Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Basilicata Recap

I received some wonderful emails after the last post, several from folks considering a trip to Basilicata and asking for travel information.  Got me to thinking that maybe I should start an incoming travel agency!  ;) 

I have written about our various journeys through Lucania, but thought this would be a good time to provide some links and a recap of some of them for blog newcomers who have missed those posts.


We have spent a few months there when you add up all our trips and have come to consider Matera one of the most fascinating cities in Italy.  Whenever we're in town we make ourselves at home at Residence San Giorgio.  The Suite dei Granai is awesome!  Suite della Bifora is romantic and has an ancient underground wine chamber.  All the suites are spacious and most of them have little kitchens, which is a nice convenience.

So just what do we love so much about Matera?

The Cats.  Matera has oodles of cute-as-can-be kitties.  They are not so skittish or feral that they dash off.  On the contrary, many of them purr and wait for some affection.

The Music.  Whether it's classical, jazz, bird songs or chiming bells we hear music wherever we go.

The Stone.  Matera is built upon, into, and out of rock.  It is endlessly interesting and beautiful.

The Food.  I've written restaurant reviews for Matera as well as other parts of Basilicata, so hop over to Slow Travel and rev up the tastebuds.

All Around The Region:

Pisticci is a pretty town that captured our imaginations so much we even sought out real estate offices there.  Obviously we chose Lucanella instead, but I think we could have felt very much at home there.

The people of Aliano demonstrate their gratitude to Carlo Levi by keeping his legacy alive all over town, which has been declared a "national literary park".

The death of Craco is oddly and ironically what draws visitors to the ghostly spires and overgrown streets of this abandoned town.

The days of the Briganti and the Risorgimento are relived every summer through the spectacular production, La Storia Bandita at La Grancia Historical Park. 

Thrill seekers will find that Basilicata is not as sedate as you might think.  You can fly like an angel at the Volo del Angelo, a high-flying zipline suspended over a very deep gorge.

And for those of you who missed my two-part rant about how Basilicata gets dissed in the press, be sure to read A Little Misguided and Misinformed, where I declare my undying love in defense of the Motherland. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

Visual Basilicata

I know I've been talking a lot about Basilicata lately.  Only natural, since I just returned and am giddy over the place.  As I read through some of my previous posts from years past, I realize that words just don't do it all justice.  I can utilize every adjective at my disposal ,but the astounding beauty and my visceral reaction to it cannot be fully experienced through black typeface on a white page.

That's why today I'm giving you the visual experience of this place that has captured my heart.  Maybe by looking at photos, watching videos, and seeing the webcams you'll understand why I love it so!

 The whole landscape of Lucania is covered by fantastic photos and maps on this shutterbug site.

Valle dell'Agri.  An agriturismo site that put up a lovely slideshow of the seasonally-changing vistas of the Agri River valley.

Basilicata Autentica. Francis Ford Coppola describes why his ancestral region is such a great place...good enough for him to invest heavily in the reconstruction of a palazzo that will soon open as a hotel.

Basilicata in Scena.  Clever marketing video assembled by the Region of Basilicata, comparing its gems to the most important places around the world.

Matera Webcams.   I love looking at webcams, especially those that have a birdseye view onto a piazza.  Matera boasts two.  It's *almost* like being there.  Okay, not really.  You can't smell the coffee or hear the chatter and church bells, but they're fun to watch anyway, especially during the passeggiata.

One webcam is set up above Piazza Vittorio Veneto, while the other is mounted in Piazza del Sedile.  (I discovered that it is raining in Matera today, just like it is here in Virginia.)

The Anzi page on Facebook has some gorgeous photos of that hamlet (which is one of my ancestral villages), including a picture taken at a festa that happened to capture Bryan and me in the shot!

Enjoy the spectacular scenery!

Saturday, March 13, 2010


My first impression of Potenza several years ago was not a favorable one.  Viewed from the valley as we exited the autostrada to find our way up into the mountains toward my ancestral villages, all I noticed was the industrial gloom and railway tracks.  Looking up toward the city didn't improve my impression much; modern, concrete, glass.  Not much charm, I thought.  I was relieved to get into the placid heights and sheep-strewn hills.

I admit that my second and third encounters with the city that is the capital of the Basilicata region as well as of the Potenza province didn't do much to raise my opinion, either.  While spending several weeks in the area last year, Bryan and I made some forays into town only to find ourselves perpetually lost in the swirling maze of a nonsensical street pattern.  Impatient, horn-blowing drivers and misguided signage prevented us from reaching the centro storico.  We gave up in frustration and fled back to the tranquil agriturismo, cursing the obviously sadistic engineer who laid out the current streets and wondering why anyone would want to live in the tenement-like housing blocks we had seen.

It ought to be beautiful.  Potenza is Italy's highest regional capital at 819 meters (nearly 2700 feet) and is nearly encircled by the Appenine Mountains.  Originally inhabited by the ancient Lucani people, it came under Roman control and dubbed Potentia.  The famed via Appia which connected Rome to Brindisi crosses Potenza. 

