Nuns

Money, Money, Money by Abba is playing today. I’ve just returned from Lanciano, where I’ve been offered a job, so here’s hoping it’s an omen. (So now I have two jobs, and I thought I came to Italy for an early retirement).

As I was walking from the car park to the town centre I was accosted by two nuns, I say accosted, when in truth a softly spoken girl with an angelic face gently touched my arm and stopped me saying, “Mi scusi.” I looked at her large imploring brown eyes, then at her partner, who was the opposite, a brutish looking nun with a better moustache than I can ever hope to grow and black foreboding eyes. I swallowed hard and looked back to the pretty nun… Is it acceptable to refer to a nun as pretty?

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She asked me for directions to a street that I had no knowledge of, I apologised for being no help; in fact, I think I atoned by explaining I was a stupid Englishman with a meagre grasp of the street layout of Lanciano.

The gentle nun nodded and said goodbye while her accomplice grimaced and I’m sure I heard her growl as they walked away. As I walked on I remembered an Italian friend saying to me once that if you need to cross a very busy road, avoid being run over by staying close to a nun. Italian drivers always slow down for a nun as it’s a sin to run one over, in fact I did once hear it was illegal to hit one with your car.

I’m not sure what he meant when he said the same doesn’t always go for a priest.100_3129

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Trip to Town (a comparison)

I was driving into Lanciano, our nearest large town the other day and it occurred to me that when I lived in England it took me the same amount of time; 20 minutes to get to Hanley the main shopping centre for Stoke on Trent. The main difference between driving from Lightwood to Hanley and driving from G.V. to Lanciano is the smaller amount of other vehicles on the road, occasionally I’ll see three or four other cars whereas in England you could guarantee I’d have some sort of delay due to the sheer volume of traffic on the roads. Here’s what a part of my journey would have looked like:

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Photo: Google Map (screenshot)

Now, not only is my journey less congested but it’s infinitely more pleasing on the eye, I calculated the exact distance from my house to where the Google screenshot is from my previous address and took the same image over here in Italy:

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I then went to Google again to take another screenshot of what my journey looked liked previously:

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And once again I calculated the distance of the previous journey and took a photograph of the equivalent journey here in Italy:

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Now I’m not saying the journey is better than before in the UK, yes it’s moderately quicker, but not faster, as there are more bends and the scenery does tend to make me drive at a more sedate pace, much to the annoyance of the young Italians who with a mobile phone clamped to the side of their head find themselves behind me. It is much more pleasing on the eye as I’ve said before, but in wet weather the Italian roads with their snake like bends can be treacherous, and it’s at this point the UK ones with better traction win out.

Storm Chasing

Today’s title may evoke images of being inside a jeep hurtling towards a raging tornado or the eye of a hurricane, maybe even being trapped inside a Kansas farmhouse as it rides a twister to, The Merry Old Land of Oz., but actually, the title is misleading, as it’s not so much storm chasing as being chased by a storm.

We were having a pleasant mid-morning in Lanciano, when we decided to have lunch at Il Chiostro. It’s a an informal yet pleasant restaurant a few paces from the church of St. Francis, that houses the Eucharist miracle. The interior has a rustic feel to it with big wooden seating bays that easily accommodate up to eight people per table. The menu options change daily and for a mere twelve euro per person, you can have a substantial lunch. We collected our cutlery and tray, heaved a great slab of bread onto it and stopped at the options for primo piatto. I opted for an unusual yet tasty bacon and cauliflower pasta while the OH had a pasta bake laced with enough garlic to keep the entire inhabitants of Transylvania at bay. Secondo Piatto was either roast pork or stuffed veal, we both opted for the veal, which was served in a rich tomato sauce, with grilled vegetables and potatoes. We decided two courses was sufficient and declined the sweet course before grabbing a bottle of aqua frizzante and becoming ensconced behind the huge wooden table.

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Stuffed and satiated we decided to walk off lunch and took a leisurely stroll through the medieval part of the town. We meandered through narrow alleyways taking refuge from the afternoon heat. Windows were open and the lives of the inhabitants spilled out. A conversation motored down a narrow vinco, an argument burst through closed shutters and babies squealed with joy from within the dark recesses of a skinny house. We took some time out sitting on a bench near the park before heading back to the bank to do some business there.

