I have fallen for Puglia. Big time. Perhaps because most people don’t even know where it is, perhaps because of its lushness, perhaps its food, perhaps its people. I want to go back - soon, this summer, tomorrow.
Puglia, FYI, is the heel of Italy. It’s not easy to get to but harder to leave. Puglia is also the garden of Italy with olives as its key product. The people of Puglia say their region has three seas: the Adriatic Sea, the Ionian Sea and the olive sea. I like that and they’re not wrong.
There are sixty million olive trees in Puglia, one for every Italian, and I think I saw at least a million of them. Some are a thousand years old! I love olives. I love olive oil. I love Puglia.
We were there because Mr Carmichael did a very good job at his job in 2013 and this was his reward. I got to tag along. I’m a good tagger-alonger, always up for an opportunity to accompany almost anybody.
Dropped in the most exquisite Borgo Egnazian accommodation we were fed, watered, wined and entertained for five days. I got to make pasta and more importantly got to eat it too.
I am now on a diet. Well, I will be on Monday once I’ve cooked and eaten all the pasta I brought home. I discovered that not all Chardonnay is ghastly. Pulian Chardonnay is fantastico. I made sure I drank lots of it and took photos of the labels for restocking purposes.
Obviously I tried the rose and the reds as well. It would have been churlish not to.
I had this with the rose.
And this just before a wobbly bike ride back to the hotel and a well deserved nap.
I visited Ostuni (a fortified white town with a Baroque cathedral) where I seem to have taken 37 photos of doors.
Somebody stop me!
In Ostuni, I devoured my second gelato in two days (arrrgh). The café had a bordelloish quality to its decoration, which I appreciated (almost as much as the ice cream).
And then we moved here for our last night. British Airways doesn’t think anyone wants to fly to/from Puglia on a Sunday and for that I thank them.
Here, Teo opened the restaurant at lunch time just for us (even though it wasn’t May yet) and we slept under blankets crocheted by an 85 year old woman with extreamly nimble fingers.
The Masseria Ceravolo is a gem and a heartfelt recommendation for when you are no longer on the company buck.
I love Puglia and shall return sooner rather than later. Grazie mille, Puglia.
Monday, our plan was to visit the world renowned Majorelle Gardens (owned by Yves since 1980) in the am and to ‘get lost in the souk’ post lunch.
The plan went to plan.
Sometime the evening previous, we had been renamed by our porter. Thus Fatima (yea, not yours truly), Aisha and Leila jumped a cab to view some greenery.
Jacques Majorelle laid out twelve acres of stunning in the 1920′s just beyond the medina in Marrakech.
Yves St Laurent made it more so. He lived here and his ashes still do.
The coffee was yum, the café’s environs beautiful and the price, most acceptable.
The silk scarf I bought in homage to Yves, not quite as cheap but really, really nice. Thankfully, I’d forgotten my wallet so Fatima paid for it.
Declining the kind offer of a guided tour of Morocco from our taxista, we returned to the riad for our midday repast. Diverted by, I cannot for the life of me remember what, we veered confidently into souk outskirts for a quick recce (trans: recon) in advance of the main event – getting lost later.
We even ventured into a nice man’s shop. So nice was he in fact, we accepted his generous and one off offer, to show us Berber women making carpets. Was it the promise of chin tattoos that attracted us, his ruggard good looks or just an overabundance naive innocence? Goodness only knows, but as the ‘just round the corner’ walk grew into something more, we contemplated escape.
Why did we not escape? Too British? Hey, I’m not even British.
Through the wooden door, down two flights of stairs, along corridors, alleyways and through people’s living rooms we went in search of bearded carpet makers.
Fatima assured us she knew where we were and how we were getting out. Aisha needed the loo and I was just trying to keep my borrowed zebra print, slip on shoes, on.
We were introduced to our fifth Mustafa. This one was dressed in a suit and indicated he would take us to the tattoo bearded ladies who were working their fingers to the bone, for one day only, nearby.
Up two flights of spiral stairs, we arrived here:
Nary a female in sight, let alone one working (with full tattooed beard) on our rugs. Trapped for the duration we drank our mint tea (Aisha only a sip due to bulging bladder) and resigned ourselves to the presentation. The presentation was vigorous and lengthy and full of carpeting.
Apparently they ship anywhere in the world.
Unfortunately, while Aisha got less and less comfortable I, Leila, encountered a moment of enjoyment and asked the price of an orange (my favourite colour) rug.
