Mai Perso - Travel adventures

Non ha Mai Perso in Italia

May 11, 2011
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Highway A1 from Rome to Firenze, was not a great driving experience in a “Smart” car. What started as tons of fun in the busy streets of Rome, feeling like a double wide motorcycle, zipping up and down the cobbled stone alleys, turned into a noisy, boring drive on the freeway. We were making our way up north to Tuscany, searching for the statue of David.
An hour or so into the drive, after being taken over by any other vehicle on the road, including an Italian Carabinieri (Police) passing us at 100 miles an hour (160km p.h.) in a Fiat 500, I decided to challenge boredom and humiliation, and get of the main road. All of my best travel stories started that way. There is something about taking a left turn into an unknown road, that attracts adventures.
The road was heading west. I knew that somewhere west of us is the Mediterranean coast, and that if all fails, we can reach the road that will take us south, back to Rome.
We had no Map, no water or food, and some time on our hands. A perfect setup for disaster.
20-30 KM into it, we passed by a small town, with a cafe and an old gas station. I passed, thinking that we will make it to the next town, and by then, be ready for a break for dinner and a place to spend the night.
There was no next town. Two hours later, with the sun starting to go down behind the mountains, and an endless deserted winding road, the gas tank started making signs of getting thirsty. It was not alone. We were thirsty too, and hungry and getting worried about the prospect of spending the night in the car. Temperatures were dropping as the early spring weather was turning wintery. Fog was settling in here and there, a light drizzle and the road kept getting narrower as we climbed up the mountains.
As dark rolled over the mountains and the needle was hugging the “Tank Empty” mark, a restaurant with dim lights and a huge empty parking lot, emerged behind a curve in the road. We stopped, parked our mini mobil, and headed for the door. A large dining hall with scattered tables and chairs greeted us. Giovanni, was hanging over a table, with too much alcohol in his system. Other then him, the place looked deserted. If it was the American South, I would have imagined a famous Banjo theme to go with the scene. In Italy, it just looked as a natural scene from a Fellini movie, or as if we walked into the set of “The cook, the thief, his wife and her lover”, after hours.
Moments later, a lady walks in from the kitchen. We ask for food in an Italian, which is heavily mixed with Mexican Spanish, and made just enough sense for her to understand that we were hungry and settle for anything. A carafe of red wine, bottle of San Pellegrino and a day old bread basket showed up. Giovanni at the table next to us, tried to make contact, took another sip of his drink and passed out on the table.
Our hostess Maria, returned with two plates, Prociutto and a sampler of anti pasta. Grilled zucchini, olives, sardines, selection of local cheese and artichoke hearts.
A bowl of spaghetti with wild boar Raghu was served next, and a veal steak followed. Needless to say the food was delicious. The hunger and relief worked magic. What in another situation would have passed as a mediocre meal, was this time spectacular. As we were working our way through a good espresso, the door opens, a hunter walks in with muddy boots, and throws a pair of pheasants and a rabbit, hooked on a metal ring, on a table. His catch of the day and tomorrow’s dinner of a lucky family. He leaned his double barrel hunting rifle against the table. By now, I was waiting for the music to start and the movie titles to scroll across the wall of the restaurant. This was beyond surreal.
We were ready to call it a day. Maria told us about a hotel down the road, that will most likely have a bed for us. She called them to confirm. We made our way to the hotel, and climbed into a squeaky old bed, with a tired dawns pillow. I have not slept that well for years.
One is never lost in Italy. Non ha mai perso in Italia, said the hunter in my dream, as a few drops of blood dripped on the table from the limp head of the pheasant…