You can’t go home for the first time

Tom Wolfe said you can’t go home again, I didn’t have all that much fun going “home”, where my grandparents came from, for the first time.

San Demetrio Corone is quite a bit south of Amalfi, situated in the instep of the boot, high in the hills bordering the Ionian Sea.  Just getting from our apartment to the freeway is a slow trudge, 20 km of narrow winding road that took 45 minutes to traverse.

Once on the A3, the main north/south freeway in Italy, things speeded up, a lot.  With no speed limits that anyone can discern, I was moving along at 140 to 175 km/hr, which is 85 to 105 mph.  That little BMW we rented makes the most of its diesel motor.  Google maps in my iPhone announce the turns and we were having a great time.

This would have been easy, but there was a 30km stretch where the road went down to 1 lane because they are completely rebuilding it.  There are many, many tunnels here as the road slices through the mountains, and the Italians are not just remodeling the old ones, they are building brand new, wider, beautifully lit tunnels to match the new, wider, smoother roads.  This is a multi-billion Euro project, in a bankrupt nation.  At least they don’t have to waste any money on a defense budget, the USA takes care of that, don’t ask me why.

Then came the turnoff from the freeway, and things went straight downhill.  The phone couldn’t get a signal in the boonies, and I had no idea how to find the tiny burg we were headed to.  I’d drive this way for a while, then ask somebody, who didn’t speak English.  Much pointing, and I’d drive the other way for a while.  No maps available in the gas stations.  I don’t handle frustration well.  Gail was getting hungry.  This had definitely stopped being fun.

Finally, in one of the larger of the little towns we stumbled into, I got a signal on Gail’s phone and found our way.  12 km up a narrow road we arrived at this:

You won't guess the second language here.

You won’t guess the second language here, but “Shen Miter” is the name of the town.

It turns out the most of the residents here are bilingual–they speak Arbëreshë, a dialect of Albanian maintained from the time in the 1400’s when Albanians fleeing the Ottoman invasion emigrated to Italy.  My father’s first language was Albanian, learned from his grandmother until he was 4; now I understand the background.

I had great romantic hopes of a quaint, romantic village in the hills with a cozy town square where we could eat lunch.  Not to be.

We had a nice lunch, where the waitress spoke good English, but that’s because she was educated in Germany.  I never really found much of a town square.  I was hoping for old buildings and narrow streets, and found a few, but mostly found more modern apartments.  San Demetrio is a town of 3000 people in the winter and 7000 in the summer, when it fills with tourists taking a slow month of their generous European vacation time.

I found one square, with a WWI monument:



Notice that there isn’t much happening.  I think that’s the norm.  This is the definition of a sleepy little village.

Some kind of municipal building, I think.

Some kind of municipal building, I think.

I just like the sculpture in front:

Poseidon?  An Albanian king?  I have no idea and there was no plaque.

Poseidon? An Albanian king? I have no idea and there was no plaque.

I saw one large church, so I stopped in.   To my surprise, it wasn’t a Catholic church but rather Greek Orthodox (I think).

Not the church I expected

Not the church I expected

We had been on the road seemingly forever, I was tired and cranky from the GPS fiasco, there was a long drive home and I just couldn’t work up the enthusiasm for more exploring, so we headed back.  The trip I had been thinking of to the land of my forebears was considerably less than my expectations.

At least the ride home was good–less traffic through the construction zone, and I got braver about the high speeds, once making it to 195 kph, or 121 miles an hour.  That didn’t last long, but it sure was fun.

There was an interesting ship in the harbor–a modern, three masted sailing vessel.  We never decided if it was a private yacht or a cruise ship, but it was certainly beautiful:

A sight you rarely see.

A sight you rarely see.

Demi and Chloe cooked us up a feast at home last night, as good as anything we have had outside.   I missed my nap with all that driving, so it was early to bed.  More fun to be had tomorrow.


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