When I was in primary school, I was always asked to write an essay about my holiday on my return from the summer holidays. At that time this seemed but a stupid task, that had no real need, but now that I am a grown up, I can see the benefit of writing up your own adventures. It lets you realise, how lucky you are on having an holiday, and in my case, how lucky I was to live in a fantastic Mediterranean country (Italy), full of culture, food and a fantastic sea.
This year, I have decided to share this experience with you all, I have gathered pictures during my stay and I am going to share the particularity of Italian summers and more particular of Puglia. You have probably visited Italy before, but I am going to share the insight from a place where tourism is very low, internet and computer are still own by few, and growing your own food is a must.
Puglia is situated at the bottom of the Italian peninsula and is blessed with a very hot Mediterranean weather and touched by two different seas, the Ionian sea and the Adriatic sea. The main industry for this region is agriculture, followed up by National tourism.
I have spent my vacation in Latiano a very small little town with a population of no more than 15.000 people. Puglia is full of these kind of villages, where culture is very strong and where you can feel a strong bonds between all friends and family.
The average earning in the region is very low and there is a very high level of unemployment, with youth unemployment (18-24) at an all time high 58%. Here the sign of the European crises can be felt wherever you go.
When talking around with locals, people moral is very low and unfortunately even if the region is full of great natural and historical beauty.
Grow your own
I have lived in UK for the past 10 years now, and I have started to forget how things are done in the south of Europe. Many people grow their own fruit and vegetables and it is still very common to exchange goods between neighbours. On my arrival; to this heaven of nature, I have had immediate pleasure of taste by eating a freshly picked Figs, followed by a fresh pear both free from pesticide, and grown as nature commands. Of course there are farmers in UK too, but in here does not matter if you work in the council, as a lawyer or in the army, you will still have your own fruit and veg in the back garden.
The beauty is in the taste of this produce. There is no battle between something grown in your own back garden and the same product bought in a supermarket. The taste is so different, every fruit and every vegetable has its own strong fantastic taste, they are all so full of flavours that just one is enough to satisfy you. During my stay I had the pleasure to try melons, aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes, salad, figs, pears and peppers, all from the same garden.
During this vacation, we stayed in my Wife’s parents house.My wife’s mum, during her last visit in UK , decided to bring some Butternut squash seeds with her, because she really enjoyed the taste of them. It felt like something silly to do, because what is the point of going though all this hassle for a butternut squash, but the end result was fantastic. The end product not only was huge, it also tasted amazing.
Eat when it is ready
When I discuss Italian culture with people in UK, we usually end up mentioning the Mediterranean Diet. We usually tend to associate the healthy eating to the fact that people live longer and better. This is probably correct, but one thing that is important to clarify is that in many parts of Italy, people still eat only products that they know to be “in season”. In UK is quite common to find strawberries all year around, or be able to eat oranges and tomatoes during winter. But this would be something unacceptable in Italy, Watermelon is just available from August to September, figs where starting to fade out of the market and Grapes are starting to be ready to be picked up for the wine.
It is very hard to deprive ourselves from fruits or vegetables just because it is not in season, but in reality, we should question how these products are on our shelves all year around. Of course globalisation helps, but it is still debatable that something that was probably picked weeks before osn the other side of the globe is the right choice for us.
One of the pictures shown here is of “sun dried Figs”. As mentioned above figs are almost gone, so people get their reserve up, by creating jams, or other methods of conservation, and it was very enlightening to see these figs under to sun and see them dry during my short stay. The same happens with many other products like tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes and many others.
A land of Olives and vineyard
It is impossible for you to pass through this region without encountering an extensive olive farm or a vineyard. Puglia thanks to its particular soil,it is perfect for growing these products. Olive trees are immense, most of them are century old, and the method used today follow the same tradition used thousands of years ago, to produce the very well known Italian extra vergin Olive Oil. Olive trees are planted in a perfect grid system, and it is beautiful to see such precision across vast fields.
Vineyard of course are not just popular in Puglia and can be found everywhere in the world, but it is still fantastic to see this tradition and people being so passionate about the way they keep culture and tradition.
People may not be enthusiastic about work or the economic situation of the region, but you just need to hint in being interested in the “tradition” of the place to see a spark growing. It is fantastic how people continue to keep this tradition, to see young people still involved in family business and to admire that big shops (even if available across the nation), have not been able to move people away from their traditional way of growing and doing things.
