Friday, July 29, 2011

Otranto, Italy

A night ferry took me from the west coast of Greece to the heel of Italy, a country where at last I could at least fumble my way through the language.  I had a a four-bed shared cabin booked (in fact, I had two; the previous one sailed while I was in Santorini), but I was the only one in it.  High season in Europe is funny.  It’s busy everywhere, except for little undiscovered pockets.

An eight-hour journey and a six-hour sleep got me to Brindisi at 7am, where I picked up a rental car and headed south.  My first night was nearly spent in the car in Otranto, a popular destination on Puglia’s eastern coast, where six hotels turned me away.  It was a Saturday and I didn’t have a reservation.  I finally found a decent place with a room, the friendly Hotel Minerva, on a side street for €75.  I showered and changed out of shorts and into jeans and wandered into the old town for dinner.

I was heading to a simple pizzeria by the Porta Terra which was recommended in my guidebook, but was arrested at the Piazza del Popolo by two guitarists, a female singer and some cool bossa nova.  All passers-by were stopping to listen, lingering and applauding, and when a prime table was vacated just as I arrived I took it as a cue that this was where I should eat tonight.  They were so good.  I could have closed my eyes when they did The Girl From Ipanema and believed I was watching Antonio Carlos Jobim and João and Astrud Gilberto.  The lead guitarist was a lefty, and not only did he play a right-handed guitar upside-down à la Jimi Hendrix, but it was strung upside-down as well, standard for a right-handed player, which means he deliberately learned all his chords and scales inverted!  Very strange.  And he was really good.

Otranto’s Spanish-built and sympathetically restored castle is today used as a gallery, where the next day I enjoyed a Salvador Dalí exhibit.  I’m usually ambivalent about Dalí and the surrealist movement of the 1930s, but this was sculpture, etchings and sketches from later in his life.

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