My children’s nonni (Italian for grandparents) were from Puglia, the heel of the Italian boot, in Italy’s sun-bleached south. With its creamy white beaches, fields of figs and olives, and rustic-yet-glorious cuisine, Puglia is beloved by Italians – and increasingly foreigners – as a summer escape: my in-laws helped me to discover its heart.
Anna and Marcello first met as teenagers on the train on their way to school. Marcello’s father was a farmer, one of seven brothers who stare fiercely out of a black-and-white family photograph that looks as if it were taken in the Wild West: wiry, tanned men in vests, shirts and braces.
I was told that Marcello inherited his piercing blue eyes from his mother, who shyly looks out of the Wild West photograph too, and was, I was told, beautiful, with ‘eyes like a cat’.
Anna’s father had died in Russia in the Second World War when she was just a baby, (‘Imagine,’ she said, with characteristic grace, ‘he was from Puglia and this heat, and dying in the snow’).
Her redoubtable mother Ines – a single mother in patriarchal post-war southern Italy – went on to run a seafront nightclub, where she kept a knife under the counter to ward off any difficult customers.
For 14 years, I have visited Puglia every summer, staying in a villa built on the site of Ines’s long-gone disco. It’s at Campo di Mare, a seen-better-days coastal resort near Brindisi….
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