Siesta-dazed and still covered in little bits of glitter, I’m holed up in my hotel room in Grottaglie. Laptop on my lap, balcony door open a crack, listening to the moan of the fan, I don’t know where to start.
I could spend the next two months writing about this weekend, here in this random little Puglian town, wedged between plastic-tarp-covered vineyards and industrial, cloud-coughing skylines. It’s at times like these when you realize just how insufficient your own words are—how close they can sometimes come to capturing this thing, this thing you’re always circling and chasing, but that ultimately always goes “fluttering through your nets,” as Virginia Woolf said.
This weekend has been a little of everything I love in travel: discovering killer art, adventuring around abandoned buildings and ancient caves, eating great food, meeting awesome people. I came here for the opening of Fame Festival, a DIY street art event put on by the one-man-powerhouse/party Angelo Milano, that is slowly transforming the forgotten little town of Grottaglie. I’d been following the build-up on various art blogs, and it seemed like a pretty damn good excuse to go on an adventure.
There’s about 100 different angles to write about this from, and I’m sure I’ll be torturing everyone with posts for months on end. So instead of giving the 3000-word play-by-play (you’re welcome), I’ll give you the highlights. And some pictures.
“Success, celebrity” in English, “hunger, starvation” in Italian, Fame Festival is the blood, sweat and glitter (more on that later) of one dude, Angelo Milano. Three years ago, he started inviting international artists to his little hometown for short residencies. The artists produced prints at his studio, Studio Cromie, produced ceramics using the town’s ancient ceramics studios, and threw up street art pieces all over the city. The festival has grown, gained a fair amount of notoriety, and a small crew of artists/collectors/enthusiasts/fanatics make the mission down to Grottaglie for a complete and total adventure.
Angelo welcomes you with all the enthusiasm and graciousness in the world, arranging hotel rooms and rides from the airport. On the evening of the preview, he takes the gang load of visitors back to his grandmother’s house, where his dad shakes your hand and his mom cooks a huge traditional Italian dinner. The opening party is complete with DJs, Puglian wine and a diverse mix of locals and art lovers; you then trek across town to Studio Cromie, where Angelo goes ape shit on the dance “floor,” dumping about 8 bags of glitter on everyone and generally having about as much fun as humanly possible.
You see everyone stagger around town with glitter stuck in their hair the next day. You’re given, on preview night, a map of the city marked with all the street art pieces, and you wander around, ticking off the 60+ list and snapping photos. It’s like a treasure hunt.
Coolest part: adventuring around an abandoned monastery filled with art.
The town itself is awesome. Not in a knock-your-socks off way, but in a slow, subtle way that sneaks up on you. It’s got an old town, complete with winding roads and a couple UNESCO sites, as well as a new part, devoid of billboards and with only one corporate chain. The whole town siestas from 12-4. You can get dinner at a restaurant for 6 euros. Old women say, “Ciao, bella.” Teenagers hang out in cafes til 2am.
The city’s surrounded by ancient caves that were inhabited until just a few decades ago, when the Italian government kicked everyone out. You can go and poke around in them, see the remnants of old cooking areas, frescos peeling off the walls.
The Peeps, and The Adventure
So what kind of wingnuts travel all the way to bumfuck Puglia for an art festival? Awesome ones. I met so many fresh people, one of those this-is-why-I-travel experiences that you know is going to linger with you for a long time.
There’s also the adventure aspect. No guidebooks mention Grottaglie. The bus from Naples dropped me off on the side of the road; luckily I’d had the wherewithal to print out a Google map the night before. You traipse around the random town that epitomizes off-the-beaten-path, and it reminds you, again, why you travel.
I’m no expert on street art, but I got to meet a lot of people who were. And it’s clear that we’re on the brink of something, something bigger than just the art world. Street art is a kind of dialouge with a city, and it’s changing cities. Street art as architecture, urban development, tourism—there’s a lot to discuss.
But right now, legs crossed on this hideous hotel bedspread, I’m feeling incredibly tired and incredibly grateful. I gave myself an extra day here, to hang out with the wifi and sleep, before I take off for Dubrovnik tomorrow. But even if I were going home tonight, it would have all been worth it. Fame Fest was one of the best parties I’ve ever gone to, and one of the best adventures a traveler could hope for.