Fall 2012

 

 

THE LAST WORD

 

 

Silence You Can Almost Hear

 

 

by Robert Savelli

 

 

Antonio told us, “we Pugliesi are people of the sea, our port is always open.” Antonio was from Fasano, Puglia. When we asked for directions, he took us directly to our location, gave us several tastings from his salumeria, and sent us on our way with a gift of his best red wine – a living example of the ancient tradition in Puglia that visitors are offered the finest hospitality. The people of Puglia are remarkable for their warmth, kindness and readiness to welcome guests.

 

We spent three weeks in Puglia, one of Italy’s southern-most regions, situated along the Adriatic and Ionian seas. Our first accommodation was a rented villa in Mattinata, in the Gargano Peninsula. Mattinata, a small and attractive seaside resort, runs up the side of a hill overlooking a cove across an immaculate olive grove by the sea. Our milky-white villa with terracotta roof was a welcome retreat for nine days. High above is Monte Sant’Angelo, where we spent a day visiting the ancient grotto of St. Micheal the Archangel, a pilgrim destination for centuries. Penitents come to pray and then return home, or they might continue down the Adriatic coast and across the water to the Holy Land.

 

The drive across the peninsula through the Foresta Umbra was impressive. This protected area is comprised of dark, twisting roads, a green canopy above us, and an ageless silence we could almost hear. Our roadside companions were horned-cattle, pigs, goats and sheep. A solitary shepherd on a slope kept watch over his flock as in ancient times.

 

Manfredonia, Vieste, Peschici and Rodi are splendid names to describe the sparkling beauty of the Gargano harbours and the many coves of blue and green waters resting against the chalk white cliffs. At Polignano a Mare there is a heroic bronze statue in honour of its famous son, Domenico Modugno, composer of the song “Volare.”

  Accenti THE LAST WORD  ​Silence You Can Almost Hear  Robert Savelli
     

Foggia, Bari, and TarantoPuglia’s “big” cities – know the horror of war, the heartache of emigrant families, and the aspirations of the poor. Pugliesi have felt the invaders’ tyranny and oppression: the Normans, the French and the Spanish. The secret of their survival is that there is no secrecy – only strength and truth, and an abiding endurance like the olive tree.

 

Our second accommodation was the historic Palazzo Mingolia atop the small town of Ostuni in the province of Brindisi. We enjoyed a pleasant view of the UNESCO protected olive groves, the cathedral and its morning bells, the nearby community of artists, merchants, and restaurateurs, and the tuna fishing grounds of the Adriatic. Our next-door neighbour Eugenio Maresca invited us to his palazzo – a set of rooms furnished and decorated sombrely in the fashion of when Italy was a young country.

 

Puglia has two famous tourist destinations. The area of Alberobello is comprised of some 1500 gleaming white, round edifices called trulli; their domed stone roofs are dry-filled. Historians still debate their original purpose: defence, storage or dwellings. The other attraction is the religious shrine of Saint Padre Pio at San Giovanni Rotondo in the Gargano. The new piazza and church are marvels of colourful mosaics for pilgrims who come to pray at the tomb of this remarkable capuchin monk, whose advice and guidance were sought by petitioners from around the world. Millions come in silence and hope.

 

Our stay in Puglia was splendid also because we ate the cucina povera, food from the earth, made from simple ingredients – bread made from age-old recipes, sturdy, pungent, salty and creamy cheeses, and yellowish, golden green olive oil from century-old trees – and because we drank the strong, red wine.

 

But the best things about this sixth trip to the regions of Italy was sharing it with my son Joe, and enjoying the unfailing charm and the unreserved friendship of the Pugliesi. Antonio of Fasaro was so right about his countrymen: “Una gente propio accogliente.” Puglia is alive in its traditions, history, religious beliefs, and rock-solid customs.

 

Every autumn, Robert Savelli and his son Joseph spend three weeks travelling to a different region of Italy, recording their adventures. This is an account of their most recent voyage.

 

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