I met Emiko Davies and Alice Adams through instagram, at different times over the last few years, drawn together by a common love of Italian food, cookbooks, ceramics and the inevitable Australia-Italy connection. Together with Saghar Setareh, a talented photographer from Iran who is now living in Rome, Emiko and Alice were running a photography and styling workshop at the stunning Masseria Potenti in Manduria called The Puglia Encounter in late October (coordinated by Talea Events). The stars aligned as I would already be in Italy to run my annual workshop at the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School in Sicily; and I needed to go back to southern Puglia to take photos of olive oil production before my 1 November deadline for my second cookbook “Adriatico”. The timing worked out perfectly and after a few days in Trieste, I flew down to Brindisi, the closest airport to the Masseria.
It is about an hour from the airport to Manduria, down roads lined with silvery olive trees that, being late October, were heavy with green and black fruit ready to be harvested, and grape vines turning an autumnal golden rust, having just given up their fruit for wine. The Masseria itself is the stuff of dreams: bleached stone walls, white linen curtains catching the breeze, fleshy cactus leaves with ripe red prickly pears and a cloudless sky. Walking through the dark green doors into the walled quadrangle felt like I had walked into a stunning movie set. Bamboo curtains covered the rooftop frames of columned pergolas, making striped shadows on the walls.
We met over apertivi that first night, a multi-national group from Italy, Ireland, the USA, Canada and Australia, chatting over wine and food, realising how much we all had in common even though we had not met before. Over dinner we shared our individual reasons for being at the workshop, getting to know Saghar, Emiko, Alice and charismatic owner Maria Grazia and her daughter Chiara a bit better. Meals were held in one of the several dining areas of the Masseria, at long tables decorated with fruit from the property, bunches of flowers, ceramic jugs, white terracotta plates and vintage linen napkins. Maria Grazia is quite the collector, and showed us some of her vintage hand-sewn linen and lace tablecloths, dresses and her large collection of local ceramics.
Over the next few days, Sagher gave us lessons in photography, using pomegranates, quinces, olive branches and prickly pears foraged from the property in the sets; Alice gave us food styling tips using local ceramics and Emiko showed us how to make orecchiette, as well as cooking and modelling for many of the photos. Maria Grazia (one of the most lively and interesting women you will ever meet, as is her beautiful daughter Chiara) taught us how to make friselle (a type of local bread) and her nonna’s orange-scented biscotti. We watched ceramics being thrown, painted and glazed in Grottaglie; watched baskets being weaved from local reeds by hand; were treated to delicious local food from the kitchen at Masseria Potenti as well as a seemingly never-ending dinner at Macchiaviva in Grottaglie, where a group of young local men looked at the long table of English-speaking women curiously as waiters filled our glasses with Pugliese wine, and kept edging closer until they asked me on the way out “ma da dove siete?” (where are you all from?)
But really this post is about the photos and the stories they tell. Looking at them makes me smile, remembering how I felt, the smells and the sounds. They take me to those beautiful and very creative days, in the company of like-minded talented ladies.
Thank you to Emiko, Alice, Sagher for being such inspiring teachers (and friends); to Heidi, Valentina, Ruth, Daniela, Amrei, Leigh, Anna, my fellow participants; Valentina from Talea Events for coordinating the event and Maria Grazia, Chiara and all the others at the Masseria for making us feel so very welcome. Thank you for creating and being part of a memorable and inspirational workshop. An extra special thanks goes to Alice for taking me to a local olive press to get those last few photos for my book (and yes, I pressed the “send” button on the last morning of the workshop, a celebration in itself).
Next stop: Sicily.