Monday, June 01, 2015

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 7 … An eventful detour to Pecetto.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 7 … An eventful detour to Pecetto.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

(Seventh in a series chronicling my travel year 1985)

The conductor was obtrusively perfumed, immaculately groomed, and possessed an epochal five o’clock shadow. His bureaucratic spit and polish providing suitable embellishment for escalating anguish: Chest heaving, arms unfurled and palms outstretched, he dramatically glared at the wad of Italian Lira notes crumpled in my hand, and then looked skyward, enunciating his indignation in Italian.

I could only imagine his thoughts.

Why me? Why must I be the one to correct the ignorant American? And on this perfectly gorgeous summer’s day, when I might be tending my garden plot or enjoying a lovely wine on the terrace?

Fellow passengers remained resolutely still, their faces buried in newspapers, avoiding the dispute -- a silly, inconsequential matter of my failure to possess a valid bus ticket for passage into the Piedmont countryside.

It wasn’t even my fault. Well, maybe not.


Six strenuous days in Rome had been enough. Accompanied by a shopping bag filled with sandwiches and bottles of Italian-brewed Carslberg, and encumbered with luggage – grown now to two pieces, with a cheap and exceedingly ugly black and white checkered gym bag having been purchased during market day somewhere in Greece -- I boarded the northbound train at Termini Station, with a final destination of Turin, home to the fabled burial shroud and Euro-crooner Paulo Conte.

A young, helpful, raven-haired beauty at the tourist information office examined the postal address I offered her, and announced solemnly that Pecetto was not a street in the city, as I’d mistakenly assumed.

Rather, it was a village in the countryside. This was an unanticipated complication. Wherever Pecetto was, I had to find it.

My cousin and travel mentor Donald Barry was visiting there with his friend Scott Bennett, a teacher at Turin’s international school. The young lady gestured across the square to a row of regional buses, assuring me that transit to Pecetto would be very easy. Buses departed regularly.

“You may buy the ticket on board,” she smiled.

Or, perhaps not? Setting off, all was peaceful until the conductor began breathing vituperation, his incomprehensibly operatic rebukes increasingly florid, to the point where bodily removal seemed a likely fate, and then … nothing.

He belched, shrugged, straightened his tie, and made for the front of the bus, muttering to himself all the while. An elderly man seated in front of me, who’d kept quiet throughout the performance, turned around and whispered, “You may ride, but please, you are on the wrong bus.”

At that precise moment, I glimpsed two road signs, one pointing to Pecetto, seven kilometers away, and the second heralding our imminent arrival in Chieri – obviously not where I wanted to be. The bus stopped in Chieri’s main square, and it seemed a cutting of losses was in order. Still blushing, I brushed hurriedly past my tormentor and hustled to the sidewalk.

Focused on me were suspicious eyes attached to dozens of youthful, sullen and unshaven men, presumably unemployed, some napping, others smoking, all of them combining to induce stifling paranoia. Immediately, I began retracing the bus route back to the previous fork in the road.

New plan: It was time for a bracing walk.


Two hours later, the narrow lane crested atop a gentle rise, with vineyards all around, and Pecetto coming into sight. A dense jumble of tile-roofed houses was arranged atop small hills, the town’s church steeple dominant. Somewhere in the village, Don was staying. Finding him would prove my fledgling ability to follow a plan to fruition, if inelegantly.

He’d provided me with his travel itinerary, which was amazing. You mean tourists have plans? I didn’t, but guessed that Italy would be the best place for us to meet, and Don asked me to telephone Scott from Rome and let them know my arrival time.

It was a seemingly simple task that I first neglected, and then botched. The unfamiliar pay phones kept spitting out my Lira coins, until someone told me that only tokens could be used. Supposedly they were available at newsstands, and yet I failed to locate any. Consequently, my Pecetto hosts were entirely unaware of my presence.

But the walk from Chieri to Pecetto had been a rejuvenating joy: Rolling landscapes; greens, blues and browns; barking dogs, lazy cows and proud horses, with fresh air and tall grass and grape vines, and tiny cars racing past me way too fast. At the very first café to be encountered in town, I ordered a cola and unfolded my battered note paper.

My halting query was answered in perfect English by a middle-aged woman who’d lived in California during the first five years of her previous marriage. She pointed across the street and up the hill: “At the top, go right, and watch the street numbers. Good luck!”

Soon I found the small stucco apartment house, set back off the street and surrounded by a fence in the typical European fashion, with numbered buzzers to ring and alert the inhabitants to unlatch the gate.

I buzzed Scott’s number. Nothing happened. The gate was ajar, so I walked to the entryway and knocked.

Nothing happened.

The drill was repeated, with the same results. It was early evening by now, shadows dancing and the brilliant sun steadily lessening in intensity. I began exploring some of the side streets, uncertain what to do next.

Around seven, seated atop the stone wall across the street, I saw an unfamiliar male emerge from the house, followed by a worldly Hoosier-born educator with a prominent proboscis and a soon-to-be-famous blue jacket.

It was Scott and Don. I met them at the gate.

“Doc Barry, I presume?”

Don just may have been as stunned by the twenty pounds I’d lost as he was by my very presence, emerging from the gloaming to stand before him just as he and Scott were about to walk to a cocktail reception nearby. Either way, it was as close to speechlessness for him as we’re ever likely to witness.

“Goddamn,” Don said.

He looked at Scott before adding, this time for posterity’s sake:




The PC: Euro ’85, Part 6 … When in Rome, critical mass.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 5 … From Istanbul to Rome, with Greece in between.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 4 … With Hassan in Pithion.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 3 … Growing up in Greece.

The PC: Euro '85, Part 2 ... Hitting the ground crawling in Luxembourg.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 1 … Where it all began.

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