The Last Festa

Our town’s last big festa took place last week, the celebrations in honour of Santa Reparata e San Gilberto take place from October 1st to 9th, with church services building up to three days of entertainment and community interaction. I’ve not been to the festa for a couple of years and this year decided to go to the last night as the posters around the area advertised that Arisa was the headline act.

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We arrived and walked up the main street beneath the tunnel of brilliant lights that are fixed to wooden poles that look so fragile you’d be forgiven for thinking this is a feat of engineering that defies logic. We stroll slowly taking in the array of stalls selling everything from arrosticini to hot chestnuts.The newly opened kebab outlet is filled with young people eager to try this new take-away that’s arrived in town, their parents opt for the more traditional porchetta panino. The obligatory porchetta vans have queues waiting for the fragrant roasted pork between bread, and three proprietors vie for the custom of the people here to enjoy this crisp, cold evening.

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It’s immature I know but as I walk past Signor Leonelli’s store selling hot shelled peanuts I snigger as I turn to my friend and say, “Mr Leonelli has hot nuts”. Children can be heard whooping with delight on the fairground rides and the man on the Nutella stall is calling out for people to try his chocolate and hazelnut slavered crepes.

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Walking back from the fairground we chance upon a friend working on a stall advertising artisan beers and we purchase two large glasses and enjoy them sat looking out over the newly refurbished belvedere, (a paved area looking over the countryside).

The crowds are starting to gather up at the piazza where the stage is and the most experienced festa-goers have come prepared bringing their own chairs. BB4

Every available space to sit is taken up, the cafe opposite is filled with people and its till is ringing with appreciation. Steps opposite the stage start to fill with people who’d rather sit, despite the cold that must numb their behinds than stand to watch the show, .

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We stand waiting in anticipation and eventually with the crowd so closely packed there’s no time to think about personal space, Arisa takes to the stage. In my opinion it’s a bit of an anti-climax; strolling on in ripped jeans and a leather jacket she waves to the crowd. A melancholy tune plays and she sings a slow ballad; in my opinion not the best way to start a show. This down-tempo song is followed by another ballad, then another and by the time we’ve witnessed five pedestrian tunes I’ve had enough. Maybe the name of her tour should have given me a clue to the style of the show, Ho Perso Il Mio Amore (I Lost My Love). Unhappy that we’d not heard any of her quirky upbeat tunes like Malamoreno or Sincerita coupled with the view being inhibited by phones recording the show we decide to leave.

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We struggle to extricate ourselves from the crowd and make our way through the now quieter streets, people are sat eating at small pop up eateries and the man selling pizza from his white van complete with wood burning oven has a large queue. I take one last look back at the castle illuminated against the blackened sky and drive home. At midnight we sit outside listening to the bangs and crashes of fireworks as the sky becomes illuminated with a pallet of fluorescent colours.

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Bad Influence from Stevenage

My friend who has a house nearby is over at the moment from the UK to enjoy some early Italian sunshine and get her neglected garden back in order. We met a few years back and spent a riotous summer together in Italy in 2011 as both of our partners were in England at the time. I have to admit that we both have the same irreverent sense of humour and also occasionally have no internal volume switch. So a couple of weeks back she tips up at the airport. I pick her up and from that moment on my routine begins to unravel.

We’ve had assorted trips into different towns when I’d be sat at my desk normally doing research. We’ve enjoyed meals at lunchtime when I’d normally grab a sandwich as I proof read. There’s been many visits to the local bar when usually after a day writing, I’d be cossetted on the sofa with a glass of wine  watching Emmerdale.

So last week, when another friend pointed out that I was having a very busy social life of late, I pointed out the reason why; my errant friend from Stevenage. The friend comments that my recent status updates have featured less about my work and more about my procrastination, and I have to admit to being one story behind on my monthly schedule. I then jokingly lay the blame for this firmly at my visiting friend’s door, saying she’s a bad influence.100_9239

Several minutes later said bad influence sends me a message saying, ‘fancy trying the new bar in town?’ Am I strong enough to resist the temptation to indulge in jovial behaviour while partaking of grain based beverages?

No. So where does the blame lie?

Who really cares when a good time is being had by all, I can get back to the mundane 9 to 5 routine later in the month. Life is too short to put work before friendship.

