Simpatico… Oh well it could be worse.

Simpatico. A word I’ve heard on three occasions recently but only discovered what it meant last night. The first incidence was in the supermarket, I was waiting in line at the checkout when an elderly lady joined the queue behind me. As she only had two items and I had several I asked if she’d like to go in front of me. At first she said no, she was okay to wait, but I insisted and she took my place in line. She then asked if I was English, I told her I was indeed, then she stroked my cheek and said, “Sie simpatico.” This I took to mean I’m sympathetic to her needs, so I smiled and said thank you.

The second occasion happened when I was introduced to an Italian lady by a friend, as usual the lady asked me lots of questions, the first obviously was, are you German? This was then followed with the obligatory, so why is your hair so blond? Followed by, why did you come here? I answered all the questions: in fact I’ve become quite adept at having stock answers stored in my head. She then turned to my friend and used the word simpatico, my friend looked at me and agreed. I meant to ask what she had said, but as the waitress brought us an espresso and I answered her query about which water I wanted with it, I forgot as I replied, ‘Acqua frizzante.’

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Last night was the third time the word surfaced and this time I discovered its meaning. I had met a new friend and we were chatting over a drink when he said, “Tu simpatico.” Now as my new friend speaks better English than I do Italian I seized the opportunity to ask what it meant. His reply was, “It means you’re not handsome.” I must have looked upset as he then quickly said, “My translation is bad.”

Now I know I’m not in the Pitt/Clooney league, but I’ve never had any problems throughout my life picking someone up for… Shall we say extra curricular activities. My new friend then said, “Simpatico, it means you are nice looking, have a pleasant face, you’re lovely.” I smile and think, oh well, that’ll have to do. Besides it’s much better than when someone last year told me I had a lived in face and then said, “In the nicest possible way.” (Needless to say this is a person who wont be getting an invite to come and stay in Italy.)

Simpatico (persona) Nice, pleasant, likeable. Source: Collins Italian Dictionary and Grammar.

Italian by Absorption

I’m beginning to wonder if outside forces influence they way people are, surely our surroundings must dictate how we feel and how we perform, so can they make subtle changes to our personalities and habits? I ask this question because I’ve noticed that I’ve started to do things differently here in Italy. The first thing I’ve noticed is the change in dinner time. Back in the UK I always had dinner, or as we Stokies say, ‘me tea’ at 6pm, but here without realising it I’ve fallen into the Italian way of eating it at 8pm. Now I understand that on the days that the builder is here he leaves around 6pm, so that is a factor in the later dinner-time, but even on days when he isn’t here, we’ve eaten at 8pm.

Italian’s are naturally inquisitive people; notice I avoided using the term, nosey and I’ve caught the bug too. As soon as a car is heard I’m outside looking up towards the road to see who it is, and heaven forbid I catch a snippet of conversation, otherwise it means I slow down my pace to discover what’s being said and by whom. This nosiness has become quite acute and we vie for position, looking for the best vantage point, when we want to see who is driving past.

Here, the Abruzzese people live a more frugal life and wasting food is frowned upon.  Since moving here I’ve appreciated that fact that when it comes to fruit and vegetables the shops sell what’s in season. There’s no potatoes from Egypt or French beans from Kenya, and there’s no uniformity to it, a deflated looking pepper is as acceptable here as a plump round one, just as a display of fennel bulbs will have them of all sizes from medium through large to enormous. There’s no one from Brussels here with a micrometre and portable weighing scales. Unlike when I was back in the UK, I store what I know will perish before I have used it all. In the freezer I have pots of basil, chopped celery, parsley, and all manner of things, waiting to be used at a later date. I’ve even got my emergency sofritto (a mix of finely chopped carrot, celery and onion used as a base for stocks and sauces) and chopped tomatoes frozen in wine, should someone visit unexpectedly and need a pasta sauce making for lunch.

I also think I’ve absorbed a little of the contadino somehow. Outside the front door is a flower border, but knowing that flowers here are a luxury and that land should be used to grow crops first, I’ve used it for a sort of mini orto and planted out some onions, courgettes, chillies and tomatoes, sweet corn and a pumpkin. I have a little cluster of English bluebells I brought over tucked away in the corner, as I’d like to get these established further down on our land, where it’s shady and wild cyclamen grow. So until we get our land cum jungle sorted out the flower border will be put to better use.

