Dinner, when it's served (quite late, regardless of season), it will begin with an aperitivo (a fortified wine, most likely, slightly sweet, quite aromatic, or a glass of sparkling wine), followed by three or four seasonal antipasti. Then the pasta, which in this region (the heel of Italy's boot) is often oricchiette (little ears), handmade and dried in the open air along the backstreets of both big cities like Bari and provincial towns like Ostuni (where we found that doorway). Perhaps there will also be fish, perhaps meat. Certainly a dessert, often followed by an amaro, the slightly bitter, stomach-settling counterpart to the aperitivo you sipped when dinner began, hours ago.
What brings all this to mind is an article in this weekend's New York Times about travels to a remote part of Puglia called the Gargano Peninsula. Now, Puglia itself is already "beyond the map, off the grid" to most international travelers, so Gargano is virtually unknown...except to budget-minded Italian tourists.
My most recent trip to Italy this summer was to the prosperous north: the fashion capital of Milan, the elegant vineyards of Franciacorta, the glitzy playgrounds of the Alpine lake country. But last November, for a travel-trade seminar in Puglia's capital of Bari, I did get to the fringes of the Gargano National Park. Visiting the Castel Sant'Angelo, where the Archangel Michael was said to have found refuge, it was cold and dark, and the beachfront campers had long gone back to their home fires. Still, there was marinated octopus salad from local waters, a hearty dishes like braised lamb shanks (for lunch, for lunch!). Excellent red wines from Puglia, too, notably the primitivo, a genetic twin to California's zinfandel.
Writing about that trip last year, I introduced Nichi Vendola, the popular governor of Puglia. An earring-wearing member of the left-wing Green party, he has a wider vision than most: he sees Puglia--a 45-minute flight from Rome--as a gateway to the eastern Mediterranean; its stones speak many languages, its olive trees outnumber its citizens by 12 to 1. His deputy for tourism, Silvia Godelli, speaks of the region's attractions: its light, its flavors and smells, its antiquities. But only 25,000 of Puglia's half-million visitors are Americans; it's not an easy sell.
The New York Times article will make it easier, though. With rare exceptions, Americans don't want to go places no one's ever heard of; part of the fun of travel is hearing the neighbors go "Ooooh!" when you tell them where you went, where you stayed, and what you ate.