It’s probably ten years since I’ve watched Fellini’s Roma, but one scene that always stayed with me finds workers at the laboriously slow task of digging underground train lines for the city. Every few metres they will hit another bit of Ancient Rome, and labour grinds to a halt for 18 months while the archaeologists get in there. The workmen drill through a wall and find they have opened up a huge Roman house, sealed for millennia. There are statues and mosaic floors. Every wall is lined with beautiful frescoes depicting scenes from Roman life in the boldest, most vibrant colours. They walk around shining their torches and looking stupefied, as well they might. As they do so the air from outside makes contact with the frescoes, all of which fade and dissolve before their eyes. They get around two minutes with these magnificent treasures, then they are gone forever. Matera reminded me of that scene.
Bari is the capital of the South East, and a city whose bad reputation precedes it. Most guide books counsel that Puglia’s three big cities (the others being Taranto and Brindisi) are rough and industrial places, before shepherding you on to quaint fishing towns. Most Italian friends told us that Bari would be edgy and threatening. Was it? As tourists we got some funny looks and were certainly fish out of water, but I felt affection for what I saw and in this gentrified age where everyone is flying with the same airlines to stay in the same hotel chains and buy coffees from the same chain cafés and clothes from the same labels, it felt refreshing to stay in a city which hasn’t been quite as touched by it all yet. At the risk of sounding patronising, going to Bari felt like going to 1982, but in a good way.