How we became 'famoso'
By PAMELA HASTEROK with photos by DON LINDLEY
Watch the video interview
I like anonymity. As a political journalist, I avoided the spotlight. I sat in the back at meetings. I left public appearances to more colorful colleagues. People recognized me in the newspaper, not in person.
Not anymore. Somehow, 5,000 miles from the United States, my husband, Don, and I are suddenly famous.
Soon after my account of living in Monopoli, Italy, was published in The Wall Street Journal, a young woman leapt up from her café table to ask my husband: “Are you Don?” Another young woman, returning by bus from a concert, asked me if I was "the journalist," as though I were the only one in Puglia. Restaurant owners and shopkeepers, seeing us together, want to know if we’re "the Americans."
When we say si, they shake our hands. They thank us. Strangers send us grateful notes on social media. People ask to take selfies with us.
You might wonder what we did to deserve such acclaim. I pondered this myself when the phone rang two days after the story appeared and a reporter for La Repubblica, a national newspaper, asked to interview us. I said no. She pleaded -- she was on orders from her boss to get the story. I said “What story?” Don said "Why not?”
We met Silvia in the medieval center and talked for 20 minutes about why we moved here, how we chose Monopoli and what we like best about it. Then she asked if her photographer could shoot video of us as we strolled around the port. I said no. Don said “Why not?”
The camera rolled and I did my best to speak a few sentences of intelligible Italian while Don lurked at the edge of the frame. As our passeggiata ended, he piped up. “Don’t forget the vino! …vino, si!”
The story ran in the next day and the video played on the paper's website and local tv, inspiring an interview request from a national TV network. I said no. Don, a shy, reserved sort for the 20 years I’ve known him, said “Why not.” Ultimately five newspapers featured us and our happy tale of life in southernmost Italy (although only Silvia and La-7 interviewed us).
After being thoroughly embarrassed by my performance on camera, I’ve come to enjoy it simply for its laugh-out-loud quality. It’s a hit with our American friends because of Don’s interjection, causing one to create the hashtag vino-si. An Italian friend noted that if Don had learned only one word of Italian, at least it was the most important.
Almost three months after the Journal piece ran, our celebrity status endures. We’re ‘i giornalisti’ wherever we go. Strangers still stop us on the street to praise the article (Don took the photographs) and the mayor has asked to meet us.
I think I’ve figured out why. Italy is one of the most beautiful and most visited countries in the world, but Puglia, its skinny heel, is only now gaining recognition. Monopoli, however, has been left behind in the flattering portrayals of the region, overshadowed by better known places like Lecce, Ostuni and the Gargano.
Locals are thrilled simply because I praised Monopoli for the beautiful place it is – hailing its incomparable food, close-knit community, gorgeous ancient town and the kindness of its residents. And don't forget the vino. That two Americans see this small city on the Adriatic for its true treasures validates their own view of Monopoli.
For us, becoming mildly famous is just one more sweet element of our Puglia "la dolce vita."