My housemate, Barbara, a painter from Connecticut, has rented a car for short while. This morning we motored off to Lecce, where Teri and I had spent a few days on the way down here.
We parked the car and headed to the old town, known as centre storico around here. As you can imagine, every mid-size city has one. Just as we turned the corner, an outdoor market was in full swing. Everything from shoes to underwear to coats and jewellery.
Barbara espied a bracelet of semi-precious stone. I don't recall what stone it was now, but the merchant, a young man with dark skin, swore up and down that it was natural stone. He wanted 7 euros for the bracelet. Barbara wanted to pay him 3. She did not want it enough to meet him in the middle and we left.
The old town is spectacular and unabashdly Baroque. In fact, Lecce was once known as the Queen of Baroque. Just take a look at its flock of churches and ornate palazzi, some of them former monastaries. A few if them have been turned into bed and breakfasts.
I will always remember Lecce as the place where not a single bank (I tried about eight of them) would cash any of my American Express travellers' cheques.
I did not let my resentment of the city's banks diminish the awe I felt when I stepped into the huge, flamboyant Piazza Duomo. The bell tower to the east of cathedral Madonna Assunta stands 70 metres high. There's a bishop's palace at the bottom of the square and a seminary with a cloistered court. You can almost imagine on that enormous stone expanse how the city's leaders might have gathered their troops in centuries gone by.
As you walk Lecce's cobbled streets, every second shop, it seems, is a cafe/bar where you can get the smoothest capuccino in the world as well as a panino, if you're feeling a bit peckish. But be warned, in Italy, peckishness cannot be cured between the hours of 1 and 4 pm, at the earliest. Instead, if you walk the narrow side streets will hear the music of spoons and forks hitting plates drifting out from between the slats of closed shutters.
Lunch followed by a little snooze. How civilized -- unless you yourself happen to be walking the streets on the verge of stoning a pigeon for your own lunch.