Sunday, April 27, 2014

Travel Notes Italy

Kufstein: Berlin has become the laughing stock of Europe, for its inability to build the new international airport. The BER originally was scheduled to open southeast of the capital in 2012, but the opening has been delayed due to faulty fire prevention systems and other logistical fuck-ups. Planning councils and construction managers came and went. The current manager’s main goal seems to be to NOT commit to an opening date, so he won’t get blamed for not meeting it. Our waiter in the local food restaurant in Kufstein, Austria, upon hearing we were from Berlin, told us that at this point it would probably be easier to tear down Berlin and rebuild it next to a functioning airport, than to finish BER. Haha.

We had a heavy, southern dinner - Spätzle, roast deer and the likes. Kufstein is a small town on the Inn River, with a mighty castle on a huge riverside rock towering over everything. The river was the only way to get through this part of the alps, and apparently the castle on the rock was used to blackmail heavy taxes from those trying to pass through. 

Late that night, Rory got locked out of the hotel when he went to get something from the car. After a while he slipped back in, behind a group of freaky people wearing something like part lucha libre/ part heavy metal outfits. We decided, once and for all, that Austrians are weird. Their airports are nothing to write home about either, right? Have you ever had to stop at an Austrian airport?

Montegabbiano: The thing I love most about central Italy is that you can drive off the highway at any point, follow the most intriguing road up the hill and then look for a sign that says “Agriturismo”. You drive up some dirt road to an old farmhouse, and you will get a cute, cozy room and a dinner made from food all produced on the premises. I have never been disappointed with this travel method. You don’t need a reservation, because there a so many of these places, and they are all good. On our way down to Southern Italy this time we stayed at this little place just across the Tuscan Umbrian line, in the province of Orvieto, called Il Gatto Giallo. The owner of this well-run business was a good looking young man named Alessandro, who appeared to be about 22 years old. Despite the fact that the restaurant had catered the police departments of the three surrounding towns for the local election that day, and had a dinner party of 15 headed by a big shot journalist that night, they dragged two extra beds into the last remaining apartment and fed us a dinner of homemade prosciutto, cheese and salamis, roast duck with fave beans, linguini with fresh crab and their own wine. It rained hard all night. In the morning we got hot brioches, fresh fruit and the best coffee I had in years. 

I took an early morning walk from the Agriturismo.
A view of solar fields and beyond.

Hedge Dolphins

And off to the south we went.

Battipaglia: when we first drove through this southern Italian city on our way to the beach town of Santa Maria, it felt distinctly like being on our way to San Carlos in Mexico. Run down stores, feral street dogs, garbage, peeling signs, abandoned buildings, all this right next to the fields that grow much of the vegetables for people and countries north of here. 

Italy (along only with Spain and Greece) features all three economic development categories created by the EU. These are determined by how a region’s per capita gross domestic product relates to the EU average. The categories have fancy names, but essentially they describe poor, developing and rich. The “poor” category means the region is under 75% of the average GDP – this is true for all five southern Italian states.  As a result, more funding goes to these areas, as part of the EU Structural and Rural Development Funds. You’ll see the “made possible by EU funds” signs featuring the golden stars on blue everywhere: bridges, roads, archeological sites, restored buildings, small business start-ups, environmental clean-ups, you name it. Despite the money, (29 billion Euros over the next 7 years for Italy) and the resulting infrastructure projects for the area, Italians have grown weary of the EU, and especially the austerity policies imposed by Germany on the failing EU economies. We saw this poster for the upcoming EU Parliament Elections.


The group Italia dei Valori, advocates for Italy remaining in the EU, but for not “becoming Germany”.

Anyway, Battipaglia was ugly, and we were glad to go south to Santa Maria, which is much prettier. The region has one thing going for it, economically, and that is Mozzarella made from Buffalo milk. Several large farms are located along the road between Agropoli and Battipaglia. This cheese, no older than three hours when you buy it at the store or the farm, is the best, most subtly creamy tasting dairy product you will ever have.

But the next day, when we drove back up that way to pick up Charlie from the train station, a Mozzarella truck hit us from behind, putting a huge dent in the brand new rental and a big shock into the kids. Unphased, a few days later, we drove that way again and visited one of the Mozzarella farms, petted the gentle buffaloes and had buffalo yogurt.

Cilento: This whole area, sort of the peninsula south of the gulf of Salerno, is called the Cilento, and it is very, very beautiful. It is a UNESCO world heritage site, and includes Paestum, and ancient greek settlement which was later taken over by the Romans. You can see greek temples next to the foundations of Roman houses. 

