…And more!

That evening Fabio kept calling my phone. He told me a time and a place, but would tell me nothing more. Our B&B hosts drove us to the location, handed us a plate of homemade pepperonata and potato pizza, and said goodbye. In the distance we heard the fast rhythms and melodies of traditional pizzica music. There was a path that led through the old stone walls of an ancient farmhouse. Following the trail, the music grew louder, huge candles appeared to light the path. We rounded the final corner and saw- a party! An old wooden farm cart, a big table laid with food, and under a cabana two groups were playing the pizzica!

 

surprise!

The happy end to our surprise party!

Fabio greeted everyone and I translated. Then we watched the band and tried to get everyone to dance!

the girls

The local and traveling girls all had fun dancing at Fabio's surprise party.

And last but not least, the icing on the cake (literally!), at the end of dinner, Fabio unveiled a cake! Made by a friend of his, especially for us:

the cake

Yes...and what a cake!

 

 

 

 

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Our Cooking Class: from the field to feast!

The next few days were filled with activities and friends. Our cooking class took on new proportions as this year we began, not in the kitchen, but in the fields themselves. Daniele took us to his plot of land in the country and we picked early tomatoes, onions and green beans.

Annie & Ontion

Annie picked a huge onion for our cooking class.

Back at his house he showed us how to transform them into the delicious dishes we’d all grown to love. After all these wildly abundant meals someone asked the question: “Eating like this, how are you all not obese?”

Feastin'

Our cooking class "from the field to the table" was a smashing success!

The question brought out an interesting discussion about the eating habits in our respective countries. Their first response was that they don’t really eat such big meals everyday, just when company comes! But they also eat a lot of vegetables in the south, most of which are homegrown or local and therefore very fresh. And, Daniele’s wife continued, they also cook almost exclusively with olive oil and not, we began to laugh, with peanut butter like the Americans do! So we clarified a few things. That in California we make our own olive oil, grow a lot of veggies and many of us are pretty darn health conscious.

a work of art

A beautiful plate of orecchiette al sugo!

 

She wondered if all we really ate in America were hamburgers, french fries and peanut butter. I’ve encountered this a lot traveling in rural Italy. The pictures they have of America really are of burgers, hot dogs and fries; of obesity; and of blond beach Hollywood. But then they meet us- a group of fit, healthy people from California, only two of six were actually born in the United States, and hopefully we bring them a better picture of the diversity and lifestyles found there. I explained to them about California cuisine, about the love/obsession with vegetables, and the art of salads which I believe California has perfected. And that we don’t haphazardly cover everything in peanut butter!

Santa Maria di Leuca- reaching the end of the earth

We arrived just in time to catch the sunset at Santa Maria di Leuca. Also called Santa Maria di Finnibus Terrae, Leuca, at the very tip of the heel of the Italian “boot”, was seen as the end of the earth. And the place where the Adriatic and Ionian seas meet.

Leuca's Lighthouse

The Sanctuary and lighthouse in Leuca.

We were met by, Fabio, another good friend and our host/guide in Leuca. He rode the final 6 kilometers with us on his motorcycle- we had a good conversation yelled over the roar of his motor and he rode back and forth shouting encouraging words as the last of us struggled up the hill.

Fabio

Fabio and Adriana watching the sunset.

We arrived at Leuca’s lighthouse and sanctuary where we watched the sunset. It’s the perfect place to really “get” where you are. The wind blows your face, the waves crash on the cliffs below, the sun sets golden over the navy blue sea, and the sanctuary and it’s statues glow creamy yellow in the fading light. The name Leuca has a double etymology in Arabic and Greek, meaning “light” and “white” respectively. The city does indeed gleam with the light it reflects off the sea. It was divine.

Sunset Leuca

The sunset from Leuca's Santuario

IMG_0742

Statue on the church

Fabio explained the town’s history- that Leuca was built up by rich 19th century nobles who built funky colorful villas on the water. Then he showed us where the Pugliese aqueduct ends. Puglia is an arid region and traditionally suffers difficult droughts. The acueduct was a project built under Mussolini and considered the only good thing he did for the people. And every metal sewer plaque in the region carries the fascist symbol of a bundle of sticks and an axe!

Yes!

Victory! Yes, we made it!

Leuca- aqueduct or not- is a hot vacation spot these days. It’s a fun place to get dressed up, promenade along the water, and check out the Italian discotecas!

