Sunday, February 15, 2015

Salento: sun, sea and wind

Lots of friggin’ wind. So much wind it blew the roof off the shed. Even the locals say they don’t remember such windy madness. We actually had snowflakes  last week, a first. Not of the snowman-building caliber but still felt quite homey for the short time it lasted. Happy our pellets stove has been working well and keeping our house warm - smart move to extra insulate the walls with argyle *pat on the back*.

Rain, wind or shine, our stoners Bruno and Roberto are always at work 6:30am. The outdoor kitchen and pool area are nearly finished. A bit more paving than I would’ve hoped for but should be rather more civilised to walk through the place without building up mud-feet - not a pretty look. And... we should finally be pretty close to trying that pizza oven!

We also now have Emanuel the gardener to help sort out our poor trees and plants, which desperately need a bit of TLC. It always feels like excessive luxury to have all these workers around but then I’m slowly accepting we just can’t do it all on our own.

Managed to get our ripped tents repaired - another great find through our friend and local ‘queen of knowledge’ Anja. Let’s just hope after cleaning and waterproofing everything we’ll be back to normal - a priority as soon as it gets a bit warmer.

So all in all, very happy wit the progress so far, considering we’re only mid February. We’ve decided to put a hold on building camp 4 for this summer, which should make a huge difference for spring build up, seeing we’ll only have to put up tents and kit rather than build more decking, breakfast bar, loo and shower, normally later than planned depending on the weather, a rather stressful feat if you’re expecting guests early in the season.

Still, time flies and plenty to do still so not quite hammock time..

Monday, January 05, 2015

HAPPY 2015

Back in Salento following a mostly wonderful (if a little eventful) Christmas, having enjoyed a turbo start to 2015 and a spoilt 45th birthday, here's to another year of great fortune. Even in our misfortune, we're lucky buggers. 

As the world around us keeps throwing up the most horrific and tragic news, as dear friends increasingly loose loved ones to illness and time, as our planet seems doomed to destruction by human greed, I know how important it is, now more than ever, to count my lucky stars. 

Though I don’t voice it ever enough, I'm grateful each and every day for my wonderful, caring and generous husband and for our two amazing children. Most importantly, I thank the universe for keeping us all healthy, strong and safe.

I am grateful for my extraordinary parents, for all that they've given me, for all the love and care, for healthy and good genes, for the thousands of life opportunities they’ve offered us, for the best education, financial security and for teaching us such solid values and useful skills. I’m even thankful for the stubborn gene, often fuelling the determination, keeping me going.

Grateful for my brothers and their clan, for my cousin Loulou and her lovely two, for all my aunties, uncles, cousins and brood, whom I was so happy to see again. I count my blessings for having all my family still here with us, healthy, and enjoying a good life (if a little cold for those in Montreal).

I am grateful for the Jowett family, who despite me being a poor excuse for a daughter/sister in law over the past ten years, continue to be kind and thoughtful. Grateful that we were able to enjoy a lovely Christmas together in UK, that we’ve yet again had a lucky break, pulling through the latest medical emergency, that Joyce is back home safe.

UK 2014 - Christmas come early - Day 1-2 - Oli's Pub / Guy & Nicole's 
UK 2014 - Christmas come early - Day 3-4 - London at the Catons
I am grateful for the chance to see so many of our wonderful friends in 2014 and over Christmas, and for our loved ones all over the world, whom we don’t see or speak to nearly often enough; grateful that time and space do not alter such special bonds - they are like family and will always be a major part of our life, even if mainly through Facebook and Facetime these days.

UK 2014 - Christmas come early - Day 6 Rob & Raphs
Grateful for our local crew, Anja in particular, who keep me smiling and help preserve my sanity in this mad house of a paese.

Grateful for Sir Ken Robinson, for our dear friend Nick Corston and his contagious enthusiasm in pursuing more creativity in schools, for sharing such invaluable resources, for igniting the passion and for leading the way with his perfect blueprint for the mission: STEAM Co

I am grateful for the very privileged life we lead, in our heated house, with running water and a full fridge; for living in a place where we do not fear war, terrorism or natural disasters. 

