A Sneaky Peek into Puglia: December 2015

Piazza Leonardno Leo, San Vito Dei NormanniHello again from Puglia and a Merry Christmas to you all.

Reference my previous blog. I have been asked what happens to the residue from the olive processing? Well, the pits (which are ground down) are kept for wood burning stoves. The olive fruit, which is reduced to a puree, is stored and used as a fertilizer for the land. By the way, it’s a fantastic year for olives especially as we have had no rain in weeks and so the sun has helped mature the olives even more than usual.

So, December in Puglia! The 8th December is the day of the Immaculate Conception, which, according to the teaching of the Catholic Church, was the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne, free from original sin by virtue of the foreseen merits of her son Jesus Christ. It’s a bank holiday here, meant as a family day, and given it was on Tuesday this year, may people were sick on the Monday and shop opening was, at best, half day.

I have watched some UK television and have been driven crazy by the non-stop advertising of ‘buy on-line and have it delivered for Xmas’. Luckily, that modern way of shopping hasn’t arrived here and the advertising is not so ‘in your face’.

Shopping precinctIn fact, I’ve taken a couple of photos of Christmas scenes in our local town during early evening. Sadly for shopkeepers, not many people around even though the local ‘commune’ has gone to the expense of installing a Christmas tree in the main square (which they did around the 6th December).

However, churches are adorned with very intricate and large displays of the nativity scene, both inside and , in many cases, outside the church.

December is very much a socialising month. Wine festivals, local produce festivals, restaurant special occasions and generally friends getting together. This creates a diary conflict for us as our evenings generally looks like this: Monday, pizzicato dancing lessons (this is a local folk dance, which originated in Puglia , worthy of a ‘look see’ on the internet). Our teacher, Angela, is an amazingly fit lady who has us prancing around the studio for an hour (normally uses 400 calories!) – not helped by the fact that I am the only man amongst many women. Tuesday, is balle di gruppo, (like line dancing), we have the same teacher for two hours; phew. Wednesday recovery day! Thursday, more line dancing. Friday is pizza night. Saturday, supper/dance evening where all the learning during the week gets embarrassingly mixed-up on a crowded dance floor with competing dance clubs ‘facing each other in combat’. I generally turn in the opposite direction to my group, crash into other dancers, get very hot and sweaty (have to change my shirt at least once in an evening) – but have a fantastic time! All finished off with a grappa and a 15 minute ‘boogie’ session. Oh yes, and a pizzicato dance session when Angela’s dance performance clears the floor except for one or two brave men who try to dance with her but who soon get brushed aside by her over-energetic moves around the dance floor! Sunday, of course, its Salsa lessons – not something for the faint-hearted, especially when our very attractive teacher (daughter -in-law of Angela!) insists that we change partners for each routine; I have to be very careful about degree of closeness, again watch a video and try to imagine my predicament!

Zumba Team and 'offical photographer' Richard Watkins!Angela also ‘runs’ multiple zumba sessions and her efforts and those of the ladies who participate, have enabled their recognition, through various Endas (Association for Sports Recognition in Italy) competitions, as national champions. I am not allowed to participate in these sessions, by command of my wife and of Angela! I have, however, managed to position myself as ‘official photographer’ and so have the unpleasant task of recording through photos and video, the team’s performances. This month there was a competition in the nearby port town of Brindisi. It was held in a large sports hall and attended by clubs from the local region. The age groups of the competing teams ranged from under fives to over seventies. Performances ranged from judo, to pop, from line dancing to zumba. Well over thirty teams had to wait patiently in a non-heated hall, whilst the various competitors performed; accompanied by echoing cheers from the first floor gallery and an over-enthusiastic compere who liked the sound of his own voice. I saw at least 15 trophies on the presentation table which meant an extended award ceremony (with associated photos, cheek kissing and screaming voices). Our team won and so my camera went into over-drive to capture the self-congratulations and waving of trophies. I have attached one photograph to try to highlight the heavy burden placed on me during such events!

I also need to report on my monthly visit to the barber shop, something I’ve just completed in readiness for Christmas.

I need you to imagine the scene. The shop is located in the central square. The owner and his colleague are well into their fifties. The shop has mirrors on one side with two very Italian revolving chairs which are adjustable to enable the client to be forced into the prone position for the hair wash and also adjusted up or down to enable the barber to attack one’s hair at the right angle. This is especially important because of the liberal use of the famous ‘cut throat blade’. No hair escapes the attention of these guys; whether it be on your head, in your nose or in your ears. I have learnt to keep very still!

The facing wall is adorned with ten ‘flip-over’ calendars, only one of which shows December, the rest are more focussed on the art work; ‘girlie’ pictures, pictures of horses and mules, cars , more girlie photos. This wall, of course, in full eye sight as the barber is pouring hot water from a jug over one’s hair or scrubbing the scalp mercilessly or drying with an over-powerful, hot jet stream of air. There are two wall clocks, neither of which show the correct time. Finally, a row of 10 chairs, several of which are normally occupied, not by men wishing to have the hair manicured, but by locals who have come in for a chat or to read the daily paper or maybe fill in the weekly football pools equivalent. Of course, screaming at each other about politics or football or telling jokes (most of which is in dialect and therefore not understood by myself – so I just smile or grimace according to the tone of the voices). Another reason I have learnt to stay very still is that the barber always seems to be in the middle of these discussions and does get excited and starts waving his scissors, hair-dryer, or cut-throat razor around at the most inconvenient of time (i.e. when these weapons are close to my ears, nose or scalp!). The session ends with an excessive dose of hair lotion, which stiffens up every remaining hair on my head, an embrace, a nod and a wink (as they take the money) and the comfort that I have come out unscathed after this monthly ritual.

So back into the Italian sun, walk across the newly refurbished town square for my second cappuccino of the day and visit to the bread shop to get freshly made rolls (panini) for lunch.

Santa in a box! Merry Christmas from Puglia!My wife ‘asked’ that I buy a fitting Christmas table setting. I suppose the day’s events got the better for me and so I went to the local OTT gift shop and bought a Father-Xmas-in-the-box , which is covered in a red, almost transparent, material with Xmas tree lights inside which show as red from the outside. The box top opens and shuts continuously to show a waving Father Xmas. Ah, such taste! No more shopping for me.

Finally, this coming weekend Diana will be part of a choir who will treat us to a Christmas Carols concert in a 12th century church, in wonderful old town called Ceglie Messapica, followed by a group dinner at a restaurant which is a converted olive oil storage building.

Next week we will be travelling to UK to spend Christmas with our children and grand children then back here for New Year’s Eve (Capodanno) where a meal of several hours will be interspersed with, yes, line dancing, pizzicato and boogie!!

See you all in January 2016!

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