9th entry – calabria 2009

Mario, Tonina and I left for Paolo early. Tonina had asked me if I wanted to visit any particular place and I had mentioned Paola. She suggested we go Friday rather than wait until the week-end. The week-end would be crowded with Italians going to the beach and others going up to the sanctuary. Paola is on the coast and Aprigliano is in the interior.

The road to Paola is one of the few east-west roads in Calabria. The SS107 was built during the 50’s and it was one of the many construction projects that helped revive Calabria after the war. Mario said he would drive which thrilled me. (I had printed out directions before I left, but he knew the roads and the short-cuts.) We ended up going right through Cosenza, passing the hospital where Mafalda was taken after Connie was born. Mafalda had developed an infection and she had to be rushed to the hospital in Cosenza. In 1955 rushed meant being taken on some type of stretcher through the medieval streets of Santo Stefano and to the place where they were able to get her into someone’s car. I remember visiting Mafalda with my dad. What I remember from the visit is the gardens surrounding the hospital and my finding a plastic star on the ground.

SS107 is a scary road. It’s a narrow, two-lane superstrada, the Italian designation for two lane highways, that literally climbs the mountain, goes through a long tunnel and then descends to the Mediterranean. Along the way there are 90 degree turns and crazy Italian drivers. (I was glad to not have attempted this road on my own.) My last visit to Paola was back in the early 70’s. I got off the train from Rome and then made my way to Aprigliano by train and bus. (The mail rail-lines travel the two coasts and from there it’s a matter of taking small trains to the mountain villages.) The train was a funicular, an incline in Pittsburghese. It climbed the mountain, went through a long, dark tunnel and then descended to Cosenza. From there I took a bus to Aprigliano.

Paola 014The Santuario was great. Mario and Tonina enjoy going on religious outings. The place is this restored mountain top complex full of medieval buildings and modern structures. The religiosity of the place wasn’t something that I was interested in, but the complex was amazing.

The old hermitage – medieval caves that San Francesco used – has been restored and cleaned, the medieval church is beautiful and the modern church dedicated in the last 10 years is an amazing example of modern Catholic architecture.

A great story – the grounds are sacred, because they have all these locations where San Francesco did something amazing – fought with the devil, held up the mountain, cured someone. One of these locations is a spring on the side of the mountain face. The spring is always crowded with people filling bottles of water to take back with them. I quietly walked away, leaving Mario and Tonina to drink at the holy spring. Mario comes down to me with a ladle of water from the spring. I was stuck, to refuse would have been rude and inappropriate, so I drank. The rest of the day I had visions of gastric upheaval. It never happened.

After the visit to the santuario, Mario drove into the city. Paola is a busy seaside resort that caters to pilgrims and the beach crowd. Not my kind of place.

On SS107 is the amazing village of San Fili. The village is perched on the top of a rock crag. The barren rock is crowned by this beautiful medieval village.