The post Christmas break in Florida was what I thought I needed: lots of sun, the hot, sticky kind; plenty of rest, the unending, monotonous kind; and blue skies to gaze up to as I tear my eyes away from the book I would finally be sinking my teeth into.
But then, what we think we want, is not necessarily what we need.
Florida this winter offered that very blistering heat that makes your skin damp to the touch and withers you after one hour of exposure. It is that uncomfortable sweltering heat that makes you dream of the frigid temperatures you left behind.
Honestly, are we ever happy?
In my case, it brought on the crippling and gnawing arthritic pain that I so desired to find relief from by going in search of warmer climes. But still, the beautiful horizon in the distance of azure sky caressing the edge of the ocean was worth every droplet of perspiration on my upper lip. The salt air in my nostrils reassured me of the health benefits and negated for just a moment the awful pain in my joints.
It would be okay; ‘a rest is a rest’ I told myself.
I closed my eyes and sunk into blissful reverie. I could hear the clinking of china cups behind me, and the whirr of the coffee machine churning out espressos. The aroma wafted down to the beach and mingled in an odd mélange with the salt air.
Down a ways from the lookout point where I stood, in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, the pizzaiolo was pulling out of the oven with one drag of his long wooden paddle the first Margherite that would feed the early lunch crowd. I could easily saunter back to the piazza and indulge in a pizza myself, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the magnificence before me. Not yet.
Polignano a Mare waited behind me, but right now, I was enslaved by the view from the terrace above the steep bluff.
On my right and on my left the coastline of the town zigzagged unevenly, jutting out into the ocean, and then pulling back and hiding beyond the last visible stretch. Buildings that appeared carved out of the rock cliff lined the promontory and hung precariously over the foaming waters that broke against them.
The Adriatic along this strand of the Puglia region is deep and unfathomable, not at all the gentle waters that kiss the sandy shores further down the coast. The Adriatic here has strong colours----no nuances of soft shades of cerulean like its skies. No, here the ocean defines itself with its ultramarine blues and violets. It is a sea that swallows up the fishermen’s nets and begrudgingly spews back the day’s catch.
That day, the ocean was at its best, a magnetic force that caught and held on to my gaze much like the Sirens hypnotizing Odysseus. The sky, a limpid wash of azure, shimmered with golden strands of sunlight splashed across this magnificent canvas.
Behind me, Polignano a Mare lifted its face to the sun.
Polignano sits 20 metres above the sea, on limestone cliffs that butt against the ocean. I discovered here an amiable little town of whitewashed houses and narrow winding streets. Occasionally, turning a bend, one is met with a quaint little piazza that holds enormous charm all within a small radius.
We came here, a group of 10 friends, wanting to visit this gem that we had been hearing so much about. We stationed ourselves just outside the town limits in the campagna Pugliese at
a lovely new resort called Borgobianco. Its Moorish façade, turrets and all, conjures up the fairytales of Sinbad the Sailor and Thousand and One Nights: a perfect place to start a day of exploration and adventure in Puglia.
The town of Polignano welcomed us that particular day with the scent of a saline breeze stinging our nostrils and the warmth of the southern sun beating down on our shoulders. It was my birthday, and I couldn’t have asked for a more glorious start; all was well with the world, even the act of turning a year older!
Having contemplated the breathtaking scene of sea and sky before me, I turned away from the look-out terrace and made my way to the town. Joining my friends, we meandered our
way through the labyrinth of vicoli or narrow streets that make up the core of Polignano. The piazzas at lunch time were overrun by tourists that swarmed the small cafes and pizza parlours and trattorie. The food here in Puglia is genuine; it can tantalize your senses and stir the watering of your palate. Its aroma speaks of the sea and of the surrounding land; the flavors of the Mediterranean can assail your taste buds and forever remain lodged in your sensorial memory.
A special evening awaited me: dinner at the Grotta Palazzese was to be a treat! Deep, below the cliff , and down an endless amount of steep stairs, we arrived at the restaurant that sat in a hollowed out cave and looked out to the sea. While the food here was overrated the whole experience was unique. Candles lit the dark corners and the luminescence of the moon cast a romantic glow. A birthday to remember!
Polignano, it must be said, is known to the world for one main reason: it is the birthplace of Domenico Modugno, Mr. Volare. In fact, a bronze statue in one of the main squares honours the man that taught our collective imagination to fly in the deep blue sky. Just like Polignano a Mare that sitting suspended above the cliffs seems to be flying, that day, I too found myself “nel blu dipinto di blu".