Kitchen Sink Drama

I’m a firm believer that when you move house rather than change everything at once, it can often benefit you to live in the space for a while and see what works and what doesn’t work for you. When we purchased our house in Abruzzo, it came with several unique things. A lavatory in the living room opposite an old television set – handy if you don’t want to miss an episode of your favourite show. A bathroom downstairs that had everything apart from a lavatory. A desiccated grasshopper in the shutters and an old outside sink.

A lot of Italian houses have these ugly concrete sinks complete with washboard under an outside tap. Now part of me would like to think that this was the family sink for washing dishes, cleaning clothes and possibly baby bathing. But maybe that’s too romantic a notion. Maybe the outside tap was the family’s only water source many years ago, but back then I guess it would be buckets that were filled and later, possibly 1950’s, the invention of the ghastly concrete sink was the mod-con every rustic cottage wanted.

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They really are rather unattractive objects and our first thought was to remove it and once smashed to smithereens it would become part of the hard core in the new downstairs floors.

However we never did get around to doing this as our sole water supply at the start of the restoration was the outside tap and it made sense to retain the sink until it became obsolete.

Unlike my neighbour (see photo) ours didn’t have the horrible tiles and lumpy feet so aesthetically it was more pleasing on the eye. (But not much).

Over the coming months people commented on how the sink remained and how they’d removed theirs. We nodded and did mention that we’d be doing the same once we had a fully functioning kitchen sink.

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However over the coming months the sink proved itself; you could say it became worth its weight in concrete. I even grew to like the thing, especially its chipped edge and its two balletic legs, displayed at an angle.

It is possibly one of the most useful things we have inherited with the house, it’s great for washing vegetables from the orto saving splashing the kitchen tiles with mud. On passata making days, it’s great for washing large tomato stained saucepans and the washboard is good on sunny days for drying the pots and pans.

It’s also good for using as a cold frame for hardening off tender plants. In fact ours did spend one year as a planter, it looked very nice with geraniums and summer bedding flowing over the edges: But pretty gave way to functionality and after the summer was over it was consigned once again to proper usage.

But how things change – we often have people say to us that they wish they’d kept their old sink as they now find they have need for it, and I know of one person who after smashing up one has since paid to have another one installed.

It just goes to show, that you’re better off living with things before making snap decisions. My outdoor sink is still ugly but I wouldn’t be without it.

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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?

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.

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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.

Keeping the Donkey Warm.

The Brothers Johnson are playing Stomp, as I walk along the lane. It’s a warm and sunny afternoon, perfect for a leisurely stroll. The Italian countryside is filled with unloved and unwanted buildings. The reason for this is a culmination of unemployment and the antiquated, convoluted inheritance law. You can understand people moving to where the work is but as it’s unlawful to disinherit your children, so, even if you have a disobedient first son who brings shame to the family door, he’ll still have automatic entitlement. The shares of your estate go down in fractions depending on your living relatives, meaning one property could have as many as fifty-owners, with Luciano in New York owning a third of the attic room, while Maria in Torino owns the doorstep. This plethora of properties means that Italy is still a good place to buy a holiday bolthole, and falling prices mean the buyer is in a good position. The only problem is getting all the owners in one place, at the same time. I have met an English couple who told me there was fifty people crowded inside the notary’s office when they signed for their little house in the hills.

100_6157Nearby is a ruin, two small one storey houses side by side, I take the ear-buds to my iPod out, just as Ultravox begin to play, Visions In Blue, letting them play on without an audience. I step inside one of the houses. The stone walls are solid, at least half a metre thick and the oak beams look like they’ll still be doing their job in the next millennium. The doors and windows have gone, possibly removed for firewood, and a simple chair lies broken upon the floor like a wooden corpse. There is only two rooms, one has a manger, cage and a stall, obviously the animal housing. But what’s this in the corner, a wood burning oven. Surely if you have animals, you have straw and hay, so isn’t an oven in a stable a little risky? I like to think that the owner was so caring, that on cold winter nights he lit the oven to keep his donkey warm?

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I move back into the other room, its ceiling is testament to Italian ingenuity, but an health and safety horror. Bamboo that grows in abundance here and the rafters are canes that have been cut and laid side by side. Other canes and an assortment of branches and planks make up the cross beams. This all sits upon the oak beams and sitting on top of this ancient and dry bamboo is a roof made up of ochre and terracotta coloured tiles. It’s amazing to think many years on, all this weight is supported by something as slender as bamboo. On the floor is several crates of passata, homemade tomato sauce, abandoned like the bricks and mortar. I estimate that there must be at least one hundred and fifty, mostly brown beer bottles of the reddish brown liquid. They say storing passata in brown glass keeps it fresher.

