Tranquillo, come domenica mattina

When Lionel Richie was with the Commodores one of their first big UK hits was a song called, Easy, a soulful ballad with the lyric, ‘Easy, like Sunday morning’. Now the translation into Italian may not be literal, and my using tranquillo rather than facile (easy) keeps the sentence within the original meaning.

Why am I referencing Mr Richie and his co-musicians, well because it’s a lyric that perfectly sums up a sunny Sunday here in La Bella Italia.

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This week, Sunday starts with avid activity in the olive groves as farmers finish the last of their pruning. Compressors hiss and odd shaped pruning tools buzz like contented honey bees. In the midst of this activity there’s no real sense of urgency, unlike on weekdays when they work at full pelt before disappearing at lunchtime, today they prune a little and chat a lot.

People arrive in cars and park up and stroll along the lane, two men arrive, their animated conversation a contradiction to their ambling gait, they’re walking their dogs that have large bells attached to their harnesses meaning as they pass through the groves it sounds like farmers moving their goats.

By midday all of this activity ceases and the land around falls quiet again, I’m potting up some pumpkins from a seed tray when Antonio drives past, he waves as he passes the house and calls out, ‘Buona Domenica.’ (have a nice Sunday). A few minutes later, I take my time shaving and making sure my hair is pointing up and to the left; a throw back from my 70’s punk music inspired youth and why the locals affectionately call me, Sonic; a future post maybe. Now I’m ready to go to lunch.

We drive to our favourite restaurant and luckily as we’ve forgotten to book for Sunday lunch they have a couple of spare tables. Jimmy ushers us to a table while Luca fetches wine and water. Despite the restaurant being full there’s no  sense of urgency;  unlike weekdays when they can turn a table around in 40 seconds so as to accommodate the waiting workers that arrive in their droves.

It’s Sunday so the menu of the day contains a lot of fish dishes, from salmon to sea bass and trout. We order and quickly the primi arrive, I have chitarrina alle vongole and O.H has orecchiette broccoli e gorgonzola. At first I’m wishing I’d chosen the creamy blue cheese sauce, but after shelling the clams I’m soon digging into my garlic and parsley infused shellfish pasta. We eat  at a leisurely pace, after all,  è domenica and there’s no rush.

BB16Seconda for the both of us is stinco, or rather to use the plural stinchi. Stinco is a pork shin similar to a lamb shank in the UK that is roasted in the oven. We also have potatoes and green vegetables and again take our time. We finish with coffee then pay the €20 bill – honestly two courses, with coffee, water and a litre of wine for the same price as a Big Mac meal in
the UK. So if you’re in the area drop into… actually maybe I’ll not give you the name and address of the restaurant, just in case one Sunday you take the last table and I’ll have to eat elsewhere.

We arrive home and chill out in the sun with a bottle of Peroni as the dogs laze at our feet as we’re being, ‘easy, like Sunday morning’ regardless of it being past 14.30.

 

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Why the Name Change?

I have noticed that my blog posts have changed and are less about the music playing whilst I write them and more about my new life in Italy. I’m certain that this is because it’s my life here in Italy that influences most of what I write about. Back in the UK it was things like lost parrots and badly spelled signs and the occasional run down of the Eurovision.

So why, Being Britalian, firstly because I thought it was a nice play on words being British and in Italy and second, because of my birthright I’ll always be a Brit in Italy and never an Italian. But as I’m adopting many of the Italian ways of life as time passes I feel quasi-Italian, so I guess I feel 70% Brit and 30% Italian.

My posts will still contain a mix of sensible info-blurb and mindless bonkers observations as before, and you can be sure that my musical tastes will still be mentioned as hardened readers already know my iPod is always on shuffle whenever I’m working. As I write this Contact in Red Square from the Plastic Letters album by Blondie is playing.

Another reason is I’m having an hiatus from writing for Italy magazine, (I don’t have the time at the moment) but I am putting together notes for a non-fiction account of the why’s and wherefores of my move here that may grow up to be a book and Bieng Britalian is the working title. This project is of course subject to vetting from the Renegade’s back in Stoke on Trent, who will advise, critique and inspire me should they feel the idea is worthy of a potential readership.

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So I’ll leave it for today with a photograph taken in the lane yesterday showing that despite today being the first day of spring, it had arrived earlier here in our corner of Abruzzo.

