We are home from Puglia – the most Madonna-ishplace to be this summer, in all senses of the word. It was, obviously, really great. Food and wine and figs and aperol spritzes and marble-floored slippery towns and little scenes like this everywhere:
As well as a dazzling array of pork products. Oh, preserved meat! Oh how you make a buttery crusty roll so toothsome and salty and delicious! The gelato was cheap and everywhere, which was lucky because the rules are to have one a day every day of a holiday – two euro for proper non-wafery cones and two scoops piled into the top – all chocolate and cinnamon custard and pistachio and strawberry and fig.
There were massive dogs everywhere, all allowed into cafes where the lattes were one euro and the croissants were cut open with scissors and slathered in warmed vats of nutella. That kind of national, cultural endorsed nutella usage makes you realise that guilt over nutella needs to be consciously discarded, along with device-usage guilt, drinking-at-lunchtime guilt, and taking-too-long-to-take-kids-to-the-a&e guilt. Life is simply too short.
The women were kind of squat, the nonnas uniformly dressed well and in pucci-esque prints, and the beaches were filled with women of all ages and sizes wearing bikinis with the bottoms cut into their bum cheeks, halfway between full bottom pants and a string. Like this, in fact:
(I drew that)
So it was really great to see all these wobbling bronzed healthy women hanging out at the beach in their bikini all looking normal and non-anxious about their bits. And I also wore my bikini there and sashayed around and ate mucho pasta and kept up a steady diet of lunchtime prosecco and didn’t feel bad at all. Thank you, Italy, for your kindness towards normal women looking normal in their normal beach attire and for helping me feel that food and appetites are really ok. I got brown, hardly cooked, read four books (The Essex Serpent, Golden Hill, The Dry and PopCo) and from the monthly sprawling antique markets bought four silk quilts, murano glass, a vintage silk nightdress (made by someone with massive boobs which on me billows out and sags as it catches on my craggy lonely tiny embonpoint), and a white embroidered collared blouse which I think might make me look like Gwyneth Paltrow in The Talented Mr Ripley. Maybe. Possibly. Not really. The flea markets looked like this:
It Wasn’t All Japes Though
The first week we swelled to a group of 13, with two other families coming along – baffling the local restaurant with our overexcited late night dinners where the kids got a bit feral and broke chairs and attacked the gardens. One night though, we drove out in our three cars to a beach town an hour away to catch the circus and meet up with a family we had met on the plane over. I was in charge of one car, which was generally horrible and traumatising because of the driving on the other side of the road and my total lack of spatial awareness – it was all a bit WHOA SORRY ABOUT GETTING TOO CLOSE TO THAT ANCIENT WALL and sweating and swearing and of course low batteries while google mapping on our phones and sleepy kids trying to navigate but falling asleep and other terrifying and dangerous car-related whatnot. So this night we drive to Torre Ovo, which was like an Italian Blackpool, and we go swimming and Mark and Noah take off snorkelling. I am left holding the towels and spare clothes while everyone else finds a nicer part of the beach. I sat for a bit, waiting for Mark and Noah to come back but Mark doesn’t just snorkel for half an hour, say, but hours and hours…once he is in, you just have to wait and hang out by yourself and get a bit annoyed. It’s a years-old problem. So I finally get up and meet the others at the nicer part and then we all decide to get moving – we have to find somewhere to eat in amongst the shouty Italians and then get to the circus in time, and so Amanda and Charlotte take the kids and I wait for the snorkelers and then we see Mark coming up the beach and I say THANK GOODNESS HURRY UP ITS SO BORING WAITING FOR YOU WITH YOUR INFERNAL SNORKELLING NEEDS and he says: Where is Noah?
I say: I DONT KNOW! You had him!
He says: I sent him up out of the water half an hour ago.
And I say: YOU GO FIND HIM THEN! YOU HAVE VERY POOR HAND-OVER SKILLS! And so Mark takes off, down one side of the beach and I take off in another, and the light is fading and it feels like maybe, finally, Noah’s ability to get lost and nearly die from things might have caught up with him…and then about fifteen minutes later I see him ambling along the beach from the opposite direction, looking quite relaxed. I run to him and grab him and say that I am very glad to see him again because, you know, you could have drowned/been ambling in the wrong direction until dark and then been lost and frightened with no Italian to help you and a total inability to be streetwise about this sort of thing, etc etc and we race off to the pizzeria where everyone else is. The margarita pizzas were 3.50 euro which is nice, but everyone is going a bit mental, fighting over pizza slices and knocking over chairs and sweating, and it is time to go.
So we get to the circus a few streets away, meet up with the other family we met on the plane and sit and wait for it to start at 10pm, which feels too late to be staying up and all very ethically compromising. Eventually out come the scantily-clad ladies doing hula-hooping/pole dancing, the men in shiny white tight suits with massive chins doing juggling, then a terrible clown and some loud singing and more see-through dresses and jiggly boobs and the heat, the heat! Then after a pony trick and dancing horses, the saddest elephant in the world comes out and sprays water at the clown and it feels like a kind of funeral. An hour later it seems over but no! It’s only an interval! One in which you can climb onto the sad elephant and take a photo for a fiver. All these mahogany-coloured Italian kids and massive fat men climb on to the elephant and we watch on, saddened, and decide to leave because of the long drive home and the potential burgeoning asthma attack caused by the straw and the heat and the elephant melancholia. Out we all go into the dark, get into the cars, and we race off in different directions because of the low battery GPS situations. Twenty minutes into the drive home, I get a call from the woman I met on the plane. She is still at the circus and has Noah with her.
Which is like…OF COURSE SHE HAS BECAUSE OF COURSE THAT KID IS LOST. Apparently, he was in the queue for the elephant by himself when we left, and none of us noticed. He got his turn on the elephant, presumably looked around for us atop the poor thing, got off the elephant, wandered around for a bit, sat down, watched more of the second half of the circus, went outside, sat down by the bar and waited for us to come. The woman we met on the plane happened to go outside by the bar to breastfeed her baby and saw Noah, called us, and he went with them and watched the lions while we came back.
WHAT IF SHE WASNT THERE?
I LEFT MY SON AT THE CIRCUS AT MIDNIGHT AT AN ITALIAN BLACKPOOL!
So we raced back, knocking over a few street signs, and then my phone went dead so we had to find them, because they were at the *other* gelateria, weren’t they? And we got home at 2am and I drank a good sized amount of primitivo to settle my nerves.
Noah says it was our fault. Here we were, before Noah got lost twice:
So, anyway, like I say – it wasn’t all japes. But mostly it was.
Christ! Scary times. Maybe consider reins for Noah a la toddlerdom? They be inconvenient but surely better than two almost-nearly heart attacks in one evening. Glad the rest of your trip went swimmingly though – Italy’s just magical, isn’t it? We’ve had to sacrifice our potential holiday to Sorrento this year because my husband’s learning to drive at the grand old age of 38. However, I am already scouting around for May next year.
It was a bit terrifying. Wondering how that kid will survive at his new massive secondary school that starts on Monday?