June 7, 2011
Rode my bike to Calimera where there is the only bank in the area. Then I went to Caprarica di Lecce to see Monica's house. The place was completely shut down, not a single person in the town. A ton of old buildings that look abandoned...It's as if they modernize just enough to survive, but no more.
June 8, 2011
Rode my bike two hours to reach the Santa Maria della Grotta church, and of course there is no one here. It is as if the plague left homes never to be filled.
June 9, 2011
Went to Lecce to rent a car but they didn't have an automatic. Took two busses to train station, then a train to Otranto. I am here thinking I can maybe rent a car. It is 3:20 and most places are still closed (from lunch).
June 10, 2011
Rode bike to Galatina and got a flat. I randomly went into a gelateria and asked if anyone knew a place that rents automatic cars...Miraculously, the cashier knew someone. A woman quickly showed up with a Smart Car!
What the hell was I doing? I don't remember half of this. I do know that I didn't have a helmet and found myself on a highway more than once trying to make my way around these random towns in the Salento.
I was there for one month as part of an artist in residency in a one-church town called Martignano, an obscure place where ancient Greek words pepper their dialect. Like many of these southern Italian towns, the youth has emptied out, and in their stead remains incredible historic ruins, cats and old ladies dressed in black on their front stoops, listening to the Pope on the radio. It's not a stereotype.
I was struck by the abandoned beauty from village to town that bewitches people like my friend Monica and her husband Marcello. They found a ruin in one of these asleep towns and reincarnated it into a masterpiece. Unfortunately, as you step outside those magical doors, the silence can't be escaped.
Don't get me wrong, the region is spectacular, with their mysterious Trulli dwellings, pristine olive oil and vegetation that seems to shimmer in metallic tones. The whitewashed Greek-like towns, still not overly tread, feel genuine in a way only hard-to-reach places can. The winding lanes up ancient roads and intrinsically soothing color palette inspire a multitude of Pinterest users to save their likeness.
I was the jerk who thought riding a bike to nearby towns was somehow going to hurl me deeper into a culture; instead I found a lot of closed churches and quasi-abandoned cultural centers. But, I wouldn't trade those rides for anything. They made the trips to the overflowing flea markets in the region even more rewarding. The lace I found, circular and flower-like, reminds me of the roundabouts I raced around so the sun wouldn't set on me, and that in the end, things do seem to work out. I still think that Smart Car appearance was a minor miracle.