Doin' it Live with Deborah
I was sitting across the table from the coolest chick I’d ever met, having been invited out for an aperitivo in the piazza, recounting the tale of the Great Puglia Road Trip 2015. Over the spring/Easter break, a few of us rented a car to drive south to Puglia, a distant, poorly connected (in terms of public transport) region brimming with genuine, undisturbed-by-tourism Italian culture. Deborah’s favorite part of the story was our adventure in Otranto.
We had spent the day lounging and perusing the town. Our hunt for dinner that evening included befriending Kuma (we decided on the term bear in Japanese), one of the local stray dogs, and running with him (to keep warm–because no one expected freezing temperatures in the heel of the boot at the beginning of April and the pre-dinner wine wasn’t strong enough to keep the chill away) into the fortress/city center where we finally saw the presence of life (it had been a ghost town until this point).
The waiter had tried to lure us into his restaurant with an easy smile and charm, but the girls had kept walking. I stalled, deciding instead to come over to him to ask what can be done to help the homeless dog on the street. He had taken his spot on a bench outside and already had begun rolling a cigarette. His response was so wise and soothing, I was convinced. We ended up eating the tastiest seafood with the most quality people, had a dance party in a restaurant which he invited us to DJ and bar-tend, and met half of the town’s population/most of his friends. The following day, he escorted us to a faraway coastal, shack-of-a-restaurant where we ate sea urchins, squid salad, calamari, mussels, clams, oysters, and every other not even remotely kosher, seafood lover’s dream good. After an absurdly cheap and delicious lunch in the sunshine, being showered in white wine, and meeting his family who runs the place, he took us to the hippest local coffee shop (you’d only know about it if you knew about it) on the sea.
All for a smile.
“Let’s go.” Deborah deadpanned. That’s all it took. Her conviction and steadfast curiosity resulted in us packing her car on a drizzly Thursday afternoon in Siena a week later after classes had ended for the week. We had minimally planned and were counting on good will and good vibes. The drive was ten hours long. We were using road signs for directions and munching on snacks and telling stories to stay awake. Deborah’s anecdotes were so exciting and hilarious; she managed to snap me out of my recent narcoleptic behavior. Our first morning in Otranto, we went for a long walk along the lungomare where we met Daniele, a fruit and vegetable vendor. He gave us each a kumquat (my first) from his little truck stand to try. We chatted a bit, trying to make conversation through broken Italian and the Salento dialect. When we tried to buy a bag of the little fruit from him, he refused to accept any money. Fortunately, our car was packed with tokens of anticipated appreciation, so we headed there to pick something to offer him. When we returned to his truck stand, he was gone. An older gentleman sitting on a nearby bench said something entirely discernible and pointed across the street. We followed his finger into a coffee shop, where Deborah presented the gracious man with a vintage pocketknife!!! (How cool?!?!) He reminded us that gifting knives is bad luck, so Deborah explained that it wasn’t a gift–it was an exchange (quick thinking). We then ordered two cafes from Luisa, the barista who was arranging the fresh mint stems in a vase. Daniele headed back to work as I reached to pay for the espressos. It’s already been paid for, she explained.
Our walk continued around the bend of the bay, with early risers stopping to ooh and ahh Venus, Deborah’s partner-in-crime and picnics Chihuahua. With the clear-water sea to our right and the city transforming to ruins on our left, we spotted something unusual…There was a long rod popping out over the rock wall separating the road from the sea. Peeking over, we noticed a pruney fisherman diligently casting his line into the tumultuous waters far below. We watched him work for a while, finding peace in the repetition, determination, and waft of spring flowers in the sea breeze. As we continued the walk, I noticed the change in landscape from two weeks prior. The beach was undergoing reconstruction and cleaning in anticipation for the summer rush. Where there had been an environmental commentary on pollution, as one man had created sand dunes filled with more trash than sand, all was flattened out. There was machinery on the beach and a truck could be seen way down below, transporting sand from one end of the shoreline to another. There were metal skeletons on the beach, not yet filled out to be the summer dance party platforms they are destined to become.
We paused at a cafe we had passed earlier en route back to the centro to pass a bit of time until he would wake up and collect us for the day’s adventure. Rather than waiting, we were existing; breathing the air, willing every pore to open to inhale the essence of the ideal blue water below.
Eve Litvak - Sustainability studies - Spring 2015