Time Travelling

Last night whilst watching the BBC program, Second Chance Summer, where a group of English people experience living in Tuscany: The objective of the show is to discover if any of them will choose to remain in Italy. Two did choose to stay but it was a comment one of the women made that struck a chord with me. She said that although she liked being in Italy it was like travelling back in time. At first I agreed, but then I thought saying that could actually be quite insulting, as it could infer that the country hadn’t progressed. (But I’m sure she meant it in a nice way).

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Rural Italy is very different from the urban sprawl of Milan, Turin and the other major cities; in fact the difference between southern and northern Italy is blatantly tangible. Things here in rural communities go on as they have done for decades. Today Mario is in his olive grove pruning his trees as he and his family have done for years. The centre of the tree is opened up to allow air to circulate through the branches giving it the familiar vase shape. You could be forgiven for thinking it’s like travelling back in time but it’s a very different situation. Today Mario is using an electric saw connected to a generator whereas if we went back in time it’d be a hand saw. Today the cut branches will be loaded onto a motorised trailer and taken to his wood store rather than in the past a donkey.

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I think the charm of Italy is that much has remained unchanged, towns are still mostly made up of original old buildings giving it that ancient feel. Take Rome for instance, everywhere you look there’s an old palazzo and terracotta tiled roof. This gives an impression of travelling back in time, however look closer and you’ll spot the satellite dishes and solar panels.

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Here in Abruzzo we’re reminded of the region’s history, the coastline is dotted with trabocchi; ancient fishing stations that are still used today. You’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s a romantic notion to continue with tradition, but you couldn’t be further from the truth. The reason why people still fish from a trabocco is that they’re effective. Olives are maintained as they have always been because it’s a fool proof method of cultivation. Backs ache after plots of land are planted up with tomato and pepper plants as they’ve been for years. At times it’s a hard life but rewarding one, but it’s not like going back in time because as time moves on it’s the tried and tested methods that survive through becoming adaptable.

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Are You One of the 25% (part two)

As promised here’s part two of the six things that I think people should consider before moving abroad to live. The first part can be found Here. The first part focussed on language learning, not making assumptions and not using the move as a form of escape.

Do bear in mind these are only six of possibly many more things that need to be considered, but with these two blog posts I’ve tried to address some often overlooked things to think about before making that move. So without further ado, here’s my final three things that I think you must think carefully about before you pack up your possessions and drive off towards a new life in foreign parts.

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Downsize: Before you pack away every last thing that you own it’s a good idea to think about what you have and what you are likely to need/use in your new home. If you’re moving into an apartment then sell the lawn mower and other garden related things that are superfluous. Believe me I know someone who moved to a new apartment that had a communal garden tended to by the condominium and he paid to ship his gardening tools to Spain only to have to get rid of them once he was there. Books and DVD’s are heavy and can take up valuable space when paying for shipping. If you really can’t live without your film collection then invest in a disc holder and get rid of the plastic cases that will take up room and ship mostly air in the long run. Books are precious to some people and if that’s you, then take only those that you know you will read again or can’t bear to part with, books that will move from a shelf in one country to sit in boxes in an attic in another is a waste of money.

Think about furnishings, are they suitable for the climate you’re moving to? I shipped two large leather sofas only to discover that leather is horrid to sit on in the Italian summer. If you are packing up and discover towels that have seen better days and rugs that you can read a newspaper through, bin them. And while you’re packing up the kitchen, with every utensil you pick up, ask yourself when you last used it, if the answer is a year or so ago then put it into the charity shop pile.

Go through you’re wardrobe and donate all of those clothes that you’ll never wear abroad. If you’re going to be in rural France on a self-sufficiency drive then get shot of the dinner suits and evening dresses, the pigs and chickens won’t care what you wear. Before moving to Italy I sold all but eight of my 79 pairs of shoes, and since moving here I’ve worn only two pairs of the saved ones.

