Wednesday, August 03, 2011


Galatina’s Basilica di Santa Caterina has the most vivid frescoes I’ve ever seen, and for this fact alone I can’t understand why the town doesn’t draw more people.  I went back twice to see them all.  Galatina is a pleasant little town in its own right, but perhaps there just isn’t enough to keep tourists occupied.  It is certainly quiet.  So quiet, in fact, that between the hours of 12.30pm and 4.30pm it is actually closed. 

I wandered within the small boundary of the old town for hours and found no one but a few stragglers.  I was completely puzzled.  I asked the guy at the hotel about it and he told me this is the region’s four-to-five-hour-long siesta.  “It’s too hot to stay open,” he said.  I think it was about 28°C.

These hours are when I’m at my most mobile, exploring places I am passing through, but all the small towns of Salento close.  Even the restaurants!  I don’t know how people eat.  Apparently they sleep.  And when, starving, I find a place miraculously open at 3pm, they say lunch is over and they’re no longer serving food.

That night in Galatina I ate at one of the best restaurants on the entire trip – not because of the standard of the food, but because of the experience.  I saw the sign for La Tana del Lupo in an alley near my hotel earlier in the day.  When dinner time came, then, I walked straight in through the door and almost turned over tables, plates and guests.  There were exactly four tables, one free, in a living room.  There was a kitchen two paces away, I think there was a broom closet with a toilet in it, and that was it.  There wasn’t even room for a menu.  I sat down and the waiter (who is the cook’s husband) brought me bottled water and a stoppered bottle of rosé and asked me if I was very hungry or just a little.  That’s the choice: apart from this, you get what you’re given.  Which is wonderful southern Italian home cooking.

The living room had a vaulted ceiling, and the walls were filled with family photos, bottles of wine, pewter jugs, dried chilis, paintings, and shelves of curios and ornaments.  Two families somehow fit at two of the other tables, and there was a solo bloke behind me in the corner.  The animated husband moved between the tables and spoke to the diners, regaling everyone with funny stories (I assume, since everyone was laughing).  He spoke a little broken English with me and I a little broken Italian with him, and then plates came: cold antipasto (pickled onions, zucchini and eggplant in olive oil, soft cheese), then hot antipasto (fritters of vegetables and a bacon-flavoured egg frittata), then handmade pasta shells in broccoli sauce (scuisito!), then veal meatballs in tomato sauce, and beef in jus.  Dessert is watermelon, and then for aperitif I’m offered coffee or limoncello.  I ask for the limoncello and am given a half-full corked glass bottle from the freezer of the bright yellow liquid, thick and alcoholic, and a shot glass.  It would be all but impossible, especially after a litre of wine, but I could have sat and finished it if I wanted to.  And all this for a flat €25.  AND as I walked out the husband gave me a bottle of wine!

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