In 21st century terms, Carpino is not remote. It sits within a two hour drive, along smooth tarmac and winding roads, of the busy international airport Bari. It welcomes thousands of people to its white-washed piazzas and narrow cobbled lanes each summer for an explosion of song. And it overlooks the twinkling Lake Varano which spills on down through the olive groves to the popular beach resorts of the Gargano National Park.
Yet when it comes to foreign visitors, remote does appear to be the word.
You won’t find throngs of art history students bent over sketchpads, reciting dates and lines and the pedigrees of powerful Italian families. You won’t find crowds of Americans searching for roots or Europeans with insufficient sunscreen.
In fact, there’s a completely different pilgrimage come August in Carpino.
This village of 5000 welcomes back its travelling sons and daughters, those who left to find work. What began as a family sing-song and long stories told over deep red bottles of wine has evolved into the region’s biggest folk festival, attracting crowds from all around. The multi-generation spirit remains, though, as grandmas and grandpas (nonnas and nonnis) take to the stage belting out haunting melodies and giving accordions a good work out as darkness falls.
Everyone knows all the words and everyone knows all the moves.
Everyone except me, and the other five or six strangers in town.
The festival lasts for days, enthusiastic singers blending in with the professional ones as the moon drifts further and further across the sky.
By day, the village sleeps, allowing time and space to explore the magnificent lakes, the forests, those beaches.
By night, a range of stalls set up, with luminous candy floss and acid sugar coke sweets among the rustic flavours of the region: peppery virgin olive oil, caciocavallo the cheese that hangs like a hot water bottle from the rafters, and, of course, ham sliced thin right there on the spot.
It’s a vibrant event full of fun and frank participation, but a part of me senses a secret strand of sadness: that the young have to leave at all and that, come September, these streets will fall silent again.
In the meantime, at least, the whole village dances.