But the people make the region. Unbelievably cool men and women sat in bars and restaurants until sunrise, older people in the countryside who went to the city in 1976 for a daytrip and didn’t like it, and the regular cast of corrupt politicians and violent mafiosos. Things are slowly changing, but twenty-five years ago when my uncle moved out there, it was like a perfectly preserved slice of 1960s Italy. Bari is the jewel in the crown, a wild city, with shining cathedrals, golden beaches, and mopeds whizzing around the twisted streets of the Old Town. The Barese are wonderful people, and I’m lucky enough to have family among them.
The city still has relatively few tourists, and is little known in this country. It’s always felt like a Mediterranean Shangri-La, a paradise untouched by corporate commercialism and…British people. The only Brits I’ve ever met out there are ex-pats, who abandoned this disintegrating country back before our terminal decline was apparent to most the rest of us, and are fully integrated into the Italian lifestyle. They're the ones who got it right.
My uncle tells some great stories. A restaurant owner he visited once or twice, who recognised him after ten years, greeted him as an old friend, and tried to give him a free meal. Even a wine merchant he knows, who spent prison in time for smuggling, and was given his shop in exchange for keeping his mouth closed.
I haven’t been to Bari for about three years, and I had a holiday booked for next month. We were meant to be going out there to see a gig, but I don’t mind that it won’t happen. Bari is more than enough for me. Great food, including Panzerotti, a kind of fried Calzone you don’t often see on menus in this country, and pasta made in the street in the city centre (I’ve travelled about a fair bit, and Bari is the only place I’ve ever eaten in truly authentic places – you never do until you spend a lot of time somewhere). Peroni and Birra Raffo brewed locally, wine from vineyards up the coast, everything cooked in olive oil from the hills.
Bari is the perfect gem, like an untapped gold mine of authentic experiences, and a brilliant pace of life. I can't wait to go back.