Annie’s Adventure in Agnone

Once a year my friend, ‘The Lovely Annie’ as I refer to her comes over to Italy to join me in an adventure. Now our adventures are not high octane or feats that could prove life threatening. There’s no diving from ridiculous heights into vats of cooling tagliatelle or climbing Italian mountains dressed in traditional Alpini uniforms, our adventures are of the more sedate variety. This year’s adventure is to visit a town neither of us have been to before.  We mix the excitement up with a decision to leave the safety of our region of Abruzzo and cross the border into Molise. So on a hot and sunny August morning we set off for Angnone, a town we’ve randomly chosen – gripping isn’t it?

The journey takes us about 45 minutes and very soon we’re over the border into the Isernia province of the much maligned and often ignored region of Molise. The first thing that strikes us the greenery, the countryside is lush and has an almost alpine feel despite the region being less mountainous than Abruzzo. We come around a bend and Agnone comes into sight. We follow the signs for the centre of town and find a parking space to abandon the car in. The space between the two cars is tight and I can only get out of our 4×4 monster by climbing over into the back and exiting through one of the rear doors. After struggling in 30 degree temperatures to wrestle myself free from the car another car in the shade with more space leaves the car park and I’m then climbing back inside, face pressed up against the widow as I try to get my lanky legs over the headrest to plonk myself back into the driver’s seat. The car is eventually parked and I’m a sweaty mess as we set off to check out the town.

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Agnone is a well kept town, the streets are free of litter and the old buildings are sandwiched nicely between modern fronted shops and bars. The town has an air of wealth about it despite the rumour that Molise is a poor peasant region. Ladies are shopping in their finery; their hair coiffured and necks adorned with precious gemstone necklaces.

 

We begin our adventure by strolling up the town’s main street just taking in the atmosphere before it’s time for a coffee; we drop into a bar situated on the main corso and the three of us are soon sipping cappuccini as we watch the Agnonese go about their daily routines.

 

The town is famous for its bell manufacturing which has taken place here since 1040: The factory is now run by the Marinelli family who took it over in 1339, and is recognised as the oldest family business in Italy and ranked third oldest in the world. So with this in mind and the fact that the factory created the bell that hangs in Pisa’s leaning tower we head off for tour that is advertised on their website to start at 12.00. Sadly when we arrive as one tour is ending and there’s not another one. (Methinks their website needs updating). So with no opportunity to go inside we take some photos outside with the array of bells on display.

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After the bells we do a little shopping and then make our way through the town stopping occasionally to visit one or two of the 19 medieval churches that are in this small town: There’s actually now 20 churches as a new modern one was recently constructed.

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We stroll up past the council offices and come into a large piazza and as it’s lunch we drop into a restaurant called, Borgo Antico. The service is very good and as the temperature outside is nearing the 34 degree point we’re shown to a table in the shade . Our waitress takes our orders and very soon we’re drinking a cold beer and being served a typical Agnonese platter with truffle flavoured cheese, freshly made bruschetta, a sweet young ricotta and some slices of salami. This was followed by a very flavoursome primo of lamb ragù and pasta. So if you’re ever passing Agnone, drop in and sample the service and food they have to offer.

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Post lunch is followed by more strolling and dropping into the various touristy places, making sure we we step into the Ndocciata museum. Ndocciata is a Christmas festival where men carry flaming borgates, wooden frames of constructed in nine quarters through the streets. We make mental notes to come to witness this in December.

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The day comes to a close with us driving to visit the oddly named nearby town of Capracotta, which literally translates as cooked goat. The drive up through the winding lanes is breath-taking, the countryside is beautiful and as the roads don’t have the steep drops the mountain ones in Abruzzo have we’re able to see for miles.

We’re welcomed into Capracotta by the sight of two dogs copulating on the pavement and make our way up a tiny cobbled street to the lower part of the town. The town is capped by a large impressive church with a fabulous view over the surrounding countryside, we stop at the ‘belvedere’ and marvel at the natural beauty below us before making our way into the church.

DSCF9565 To be honest despite the grand outside appearance of the church it’s interior is rather bland and not much to write home about.

