Carol Forster column


A typical day in Barletta.

Early morning. I step out of my room and down steep and ancient steps, created long before ‘health and safety regulations’, onto the narrow cobbled street.

A man of swarthy appearance stares openly, carrying a bottle of ‘something’ but of unclear content. Next door a curtained doorway is always mysteriously open.

When I first arrived, an old man stood there with a young boy showing off on his bicycle, and both were grinning good-naturedly.

‘Sei Inglese?’ (Are you English?)

The old man enquired, with a knowing expression. ‘Yes’, I replied.

‘Bene’, he replied (Fine.)

The youngster echoed the question, ‘Sei Inglese?’ with a slight sense of wonderment, as if he thought it a cool thing to be.

I didn’t want to burst his bubble. The cobbles were wet as it had been raining that day and made walking in heels somewhat tricky.

A random door lay semi-wedged. I peeped curiously through the space to see a surprising shop.

Hardly a shop in terms of its signage, but nonetheless bedecked with fruit and vegetables laid out in old-fashioned crates and with ancient weighing scales.

I bought some large green apples and bananas whilst being steadily observed by the family that runs it, and their tiny bright-eyed dog quivering nervously on the floor.

I emerged from the shadows of the shop onto the street which leads to the Duomo.

Pizzerias are buzzing by night but at this time of day, all is closed and like a ghost town. A small supermarket is already open so I enter to buy panini, cheese and baby artichokes in olive oil.

This family-run business has an air of better times.

The daughter is ranting at her mother about some annoyance. The old man behind the counter looks slightly ashamed.

I enquire the whereabouts of a particular street. They direct me straight there without hesitation.

Opposite the supermarket stand several men of indeterminate age. Disgruntled with life, they stare aggressively at passersby.

Life is so good here for those who succeed – la dolce vita – but oh so tough for those that don’t.