■ 6 February 2013 by James Martin
Hey, it’s carnival time in Italy!
Ok, if I were to ask you about Europe’s oldest carnival, you’d likely roll through all the “biggies” like Nice, Viareggio, Venice and the like before coming admitting you don’t know. Well, according to many sources, Carnevale di Putignano is it, the oldest, the most vecchio (they’re celebrating for the 619th time). It’s also colorful, as you can see in these pictures, which I like very much. Of course, there are probably long-dead ancient celebrations that preceded it, but we ignore those like we ignore Native Americans. Our history starts with Europeans, who we don’t like (now) because they have universal health care and have abandoned us in our quest to wage endless war in the places where civilization began.
In any case, Putignano is a very small town in rural Puglia. Why would anybody make the trek out there to see carnevale in the cold season? Suprise! The area is packed with good things to do. You can, for example, head a little north and go to Rutigliano. Here, the images of carnevale di Putignano, most notably the jabs at the powerful and the celebration of the common folk, are commemorated in the fantastic clay whistles born from the unique red clay soil around town which the potter on the right is showing off. Oh, yes, you can find not only clay whistles but just about any kind of pottery you like in Rutigliano.
These, as you can see from the pictures, are not your everyday, throw-away whistles. These are competition-winning entries standing on light-reflecting plexiglass shelves in the little museum in Rutigliano’s city hall. Hundreds of whistles! Hard to photograph!
You can also go to the sea at Mola di Bari and gawk at the sharp-angled corners of the town’s seaside castle. If you have had the sense to rent an apartment and like seafood, you’ll have somewhere else rather unique to go to. The fish market at Mola di Bari isn’t just open in the morning, it’s also open again in the afternoon. Two loads of fish. You wouldn’t be so uncaring of what you put in your mouth that you’d buy half-day old fish for dinner would you?
And those little towns with simple, gleaming white limestone buildings that occasional break into flower with the elegance of southern Baroque carvings? How can you resist? And castles, like the one at Conversano, where you can slip inside and look at some pretty important regional art in a fascinating town where parking is easy and the gelato is first rate?
A stay at Tenuta Pinto is highly recommended if you want to replicate this itinerary. They’ve got a big garden that feeds the restaurant. Jazz concerts and cooking classes are held. The country house is elegant in a Pugliese way rather than a Tuscan one. You’ll notice the difference. And yes, the enthusiastic Dominico Pinto will lead you to all the good stuff in the area, and phone ahead for you if need be.
Puglia is a friendly place for sure. Just ask those ladies on the balcony up there.
Any wonder why it is that when I look through my pictures of Puglia that real work stops for a very long time? Fascinating place. You should go.
(And to make things easier, you might consider Martha’s Puglia Guide from our App Page, it’s all in there and more.)
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