apulia – the english strike againpuglia 2015 – prologue 1
I started using prologues last year when I began writing about Sicily before we got there. In those and these prologues, I use images from online. In both instances, the prologues serve to set the scene. Reflecting on last year’s prologue posts, I’d have to say that we skipped many of the recommended sites that I wrote about. With that in mind, I am using these early posts as introductions.
The word Apulia is a Roman corruption for the name of the two tribes of Lapigi people – Dauni and Messapi – who first lived in the region. (In ancient times only the northern part of the region was called Apulia; the southern peninsula was known as Calabria, a name now used to designate the southwestern tip of the Italian peninsula.)
In 14 days, I head up to Toronto to begin the 2015 trip to Italy. Like last year, I’m going in September, no more needing to travel in August when the tourists and the heat are at their worst. And this time, I’m flying out of Toronto. (We were able to get the best prices and the least connections. We fly Toronto/Rome, Rome/Bari. Martina Franca, where we’re staying, is an hour south-west of Bari.)
Puglia came on the radar, because of Earle-and-Suzanne the Australian couple we’ve stayed with the last three times we were in Le Marche. In 2013, they told us they were buying a rundown trulli in Puglia and renovating it so they could get away from the winters in Le Marche. And that the new house would be ready for rental the summer of 2015. Given that Rose, Derrick and I like their house in Isola di Fano, the thought of renting from them again in Puglia was an easy decision. However, this is old-house-renovation and I don’t care where you are, the time-frame is never what you think. By February, Suzanne told us the house in Puglia would not be ready to rent until the summer of 2016.
Rose got going and found us an amazing rental – Villa Faraone – near Martina Franca. The online images are great and the reviews, from people who have stayed there, are very positive. This is the first time we are staying at something so grand. We have been gravitating to the best in the low-price range. This bumps us into the next category – rentals with amenities.
via appia – the ancient road to brindisipuglia 2015 – prologue 2
The Via Appia – Appian Way – was one of the earliest and strategically most important roads of the ancient republic. It connected Rome to Brindisi in southeast Italy. The road is named after Appius Claudius Caecus, the Roman censor who began and completed the first section. Its importance is indicated by its common name – regina longarum viarum – the queen of the long roads. The modern Via Appia Nuova – Strada Statale 7 (SS7) – follows the route of the ancient road.
I find it interesting that in Le Marche, we drove the Via Flaminia all the time. And in Rome last year, I insisted we go to the Piazza del Popolo to where the Via Flaminia began. This year, it’s the Via Appia, the most famous and most known of the ancient roads, that we will be using. (It won’t be as ubiquitous and I’ll have to find a reason to get on the SS7. Maybe when we’re on our way to Matera.)
granita di caffè con pannapuglia 2015 – prologue 3
During junior year, I lived on granita di caffè, senza panna – coffee ice, no-whip – until my hands shook so badly and I had to cut back on the caffeine. I mention this, because the image on the left, from the FB page of Caffè Tripoli in Martina Franca, looks most like the granita I gorged on. But granita has gone up-scale and therefore is now served in small cordial glasses befitting the new glitterati traveling through Italy. (F that, I want a sundae-size glass of finely shaved, frozen coffee. Tell me that that doesn’t look like something worth getting the shakes for? Minus the whipped cream of course.) In college we were poor kids, and a big scoop of coffee ice was a cheap order that allowed us to sit and people-watch for hours. (We saved our money for Courvoisier.)
One of the hopes of this trip, is that we’ve finally found a place that has all the amenities – salt-pool, AC, remote location, but close enough to the centro storico to allow us to go out for a passeggiata, a gelato, a granita. (This means I’ll have to pack some decent, non-tourist clothes.)
As much as I liked Earle-and-Suzanne’s in Isola di Fano, going out after dinner was really not an option. The closest small town with somewhat of a night-life was Mondavio, but it was over the hills and through the woods on narrow roads with no street lights. But Puglia is flat and Martina Franca is a two minute car ride. I hope we can walk there, but that will depend on decent roads free of mad-driving Italians. (As I pack, the old bitch of a nun who told me that I was obviously Italian, but my clothes screamed tourist is still in my head.)
