Monday, 3 June 2013

a hoot

To find Cosimo and Daria's place in Lecce Gayle had taken a sketch map of the way from the train station using Google maps.  Once we found the train station it was easy to follow the roads to their house.  And as we explained this to Cosimo later he started to laugh.  For he knew that those roads were all the opposite direction.  In the rush-hour.  We decided it didn't matter.  If we were stopped by the police we would say "We're British" and hopefully this would get us off the hook.   Cosimo's infectious laugh started again and he never let us forget this notion - the idea that we could do anything we liked and just say "Hey, we're British".  "How about a tattoo of the Union Jack on your belly, or the Queen's head?" he joked, "Then you could just lift your tee-shirt up!"  We are sitting in their backgarden, full of fruit trees and climbing plants, having a lovely meal with their friend Elisabeth and another visitor, a chatty woman from Poland.

Lecce, a university city, has a baroque old centre with churches and palazzos decorated in the now familiar over-the-top decorative stonework that we know from Sicily.  The streets are a wonderful maze to get lost in.

Daria and Cosimo very kindly take us to some of their favourite special places near the city such as an old 13th century abbey, now restored, with lovely frescoes and an assortment of ancient graffiti carved in the stone by previous visitors.  Lecce was on the pilgrim and crusader route to Otranto, from where ships sailed to the Holy Land.  

Daria at the old abbey
Inland are a collection of small towns settled by Greeks who came to avoid religious restrictions in the orthodox church and avoid trouble on the coast.  They built their own orthodox churches and we visit one on a Sunday afternoon with Cosimo.  His friend, Francesco, a local guide, kindly comes in the siesta to let us in and explain about the frescoes that fill the walls of the small chapel. On one side the story of Christ and on the other the story of Saint Stephen.  Behind the altar in the centre is Jesus Christ, but as a woman - a unique stylised combination of Saint Sophia and Christ. Nearby, in Galatina, we visit the elaborately decorated church of Saint Katherine, with frescoes on all the walls, decorated columns and a huge vaulted ceiling.  The church had been closed when we passed through here a fortnight earlier so it was a great chance for us to get a look in.

we assumed they were making a porn film...

There are times when we are not so interested in churches and monuments, but with Daria and Cosimo their knowledge and enthusiasm is an added bonus for us, and besides, Cosimo can't stop making jokes, so we are always having a hoot. Daria, who comes from Ukraine, describes a little of her experience as an outsider coming to live here in southern Italy, and the frustrations of trying to work in a society quite unlike the one she comes from.  The stories of nepotism and small-time corruption in the job-market are echoes of what Italians have told us.  Daria does translating work (Italian to English or Russian, which is her first language) and is studying the religious history of this region.  With the strong Orthodox influences, and the tourist potential of Puglia she has talked to locals about the possibilty of organising tours for Russians, and although they all think it's a great idea she can't get anyone to turn it into a reality.  

Cosimo shares with us some of the suffering he has endured as the result of a brain haemmorhage which left him in a coma when he was 23.  His recovery is remarkable and despite loss of movement down his left side, he obviously still lives a full life.  He works in the council finding social housing for those in need.  Whilst we share lots of laughs he also shares some poignant reflections on his life with us.  To most people I think it would be hard to imagine what it would be like to feel your whole life turn on this single moment when your health fails so dramatically.  Cosimo loved his job in the armed forces as a driver.  And yet he is a determined man and obviously is committed in his work helping others.  It seems that through Couch Surfing we have once again met some lovely people whose lives have touched us in an unexpected way.
Gayle, a ruddy English cyclist & Cosimo, a rare redheaded Italian

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