Summer Season

Twelve weeks have slipped by since I last added to this blog and I apologise for neglecting it. I’d like to say it’s because I’ve been too busy with work, however that’d only be a half truth as I’ve also been busy eating out and enjoying the summer.

It’s eating out during the tourist season that I’m writing about today. Out of season the restaurants are very happy for the local population to patronise their establishments and are often more attentive. However as soon as the tourists arrive the attitude as well as the food changes.

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I was having a conversation with a friend about this a month or so back after we had visited a restaurant we’d visited many times before and had a terrible experience. The season was winding down and when we entered the almost empty dining room we noticed that parts of the bar were already being packed away, meaning the small eatery will probably close over the autumn and winter months. Fair enough, if there’s not the custom to make it worthwhile opening then it makes sense, but surely if they remain open to diners they can pack up later. The waitress (eventually) strolled over to take our order and everything we asked for off their menu was no longer available. Sorry no pizza, sorry no fries, sorry no vongole, sorry no white wine, sorry red wine either only rosé. We all decided that as there was nothing available that we wanted we’d leave. The final insult after many weeks of eating there was to hear the waitress moan to the owner about us being miserable English tourists. Suffice to say, despite your usually friendly staff and great food, we’ll not be back again.

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One thing we as stranieri, ex-pats, immigrants, or however we label ourselves have noticed is that when the area is full of tourists the food quality in some not all establishments drops from excellent to average and portion sizes shrink faster than a slimmer at Weightwatchers. Service becomes rushed and the waiters that out of season are pleased to see you become less attentive; I put that down to increased trade, but regular patrons and locals do seem to get a rum deal when the tourists are in town.

I’m sure this isn’t indicative of just our area, I’m sure it must go on all over the world where bars and restaurants cater to tourists – it’s just a shame that it can make you reconsider where you’ll be spending your euro the following summer.

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Body Clock, Barbecue and Balcony

When people hear that you live in Italy, they assume you have year round sunshine, but it’s not really like the Spanish Costas, where pensioners pop over for tinsel and turkey and ex-pats are still topping up their tans in November. In middle Italy we get snow; albeit not very much unless you’re up in the mountains, and we get miserable, wet, drizzly days in the winter, but what a revelation December 2013 was. We had more warm sunny days than cold wet ones and this meant we could extend our outdoor activities without donning an overcoat.

Throughout the month we took the dogs for a run on the beach; deserted now the holiday makers have left, and we also spent more time generally outside. With the back garden almost finished I spent a very warm December day getting my orto ready for the New Year, I was actually in a T shirt, sweating as I worked the earth, planted some garlic and built a seed bed.

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On the 29th we spent a morning walking with friends on the beach at Lido la Morge, (that’s where I scratched the Buon Anno, message in the sand) and following the beach trip we popped into friends at Torino di Sangro for a planned barbecue. I’d told a friend in the UK about the barbecue and he said we must be mad, a barbecue in December. We expected it to be chilly, but instead what we got was glorious sunshine and a warm afternoon. So as my friend in the UK shivered and locked himself away from the rain, I was outside in my shirt sleeves looking at an amazing view as I munched on a burger and the best homemade coleslaw I’ve ever tasted.

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On the 2nd of January, with the New Year still in its infancy, we had our first get-together of 2014, we spent a delightful afternoon on a roof terrace belonging to friends in Bomba. The views over the countryside and the lake are breath-taking, made all the more enjoyable when they’re viewed whilst holding a glass of wine. We had a lovely buffet lunch followed by great conversation that drifted into the early evening.

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Now I’m not telling you this in an attempt to make you jealous… okay maybe just a little bit, but to point out how unusual it is when you’re not used to the difference in the climate. There’s this odd feeling that it can’t be real when you sit outside having lunch in the sunshine in a month when you’re used to wearing scarves and coats. It’s not like when you escape the winter for an intended holiday in the sun, when you’re living here and doing the mundane day to day things, there’s this odd feeling that your body clock has misfired. I’m not complaining mind, I’d much rather be sat in the sunshine with my sandwich than in a café in Stoke with condensation running down the inside of the windows. Maybe next year we’ll have a colder, wetter December to remind me of one in the UK, who knows. Mind you that said, if that’s so, you know I’ll be here complaining about it.

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I took the dogs out to the beach a couple of times, before the forecasted snow arrived. It was nice to have great open spaces with hardly another person in sight, the dogs love walking on the sand and although they’re both wary of the sea, they both like being on the beach. During school holidays in the summer-time dogs are banned from beaches, so most dog walkers tend to be out with their animals in spring and autumn.

The beach at Francavilla was completely deserted, but a depressing sight to behold, the summer facilities were boarded up and locked away and the sand was littered with evidence of holiday-makers. There’s something bleak about holiday destinations out of season. I recall a holiday town in New Zealand I visited during a working tour out there, the whole town had a depressing aura about it, and Francavilla is the same under metallic coloured skies.

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Next time, we went to the beach at Ortona, it’s adjacent to the port and rather small, but at least it’s clean. The sea is quite choppy, almost as if it’s having an argument with the shore. Waves roll in, foaming viciously; white horses stampeding as the harsh wind stabs at my cheeks like invisible hypodermics.  We walk along the moored boats that are bobbing wildly as huge waves splash over the breakwater soaking any unfortunate passer-by,

There’s something about the beaches once the umbrellas have been removed and the holiday makers have left, it feels like they start to belong to the local population once again as the dog walkers, young men with fishing rods and couples bundled up against the cold reclaim what’s theirs.

