Land of the One Armed Motorist

Italian drivers’ always get a bad press; growing up in the UK  they were portrayed as speeding motorists constantly beeping horns and tailgating. This stereotype, in part is correct. Tailgating seems to be the favourite pastime of the large 4×4 drivers in our rural community. The horn beeping isn’t as voracious as that in old black and white films of Rome, the reason being that a decade or so ago before you could overtake another car you had to sound your horn, this practice has now since been abolished and so beeping is down to a minimum.

One thing that does amaze me is the vast numbers of one-armed motorists: I’m not suggesting there’s been a spate of accidents with chainsaws during the olive harvest or that there’s a problem with congenital defects in the area. The reason for this one-armed driving is because the Italian population has become permanently attached to their mobile phones. Sometimes I’m certain they only go out in their cars to make a phone call. Like other countries the practice is illegal and carries an on the spot fine, but either the police are blind to hand to mobile to ear driving, or they’re too busy making their own calls to notice.

Ropey road

This practice of one armed driving isn’t only prevalent with phone users, it’s also the adopted practice of lotharios. I’ve seen many a young man driving with one hand on the steering wheel and his other arm around his girlfriend’s shoulder. I just wonder what’s being used to change the gears?

Driving here is less stressful than back in the UK, because the volume of traffic is much less in our rural idyll, we do have the speed demons who overtake on bends narrowly missing oncoming traffic by centimetres, and we have the aged drivers who seem not to have a clue to who has right of way. And like the UK we have roads pockmarked with potholes that have to navigated with care and some of the dips and bends make going to work like a ride at Alton Towers. Oh, and don’t get me started on the steep hills that lead to a T junction that give a whole new meaning to the hill start.

Hill start

Apart from rush hour (over 5 cars at a time) when going to the office the most people I encounter are local farmers in Ape’s or on tractors; my favourite being a local nonagenarian who drives his tractor with his dog on the seat beside him and his wife straddling the engine: It’s quite amusing at crossroads as she has to lean forward and press herself flat so he can look for other road users before moving on.

Finally, there’s one type of one-armed motorist that la bell’Italia isn’t impervious to, that of the van driver. I think they’re a universal breed; men who have perfected the art of driving with one hand on the wheel and the other feeding their face with confectionery or a cigarette and of course there’s the van driver who drives with his outside arm either resting beside the open window or dangling outside the cab to top up and maintain their van tan.

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Toilet cleaner

This afternoon I was working in the living room whilst OH was in the kitchen washing up the lunch dishes, I was deciding between altering the sentence I was working on and replacing the comma with a semi-colon: heady stuff this writing lark, when there’s a call from the kitchen. “This new washing-up liquid you’ve got isn’t very good, there’s hardly any bubbles.” I stop my deliberating and leave the laptop and go into the kitchen to investigate. I’m hit by the aroma of tea tree oil and instantly know what has happened. “Look,” says OH “there’s hardly any bubbles.” my reply is, “That’s because it’s toilet cleaner not washing-up liquid.” I’m leaving the kitchen when I turn to say, “Well at least you only made that mistake once, now you know.” “No, this isn’t the first time I’ve used it, just never thought to mention it before.”

This reminds me of another conversation with OH, where I end up shaking my head, to read this on my old blog, Click here 

I don’t have any photos of toilet cleaner so here’s a view taken from Torino di Sangro.

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More Signs

Welcome to 2014, to start off, here’s another selection of signs I’ve spotted recently.The first was on a water fountain where you bring a bottle and for five-cents you can get ice cold mineral water, still or sparkling. This fountain in town claims to have happy water, although what unhappy or downright miserable water is like I don’t have a clue.

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My second sign is from a signpost at the beach at Ortona Port, I love the idea of people choosing holiday destinations that care for their ‘environmental’ or could that be mental environment? while enjoying the ‘nature’ of their beach: there’s a beach not far away where they literally enjoy the nature, or rather it’s often inundated with naturists.

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In town a new American diner has opened and they’ve erected an enormous menu board outside, here’s a selection of their fare. Peppers or poppers, that could have caused a few problems back in those eighties high-energy discos, lots of moustachioed men sniffing peppers as they dance.

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Have a splendid 2014 everyone.

