I am in Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot, a hot, arid place with crumbling stone walls, olive trees, cactus, and Baroque limestone buildings. The people in Puglia are friendly, open, and don’t have the sense of furbezza—distrust, wheeler-dealer scamming–that is more common in Sicily, Naples, and other parts of southern Italy.
After I arrived in Brindisi the first night, completely tired after three flights and a sleepness night, I went to a simple pizzeria near the airport hotel. I was revived, sitting outdoors, watching people come in for dinner with groups of friends, kids chasing each other around. I ate an arugula salad with bresaeola and a crispy-crusted pizza Napolitano with anchovies and salt-cured capers from nearby islands, with local white wine, and everything was right with the world. Since I was alone, the waiter did what great Italian waiters do, which was to effectively give me company, making enough conversation to put me at ease, kissing my hand and welcoming me to Italy all the way from San Francisco, and calling me “bellisima signora.”
(I wish more American men would realize that compliments are free and don’t necessarily mean they have to have a relationship with the woman, they can just be men appreciating women, and they don’t have to do it in a way that seems aggressive or leering. Last night, for instance, dancing at a concert, an older man smiled at me after the song and said, “Complimenti per la sua eleganza,” using the formal polite address, complimenting me for my elegant dancing. Lovely.)
In Brindisi, I met up with my dear friend Giovanna, from Bologna, and we braved the little streets to find a masseria near Maglie—a reconstructed farmhouse called Le Pezzate, gorgeous little place with a stone pool and friendly owners, Mario and Bernadetta. Giovanna and I accidentally reserved a single instead of a double, so they put two little cots from the pool in the room instead of the bigger bed and I said we could pretend we’re nuns for a few days. The cook at the Masseria makes fresh brioche every morning, with her own marmalade—fig, orange.
Everything is dead here during the heat of the day. The small towns in Grecia Salento are deserted as everyone escapes the heat. They go to the sea or sleep in the afternoon. In the evening, the street come alive, shops open, and the towns are transformed.
I’m here doing research for an article for AFAR magazine, a wonderful and beautiful new magazine about cultural travel. Please subscribe: www. Afar.com. Then you can read my story from Puglia (I’m not going to give it away here!)
Last night was the Notte della Taranta festival in Melpignano. 150,000 people streamed in to this town of 2000 souls for a concert of pizzica, the traditional folk music of the region. It was amazing to see so many people of all ages completely enchanted with the music, the energy, the rhythm. The tambourinists, singers, violinists, accordianists—the orchestra was fantastic, with guest singers including Angelique Kudjo doing traditional feminine songs from her country, and duets with the pizzica singers here. I loved a band called Giro di banda, also Alla Bua…The concert lasted until 4 a.m., after which people gathered in circles with tambourines in the main piazza and either danced or passed out. Giovanna and I got a little lost on the way back to the masseria, where today we can do nothing but repose and recuperate, then make our way to a botanical garden and dinner tonight before I get back to work tomorrow…
Also: I have an article out in Tricycle Buddhist Review, “The Joy of Mindful Cooking,” http://www.tricycle.com/feature/the-joy-mindful-cooking.
Technical note: I bought this cute Internet key from VodaFone in Italy that attaches to my computer; for 50 euros I’m connected anywhere all month, no need to go somewhere with wireless, it uses cell signals…