Major Adventures

Just a bloke's records of how his life unfolds.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Coffee, Beer, Snails, Octopus and a Dog Named Mary

A man walks into a bar, orders a coffee in his best Italian, still obviously too anglophone to get away with it. The barman asks, politely in Italian, where you are from. You tell him in your best Italian that you are Australian but you live in London. You are very happy that you were taught that line during your intensive Italian course the day before.
The man, that's me ... the bar, its in a great town called Lecce in the region of Puglia in Italy. The barman? A local man who has also lived in London for 3.5 years some 12 months ago. He pulled up his chair and provided me with coffee and cake and we chatted about life for a while, offered me his number and didn't charge for the cake and coffee ... thanks :)
So this same man walks into another bar/pub and gets talking with some locals who want to speak English. I am chatting to this man and woman who are very interested in my adventures in Europe and of course Australia. Consequently I am invited to the guy's place the night after to share with his friends, a typical night in with friends with fine local wines and foods and to console him over his impending divorce. How could I say no to local hospitality? I would be looking forward to that for the next 24 hours or so.
So this man walks into a gelato bar in Lecce and stands patiently behind a couple with a stroller, the man orders his gelato and heads outside leaving his wife to handle the payment and the stroller and the ice cream. Jordi steps up to the counter taking the place of the man who is now outside. The vendor didn't see the man leaving the shop and handed me his ice cream. It's at this stage that the woman hadn't noticed that her husband had left either... So, Jordi being Jordi just walked outside and gave the man his ice cream. He looked at me very strangely but thanked me most profusely. The wife and shop assistant very very embarrassed.  Consequently, Jordi orders his €1.80 cone and is handed the €2.80 cone at the original price with a huge apology for the mistake before.., NO WORRIES :P I love gelato.
So the next night arrives after the night before and I am picked up by the friend of the man in the pub to be taken to the man's house for the night of Local delicacies ... he lives just outside of the city limits of Lecce on a great block of land and a very modest house. The property is one huge vegetable patch and as one enters the security gates, one is hit by the smell of marjoram, basil and oregano from the veggie patch. Closer inspection sees runners of beans, watermelons, eggplants, zucchinis and the like. This guy grows all that he can.
Introduced to everyone as Jordi the Australian who doesn't speak Italian yet, the locals shyly introduce themselves in a very friendly and warm fashion. At this stage there are 2 women and the rest men. Jordi's mind starts to think. The women are together. Jordi breaks out of his ignorant shell rather quickly when he realises that the guy in the bar wasn't divorced but separated from his lover after some long distance of time. He, in fact, seems to be the patriarchal figure for this group of gay men Lecce. He called out requests and demands and everyone jumped up and down and went running left right and centre when ever he spoke.
What was on the table? I know you are edging to know. I was offered as my first plate local snails (not from his garden) which were marinated in oil and chillies, so sensationally delicious. They all were watching me as i took the first snail... they were not believing that I would eat them ... come on ... the boy's been to France and eaten horrid bits n pieces of animals surely a snail wouldn't hurt. :) A huge baby octopus cooked on the webber was then served on my plate seasoned with salt pepper lemon and olive oil. A bowl of marinated mushrooms and delicious basil infused char grilled eggplant. Plates of cold cuts and cheeses, melon and cured Italian hams, a great dish like a ratatouille and a delicious mixed peppers dish all served with homemade olive and sun dried tomato bread.
As guest of honour, i was sat at the head of the table and was doted on left right and centre by everyone. Then had prickly pears hand peeled for me and handed to me on a fork, a huge slab of hazelnut gelato, a huge dollop of tiramisu and a pointed fruity slice of home made cheesecake. This was then followed by creme liqueurs in lemon, melon and caffe. Oh my ... was my belly in a happy place.
Two of the guys could speak English and the gals asked me in survival English which I so very much appreciated. I tried my Italian but i think i will wait for another couple of weeks of classes. I think 14 days is a little too little to expect me to be able to have a conversation in Italian... one day though, I promise. There were 2 guys who spoke French and relished with an opportunity to speak French with an Australian cookery teacher living in London. There is a group of them heading to Paris for the week on Tuesday so they thought the practice was very timely.
All throughout the evening I found a friend in a gorgeous dog named Mary. Now this may not seem to strange to you but next time you come across your favourite Italian person, ask them to say the name Mary with their best Italian accent. It is a beautiful sound to hear being called throughout the night. She is adored by all the boys and she picks her favourites by bringing a rock, large or small and places ON your foot which you are supposed to throw so as she will fetch it with a waggly tail and happy ears she will place it in your lap or on your foot again to continue playing. The only thing that stops this game is the chance that dad is about to give her a slice of cheesecake.
It was the most thoroughly interesting and entertaining most relaxing evening with the greatest of food wine spirits and company. The moral of the story ... always walk into a bar with an open mind, a happy face and a friendly disposition and the person next to you may just offer an experience to write home about.
My sejour here in Lecce is at the half way mark. I hope the next two weeks will be just as rewarding and filled with the great times and memory making moments like that last two. I hope all is well in your world.


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