The website that Carmello, the owner, uses only shows the house and the immediate grounds. But on google-maps you can see Villa Faraone and the land around it. Before finding it, I had no idea where and how the house was situated. And then taking it a step further, I got walking directions and followed them into town. Google-maps says that it’s a 30 minute walk, but I don’t have a good sense of distances in street-view. (It’s a 30 minute walk from my house to downtown Pittsburgh and I did that walk almost daily the last three years, so the walk to Martina Franca shouldn’t be impossible.) By car, it’s a 7 minute ride from the Villa to Piazza Maria Immacolata – the main square, but you cannot take a car into the centro storico. This means we are gonna have to find parking and then walk in. Street-view is clear that once you are in the old town, there are Medieval alleys instead of modern streets.
Rose and I spend yesterday going through restaurants, vineyards and pilgrimage sites we want to visit. The most surprising were the restaurants and gelaterie. My comment was that Derrick will love all the meat dished, Rose will like the risottos and cheeses and I will love all the vegetables and cured meats. And in Ostuni, Rose found a famous artiginal gelato maker and never mind all the options for the famous Pugliese bread.
I don’t remember having all these options when we were in Calabria. It could be that we were in Calabria early on and we didn’t know how to find things. But I’m beginning to think that tourism in Puglia is better organized than it is in Calabria. There certainly seems to be many more accommodations options than we ever found in Calabria. I probably need to decouple Puglia from the Mezzogiorno. I’m beginning to suspect that Basilicata and Calabria are on a similar tourist trajectory and that Puglia is much further ahead. There is a lot of online content for Puglia and there seems to also be a group that left, but has come back. There are several chefs that have gone back to Puglia after they made their reputations here in America.
first light – martina francapuglia 2015 – 1st entry
We’re here in Martina Franca. And the image on the left is the sun through the pine-tree. (The property has the beautiful gate.)
It’s 6:00 in the morning and after about five hours of sleep, the bells from some monastery woke me. I’ll have to ask our contact where the place is. Or listen to see if I can figure out where the tolling is coming from. (It’ll take me a couple of days to get onto this time zone.)
South central Puglia is full of olive trees. And when I saw full it means as far as the eye can see. From the plane, the whole area surrounding the city of Bari was green with olive trees. And for the whole hour that it took to drive down to Martina Franca, all you saw were olive trees. The place is green, gone are the brown hills of Calabria. Also, the area has a well-kept, lived in feel to it.
We left Toronto at 10:30 Sunday night, and that got us into Bari late Monday afternoon. And after the drive down and meeting up with Carmello it was too late to eat in, so we asked for a recommendation and Carmello brought us to this very nice pizza restaurant. (I got Derrick to take a pic of my pizza – arugula and fresh mozzarella – and I’ll post as soon as I can get it.)
another mario – class of 32puglia 2015 – 2nd entry
“These were not stolen.” (Rose accused me of doing a Derrick, which means stealing figs from a tree close to the street.) I went walking Via Cupa, the street that the house is on, and saw this huge fig-tree. There was an older man in the driveway, so I asked if I could shoot the tree. I introduced myself and he asked what class I was. (BTW, his name was Mario.) Asking one’s class is asking how old you are. The class is the year your were born. I told him 49; he said his was 32. For an 83 year-old he looked damn good.
He explained that the tree contained several varieties. They had let three trees grow and entwine together. The limbs where I was standing had the white figs. I picked six ripe ones and took them back for us to have with breakfast.
The country roads in this lower part of Martina (The locals do not refer to their town as Martina Franca and looking at the Italian maps, the Franca part of the name is generally smaller and less emphasized.) are full of old and renovated trulli.
We took a long walk down Via Cupa going away from Martina and found both renovated trulli and old, falling-down ones. The renovated trulli use a rounded stone-brick to cover the outside of cone.
The original trulli use a flat stone to cover the cone. The flat stone allowed for stacking without mortar. In the image on the left you can see the flat stones. And between the outside stones and the inside plaster, the old farmers filled the space with the small stones found in their fields. The small stones are exposed in the back cone where the exterior stones are missing.
