Synopsis: Bourdain voyages to the south of Italy—the heel of the boot—to witness idyllic vistas not yet overrun by tourists. There he frolics on Speedo-studded beaches with Asia Argento, avoids festivities for local saints, and dines with a genuine, delightfully emotive Italian nonna (grandmother) who worries greatly for her local priest. In this, the land of the tarantula, whose bite is said to ignite feverish passions, Bourdain imbibes the sights, sounds, and tastes of the Mediterranean.
Despite its uncanny beauty, southern Italy’s Puglia and Basilicata regions are some of the least populated, least visited, least known parts of the country.
Paradise (soon-to-be) lost
- “Southern Italy, the heel of the boot. Remote, vast open spaces. The red earth here has a magnetic pull. Raw, alternately charming and savage.”
- [Over a plate of ricci pasta] “Now, in the annals of food, this is, like, a divisive dish—basically anything with ricci, also known as uni—we call it sea urchin roe … This is truly one of the greatest things on Earth. … Goddamn.”
- “A mix of sea, hills, valleys, and rich earth. The food here is Italian but completely its own.”
- “Feudal, ungovernable. It was believed once that civilization and Christianity would never reach this far south, in the heel of Italy’s boot. A lawless land, filled with folklore and tales of spirit and possession—a blood soup of Christianity and paganism.”
Of love bites and passion pits
The heel of Italy’s boot has been referred to as ‘the land of remorse’—la terra del rimorso—which also translates to ‘the land of the rebitten.
- “Here, in this harsh landscape, lives the tarantula and echoes of some deep, dark pre-Christian pagan shit, like tarantism—a dance, a ritual, an exorcism, an expression of unspeakable desires.”
- “Local Apulian custom has it if a tarantula bit someone—most often a woman while she worked the fields—it could lead to some pretty direct and disturbing demonstrations of carnality and desire: the victim tortured by something supernatural, toxic, for which there was only one cure.”
- [At Nonna Maria’s house for a pasta meal] “Now when I came here, I thought we’d talk about, oh, I don’t know—changing times, history of the region. But Maria had other things on her mind.”
Mamma mia, Antonio
The festival of local patron saints, Peter and Paul, is equal parts religious celebration and a big party. But I’m not going.
- “I like kids. Not cooked.”
- “St. Paul wasn’t … like, a nice guy. He was in charge of persecuting heretics and Christians.”
- [On St. Paul’s revelation] “Get on board. Get on the Jesus train.”
- “As important as religion, folklore, and history are to me, you know what’s more important? Dinner.”
- “Any notions of an idyllic, remote beach for a private barbecue are quickly dashed when I realize it’s a religious holiday, which I guess means Italians grease up, strap on their tiniest Speedos, and hit the beach en masse.”
- “My grandma died when I was a kid. And those of you who know me know I’m always on the lookout for another one—somebody’s, anybody’s grandma to cook for me and make me feel like everything is gonna be OK.”