It is pretty exciting to get an email from a former professor complimenting you on your work product. Well, that is what happened to Audrey. She received a wonderful email from Lowell Cohn, her former professor of Creative Writing at USF congratulating us all on SALENTO BY 5 and commending Audrey for her role as the lead author. You can read Mr. Cohn's review on the home page of this website here. Of course one good turn . . . Lowell Cohn has also had a career as a sportswriter during which he covered Bay Area sports for the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press Democrat. He has just published an absolutely engaging book about his 40 years in the business. Check out GLOVES OFF: 40 Years of Unfiltered Sports Writing - Roundtree Press, Petaluma. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53399391-gloves-off
April 23, 2020
In response to David's recent email inquiring as to how Italian co-author Luciana and her family are doing during this pandemic time, Luciana, at home in Taviano, sent us the following email:
"My family is okay, brother and sister-in-law still going to work. Elisa and Gabriele [niece and nephew], at home but very busy with video lessons from their teachers in the morning, exercise, housework and homework in the afternoons. Then, when their parents are at home, they have a nice schedule of table games, card games and contests, huge jigsaws, paint by numbers and, like most people around here, cooking, baking and eating. I don't get to see them much. Sometimes when I have to go out for some necessary errand, I drive by their home, call them and we wave hello from a distance.
For myself, quarantine is not particularly hard to respect. The main difference is I don't go to school. We chose Microsoft Teams as a means to interact with each other and with our classes. I have 15 hours of e-lessons a week, and I must say that it is working pretty fine with me and my students. Before everything was set, I kept in contact with them by setting up class-groups on WhatsApp. But the only way to reach our students in the first week or so was the school website and kids felt very lonely and upset. Students behave surprisingly well when using apps, way better than their usual selves at school. I guess they are suddenly brought (awoken) to realize what a privilege school is....and a lot of other things we all are rediscovering and putting in their right places in the list of priorities in life.
I go out about once a week and only to nearby shops and pharmacies. Here in Taviano, as of today, we are still untouched (0 cases). Other towns near here have a couple each with the exception of clusters originating in and around hospitals and elderly care homes. People here in the South have so far managed to keep contagion at bay, but it's getting increasingly hard as the weather is getting hotter, small farms need to be taken care of (no, we can't go to our gardens, even though they are in the territory of the same town). Moreover, I'm afraid that it won't be long before people who earn their bread doing odd jobs or small farming, or any of the activities which are on lockdown as non-essential, will decide that they'd rather risk dying from the Covid-19 than surely starving with their families.
In our towns, dozens of shops and restaurants manage to work a bit by offering a delivery service, but there are too many businesses which are totally quiet (flower producers, for one). There are a lot of initiatives organized by associations or by the town administration aiming to provide some relief to those in direst need. So far, I have taken some primary goods to an association because the town administration was only available for collecting stuff in the mornings and I was busy with my lessons.
Yesterday (we are on Easter holidays, which feels surreal) I went to the Palazzo Marchesale (right where we gave our book readings three years ago) to hand out some food and some stuff for children and there was a loooooong queue of people (1 meter away from each other, they reached St.Martin's Square...dozens of them, people I know from buying from them, having things fixed by them, hiring them for farming jobs) in line to pick up essential items and food from the room opposite the one where I was to leave my stuff. I swear. one of the ugliest, most heartbreaking things of my life.
On a lighter note, those who can live through the confinement with not much worry, are all dedicating their time to the two most Italian of things: cooking and music, pestering our social networks with photos of their dishes (the most wanted item in shops these days is fresh beer yeast, as everyone is baking their own bread, biscuits, pizza, focaccia, pucce, and cakes of all sorts), their home-made pasta fresca and lately, their typical Easter time food: basket-shaped, doll-shaped, rooster-shaped sweet bread with a hard boiled egg inside; or lambs made of pasta reale, a sort of marzipan, stuffed with grape jam or chocolate cream.
The first two weeks had a lot of music as well: flash mobs where people would stand at their doors, windows or balconies and sing or play any instruments they had (including pan lids).
