Thursday, September 08, 2011

Ória storm

I had just finished lunch in a cafe in a grotto in Ória.  I wasn't planning to stop in Ória, but on my way to Ostuni I was enticed by the picturesque castle on the hill (and overpaid for a short and lame €5 tour in Italian of a pristinely drab restoration featuring replica chain mail and cloth hats).  But the cafe in the cave at the bottom of the hill was curious and atmospheric with its low, rocky ceiling and dim lighting.  A humourless waiter took my order and brought my food with solemn service, stooping in the cave like Igor serving his master.

I finished quickly.  Stopping in Ória had put me behind schedule, so I had to get moving.  I paid the bill and Igor crept away with my empty plates, silhouetted against the glass of the cafe door.  As he climbed the steps out of the grotto—crash!—a heavy, Gothic thunderstorm struck.  He stole a glance of crazed glee at me over his hunched shoulder and scurried around the corner.  Trapped!

The delta of narrow stone lanes scoring the hillside spilled torrents of water.  A new inland sea separated me from my car as I sheltered in the cave.  I waited for the storm to abate, but the thunder indicated other intentions, so at last I cast open the grotto door and fled out into the maelstrom.  I was instantly soaked to the skin.  Trying to keep my balance on the slippery marble paving, leaping channels and fording straits, I reached my car and dived in.

On the other side of the windshield some dark blobs with smeary lights drifted through a grey haze of pelting rain.  I pressed the car forward.  Driving in Italy is always a bit cat-and-mouse in dodgem cars, even when the visibility is good, and intersections are typically a case of picking your way around the other cars that are already in it.  But I missed a stop sign as I entered this intersection and one of the blobs was suddenly upon me.  I slammed the brakes and hydroplaned to a stop within inches of a prang.  Italian drivers have a reputation of being insolent, or at least reckless, but the stereotype of Italian passions compared to Anglo stoicism is not borne out in Salentine traffic.  The drivers in Salento are very courteous.  As I sheepishly reversed out of his right of way, the other driver nonchalantly waved thanks to me for not actually hitting him.

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