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.

100_7655

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.

IMGA0264

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’.

100_7579-crop

Grasshopper in the Shower

This morning, for the second time this week I’m removing a grasshopper from the shower; something I never had to do in the UK. I’m at a loss as to how they get in; the wet room is secure. Maybe they are Inverse-Houdini-hoppers who instead of escaping, negotiate impenetrable domains and trap themselves. I release our visitor back into the wild and pour hot water over instant coffee before sitting outside to enjoy the peace and quiet before work begins again inside the house. The dogs join me, panting after running down the bottom of our wilderness: Alfie as usual is covered in sticky-buds, Olive doesn’t have a single one attached to her fur: I wonder if out of sight of humans, she’s picking them and throwing them at him.

As I sit here, I think back to how things were when work on the house started back in April, we’ve achieved so much in short space of time. We are now at the stage where we’re just finishing off jobs, mostly the ones our errant builder failed to complete. We have the second bedroom floor to lay and some cement work to complete before the arrival of my ex-wife’s son, (who we’ll call step-son for the purpose of the blog) arrives for a six week stay.

Hopper

My morning sit on the patio gives me time to reflect upon things, and be thankful for what I have. I’m lucky enough to be mortgage free, I have sufficient money to sustain myself for the next few years and I’m happy I can earn a crust doing what I enjoy doing. I’m thankful for having worked all my life in an industry that I chose to be in rather than just earning to live. Something few people are able to say.

Thinking this way makes me think about, Natalie Částka, a talented actress I had the pleasure of working with in the past and how she looks at her life and career. An actors’ life isn’t all ‘Hi diddle dee dee’, it’s fraught with meagre job opportunities, rejection, and disappointment, long hours and poor pay. But Natalie always remains up-beat even on her down-beat days and continues to persevere while others have fallen by the wayside.  I’m not talking about chasing your dream, I saying it’s all about never giving up. Natalie, never gives up, and is at the moment, in the enviable position of being able to turn work down and choose from the offers coming her way. She’s also about to go over the the USA to perform there.To find out more about Natalie’s career visit her blog: Click here.

I wanted to be here in Italy, I wanted to be self supportive and I wanted to be happy, all of which I am, because even in the face of adversity I never gave up. Maybe it’s the same grasshopper that gets into the shower, perhaps he’ll never give up getting in, and I’ll be destined to pop him outside time after time

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.’

100_6414-crop

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.

A Stair is Born

Today has been an odd one. Looking back at the posts on this blog, you’d be forgiven for thinking aren’t most for me. Our builder arrived and proceeded to measure me, “Aspetta,” (wait) he said as I walked away after he determined I was 1.557m tall, he then measured the length of my foot, then made me walk normally, stopping me he then got down on his hands and knees to measure the length of my stride. He makes a remark about measuring an other part of my body, then screws up his eyes and laughs at his own joke. I tell him, I think he’s a nut job and leave for the bank in Lanciano.

Now initially, I’d been led to believe that in Italy, it costs more to withdraw cash in person rather than use an ATM. Turns out that whoever passed me that nugget of information was wrong. At our bank cash transaction at the sportello (banker’s window) cost nothing, unlike cash machines.  I collected my cash from the very pretty girl and am leaving when Massimo, the manager appears, he calls me over and we exchange morning pleasantries, he asks if I’d like a coffee, I say yes and he opens a door to let the person the other side that he’s popping out for coffee. I peer in and sat at the desk is a woman who is the spitting image of  Marge Simpson’s sister Selma Bouvier: the one with the parting in her hair. The woman stands up and despite not being bright yellow looks even more like her cartoon doppelganger. I want to laugh but this would be rude, so I cover it by pretending to sneeze and go outside to wait for Massimo.

Coffee over, I drive back when the iPod shuffles and Barry White, begins to sing Can’t Get Enough of Your Love Babe, as his bass laden voice fills the car I smile wondering what our builder’s up to back at the house. He calls me Barry White, I asked him why once and his answer was simple yet honest, he said because you are named Barry and you’re white. You can’t say fairer than that.

I get back and the result of all the measuring is revealed the staircase has been started to be installed. He explains that being a big man he had to get the headroom correct, I in turn correct him and explain the phrase is tall not big, he says why, because he’s a small man. I explain that small and short are different words in English, he then says he has tall feet for a small man. We laugh and I give up correcting his English, even when he says for a tall man my feet shouldn’t be so short. I’m tempted to tell him size 8 (42) is average, but realise that I’d be unable to explain why in this case short and small are correct usage when talking about feet, but not when talking about his height.

