Monday, November 29, 2010

Saying goodbye

This morning, Frances left for a few days in Milan to see friends. I'll be gone by the time she gets back. She knocked on my door at about 10 am and we said our goodbyes with me dressed in pink pyjamas.  She left me a surprise in the kitchen, though: a signed black and white print of one of the olive trees she photographed with a pinhole camera and which she printed in a darkroom at the Accademia delle Arte the old fashioned way.

Around 3 o'clock, Barbara came knocking on my door. I was taking a nap. She said, how can you sleep on your last day here? Well, I was so excited after such a busy day yesterday; I didn't get to sleep till after 4 am. 

She, too, had a little surprise for me. a little bag contained a lovely neck scarf -- striped with a few silver threads, cause she knows I like bling -- and a tiny, perfect pannetone in a tiny perfect little Tre Marie box, wrapped with an orange ribbon. When I open it, the fragrance alone will be enough to propel me back to the kitchen here in Martignano. (We went through two full-size ones.)

A little later I headed out to Calimera. Roberta's mother had invited me for coffee. I stepped out, and Uccia, who lives two doors down from us, told me she'd come to the exhibit at Piazza Palmieri the other night and had heard me read my 100 word narrative. She said it had touched her and threw her arms around me. I stopped across the street to say goodbye to Maria and Rosario. Maria's eyes were moist, and Rosario asked me for a copy of the narrative.

In Calimera I had a couple of lovely hours with Roberta and her mother, Maria, and Francesco, her boyfriend, came to see me off. (He’s also one of the key people in this 100-word New Page project.)

It's feels strange to have so much to say to people that I met only weeks ago. It feels good. I feel enriched.


My young friends, Roberta and Franceso

Frances, me and Barbara and our hostess Paola introducing us during our exhibit at Palazzo Palmieri

Busy last days

As I prepare to leave Italy, more and more things to do crop up.

This morning, for example, Stella and Elio took me to Bar Danilo for coffee. Then as Barbara and Frances and I sat in the kitchen around 1 pm, some friends of Frances' stopped by to invite us to take a drive with them to Giurdignano to see ancient monoliths, enchanted massi (rocks) and crypts used by the Byzantine monks that fled Greece to escape persecution.  

The generous couple, Stefania and Luigi, know the legends and stories of the Salento intimately. In fact, Luigi has written a book on the subject. But although this is their shared passion, they make their living as teachers. Their usual charges are school children but they also work in a prison, work which is partly paid and partly volunteer. They use drama as a vehicle for getting insight into their behaviour (they're working with people imprisoned for sexual crimes at the moment) and for improving self-esteem.

We spent an enchanted afternoon with them. Our hands touched Bronze Age stone Dolmen (two vertical slabs with a horizontal one on top) and Menhirs (a single vertical tower of stone) -- Puglia's version of Stonehenge. Unlike Stonehenge, however, these structures are scattered in Giurdignano and stand along dirt roads in the countryside. Needless to say, they are not protected against vandals or thieves.

The Dolmen were likely used as sacrificial altars. Some of them have buried recesses in the stone where human remains were placed. The Menhirs honoured the Sun god. Their orientation and the way they were arranged in relation to each other in a neighbourhood suggest they formed a path marking the position of the sun. 

We visited the Massi Della Vecchia, gigantic slabs of limestone that erosion over millennia has turned into sculptures. So impressive are they that legend infused them with magic:  witches guarding treasure who'd release it only if the person could answer certain questions or risk being turned into stone. We got home at 4:30.  

At 5 pm I went with Elio to a book fair near Lecce.  I wandered up and down publishers' displays with as much pleasure as if the books had been in English. I came across one little gem: the smallest book I've ever seen. The publisher told me it was written by a clockmaker. The story was written on a single sheet of paper in a way the clockmaker with his facility for making tiny things could fold the sheet over and over until it formed a book. The display had a whole row of them lined up on a miniature bookcase.

The editor told me the book tells a real story -- but not a very good one.  The author is a clockmaker, after all, not a writer, he said.  

How much, I ask? Twenty Euros.  He said, It’s a lot for a little book but the high price will prevent buyers from throwing it away. (No, I didn’t buy it.)


