– I was born in Puglia, a gorgeous area in the Southern part of Italy. “The heel of the boot” I usually say to my foreign friends, to help them understand where PUGLIA is (not Sicily, not Naples, just a thin strip of land, in the Mediterrean sea).
Well, I realized that there were lots of towns in this lovely area, that I’d never visited and this started to bother me. I mean: I have tons of superb sites, so close, and I always plan my holidays away…I’d been 3 times in Ibiza and never been in Polignano a Mare. So, last summer, I decided to have a short, but intense, road trip in Puglia, which now I’m going to tell you.
First place I went was MARTINA FRANCA (where I actually go pretty often to visit my relatives). Every time I get there, I definitely adore to walk through its historical centre. Martina is a real jewel, made of high steps, polished stones, white walls, and arches, and vaulted ceilings, and stairs that climb up to colored doors, and cute balconies with glowing flowers, and Baroque art blooming, lush, in simplicity. Old people in the squares, with their typical hats on. Houses’ doors opened on the streets, where just a mere curtain divides private from public. And it almost seems to get into it, in those houses, stealing a little bit of those people’s lives.
I usually have this walk at lunch time, when few people are around, when everybody’s home and you can smell delicious cooking flavors in the air. And every time I get happily lost, serene that I’ll find myself. While watching a Fiat 126 parked in the street. While a stray cat stares at me, puzzled.
During my days in Martina Franca I stayed at my relatives’. I’d recommend them (my aunt is a great chef too, I must say), but unfortunately you can’t stay there. Only once I had lunch outside and I ate here, a caprese salad which I really appreciated with “nodini of mozzarella” and cherry tomatoes. I spent more or less 10 euros, as a lunch break in Milan. I ate outside, in this petite alley, right in the centre, but pleasant and quiet.
Another place that I’d recommend is El Paso Pub where I had dinner with my cousins, which is known in the area because of its beer selection and its “Pepite di Pollo” (not just common chicken nuggets coming to your mind, but real mini-cutlets, definitely excellent, that cannot fail to awaken the pig inside you).
The second stage of my road trip was in SAVA, where I went for the “Calici sotto le Stelle” (goblets under the stars) night. Here’s the deal: you pay 5 euros and get a wine-glass (a glass, not a plastic cup, and you can keep it after the event) and 3 tickets to taste 3 different wine qualities (mainly Primitivo, by the way). The interesting thing is that you can easily get drunk with 10 euros. 15 if you’re really good drinker (or an old alcoholic). Anyway, I mean, it’s a fair deal.
In case you’d like to eat, you can also find local street food, cheap and yummy (I ate stuffed eggplants, absolutely savory, for 4 euros). The ironic thing is that my premise that evening was not to have dinner.
The third stage was in TARANTO. My Taranto (Taranto is the city I was born in, and will return many times in this blog, I’ll tell you a lot about it, a bit at a time).
I arrived there in the morning, easily parked close to “Lungomare” and walked along it, watching the ships on the horizon, the cargo port that protrudes beyond the profile of the Aragonese Castle, the Sailors Monument and the fishing boats that crossed the waterway linking the Great Sea to the Small Sea.
Then, I overpassed the Ponte Girevole (a swing bridge) and reached the real centre of the city: Taranto Vecchia (Old Taranto). I didn’t enter it deeply, because I had not much time (plus urban legends say it’s not a very safe place, even though nothing EVER happened to me). I walked around the old town (Taranto Vecchia is actually an island connected with the “new city” by the swing bridge, and if you come here, you must visit – there are also associations which organize guided tours of this area).
I went down for the “Discesa Vasto” which leads right on the old waterfront, where fishermen sell the fish, in the middle of the boats, with their backs to the sea, and the Industry, and the pollution. I took pictures, observed faces, deeply breathed the smell of fish and metal. I looked and recognized the city that I loved for the most of my life.
I kept walking through humanity and peeling plaster, battered benches and graffiti on the walls, and old people looking at me, confused, because a decade of absence has made me a stranger to them. And then I checked on the other side, on the railing along the sea, to return to Piazza Castello where, between the cars and the building, stand two Doric Columns, memories of glorious time gone by, when Taranto was the capital of the Magna Grecia.
Finally I got back on Corso Due Mari. I sat at the Caffé Bernardi, which is one of those places in Taranto sprouting like mushrooms, half pastry, half cocktail bar, half retrò, half modern. I drank, seated at the tables outside, an excellent lemon granita (also here, for a crazy amount of money like 2 euros and 50). I watched the kids with a fishing rod in their hands, beyond the road, in front of me. With the fishing line taut, down, down, to the Channel. Who knows if they fished.
Welcome back, I said to myself.
While in my city I felt a little mistress, and a little tourist.
(to be continued)