Low and behold, Italy

By Grant Barrett

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A large oak tree, located outside the front door, indicates that our golf outing is somewhere near the Adriatic coast of southern Italy. The terrace of the guesthouse is just across the street from the shade of this ancient oak, as it hosts a huge hammock.

We love the hammock. Not only because we can set up our equipment here and wind our way around the fairways with it, but also because the hammock adjoins a restaurant with delicious dishes served all day.

Our tee time was six o’clock, and we didn’t have to leave the hammock before 12:00 p.m. We chatted with two old friends who were heading to the northern tip of the island to see some “top secret” groups, bringing along cruise ships. We crossed the river, down an incline, and hopped on a short bridge. This city, Cala Matera, is just a little over two miles long. It is extremely unspoiled, a bit of a squeeze onto an ever-shrinking peninsula, with rocky shores and rivers. On the island’s coast there are many turquoise coves. The days are warm and sunny. This is summer there, and in summer with summer comes the scent of sweet grapes.

We checked in to the retreat, and welcomed many new friends, who were likewise quite impressed with the splendors of our hamlet. One of them, an Englishwoman who lives nearby, pointed out a man who was minding the lock on the drawbridge. He said, “I’m doing this for the 40th time.”

The village’s hospital has a swimming pool and a marvelous pool house. There’s also a library, little amphitheater, and three houses with restored 19th century Italian townhouses.

On our day off, I spent some time on my favorite excursion: Venice.

The evening was fine, and the next morning I arrived at a bar close to the Basilica of St. Mark. I sat and looked out. The city went dark, in anticipation of the Fourth of July fireworks.

I met some friends, and our hands held the clay of a souvenir plate. We took a selfie in front of the statue of St. Mark.

At breakfast that morning, a Sardinian lady, seated at a table in the shade of a palm tree, told us that “I love this island for six reasons.”

• God, she said, there are six: the breeze, being on the water, the view of the Caribbean, the view of stars, the free pizza, and the laughter of her family.

• I always get lost in Rome. I told her this, and the pain in my heart eased. She said, God, there are nine reasons. They were: Paradise, people, food, water, peace, rain, success, children, friends, and horses.

We laughed and talked as we chatted with the lady, and she told us stories of life at the villa: “You know, when I heard this lady, I knew I had to come to Italy,” she said.

We read a script the same day by David Levithan. It was a short, sharp read that flowed like ink from a pen. The food, the life, the landscapes, and so on, intrigued us. That evening, we wandered off to the city’s museum in need of a good meal. Most of the downstairs of the museum had been given over to blue-tiled fountains. We settled down at a small table in the midst of the shiny fountains, enjoying a delicious polenta dish, wine and cheese.

The sun came up; the temperature increased. The music at the bar became louder. One by one, friends and strangers began to talk. All evening, the crowd was quite spirited. A couple we met visited from New York. They were visiting the place where they lived on the Upper East Side. They owned two houses, in Chelsea and Greenwich Village.

A few in the crowd, seated at a bar, were told by a woman that “you’re English. You never feel so low as when you’re in Italy.” The woman then went into a long, passionate speech about American unity, how there was so much international spirit here, and on, and on. The thread of love continued for about an hour, until suddenly she stared over us at the cost of our drinks. They were overpriced.

In the evening we departed. The atmosphere of happiness was euphoric. At lunchtime the next day, we stepped from the hammock, full of smiles, to ask how long it would be before they’d finish serving us their meal.

Grant Barrett is a freelance writer who lives in St. Augustine, Fla.

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