Our home in space

Guy Ottewell

Darkness at Matera

I landed with my bicycle from a ship at Bari in the heel of Italy, intending to ride up Italy's leg, but first I went straight southward because I wanted to see the district of trulli, houses with domes on top of them, around Alberobello. Then I turned northwestward, and at the end of a long day crossed a region of desert that is in Italy's instep and at its edge climbed a cliff of tufa riddled with the dark doors of cave-dwellings, to a town along the top, Matera, which seemed funereal against the sunset light. I found a narrow hotel, went up a dark stair, was given with my supper a bottle of red wine, and uncharacteristically drank it all. I climbed on up the narrow stair to a narrow dark room. In the morning, opening my eyes on a dim window, I was terrified to find that I had gone blind. In the middle of my vision was a bronzy patch through which I couldn't see.
     As the light strengthened I found that I could see through the patch, though it remained as a yellowish stain; faded through each day, reappeared each morning; I kept diagrams of it (among the copious drawings I was making). It was the beginning of macular degeneration. I got as far up Italy as Perugia, before having to turn back toward the Rome airport. On the last evening I came down a strange road past another place that seemed to live in premature dusk: Cerveteri, “ancient Caere,” the Etruscans' city of tombs.


Matera, cave dwellings in the cliff