Guaranteed, these are small changes to my lifestyle, but as they’ve happened without conscious effort maybe I’m becoming Italian by absorption or at the very least more Britalian than I was before.

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The Pizza Eating Cat

Saturday morning arrives and as I open the front door I’m welcomed by mewing from the semi-feral cat that lives in the lane. I call it Balenò (Flash) as she has an orange ziz-zag on the top of her head. As the iPod shuffles and Mark Owen begins to sing Four-Minute Warning, I retrieve the piece of pork rind from last night’s dinner that I saved in the fridge. I throw it to the cat and she devours it greedily.

It’s a very vocal cat, constantly calling and constantly hungry. She lives mostly in the garden of Adam and Sarah’s, holiday home at the bottom of the lane, where guests staying feed her. But when no one is there it comes on the scrounge up here. I don’t mind giving it the odd morsel, but don’t feed it everyday, otherwise it’ll take up residence here. The cat is about three-years old and seems to be constantly pregnant, as are all the feral queens in the countryside. In 2011, she had one kitten that survived two-days before being taken by a fox. Until recently she was swollen with kittens, but there’s no sign of her offspring, so I can but assume they suffered a similar fate to the other kitten.

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After yesterday’s blustery weather, the morning is still and the cat basks in the sunshine. I drink my coffee watching her as she deftly pounces upon a lizard and swallows it almost whole. Our builder arrives with pizza and the cat becomes interested in the humans, or more truthfully in what the humans are eating. She brushes against our ankles calling out for a morsel. I drop her a piece of pizza and she’s on it with the same swiftness she used to catch the lizard. Very quickly it’s gobbled up and she meows again wanting more. After three more hunks of cheese and tomato covered focaccia, she strolls off towards the shady spot under the drying washing at the top of the steps and flops down and closes her eyes. Time for a morning snooze.

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Road Closed

The road up to our house runs in a crescent shape from the main road at Guarenna  down to the road to Selva Piana. The main section of road up to our hamlet of Guarenna Vecchia was pitted with potholes until last Christmas time when repairs were made to it. The section down to Merosci and Selva Piana is a single, serpentine track, that produces the occasional stand-off when two cars meet.

100_6344The recent storms have created havoc with our road, on Saturday so intense was the rain that it caused damage to the road, all of the recent repairs were washed down towards Guarenna, causing more damage as the debris tumbled downhill. Add to this the mud slide that occurred and we have on Sunday morning a road that’s impassable. Now it being a Sunday doesn’t really pose a problem, but Monday morning the school bus will be heading this way and should it manage to navigate through the debris and newly opened potholes; some the size of a Fiat 500, it’ll never get through the mudslide.

At lunchtime, I’m enjoying a glass of red with my focaccia and wedge of quartirolio (a delicious feta style chees from Lombaria) when I hear an engine revving furiously. I investigate the noise and looking down the lane I see a car sat in the middle of the mud, wheels spinning, sending mud up into the air behind it. I shake my head, wondering who would be daft enough to attempt to drive through the brown lake and go back to my cheese and wine.

Later a 4×4 rolls up and makes a track through the mud and then as it passes, it deposits the brown gunk stuck to its wheels just outside my house. Now this track is taken advantage of by the teenager down the lane, as he can now sail through the mud on his Vespa navigating his way through the tyre tracks. Throughout the day several more cars venture up the lane, but all abandon their endeavours and turn back.

Wednesday comes and we enjoy an afternoon with friends at Lido Le Morge, (it was even warm enough for a quick swim in the Adriatic) and when we return there are warning signs and a 10km sign in place at the bottom of the lane. It looks like work may begin to repair the damage, but this being Italy, that may be piano,piano – who can guess when. Oh me of little faith.

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Thursday morning arrives and with it the tractors to move the mud, and a road closed sign, who knows, maybe they’ll repair it once again. Only time will tell.

