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.
We left Otranto at about 5:30pm and drove across the Salentine peninsula to the Marina de Mancaversa, the coastal extension of the town of Taviano where our co-authors live. Our plan was to swim at La Spiaggia dei Cavalli in Mancaversa; then, have a pizza at Bella Napoli (the best pizza restaurant in Italy); then, head over to the near-by town of Melissano for the evening’s Festa della Musica in which our co-author, Carlo, and his Guitar Club were performing. We did it all and got back to Otranto about 1:00am in the morning. The drive is about 50 minutes each way and we’ve done it so many times that we now only occasionally get lost.
The swim was glorious, our first this trip in the Ionian Sea—clear warm water with an even saltier buoyancy than at Otranto on the Adriatic side. The pizza at Bella Napoli had evolved to a slightly different style than in past years—crustier, but still memorable. The restaurant’s salame picante is far superior and more picante than that of California’s tired, industrial pepperoni. And finally, at Melissano, we were treated to a lively community gathering of local musicians and their fans: from rock, to ballads, to jazz, to our friend Carlo’s group that offered songs sung by Carlo in English and inspired by poetry from English literature, all accompanied by his group’s four guitars. There were two piazzas, a block apart, each with their own stage and their own throng of fans, families and busy children enjoying the warm summer’s late night entertainment.
La Spiaggia dei Cavalli at the Marina de Mancaversa (“Beach of the Horses,” where in times past farmers would bring down their work horses for a bath).
The Guitar Club: L to R, Dario Coronese, Flavio D'Ambrosio, Carlo Longo, Antonio Rizzo.
Audrey and I are off to Salento today. We have a Swiss Air flight from SFO to Zurich to Rome. As per usual, we'll spend the night in Fiumicino, the port town 5 minutes from the Rome Airport and then take an Alitalia flight the next morning to Brindisi. We'll pick up our prepaid rental car at the airport from Auto Europe and head to our regular apartment on the Piazza del Duomo in Otranto. Here's a picture of Otranto from the air. The arrow points to our apartment with its terrace overlooking the bay. Sigh . . . . we can't wait for the long, early morning, languorous swims in the warm waters of the Adriatic. And a hearty hello to our friends and co-authors of SALENTO BY 5, Carlo, Lucia and Luciana! . . . And to you dear reader, you are invited to return often to this blog for information about new discoveries, changes and current updates to the recommendations contained in our book about Salento.
Audrey and I are off to Salento again this year (mid-June to mid-July) and we will continue to update our Travel Suggestions page. Don't forget, if you have personal questions you would like to ask of me or Audrey or of any of the authors of SALENTO BY 5 about your upcoming trip to Puglia or Salento, just submit them to us using the form at the bottom of that page. We'll be happy to respond as soon as we can.
And, if you happen to be in Salento on June 21st, Congratulations! You will be able to attend one of the hundreds of music concerts being held in nearly 500 towns across Italy as part of the Italian Festival of Music (Festa della Musica). Over 7000 artists will be participating, including our own co-author, Carlo Longo. Carlo will be performing with his Guitar Club in the town of Melissano, near his own home town of Taviano. Read more about the Festa della Musica here: https://www.festadellamusica.beniculturali.it/index.php/it/ We will be in Melissano and hope to see you there!
While were in Otranto this past July, the Italian edition of our book was launched by the publisher, AnimaMundi. The publisher arranged for a celebratory gathering for our book and two others that it had also just released. Here, we have the authors and members of the publisher's staff gathered for the festivities. There was Champaign and congratulations all around—an evening that Audrey and I will not forget. Unfortunately, our co-authors, Carlo, Lucia and Luciana could not be present since the ceremony was organized at the last minute—the day the printer delivered the books and the night before our flight.
From left: Valentina Sasò, graphic design specialist, Emmanuel Ferrari, author of the recently published book, Parole a Fumetti; Giuseppe Conoci; publisher and owner of AnimaMundi; Georgia Chinè, AnimaMundi bookstore manager; Massimiliano De Salvatore, Distribution (and leader of the band, Almoraima); Audrey Fielding, lead author of Salento by 5; David Fielding, sketcher for Salento by 5; and Luigi Garrisi, author of recently published book, Mala Agapiat.
Post by David Fielding
It's time to return to Otranto. This will be an important visit because our book has found an Italian publisher. It is to be published in English by AnimaMundi, an independent publishing house based in Otranto. Tourists visiting Salento will be able to find the book in local bookstores. The book can also be a good resource for Italian teachers of English since all the content is local and familiar. We will keep you posted as to when it will be available. In the meantime, Amazon books is the best way to get your very own copy of SALENTO BY 5. Read the reviews, get the book and experience this very special part of Italy for yourself.
Some postcard sketches and their inspirations, beginning with the San Francisco airport, then Fiumicino, outside of Rome, followed by scenes from Otranto and the Salento countryside. Hover the cursor over the image, click on the "Play" button and enjoy the show!
Look what we found in the Yucatan in Mexico! If you are ever in the Yucatan beach town of Playa del Carmen and want to eat a good pizza or a plate of pasta, this is the place.
(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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