Tranquillo, come domenica mattina

When Lionel Richie was with the Commodores one of their first big UK hits was a song called, Easy, a soulful ballad with the lyric, ‘Easy, like Sunday morning’. Now the translation into Italian may not be literal, and my using tranquillo rather than facile (easy) keeps the sentence within the original meaning.

Why am I referencing Mr Richie and his co-musicians, well because it’s a lyric that perfectly sums up a sunny Sunday here in La Bella Italia.

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This week, Sunday starts with avid activity in the olive groves as farmers finish the last of their pruning. Compressors hiss and odd shaped pruning tools buzz like contented honey bees. In the midst of this activity there’s no real sense of urgency, unlike on weekdays when they work at full pelt before disappearing at lunchtime, today they prune a little and chat a lot.

People arrive in cars and park up and stroll along the lane, two men arrive, their animated conversation a contradiction to their ambling gait, they’re walking their dogs that have large bells attached to their harnesses meaning as they pass through the groves it sounds like farmers moving their goats.

By midday all of this activity ceases and the land around falls quiet again, I’m potting up some pumpkins from a seed tray when Antonio drives past, he waves as he passes the house and calls out, ‘Buona Domenica.’ (have a nice Sunday). A few minutes later, I take my time shaving and making sure my hair is pointing up and to the left; a throw back from my 70’s punk music inspired youth and why the locals affectionately call me, Sonic; a future post maybe. Now I’m ready to go to lunch.

We drive to our favourite restaurant and luckily as we’ve forgotten to book for Sunday lunch they have a couple of spare tables. Jimmy ushers us to a table while Luca fetches wine and water. Despite the restaurant being full there’s no  sense of urgency;  unlike weekdays when they can turn a table around in 40 seconds so as to accommodate the waiting workers that arrive in their droves.

It’s Sunday so the menu of the day contains a lot of fish dishes, from salmon to sea bass and trout. We order and quickly the primi arrive, I have chitarrina alle vongole and O.H has orecchiette broccoli e gorgonzola. At first I’m wishing I’d chosen the creamy blue cheese sauce, but after shelling the clams I’m soon digging into my garlic and parsley infused shellfish pasta. We eat  at a leisurely pace, after all,  è domenica and there’s no rush.

BB16Seconda for the both of us is stinco, or rather to use the plural stinchi. Stinco is a pork shin similar to a lamb shank in the UK that is roasted in the oven. We also have potatoes and green vegetables and again take our time. We finish with coffee then pay the €20 bill – honestly two courses, with coffee, water and a litre of wine for the same price as a Big Mac meal in
the UK. So if you’re in the area drop into… actually maybe I’ll not give you the name and address of the restaurant, just in case one Sunday you take the last table and I’ll have to eat elsewhere.

We arrive home and chill out in the sun with a bottle of Peroni as the dogs laze at our feet as we’re being, ‘easy, like Sunday morning’ regardless of it being past 14.30.

 

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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.

Domenico’s Ruin

When we purchased our little piece of Italy, namely a five room house with lots of neglected land I hated the old ruin that was opposite. We soon discovered that the ruin was part of an old palazzo and as it had become unstable the owners were told to take it down. Three of the owners removed their properties, however one remained standing; or literally clinging on. We discovered this small ruined house belonged to Domenico. A small, wiry septuagenarian with a personality akin to that of a terrier. It appears that Domenico thinks he can get away with just removing the roof. I can see his point, why spend your own money when no one lives nearby, however now someone does live nearby, in fact just 4.5 metres away. Our lawyer said we can let the comune (council) know and they’ll order it taken down. However not wanting to upset the locals I said leave it for now, thinking at least it keeps our place hidden from the road: What a mistake that was, hidden away we were burgled twice in 2012.

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Now that I’m getting settled into life here in Abruzzo and restoring our house I’ve grown quite fond of Domenico’s ruin, especially on nights like this. Streisand, sings, With One More Look at You, I take my glass of wine outside where there’s very little light pollution and the evening air clings to the remnants of the days warmth and it stands silent, a sentinel looking over the valley. There’s the sound but no sight of wildlife and everything feels good with the world. I grab my camera and fire of a picture of the ruin; a memory frozen in time of this quarter of a palazzo that was built more years ago than anyone can remember; the last restoration previously done back in 1931.

Maybe, I’m losing my Englishness and unconsciously embracing the Italian way of thinking. Perhaps living with a ruin isn’t too bad. It certainly puts things into perspective. There are more important things the worry about than if a pile of bricks looks unsightly, but then again there’s that old cliché about beauty being in the eye of the beholder.

There’s a breeze as the music shuffles and Depeche Mode begin to play, Halo. Perhaps I’ll take my wine back inside and leave the ruin to stand alone inside the inky blackness of the Abruzzi countryside. I close my front door as Dave Gahan sings the lyric, ‘When the walls come tumbling in.’ Let’s hope, not tonight, I’d like some more time with this ramshackle old building.