Culture, Wine & Olives in Crispiano (Satis Shroff)
COME with me to Crispiano, a lovely town with fragrances and flowers from the vineyards and olive trees in the Masseria, where the sun smiles all day. I never met such amiable people as the people in Crispiano and Taranto. Dolche vita and amore mio, Crispiano.
It lies in the region Ampulia in the province of Taranto in the Southern Italian Zone, and has a population of 13,809 . The people are called Crispianesi and the saint of the town is: Madonna della Neve.
The flight from Zürich to Brindisi was pleasant, even though the jet was full. I had a window seat on the left side of the Finnish jet and the personnel spoke German with a distinctly Swiss accent. It was fascinating to see Lake Constance (Bodensee) and the Swiss lakes reveal themselves only to be hidden by clouds, akin to those I’d often seen on Tibetan thankas.
Clouds of all shapes and sizes marked the journey and suddenly you noticed, as we left Venice behind, we were flying over the Adriatic Sea. The islands strewn along the Adriatic coast looked lovely. The endless blue of the sea, and beyond, towards the east lay the Dalmatian Alps and to the south Albania, Greece and Crete in the Mediterranean Sea.
Flying over Lake Zurich, past the Canton Schwyz and Klöntaler lake over the Glaner Alps. To the east the Albula Alps and Engadin, overflying St. Moritz and the bernine mountains to the east and Oberhalbstein to the west.
Crossing Bellinzona and over Lake Como and the town of Chiasso on our way to Italy. We left Lake Maggiore, with its lakeside towns Ascona and Locarno, behind. It was fascinating to note that the jet took course over the Adriatic Sea, where you could see myriads of islets. The water was glistening like diamonds caused by the reflection of light on the blue water surface. An amazing natural phenomenon as the jet descended on its way to the airport of Brindisi on the east coast of the Italian boot, behind Sicily.
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Here I am on my way to Crispiano to attend the Neruda Awards 2017. How did it happen? I was happily writing articles and when I didn’t have much time I’d write poems or prose poems. I’ve been writing for internet websites since decades. Some websites exist still and some like the American Chronicle and gather.com have been sold and gone commercial. However, Blogspot.com and WordPress.com are still marching on and now you have Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, Boloji.com and a host of others. My experience is not to put all your eggs in one basket so that if one goes defunct, the others are still there.
One day an Irish poetess, Amy Barry, chatted on FB and she introduced me to Maria Miraglia from the Neruda Associazione Lit Club and soon I asked to be the Director for Germany of the Writers International Foundation under the leadership of Preeth nambiar, based in South India. Two German newspapers Freiburg’s Badische Zeitung and Kirchzarten’s Dreisamtäler picked up the story and I was interviewed by Anja Bochtel and Christine van Herk regarding the nomination for the Pablo Neruda Award 2017.
German reporters are very critical and sceptical about prizes for literature other countries and Ms. Bochtel asked particularly about the standard of the poems in the internet. Sometimes, I do admit the standard of the poems aren’t up to the mark because some poets don’t bother to double-check their poems and are poorly edited at times. At other times, there are painstakingly edited and re-edited verses which are a delight to read. Didn’t someone say journalism was literature in a big hurry? Hope this doesn’t hold for poetry in general.
I appreciate the work that is involved in organising such a big poetry and cultural festival in Crispiano this year, and in Taranto last year. This time there are five international poets and poetesses and the others protagonist, as they are called in Italian, are from Italy itself. Behind the scenes there are a lot of translations being done, which is a great contribution to world literature. The world literature has gone digital and it’s time that internet writers are taken seriously. Whether you publish on Amazon, neobooks.com, Lulu.com, Kindle or any standard publisher, the books are now offered online as cheaper e-books or standard paperbacks. Not only the internet publishers do it but also the traditional publishers to reach more people. Much like Neruda Lit Club, Pentasi B based in Manila and others like Roula Pollard and Dimitris Krakaitios based in Larissa (Greece), there are a good many websites that have been contributing towards the dissemination, popularity and popularity of literature around the world.
