■ May 13, 08:07 AM by James Martin
San Severo in Puglia is an interesting place. It’s located in the province of Foggia on the flat part west of the mountainous spur bit called the Gargano. They make good wine there. A big influence on the local dialects was the Tratturo del Re, the ancient transhumance path you can see just out of town, linking Aquila in the Abruzzo to Foggia in Puglia.
It’s a baroque town, but the bits of the Romanesque you find are oddly out of whack, like in the church pictured on the right.
But that’s not all that is wacky. The procession of the Madonna del Soccorso, the Black Madonna worshiped in San Severo, is celebrated in May.
It’s one of those crazy festivals celebrated in the south, like Matera’s Madonna Bruna. It’s all about the daredevil youth. In this case, as in the famous running of the bulls in Pamplona, the youth risk life and limb (well, sorta) running down il tunnel della paura, the tunnel of fear.
What they do is line the route followed by the Black Madonna with a long “fuse” upon which has been tied bags of gunpowder and light it at just the right moment. Kids called “fujenti” run in the midst of all the explosions, trying to keep ahead of the next one, all to prove devotion to the Madonna Nera.
Crazy? Yup. But really, you gotta see it. So here:
Here’s the schedule for the 2013 festival (in Italian)
Italy Travel Toolbox
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■ Apr 25, 07:09 AM by James Martin
It has the same claptrap appeal John Steinbeck must have felt upon first envisioning Cannery Row; Il trabucco di Monte Pucci sits on a rocky point, its long “antennas” pointing out to the deep water. They’re made of sections of the local pine trunks, a wood that has exactly the strength, flexibility and resistance to salt water you need for this sort of fishing. Often three trunks are lashed together to get the length needed to drag giant nets through the water. It is a fishing machine born not far from Rube Goldberg’s drawing board.
The origin of the Trabucco is actually said to have been Phoenician. You didn’t need to head out in your little fishing boat on the bad days when the sea roiled around you. The Trabucco solved that problem admirably.
Today’s enormous ships can go out when they want and drag all the net that can fit on the boat, so the trabucci aren’t as profitable as they once were. They’ve become protected historical structures though, and to make ends meet, restaurants are born. The Ristorante al Trabucco, those white structures with the red roofs, is a not-to-miss attraction for folks staying around Vico del Gargano craving really, really fresh fish.
Marco runs the operation now; the trabucco has been in his family for many generations. He gets up early to captain the morning catch, then cleans up and transforms himself into our waiter. You can’t get closer to the raw materials and those who nurture it into food than this.
Once he’s got your beverages well in hand, out comes Marco with a platter of what they’ve caught that morning. He explains how you can have it cooked. On that platter is the biggest seppia (cuttlefish) I’ve ever laid eyes upon. We don’t order it. We go for an assortment of smaller species.
And for an antipasti Martha selected her usual insalata di polpo, a refreshing and rather large helping of very tender octopus with tasty celery. Knowing that mackrel is one of those fish that has a trashy reputation in places like the US where it’s less possible to get it really fresh, I had that. It was darned good. Don’t miss it. I mean, you have a trifecta of Gargano goodness going here, the local olive oil, the local lemons, and the fish that just came out of the net.
Next we shared a pasta, something we wouldn’t normally do, but wanted to share more of the fishy goodness. We had a pasta allo scoglio, literally pasta of the shoals, with shellfish. It was great—and there was still too much of it.
Then we wait in anticipation of our grilled fish, sipping the crisp and citrusy white wine of the area made from Bombino Bianco grapes. I can’t help thinking of Babe Ruth. I don’t know why. It was a home run anyway.
And there is is on the right. Bella, no? Fish deteriorates quickly once it’s yanked from the water. If you don’t like fish because it stinks of fish, then you haven’t had fish done right. This is the way to prepare them, just grilled. You’re tasting what you ordered. Nobody has to cover up anything.
This experience isn’t cheap. It isn’t really expensive either. Lunch with a fabulous wine cost us 90 euro.
How to get to Ristorante Al Trabucco
The restaurant is just outside of Vico del Gargano, despite the address:
Localita Monte Pucci – S.S. 89, Peschici (FG)
If you are on the SS 89 coastal road, stop when you see the square tower with a parking area in front of it. The road down to the trabucco starts on the east side of the parking lot. You can also come by boat, of course.
Reservations are recommended.
■ Apr 23, 12:27 AM by James Martin
Ain’t she a beaut?
This is the espresso machine at the Bar Pizzicato in Vico del Gargano. It’s a very special bar, one of those places where you marvel at the service, where you’re absolutely sure that the barista has eyes in the back of his head.
