Hello everyone. Rosie here again, co-founder of Kaliyoga.
I have just returned from Puglia, aka “the garden of Italy” where I spent 5 days setting up Kaliyoga’s latest retreat. I was all alone in our chosen venue - The Masseria Pavone - a magnificent stone & stucco farmhouse with only Tommy the big white dog for company. But I was not, for one moment - lonely. In Southern Italy it is impossible to be lonely.
“Come and ‘ave orecchiette cime di rapa (a mouthwateringly delicious local pasta dish) at my ‘ouse!” offered beautiful Antonella, sister of Pablo Pavone - Padrone of the Masseria Pavone.
“No! No! Come to my ‘ouse - I 'ave a lot of furniture. You will be very ‘appy” said Rosalma the second sister who has Sophia Loren hair and the largest diamond I have ever seen.
“Come ‘orse ridin’ with me at sunset - I show you eeeeverythin” said Angelo, so handsome I seriously contemplated asking him whether he’d mind if I put a bag over his head.
Any fear of work evaporated as the invitations poured in- to sample fresh cheeses at Michele’s farm, to cycle through fields of almond blossom with Daniele, to quaff olive oil at Giuseppe’s olive mill where he boasted:
“Thees meel used to be powered entirely by monkeys.”
I spent my second afternoon whizzing around the gorgeous baroque town of Martina Franca on Lorenzo the yoga teacher’s Vespa - spring sun kissing my shoulder, warm breeze brushing my hair. He took me to Polignano a Mare, a fishing town on the Adriatic coast and spoon fed me home made gelato (my job is very stressful)
At Di Maggio in Conversano I shared olive, rosemary & tomato foccacia with the workmen in charge of making our octagonal yoga shala. They insisted on tenting the roof ‘in Italian style - just in case you want to 'ave a weddin.’ I replied that our guests were looking for peace and relaxation and were not interested in weddings but the men were adamant: “In Italia you never know what’s gunna ‘appen.” Then they beamed at me with their wide, toothless grins. The tenting stayed.
On Friday, me and local can-do-ologist Norma - who speaks very loud, very fast Italian in an Anglo-Irish accent - got to ‘audition’ 3 chefs in one day.
First came Piero who was unfeasibly tall with huge, passionate nostrils. He claimed there was nothing he did not know about an Alkaline diet and made it very clear that he didn’t need the job as he had many other ‘hopportunities in the pipeline’. Then he fed us cold, undressed shredded carrot salad with currants and coconut flakes followed by (the universally dreaded) nut loaf. Norma and I grimaced at each other in secret but made polite noises to Piero as we chewed our way through the interminable cardboard dish.
Candidate number two, Giovanni seemed furtive - like he was hiding something. His friend introduced him as if he were an exhibit in a freak show but it very soon became apparent that Giovanni was not the elephant man - just very, very focused - slowly and patiently bringing his dishes to life like a puppet master.
One by one, we sampled Giovanni’s delights - delivered to the table in whispers as if each dish were a holy relic: Carpaccio of tuna with capers & truffle oil, steamed monkfish - with the texture of silk - in a rosemary & thyme vapour, baked prawns in almond crust with salsa verde, rigatoni with salsa di pomodoro, pearl barley salad with balsamic dressing & fresh herbs, aubergines stuffed with ricotta.. Then came the puddings - A velvety egg custard tart made with dairy free custard & the softest, crumbliest wheat/gluten free pastry that had Norma and I sliding off our chairs; Chocolate and lavender souffle and finally,
"il pezzo forte" Bocconotto - a spicy nut tart that we not so much ate, as inhaled.
Giovanni is a virtuoso. After the meal we fell upon him like Venetian courtesans - kissing his neck and face, poor man, until the friend, shocked at this vulgar display, waved us out of the kitchen with a tea towel.
Last of all came Tara from Basilicata - a woman in her 50’s who had the demeanour of a beautiful Persian doll-child. By this time Norma and I were bursting our stays but had to make room for Tara’s offerings so we invited Bianca the maid - La Donna delle Pulizie - to help us with our feast. She seemed overjoyed at first and then looked thunderous as Tara transported the three of us to a vegan caf in Totnes in 1975 with her fennel seed sauerkraut, cloying polenta cakes with unidentifiable black slime, tepid chard puree wrapped in lettuce leaves & the final outrage - chickpea & cumin chickpeas in a chickpea broth.
Norma and I managed to hold it together - mulching in silence with the odd ‘mmm, interesting flavours’ or ‘what a curious combination’ whilst Bianca, being earthier and therefore more honest, glared at us with her enormous teal coloured eyes as if we had lost our minds.
But despite her cooking, Tara was adorable. Turns out she is also a Persian belly dance teacher, a lymphatic drainage masseur, a reflexologist and a Naturopath. I assured her that I would find a place for her on our team - her smile alone lit up the room even if her cooking didn’t.
The highlight of my week was driving to IKEA in Bari - through the clusters of ‘Trulli’ - traditional Puglian dry stone huts with conical roofs typical only to Puglia - with Raffa, the caretaker of Masseria Pavone who releases one syllable a minute and then repeats it about 7 times whilst grinning and waggling his finger. I nod and chuckle and say 'va bene, va bene' before he releases another syllable and the whole thing goes round again.
We wound our way through truly scrumptuous trulli villages, passing field upon field of wild flowers, getting lost in the hilarious round town of Locorodondo before mounting the perilous two lane motorway where everyone tail gates, overtakes at 80 mph without indicating and gesticulates wildly for no apparent reason. I consider myself a brave woman, but I will never, ever have the courage to drive in Italy.
We arrived at IKEA which was as disappointing as ever. Raffa dragged his heals, wheeling his chariot mournfully along the designated route as I tossed mediocre cushions at his head in an attempt to make him laugh. The Baresi shoppers were bewildered by the halogen lit one way system and had to be herded forward by the blue and yellow people. Where was their right to shout, fight, run in the wrong direction? At the checkout, a sweating husband wearing the more agonized of Nicholas Cage's two facial expressions, argued with his wife and mother: “I didn’t forget anything - it’s all in the box!” His wife and mother closed ranks and pointed to the lift. Now he had to go all the way back to the beginning and work his way round to office furniture for the missing bit. This was too much for him.
“Ma-donna!" He railed, thrusting his fingers skywards. "Questo sistema e ridiculo! Cazzo IKEA!" (F*ck IKEA)
Raffa and I shook with laughter behind a special offer garden bench,
“Benvenuti in Italia” whispered Raffa.