Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Catching Up

Two weekends ago, we got to know the region of Salento a bit better. First, we started with a culture lesson, explaining a strange tradition called Tarantismo. A long, long time ago, residents of the Salento region were often victim to the bite of a local spider. The strange thing was that this spider’s venom manifested itself every year at the same time and recurred annually for its victims. Despite the lack of anything like medicine, I Salentini figured out a way to cure this disease; music. And so was born the legendary dance, the Pizzica. It’s a bit silly to watch. Long story short, the person rolls around on the ground for a while and people spit on them. Then, they get up and do a nifty dance. The music is really intense and the most important instrument is a big, low-pitched tambourine. In these modern days, the tradition is preserved and everything culminates with a huge festival at the end of August that draws 40.000 people to a town of 2.000.
In preparation, we had a class. Being as we hadn’t been fortunate enough to be bitten by spiders, we learned the stylized, romantic version of the pizzica. This involves the woman dancing around seductively waving a scarf and the man dancing around after her with arms outstretched as if to capture her. We all had to give it a try, and I have to say my friend Alice and I were definitely the best.
After we had become dance experts, we needed to learn a little more about Salento, so we visited a very particular region called Grecia Salentina. It consists of something like eleven towns where they speak a dialect called Griko which is very similar to ancient Greek. So we loaded onto the bus on our only excursion that didn’t include a trip to a beach. Not long after we started off on our trip, the temperature hit 40 degress (104F). Every town we visited was absolutely barren and we saw maybe four people all day. They knew to stay out of the heat, but we persevered. We went on a tour of a palazzo (a really fancy house) from the 18th century. There were all sorts of fancy beds, and kitchens, and whatnot to see and we had quite a fine time.
We also visited, surprisingly, several churches. One of them absolutely blew my mind. It was a church from the middle ages, and almost every wall was covered in frescoes depicting the stories of the Bible. It’s hard to imagine, but I bet I would’ve been more impressed if I knew any stories from the Bible. To give you an idea of how impressive this tiny little church was, my friend Spencer said he was equally impressed by it as he had been by the Sistine Chapel.
After a while, we stopped for lunch at a little old building where they produced olive oil. We all hid in a dark, air-conditioned room until we were sure that the risk of heat stroke had passed. We then toured a crazy, half-subterranean oil press and saw how olive oil used to be produced. Then, we did the only thing that made sense and headed into a tiny church nearby. As our guide was explaining the history of the church, the temperature rose steadily until we could barely stand. I don’t really remember anything he told us because I was focusing on staying standing. I succeeded.
The next day, we headed to the beach. On this day, I decided not to partake in my tradition of going to the beach and burning, so I hid in the shade with my friends Mark and Lucia. It was at this point that I received my second nickname of the trip. This one was, if possible, more offensive than the first. Lucia dubbed me, Vampiro. See if you can guess what that means. She then assured me that it was a good thing and linked it to Twilight. So I’m either cheese or the undead… I haven’t decided which I prefer.

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