The European Caper

Alistair at our apartment,
Giovinazzo, Puglia, Italy.

Arriving in Giovinazzo

I've waited a while to put all my early dot points about Puglia into a coherent post. The dates for this and the next post reflect when I first started making notes, not when I finally managed to publish them (6 weeks later). Apart from my writer's block, the bigger problem has been culture shock (not wanting to sound too dramatic, but this place is almost the opposite of my ideal introverted, OCD tidy, minimalist, calm and quiet choice of environment).

Giovinazzo really is a lovely place, but the intense heat, the constant dust and dirt of this area, the different customs, and having to look after a toddler amongst it all, has left me somewhat bothered much of the time. I don't want to write some cranky, derogatory post, when the problem is actually me, not Puglia.

I've been to Italy before, and having married into an Italian family, I am familiar with the loud and friendly Italian nature, but I can see that actually being in southern Italy for an extended time, is going to be quite something for me to get used to. Families here are large and constantly in each other's company — while I've spent most of my life seeing my few relatives only a couple of times a year, if that. Quite a different world here.

I knew I was back in Italy when the plane landed and the cabin announcement said "do NOT unbuckle your seatbelts until the seatbelt light is turned off", and immediately everyone unbuckled their seatbelts and stood up. (Maybe the announcement in Italian actually said "stand up right now and start tussling and shouting"). Actually, the introduction to Italy started earlier, when the plane left Berlin and the man in front of me reclined his seat as soon as the announcement said, "please leave your seat upright for take-off…", but the mass response on landing really hit me.

We had proposed catching a cab from the airport, but had surrendered to the apparently non-negotiable offer of a lift (and narrowly averted a grievous insult to everyone). There were three cars waiting for us, complete with my in-laws (who had arrived a few days earlier) and a large assortment of extended family, none of whom spoke English. Costanza and Eleanor were ushered off to one car, me to another, our bags to I know not where. I was all prepared to face scorn by insisting that I would wear a seatbelt (having been pre-warned), but when I got into the back of the hatchback, the belt receptors were missing, under a seat cover, down the back of the seat (where they'd presumably been since the day the car was purchased), and my resolve weakened at the thought of insisting that everyone get out and the back be dismantled, so that I could belt up.

Back in my 20's when I briefly drove taxis, taxi drivers in NSW were exempt from wearing seatbelts (the official reason being because we were always getting up to help passengers with their luggage — yeah right — but according to my employer, it was actually because we might need to get out quickly if someone pulled a knife), but its amazing how ingrained the habit has become since then.

Oh well, no seatbelts, no child seats (to think I had been worried about the booster seats in Germany), lanes that merged unexpectedly or disappear altogether, a driver with one hand on a mobile phone, juggling that conversation with the raucous one going on in the car — it was pretty much everything I had been told to expect, but still entirely unsettling.

It was a half hour drive from Bari's airport to the picturesque seaside town of Giovinazzo. My in-laws are staying in a beautiful small apartment in the "old town". Our apartment is only 5 minutes away, on the other side of the small harbour, and in a less old part of the town. The apartment is a converted garage, which seems extremely common in the area. It has the advantages of being bigger (to keep Eleanor occupied) and having air-conditioning (the majority of places don't). On the downside, I think the street level access adds to the amount of dust that accumulates in the place.

I'm not sure if its the type of rock around the Mediterranean (I found the same dust covering Istanbul), or the residue from millennia of human construction activities, but the fine particles of concrete-mix style dust are everywhere. I now know why floors are tiled rather than carpeted in the Mediterranean. I've found myself mopping the floor at least every second day, so that we can have the luxury of walking around the house bare foot, without too much grit accumulating on our feet.

Having settled into the place, we went out for dinner and experienced our first night in the main Piazza (the town square). I've been informed that because of the heat here, people stay home during the day, the shops close in the afternoons for siesta, and then everyone heads out at night, with many people gathering in the Piazza to socialise. More on that later.

The next day we had lunch and went for a walk around the Old Town (not that much of the rest of Giovinazzo appears particularly younger). It was quite something. At a rough guess, I'd say a square kilometre in size. Many buildings have been modernised inside, but the outsides look essentially the same as they must have for centuries.

Anyway, some photos should convey it better than my words.

That's all for now.

A photo from our trip
A photo from our trip
A photo from our trip
A photo from our trip