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Salento Diary

The Salento has apparently become a hot tourist attraction in the past decade or so. No wonder given the beauty of the countryside and beaches. It seems though to still be pretty sleepy in the off season. Shops close of course at mid day and the town centers (see Casarano below) feel more or less deserted in those hours. Like the quiet beach I visited on Sunday, it is hard to imagine those same centers crawling with vacationers in July and August. In the 1930s and beyond Puglia grew huge amounts of tobacco (something I mention of course in Fumo) and while last I checked Italy remains Europe’s leading

producer of tobacco, there is little of it left in the Salento. Perhaps the tobacco fields were converted to olives which now dominate the landscape (and probably always have). I’ve only started to explore that landscape but the variety is remarkable. There are groves of young trees recently planted and others whose twisted massive trunks date back hundreds of years (here they claim even more than a thousand). The vanguard are of course choosing to produce organic (biologico in Italian which certainly makes as much sense as organic) olives and oil. Those groves are green now with undergrowth. Some, including my hosts, are countering the now universal trend to monoculture and planting stands of wheat or rows of tomatoes in the lanes of their groves. More “traditional” groves use herbicides and, except for the trees, resemble the surface of a championship clay tennis court. This is the period for pruning. Some have finished that work while others are still in the thick of it (see photos). Other groves instead are abandoned or at least untended with dozens of shoots coming up from the trunks and a tangled crown.

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