Thursday, June 30, 2016

Arrivederci Matera
The scene at the spa at La Locanda di San Martino was very funny because the desk people were the least welcoming individuals you would ever care to not meet. We were one of the three couples who showed up to use the morning circuit of sauna, shower, pool, and hydromassage. There were no instructions. Or rather there were lots of signs about what not to do, but no one there to tell you what to do so all the couples were super awkward. One woman was really frowning at me, but it was nothing personal. She was worried the pool water was too deep. In fact, it was up to my neck and she was shorter than me. The next time we saw them, the couples staggered themselves for the utmost privacy, she was getting a ride from him piggyback through the pool. It was adorable. They looked so proud of themselves.

Vegetarian Delight!

 We were mighty relaxed after that and had a plethora of choices at the produce open market. We took a siesta, had a tasty lunch at home, and then went to see a movie about the history of Matera that was truly inspiring at the Casa Noha by FAI/Fondo Ambiente Italiano. We learned all about how this orignally abundant city became an almost prison-like existence for its impoverished residents and how it then rose again in the most spectacular way. The movie takes place in different rooms and the young lady gave us the instructions so earnestly that I just wanted to show her with my face how seriously I was listening to her. So much so, that I forgot to listen. Our whole group got scolded because we didn't go into the right room for the second part of the video and missed a bit of the story. But it was worth it. 

and buona notte!

Our host Cosimina continues to be the host with the MOST. Here is a forbidden shot of her apartment with F peeking out. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A Matera      
We finally left the apartment with the gonging refrigerator and headed through many a rotonda towards Cosimina and her fantastic Airbnb loft apartment in Matera. This place is so much more exciting. The modern part of the city has all of the shopping you could possibly want, and the older part is a stunningly beautiful, hilly labyrinth. It is so romantic, Dio mio. Cosimina dedicated at least half an hour to us, chatting about the city's history and giving us advice. We went directly to the open produce market and got what we needed just as they were closing. I am a little addicted to the kind of frozen yogurt they sell in southern Italy; it is not too sweet or too heavy, and it is so refreshing. Even though there are a lot of tourists, many of them are also Italian. Everyone we've met on the winding walks has been very friendly. I am happy to see that they also look exhausted. 
Have you ever seen anything like it?
I smile, but, in reality, my calves are exploding.
Tomorrow we are going to take a dip into the thermal spa at La locanda di San Martino. It looks like this in the photos: 
They are going to make us wear bathing caps!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Did I mention . . .  
that the Airbnb in Nardò, in addition to the noisiest refrigerator known to man, has a bathtub in the boudoir?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

A Gallipoli  
No, really, the birds that sound like car alarms in Nardò are really awful. Also, remember what I said about all of the hairdresser shops here? It turns out they are all barber shops and designed only for men! 

This sign cracked us up:
Need a lawyer poolside? Marco! Polo! Marco! . .Polo!

So today we decided to go to Gallipoli after a quick splash at the beach 15 minutes from Nardò. It made me laugh so much to see every inch of sand covered by Italian sunbathers and then to enter into the crystal clear sea and have it almost all to ourselves. When Italians say they love the sea, could they really still mean that they think they look thinner and more attractive when they are tanned like fruit leather? Well, more acqua for us!

looking towards the old city of Gallipoli

Gallipoli is a lot like Miami. The modern part feels identical, in fact. David Guetta and Skrillex are performing at the discos there this summer to give you an idea. The old city is much more charming, but you can see that a lot of construction is going on and the interiors may be completely renewed within a few years and bought out as vacation homes. The tourist shopping trade is strong and we bought some more of this fabulous lemon flavored vinegar that wakes up your palate and makes you shake your head as if to say, amazza-o!

non avere paura, the water is fine!

Then we came home and watched an amazing documentary series called Chef's table. The first episode features Massimo Bottura. If you don't love him and his family after watching it, there is something seriously storta with you. He single handedly saved the parmagiano industry after the 2012 earthquake in Modena. His wife is American and they have a divine partnership that is truly inspiring. 


Anyway, F and I have pretty much decided that in two years we are going to move to Parma. Field trip notes to follow in short order. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Nardò  
Today we cleared out of Maruggio and headed to Susanna's fabulous apartment in Nardò. She is a doctor with a rather fabulous interior design aesthetic that we found on airbnb. The apartment is so beautiful and comfortable, and everyone we asked directions from is so nice that for a moment we thought that we found a future life destination. But then, in ghost town that is Nardò at 4 PM on a Friday afternoon in June, we had second thoughts. Nobody told us the pausa lasts from 1 PM until 5 PM down here! The architecture is stunning. There is truly breathtaking beauty around every corner here and nary a McDonald's in sight, but after a month I don't know if this city slicker could hang. Also in Puglia there is an omnipresent bird that sounds like a car alarm that never stops squawking. I don't know what it's name is, but if I ever meet it I will consider stopping being a vegetarian. Oh and one more thing, either the caldaias or the refrigerators make a clanging sound like Tibetan monks calling people to the dinner table 24/7.

the living room/salotto
so comfy

There are 38 stores in Nardò and I liked two of them. I wanted to get a pair of sporty, beach slides at the shoe store and they asked us to come back (twice) so that the other location could deliver it to them. An hour and a quarter later the transactionw as finally completed. There are a ton of hairdressers, though, and the reason for that became crystal clear as the afternoon progressed: there is nothing else to do here when you are not at the beach.

