Driving through Puglia with the atlas on my lap, I saw that Ostuni was just a short hop off the highway. It was time for pranza so I convinced Jack to leave the highway and head for the town billed as “The White City”. I had read that contrasted with the blue of the sea Ostuni’s whiteness dazzles the senses. At this point we are starving and looking forward to a sea view restaurant perched on the hill.
“PULL OVER” I Shouted. “It’s Magical!”
From the bottom of the hill Ostuni is indeed glittering white and wonderful to see – postcard perfect. “Here it comes,” you’re thinking, “she is going to hit us with something not so nice.” You my faithful subscribers are brilliant and creative. Of course one cannot judge a book by it’s cover or a town by a view from afar. As Jack cursed Ostuni’s narrower than narrow streets and I stuck my head out the window looking for a restaurant, I heard a small child whisper in my ear. “Momma, can’t we paint our house red?” No kid you can’t. Cause this is the White City and the tourists would be pissed. All that white on white on white was BORING.
Off-white Works Too.
The only splashes of color in the town came from bright laundry fluttering in the breeze. I wonder if all that white makes people sterile? Suddenly, Jack – still searching the city for a restaurant – slammed on the brakes. I looked up and saw that the the teeny tiny street was blocked by a car driven by a young woman. She was obviously waiting for someone – I’m thinking her nonna or an invalid.
I say that dripping with sarcasm because we waited a good 5 minutes – never honking the horn – cause we’re nice.
Suddenly, a door popped open and a sweet young bimbo dashed out – her skirt so short I couldn’t figure out how she could sit without – well never mind. She waved a thanks to us and hopped in the car. UGGGGGG now I’m really not liking this town.
We couldn’t find a place to eat. We couldn’t find a place to park. We were becoming color-blind. The whiteness of it all was – well – just too white. We left and decided to take our chances with a tourist eatery on the gray highway.
Pontelandolfo’s major festa is TOMORROW! The Festa di San Donato is the cornerstone of our little town’s tourism drive. July 31 is the kick off and we will all be exhausted when the festa is over on August 7th. The finale is a concert with a headliner act and fireworks. The week long event has historically brought tourists and an infusion of cash into the town. I’m told that years past, buses of American tourists searching for their roots would roll in. The oldest church would be open – not with vendors but with artisans and purveyors of local wines and food products. This year, no one that I’ve asked as been able to tell me if that is happening. I’ve only been in the ancient church once, many years ago and would love to see the inside again.
This is a religious festival but I can’t find a thing on any poster or web-site about when there is a mass or the procession. As a matter of fact, the town web-site doesn’t even list the churches. How could that be?
I’m thinking that as much as I love this town, it is hard to attract tourists looking to “see something” – you know to check it off their list. Like the millions do that race through the museums in Florence and take a selfie with David. Due to lack of funds – everyone blames “i crisi” – the small local museum is closed. The library is closed. And listen to this travesty – years ago, one mayor sold the commune’s one major historic attraction – La Torre – for hardly any money to some out of towner. Now that is closed to tourists and it’s secret garden – well no one knows because you can’t get to it – but I’m betting weeds. The tower is the iconic image of the town. Good old Prince Landolfi probably lived there. Now, no one sees it. Uggg
This year, it looks like the town is prettying itself up for the week. I noticed men chopping down the weeds along the side of roads, the cement ditches are being cleaned.
Normally every morning men clean the streets and the piazzas but this week I sensed a new bounce in their steps.
There was a crew in front of Bar Mix Fantasy sculpting shrubs. I noticed new plants set up around the out door tables at Nonsolo Pizza. The portable tables and chairs are stacked by all the bars. The sun is shining and all hope it will shine from July 31 through August 7.
The other night we drove to Circello – a village about 30 minutes away and saw posters for the headlining acts plastered on walls. Every night of the celebration of San Donato there is something. (Could any of you good Catholics out there tell me what he is the special saint for? I spent an hour searching and couldn’t find anything related to this part of the world. One of the elders said that he was instrumental in stopping the plague here but that is all I got.) Here is this year’s line up. Tourists are already trickling in. Yesterday, I was standing at a bar having a caffè when a woman speaking the ancient dialect of the village – the first clue that it is an out of towner who had elders from here – picked up a candy and asked me if it had sugar. She couldn’t read the Italian. I asked her in English if she was American. She said, oh you don’t speak Italian. I responded in Italian that one candy didn’t have sugar and could I read the other. Are you proud of me? She and her husband were from Buenos Aires, Argentina. A good number of Pontelandolfesi immigrated to Argentina.
Today is Wednesday – market day – and I noticed a good number of folks I hadn’t seen before. One visitor, who was driving and staring at the vendors ran smack into a parked truck. Ooops! I’m told that many people come during festa time to visit their relatives. Not a bad idea! I tried to convince mine to come but didn’t have any takers.
With help from the producers and production companies that are providing the shows, Pontelandolfo is really trying to promote the events. Last Monday, July 28th, as part of the television program “UNOMATTINA Summer” on Raiuno the hosts interviewed the artistic director of the Award program “Hugh Gregory – Landulf d’Oro” (scheduled for July 31) and “Comicron”, the first international festival of short comedic films scheduled on August 4 and 5. That my friends, brings this year’s festa national attention. I’m hoping tons of people come and all of the businesses make a little extra money.
In this time of economic struggling, I kept asking folks who the hell was paying for all this. Everyone said, we are! I didn’t quite get it until two business owners explained it to me. A committee went door to door asking every citizen for a donation. Hey, as I used to tell my Arts Management students, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Folks are so proud of the festa that the majority gave what they could and were rewarded with a flier that listed the events. To be a sponsor and hang a banner cost about €200 per business. In other years, I’m told, it cost €500. Bottom line, everyone contributed to the best of their ability.
I’m excited to see and hear everything that will be going on. Of course nothing starts before 9:30 PM so a nap is important. Keep your eyes peeled because everyday, unless the late night partying is just too much for me, I’ll write a post about the event of the day. Please, please send me energy so I can send you stories!
If you can’t make it to Pontelandolfo, but can get to Connecticut, why not check out the next best thing San Donato Festival in the USA – Waterbury Connecticut http://www.ponteclub.com/festa-di-san-donato-2013/