It was very nice and heartwarming I must say...but then, given the number of casualties, we were advised to keep a more sober attitude.
I hope the sacrifices we are doing all over the world will produce a flattening of the curve soon....and that we are given back our old lives, which, I'm sure, we are all learning to value in a novel way. Hugs and kisses, Luciana
PS Here's some music from Italy too: Europa In Canto (700 school children performing via WhatsApp) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSWmikiJVIQ"
This past March 16th, 2020, Audrey and I emailed our friend and co-author, Carlo Longo, to inquire about our friends' and their family's health and asking how Salento and their town of Taviano were handling the Coronavirus pandemic. Here is Carlo's welcome response which reflects the typical optimistic Salentinian way of life. Of course, we all hope for the best and wish them continued good health and success in combating the virus. I thought you readers of this blog and of our book, SALENTO BY 5, would appreciate seeing Carlo's response. David Fielding, The Sketcher.
Dear Audrey and David!
First, we're all well, since the health situation in Salento is almost normal, with no sick people so far. Even in the north, where so many people are infected, doctors are not yet compelled to choose between old and young patients. This might be a future scenario, but at the moment the measures of virus containment seem to work and the number of infected should start to decrease in a week or so. In Puglia, we are in time for a huge plan of prophylaxis. A big hospital in Acquaviva delle Fonti is going to be devoted to shelter only coronavirus sick people, while all the others are widening their special wards. Since the first of March, we have been in our houses and go out only to buy food, avoiding close contacts with other people. But we communicate through phones and tablets and every evening at 6 PM we open all the windows and balconies and sing together our national anthem and other famous Italian songs. And this happens everywhere in Italy. In the North there is definitely a huge mass of infected and lots of dead, but in the area where the contagion first began, Lodi, no one has been infected since yesterday. This means that isolation is working.
Our son, Davide has been back to Salento from Milan since the second of March, as Vodafone has permitted smart work to all its employees. So now he is happily working from Taviano. Matteo is in Turin and does smart work, too. They are well and very cautious, since isolation is the only way to avoid contagion. You and Audrey, too, should stay at the cabin for a month or two! My father-in-law is OK, Lucia speaks to him through the window pane, and leaves food for him, keeping the correct distance away.
My group, the Guitar Club, is performing a song called TAJANU on a video on Facebook, just to encourage people to fight and be brave and united.
Dear friends, take care of yourself, as I think the worst is going to arrive in the USA, with that strange kind of president ruling. Try your best to throw him out in November! Carlo
We are thrilled to have received the following notes from Judith and Rick, two happy purchasers of SALENTO BY 5 who carried the book along with them on their recent travels to Salento. They followed a number of our author recommendations for lodging and restaurants. . . . . Thank you, Judith and Rick, for a delightful report!
We travelled in Puglia with friends for two and a half weeks, September 24-Oct 14. In addition to Salento, we visited Vieste, Matera, Ostuni, Monopoli and Trani. For the Salento portion of our trip we based ourselves for five nights in an apartment in Lecce and two nights at L’Astore Masseria as recommended by Luciana in the book. We had perfect weather for the entire trip - I can only remember a tiny sprinkle of rain on one day.
Lecce was a good base. Our “host” advised us about where to go, and I had to laugh that much of his advice centered on what the wind across the peninsula might be doing, and which coast we should visit depending on the wind direction. In the end, we only had one really windy day in Gallipoli, where we lunched at Il Puritate (as recommended by Lucia). We then toured the Ionian coast all the way down to Santa Maria di Leuca and part-way back up the Adriatic coast. In Lecce, we visited a traditional restaurant, Alle due Corte, where we enjoyed a dish of ciceri e tria while I told the others the background story about it from the book.
Highlights of Salento included our day in Otranto. It was hot and gorgeous on a Sunday, so lots of Italians strolling, not just tourists. We wandered the old town, and splurged on lunch at L'altro Baffo. Stopped to swim on the way back to Lecce at Baia dei Turchi. I can see why you prefer to stay in Otranto.