More Italian Signs

As a non-native speaker of Italian I am not able to find as many spelling mistakes and unusual signs here as I did back in England, so here’s a few that I’ve been collecting for this post. The first is a sign that has appeared on the toilet wall in our local bar and is in both Italian and English.

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The second sign is from a car-park notice in San Vito Chietino, the misspelling of, ticket made me smile as I imagine all the English drivers wondering how to ‘expose’ a dense group of bushes inside the vehicle.

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Finally, for this selection of signs I think the last one is self explanatory, possibly intentional but wasted on the non-English speakers in our town.

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Dove, Where’s the Soap?

I was walking down the soap and shampoo aisle of our local supermarket a few days ago. Nothing odd about that I hear you say. Well, no there isn’t apart from, I saw a British branded product on the shelves, the product in question was, Dove soap.

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Okay nothing unusual happening here, until you realise, dove, pronounced doe-vay in Italian means, where. I now imagine lots of Italians standing in their bathrooms holding packet’s of this product and saying, “Where’s the soap?”, then opening the box and saying, “Here it is.”

Fitting a Sun-Roof in a Panda

Renovating an old Italian house can be a source of frustration and anxiety but can also lead to moments of complete madness that reduce you to great gales of laughter. I had an incident recently that had me hugging my sides as I shook with mirth; it was one of those, ‘you had to be there moments’.

Our house is ancient, built originally from stone and adapted over the years with bricks, concrete and all manner of materials. It began it’s life as two houses, both of which consisted of a living space for the humans with a space for animals below. It’s hard to imagine a whole family, living in just one twenty square metre room. We’re not restoring our house with any romantic notion of turning it into a pseudo Italian farmhouse: The kind, that are featured in movies and pasta sauce adverts. As we have a more contemporary taste we’re modernising where we can, and anyway, as it’s an old contadino home, (peasant farmer) it would have been built for practicality not aesthetic charm. So during this process of renovation, rather than restoration we are replacing the old windows with brand new, cream coloured aluminium ones, and wonderful they look too. It’s this window replacement that led to much hilarity one Wednesday evening.

We were sat outside with our friends Viv and Seppe, (Seppe is fast becoming a Life on Shuffle celebrity). Olive the dog was running around with Ollie, Viv’s dog as we chatted about life and watched the evening creep in. I mentioned to Seppe that we had taken the window frame out from the second bedroom and if he wanted it; as he’s recycling our old windows, he could take it that evening. So before leaving I helped my friend put the window complete with shutters onto the roof rack of his Fiat Panda.

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What an odd sight we must have seemed to our neighbours who watched as we loaded first the frame onto the car, we laughed as we said that we were fitting a sun-roof to the car. The laughter continued as we then had the job of fitting the shuttered windows, a passing car slowed to see the two men struggling. First we fitted them the wrong way round, then we had them upside down, then the wrong way round again and with each mistake we laughed more. (I did warn you that this was a ‘you had to be there moment’.)

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Eventually we had the windows fitted to the frame, we turned the handle and they closed beautifully, all that was left was to secure them to the car. Then of course came the joke that you could tell the car had an Italian sunroof because it had shutters, not a particularly funny line, but it had me howling with laughter. You see I’m easily entertained and when Seppe is around, laughter follows in close proximity, as he’s naturally funny and quick witted.

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The perfect accessory for all Italian cars, a sun roof with shutters.

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

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.

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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Italian Signs

When I moved back to Italy to resume my life as Il contadino Italiano, (an Italian peasant farmer) I expected that my hunger for odd and misspelled signs would not be fed, however just a week in and I’ve found a couple that have made me smile, so maybe there will be enough to keep my signage humour synapse active. For my first discovery I have to admit to being not politically correct, but as I have disabled friends who call themselves a vast array of non-politically correct names I need not apologise for this find, as they’ll no doubt find it funny.

While purchasing some bio-degradable waste bags for the new recycling regime I unpacked my bags to discover they’re called Spazzy, which made me smile for all the wrong reasons.

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My next find was a dog kennel in the DIY supermarket, Obi. It was appropriately called ‘Fido’

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And finally while perusing the carpet and rug section of Leyroy Merlin I came across a rug that must be made specifically for Scooby Doo.

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Sadly these signs aren’t as funny as the crazy miss-spelt ones and errant apostrophe’s of the UK, but come on guys at least I tried my best. Smile