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.

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Some Enchanted Evening

“You should have bought a house in Fara San Martino.” My builder said on the morning of July 8. “You’re always over there.”

I was telling him how we had spent the previous evening watching the torch-lit procession down the mountain there. On July 7 people hike up to the top of the mountains, they trek along the ridges high above the town and some do it in remembrance of the Alpini, the alpine soldiers. We’ve all heard stories about the young boys, who while watching the sheep up there would fill their pockets with stones to prevent themselves being blown off the mountain. (These are actual facts, not romantic notions.) The wind up in the mountains can be quite fierce, and small boys would crawl rather than walk upright as a matter of self-preservation. Seppe, once told me how he’d be up the mountain for several days watching the sheep, and how he’d take cheese and a goat with him too. “We used to sleep in hollows made from rocks, and the smell of the cheese attracted the greedy goat inside, and the goat provided the warmth needed at night when sleeping.” I asked him if the goat ever ate the cheese, and he said, “Only if you were foolish and didn’t hide it away properly.” So who ate the cheese I asked him, “Me of course,” he replied.

We arrived in Fara just as the evening light was fading and walked across the bridge lit by candles to a clearing where a stall was set up to sell hot food. Here we met some friends and passed a few evening pleasantries before joining the crowd of onlookers taking up position over the river in the mountain’s shadow. Applause sounded as the orange glow of torchlight appeared at the top of the mountain, we watched as these pin-pricks of light arranged themselves into order the begin the long descent in darkness. Very slowly the group became an orange flickering line of light as it twisted and turned its way downwards.

At the halfway point, someone looked like they dropped their torch and immediately a bush caught fire. As fires are banned during the summer months for fear of them becoming out of control, frantic action took place and the fire was quickly put out. The procession resumed and as the torch-bearers navigated what looked like a tricky incline, their red jerseys became more distinguishable. After three hours the first person descended to applause followed by others as they walked along the river’s edge over the bridge and passed everyone who had come out to watch their alpine trek.

The evening condensed into two minutes

Lights Camera Action

Over the years playwrights and poets have written pieces inspired by the magic of Italy. Despite never actually coming here Shakespeare set many of his works here, the most obvious being Romeo and Juliet. Byron enthused about the country as did Shelley and Keates and why not, at times Italy can be truly magical. One of these magical moments occurred a few weeks ago, in fact it was so magical, I have put off writing about it for fear of not expressing myself eloquently enough.

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We were invited to the town of Fara San Martino for an evening of music. A stage had been assembled in the piazza at the base of Via Roma, and the musicians were tuning up as we arrived. We dropped in and had a pre concert drink with our friends Viv and Seppe, when we got there our other friends Graham and Mark were already there. We chatted for a while until we heard the music begin. So on a chilly evening we stepped outside and joined the locals who had gathered to enjoy the music.

A mist descended upon this mountain town and as the music played I left the audience and wandered through the narrow alleys. The experience was ethereal, shrouded in mist and lit by orange street lights with music filling the air the walk became magical. I felt like I was walking through a Federico Fellini film, and with these feelings of wonderment coursing through me I then understood why he favoured Italy for his backdrops. I remembered one of Fellini’s famous quotes, ‘Experience is what you get while looking for something else’, and it summed up how I was feeling, I just expected to listen to music on a chilled evening but instead I had an experience I’d never have imagined.

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Walking around a corner, heading back to the piazza I watched the band, resplendent in their orange uniforms beneath the lights erected for the evening. Just standing beside the barrier put there to keep traffic away and watching gave me a feeling of contentment I’ve not felt before. I stood for a while and to misquote Shakespeare, I was filled from the crown to the toe top-full of calm. I felt as if at last I was part of a community, that I had actually arrived. As the light had such a magical feel, I took a few more photographs before re-joining the others in the piazza.

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The second musical performance started, the first had been classical and this was more contemporary, even including a new arrangement of some pop songs into the mix. Children came over and took turns in walking Seppe’s dog, Ollie around the piazza, and we chatted to every person we were introduced to. We were four stranieri here at an intimate local evening festa, yet we were welcomed by everyone. The evening climaxed with a spectacular firework display, great booming stars of colour collided with the black inky sky and we all stood in awe, necks craning upwards.