No Clouds and Kitchen Crocodiles

The weather has been quite nice of late, we’ve had clear skies without any traces of clouds so of course I’ve been taking advantage of the chance to do a little sunbathing to get the winter white flesh a healthier colour. I’m not really good at lying in the sun doing nothing and without clouds to watch it can be a bit dull just lying there.

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So with the iPod breaking the stillness of the day up with tunes shuffling I lie and catch a few rays. The first song to blast out over the Italian countryside is, Think Again by 1980’s pop-combo, ABC, in fact the tunes today have a decidedly 80’s vibe. Mel and Kim make an appearance as does King and Tears for Fears. It’s only when Italian metal band, Linea 77, featuring Tiziano Ferro,  thrash the tranquillity with their single Sogni Resplendono,  that I decide it’s time to stop lying around.

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I watch as resident lizard, ‘stumpy’ patrols in my orto, so named as he’s lost his tail, and decide it’s time to grab a cold drink, I wander into the kitchen just as Olive chases a large lizard through the door and watch as it dives for cover under the fridge, but not until our black terrier has nipped off the end of its tail. I do think if you had a phobia to lizards that central Italy wouldn’t be for you, as there’s so many of the emerald green reptiles here.

A few years ago I was at my friends house in Casoli, and somehow a baby lizard had managed to get through a fly screen, both us being a tad squeamish meant that the operation to remove the small visitor was an hilarious operation, and we then referred to it as the great crocodile hunt. So Now I’m left here on ‘crocodile’ watch as a tail end wriggles about on the floor.

The OH takes the dogs out and I settle down to work and look up and there’s the crocodile wandering across my kitchen floor, so with the yard-brush I coax it towards the front door and watch as it runs away to the safety of the grass.

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OH returns and I tell the tale of the great crocodile hunter that retrieved it from under the fridge and sent it off on its way. At that moment, Alf our lanky juvenile red-legged dog chases another lizard in through the door and this new reptilian visitor takes safety under the kitchen units.

Oh-hum, that’s me in great crocodile hunter guise again.

Giornata dei Donativi

We’ve just had our October festa here in Casoli and an enjoyable three days it was too. On the first evening we enjoyed a stroll around town taking in the lights that festooned the streets before settling down for a few drinks at the borgo. There was a music system set up in the corner and a young man sang a mix traditional and modern songs and the piazza outside the post office became an open-air dance floor, as previously mentioned in https://intheflatfieldidogetbored.wordpress.com/2013/10/15/dancing-in-the-street/.

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The second day is Giornata dei Donativi, (day of donations) the traditional parade to celebrate the Feasts of S.Reparata and S.Gilberto. Tractors have been cleaned and flat-back lorries are bedecked with decorations and to give thanks for the harvest, people attired in traditional dress march through the streets handing out samples of oil, porchetta, mortadella and wine. Music plays and small children squeal with delight as the whole town lines the main street to watch. The evening is taken up with a rock band playing in the piazza while fairground rides entertain the teenagers.

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The third evening again has musical entertainment as a singer/impressionist entertains the crowds as he takes off popular Italian singers, as he changes costumes various other artistes entertain before we slope off to the borgo again, I toast the end of the festa with a grappa before making the steep climb up to Christine and Bill’s house on Via Gianino, for chicken curry and to watch the end of festa fireworks from their fabulous roof terrace.

Here’s the link to my video of the three days edited down to ten-minutes: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151647308362187&l=7102226553622154958

Dancing in the Street

One of the great things about being in Italy is the coffee culture, I enjoy nipping to a local bar and handing over my Euro for a shot of strong black coffee. Here it’s simply coffee, not espresso. But if I fancy a more sedate experience rather than the traditional, quick mouthful followed by water whilst standing at the counter, I head up to Casoli. Situated in Piazza del Popolo is my favourite bar, Gran Caffe Del Borgo. Recently I sat outside enjoying a cappuccino with friends as life passed us by. Granted this taking time over a coffee is not really part of traditional Italian coffee culture, but as people who’ve chosen to adopt Italy as our home, we’re bringing a little of the non-Italian coffee shop culture with us. That said, when you’re sat in the perfect place to people watch, why would you want to rush.