I’m gonna start writing about the legacy that the peasants left in the Mezzogiorno. In Puglia, the trulli that now attract visitors from all over, were peasants houses. The stones that they removed from the field they used to build the walls that parameter the roads, the properties and the cones that topped their farm-houses. (Both the walls and the trulli use a dry stone construction.)
The cucina povera that is now the rage in all the healthy eating books, was developed out of necessity. When you had no money and the padrone owned the land you farmed, then developing inexpensive, but healthy nutritional option was a necessity. (Today, the first-world nations have freed up their population from the demands of foods production so that they can concentrate on the development of new products and technologies that will make life easier.)
This morning we went to the open-market in Martina Franca. It had a huge number of clothing vendors and in the back were the fruits and vegetables. (The images of the yellow grapes and the peaches in the slide-show are from the market.)
In the afternoon, we drove to Ostuni. It’s considered one of the five white cities of Puglia. The designation comes from the fact that all the houses are painted white. This tradition is a leftover from the time of the plague, when the inhabitants noticed that there was less contagion in and around the white-houses. This most likely was because of the antibacterial effects of the calcium carbonate – the mixture of limestone dust and water that they used as paint. Today, the white-houses attract the tourists and the local government encourages everyone to repaint every two years by paying half the cost.
The bell-tower is one of the few structures to sit above the roof-line of the old town.
In all the years that we’ve been coming to Italy, this is the first time that we’ve had cold weather. Here we are in a renovated trulli with a pool and haven’t been able to use it yet. But starting Saturday, the weather is back to hot.
our first meal – cucina povera-1puglia 2015 – 5th entry
One of the benefits of traveling with my cousin Rose is that she will steer us to the best places to eat and to the best food items to buy. And Puglia, more than anywhere else we’ve been, has a rich tradition of cucina povera – peasant cuisine, or the food that the poor grew, cooked and ate. And with our parents being poor southern Italians, this is the food we grew up eating.
We got here late Monday night and rather than try and cook, the rental agent suggested a pizzeria in town. I had the arugula and mozzarella (Derrick took the pic with his phone.), Rose had tuna and capers and Derrick had a capicola topped pie.
The next day we went walking and picked figs and blackberries as we walked the stone-walled lanes. Dinner last night was a fresh tomato sauce, seasoned with sweet Tropea onions, and fresh ricotta over a pasta. Today, we had lunch in Ostuni. Rose and I had the antipasti and Derrick had a pasta in a green pesto-like sauce made from nettles and served in a cup of bread. (Nettles is such a clear example of cucina povera. Imagine making a delicate sauce from a plant called a stinging-nettle and that most Americans would call a weed and kill on sight.)
The antipasti were different. There were two of each of the following:
– start-shaped asparagus mousse
– potato polpette
– fresh ricotta topped with caramelized onions
– stuffed eggplant
– a grain mixture colored black with squid-ink and topped with melted Gorganzola
– cod in a black squid-ink tempura batter
– sausage and mushrooms
– polenta cakes, and
– a bag of different cuts of bread.
How can you pass up a title like that? The trulli of Alberobello are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When we got to Alberobello – beautiful tree – I was expecting a small town with a lot of trulli scattered throughout. Instead, the old town is all trulli. In Italian, the old town is called la zona monumentale and all the housing in the area is trulli, hundreds and hundreds of trulli; their cone roofs filling the sky.
Alberobello is in the Valle d’Itria in south-central Puglia. The region is really a land depression, a giant sink-hole, not a true valley. The rock-table that the land sits on is full of caves and the stone is very porous factors that contributed to the depression as cave walls collapsed because of drainage. The stone that got exposed because of the land sinking is what the peasants used to built their homes – the trulli – and the stone walls the form the boundaries of their properties and the lanes we drive on.
I had seen pictures of Alberobello, but I had no idea the old town had such a dense collection of trulli. Seeing that many trulli, all clustered together, is what make Alberobello amazing. (These trulli all have their original stone cones. Many of the renovated trulli throughout the Valle d’Itria have replaced the ancient stones with modern stone-bricks that keep the look, but change the engineering of the original trulli. The old stone was long, wide and flat. These were stacked without mortar to form the cones.)
