According to nelsalento.com the heel of Italy was first settled by Greeks, then came Romans, Byzantium, the Normans, the Turks, the French and not least, the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century. These people haven't had it easy. If it hadn't been for Italy's reunification in the 1870s, these poor folks still wouldn't know who they are.
I walked to Sternatina today, about three kilometers each way. Like Martignano, the town of some 2,700 is one of nine that make up Grecia Salentina. Some of the older people in the district still speak a dialect laced with Greek, called Griko.
No wonder I didn't understand half of what the woman next door said when we tried to have a conversation yesterday. I found her sitting in front of her house on my way back from picking up some groceries. She sat on the street in front of her house facing her little courtyard. Two dogs lay at her feet. When I answered her greeting she started speaking in a language I could barely understand. Even when I asked her repeat herself many times and even though I responded to what I thought she'd said, she continued using her dialect. It occurs to me that she might not know how to speak Italian.
At 4 p.m. today I began threading my way through the quiet streets of Matrignano toward Sternatina, I ran across three women taking postprandil stroll. We walked together part-way.
Most women here are dark-haired and dark skinned. Past middle age, many of the women faces acquire a sort of dour expression, brows furrowed, mouths pinched. One of the women, however, had blondish hair, blue eyes and pale skin. I wonder which invader's gene pool she came from.
They asked me questions, eager to know why I would bother to come to their small town. How did I like it? I love it!
I wanted to know whether any of them had travelled. They seemed puzzled by the question. No, none one of them had every ventured very far from here. Why would they? one of them asked. Everything they need is right here.
On the road to Sternatina.