All my life I’ve been ever so blessed, with little struggle, trauma or tragedy compared to so many friends and people around us. The side effect is an underlying current of fear, that something terrible will happen, that my luck is bound to run out soon. 

First resolution for 2015 is to counter that fear by focusing on all the positive in the world, by doing more for others, by sharing our blessings with those less fortunate.Give grace, give back, every day.

Love and light to all and may 2015 bring you much peace, health and happiness.

Tanti Auguri from the Puglian Hillbillies x

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Three Years Already

No, not since my last post... but near enough. Just passed the three year mark of our move to Salento so thought what a fine time to update our shambles of a diary, with all the bits I’ve been meaning to post since April.

In fact, ‘Annual Newsletter’ is probably more appropriate than 'Blog', seeing I constantly get overwhelmed with too much to do, too little time to write, sort out thousands of photos, try and get a $%&@^$£@&* wifi connection. And does it matter? No, not really. We'll always have some form of log of our Italian adventure. Just in not so real time.

Wonderful. Self Demoted. One less deadline, one less stress. So here we go, whirlwind summary of our last six months.

MONTREAL - 27 March - 7 April 2014
Montreal holiday early April, as we attended a special surprise tribute for Dad, for his extraordinary lifetime commitment to medicine and as President Founder of the Thoracic Surgery Research Foundation of Montreal.

All had to be kept hush hush for weeks before the event, as we helped the organisers coordinate videos, photos and testimonies. And what a result - an awesome tribute video (bar my own cringing short selfie clip - thankfully the kids were brilliant). So proud of Mum and Dad, a wonderful tribute to the Doctor and some extremely moving speeches, not least his own. Such a special and memorable evening, with so many lovely family and friends guest appearances. And a non stop celebratory rave from Lily and cousin Gaby, giant glow sticks and all, topped off by a Montreal smoked meat at 1am. Perfect evening. Except of course for Jez' absence.

A full-packed ten days, with kids very excited to enjoy the last snow falls of a long and very cold winter. First morning, jet lagged at 1am, they were already pleading to go play outside. They must've been the only two people in the whole of Québec happy to see snow on 28 March.

Wonderful to see my gorgeous Oncle Jacques, unlucky as he's the healthiest guy I know, but lucky enough to be recovering from a successful heart surgery. He'd planned to come to Puglia in September on a bike trip with lovely Louise but that's been postponed for a bit.

Also enjoyed a bit of me time with my amazing cousin Loulou - awesome afternoon at the Bota Bota SPA-sur-l'eau in Old Montreal, included bathing in the icy Saint Laurent River in between sauna sessions: what. a. trip.

Not ideal to visit out of school holidays though, as I found myself improvising the role of teacher every morning, with homework and missed class notes emailed through daily. Needless to say, I suck at it. But kids are doing brilliantly in school regardless so no big drama.

Great to see the family, aunties, cousins, old school friends, flatmates, favourite haunts, and enjoy the last snowfalls of a long Canadian winter. Also meant perfect timing for sugaring season, a family tradition we’ve missed living abroad. Quality moments. We Love Montréal.

For nine years we just waited, thinking we would eventually have the kids christened here in Italy, when we managed to get both families together again. Our (vague) plan went out the window when we had to get an emergency battesimo, so that Lily could join the rest of her classmates to receive ‘pardon’, the next sacrament on the list.

Despite the complete absence of family and 'official' godparents, it was a lovely day, with our three local friends - Anja, Romyna and Mirella - taking on the job of extra fairy Godmothers.

Italians take their sacraments very seriously and have been known to give slightly OTT presents. To avoid being showered with a multitude of 'more stuff', the kids agreed that instead of gifts, they'd collect voluntary donations for the Squadra del Sorriso, a local clown therapy charity set up by our friend Nunzio. I was very proud of them as we handed over €300 of extremely generous donations from guests at the cake party, to help improve poorly children's stay at the local Tricase hospital. Nunzio recently confirmed how the money had been spent - a beautiful wood crafted puppet theatre - and we couldn't be more delighted.

MUM & DAD - 28 May to 13 June 
Wonderful to finally welcome Mum and Dad back after their last visit in Autumn, when Dad was so poorly. They were both in good form and despite having just spent months packing up (a big) house to move into their cosy new lovebird nest, as usual, they worked their socks off to help on the land and around the house. Though I was pleased to see them also relaxing and reading a lot, as prescribed. Wonderful quality time.

