In July of 2003, Kay and I spent two weeks at the Domus Aurea language school at Lecce, in the Italian province of Apulia. I regret that I wasn’t keeping my journal at the time, so I don’t have the kind of day-today record of what happened that I keep nowadays.
Looking over my photos of the trip, I see that most are of sites we visited on weekend excursions sponsored by the school. It’s a shame that neither Kay nor I can remember the names of the classmates that appear in some of the photos.
Anyway, before I lose any more of my memories of our stay, I want to put them down here in no particular order.
I think we must have traveled from Milano to Lecce by train on Saturday the 5th or Sunday the 6th of July. I remember the train trip took all day, and much of it was along the Adriatic Coast. I remember miles and miles of sandy beaches, many of them crowded with vacationers.
We arrived at the station in Lecce sometime in the evening and were met by the female course director whose name escapes us. She drove us with our luggage to the school where we had arranged to rent a sleeping room with kitchen privileges that we would share with others.
It was dark and hot when we arrived. Our accommodation was down a kind of steep ramp into a subterranean apartment. The sleeping room was large enough but hot and stuffy. It was equipped with a fan and its single long, vertical window was covered by a roll-up steel gate of the kind used to protect shop windows in our New York neighborhood. I opened it as the director left us, and as I did she warned us cryptically to beware of the cats.
Each night in that room I slept uncovered wearing only a pair of shorts. It was the only way I could be comfortable enough.
School began on the following Monday. The cats the director mentioned were two or three white kittens that I dubbed i gatti scholastichi. I woke early and my practice was to do my homework in the morning, sitting at an outdoor picnic table in the courtyard of the school. Often, one of the kittens would climb onto my lap and, purring, would begin to massage my tummy with its paws.
Classes were held only from 9 a.m. until noon or 1 p.m. I was enrolled in an intermediate class while Kay was in a lower level. The instruction, by native speakers, of course, was good. The method was communicative; we had to speak.
An attractive woman taught our small class of perhaps eight. We sat around a large table.
Several of my classmates were more advanced than I was; two were Spanish for whom Italian is close to their native tongue. These were young women who liked to party in the evenings with local men they met.
We shared our kitchen with three older women. One was French and a klutz. I remember once when she had set a full glass or pitcher on in front of a cabinet door and then opened the cabinet, breaking the pitcher and spilling the liquid. On another occasion, she used a small saucepan I had bought to heat water for tea, left it on the stove, evaporating the water and destroying the saucepan. She apologized and promised to buy me a new pan but never did.
The location of the school was not ideal. It was on the edge of the city without much around in the way of services. Since we didn’t have a car, we depended on public transportation to get into the center.
We also learned early that if we were to buy anything from the single nearby grocery store, we had to hurry after class because like all the other surrounding businesses, the store closed in the early afternoon and didn’t reopen until evening. This is what life is like in Southern Italy in the heat of the summer.
There was at least one option for eating lunch nearby. It was a small café run by three young guys with whom we became friendly during our stay.
I’m not usually a beach person, but a few times in the afternoon I would ride a few kilometers in the school’s bus with other students to a very nice beach.
Our driver’s name was Giuseppe. We would get to know him quite well, also.
It was a lovely white-sand beach without pebbles, and the water was shallow until quite far out. I remember watching some young Italians playing catch with a beach ball in the water. The girls wore no tops with their bikinis and were very tanned as if they spent all day everyday on the beach. Kay never joined us on the beach, as she hates to get too much sun. When I wasn’t in the water, I lay on a towel next to my classmates. It was too hot to do anything else.
Each weekend, the school would organize an excursion to some town in the vicinity. We visited Alberobello, the strange town with the conical dwellings with stone roofs known as trullis.
We visited Ostuni, the “white city”.
On another occasion, after classes in the afternoon, Giuseppe drove us to the Costa Salentina where we boarded an open motorboat and explored the grottos along the jagged coastline. It was there, at the tip of the heel of Italy, that we could look down at the sea and see a line where the differently colored Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas met.
One Sunday, Kay and I went on a day trip with an Austrian woman named Hildegard and her sister in their Volkswagen. That day we visited the Castel del Monte, an odd medieval building constructed as an octagon and having several octagonal towers. It was ordered built by Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor, in the 14th century for use as a hunting lodge.
It sits all alone on a small hill on an otherwise flat plateau known as the Murge.
On that same day-trip we visited the seaside city of Bari, one of the most important in Italy’s South.
One of Kay’s classmates was a young Polish man name Bartek. We visited him years later in Warsaw where through family connections and a good education he is a rising presence in the Polish government.
I have several pictures of another of Kay’s classmates, an attractive girl from Brazil.
One evening Kay and I dined at a fine restaurant in the center of Lecce. The tables were placed in a large, atmospherically lit courtyard. We arrived probably about 9 p.m. and found the place nearly empty. By the time we left, however, at 11, it was full.
One meal I remember particularly was a whole fish baked in a shell of salt. It’s the only time I’ve ever eaten fish prepared by this particular method.
The end of our two-week course culminated with a festa given by the school. There was a catered buffet meal, and we had a round of karaoke with different classes singing together. Kay’s class sang Volare, not one of my favorites. I believe I did a solo, singing Vinicio Capessela’s Che Cosse L’Amor.
We have good memories of Lecce and the south of Italy. I don’t remember the details of our leaving, but we must have done so by train. I believe we left Italy and went to Berlin for a few days spending a night in Nuremburg on the way.