The man was sitting in a park watching his dog run up and down the stairs. Above him the towering walls of a former prince’s castle sat majestically filling out the lush green mountainside. It was sunny and warm. About two minutes prior I had stopped to ask a man for some water and now had just ridden under the arch and clock tower of the then nameless town. I stopped at the park thinking that it might be prudent to let my solar charger work on my navigator for a bit and why not have a bit to eat and drink. The heat of riding had certainly taken a bit of hydration and in about three kilometers I would start a six kilometer climb that looked….. interesting.
He looked at me and then my bike and then me and said… well I haven’t a clue what he said. So we exchanged I don’t knows for a bit and he understood that I was heading towards Bari. “Bari!?!” With eyebrows raised and a smile sneaking onto his face. “Bici?!?!” Yes, I said. Then he said that he knew someone that spoke English and would go and get them. It was a jovial exchange that I was happy to play along with in hopes that we may find common words and better understand each other. A woman watched from the shop across the street behind iron gates while a group of boys came up in a car to get gelato, rambunctious and loud. I thought that I should ask to get my other water bottle filled so I called to him as he walked away. Again we exchanged I don’t knows but I showed the water bottle and asked for some water which I actually do know how to say in Italian. He waved me over and said to take my bici. I didn’t want to because I was using the sun to charge my GPS and he was in the shade….. I didn’t say anything. I just took my bike into the shade…..And then the rest of my day happened.
We walked to a set of doors in a row of doors. We waited outside after he called to someone. It was a bit but finally his daughter emerged and we began to speak. I told her as she translated that I was just from Napoli this morning and had my sights set on Avellino for the night but as the day was getting on I wanted to know what the climb was like. We talked about home and Europe and getting to know you type of stuff. It wasn’t more than a few minutes before she said something to him and then asked if I would like some coffee or needed anything. I do love the coffee here and thought that chatting a bit more would be nice as they both looked interested and that made me excited to share. In we went.
I can’t begin to express my gratitude and appreciation for the way I was treated from then all the way until I left this morning. It blew my mind, warmed my heart and at times I thought I would burst with joy as I contemplated whether this was a dream. It wasn’t 10 minutes before the lady of the house was cooking meat over their fire, bringing coffee, water, wine, salad, cooked vegetables, quiche; and I was singing songs with my guitar while we all sat using Anna to help us connect across language barriers. Anna played a song, I played harmonica, the dog fidgeted, Eduardo smiled. The smile we both shared when we realized both our names are Eduardo was wonderful. Whenever I saw him after that I would say “Ciao Eduardo!” And we would both smile. I played House of the Rising Sun and he knew it enough to sing along and we all, I think, felt happy to be in that moment.
After awhile we talked about what I would do for the day and night. They said the climb to Avellino was long and arduous. I conceded that this being my first day riding in two weeks could prove the climb to be more than I was prepared to complete in the amount of daylight left.
I took a picture of this arch and clock tower when I was coming into town. Just after is where I met Eduardo.
They have a small apartment IN the tower and to my complete surprise, offered it to me for the night. Speechless, I think I managed some words but mostly just felt my cheeks start to get sore from smiling so much. It was decided that Anna and Alejandro would show me around the city of Lauro and after, we would prepare the room.
“We” actually meant that Alle and I would hang out and sing and talk while the room was prepared. Eduardo showed me the space. Low hanging orange and lemon trees invited me into the citrus smelling gated driveway to the side of the clock tower. Inside, the perfect space. Nothing more could I need or want. Even beer, just sitting there! Asking me to have a little taste.
It was so endearing and warm, as the room was prepared and I could move my stuff in, all four walked with me and came in as I gushed about how much I couldn’t thank them enough and smiled and smiled.
We would play and sing and talk and drink the rest of the night. Homemade Limoncello, the absolute best I have ever tasted (and for the record, this is my second tour of Italy and I have tasted A LOT), a coffee walnut liquor also homemade, rivaling the limoncello, wine made from a family friend, pizza, a family friend that played guitar and sang Polish song, an entire afternoon and evening of hospitality and warmth that will stay with me forever. An experience I couldn’t possibly do justice with words, though one that is absolutely worthy of trying.
In the morning, coffee, eggs, bread, warm milk, homemade jam, fresh squeezed orange juice. Anna reminded me of the words I had learned the night before. “You DO speak Italian!!” she would say incredulously when I would spout my basic knowledge. A good laugh to be sure.
I’ll admit that times of this trip have been trying and difficult emotionally and my spirits have wavered from time to time. In Palermo, I was going to send some stuff home to lighten my load. The hours on the internet said open until 13:30. I arrived at 12:45. Closed. I checked some restaurants I wanted to eat at. Closed. Closed. Closed. Frustrated I thought: Am I even supposed to be here? Things keep falling apart. I’m doing the best I can. Instead of hitting the road at 6:30 like I wanted, I’ll now have to wait for the the Poste Italiane to open at 8:30. Then I was at the wrong one, so I had to go to Centrale. Took awhile. But in fact, had I not departed when I did, Eduardo would not have been there walking Sissi and this story would never have happened. I’ve known this lesson in my life over and over again. I don’t know why I forgot it. But I remembered. And remembered how grateful I am every time I get to re-learn it.
So I tried to pay. For ANYTHING. Even the pizza or a beer for Alle. The way he would say no makes me laugh right now. It wasn’t presumptuous. It wasn’t anything. It wasn’t long or drawn out with an explanation. I would beg to please let me buy these beers. No. Not authoritative. Not pushy or unappreciative. Just no. Nope. We can discuss more but the answer is no and you can tell by my tone that I don’t mean anything else other than “no.” Welcome to Italy.