Pamela and Don’s Italian Adventure — Lecce
By PAMELA HASTEROK with photos by DON LINDLEY
Who would have thought it, but we actually did it – chucked our jobs and lives in Colorado and headed for the gastronomical center of the earth, where we’ve been doing our best to pay homage to the cuisine, if not the language.
Don says his “mastery” of Italian is at the “Me Tonto” level, despite our repeated lessons with Rosetta Stone. In Puglia, where we’ve been, almost nobody speaks any English, and they seem incredulous that we don’t speak much Italian. I know enough from my forgotten French that I understood when the fish vendor berated me for not knowing what he was saying. So needless to say, wherever we end up, learning Italian is going to have to be a priority.
Meanwhile we blunder happily along, somehow managing to get ourselves restaurant reservations, train tickets and the odd peach from the neighborhood fruit stand.
Lecce was as magnificent as we had imagined, all Baroque splendor – there’s even such a thing as Lecce Baroque, to distinguish it for all its inventive embellishment from plain old Baroque – and golden sandstone. It looks sort of like the sun is always rising on the buildings because everything is golden no matter the hour.
The town is more diverse than we expected, which is not a hallmark of Italian outposts, and a nice surprise. It’s also an arts hub with performances like Ricardino III and gallery openings and symphonies going on almost every evening. One Saturday night Don and I were out with the rest of the Italian population about 10 p.m. and we heard beautiful classical music coming from the Roman amphitheatre in the main town piazza. When we tried to look, organizers kept us away, but Don could see enough to recognize little girls dancing ballet. So he asked an attendant (in German, no less) if we could watch and she let us in. We found our way to the stone steps of a 2000-year-old concert hall, watching a local ballet school display the talents of its students to anyone who cared to come in. It was marvelous.
On the way home, we saw Italian families having dinner with their babies and toddlers, usually with grandma and the family dog in tow, strolling the streets well onto midnight. Don and I are trying to break our in-by-10 lifestyle to take advantage of the Italian summertime way of doing things. We’re staying up until about 11, so we have some work to do.
Lecce is fabulously hot, as hot as any Florida June day, and that took some getting used to after cold mornings and evenings in Colorado, but we adjusted to the local custom of a 4-hour afternoon riposa without any trouble. You eat a good lunch, have a nap, read a little bit and then break the siesta with a glass of the crisp white wine they have in cheap abundance here. It also helps to break out the San Carlo potato chips we’ve loved since our first visit to Positano so many years ago.
On a very happy note, I’ve found I’m able to eat wheat here. A friend told me I would because it hasn’t been genetically altered the way it has in the U.S. So not a single cornetto, pane di Puglia, pasta dish or pastry has escaped my notice or my mouth. I keep waiting for my clothes not to fit. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying every mouthful and cooking pasta in our VRBO rental apartments every chance I get.
Don is taking photos and opening the wine as he promised, and being the best travel companion a girl could wish for. This is indeed la dolce vita.