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)
* Roots 'n Tours
(An innovative and delightful new Tour Company)
* Martha's Italy
(Filled with information about places to visit in Italy)
*Travel with a Local
(Inventive and customizable Italian Tours with local guides)