Sunny Saturday Stroll

It’s 29 October and the sun is shining, there’s not even a whisper of a breeze. I’m in the town of Bomba; pronounced Bom-ba and not as I heard one Englishman once call it Bomber. So what can I do on such a lovely morning but take a stroll through the town.

The town of Bomba dates back to 1115 AD with documented proof being housed in the local council offices. It’s a small town, just 18 km2 (7 sq mi) and enjoys an elevated position over the river Sangro valley meaning from almost every part of the town you can enjoy amazing panoramic views .

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The town is divided by a main street, at the top end it is called Via Roma, and my stroll starts here. I stop and look down over the tiled roofs of houses that have a view of the lake, it’s around 11.20 and the streets are already filled with people going about their daily business. Looking down I watch as a small Piaggio: a 3-wheel Ape (a-pay) chugs up the winding hill with several crates of freshly picked olives. I turn and walk as slowly as the ginger cat that’s taking it’s time to cross the road. Local people wish me good morning as they pass me; some possibly wondering who the stranger with a camera is. I stop and pass the time of day with a man who has arrived in a small reddish-orange pick-up filled with wood.

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He’s unloading the wood and stacking it neatly inside his cantina, he tells me he’s done this every year since he was a small boy over 70 years ago helping his father replenish the family’s wood pile. I tell him my own wood pile is growing in preparation for the winter ahead and we both agree that there’s nothing better than the smell of a wood fire on a crisp winter’s evening.

I continue along Via Roma past the water fountain where locals buy their sparkling or still spring water for just 5 cents a litre – just bring your own bottle. I see a lady I’ve met previously and we pass the time of day, she comments on my lack of a jacket and I tell her the temperature this morning is quite similar to an English morning in May, to which she responds with, “Those poor English people having to live in the cold.”

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Via Roma changes to become Cso S. Spaventa and it’s flanked on both sides by tall buildings. Three storey houses and apartments keep this portion of the street in shade and there’s a sudden dip in temperature out of the sun. Entrances with steep steps lead to front doors and it again it amazes me how the aging Italian population take all of these steps in their stride. (no pun intended).

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To my right are streets with sharp inclines that make their way upwards away from the corso while on my left narrow streets become entwined with vici (alleys) in the historic part of town; here in this labyrinthine part of town small dogs bark at strangers who pass by and disturb their sunbathing.

 

One of the town’s churches sits in an elevated position and the road leading up to it is as slender as a wasps waist, yet still cars have managed to make their way up here; some with their wing mirrors pulled in so as not to damage them in these narrowest of streets.

 

I’m again amazed at the skill of these people to navigate these streets and their parking may look like a nightmare for some, but I’m certain there’s some pecking order / unwritten parking system here.

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I continue my walk, stopping occasionally to admire wood piles that are constructed with great precision, one house has what looks like an unused door to its cantina and here are stacked olive branches, each one cut to the same length so as to fit into the space exactly.

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My journey brings me along an alleyway where a scooter stands outside a house with an open front door where the aroma of cooking spills out infusing the air with a the rich tang of tomato sauce and basil. This scene is as Italian as it can get and again reminds me how the Italian way of life is so close to its perceived stereotype.

The alley opens up to the main piazza and here is an image of Italian life as it has been for centuries. Men fill the benches and sit around gossiping while the women see to the chores. One woman hands her husband a couple of euro to buy his coffee with as she steps inside the baker’s to buy their daily bread. There’s no expectation of change here, it’s not a misogynistic society, it’s just the traditional way of life here in central Italy that remains unchanged.

In truth if you asked most of the women if they’d like their menfolk to help with the daily shopping and cooking, you get a resounding, no. “Why let the men make a mess of things,” one lady once told me, “The wife would have to clear up her husband’s mistakes while making sure not to hurt his feelings.”

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I turn back towards Via Roma and make my way back to my friend’s house where again the aroma of cooking is carried upon the air, however this kitchen smell is very alien to this ancient town, as it’s chicken curry. I look across as a neighbour uses an electric winch to lift her shopping from the street up two storeys to her apartment and think to myself what a perfect way to spend a sunny Saturday morning.

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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.

Cocktails, Tattoos and Turtles

Today the October weather was glorious, the sun was shining and with just a whisper of a breeze we donned our sunglasses and headed off out for an adventure. The lovely Annie; who was having an adventure of her own, coming to Italy alone and driving a ‘wrong way ‘round car’ arrived as the iPod played The Idol (all Gods Fall) by Marc Almond. We quickly secured the mutts inside the house and clambered into my car and headed off to Roccascalegna. The journey gave the step-son a chance to see some of the terrain around these parts as all he’d seen since arriving was the motorway and our local town. The drive up to Roccascalegna is a nice one, you pass through the small town of Altino; its narrow streets giving it a stepping back in time feel, and as soon as you leave Altino you get spectacular views galore. The roads wind their way ever upwards and you can see for miles, down over olive groves and patches of wild fauna and over towards the lake at Bomba, that amid the greenery looks like a splash of mercury today.

We collect Mark and head down the other side of the town towards the lake. We stop at a small cafe that has been recommended but sadly the doors are locked and there’s no signs of life, we pose for a couple of photographs with the sun on our faces before making our way further downwards and around the lake, the surface of which, when kissed by the breeze, quivers like a plucked string. “Turn right here,” Mark says directing me the wrong way up a strada exit, luckily nothing is exiting towards us and I cut across the road. Minutes later we are entering what looks like another typical Italian bar, but this one was very different. The walls are covered with signs for Guinness and other English beers, the wood is stained dark and the pictures are similar to what would be found in a public house in the heart of England.

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A man who looks shocked to see us there appears behind the bar and we order beer and panini, which when they arrive are huge slabs of bread filled with cheese and meat. The five of us grapple with our surf-board sized sandwiches and share the two bottles of beer between ourselves before I pay the man and we make our way towards Villa Santa Maria, the home of the great Italian chefs. The very first professional culinary school was founded here in the 16th century by Prince Ferrante Caracciolo of Naples. Just before  Villa S. Maria is a town with a name that appears longer than its main street. We stop here in Pietraferrazzana and head off towards our intended destination, a relatively new bar on Corso Giuseppe Mazzini. The reason we’re here is cocktails. The bar is renowned for its selection of drinks made up of multiple beverages. The waitress comes to take our order and I spot an intricate tattoo on the underside of a forearm, I’m about to tell her it’s a nice tattoo and my brain shuffles and the only Italian word I can recall is tartaruga, and even I’m not stupid enough to say to her, “You have a nice turtle.”  I’m drinking my blue drink that looks like shower gel but tastes delicious when the correct word for tattoo; tatuaggio, makes itself known to the inner workings of my brain.

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As we chat a handsome man arrives with a guitar and starts to play, Mark asks him if he knows any English songs, he responds in broken English, “No, I know not any English songs.” Stefano, as we discover his name to be, then plays and sings, Save the Last Dance for Me, which sounds very English to our ears. Later the barmaid brings us all another drink telling us they are from Stefano, we thank him and afterwards just before we leave Mark gets an impromptu lesson in Italian pronunciation from the barmaid and she shows me her tattoo in detail, telling me I need to have the tattoo on my wrist changed as it’s too small. “Maybe I’ll have a turtle added to it,” she looks at me perplexed, “personal joke,” I respond and somewhat more confused she then goes back to giving Mark more pointers on his pronunciation, which in jest he deliberately gets wrong.