Green Tomatoes and that Moustache

I wasn’t planning on writing a blog entry today as my day was initially going to quite ordinary, just cleaning out the log burner, walking the dogs and doing the weekly shop. So this morning I switched on the iPod as usual and the first song of the morning was, The Pretenders, One More Time as I made a coffee and let the dogs outside for their morning ablutions.

So my mundane day began with my cleaning out the log burner and replenishing the wood basket.  After breakfast with the dogs we took a stroll along the lane. My friend Michele is walking the opposite way with his dogs, so as we chat the dogs all sniff at each other and pass the time of day in their own way.

The most mundane of my tasks today is shopping, so I decide to get it done as quickly as possible, although I am aware that it’s Saturday morning and this means the queues at the tills will be very long and very slow: I know I should wait until lunchtime when the shop’s quiet but I need to buy some beef for a casserole I’m planning for dinner.

The supermarket is busy and a woman with a baby is causing problems in the fruit and veg section as people do their best to navigate their way around the enormous pram and mountain of baby things she is carrying with her. I grab some celery and carrots for soffrito; the base for many a good stew or casserole and spot my favourite thing of the moment. Green tomatoes.

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I buy five of these monsters , two will go into the casserole and the remaining three will become. pomodori verdi sott’aceto, a lovely dinner accompaniment that has a nice sharp sourness. I first tried this at my favourite restaurant and Piero, the son of the owner gave me his mother’s recipe for the side dish. I would pass on the recipe but without his mother’s permission I dare not. You’ll find many versions on the internet if you want to have a go at this.

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I’m dropping my produce into my trolley and look up and my breath catches in my throat, as I’m now face to face with an old man who’s sporting an odd moustache. In fact a moustache I’m not sure many people would choose to adorn the lower part of their face. The moustache in question can be explained by one word only. Hitler. I look at the 4 sq cm piece of facial hair once again and then move away, wondering if my flabber has been gasted?

Shopping can be as dull as plastering a wall with porridge so I grab what I need quickly and when I’m finished I make my way to the tills where there’s two long queues. On till number one there’s consternation as the woman with the baby gets her pram wedged between the till and the display of packet risotto and soups.

I’m queueing on till two and an old lady is in front of me, she turns to look what the commotion on the other till is, she watches as a staff member helps free the pram from the display, then the baby is exposed to her as the mother turns around to pay her bill. The old lady sucks in her cheeks and blows kisses to the baby who giggles; or it could have been wind.

The old lady then leans over the till display and waves at the baby and grins as widely as she can, just at this point a catastrophe occurs, her top set of dentures drop out of her mouth and land on the conveyor belt of till number one.

There’s a snigger, but no one laughs. We all want to. We squirm and shift. Faces redden as we hold our composure.

I drive home and Grace Jones sings, Nightclubbing as I put away the dog food, and safe behind closed doors I can have a private chuckle as I think that maybe today was anything but mundane.

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Spare Tyre Price Reduction

This morning I checked my blog stats and noticed that for the past four days it’s been viewed by eight people in the Republic of Tanzania; are there that many computers over there? The blog is read by a couple of people over in China, I’m surprised to see someone in the Yemen drop by occasionally and there’s the guy from NYC who follows me and often sends me salacious messages, but that’s a whole blog entry of its own. (You know who you are). So here’s today’s entry…

So I decided at lunchtime today to finally get the spare tyre sorted, it has had a slow puncture for about two months now and by the law of averages I reckon I’ve been driving on borrowed time. I look at the front tyres and decide to replace them at the same time, so I drive the 3 minute journey down the hill to see Nicola.

“How can I help you?” Nicola says, wiping his hands down the front of his overall before extending one towards me. I shake his oily hand and explain that I want new tyres. “You need Italian tyres,” he tells me, then shows me the difference in price for English ones, I see that the English are more expensive and so agree, “Ho bisogno di gomme italiani.”

“Quanti?”

I tell him three and he looks at me perplexed then laughs, “Three, why three, surely you want 4?” I tell him I need two new front tyres and a spare tyre: (La gomma di scorta)

“Gomma di scorta,” he says loudly, smiles then says it again even louder. I’m instantly thinking I’ve asked for the wrong thing: have I asked for the wheels to wrapped in condoms, did I say, two front and a rubber chicken please, heaven help me if I’ve asked for pencil erasers. “Gomma di scorta,” he says again and shakes my hand with both of his, leaving more oily fingerprints on my wrist.

