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Salento stories
…in search of lost time
In Rocco Boccadamo’s latest book – a homage to his Marittima and neighbouring Castro – his memories of life experiences, local characters from the past and their old crafts tell of the Salento of former times and re-discover its dignity and values by Raffaella Verdesca
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In Rocco Boccadamo’s book, Compare, mi vendi una scarpa?, (Good fellow, will you sell me a shoe?) it’s fun for the reader to jump barefoot from one story to another. There are paths that set off in present times and lead back to the past without uncertainty, maps drawn up carefully and elegantly written, as simple in their content as they are refined in the weaving of the form.

The discriminating factor of the shoe, in the same way as that of social classes and commonplaces is useless on this journey, since the writer offers everybody present an exciting return journey to the origins, on the ship of memory, towards the re-discovery of a Salento pure in its bonds, while to absent friends it gives a single ticket, on the ship of memory, towards the Salento of today. A splendid marketing ploy benefiting from the nostalgia of the writer, the knowledge of the reader, and the honour of the absentees.

Evocative episodes of life filtered by the direct eye-witness reports of Boccadamo unravel through the pages, and it is striking to see them associated with the short forms of the names and long forms of the nicknames of old characters, often relatives or friends, who made a bulwark of their dignity and genius, so as not to identify the peasant society yet again with its stereotypes, rather to rediscover it as harmonious and social individuality.

Yesteryear’s boy’, as the author likes to define himself, makes frequent reference to the cradle of his becoming, his home town of Marittima, with its cliffs that drop to the sea, neighbouring Castro with Via Frasciule, Largo Campurra and the beloved district of Ariacorte, ideal meeting-place for all generations: “You knew everything about everyone”, writes Rocco, and he doesn’t mean gossip so much as interest dictated by feeling.

Boccadamo’s intent is clear: nothing must be forgotten, from the age-old traditional trades and crafts to the religious rites of the little villages of southern Salento.

It is story and it is life.

Those who are forced to live a long way from their homeland for work reasons or whatever reason knows very well how the sharpening of memories is one of the few efficacious remedies against the pain of absence, the only consolation for the wrench from our dearest ties.

Everything is recomposed and comes back to life with the potent magic of memory, everything is transfigured in the delicacy of the poetry born of familiar colours and scents. There are lands you know nothing of and lands you carry inside you like cells of the soul. You don’t need a text of Human Anatomy to find them, nor an underwater diving licence to plumb the deeps and get back the memories; you just have to let yourself be lead by the man who thanks to the example of the “people”, or rather by means of the highest level on the scale of values, according to Boccadamo himself, ‘yesteryear’s boy’ and the gentleman of today.

The nobility of spirit of our author and his streak of irony tinged with melancholy render the memories as crystalline as his sea, the beloved sea of Castro, that sea that even the imposing carob in the back gardens recognises as friend and brother. Good fellow Rocco, may we dive in?

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