The day ends and after he’s gone, I spend my time walking up and down my bespoke staircase. You see I’m easily pleased.

100_6348

Generosità

I think the Italian people are inherently a generous bunch. Over the past four weeks I’ve been showered with no end of free things. My builder has brought me bags of De Cecco pasta, croissants and pizza. A neighbour dropped by to welcome us with a bag of fresh eggs and I’ve had two litres of home produced olive oil given to me, not to mention my lovely handmade olive wood hanging basket. All of these things have been greatly and graciously received. One thing I have noticed that the Italians are very generous with is advice. Everyone has the answer to any little problem, and despite everyone’s answers being different, theirs is always the definitive one.

I’ve had advice about foraging and had the results for dinner, I’ve been directed to shops that will save me money rather than using the large supermarkets and even had three different people ask if I’d like to buy their house for a very good price. Because I already live here, I am entitled to get it at a discount unlike a foreigner who’ll have to pay more for it. I’ve politely declined all three offers, much to the sellers amazement; Why wouldn’t I want a second house a few kilometres away, Italians have more than one – I really am a pazzo straniero, (crazy foreigner)

100_6238

Last night I was watching a DVD when at 9.00 there was a knock at my door, at first I was quite shocked, as we’re so remote you don’t expect visitors to arrive unannounced. I open the door and its Nicolo from the farm down the lane. “Genziana, un regalo per te.” (Genziana, a gift for you). I take the little bottle from him and thank him, he squeezes my hand and wishes me a good night, calling me his new friend. I close the door and say to my other half, “See it pays to be friendly with the locals.” Genziana, is a straw coloured liqueur made from the roots of the gentian plant. It’s drank as a digestivo after dinner and has a bitter, herbal taste. This gift is obviously homemade as it’s in an old beer bottle with a plastic stopper. As I’m not really keen on it, I shall save it for visitors and stick with grappa and my own homemade limoncello.

I was waiting in line today in the post office, when a young girl came in and gave everyone that was waiting a small polystyrene cup with a shot of espresso inside. Now she could obviously have looked at me and assumed that being a foreigner I’d not want a shot of the rocket fuel, but no, she didn’t even enquire if I’d like one, she just handed me my cup and along with the Italians in the queue, I thanked her and enjoyed my mid-morning coffee, feeling very much an accepted part of village life here in Abruzzo.

Later, in the afternoon, a car pulls up and its our builder’s wife, she arrived with dolce (sweet.) So we all tuck into a slice of soft brioche style cake and munch sugar coated almonds as we stand around gabbling away like turkeys, while the iPod shuffles and fortuitously Mac and Katie Kissoon sing Sugar Candy Kisses

100_6239-crop

04.05.13: Last night I decided to post this addition to my blog when there was a knock at my door, I opened it to find Michele there with another handful of wild asparagus for me. I’ll have to think of a way of repaying all this kindness.

Time to Admit I’m a Linguistic Liability

Picture this, it’s a chilly morning and the rain is barely making an effort, or as Peter Kay would say, ‘it’s spitting’. I’ve just come inside from standing in the drizzle whilst eating a fried egg sandwich, the iPod shuffles and the Spandau Ballet classic, Gold, 12” remix begins to play. Our builder arrives and tells me he’s going to start on the electrics in the living room, I tell him that’s fine and make him a cup of coffee. He nips out to buy some electricity related things, telling me, if he goes he’ll get a better price because he knows the man in the store. So as his Jeep drives away his coffee cools on top of the cement mixer outside.

Twenty minutes later he returns to show us the spoils of his trip to the electrical store on the industrial estate. He’s pleased with the black fascia he’s purchased for our fuse box, telling us it’s nicer than a boring white one. We have to agree, and I ask if we can have a red light switch. He then asks for his coffee and I say it’ll be cold now, “That’s okay,” he says, and drinks the cold brown liquid. I tell him I like cold tea but not cold coffee unless it’s coffee with ice. He looks at me bemused, “Perche?” he asks, which is another of those dual meaning Italian words, meaning either why or because. I understand he’s asking me why I like iced coffee, I tell him because it’s great on a hot day, and I as I don’t know how to say it cools me down, I rub my hands over my body in a pathetic attempt to mime cooling down. He responds with more facial contortions and a louder, higher pitched, “Perche?”  I say because it tastes nice and he laughs, his face reddens and tears form in the corners of his creased eyelids. Then it dawns on me, the S-word expletive leaves my mouth and I laugh too. Once again I’ve used the wrong word, instead of saying ghiaccio (ice) I’ve said ghioco, which means play. So I ended up telling him I like to play with coffee, and my mime gave the impression I rub it all over myself. His laughing has stopped and as he wipes his eyes, he calls me a plonker. (I blame Only Fools and Horses.)