Friday morning update: Just had a trip down the lane and the potholes have been filled in, I wonder if the one’s back home in the UK have?

Dog in a Frock

This morning, as we slumbered with little intention of rousing ourselves from the bed, a cannon sounded. The boom reverberated though the valley, followed by a volley of firecrackers. It’s festa (fiesta) down in Altino. Italy loves its feste (the plural), there’s feste to celebrate the humble olive, some to champion their porcini crop and even the completion of a road. I kid you not, in 2011 we celebrated the completion of the new road in Casoli. There was a band, the local bar moved it’s pumps and the local pizzeria also set up stall on the newly laid tarmac. A procession holding a religious effigy sang hymns, a priest blessed the road and children spun around on the merry-go-round. Meanwhile me and my good friend, Christine, drank Peroni.

Today the road to Altino is closed and it’s flanked either side by market stalls selling everything from toys to hats and saucepans to pan pipes. (There’s always someone playing music from the Andes, and cheap wooden pipes that give you splinters in your lips).  Everybody that lives in the area is there, meandering along browsing the stalls and calling out to each other. shouts of ciao, buon giorno and vediamo fill the air as does the aroma of porchetta being sold from vans. A man is selling enormous rounds of cheese and as each customer purchases some, his diminutive wife, picks up the heavy cheese and with a knife almost the length of her arm she cuts a slab for him to weigh.

Michele is there and calls across to me, he introduces me to another man, whose name I do not catch, and before I can ask again they’re off shouting hello to a couple across the street. I ‘m swept along by the crowd, unless you’re buying there’s no time to idly stand around, this human river is hell bent on making it from one end of the market to the other. Up ahead there’s the sound of amusements, that tinny sound you always get at arcades and fairs, and before long I’m watching children as they scream and laugh as rides toss them around or spin them in a centrifuge. A teenage couple wander along hand in hand, she has a dog on a lead. Nothing unusual about that, except this little black poodle is wearing a red gingham dress, making it look like its escaped from a circus. The girl spots a group of other girls and they begin talking in that animated way girls the world over do, no one seems to listen as they all chatter ten to the dozen, words spilling out and sweeping over other phrases, swooping under sentences. A decision seems to have been made and the girls climb aboard a machine designed to take you high into the air before plunging you downwards, free-falling until the brake is engaged and the contents of your stomach hurtle back upwards.

The dog lead is handed to her boyfriend, who self-consciously nudges his mirrored sunglasses onto the bridge of his nose: If he was attempting to disguise himself, he’s failed, as just then a group of teenage lads enter the makeshift fairground, spot him and the dog in a frock. Needless to say, taking the micky is universal no matter what language is used and like the lads I have a little chuckle before walking on.

As I don’t have a photo of a dog in a frock, and couldn’t find a royalty free one, here’s the rainbow outside my front door three days ago.

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Dog in a Frock

This morning, as we slumbered with little intention of rousing ourselves from the bed, a cannon sounded. The boom reverberated though the valley, followed by a volley of firecrackers. It’s festa (fiesta) down in Altino. Italy loves its feste (the plural), there’s feste to celebrate the humble olive, some to champion their porcini crop and even the completion of a road. I kid you not, in 2011 we celebrated the completion of the new road in Casoli. There was a band, the local bar moved it’s pumps and the local pizzeria also set up stall on the newly laid tarmac. A procession holding a religious effigy sang hymns, a priest blessed the road and children spun around on the merry-go-round. Meanwhile me and my good friend, Christine, drank Peroni.

Today the road to Altino is closed and it’s flanked either side by market stalls selling everything from toys to hats and saucepans to pan pipes. (There’s always someone playing music from the Andes, and cheap wooden pipes that give you splinters in your lips).  Everybody that lives in the area is there, meandering along browsing the stalls and calling out to each other. shouts of ciao, buon giorno and vediamo fill the air as does the aroma of porchetta being sold from vans. A man is selling enormous rounds of cheese and as each customer purchases some, his diminutive wife, picks up the heavy cheese and with a knife almost the length of her arm she cuts a slab for him to weigh.