 

Living La Dolce Vita

When people find out that you’ve relocated to Italy they assume that your life is going to mirror that of the characters in films like, La Dolce Vita and Under the Tuscan Sun: That you’ll be immersed in culture, spend your days over languid luncheons and your evenings engaged in passeggiata.

I’m not going to say that there’s not been long lunches with course upon course of exquisite food and great company. There has been, and as expected summer evenings where aperitivi are taken as the waiter whistles as he brings you complimentary nibbles.

The reality is very different. I don’t spend my time wandering around art galleries or marvelling at ancient architecture. My days are not made up with conversations with peasant farmers or sampling wine in dark cellars. In fact sometimes it’s actually not easy living in rural Abruzzo.

Your priorities have to change. Take a few weeks ago for instance. We had snow and temperatures that would, to coin an English idiom, worry a brass monkey. Back in England I’d have just turned up the thermostat and not given it a thought. But when you live in an ancient stone house with no central heating you have to be prepared. So one day I spent two hours sawing wood into wood burner lengths and then walked down onto our land to drag half a small tree home. wood

 

 

There are so many minor things are different from living in England that you have to get used to. Things like shop opening hours. Back in the UK we were used to 24 hour supermarkets and corner shops that stay open until the early hours. Here shops open from 08.30 to 13.00 and then close, they re-open around 16.00 to 19.30. Some supermarkets are open all day and it’s best to make sure you have enough provisions on a Sunday as many small shops don’t open and most supermarkets close at lunchtime.

The same thing applies to working hours here, there’s a shut down from 13.00 to 16.00 for lunch: Not siesta, that’s a Spanish thing.

Then there’s the art of eating, breakfast here is a sweet morsel not a cooked breakfast and most definitely not bacon and eggs. Lunch takes time as it’s the main family meal, so everyone sits down and catches up with each other over several courses, and dinner is a smaller meal either with friends or the nuclear family.

One thing you do before you come to Italy is you devour as much information as your brain can cope with and then learn that you needn’t have bothered. Guide book baloney, I call it. Things like, you must not order a cappuccino after 11.00, as it’ll offend the barista and it’s just not done. Guide book baloney – I’ve been out with Italian’s who’ve ordered them in the afternoon. Another one is that if you’re invited to dinner you must take a gift of pastries or chocolates and never foreign food. GBB – Italian’s are happy that you accepted the invitation and do not expect a gift and also welcome new food to try. Another GBB subject is dress codes, all the books talk about Italian’s having style and panache, that they dress to impress at all times – no one seems to have noticed that here jogging bottoms are the king of fashion and finally my favourite piece of misinformation is the one that says Italian men only go without socks on the beach and would never been seen outside the beach in sandals with bare feet. More GBB, come summer everyone’s in flip flops.

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One thing that seems insignificant but does take time to get used to is your surroundings. You grow up in one country and everything is imprinted on you over years, suddenly you’re in a place where the countryside is different, the sounds and smells dissimilar and the wildlife is new to you. Never in the UK did I wake up to snakes in the back garden or have to hit the brakes as a wild boar the size of a Morris Minor runs across the road.

And don’t get me started on the driving here – that’s a blog post all of its own.

I know you may think all of these things are unimportant in the grand scheme of things, and I tend to agree with you. I guess what I’m really saying is it’s not all air-kissing in town, pasta with everything and la bella figura. It’s pretty close and it’s fabulous being here. But I guess the key to surviving in Italy is being able to adapt and to assimilate.

 

 

Red Arrows

A couple of Sunday’s ago, after our rain washed road had been repaired, I was sitting outside enjoying the May sunshine and a glass of chilled prosecco. The stillness of the afternoon was broken by the sound of Abruzzese dialect being called out over the chug chug of a tractor. Being nosey, I rose from my chair and looked down the lane and saw a rather large young man astride the tractor and two skinny men walking behind it. One man was spraying red arrows on the road whilst the other fastened red and white plastic; the kind that ropes off road works, in the hedgerow. From where I was standing I wondered if it they were marking the road for further repairs.

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I watched as they continued up the lane and then they veered off up a dirt track, the two skinny men striding and working as the rotund one steered the orange tractor and barked instructions. When they disappeared from view I put down my prosecco and went to investigate. It soon turned out that these markings had nothing to do with road repairs, as some of the arrows disappear into fields with others emerging from dirt tracks. The man who was painting the arrows had sprayed the letters FISE onto a lamp post, so I’m assuming the marks indicate a forthcoming race of some kind.