A Menhir in the town of Giurdignano
  
A Menhir along a country road with a crypt or grotto of San Paolo beneath it



The grotto's interior is decorated with frescos


Stefania (in white) leads our little troop up to the top of an enchanted massi

More enchanted limestone sculptures created by erosion



La Grotta di San Giovanni, once used by Byzantine Basilian monks was restored in 1990


Gorgeous fresco and within the grotto of San Giovanni




Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ladies that Lunch

Shay left today but otherwise it was the best time I've had since arriving in Italy almost ten weeks ago.

Frances, Barbara and I went to Lecce and spent some money. We bought purses and espresso coffee makers, glassware and Christmas gifts for family members back home.  We bought things in jewellery shops and underwear in outdoor markets. We bargained -- well at least I did, and everybody I asked reduced their prices by a few Euros.

Laden with bags, we ladies lunched at a lovely place near Santa Croce called Volo. We were the only patrons there and got the proprietor’s and waiter's fullest attention. Lovely pumpkin risotto for Frances, penne with asparagus and potato mousse for Barbara while I had menu #1: orechiette in tomato sauce followed by an eggplant mousse. We didn't even have room for coffee.

Back in Martignano, Barbara and Frances got busy putting up their respective photos and paintings for tonight's exhibit at Piazza Palmieri, while I sat at my computer and tried to write. Those two put together a stupendous repeating slide show of their work and Shay's, which projected on the palazzo’s gigantic and beautiful exterior wall. It was fantastic to see the work writ so large.

The original work was exhibit inside the palazzo’s exhibition hall.

Everyone who came to the show, about 50 people, including my young friends Francesco Aprile and Roberta Gaetani, and our MIRA hostess Paola introduced us. I read my 100-word New Page submission in English and in Italian. Elio Coriano, a poet who lives in Martignano read from his work in progress, and then his wife, Stella Grande and her band, got up on stage and did three pizzicata numbers, folk music from the region. Some of the older folks got up and let loose. The dance, pizzica, is a courtship ritual. (The attached video gives a taste of the music's high energy.)

Then a bunch of us went to Alle Calende Greche for pizza. Nothing like starting dinner at 11 pm. What fun.


video




The exhibit hall in the Piazza Palmieri palazzo where Barbara's & Frances' works were shown


Stella Grande and her band presented several traditionl lively pizzicata folk songs


Couples got up to dance the old-fashioned courtship game


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Day 60 Breaking up

Our little group of four starts breaking up tomorrow morning when Shay leaves for Israel. Poor guy has been hen-pecked by three women for two months. He has the patience of Job.

We had our last dinner together in town at Alle Calende Greche. I grossed them all out again by ordering tripe while they shared spinach and ricotta pizza, a sagna with meatballs and a salad.  We had rose wine before we left for the restaurant, rose wine at the restaurant, and amaro and many little cakes when we got back home.

These people have been very kind and very supportive about my work. Two nights in a row now, they insisted I read them excerpts from my novel in progress. If they are to be believed -- and I don't imagine Barbara, particularly, would be capable of telling a lie -- I'm on the right track with this murder mystery.

We all hugged Shay a good night. They'll be more hugs tomorrow, Saturday, when he leaves, I expect. The three of us remaining will be going into Lecce in the morning, Frances to print more of her film photographs of olive trees in the Accademia's old fashioned darkroom and Barbara and I to spend a few more Euros before we exit. I leave on Tuesday.

Good god, how quickly ten weeks has flown.


Here we all are, including our hostess Paola, at Shay's birthday dinner at Arete


Friday, November 26, 2010

Day 59 Birthday party

We celebrated Shay's birthday tonight by going back to that marvelous restaurant just outside Cavallino called Arete. The second visit didn't disappoint.

We wanted to sit in the room on the left, where the roaring fire beconed. But alas, all those tables were reserved. In fact, we arrived about 8:15 pm. Only one other table was occupied -- a family with a baby. By the time we left just after 10 pm, people stood in the cool night air, smoking and waiting for their tables. All of them had reservations, otherwise they'd neve hope to get a seat.

