One from the archives today. It seems serendipitous after visiting (and loving) Ortigia last week that almost exactly two years ago I was on another tiny southern Italian island connected to the mainland by a bridge, walking around and drinking in the tiny details. Gallipoli was one of my favourite places when I lived in the Salento, and with summer most definitely here, I feel it’s time to go back.
The plan was to potter along the Ionian coast and explore, but when we reached Gallipoli we realised that was where we actually wanted to be. So there we stayed. Gelato first – almond and fig flavour, I can confirm, is delicious, but makes a hell of a mess when dripped down the front of a white linen dress. Luckily there are water fountains all along the sea front, and a quick scrub with a clean wet handkerchief results in the damage being mostly repaired. Except that white linen, when wet, goes terribly see-through. Oh dear. Lu sule and lu ientu soon dry it out, though, which is good for the sake of my modesty.
Gallipoli old town is an island, which means that you can walk right around it in a circle without ever leaving the seafront. Blissful. When we arrive, just before 3pm, it’s quiet and we have the place to ourselves. Within an hour, though, the Italians are returning from their lunch break and everything begins to perk up again.
An old man sits on a stool in the shade just inside the doorway to his house, holding a plate of chocolate cake. With shaky hands he carves a piece from the side and brings it slowly to his mouth with an expression of glee. Shining white Broderie Anglaise curtains flutter at every doorway, keeping out the heat and the mosquitoes. A girl and her grandfather zoom past on a moped. She is too small to sit on the back and therefore stands on the footplate in front of her grandfather, grinning fit to burst as her hair flutters in the wind.
Spying a group of majorettes and a marching band, we move closer to find out what’s going on. It looks like they’re about to head off, with great pomp and ceremony, but in true southern Italian fashion they stay milling around and chatting for another half an hour. We decide to wander on further while they think about what they’re going to do, and cut down a side street which we haven’t been along before.
It’s a residential street, and there is washing draped from every window, or on clothes horses in the street. In one case, with cheerful disregard for public property, someone has even strung a clothes line between two road signs. Gallipoli has a much more relaxed air than Otranto, its cousin on the opposite coast. It may not be as beautiful, but it’s just as charming, if not more so.
Up ahead we hear the crackle and pop of a ropey sound system, and loud cheers. Rounding the corner, the street in front of the Duomo is chock-full of people waving balloons proclaiming ‘I <3 gelato’ or ‘I love cookies’. A woman with garish clown face-paint and a sparkly silver hat dances through the crowd handing out yet more balloons with a grin.
A man’s voice comes over the sound system calling for us all to make way – the majorettes are coming through! It’s a team of maybe 15 girls and one small boy banging a drum. The lead majorette is a very serious-looking girl with glasses and a whistle. She marches along the centre of the street, waving regally and exhorting her team to do the same. The older girls copy her, but the littlest girl at the back, only about five years old, is otherwise occupied, gleefully fending off all the grannies and aunts pinching her cheeks and cooing over her.
The boys in the marching band are also enjoying themselves. They’re much older than the majorettes, being mostly late teenagers. They all wear large plastic sunglasses and grin their way along the street, eyeing up the pretty girls from behind their protective shades and acting like kings for the day.
I assume, given our location outside the duomo, and the fact that the majorettes were led up the street by the priest, that the show is due to some saint or another. Alex is more astute than me and thinks to read the sign hanging next to us: today is the opening of a new gelateria. Any excuse for a party. It’s a perfect day for ice cream and we hang around for a while hoping that there might be some freebies being handed out. Sadly it seems that we’ve missed that bit of it. There’s only one thing for it: back to the seafront for more aperitivi and sunshine. Bliss.
Images by Kate Bailward
july carnival of europe
Have you got a good European travel story? Why not submit it for inclusion in July’s Carnival?
On 1 July I’m hosting the event, set up by Andrea of Destination Europe. Details of how to submit your entries can be found here, and you can also follow Andrea on Facebook to be kept updated on all future Carnival news.
I look forward to hearing from you!