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The following Sunday at 07.00, I’m woken by the sound of motorbikes. I dress and see young people coursing across fields on what I assume are trials bikes, they squeal around the bends in the road and then quickly vanish up the dirt track opposite our place, and the sound becomes muffled before this itself vanishes. “Oh well, that’s it,” I tell myself and saunter into the kitchen to make coffee and turn on the iPod, releasing a burst of Hurts, with Blood Tears and Gold, from their, Happiness album.

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After breakfast there’s more commotion in the lane, this time it’s men in lycra, on what I again assume, are bicycles designed for multiple terrain. They pedal furiously down the dirt track, onto the road, travelling in the opposite direction of the motorbikes, until they too can be heard and seen no more. “What’s next,” I ask myself, “Horses?” Which daft as it sounds could happen, after all this is Italy. The only thing I’m left thinking about is, will the three men and the tractor come to remove all the ribbons out of the hedgerows. I doubt it, this is Italy.

Prodotto in Italia

When I grew up in the 70’s, ‘Made in England’ was the watchword for anything you needed, it was seen as a mark of quality. However, the UK the marketplace is now flooded with cheap imports and very little of what people buy is manufactured in their own country. I grew up in the heart of the pottery industry and am proud of my heritage. Knowing that the mere mention of the town of Stoke on Trent, anywhere in the world, meant people instinctively thought of top quality china and earthenware, was something to be proud of. Sadly this is no longer the case, the idiots that ran the major china manufacturers became greedy and farmed out the production abroad, weakening the brand, creating unemployment and all for nothing. The increased profit they craved never materialised, and the doors opened for cheap china products from Poland, Russia and the East to flood the market. If only in those greed laden 80’s someone had, had the sense to say, no, maybe the town would still be synonymous with pottery rather than unemployment.

100_6465The Italians are very proud of what they produce, here, you very rarely see anything manufactured outside of Italy. Clothes from China are few and far between, kitchen showrooms boast, loudly that everything they sell is made in Italy. Even saucepans, washing-up bowls and toilet rolls have, prodotto in Italia stamped on the packaging somewhere. And surely this makes sound economic sense as well as keeping people in employment.

Here, prodotto in Italia carries the same gravitas for the Italian people, that made in England once did for the English.

The Italians are fiercely defensive of the heritage of their products, nowhere can a hard cheese made outside Emilia-Romagna be called, Parmesan, if your vinegar doesn’t come from Modena don’t even think of calling it balsamic, and if your curing ham outside of Parma, just call it prosciutto on the packaging.

Italy has more protected foods and wine than any other country in the European Union, and to keep them safe they all have the DOC, denominazione di origine controllata certification. So important is this heritage, that anyone manufacturing and falsely labelling a protected product faces huge fines and even imprisonment.

Sadly, there’s always someone who’ll deceive you and many products outside Italy that claim to be authentic may not be. The most common fakes on the market being olive oil, gorgonzola, parmesan and parma ham, with the greatest number of fakes being sold in China, Australia and New Zealand, Back in the UK, I’ve actually seen olive oil on the shelves of a well-known supermarket that is marketed as Italian. It has a typical Tuscan scene and the Italian flag on the label and the following wording on the reverse; ‘ may contain oil from various sources in the EU’.

Back in the 80’s two well-known pottery manufacturers in Stoke on Trent, had their china produced in Malaysia, it was shipped back to Stoke and there the final decoration was added, be it gilding or lithographing. The back stamp was then added, which led people to believe the product was a genuine piece of Stoke on Trent china. No wonder the industry died, if only we’d fought as hard as the Italians do.

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I don’t care how long you’ve been…

It’s been very remiss of me to neglect my blog this past week and I can only really offer one excuse, I’ve been having too much fun. I did actually pitch six articles to various editors in the UK last week so I’ve not been completely lazy. Like all writers I do make notes as things that interest me occur, thus storing up potential blog entries or magazine features for the future. Today’s is a previous incident that I’d overlooked, so rather than leaving the notes lying dormant like bed-sheets in a cupboard, I’ll take them out and give them an airing.