The area saw nearly constant invasions: the Samnites, the Goths, Lombards, Saracens, Normans, French and Spanish.  It was heavily bombed by the Allies during WWII.  When the poor place wasn't being sacked, pillaged, invaded, raided, dominated or bombed, it was rattled by earthquakes, the most recent a devastingly strong one in 1980 that left much of Potenza in rubble.  The subsequent antiseismic reconstruction measures sacrificed charm for security, giving the city its current, unattractive aspect.

But, as I discovered with Napoli, there is more than meets the eye on an initial encounter.  Once I procured a decent map of the town and consulted with some locals, I found that Potenza isn't as dreary and disorderly as originally perceived.  There is history hidden behind its modern, ungainly facade.  In fact, the lofty centro storico is downright delightful.

Potenza wraps itself around the hill that it occupies.  Stretched along the ridgetop is the long and narrow historical center which is most easily reached by a series of escalators, a less frustrating arrival than the twisty streets.  (There are escalators on both the north and south sides of the city.) 

Once on top of the hill we found medieval city gates, narrow pedestrial lanes, attractive stone buildings and pretty palazzi.  There is a snazzy shopping street boasting cute cafes, and in the main piazza we found a compact but elegantly-outfitted opera theatre complete with velvet-trimmed boxes encircling the interior.  there is an impressive archeological museum.

The charming, narrow via Pretoria wends across the crest, giving way to piazzas and pedestrian alleys along the route.  We peeked into the courtyards of centuries-old palaces while browsing shop windows.  This is the site of the impressive evening passeggiata, that daily ritual of roaming the streets to meet friends and be seen.  Potenza's is vibrant and vociferous.  The city is also home to a large university as well as a prestigious music conservatory, which lend a youthful air to the place.

I was glad to find such a friendly and lively heart.  It is the closest city of substance to Lucanella, and we'll no doubt find ourselves there frequently for services that our village lacks.  While much of the town's commercial activity is in the lower, sprawled-out industrial area, it is nice to know there is still history and a sense of community and a gathering spot for the Potentini despite the glass and concrete cloak.

Potenza will never have the eternal appeal of Matera; it can't, given its spine-shattering past.  But it is growing on me. After a few visits the roads that seemed so confusing started to make sense to me, and I came to appreciate how quickly we could get out of the city and into the countryside.  In just minutes the residents can leave the asphalt jungle for high, forested mountains with tranquil trails, pristine air and ethereal views.  Potenza is not so bad after all.

Related links:

Photos of Potenza by a local

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Village

The village is small, just about 600 inhabitants.  A friend quipped that we're raising the number to 602.  While it's a little joke it is also a small point of pride because in these parts and all throughout the Mezzogiorno, small towns like this are losing population numbers annually as kids go away to college in the north and others seek work in industrial centers throughout Europe, never to return to their roots.  Those who remain are somewhat resigned, shrugging sadly and sighing, "Beh, e' cosi'" (It's how it is) - while wishing otherwise.

We are rather surprised that more people don't live here because it is within commuting distance to Potenza, which is both the Regional and Provincial capital.  The village is certainly much more picturesque and less costly, but apparently city living is more attractive than hamlet life.

Not to us.  We like the piccoli paesi with their medieval centers, sinewy pedestrian-only streets, and friendly shopkeepers.  We like that the caffe owner already knows us - and how we prefer our caffe' (or the locally-loved espressino, as the case may be), and like exchanging a few words with Giovanni at the little supermercato while stocking up on meal provisions.  And this level of familiarity is after an all-too brief visit; I have been shopping at the same stores here in Viriginia for several months without a single employee recognizing me, greeting me warmly, or even attempting anything akin to an actual conversation.

Our village may be small but it is not spartan.  It has practically everything we need for daily life; the necessities that we can't find here can be procured in Potenza.  There are three bars, two food shops, and a fruit and veggie store, along with a butcher, a baker, and an iron-works maker.  They have a respectable weekly mercato, and a pretty piazza for gathering and gabbing.

The views from the ridgetop are mesmerizing.  Verdant, thickly-forested mountains unfold into thin, jagged gorges.  Birds with differing songs raise harmonized chirpings in the chill morning sun.  Hawks and falcons dance on the wind currents.  Faint fluffs of clouds skid along the peaks and tuck into hillside folds and hang suspended above the river valley.  Distant sheep bells clatter a rhythmic melody.

We have been hesitant to put the name "out there"; once it's online it can't be erased.  We have decided to call the village Lucanella.  Being newcomers into such a small town we don't want to publicize the real name of the village, unsure of how our fellow townsfolk would react to internet publicity.  We would never want them to think we're patronizing or exploiting them.  Besides, at the moment we feel rather possessive, and kind of like it being our little secret.

Lucanella will be home...one day.  For the moment our bodies are in Virginia, but our hearts are on that hilltop.  I close my eyes and I can hear the tinny clang of the church bells.  I can see the barista's smiling face and feel her warm and enthusiastic embrace when I told her we purchased the appartamento.  I walk through the streets in my nearly-asleep state each evening and say buona notte to the sheep in the valley below.  But I'm not asleep, it's not a dream.  Lucanella is real...it has already become a part of us, and we are slowly becoming a part of the village, as well.