Not only food
Italy is not only known for its food, but also for its fantastic historical monuments, and the Puglia regions is no different from the rest of the country. A walk in Brindisi will welcome you with a sign of two roman column. These are said to be the end of the “VIA APPIA”, a single road build by the Roman Empire, running all the way thought the italian peninsula.
A small car journey could bring you in Ostuni, also known as the “The White Town” for its particular white building. This town, built on top of a hill can be seen from miles away, and is home of lovely independents shops and a great tourism attraction with its old look.
You cannot visit Puglia without a day trip to Alberobello. This small town is home to very typical buildings called Trulli. Wikipedia describe them a traditional Apulian dry stone hut with a conical roof. Many people around the town allow people to get inside their houses to display the beauty of these traditional constructions.
Finally, I want to talk about the Sea. This region, due to its unique shape is blessed with miles and miles of amazing beaches. Locals have the ability to decide, depending from the Wind, which sea to go to (This allows people to always go where you can avoid waves). Beaches are still very rural and access to them can be quite tricky at times.
What I have just listed are just my personal experience of this amazing region, but I there is way more waiting to be discovered.
Espresso, La pennichella and lots of Gossip
I could have not written a post about Italy, without spending a few words on the way Italians spend their day to day.
Every day starts with an espresso. There is no Italian, that can be called so, if he doesn’t drink espresso. Whoever wakes up first, will be on coffee duty and will make espresso for everyone in the household.
After getting ready, the first stop is of course the BAR (the italian equivalent of coffee shops). In here you will enjoy a cappuccino or an espresso ( yes another one) with a lovely patisserie, that could be a croissant or a Pasticcio brindisino. A funny note about the drink, is that in Italy cappuccino and latte are just sold before 11am, you can ask for one after this time, but the barista will not be happy.
The day goes on, and you will probably have another coffee before lunch (just because you did not have enough).
Lunch usually involves Pasta, some side such as mozzarella with buffalo tomatoes or grilled aubergine all accompanied by local wine and bread and finish off with a choice of fruit. It is common for the mother to peel the fruit to everyone, so there is usually a little queue.
After lunch, due to the heat you cannot avoid “la pennichella”, also known as “la siesta” in Spain.
The is the little nap taken by almost everyone during the afternoon. It may seem to be something very lazy to do, but it is a very old tradition. Initially this nap was used by the farmers that were used to go out and work very early ( even before sunrise) and would have a rest in the afternoon, not only due to being tired, but also because of very hot weather, under which plants and trees should be left alone ( it is not suggested to water or work on a plant under very hot weather).
If you have things to do, and no one invite himself over your house, you may have the chance to go out and pass over the BAR for a coffee and a quick chat over the counter. After this you may end up doing shopping, because people eat fresh product, the shelf life is quite short and therefore you are constantly shopping.
Differently from the UK, people in Italy do not just stop to one big department store, but they go around many different specialised shops. Fish, meat, vegetables are all sold in different places, all scattered around town, so this simple task ends up being a very stressful operations.
Your nap will probably be interrupted by one of many visitors that you will receive throughout the day. People visit friends constantly, usually without any warning. Main topics of discussions are Football, politics, the weather ( that affect the harvest so very lively conversation), all this are usually discussed on a warm espresso! (probably your 5th).
All afternoon and evening are usually spent gossip around, and dinner time is usually very late ( people prefer to eat after sunset when temperature ease down and this could usually be around 10pm.
Because not many people have gardens, big houses or air conditioning. If is very common to see people sit outside their houses on the pavements with wood chairs to avoid the heat in their houses. This is such an unique experience, sit outside is an invitation for anyone passing by to stop and chat. Truly simple and beautiful.
It is very unfortunate that the economy is in distress, but maybe this is the main reason why this region is so beautiful so see. I have tried to share my experience as best as I could, but there is nothing that can actually replace the taste of fresh products or the lively discussions that take place with people that you do not even know in the middle of the street.
I really hope that the new generation will get a spark of entrepreneurship and start to make this part of the world more accessible to people and this piece of heaven cherish with the success that it deserves ( it can be very hard to live my same experience without knowing the language or where to go).