There’s an unconsecrated church at the end of the road, which we have been meaning to visit. Only a couple of minutes walk away, this small, unimposing, rustic building stands at the meeting point of three roads, and its door is always open. I have never seen anyone coming or going, but invariably there is a candle flickering in the doorway.
It’s our last full day in Italy today – tomorrow we head eastward, by sea to Greece – and so this morning we make the tiny pilgrimage to the church on the corner. The figs are gasping again in the hot sun, and the green blades of the aloe, prickly pear and pine cut through the blue sky. The children chase shy geckos scuttling in and out of the the dry stone walls, and watch them slip behind the wild oregano. And they jump at the barks of the big loud dogs who rabidly guard the collapsing masserias.
It is a great relief to step inside the cool stone walls of the little church, and the children fall silent for just a moment, touched by the otherness of this humble, handmade place. There is an instant sense of sacredness here, but it’s not about godliness; there are deeply personal human traces that have been left upon this building.
There are the things that I am immediately drawn to: the kitsch, the colourful, the juxtaposition, the forlorn eyes of a Father, the completely unassuming aesthetic. And then there are the notes and photographs of lost parents, children, grandparents, husbands and wives whose spirits are captured here in some small way, above the plastic flowers in this tiny corner temple. It is moving and I sense Zippy feels the weight of the place too, when I find her leaning up against a pew contemplating the images all around her.
Roo contemplates the pews and sees them as an excellent apparatus for practicing his jumping, which is a good time to head home and enjoy the magical garden for the rest of the day.
After lunch and whilst the children play football with The Husband, I start preparing dinner. I grill courgettes in olive oil and lemon, cut rosemary for the potatoes, pick figs for a salad with bocconcini, and cook cannellini beans in tomatoes and red wine.
Giuliana, The Sailor Man, Agnese and Tomas join us after our late siesta, and we share food, wine and stories. I manage to get Giuliana to enjoy figs from her own tree for the first time, and The Husband explains to our hosts that their cat’s name means ‘bum’ in English. Thankfully, lavatory humour is internationally recognised and they too see the funny side of young children innocently shouting “Arse!” at a small animal.
The Sailor Man regales us with a weather warning for our crossing tomorrow night: there will be storms at sea. Arse.
Just before seven, we drive into Lecce to take the hire car back. After dropping it off, we walk back through town for a final ice cream, picking up provisions for tomorrow’s boat trip along the way. We buy bread at Si Se, and a bottle of olive oil and a 5 LITRE plastic gerry can of sweet Primitivo Amabile wine (hey, we’re going to sea) at Il Vinaio, both on Via Taranto.
On Via Salvatore Trinchese, the children choose ice creams at Martinucci, a wonderful fifty year-old ice cream ‘laboratory’ where you can watch the cooks working the huge machines and taste gelato of extraordinary flavours. On the opposite side of the street, The Husband and I indulge in Avio Bar’s house speciality of ‘Caffe in Ghiacci’, and we all watch the dressed-up barista pour coffee over ice with almond milk (late di mandoria) and whipped cream. With the sky full of stars and our bellies full of good things, it’s a grand finale to our fortnight in Italy.