Breaking its rhythmic ebbing, the wind abruptly hurled a stronger current against my stride – it nearly knocked me off my feet.
It hadn’t broken my balance, or bones; but I couldn’t resist the romantic notion that it’d have torn into my atomic constitution, scattering fragments of me like molecular confetti.
Another whoosh. I slouched, caressing my own chest to brace for the next shockwave. But the wind didn’t come – instead, the crashing sound erupted far off the cliff top viewpoint we stood, spectating, as raw hydraulic power hammered the horizontal limestone formations that barred the Adriatic Sea from Italian landmass.
Above the tidal smiting perched the old town of Polignano a Mare, precariously reclining on a sedimentary foundation shredded by the very waters that formed it. It may be difficult to observe it from our perspective, a mere speck so small it’s almost static in relativity of geological time frames; yet under adverse weather, imagining bodily compositions shattering by each torrent, the constant pounding were strengthened enough to even carve stones on impact.
If gazing at a geological formation is reading a history book, then watching a storm is like witnessing strokes of the pen that wrote it.
Even the Italian word for ‘sea’ is in the name of this township – after all, it was born out of the waters that surround it.
“This all used to be submerged millions of years ago,” Dionisio, our guide, referred to the cove as we crossed the bridge above it. A singular layer cake that’s scooped out by a divine spoon in super-slow motion – I sniggered to my own analogy: my inner geologist was resurrected, and he wouldn’t shut up inside my head.
Despite the rain soaking and weighing down my clothes, fogging up my glasses, I’d have stared at the structure for as long as I could mentally reenact its genesis in fast-forward.
It would’ve literally risen from the ocean – or, rather, raised as sea level receded – after assembling underwater; dead organic matter, those of seafloor dwellers and ones reaching watery graves, typically make up limestone as skeletal material, such as animal bones and expired coral, calcify to form calcium carbonate minerals that were deposited and compressed at the bottom of the ocean.
The limestone strata – singular beds of sedimentary rock – would be interlaced with deposits of mud and clay, moulding the alternate layers that gave Polignano’s cliffs their banded appearance.
That was until the very forces that constructed the formation embarked on ruthless demolishment.
By the time we reached the other side of the cove, deep within the old town of Polignano, the skies had begun patting my face with icy pellets. People were screaming, dodging excruciation under the narrowest of overhead balconies, while the hailstorm pounded flesh and stone alike.
How rocks could wail, if they were given voice and felt pain?
For when Polignano’s cove is weathering away, it isn’t just brute attrition that chisels and splinters the fabric of cliff faces; gentle acidities of seawaters and salted vapours corrode and polish minute surfaces, yet they burrow in crevasses and eviscerate whole boulders over time – until rocks crackled, agonised in groaning as they surrendered to gravity.
Just like all things in existence, here was a rudimentary, fluxing life-and-death cycle – and I caught a glimpse blurry enough to suggest a hint of motion.
And on this demising foundation, Apulians had decided to give birth to settlement. As early as when the Greek merchants of antiquity stepped foot on these shores, archaeological digs suggest.
Even with gusts and rainfall hewing away, its residents ducking indoors and spared of umbrellas flipped inside out, Polignano a Mare was breathing pulses of vitality; vines spiralled and plant pots perched, defiantly, adorning wherever deserving a brush of green amidst the beige landscape.
Street signs, calligraphed steps, effigies and candle-lit shrines, flickers yet subjugated by assaulting gale; it wasn’t some relic or diorama of resilience – Polignano was very much alive. And growing.
Its archways, inter-layering brickworks and columns took their building blocks from the very rocks they rest upon; observed afar, the citadel may well appear it’d risen straight out of the limestones below, sprouting and blossoming from the dying gasps of elder stratigraphy, like a tree shoot emerging out of a burnt stump.
Right on cue, downpour turned up a notch the instant our group stepped out of Polignano old town. Convenient, since Bar Gelateria was just opposite the street.
Perhaps a little too breeze-bitten for cold treats, I reckoned. Instead, a caffè speciale: almond liqueur, chantilly cream, lemon peel and hot coffee. As far as treats went, the zesty creamy warmth of coffee, coupled with an intrinsic alcohol burn, was a worthy solace from wet clothes.
I stepped outside for a cigarette just to find Dionisio. He’d hoped I enjoyed touring Polignano, apologising about the weather as profusely as a Brit might.
“Are you kidding?” I countered with a grin. “I couldn’t wish for more fitting conditions to see this place; geology – and everything governed by it – should be observed in weather that carves even stones.”