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Here was I, originally a Nepalese, resident in the Schwarzwald town of Freiburg, on my way to Italy at the invitation of the Assoziazione Pablo Neruda in Crispiano to be presented the Neruda Award 2017. What an honour and delight after all those years of teaching Creative Writing at the University of Freiburg (ZfS) and poetry at the University of Education as well as the Volkshochschule in Freiburg and Dreisam Valley (Kirchzarten) and other workshops on Creative Writing for International Writers in Zähringen.
It’s really amazing how it really began. At school in the foothills of the Himalayas, I’d had English language and literature taught by the Christian Brothers of Ireland. It was a boarding school and was like a fortress, a state within a state, with the principal as the chief. The Brothers never told us which part of Ireland they were from though they’d make jokes about the Protestants and say: ‘What are they protesting about anyway.’ The Brothers knew everything about us school-kids but never talked about themselves. You couldn’t be warm with them and they wanted to keep it that way. In the days of the East India Company it was master-and-servants and in the school it was masters-and-charges, who paid for their schooling. No protests were tolerated and the school-kids had to stand like soldiers during the early morning inspection in impeccable school uniforms a hand stretched out with a clean, ironed handkerchief. If someone didn’t come up to the standards set the Irish principle could say to him in a gruffy, whiskey-driven voice and beef-red face: ‘Come to the office!’ That meant benders: whacks on his bottom with a leather strap. If you went out of bounds for even a second you were obliged to get benders. I had my share of it.
All the books we used came from England, even the science books. In the lower classes we did adventure stories like Robinson Crusoe and Moby Dick, King Solomon’s Mines and the Lake District poets.
At home my Mom used to recite and read from the Ramayana and Bhagavad Gita and in school we did ‘Tess’ by Thomas Hardy and ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ by Charles Dickens, Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth,’ ‘Julius Caesar’ and ‘As you like it’ and lots of poems by British and a few American authors.
The Christian Brothers expected us to recite poems, which was actually a good thing. I loved reading and reciting and doing questions from the context, writing essays, précis and analysis of stories. The final years at school went fast and suddenly there I was with a certificate from the University of Cambridge (and an Indian equivalent) in the hand and no more sitting on the hard old bench, do-da-do-da-day.
After school I went to Kathmandu for my further studies. I’d applied to the Amrit Science College in Thamel, and one fine day I received a positive reply letter from the principal of the college, a certain Mr. Joshi, with a PhD in Physics. We had to do a subject called ‘Panchayat’ which was mostly about the glorification of the Nepalese Royal family and how the Panchayat system from the Vedic times suited Nepal in every way, because Nepal was made up mostly of villages. It was a system about the five elders of each village in Nepal and the national religion was Hinduism, with the King and Queen holding the executive, legislative and judiciary powers.
At my second school St. Joseph’s, North Point, I met Prince Dhirendra Shah and he was in my batch. I and my friend Tek were doing our Bachelors in Zoology, Botany and Geology and Prince Dhirendra his BA in Geography at the Tri Chandra College.
Later, I went to Germany for higher studies and Prince Dhirendra moved to the Britain. His elder brother Birendra Shah became the King of Nepal after the demise of his father King Mahendra. King Birendra had a tough time with the Congress at the beginning of his reign and later the Maoists began overrunning the police and government check-posts. The movement started in western Nepal, later moving to central and eastern Nepal. Demonstrations and strikes were staged in all parts of the Nepalese Kingdom.
After I’d done my Bachelors I worked in a so-called English Medium School. In the prospectus they mentioned a lake but it was jsut a greenish, dirty pond with algae. The two headmasters were out to make money and I pitied the students. Some of them were Gurkha children and their fathers were doing service as soldiers and guarding the Sultan’s palace in Brunei, Malaysia fighting against the communists in the jungles of Kalimantan and in North Borneo. But the kids made the best out of the situation.
One day a dear friend’s father advised me to go over to The Rising Nepal’s editorial department. I went and was met by a guy named Josse who also had a public school background. He asked me which school I’d attended. The language was English and not the lingua franca of Nepal, which is Nepali.
He said he’d gone to St. Augustine in K’pong. Then he stared me in the eyes for a few seconds. I didn’t blink because this was a game I’d played often with my neighbour’s lovely daughter. We’d just play this staring game. And I’d always win. She’d either lower her eyes or blink. I remember a similar situation in Doris Lessing’s ‘The Second Hut’ in which a Major Carruthers hires an Afrikander named Van Herdeen. Did the editor look at the width of my eyes, the shape of my skull and how my legs were apart? How I stood there, a young guy fresh from college and stared at him in his eyes. He must have thought: this bloke’s okay, good character, good public-school-product, a gentleman.
