This past weekend was one of the funnest, and most relaxing short trips I’ve had in a long time. One of my best and oldest friends, Martha, rented a villa in Puglia and invited us down to join her and her family for a few nights.
One of the reasons that it was so much fun (besides my loving to spend time with Martha, Avrum, Chuck and Deena) was the fact that I didn’t have to do any planning what-so-ever. Not only was the ‘where’ taken care of (and the villa they rented was beyond incredible) Martha and Deena had figured out the ‘what’ as well.
When I travel I am usually doing it for work or with my family, or both. Either way usually involves lots of planning on my part so that we can get the most out of every minute. This means tons of research, organization and emailing pre trip. Some of this has to do with the fact that I like being in charge. Yes, I’ve got a strong streak of control freak running through my veins.
But lately, as I get older, the idea of just letting go and going along for the ride is one of the most luxurious things I can think of. Part of it is because it’s nice to stop over thinking once in a while.The other part is the possibility of being completely surprised. So arriving off the train in Brindisi, and having not much idea what we’d be up to was my idea of heaven.
Both Martha and Dena are not only excellent trip planners and researchers, they also love ceramics and so, being in Puglia, I knew this was going to be high on their list. But by the time I had arrived on Friday I found out that they had already visited Grottaglie, one of the biggest ceramic centers in the south. “But don’t worry,’ Martha explained to me, “Tomorrow we are going to go to Cutrofiano.”
I’d never heard of the town, but I was up for the drive through the beautiful countryside and of course thought that if I could buy a plate or two, that would be a plus.
When we arrived at Cutrofiano it was, at first, kind of what I expected. This area of Puglia, the Salento, is a study in contrasts. On the one hand you can stumble upon achingly beautiful, small, white-washed towns like Otranto, Ostuni and Ceglie Mesapica. But there is a lot of ugliness as well, with whole villages that look like they were designed by….well, that looked like they weren’t designed at all. Just bad, ugly construction that has gone up in the last fifty years and now calls itself a town.
Cutrofiano looked like it was pretty much going to be an ugly washout.
We parked the car and headed to the one ceramic store we saw at the crossroads. Full of boring looking dishes and terra cotta pots, it was nothing to get excited about. When we asked the owner if there was a center of town, he replied not really. And when asked if there were other ceramic stores, he again replied in the negative. But finally, as we were leaving the store, to try to explore on our own, he admitted that ‘there was one more place, about 50 meters up the road.’
And this is what we found.
Mr. Coli, making ceramics, as his family has been doing for the last 200 years or so.
As he worked on a bowl, we were invited to visit the store behind the workshop. Urns, plates, bowls, jugs and just about anything else you could form out of ceramic were piled high on metal shelves, in cardboard boxes and on the tiled floor. It was a ceramic junkies dream come true.
As Martha and Dena dug through the piles, I snapped a few photographs and tried to chat with Mr. Coli. He was having none of it. He was pleasant, but he also made it very clear he had work to do.
When we had finally gathered up the platters and jugs we wanted to buy, he wiped his hands, wrapped up our pieces, took our money, and continued working.
Just as he had all his life.
Via Roma 63
Cutrofiano , Lecee
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