We asked, no we begged the waiter to please give us only a few antipasti. We didn't want to fill up on them, we said. We wanted to leave some room for the primi (pasta) and secondi (meat).

Si, si, va bene, he said. We were five at the table and he promised to bring appetizers for two. Just to get a taste. Out came a ball of buffalo mozzarella and another called a burrato, which has an outer shell of solid mozzarella but inside contains both mozzarella and cream, the size of a grapefruit, each resting on a leaf of radicchio. When you cut into it, the concoction inside oozes thickly onto your plate and very soon around your tongue.

They also brought a plate of hand cut prosciutto some slices of lightly cooked, lightly steamed and dressed orange squash and a few small wedges of soft pecorino. Allelulliah, we thought, the waiter really heard us and we started discussing what we'd order for primi and secondi.

Then the kitchen released their hot antipasti. What? Little eggplants parmigiana, a couple of small zucchini frittatas, tiny balls of fried bread dough, miniature balls, and I don't even want to remember what else. Because we had ordered other dishes to share among us: two primi (ravioli with tiny fresh tomatoes and butter, and a risotto with spinach and truffles) as well as  stuffed chicken leg with a white wine reduction. And, of course, there was also the insalata mista.

We refused fruit, dessert and even coffee. Impossible.

Shay drove us home, the whole lot of us stuffed to the gills -- until we got to Calimera and some wise guy in the back seat (I think it was Frances) suggested we go have a look in the piazza to see whether Vittoria's might be open. It makes the best gelato I've had in Italy. That gelato is Shay's favourite thing, so on the occasion of his  birthday and since he's leaving in two day we voted in favour of going.

Unfortunately, it was open.


Ravioli with tomato and ricotta was luscious




The waiter brought a small table to divide for us the food for dishes we had ordered to share


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Day 58 Women and Men

I heard a story a while back about a woman, reputed to be a strega (a witch), who lived in Martignano at the turn of the 20th century.  Everybody knew she was a witch except her husband. As the story goes, the woman would wait until her husband slept before sneaking out. Then she’d turn herself into a horse and carouse with others like herself in the piazza.

At some point somebody got up the nerve to tell the husband, and he concocted a plan to catch her in the act. Pretending to be asleep when she slipped out, the man followed his wife to the piazza, walked right up to her (as a horse) and smashed her on the head with a stick of wood, which he'd brought for the express purpose.

The blow immediately turned her back into a woman, a bloodied one. The next day the big gash in her head remained so that everyone knew her carousing days were over.

When I heard that tale, I nearly spit. What a convenient story for a wife beater living in a time of superstition.  

The house where the couple lived is abandoned now, its stones crumbling and its innards filling up with weeds.

The story came to mind because November 25 is the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. There will be demonstrations in Rome, Bologna, Brescia and Napoli, organized by 400 Italian women's groups under the umbrella of controviolenzadonne.org.

I haven't been able to ferret out any activities taking place in Canada on Nov. 25. In fact, the date isn't even mentioned on the Canadian government's events 2010 calendar. This despite the fact that its own agency, Statistics Canada, said in a 2008 report there had been 38,000 incidents of spousal violence in 149 police services during 2006 -- accounting for some 15 per cent of all reported violent incidents in the nation. 

No one will be surprised to hear men were responsible for eight out of ten of these assaults.

Stats Can also reports 49 women were killed by a current or former spouse in 2009, four more than in 2008. Fourteen of them had already left their killers when they were cut down.

Here's another good number: Women continue to face three times the likelihood of turning up dead at the hands of an intimate partner than men do.

American Bar Association’s numbers indicate in recent years intimate partners were responsible for about a third of female murder victims, and the number one killer of African American women 15 to 34 is death at the hands of a current or former partner.

I started wondering whether in a supposedly macho country like Italy whether the statistics on spousal abuse would be better or worse. The news isn't good.

In a news release by controviolenzadonne.org, the organizing agency for the Nov. 25 marches, and published by adnkronos.com, it cities some fierce figures: Italy's statistics agency ISTAT found more than 14 million Italian women have experienced physical, sexual and psychological violence from male partners or relatives during their lives.

