greetings from Puglia

I slept until 10 a.m. this morning in my cozy dwelling here in Polignano a Mare, a coastal town in the heel of Italy overlooking the Adriatic Sea. I arrived yesterday from Lecce on the local train. I guess you could say that I’m slow travelling, to use the jargon of the day, though I never thought of it that way when I set out. My intention was to avoid plane travel if I could for two reasons: ecological reasons, and also because flying is such a stressful experience. I mean, having to weigh your suitcase at home, measure it and your carry-on with a tape measure, and then stand in line at the airport to be frisked, scanned and publicly scolded for deviant behavior (eg, packing a plastic bottle of suntan lotion in your carry-on) is not my idea of a good time.

Whereas train travel is. From Rome I took the train down to Lecce (5 hours). I have taken many photos, but cannot post them right now because I’m writing this on my tablet.

So what exactly is slow travel? I found one definition on the internet: a fully immersive experience and connecting with the locals (while being more ecological-minded.) I guess that crossing a street in central Rome and nearly getting myself killed while the driver of the vehicle screamed “Vaffanculo!!!” out the window could qualify as connecting with the locals. Oh, and this was at a pedestrian crossing. Geez, I thought the French were bad. (I won’t translate that swear word, it’s too rude.)

Another fully immersive experience would be sitting in a pizzeria watching the European election results on the TV screen, and learning that the majority of Italians had just voted for Matteo Salvini’s far-right, anti-immigrant, nationalist party called LEGA (the League.) Meanwhile, in France the far-right, anti-immigrant party scraped a narrow win (led by Marine Le Pen).

Other than that, I have encountered lovely people along the way and, as usual when I’m in this country, am thoroughly enjoying myself. From here it’s onwards to Bologna (by train) for 24 hours then up to Milan to connect to another train to Nice while leaving myself lots of time between train connections. Another definition of slow travel is to not rush around like a crazy person.

All my bookings were made via Trainline.

http://www.thetrainline.com

Ciao for now …

 

 

 

 

 

 

off to Italy, and why do we travel?

I’m off to Italy tomorrow for 11 days, travelling by train to different regions after 3 days in Rome. I’ll post a travel report when I return. Here’s a text I wrote a few years ago, entitled ‘Why Do We Travel?’

I had an existential moment as I stood for three hours on the train from Naples to Rome. Why do we travel?, I asked myself. The train was packed solid, but for 12 euros I could buy a ticket that allowed me to stand with others in the standing-only area. The three hours passed faster than I thought they would. I chatted with a nice man from Atlanta. I self-consciously ate a slice of pizza while eight pairs of eyes watched hungrily. I witnessed an angry exchange between two Italian women and didn’t have a clue what it was about (and didn’t want to know.) I looked out the window at the passing landscape. And I watched as two policemen boarded the train and accosted two black men. It turned out they were African boat migrants who, no doubt, had paid a smuggler to break into Fortress Europe. At the next station they were escorted off the train. What awaited them?, I wondered. A detention camp, maybe, and deportation. I felt sorry for them.

And I guess that’s one of the reasons why we travel – to see the world, in all its splendor and misery. To see how other people live. To step out of our lives – for some people, their ivory towers – and observe the diversity and destiny and danger of our fellow humans, even if that view is voyeuristic or from a privileged perch.

Other reasons to travel – to unstick oneself from routine (I hate routine). It’s good to change our daily habits and shake things up. Or, as the French say, “changer les idées”.

To step out of our comfort zone, to test and challenge ourselves, to not stand still, to feel inspired. To connect with humanity. To converse with complete strangers, until they’re no longer strangers but new friends with whom you’ve exchanged email addresses. To see great art and taste gorgeous foods that we normally wouldn’t see or eat at home. To extend our boundaries and stretch our minds. To feel the sea wind in our face and hear a foreign, lyrical language in our ears. To unplug from our computers and our hard drives and see things from another perspective because there are, in this world, differing points of view.

Jonah Lehrer, a British journalist, wrote this –

We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.

 

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Zeppole, custard-filled deep-fried balls of dough; photo by Antonio Gravante

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Eleonora Grasso photo

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Paris street shots and birthday dinner at 404 Moroccan restaurant

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So I went over to Monique’s apartment last evening for a celebratory glass of sparkling wine before heading out to the well-loved 404 located in the Marais district. It was her birthday. You definitely need to book ahead to get into this restaurant. I snapped some street shots along the way.

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Bonjour! Can I join you for a drink?

There’s a lot of tasty-looking men in this district, many are gay. Here’s the restaurant below. We got there early and the doors hadn’t opened yet. There’s a story behind the name, 404. I’ll tell you at the end of this post.

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Monique and me.

I had the lamb and artichoke heart tagine. Monique had the vegetarian couscous. A tagine is an earthenware pot with a flat base and conical lid, used in North African cooking – most famously in Morocco. In French, it’s spelled tajine.

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For dessert, M had a plate of sliced orange drizzled with orange flower water and cinnamon. I had a warm date pastilla topped with cream and something crunchy, slivered almonds probably.

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OK, now for the story of the restaurant’s name. Owner and restaurateur, Mourad Mazouz, otherwise known as Momo, called it 404 as a tribute to the model of the old Peugeot cars that North African families drove during their summer returns to the home country. Mazouz also owns the insanely trendy and expensive restaurant in London’s Mayfair district, Sketch, as well as the Mayfair Moroccan restaurant, Momo.

Back in Paris, here are two other well-known couscous restaurants. Moroccan and Tunisian cuisine is big in France:

Chez Omar, 47 Rue de Bretagne, 75003 Paris (fun and popular in the Marais district)

Le Sirocco, 8 Bis Rue des Gobelins, 75013 Paris (more staid and serious and kinda out of the way)

Photo of London’s Sketch restaurant:

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my local Sunday morning market and the opening of the new EATALY market in the Marais

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Markets are the soul and substance of France. All over the country, usually on a Sunday morning, French citizens flock to their local markets to barter, socialize, stroll and stock up on weekly provisions. My market is a 20-minute walk from my apartment and takes place on Sunday and Wednesday mornings. Here are some scenes.

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Plump scallops on the half shell, glistening sea bass, and scampi:

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This scene below cracked me up. The customers, engaged in animated conversation with the vendor, are seemingly unaware or unperturbed by the fact that a dead piglet is hanging ignominiously from a hook in front of them (This little piggy went to market…)  It’s called a cochon de lait which means suckling pig, so we can correctly assume that it was snatched from its mother’s teat then slaughtered. Also below are skinned rabbits.

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Goose eggs, fresh oysters from the Atlantic Coast, sausage and sauerkraut, mangos from Africa, tulips and hyacinths from Holland. An embarrassment of riches, and sometimes it feels embarrassing when you think of all that we have, and others who do not.

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Some friendly gazes and some not so friendly.  

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Yikes, look at those glacial stares. This market is in a fairly well-heeled district as you can probably tell by the fur coats and supercilious air of some of the denizens.

Laden with produce, I repaired to the nearest café for a tartine and espresso. A tartine is half a baguette spread with butter. I wouldn’t have minded a dollop of raspberry jam, but they were all out.

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Speaking of markets, EATALY has just opened in the Marais district. All Italian, I can’t wait to go. Here are some beautiful photos in the link below:

https://www.azzed.net/2019/04/eataly-paris-ouverture/