Our business concluded we walked back to the car, as we set off on our journey home, the sky suddenly changed; the blue became grey and an ominous black cloud sailed overhead. Now I have before alluded to Italian thunderstorms being epic, and was once sat in stationary traffic on the motorway outside Rimini as great threads of lightning bounced around the cars. So I was apprehensive about being up so high and away from the relative safety of our valley. As we reached the edge of Castle Frentano I stopped the car and looked back, the skies were filled by an angry cancerous cloud, giving the illusion of us being trapped inside a Hollywood action movie.

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I climb back into the car and start the descent down the winding, serpent like road, I look in the rear view mirror and the black cloud seems to be following me. I slow as I navigate a hairpin bend and the cloud sends out spikes of yellow, flashing behind me. I can accelerate through a relatively straight piece of road and the cloud moves sideways. This time it’s almost peering in the side window, mocking me. It grumbles and more flashes follow. Eventually we reach the bottom and the rain starts, great gobs of water splatter the windscreen. We wind our way up our little lane just as a huge snap fills the air, I stop the car and make the fifty yard dash to the front door. Sods law takes over, I drop the keys, giving me those few extra seconds of drenching. With the door now closed I look outside and the cloud moves away towards Archi, up on the mountain top. I’m changing into dry clothes as it laughs  at me with a final electricity charged crackle and the sun bathes my house once more. I’m then reminded of the song by Sparks, Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth.

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Privato

The sun is shining, the egg is in the breakfast pan and, Well Worn Hand, one of my favourite tracks by, the Editors, shuffles on the iPod. All is good with the world this morning, but hang about, what’s that shadow? I look outside and there’s a woman wandering down the side of my house, she has a carrier bag in her hand so I assume she’s foraging. The pan comes off the heat and I’m outside with the swiftness I can muster this early on, senza caffe. I try to explain that this land is private property now, but she can’t seem to grasp what I’m saying. I gesticulate, waving my arms like a windmill in a gale and point, “Proprieta privata,” I say, “proprieta mia.” I’m jabbing myself in the chest, hoping it’ll lend some gravitas to my statement. She looks at me with a watery, aged eye and points to my land. “Si,” I say, “ casa é terra.” She shakes her head and asks if all the land is mine. I point to where mine starts and ends and she shrugs her shoulders and shuffles away.

Now part of me feels a little sad that the lady can no longer forage on my land, it’s not that at the moment it’s anything more than may hundred square metres of untamed wilderness, but; and here’s where I stand on the issue. First when I’ve cultivated it, do I want all and sundry thinking it’s a free-for-all in my cabbage patch. – No, and second, these unwelcome visitors always come down the steps onto what will upon completion be our patio and outdoor space. Now I for one don’t want to be having a shower with some old lady popping her head around the window. Or there’s the (remote) possibility I may have the outside door open and be engaged in some bedroom gymnastics, and no unsuspecting field forager wants to see that in the early hours.

So there’s nothing for it, I have to buy a sign. The Italians love their signs, they have them all over the place. Beware of the dog, for sale, for rent, you name it and the houses are plastered with them. So with iPod installed, and Linkin Park, playing With You, I set off for Lanciano, a mere 20km away. I take the scenic route, rather than the direct route as I like the views as the car climbs upwards revealing the lush fields below. I read somewhere that Abruzzo is often referred to as the lungs of Italy. In fact the header photograph to this blog was taken from the road up to Castelfrentano, and later Lanciano.

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We reach Ikasa, part of a company called Brico, a sort of hardware cum electrical cum you name it we sell it store. My OH, Dutch heads off to look at wooden kitchen surfaces and I hone in on the signs that are rotating in a display. I flick the carousel round until I come across three signs. One is an A4 piece of plastic with a red no entry symbol and large black letters that shout out Private Property, another is an A4 landscape, blue and white one that simply says Private with a blue no entry sign. I dismiss this one immediately as being too passive. The final one is just 6 inches long by 3 inches wide. It simply says Private and has a small no entry sign. “So, what do you think?” Dutch says, when I walk over, signs clutched in my hand. “Pine or not?” I give him one of my bemused, or quite frankly gormless looks. “For the kitchen.” I’m non-committal, Kitchen surfaces can wait for another day, today is all about a private property sign. I hold up the two I have and ask which he thinks we should get. I’m favouring the bigger one that screams, ‘this is my land so bugger off’, Dutch just points to the small one and says, “This one.” I’m about to protest when he informs me that he thinks the smaller one is more dignified. “But,” I mumble, “the big one will fit on the post and stand out, I’ll have to trim down the smaller one to fit on the post box.” He nods and says, “Exactly,” then turns his attention back to the work surfaces on show.

