Friday, June 19, 2009

Back to Basilicata

I’m returning to Italy today, at least in thought and blog, because let’s face it, there isn’t a lot to say about Cleveland these days unless I want to expound on the public corruption scandals and depressing job market (I don’t).

Besides, after our Motherland sojourn I promised to fill you in on some of the great places we visited, so no time like the rainy-day present to get started!


Don’t you love it when you “discover” a place that feels vibrant, maintains its traditions, and boasts beautiful scenery and distinctive architecture? That’s what we found and adored about Ascoli Piceno and Matera. Both have a sense of uniqueness and civic pride for their towns and traditions that captivated us immediately.

We had the same feeling when we visited Pisticci, in southern Basilicata. What is often described as a “tiny town” is actually a pretty hopping place of about 19,000 proud Pisticcesi. Stretching along a ridge, it takes in some pretty impressive views of blunt-topped mesas, cultivated valleys, eroded ravines, and distant mountains. The eastern side slopes down to the plains at the Ionian coast.

Pisticci extends a lengthy distance, unfolding across three hills and so it feels larger than perhaps it would if it were all clumped up together.

But apart from the beautiful natural setting, we immediately took a liking to the town itself. The white-washed buildings practically sparkled in the sunlight. We strolled the bustling Corso Regina Margherita along with a crowd of locals, peering into the windows of elegant-looking shops and stopping for an espresso in one of the classy cafes. The pedestrian street was worn so smooth it gleamed as if it was wet, and it was clearly the popular passeggiata point. We passed several restaurants we would like to return to try. (Unfortunately none of our photos of the Corso came out well.)

The town suffered a landslide in 1688 that carried away nearly half of the settlement. Not to be deterred, an arched retaining wall was built to shore it up, and a new neighborhood was constructed below the partially-ruined castle.

We climbed the narrow streets that led up to the cathedral, fashioned from stolid stone which contrasted with the whiteness that makes up most of Pisticci. From the panoramic piazza in front of the Romanesque church we spied the remains of the Norman castello, and looked down upon that new rione, dubbed the Dirupa district (meaning “precipice”). The ordered rows of sugar-cube houses all lined up like they where embracing, with their low-peaked rooflines distinguishing one house from the next. Laundry flitted in the breeze and housewives chatted in their doorways.

Meandering our way back to the business district of the centro we found the café tables packed with aperitivo-sipping and fashionably-attired groupings of business people while shopkeepers started shuttering their doors for pranzo. An older woman pushed a baby carriage while chatting amiably with her granddaughter swaddled within. A stream of ragazzi flooded the street, having just been freed from school.

During our brief visit three people greeted me familiarly, as if they knew me. One, embarrassed at realizing I wasn’t who she thought I was, said “Mah! You’re accent is American but your face is Lucana!”

We returned to our car smiling. Pisticci struck us as a pleasant, pretty place - livable, lived-in and alive.

Visit this lovely photo gallery for more scenes of Pisticci.
Pisticci is home to
Amaro Lucano, Bryan's preferred digestivo.


carol in dc said...

We are about half way thru our last bottle of Amaro Lucano........your return to Italy is a delight!!!

Anonymous said...

My grandfather came from Pisticci!! It is really pretty there, but stop telling people about it! :)))

Valerie said...

Hi Carol! Glad you are enjoying the virtual visit. Bryan had to decide whether to bring the Amaro Lucano or the Liquore al Caffe by Lucano - and chose the caffe! Too many bottles in our overstuffed time!

Marco - Do you still have family in the area? I'm sorry to let the secret's too pretty to keep to myself.