What a pleasant surprise Lecce has turned out to be. I’d only met one person who had ever even been here before, Matt Caputo, son of Tony, heir to a Salt Lake City Italian sandwich empire. Matt’s brother Pete lived here for several months during a college sojourn. He found the place quite by accident, liked it and stayed. When I told the Caputos I was going to Greece, but traveling to Rome first and needing a ferry connection to do so, they recommended Lecce. I’d never heard of it. Who has? After all, when we think of Italy we mostly think only of Rome, Venice, Milan, Naples, Florence, Milan, Pisa and the place where George Clooney lives.
Of those, Naples is the farthest south, so a full one half of Italy principally lies undiscovered by American tourists. That’s a shame as far as I can tell. I know lots of Salt Lake Italians with ties to southern Italy via Sicily or the Calabria region which comprises a great part of the toe of Italy’s boot. But I’ve never met anyone with any ties to the heel of the boot, principally the Italian region of Puglia, which comprises the Salento Peninsula. Just to the north of Lecce is the port city of Brindisi where we’ll catch our ferry to the Greek island of Cephalonia.
Everyone in our party of 14 agrees that Lecce is a welcome respite from Rome. Of course, Rome with all of it’s history is a must see. However, Lecce provides it’s own charm and the people are superbly nice. Rome has far too many tourists for my liking. This is the off season, yet the wait to enter the must-see attractions like the Vatican is over two hours and the coliseum over one. You can’t take a photo at Trevi Fountain without including hundreds of people in the photo as well.
Though we have met only a few people in Lecce who speak English, everyone we’ve met has been accommodating and friendly. The kids got free crepes and a crepe making lesson from in one eatery. I got poured about a quart of scotch when I left a decent tip on the first round. Our hotel, the Della Palme is most accommodating. I hope Lecce stays this way, but if places like Park City—once also a charming place—are any indication, once the tourists arrive, things may change.
On the train ride down, I was amazed at the countryside scenery of central and southern Italy. It’s not dramatic, but it’s damn nice. Once we hit Bari we were near the coast for the remaining way to Lecce. Toss in a couple of hills, some golf courses, freeways and strip malls, and you’d have southern California. So that made me wonder.
Our government keeps saying the terrorists want to destroy our country and our freedoms. Well I understand those guys are plenty bad and all, but if they despise our freedoms so much and if they want our country, why don’t they just take the short boat ride over to Italy and terrorize it? It looks like the states. Plus I’ve said this before about Greece and it’s holding true in Italy as well—if you want real freedom, you’ll find freedom here more readily than you will back in the States.
Please don’t write—again—that if I like it here so much I should move here. That’s pointless and dumb. Instead, do this, what the Europeans do: take a month off and come over and see for yourself. You’ll eat better. You walk more. You’ll talk to strangers who will offer you flowers or cups of coffee. You’ll know you can’t sue anyone if you choke on an olive pit. And you’ll remember that your neighborhood was like that once, too, before it was picked apart by every self interest known to man. Americans are the ultimate NIMBY’s yet they hardly consider that Not In My Back Yard really means they have forgotten how to pay attention to their front yards. (John Saltas)