The Puglia Diaries

The thrills and spills of a British Council Language Assistant in Molfetta, Italy

The Puglia Christmas Feeling

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So I’m back in the French motherland, on a brief hiatus from my Italian adventures. I arrived on the afternoon flight yesterday and grinned the whole way home. I am reunited with my family, my dogs and my house and looking forward to festive cheer, meaning mince pies and presents.

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The Christmas spirit has been increasing all week, culminating in my last day on Thursday where I gave out cards to my teacher colleagues and delivered three more lessons about the good, the bad and the ugly of British yuletide. Explaining the cranberry sauce and turkey combination was a lost cause from the beginning.

In Puglia, the decorations were up from the beginning of December and the shops prepared to lure shoppers in with glitter and reindeers. Last Saturday, I went off to Bari by myself to do some Christmas browsing. I say browsing because the idea of seasonal shopping overfaces me and I end up drifting around like the ghost of Christmas future, not buying anything. Being alone meant that I could indulge this indecision, buying a jumper for myself after trying on three different colours, and mess around in the make up shop testing the wrong shade of foundation on my hands. I also came across some chocolate orange hand cream that could have been confectioned by Terry himself.

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I met my friend at the Bari Christmas market, between the oversized Baby Jesus and the homemade baubles. We strolled around the ubiquitous nativity scenes and bought a small cup of hot chocolate, ‘corrected’ with a sneaky bit of Baileys. Hot chocolate in Italy is something else. Far from the liquid drink with clumps of powdered cocoa floating in it, the chocolate we bought was basically a miniature fondue.

That evening, I went to the ‘Notte Bianca’ of Molfetta, where the shops stay open and local producers roll out their stalls of food, craft items and more food to tempt the crowds into the blustery streets of the Centro Storico. I bought a reindeer cupcake from the Red Cross stand and sampled ‘pettole’, salted fried dough balls in a paper cone. I encountered a few of my students along the way, some of whom looked flabbergasted that I have a life outside of school, where I drink wine and have fun with friends. It was a chilly evening but there was live music, including covers of my familiar friend Fabrizio de Andrè. The decorations on Corso Umberto were sparkly as we speed-walked back to the car. We rounded off the evening with an espresso and stories about my friends getting drunk in a tent. It was most entertaining.

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Pettole

Monday was an excellent day for festive feelings. I conducted some successful lessons and then was invited to a colleague’s house for lunch. As usual, I was spoiled with delicious food and sent back with home made ‘bignè’ pastries. I think that there is some kind of unspoken conspiracy in Molfetta to make me put on weight. In the evening, I burned off some of the calories in a satisfying gym session, where for once I actually followed the step routine. Usually I flap around confusing my left and my right, feeling defeated, but this time I focussed and jumped around exercising like a boss. Then I was picked up from the gym and was taken to one of the most beautiful patisseries I have ever seen. We had lemon-nougat and panna cotta ice cream; our sight regaled with rows of Christmas desserts and tiny tiramisu pots. I was introduced as the English girl in town and I smiled a lot to show my enthusiasm for Italian food. Because that is one of the most important pleasures in life there. Traditions and seasons are measured by cakes and vegetables. Pasta is an unquestionable daily occurrence. The conspiracy has reached its target: I have put on weight, but feel happy and healthy for it. It could be my new abs anyway. Bring on the eating fest that is English Christmas dinner, and don’t forget the cranberry sauce.

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Author: Elly Cooke

Recent graduate of English Literature and Italian from the University of Leeds. Book lover and part-time Italian speaker.

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