Franco is our B&B host. A small slim man, dark-haired with an olive-color face with some hair under the eyes, on the cheek bone; he is about 60 and a nurse when he doesn’t host. We booked one of his two apartments in Matera. Two days before we arrived he wrote us in some weird English, even Google Translate does better – but we did understand the message: ‘the sassi is closed after 5:00 pm.’ He had to fetch us outside of it to take us inside. If you have never been to Matera it sounds like gibberish. Eventually we received a call in the early afternoon of our planned arrival. It was a woman because ‘Franco only speaks Italian’. We told her we would arrive between 6:30 pm and 7:00 pm. She mentioned that we should give him a call then and he would pick us up Via Piave. Which number – asked the GPS-equipped me? Via Piave, she repeated. Intersection with which street? Via Piave, at the street light. So we understood there might only be one street light on this street. Indeed it was quite easy to find our host pacing around the street light. We speak some Italian so we managed fine. He told us to park our car where he had saved us a spot.
We asked if we could buy vegetables on our way to the apartment – since we had just purchased fresh seafood in Gallipoli: shrimp, clams, mussels, squid… He asked if we needed garlic. We answered that since we loved to cook, we always travel with a good knife and garlic! He understood we wanted to make a small home of his apartment and was quite amused. I believe this is what prompted his future generous behavior towards us. He asked if we needed olive oil and white wine and offered to give us some since the tiny vegetable store only sold a few vegetables. We accepted sheepishly but happily. We asked Franco if he knew a guide to take us around the area the next day. He said he would look into it. When he came back with olive oil and wine from his home, some houses above ours, he said he would take us around himself. ‘Are you sure?’, we asked slightly embarrassed. ‘Yes, tomorrow afternoon’, he answered with a smile and he left. That night in our grotto in ‘biblical’ Matera my husband cooked a fantastic meal, pasta al frutti di mare. Our digestive walk gave us a glimpse of this wonderful big village.
Matera is built on several hills: to go anywhere will never be straight nor flat. The pavement is very uneven, streets go up, down, swerve, continue as stairs … most of the interesting part is pedestrian. That Sunday morning we were ready to spend the entire day discovering the Sassi. We climbed to the Duomo (cathedral), went down on the other side of the hill to see the Santa Lucia monastery. From there we admired the canyon, the Gravina River and the troglodytes on the mountain on the other side of the canyon. Then we visited the San Pietro church where movies have been filmed. After this we visited a sort of museum, a house in a grotto as they used to live with animals inside, bed very high to be far from the humidity, tools on the walls, very small kitchen and no bathroom.
We came back via the Medieval Art Museum and the Purgatory Church which has an unusual rounded façade. After Piazza Sedile we went in a small tunnel and emerged just above Via Fiorentini, near where we stayed. We needed to have lunch to be ready for our visit with Franco.
To be continued …