Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Odour of Bari

(Provoked upon first living in Bari.
Hyperbolic culture shock.)

That stern Southern Italian frown.
Tight as a boot down in the
snow-wracked winter of Bari.

Dog shit cakes the street.
Stern men and severe women barge
past with umbrellas. Eyes down,
downtown in the grey gloom of Bari.

Choruses of atonal car horns.
Air of diesel coffee nicotine;
walls dyed in graffiti, declaring
in the dismal streets of Bari:

Bronx of the South!

Our 'play' Thing,
Arsehole of the south.
A without toliet seat city.

Achilles bloody heel.

- It would be down right insulting for me not to mention that I met some of the kindest and beautiful people in Bari - Ida, Valentina, Claudia, Gianni, Salva, Luca, Lino...and many, many more. When I arrived in Bari, it was experiencing (and would go on experiencing for 3 more months) a terrible winter, and the first month I spent there I was without work, living in relative misery, with no media (a gift really, not to be enslaved by it), no radiators, a crap dilapidated kitchen, and a poor grasp of the language. All these things compounded and I became quite lost and cynical. I'll never forget it. Even the parts I can't remember. Suffice to say the teaching experience itself was excellent, the students - brilliant, the teachers who supported me in the state school - amazing! X

The women who washed my clothes at the Lavanderia. I remember their faces. I can't remember their names. Always welcoming but never over enthusiastic, such as my manner often is. (Italians, in general, characteristically, are reserved for the most part). The men and women (family, I believe) of Azzuro Bar, they sold me beer, panzerotti 24/7, sometimes literally. They even barred me on occasion for the sake of my health, and decency. They fed me. Watered me. Endured me. We shared many a conversation which neither of us ever understood, because they spoke in Barese dialect, and I spoke in English with a Scottish accent. The night, I drank whisky and lemoncello, with a crowd of Italian guys my age, got drunk, I mentioned the Cosa Nostra, and got flung to the ground. The woman who sold me the bus tickets every day (generally her), she had a strange crusty growth on the anterior nasal spine (consulted anatomy book) that cleared up towards the end of my stay. She was kind and gentle, wore glasses, and spoke good English. And the women in Santeramo, who sold me focaccia every night before I got the hour long bus back to Bari, her welcome always quietly warm. The focaccia was always delicious. Pepe, a stranger who always got on the bus, and wore a fedora hat, and was friendly, and used to chat to everyone on the bus, eventually I built up the courage, after weeks, to say hello to him, and have short dialogue in Italian. He was an Angel. Always chatting to people. Open direct stare. Gregarious. Never forget him. Most nights he got on - going home from work. And the stray dogs of Santeramo - one with a grey bushy coat that was quite large and weathered, like a street urchin really - always barking at the busy traffic when I waited at the bus stop. And the black dog that always seemed to sleep. And the loud girl, with the large posterior, wearing purple or red in the teenage Italian style, she got on the bus, and generally spoke in a loud, brash tone, much like some teenage girls in Glasgow might. She was deeply insecure, pretending to be a loud mouth, indifferent to the judgements of other people - generally boys. And the cute boy with the blonde hair and camomile skin, who got the bus on several occasions at the same time as me, and knew it, and had sheepish eyes. (O the courage of my memory). And the old man who sat beside me once in a large rain coat, though it was sunny, and stank of stale smoke and muttered gibberish on and off, and even the Italians looked disgusted, and I couldn’t of cared less what he was saying. The farmer who had a little shop in the front of his apartment, and sold his produce from it, he was small, and weathered, hands rough and dirty from working the fields; he sold me a bag of onions, tomatos, lettuce and more...for 3 euros. He saved my stomach. I want to farm. Everyone should grow at least one crop - lazy slaves! And all the English teachers at the school, obnoxious, clique unwelcoming frauds...some of them were sincere....they know who they are (perhaps), such miserable people, perhaps encouraged by the miserable weather though. O, and Pasquale, in Kamera Cafe, beautiful vanished skin, who kissed me absolutely without knowing me, and I don't know what he is doing now, and never will. And so many things...I might get to later, if memory permits. The God of memory - a forgetful God...


Jim Murdoch said...

My initial reaction to this poem is that it's a you-need-to-have-been-there kind of piece. I'm sure it makes much more sense to you looking at it every day. It's how do you make a, to use an artistic metaphor, landscape interesting. Portraits are always interesting no matter who the sitter is but landscapes are very much hit and miss as far as I'm concerned with a few exceptions like Turner.

You're right here. It needs work but the question is, what direction to follow?

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