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Photo © Graham Ward 2013

Hanging Baskets and Ancient Cat-Flaps

Last week I took a trip over to Fara San Martino to visit my friends Vivienne and Seppe. Fara is a town renowned for its exceptional pasta and being the only place that produce the pasta destined for the Vatican. I wrote an article for Italy magazine sometime back about this: LINK HERE But I wasn’t in Fara to talk about pasta,

Vivienne, teaches English and had a lesson booked so Seppe took me to see the mountain town of Civitella Messer Raimondo. His fiat panda climbed higher and higher up the mountain past empty bars and vacant shops, “It’s a shame,” he said, “so many people have now left.” For many years, with dwindling work prospects many of the people from this hilltop town have boarded up their homes and moved away to the cities. We park the car and walk through streets that are silent, no footfalls can be heard but ours. “Years ago,” Seppe points to an empty house, “People were selling these houses to foreigners. Many made a healthy profit, but those times have gone, and the foreigners don’t come as often as they once did.” This of course has a knock on effect, with no tourism the shops close as do the bars.

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We walk through a narrow vincolo (alley) and are treated to a view down to Fara, the late evening sun is cutting through the mountains, spilling over the red rooftops creating a magical effect. We wander along streets with empty narrow properties, three storey high, I peer into an empty cantina and it’s almost like looking back in time. It’s unchanged, a piece of living history. Seppe points out the ancient feeding trough, telling me this would have been for the family’s donkey, over in the corner is an old cage, possibly where rabbits or chickens were kept. We continue along and see where water over the years has caused damage. Looking into one house we see the upper floors, having fallen years before, lying derelict upon the lower one. It’s a haunting image, knowing that years ago the walls would have contained the clatter of family life. We pass a door with a plaque upon it, “It’s where the old Alpini would meet and talk about the old days,” Seppe tells me, “I’m not sure if the old mountain soldiers remain or still use their club.” 

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The visit to the town is tinged with a little sadness but when I look up and see flowers growing in the cracks in the brickwork above my head. I feel hopeful as life will always find a way. Seppe points to a neat little square in the bottom of a cantina door, I look at the cut and it’s definitely man made, the house next door has one as does the one next to that. “Do you know what that’s for?” asks Seppe, I shake my head, I’ve not a clue. “For the cat,” he tells me. I laugh, an ancient Italian cat-flap. Of course it makes sense, if you keep animals and feed in the cantina beneath your house you’re bound to get rats and mice, so a cat is a necessary part of the family and therefore must have its own door.

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Our visit over and we return to Fara in Seppe’s Fiat, and I’m treated to a trip along streets as narrow as the car and with almost impossible right angle junctions, as he’s an experienced Italian native this is normal for him, but to me it’s an amazing feat of navigation. Back at the piazza opposite his house, like all Italians he squeezes the car into what looks like an impossibly small space and we go back to his house for a cup of tea. Vivienne’s lessons have finished and we all sit chatting as the light begins to fade. I leave with a portion of Seppe’s local history embedded into my consciousness and with one of the amazing olive wood hanging baskets that he makes. Below is a photo of the hanging baskets he makes and his amazing handmade olive wood strawberry planter.

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More Italian Signs

As the iPod shuffles and I Can Do It Without You, by the Kaiser Chiefs, plays I thought I’d share some more odd signage I’ve spotted out and about in Italy.

The first has been seen already by friends of mine on Facebook. I was at the waterfalls in Fara San Martino; a great place to visit on hot days as the air temperature is several degrees lower due to the coldness of the water. I parked next to a Romanian car and spotted this unfortunate number plate, well it would only be unfortunate in an English speaking country.

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Next up is a gross misuse of the trades description act, the store calls itself Megastore, sadly there’s nothing mega about this tiny little two roomed shop in a the backstreets of Lanciano.

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My next find made me smile, I imagine all the smiling and happy, buff and bronzed bodies of the gym-goers as they enjoy having a fun time as they workout. I wonder if they have clowns near the vending machines to keep everyone entertained and jolly.

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Finally, I found this blatantly bisexual sign, that boasts Take Me, and it’s not fussy if it’s taken by boys or girls. (isn’t that just plain greedy?)

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