“You are the first foreigner who as asked for the spare tyre,” he tells me, “We have been asked for, the extra wheel, the fifth wheel and the unused wheel,” he tells me smiling, his white teeth more brilliant due to his oil stained face, “but never has a foreigner asked for, la gomma di scorta.” He’s obviously happy with this and he then writes out the ticket to order the three tyres and then hands me a copy. I look down and see the price has now been reduced by €15.

He promises me they’ll be delivered in 24 hours and I then drive away, it’s now my turn to laugh and loudly say, “La gomma di scorta.”

The Best Laid Plans and all that Jazz

August 15th is Ferragosto in Italy, the day the whole country celebrates summer and like the rest of the population we were intent of celebrating, However, things did not go to plan. I like it when things go off on a tangent, so to speak, the result can often be better than the anticipated original idea. A few weeks ago we made plans to visit Roccascalegna to enjoy an evening there during its three-day music festival. We’d looked at which acts were performing and decided to forgo the strumming of mandolins and rock based acts of days two and three and opt for the opening evening of jazz influenced piano playing under the stars.

We’d been privileged to be invited to a pre-festival get together at the Olive House; a mere 1.5km from the town centre and main stage. So we collected our friends Viv and Seppe and after Annie arrived with a van full of people we set off up the roads that snake their way upwards. We passed through the lovely town of Altino; making a note of the date for the town’s pepper festival and continued climbing higher. The views over Abruzzo from up high are magnificent, even in August, the valley is green and between the mountains you catch a glimpse of the Adriatic coast in the distance. We turn a corner and the road begins to descend and soon the medieval castle can be seen sitting on top of an outcrop; within minutes we’ve passed through the town centre and are pulling up outside our destination.

I became aware of the Olive House when I was asked to write some copy for a marketing campaign, since then I’ve become friends with the owners, Graham and Mark. Our convoy of cars park outside the property and our hosts invite us inside. The patio is set out with tables and chairs in readiness and as Graham serves drinks, Mark welcomes everyone. Some of our party have never been before and Mark gives them a potted history of the house and its facilities as Graham brings out the food, to go with the bowls of nibbles already on the tables. We’re served pizza rustica, a superb vegetable frittata and homemade herby focaccia.

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Very quickly we’re all chatting and getting to know each other, there’s much mirth and merriment and as we’re coming to the end of the mosquito season seldom nips from the annoying little blighters. (Being higher up, the Olive House is less plagued by mozzies than our house down in the valley). The setting is perfect; there’s a slight breeze keeping the heat at bay. The half-moon is high and occasionally there’s a distant hoot of an owl. The evening air is filled with the sounds of friends laughing and sharing stories. People joke about my conversation with one of the dogs, as i always answer the question I ask the canine in a deep voice, Mike says it’s like a prisoner who’s been on sixty cigarettes a day for years, the lunacy threatens to become surreal when someone asks, “what time are we leaving for the music festival?”

Quizzical expressions are passed across the tables, shoulders are shrugged and heads are shook. The consensus of opinion is that we’re all having such a good time that we don’t need to listen to someone tickling the ivories to make the evening perfect. So another bottle of wine is opened and more laughter floats down towards the orchard.

Horsey Nonsense

It seems that every conversation I have with our builder ends up in either laughter or confusion. So why should today be any different. He had been doing some welding and being a good employer I took him a drink. As I walked in he was rolling up some electric cable, looping it over his thumb and winding it around his elbow in the same way I remember my mother taking in her washing line. I placed his drink down and the conversation went like this:

Fabrice: Barry, do you have a long one?

Me: What!

Fabrice: I need a longer one.

Me: I’m sorry to hear that.

Fabrice: What?

Me: What are you talking about?

Fabrice: I need a longer one for the electrics.

Me: A longer extension?

Fabrice: Yes, that’s what I said at the start.