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I pick up a bottle and break off the cap, the heady aroma of tomato fills the air, it still smells good, I can imagine women de-seeding and skinning as the sun shone, while the men drank beer and lit a large fire for the sterilising of the bottles and eventually sealing them. I pour a little out onto the stone floor, it looks good enough to eat, however I’m wouldn’t be game enough to try this batch. I replace the bottle, step over the skeletal chair and leave the house. Outside, replace my ear-buds; Kate Bush is singing, Mother Stands for Comfort, and I continue on with my stroll.

Dog in the Road

How many times have we heard people say, “If I won the lottery I’d leave here and go and live in paradise.” But nowhere on earth is perfect, even paradise will have its idiosyncrasies, its problems and its bugbears. Since I chose to live in Italy, and more importantly Abruzzo, people must think It’s my piece of paradise, and it is. That is, to say how I define paradise. In my wildest dreams it’d be somewhere with a great climate, endless activities to enjoy and I guess, as this is my dream, I’d have Tiziano Ferro as my live-in lover/personal crooner. But this isn’t a dream it’s reality and despite having a great climate and endless activities, Italy can be infuriating, but so can England, America or anywhere. So I like to think paradise is taking pleasure from the simple things and not dwelling upon the negatives.

After running a business and living in England, I’ve now started to enjoy those simple things. Things like popping to bread shop in the morning and passing the time of day with the locals as you buy some foccacia, or chatting to my neighbour about nothing of great importance and drinking an espresso standing at a bar with men in overalls… Ooer missus ! I like driving the short distance to the, fontano communale in Perano and getting a litre of ice-cold fizzy water for just five cents and talking of driving I like the fact that when I pull into a petrol station a human being serves me. I guess it’s a little like stepping back in time but with iPods, memory sticks and DVD box sets.

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One thing that has not been pleasurable is paying €1500 to obtain permissions from the comune (council) to work on our house. Back in the UK there’s choice. Choice of windows, doors, paint colours etc. Here you have to tow-the-line. We can only paint our house white or beige, (now how do you actually define beige). In other towns there are yellow, pink and pale green houses, but here in our little hamlet, it’s white or beige; any other choice of colour will require a fee for the comune to consider it and a man to come out to fill in forms in triplicate. Another idiosyncrasy that I find annoys me, is having to drive in daylight with your headlights switched on and don’t get me started on the inability of any young woman sat behind a cash register to smile.

Some pleasures are applicable only to where you are situated, I’m lucky, within twenty-minutes of my front-door I can be at the coast, within thirty, I can be in the mountains and if it grabbed my bag within sixty, at the ski slopes. Some pleasures don’t involve much effort and happen naturally. Take the other night for instance, I took a stroll around Civitella Messer Raimondo with Seppe and we chatted about the history of the town and looked at the views across the countryside. (There’ll be a separate blog posting about this within the coming days, so stay tuned for, Hanging Baskets and Cat Flaps, coming to a laptop near you Cat face.)

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One simple pleasure this week was the kind gift of ten beautiful white free range eggs, however one thing that certainly holds no pleasure for me is being sent to buy something our builder requires when my knowledge of construction has previously been obtained via stickle bricks and Lego, add to this the foreign name and you may as well ask me to broker a peace treaty between north and south Korea. However, would I swap this new life… Not a chance.

 

 

The original title to this blog posting was, Simple Pleasures. But today I saw something that I have to say touched me deeply. The Italian’s have a relaxed attitude to keeping dogs, they let them wander around unchecked, and many’s the time I’ve heard brakes screech as a dog wanders into the road. Coming out of Selva Altino is a small bar where locals have their coffee and every morning an old gentleman totters over with his small sandy coloured dog at his heels. Today would have been no different, had the dog not spotted another across the road and decided to walk over. The inevitable happened, the driver in front of me had no time to stop, thankfully death was instant. The saddest sight was the old man’s desperate efforts to get into the road, as the traffic continued moving on the left hand side. Seeing the man’s distress a lorry driver stopped allowing him to collect his companion from the middle of the road.

Makes those simple pleasures all the more special.