A few weeks back we were working downstairs on the house, which meant we couldn’t hear any traffic passing in the lane. The post-lady, a young girl in her twenties always peeps her horn to let us know we have mail. (For mail read, bills.) So imagine our surprise when we emerge from downstairs to discover an old guy next to his ape forking garden waste over the wall. I quickly lose all Italian vocabulary and use that accepted English phrase to gain someone’s attention. “Oi.” The old guy looks around and sees me, “Yes, you.” I say walking up towards him, my sleeves are already rolled up so I’m unable to roll them as I walk to add to the menace in my voice. I reach him and he says, “What.” Obviously in Italian, then continues lifting forkfuls of weeds up and tossing them over the wall.

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By now the builder has arrived to ask him what he’s doing, explaining that we now live here and he can’t come and tip his garden waste on our land. The old guys response is, “I’ve been tipping it here for about fifteen years, no one has ever complained before.” Our builder does his best to explain that no one’s complained because the house has been empty for twenty-five years. I understand a little of the conversation, and add my two-penneth, “I don’t care how long you’ve been…” You get the gist, not that it’s of any help whatsoever.

The old guy then points out that we have dumped lots of rubble on the land, “So it’s the same.” We explain that it’s not the same as the rubble is ours and so is the land. Our builder reiterates by telling him that the garden waste belongs to him, but the land doesn’t. The old man then asks what can he do with the waste from his orto now. I’m about to be facetious, but the builder throws me a glance before the words can leave my mouth, and more diplomatically says, “You can leave the rubbish here this time, but don’t come back again.”

The old man leaves and our builder returns downstairs, and I’m left alone in the lane waving a fist in the air and proclaiming to the wind, “Come back again old man, and I’ll show you where you can stick your rubbish.”

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Paloma Faith and the Inexpensive Cauliflower

Everyone who knows me, knows that music is an important part of my life. I’ve always liked to be surrounded by it, and as my taste is eclectic my iPod is constantly on shuffle. One minute a track by Linkin Park can be replaced by the electronic sound of Kraftwerk and that then by the operatic timbre of José Carreras. Occasionally though, as it shuffles its way from punk to pop and rock to reggae, it seems to favour one particular artist or band. Yesterday was a day like this. As the coffee machined bubbled, I opened the doors to a wonderful Italian morning,  before turning on my iPod. The last few bars of Doctor, Doctor by Thompson Twins faded out, to be replaced by the hauntingly, wonderful acoustic version of, Just Be, by, Paloma Faith, from her 2012 album Fall to Grace.

I’ve always been drawn to unusual artists; I mean that in a positive way, and probably unusual isn’t the right word, maybe I mean different: different as in interesting. There’s been a few women in the music business over the years who have caught my attention because of their individuality, Toyah Willcox, Kate Bush, Siouxsie Sioux and Poly Styrene are four that spring to mind. Each one was original, with a desire to project their personality rather than become music industry puppets. Image is imperative in music and each of these women had a strong, definite look, and Paloma Faith sits very well within this circle. Like Willcox, Bush et al, Faith, has that rare ability to write a lyric that stabs you where it matters, add to this her kookiness and intriguing voice and you have the perfect pop package.

After breakfast, I’m driving through Perano on my way to the builders merchants where the handsome Pietro works, unaware of the 51 year old school-boy crush, he serves me with my twelve sacks of cement, and as I drive off the iPod shuffles again and this time, Paloma sings Agony. Oh how apt, I think.

I drop into the small fruit and veg store before the roundabout on the Atessa road. Every day there are cars parked outside, often double-parked like today. I go inside, curious why it’s such a popular store considering it’s within a few minutes of three supermarkets. It doesn’t take long to see why the store is popular, the service is excellent, the assistant smiles and chats as she helps people with their purchases and the prices are low. I pick up a cauliflower, it’s almost half the price of those in the supermarket on the roundabout, As i do this the radio in the corner plays Stone Cold Sober, I smile as another Paloma Faith song enriches my day. I leave with a bag of vegetables complete with some freebies thrown in by the smiling assistant and climb into my car and drive home.

Back home I’m sitting in the sunshine as I free broad beans from their pods, the pizza eating cat turns up calling for food and the iPod does it’s job sat in its dock on the kitchen windowsill. This time a Jamie Cullum song begins to play, I then move the track on while making a mental note to remove Mr Cullum’s album from my collection, as his voice is monotony to the extreme. I’m happy again as another song by Paloma plays, This time it’s Do You Want the Truth or Something Better.

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Sorry, as I don’t own the copyright on any photos of the lovely Ms Faith, and a snap of a cauliflower would be just boring, here’s the rainbow over our valley this morning.

