Friday, November 19, 2004

Day 5 - Part II - Misses

We return to the bus for our final destination of the trip, Sorelle Nurzia, the Nurzia Sisters' torrone production facilities, which is just a few kilometers up the road. Our short drive turns into a painful odyssey, however, in one of those surreal episodes where dad refuses to ask for directions. In this case dad is our bus driver who is armed only with the information that the Sorelle Nurzia facility is in the Zona Industriale. For those who have visited Zone Industriale in Italy, you will know that they can be vast complexes housing dozens of non-descript industrial buildings. A sign at the entrance of the zona indicates that Sorelle Nurzia is here. The question is, where?

We begin our systematic exploration of perhaps Italy's most unattractive corner. From the first traffic circle we head left and work our way past a dozen warehouses and run down office buildings. We retrace our steps to the traffic circle and work our way down another radian, surprised that the buildings look exactly like the ones on our first route. We continue down spoke after spoke, the passengers grumbling louder and louder with each u-turn, Alfredo pleading with the driver to call the factory for directions, but to no avail. Finally, in a fit of rage, the driver opens the window and starts demanding directions from terrified passersby and motorists, none of whom seem to know what he is talking about. We finally get some directions, which turn out to be wrong, and head back on the state highway that originally brought us to the industrial park where, lo and behold, we see fortress Sorelle Nurzia. The only minor problem is that it is surrounded by a huge security fence with no gate. So it is back to the traffic circle and down the access roads until we find the entry gate to a building which has no distinguishing or identifying marks to identify it as the Sorelle Nurzia factory, such as a sign saying "Sorelle Nurzia." Where I come from, people put signs in front of their buildings to help you find them. Perhaps the candyman doesn't need to because he mixes it with love and makes the world go round.

In any event, our long nightmare is over and we debus (if it is possible to deplane, it must also be possible to debus). We use the intercom to announce our arrival and are buzzed into the factory, wondering what is so secret that it must be behind two layers of security and in an unmarked building. The answer is torrone.

We are greeted by Rita, a tall, striking woman whom I described in an earlier report as "ever so attractive and stylish" and the type of "self assured woman that Italy seems to produce better than the rest of the world." Rita had drawn a great deal of attention from our group on day one, particularly but not exclusively from the men, and seeing her again we are not disappointed. For the next hour she stylishly sweeps us around the floors of this vast facility, describing to us how torrone is made, packaged and marketed. The group hangs on her every word.

In addition to being delicious, Nurzia torrone is eyecatching, real eye candy, so to speak. The army of workers in the airport hangar-sized factory do not lavish the time and attention on their torrone that was apparent at Castellana (the four to seven and a half hour mixing at Castellana is achieved in the blink of an eye here), but there is a palpable espirit de corps at work, the workforce largely made up of matronly women who have been working at this family owned business for decades. They seem to care about each other and the products they are making.

We finish our tour of the facilities and depart for lunch at the nearby Vecchio Mulino at the Osteria della Posta (via della Palombaia, 1, Poggio Picenze, tel. 0862-80474, closed Tuesdays) and are pleasantly surprised to discover that Rita and her aunt are joining us for lunch. We make a brief detour toward L'Aquila to visit the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio, a 13th century church just outside the city walls. Rita and her aunt are very proud of the beautiful structure and show us around, giving us a brief history of L'Aquila in the process.

Best seat in the house.
We return to the bus and shortly arrive at the restaurant, which is part of a larger agriturismo, a kind of country inn, that also houses a "showroom" dedicated to the sale and tasting of typical products from Abruzzo. We are seated at a long table and, much to the delight of the other men in our group who have been ribbing me about certain comments I have made about Rita, I am seated in the place of honor between Rita and her aunt. We proceed to gorge ourselves once again on innocuous sounding dishes that arrive in an unending procession from the kitchen, wave after wave, until we can eat no more. Throughout the meal Rita and her aunt, who is from the neighboring Marche region and not in step with Rita's effort to promote everything Abruzzo, carry on a running battle over the relative merits of the Marche versus Abruzzo, requiring them to lean across me in order to better take on the fight, an invasion of my personal space that brings chuckles from my fellow travelers. For good measure Fernando asks Rita and her aunt to pose for a picture with me, an embrace that has been digitally captured and is, no doubt making its way throughout the internet as we speak.

Lunch ends and the group heads back to bus for the final return to Pescara. I, however, have slightly different plans. Wanting to visit Castelli, an ancient ceramics town on the other side of the mountain from L'Aquila, I have arranged to rent a car and spend the afternoon on my own, visiting ceramics producers and potentially arranging to import new designs for the store. Not wanting to inconvenience the group by making them return toward L'Aquila where I am to pick up my rental car, I hitch a ride with Rita and her aunt and say goodbye to my erstwhile companions for a new set of companions, an upgrade, as it were. In a day full of misses and near misses, these are definitely the best misses of all, and I am sure I will not hear the end of it when I return to Pescara this evening.

continued . . . 

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