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  • Writer's pictureMark Tedesco

Our Italian Adventure. How "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy" came about.

PART 41: It might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps we took.

We live in Puglia in the Summer and then back again in the winter.

Step 1: Behind every story is another story. When I taught history (25 years as a high school social studies teacher), I found that storytelling drew students in and made sense of all the other facts.

Step 2: When we visited Puglia and started living there, there was a story behind that decision. As we explored and discovered this incredible area, we were fortunate to have solid friendships with locals who showed us their favorite historic and cultural places and revealed some of the stories that make those places significant.

Step 3: Two cultures. We Californians have a relatively strong sense of identity, and when we started visiting and subsequently moved to Puglia, the two cultures, Californian and Puglian, intermingled. Sometimes the meeting of two cultures is humorous, other times enlightening, but at all times, fascinating.

Step 4: Otranto and the floor.

One of the first places our Puglian friends showed us was the floor of the cathedral of Otranto. The "Tree of Life" is fascinating because of the scope of knowledge it includes for its time; it was completed in 1165.

The name of the monk Pantaleone, who designed and supervised the work, is at the back of the cathedral, inlaid on the floor.

When I saw the floor and its symbolism of ancient world knowledge, I wondered about Pantaleone. Who was he? What kind of man could create something that embraces the entire world, excluding no one?

This "wondering" led to research which led to reflecting, which led to the chapter on the "Revolutionary Monk."

The well-researched chapter which tells the story of Pantaleone was the first chapter I wrote; the rest of the chapters in the book eventually grew around it.

Step 5: Interviews.

It is challenging to define "Puglia"; to avoid me, a Californian, giving meaning to this land, I sought ways to provide a voice for the people living there.

So I devoted a few chapters of the book to interviews with Puglians born there and expats who chose Puglia as their home.

Each person gives a glimpse into what Puglia is for them.

Mohsen, who we befriended in Lecce, shares his passion for Egypt and has created a reproduction of the Tomb of Tutankhamun in Lecce for school children and others to visit. Other locals shared their love for the history and culture of their land, and several expats shared humorous situations in which different mentalities grapple with one another.

The picture of Puglia, according to locals, is not complete but imparts the experience of those who live there to the reader.

Step 6: Recreating ancient scenes.

I have a big imagination. It may be because I like to read or because I've worked with high school students for 25 years, and they love a good story.

Plus, I'm a visual thinker.

I decided to recreate ancient stories in several book chapters because that is how I experience the writing process.

When I am researching a topic to write about, at a certain point, I start to see a scene play out in my imagination. When that starts to happen, I write down the scene as best I can.

So in my writing, I do not get inspired by the right words to write down, but instead, I "see" images that make up a story.

So when I set out to tell the story of Nicholas of Bari, I did extensive research about his family, origins, education, and adventures. At a certain point, the imagination took over, and I could see Nicholas' father banging on his brother's door, announcing that his wife was with child. I could "see" Nicholas as an adult, tossing and turning during his travels one night, hearing the words in a dream that he should return home to discover his destiny. I could feel his sadness when he learned his path would take him away from his beloved uncle.

I could see it all.

I describe these scenes in the book to help the reader experience the story.

Step 7: The big picture.

Puglia is greater than this book. The reader will only glimpse some places that make this land unique. My hope is that the reader will use the "method" related to this book: look for the story behind a place, person, or event. That way, we will be less likely to judge and more open to learning.

My book is "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy." Amazon US:

And NOW on Amazon Italy:

More next time.

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