Markets and a Comparison

One of the things that I really like about living in Italy is the abundance of open-air markets. In the UK, over the years there’s been a gradual decline in markets; mostly, in my opinion, due to the greed of the major four supermarkets and twenty-four trading. I think there’s nothing nicer than taking your time to look around a market stall that someone has set up in the ungodly hours and filled with their wares. Regular trips help to build up a rapport and pretty soon your shopping experience is peppered with friendly conversation and the occasional discount. I love to buy my fruit and veg at the market as often as possible, and try to use the same stalls each time. Our local market is held on a Friday morning and the man on the fruit and veg stall I use, always has a jovial manner and a quick chat often is repaid with a few extra veggies for free. A few weeks back he had run out of garlic so told me to go to the shop in town that is owned by the family. He leant forward and whispered, “Tell them Antonio sent you.” He winked and off I went. I reached the shop; whose name shall remain a secret, I was purchasing the garlic, when I remembered to say, “Antonio sent me,” and the sales assistant smiled and then promptly deducted thirty-five cents from the cost.

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Guardiagrele Market

I’m also partial to the small independent shops that have their produce stacked outside. I adore seeing garlic, chillies and onions hanging from nails banged into the wall and boxes piled high with purple aubergines, scarlet tomatoes and crisp white fennel bulbs. Invariably these shops are a few cents more expensive than the supermarkets, but if you ask, they always know the provenance of their stock. We have a fabulous fruit and veg shop on the road to Atessa where the staff can tell you exactly where the plums are from or how far away the broccoli was grown and each visit always facilitates a free bunch of odori, which is basically a few sticks of celery, some parsley and sometimes a couple of shallots as a thank-you for your custom.

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The one thing that I keep hearing ex-pats say is that food over here is expensive compared to the UK, I wonder where these people are shopping. I know of one couple who drive the 120 km round trip each week to the Lidl to purchase the handful of English food they stock, (no wonder they think its expensive). So I thought whilst I was over in England a couple of weeks ago I’d jot down some prices and make a comparison when I returned. For the purpose of this comparison I accumulated my data from two leading UK supermarkets Asda and Tesco and compared their prices to two Italian ones, Eurospin and Conad. So here are my findings, obviously I am unable to do a like for like comparison on named brands so have used fresh produce or the nearest equivalent.

Product UK Price £ Italian Price €
Fennel bulb 1.25 0,35
Half cucumber 0.85 0,21
Iceberg lettuce 0.75 0,31
6 pork sausages 2.49 2,25
1kg soap powder 4.99 2,99
Medium Cauliflower 1.25 0,97
6 chicken thighs 1.99 2,10
Prosecco 9.99 2,69
Red wine 2.69 1,26
Sacala pasta sauce 1.69 1,00
2 pork chops 2,89 2,57
Beef stock cubes 1.19 0,95
medium olive loaf 1.25 1,34
White Potatoes  1 KG 1,09 0,93
Tin of tomatoes 0.79 0,32

If I purchased all of these items, the English shopping would come to £35.15 and the Italian would be €20,24 which if converted into each currency at todays rate would mean that the English shopping comes out as £18.38 or €22,18 more expensive. I know you can argue the wines are more expensive due to UK taxes, but this illustration is purely based on shopping I purchased in the UK and continue to buy here, and is only a quick comparison. It is all a bit of swings and roundabouts, as electrical goods here tend to be more expensive; in Asda they had a bag-less vacuum cleaner on sale for £49.99 and the Italian equivalent is €99,99, but how often do you need to buy a new vacuum cleaner in comparison to pork chops.

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Gin and Tonic

I’ve not posted for a few days as I’ve been a little preoccupied with our builder, who turned from a great guy to a lazy arsed so and so. Needless to say, we have now parted company and rather than post about his recent misdemeanours I think I’ll leave it at this.