And they've almost been forgiven for forgoing our maple syrup refill, opting to bring more books instead. We are now out of the good stuff and relying on 'commercial maple syrup', a scandal, a first since... well, forever. Right there folks, first world problems.

A very proud moment as Lily rocked her (very) new guitar skills on the Pescoluse Stage, for the Music School concert. Dreamy setting, right by the sea. What a lovely summer evening.

LOULOU, LÉA & MIKO - 23 June - 9 July
Of course a race and a battle to get the sites ready in time for first arrivals in July. Still feel awfully guilty for not being ‘all there’ and rather stressed out when my gorgeous cousin Loulou finally came to visit with Léa and Miko in June. But so happy they did come - and were so very understanding. They tried a bit of glamping but as we were still far off from our aimed luxury standards, the guest room was much appreciated. Still, fabulous times together, many precious moments and lots of happy memories.

Another outstanding summer at Puglia Glamping. This year saw us venture outside the comfort zone of friends and family, as we had four ‘stranger’ families visit between June and August, all finding us through our Facebook page and this blog.

And all went brilliantly with our first ‘official’ glamping guests of the season - Arno, Emelie and two-year old Felix from Amsterdam - who absolutely loved the place. ‘Perfect’ they said, as we enjoyed Arno's clarinet practices, beautiful amongst the olive trees. Could not have asked for lovelier first guests or more encouraging feedback.

More thumbs up with our next glampers - talented stylist Evelien and family, also from Amsterdam - who were equally very complimentary about the place, and rather grateful when we found them a car repair ace to magically erase the damaged caused by stone walls in a narrow shortcut...     
Guest approval: CHECK. And relax.

But it’s a whole lotta work all summer long and so not hugely relaxing but still, what extraordinary memories and wonderful guests we’ve been blessed to have, yet again. Our time with the Tosh clan was just awesome, as was Rob’s first visit, and of course always a treat to welcome back Duncan and Matt with the kids, so far our most loyal Puglia Glamping visitors. 

Also from London, Sarah, Norbert and Caspar-the-cat-lover were a joy to meet and host for a couple of weeks. A good test longer stays (not testing guests!) but because we weren't sure how new facilities would cope. Pleased to report there were no smelly compost loo alerts.

It always is gone in a flash though, and we didn’t do half the things I had hoped or planned for. Looking forward to next summer though, as we finally line up some staff to help with operations...

A few corker moments and discoveries:

Smaré Sailing School: for the kids' birthdays, Mum and Dad offered them a one week course at Leuca's sailing school. a fun time and great to discover such a lovely, chilled and friendly atmosphere, after a year of enduring the less agreeable local football mentality

Aquaviva: a great little cove on the Adriatic side, lovely swim and vibe. Thanks Loulou for putting it on our map, we’ve recommended it to all our guests and it got high marks every time.

Coconut Bar: Liability Larry's drunken discovery, a great little spot for Piña Coladas, just down the road at Felloniche. 

Loulou's pit stop visit: when my lovely friend Louise Leblanc - whom I'd last seen 20 years ago - came all the way down just for the one night, proving yet again that true friendships easily stand the test of time

Geocaching: an absolute pleasure to finally meet Pere and spend a few days with his gorgeous family. They introduced us to geocaching, which we got immediately hooked on. I mean, who doesn’t like a treasure hunt?

Ferragosto - 15 August
THE event of the year in Leuca, as they celebrate the Madonna. It really was a special experience ‘LIVE’, chasing the statue of the Madonna on a boat. Great fun and great thanks to our dear friends Gianfranca and Cosimo.

Our boat rides with Biaggio remain the highlight of most guests. Kind of reminds me of the privilege I had working for Williams - a slightly different thrill to the F1 pitlane but that same great feeling of being able to offer something really special, to put a big smile on peoples face.

Another long overdue mission as we finally went to explore this top tourist location near Bari. The caves were indeed impressive but the adventure park got an 'encore' - I even braved my fear of heights and managed the whole thing without falling or dangling off cables. Also wonderful to be hosted for a change, a chance to catch our breath following the intense summer.


