The husband has a daily routine now. Each morning, before we leave to sightsee, or go out for lunch, or make a trip to the supermarket, he cleans up our courtyard. Namely, he picks up the figs that have dropped from the tree since we were last outside, and tosses them over the stone wall. One day he barely missed one of the owners, cleaning the apartment on the other side of the wall. We try not to leave them for too long – they attract ants and wasps. But if we do, and if the sun is shining and the day is hot, then by the end of the day there is a distinct, cloying aroma of dried fig. The tree is old, has been pruned many times and is tall. The ripe figs are well out of arm’s reach, otherwise a fig and prosciutto aperitivo with some prosecco or a beer at the swimming pool would be a good idea.
We are staying in an apartment in a converted farm building, a masseria or fortified farm, one of many that you find scattered through this area. There is an old wall, a tower, and the remains of a moat. Fortifications provided some protection from invaders, coming from land but also frequently by sea in this part of Italy. Fortunately, there is no shortage of rocks from this stony Apulia* soil with which to build walls and towers and ramparts.
The farm where we are staying grows olives and, from the size of the trunks, has done so for maybe centuries. Apulia is pretty much Olive Central for Italy. Driving down from the Murgia plateau, as we look down to the Adriatic, across Monopoli, north to Bari and south to Brindisi and the tip of the heel, as far as the eye can see there are olives, blanketing the landscape. Mostly planted in careful straight lines, contained by pretty rock walls – some of these are new, some still under construction, and others ancient and crumbling – olives are clearly big business down here. But not only do they add deliciousness to the seafood, provide a wonderful source of unsaturated fat (the olive oil and tomato combination is essential to the healthy Mediterranean diet), but they soften the landscape and, even in their uniformity, provide endlessly changing vistas. The large, old, gnarled olive trees are scraggly and scrappy, the roots and trunks twist around themselves, often giving the appearance of two trees clinging together through the decades.
And the light – that September Puglia light that the Italians swoon over? In the late afternoon and early evening, the sun turns the landscape golden. The beautiful Apulia stone glows, the Adriatic turns an even deeper blue (if that is possible), and the olives soak up the warmth of the last of the summer sun.* I’m using Puglia and Apulia interchangeably as you can see. I hope it doesn’t confuse anyone.