We asked Donato to tell us why the programme in Mesagne was crucial for him to learn Italian.
The first thing you did when you arrive back in Mesagne and when you got up in Mesagne?
A wonderful meal with my hosting family on my late arrival. The next day I made it a point to visit the lovely people who own the fruttivendolo, the fruit and vegetable store. Getting to know them was one of the highlights of my first trip to Mesagne and then I visited the Centro Storico, the historic center, to breathe in the centuries old atmosphere of the place.
What advice would you give to a tourist?
At first glance, Mesagne may seem like a sleepy town, but there is actually quite a bit of vitality here, and two examples of this vitality come immediately to mind. First, on Sunday morning if you take a walk to the park in the center of town you will find it filled with people of all ages. It is a delight to watch the young families with children playing on the playground equipment, or the older children playing basketball or soccer. And don’t forget to sit on a park bench to engage one of the old men sitting there in conversation. I have learned much about the history of Mesagne by doing so. Second, Mesagne is transformed late at night on a Friday or Saturday. If you walk in or around the Centro Storico at 11:00 PM, you will find the streets filled with strolling people, and all the restaurants and bars will be filled with people sipping caffè, amaro or a delicious gelato.
If you had to be locked in a building overnight, which would it be?
I guess it would have to be il Castello. What an amazing building with a rich history. The local tour guide arranged by Michela, the owner of l´Acanto School, to show my wife and me around the castle. She was a wonderfully enjoyable and knowledgeable young woman who helped the castle and all of the Centro Storico come alive for us. A highlight of our tour was the photo that she took of us in the medieval style “phone booth.”
Best place for a romantic dinner in Mesagne?
It would have to be in a Trattoria nel Centro Storico. Their antipasto is unlike anything I had ever experienced. It is a meal in itself, comprised of at least a dozen little dishes prepared to order and served one at a time as they become ready. Each one is a morsel of a typical regional dish, served by one of three different and friendly waiters.
What would you do if you were Mayor for the day?
Two things come to mind. I would order flyers to be sent out to every school, library and travel agency in the world alerting people to the beauty of this gem of a city hidden in the heart of Puglia, and I would be sure to include a link to the “Happy Mesagne” song video. Second, I would declare a feastday to celebrate the people of Mesagne.
Earliest Mesagne memory?
The first day we spent in Mesagne. I decided to do a little exploring. I went into town and sat in the park to observe the older men sitting on benches and having animated conversations among themselves. It reminded me so much of the conversations older men have in the Italian American neighborhood in which I grew up. I enjoyed watching the children playing and seeing the people strolling by. It filled me with gratitude to be sitting there in the land of my ancestry.
If you could buy any building in Mesagne, which would it be?
I guess I would buy one of the houses in the Centro Storico. It is the heart of Mesagne, so to live there would be to wrap myself in the richness of the centuries old history and tradition of the place and close to the enoteca, a lovely wine bar, Michela brought all the students there one evening and we had a very enjoyable time.
What is your favourite Apulian discovery?
All the quaint and wonderful towns in the region: Alberobello and Locorotondo, Pollignano a Mare, Monopoli, Porto Cesareo and Gallipoli to name just a few.
In addition, Lecce is a beautiful city with wonderful examples of Baroque art and architecture. Moreover, the many miles of seacoast are spectacular, and the Adriatic coast is so different from the Ionian. Finally, I have fallen in love with the ancient olive groves. Each tree is unique and magnificent in it’s own way, standing like a sage with deep wisdom to impart if only one would sit with it in quiet and solitude.
Best advice for students of Italian?
There are many Italian language schools in Italy. I attended two of them before finding l’Acanto. Michela is an excellent instructor and the other schools also had excellent instructors. Nevertheless, I have attended classes at l’Acanto two years in a row and I intend to return because of the quality of the relationship that Michela and her family offered me and all the other students as well. Having good relationships is important to me and I truly feel like I have a family in Mesagne.
by Donato, student @ lacanto.it in Mesagne, Puglia