We particularly liked our two days' stay at L'Astore Masseria near Cutrofiano, as recommended by Luciana. The day was a bit cloudy on arrival and the grounds a bit run down (though all cleaned up and mowed the next day). So, we were not sure at the beginning - but it really grew on us. Lovely people really trying to show us the traditions - breakfasts were the best of the whole trip with carefully done traditional foods - jams and figs from the farm, homemade cakes, etc. The renovated rooms were large in the ancient masseria. They gave us a complementary wine/olive oil tasting tour too so we got to see the underground olive storage cave and learn a bit of the history. I showed SALENTO BY 5 to Claudia, from the family that owns the masseria, and she was very pleased about it. She hadn't been aware of it's mention in the book nor of Luciana's recommendation. I gave her information about the Italian publication of the book by AnimaMundi in Otranto.
We ate well in Galatina with a tasting menu at Anima e Cuore, and dinner the next night in Supersano at Masseria La Stanzie, recommended by David and Audrey, where the owners gave us a full tour of the farm house.
We were lucky to be able to have some good swims in both the Ionian and Adriatic seas, including a great excursion for a walk and excellent swim at Parco Naturale Regionale Porto Selveggio on the Ionian Sea. Lovely clear water in both seas, and warm enough even for me who seldom braves the cold British Columbia Pacific. Our one mistake was in not taking your advice about the jelly shoes to walk on the rocky shores. And we never did find any music.
Many thanks for all the advice. SALENTO BY 5 helped make it an excellent trip.
Judith Neamtan & Rick Gordon, Vancouver, B.C.
We're home after flying from Rome to Zurich and Zurich to San Francisco. And then the hard part: 9 days of jet lag. Now we are recovered and looking back over our photos of the trip. Our best swims were in the Otranto Bay early in the morning when the water was glassy and clear. Not one medusa (jellyfish) this year. Our routine: get up early and head down to the water for what would be the longest swim of the day. Later in the afternoon, another swim, sometimes off the molo (pier) and sometimes off the steps that lead to the cucumo (rock) off the shore.
Our final evening in Otranto began with a gin and tonic at the Bar Molo: a toast to travel, to Salento, to Otranto! Salute!
WeatherUnderground reported, "89 degrees, but feels like 101."
Everything was still. It was hot. The Otranto Bay was flat and glassy and warm. Everyone was swimming.
As the afternoon wore on, the clouds on the northern horizon turned dark. Was that thunder? Look, flashes of lightening. And then, the wind. Thunder, lightening, wind and a few drops of rain.
But it was the wind that stirred the stale air and we could breathe again. The wind dried out the air. The doors and window banged into the night against the apartment walls. No longer humid, no longer hot, we closed all the doors and shutters and drew up the quilt on the bed. And all the next day, the wind blew and the next. Restaurant umbrellas flapped like huge birds ready to launch. Large waves crashed into the bay rocks and beach.
No swimmers, no fishermen, no swirling swifts.
The Otrantini live with the wind, be it tramontana, maestrale or scirocco. They say, "nasce, pasce, more...it's born, it lives, it dies." A three day cycle. Then, it is over and calm returns.
We were early. They were late. We parked in the wrong piazza and drank a caffe ghiacciata (espresso with ice) and wondered where they were. Why were they so late? Uh oh....perhaps we were at the wrong piazza? Many Salento towns have more than one. A quick walk to the next piazza, cross the street and there they were: Luciana at the wheel, Lucia at her side and Carlo in the back seat. The stoplight was red, we jumped into the car. "Sorry, we were at the wrong piazza." "No, we just arrived, we're late. We got lost."
It was now past 8:30 and we had reservations at Gli Ulivi, a country restaurant just outside the city of Tricase. A few more stops and false turns, some instruction from Google Maps and we arrived in the dark after navigating two (or were there more?) dirt roads lined by ancient stone walls. One is never late for dinner on a summer night in Salento. It was after 9 pm but we were only the second party to arrive. Our table, one of many, was set in a well-lit clearing surrounded by olive trees.