Yesterday, while in the local supermarket: Eurospin, I was standing at the till waiting my turn when the man behind me, said in perfect English, I like a gin and tonic. I turn and look at the elderly gentleman who is pointing to my shopping on the conveyer belt. I acknowledge him and then compliment him on his excellent English. He goes on to tell me when he was younger he worked in a hotel in London, where he acquired the English language and a love of British spirits. He holds up a bottle of whisky, telling me it’s to see him through the long day ahead.

He tells me about his previous day which was spent bottling peaches, that he tells me are very sweet this year due to the rainfall in early May. Today, I’m bottling my tomatoes. I ask him about making passata and he tells me he has a bumper crop of juicy tomatoes, and yesterday they were all picked and ready for the long day ahead. I ask him if it’s dangerous to be drinking while making his sauce, what about all that boiling water?

My job is skin splitting early on, he tells me, after that the women set to, pulping and cooking and bottling. I’m the supervisor he laughs, so can have a few nips of scotch throughout the day, I’ll need it just to cope with the chatter of women. When the day ends, I shall share a small glass with the other men, and we’ll toast the bottling of summer 2013. By now my bottle of Gin has beeped as the assistant scans it, and I start to pack my shopping away.

Do you live here, he asks me and when I tell him yes, he says I understand why. The air is so pure, the people are nice and it’s a beautiful part of Italy. I’m a bit surprised by this as most locals are bemused when they meet foreigners who choose to live here. Most asking why leave a prosperous country to live in, what they refer to as a poor region of Italy. What my new friend says, proves the point that this area may be cash poor but it’s wealthy in many other ways.

I bid him farewell and start to leave with my shopping, when he says, next time you’re passing through Vicenne, be sure to drop in and try my peaches.

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Photo: Screenshot from Google maps

Man in a Can

As a writer myself, one piece of advice I always give fledgling writers is, read. Read what you have written carefully, read it aloud, put it away for a day or so and read it again. You need to be sure before you submit anything that you have ironed out an imperfections, corrected grammar and given the spelling a good going over. If only in my day to day life I followed my own advice. We’re surrounded by signs, and being in a foreign country you’d think I’d take extra care while reading them. Not a chance.

Now bear with me while I explain the title for today’s entry. There are many foods that can be purchased in a can and cooked within it. Sponges pudding and those dreadful pies in a tin. Today because I didn’t pay attention I came close to discovering just how that steak and onion pie feels inside its tin prison.

A few days back I commented on how the locals are regular visitors to the car wash nearby. So today I thought it’s about time I washed the sand off my car, so It can shine in the sun as I’m pootling down to the supermarket or builders’ merchant. So I’m driving back from Eurospin, the iPod is playing Shangri-La by Nightmares in Wax (Pete Burns, pre-Dead or Alive guise) a song that I always feel has 41 seconds of unnecessary shenanigans at the end, when I pass the car wash. I pull in and glance at the bays, one is taken by a young man who’s power washing his car, another is free and so is a conventional drive in one, designed for the lazier driver. As it’s sunny I opt for the conventional drive in one, thinking I can’t be bothered wielding a shampoo brush and pressure washer in this heat. I glance at the board telling what’s on offer, but I don’t read what’s written I just look at the range of prices. “Ahh,” I say to myself, “Two euro, must be quick wash.” I drive in, the red lights asks me to stop, I insert a coin and press the button, then wait.

The machine rumbled into life and began moving towards me and I waited for the water, only it didn’t come. The lad across the way looked up and shook his head and then went back to his pressure washing. The machine moved over the car with me inside but instead of washing it was blowing hot air, I’d only set it to dry mode. So I sat inside my car on a hot day with an industrial sized hair-dryer above me increasing the temperature inside making me feel like a pie in a tin inside an oven. Next time I’ll take my own advice and read everything carefully.

Needless to say after the young man had left and the dryer had completed it’s actions I drove into a bay and did what I should have done in the first place, grabbed the shampoo brush and did the job by hand.

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Macchina senza sabbia