Close by to the statue of Domenigo Modungo we passed the iconic and most photogenic beach of Polignano, a small cove carved out of the rocks with a part sand, part stony approach to a sheltered bay, just perfect for swimming and sunbathing but we didn’t stop there and continued our stroll along the coast to a small beach where fishing boats were drawn up onto the grit and sand and where Italian holidaymakers were enjoying the sunshine and men were strutting around looking for a mirror to admire themselves in and women were working on impossibly deep summer-long mahogany tans.
Interestingly, regardless of shape, most of the men were wearing Speedo swimming trunks. These are generally associated with energy and fitness, speed and grace, but are not entirely suitable for less athletic body types that include those that are overweight, those that are wrinkling or sunburnt or those in the throes of a mid-life crisis. On the other hand for those of us like me that are in peak physical condition they are perfect for the beach and that’s why I like to wear them when going on holiday or visiting the pool.
The fashionability of Speedos varies greatly in different parts of the world. They are commonly worn by men of all ages in Asia, Australia, South America and mainland Europe and in China and Japan men almost exclusively wear them as swimwear. In some countries, Speedo-style briefs are often compulsory in public or resort swimming pools, in France for example it is common to see “slip de bain obligatoire, shorts interdits” or “swimming briefs required, no shorts allowed” because this is considered to be a matter of hygiene and public health, as shorts which might have been worn as streetwear prior to entering the pool may be dirty and pollute the water.
It’s a strange thing that the French, who as a Nation are unlikely to win any prizes for personal hygiene get almost hysterical about observing excessive standards at the lido. The Los Angeles Times once reported the shocking results of a series of polls and studies that over 50% of French men and women do not take a bath or shower daily and 40% of men and 25% of women don’t change their underwear daily. To be honest I think I could happily live in France!
After a quick paddle in the sea we retired to the back of the beach and to a seafront pizzeria and bar and we sat in the shade for a while with a couple of Peronis and some plates of grilled fish and local pasta and then we made our way back the way that we had come towards the old town.
It was hot now and the time was approaching the afternoon siesta as we returned to the hotel through curiously deserted streets as though someone had declared a national emergency and everyone had left town. The concept of an afternoon siesta is not something that I am unfamiliar with but I think that I can say that I have never before seen it so rigidly observed; not in Spain, France or even Greece but here in Polignano and all across Puglia the whole place closed and nailed itself down for the afternoon.
Across the streets abandoned laundry remained hanging on overloaded balcony rails, starched and bleached by the sun, occasionally a loose shutter kissed a window frame and a whispering pigeon looked for a shaded spot to spend the afternoon. Sitting on the balcony it was so quiet that I could hear the paint lifting and splitting on the wooden doors, the gentle creaking of rusty shutter hinges, the squeaking complaints of rattan as sleeping residents shifted a little in their balcony chairs and the faint crack of seed pods in the flower planters. It was hot under the full glare of the sun and breathless too, without any sort of breeze as we sweltered away in pizza oven temperatures of mid afternoon. Luckily I had a good supply of cold Peroni in the room fridge!
After a couple of hours of shutdown and inactivity life started to slowly return to normal and the little town began to stir into life once more. Shutters rattled open, washing lines were cranked inside, car ignitions began to chatter, Lambretta scooters croaked into action and sleepy people began to reappear from their front doors. The hotel reception opened for business, shops began to open and within a short time normality was fully restored.
Later in the evening we returned to the old town for the last time because we would be leaving in the morning and then we ate at a restaurant of Kim’s choice and had a posher, more up-market and more expensive evening meal than I am generally comfortable with. There was no street entertainment tonight but there were a lot of young people hanging around the streets outside our accommodation making a lot of noise and we were glad of the fact that our room was on the back and not affected by the noise of the street chatter and the revving engines of the scooters.