Victoria’s and my first jaunt was to Guardiagrele, one of two villages in Abruzzo that I know of (the other being Pescocostanzo) where craftsmen specialize in ferro battuto, or wrought iron. I'd long meant to visit the town center and take a look around the shops, and knew the drive would be a picturesque one for Victoria. Having just been to Jilly-and-John’s home in that area, I figured I pretty much knew the way. I didn’t and got lost again.
I was tempted to name this post Fear and Loathing in L’Abruzzo, not because I’m drug-addled or especially destructive, but because in my mind’s eye I'm always motoring around the Abruzzo countryside wreaking minor havoc from behind the wheel of an outsize rental car. This time, my vehicular hijinks featured Victoria in the role of Gonzo-esque sidekick, obsessively fiddling with the radio tuner in search of English lyrics and cursing while I busied myself getting lost, violating rights of way, and pulling sudden turns in directions that contradicted my blinker. It’s not just that I’m often confounded by Italian road signs. It’s also that, perched atop my wheeled leviathan, I am a natural-born menace in the labyrinthine streets of quaint villages.
Let me back up and confess that I never learned to drive a stick. (Some have offered to teach me in recent years, but make no mistake: The lesson is over the first time you grind a person’s gears.) That heretofore hidden shame is on parade in Italy because it means I always have to rent an automatic that’s really too big to navigate towns originally built for travel by horse.
As a result, I feel like I’m always driving elbows-out, so to speak, through tiny Italian streets in an ungainly rented shame-mobile. How I envy other drivers their nimble little clutch cars as I scrape through town centers taking people’s house paint with me.
I’ve gotten myself into some nice pickles, too, barreling into restricted areas where streets have narrowed to the point that I can’t get through but can’t back up because appropriate-sized cars have arrived behind me. Those are the moments when I just want to abandon my rental and run, but have to settle for cursing, crying a little, and the kindness of strangers.
And then there’s the parking. My paralyzing fear of parking has kept me away from alluring hill towns because I’m always flummoxed by a) where I’m allowed to park and b) where I’ll manage to park.
But Victoria’s visit forced me to get over all that, and so back to the original narrative…
I’d been searching for a glass coffee table with a wrought iron base, and hoped to find one in Guardiagrele’s artisanal workshops.
We arrived in the town center and, after some debate and gnashing of teeth, parked the car halfway on the sidewalk all’Italiana. We ducked into the shop of blacksmith Domenico Di Sciascio, jam-packed with cookware, urns, decorative roosters, and tools of the trade. Domenico was clearly the real thing, but I didn’t see any tables. It turned out the larger items were warehoused elsewhere.
The ferro battuto craft typically comes down through the family, and Domenico was quite proud of that fact. Though his own son is following in his footsteps, he lamented that hand-wrought iron is becoming a lost art; more and more people are producing/buying machine-made stuff.
Domenico thought he had what I was looking for at his home warehouse a mile or so away and offered to drive us there. Because I was worried about leaving the car as I’d parked it, he suggested I take his spot when he pulled out. That done, the three of us were off to his home, where Victoria promptly found a pretty cute friend and I found almost exactly what I was looking for.
The finish needed to be darkened, however. To my delight, Domenico said he’d do it overnight and I could pick the table up the next morning. (Sundays are usually not days for getting anything much accomplished in Abruzzo.) I left a deposit on the 200 euro price and arranged to meet him at 9am.
Country roads, take me home…with my new coffee table.
While Vic slept in, I drove on that beautiful Sunday morning the 35 or so kilometers back to Guardiagrele to pick up my hand-crafted table. Mine was a Sunday drive worthy the name — all sunshine, serenity, and silence. Plus, I didn't miss any turns in either direction, which made a nice change.
And the table was perfect.