Matera, in Basilicata, is another UNESCO Heritage Site famous for its sassi. The Sassi di Matera – the stones-dwellings of Matera – originated in prehistoric times. (The original dwellings were caves carved into the side of the mountain. Some are still visible on the opposite side of the valley.) And the caves are thought to be among the first human settlements on the peninsula.
The top of the mountain is a different story. Here the Church and the nobility appropriated the land. The area is littered with cathedrals, monasteries, convents and palaces. The old monstrosities have been converted into expensive hotels. (Many of the room are in caves; the exteriors are built outside the rock, but the interior spaces are carved into the mountainside. The daily rates, to sleep in a cave can hit over $400 a night.) The above image is of the restorers working on the cathedral at the top of the mountain.
Derrick’s reaction to dwellings on the side of the mountain was similar to Rick’s; both did not understand how people lived in vertical spaces. Having grown up in a vertical space, Aprigliano is built on the side of the mountain, the sassi felt familiar and I knew immediately how to navigate the steep stairs and alleys.
altamura – la citta di panepuglia 2015 – 9th entry
From Matera in Basilicata, we drove back into Puglia and then to Altamura famous for its rustic, artigian bread.
The photograph on the left is of the main street. For more than three blocks, the street is lined with these luminaries. They will fill the night with their LED light.
A couple of things set me off.
-It was 1:00 and all the high-school kids were off and hanging out everywhere. And like high-school kids everywhere they were annoying and totally self-absorbed. The latest fashion craze among the young and stupid is m c hammer pants. There they were walking around in their isolated, selfie world with their balloon pants and looking like they hadn’t showered in days. The girls have adopted model poses and walk around as if on a cat-walk. (One set of girls were ecstatic, because I took a pic of the street and they were in it. OMG!)
-We saw two weddings. While eating lunch we saw all the wedding guests going back to their cars. All the men, young and old, were wearing suits that had skinny-pants and short jackets and sneakers. (Only the older men still had on dress-shoes.) And on our way back to the car, we walked by a bride-and-groom and their photographer/videographer. The bride was lying down on the cathedral steps, her white dress hiked up and looking at the photographer/videographer with this wanton look. Time Square whore or new bride? (I wanted to ask if I could take a pic, because nothing I can write will do justice to the image of the young woman on her back, on the church steps with her white dress hiked up to her knees and her legs crossed and her one leg dangling a white stiletto shoe.)
on a wall, in the fields of pugliapuglia 2015 – 10th entry
This is the first day of full-sun and we headed out into the country to walk the stone-wall lined lanes. We are in the middle of an olive grove and I was determined to shoot the gnarly trunks, but in order to do that, I had to climb the wall and jump into the red fields. Derrick took the pic of me on the wall with the old trulli behind me.
What is different about Puglia is that we can walk. The area where we’re staying is the flat depression between the hill of Martina Franca and the hill of Locorotondo. And the depression runs some 30 kilometers north and west all the way to Alberobello. (The first pic in the slide-show is Locorotondo and the flats below it.)
And to take advantage of the sun, we decided to have lunch in and to go out for dinner giving us the afternoon at the pool. This is our first luxury rental and we’ve been waiting all week for the sun.
The evening passeggiata in Martina Franca is famous, so tonight we’re eating in the old centro and then joining the walkers as they stroll back-and-forth between the three piazzas – Piazza XX Settembre, Piazza Roma and Piazza Plebiscito – of the old town.
Every town and city in Italy has a Via XX Settembre or a Piazza XX Settembre. The date commemorates when the Italian unification forces entered and captured the city of Rome defeating the Papal army fighting against unification. The September 20 capture of Rome and the defeat if the Papacy meant the Papal States could be annexed into the new unified country.
a tower to warn of the saracenspuglia 2015 – 11th entry
We drove two-and-a-half hours north to the Gargano, a peninsula jutting out into the Adriatic. It was the first time I saw mountains.
We rented at a B&B right on the ocean. The problem was the address. We’ve had the most problems getting people to give us house numbers for the places we’re going to. The B&B was no exception. We headed into town thinking that someone could help, but we quickly realized that the town and the resorts down on the water were not necessarily integrated. The best we got was directions down to the water and from there we stopped a couple of times until someone knew the B&B we were searching for.
