BARI, Italy -- Living in Puglia has always been a dream of mine. Ever since I first stepped foot here, the heel of Italy’s boot, I knew this place was special. Well, I am here now, and it IS special. When I came as a little girl and my relatives called me "Americana" I threw a fit. I said to them, in Italian no less, "I eat the same food as you, my name ends in a vowel, and my grandmother is from here. I. AM. ITALIAN.”
While I do love my heritage, I learned as a 35-year-old woman that no, in many ways I am not Italian, especially when it comes to dealing with men. Now, this is just MY experience. We are all different, and we all come from various backgrounds. So welcome to the Annamaria Borelli experience living in Puglia versus the USA.
When I am on that plane from the U.S. to Italy, I feel like I am going through a vortex. Literally new world, old world. The biggest difference I have encountered is the lifestyle. The day is divided differently. Italians eat at around 1:30-2 p. and would be the equivalent of our dinner. At times there could be a first course or even a second course.
In Puglia, lunch is at least two hours. Ok, things have changed since I first came here in the ‘90s. (Yes, the ‘90s). However, the concept of really enjoying your food and eating with family is still very prevalent in the South.
I remember when I came to Puglia in the summer there would be nap time. The whole town would stop and go to sleep. It was August and many people were on vacation. Now, it doesn’t seem to be the case, although there is a large break during the day so one can rejuvenate and eat “con calma.”
If you work for a major company in Bari you do get the standard hour for lunch. However, that is only in extreme cases. I do appreciate this because I can enjoy my food and also take a breather from a stressful morning of work.
In Italy, food is not just for nourishment. It is an experience. It is the first topic of conversation. "Che ti mangi a pranzo?" This is not the future simple tense (mangerò) but it does reference the future in its meaning "what will you eat for lunch?"
I remember in the States I would rush around driving everywhere and eat McDonalds in the car. I have never seen an Italian eat in their car, and I have lived in this nation for 11 years. In the South they eat dinner incredibly late. I am starving by the time dinner comes and sometimes I pull an American, as I call it, and eat at 7 p.m. In the summer in Bari, they eat as late as 10 p.m. In Rome it was also late, but this late on a regular basis, I don't remember that.
Speaking of the food, it is totally different here in Puglia. It is the season of the very popular vegetable "cime di rapa" or "broccoli rabe." This vegetable can be found in the famous dish from this region, orecchiette con le cime di rape, which is one of my all-time favorite dishes. Simple and delicious it can only put a smile on your face. With this incredible olive oil from the north of Puglia you must try it.
Another phenomenon I have seen is the people are not fat in Puglia. They eat a lot of carbs. (Puglia was coined “The breadbasket of the Roman Empire.”) They also eat what’s called “latticini” which are milk-based products especially in reference to cheese.
“Bocconcini, nodini, stracciatella, BURRATA.” Burrata is Puglia’s most famous cheese here from Andria, just north and inland from Bari. It means “butter.” The butter is in the center of the cheese and when you cut it, it pours out.
They eat focaccia with oil. They also eat the most famous fried food in Bari called “il panzerotto.” It is fried dough, but on the inside tomato sauce and mozzarella. Now there are even different flavors. You eat that and a Peroni, it’s Bari heaven.
I asked my roommates, “How are you so thin?” I live with two Pugliese women and they told me that the portions are never too much, you walk more than you are in the car and the ingredients are genuine even if they are fried. I also think that beautiful sun must suck the fat out of them. That has always been my conspiracy theory.
In this foto we have grilled octopus or "polpo." Since Bari is near the sea, seafood and fish are a staple in their diet.
Starting from the top Peroni beer from Bari! Focaccia "ai cinque cereali" which is "multigrain" in English. Last but not least, panzerotti! A delicious combination of fried dough and on the inside tomato sauce and mozzarella. In Bari you can find many flavors and adaptations of this Barese staple.
Another difference that I still have trouble getting used to is the pace of the lifestyle here. I do like it a bit slower, especially at 35. When I was 25 I would have found it boring, but now I need that extra time. I noticed in Bari the people walk slower. They just walk so damn slow. I am trying to get to work and they are walking, smelling the roses, or in this case, the pasta sauce cooking from the apartments above the stores.
I understand living in the moment. Just walk a little faster when I need to get to work. At times I find myself crossing the street to get away from these slow pokes. I guess you can take the girl out of New Jersey, but you can’t take the New Jersey out of the girl.
Ah yes, one of my favorite topics. I have always liked Apulian men. I feel that they take care of themselves, are in shape, have a decent amount of culture and those open vowels when speaking Italian do get my motor running. The problem is, I feel like they want to have their fun with me, get the kinks out and then go back to their Italian ladies and settle with them.
There is a saying in Italy: “Moglie e buoi dei paesi tuoi” which means that you marry someone from your own town. There was a lot of distrust towards foreigners, and they felt that with someone like a local, from the same town and nationality you couldn’t go wrong.
I remember being infatuated with a man named Dario. I met him at 20 and for me the fact that he had tattoos, muscles and was Pugliese was all it took. However, I always felt that I was his practice for the real thing, the real love of his life that he had yet to meet. In fact, that’s how things turned out.
Well, what do you expect from a twenty-year old? I find at 35 many people my age here are already married with children. Making friends here is a bit difficult, because everyone has their own circle and aren’t in need for others to join. I think with men and relationships, it’s important to have something in common. A strong common interest, values, and someone, well, who makes you laugh.
Annamaria and her cousin Mariaclara Frualdo at the port in the center of Bari.
Annamaria roaming the streets of Bari Vecchia.
Annamaria Borelli is an English teacher, opera/jazz/musical theater singer based in Bari Italy. After a ten year stint in Rome, she ditched the big city for a simpler life. This is her story.