Hello! Book Two of my Memory Road Trip series is out, and I’m already working on an outline for my next installment. I have a bunch of rough drafts to go through, and I can tell already what I’m going to keep verses what won’t make the final cut.
Following is an excerpt taken from some musings about Matera, a 9,000-year old city in Italy that will likely not make it into the final version. I’ve come a long way on my writing journey, and though I like what I wrote, it’s not how I’d present something as a final version today. Thus, a lot of my old writing will be regulated to new lives as mere blog entries:
It’s first residents dated back to the Paleolithic era, having lived in caves carved out of the chalky mountain hillsides. The descendants of these cave homes left Matera only recently in the 1950’s when the Italian government declared it unsanitary to be a cave dweller. The inhabitants were moved to higher ground, the cave houses were abandoned, and Italy’s oldest inhabited city was made a ghost town. But, this is simplifying the matter. Many people did not want to leave their beloved Matera despite the lack of electricity, despite having no running water, despite a complete lack of sewage disposal, despite the lack of modern amenities, despite the rampant diseases, despite not having any stores in which to shop in, and despite being declared one the poorest cities in the country. The citizens were forced to leave but the allure of Matera remained. Interest in preserving this unique city prevailed and in 1993 UNESCO declared the location a World Heritage Site. Many people returned to their cave homes (or never officially left them) and joining them were leagues of entrepreneurs such as hoteliers, restauranteurs, shop keepers, and any other business type attached to the tourist trade. Matera got a second lease on life and was open for business.
One of the first things that we did was discover coffee. Both Ryan and I enjoy coffee, but never before had we been presented a menu of 20 different coffee drinks. We made a small attempt at sampling as many as we could and greatly perplexed the elderly restaurant owner. I believe that we ordered about five or six coffee drinks overall, and I am certain that after the forth coffee drink the restaurant guy was irritated with us for making him whip up all the various concoctions considering we were the only visitors in the entire city and we chose to descend upon his location and made him fire up his espresso machine in order to make us a variety of ridiculous drinks.
Thus wired on loads of caffeine, we stuck our noses in as many cave nooks as we could find and visited the one cave museum that was open (it being off season, November).
Around 5pm, we were starving, having been looking for a place to eat since 4 o’clock. The entire city was shuttered and no places were open for meals. One dining establishment eventually opened its doors at 5pm, and we wandered in and kindly requested a menu. We were told by the bartender that the place was only open for drinks. We must have had the look of famished rejection in our faces as we asked him where we could go for dinner and he explained in the best possible English that he could that the town was essentially shut down for the season.
We nearly wandered off when he said, “Sit down, sit down. I will call my wife. She will make you something.”
We were served the most amazing pasta carbonara and homemade red wine served in a rustic ceramic flask that remains as one of the most memorable meals of my life.
Sure, many locals wandered into the watering hole and asked the owner what the heck he was doing with real customers, as we looked highly out of place, but we embraced it.
Our gastronomic journey, however, did not end there. On our return to our amazing cave hotel, we spied a little light on a building across the street, which we discovered to be a little hole in the wall bar. We were already lit with caffeine and wine, but, still, we said, “Why not?” and went inside.
We sat down at a little petite French cafe size round table that had a menu perched on it. Only, this wasn’t a ‘menu’ menu, this was purely a dessert menu. It was essentially dessert porn. Pages and pages of glossy pictures of the most decadent desserts known to man. I couldn’t tell if it was just something to look at, like a magazine, as there were no prices on any of the items and the establishment itself sure as heck did not look like a bakery.
So, I asked the guy, “Can we order off this?”
“Yes, yes, anything!” was the answer.
You gotta be kidding me. I remember being served the most delicious pistachio desert/drink thing that came with a flaky cookie, and Ryan ordered something decadent, a slice of cake of something, but far beyond anything we expected to be served. For nothing being open in that town, we sure scored big league that day.
The experience wasn’t just about the fabulous food and drinks, but it was also about the people that we encountered. Everyone was so accommodating and kind. And it was also about the city of Matera itself. The place was magical. People have been part of this landscape for thousands of years and it just felt very organic. Our itinerary had us leaving Matera early the next morning, and we didn’t budget time for breakfast, but after our most excellent dining experience the day prior we should not have been shocked at the spread laid out for us in the breakfast cave by our hotel dude. We quickly found time in our busy morning to linger in Matera for yet another extraordinary meal.
“Could we live in Matera?” we asked each other over breakfast.
“But I thought we were moving to Pompeii,” Ryan reminded me, as I declared a few days prior that I wanted to move into one of those palatial Pompeii ruins.
“But remember, we decided on getting an apartment in Rome,” I said to him.
We do this everywhere we go. We entertain the idea of moving to a variety of destinations. If I bought something in each place that I wanted to move to, I’d have one hell of an impressive key ring.
Time Traveled is available as e-book or paperback! Buy it either at Amazon or at most major retailers.