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Salento Diary

I am on the train in Puglia, heading toward Lecce and from there south to the Masseria Gianferrante near Ugento. I was last there in, I think, 1980, the guest of a charming family I had met while “studying” in Padova earlier that year. “Studying” in that I was in the middle of a six-year period between school and university that saw me doing various things. One was to go stay with a friend participating in UC Berkeley’s study abroad program in Padova. I slept on his floor for a couple of months, took Italian lessons (for the first time), and enjoyed getting to know various other young men and women, mostly women, of more or less my age at the time (early twenties). Yvonne was among the most cosmopolitan of this group; her mother was French and her father an important professor at the University. At the time I had no idea that I would eventually be, not important, but in any case a professor at a university. Yvonne’s family held delightful parties and apparently enjoyed gathering together both her local Padovan friends as well as some of the Americans on study abroad (and others as well including myself). That winter friendship in cold, damp, foggy Padova – I love Padova but it is unquestionably cold, damp, and foggy in winter unless climate change has altered that too - led to a summer invitation to sunny, warm Puglia where the family had a vacation home centered on a medieval tower, a masseria (the term used for farm in Puglia). It was a memorable stay as I enjoyed going the few miles either west to the Ionian or east to the Adriatic – there was a swimming pool too for morning swims – and taking part in their wonderful sociability. As I recall a long table hosted boisterous multi-generational meals complemented by local wine and their rich golden olive oil. I now saw the trees from which that intoxicating oil, first encountered in Padova, came. So now I head back to see Yvonne and her husband, those trees, and more generally revisit the Salento, the southern tip of Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot.

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