It makes perfect sense to downsize and pay to ship, only what you will need and use. Don’t fall into the trap of buying things to take that you assume you’ll not be able to get in your newly adopted country; unless of course you’re moving to the central plains of Mongolia, and then will you find anywhere to plug in your newly acquired wireless iPod docking station?

Remember, what you don’t take can be sold to go towards your shipping expenses or go to help others either in a charity shop or at a furniture/household charity bank.

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Dispel Belief: We’ve all watched movies like, Under the Tuscan Sun and watched TV shows like, A Year in Provence, that’s cool and I say watch and enjoy, but don’t believe a word of it. There’s nothing more sure to get our wanderlust rising than a well shot film with gorgeous vistas and a bevvy of beautiful people to temp us into falling in love with them. Even if you are partial to conversations with the kitchen wall, chances are you’ll not find yourself, like Shirley Valentine did. The reality is very different. Instead of falling in love with a hunk from Positano and riding on the back of his Vespa with your hands around his toned midriff, you more than likely find yourself on a cramped bus that smells of diesel next to an old contadino with armpits riper than his watermelons. In short if you think your move will be like a film plot or the narrative from a Spanish best seller then don’t move as you’ll be sorely disappointed.

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Don’t Rush: Think carefully about what time of year you’ll be moving, an Italian summer can be oppressive and not best suited to lugging furniture out of a van. Italian winter’s although relatively short can be cold so it’s best not to be moving into a house with no means of heating if there’s a chance there’ll be a metre of snow overnight. Think about the property you’ll be moving too carefully and plan to move at a time best suited to your needs. Also check dates; will it be a bank holiday or is there a festa in town? Nothing will spoil the move if the shops are closed and you can’t get milk for your tea or the streets are shut off for dancing so you can’t pass with your possessions. If you’re planning moving to Italy remember most of the country shuts down in August and never: I repeat. Never plan to move during Ferragosto (August 15) always leave a couple of days either side as the whole country, (including me) will be celebrating.

Once you’ve moved into your new home there’s another, don’t rush, that applies. Don’t rush into remodelling the house, if you can live in it, then do just that. Live in it and you’ll discover on a daily basis what works for you and what doesn’t. Obviously this doesn’t apply to major restorations. However if you can live on a building site it can be very helpful. I moved into my house the day after we evicted the rats and lived in one room as we did the planned work, this enabled us to make changes as we discovered what was right for us and the end result was very different from the original plan.

Also don’t rush into making friends with every person that speaks your language. It’s beneficial to have friends that share your native tongue and understand where you’re culturally coming from. But back in your native country you’ll have been selective, so don’t stop just because you’re an ex-pat. There’s nothing worse than having lunch with a table full of ex-pats that back in your birth country you’d have avoided in a heartbeat. Friendships will come and the best ones take a little time, but are best waiting for.

Are You One of the 25%? (part one)

According to industry figures, various random polls and statistics, 38% of people dream of buying a property abroad and in that figure 25% dream of starting a new life in another country.

The top four EU countries for relocating to are, Spain, France, Italy and Portugal. Spain is still the largest draw with the largest portion of the market; however compared to the other countries Spain gets more retirees followed by Portugal, while France and Italy have the highest portion of people looking to build a new life.

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Now there’s nothing wrong with wanting to build a new life, I’ve done it myself, so I know a little about the ups and downs and the highs and lows of it. Thankfully for me and mine the transition has been a case of more soaring highs than plummeting lows.

Due to my work I have daily conversations with people looking to find their dream property and I’m happy to give advice when people ask for it, but there’s always those few who remain blinkered by those rose-tinted glasses. Now I don’t say this to sound judgemental and rude as most people do throughout the process of viewing and buying realise that the dream and reality can often be polar cousins. So after a long conversation today with a lady wanting to relocate with her family to set up a business I thought I’d give my six top tips for anyone in that aforementioned 25%.

