In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Gut Feeling.”
I first came to Puglia, to Monopoli in fact, at the invitation of my mother, Diane Seed, who had taken a group to a five star hotel there for a ‘culinary adventure’. At the time I was organising specialist holidays in the UK for families. Getting talking to the owners, they suggested I organised some trips there. So I did – coming back a further three times and, each time, falling more in love with Puglia.
On my third trip, I went into Monopoli with my mother who was thinking of renting an apartment there, to use as an occasional escape from Rome. We were outside an estate agents, looking in the window, when a man approached us and asked if we were looking for an apartment to rent. We went with him, into the centro storico where he showed us an apartment; the top floor of a house with medieval origins. My mother was not impressed – too many stairs, small kitchen, no bathtub. I stood on the roof terrace looking at the view (cathedral, church spire, church spire, sea) and fell deeper still in love.
I wanted that apartment so much it hurt but, despite the fact that the rent seemed impossibly low by London standards, I couldn’t justify it. Why on earth would I need a, small, apartment in Puglia? The following night I had a dream where someone sat me down and told me I was going to die much earlier than I imagined. It was very vivid and waking up, still half asleep, I believed it absolutely. The first thing I did was work out how old my three children would be when it was supposed to happen, my second thought was ‘right, I am having that apartment’. It felt right so I did it.
During this period I had split up with my husband and was finding alternate custody of the children very difficult. There were super cheap flights to Puglia at the time so, in my child free weeks, I would hop on a plane and go to my apartment… exploring Puglia and extending the number of holidays I organised for other people. A few months later, when things back in London were getting increasingly difficult, my downstairs neighbours in Puglia told me they were moving out.
It was an absolute impulse – I told the owner that I wanted to rent the ground floor as well, packed up everything in England and moved over to Puglia with my two younger children. At the time I still didn’t really know anyone there so it was a bit scary, but I did it.
Across a narrow street from me there was an elderly lady who, unable to get about much any longer, sat all day in her doorway framed by the open top shutters of her door, above which there was an icon of the Madonna, surrounded by light bulbs. She befriended us, and her acceptance made it easier moving into, what was then, a fairly closed community.
Provider of much local knowledge, recipes and herbal remedies (as well as arcane rituals involving bowls of water and oil to cure all that ailed you) she told me repeatedly that I had come to the right place and the Madonna had sent me to Monopoli. A friend at the time commented rather waspishly that he was not sure what Monopoli had done to deserve this…
It hasn’t always been easy and, in my first year, I was taken royally to the cleaners and lost a lot of money, one of the reasons why I am very committed to making sure that other ‘foreigners’ who want to buy or do up properties here are looked after properly, as well as being guided through the endless red tape and illogical rules which make up the Italian system.
I still think occasionally of the old lady, Nina, and it makes me smile. While it is never flattering to be compared to a plague of locusts, or similar it did feel, and still does, like I came to the right place….