Under The Bridge
In most instances, “under the bridge” is not where you want to be. Wasn’t it under the bridge where the ogre lived in the Three Billy Goats Gruff fairy tale? And who hasn’t seen, either in pictures or in person, tent cities set up under the bridges of major metropolitan areas, places where the homeless and hopeless gather for shelter and community? But here in Santa Maria di Leuca, “sotto il ponte” has a whole other meaning.
Today I went with cousin Rita and her husband Angelo, our gracious and generous hosts here in Puglia, to their favorite swimming spot. In Leuca, there is a long road that hugs the shoreline, with beautiful views of blue water, white sailboats, and yellow sun. In one area, there is a bridge that spans a rather long gap in the coastline. It is a typical Roman style bridge with five big arches that support it. It’s less than a quarter mile long, but it’s an impressive bridge. I’ve driven over it before, but never noticed all the activity that was going on down below.
Just like in the old song, Under the Boardwalk, “people walkin’ above, people havin’ fun, people fallin’ in love”…..all the good stuff is happening under the bridge. There is a long but gentle staircase that leads down to the water and once there we found a whole world lazing and relaxing under each of the arches. There are broad steps that go under each segment of the bridge on which people were spreading their towels and opening their beach chairs. We found our spot and got ready to dive in. “Dive in” isn’t really what I should say, because there’s no diving here. Getting into the water is always a bit of a challenge because the Puglia coastline has so many areas of rocky outcrops and slippery spots. But the town thought of wobbly folks like me and provided us a sturdy steel stairway with four steps down which we could ease ourselves into the water.
Once in the water, it’s a short walk across rocky ledge to find deep water, perfect for swimming and floating around. I’m cursed with a very buoyant body (would that I had the heavier muscles that I’ve always wanted), but I’m able to float and tread water with no effort at all. I bob around and flip from belly to back at will, never covering lots of territory but always enjoying the relaxing water and sun. Since I had slathered myself with sunscreen, I was able to spend an hour or so just floating and bobbing around, feeling very lucky. Getting out is another challenge, with those same slippery ledges awaiting the unwary swimmer, but fortunately there were no unfortunate mishaps with that end of the operation either.
Relaxing under the bridge is an insider’s game here in Leuca. Those who come down for a week spend their time on the sandy stretches of beach, basking in the sun with no shade to cool them and with grit in their crotches. But under the bridge it’s clean, cool and social, where the elite come to meet. Of course, we ran into an old friend and his buddy, and we spent a nice time chatting and catching up. When the fellows decided to go back into the water, the buddy asked if I were going in too. I said no, that I had to stay out of the sun. “Ma devi andarci, signora. Altrimenti rimani una donna tutta bianca.” (Oh but you should go signora. Otherwise you’re going to stay a very white woman.)
Yes, I am a very white woman in a sea of bronze and burned bodies. Because even under the bridge, there are places for people to lay out in the sun and get a George Hamilton tan, and I was definitely the whitest of all the bodies there. But I choose to shield my old skin from the hot Puglia sun and that is why “sotto il ponte” is where I’m going to stay!