Now that in itself could have led to any manner of unfortunate assumptions taking place, add to it the remainder of the conversation and you can understand why foreigners can get into trouble when restoring properties abroad. Now you have to bear in mind that as he’s half French, half Italian and quite a bit of his language is an amalgamation of the two languages, with a smattering of English inserted for good measure. This led to my misinterpreting what he said, and the words causing the confusion were Cavlo (amalgamation of cavo and cablo meaning cable) and Cavallo (horse).

Fabrice: Tomorrow, we need to get a horse

Me: A horse, whatever for?

Fabrice: We need it for the electric.

Me: Why do we need a horse for electric.

Fabrice: To make the electrics work.

Me: But a horse?

Fabrice: Yes, yes a horse.

Me: I don’t understand.

Fabrice: The electric goes around the house because of the work the horse does.

Me: Are you trying to tell me that to power the gadgets in the house we need a horse on a treadmill?

Fabrice: You really are crazy Barry.

Me: I’m crazy. You’re one saying we need a horse.

Fabrice: Tomorrow, I go to shop and buy switches and the horse to put inside the walls.

Me; Fabrice, do you mean, cable.

Fabrice: Yes, yes, tomorrow I fetch the horse.

I walk away shaking my head, as he says, Inglese molto (Italian) crazy man (English) je se (French) English very crazy man I know. No wonder things get confusing here in Casoli.

Time to Admit I’m a Linguistic Liability

Picture this, it’s a chilly morning and the rain is barely making an effort, or as Peter Kay would say, ‘it’s spitting’. I’ve just come inside from standing in the drizzle whilst eating a fried egg sandwich, the iPod shuffles and the Spandau Ballet classic, Gold, 12” remix begins to play. Our builder arrives and tells me he’s going to start on the electrics in the living room, I tell him that’s fine and make him a cup of coffee. He nips out to buy some electricity related things, telling me, if he goes he’ll get a better price because he knows the man in the store. So as his Jeep drives away his coffee cools on top of the cement mixer outside.

Twenty minutes later he returns to show us the spoils of his trip to the electrical store on the industrial estate. He’s pleased with the black fascia he’s purchased for our fuse box, telling us it’s nicer than a boring white one. We have to agree, and I ask if we can have a red light switch. He then asks for his coffee and I say it’ll be cold now, “That’s okay,” he says, and drinks the cold brown liquid. I tell him I like cold tea but not cold coffee unless it’s coffee with ice. He looks at me bemused, “Perche?” he asks, which is another of those dual meaning Italian words, meaning either why or because. I understand he’s asking me why I like iced coffee, I tell him because it’s great on a hot day, and I as I don’t know how to say it cools me down, I rub my hands over my body in a pathetic attempt to mime cooling down. He responds with more facial contortions and a louder, higher pitched, “Perche?”  I say because it tastes nice and he laughs, his face reddens and tears form in the corners of his creased eyelids. Then it dawns on me, the S-word expletive leaves my mouth and I laugh too. Once again I’ve used the wrong word, instead of saying ghiaccio (ice) I’ve said ghioco, which means play. So I ended up telling him I like to play with coffee, and my mime gave the impression I rub it all over myself. His laughing has stopped and as he wipes his eyes, he calls me a plonker. (I blame Only Fools and Horses.)

On the previous day I had another incident of brain to mouth disconnection. This time, it wasn’t so much the language that was at fault, it was the grammar. Michele was passing and looked in to see how the house restoration was coming along. As we have no windows in the bedroom, we’ve been sleeping in the living room. In The Tempest, Trinculo says, Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows. If Shakespeare was in Abruzzo and happened to pass my makeshift bedroom he’d have written, cement bags and wheelbarrows acquaint a man etc… MIchele looks into the room and says, “You English and your upstairs bedrooms.” Instead of explaining the situation, I meant to say to my friend of three weeks, No, come with me, we’ll go down to the bedroom, Instead my clumsily constructed sentence is blurted out as, “No, come with me to the bedroom and I’ll go down on you.” Yet another Italian face contorts, and the builder laughs before correcting my error. Michele’s eyebrows rise and he sighs, meanwhile I apologise for my linguistic lobotomy and the iPod shuffles and Marina and the Diamonds play, Oh No! – my words exactly.

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