venerdì 29 aprile 2011

Puglia: il mare






Santa Maria al Bagno

Santa Maria al Bagno

giovedì 28 aprile 2011

Puglia: la religione

The south of Italy has a reputation of being more religious than the north, more superstitious, and in a strange sense, more pagan. Being in Puglia for Easter gave us a first-hand glimpse of some of the holiday's rituals.

The Thursday before Easter we were in Lecce, and we noticed that the streets were filling up with people, signori, children, giovani. We met our friend M for dinner, and she explained that since the days before Easter are a time of grande luto, great grief in Catholicism, all the churches of the paese set up special altars and Easter sepulchres. At these altars are plants that have been grown indoors without the light of the sun, and so their leaves are a thin ghostly white, and they are placed beneath the altar.

la gente in strada a Lecce

The people then go round from church to church, at least three or four M says, to visit these altars. She said in Lecce it was easy to go to multiple churches, just imagine how it must have been ai tempi, long ago when distances were greater. We go inside one church because we're all curious, and it's very dark, lit only by candles. A Jesus made from carta pesta, paper machè, lies in a glass case surrounded by the glittering white candles. The altars are somber, though when I see the white plants I'm reminded of rice noodles. People move in and out continuously, stopping briefly to look at the displays. Even the teenagers in leather jackets and bleached hair cross themselves and kiss their knuckles, and the sight is a little strange, as glimpsing them on the street you don't imagine the depths of their religious feeling.

Still, outside it's all festa, people are meeting and socializing, drinking eating and laughing. The cobblestone alleys are packed and it's difficult to move quickly. I say to F that it seems more like a party than a religious ceremony and he says casually that it's riti senza religione, ritual without religion.

(Then when M's friend joins us at the bar, the first thing he says is "Tutti gli altri vanno in giro stasera a vedere le sepulchre, ed io invece mi sono messo a contare gli amici suicidi. Sono tre." Everyone else is going around tonight to see the sepulchres, but I instead got to counting my friends who've committed suicide. There are three.)

the somewhat unsettling robes of the Gallipoli procession

Then, in Gallipoli, we caught the processione di venerdì santo, the procession of Good Friday, which is rather famous. There are two processions, one beginning at 7 pm and ending at 2 am, and then another beginning at 3 am and ending at 9 am. Many members of the procession wear red and white robes that can't help but remind an American of the KKK and which I found profoundly creepy. Two bands played a somber march, many of the robed men were barefoot and carried symbols of penitence. Behind them walked selected members of the community, not robed but definitely well-coiffed. (F remarked that this explained why we saw so many people in the barbershop that day.) The people who had chatted and shrieked and laughed as they awaited the beginning of the procession were silent, whispering now and then about the details of the costumes and statues. Then, as the procession entered the winding streets of the old city center, it became a chase to see how and where you could catch a glimpse of Jesus and red robes in the dimming light.

Later at Easter lunch with M's cousins, we heard that to be a member of a procession like this you had to pay extraordinary amounts of money. M's cousin knew a group of men who had paid 85,000 euros to carry the Madonna.

The whole affair made me think of Ivan's words about religion:

“In the night,” he said, “pilgrims arrived from all over the world. They filled the piazza in front of the church, they ate, they drank, and they played music. In the morning, the saint emerged from the church for the procession. People kissed the saint, lifted their babies to touch against the saint, pushed money against the saint... And during the procession there was this relationship between the people and the saint. It’s clear that the church tolerated this spectacle, but there was little religious about it. It was idolatry, it was barbarism. What struck me was the need for physicality, to have a physical relationship with the saint...Faith is metaphysical. God is there, and you are here, and it’s hard. Here you have the possibility of physical contact."

It all left me feeling a little empty and strange but grateful for having seen it, this other spirit of the south and Italy.

mercoledì 27 aprile 2011

Puglia: il cibo

Maybe it's typical of me to start a series of posts about Puglia with a list of foods, but I'd been counting the days til I could mosey down south and try the cuisine. A lot of it's peasant food and much is vegetables, which suits me just fine. And when you go to the market you see hand-scrawled signs over the fava beans and tomatoes and oranges that say "locali," local, something that doesn't happen so often in Lomarbadia. And the orrecchiette, the pasticiotti, the olive oil, the wine...My favorite meals took place in Lecce, but Gallipoli seemed to be a paradise for lovers of fresh seafood caught that morning. Anyways, a selection:

orrecchiette, the famous ear-shaped pasta pugliese, with respectively pesto leccese, a pesto made with arugula instead of basil (top) and a tomato sauce with thinly sliced zucchini and eggplant

potato foccaccia?! layers of deliciously oily potato sandwiching tomato, olive, and onion

my new favorite pastry, the leccese rustico, delicate buttery dough surrounding a gooey hot center of mozzarella, bechamel, and tomato

our daily breakfast: the pasticiotti salentini, a crumbly pastry filled with sweet custardy cream, and a cappuccino

pizza really is neopolitan, not pugliese, but the pizza we had our first night--tomato sauce, fresh cherry tomatoes, butter smooth mozzarella di bufala, and grana--was to die for

frittura di paranza, an assortment of little unfortunate fried fishes, so named for the small boat used to catch these critters, not eaten by me

spaghetti con le vongole, spaghetti with clams, also not eaten by me

ricotta with arugula, walnuts and honey

(not pictured but nonetheless thoroughly enjoyed: ciceri e tria, crisply friend pasta with chickpeas, la primavera, a first course of fava beans, green peas, and artichokes cooked in broth with mint that comes out tasting like the spring itself, red beets with olive oil and mint, pasta with salted ricotta forte, green beans with tomatoes and spicy pepper, salted turnip greens, cakes of ricotta cheese and marzipan...if only my stomach had been larger)