On the previous day I had another incident of brain to mouth disconnection. This time, it wasn’t so much the language that was at fault, it was the grammar. Michele was passing and looked in to see how the house restoration was coming along. As we have no windows in the bedroom, we’ve been sleeping in the living room. In The Tempest, Trinculo says, Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows. If Shakespeare was in Abruzzo and happened to pass my makeshift bedroom he’d have written, cement bags and wheelbarrows acquaint a man etc… MIchele looks into the room and says, “You English and your upstairs bedrooms.” Instead of explaining the situation, I meant to say to my friend of three weeks, No, come with me, we’ll go down to the bedroom, Instead my clumsily constructed sentence is blurted out as, “No, come with me to the bedroom and I’ll go down on you.” Yet another Italian face contorts, and the builder laughs before correcting my error. Michele’s eyebrows rise and he sighs, meanwhile I apologise for my linguistic lobotomy and the iPod shuffles and Marina and the Diamonds play, Oh No! – my words exactly.

100_6145

Women with Wheelbarrows

Sunday morning arrived last week with a welcome burst of sunshine and I headed off down the road to the communal fountain at Perano to get my five cents of ice cold, acqua frizzante. As I drive ELO come onto the iPod with It’s Over, I turn up the volume and the multi-layered, rock music spills out of my open window into the Abruzzi countryside. I’m just coming around a bend in Altino when I’m met by the sight of five women walking along the road pushing wheelbarrows. They’re obviously off to work in the fields, but where are the men? Another bend is navigated and I have my answer, I pass a bar where all the men are chatting and drinking coffee: No self-respecting contadino would contemplate a days toil without a helping of gossip and coffee.

Our builder has Sundays off so the house is quiet, I take opportunity to make some melanzane parmiaganni and a batch of pasta sauce for storing in the freezer. After lunch we decide to take a stroll along the beach front at Fossacesia, just twenty minutes in the car and we’re enjoying the breeze coming off the Adriatic. The beach has a few people lying upon towels soaking up the sun, but no one is in the sea. The Italians have a fear of dying from all manner of influenzas and fevers that will come from swimming in the sea before June. I’m now wishing I’d packed some shorts as I’d like a dip, even if only to see the women gasp in horror and tell me that I’ll be dead before the next phase of the moon.

100_6202

We continue strolling when we notice two buffed Italian men posing as they walk along the beachfront. Obviously enjoying the attention they are getting whether in admiration or the sniggering, they slow to a snails-pace. It’s an odd sight, as the Italians are still wearing jumpers and top coats, shorts and t-shirts aren’t given an airing until April has passed. We let the parading gym-bunnies continue on their way and drop into Lu Trabocche 3, for a cold Peroni. There’s a steady stream of people coming to eat, so we make a note and say we’ll give the menu a try one day soon.

100_6197

There must be an important football match on, (isn’t there always in Italia) as many men have small radios pressed to their ears. We see a family enjoying some al fresco dining, children are doing what children do best, making noise and women are chatting loudly and occasionally scolding an errant youngster. On the periphery of the group sits an old man with his radio, it’s stopped working and I watch as he takes out the batteries and replaces them again, but to no avail, he’s missing the football commentary, so resorts to hitting the radio, beating it into submission until the sound flickers on and he’s happy. It’s nice to see that despite all of our different creeds and cultures, wherever a man is in the world he’ll always revert to that universal method of repair; if in doubt, bash it.

On the way home, with the windows open Siouxsie and the Banshee’s play Cascade, from the live album, Nocturne and I’m singing along as we sail down the lane that runs parallel with the strada statale, as we cross a small roundabout, the music changes and the Bee Gees pop up with, You Should Be Dancing. Again I sing along, this time doing my best Gibb brother falsetto impression, much to the amusement of the men sat outside a restaurant drinking beer. I wave, they cheer and I continue on my merry way wondering if the women with the wheelbarrows are on their way home too.