Michele is there and calls across to me, he introduces me to another man, whose name I do not catch, and before I can ask again they’re off shouting hello to a couple across the street. I ‘m swept along by the crowd, unless you’re buying there’s no time to idly stand around, this human river is hell bent on making it from one end of the market to the other. Up ahead there’s the sound of amusements, that tinny sound you always get at arcades and fairs, and before long I’m watching children as they scream and laugh as rides toss them around or spin them in a centrifuge. A teenage couple wander along hand in hand, she has a dog on a lead. Nothing unusual about that, except this little black poodle is wearing a red gingham dress, making it look like its escaped from a circus. The girl spots a group of other girls and they begin talking in that animated way girls the world over do, no one seems to listen as they all chatter ten to the dozen, words spilling out and sweeping over other phrases, swooping under sentences. A decision seems to have been made and the girls climb aboard a machine designed to take you high into the air before plunging you downwards, free-falling until the brake is engaged and the contents of your stomach hurtle back upwards.

The dog lead is handed to her boyfriend, who self-consciously nudges his mirrored sunglasses onto the bridge of his nose: If he was attempting to disguise himself, he’s failed, as just then a group of teenage lads enter the makeshift fairground, spot him and the dog in a frock. Needless to say, taking the micky is universal no matter what language is used and like the lads I have a little chuckle before walking on.

As I don’t have a photo of a dog in a frock, and couldn’t find a royalty free one, here’s the rainbow outside my front door three days ago.

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Emmerdale

Despite living with sawdust and the noise of the house restoration, six days a week I’m really enjoying being in Italy. It’s always felt right for me to be here and without sounding like some blurb on the dust jacket of a paperback, it’s always felt like my spiritual home. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not devoutly religious, or mystical: in fact it takes me half my time to recall my own name in the morning, let alone a handful of saints and multi-limbed divinities.

So here I am and last week my builder asked me if there was anything back in England I miss, obviously it goes without saying that there are family and friends, special people in my life. Thankfully we can stay connected due to the wonders of Facebook and Skype, and I know that when the five bottles of HP sauce I have brought with me run out then I’ll miss that. Or as my builder calls it, English sauce. I like a nice dollop of the brown stuff on my bacon and eggs, and maybe i could find it over here at a vastly increased price.

The more I thought about it, all I could recall was things that I wouldn’t miss. Stationary traffic at junction 10 of the M6, the neighbour who plays drum and bass at full volume, every Sunday morning from 07.00 and vomit on the pavements outside kebab shops. I shook away all my negative thoughts of England and tried again to think of the things I miss most, one thing was English television. As we have limited internet allowance it’s not practical to use it watching TV, so we’ve been watching films and television shows on DVD. (Don’t get me started on last nights offering, the film, Sliding Doors – what was that all about, okay, it was a pleasant enough story with some nice acting thrown into the mix, but if there was a message in the film, I missed it completely, as the credits rolled I just thought, Huh! But I digress.

Now the problem with DVD’s is that once you put a disc in and pour the wine before you know it you’re three episodes in of some American drama. Now don’t get me wrong, there are some really good American shows out there, but I do prefer English dramas. So It’d be fair to say that I will miss English television – that is until we get a decent broadband connection and monthly limit.

Talking of television, there is one thing that I do miss already, the Yorkshire television soap, Emmerdale. In fact so far I’ve missed so many episodes It’ll take me ages to catch up. Now people may think it’s a bit sad to say I’ll miss a TV show, but I do. Yes I know they’re all fictional characters and that the storylines are dreamt up in offices possibly overlooking the ring road in Leeds but of all the TV shows shown in the UK, it was the only one I watched religiously.

I may not know the names of all the prophets but can name you everyone who has lived at Home Farm or worked behind the bar at The Woolpack.

Horsey Nonsense

It seems that every conversation I have with our builder ends up in either laughter or confusion. So why should today be any different. He had been doing some welding and being a good employer I took him a drink. As I walked in he was rolling up some electric cable, looping it over his thumb and winding it around his elbow in the same way I remember my mother taking in her washing line. I placed his drink down and the conversation went like this:

Fabrice: Barry, do you have a long one?

