the evening rain. Jay and I dragged ourselves off for a walk around the little town, pleasant with a nice castle, but not too much to say. It wasn’t the most phenomenal of stops ever, but it was a good place for an in-between kind of day. Big swathes of marinas, ordinary people going their way. And the next day we went ours too, reluctantly saying goodbye to our newfound friends and swinging Iggy northwards once more for the Italian resort town of Termoli.
And here I am. Sitting in the marina in the rain, the cup from the cappuccino the sosta man bought me an hour ago sitting empty on the table to my right. Termoli has been another delight. The marina sosta has all facilities bar electricity included in the €15 price. The old town is close and beautiful, and Italians fill the pavement terraces of the tavernas with their friendly chatter in the soft night air. Trani still stands out as a particular gem of the southern Adriatic, but Termoli has a softer, gentler charm. I like it, and I’m glad we came.
The next two days the forecast says are all about rain. My hands are cold, and Jay will be awake and waiting. I smile warmly in my soul when I think of him – and go.