‘Okay, you can start tomorrow,’ he said.
So I started working with the Rising Nepal, writing the second editorial and letters to the editor when there weren’t any, correcting articles written and submitted by Nepalese and foreign residents of Catmandu Valley.
Josse had said: ‘You’ll reach more readers that your school class.’
He was right.
I started writing a regular science spot column every Thursday and one day a Mr. Pandey from the External Service of Radio Nepal came to the office and said:
‘I read your ‘Bustle of Basantapur’ article and really enjoyed it. Would you like to write commentaries for Radio Nepal?’
I felt delighted. I thought for a second about the development issues but you really didn’t have much choice but to give the Royal Palace’s views in the editorials. Can I make it different with culture, perhaps?
So I started writing commentaries on Nepal’s development and culture which were read by Gauri KC in the evening programme.
You can imagine my surprise when I met Gauri KC, Shyam KC and other journalists at the Graf Zeppelin Hotel in Stuttgart. They’d accompanied King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya on a state visit to Germany. I’d received an invitation for the official reception at La Redoute in Bonn and also in Stuttgart. Frau Margot Busak was so kind to drive with me in her black Mercedes car. She died shortly thereafter.
In Freiburg I started learning at the Goethe Institute and reading Medicine. It was at the university that I attended Prof. Bruce Dobler’s Creative Writing semester. We did poems and Bruce was the one who got me interested in poems. At school poems were the works of exalted literary personalities, almost gods. Nobody taught us to write poems. We were obliged to learn English poems by heart. That was all to literature. No Irish Brother was interested in Creative Writing. It didn’t exist in their minds. We did write a good many letters, essays and précis though. There was a prize for performance in science but none for literature. It heartens me to note that in the German Gymnasiums the school-kids learn Creative Writing and prizes are given not only for science but also for music and literature.
Creative Writing has come to the Continent from the USA. British universities have also introduced Creative Writing in their syllabus. In Germany you can do Kreatives Schreiben in a few universities in Hildesheim and Saxony. The Frankfurter and Leipziger Book Fairs attract thousands of authors, readers and publishers from all over the world.
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Since the sea is a bit far away from Crispiano its inhabitants cannot gather the frutti de mare, they have made use of the fruits of labour of the earth. The people of Crispiano grow wheat, grapes, vegetables, olives and make bread, wine and paste with their hands as ‘chiangaredd’ or ‘frucidd.’ The vegetables and fresh seasonal fruits are brought to the Italian table. There are many kinds of bread to be found in the Italian table. Bread could also replaced by legumes like peas and beans, which developed into excellent food in various dishes such as ‘ncapriata’ together with other vegetables boiled and sautéed with stir-fried onions.
On festive occasions the dishes are richer as ‘tien,’ meat and potatoes and, of course, ‘fecha scchet.’ This involves baking figs in the oven, additionally with toasted almonds and laurel. A typical speciality from Crispiano is the liver called ‘gnummredde,’ which is made from the entrails of lamb such as liver, heart and lungs, wrapped in a net and tied with guts, strewn with salt.
It reminded me of the time I was invited by a family Moosmann in the Black Forest to a Schweineschlacht. Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s ‘Slaughterhouse-Five is another matter with an eloquent anti-war message. In this case also, nothing was thrown away and big boxes of spices were used to make the meat tasty. The smell of clover, cardamom, paprika and salt emanated from the schlachthaus (butchery) to our nostrils. Even the blood was cooked with bacon to make Blutwurst. The person who kills the animal is called the ‘Schlächter’ and the butcher has a Meisterbrief and many years of training in his trade and an examination behind him.
‘The Agrigentiner (farmers) eat as though they would die the next day, and they build as they would live forever’ said Empedokles.
But when it comes to the fancies of our palate, we must leave it to Hippocrates, who said: ‘The tongue tastes the food, as though it were music.’
No question is more popular than that of Marco Polo (1254-1324): did the Venetian bring the noodles from China to Italy or was it the other way round?
