I was walking up the street in Lecce near Santa Croce church when someone across at the edge of my peripheral vision started calling out to me in English: “Hey! Hello! Excuse me, hello!”

As usual — as with the hotel touts at the train station, the man at the postcard stand today, and the guy playing his guitar (badly) yesterday in a doorway — when strangers on the street start talking to me in English, I ignore them completely. Not to be rude, but because 9.99 times out of ten they want to sell me something I don’t want or need, and they’re out to fleece me to boot. So I kept walking ahead. Then the voice said “Eh, uhm… Frommer’s! Frommer’s, hello!”

Wait a minute. This guy knows who I am.

I turned and it was a face I vaguely recognized. He shook my hand and said (In Italian from here on in), “It’s me Andrea, sorry your name slipped my mind for a minute there, but it’s Reid, right?”

He introduced me to his friend, we smiled, and he asked, “So, still touring around for work, yes?” Yes, I am. “Did you ever get the chance to go to the beach?” I shake my head. “You work all the time, yes?” Unfortunately, yes.

I still haven’t the foggiest who this guy is. Someone I’ve met in the past several days — not here in Lecce, but somewhere in Apulia — but I can’t place him at all. He asks where I’m headed and I said to lunch, that-a-way. Ah! His car is that-a-way, too; let’s walk together. So we chat. The peny finally drops: Andrea is one of the group of Italians who adopted me last week at a pizzeria in Taranto, inviting this solo American to come sit with them and share their wine.

As we ambled the back streets of Lecce, Andrea asked if I know of the Suore (sisters). What Suore? He grins.”Follow me.”

We diverge up a side street and cut through two nameless piazze where clearly buildings once stood but where now people just park. One side of the second piazza is a long, windowless wall interrupted only by a solid double metal door painted green with a “No Parking” sign yellowing on it. Andrea walks up to the door and presses a buzzer. He grins at me again. After a few moments, a feathery old woman’s voice crackles over the intercom, “Si?”

Andrea asks in extremely polite terms for something, and the voice crackles, “Si, certo. Un attimo soltanto.” (Yes, of course. Just a minute.)

We start chatting again, waiting up against this green double door. After about five minutes, the door cracks open and a delicate, liver-spotted parchment hand reaches out, proffering a flat package wrapped in white paper secured with a thin green ribbon like a present. Andrea hands the wrinkled hand the equivalnet of $5, and I peek through the crack in the door to see a kindly old nun in her habit and wimple smiling at us from the dark. She’s the lucky nun, in my opinion, the only one within this cloistered order who’s allowed to communicate with the outside world.

We thank her profusely and walk back through the two nameless piazze to get out of the sun. There, I untie the green ribbon to open one end of the package. Out slides a cardboard tray piled with florettes of marzipan, sugary almond paste shaped into candies, with a dollop of pear marmalade hiding in the center of each. Whatever else might make up the particular calling of the good Sisters of San Giovanni, their marzipans are quite heavenly.

Now THAT is the sort of thing I wish I could put into guidebooks.

Copyright © 1998 by Reid Bramblett.