January Generosity

The embers of 2017 have now faded into ash and we’re welcoming 2018 into our hearts. The comparison between last year in Abruzzo and this year is the skies are a cobalt blue and the sun is doing its best to warm the earth. In 2017 we had the worst snowfall for many years, so this warm weather is very welcome. The days however may be warm but as soon as the sun goes down the cloudless skies mean the temperature drops and it’s time to light the log burner and snuggle down for the evening. It’s the need for wood to burn that’s prompted this blog post.

Were just a handful of days into the new year and so far I’ve experienced several acts of generosity. On Thursday morning I was just finishing my breakfast when there was a knock at the door, reluctantly I left my eggs and bacon and shuffled to open it. The door opened to the smiling face of my neighbour Mario who was clutching a bottle of fresh, cloudy olive oil. “Come va?” was his cheerful opening to the English man stood before him still dressed in night attire. I told him I was well and he thrust the bottle towards me telling me it was from the November harvest and a gift for me for my help and my friendship.

oil

He tells me it’s an exceptional taste this year. Later I decant it into dark coloured glass bottles to preserve its flavour. Sampled simply upon bread the flavour is fruity and fresh and reminiscent of the previous summer.

Saturday, I’m coming home from a trip to the shop when another neighbour, Franco stops me. He’s cutting a tree down that has been made unsafe by the recent winds that took half of the tiles off my roof: that’s a post I forgot to write. “Nice day today,” he says as the chainsaw buzzes away at the tree’s trunk. “You have a wood burner?” he asks, I respond saying yes and he tells me to help myself to as much of the kindling that I want. We open the back of the car and promptly load it up with around a months supply that’ll save us using our store. I thank him and wish him happy new year and drive away as he continues on with his labour.

wood 1

The still Sunday air is punctuated by the mechanical chugging of an ancient tractor and another neighbour comes into view over the brow of the hill. “Hello English,” he calls to me, his usual greeting. He’s as ancient as his machinery and has a moustache you could hide kittens in; we’ve never exchanged names, our conversations are mostly, hello, nice day and a wave of the hand. Behind his tractor is a trailer laden with olive branches that have been stripped of their leaves. “Buon lavoro,” I say indicating towards his load with a nod of the head. “Grazie,” is his reply, good for burning, he says indicating to his olive wood with a nod of his head. I tell him that I agree and he says, take some. He pulls the tractor over and jumps down and grabbing a handful he starts to load my arms up, saying he’s more than he’ll need this year. With arms straining under the weight, I say thank you as he climbs aboard his mechanical steed, he bids me buon anno and disappears down the lane.

DSCF3091

I spend the remainder of the morning cutting the olive wood into lengths that fit the burner and wonder at the generosity of my neighbours.

Advertisements

Roses

One thing that’s definitely different about being here in Italy is the abundance of flowers in January. Down the lane roses that have become naturalised are in bloom, they have no scent but none-the-less brighten up this drab month. Tiny orange marigolds are holding their heads up and there’s a few bluey-purple periwinkles popping up. Sarah’s house has some tiny white flowers outside that look as if they could be made of delicate china and a frothy yellow flower dances in the breeze down by Antonio’s house on the corner near the war memorial. Further down the road is a house with a huge pot filled with bright yellow daisy type flowers and the last of the woodland cyclamen are packing away their pink and purple bonnets.

100_8384-crop

My mind has been on preparing the orto for this years’ produce, as I had a limited space last year I’m ready to get on with growing on a similar scale to when I had my allotment back in the UK. This said, it’s tricky getting your head around sowing and planting times when you’re used to the UK seasons. Last year I was sowing my tomato seeds in March when everyone around me was starting to plant out their plants, so I’ve calculated that I need to start off around 8 to 10 weeks earlier depending upon the plants. I’ve already got a tray of fava beans started off and as soon as they get several true leaves they’ll be transplanted into the orto, and I’ll sow a second lot for a later crop. I have sweet peas sown for cut flowers this summer and will be looking at buying some bedding as soon as it becomes available around March. My pumpkin seeds are in a pot, as I always find they do much better if started early and are allowed to establish themselves as healthy plants before they go mad and spread out ready to fruit.

100_8382-crop

Last year was a good year for chillies and this year I’ll be growing habanero and Thai birds eye varieties, the habanero need to be started off now so they’re now sown and I reckon two plants should give us enough hot chillies for the year with a good proportion to dry and store for the winter months. I’m also looking forward to growing some new things, like cucumbers, peppers and fennel which I’ve never attempted before. I’ll even be having a bash at growing some Brussels sprouts, as they grow cabbage over here quite successfully so I imagine they’ll do okay.

I’ve just got back from spending a week over in the UK, and while I was there my bezzie mate, Glo who knows I love crazy signs, gave me a calendar with unusual signs pictured for each day, and I promised to post the sign that corresponds with the blog posting, so here’s today’s which appropriately is an Italian one. (Apologies for the poor quality photo, I’m not organised yet.)

100_8386-crop

Body Clock, Barbecue and Balcony

When people hear that you live in Italy, they assume you have year round sunshine, but it’s not really like the Spanish Costas, where pensioners pop over for tinsel and turkey and ex-pats are still topping up their tans in November. In middle Italy we get snow; albeit not very much unless you’re up in the mountains, and we get miserable, wet, drizzly days in the winter, but what a revelation December 2013 was. We had more warm sunny days than cold wet ones and this meant we could extend our outdoor activities without donning an overcoat.

Throughout the month we took the dogs for a run on the beach; deserted now the holiday makers have left, and we also spent more time generally outside. With the back garden almost finished I spent a very warm December day getting my orto ready for the New Year, I was actually in a T shirt, sweating as I worked the earth, planted some garlic and built a seed bed.

100_8298

On the 29th we spent a morning walking with friends on the beach at Lido la Morge, (that’s where I scratched the Buon Anno, message in the sand) and following the beach trip we popped into friends at Torino di Sangro for a planned barbecue. I’d told a friend in the UK about the barbecue and he said we must be mad, a barbecue in December. We expected it to be chilly, but instead what we got was glorious sunshine and a warm afternoon. So as my friend in the UK shivered and locked himself away from the rain, I was outside in my shirt sleeves looking at an amazing view as I munched on a burger and the best homemade coleslaw I’ve ever tasted.

1517678_10151807709322187_1138323414_n

On the 2nd of January, with the New Year still in its infancy, we had our first get-together of 2014, we spent a delightful afternoon on a roof terrace belonging to friends in Bomba. The views over the countryside and the lake are breath-taking, made all the more enjoyable when they’re viewed whilst holding a glass of wine. We had a lovely buffet lunch followed by great conversation that drifted into the early evening.

100_8363-crop

Now I’m not telling you this in an attempt to make you jealous… okay maybe just a little bit, but to point out how unusual it is when you’re not used to the difference in the climate. There’s this odd feeling that it can’t be real when you sit outside having lunch in the sunshine in a month when you’re used to wearing scarves and coats. It’s not like when you escape the winter for an intended holiday in the sun, when you’re living here and doing the mundane day to day things, there’s this odd feeling that your body clock has misfired. I’m not complaining mind, I’d much rather be sat in the sunshine with my sandwich than in a café in Stoke with condensation running down the inside of the windows. Maybe next year we’ll have a colder, wetter December to remind me of one in the UK, who knows. Mind you that said, if that’s so, you know I’ll be here complaining about it.