Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Two adventures and a loaf of bread on a very short excursion

Tuesday, March 4
I only went outside the house for less than an hour today and still managed to cause problems and find adventures because of my foolish foreignness. I biked to Altopascio and bought some pane delle dolomiti, our favorite bread. No problems there, but on the way back, I saw a fruit vendor who had set up beside the road at the Altopascio round-about. We needed oranges and he had a lot on display, so I pulled in to take a look. Where was the vendor? I walked up by the front of the van and saw him sitting inside. I figured he saw me too and would get out in a minute, so I went back, grabbed a plastic bag, and started picking oranges out of the display crates. This is how one usually shops at farmers’ markets, but it was the wrong move here.

I had about ten in the bag when a man and woman drove up and started asking me questions about the different types of oranges. I gave my usual “sono straniero” answer and said the proprietor was inside the van. The lady said she was a stranger, too, though she certainly spoke Italian better than I. Since I was ready to purchase, I went up to the van window to hold up my bag to show that I was done shopping. I discovered that the vendor was asleep, drool running down his chin, so I tapped on the window.

He emerged looking sheepish and also confused, because he thought I was with the woman, who started asking him questions about the oranges while I asked if I could buy the ones I had in the bag. It turned out that fruit was for sale by the crate only, and he told her she couldn’t buy just a few.

“Well, what about this man?” she said. “He has a bag of oranges.” The vendor turned his attention back to me, and then he looked at his display. “No, no,” he said. “You have to buy a crate.” He noticed that I had picked oranges out of two different crates, so that neither crate was full any more. He started reshuffling the oranges so at least one crate would be complete, while the woman insisted that if I could buy a bagful, she should be able to as well. He gave up and let her put some in a bag while he weighed mine and added two more oranges to round it off to a third of a kilogram. I apologized for causing a nuisance, but I could tell he was more upset with the pushy woman than he was with me.

I had another mini-adventure on the way home when I tried to take a shortcut that I had seen on Google Maps. Unfortunately, chain link fences are pretty much invisible when viewed from the sky, so I found I had taken a long dead end. Then I notice a little tunnel that went under the A-11 highway which I also could not have seen from the aerial view. It had a crossbar to stop anyone from advancing in a car, but with a little effort, a bike could go around it. Surely if they had not wanted bikers and hikers to get through, they would have made a more secure barricade, right?

I found myself inside the west side of the wilderness preserve of Lake Sibolla, which was actually a large wetland with a series of swampy ponds home to ducks, fishes, frogs and other marine creatures. I had tried to see this preserve last year by starting on the east side but found myself either fenced out or having to cross private property to get to it. If I could find my way across the preserve, it would be a great shortcut to Altopascio as well as a pleasant scenic excursion. There was a foot trail, kind of soggy at this time of year, but still passable. I reasoned that by following the trail to the end, I would find my way out, and thus by reversing my course, I could get in when approaching from either side.

I regretted leaving my camera at home, but I looked forward to showing Lucy my discovery once the weather turned more spring-like. It would be a nice place for a secret picnic. When I reached the east side, I was faced with a ten-foot chain link fence and a very securely closed gate. I didn't relish the thought of going all the way back through the park and the dead-end shortcut road, so I kept going along the fence line, hoping for a way out. It was by now too soft and wet to ride my bike, and I could see that the elevation kept declining and there was a swamp ahead. Would the fence go through the swamp? No, it ended about five feet before the water, giving hikers like me a way in and out.

Photo from Stampa Toscana newspaper.
I ended up on a dirt road that went through a closely packed neighborhood of attached houses, but when I reached the main street, I noted that the dirt road did have a name, indicating that it was probably a public road. Now I would have a way in from this side, so I had found a scenic shortcut, though it won’t truly save time until the ground firms up. And all these adventures took place in less than an hour.

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