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Santa Cesarea

01/20/2010
I recently rode my bicycle to Santa Cesarea Terme, a stunningly beautiful village on the Adriatic coast, about 50 kilometres south-east of my home in Lecce. Unpacking my bags from the bike in order to check into a small family-run pensione, I called out across the street to a man setting up a few outdoor tables, ‘One for dinner, chill me your favourite local white. A fiano if you have it’. Not an hour later I was checked in, unpacked, showered and half way into a plate of the cavatelli and clams, the fiano going down far, far easier than it should have. Next was a grilled sea bass longer than my forearm, served with toasty little nuggets of roasted potatoes, so crunchy as to drown out the voice of Mina coming through the crackling speakers. I was in bed before 10 p.m., having limped up the hotel stairs a lot like John Wayne.

These are the pictures I took the next morning, over the course of about 20 minutes, just after the hour of six am. My legs were still stiff but I never recall a more beautiful morning, the entire town smelling of fresh baked cornetti, rich, foaming milk and the way we roast espresso down here, when the flavours leave coffee and start to head towards that of bitter chocolate.

I stepped down to the shore and watched the fisherman for an hour: I ripped and ate from the white paper bag, which was rendered shiny and translucent in spots by the fresh, buttery pastry.

I’m often asked what is that I like so much about Southern Italy, when other parts of Italy are more famous and tourist-ready. As I rolled around the torn pieces of cornetto in my mouth and smelled the nubby little cigars of the nearby fisherman, the smell of the briny sea, the sounds of a puttering Ape, remembering the dinner I had the night before, I thought this: If you have to ask, you’ve probably never been here.

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