Red wine, white wine, sparkling water. Traditional Salentinian appetisers, maybe ten in all. We skipped the pasta and the meat and settled for dessert, espresso and a digestivo for Carlo. Luciana, ever the raconteur (see, SALENTO BY 5), at the head of the table and our host for the evening regaled us with stories about her teaching, Salentine history, and Xylella, the bacteria that has done so much damage to Salento's olive trees. Carlo and Lucia talked about family. David and I did our best to follow the conversation in Italian and yet were periodically relieved when our friends spoke English. At 1 AM, we were among the last to leave after a perfect summer evening.
Gil Ulivi is open only for dinners during the summer. In September and October they are open for lunch as well. We recommend it...especially for lunch if you want to avoid the adventure of finding the place in the dark....although with google maps and signs, it can be done!
Audrey and I have acquired a routine of settling into a comfortable chair on the terrace of our Otranto apartment at about dusk. We have a gin and tonic, watch the sun set and let ourselves be mesmerised by the flight above of dozens of Swifts. The Swifts whirl about as if in a great hurry, diving, swooping, careening, forming and immediately disbanding little flight groups--all the while in an apparent frantic quest for their dinner. Watching them has become an end-of-day highlight. The video below is an effort to show the scene in slow motion. Make the video full screen, look closely and use your imagination. Hopefully, you can make out the little dots as they zoom about. The next picture is our typical sunset.
Our young neighbor, Maura, has grown up and now works at the new gelateria that has taken the place of Gigi's souvenir shop on the corner of the Piazza Cattedrale just outside our apartment. And as you can see, the demand for gelato is as popular as ever. We have fallen into the pleasurable habit of gelato for dessert as we sit on the terrace and listen to the evening music...I mean, when will we ever have gelato right outside our door again?!
The big weekend begins today...the lights are up and on....the band played in the afternoon and in the evening we were entertained by the Lecce Symphony and Opera singers. Tonight is a concert in honour of Lucia Dalla's music (Italian poet/singer who died a few years ago), Tomorrow and Sunday we will witness Italy's version of the Blue Angels as they fly over Otranto spewing clouds of red, white and green. We have yet to find out what is being celebrated...need to talk with a few more Otrantini. The culminating concert will be on Sunday when Otranto's Tamburello group performs pizzicato music with local dancers and singers. On Monday, all will be quiet again...except for the gelaterias.
The other morning our friend Dave Rorick and I were taken out to the Otranto countryside by Salvatore Pede. Salvatore is normally in charge of his family’s tiny vegetable and fruit shop located on Via San Francisco di Paola as it winds its way down from Otranto’s castle to the Lungomare fronting the Otranto Bay. We had accepted Salvatore’s offer to show us his family’s farm and the garden where the shop’s organic vegetables were grown.
In barely five minutes, we had arrived at the first family field, a sprawling tangle of what appeared to be a maze of weeds and grasses. In fact, it was a nursery of sorts for growing the first stages of Italy’s new vineyards. Salvatore waded into the green mass, reached down and pulled up tendrils of barbatella—wild, ivy-like plants that we learned were the initial growth of vineyard rootstock.
We went from field to field as Salvatore showed us the different stages of development of the rootstock. Some clipped sprouts were taken directly for sale from the field we had just visited. Other, thinner sprouts, were replanted (dipped in protective wax and stuck in the ground) in another field to allow further growth. Once the sprouts are fully developed, they are sold as rootstock to buyers all over Italy and beyond for use in grafting onto known buds from various grape varietals. Some were grafted by Salvatore’s family onto vines of familiar grapes of the area: Primitivo, Negroamaro, and Susumaniello, etc. Salvatore easily identified for us which grafted plants would produce which grapes. The picture below is of plants that will grow into mature Susumaniello grape vines. Susumaniello is growing in popularity and has become our favorite red wine of Salento.
(Dianne Hales is the author of numerous delightful books about Italy, a blog, and lots of chat about the Italian language)
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