Doing Europe: Heading South, Monopoli, Italy

I spent most of my days in Rome just walking around the beautiful, timeless city in awe. However, believe it or not, I was getting “bored” with my surroundings. I needed to get out of the city; the hustle and bustle was getting to me.

My friend Miriam, whom I’d worked with in Rimini, Italy, earlier that summer, invited me down to a friend’s party in Monopoli, Italy. Monopoli is a quaint coastal town located between the two major southern port cities of Bari and Brindisi.

I had heard about Monopoli and was excited to see southern Italy and hit the beach. So on July 7, 2003, I jumped on a train out of Rome and headed south.

Whenever I travel to the South in the United States, I feel like I’m in another country. In fact, when you go south in most countries, life is usually noticeably different. The people, language, lifestyles, food and feel of the area are just not the same as the north. Traveling to southern Italy gave me that same feeling of going to a new country all together.

Miriam picked me up at the Monopoli train station around 1:00 in the afternoon and we went to a nice café to catch up over espresso. There’s no better place in Italy to get to know the pulse of an area than a café, especially in smaller towns. Italians congregate at cafés to flap about everything!

After the nice jolt of Italian caffeine, we ventured to the beach to meet some of Miriam’s friends. I’ve been to a lot of beaches in my day, but this beach was a bit different. The main beach of Monopoli is situated right next to the coastal Castle of St. Stephen, circa 1086. What a sight! The 1000-year-old castle surrounds a small cove of crystal clear blue water and dozens of scantily clad Italians sunbathing on the beach. Little did I know that at this beach I would meet my new friends, who would make my night a very memorable one.

The hostess of the party was Tati. Interesting enough, Tati was the winner of Big Brother back in the early 2000s. Her cousin Onofrio was the owner of the house hosting the party, but Tati stayed there more often than Onofrio. Tati’s husband Nathan was an American with whom I got along well – probably the American connection. There was also a plethora of gorgeous Italian women. I knew the night was gonna be a fun one!

After getting bronzata at the beach for a couple hours, we adjourned to the party house, which was about half a mile from the beach. The single-story white Italian farmhouse had a large outdoor patio with couches to lounge in. The inside was moderate but cozy. There were stairs leading to a rooftop patio that overlooked the surrounding farmland and the sparkling Adriatic Sea. We set up for the party with lights, chairs, and tables replete with food, wine and beer.

Around 7 p.m., everyone started to show up – aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, cousins, friends, children, elderly, dogs, cats – this wasn’t a normal party. It consisted of over 40 members of a tight Italian family and their friends. I was introduced as Zio Matteo (Uncle Matthew).

To be immersed into a setting like you see or hear about in movies was extraordinary. An Italian party with copious amounts of food and wine and family is like no other. After meeting the entire famiglia (notably getting accosted by Tati’s older aunt who kept pinching my ass) and having several Peronis, I quickly became enamored.

And then came the band. The musicians were Pedro, a Spanish guitarist; Marcello, an Italian singer; and a Mexican gypsy dancer whose name I cannot recall. (Apparently she was a daughter of a curandero or healer/folk doctor/shaman.) This international trio was touring Italy, and Marcello was a friend of Tati. Pedro would start with a trancelike Spanish guitar riff while the Mexican gypsy engaged us all with a syncopated dance that was both beautiful and mesmerizing. Marcello added his Italian gypsy-like vocals (or howls) that made the trio justifiably the most appropriate music for such a party.

While the band took breaks, loud local music was blaring that everyone knew the words to. At one point an upbeat song came on and an Italian girl dressed in white started dancing excitedly. Then Tati’s dad joined her. Everyone was cheering on and laughing; gradually, about 30 people started to dance. The energy was contagious.

I am an American guitar player of 20 years who loves to play the blues. Tati had told Pedro that I played, and he coaxed me to pull out my axe to throw down some licks with him. We played several blues songs, going back and forth. When Pedro sang, he tried to sing in English but his lyrics were mostly a jumble of sounds that fit the blues music we created. The footage I have of this is priceless.

The party went on for hours, slowly dissipating into the Italian night. When I looked at my watch at 5 a.m., there was still a dozen or so people waiting for the sun to rise. Grandparents and children were still milling about. I put on Miles Davis’ "Kind of Blue," and we all watched the sun rise over the Adriatic Sea. Around 7 a.m., we finally went to bed.

I awoke lazily the next afternoon, and Miriam took me to the train station to head back to Rome.

The 24 hours I spent in Monopoli was one of the best times of my life. I've only met Tati and Nathan once, but I still keep in touch with them to this day. Words cannot express the experience I had there, nor can the video footage – to be a part of such a magical night makes me a very lucky man.

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Would LOVE to see the video footage of that "magical night"! Great story Matthew!

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