Città di contraddizioni
"Italian politics, in a nutshell"
Taranto left a deep impression on me, although it is more likely because of luck than any profound spiritual connection I felt with the city. I arrived Sunday evening after a harrowing day that included a 6 hour wait in Sibari train station during which time I had to fend off a man who was determined to give me a lift from Sibari to Taranto in his car (thankfully I was able to adhere to a group of Romanian migrants and he left me alone). The city was unusually lively because of two counter-demonstrations that seemed to me the reason why I found Italy so interesting. On the main street, parishners, clergy and sailors were processing with icons towards the port, where the archbishop was to bless the Italian fleet docked at Taranto. About 500 metres down the lungomare from the religious ceremony was a show of strength by the PCI (Communist Party) who were protesting the presence of nuclear warships in Taranto harbour and NATO in a sort of carnival-like atmosphere. The crystallized, at least in my mind, what made Italy so odd: religious ceremonies conducted by the military (I think that's banned in most western democracies) at the same time as a procession by more than a few unreformed Communists, all admidst the general apathy of most residents of this Southern Italian city.
The sea is really what characterizes Taranto, and its not just because this is the home of Italy's largest naval base. I'm not much of a sea fanatic (I went to Greece and never once went to the beach), but there was something about the strong smell of the salt water and the fish that got to me while I was staying in Taranto. It's not that present in the new city, but a walk through the crowded and confused old city, crammed precariously onto an isthumus, will leave you convinced you should have been a sailor or longshoreman. It is romantic (although not really when it invades your hotel room and makes you paranoid your clothes reek of it when you leave Taranto) and it certainly sets the mood for any visit to this wonderful little city on Italy's inner arch.
Of course, apart from the crowded old city and sporadic demonstrations, Taranto is a rather sleepy and quiet urban centre, with much of the official business drawn away to nearby Bari. Its streets are quiet and clean and there are plenty of cafés to enjoy the sunshine and the sea air during the summer. Taranto is still worth a visit, however, because of its unique feel - not quite Adraitic, but still a far way off from the sunbaked Eastern Mediterranean culture of Sicily and Calabria.