A whopping 1.4 million women reported having been raped before they were 16, mostly by boyfriends or male relatives.

The controviolenza news release also has this to say: "Shockingly, over 94 percent of violence endured by women (in Italy) is never reported, and just 18.2 percent of women consider it a crime."

On-line broadcaster Rt.com quotes Sabrina Franca, director of the Maree antiviolence center, in Rome who said that until 1996 Italy had no laws against sexual violence, and men were not punished for abusing women.

"According to an old Italian legislation, a man could kill his wife, if she was cheating on him,” Franca said.

The rt.com story polled men on the streets of Rome on the subject of violence against women. Each and every one of them insisted they could never lift a hand against a woman. Some even blamed immigrants for Italy's appalling statistics. Rt said almost 7 million women were victims of domestic violence in Italy last year.

The numbers haven’t suddenly shot up. It cites psychologist who say it's just that  women are now less afraid to turn in their partners.

Good.

But in some Third World countries, up to 70 per cent of their female citizens endure untold indignities. Have a look at the World Heath Organization’s web site.


The house where the strega is supposed to have lived in the early 1900s as seen from the street

A door immediately left of the entrance leads into what must have been a kitchen

What went through that poor woman's mind as she lit the fire for her husband's breakfast?


The kitchen fireplace?


 


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Day 57 Explaining Italians?

I write about this place as though it were Paradise. I know it's not. My young friend, Francesco Aprile, a writer and philosophy student, described it as "mean."  He says the government's right-wing policies; especially more and more cuts to education grants will cripple Italy. Many of the young people I've talked to sound hopeless.

Although I’m Italian born, I don’t always understand their behaviour. They’re not straightforward, not with foreigners and not with each other. I complained about this yesterday to the Accademia di Belle Arte di Lecce's, director Giacinto Leone. He told me a story that clarified things for me, a story told to him years ago that his entire outlook, and the way he dealt with his own people.

Here's the story: A bony fin slid into the palm of a fisherman while he emptied his nets. He went to the village doctor, who put an ointment on his hand, wrapped it in gauze and told him to come back in a week.  The doctor did this regularly for years, telling him each time that things were progressing as they should. For years, the fisherman paid the doctor in kind, giving him fish or cheese or whatever else he had that day.

The fisherman called thought the doctor a grande dottore.

After some 20 years, the doctor retired and his son took over the practice. When the fisherman came for his regular treatment, the junior doctor took one look at it and exclaimed, "But you have a fish bone caught in there." He immediately removed it and told the patient it would heal in no time.

But when the senior doctor heard about what his son had done, he despaired: "My son," he said, "what have you done? This is not the way to ensure you will continue to eat."

Giacinto Leone has had many jobs in his long career. He's an architect by training and inclination. He has taught. He has done administrative work in the private and public sectors. He's held public office. During the 60s, his activism forced corrupt politicians to give people housing, which they’d withheld in exchange for votes. He led a sit down of 500 families to the housing ministry office, which later earned him to elected office and an appointment as minister of housing for eight years.

Mr. Leone says that story about the fisherman explained a lot about what motivates his people. It has made him able to work with them. It has made him patient.

But you also have to be smart, he said, his mischievous eyes gleaming behind glasses, or risk everything blowing up in your face. When he marched at the head of those 500 families, he made sure the women, with babes in arms walked immediately behind him, and the more hot-headed men at the rear.


Giacinto Leone during an earlier visit to the Accademia


Here's most of the wildlife I've seen since coming to Puglia:


Seen during a visit to a working masseria...


Spied on one of my trips to Calimera...these buggers were hard to photograph, had to use stealth


Ran into an unexpected visit by Kujo during a passegiata around Martignano


Lovely Dog, who followed me home from a walk back from Calimera. Sweet creature.

Some guy breaking a wild stallion on Calimera old road?

Day 56 Exhibition

We had our exhibit today at the Accademia in Lecce. Shay's and Barbara's paintings were well received, as were Frances' gigantic photos of the magical olive trees she photographed.