Oh how time flies... Hooper now seven, Lily nine. Jez turned 21 again. So very proud of our clan, my lovely (if a little testing) bunch. This year's celebrations were a little tame (possibly lame), taking a break from manic home parties involving crazy Italian kids on a path of destruction.

For birthday family outings, Hoop opted for Splash waterpark and Lily for Aquaviva, where our newfound artist friend Franco De Giovanni wrote her a poem for her birthday, right there on the spot. He kind of looks like he's just walked out of We Love Space with that lovely Ibizan-smilEy-artist look, but he actually scrubs up well as a proper Gran Maestro, in fact known as the 1st ambassador for Salento Arts . Either way, he's another great 2014 discovery and we love him.

TORNADO TIME - 1st September 2014
So for two years we’ve had guests glamping, I’ve been worried every single time that rain or storm will wreck their stay, biggest concern being safety of course but also current lack of facilities (of the ‘guest pavilion’ type) for rainy weather. Having survived four months of rough camping and a few solid storms in our tents, we’ve always reassured guests that all is pretty solid.

But this time, it was different. Alice and John arrived and practically the first thing I did after welcoming them was to warn them about the weather forecast. But they were 'very positive' they said, no worries.

Similar (day) tornado a week later - 8 September 2014
They loved their pad and set out for a ‘lovely’ afternoon, lounging and reading in gail force winds. After I brought them their welcome lunch basket, they fancied a swim so I guided them down to the nearest beach, which looked like armageddon with giant waves crushing onto the shore.

So they went to potter and came back around tea time. At this point the wind is even more nuts but they refuse all offers to cook in the house rather than in the wind tunnel. ‘We love it’ Alice says, ‘exactly what we were looking for’. Cue mad storm and crazy lightening in the background, coming right this way. “We’ll just take our dinner to the tent and watch the show”.

Despite making Alice promise they will come for shelter if it all gets too much, I go back to the house completely unconvinced. I keep looking out the window as the rain starts battling down. Jez - who'd earlier 'accused' me of scaring off guests with my weather forecasts - was still insisting there’s nothing to worry about, all ropes tightened, all solid. But this was no normal storm. As I tried to sit down to do a bit of work I get an sms:

How beautifully British. Texts me from the car, 5m from our front door, apologises for our torn tent and asks if they can get another tent! I said that’s it, as lovely and batty as you are, firstly get out of that car and into the house, and while Jez tries to salvage their possessions with John, in the middle of a hurricane, sorted out a room for them at nearby Hotel Montecallini.

Could not have happened to nicer people. Unlucky for them but another blessing for us, that no one got hurt and that they were so unbelievably chilled about it all. Shame we didn’t get a chance to chat more with their three-day stay cut short, as they headed back the next day, still so very zen. What a lovely and inspiring couple, made the disaster so much easier to deal with.

And a key lesson: you must call the shots if the weather is bad, no matter how much the guests ‘love it’. Hotel rooms provisionally held in case. 
Plan B: CHECK.


Heartbreaking day on Friday 12 September as Rich called during lunchtime: our friend Farouk had lost his long battle with cancer. Larger than life, we'd last seen Farouk in great form during our first Salento summer (2012) when he visited for a week with gorgeous Spot and daughter Zaria, staying in nearby Marina Novaglie. Wonderful memories and much laughter, in particular Delphine's birthday dinner. Sadly with Jez travelling, neither of us were able to make it to say farewell. Another almond tree to be added to our 'Jardin du Souvenir'.


Our great friends Nick and Nessie were meant to be in the hood mid September but sadly had to postpone. However Nessie's Mum & Dad still came and it was an absolute joy to see them again, be it all too briefly and frenetically. I'd suggested Hotel Montecallini, which they were very happy with; Nessie had given them top places to visit but they had a bit of a rocky first day on the Adriatic coast - tricky thing mid-September, sudden shut down so it can be a little hit & miss... unless you're in the know ;-) Suggested a few of our favourite restaurants and beaches and it seems that worked out well for them. An absolutely gorgeous couple they are. And oh so many lovely pics of Nick & Nessie's amazing new house and Suzie's wedding. Always tears you to miss so much but then you appreciate these precious visits.

