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Salento Diary (Salve)

Sunday I enjoyed another example of the sort of grassroots organization that seems to characterize a new generation of salentini. I attended a cultural event in Salve, one of the Salento’s nearly 100 small towns (each with its own piazza and cathedral of course). A group called La Scatola di Latta, or the Tin Can, organizes regular (once or twice per month) cultural outings like this one and apparently for the simple pleasure of doing it (they have a Facebook page where if you look hard you can find a couple of images of me and a musical excerpt as well). I counted about 100 participants on a cold cloudy Sunday afternoon. The first step was to visit the Salve cathedral and hear a brief recital on its beautiful organ, built in the 1620s and the oldest functioning organ in Puglia (played by Gilberto Scordari, a native of Lecce with an international career). The trip would have been worth it just for that. Then we toured through the town visiting a couple of churches and other noteworthy buildings punctuated by a brief poetry reading and then a short story at a hypogean frantoio. That latter is worth describing. These are olive presses that are carved out of the rock underground. Salve apparently had over 20 of them. The subterranean location served to provide steady temperatures and also made it easy to drop the harvested olives down hatches directly into the presses. They also provided secure spaces where the precious oil could be protected from theft. It is hard to believe but workers and animals lived in these frantoii for six months at a stretch; the story in fact described such a situation. We also saw a documentary on the disaster of “industrial zones” created in Puglia and much of southern Italy in the 1970s. Intended to promote industry in the still predominantly agricultural South, most of these now consist of abandoned concrete buildings and vast stretches of asphalt. Not to end on a depressing note, we proceeded to a nearby osteria for food wine. Not only though as several members of the group brought an accordion, guitar and tamburo and proceeded to play and sing for hours. See Facebook for a clip. It is hard to capture the spirit of the experience in words, but this anecdote may help. At one point, one young woman protested against plagiarism on the part of the Gallipoli faction (Gallipoli is less than 40 km to the north); it seems they have their own lyrics for the same tune. The gathering broke up just past midnight.

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