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20.15 Outside on 09.10.2013

It was a particularly sunny October morning when after a stroll through town we converged upon the bar we fondly refer to as ‘the borgo’, sitting in the sunshine we give Simona our orders, and with a smile she caters to this handful of complicated tea and coffee drinking Brits. The bar is situated perfect for anyone wanting to absorb Italian life, as the piazza is on one of the main roads into the town. Opposite is the Post Office, and a morning sat watching the queues build and the local police try their best to keep the traffic moving is often entertaining. It’s festa time and the post office is closed today, so we sit watching the slow pace of life that passes by. A mother scolds a small boy for running ahead, two elderly gentlemen, meet, shake hands and pass the time of day and one of our friends calls out a cheery ‘”’giorno,” as he walks towards the tabacchi.

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We’ve tried all the other bars in Casoli, but it’s the service here that brings us back every time, here, there’s always a smile and whether you’ve dropped in for a ‘Pepsi Twist’ on a sunny morning or a beer on a busy evening service, you’re always made to feel like a friend. It’s a relatively young gathering in the evenings, and unlike the English bars, young and old mix together perfectly. Recently we dropped in during the start of the October festa. As a group we took up most of the corner of the outside space, our tables laden with drinks and the complimentary snacks we listened to the music from the band set up in the piazza. As the night drew on people began dancing in the piazza, it didn’t take long before Lisa was up and joining in. A few beers later and I was also tempted to join in. We tried our best to keep up with the dance steps, even after some assistance from a lady, we still couldn’t manage to get them right. But no one minds, it’s festa time and the most important thing is to enjoy yourself. Something we do every time we drop into the ‘the borgo’.

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Tail Wagging

The one thing about having rescue dogs is that you know nothing about their past lives and therefore you can only make assumptions. We have two of these dogs, Olive a small terrier type aged around four years and Alfie a lanky, half dog-half donkey five month old. We know a little about Olive, she lived in the nearby town of Fara San Martino and was known by everyone locally due to her running around the narrow streets and generally being a cheeky little mutt. We acquired her due to a change in her owners circumstances. She always seemed to be quite morose and spent most of the day moping around when we first got her, the one thing that struck me was she didn’t seem to know how to play, every toy we gave her was ignored. She really wasn’t a very happy girl and we put this down to her moving to a new home.

Alfie came our way after a friend asked if we were still looking for a dog as there was one abandoned near Lake Casoli. At the time we had considered getting another dog but Olive reacted badly to other dogs so had shelved the idea, however seeing a photo on Facebook tugged at the heartstrings and I went to look at him. To cut the story short, suffice to say he was such a smashing looking chap I decided to take him and give him a home. He was terrified when we bundled him into my car and for the first time I spotted the long scars on his front legs. The chef from the nearby restaurant told me a car arrived one evening and the dog was just pushed out.

From their initial meeting Olive and Alfie got on, becoming firm friends. I guess they saw a little of their own story in each other. We did notice that despite the age and height difference they both shared the same trait, neither of them ever wagged their tails. 100_7065

Olive seems to have always been a people dog, she loves being with humans and likes nothing better than a ride in the car; so much so, that as soon as the driver’s door opens she’s inside, as fast as a cork from a chilled bottle of Prosecco. Whereas Alfie was wary of humans, a hand near his head made him cower, a stern rebuke would have him falling to the ground passively and the car terrified him. They both adapted to living on a building site very quickly and although not the ideal environment I think with so much chaos around they found it exciting. Alone they both began to explore and Alfie’s youth rubbed off on Olive and she learned how to play, her favourite game being, glove killing – I daren’t tell the builder what happened to his gloves. In turn Olive’s age has kept Alfie in check, she’s taught him the rights and wrongs of living with humans and is first to tell him off if he sticks his nose into the kitchen waste bin. Also seeing Olive jumping in and out of the car has allayed his fears and he now jumps into the back seat knowing that after been taken for a walk he’ll come home and not be abandoned.

Last week a friend dropped by and she commented on how Alfie didn’t flinch when she went to stroke him; something I no longer noticed. I then looked for changes in the two of them and noticed that now they both wag their tails. Olive just at the mention of her name and Alfie when you go to stroke him and of course when they play together. It’s so nice to see an abundance of tail wagging in the countryside, here in Abruzzo.

