A Sneaky Peek into Puglia: January 2016

Banfana_An Intalian Folklare TraditionWritten by Richard Watkins

Belated welcome to 2016!

January is a fairly quiet month, after the extravagance of Christmas and New Year, which we spent with about thirty friends, at a local restaurant, eating drinking and generally being merry!

In early January, Italy celebrates Befana, to quote from Wikipedia ‘In Italian folklore, Befana is an old woman who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5) in a similar way to St Nicholas or Santa Claus.

In popular folklore, Befana visits all the children of Italy on the eve of the Epiphany and fills their shoes with candy if they have been good, for the naughty children they receive a lump of coal or dark candy. In many poorer parts of Italy, in particular, rural Sicily, a stick is placed in a stocking instead of coal.

Befana is usually portrayed as an old lady riding a broomstick through the air, wearing a black shawl and is covered in soot because she enters the children’s houses through the chimney. She is often smiling and carries a bag of sweets. She never leaves a sooty trace and always sweeps the floor before she leaves. To some the sweeping meant the sweeping away of the problems of the year. The child’s family typically leaves a small glass of wine and a plate with a few local delicacies on for her. She is also referred to as the ‘Christmas Witch’.

On a completely unrelated story, I’d like to tell you about my run-in with the local Police.

You need to stay with me on this one!

CarabinieriI was driving my car into town, about 2km away, to collect a friend. As one enters the town limits, there is a newly erected 50kpm sign. Quite rightly too, however, only 10 meters after this sign, there is a raised ‘pelican crossing’ and immediately before this is a sign showing 30kph! (By the way, never cross at a pelican crossing and think you are safe. If you are driving, expect to see people crossing the road at the most convenient point for their destination. And, where we live, the markings on the crossings have generally worn away). All part of the fun! Sorry, I digress.

It is at this point I see a rare sight, a local ‘traffic police’ car, parked next to the 30kph sign. I immediately slow down to the required speed and look confidently at the officer, sat snugly in his car. Wait, the device is pointing in the direction of the oncoming traffic. I start to ‘flash’ my lights at oncoming traffic to warn them. Oops, 100 meters further on, there is another, even more rare sighting, a second police car; this time with two officers actually outside the car. They look at my car and ‘wave me down’.

Oh no, what have I done?
I sheepishly park the car, wondering if my ‘flashing’ antics had upset them. One of the officers comes over to me with a hand held device, rather like a large ‘kindle’. There, blazened all over the screen is the registration of my car!!! I enquired as to what the problem was, ‘revisione’, was the response. I had no idea what that meant. The officer suggested that I need to take out the log book, which I did, in a hurry. He points to a section on the log book which I then understand as being like the MOT section. Apparently the MOT had expired in October 2015 and there is a two month’s ‘grace’ period – which had passed. (We bought the car 20 months ago and of course, I didn’t realize that an MOT was due, my fault. OK, now what? They advise me that I am not allowed to drive the car until the revisione had been successfully gained. I plead for mercy and ask them where I can have this work done, and that I promise I would do it immediately. They give the name of a local garage and grant me permission.

Next, the paper work. Without exaggeration, the lady officer, scribbles in long hand a lengthy quote from some rule book and also collects extensive information about my car and me. It takes ages with the final question being ‘why did you not have the revisione sorted?’ My lame excuse was that I didn’t know anything about it. A look of shame on her face, and a snigger as she writes down my response. (In the meantime, of course, cars are passing the control point and escaping the net as I am the fish that has been caught today!)

Now the financial component! OK, that will cost you 115 euros if paid in the next five days (a discount of 30%), or the full 150 euros!

I quickly work out the logistics for the rest of the day. I thank the officers and, jokingly, ask them if they would like a coffee. ‘Yes please’ was the resounding response!!

Oh well, there is a garage about 50 meters away, to where I drive and await them. Sure enough, they arrive after a few minutes. I explained my situation to the bar owner, who, immediately on seeing them impresses upon them what I good bloke I am. Tough, the paperwork is done and so no going back!

Hope you are still with me!

They both want something other than coffee so the waitress offers them a sort of ‘custard drink’, vanilla and creamy. Looks very unattractive. I am paying so they decide to try it. Clearly, not much to their liking so they both ask that some ‘Baileys’ be added, and not a small portion. ‘This is Puglia’ I thought, but said nothing.
Just then, their mobile rang. A few words are spoken and they return to their drink. They then make a sign to me which signifies that there has been an accident in town involving two cars; a collision. I watch and wait, and they calmly finish their drink, say a few pleasantries and saunter out of the bar.

Hmm, so I obtained the revisione at a cost of 70 euros after a 5 minute inspection at the garage and the requisite stamp (the garage owner obligingly advises that he will add my name to his mailing list and advise before the next revisione is due in two years time (a service which is apparently the norm, but, annoyingly, not in the case of the garage where we bought the car!!)

I found the local police station and paid my debts – and was welcomed by an officer who advised me that he knows me from the Saturday dance nights and that his sister owns the shop where I buy flowers!! A small but expensive world.

Needless to say my experience has been shared liberally in the hope that others will not suffer the same fate as me.
By the way, the same two officers were driving through town yesterday at a point where I wanted to cross the road. They stopped the car, again, a rare sighting, to allow me to cross the road. I made the ‘do you want a coffee sign’ with my hands and lips . An offer which they did not take-up!!