~le grotte de frasassi~

June 23rd, 2008

For my birthday we visited Le Grotte de Frasassi and it was incredible. Thirteen km of the caves are known (it is thought that they extend at least 35 km); we were invited to see about a kilometer and a half of that.

“The speleologists held their breath when the stone began to fall in total darkness. The echo came after a period of time that seemed like an eternity: it was 27 September 1975, and the Frasassi Caves, one of the most spectacular Karst complexes in the world, had just been discovered.”

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Some tourist aspects were unfortunate–particularly the long corridor of hard-sell wine displays just in the mouth of the cave, and the silly plateau well inside where you could have your photo taken (Ali flatly refused, alas)–but mostly it was majestic.

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The biggest room, Grotta Grande del Vento, is Europe’s largest single cavern and so vast that the Milan Cathedral would fit inside. All one can hear is dripping. The damp air feels otherworldly and alive.

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Each grotta had uniquely extravagant stalagmites and stalactites, some like giant dripped candle wax, others like fancifully sculpted birthday cake frosting.

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Back in the parking lot I ordered giant round grilled sandwiches of mortadella for my driver and was shamelessly flirted with by the men who cooked them. They rang the bell to announce they were finished though I was already standing there, just to tease me. The man who handed me the basket filled his “buon appetito” with such longing–I was charmed? Stunned? Say what you will, Italian men know how to make a lady feel appreciated. Or charm-stunned.

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Ali bought drinks and sweets from a nearby hut, and the ladies behind the counter insisted I accept a pastry of almond paste and a sip of aqua vita, tho of course they didn’t know it was my birthday. Our antenae were waving to each other, in simple gestures of love and goodness for goodness sake.

Ali and I snacked and had beautiful big Life Talk in the mirage waves of heat, over plastic cups of local verdicchio wine laced with cosmic harmonious frequencies (if you know what I mean, baby). Then we hit the road to Foggia, accompanied by the appropriately epic four-octave stylings (and totally made-up language, as they all are, come to think of it) of Yma Sumac.

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