Originally, the B&B was a defense tower along the Adriatic coast. The grandfather bought it and added a second floor. The stone is the original tower, the bricks are the addition. The shutters on the right are for the room I was in.
Rose and I were both worried about this booking, because it was made through an international group rather than directly with the owner. But when we got there all the worried went away. The second floor is all decorated with precious antiques, amazing.
The reason for the trip north was to go see the Santuario San Michele in Monte San Michele and Renzo Piano’s cathedral in San Giovanni Rotondo. (Renzo Piano designed the Pompidou Center and the new Whitney Museum.)
We went back to Mattinata for dinner and found the place full of people. The passeggiata was in full swing. It was a three day festival for the Madonna – patron of Mattinata. The main street was decorated with the lumieri. The image on the left is a small portion of the light-decorations. (The image was taken the second night of the festival. But Sunday night, the square was packed.)
I remember the light-decorations from when I was a kid. They were no where this elaborate, because they were still using good-old-fashion incandescent light-bulbs. Also, back then the light-decorations were limited, because Aprigliano doesn’t have the long streets that Mattinata has.
In each town we’ve visited, it’s clear that Puglia either didn’t suffer the drainage that Calabria did or it has recovered much quicker. The whole province looks prosperous; there is little evidence of abandoned towns and villages. In the Valle d’Itria there is a resurgence of locals renovating the trulli and an effort to build a tourist industry. And here in the Gargano, as evidence in the passeggiata, there are lots of young families with kids in tow.
Rose had found a restaurant in Mattinata that had gotten a lot of good online reviews and we headed for it. (The owner of the B&B had recommended a pizzeria that we passed on, because nothing on the menu looked interesting. That was his third recommendation and we took none of them.)
Again, the menu at the restaurant was typical peasant food and it was delicious. The image on the left is a fava dish. The fave are mashed and mixed with cime di rape – rapini. It was one of the antipasti that Rose had the first night. I asked if I could have it as my main dish the next night and the waiter said yes. We had three main dishes, a half-liter of house wine and bottled water and we still only paid less than 25 euros.
The first night I had an eggplant casserole that was amazing. It was thinly sliced eggplant with layers of parmigiano cheese and tomato sauce in between. I’ve been able to eat vegetable dishes the whole time we’ve been here.
Internet services have been crazy the last two days. We’ve not been able to upload anything, so I’m doing a lot of catching up. The heat has returned and I’m writing, jumping into the pool, coming back to the laptop and going back out to the salt-water pool.
not the whitney – renzo pianopuglia 2015 – 14th entry
The new basilica at the Padre Pio Santuario in San Giovanni Rotondo was designed by architect Renzo Piano. The image on the left is the inside of the cathedral. We went there specifically to see the new basilica.
I really liked the inside of the building and the outside courtyard. The outside of the building is less interesting and easily overlooked. One of the most interesting designs – all the secondary doors leading into the basilica work and look like garage doors. At street-floor, the building looks like a huge airplane hanger and the garage-door design works great with that motif.
But like all Catholic sites in Italy this too makes it clear why Martin Luther was able to start a revolution. On Sundays and other feast-days the place is full of Italians of a certain age, dropping coins into the hundreds of offering boxes scattered throughout the church and believing that they can negotiate with the Almighty through the intersession of the local saint. (There’s even a set of holy steps next to the old cathedral that people, of a certain age, climb on their knees looking to have their requests and demands considered by the recently canonized Padre Pio.)
Padre Pio was a favorite of the Polish Pope whom I call the Nazi Pope. The Nazi Pope liked Padre Pio as much as he liked Mother Teresa. And the three of them are infamous for their nasty attitudes. The day we were there, a large Polish tour-bus dumped its people into the church. They immediately went down to the crypt and formed a line to view the coffin of San Pio all the while taking selfies – their grinning faces in the foreground, the gold encrusted coffin in the background.
On our way back south, we drove to see the famous Frederick II castle outside the city of Andria. And on the way we saw a drove of donkeys. Some were eating the thistles that littered the rock covered ground, others were lying in the sun.
