The next day, the Wednesday of our week of picking olives, we returned to the harvest with Andrea and the routine began again: lay out the nets; take off branches and rake the ones that were left; roll up the nets; pour the olives into the buckets and dump those into the sacks. By the end of our day, we had done all but a half-dozen trees. Tired, sore and dirty, Jessica and I undressed to shower and found olives inside our shirts, down our pants and anywhere else one could have hidden. After toweling off and putting on fresh clothes, the last thing I felt like doing was making dinner. (Did I mention that I’m the cook in the family?) So, off we went to Cisternino and our favorite little place, Il Cucco.
I honestly don’t remember what we had to eat that evening, so grateful was I to be sitting down with a glass of negroamaro in my hand, but I know that we left neither hungry or thirsty. On the way out of the restaurant, Jessica noticed a small dog lying quietly in front of the bar at his master’s feet. Admiring him for all his cuteness (the dog’s, not the master’s), Jessica bent down and went to pet his head when the little bastard (I don’t know if he was really a bastard or not, but I suspect so.) tried to take a chunk out of her hand. She pulled her hand back quickly and we walked on outside. I had not seen the incident, being a few feet ahead of her but, as we walked to the car, she told me what had happened and showed the evidence on her hand that she was not quite quick enough in her withdrawal. There, hardly visible, on the knuckle of the middle finger of her left hand was a small scratch and just the faintest sign of blood.
Now, I saw Ol’ Yeller (just once, though, since I couldn’t have taken a second viewing), so I knew a little about rabies and what it could do, so I marched back into the restaurant and tried to have a conversation with the Croat owner of the felonious fiend. What I could gather was that the criminal canine had been vaccinated and wore a chip under its skin, both things suggesting that it would not be carrying any vile disease. Assuming that I had gotten the requisite information, though I doubt that I could have gotten much more, we went home.
As Jessica was getting ready for bed, I put in a call to my daughter, a physician assistant in upstate New York, and a person much more familiar with things such as dog bite issues than many doctors. Jess had spent most of her medical career in emergency medicine and she had, as they say, seen it all. I remember the one story she told of a patient who came into the emergency room complaining of chest pains. When they got his shirt off, she could see that his chest was, indeed, heavily bruised. She asked him what happened and he said that he crashed his car into a tree.
“Damn good thing I did, too,” he said. “I had been eating some chips and one went down the wrong way. I choked on it until I passed out. That’s when I hit the tree and, when my chest hit the steering wheel, it popped the chip out of my throat. I’d’ve choked to death if I hadn’t run into that tree.”
Anyway, I told her about the dog bite and asked her what we should do.
“If the dog is alive ten days from now, Jessica’s in the clear,” she said. “If the dog has rabies, it won’t last ten days. If the dog is dead in ten days or you don’t know if it’s alive or dead, then she should have the anti-rabies series of injections.”
“Isn’t that like thirteen shots in the stomach?” I asked wincing with each syllable and starting to feel a bit lightheaded.
“Not any more, Dad,” she said a bit reproachingly. “It’s a series of three injections over a three week period. It’s not pleasant, but nothing like it used to be.”
“Okay, but let’s say we can’t find the dog again and she decides not to have the shots. What symptoms do we watch for so that, if we see something, we can get treatment right away?” I asked optimistically.
“Dad, you don’t understand. When a human being becomes symptomatic with rabies, it’s over. There has only been one reported case of survival and, trust me, it wasn’t a good outcome.”
The next day was Thanksgiving in the States and, a great little company called Southern Visions was hosting Thanksgiving dinner for expats in the seaside town of Monopoli. (Don’t worry: I’ll get back to the dog bite story.) Southern Visions specializes in creating travel options for Americans in Puglia, particularly those interested in cooking and/or bicycling. If you’re thinking about either, check out the website at www.southernvisionstravel.com. They decided to invite locals from the area who were transplants from the US to a small restaurant that was normally closed on Thursday.
We left Andrea to finish the olives and made the twenty minute drive to the old fishing town on the Adriatic coast. We parked where we could find a space, which happened to be along the docks which happened to be near the centro storico (old town center) which happened to be where the restaurant was. Of course, the only part of these relationships we knew was that the car would fit there. We wandered the ancient narrow streets, meandering among shops and houses, dodging the occasional car for which the paths were hardly wide enough. I finally broke down, walked into a bar and asked for directions. The gentleman walked me outside to the piazza and pointed down one of the streets.
“Va dritto al fine, ha capito?” Go straight to the end, understand? I did. “Poi, gira a sinistra e il bar e alla sinistra, ha capito?” Then, turn left and the bar is on the left, understand? I did. We were among the first to arrive, as we usually are in Italy, since we tend to be on time. We were greeted by Leigh from Southern Visions who introduced us around. It was a very interesting and eclectic crowd.
The was the young couple from Texas who drove up from Lecce. They moved to Puglia about a year earlier to practice their crafts, his, painting, hers, photography. Another woman had made the trip all the way from Tuscany just to be part of this Thanksgiving celebration.
We met a maxillofacial surgeon who had spent most of the last nine years in New York City before moving his wife and two children to his hometown in Puglia so that he could join his plastic surgeon father in his medical practice. Their goal was to develop a medical tourism industry in Puglia. Jessica volunteered to market their practice in the US.
“We could call it ‘tits and teeth,'” she said. He liked it.
We met the doctor’s wife who talked almost tearily about her struggles adapting to her new life in Italy.
“I don’t really know anyone, no one wants to know me,” she said, “and now that my children are speaking Italian, I am even having trouble communicating with them. I don’t know what to do.” We truly felt sorry for her.
Turkey was to be the highlight of the day, as it is at every Thanksgiving Day table in the US, and it was due to be served at 4:00. When we left at 7:00 that evening, the turkey was still in the oven. It seems that someone forgot to start cooking it. No worries for us. We had a big dinner planned for that night at Capriccio with the whole gang–Colleen and Francesco, Andrea and Anna, Michele and Marisa and their two children. It would be a festa.
On the way home from Monopoli, we stopped at Il Cucco and inquired about the dog and its owner.
“He is from near Bari,” said the manager of the restaurant. “He comes in here sometimes, but I do not know his name or how to call him.” I asked the manager to please have him call me if he saw him again and we left.
We did have a wonderful party that night. Andrea and Francesco sang “Nessun Dorma,” Michele made sure that Pierino kept the food coming and the women danced. I brought three bottles of barolo of the same label, but three different vintages, and we tasted and enjoyed them all. When we left, we left merry and with hugs and kisses all around.
We finished the olive harvest the next day but we could not stay to see or taste the oil since we had to get up early the next morning and drive back to Rome. Until our next trip back, we had to satisfy ourselves with the photos of the oil that Colleen so kindly sent us, but we saw it, and it was good.
Post Script – We returned to the US with no further word on the dog’s mortality so I convinced Jessica to have the series of injections. I don’t go into detail on the procedure; suffice it to say that the medical people asked me to leave while it was being done. “We don’t need two patients in here,” I heard one say.
Post Post Script – Italy was declared “rabies-free” in 1995.