An unlikely home for Santa Claus: March 18, 2012

By Ines Novacic

Bari Cathedral at sunset.

Bari Cathedral at sunset. | Photo by Ines Novacic.

BARI — Although the Religio team is packing their bags to go back to New York on this beautiful warm night in the charming city of Bari, it’s far from curtain close for our adventure. And not just because all 16 of us have “big” religion stories to produce in the next six weeks — if this trip has taught us anything, it’s that there’s always another mass to attend, another relic to stumble upon, another lesson to learn. Today, the last day of our multi-bus-ride, multi-city trip, is a case-in point.

Half our entourage of 20-odd people woke up this morning earlier than planned. The heating in the Casa del Pellegrino hotel was a fickle mistress, and the morning dew of the Southern Italian mountains was quite the eye opener. By eight o’clock, the Covering Religion side of the fourth floor corridor was buzzing with murmurs and yawns, from students, professors and friends of Religio, like Daniel Arrasa, from Santa Croce University in Rome.

“Everyone is here on time,” remarked Arrasa, pleasantly surprised and somewhat in disbelief this morning at breakfast in our hotel.

“We should have had set times for breakfast every morning,” said Professor Ari Goldman, referring to the somewhat odd time constraints imposed upon us by the hotel management. We all had to eat breakfast together between half past eight and nine o’clock; and the night before, everyone had to abide by a ten-thirty curfew. (Given that our overnight stay at Casa del Pellegrino coincided with St. Patrick’s Day, as an Irish person, it was a particularly amusing rule).

Ultimately, a little extra time to sleep served us all well. We wouldn’t have gotten through the day, especially since the collective energy of the group is on its last legs, after a busy ten days. More importantly, not seeing as much as we could of Bari, our final stop, would have been criminal.

A room with a view of San Michelle is difficult to top: the beauty of the white, wonderfully romantic and lively little town took us all by surprise, and watching the sun set from a castle on a hill was something most of us will never forget.

Saint Michelle at dusk.

Saint Michelle at dusk. | Photo by Ines Novacic.

“This is the moment of the trip for me,” said classmate Sarah Laing. Laing and I had the pleasure of taking one last stroll through the tiny white stone streets before the bus came to take us to the Boston Hotel in Bari.

We joked about renting one of the tine white stone houses and working on our writing in the years to come, neither wanted to leave. From the bus, Bari didn’t seem to compare. It was only after our tour guide, Anna Lisa Leve, walked us towards the historic quarter of Bari as residents slowly rose from their Sunday afternoon siestas, that we started to come around.

Bari isn’t just a picturesque city on the sea, there’s a rare kind of welcoming and charming feeling that animates every windy street, every little balcony draped in countless sheets and clothes of all sizes. Like stepping into Juliette Binoche’s “Chocolaterie” in the town of the film Chocolat. Walking towards the main piazza, to meet the rest of the class for our “Last Supper,” I took as many pictures as I could, which included one of a middle-aged couple holding hands, walking under a streetlight.

“Ah, photograph! Where do you come from?” the woman asked.

“Irlanda,” I replied in my best Italian.

“Oh! St Patrick day yes, yes! We like very much!” the man laughed.

From Leve, to our tour guide at the Saint Nicholas museum, and from the blonde woman who sold us gelato to the patient waiters who allowed us to sing song after Disney song in the restaurant after our meal, the residents of Bari have inadvertently convinced me that I’ll be back to this place.

We saw a lot during our three-hour tour: an impressive castle from the 12th century, a medieval cathedral on top of an early Christian basilica and the shrine of Saint Nicholas with pilgrims praying in front of it, complete with an extra chapel, so that Orthodox visitors can pray alongside their Catholic counterparts.

The highlight, however, was the delicious four-course meal that we enjoyed together as a class. For the first time during our trip, it was just us, our wonderful T.A. Francesca Trianni and our Professor – we’ll just say Goldman junior and his lovely girlfriend Ana were guests of honor. Sadly, Professor Stille left us earlier this morning, to catch a flight back to the Big Apple, but we thought of him as we ate wonderful quiche, pasta, fish, salad, potatoes and drank red wine.

The 18 of us sat in the same room, just like we had done every Monday throughout the semester, but it was completely different.

We’re no longer just colleagues or classmates that see each other once a week. Trianni, who will be joining the ranks of J-School students next year, is the “assistant who translates things” no more; and Goldman has become more than a professor to us, truly a mentor and friend. I think I speak for all of us when I say that this trip, and all that we learnt throughout it, has created a wonderful memory that will live on forever.



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