There was a huge poster of my 100-word New Page submission, which I read to the assembled guests -- yes, in Italian. Luckily my essay was printed in both English and Italian and I only stumbled once, on the word percepiserro. It too was well received. The director of the Accademia asked me to autograph it and he told me he's going to have it framed and hang it in his office. He said he too has felt this sense of connectedness, of being rooted in this land. It made me very happy to hear him say that because I have a great liking and respect for this big bear of a man, Giancinto Leone.

Here is my 100-word submission to New Page, which will be appearing in store windows along with similar short narratives by other authors all over Lecce. (See blog Day 18 New Page for more information.) For those of you who prefer to read it in Italian -- always sounds better in a Romance language, doesn’t it? -- I have conveniently added the translation immediately below.)





When my bare feet touched this ancient soil,
Quando i miei piedi nudi hanno toccato questa terra antica,
I felt movement deep in the earth.
ho sentito il movimento in profondità nella terra.
I imagined, or perhaps I hoped, the bones of my ancestors
Ho immaginato, o forse speravo, le ossa dei miei antenati
sensed my return and turned toward me in welcome.
percepito il mio ritorno e si girò verso di me in segno di benvenuto.
I had thought the ancients speechless
Avevo pensato gli antichi senza parole
and I without ears for them. But I felt them.
e senza orecchie io per loro. Ma io li sentivo.
I heard their message through my skin:
Ho sentito il loro messaggio attraverso la mia pelle:
In the wind whistling against my ears;
Nel vento che fischiava contro le mie orecchie,
the warm rain pounding on my head and face;
la pioggia che batte caldo sulla mia testa,
the pitiless sun against my milk white skin;
il sole impietoso contro la mia pelle bianco latte,
the sweet taste of earth in my mouth,
il dolce sapore della terra in bocca,
they told me over and over
mi hanno detto nel solo modo
that I belong to them.
che potevano che io apparstengo a loro.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Day 55 Feasting

Shay had his heart set on going back to that unbelievable restaurant, Puritate, in Gallipoli. This time Frances and Barbara came along too. Shay confessed he was worried about being disappointed the second time around.  We weren't disappointed, though. We left ecstatic.

We reprised two dishes we'd had the first time, spaghettini with palmetto and the tuna scaloppini, and added spaghetti with lemon and teeny weenie shrimp, plus a lightly battered monkfish. And there was wine, of course. Two bottles of white, the second of which we didn't finish so we took it home.

Since we had only two primi and two secondi among the four of us, most had room for dessert, except for Shay who’s always a bit to virtuous about sweets. (He did, however, make mincemeat of the basket of tiny almond cookies that came with his perfectly brewed macchiato.) Ahhh....a lovely lemon torta for Barbara and me and a glass bowl of coffee-flavoured panna cotta for Frances.

The meal was worth the 40-minute drive to this beautiful fishing town of 20,000 on the Ionian Sea.

After the late lunch we walked through the centro storico. The wind pulled at our coats but it didn't matter. Everything was closed, of course, since it's Sunday but that didn't matter either.

I could live in one of those old wind-weathered houses. I’d pick one of the ones facing the sea. I'd stand at a second floor window and watch the roiling waves crashing against the rocks. 

Today Gallipoli provided a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.


My lovely lemon torta (lemon meringue)

Somebody living in one of the houses across the sea wall has their put laundry out on the street to dry



A built in niche beside the front door of a residence holds a statue of the Blessed Virgin


The facade of the Cathedral of Santa Agatha of Catanio, 1629, was built on top of an earlier church on the island's summit. The interior covered with paintings most by Giovanni Andrea Coppola.


An example of one of the altars each of which has a large painting depicting a biblical story



Skull and bones of San Fausto, priest and martyr. The basilica also houses the breast of Saint Agatha.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Day 54 Corrupting wine

My housemates, Barbara, Shay and Frances have succeeded in corrupting me. They'd stated their intentions early on but I never thought they'd achieve it. More persistent people than they have tried and failed.

I am now officially a drinker of wine in all its luscious hues and textures: red and white, very dry; rose, ditto; sparkling white prosecco and a sparkling red which I tasted for the first time today when Shay handed me a full glass on the rooftop this evening.