The spices come from the countries of the four currents of Paradise: the Nile, Ganges, Euphrates and Tigris. Legends tell us the bird phoenix burns in a cinnamon (zimt)-nest, and one promises oneself that the balsam-spices have life-extending qualities.
‘I think, one finds in people who’re born near good wine are much happier,’ said Leonardo da Vinci.
This is the impression I had of Saverio, Ariel, Egidio and Adriano. All jolly men in the middle of their lives, which they lives with gusto.
It was no other than Nietzsche (Ecce Homo) who said: ‘The best cuisine belongs to Piemont. I’d say the Italian cuisine in Crispiano and Taranto was second to none.
This was a place where they love music, food and wine. The olive is reaped later in Autumn but you could, nevertheless, eat olives and tartufi (truffles) served with tasty risotto rice and delicate sea-food. You felt like a god, waking up in the beautiful ambient of Villa Marina in Crispiano, a short drive away from the town. You could bathe in the history of lovely Crispiano and the harbour town of Taranto, as told by my dear friends Maria and Saverio.
Maria is a cosmopolitan poetess based in Crispiano. You notice immediately that she loves meeting people from other cultural backgrounds. She told me she’d been to India last year and her question was: where is the spiritual India of yore? In Europe you always hear about India as the Lands of Spirituality with its gurus, pundits, sadhus and rishis. People in the streets of India tended to be business minded. She’d visited Jaipur and Delhi and knows a well-known poet from India.
I told her living in a subcontinent with such a big population isn’t easy. I was thinking about a book review I’d written about ‘The White Tiger,’a book about modern India. The German poet Günter Grass also wrote his subjective views about Calcutta.
Maria’s literary works have been translated into: Spanish, Turkish, Macedonian, Albanian and Azerbaijan languages. In the forward to her anthology of poems ‘Dancing Winds’ Yawchien Fang, a Taiwanese academic poet and writer, describes her book as a ‘modern classic with a magnificent poetry collection by one of the finest poets of contemporary literature.’ Further, he writes: ‘In many poems we can read the poet’s heart that wishes for a world united in love.’
Saverio Sinapoli grew up in Taranto, a town with big mansions and two bridges and a seaside restaurant with a magnificent backdrop of the Adriatic Sea. The sun was going down under the horizon of the golden sea and the Gulf of Taranto when we went for dinner and a promenade. Further southwards below Italy’s boot lay the Ionian Sea.
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Journey Back: Ah, the sun is going down with a scarlet glow along the horizon, with greyish-blue clouds which look like the brush strokes of Monet and Cezanne on the heavenly canvas. The sun is setting behind the blue mountains as we reach Wettingen at a steady speed. The sun is becoming fainter and fainter and the scarlet hue has disappeared, now becoming yellowish with more bluish-grey clouds appearing and covering the sky above the horizon. Lights have started appearing in the townships that fleet by. One of the many long tunnels appears and suddenly there’s more light outside. Blue mountains appear in the horizon as we head for Basle Brugg.
My thoughts go to the burly Egidio Ippolito, the mayor of Crispiano, a gentleman with a positive Mediterranean approach to life. He’s interested in making Cispiano a great place to live in, and his deep interest in culture, not only of his Heimat but also cultures beyond the Mediterranean. I never met a more positive, cosmopolitan and sympathetic mayor in my life. He not only manages the administration of the town but indulges successfully in creative design. He invited us to try out his fantasy costume in the town council of Crispano.
Before going to Italy I sent a request per e-mail to the mayor of Freiburg for a small symbolic gesture for his Italian counterpart (I had an exchange of the emblems of Freiburg and Crispiano in mind) but didn’t receive a reply. So I rang up his ‘Vorzimmer Dame’ and she congratulated me on the Neruda Award but said: ‘Wir machen so was nicht.’ That was it. My heart sank to my feet. I had a strange feeling because this so-called Green City professes to be world open (even the Dalai Lama was greeted and feted by Freiburg City) but it did have its limits. So I went to town and bought souvenirs on my own. Andere Länder, andere Sitten. We, Germans, are know as stiff people. In comparison to my hometown Freiburg im Breisgau, the town of Crispiano and its mayor were magnanimous towards the poets who were invited and treated as special guests of the Neruda Award 2017.
Grazie Egidio Ippolito. Grazie Crispiano