Me: What!

Fabrice: I need a longer one.

Me: I’m sorry to hear that.

Fabrice: What?

Me: What are you talking about?

Fabrice: I need a longer one for the electrics.

Me: A longer extension?

Fabrice: Yes, that’s what I said at the start.

Now that in itself could have led to any manner of unfortunate assumptions taking place, add to it the remainder of the conversation and you can understand why foreigners can get into trouble when restoring properties abroad. Now you have to bear in mind that as he’s half French, half Italian and quite a bit of his language is an amalgamation of the two languages, with a smattering of English inserted for good measure. This led to my misinterpreting what he said, and the words causing the confusion were Cavlo (amalgamation of cavo and cablo meaning cable) and Cavallo (horse).

Fabrice: Tomorrow, we need to get a horse

Me: A horse, whatever for?

Fabrice: We need it for the electric.

Me: Why do we need a horse for electric.

Fabrice: To make the electrics work.

Me: But a horse?

Fabrice: Yes, yes a horse.

Me: I don’t understand.

Fabrice: The electric goes around the house because of the work the horse does.

Me: Are you trying to tell me that to power the gadgets in the house we need a horse on a treadmill?

Fabrice: You really are crazy Barry.

Me: I’m crazy. You’re one saying we need a horse.

Fabrice: Tomorrow, I go to shop and buy switches and the horse to put inside the walls.

Me; Fabrice, do you mean, cable.

Fabrice: Yes, yes, tomorrow I fetch the horse.

I walk away shaking my head, as he says, Inglese molto (Italian) crazy man (English) je se (French) English very crazy man I know. No wonder things get confusing here in Casoli.

Chieti Baby Boom

Today it seems everywhere I have been there has been a pregnant woman. Yes, pregnant ladies everywhere today. I nipped to the builders merchant this morning and there was the man with a dirty pick-up collecting some bags of plaster. I’ve seen him almost every time I’ve been and his truck is dirtier each time. However today, standing in the yard and leaning against his mud splashed vehicle is a woman, heavily pregnant and smoking a cigarette. Inside the cab is an equally dirty child, its face smeared with what I’m hoping is just the remnants of a chocolate croissant. The man comes back, barks something at the woman. She then flicks the red ember from the end of her cigarette: an act we called ‘nipping’ when I was a teenage smoker. She pops the half smoked fag-end behind her ear and climbs into the pick-up.

On the way back I decided to drop into the supermarket for some mackerel for lunch. As I drive the iPod shuffles and Toyah, sings I Explode, my thoughts bounce back to the heavily pregnant smoker, and I picture her gorged belly exploding and hundreds of tiny smoking babies pouring out onto the ground. Maybe there’s the germ of a story in that thought.

I’m in the supermarket and browsing when I turn a corner into another aisle and there’s a young couple, possibly mid-twenties. He’s holding her hand and with his other hand is stroking her belly, she too is heavily pregnant. This outward show of affection is nice but it’s odd as it’s the girl who is carrying the basket containing their shopping. A woman spots them and she walks over asking when the baby is due. Suddenly she’s stroking the girls belly too. Why is it that when people see a pregnant woman, they feel the need to stroke the bump. I’m not sure how I’d feel if every person I passed in the store wanted to pat my paunch. As I leave the supermarket another woman walks over to the pregnant girl and more bump brushing takes place.

Later in the day I’m waiting for the ATM in Altino to become vacant, there’s a woman standing using it and after withdrawing money from it, lo and behold; sorry for the cliché, she turns around and is also pregnant. As my seedlings took a pelting in the previous days of stormy weather I decide to check out what’s available at the local shop. I’m wondering if I ought to buy some tomato plants now, or wait to see if mine perk up when another pregnant woman approaches me. This one has a baby in the crook of her arm, balanced on her hip, it looks to be around two-years old, she’s pushing a pram containing another younger baby and in her belly she is carrying the unborn addition to the family. The poor woman looks tired; ever likely. Her husband leaves the local store and calls to her, he’s short and round with enough wiry hair bulging out of the top of his shirt to stuff a mattress. He’s balding prematurely, a sure sign of powerful fertility and as I decline the chance to purchase some more tomato plants and wander away thinking about the tired looking woman, I wonder if her husband could be responsible for the recent Chieti baby boom.

