Do you see that blu??!! It looks painted!” Yves Klein comes to mind.
“What about that land?!” Soft, reddish, it seems newly planted, the color that soil should be, vibrant, full of life ready to give life. The verdant vast green, dotted by that myriad of wild flowers. Spots of colors that range from yellow, to purple, to red, scattered everywhere in the midst of the endless fields. An impressionist painting! My mind and emotions are rushing, I’m loudly (or as my husband would say “screaming”) exclaiming “li, la…guarda a destra, no – a sinistra!” and madly pointing left and right as if he wasn’t seeing exactly what I was.
Seeing wasn’t enough. I wanted him to feel. Feel that overwhelming sense of inspiration that took over the moment we stepped foot into Puglia.
Our drive from Rome to Puglia started at 10am sharp, not a minute late, my husband’s request. After grabbing everything last minute, per usual, I rolled into the car with my bag, dog, caffe and an unsettling feeling of having forgotten something but excitement took over. I left all the doubts behind…at least for the next half an hour.
Penny places herself comfortably, for her, in my lap, rolled up in a ball, under the brightest ray of sun where she belongs. She’s ready. She brought absolutely nothing but she’s ready. I wish to be her sometimes.
Thirty minutes in, my meditative state of contemplation filled with the passing sky above and “which autogrill should we stop at?” are disrupted by:
“Why didn’t you bring your camera?”
“What?! I thought you brought it?! TURN AROUND NOW!”
And after a screaming match, we were heading back to Rome. He’s fuming, I’m stressing. Our five hour journey suddenly turned into six and half in a tiny car (our can on wheels with a sewing machine for an engine). You could cut the tension with a knife and when we had no more breath in our lungs, the car went quiet, and it stayed this way for two hours, until I submissively murmured “sorry”. Camera in hand, we looked at each other and then at Penny who was, what we call, “smiling” or excessively sun tanning, mouth open, panting with her tongue out. We burst into laughter, turned on the music and got back to that meditative state of a precious rare trip during covid times.
Le distese azzurre
E le verdi terre
Le discese ardite
E le risalite
Su nel cielo aperto
E poi giù il deserto
E poi ancora in alto
Con un grande salto
Battisti was playing and the hills were getting softer, greener, filled with giants, one, two, three, four…I was losing count, there were more at every turn, we could see them in the horizon and then up close. Massive windmills scattered all over. Something that might sound horrifying somehow fit beautifully, and created somewhat of an art installation, a desire for unity. Their massive blades, up high, scraping the sky, circulating, seemingly creating the wind which gently moved the clouds. That’s at least how they worked in my imagination. Serenity took over. I felt at peace and all the stress of a year filled with fear vanished, I felt present like I hadn’t in a while.
Our first and only pit stop was at the first Autogrill of the region, which welcomed us with nothing less than a nearly infinite selection of taralli.
Puglia showed us her true colors from the very beginning, it was pure, honest, raw. Fields of century old olive trees passed by on one side and a deep blue sea on the other, interrupted here and there by circa 70’s concrete monstrous buildings, some unfinished, just structures with no completion date in sight. A unique juxtaposition of untouched nature and man’s construction. What many would view as “bad architecture” was and is part of what makes Puglia special, different, and as strange it might seem, this strong contrast, similar to that of the windmills and the greenest fields on which they lie, is part of the underlying beauty and truth of one of Italy’s oldest regions.
“Puglia hasn’t changed much”
The beautiful Danish woman Pernille who gracefully hosted us in her two outstanding homes, Masseria Schiuma and Palazzo Penelope pointed out. Pernille and her husband’s relationship with Puglia started over 30 years ago. Puglia was a region that still had its priorities straight. It was still a land of farmers that revolved around the land. It was still all about community, about caring for one another: “From a very young age my kids ran around the streets of Poligano alone. I knew there was always a signora, not only one but many of them, patrolling the streets while sitting in front of their home, who knew where they were at all times.”
A sense of community and care for the land that she and her husband Lars want to cherish and grow, by creating something made of like minded people or as they call it “people of the same tribe”. They’re creating something that goes beyond the basic form of hospitality, something that will educate and give back to a region which has taught them incredible lessons.
Their homes are everything but commercial or typical. No white washed walls or pomi pugliesi to remind us or sell us on the Pugliese dream, there were instead their stories, objects they had collected through time, in their travels and through their passion for design, music and art. Funky, colorful, different yet still elegant.
These homes perfectly embody their owners: interesting people. Interesting in that they have lived a life full of experiences and chose Puglia as their eventual home due to a special connection with the region, the people and their values. It’s easy to create an unforgettable energy when you fill it with love and attention to details born out of relationships with the locals – no one else we know has a massive chandelier, and we mean massive, made of vintage gasoline pumps constructed by a local artist hanging in the dining room of their masseria. And this chandelier is a symbol of their connection to Puglia, and their ultimate desire to help the people, old and young in achieving their goals through passion while maintaining the region’s culture.
During our stay leaving the idyllic properties even for a few hours required effort. It was easy to fall into the ease of these homes but we found courage and ventured out, we were on a mission — a spumone at Caffe Dell’Incontro in the small town of Conversano with one of our contributors, Gianvito, was there waiting for us ready to show us the immense potential of his town. The 11 am gelato served by Franco in his bar stuck in the 50’s invited us into a world where the present respected the past, where renovation didn’t mean change, but simply adjustments and respect for what was already there. A sugar rush and two coffees later led us to sneak to the top of monastery S. Benedetto to see the bright blue and yellow cupola from up close. To say it was mesmerizing would be an understatement, but for most these experiences remain hidden. Hidden behind the walls of a beautiful city very few know about… and to say that Gianvito wasn’t right about his town would be an outright lie – Conversano was in all senses an untouched gem, the most precious kind.
Conversano wasn’t the only asso della manica (“ace in the sleeve”) Puglia kindly revealed to us; Caseificio Lamapecora and Azienda Agricola Masseria Monte reminded us what real local produce meant. We didn’t forget about the just made bocconotti pugliesi eaten on the go from a forno in Bari along with the manciate (“handful”) of taralli and frise salentine either. And with these last few bites, our trip came to an end.
On the way back, forced to think instead of speaking due to mouths full of taralli:
This is a land kissed by two seas, the Ionian and the Adriatic, and the winds that come off them.
Boundless plains that extend for over 800km.
Millinery olive groves and simple unbeatable flavors.
A region of farmers, of traditions, of passion, of simplicity.
Where have we gone wrong?
We used to consume less, waste less, appreciate more.
We need to slow down and go back to living as our ancestors did.
A simpler life.
A slower life.