Castelabbate is one of the most beautiful medieval mountain top borgos in Italy, with its little viccolos and breathtaking views down to the valley and the Mediterranean Sea at sunset. 
View from Castelabbate-
This totally looks like the ocean should be flooding into the valley

Santa Maria below is the little seaside town where I had found a beachside condo complex that on the internet looked pretty close to our beloved Condominios Pilar in San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico. It was indeed nice, with a big pool, a clean beach and a simple condo. The difference: it cost four times the rent and the resort was completely inhabited by Germans with tons of little kids, who were entertained by a child care person that was part of their travel package. It was totally like being in Berlin Prenzlauer Berg. To complete this impression, it rained most of the time, too. Oh well.

Santa Paolina: The hometown of Charlie’s grandfather Giovanni Aufiero, located in the beautiful green mountains of Campania, has 1,500 inhabitants today. Never a center of major economic activity (between 1880 and 1920 more than half the male population from here migrated to the US, fleeing extreme poverty, natural disasters and overpopulation), this time we felt and heard about “la crisi”, the recession, and how it affects everyone, including the people in our extended family here. 

Charlie’s cousins, all retired from public service jobs and living in their own houses, are doing fine. But those of their children who remained here, and who are now in their thirties and forties, are unemployed, underemployed or without a way to improve their economic situation. Our cousin Agata had to pull her daughter Marianna out of the local elementary school, named after her own late mother, because there were only six kids left in her 2nd grade class, and she was being taught the same stuff as the first graders. Her dad Luigi is down to working 5-6 days per month for a subcontractor of the FIAT factory in nearby Avellino. Almost no young people are left in Santa Paolina. People talk about migrating again, this time to Germany. After talking to the other cousin (also named Agata, distinguished by the adjective “piccola”), who never finished her law degree after getting pregnant with her daughter, I could feel the collective depression the village is in – she halfheartedly assured me she would continue to study after the baby starts going to daycare in September. Towards what future was not apparent….

To this day, people here love America… and dislike the Germans. Cousin Felice, the official town historian, showed us the evidence of the switching of this particular alliance in 1945: the blacked out house number on this old building in Santa Paolina featured the sign of Mussolini’s fascist party. It was quickly painted over during the hours between the retreat of the German troups and the arrival of the Americans. 

Immediately after the end of the war, the family members that had migrated to New York sent care packages to Santa Paolina every few days. In the fifties and later, the expatriate Italians sent money to pay for the floors and the stained glass windows of the church, and for the annual Festa of the Santa Paolina. Ties with the US are strong to this day. New Americans show up several times a year, trying to find their family roots. Felice helps most of them, despite his total lack of English.

One ancient man we talked to in the street, unaware of our German origins, said that Germany had taken over the world with military means in the 1930ies, and was now doing the same with economic means through the EU. It was like his horrible historic memories had come full circle.  Meanwhile the EU helps to pay for the village water drainage system, assuring that the whole place doesn't go downhill with the next rain. That's not as popular as church stuff, I guess. 

Santa Paolina church community getting ready for the procession
 of the Madonnina del Rosario on Easter Monday

Fano: On the way back up north, we decided to check out the “east coast” and stopped in a totally nonfamous town called Fano, just north of Ancona. We checked into a seaside hotel and after an affordable seafood dinner slept to the sound of the Adriatic sea. We spent the morning walking around the historic center of this buzzing, lively town, which combines a seaside port, ancient roman walls, beautiful renaissance architecture, a huge market (apparently on Wednesdays, we were lucky), surprising numbers of inhabitants on bicycles, and tons of cool little stores, cafes and bars. No tourists. Which proves again that traveling anywhere off the beaten path in Italy is so much more rewarding than the Venice-Florence-Rome stress tour.
Bressanone/Brixen: Going back north towards Germany, you have to pass though an Alpine region called Alto Adige or Südtirol, in German. It stretches across Italy and Austria and is bilingual Italian and German. You would think that this eases one back gently into the German world, but it really is quite sudden and feels uncomfortably more German than Germany. This area is very much hidden away in the mountains, conservative, old style, and the southern dialect sounds funny to the kids. Brixen is a pretty historic town of 20,000, still in Italy, surrounded by snow-covered mountains, featuring a huge cathedral, picturesque town square and expensive stores catering to the wealthy mountain climbing and skiing crowd. Tired of driving, we stopped and checked into a little Gasthof where we also had a simple dinner.

Tomorrow night we will be back in Berlin – the capital of the most powerful and wealthy nation in Europe, of the EU bully…..that still can’t figure out how to finish building its airport.

courtesy by Sven Giessen,
found here:

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