Puglia

by Gethin Thomas October. 24, 2020 240 views

A small selection of memorable sights from my travels around Puglia, Italy, 2016. Just things that caught my eye. It is a photographer's wonderland for some reason. Even just the mundane, everyday sights on street corners or down alleys seem to have been set out just as in a film set.

Below, I have to start with the ubiquitous poppy field, although we had seen some very meagre offerings until we turned a corner to find this screech of the car tyres one. The one where you are on a narrow country road with trucks coming toward you and a string of cars and white vans behind you, all of whom drive past this sight everyday, extremely close to each other, usually while lighting a cigarette and adjusting their expensive designer sunglasses. So in reality no screech of tyres without a series of metallic bangs at the rear. (That did happen in France once)

So this is that classic photographer as passenger moment when your driver, muttering under their breath has to keep going while looking for somewhere to turn around and backtrack. After half a mile of narrow driveways and rubble strewn fields, building sites and precipitous verges you see ahead an unfeasibly large layby and heave a sigh of relief. Swerving wildly across oncoming traffic to screech to a halt, just like the locals do, now you just have to get back on the road going in the other direction. Simples! That's another ten minutes of shall we shan't we. Make it alive, that is. Then after driving all the way back your driver mutters some more, less under their breath this time as you are forced off the road into the rubble strewn poppy field itself, wondering if your holiday insurance will cover a new oil sump. I leave you to decide what you would have done.

This shot below proves that old photographer's adage that there is a photograph wherever you look you just have to see it. Actually I'm not sure if that is an adage or if I just made it up. It sounds good but for now I won't claim it as mine, just in case.

Anyway, it was hot and we were all monumented out when we saw a tiny café just off a busy square, where we expected some shade and a sit down and something to wet our whistles, not whet our appetites. (Have you forgotten it already?) We sat inside obviously, being from Northern Europe where sunlight is something that has divided society over the millennia into two extremes of behaviour. You either seek it out to expose as much of your skin to as much of it as you can until you do an impression of a cooked lobster or you avoid it at every opportunity, even crossing the street to walk on the shady side and in this case shoehorning yourself into a tiny metal chair in the cool confines of a café with a table the size of a saucer.

Luckily we were wedged up against the window which was open so we had a nice breeze. One of the open windows was at a slight angle perfectly reflecting the church tower behind us, giving us a hitherto impossible view of two ancient buildings right next to each other, that were never meant to look like this.

Another division in lifestyles, this time, but between Northern Europeans and Southern Europeans. In the North we put our wires and pipes inside while in the South they seem to put them on the outside. Is this because we get freezing temperatures? Answers on a postcard please.

Another question. Why in the hotter parts of Europe do they display and sell cheese unrefrigerated and in the colder north, even on a cold day, even in winter, at it's coldest, our cheese is always ensconced in a chilly metal box? You can put your answers on the same postcard to save on postage.

Below, they've come to arrest the warm cheese seller. Actually in Britain that would probably be true. I've no idea what was going on here but they don't mess around in Italy. Twelve students with a bedsheet, the only word on it that I recognised, being fascist, will always be met with at least fifty riot squad members armed to the teeth. Even the riot police are beautifully arranged.

To this day I'm not sure whether the protestors were complaining that there were too many fascists or too few. Being students, and being Italy it probably doesn't really matter. If they were Fascists, in twenty years time they will be running the local trade union and if they were Socialists, they will be running a corporation. But it made a change from poppies and weathered paint finishes on wooden shutters in pastel shades.

This is what I meant about everything looking like a film set. Weathered wood, ancient stone pillars, an olive tree, wrought iron, high intensity shadows, brightly coloured souvenirs and weathered paint finishes on wooden shutters in pastel shades. Things like this just happen in Italy.

The poppies have rivals. Anything you can do I can do better. This was an easier operation altogether, as we were lost and in the middle of nowhere. So for this one we just stopped in the middle of the road.

Another film set, begging for some actors. In fact this scene could probably inspire a story. Couple parting on the steps? He off to the sea hinted at through the gap in the buildings? Neither knowing when he would be back. She not aware yet that she is with child. Does he ever return? Happy ending or sad? Does she open that door one day instinctively knowing he has returned as he runs up the steps to meet his new child for the first time? Probably a bit cheesy, especially in that warm weather. His surprise gift on his return, he's ordered her a new fridge, for the cheese. Try getting a Fridge up those steps though.