If

In 1971, singer David Gates sang the lyric, ‘If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can’t I paint you?’  The song written by Paul Heaton, Scott Shields and Martin Paul Slattery was made famous by Gates’ band, Bread and its popularity cemented the phrase within the public consciousness. So famous is the line, it soon become a cliché. But is this a bad thing?

Not in my opinion, because if by becoming a cliché its saved it from being copied and used by less talented writers.

A few days ago a photograph landed in my inbox and upon opening the attachment the lyric came to mind instantly.

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The photo, by Graham Ward, was taken one evening after we had eaten dinner at our favourite local restaurant, from the roadside at Selva Piana looking up at the town of Casoli. The three-quarter moon looks like someone has cut a slice away and the soft ochre coloured lights of the town give the castle a welcoming hue. The fact that only two pictures were taken before the camera battery died makes them even more special. I could go on enthusing about the majesty of the image, but what’s the point. This is an image that paints its own one-thousand words and sums up just why this part of Italy is a special place to live.

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?

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.”

Piano Piano

There are many things that the Italians are good at, pizza is one, pasta obviously and football: I’m reliably informed. But there is one thing that the Italian people excel at. Waiting. Everywhere there’s a piano piano mentality, (slowly, slowly). They really do show off their waiting skills at the post office. Here bills are bi-monthly, meaning if you don’t have direct debits set up you have to endure a minimum of six visits per year. “Direct debit,” our builder says, “You might as well give your Bancomat card to a stranger and tell him your pin number,” Banking options other than cash are still relatively  new here and many of the older generation are sceptical about security.

Friends posted on Facebook that they had got engaged in Florida and I thought, I know, I’ll send them a card, so it’s there for when they get home to the UK. Now having only previously posted postcards before I remember that any guide book tells you to buy your stamps at the tobacconist. So I write out the card and drive to the local Tabacchi, I ask for francaboli, (stamps) and am told they don’t sell them. I try another three and get the same response. So there’s nothing for it but to go to the post office. I decide on the small one in Altino as the larger one in Casoli is bound to have its usual crowd spilling out into the piazza. In fact so busy is the Casoli office, they post traffic police outside in the morning so that people don’t block the road. I have experienced the Italian post office before and know that when people joke about taking a flask, book and a packed lunch they’re not being ironic but telling the truth.

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A week ago I used the Altino P.O. to pay some bills for a friend and was lucky enough to only wait for thirty minutes before I could deal with the woman behind the counter. Now what you need to know is that the office has two sportelli (glass windows/counters), one is for P.O. bank products and the other is for P.O. postal products. You can pay bills at either window, but only withdraw money at the bank window or buy stamps at the postal one. So I join the throng of people already waiting, three women are sat against the back wall chatting animatedly, the other seating contains a mixture of men and women of various ages. I squeeze in behind a display stand next to a young man who is sweating and smells ripe and a woman wearing an overpowering perfume, thankfully both fragrances cancel out the other. I count fourteen people, seven per window if all are here to pay bills. Twenty five minutes later I count thirteen people. Now maybe it’s a requirement of the job with post office workers the world over that the staff must work with the momentum of a corpse. Another twenty minutes pass, and five more people join the queue, asking who they follow. I’ve ascertained that I follow the perspiring youth. Forty minutes later, the youth has finished his transaction, but sadly he’s at the bank products window. Confusion reigns, isn’t the Englishman next. I explain that I need to wait for the postal products window, a late arrival sees a chance and nips into the vacant space at the window and a man reprimands her for not working out who is next in line. Eventually the window I want is vacant, I make my way over, the old lady is confused wasn’t she after the Englishman, but why isn’t he at the other window. Consternation ensues and a man explains to her what’s happening and that she should have used the window that’s now taken by the interloper.

So after seventy-five minutes of waiting, it’s my turn. “One stamp to England please,” I ask. The woman behind the counter takes my letter and sticks a stamp onto the envelope, removes the sum total of seventy cents from me, for the transaction then says, “Instead of waiting, next time go to the large tabacchi across the road,” (the only one I haven’t been to.) “They sell stamps.”

Have you ever tried to smile through grinding teeth, it’s difficult