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Language. It seems a simple concept that if you plan to move to a country that speaks a different language that anyone wanting to relocate would learn the mother tongue. Sadly this isn’t always the case and some people move and never learn the language. This has in my opinion two major flaws, the first is that without even the basic skills you miss out on so much of what being in an Italian community is all about. The other is that without language you can feel very isolated. Now I’m not saying that everyone should be fluent and leave their place of birth with a doctorate in linguistics, but just a good basic knowledge is a good starting block and will help make the transition from outsider to insider easier.

Assumptions. Many people make assumptions without doing research. The amount of times I’ve heard someone say, “I’m going to move out and then get myself a little job.” With Europe in what seems to be endless economic difficulties, the chance of getting that ‘little job’ seems less of a prospect once you have moved to your new country. As already mentioned without the language even a job serving behind a bar would be problematic. Maybe working in an English/English speaking bar in Spain could be more achievable but a local bar in rural Italy where the patrons speak dialect would be nigh on impossible.

Never make the assumption that life will be easier, life will be better and life will be more sedate. In reality, initially your life becomes harder; days are filled with language and cultural lessons and as I always say it’s not a better life, it’s a different life.

While we talk about people making assumptions, here’s one I hear all the time: “I want an olive grove where I’ll farm it and sell the oil to live on.” And as the River City People said with their first single back in 1989, What’s Wrong with Dreaming? The answer is nothing is wrong with dreaming as long as you’re in possession of the facts. It’s costly to farm olives commercially, the set up fees alone can be prohibitive and then there’s years of experience and knowledge to acquire before the realisation of the amount of physical work required. People often cite a well know UK couple that created an adopt-a-tree business and turned over €100,000 in their first year. After a short period they sold the business to an Italian company and returned to the UK saying that the hard work destroyed the dream. People often say they can sell their oil locally, my response is, “Who to?” Everyone local has litres of their own oil from their own trees.

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Escaping. Sometimes people will say to me that they’re escaping their old self to find the new person inside. Sadly just because you move to another country you don’t get given a new personality at the border. If you’re a person that wakes with the first chirrup of birdsong and leaps out of bed to embrace the day with vigour, then why would this change. Equally if you prefer your own company and there’s nothing finer than plodding around town mumbling to yourself then to be brutally honest no amount of, la dolce vita or joie de vivre will change this. You are what you are. Okay some of what we do and who we are is dictated to by our surroundings, but most of us remain the same, despite our new hobbies and interests in another land.

If you’re using the move to escape something physical like a relationship or other troubles, then think hard. These things will still remain where you left them and therefore will never be resolved. I’m not qualified to dole out advice in these cases, but surely to attempt to resolve issues before you move on can only be a good thing and is one less piece of baggage to carry overseas.

Moving abroad can be a blind stride into the unknown but with a little knowledge and lot of preparation it needn’t be a step into the dark.

Part 2 coming soon.

Olio Santo

You could say that Italy can be hot and fiery. We have the active volcanoes; Vesuvio, Stromboli and Etna, we swelter in the energy sapping summer heat and then there’s that Latin temperament. But I’m talking about neither of these, today the subject is peperoncino, the generic name for Italian chillies.

Every restaurant table will have a pot of oil with chillies suspended within it for drizzling over your pizza or pasta and in summer when they’re in season you’ll find fresh chillies with tiny pairs of scissors on the table too.

It would be foolish to suggest that every Italian partakes of this fiery condiment as I know a handful that are not keen on the hot pepper sauce, but that said I have friends from Calabria that adore the stuff, so much that I’m sure these crazy Calabresse would have it on their breakfast cereal if they could.

Here in Abruzzo this chilli oil is known as Olio Santo (Sainted oil) and it’s literally hot chillies steeped in olive oil. Everyone has their own method of making olio Santo and a search on YouTube will bring up a plethora of instructional videos. Most recipes use dried and crushed chillies, whereas my method uses fresh chilli; also I have to admit that my method was taught me by a Neapolitan friend and so my recipe is from Napoli not Abruzzo.