I can't decide whether these look appetising or not. As a young child we had a school open day to celebrate the new Science labs. All I remember was the smell, which I am told was Formaldehyde, and the horror of the things that they had preserved in it, inside large jars. I'm not talking about olives, artichokes, tomatoes, peppers and chillies either, but things with legs that looked back out at you. I still have nightmares. There were way too many legs on some of those things.

This photo below, reminds me of Rome, where it is not uncommon to stumble upon twentieth century apartments with Roman ruins for foundations. In some unfathomable way they seemed to carry on building over the millennia by just raising the street level and adding another floor. This building I am standing on was pre-Roman in the basement. Just someone's house, where the owner decided to dig out his cellar to make a Granny Flat, only to end up with his own archaeological dig and museum. I don't know where he put Granny. Maybe she's in that little room on the roof.

When your buildings are in danger of falling down, just prop them up, in a stylish way of course.

My favourite comedian is Count Arthur Strong, and as he would say if he welcomed you in and lived here, "Mind your head on that light fitting". Admittedly, without any context or background it isn't remotely funny, but I am chuckling, because it is on the radio not visual and I can hear his visitor bang their head on that light fitting just as he says it, too late.

Now this shop is finally admitting the heat might just be a problem. Their tasty wares are all made of plastic. But even they are trying to convince you that you don't need a fridge. Even vacuum packed, can you imagine a Ricotta Forte in your suitcase in the hold of a plane for two hours. It's going to set off every alarm at security and those cute little sniffy Spaniels will be hysterical.

The best efforts of a tricky Google search leads me to believe that this inscription above a doorway means something along the lines of "Envy and harbouring envy is harmful". Dated 1778. E E Franc was obviously worried someone might covet his fly screen.

I think they mean "No Entry", just in case you were wondering. Although, being Italy I see at least one car pointing the wrong way. I had to position myself very carefully to get the full effect of these signs arranged like that. I do all that for you, you know. I mean, I was there, I've already seen it.

(below) Bougainvillea. That is my favourite flower and my word for the day. And it is not even a flower, at least the purply bits that you are thinking look like a flower are not the flower. The flower is just the tiny cream trumpet in the middle. What you thought was the flower was in fact the bracts. Bracts are leaves with ideas above their station. They get these fancy ideas that they are better than the other leaves and splash the cash so to speak. In evolutionary terms they decided the actual petals of the actual flower were not up to the job of attracting those pesky but useful insects so staged a coup and took over the TV station.

Now here is a really fascinating story for all of you. An interesting bract fact. Are you sitting comfortably, because it is a tale that shows how society has changed and how much we take for granted today, in particular regarding the lives of those of the fairer sex.

The first European to describe these plants was Philibert Commerçon, a botanist accompanying French Navy admiral Louis Antoine de Bougainville during his voyage of circumnavigation of the Earth, and first published by Antoine Laurent de Jussieu in 1789. It is possible that the first European to observe these plants was Jeanne Baré, Commerçon's lover and assistant who was an expert in botany. Because she was not allowed on ship as a woman, she disguised herself as a man in order to make the journey (and thus became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe).

Now when you committed to reading the miles of unnecessary wordage in this post, that is basically just a load of my holiday photos that I have tricked you into looking at, admit it, you never expected that little gem did you. Neither did I when I started writing it, I have to confess. Now OK, it's a bit of a stretch to say just because she was there she may have been the first one to spot them, but, you know, wikipedia, but that aside what interests me is that old Bougainville didn't spot them at all he just sailed the ship. That would be like the driver of the car I was in when I photographed the poppies, taking all the credit. How does that work? So yes, times have changed.

