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winding our way to spinazzola

by Grace Lancieri Olivo
(return to Apulia)

A little wistfully, we packed our bags to leave Modugno and return for our goodbyes in Bitetto. It was time to drive to the westernmost part of Bari Province, called the Murge, where my father's first cousin Angela lived in Spinazzola.

We had cappuccino and a snack, checked out and drove back to Bitetto to visit Giovanna and Pasquale at their store. Mama Grazia was there too. We thanked them for everything and gave them gifts for themselves and their sons. Jeannette took Mama Grazia by the hand and they walked to a nearby florist where she bought Mama Grazia a stunning bouquet of flowers when she couldn't make the florist understand she wanted a corsage for Mama Grazia. They gave us beautiful gifts - gold for me and Joanne, and for Jeannette (the artist in our family) a fabulously framed print of a scene from Bitetto. Mama Grazia had large bags of coffee for us to bring home. Giovanna took a walk with us back to visit Rosa and Giovanni Grande to say goodbye and bring some gifts for their family, and by the time we got back to the store, Rosa and Franco were there, to say goodbye, we thought. We were wrong. They wanted us to go back to their home with them. I explained that we had to be on the road soon, because we had a ride of a couple of hours to Spinazzola and didn't want to arrive in the dark. Franco assured us that the time we would lose by coming back to their house would be made up when he took us on a shortcut to the road to Spinazzola. How could we disagree?

At their home we met one more sister of Pasquale and Rosa, and Franco and Rosa presented us with their gifts. 2 pieces of Murano glass for each of us, plus a bottle of local Apulian wine. (My husband and I enjoyed it for dinner the night I returned!) Franco and Rosa said they would take us to the main road in Bitonto that we could follow straight to Spinazzola. Mama Grazia climbed in their back seat for the ride.

The sun was shining, and it was a wonderful day. All the warnings of cold and snow in Italy turned out to be incorrect during our stay. I rarely wore my wool coat.

Franco stopped to show us a monument where one Tedesco (German) killed 10-11 Italians, and not long afterwards we spotted a castle atop a distant mountain. Franco stopped again, to tell us that it was Castel Del Monte, Frederico II's castle; he asked if we'd like to visit it and we agreed.

The castle was massive, no other word could do it justice. Octagonal in shape, huge impenetrable walls with small slits in the stone to allow the long-ago guards to monitor the outside. The immense front door is incredible - JoAnne stood in front of it just to give our photos some perspective. The stone is golden in color and is so remarkably light and clean that it almost looks as though it were built yesterday. We walked around the entire perimeter of the castle, which was closed. A family of dogs followed us happily everywhere we walked. Franco told us that Castle Del Monte and the Egyptian pyramids are in a direct line. I've read that Frederick II had astronomers at his court so it is plausible.

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We got back into the car and continued driving. I told my cousins it looked like he was taking us all the way to Spinazzola - and I was right. When we reached the city limits of Spinazzola we said our teary goodbyes. Mama Grazia clung to each of us and kissed us goodbye. I will miss these new-found family members.

Grace Lancieri Olivio, is editor to Communes of Italy Magazine. Her father's ancestry is from the towns of Bitetto and Spinazzola in Apulia. This is an excerpt from the journal she kept during her first visit there in January 1999.


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