Friday, November 5, 2010

The pull-of-Puglia

On the bottom of the heel
This is my second post about my time in Salento, which is the name of te peninsula that juts off of the bottom of the boot of Italy. This has been sort-of a magical place. When planning the trip I had only one night reserved. Now, during my third evening in Salento, I'm finding it hard to leave. Thus, the title of today's post. The title has double meaning, as eluded to earlier, because Pugliese, a local style of rustic bread, requires a hard pull to tear away its crust and indulge in the chewy-glory of its flavor. Perhaps this is why I think of the residual flour left on my hands from the act as traces of criminal behavior.
Puglia is probably unknown to most Americans (for the most part, it was to me), so I will give you some facts (thanks Lonely Planet). Puglia is the heel of the boot. Its a relatively flat place that has a mild climate. I kind of think of it like Florida, but less humid. The climate, terrain, and geology (mostly limestone) make it an oasis for agriculture and grape growing, and thus a foodie's paradise as the produce is always very fresh and the wine is some of the best in the world. Puglia is also relatively remote and the Salento peninsula has been referred to as Italy's third island. OK, enough of that.
olives, olives everywhere
I arrived in Aradeo, which is about halfway down the peninsula, after a long and windy ride from Taranto. I was visibly tired, windburned (kind of the cross between a raccoon- and farmer's-tan), cold, and hungry. This was my condition when I met Agnese. She is a neighbor to the B&B I was to stay at. We hit it off immediately. Agnese speaks a bit of English and me a bit of Italian so we were able to communicate fairly well. Turns out, Agnese has opened three pizzerias in southern Italy (called Pizza&Co). She wanted to teach me everything about making pizza. However, her philosophy on making pizza is, well, much different than my own. I won't go into the details, but I knew that we'd probably not ever see eye-to-eye. Nonetheless, another few minutes of talking and I receive an invitation to come live with her this summer to teach Rocco, her son, English. Tempted?
Two days later I returned from another long ride. This one was to the tip of Puglia. Upon my return I am once again greeted by Agnese who asks "Dove?" "Lucia," I reply. Her jaw drops and she states "Mangia!" Thirty minutes later she has prepared a full Italian meal. Prosciutto and bread to start, followed by spagetti con pomodori, followed by a chicken roast, followed by sliced fennel with balsamic and olive oil, followed by a plum-like fruit hollowed and filled with whiskey. Sangiovese during and caffe afterwards to drink. All this at 2 in the afternoon! Italians know how to eat!
Masseria (old stone farmhouse) Piccinna
Thus, Agnese was the catalyst that turned into the "pull" and my extended time here. This gravity only got stronger when talking to Marcelo, the owner of the B&B. He offered me the room through the weekend for free... and he too wanted to teach me how to make pizza :)
My time at Palama confirmed that quality wine was being produced right down the road (about 6 km from the B&B) and my cycling through the countryside, surrounded by olive groves and vineyards really made me wonder about taking Agnese up on her offer. Eating great bread, cheese, and vegetables, and finally, the kindness and openness of the locals has been amazing.
Take Fabbio: he owns the "internet point" here in Aradeo. We got talking one day while I was doing email and he got quite excited about my trip and me being in Puglia. He spent the next half hour telling me all the places I needed to visit. People here are very proud of their land, much like folks in N. Arizona, I believe. When signing out and heading back to the B&B, Fabbio came forward, looked me in the eyes and said "Caleb, so good to meet you! Buon viaggio!"
The folks at the local market that I've frequented everyday were equally as warm and enthusiastic, eager to help me find what I was craving. They are always interested in where I am from too.
"Di dove sei?"
"Stati Uniti.... Arizona... est di California... Grand Canyon."
As I finish writing this on my 4th and final day in Aradeo, I am sad to leave but I know that this place will remain in somewhat of isolation with its good people, amazing food & wine, and culture. I hope that some day down the road I will indeed be pulled back here.


  1. awesomeness, caleb.

    that's the real dealio right there, even if you don't agree on the perfect 'za.

    however, piacere is pleasure, not peace.

    keep 'em comin', kid.

  2. I can think of worse things to do next summer. I hope you left it open....