High life to paradise: From NYC a place that never sleeps to Puglia, a piccola paradise.

Martin MarkovitzHere’s Martin Markovitz’s account of his life changing decision to move to Puglia. Thanks for sharing your story with Puglian Pleasures Martin.

One year ago today, Jeanne and I stepped off the plane from New York. We haven’t looked back since.

We traded in a noisy, overcrowded, polluted, gruff and impersonal situation for a life in Italy on five acres of olive groves in an area where organic farming of food is the standard, there is over 500 miles of fish-able coastline, I have my own personal professionally equipped kitchen, free healthcare, mild winters, the cleanest beaches in Italy and happy inhabitants. Puglia, Italy was rated the happiest region of Italy. The Italians here are not fancy, snobby or rude. They are honest, work hard and don’t think of everything on a money first basis. This last item can be a double edged sword since it can be hard to get work done by others. If they lose some work, it is not a big deal to them.

New York had become a place different than the one I fell in love with. I landed there just when SOHO had started to develop. It was still mostly abandoned factories. Loft living was a brand-new term. Many after hour clubs dotted the less traveled sections. New discos popped up every month in empty warehouses and stayed hot for a short time before the next one opened up. The subways were graffitied with every car a masterpiece of raw individual expression. There were only a few Korean markets. Most stores were still “Mom and Pop” and not chains. It was the time of Warhol, Basquiat, Studio 54, new wave and punk, CBGB’s, the start of Saturday Night Live, Jimmy Carter and Ed Koch. I worked in only French restaurants and everyday brought a new celebrity to add to my list of names that I had cooked for. The museums were still affordable and I spent many days off at MOMA, the Metropolitan, Guggenheim, Soho galleries and ad hock installations in the offbeat corners of Manhattan and Brooklyn. I could be as anonymous as I liked in this environment. Your business was your own. No one would judge me or tell me what to do.

I met Jeanne in a small restaurant on Third Avenue that had 32 seats and a 10,000 bottle wine list. We served elaborate cuisine in a barroom setting with one of the best collections of wine in the U.S. At night we drove our motorcycles through the dining room to get to the secure parking in the garden out back. We were often still there past dawn.

Jeanne was a customer then. She claims that she fell in love with my cooking first and me second. We were soul mates and even though I resisted at first, I always knew that I was a goner. We both share that feeling of being from another planet. We were married in a small ceremony at the restaurant.

In the thirty years since then, NYC became overcrowded with every corner gentrified and repopulated with too many bland people. Only big chains can afford the rents and all of the small family owned stores are gone. Restaurants struggle with changing client habits, rents and labor increases. More people mean more emergencies and the sirens are constant. The increased traffic means longer time for the ambulances, police and fire engines to move on prolonging the torture. It is impossible to travel the sidewalks because of crowds with cell phones. Museums are $50 a couple just for admission. A bag of groceries $75.

Here in Puglia it is 70 degrees at the end of March. The wildflowers fill the olive groves, white, orange, yellow, red and blue. The doors and windows are open all day. It is so quiet and peaceful that you can easily forget what time it is and have that extra glass of wine. Today there is warm soft breeze that feels like being wrapped in fluffed cotton. We ate at the shore yesterday. We dined on raw sea urchins, fried mixed seafood and large shrimp. The sea was clear and calm, the ingredients very fresh and the wine a contributor to this intoxication we have lived for 366 days now.

We are used to being here by now. We have our routines set but somehow it is still unreal to us to be here full time. We planned for six years to move here yet it is still a surprise to wake up in Puglia. So different from New York, we have found a new home.