Otranto – towers, views & farms

A few days later, we took our leave of Lecce and set off. A hot stretch of olive orchards and blackberry bushes led us, at long last, to the sea. The sea brought relieving cool breezes, spectacular scenery and the road passed through many little beach towns with some wonderful gelato. Nothing hits the spot quite like gelato after a long, hard morning of riding in the hot sun. After many stops for scenery, swimming and snacks, we rode the final stretch to the farm where we’d stay for the night. For me this was one of the most beautiful rides of the trip. The evening sun brought forth a golden glow in everything around us. We sped down the dramatic hills surrounded by golden fields of grain, with the ruined silhouette of WatchTower Sant’Emiliano in the distance near rocky cliffs which fell quickly away into the deep blue Adriatic sea.

The Open Road

Biking towards the farm with the evening sun behind us.

Some of those fields belonged to the farm. As we walked our bikes up the dusty paty to the farm, I was stunned to find the whole panoramic view could be seen from the patio of their restaurant. With such a view behind us, and of the breezy rooms, clean white sheets and showers welcoming us, we were excited to join this civilized life on the farm.

Sunset over the fields

Watching the sunset from the farm's patio. Torre Sant'Emiliano is in the distance and the Adriatic sea behind it.

The next few days revealed dazzling blue swimming holes, the ancient/antique/old beauty of an ancient maritime city, one of the best preserved Christian-Byzantine floor-mosaics in Italy, sad stories of the martyrs of Otranto, and some wild dinners on the farm.

Swimming at Porto Badisco

Swimming at Porto Badisco! I love clean water and intriguing caves!

Wild dinners means- I ordered a mixed antipasto, and the waiters begin to bring plates… grilled vegetables, fried potato balls, marinated sardines, squid salad, fresh cheeses, eggplant in tomato sauce, arugula salad….soon there were four..then six…then eight plates a person! So many they had to stack them in a pyramid shape and we had to move the empty plates immediately!

A Signora

A signora cleans wild arugula for what becomes our dinner!

Then after all that, they brought out two incredible pastas- orecchiette with homegrown tomatoes and mini meatballs, and sagne- another local handmade pasta- with tomatoes, sausage and aged ricotta. The dinner was a spectacle in itself- but the coolest thing was that Adriana’s sister, Stefania, was able to come join us, and afterwards we got to play and sing  (with the restaurant/farm owners) until late into the night. Alex hung out with us too and he got a chance to talk to the farm owners (via translator-Laura) and I think they both got a lot out of that experience. He was really touched by their sincerity, care and generosity. I’m so happy when people get to connect like that across the boundaries of language and culture. That’s probably one of the most fulfilling things out these trips.

 

June’s Bike Trip through Southern Italy – Lecce

I am writing from the steps of a beautiful church in the city of Lecce. It has a creamy limestone exterior, a painted wooden celieng, and both stone and paper machie statues decorating the inside. It’s quite spectacular and sitting in the shade of the big doors, it’s a comfortable place to write.

St Oronzo

St. Oronzo welcomes you to Lecce!

June 8th I left my house in San Francisco for London then Bologna then Brindisi in the region of Puglia in Italy. I left to lead an 11 day bike tour through the farmland, coast and olive orchards of this vibrant region. It’s been a very full month since then. So full, in fact, that I feel like I’ve been gone for two.

The bike trip was incredible. When I think of the trip, my thoughts come in images: colorful, vivid, intense; and in feelings: of optimism, excitement and freedom. We stayed in five different towns/settings, and had five sets of hosts, each one gave us a different experience.

at the table

Buon Appetito! Welcoming the new travelers to Lecce.

We began the trip in Lecce, the biggeset town on the Salento peninsula (which is the southern tip of the whole region of Puglia). Lecce, known as the “Florence of the South” called the “crowning jewel” or the “pearl” in a tour of Puglia, is built out of creamy white sandstone which dazzles in the day and glows at night.

The baroque exploded here after the city pulled out of the a period of brutal rulers and intense poverty. Out of those dark times, the city found new optimism and began to carve EVERYTHING. Alters, churches, lamps, figurines, magnets, tables, doorways. So Lecce is a beautiful city full of history, art and pleasant architecture. We spent our first few days exploring the city and its surroundings, and the garden balcony of our apartment. It’s shaded from the summer sun, with white and gray stone walls and overflowing with purple and red flowers and lush greenery. It was the prefect place for morning breakfast, for a simple lunch (fresh mozzarellas, wild arugula, sweet cherry tomatoes right off the vine), for a chilled glass of rose or the evening pizza dinner that our host Chiara and her daughter Maddalena (who’s like 8!) generously prepared for us.

a tavola

Yes that's fresh mozzarella, wild arugula, cherry tomatoes and chilled rose wine.

Walking through Lecce

Simona gives us a great tour of the city.

Pizza at Chiara's

The terrace at Chiara's B&B- where her and her daughter cooked homemade pizza for us our first night! She is just beginning to open her apartment as a B&B and welcomes other travelers there as well.