Some random thoughts:
– Andria was a dirty, crammed town and there’s no way of avoiding it, because all roads go through it.
– The lunch we had in San Giovanni Rotondo was the worst ever. The trattoria obviously caters to the thousands that come to the sanctuary looking for favors with the Almighty.
– After the castle, we stopped in Trani for lunch and picked a fancy restaurant where we had one of the best meals. Trani was not very interesting. It’s claim to fame is the huge cathedral at the water’s edge.
– The GPS needs some help, or we need to figure out how to better read it. In the old towns, there are small roads that we often miss and therefore the machine is doing a lot of recalculating.
– There are no other American tourists anywhere in sight.
– Kids in Italy go to school 24 hours a week compared to American students who are in school 32 hours a week. All Italian students go home for lunch. Schools do not have cafeterias; they also don’t seem to have sports teams.
Castel del Monte, Frederick-the-Second’s 13th-century citadel is 14 kilometers south of Andria. It stands on a promontory, on land inherited from his mother Constance of Sicily. It has neither a moat nor a drawbridge; it was probably built as a hunting lodge. It is considered one of the most fascinating castle built by Frederick II. The castle and surroundings are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The castle appears on the Italian one-cent euro coin.
The castle is an octagonal prism with an octagonal tower at each corner. The floors have eight rooms and an eight-sided courtyard occupies the castle’s center. In the image on the right, the three of us are in the courtyard.
Mafalda di Savoia was born in 1902. She was the second daughter of the Italian king Vittorio Emanuele III. (Rose likes to point out how similar our grandmother’s maiden name is to name of the King of Italy. Our grandmother’s maiden name was S A V A I A.) My grandparents, in 1927, named their second daughter Mafalda. At that time a very popular name. (All the Italians of my parents generation as well as those of my aunt-and-uncles age group, all know the name Mafalda.) But by the end of World War II, Italy was a different place; the monarchy was gone, Fascism had brought the country to its knees and the south was beginning to empty out. The next generation, whether they immigrated or stayed, forgot the name of the old king’s second daughter. I’ve never met anyone else with the name Mafalda. (I don’t remember where we were in Le Marche when someone called to a woman, my mother’s age, and called her Mafalda.)
The street sign is from the small town of Cisternino, one of the three white-cities here in central Puglia.
looking for risiti – cucina povera-3puglia 2015 – 19th entry
Tuesday and Wednesday we had no upload capability and today for a short time the uploading problem happened again.
This morning we went to the farmers-market in Locorotondo. (The image on the left is one of the white houses in the Medieval town.) The intent was to buy more of the red mushrooms – Lactarius deliciosus – know in our family as risiti. The link takes to the Wikipedia page for Lactarius deliciosus. The following is the entry from the page about wild-mushrooms in Calabria. Lactarius deliciosus – detto volgarmente “rosito” per il suo colore rosa-arancione, è uno dei funghi più noti e ricercati in Sila. (And in the dialect of the Apriglianese, the word became risiti.) Earlier in the week, I bought some risiti at the farmers-market in our area.
When our parents were still going wild-mushroom picking, the risiti were the prized ones, because they’re meaty and have a wonderful flavor. And my Dad would give me some cooked and seasoned in vacuum sealed jars.
When we got back, a great debate ensued about how to prepare the risiti. I suggested – frying them in a olive oil with some small tomatoes to add liquid. Rose and Derrick remembered my uncle preparing them without tomatoes, because they supposedly made their own sauce. I kept explaining that they were a meaty mushroom and released little to no water when fried. In the end we added the tomatoes. They were great over pasta.
pipi e patate – cucina povera-4puglia 2015 – 20th entry
Today’s farmers-market find was new potatoes. So for supper we had pipi e patate – fried red pepper and fried new potatoes. We also saw Borlotti beans and even though they were mature, we bought a kilo. So along with our pipi e patate, Rose also stewed the beans. This is the time of year for big, red peppers, new potatoes and mature beans.
In the image, Rose is cooking at the outside kitchen. One pan has the pipi e patate, the other the beans.
