down to the roots

I’ve been back in the mitten now for two weeks where my attempts at getting life in order here have delayed further posts. I promise there is no shortage of adventures to share from my last few weeks in Italy. The first is Palese. My boyfriend’s hometown is Palese, in the southern region of Puglia just fifteen minutes from the main city, Bari.


Arguably the most important value to Italians (especially southern) next to vino and pasta and sex, is family. Meeting Peppe’s parents and brother was the part of my trip I looked forward to the most. And c’mon, how precious is this woman.


Not only meeting the family, but spending an entire week with them was a really cool opportunity. I entered their home for the first time and wanted desperately to connect with them. Words failed me but I managed to choke out, “grazie per tutto” and “che bella casa!” While we couldn’t share in conversation, their warmth was immediate. Literally, because most of my interactions with Peppe’s mother were her offering shoes and sweaters and making sure I was, in fact, warm enough.

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(Peppe had an old film camera, Koroll 35, which I helped him load. All of these black and white shots are his)

Pollocciotto, the cat’s name, means basically “little sweet fluffy ball” and he says “miao” not “meow”. I learned that even animals speak Italian haha big surprise. Also all animals I saw in Italy still had their balls because as Peppe would say, “Well, yes, that’s the point.”  This kitty lived in the family garden and was free to roam.

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The garden had a lemon tree and an outdoor kitchen. Obviously because they live on the sea, foods fresh out of the water are a main part of their diet. One of my favorite meals we had was a huge variety of fried seafood – squid, octopus, some whole fish. The octopus was, surprisingly, my favorite.

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This was actually the way I found easiest to connect with Peppe’s mother, through food. Let me preface this by saying, you have never had real Italian food until a real Italian mom cooks it for you. Basically all I had to do was at least try everything, and clear my plate whenever possible followed by “buonissimo”. I wish I had a way to fully express how much it meant to me for them to be so accepting and welcoming.

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The only real conversation I had with her, was when Carmela asked Peppe to ask me why I loved her son. So as I carefully and thoughtfully explained myself, my boyfriend translated and she nodded in agreement and appreciation.

Peppe’s parents have been together for something like 36 years – since she was 14 and he was 17.

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Traveling by train at the beginning of my trip exposed me to the countrysides of Italy, blurring past the panoramic windows. Other than that, I hadn’t seen much outside of Florence’s historical center.  We landed in Palese once the sun had already set and a cloak of darkness shed only whispers of the town’s full beauty. I didn’t know what to expect. In the morning, even though the day was unusually cloudy for this region, I was seriously amazed.

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One of my goals for coming to Italy, was to actually see the sea, which I have never done.

Peppe took me to something he called “the arm” and explained that this was a place when young people are new to a relationship, they would come out here to kiss.

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So I finally saw the sea for the first time, the Adriatic Sea. Most of the shoreline was rocky rather than sandy and the water was crystal clear.

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I saw little crabs scurrying through the rocks and I bent over to soak my hand in the warm salty water. Palese is a place that Peppe described as people basically living in the sea. He told me about being young and free to run and play here, because there wasn’t much danger.

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We spent some time with his closest friends Annarita, Nicola, Ivano and Stefania. This was the night I finally grasped a true understanding for what Palese is like. At first I was drowning, completely lost because I couldn’t understand anything anyone was saying. Especially because in the south, they speak in different dialects of Italian, like Barese. If you put a Florentine in the same room, they would have no idea what anyone was saying, either.

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I started picking up on voice inflections, tones and gestures in attempts to follow. It was then I realized, whether you’re in Italy or America or probably anywhere, the way friends interact is always the same. Maybe I couldn’t understand their words, but I felt like I knew what was going on. And as soon as the pizza delivery guy came, everything made sense..

He came down the stairs and started greeting everyone by kissing them on the face then they started chatting and laughing. So I had a better sense of just how small the town is – when even the pizza guy is an old friend. Then Peppe explained to me that he actually has an economics degree. So I had a better sense of just how few job opportunities existed here.

This experience was like seeing another side of a person I feel like I know so well. To witness firsthand the places and the people which formed the man I love was really enlightening.  I, myself, came from a small town similar to Palese. Granted, it wasn’t on the sea or in Italy, but it’s a place that feels like home and people make it that way.

It’s a small place you may to escape, but down to the roots, this place won’t escape you.


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