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Back home and with the self adhesive sign trimmed and in position, I mumble to myself as I walk the few metres back to the house, “Just one more unwelcome visitor and I’m going straight back for the big bloody sign, and it’s not up for discussion.”

Method in the Madness

Living on a building site isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’ve had grit in my bed, dust in my sock drawer and splinters in my, well lets just say I sit on it. Add to this the fact that I’ve just discovered I’m allergic to cement and you can forgive me for saying, that this is a testing time. okay it’s not as bad as four years in limbo, being displaced, but it runs a close second. I know the weather here in Abruzzo is better than it is back in the UK at the moment, but what good is sunshine when you’re trapped in a restoration project.

100_6075Today I did my morning trip to the builders’ merchants for the day’s materials, but today was different. You see today I understood why I had to keep going for cement etc. in dribs and drabs. For the past two weeks it’s annoyed me that I have to do the daily trip, but no longer. At the start of the restoration I asked the builder how many bags of cement will we need to complete the master bedroom downstairs, his reply was “I don’t know, but today we’ll only use four.” Confused, I asked why we only buy four bags, when we’ll have to come back tomorrow. His response to this question was, “Why tie money up in bags of cement that sit waiting to be used, money is better in your bank.” I tried to explain that, I’ll still have to spend the money the following day and he said, “But you held onto the money for a day longer.” What a crazy way of looking at things, I first thought.

Then Nino arrived to measure for windows, he measured only one room then left. “Why didn’t he measure all the windows?” I asked our builder, who just shrugged his shoulders and shaking his head told me because the each room is a separate job. “But it makes sense if he’s here to measure all the windows in the house. That’s what they would do in England.” Our builder removes his hat and wipes his brow before telling me, we’re not in England, we’re in Italy. What a crazy way of looking at things, I thought, again.

The quote comes in from Nino and I say it’s okay, so he arrives at the house again. This time he’s measuring for a window and a door for the second bedroom. The process is repeated, he leaves after ignoring the kitchen windows and the third bedroom’s window. The following day he calls with his quote. I tell him it’s fine and ask if he’ll be coming today to measure the other windows. “No,” I’m told, “I will make these two jobs first.” I’m about to say that surely my total requirements are just one job, but think better of it.

Now to  work on a house in Italy you must obtain permission from your local comune (council). This means paying for a piece of paper and a job number granting you permission to move doors or build a balcony etc. So this extra expense has to be factored into any restoration project. So our 1970’s, porn star look-a-like, geometa (architect) comes along to measure everything and says you may just need a simple number. We then mention we’re putting in stairs and the whole thing changes. Apparently, new stairs will alter the house considerably, and will therefore require a complete job number and permissions. Total cost will be one thousand five-hundred euro. He says he’ll be back to take photos on another day and can I e-mail him our house purchase paperwork and payment will be split into three payments of five-hundred euro, cash if possible and cheque later. “I could just give you a cheque for the total amount,” I say, “Or cash if you…” I am unable to finish as he strokes his moustache, looks over the top of his sunglasses and says “No three payments is fine.” He then hitches up his ridiculously tight jeans and strides off towards his immaculate cherry red sporty number that’s parked beside my dirty sand-covered Zafira. What a crazy way of looking at things, I think, yet again.

Later this practice of one job being split into several smaller ones, and payments being requested in instalments makes sense. I’m in town, talking to my bank manager, he’s asking how things are progressing and I tell him how it’s going. “I’ve not seen any cheques go from your account,” he asks. I explain that I’ve not needed to write any. “But what about your builder, how do you pay him?” I explain that we pay him a daily rate we’ve negotiated. “Ahh, I see.” he says. “You have taken to the Italian way of doing things very quickly,” I’m a little confused, and about to let him know that I find it frustrating that I have to pay everything in several small amounts, rather than in one go, when he says, “Here, it’s against the law to pay anyone more than one-thousand euro in cash, you must set up payments with the bank. So people break down their bigger jobs into smaller ones and invoice for smaller amounts. It our way of keeping secrets from the government.”

Suddenly it all makes sense “But I still don’t understand why I can’t buy more cement and let it sit outside waiting to be used, I’m hardly going to buy a thousand euro worth of the stuff,” I tell him as he sets a coffee down in front of me. “Well,” he says, “it’s just the way we do things. But no doubt somewhere there’ll be no madness in the method.” I smile at his misquoting, Hamlet and stir my coffee as the sun shines down upon Lanciano.

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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