Rita takes me back to the Sorelle Nurzia factory, calling the Avis agency along the way and commanding them to deliver the car to her. This is clearly a woman who knows how to get what she wants and I am grateful to her for the ride and for simplifying my journey. The car arrives a few minutes later, contracts are signed, I say my thank yous and, after negotiating the high security fence, I am on my way.
I am looking forward to the trip to Castelli, which it is explained to me, is about a thirty minute drive from where we are, just south and east of L'Aquila. Between L'Aquila and Castelli, however, is the Gran Sasso mountain range, a towering mountain range that is one of Italy's most popular ski areas. To get to Castelli one must traverse a ten kilometer tunnel that passes under the Corno Grande, the tallest peak of the Gran Sasso.
As I leave L'Aquila I head directly for the Gran Sasso (imaginatively meaning "big rock") and as I approach, it seems utterly immense, its summit completely obscured by a ceiling of clouds. This ceiling surrounds me in grayness, with the huge gray wall of stone rising from my hood to the sky and stretching from side to side as far as the eye can see. None of this had been visible from the south of L'Aquila and I am sad that my fellow travelers have not had the opportunity to experience this awe-inspiring sight.
Up ahead is a tiny black tunnel that will take me from this gloom to the coastal side of the mountains where I can get on with my ceramics hunting.
Or so I think. As I near the tunnel I speed past a lighted sign (while Italian autostrada are subject to a national speed limit of 130 km/h, I have yet to observe any Italian who appears to be aware of this law, so I follow the saying, "when in Abruzzo, do as the Abruzzese do") quicker than my Italian language skills enable me to translate. I have a haunting feeling, however, that it has something to do with a tunnel closure. Sure enough, a few kilometers further I am forced to exit the autostrada, as high winds have caused a tunnel closure today. My thirty minute jaunt to Castelli is about to become a three hour ordeal back to Pescara and I am beginning to long for our pullman and its test pilot.
I have no idea how long this detour is going to last, so I pull out the map and chart my progress along the route which works its way across the south face of the Gran Sasso before heading northeast through a mountain pass. Darkness if falling quickly, as is the outside temperature and the zigzagging road becomes more challenging as snow drifts begin to appear along its sides. In more than a few places, only a single lane has been plowed, making two way traffic a challenge worthy of our busdriver. After an hour in the mountains I have resigned my self to skipping Castelli, if I ever reach the other side of the mountain, and instead heading as quickly as possible to the coast, hopefully arriving in Pescara in time for our long awaited seafood dinner.
I finally emerge on the other side of the mountain, but traffic through the small villages is choked by the procession of vehicles that had similarly expected a quick journey through the tunnel. Nearly three hours after leaving L'Aquila I finally arrive at the coast, just north of Pineto, about a half hour's drive from Pescara. I decide there is enough time to stop in Pineto and search for a shop by the name of Arte e Sapori d'Abruzzo - the Art and Flavors of Abruzzo - which a friend of ours has recommended as a good place to see Castelli ceramics and a variety of typical food products from Abruzzo. The shop is located on, you guessed it, via Gabrielle d'Annunzio (which translates into English as either George Washington Street or Boulevard Abraham Lincoln), so I have no fears of being able to find it. Via G. d'Annuzio is not the sort of street that Abruzzo town fathers will tuck away on the outskirts. It is definitely going to be the main street.
I find Arte and Sapori and after spending about 15 minutes explaining who I am and what I am looking for (being alone locked in a car for three hours makes me talkative) the owners, a lovely husband and wife, spend about 45 minutes showing me around their store, describing each food item and giving me contact information on Castelli craftsmen. Thus, another miss is magically transformed into a positive experience and I leave Pineto with the sense that I have accomplished at least a little.
continued . . .