I came back from my run and heard them calling me from up there. I climbed the steep stairs and there they are were, smirking with glasses in hand (not Barbara, though. She's suffered from either food poisoning or a virus of since last night.) slurping up this sparkling ruby red stuff. Shay filled, yes filled, an entire elegant tulip-shaped glass for me and I drank the whole thing -- and that's before any thought of dinner. 

The corruption process started with them filling a half of a liquer glass two months ago.  The other day, on my own initiative I went out and bought a bottle of Montenegro, a lovely digestive, when I noticed we'd run out of amaro.  The bottle says the liquer is made from herbs....



The evening sky from our rooftop.... lounge?



Housemates Frances (enjoying a glass of sparkling red) and Barbara in our rooftop lounge


Shay relaxes after having filled everybody's glass


Friday, November 19, 2010

Day 53 Blue skies

As my departure approaches, I'm torn between wanting to stay and a desire to return home to the people and things that belong to me.

I walked along today trying to imprint in my mind's eye the exact shade of blue of this marvelous sky so that I call it up when I'm shovelling snow at home this winter.

We are going out to dinner tonight to a place called Le Sierra. I believe it's Calimera's only bed and breakfast. Its restaurant is reputed to be excellent. I will so miss going out to dinner three or four times a week with my lovely housemates, eating at really good restaurants for relatively little. Twenty Euros per person gets you a top-notch full course meal with generous servings of vino. But we've never spent that much. We order a few dishes and share since not a single one of us can down three full courses. 

When I go grocery shopping I'm amazed by the reasonable cost of produce. At home I never walk away without spending less than $25. Here I rarely spend more than 5 Euros for the same amount. It's true selection is limited but everything is dirt fresh.



Blue skies over Calimera


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Day 52 The doors of Calimera

In punishment for not taking a walk yesterday, I took an extra-long excursion today to Calimera, of course.

It might sound like heresy to say this, but I keep going back and forth to Calimera because unending stretches of country roads filled with olive trees, of which there are plenty here, and nothing else bores me. I’m a city girl. I like the visual stimulation of walking through towns. I like looking at how people set up their gardens and what kind of fencing they use. I like looking at their doors, the colours, the materials – wood or metal, bronze or steel – and compare the distances from the street.

Doors interest me particularly so today I took pictures of Calimerian doors. This did not please some of the Calimerians who saw me doing it, however. Twice groups of people, who happened to be nearby instead of enjoying their siesta as they should have, objected. 

What are you going to do with those pictures, Signora, a woman out of the first group of people cried out? Nothing, I just think the doors are pretty, I answered. Ah, she replied dubiously.

You’re not allowed to do that, shouted a fellow on another street as I stood about 100 feet away composing the shot. I didn't answer fast enough to suit him so the old fart started walking toward me and insisting I shouldn’t be taking pictures of people’s doors.  Perche no? I shouted back. You need the owner's permission, he said.

Both my parents are Italian and so am I. I was born with genes that know precisely how to deal with the situation in which I found myself. I took the picture, I shrugged and I sauntered away, as if he hadn’t spoken.

Beats me what those people were worried about. Did they think I could steal their souls by taking pictures of the doors to their homes?



Some of the doors of Calimera.....












The start of the old road from Calimera to Martignano

Day 51 Nothing but excuses

Didn't do much of anything today. Found a way to avoid writing by doing a bunch of unnecessary research for my novel. Ended up nose deep in World Health Organization statistics and discovered it's a great time way to spend three hours..

I didn't even go for my usual walk to Calimera. Too cool, I told myself, although it's was sunny. The temperature didn't stop my housemate, Barbara, from taking her walk to and from Martano, which is 5 k each way. She's a beast for trekking.

I toyed with the idea of doing a little yoga, but I found a way to get out of that too. I figure sometimes (not too often) when you're resistance is that strong against doing something, it's just better to give in. (That's my zen excuse and I will not budge from that position.)

We're going out to celebrate three birthdays tonight someplace Paola called "the countryside." A small place, she said, not too far.  If I could look forward to eating the way I eat here every night for the rest of my life, I would die contented.  Frances just had a birthday, Shay's is coming up and Mario, a painter friend we met recently. will also celebrates his. 