If you have been asleep for twenty years or have never watched a travel programme on Italy you will be forgiven for wondering what these little cone shaped houses are. These are Trulli or if there is only one in the photo Trullo, like one piece of Ravioli is a Raviolo. It is very cheffy these days to have one Raviolo on a plate. I'm not even sure it is because the chef is being stingy with the ingredients, I think they just want you to know that they know it is a Raviolo when it's on it's lonesome. Either way, I think it is the definition of pretentious. As Sybil Fawlty recounted the joke punchline in Fawlty Towers, "Pretentious? Moi?" She then laughed in only the way she could, which Basil would describe as "someone machine gunning a seal". Aaaaah the good old days when we had comedy on TV.

Back to the Trullo, below, as at least I have been paying attention. They are in a village called Alberobello, which is a great name, it really rolls off the tongue.

Alberobello, literally "beautiful tree"; is a small town and commune of the Metropolitan City of Bari, Apulia, southern Italy. It has 10,735 inhabitants and is famous for its unique trullo buildings. The trulli of Alberobello have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996. The history of the trulli is linked to the Prammatica De Baronibus, an edict of the 15th-century Kingdom of Naples that subjected every new settlement to a tribute. In 1481 the Counts of Conversano D'Acquaviva D'Aragona from 1481, owners of the territory of Alberobello, then imposed on the residents that they built their dwellings dry, without using mortars, so that they could be configured as precarious buildings and easily demolished. This obligation to have houses built with dry stones was an expedient of the count to avoid paying taxes to the Spanish viceroy of the Kingdom of Naples. Having to use only stones, the peasants found that building in a round form with self-supporting domed roofs was the simplest configuration. The roofs were embellished with decorative pinnacles representing the signature of the architect (master trullaro).

These preserved Trulli, the highest concentration in one area have now been repurposed into holiday homes, hotels, shops and restaurants. I really like the idea that a Master Trullaro in his Trulli building career built a Trullo now serving a Raviolo. Is one stick of Spaghetti a Spaghetto? Is Alphabetti Spaghetti with only one letter Alphabetto Spaghetto? What if that one letter is an O? Do you have an Alphabetto Spaghetto O?

I'm definitely thinking that in it's heyday the correct film to see in the cinema below would be "Cleopatra", "Ben Hur" or some other epic. "Cleopatra" was reviewed by Variety, which wrote, "Cleopatra is not only a supercolossal eye-filler (the unprecedented budget shows in the physical opulence throughout), but it is also a remarkably literate (I'm not sure someone writing the word supercolossal can determine what is literate) cinematic recreation of an historic epoch. At an audience level the film was a major hit, grossing $57.8 million in the United States and Canada, and in the process became the most successful film of 1963. The film was also a major hit in Italy, where it sold 10.9 million tickets. Just so you know, and I looked this up, that's 20 % of the population at the time. So a fair few of them would almost certainly have seen Cleopatra in this cinema. I think Mussolini would have liked the balcony too if he ever visited.

These are Frigi Magneti, until you buy one, when it becomes a Frigo Magneto. That isn't strictly true but again it's a nice idea and I'm an ideas type of guy even bad ones, and it's not too far from the truth on a good day. Yes I know the ones at the bottom are bottle openers but what are you, pedantic, in a pandemic?

Pedantic? Moi? For some reason I always photograph the display of Fridge Magnets wherever I go, but never buy one. Anyway my latest incarnation of a Fridge comes disguised as a wooden cabinet in a weathered paint finish like a wooden shutter in a pastel shade. So magnets would just drop off and shatter on the Travertine marble floor. So the kitchen designer had obviously been to Puglia then.

They're really not taking any chances with those signs. Or pipes. Or wires. Or balconies. Or cars. Or pots. Or chairs. Or washing. This is life right out there in the street, where it rarely rains and I'm on the shady side.

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Camellia Staab 2 months, 4 weeks ago

Another one of you outstanding posts. Loved the photos and of course the commentary. Best of all the pecorino and sniffy spaniel, laughed out loud at the visual smile

2 months, 4 weeks ago Edited
Sri V 2 months, 4 weeks ago

Another interesting post with a lot of thought-provoking questions that are now finally getting the gears in my head to move on this groggy Monday. We are still far away from whirring, mind.

2 months, 4 weeks ago Edited
Antonio Gil 2 months, 4 weeks ago

Loved this post, its sequence, the humour behind some of the pictures. Well done my friend

2 months, 4 weeks ago Edited
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