Italy’s Deep South

April 8, 2019

The 12:10 to Villa San Giovanni  

Great views of the Mediterranean all the way down Italy’s shin bone

We were getting out of Naples, but not on time. Our first look at the board when we arrived at the train station was that our Frecciabianca was running 45 minutes late. Two days earlier, our train into Naples was reported 10 minutes, then 15 and finally 20 minutes late, before chugging in at 30 minutes retardi. Therefore, I dubbed the 45 minutes I saw on the board in Naples as Italian Train Time (ITT), and I told Carol, “We’ll be lucky if it’s an only an hour late.”

The Strait of Messina, with Messina on the horizon, and a hint of Charybdis (the whirlpool) in mid photo

We were not lucky, and we finally pulled out of Naples an hour and a half after schedule. But it was a first class compartment for the four-hour trip down Italy’s shin bone to the nail of her big toe, otherwise known as Villa San Giovanni. My fingers were crossed that I’d not be duplicating the shabbiness of Naples by choosing a small village town just across the Strait of Messina from Sicily for a planned five-day stay. I could feel my grip on Carol’s confidence slipping after Naples, especially as she perused the map and saw what a blip Giovanni was. That the town was also located in the very jaws of Homer’s infamous sea monsters Scylla and Charybdis was helpfully lost on both of us at the time. Yet, I still felt I’d possibly put myself between a rock and a hard place.

“If pizzas were manhole covers, life would be a paradise.” (Ed Norton, “The Honeymooners”)

But the trainside scenery was right up Carol’s alley: coastal mountains and hilltop villages on our left, giving way to the cobalt blue Mediterranean on our right. In the last hour of the trip, the barista in the club car rewarded my wine purchase with an armload of free snacks that took us the rest of the way to our destination with enough left over to stock our room for the next couple of days.

Sarah Palin might be able to see Russia from her house, but we could see Sicily from our balcony

Cosimo, our most unctuous host, found us at the train station, and saved us yet another merry-go-round of orientation looking for a street sign to point us in walking direction to the hotel. Our penchant for stumbling upon points of interest by simply wandering about held firm, and we discovered a wonderful promenade along the town’s waterfront that featured Sicily’s Messina coastline off our left shoulders. There was a well-regarded pizza restaurant just around the corner from our B&B, and a couple of others nearby. And then Carol discovered (about Carol’s independent research, more later) a butcher shop that doubled as a steak restaurant less than a five-minute walk away. With mealtime resolved for the next five days, I could sit back and let Carol fill in all the time that occurs in between eating in Italy.

I was to learn from companion reading that this southern region of Italy (referred to as mezzogiorno, or “ land of the midday sun,” mostly because of the region’s relentless heat) is not well regarded by the northern portion of Italy (Rome is the border) in much the same way that our own Deep South is deprecated by Northerners in the States. In fact, northern Italians take it a rotten pomodoro deeper. When writer Joseph Luzzi told a fellow train traveler he was headed to visit his family’s roots in Calabria, she responded, “That’s Africa, not Italy.”

Travel offers perspective: the farther you go, the more things remain the same.

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