F standing in the majestic kitchen doorway
Che bella zia!

We had the longest and loveliest conversation with the owner of the ortofrutta and his 82 year old aunt. At first it seemed that they really didn't have any produce, but then the guy started pulling out crates from the little closet space behind the counter which was stacked from floor to ceiling with glorious, colorful veggies of every description. I felt bad that he had to do so much physical labor to find a cavolfiore for us, but he said he was happy to get the workout in. It saved him on gym memberships. They both told us that we should choose Lecce, if anything. We thought they were going to say that it was just like this in the summer, but they said the opposite. They told us you can't judge Nardò based on the summer months because the rest of the year it is dead as a cemetery. I didn't have the heart to tell them that we thought it was as dead as anything I've ever experienced now. I guess tomorrow we will drive around and then go swimming. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Lecce  
After pulling my calf muscle walking on the beach for four hours yesterday, we decided to explore Lecce to see if we could imagine living there in two years from now after T graduates from high school. 

By the way, T is taking Harvard by storm. She gave her first speech in public speaking today and was so incredibly brave. She has to watch a video of it as part of her homework. She has made all of these new friends in her dorm. She thought she might get a single room when the girl who was supposed to be her bunkmate didn't show up for the first two days, but when she finally did claim the top bunk it turned out T liked her a lot. So that was a relief. Even though she is often wandering around trying to get from the library to the gym to the dining hall, she has got a lot of stuff figured out after less than a week that it took me months to sort out when I went to college. She is looking into volunteering with underpriviledged little kids and is going on a field trip to check out Yale on Friday. Her course on great political speeches is so hard that an adult student, stood up and announced it was too difficult for him, got on his skateboard, and wheeled on out of there. 

Anyway, back to Lecce. Lecce has the advantage of being large enough of a city that you can have some anonymity and not feel like everyone is in your business. It is a weird mix because you have these gorgeous, majestic architecture bursting forth from silent almost deserted streets and then crowded, noisier twists with McDonalds and Sephora less than two minutes away. I was dismayed to see large waterbugs smushed on the sidewalks, after everything we have been through, but as F pointed out, you would probably live in a big stone building that you could seal up if need be. There seem to be plenty of teaching opportunities with all of the University students milling about. At the end of the day, we were hoping that if Lecce is the Florence of the South, maybe Nardò will be the Lucca of the South. 

The best thing that happened, other than finding the perfect yogurt bianco, frozen yogurt that really tastes like yogurt and not candy, and a super clean bathroom, was meeting Vincenzo. He is a sculptor who let us take his photo and then took us in for a tour of his shop. He works with cartapesta which is like paper mache and his work is at the Vatican. He also made a bust of Mel Gibson that the actor signed. He has been married for fifty years and his son has a shop just three blocks away. He tried to sell me a beautiful piece that I couldn't afford, but was just as delighted to sell me to thumb sized paintings he did of the church where he was married. Before we said goodbye, he gave me a warm hug and a little sculpture for T of an owl that is supposed to bring her good luck. 

I got phone calls from Emmanuel and Jennifer, who said they just wanted to hear my voice, but they also wanted to hear that I was coming back, God love them. F is hoping to hear from his friend about agricultural jobs for Cool, Emmanuel, and Job and so I hope I will have good news for them soon. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

This is not exactly campomarino or punta prosciutto, but it is better than either one.
Il Mare di Puglia    
i fiori di zucca (prima)
i fiori di zucca (dopo)
e con salsa e crema di peperoncino

Monday, June 20, 2016

Here I am before we took the crazy hairpin turns through the wilderness to Alberobello. Our GPS has it out for us. . .
Trullo o Falso?
It's kind of a touristy little stop just full of people selling souveniers, but we did a vinegar tasting and bought a lemon flavored one that we are very excited about.
How tall is F?
Goat crossing!
No, davvero, you go first.
il bel cielo
The clear water I've been craving . . .

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Evitando the "walk of shame"

Trainwreck-ing a vacation before it even starts . .

