Friday, 29 August 2014

Postcard from Puglia

I love Italy. I’ve been lucky enough to see quite a bit of it now. Puglia remains my favourite region; the place that has a tender spot in my heart. I love the rugged simplicity of it, the glistening white towns, the sparkling Adriatic coastline that seems visible from so many vantage points; it’s rocky, jagged coves, perfect for fishing nets and catching small crabs, the quaint trulli houses, the fields of hundred year old olive trees that stretch for miles sat on a carpet of hard red clay.  

The first time I visited, it was just Husband and I.  Two dots joined by a line.  The next time, a triangle; now with Pip in tow - 11 months old. We took him to our favourite place, a seafood shack on the coast; Alba Chiara in Savelleteri, with simple straw umbrellas and paper tablecloths flapping in the sea breeze. Fresh seafood is bought up directly from the boats that stop at the beach front and grilled on the BBQ there and then. I remember Pip eating mussels, squid, fried fish  - all manner of sea food from the table with gusto that amazed me from a nearly one year old.

Now we are a square.  EB our fourth and final point.  This summer we took him there. Again, we visited our favourite place, the seafood shack.  The boys played on the pebbly beach,  fished for crabs in the shallow rocky pools and peered into the makeshift kitchen tent to look at the as yet, uncooked fish, displayed in glass eyed stupor on crushed ice.  There is, I know, a danger in revisiting such places, that the reality does not live up to the rose tinted memory. But it didn’t happen. And as we drank the obligatory glass of lunchtime Rose and the paper tablecloths flapped in the breeze and I watched the sun shine on the sea, I said to Husband, “ This really sums up happy for me”.  People I love. Simple things. Good times.

Our trulli house was rustic.  Impressive from the outside, but ‘characterful’ enough to let in plenty of flies, mosquitoes and a brave baby lizard.  Pip didn’t mind.  Thank goodness for a bug loving son. “ I saw it go under my bed”  he squealed excitedly; "It’s sleeping in my room tonight, Mummy”.   I was thankful it wasn’t sleeping in mine.

Outside the kitchen door, creamy white butterflies, the tips of their wings fluted with grey and black, danced to the musical cacophony of the crickets in the surrounding trees and scrub. The potent scent of lavender - planted in abundance - it’s sun bleached purple fronds bouncing with the weight of pollinating bees.  And rosemary - pungent, it's scent never stronger than after rain. In stolen moments alone, I stood quietly outside, breathing the scent in whilst fantasising that I might get 5 minutes to read the book I’d bought with me (never going to happen with two daredevil boys and a swimming pool with a diving board outside the back door) .  On the land around us;  figs, quince, apricot and olive trees in varying degrees of ripeness framed the scenery of the boy’s pre-bathtime passigiata.  Enormous beetles and bugs sat dozing in the flora and fauna, sleepy from the intense heat.  Pip, with the eyes of the eagle, could spot them in scrub from a mile off.  He has no fear of these things,  a sting is no threat to him, not if it means he can pick them up, count their legs, or examine and lift their wings. Sometimes I wish he wasn’t quite so brave.

In the second week it was Husband's birthday. In the morning, I graciously allowed him a lie in; took the turn of rising at 5am with EB. (Some things holidays do not change.) In hushed tones, the children and I planned a treasure hunt around the trulli, hiding his presents. Pip, so sweet, could not contain himself long enough for Daddy to locate the next X on the map. Instead, charging over to each next spot shouting; “Over here, Dad, over here!’.  In the evening a local woman came to cook typical Puglian cuisine for us. As she (and her beer swilling partner) took charge of the cooking, we played musical statues via music from the iPad, in silent pauses the only sound the crickets chirping from the surrounding trees or EB shouting out in delight (It’s fair to say that at 21 months he didn’t quite get the gist of the game). The cooking was not great, it must be said.  Ever British, we politely bade her goodbye after hiding some of the fare behind the lavender so as not to offend.  

On day trips out we played Pip’s favourite new game. Naming all the colours one can possibly think of.  In fact, Pip did not want to stop playing it. I exhausted the depths of my memory trying to work through the song about Joseph and his technicolour dream coat.  And we clapped proudly when Pip thought of a new colour to our list - “Aubergine’ and chuckled when a little confused, he sometimes didn’t, because however many times you say it, there is simply not a colour that goes by the name of ‘globe’.

Colours came to life when we visited the (numerous) gelateria. Italian ice cream is, I think, the best in the world, not just in the taste, but even in the way they serve it, something special about the unfussy counters, simply laid out with metal tubs, featuring a rainbow of mouthwatering flavours. The best ice cream shop we found was in Ostuni, la chita blanca, Pip’s favourite was melon. Mine, raspberry - still with the pips in.  Absolute heaven.

Two weeks passed so very quickly. Home now.  As I write this, I am sat on the garden bench next to my (finally finished) wood fired oven and beside a pot of rosemary,  the sun is shining and EB sleeps. The holiday halo effect continues. Life feels good.

Next task...making our first pizza - Puglian style.