We take some time to sit in the afternoon shade in the local park watching children at play while mothers look on and old men gossip beneath the beech trees. Our drive back takes us through the village of Rosello and we stop off for a drink at the local bar and within minutes the entire population has come out for their passeggiata and we’re overwhelmed by the number of people in this small street as teenagers play cards and shout, ‘Ciao’ to elderly residents and couples walk hand in hand for that special period of time between late afternoon and dinner time. Our day ends with aperitivi followed by pizza at our local pizzeria. DSCF9567

My dictionary defines adventure as, (noun) an unusual and exciting or daring experience and (verb) engage in daring or risky activity. So ours hasn’t been an adventure in the technical term, but 12 hours filled with happiness, love and friendship is in my opinion a fantastic feat to achieve.

An Italian Day

A friend once mentioned to me that her neighbour went to the market or local shop everyday to buy provisions for that day’s lunch or dinner. She told me that if she did a weekly shop then she’d save herself a daily trip to the shops. I thought about this and spoke with an Italian friend about it and her reply was, “Of course we shop everyday, that way we know we have, cibo più fresco.” PING! on went the ‘of course’ light. In a society where seasonal is important, women have shopped daily for years to make certain they purchase the best and freshest produce.

Often people comment that Italian’s appear to be chaotic and disorganised, but that’s far from the truth. Italian’s are very organised in their day to day lives and as I think back to how my day has been today I realise I’ve adapted to some of these daily rituals easily and without actually thinking about it. So here’s a typical Britalian day for me and how it mirrors that of my Italian colleagues and friends.

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My day starts with strong black coffee and after breakfast I set off for work. Today I drive up into the mountains as I’m visiting the town of Torricella Peligna to take photos of an apartment that is being put up for sale. I have a pleasant morning with the owner and get the shots required to market her apartment. The sky is as clear and blue as a Ceylon sapphire as we leave the town and below us the road twists and turns through the countryside, with its patchwork of fields and olive groves. The car’s windows are open and the scent of jasmine is drawn inside making this journey a feast for the senses. We pass through the town of Roccascalegna and decide to drop in to check all is well with some new clients who purchased a house a few months back. I find that Sue, Keith and their beautiful daughter Sophie are settling in to their house well and are becoming happily embroiled into their Italian community.

It’s now one o’clock and time for that important of daily Italian customs, lunch.

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We drop into our local restaurant which is already filled with diners and after a ten minute wait we’re seated and ordering. Italian lunch is the most important meal of the day, it’s not to be rushed, it’s meant to be eaten in a relaxed manner to aid digestion. In complete contrast to the meagre Italian breakfast lunch is substantial. I order my primo;  chitarrina allo scoglio, a pasta dish made with the local Abruzzese square shaped spaghetti. The mussels and clams are sweet and the broth that lurks under the pasta has the fragrance of the sea. Around us the other diners are eating, drinking and chatting at a leisurely pace. Lunch isn’t something that should be rushed in Italy. More white wine: ice cold and fizzing in the carafe is delivered to our table and our dishes are cleared away in readiness for the secondo.

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Being an Italian restaurant there’s a television mounted on the wall and muted news reports are playing as the waiters clear tables and redress them in around 40 seconds for more waiting diners. My secondo arrives, a plump piece of salmon dressed simply with olive oil and a slice of lemon. My contorno (side dish) is slices of fresh tomato and wafer thin rings of red onion.

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Workers look at their watches in a relaxed manner, no one is rushing to get back to work yet; after all the standard time given over for lunch is two hours. I check the time and order coffee and stretch my arms above my head feeling happily full.

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After my two hour repast and having paid my €10  we leave and I go back to work. My afternoon is taken up with admin until it’s time to pack away the office for a few minutes and head off to the cantina. A short drive later, I’m loading boxes of wine into the boot of the car and I’m almost ready to leave when the assistant calls me over and gives me two free bottles of wine and tells me to have a good evening.

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Generosity seems to be an intrinsic part of the Italian psyche as is their cordiality, it’s customary to be told to have a good day, a pleasant evening, buon pranzo (have a good lunch) and all other manner of well wishes throughout your day. These salutations are never forced and they’re always received and reciprocated in a genuine way. I’m happy to say that there’s none of that dictated corporate bonhomie in Italy.

Back home, it’s time to sample the wine and a glass of excellent red is poured as I check the last of the emails for the day before setting off for the evening stroll in readiness for dinner. Passeggiata, the Italian custom of a stroll before dinner is a perfect way to catch up with gossip, and as soon as you get into the habit you realise it’s a perfect way to integrate with your community, it’s a sort of walking adhesive.

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It’s now around 8pm and the cars have started to arrive at the local restaurant, the tables outside are populated by people drinking aperitivi as the waiters finish setting up for the evening service. And all over Italy people are preparing for dinner, the same way it’s been done throughout generations.