This is the big day, the day when Cathy and I go to meet Franco Pansini, we arranged to meet at 10:00am outside Molfetta’s civic building. Any hopes of meeting the Mayor or Councilors was dashed due to the upcoming elections. The Italian system is different from ours, Councilors are elected for a five year term, when the elections are called all sitting members are stood down and administrators put in to ensure free and fair elections. Puglia was in that caretaker phase during our visit. Franco is a self styled ambassador for Molfetta and his reputation for being welcoming went before him.
The alarm was set and a bus chosen to get us the six kilometers from Giovinazzo to Molfetta in good time. However, we were not in good time and saw the bus depart the square as we arrived at the other side. All was not lost as shortly after a bus to Trani, via Molfetta arrived. ‘Biglieto?’ said the driver. Can I pay for my ticket on the bus? ‘No’ was the reply, go to a shop and buy one. We got off the bus and went to the nearest Tabac to buy tickets. The next bus came and we finally got to ride to Molfetta.
As we walked across the square I heard a voice call ‘Jon!’. Franco and Roberto were coming towards us and gave a very warm welcome. Roberto Pansini runs the I Love Molfetta brand and webpage, along with many other interests. Both Franco and Roberto gave very generously of their time for our visit, abandoning any other commitments they may have had. They were also generous of spirit and lunches.
Molfetta and Fremantle are very similar in some ways, but quite different in others. One of these differences is the role of the Catholic Church, the church and the priest is central to life in the town. For example Council’s list of ‘wards’ also includes the Church that ward represents.
In that spirit our first visit was to meet the Priest of the Cathedral of St. Maria of the Assumption, Don Giuseppe De Candia. He made us welcome and introduced his Cathedral to us. We were invited to return the next day for a service and to perhaps meet Bishop Domenico Cornaccia. That day we were to visit three more churches and meet their priests. The President of the Molfetta Association, Angela Amato joined us for the rest of the day. From the Cathedral we walked across the road to enter the old city through the S. Antonio gate, but first we had to have a photo opportunity at the town map and Roberto’s I Love Molfetta logo.
The old town is similar to Giovinazzo insomuch as is was a walled city of great historical significance. At it’s heart is the Duomo di San Corrado, which is quite unique with its twin bell towers.
At the head of the promontory was one of the older buildings, which we were able to enter. The basement has small arches to the sea, they now have glass panels in them to stop the basement flooding. In historic times the sea level was higher, our guide told us the old walled city used to be on an island. We looked around the old streets and some shops. In one section walls were being buttressed across to walls on the opposite side to stop them from falling over.
We then exited the old city and went into the Church of Purgatory. We met the Priest, who kindly showed us around the church and I was presented with the book of photographs of the Duomo and Molfetta – Tra Cielo E Mare. From there we were driven to the other side of the bay to visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Martyrs. Like all the other churches this one had a display of statues depicting key Catholic events, but it also had a model of the old part of the town. Glass panels in the floor allowed one to look down at the old foundations of the church.
By now it was lunch time, and of course a restaurant had been booked for us. The owner chef prepared a stunning seafood meal for us, including sardines, muscles, clams and Molfetta’s signature dish Octopus on a white bean puree. All washed down of course with local wine. Cathy and I suggested we needed a siesta, Roberto would hear nothing of us using our return bus ticket and drove us back to Giovinazzo. As he dropped us off he said he would return to collect us in 2 hours for more appointments.
When Roberto collected us he took us straight to the Molfetta Association office, there was no parking, so he dropped us off and went to park the car. After convivial greetings Cathy and I were sat at a table while the Association members faced us in a row of chairs. Angela introduced us, then I was invited to give a speech, translated by Anna Amato a local High School teacher specialising in English. There were then questions, including one on why Fremantle does not have a Molfetta Street, and when will I be able to arrange it?
They showed me a photo board with pictures of Mayor Utting and Cr Graham during their visit in September 2000. Many people wanted to talk, including the inaugural president who had original come from Argentina, of Molfetta parents. As well as Australia, South America was a chosen destination for post war migrants. We left the Association office and went to the waterfront to attend a trade display of import and export businesses. We inspected all sorts of products and tasted much cheese and preserved meats.
We rounded the day in Molfetta off by visiting the fishing and sailing boat jetty and taking sunset photographs. The fishermen were selling their catch on the waterfront so I bought some crustaceans. At home I made them into a modest bowl of pasta, simple but delicious.