Growing up, pipi e patate were a staple. Often, the left-overs made it to my lunch. (Tonight we did not eat them with bread, but Rose and Derrick did sprinkle finely chopped Rosemary on theirs.) And as much as I like them, I’ve resorted to just frying the peppers; frying the potatoes takes too much work.
The mature Borlotti were really good. The beans were plump and very tasty. They’ll probably find their way to a pasta dish tomorrow night.
We drove down to Lecce. It’s a city of contrasts – the old city is full of Baroque architecture, the new city is full of modern, well-designed buildings. Lecce is the largest city in the Salento Peninsula. The County of Lecce was one of the largest and most important fiefs in the Kingdom of Sicily from 1053 to 1463, when it was annexed directly to the crown. From the 15th century, Lecce was one of the most important cities of southern Italy, and, starting in 1630, it was enriched with precious Baroque monuments.
The old city is exceptionally well maintained. Where the Baroque cities of the Valle de Noto were not well preserved, Baroque Lecce is being rehabbed and made even more splendid.
The old city is large and because southern Puglia is flat, the elevation that gave us perspective and direction in Sicily was missing in Lecce. This made the experience of exploring the old town more like a walk in a rabbits’ warren. And the add to our confusion and discomfort, the place was crawling with bus-loads of tourists.
We parked the car outside the old city and I got Derrick to program its location into the GPS so that we could find our way back. And it’s a good thing we did, because even following the GPS in walk-mode it took us a while to get out of the old Medieval town and back to the car.
The above image is an old ad for a chocolate store in the heart of the old town.
This morning we drove south to Grottaglie. Online there is information about ceramics and murals. What the blogs don’t tell you is that the old town is a mess and the new town not very interesting.
The GPS took us over the mountain and down on the flats we saw the ancient olive trees. We stopped and went into a grove and shop for about a half-hour. The gnarled trunks seem to give personalities to the old, old trees. In the grove we were in, most of the trees were grafted. It seemed that two small trees had been grafted together to produce trunks a good six inches in diameter. Is that why the ancient trees are so gnarly? Are the ancients really a number of trunks intertwined?
One of the photo-essays will be on olive trees. (Tolkien had to be thinking of olive trees when he created the Ents. And Peter Jackson certainly made his Treebeard look like ancient olive trees.)
In the afternoon, we decided to walk the road on the other side of SS-172, going towards Locorotondo. On the horizon a dark thunderstorm covered the hilltop and Locorotondo’s white walls shimmered. We made it to a rise where I was able to shoot the city on the hill and then ran back to the car, determined to not get rained on.
The last image in the slide-show is from a convent garden we passed on our walk. They are red hot-peppers.
a storm on the horizon – cucina povera-5puglia 2015 – 23rd entry
One of the back-road to Locorotondo takes you through beautifully renovated trulli and red-brown fields. The GPS took us down this narrow, stonewall-lined road and I’ve been wanting to walk it ever since. Today, we risked a walk before the storm.
I’m on a small rise facing north and watching the storm come in. Immediately overhead, the skies were blue, but the wind was pushing it towards us. For a brief moment, Locorotondo shimmered against the angry blue-black sky. (Look how dark the left side of the image is. The storm was racing in our direction.) Behind the white shimmer, lightning was cutting the sky, but I couldn’t capture the red bleed.
For lunch, I had pane-e-caso – bread and cheese. And for dinner Rose made a wonderful stir-fried tomato sauce that she mixed the left over Borlotti beans and left-over orecchiette pasta.
our last day – cucina povera-6puglia 2015 – 24th entry
Considering it’s our last day and it began with driving rain, we made good use of the rain-free afternoon.
We went to our favorite town – Locorotondo – for lunch. Rose finally had the fave e cicorie Derrick and I had cavatelli con ceci neri.
Fave e cicorie are described as: un piatto povero della tradizione pugliese, fatto con ingredienti semplici e genuini: fave secche in purè con cicorielle selvatiche. A peasant dish from Puglia made from simple home grown and field gathered ingredients: dry fave reconstituted and pureed and wild dandelions.
Cavatelli con ceci neri is cavatelli pasta in a black chickpea sauce. It too comes from the peasant tradition in Puglia.