Let the hard sell begin. With a swift face change, Mr Suit’s patter altered and I managed to get the priced reduced from £800.00 to £200.00 (p and p inc) without opening my bouche. Where we would have ended up I do not know but by this stage Fatima was corralling our full bladdered friend towards the door.
In a last ditch attempt to part me (or Fatima because, of course, I still didn’t have my wallet) from diram, Mr Must Be Very Hot In This Outfit blocked my exit and whispered with steely eye, close breath and a transparent motive, “I can smell your money”.
Just ever so tadaliciously freaky!
We left with alacrity, heading back the way we’d come, Fatima in the lead.
Who remembers the movie, ‘Don’t Look Now’?
She, Fatima, did not have a red coat and, yes, is a smitch larger but the atmosphere was more than similar. More similar when we found the door out, locked. Back through someone’s house we traipsed. More lanes and alleyways later, we realised Mr Suit was going to get another crack at us. We had no choice.
With a dismissive hand he waved us on and into the souk proper.
No lunch, one very full bladder and sore feet – we had got our wish. We were lost in the souk big time. Hours before schedule.
Kind men directed us whichever way they chose.
“Look at my slippers/ handbags/pouffs as seen in Graham and Green,” they chanted.
Some of the product was actually very nice but we had no time – lunch, bladder, blisters, pressing concerns.
Eventually we made it into the ‘security’ of the Djemma el Fna with it’s snakes and nappied ( trans: diapered) monkeys. From here we hobbled homeward, hours late and sporting a few more stress induced grey hairs.
The Moroccan vin blanc, most welcome. It tasted lovely. Relaxed, we planned our dinner venue and menu.
Fatima took direction to our restaurant of choice, a mere five to ten minute walk away.
Would you be surprised to hear that we mislaid said restaurant and its famed lamb tagine?
Once again, Fatima, Aisha and Leila were lost in the souk.
No generic hotels for Mrs Carmichael and her musketeers on their well planned break in Continent Africa. No,no, no we chose to hit the medina hard and booked a riad right in the beating heart of Marrakech.The sensurround experience was what we craved; the sensurround experience was what we got. It would be fair to say that all of our senses were well and truly assaulted in this three day, three night adventure.
Slightly worse the wear from a vino overdose in Premier Inn’s finest offering at Gatwick the night before and a very early wake up call, Gracie and I met K……in a North Terminal lounge for orange juice, coffee and no champagne! Sometimes our restraint is simply magnificent. K……and Gracie relented on the EasyJet flight adding prosecco to their cheesy nibbles. I still felt ever so slightly ill thus found it easy to take the higher moral (and sober) ground.
With nary a diram between us (multiple cashpoint malfunction at airport) we were deposited outside a gate by Mohammed, our taxi driver and escorted by a man with a wheelbarrow (for our suitcases) across a crazy road (think cars, mopeds, donkeys, horse and carts and people, people, people) and into the labyrinth that is Marakech’s medina.
The sun shone, the the sky was blue, this was Africa.
We awaited our upgraded rooms (top floor suites/private terraces – note to self: involve more travel companies in future holiday bookings) in the company of George, Georgina and Georgette, Riad Sebban’s resident tortoises and a glass or two of mint tea.
In our linen/cotton ensembles, we hit the Djemaa el Fna (Marra’s main square and must go tourist destination). Hmmm. Here are some things to avoid in the Djemaa:
Making eye contact with bracelet/toy/tat sellers #askingfortrouble.
Getting diram from a cashpoint machine while being sold bracelets/toys/tat #askingfortroubledouble.
Taking photos #reallyaskingfortrouble.
Having a snake put round your neck #sososoaskingfortroubleinohsosomanyways.
Apart from that the views sipping more mint tea, as the sun went down, were stunning and no trouble at all.
I began to develop a blister from my unworn for six month flip flop toe thong.
We all felt like a pre-prandial and decamped back to the riad for a glass or three of Moroccan vin blanc. The local wine is very nice and very reasonable. We decided to drink loads of it. My blister and its little brother had come on apace. Thankfully both K…..and Gracie had brought plasters for me to use up over the next three days while I wore other people’s shoes and my raw skin healed.
Not given to complaint I endured my pain, and uncoordinated footware, in total silence. Again thankfully, our first night restaurant was a mere 500 metres from Palais Sebban. I hobbled there in zebra Birkenstocks.
Seven tagines, four bottles of cheap, tasty Moroccan wine and a Whirling Dervish with a wobbly head and an active tongue later, we wound our way to bed.