It’s the mirrors, as I discovered when I tried to take a picture of the gleaming machine surreptitiously. (It didn’t work, as you can tell by the fine portrait taken in the process.)
The Bar Pizzicato is a very special place. It has organic fruit juices and gelato flavors, made from fruit grown in town. It has pastries to die for. The staff people are genuinely and warmly friendly.
Unlike in America, where a “bio” bar or organic juice bar would become a hangout for health nuts and smokers would be booted, here the old guys sit at the tables laid out in front of the bar and smoke while watching the world move along slowly in front of them. Cars stop, drivers talk and gesture. Nobody is bothered, neither the bar’s patrons nor the people stuck behind the yacking drivers.
I like that. I mean I’m not a smoker and don’t particularly relish the idea of sitting next to someone puffing away at breakfast time. But there’s something nice at work here that transcends filthy habits. A sort of slow “live and let live” mentality that transcends the “everyone for himself” mentality of the US. It’s something I admire. The old guys never even seem to buy anything. Ever. But they’re free to sit. Free to watch the world pass.
I’m sorry. I really am. But I like that.
Popular These Days
■ Aug 20, 04:35 PM by James Martin
I got the itch to go to Italy today. I mean, you might say I always have the itch, but every once in a while an event triggers a yearning so strong that it hangs in my mind, obliterating other desires. I need to go to Italy, and I need it bad.
You see, yesterday Martha bought one of those bagged, industrial chickens. Today, less then 24 hours later, I carefully sliced open the well-sealed bag. The smell of rot slithered out on big rhinoceros toes. This is not an uncommon occurrence. This is the type of chicken. I just thought you’d want to know.
So we threw the stinking thing out and the pangs began. Oh Italia! Wherefore art though?
You see, in Italy you don’t really buy chickens in sealed bags, even industrial chickens. If they are rotting and stink, you’re gonna smell it. It’s going to embarrass the butcher. It’s just not commonly done.
Italians, after all, aren’t traditionally squeamish about seeing food not incarcerated in industrial bagging. Even those goat heads the waiter brings to show us what Arthur Miller ordered when he visited Ristorante La Caravella in Monte Sant Angelo didn’t attract any attention from other diners. It’s just food, despite the eyeballs. It’s fresh. It doesn’t stink. And you don’t pay an arm and a leg to have it cooked up for you.
■ Jul 28, 04:13 PM by James Martin
Italy is chock full of interesting places you’ve probably never heard of. Power has waxed and waned. Harbors have silted up. Still, there is a history that can be traced, art that can be admired, and structures interestingly muddled with the renovations of passing cultures.
One of these places is Conversano. You’ll find it in Bari Province along the Via Traiano. Lots to see and do. Great food to eat. An Albergo Diffuso to stay in.
You’ve heard of Lipizzaner stallions, right? Well, one of the blood lines leads right to Conversano.
And all those people telling you to spend your entire vacation in Florence? They’ve never heard of it either.
Conversano is one of those hidden places, like Sassoferrato in the neighboring Marche. Places you should go if you’re interested in the rest of Italy.
It was so interesting, I never thought I’d finish writing about it. In fact, there’s more to add. But if you happen to be planning a vacation in Puglia, take a look at our Conversano Travel Guide
Just to get you excited, here’s a pic of the castle:
…and it’s just off the road.
■ Jul 17, 03:56 PM by James Martin
The dreadful news came this morning. It wasn’t too long ago that US kids ruled the roost when it came to fatness. We are once dripping in world-class fatty goodness, led by our rolly-polly children. But now we hear footsteps. Here come the Italians.
Speaking at a seminar organized in Milan by the Barilla Center, Professor of Endocrinology at the University of Naples Federico II, Gabriele Riccardi said that 31.6% of Italian children are overweight, following the United States where the average is 35.5%. ~ Italian children ‘second-most obese’ after US
Do you hear footsteps?
Yes, Italians are eating far more industrially-produced crap snacks. And now that there’s increasing evidence that fructose is a lipogenic (fat causing) sugar (see: Mice and Fructose), we might have an inkling as to why this is happening. Besides the lack of movement, of course, sports and gymastics no longer being a part of basic schooling in Italy as public services are cut in favor of feeding the rich and fighting wars for oil and minerals.
The thinnest kids in the survey came from the Orient. But then, now that the 7-11s there are installing mashed potato Slurpee machines, things are gonna change fast. More footsteps. Lots more heavy breathing…
But, then there’s this:
What you’re seeing here is the meat course designed to serve one person. It was served at a Masseria restaurant in Puglia. I was tempted into ordering it because the ingredients were local, the recipe traditional, and it was a specialty of the restaurant. I had eaten pasta a mere 15 minutes previously. They had brought out a little appetizer before that. Then the four sausages. Can you imagine? And they’re not those little cocktail wieners either, as you can see.
