Sunday, 14 August 2011


She walked confidently out onto the veranda carrying her 2 year old, a beautiful black-eyed boy who wouldn't look out of place at an under-6's soccer game. She was wearing a pair of tiny shorts and a black singlet top with her name printed on it in silver cursive. I listened to her introduce herself loudly, though we'd met 3 times before, and then continue to speak at the top of her nasal voice. "Eat your meatballs" " What does a horsey say?" "Ah look, Baby! Coco is having her lunch from her Mama. Did you know milk comes out of there? Just like a bottle! To the rest of us: He's never seen that before..." To my mother-in-law "How old is she? Where is she from again? Wow, she's really pretty."


Later I was sitting on a fold-out chair in a square at Cisternino . Infront of me was a table filled with accessories made from wood, shells, coconut. Behind me, a shoe store that has not changed its stock in the 5 years we've been returning there, only its female shop assistants. This year's is a young single mother, who told me she was relieved to get the job, she'd been looking for ages and had been starting to get desperate.
"Are these rings really made of shell?" "Surely they must break as soon as you bump them on anything!" "Do I get a discount if I buy more than one?"
The same dialogue flows as the years before, puncuated this year by questions about the baby curled against my chest. How old she is, if she eats solids, what her name means. And then from behind me I hear a northern accent reprimanding her daughter. Telling her she is by no means, ever in her life, or at least while living under her Mother's roof, to buy a pair of plastic shoes. That if she were to a buy a pair of plastic shoes with her own money, those shoes would be given to the family dog to eat. Then she said two verbless sentences. "In ITALY. PLASTIC shoes." Then she shook her head in disgust. and THEN, just as she had skillfully sketched the most detailed verbal caricature of herself, her eyes fell on my feet, and then flicked (too late!) up to my face.
"I think these are rubber" I said proudly, of my black havianas.


We were invited to the wedding months ago and I had been looking forward to it, in a curious, masochistic kind of way. I'd planned a vintage nearly-maxi dress with hair down, and a pair of strappy stilettos bought a few years ago. The date rolled around and I barely had time to blowdry my hair. Actually it remained frizzy in the humidity, and I ended up wearing flat sandals. My sister-in-law was invited but didn't attend because a wedding gift of 200-300 euros per family is expected, and they had quite a few weddings that month. We just slipped 50 euros into my Mother-in-Law's envelope, we get away with skirting these kind of social expectations, somehow. Anyway, It was to be a simple, laidback affair. The bride is known as somewhat of a bohemian around these parts. I sipped a glass of champagne infront of the Bossa Nova group on arrival at the reception and fought with Salva about whether or not to strap Coco into the ergo. We sat upstairs with my brother-in-law and his wife. The food was grossly and hideously abundant. We only had room for the antipasti, but waited for the first and second dishes to be served, before slipping downstairs to say goodnight to the mother of the bride at half past midnight, planning to use the sleeping baby as an excuse.
"You don't leave before the cake. There's fruit, then cake, then little bon-bons, then you can say goodnight to the bride and groom, and THEN you can leave, otherwise they'll be offended"
My mother-in-law had seen us. We snuck away when she turned back to her friends at the table. Lucky it was such an informal celebration...


The English couple beside us in the bar arrived in a car with italian licence plates. A bit too old to be a rental. They are probably one of the many who have bought a villa in the country around here. They order "Duo Lemon Soda, Por favor", failing to put any Italian word into the sentence, not even the number. I thought they might have a place on the Costa del Sol too. Or they might just confuse Spanish and Italian with nothing as has been known to happen to the best of us. The summer is over but the days are still unbearably hot. We were sitting in the cafe on the edge of the village, looking out over a valley dotted with white farmhouse and trullos. Olive trees are everywhere here, even in the streets, and there is that noise in the air that is the noise of heat. I think it's cicadas. The baby is irritable. The English couple are glancing over, disturbed by her whining. I want to tell them that it's upsetting me more than them.


We arrived here in Puglia around the 27th of July, after a 3 day drive through Spain, France and Italy. After the first day's drive we stopped at some friend's place in a village near Toulouse. A two story farmhouse housing a percussionist, clarinet player, a skilled composer and at least one cat. We ate split pea soup and collapsed in their front room. The next morning Coco walked on a broken piano in their sunroom covered in red persian-style rugs, and we drove again until La Spezia.
We stayed with Salva's cousin, who we knew was in a rocky relationship with a married women from his appartment building. When we walked into the appartment, the walls were covered in highschool folder style grafitti. I won't go into details.
We left the next morning and drove like mad to the place we bought outside of Salva's hometown 2 years ago. It was pouring with rain, and 3 friends from Belgium, plus Salva's best friend from Argentina were waiting for us under the veranda, toasted caramel by the sun. We joked that they were Charlie and the three angels. They were drinking wine from a 5 litre carraffe they'd paid 2.70€ for. We drank a glass each. It wasn't that bad.

The angels left, and Charlie set up a tent outside under the olives and has been living there ever since, frequently visited by a couple of girls from Bari he met a few weeks ago. A couple of friends arrived from Rome with their 14 month old soon after. She is from Senegal. He was in Salva's class at school. The baby is divine, and speaks in code.
Then the band came. The percussionist, the bass player, and the band photographer. The pianist arrived from Sicily on the bus the morning after. So did the trumpet player, from Rome. Then the flautist arrived by plane. They spread themselves around the living room and the veranda. There were arguments, laughter, rum and tears. Broken love stories are everywhere, rotted by money problems.

Life rolls by for everyone in varying levels of intensity.


The camping guests change but their numbers don't seem to decrease. It's nearly time to go back to Spain and I'm thinking of the upcoming move, yoga classes, and going back to university. My brother is living in our apartment in Valladolid and the power has been cut off. He's had some good news, and some terrible news, all in one day. And the water is causing problems as well. I desperately want the house working for him but maybe the simplicity is what he needs right now. Two simple problems to resolve. We are half here, and half there. Longing to make something more from the space we own in this magic land, knowing at the same time that it's not possible yet. Autumn is coming. Changing everything. Baby is growing, blossoming as a part of this life we have. Rich and complex, multi-faceted. She wants to crawl so badly but she can't put the movements together. I wish she could understand me so I could explain what she needs to do. She grows so fast she can't possibly take in what is happening around her. So many languages. Too many emotions, personalities, stories. Too much life. We try to soak it up but the details come back in snippets. Salva and I rely on each other to make sure they are recorded. Stolen smiles behind the jewellry stall. Mimicked accents. clasping hands. Deep forward facing discussions in the car rides home each evening. Consolidating experiences. Making memories.