No! I Am Not

Now I know I stand out when I’m out and about in town. It’s not the colourful clothing I choose to wear or the fact that despite my advancing years, I’m sporting a cockscomb hairstyle, (blame the punk era)better suited to a twenty-something that singles me out.  it’s the fact that I’m naturally blonde (now more a greyish white) and blue eyed. This leads to lots of staring by the swarthy, olive skinned, raven haired locals. Some older members in the village look at me with suspicion and mutter behind their hands. This happened yesterday, doing my best to maintain my standing as a local I dropped into the local bar again for a coffee. The pretty young girl behind the counter recognised me, scoring me another, Barry’s a local point. I ordered my coffee and standing at the bar noticed two elderly signorina’s staring at me, one muttered something to her companion, who dipped her eyes as I smiled and wished her good morning. Then the question came, “Lei Tedesco?” (Are you German?”) I replied letting them know I was English and not German, suddenly their demeanour changed and they both smiled and wished me a good morning. It really is a case of, don’t mention the war.

I then went with Fabrice to purchase cement, we arrived at the builder’s yard and I went into the office to get the paper-order to hand to the young man on the fork-lift truck to collect for us. As I entered the chatter stopped instantly and the two ladies in the office looked at me; rather like rabbits in headlights. I said hello and one of them relaxed slightly, and then asked me, if I was Swedish. “No,” I told her, “but I am partial to a little bit of ABBA.” The sarcasm was wasted on her. “Sono Inglese,” I then said, in an attempt to raise the temperature in the room. “Ahhh,” they both said in unison. “Inglese. Birmingham, London?” Shaking my head I replied, “No, abito qui.” (I live here). Just then as my order was being scribbled into the order book an man came into the room, he looked at me and scowled, seeing this the older of the two women said to him, “He’s English,” the man asked, “Are you sure he’s not a Russian?” The younger woman handed me the slip of paper and then said to the man, “No he’s not Russian or Swedish.”

Ger-horz

I took my order out into the yard muttering that I wasn’t a fan of the musical Mama Mia either, the lad on the fork-lift truck took the order from me and then said, “Are you a German?”

I just rolled my eyes, waited for my cement and wondered how much hair dye would cost.

And to add insult to injury, on the drive back the iPod shuffled and Abba kicked off with, Knowing Me, Knowing You.

Being a Local and the Lost Vowels

Earlier I had my  initiation into being a local, I had gone with our builder to fetch sand and cement, I was introduced to the man selling sand, we shook hands and loudly exclaimed many buon giorni then he waved his hands in the air “Nessuna vendita, gratis,” he said and ripped up the receipt, and with a huge quantity of sand for free we left him, waving as we drove off. We then went to purchase cement and after this, I assumed we’d go back to the house. But no, we pulled into the local bar and stood with the locals at the counter as two young ladies made us thimble sized cups of dark black coffee. We swallowed our caffeine hit and left. The complete exercise of entering, purchasing and consuming before leaving taking just three or four minutes. As we left the bar, several other people took our places with the same swiftness we had adopted. “Straniero non è più.” said my builder, (You no longer foreigner), so with a quick hit of Arabica bean I became a local.

Espresso-Coffee

Later, I popped down into the village below ours to do some errands for my good friend Christine who has a lovely house over here in Abruzzo, but at present is back in the UK. While I attended to the errands I bumped in Piero, one of her neighbours. I had met him once back in 2011 at a gathering on Christine’s wonderful terrace overlooking the mountains, and he remembered my name and what car I drove back then. He was chatting away, molto volecemenete (very quickly) and I did my best to keep up with him. After the 45 minutes of rapid chatter had concluded and we’d parted company I gave myself a well earned pat on the back for establishing effective communication with the old fella.

As I was driving home it suddenly occurred to me that during the conversation I’d begun to omit the vowel at the end of sentences as the locals do. Now the problem with doing this is firstly it’s the last vowel that signifies gender, typically ‘o’ for masculine and ‘a’ for feminine words. It’s also the vowel that denotes the plural of the gender, ‘i’ for masculine and ‘e’ for feminine. so a typical phrase like,  this house is old –(questa casa é vecchia) becomes quest casa vecch. It’s surprising how the Italian people can hold conversations and completely understand what is being said, of course most of the speech is down to inflection, it’s the stress used that turns a statement into a question. But I’m not sure my pigeon Italian is yet advanced enough for me to grasp the psychic ability to address gender and action, so for the time being I’ll continue using the final vowel, I don’t want to fall foul of any errors such as saying ‘pago’ (I’ll pay) rather than ‘paga’ (you pay).