The Puglia Diaries

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


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From Puglia to Piemonte

In the beginning of May, school was out for few days of holidays. I decided to go and visit Mum and Dad at their new flat in Villanova Mondovì, a little town in the mountains pretty much as far away from Molfetta you can get while still remaining in Italy. That’s what we have low cost flights for, even though I must say travelling with a planeful of Italian can sometimes be a chore. It seems to be a universal understanding that no one takes hold luggage, instead choosing to cram as many items as possible into a suitcase that is clearly too big for the cabin. And they clap when you touch down, which British people would never do.

Landing in Turin, I had a big hug from Mum and Dad, along with the usual complaint that I am always the last one off the aeroplane. Lily and Cassie were obviously head over harnesses to see me, wagging their tails and covering my coat in little white hairs. I was taken back to the quiet little village, the brand new apartment and shown my bedroom, where about 1/5 of my stuff is kept.

I had a chilled time in Piemonte, in terms of relaxation and temperature. I went out without a coat on the 2nd of May and shivered all the way around Cuneo. Thank goodness there are so many arcades because it tipped it down. This didn’t impede the typical mother-daughter activities of shopping and lunch out, as well as shopping for sweet souvenirs for Antonio from the best chocolate shop in town.

The weather got a lot better the next day and even allowed us to go shopping for tomato plants and read in the sunlit garden. It seems very unfair to the occupants of the other flats that they have tiny triangular gardens while my parents have possession of a long lawn where Lily and Cassie can career around playing football and flattening herbs. Anyway, it works for my father’s gardening habits.

On Saturday we also hosted a dinner party: my dad’s colleague and his family came over to eat. The whole morning was spent shopping for the starter, wine, cakes, breadsticks, meat until we were quite worn out already. I spent most of the day cutting the tops of beans, burning my fingers on roasted peppers and cutting up strawberries. My job was also to ascertain which moka made the best tasting coffee because one of them was really appalling, sorry Mum but you need to throw that one away.

The evening was very busy for me from start to finish as I entertained two very active little girls, aged 6 and 2. I found that my Italian had improved a lot since the last time I saw them; really I spent an awful lot of the time answering two sets of inquisitive questions about nail varnish and Finding Nemo. There was a fight about who would sit next to me and a drawing workshop that continued all evening. I did manage to chat to their parents for a while, who teased me for the Southern Italian accent that I have apparently developed over the year. They did say that I spoke well though, so I have confirmation that the year abroad has been useful in that way.

On Sunday we went for a drive among the vineyards over the mountains, towards Barolo where we had lunch in a little Osteria that we had visited two years before. The meal was obviously accompanied by the famous red wine, the meat itself was braised in wine and I tried some other Piemontese specialities like ‘bagna cauda’ and hazelnut cake with zabaione. We chatted about the future, the dogs stayed silent under the table and we just felt the lack of Izzy, our fourth member, as we wandered around in the sunny streets of Barolo. Dad tested out his flashy new iPhone on the views while we were driving over the hilltops.

In the days I spent with Mum and Dad, I enjoyed the things that I always do at home, spending the whole of Sunday afternoon baking biscuits, playing Mum’s new piano and driving the car (probably the second time this year). It really is an impressive part of Italy: Villanova is nestled in a bowl of mountains, still topped with snow and clear against the blue sky and the trees. It’s a landscape entirely different from that in Apulia, but no less beautiful.

 

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Pets in Puglia

Anyone who knows me even a little a bit is aware that I like animals an awful lot, especially dogs. A Jack Russell or a whippet in the street is likely to make me lose track of engrossing conversations and regress to a childish state. Let’s not even get started on puppies. When saying my goodbyes before coming to Puglia, the canine members of my family were almost harder to leave than the human ones. After spending all of last summer receiving boundless love and playing football with my dogs Lily and Cassie, I just wanted to pack them into my suitcase and bring them with me.

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I’m not entirely destitute of animal company here in Puglia as it turns out. I’ve got a fair number of four-legged friends running about, a head count that has recently grown due to the expansion of a certain cat’s family tree.

First there are the dogs. Nera is an excellent guard dog. She announces any intruder and protects the house with quite the fearsome bark. I had to let her get used to me at first, to realise ‘Oh OK, this person lives here now’. It took quite a lot of time before she stopped going mental every time I tried to climb the steps. She’s a beautiful dog though, and now I get the privilege of only being barked at a couple of times a week, and even sometimes tickle her tummy.

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Toby on the other hand is a huge softie. A darling. Where Nera is a bit suspicious of strangers, Toby doesn’t care as long as you’ve got two legs. He is in equal parts trusting and lovable. He’ll throw his considerable weight onto you at any given opportunity and wag his tail, looking in through the window. He plays fetch with lemons, carries away plastic dishes in front of his face and curls up to sleep in the tiniest spaces possible. He’s always a happy presence trotting around innocently, or lying in the sun like a furry pancake.

The feline situation here has been getting a bit out of hand since the family found a little red-gold stray about two years ago. She was named Ariel, but after quickly getting pregnant and giving birth to three kittens, she soon received the honorary title of ‘Mamma Mic’ (oddly pronounced ‘meech’ and meaning kitty). So the little green eyed cat has since then been defined by her maternal functions, the mother of Pallina. The favourite of the litter, Pallina is yellow eyed and long tailed, and teased as the stupid and trouble making cat, a defect blamed on the fact that she was brusquely washed and blow dried a few days after birth. In the months of February and March, we began to notice a certain ballooning of Pallina’s svelte figure until it was unmistakable that she would be reproducing any day soon. Sure enough, on a day where she was looking so remarkably podgy with her back legs thrown out behind her, she popped out five kittens: four female black, white and red ones, and one little male boy, recently named Mufasa.
So for the sake of clarity and to take into account the rapidly expanding dynasty of cats in the garden, Mamma Mic has been renamed ‘Nonna’ (grandma) and Pallina has gained the Mamma accolade, although frankly she doesn’t seem to give two hoots about her children, and would much rather be fed herself than give them any milk. One morning, she took off for a bit of a holiday, coming back just in time for lunch.

Of course, it’s great to have these animals around to stroke and talk to in stupid voices but I do miss the one and only dynamic duo, Lily and Cassie. By now, the pair are very well travelled, having toured Puglia in the car with us. Here they are in Alberobello. And also, the best photobomb on record (that photo of Lily? yeah, it was meant to be of Cassie).