We came back to the house and took a walk down the lane. The image of the chestnuts is from the walk. The rain, yesterday and today, dropped the temperature and the wind gave the air a chill. It’s the first day of fall and the wind reminded us of the change.
I’ve been reading the political commentators and they’ve been referring to the summer of 2015 as The Summer of Trump. Yesterday, CNN announced an 8% drop in Mr. Trump’s numbers. I guess even for the reality-TV star, the season has turned.
The title is the Calabrian dialect word for cactus-fruit. There are two colors for the fruit, yellow and the burgundy-red in the image on the left. I think the red ficunniane have a bit more taste.
With this being more of an eating trip than a sight-seeing one, we picked and ate a lot of fruit as we walked the stonewalled narrow lanes. We picked and ate figs off the trees, we picked and ate blackberries off the brambles that covered the stone walls and Derrick decided to try his hand at the prickly cactus-fruit; the plants were everywhere and they were full of ripening ficunniane. Rose put up a fuss, because of the spine – the thin thorns – and I was determined to not get them on my hands. Derrick diligently used paper-towels to handle the fruit and then cleaned them in the sink. I went after him to clean the skins and made sure to reach into the sink with a thick wad of paper-towels and then dried my hands on the tea-towels. Well, I got the thorns on my fingers and I spent lots of time finding them and pulling them off with tweezers.
Ficunniane are a difficult fruit to pick and handle, because the outer shell is covered in both thin and thick thorns. The thick ones are obvious and easy to avoid; it’s the thin almost invisible ones that get stuck in fingers. (I’ve never been able to peel them without getting the almost invisible thorns stuck in my fingers and in my old age, I let my Dad peal them.) The fruit is also full of seeds and not everyone is willing to deal with the seeds or focus on the fleshy pulp.
Last year in Belmonte, the owner of the albergo diffuso had made a wonderful after-dinner liqueur from the yellow cactus-fruit.
Let me talk a bit more about the eating. Puglia is now famous among travelers for its cucina povera. (Many of its chefs have come to America and made a name for themselves and the foods they grew up eating.) As a matter of fact, Puglia cuisine is everywhere online and Rose was able to identify well-reviewed restaurants in each of the small town we visited. The most talked about dish in the cucina povera repertoire is fave e cicorie selvatiche – pureed fave with wild dandelions. One place we ate at, the owner made an effort to explain that fave e cicorie selvatiche are really a winter dish and that restaurants who serve it are doing nothing more than catering to the tourists. That made perfect sense; the dish is heavy and not something I associate with light summer fare. But we weren’t ever gonna get to Puglia in the winter, so we joined the throng of tourists and ate the pureed dish.
The best part of the cucina povera was that I could eat vegetarian the whole time we were there.
Puglia is so unlike anywhere else I’ve been in Italy. In the past, as soon as I got off the plane, the environment and landscape seemed familiar; it felt like I belonged; there was a connection. All of that was missing in Puglia. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that the region is flat, the soil fertile and green fills the landscape. In the flats between the rise of Martina Franca and the Adriatic, there are olive trees as far as the eye can see. And what’s not olive groves are either wheat fields or vineyards. (Mussolini wanted to make Italy self-sufficient and Puglia soon became the new bread-basket.) Because the wheat was all harvested, all we saw was the red-earth. In the vineyards, the grape plants are kept very short; the grape arbors were no more than a meter tall.
And there was not a mountain to be seen, no brown, dry earth, no precipice to look over, to scare you. The vistas from Calabria’s hilltop towns, the cultivated rugged, mountainsides, the switchbacks leading to the villages don’t exist in Puglia. Even the small country churches that litter the Calabrian countryside are not there. (The small country churches of Calabria are full of amazing folk-art.)
There are no great museums or important churches with great works. The Valle d’Itria is interesting and the trulli are unique and fit into a landscape cleared of rocks. But beyond the Itria depression, Puglia is ordinary.
Immigrants from Puglia make up only 8% of Southern Italian in Canada; Calabrians make up 18%. There was less reason to leave Puglia. Several times throughout the two weeks, my cousin Rose said, “Imagine what our parents could have done if they had had fertile, flat land in Calabria?
I think Puglia, like Calabria, as a destination makes most sense if your family emigrated from there.