Letter From Lecce: A Renaissance Retreat

Editor’s Note: How lucky I have been to meet so many wonderful Italians through my work. One of my favorites is dear Ylenia. She is beautiful on the inside and out, adores animals as I do and exudes passion for her native Puglia. I’ve had some wonderful memories with Ylenia including filming a cooking lesson with her and a local Mamma for the Puglia episode of Dream of Italy. Ylenia is so very creative and I love how she calls this time, a Renaissance Retreat. Let us be reborn with creativity! — Kathy McCabe

Lecce through my eyes is all about its energy, the light, the people, the Puglian art of living. It’s family, community, traditions and never letting someone you love be alone.

A couple of days prior to the official Italian lockdown for the whole country, I went to my mom’s house asking her for a very special hug like never before and looking for her unique maternal comfort.

We are humans and we need one another especially in difficult times. I felt something was about to happen.

COVID-19 has a lot of meanings besides being an epidemic: it’s fear, uncertainty, emotional feels, nostalgia, no social contacts, renunciations but it also means learning many life lessons every single day of it. On day 5 of the lockdown I decided to rename it a “Renaissance Retreat.”

The Italian Renaissance was by definition characterized by a relived interest in learning and values, but also art and a different way of approaching life. A retreat is a well deserved time for rethinking on many things, so the opportunity is now of finding a new way to be happy being home and appreciating the little things in life. Being in the moment is key and make every single day count.

Staying positive in the face of the pandemic is hard but not impossible. Here’s how I’m living my Renaissance Retreat, finding light in the midst of a global storm:

  • Food grocery shopping, once or twice per week, buying the real essential things without overbuying, rather planning a weekly menu, possibly healthy, and incorporating in the list the really good things: fresh produces, legumes, fruits.Food plays an important role in the Italian culture and as an healthy ambassador of the “peasant cuisine” I cook simple but healthy recipesin these days making sure to give my body real foods only, cooking my meals everyday and making the cooking time as a magical one. The Renaissance Retreat should also be an opportunity to improving our habits and choices.I make bread every three days using special flours (whole flour, spelt, rice flour): the ritual is making it in the afternoon when the Puglia light is amazingly warm, preparing a big dough that I can use for three times during the week.Anything I cook, including some veggies everyday, I make sure to have proper hydration and ingredients boosting immune system like kiwi, oranges, lemon. This week I’ll make cheese at home for the very first time and I’m so excited about it!
  • Be creative (for a few hours but everyday): creativity is also a fact in isolation and you can still be productive and motivated. What a change in my schedule if I think of my life a few weeks ago managing a travel company, a cooking school and a wine bistrot. I find time everyday for it focusing on my passions and commitments and doing my best to continue creating inspiring travels and experiences in my destination….because the Dream of Italy is always! 
  • Find the time to get some exercise everyday, even if it’s just for 20 minutes as we need to stay a little active for improving our blood circulation till our gorgeous walk in beautiful Lecce and Salento. I take online classes, anything from yoga to pilates and easy dance move, anything bringing joy to my day.
  • I’m also finding pleasure in reading on line about art, Artists and works. I start by browsing works images and searching for the sources finding so many interesting information.
  • I also find the time everyday to continue feeding some lovely feral cats around my house, as I know I have to take care of them also in this moment of outbreak and I want them to be part of my Renaissance Retreat as animals and nature play a very important role in my daily life.
  • Embrace slow life attitude, celebrating simplicity, a new way of thinking and living focusing on the moment, on real things, slowing down, going back to the roots, a full life instead of a busy life doing the things that are the most important to you while staying at home. Find inspiration in the slow living, focus on the positive for a better future.

At the end of each of our Renaissance Retreat, if you love this idea of renaming the epidemic, we should all look to the future to see what must be done which is cooperative, peaceful and in harmony with nature. The future is being written now with all of our humanity.

Io resto a casa” is the Italian motto, I’m staying home.

In southern Italy, the outbreak is not as intense as in the north so far but one only rule has fortunately brought the country together for a common purpose.

Please remember that you’re not lost, you are not alone. — Ylenia Sambati

Also read
Letter From Rome: Beauty, Ashes and Finding Comfort in One Another
Letter From the Veneto: Holding On To Dreams