Cocktails and House Guests

Saturday, we had a pleasant afternoon on the beach at Casalbordino, there was a small group of us and we sipped prosecco and ate our picnic as the warm September sun shone down.  No matter what time of the year it is, I cannot go near the sea without wanting to swim in it, so we also took a dip. Being blokes we naturally couldn’t resist the urge to pee in the sea which was disguised as swimming. We were chatting when the subject of house guests came up, those friends and family wanting to come out to stay. As some of our party have self-catering accommodation, they have to explain to those friends that want to come for a ‘free’ holiday, that they must come out of season. The point that was raised, was that when visitors do come, they expect their hosts to show them the  sights, take them to the best restaurants and spend days lazing on the beach. Is this unreasonable, was the question asked of our group and we all said, although we’d expect to indulge our house guests, they on reflection never consider that. 1. You have to do this for every new guest, and 2. you’re not on holiday and have to continue with your daily routine.

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Early evening at Casalbordino

The biggest issue apart from the disruption to daily life is the added expense. Is it appropriate to ask house guests to contribute towards their stay, especially if you have to take time off to look after them? In my case, days out with guests would eat into my writing time and eventually would cost me my income, so I guess it would be acceptable to ask for a contribution. Most people said that their house guests would often take them out for a nice meal to say thank you. But when you add up the cost of petrol, utilities and lost revenue, is a meal really compensation? I had friends come over to stay for a week and they were the perfect house guests. I collected them from the airport and the first thing they said was, “We don’t want to disrupt your routine, we’ll fit in with you.” Throughout the week they insisted in paying for the petrol used to take them out, they contributed 50% to the weekly shopping and during the day when I was working they did their own thing, either around the local area or by borrowing the car to explore further afield. When I wasn’t working we enjoyed local sights, the beach and pizza at the local pizzeria. At the end of the week as I dropped them off at the airport they slipped me an extra €100. saying “Put this towards our stay,”

One of our party said after she noticed how much it was costing her in time and money when guests came out; fired up in holiday mode, she set a fixed price per person per day, and that has worked for them. One thing guests don’t realise is, that the previous week another set of guests had been staying and you have to repeat the previous week’s activities for them.

After packing up, we strolled over to a new cocktail bar that had opened and after perusing the (IMO far too extensive) menu, we all sat and enjoyed our drinks as the light faded over Casalbordino and the only sound to be heard was the laughter of chatting Brits and the soft lapping of the waves.

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Swanky sofas overlooking the sea

Another First

As I type this blog entry, Rod Stewart is singing the hauntingly beautiful, The Killing of Georgie, (parts 1 and 2). Now there’s a statement I never thought I’d make, Rod Stewart, and hauntingly beautiful. The reason I’m writing this entry at this time: after dinner, is because like, Beryl Bickerstaff, the protagonist in my novel/work in progress, 52, I have just experienced a, first However unlike Beryl I haven’t been given a fifty-two week life expectancy. The novel is a humorous look at what happens when you are confronted with cancer and the prognosis of just one year left to live. I can assure you the subject matter may not instantly make you think comedy, but sometimes it’s humour that makes our darkest moments bearable. In the story Beryl decides to grab life by the  hair, despite most of it being lost on the bathroom floor, and experience all those things she’s always wanted to.

My first, harks back to a conversation on the beach a week ago, we Brits as usual were talking about food, and I happened to mention that I have never had, and am unlikely to ever have a fish-finger butty. The thought makes me wince and tomato ketchup on fish, (in the remotest sense I assume in a fish finger) sounds wrong. So what was this, first I hear you all cry out in unison?

Mashed potato, not just ordinary mashed potato, but the stuff that comes in a packet. So this evening, we’re having carrots, French beans and pork for dinner and we have no fresh potatoes, despite me shopping for the other ingredients earlier. A rummage through the provisions yields a box of dried instant mash. I have never eaten the stuff but the OH does, usually when I’m not at home: incidentally the same goes for porridge, or rather it did before we moved to Italy. I can’t bear the smell of milky oatmeal, just a quick sniff and I’m over the sink gipping like a drunkard.

Regular readers of my ramblings may remember previous culinary firsts, the toast toppers and pie in a tin blogs can be found at my old address, just click the link:

Going Commando and Pie in a Tin

Nothing Ventured

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I remember the well known brand, where in the adverts Martians are laughing at the humans who peel them with their metal knives. Even as a kid, these funny TV commercials never persuaded me to eat the powdered potato; either that or my mother was more discerning during her forays to the supermarket on a Saturday morning. So we opened the packet of powdered white granules, (not the well-known brand alluded to earlier) and poured over hot water and something that looked rather like wallpaper paste began to form, with an odour akin to putty. “Hmmph,” the OH says. The wordless dialogue sends a shiver down my spine, as watch him place the bowl of greyish fake-potato onto the table.

Needles to say, here in Italy where we have countless, wonderful culinary dishes, this one was not one of them. In fact the dog refused to give it a try, my only regret is I didn’t follow by example.