Evening update: It would appear my iPod really does favour Ms Faith today, as later as I pour a glass of wine on a warm Italian evening she shuffles to the fore again, this time with My Legs are Weak. I raise a glass to Paloma and say, “A couple more of these and mine will be the same.”

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.’

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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.

Italian by Absorption

I’m beginning to wonder if outside forces influence they way people are, surely our surroundings must dictate how we feel and how we perform, so can they make subtle changes to our personalities and habits? I ask this question because I’ve noticed that I’ve started to do things differently here in Italy. The first thing I’ve noticed is the change in dinner time. Back in the UK I always had dinner, or as we Stokies say, ‘me tea’ at 6pm, but here without realising it I’ve fallen into the Italian way of eating it at 8pm. Now I understand that on the days that the builder is here he leaves around 6pm, so that is a factor in the later dinner-time, but even on days when he isn’t here, we’ve eaten at 8pm.

Italian’s are naturally inquisitive people; notice I avoided using the term, nosey and I’ve caught the bug too. As soon as a car is heard I’m outside looking up towards the road to see who it is, and heaven forbid I catch a snippet of conversation, otherwise it means I slow down my pace to discover what’s being said and by whom. This nosiness has become quite acute and we vie for position, looking for the best vantage point, when we want to see who is driving past.

Here, the Abruzzese people live a more frugal life and wasting food is frowned upon.  Since moving here I’ve appreciated that fact that when it comes to fruit and vegetables the shops sell what’s in season. There’s no potatoes from Egypt or French beans from Kenya, and there’s no uniformity to it, a deflated looking pepper is as acceptable here as a plump round one, just as a display of fennel bulbs will have them of all sizes from medium through large to enormous. There’s no one from Brussels here with a micrometre and portable weighing scales. Unlike when I was back in the UK, I store what I know will perish before I have used it all. In the freezer I have pots of basil, chopped celery, parsley, and all manner of things, waiting to be used at a later date. I’ve even got my emergency sofritto (a mix of finely chopped carrot, celery and onion used as a base for stocks and sauces) and chopped tomatoes frozen in wine, should someone visit unexpectedly and need a pasta sauce making for lunch.

I also think I’ve absorbed a little of the contadino somehow. Outside the front door is a flower border, but knowing that flowers here are a luxury and that land should be used to grow crops first, I’ve used it for a sort of mini orto and planted out some onions, courgettes, chillies and tomatoes, sweet corn and a pumpkin. I have a little cluster of English bluebells I brought over tucked away in the corner, as I’d like to get these established further down on our land, where it’s shady and wild cyclamen grow. So until we get our land cum jungle sorted out the flower border will be put to better use.

Guaranteed, these are small changes to my lifestyle, but as they’ve happened without conscious effort maybe I’m becoming Italian by absorption or at the very least more Britalian than I was before.

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The Pizza Eating Cat

Saturday morning arrives and as I open the front door I’m welcomed by mewing from the semi-feral cat that lives in the lane. I call it Balenò (Flash) as she has an orange ziz-zag on the top of her head. As the iPod shuffles and Mark Owen begins to sing Four-Minute Warning, I retrieve the piece of pork rind from last night’s dinner that I saved in the fridge. I throw it to the cat and she devours it greedily.

It’s a very vocal cat, constantly calling and constantly hungry. She lives mostly in the garden of Adam and Sarah’s, holiday home at the bottom of the lane, where guests staying feed her. But when no one is there it comes on the scrounge up here. I don’t mind giving it the odd morsel, but don’t feed it everyday, otherwise it’ll take up residence here. The cat is about three-years old and seems to be constantly pregnant, as are all the feral queens in the countryside. In 2011, she had one kitten that survived two-days before being taken by a fox. Until recently she was swollen with kittens, but there’s no sign of her offspring, so I can but assume they suffered a similar fate to the other kitten.

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After yesterday’s blustery weather, the morning is still and the cat basks in the sunshine. I drink my coffee watching her as she deftly pounces upon a lizard and swallows it almost whole. Our builder arrives with pizza and the cat becomes interested in the humans, or more truthfully in what the humans are eating. She brushes against our ankles calling out for a morsel. I drop her a piece of pizza and she’s on it with the same swiftness she used to catch the lizard. Very quickly it’s gobbled up and she meows again wanting more. After three more hunks of cheese and tomato covered focaccia, she strolls off towards the shady spot under the drying washing at the top of the steps and flops down and closes her eyes. Time for a morning snooze.

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