For Easter break I decided to fulfill a long-held dream: travel all the way down the boot of Italy to Puglia. It's a sun-bleached region surrounded by breathtakingly blue waters, former home to Greeks, Romans, Goths, Lombards, and Byzantines, with fields of olive groves and wild flowers, steeped in tradition and poverty and folk music, la pizzica e la tarantella, the dances of love and death. Of course I wanted to go. We spent 6 days and 7 nights, beginning our stay in Lecce, moving to the coast at Gallipoli, stopping in the countryside for a wonderful Easter lunch with sort-of distant cousins (you can find family anywhere, really), and returning to Lecce for Pasquetta, the day after Easter.

There's a lot to write about with Puglia, and I'm not sure I can do it justice. But I felt like I was having a great adventure there, that I was truly someplace different. The salty air, il sole che picchia, the colors of the countryside and of the people, seduced me, enchanted me, and I was very sorry to leave. So to indulge my nostalgia and to sort through some of the 400 digital pictures we took, I give you a few entries on this lovely and complicated region.

lunedì 11 aprile 2011

due sciure e una dieta

It's been hot and so I've been spending my time outside, biking around the city, reading in the park, eating gelato. Today I stopped at Garibaldi in Brera for a cono piccolo di pistacchio e stracciatella and sat outside on their wooden bench. As I began to eat, a well-dressed sciura milanese across the street called out, "Come on, what are you doing?"
A signora beside me with one foot in the gelateria replied, "I'm getting a gelato! Come get one too!"
"I don't want one!" the first woman replied.
"Well, I'm getting one."
"It's not even that warm today! Come on, you're wasting time."
"Who cares about the diet, I've earned it!" the golosona said. "I'm going to get a bel yoghurt!"
The first woman, her cell-phone clutched in her hand, crossed the street and joined the woman with the sweet-tooth, and as they entered the gelateria I heard her ask the second woman what she was getting.
After a few minutes I finished my cone and stood up to go, just as the two women were exiting the shop. The first woman had a two-flavor cone in one hand and her cell phone in the other, and she said, "Silvia? Ciao, I'm here in Corso Garibaldi with an amazing soy gelato. Now, as I was saying..."

mercoledì 6 aprile 2011

Il processo Ruby

So Berlusconi's trial begins today, the one in which he is accused of paying for sex with a minor, Karima El Mahroug/Ruby Rubacuori, misusing his power to get her out of prison, and just being a pig in general. The trial is at risk of suspension, Berlusconi is waging a campaign to discredit the judges as corrupt communists, the nation is holding its breath. And the folks that brought you Berlusconi Inception-style bring you another awesome trailer. Enjoy:

martedì 5 aprile 2011

I hear Italy singing

I haven't written anything about the political situation in Italy--that of bunga bunga fame-- and I don't have much excuse for avoiding it. The events of the past months, with Berlusconi at their center, are scandalous, outrageous, and at times incredibly depressing. Rather than get into it now, though, I thought I would share some of my students' (indirect) words about it.

A few weeks ago, I tortured my 5th year kids by making them write (gasp) poetry! We had just read Walt Whitman's "I Hear America Singing," the full-throated song to the joy of hardworking former-colonists, and so I assigned them an Italian version for homework, "I Hear Italy Singing." There was a delightful chorus of groans and moans. I told them to be as playful or sarcastic or patriotic as they wanted to be, and a few of them did a really nice job. Many were very pessimistic, a majority of the poems mentioned corrupt politicians and the mafia. A few stuck to the classics, citing Italian food and beautiful monuments and singing gondoliers. Many brought up football in some way, and playing children. Here are two of my favorites by two students N and A:

"I Hear Italy Singing"
I hear Italy singing, his mediterranean vibes I hear
The vibes of the greengrocer yelling through his loudspeaker,
How red his tomatoes are and how mellow the grape
I hear the jangle of the steel rails, crossed by their streetcars.
The gondolier singing, about Santa Lucia,
The businessman singing, the joy of the contract,
Just signed with the mobster, more joyful than him.
The streetwalker singing, what's on her own menu,
Thinking about the time when Italy's song was her only hope
I hear Italy singing, his melancholic vibes I hear.

"I Hear Italy Singing"
I hear people singing only when the national football team wins
I hear the corruptors and the corrupted singing together
I hear the pope and the priests singing about morality
I hear the politicians singing about nothing while talking too much
I hear the premier singing about the importance of family while paying for sex
I hear the Mafia's criminals singing while they get richer making business with mayors
But then I hear other songs
Those of my friends and my family who don't accept Italy as it is
Those of the honest workers
Those of all the Italians that believe in good before anything else
I hear Italy singing while I'm quiet.