For the past two years I have called Puglia home. People often ask me why I happened to come live in this southern region of Italy. The answer is actually not more complicated than I wanted to give it a try. I visited Puglia once, fell in love with it and wanted to come back….and so I did. But the background story is less interesting than what it is I’ve found here.
Puglia is the long skinny region that we call the heel of the boot. It is surrounded by two seas, the Adriatic and the Ionian and is distinctly Southern Italian with its heavy Greek influence, white washed villages, palm tree protected masserie (farmhouses), the cuisine of the poor and a slow pace that comes to halt every day at 1 pm. The Pugliese people are genuinely open and staunchly proud of their local traditions, which can be vastly different from town to town.
It is not a place like Tuscany that is very familiar with American food enthusiasts coming and setting up shop for a while. Most people do not quite get why someone like me would want to MOVE from the US to Puglia. Granted, culturally the place is about 60 years behind what I’ve been used to, but at the same time this very fact gives it so much charm.
Perhaps the greatest thing of all about living here is the availability and cost of fresh, high quality food and wine. A three course meal (and we’re talking all fresh, local, handmade ingredients) with wine and digestivo will run you about 20 euro. As a food lover accustomed to living on a self-employed person’s salary, this is a dream. But eating out is also not the norm….the best food is often at home. And the food is not stuffy, not overly precious like I had gotten so tired of in the US, just simple FOOD cooked with a lot of pride with simple ingredients. Since Puglia has an abundance of olive trees I have never actually had to buy a bottle of olive oil. Everyone has olive trees and everyone makes their own oil. And the wine…..Puglia wines are making a mark on the international market, as they should. There are some fabulous winemakers here. But purchasing a bottle of negroamaro in a wine shop in New York will never be the same as sitting outside on a summer night surrounded by the sun-warmed stone of a masseria and opening a bottle of rosato made by the vineyard down the way.
As I think about returning for the season, these are the scenes that stand out in my mind. The white stone contrasted by the bright pink of bouganvillia. The cascading caper flowers along the city wall of Ostuni, the seaside port of Monopoli (where I spent 1 year) and its blue and green painted boats, the summer nights that just don’t seem to end, and the hot afternoons that are only good for napping. The cherry trees, fig trees and all the beautiful things that come out of the aqua blue sea and the charm and surprising sophistication of the city of Lecce. These are the things that I dreamed of living and I can say that I have. These scenes are part of my experience, part of my life and I hold them with me….until next year and forever.