RIP SMUDGE - September
Over the past three years we’ve seen our fair share of cat tragedies and have accepted the wild nature we live in; however having to put a dog to sleep is another story. Poor Smudge, not even one yet, was suddenly paralysed from head to toe, except for his little wagging tail. Despite weeks of tests of all sorts and nursing him, there was no hope. Heartbreaking.


Another year, another challenge. Even more determined this year to raise the school game and yank them into the 21st century. Thankfully they are looking to bring a reform ‘Buona Scuola’ into Italian schools and the proposal actually makes a lot of the sense. And conveniently also pretty much backs up all that I’ve been banging on about - PE is essential, more creativity, more interactive teaching, etc. Unfortunately, unlikely to be implemented in a hurry in them parts... so taking on the (unasked for, uninvited) initiative of moving things a little forward, sooner rather than later. At times, a full time job; but an absolute necessity and a newfound passion since I’ve been introduced to my new idol Sir Ken Robinson's (nearly 30million views of his TED Talk on youtube) and to our friend Nick’s excellent new initiative STEAM Co.


Lovely to get a cheeky beach afternoon at Lido Azzurro in the first week of school, holding on to that holiday feeling, before homework starts kicking you in the head.


Very proud of our champions as they ran their little socks off in the annual village race, San Michele festive weekend. Medals and all.


Inspired by our friend Nick Corston and in line with my commitment to bringing more creativity to the Leuca primary school, I got the school to participate in the Imagination Foundation's Global Cardboard Challenge. Great event, practically all kids produced some form of robot, car, house, plane, made of cardboard and recycled material. Lots of fun and got full support from the school ‘preside’ and also from the mayoress. Plus we were the first school in Italy to join this global creative movement. A good start to my 2014-2015 campaign, opening them to the world of possibilities...

TEN YEARS TODAY (actually on 15 October 2014)

Ten years already since we walked down the aisle. As for most years it seems, we celebrated apart, my husband in London, me back at the ranch. But we enjoyed a family weekend away near Lecce where Jez finally got to try out the Acaya Golf Course - another superb discovery. 

Of course none of it could match the wonderful gift that was my poem. Luckily, he's probably got another ten years before I attempt that again: too many side-effects, days trying to make everything rhyme.

Many dear thoughts for my parents, who were truly amazing before, during and after the mad wedding that it was. Also a thought for John and Joyce and all the Jowett, McEntee and Hardy family. Pleased to report that John has yet again recovered from his latest health challenge, just needs to do his exercises - right John?!

And finally, I had a lot of thoughts for all our friends who were there that day, for those who couldn’t be with us, and for my dear Mamie and our wonderful Buntie, who have since then said their last Goodnight. We are extremely lucky and so blessed to have such amazing friends in our lives, and although the nature of global citizenship means we’re now all split across the globe, they are all still very near us and always in our hearts. Especially Jez’ best man Max who we haven’t seen in four years. Makes for a big hole in our lives as we miss him much but sometimes human nature can be rather complicated. Life goes on.

OLIVE SEASON - Mid October

Came early this year, as there were olives aplenty, falling all over the place from early October, due to more rain than usual. A full week of picking and managed to produce nearly 50 litres of liquid gold. However not having my lovely folks there was a little odd and solitary and certainly not as much fun - nor as productive, despite Hooper and Jez' 13 full minutes of labour. OK maybe an hour. Love my husband's selfie in front of 'my' eight cases.


Already a year since the kids and I had seen John and Joyce and since John had his terrible stroke. So we went for a flying visit for Halloween weekend. Wonderful to see the family, play at the park and enjoy UK life for a few days. The kids went gaga when they saw the sweets fest that is Halloween in UK, compared to Leuca (they've yet to experience North American excess). Then brilliant Auntie Karen took the kids to the Super Duper Halloween play, where I thought Hooper would be sleeping under a table by that time but instead went on stage and was a little zombie star it seems! Always sad to leave but at least this time knowing we will be back for Christmas.

Well that's it. Such a long post it's almost Christmas now. Stay tuned for the next newsletter... or will I manage to post anything before another six months? The suspense will kill you. Very. Slowly.