All our roads go nowhere.
Maps are curled
To keep the pavement definitely
On the world.
All our footsteps, set to make
Lapse into arcs in deference
All our journeys nearing Space
Skirt it with care,
Shying at the distances
Present in air.
Blithely travel-stained and worn,
Erect and sure,
All our travels go forth,
Making down the roads of Earth
On inhabiting an Orange Josephine Miles
I drove her home, heated seats on, blanket over her knee, the snow falling gently whitening the landscape.
I was pleased she was coming home but felt a huge responsibility as I walked her into the house, settled her in her chair and put the kettle on. I stayed that night but didn’t sleep a wink. It felt like having a new baby except this was different in that I hadn’t planned for this, no discussion, no gestation, no organising my life for the next few years around this. This had happened to me and there was no choice in this new lifestyle. The following weeks were tough, physically demanding on her and me, emotionally draining on her and me, as we went through the trauma of more falls, more ambulance call outs, more pains, more degeneration of an already frail body. I tried my best to be upbeat and take it all on the chin but as the only family member left, I felt it hard. After months of experiencing a freedom like I had never known, every minute of the day with my captain to, in a day, being on my own and totally tied to this situation. J had returned to the boat after a week at home, to deal with the repairs sustained during the Malta squall, leaving me to look after Mum. We spoke every day and I tried hard to sound positive and in control but every now and then my voice would break and it would all flood out. I felt guilty to feel sorry for myself, it was Mum who was suffering and I knew how hard all this was for her, the dependence on others, the help required to remain at home and the relinquishing, to some extent, of her way of living.
I drove home late at night after another tough day dealing with incontinence, cleaning, laundry, emotion, cooking, supporting, walked into my lounge and poured a glass of red, looking at the rain streaming down the window. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I had been so enjoying our idyllic lifestyle on the boat, slow wakening in our bunks, sun streaming through the hatches, breakfast of fresh fruits up on deck, cycles to the pastry shop, coffees in the cafes, walks on the beaches and evenings inside, sharing pastas or pizzas watching movies snuggling in together. The “pause” button had been pressed and I was not sure if the “play” or Stop” button would be pressed next.
We left Spinoso, happy memories made, new clothes in the boot of our Fiat Panda, bread and cheese on the back seat and the sat nav perched on the dash leading us to our next stop. Matera. I had read a bit about this fascinating but melancholy town. I had seen it on a BBC documentary and it was only when I researched the Airbnb site and came across a flat for rent there, I remembered about it.
“Oh can we go there?” I had asked excitedly. “What is it? “ J asked suspiciously, afraid it was another Amalfi type place that he really was averse to.
“It’s a world UNESCO site, recent historical significance, a city made of stone, that is what Sassi means stone and the poor people had to live in caves hollowed out the cliffs along with their animals and when this was discovered, after the war, the homes were improved and people moved into better housing, I think it’d be really interesting to go there”
Agreed, accommodation booked and soon we arrived in the modern area of the city and met our host who showed us to a room in a shared flat, although there was no one else staying that night. We were to take breakfast at the café below us on the street. We walked into the “old” part that evening and soon got a taste of this incredible place. Built into, not onto, a hillside, a tumbling array of stone buildings and caves, some chic and trendy, some basic, some still being renovated. Many turned into “museums” but I didn’t want to gawk at the displayed misery of people so we elected to wander around admiring the work of social communities to revive the life in this city and turn a tragedy to a success. Apparently, it was now the Airbnb capital of Italy. The night was comfortable as we sat in our room eating bread and cheese from the dressing table, washed down with a decent wine, it was ok.
After our discount coffee and cornetto we walked back to the old part and did the touristy trail, feeling so lucky to be off season as it must be a very different place in the height of the season. We enjoyed a “typical” meal in the heart of the town and paid a typical tourist high price before heading back to the flat for the last night.
“I feel I need to compete with the Princess Diana collection” announced J as he pulled the last remaining strands from the knee of his jeans. Its not often he likes to buy clothes but this was a necessity so we browsed the shops along the street, finding a men’s outfitters. Pair of jeans, plain, good fit, they’ll do, how much? Splutter, cough, gasp £200! We beat a hasty retreat and asked around if there were any discount stores and luckily were directed to an outlet in a basement where he purchased a pair of jeans, plain, good fit, they’ll do, £30! Kaching!