Speaking of beds……….
Working on the adage, a picture says 1000 words, I shall not make one more sound about the sleeping arrangements in our suite. At least I couldn’t fall out of my compression single.
I don’t think K…… ever found her living room.
We slept like lambs until we were called to prayer at 4.00am.
To be continued: Yves Saint Laurent, Oh How Your Garden grows; Journey to the Foothills of the Atlas and Getting Lost in the Souk or “I can Smell Your Money”.
I post this in mitigation of my vanishing act of late. Believe me I have loads to tell you. Gracie and Mrs C’s three days on the Kent Coast; Fatima, Aisha and Leila’s travels/travails in Marrakech and the Atlas foothills and a bit of LIG (life in general) but something/someone is taking up all of my time at present.
Je present, Lyle (a Cockapoo with chutzpah):
Lyle came home on Sunday
and has taken control of Casa Carmichael.
Peter really needs to introduce Lyle to ‘the soporific effects of lettuce’.
Go on, tell me how lovely he is.
I really hope you enjoy dog day tales because they’re coming a plenty as soon as my sleep deprived brain is functioning once again.
In the autumn of my ninth year I was invited to Flippy Calcoun’s birthday party. He was turning seven. Flippy’s parents were friends of my parents. We played together when our parents socialised, and in that environment, neither the age gap nor the fact he was a boy, mattered to me.
Two memories from that afternoon are scored, with Swiss army knife precision, onto my psyche. The first was a dress.
On receipt of the invitation, Mum sewed me a new outfit. Most avant- garde in the 60’s, it was made of a sylvan green checked fabric and buttoned right through. It had a large, floppy red bow tie that clipped the collar closed. Called a coat- dress, it respected my tomboy tendencies, and I liked it for that. I liked it until I got to the party.
“Shall I take your coat?” Flippy’s mother asked me.
Mortified, I said, “No,” and wore my ‘coat’ with only knickers and a vest beneath, for the remainder of the party. I eyed with hunger the grey shorts and sweaters that adorned the other party guests with such comfort and clarity of both design and purpose.
If she was the cause of a clothing disaster, Mum cannot be blamed for the second memory, forever hard-wired into my synapses. It came in the guise of a game. Decades before the advent of party bags, Family Calcoun had strung a rope across their living room. Dangling, were items wrapped in birthday and Christmas paper. They hung at varying heights and were very different sizes. It was, in effect, an aerial lucky dip.
Having fathomed the rubrics of blindfold and spin with alacrity, I pin- pointed the largest package, just left of centre and designated it mine. Swathed in red and gold Christmas paper, it beckoned me with power and gravitas.
“I shall be yours,” it carolled. “Come to me. Find a way.”
I found a way. Directly in line with my gift was a wooden handled armchair. I mind -paced the steps I would need to go directly forward from the arm closest to me. I memorised the parcels on either side of my prize, their girth and texture. I knew, even with the spin I could do this and emerge triumphant with the biggest and best result.
Two boys went before me, neither getting my present. I watched their stumbles. I watched the reveal: one, a Matchbox Ferrari and the other, an intricate padlock and key set. I would have liked either but knew, with increasing conviction, that the huge secret my heart was set on contained, nothing less than crown jewels and I, as the princess, deserved nothing less than that.
My turn came. I was spun and threw myself against the chair. With a steadying hand, I balanced and counted steps to the rope. Hands above head, I groped toward the bounty as others shouted helpful hints. I needed no help.
I felt tissue paper and knew I was one item right of my target. A step, a hand drawn down the dangling string and it was mine. Lighter than I expected I hesitated but, triumphant in the success of my plan, I pulled and it released. Removing the blindfold I breathed, satisfied. And unwrapped the treasure.
It was a plastic money box, nothing more nothing less. It was a red plastic money box: a money box for babies. Tears threatened. I swallowed hard. I would not cry.
I didn’t cry as others unwrapped, slug guns, playing cards, miniature Lego. In one of the smallest packages there were tickets to the Christmas Circus.
“Don’t be fooled by size,” I tell my daughters. “The best things often come in small packages.”
“Ahh, the money box,” they say, having heard my cautionary tale before. “ Mum’s on about the red, plastic money box again.”
I have been absent for a few weeks because I’ve been locked up, incarcerated, left inside desperate and, save for another headless mannequin (who I don’t even like) alone in an empty shop in Broadstairs.
I managed to get this snap in reflected image as a shaft of sunlight hit the curry house window opposite.