The oil will last from season to season if kept in a cupboard out of direct sunlight which will break it down. I make mine in a recycled  jar no fancy oil bottle for me. It’s not the prettiest container in my larder but it does the job perfectly.

This recipe is really very simple and the ingredients are:

Olive oil, not extra virgin, save that for your salad and bruschetta just normal olive oil will do.

Chillies, I use around 20 to 25 for a small (250 g) jar.

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To make the oil, chop the chillies and then steam them for 5 minutes and then add them to the jar and fill with oil – simple as that. (Steaming the chillies brings the heat out faster and infuses the oil in less time that using dried chilli). Leave it to stand for around 2 weeks before using and occasionally agitate the jar.

The oil will keep for 12 months and you can top up the oil if it starts to run low, it’ll lower the heat however, and be sure to shake the jar to mix it.

After a few weeks the colour will change and it’ll take on a spicy yet funky aroma. Once you’re chillies are ripe the following year, make more and after 2 weeks dispose of the old oil and start using the fresh batch.

It develops throughout the year and gets hotter, last year I grew some Scotch bonnets and added a couple to the mix and this year the olio Santo is as hot as Hades; fabulous on linguine con cozze or a bacon sandwich.

 

 

Do Believe What You Read

I’m working an a feature about olive oil, a light-hearted piece that lists eight things people may or may not know. Obviously I have to mention some of the health benefits of having the oil in your diet, but finding things that aren’t as obvious is a task. After an hour of web surfing and double checking I have all the information I need. I look up at the clock and see that it’s lunch time; Lily Allen starts to sing her new single, the brilliantly satirical, Hard Out Here as I look inside the fridge. As I’m looking at writing a ‘healthy’ article this afternoon I decide on a plate of antipasto, so it’s smoked tuna, white anchovies, olives, prosciutto crudo and some salad served up with a slice of my home made bread.

In the afternoon, I settle down to structure my 500 word feature, I mention that olive oil helps to preserve the omega 3 oil in fish and ponder whether or not to tell my readers that olive oil is good for removing stubborn mascara, when I read something that catches my attention. One beauty therapist claims that you can use the oil instead of expensive shaving creams. I rub my three day beard growth and grab the olive oil from the kitchen and head off towards the bathroom. OH gives me an odd look and I express my intention to shave with the kitchen condiment and this elicits a roll of the eyes.

I wet my stubble with warm water and rub in some of the olive oil and lo and behold it works, there’s no razor burn and no drag just a smooth, close shave and boy did my skin feel good afterwards. So will I be using olive oil from now on… I don’t think so…  it took twice as long to clean the sink.

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Olives

David Sylvian’s distinctive voice fills the kitchen as, Japan play Deviation, and I wait for the kettle to boil. Suddenly the morning is punctuated with the sounds of people calling to each other over the rattle of ancient tractors and the hiss of pneumatic tools. Our neighbours have come to harvest their olives. Two days ago with strimmers buzzing they trimmed the land beneath the Olive trees. (The Italians call olives, plants not trees). Now the trimmed land is covered with nets and people start to collect the precious bounty.

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Three years ago I helped a friend harvest her olives, it was a cool November day and with olive combs we stripped the fruit from the trees. It was back-breaking work making sure every little green, purple or black olive made it into the sacks. My neighbour’s harvest is on a much bigger scale and is so far removed from the Bertolli TV advert where the people are picking olives by hand, one by one and smiling as the summer sun beats down. They have a noisy machine powered by an equally noisy petrol generator that they clamp to the tree and it literally shakes the olives from the branches. After the tree has been vigorously shaken, a human combs off any remaining olives and stamps around the base to tread-in any soil that’s been disturbed by the shaking machine.

In a week or two we’ll be helping with the harvest up at The Olive House so we’re hoping we’ll get a donation of the oil once it’s been pressed. The Olive House has many more trees than my neighbour so I envisage we’ll collect more sacks than we did back in 2010.

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