Sunday, February 1, 2009

The trip to Gricignano

Walking off the base does not immediately place one in an Italian town -- a highway and farm fields intervene. The shortest way requires crossing a highway overpass that has no sidewalk, essentially a death-defying act with Italian drivers. Indeed, I have yet to hear of another American travelling by foot into the town.  But I had spotted what looked like a pedestrian pathway over the highway and I was determined that we would try it. 

We set out after lunch yesterday. Emily, Quinn, and Lily gamely dashed across the busy roundabout out the front gate and started up the narrow paved pathway set between farmland and a used car lot. We got to the center of the overpass just as a farm tractor came barrelling down the path, causing us to stand precariously backed against the low fence as the cars raced beneath us. I had a white-knuckle grip on Lily and Quinn. 

Once on the other side of the bridge, the path meandered through farm fields with small orchards, vineyards, fields . . . we must have passed about 20 or so individually fenced plots of an acre or two, each with its own improvised shed. The bucolic experience was blighted by the usual trash heaps. They really annoy me -- at least these were not recent enough to be reeking, but it just says something you don't want to hear that foul trash heaps are accepted practice almost everywhere you look. 
The kids, though, had adjusted to the status quo more easily than I and were mostly interested in what would eventually be growing on the various rows of bare-limbed trees and vines.
 Midway, we were greeted with obsequious delight by a little dog alone on one the plots . . . he ran whimpering along the fence as we walked by. The kids stopped several times to pet him. And he looked after us forlornly once we had passed his little domain.
Finally we reached a regular roadway and headed toward what I thought was the town center and the little cafe -- the Dom  Perignon -- where we had stopped for pastries once when we had wheels. The sidewalks were cluttered with trash and often ended unexpectedly. We marched past many enclosed "parcos," a church with a rather over-the-top painted crucifix and mourning Madonna (Lily asked "Mommy, who is that with Jesus?"),  and a cemetery liberally festooned with plastic flowers. Emily and Quinn began to ask about turning back . . . maybe it was the fresh pile of dirty disposable diapers lying in the middle of the sidewalk at that point. But forge on we did. 
At last we came to the turn which I knew led to the cafe. It was just three short dusty blocks past a few little shops and trattorias to the well-appointed Dom Perignon. Lovely marble floors and wood framed windows, big and brightly lit cases for the amazing assortment of pastries, cakes, and treats, and a lovely coffee bar with a friendly 
staff, wicker chairs and marble-top tables . . . AN OASIS!
We ordered a "caffe, due ciocolattes, and un arranchiata" -- an espresso for me, hot chocolate for Quinn and Lily, and an orange soda for Emily. We were promptly satisfied. Hot chocolate in Italy is essentially a melted chocolate bar embellished with whipped cream and a cookie. They were so rich that Lily couldn't finish hers. Quinn had no such trouble. Oh, his big chocolate grin at the end . . . why didn't I get
 a shot of it.
Fortified for the trek home, we purchased pastries for an evening treat which were placed on a gold tray, covered with a lovely clear wrapping and then wrapped again in silver wrapping paper with purple script on it. It is all in the wrapping! 
Feeling optimistic, I decided to try the quick way home and brave the regular vehicle overpass. As we traversed the seven or so blocks between the cafe and the overpass my confidence wavered and I began to think we should turn back and take the long way home. I anxiously pondered a strategy for the crossing. We stopped briefly for me to get a shot of the only whimsical morsel of refuse we saw along the way -- a tiny plastic scooter leaning against a fence. As we approached the overpass and the sidewalk ended, I determined that we would walked facing the traffic on the left side with Emily first, then Quinn, Lily, and me last so I could grab them to the side if I needed to. Emily said, "Mom, we are going to die." I replied with a laugh, " No we
 are not . . . people always walk across this bridge." But my confidence was false. I held up the flashy pastry package like a lantern over our heads and put my right arm out in warning and protection beside Lily and Quinn. The crossing was fraught with speeding cars and buses that didn't give us much margin. I got several perplexed glares from drivers and, of course, many exasperated backward glances from Emily. But she led us swiftly and confidently to the other side -- and wryly remarked that she couldn't "wait to tell Dad about how you almost killed us."
But we had made it across safely and it was only a short scamper to the base's front gate. I felt elated -- we had done it!
And that night, we crowned our dinner of roast chicken, braised red cabbage, avocado vinagrette, and a warm baguette with our Dom Perignon pastries. Sweet victory and just desserts!