Tag Archives: travel

End of the line – a poem

End of the line

The tram flashes
its yellow stripes
and slices through
the street.
Abandoning
the caged and silent faces
hiding from the day
behind a thousand wheels.

Only the wasps
are free enough
to fly along
beside us
with their engines buzzing.
At least until
the concrete and the steel paths
brush cheeks
and part like lovers.

Further north
we stop
and wait awhile
in the stone cold shadow
of a wall that maybe
once held back
invading hordes
and there we wait
for new and hopefully
exotic faces.

They clamber up
with a bundle of umbrellas
under every arm
and watch the sky
and pray for rain
with sad brown eyes.
But nothing changes
so they sigh
and go on tapping out
a message home.

We rattle down the veins
that lead us closer to
the city’s heart.
I watch the walls
and try to learn
the rhythm of the words
before they slide
beyond the reach of memory.
Earnest declarations
of love and war
and the invitation
to a party that ended
sometime last year.

We swing away
again and feel
the groaning as we sway
with every twisted piece of track.
I grip the rail
more tightly in salute
and stare across
an old grey head
to where the rest
of Rome is stretching out
the night-ache from its legs.

Until we grind along
the last straight mile
that takes us past
Esquilino and stops beneath
the trees
to spit us out
like orange seed
among the weeds that grow
between the tracks
at the Laziali end
of the line.

Copyright David Bastiani 2015

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Along The River Po…with Commissario Soneri

I’m reading River of Shadows at the moment. It’s the first book in Valerio Varesi’s detective series featuring Commissario Soneri. River of Shadows was shortlisted for the 2011 CWA International Dagger. Apart from the main human protagonists in the story, Varesi’s descriptions of the River Po and the surrounding landscape seem to give the location a life and character all of its own. Since my Italian roots are in the region of Emilia-Romagna and Parma in particular, this is a part of the world that I feel a strong connection with. Let me introduce you…

PoTurin

The Po river flows more than 400 miles through northern Italy, from its source on a rocky hillside in the Cottian Alps all the way to the Adriatic Sea not far from Venice. Il grande fiume (the great river) is prone to heavy flooding and, in an attempt to protect the surrounding fields and towns, over half of the river is flanked by man-made embankments or argini. Poplar trees have also been planted along the banks to strengthen them against the force of the water. This may work to some extent but the down-side of these flood defences has been that when the Po floods, it does so even more ferociously and with devastating effect.

PoFlood

The Po in flood is the backdrop to a mysterious disappearance in River of Shadows. The leading character, Commissario Soneri, is a detective based in Parma who is bought in to investigate when an old boatman goes missing from his barge on the river. Varesi’s writing is full of brooding storminess and conjures up the image of perpetual rain, mist and swirling currents. The power and menace of the river as it threatens the lives and livelihoods along its banks is painted beautifully as is the seeming contradiction of the serene timelessness of the river.

PoFlood2

There’s a strange symbiosis that exists between the people and the Po. The river has caused destruction for centuries and yet the people who live within its reach rely on it for the success of their vineyards, rice fields, and fisheries. The benefits, though, are heavily one sided. They say that a third of Italy’s agricultural exports come from the area around the Po. Livestock drink its water and the sugar, rice and tomato crops rely on irrigation for a good harvest. Even the area’s power comes from the Po via the hydroelectric plants. No wonder the people of the Po cling to their homes so tenaciously in the face of floods that so often threaten to snatch it all away. They know that while the river takes with one hand, it gives very generously with the other.

This is the way it’s been for as long as anyone can remember. The seasonal dance with the river and its advancing and retreating water. They say changing climate patterns have made things harder but change is a way of life along the Po and things will just adapt and move on as they have done for centuries. The people have taken on the character of the Po itself – always changing but always the same.

PoSunset

Photo credits: turinphototours.it , Giuliano Chezzi, AsgeirFoto and Francesco Zaia