Now comes part 3 of the story. This is my little depiction of life in Puglia, Italy. I mean this is what life is about for me.
AWAY WE GO-----
The food at Alle due Corti is simply sublime. Ciceri e Tria is basically one part hand-rolled pasta made into a stretched and imperfectly alternating fat and short noodle that is boiled in salted water like any other pasta then tossed together with one part of the same type of pasta that has been pan-fried in olive oil. This amazing juxtaposition of textures is then combined with a very simple sauce of chickpeas and a bit of garlic.
This dish is rustic beyond reproach and at the same time there is very little pasta I would take in its stead. There is an obvious umami component in the balance of natural acidity in the oil, the salty gritty taste of al dente cooked chickpeas, and the simply perfect crunch, then squish, then crunch again of the unique pasta itself.
The lady that runs the joint has clearly spent way more time in the kitchen than on the decor, and if that stops you from being interested in dining here, please do us all a favor and don't travel south of Rome because the only Michelin stars in this part of the world are the tires of some Cretinocicleta (douche bag Ducati and creative license with the Italian) that is parked in front of the ROMA 2000 bar in Monopoli while the owner preens about in "that" jacket and "that" haircut spending daddy's money and taking up sidewalk space otherwise used by working people and families.
Puglia is not for the Italy novice. People do not speak much English, and sometimes not much Italian either. One of my colleagues who works for an authentic tour operator in Puglia recently had a client engage her in the following dialog at the end of the orientation chat she gives all her guests:
Client: so what language do they speak here in Puglia?
Colleague: You mean what is the local dialect?
Client: No, what is the day-to-day spoken language in this region?
Colleague: (sheepishly with surprise) Italian
Client: (without acknowledgement of the information) How would I ask for still water at a restaurant here in Puglia?
Colleague: Acqua naturale...
Client: Oh, I thought I could simply just ask for Acqua con panna
Colleague: Well, that would actual mean, water with whipped cream
Client: Well, that is what it says on all the bottles of still water I drink here
Colleague: (with growing indignation)I think that may be the brand of Italian water you are getting.
Client: I am reading a book right now about Campania (Italian region of Naples fame) and I heard they speak a Slavic language there.
Colleague: (trying hard not to be a bitch) Well, I am pretty sure they speak Italian there as well.
Client: In my book they speak a Slavic language in Campania.
Colleague: (no longer filtering ) Well, this is not Campania, this is Puglia. They speak Italian here and if you ask for Acqua con Panna you will get really strange looks and likely a glass of water topped with whipped cream. If you have other questions please feel free to call me while you are on your bikes this week (not meaning a word of it).
So, if you did not know that Italian is the official language of Italy and that Acqua Panna is a brand of water; well, now you do.
So, completely stuffed and still sweating from our pre-lunch sunshine hide and seek we left Alle due Corti with the usual pleasantries and promises of returning soon that always accompany an exit from any Italian building. Basically if you do not say hello and goodbye when encountering Italian people in a shop, restaurant, jail cell, or drug deal gone bad, it is a crime worse than calling them a bum, calling their family useless, or spitting on a priest. Do not, under any circumstances forget to say hi and bye to an Italian or you will get the stink-eye and be the butt of jokes and scandal for days, and possibly forever. I am not kidding, the difference between ciao and NO ciao could mean your longterm happiness in Italy.
I am almost always a bit annoyed with the first 15 minutes of any meal in Italy as it is clear the staff and owners usually believe I am just another nuisance to their already busy day and it is usually after several courses and some decent wine are ordered that the restaurant folks are willing to let me into the outer circle of trust. This circle of trust can be a bit of a chess match to prove my worth, but by the time the meal is over, my appetite, curiosity, and deference to the genius of the cook has usually landed me at least a polite chat and a better than half-hearted smile on the way out the door.
We made our way through the empty streets of Lecce (this town is like Invasion of the Body Snatchers at lunchtime, I swear) for an Iced Almond Milk Coffee (Caffè in ghiaccio con latte di mandorla) which is basically like a little espresso with a cold shot of sweetened almond milk that is stirred over ice. This little sugary caffeine jolt is just what we needed to make the final rounds of Leccese architecture before we hit the train back to the office in Monopoli.
It was still ass-hot and I was saying quiet prayers for the AC to be functional on the train. As we hustled back to the Lecce station my buddy's very pale head was taking on a noticeably pink hue. The Ferrovie dello Stato(Italian train system) gods were with us, and the train car, while smelling vaguely of shit (shout out to David Mamet), was at least a comfortable climate controlled cabin for enjoying the occasional whiff of dook (pronounced Duke) on our 1 hour and 45 minute ride back to Monopoli.
We arrived back in Monopoli, still full from lunch, coffee, and a few sweets. We desperately needed "before birthday dinner and disco" naps. Sadly, I will be the first to admit I am not good at all with walking directions, and my ineptitude reared its ugly head (again) at the worst possible moment as we made a series of wrong turns on our way from the Monopoli train station back to the office.
Meanwhile, my buddy's pink head was moving step by step towards Lobsterville until he eventually threatened a small bar owner with a vitriolic American moment if he did not sell us his last three waters, including one that was completely frozen. Lobsterhead wore the frozen bottle like a necklace for the next 2000 meters.
After a few more poor choices by yours truly we at long last, found the office. Tired, full, and weary from a day of decadence and wrong roads, we walked into the office and were greeted immediately by a cat-shit surprise waiting just inside the office door in the makeshift litter box. The office cat is a subject for many chapters and I will leave it here for now saying simply, that outside of a mass grave at close range, I am pretty sure warm cat shit is the worst smell on planet Earth, and when one is right on the border of heat exhaustion and the natural tendency for nausea that goes with that, a furry feline fecal deposit is not a warm welcome (pun completely intended) especially when the office team was waiting for us, smiled, and asked "Are you guys excited about dinner?"
(to be continued)