Home in Monopoli

I arrived at the Bari airport minutes before I was scheduled to return my rental to Maggiore. Laura and Arien picked me up and we loaded my bag into the Southern Visions Audi and headed directly to Monopoli. The final leg to my long journey south. Very fitting on the day that celebrates women across Italy (feste delle donne) my luggage was lugged down 7 flights of stairs and up some very steep and narrow ones by women (thank you Julie and Laura). My next home will be on the ground floor. Bags dropped we quickly turned around and headed first to the office to get Antonello and then to the bar for an apperitivo. A campari spritz, panzerotti (fried tomato and mozzarella) and some fabulously fresh Pugliese almonds was about all I could handle at the moment but there was plenty to choose from.

Head hit the pillow in my new home at midnight. From here my Puglia adventure begins…….

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In giro in Molise

After a two day journey covering six regions of Italy I have arrived at my new desk and home in Monopoli. I set out on Monday morning from Florence in a rented Fiat Punto packed full of my things (a few more bags than I arrived with 4 months ago) and headed south. Finding my way out of the center of Florence by car was perhaps the most difficult part of the entire journey. After that I settled in, gathered my thoughts and drove, Through Tuscany, through Umbria, through Lazio through the snowy mountains of Abruzzo and finally into Molise where I took a 24 hour detour in Montelongo, the town of my grandfather.

I had been to Montelongo before, once in 2002 with my mom and then again in November. We had somewhat maintained a connection to our friends there (cousins of distant cousins) and of course, nine years later they were eager to host us and hopeful for our return. I had called Pepino, my main contact and also somewhat of the town mayor, a few days before letting him know that I would be passing through and making a stop at the police station in Campobasso to pick up my permesso di soggiorno. He told me not to worry about a thing and that he would be there whenever I arrived. And he was. Right there by the fountain in the town piazza in the freezing cold. I followed him to the bed and breakfast of a friend (who had heat–this was a key factor) where I rested while the small heater in the corner of the room with enormous ceilings began to warm the place up. After a little rest I went back downstairs where it seemed the locals gather for drinks and to play video games to wait for Pepino. We went to one of the two restaurants in town for dinner–a small pizzeria–where the only other diners were Pepino’s 11 year old nephew and his friends. Road weary and cold I ate well. Pizza, bisteca and red wine. Off to bed.

The next day my host Maria served me a breakfast while she and her friend, also Maria gossiped about the local goings on. They asked about me and my life and before twenty minutes were up we were Facebook friends. From there anything is possible. The Italian was flowing but the local dialect tripped me up a bit. We were on our second macciato when Pepino arrived to tour me around a bit more. We went to the house he had inherited from his aunt that he is currently renovating. It is old and beautiful and will be even more so when it is finished. We stopped in to see his mother and aunt who were busying themselves in the kitchen pouring olive oil into jars and finding telephone numbers written on scratches of paper. From there we went to the other restaurant “La Nostrana” a beautiful trattoria in the Slow Food guide book that I had eaten at in November. Maria Concetta does it all herself, cures the meat, makes the cheese, makes the pasta, the whole thing. She had two big groups coming that day and was just lighting the fireplace when we arrived. She desperately wants me to help her spread the word about her in Italy and North America. And I want to help–she is incredible. I told her I’d be back soon. After Maria Concetta is was time for lunch so back to the house with mom, aunt, both brothers and nephews.

Then to Campobasso where I’d been told I could pick up my permesso di soggiorno between the hours of 3-5. Having heard horror stories of this experience in Florence, the one person ahead of me in line was a pleasant sight. 10 minutes later I was walking out of there, totally legal in Italy for one year.

The ride back to Montelongo to pick up my car was a long and windy one through nowhere Molise. These roads twist and turn through the mountains as little villages dot the hill tops. Nobody talks about Molise, including Italians. It seems that they don’t even know where it is. However everyone who lives there wants me to come back to live, for good.

Back to the house to collect a gift bag of olive oil, homemade wine and biscotti. Set the GPS to Bari, said my goodbyes and off I went winding back down to the autostrada and further south.

Apperitivo

I just would like to say a few words about the apperitivo. Traditionally it means to have a drink and some small snacks before dinner. Maybe a prosecco or campari and some olives or something simple like this. However, in modern day Italy it has come to mean something entirely different. It is the event you base your entire evening around in many cases. I believe it started in Milan and has moved its way south to the larger cities—I’m not sure how far south, likely not further than Rome. The concept is that a bar or cafe will offer an apperitivo from the hours of about 7-9. This will include a drink and a sampling of food of their choice that they put out buffet style. The cost is somewhere between 5 and 10 euro for food and drink. The display of food can be from large overflowing tables to a very small section of a very small bar. You could have your normal crostini and cured meats or full platters of pasta, roasted potatoes and entire panini. Now you can imagine in a city full of students and people who otherwise don’t have lots of money the apperitivo is a great way to socialize and have a nosh. Meet me for an apperitivo?  But what ends up happening is that it becomes a feeding frenzy for mediocre food (sometimes mini pizzas and french fries) and sitting down and eating a proper dinner never seems to happen. So while I like the concept of the apperitivo, and I go with some regularity with my friends, I’m not entirely for it. Sometimes lively atmosphere and cocktail it’s exactly what you need but it shouldn’t be confused with sitting down to eat dinner. That’s what I think.

Cibo Tales

This is really not meant to be a food blog since well….there are a few of those out there. But it’s difficult to write about my experience in Italy without mentioning food.

Last night at a dinner party for a friend’s birthday I learned a few interesting Tuscan food tales. The first is that one should never leave a loaf of bread upside down after you’ve cut a piece from it. This is not good. Just don’t do it….out of respect for the bread. The second is that one should never pour a glass of wine for yourself or someone else from the side. This is bad luck and it has something to do with Jesus and the last supper. Someone got killed after such a move. There are thousands of little do’s and don’ts like this, city to city, region to region.

DO eat the pecorino cheese though…with walnuts and honey, whenever possible.
And do have some of this too.