We left this interesting place and drove further south to our last posting. Mammola. Just on the edge of the Aspromonte National Park it ticked all our boxes and we checked into a newly refurbished apartment right in the village square. It was such a novelty for us solitary woodland dwellers to be able to stroll out the front door and amble over the square to a café for cappuccino or the bar for a glass of wine, the restaurant for a pizza and the shops for fresh fruit or bread. I could see the attraction of living in a village or town but when the traffic noise and chimes of the church bells kept us awake, I was grateful for our quiet, dark and secluded Scottish home. This little village was built on the lower slopes of hills that rose steeply up to a knife edged ridge of mountains that snaked their way back from the coast and started the Apennine range winding its way all the way up the centre of Italy to the Alps in the north. The scenery was lovely but you needed to make an effort to climb up and away from the coastal areas and flatter plains, to get an appreciation of the views and alpine like plateaus with farms and pasture lands dominating the landscapes. We took a drive up a tiny one laned road and marveled at the vistas, little albergos along the way and small lakes perched high on these slopes, steep forests carpeting the slopes and churches encouraging the faithful to make the journey heavenwards to worship.
We researched some trails and found a day long walk that promised pretty woodlands, pasture land and hill tops with plenty of interest along the way. Packing a day bag and tying on my boots I was glad of a good walk knowing that soon we would be back on the boat and the hiking would be over for a while. It had been raining a lot so we dodged the mud along the lower paths and teetered over the stepping stones crossing the streams. I still found it odd we were passing oak trees and pines then copses of cacti! There was evidence of wild boar everywhere with the ground ploughed up and little trotter prints all around. The cows ambled along, their bells tinkling, accompanied by those beautiful wolfdogs with their thick white coats and soft faces. As we made our way down the steep paths we could see the Mediterranean sea twinkling through the trees and the farms below, wood smoke rising from the houses and fields as the winter stubble was burned off.
“Wow look at all these oranges!” marvelled J. Here we were in December and the citrus trees were full of lemons and clementines. They were everywhere and the roads were lined with vans selling then directly from their boots.
“I’m going to pick some of these” announced the pirate captain, “They look wild and I don’t think anyone will miss them” I was skeptical but went along with it as he pulled a couple of big orange fruits from the branches. We peeled them quickly and stuffed the huge segments into our mouths – and promptly spat them out! Sour as hell! Must be uncultivated ones and we quickly tossed the few we had smuggled into our rucsac into the ditch and marched on, our cheeks pulled in and tongues numb.
Round the next corner was a little orchard, orange trees planted and fruits hanging.
“Ok let’s try again” J suggested. I was edgy about this “Someone might come and I’ve seen a few vans with dogs and guns!”
“They’re not going to shoot us for taking a few oranges!” laughed the captain, so I had to keep a look out while J climbed the low wall and scuttled over to the tree, opened his rucsac and started pulling the oranges and stuffing them into the bag. Just then I heard van crunching its way along the rough, stony track towards us.
Eek, I ran away and stood at the side of the road, little Miss Innocence just admiring the view, leaving J holding caught orange-handed, an fruit in each hand and glaring at me with a look that burned. Anyway the farmer or assassin, showed no interest as he drove by, his undercarriage scraping the rocks as he edged it over the pot holed road.
“Some Bonnie you are to my Clyde” he spat “You left me!”
“Sorry, I panicked “ I said sheepishly.
Our heart rates calmed we walked on, the bag bulging, our guilt receding.
The next farm looked a busy place with machinery lying around, tractors and carts parked askew in the yard and dogs yapping. We stopped to admire the large cultivated orchards growing lemons, oranges, tangerines and huge pomelos. Just then a smiling lady appeared as we were taking pictures, just pictures, of her amazing produce and we started our pigeon Italian chat. Before we knew it she pulled us into the field and more or less demanded we take some fruit! I have too many she said, please take what you can. Have you a bag? J awkwardly moved the rucsac crammed with illicit contraband, on his back further round his body and we gave a hopeless look so she disappeared into the house and appeared with 2 huge Lidl carriers and promptly started filling them with copious amounts of delicious, shining, fresh fruit. She was delightful and we chatted a while about where we were from and why we were here, not sure she understood about us sailing from Scotland but she was lovely and sent us off feeling extremely guilty for pinching fruit in the first place.
The trip had been amazing, we had met some delightful people and seen some amazing things and had some great experiences. We gorged on sweet juicy fruit for days, squeezed oranges for breakfast for week and even distributed the surplus to friends back at the marina. The beautifully fresh fish purchased from the back of a car parked outside our Mammola flat, with the proverbial fish wife yelling at the top of her voice proclaiming her wares, benefitted from the best lemons wedges on the side.
We arrived back at the marina and trundled our bags back along the pontoon and onto Stravaigin who was safe and untroubled. I unpacked, put away, filled the laundry bags, made the bed, went up on deck to watch the sunset and poured a large gin – with a generous slice of lemon.