Buy This Issue
The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 23 September 2017
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 23 SEPTEMBER 2017 17 TRAVEL Salentine Peninsula Calabria La Torre Spaccata their architecture with a relaxed intimacy that, as an American bereft of such monuments at home, I could only envy. The autostrade runs through the middle of the Italian heel, and only a few signs alert the driver that he is passing through Grecia Salentina, a small oasis of Greek language and culture in the middle of the Salentine Peninsula. Pulling off to one of them, the village of Calimera, I am greeted by the town name and "Kalos Irtet" the local welcome in the Griko dialect. The nine towns of Grecia Salentina, all of which I visited, were part of a larger Greek language area that receded with time, and for the most part the towns, lovely, whitewashed affairs amid olive groves clustered around a baroque church bell tower, all looked the same. The colours were the same as in Greek islands, and even the church towers recalled places in Greece which had experienced Venetian rule, such as Naxos or Corfu. Though there were a few carefully preserved Orthodox chapels dotting the countryside, the functioning churches were all Catholic, and have been for centuries. Orthodoxy faded, by necessity, into the Uniate Doctrine, or Rito Greco, as it is known locally. This rite, using Greek in the liturgy and elements of Orthodox liturgy ended by 1600, to be replaced by standard Roman Catholic liturgy and doctrine. That said, some people have converted to Orthodoxy out of a sense of cultural loyalty, The Griko people of Calabria and in Grecia Bovesia, a small proportion of Greekspeakers remain Uniates. Southern Italy also has a large Albanian-speaking population, similar in culture to Greece's Arvanites, and often they remain staunchly Uniate or Orthodox, and culturally Byzantine. Many came to Italy in the Ottoman era from parts of Greece, and the foustanella is often worn at their celebrations. In the town of Corigliano d'Otranto, I fell in with a local cultural circle, the Argalio (Greek for ‘loom’), and they spun tales, as we conversed in a combination of the Griko dialect, my Spanish-leaning Italian, and broken English, over fantastic seaside meals and midnight music, where all voices joined in their songs of love and heartbreak, in a dialect readily understandable to a modern Greek. They also introduced me to their Pizzicata dance, a spinning dance where man circles woman circles man, and they laughed at how I danced it "like a Balkan, but I guess that's what you are, after all." Their music lacked the spice of the East, of Turkey, that so peppers music from the Slovenian border to Syria. They too lacked that bitter taste, that peppery anger, which the people on the eastern side of the Adriatic seem to possess. The heavy weight of the Turkish presence was palpably absent. For a bit more of the Balkans in Italy, I went to the town of Otranto, where the Adriatic reaches its narrowest Roca Vecchia, Salento, the heel of the Italian boot point. Here fortress walls, and a properly frescoed Byzantine Church greet the visitor, the only place on the Italian mainland to fall to the Turks, in 1481. Albanians were all over the town, ferry services advertised routes to Corfu, Valona, and Durres. My car radio picked up music from across the Adriatic, Albanian folk pop sounding every bit like Greek, Serbian, or Turkish music, just change the language. I could not help but think that the Balkans without the Turkish legacy is not the Balkans. After all, the word ‘Balkan’ itself is Turkish for "mountain range." It says it all. Back in Corigliano d'Otranto, we had another evening of cafes and minifestivals. More parties were due later in the week, in neighbouring towns, but I had to move on. The place captivated me too much, it was like Greece with all of the delights but without the weight. I sensed that if I did not leave, I might just stay. The next day, I boarded a ferry from Brindisi to Patras, the Peloponnesian port where my grandfather first set out for America. My friends waved from the pier. The Salentine ‘Greeks’ are a lively bunch, with a lust for life. They are Catholic Italians who share blood with Greeks and aspects of their culture and language, but neither their religion nor their identity. They are a lost Greek homeland, but they do not feel lost, and they are at home. So was I, when I was there.
16 September 2017
30 September 2017