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As I don’t have a photo of a pregnant woman, and because it would have been creepy to have taken any of those I saw today, I’ll leave you with a snap of our town. Casoli, CH.

Before posting, a friend just read this and in an Arnie Swarz etc. etc. voice said, “I’ll be back, the sperminator.”

Swedish Meatballs, Storms and the Electric Mosquito Box

Last week when the weather was good, we replaced the horrible tiled living room floor with a new wooden one. The weekend arrived and with it rain. A thunderstorm raged throughout Saturday night, great forks of lightning skittered across the night sky, and sporadic sheets of lightning lit up the Abruzzi countryside like a stadium. Now I like a good storm and it helps to clear the air, which has been quite humid for the past few days, I see storms as nature’s thermostat so to speak.

Sunday arrived and reports of a tornado causing some devastation up in northern Italy are in the news. Thankfully the most distressing thing we’ve had here in Chieti is a neglected bag of cement that is now sodden and useless. So we eat breakfast as the iPod shuffles and Petula Clark, sings Downtown. “That’s what we’ll do,” I chip in, interrupting Ms Clark, “we’ll go downtown, so to speak. Let’s have a trip out to Pescara.” As we need some essentials, milk, bread, wine etc. we head first to the large Auchan supermarket near the airport; what a mistake this is. The store is packed with shoppers and the handful of checkouts open have queues fifteen people deep. Oh well, as I’ve already said previously, waiting is the Italian national pastime. Back in the car with our purchases stowed in the boot, the iPod shuffles and Marilyn Manson, starts to play, A Place in the Dirt. I’m not in the mood for Mr Manson’s rock on such a sunny day, so do something I rarely do, I manually move to the next track, and Sting, sings, Fields of Gold.

We have lunch in Ikea, the canteen is spacious, much bigger than any I’ve seen in any of their English stores, but the Italian’s take lunch seriously, it’s a time to relax over a plate of pasta and chat. The store has a clever little trolley device that means one person can stack and wheel up to four trays of food from counter to checkout to table. We have a small beer and Swedish meatballs with skinny fries, before clearing our table and heading into the store. One thing I’ve noticed that’s very different to self-clear restaurants in the UK, is that the Italian people actually do clear away their trays. In UK branches of fast food stores, I’m always amazed by the people who leave their table covered with the remains of their lunch, expecting someone else to clear away the table detritus for them.100_6291-crop

Back home I look at the electric anti-mosquito device I’ve purchased, it’s a sort of light attached to a speaker that emits a high pitched sound that I can’t hear but apparently repels the vicious little insects. I’m dubious but at just five euro, I’ll give it a go. The dinner dishes are put away just as the rain starts again, it’s coming down in great sheets, big fat blobs of liquid pelt the ground tossing up dust and sand. With video and TV watching quickly eating up the temporary internet connection’s meagre monthly allowance, we’ve resorted to watching DVD’s in the evening and at the moment we are almost at the end of the second season of the eighties TV drama, Dynasty. Joan Collins plays a great TV villain while Linda Evans has spent much of season two, either weeping or mostly doing rabbit-in-the-headlights face acting.

Monday morning arrives after a night of constant rain, the only good thing is no extra mosquito bites, so did the device actually work or did the rain keep them away – only time will tell. I lie in bed listening to the plop, plop of rain coming down the chimney before getting up and poking my head outside. My herb planter is submerged, the plughole in the sink cum planter hasn’t been able to cope with the deluge. Suddenly there’s more rain, a heavier burst pelts the house and drives itself sideways against the windows. Oh well, I think I wasn’t planning on doing anything special today. Water is running down the lane and I’m half expecting to see Noah come around the bend in his ark.100_6289

I’m about to make breakfast when more, plop plopping is heard, this time it’s in the living room, water seems to have been forced under the tiles and is now dripping into several pools on my nice new wooden floor. Where’s Noah now, I think, I heard he was handy with wood. Maybe he can sort out this new problem.