This is the same number of sausages in a single package made to feed your family in the US. If they were made from the same quality of ingredients as the Pugliese sausages, they’d cost about the same as a house in the rust belt.
How does a restaurant come to serve so many sausages? Food is cheap, as far as restaurants go. It’s often only 20% of the cost of eating in one. People like value. So, you double the number of sausages and charge 20% more and shazam, you’re not loosing money—and you have offered your customer a plate of obscenity people will talk about for a long, long time, not to mention the entry in the Wandering Italy Blog with a picture, always a special treat that costs nothing at all.
So, maybe we can consider going back to the old days, at least in Italy. Many small courses, time between to let things settle, a main course consisting of tiny bits of exquisitely prepared meat would suit me just fine. And bring back the fruit at the end.
My weird friend Hank says to “force feed the rich leaders of the industrial crap food industry all the fructose. Then feed their fatty livers to the geese California has liberated for a sweet revenge.” He thinks this would solve the current world crisis.
I wouldn’t touch that one with a ten foot sausage.
■ Jul 8, 04:15 PM by James Martin
I’ve just finished writing about Egnazia, a museum and archaeological park in Puglia. There’s a little section of the site, near the museum, that’s very important. It’s the Western Necropolis, a vast burial space with lots of different ways to entomb a person.
The Western Necropolis is very important for archaeologists because it shows how burial practices change over time and across cultures, from the folks who inhabited the 16th century BC huts to the Romans who ran an important trading post along the Via Traiana.
Eventually Totila, King of the Goths, in 545 A.D laid waste to the city in decline and it struggled along valiantly during those dark ages. Eventually, folks started to make the larger tombs habitable.
It’s hard for USians to imagine. It’s not like we go into cemeteries and say to a loved one, “Ya know, mom, if we managed to rip out all these tombstones, cement them together in a rough rectangle, and put on some kinda roof made of thatch from these trees, we could have a nice little abode here. At least it’s quiet.”
Nevertheless, having been an archaeologist, I’ve come across many rock-cut tombs in Europe I’d not hesitate for a millisecond to live in (if, of course, one brought in a bed, a refrigerator, and a hot tub—I’m not as young as I used to be).
This kind of tomb living is front and center in the Bible, too. I like the story of the demented man of the tombs; this from Luke in the American Standard Version:
And when he was come forth upon the land, there met him a certain man out of the city, who had demons; and for a long time he had worn no clothes, and abode not in any house, but in the tombs.
I sort of like the guy. He’s so full of demons he can’t be chained. He just rips those chains clear off. He’s free of idiotic clothing.
So let’s summarize: strong, free, nekid, and living rent free. It’s kinda like some sort of modern ideal. Of course, he’s possessed, so it all doesn’t count. He asks Jesus for help so he can put on some clothing and get some rip-off mortgage from a financial institution bent on gambling on these kinds of things.
He’ll be back in the tombs soon enough, doncha think? We’ve come a long way from those days.
Anyway, if you work hard enough and the side of your abode-tomb is of pretty-as pie rock that’s been thrust up outta the sea by forces way too large to imagine, you might end up with a wall that looks something like this, from a picture taken inside a tomb at Egnazia. Nice niche, eh? Good place to keep your iPad.
Now you tell me that ain’t purty!
■ Jun 29, 11:18 AM by James Martin
So it may not surprise you that I also like it when someone who works the land and is really attached to the roots of a place puts his old tractor proudly in front of his shop, like that old Bungartz over there on the right.
The tractor belongs to the Azienda Agricola Taurino, which is located in the Salento near Lecce in a town called Squinzano. The owner, Donato, is the guy in the left of the picture with his back to the camera. He’s got a great operation you should visit if you’re in the area. You can walk the olive grove where his fantastic oils come from. You can even have lunch on a restaurant on the property.
But back to the tractor. I’m not particularly a fan of tractors. But sometimes you take a picture of something and then you try to learn more about it and whammo, you’re sucked into a vortex of historical information you may never emerge from.
The Bungartz has quite a history. It made tractors and things through the war years. As a small company with clever owners it could weather most anything, bending like canes in the wind to overcome the turbulence of change. As agriculture changed, so did Bungartz.
Bungartz survived everything except the “big ag” revolution. That’s sad. With the independent farmers go the great little companies. Poof!
And I suppose that’s why the Bungartz is proudly displayed in front of the shop. The olive oil is largely handmade, and its goodness comes out of a time many have forgotten, a time when owners like Donato were proud that their olive oil was unadulterated with the sludge of corporate greed.
So download our app and get to Puglia soon. It will all go away some day. Like the Bungartz, whose history is written lovingly here.