For those of you who know my pathetic drinking habits at home, I would like to report I'm up to drinking a full glass of vino with dinner. I've even been know to slurp a little amaro (digestivo) after la cena.

I love the life here.... a domani, ragazze et ragazzi.


Ten of us had a truly memorable dinner at a restaurant on a country road just outside Lizzanello, Puglia

Paola, who runs the residence where I live, and Mario an artist friend from Lecce

Housemate Barbara and a Uccio, a cousin of Paola's



The meal at this countryside restaurant was fabulous, ample and inexpensive: 18 Euros each

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Day 50 Bureaucratic blues

The highlight of my day was a late morning hour-long visit with Postitalia, the local post office. I wanted to send home a box of clothes to make room in my suitcase.

Two people sat behind the counter. One deals with mail the other with banking. One of my housemates, I don't recall whether it was Barbara or Frances, got in the wrong line one day and got punished for it by being kept waiting an extra long time.

I made sure I stood in the right queue. When my turn came Vincenzo, the clerk. had difficulty locating the appropriate customs declaration. But he found it, in time. I stood to the side and filled it out while he served the next customer. But just as I handed it back to him, the postal pick-up driver arrived.  

Vincenzo was deeply apologetic (He took a liking to me after he discovered I live not too far from the Niagara Falls Casino – I don’t know, something about televised poker.) but he'd have to take care of the driver first.  I stepped to the side once more.

Vincenzo counted and recounted envelopes. He tapped on his computer, printed out forms, stamped them furiously front and back and initialled them. That done, he placed a handful of registered mail envelopes in a big yellow plastic box along with one of the forms, covered it and sealed the box with a bendable plastic strip emblazoned with a barcode. He started the same process with insured mail only to discover he was one piece short. Vincenzo cut open the seal on the first box and started counting all over again.

I was fascinated but the line behind me was growing and growling.

Vincenzo finally turned his attention to my box. There was much scratching of the sparse-haired head as he tried puzzled over the tariff to Canada. In time, he concluded my 5.5 kilos of used clothes would cost me 70 Euros to ship.

Anything cheaper, I ask? Do boats still cross the ocean? He found another form that offered a shipping cost of 50 Euros.

If I were you, he advised, I wouldn't bother. I said, you're right, Vincenzo, hoisted the box and left.  


A courtyard in a Calimera

A porcelain head in a Calimera shop window

Day 49 Fire, fire burning bright

Tonight the people of Martignano held the second of a three-day commemoration in honour of San Pantaleo. They believe he interceded on their behalf during a fierce hurricane in the early 18th century and saved their ancestors.

The fireworks were spectacular, I'm told. I missed them, of course. I was waiting for Barbara to knock on my door so we could head out to the sports field together. She called out but I didn't hear her. She thought I was busy and went off without me. By the time I heard -- and I mean HEARD the fireworks from my room (My god, I swear the earth shook with the sound) and got to the sports arena, the light show had finished.

But the bonfire was reaching its glory. Huge, hot and dancing with joy.

I, however, am not joyful but pissed off today. A neighbour, a nosy woman, a busy-body woman, the type who equates rudeness with speaking her mind told me off. I had left some bread to the side of our exterior door, our own door, for Dog yesterday (see yesterday's post for more about Dog) and she told me to pick it up.

It hadn't occurred to me the bread would be there a day later. Dog had rejected my offering yesterday but I expected one or more of the four of five stray dogs around here would eat it. (I guess Martignano's stray dogs are well fed.)

I'm not saying the woman was out of line to ask me to remove the bread. But she was rude and patronizing. It's rich being lectured to over a few pieces of bread in a country where people shamelessly mar this beautiful landscape with their garbage. Toilet seats, old television sets, soda cans, whatever, in ugly piles along roadsides that cut through spectacular olive groves.

The bonfire burned big and bright in the centre of the town's sport's field

Teenagers at the bonfire wanted to know where I came from and what brought me to Martignano

In Italy a gathering of any significance or even insignificance includes food