I advocated for taking the early train to the Pisa airport because we have had bad luck before. Live and learn, right? So we left four and a half hours before our flight was to depart. As soon as we took one step outside our front door we bumped into Stanli, Cool's brother, who gave us a long good-bye send-off. Then we bumped into our neighbor Stefania. I wasn't going to cut her good-bye speech off short because she is the person who makes the best pizza I have ever eaten in my life. Then we got a nice wave from another Nigerian guy named Jude. And when we got to the train station we were in a bit of a rush. The line for tickets was really long so we both got on lines for the ticket machines where tourists were bickering with each other and sweating bullets, trying to figure out which buttons to push to get their tickets. I tried to get F to help this older English couple in front of me, but he didn't want to lose his place behind this nice woman Anita. Unfortunately, Anita had to buy tickets for her 16 family members and when we got to the platform, the train doors were already locked. 

No problem. The next train was in half an hour, which was still plenty of time. After 20 minutes, it occured to me that the next train might arrive on a different track, and so it did. We made it to the correct track and boarded the train. There was no delay message listed, but the train left the station ten minutes behind schedule. When we got to Pisa, we had to walk a long path boardered with all this construction equipment to arrive at a little orange airport bus. We annoyed the driver because we hadn't bought the right tickets for that part of the journey and we didn't have the proper change for him and had to pay with a 20 euro bill. 

Finally at the airport, I thought the worst was over until F looked at the overhead departure schedule and saw that our flight had been canceled due to an air-controller strike. We went to see about how to get on the next available flight and ran into Luca, the Pisa airport employee who we went out of our way to write a positive work performance review about when he was so kind in helping us the year T had to go to New York with a broken foot and crutches. He took me to the ticket office and had me cut the line. I didn't realize that he had asked a special favor of the woman at the ticket window to arrange a transfer for us, even though everyone else was being told to go home and try to reschedule on-line. We agreed that the best option was the following evening on a flight that wouldn't get us into the air bnb apartment until midnight. As F frantically searched his cell phone for express train tickets, we both had the same thought. Neither of us wanted to do the return walk of shame through Lucca back to our apartment. We had left like the joint mayors in chief and we didn't want to return like cheap hookers, despite the fact that, if we were being honest, Italy had just f°cked us. 

F convinced me that we should just get on a train that would get us in that same night. Luca had warned me not to take the train because it was faticoso and would take so many hours before he went back to work, but, you know, the walk of shame. . . I turned backed to the lady and told her sheepishly that we would prefer to take the train, after all. She was furious and told me she would never do another favor for anyone. Fast forward to F, who could not actually get reception to get train tickets over the phone, stepping outside the airport, and me getting death glares from the ticket woman who could not get Ryanair to un-do the favor she had just done for me. Out of spite, she made me stand there for twenty minutes, even though my presence was no longer necessary and she couldn't help me anyway. 

We took a taxi to the train station (10 euros), where the buzz on-line was that the strike might effect the trains, as well, at some later point in the day. No matter, there were no tickets left anyway. We then took a taxi (10,35 euros) back to the airport to try to rent a car. Anything to avoid that trainwreck of a walk back to the apartment. We waited on a line at the company with whom we had already rented a car to pick up in Brindisi. When the man finally understood what we wanted, he shook his head and said they had no more cars available. I ran around the room of rental car companies shouting out my query, and one after another weary sales people told me there were no more cars. I yelled out to the last and least famous of the companies which is called something like Sicily a go go and we got the very last car. 

In the car, we sang along to the radio and realized that if we hadn't stopped to talk to people, and hadn't missed our first train, and had gone through security we would have checked our bags, losing them forever, and would have had the flight canceled anyway. We were actually lucky. 

The catch was that to save money, we had to drive nine hours to Brindisi and switch cars that same night for the car we originally rented in the first place. The farther south we went the more highway accidents we had to circumnavigate, but we made it just in time. We stopped just twice for gas, once to pee, and called our hosts on the way. The last phone call was to the caretaker of the beach house in Puglia to ask if, after so many hours without food, we might find a pizza somewhere. He told us we would have to try to get one by 11 PM. While the GPS took us on hairpin turns through the middle of nowhere, we ended up at a pizzeria at 10,59 and got a maxi margherita pizza, made the old fashioned way for only 9 euros. Even F couldn't finish it. 


The keys to the beach house were in a safe. We finally got inside and I asked F to put the suitcases on a spare bed. Ten minutes later I realized that the black specks on the mattress were bugs and that the place was teeming with termites and ants. Luckily, F had booked another location that we never canceled and it turned out to be the best air bnb yet. It is a giant three bedroom ranch house that couldn't be cleaner or more beautiful. There are these sweet hounds that want to be pet on the porch. The beach is perfect and there is total quiet and peace. F already looks like a new man.