Why the Name Change?

I have noticed that my blog posts have changed and are less about the music playing whilst I write them and more about my new life in Italy. I’m certain that this is because it’s my life here in Italy that influences most of what I write about. Back in the UK it was things like lost parrots and badly spelled signs and the occasional run down of the Eurovision.

So why, Being Britalian, firstly because I thought it was a nice play on words being British and in Italy and second, because of my birthright I’ll always be a Brit in Italy and never an Italian. But as I’m adopting many of the Italian ways of life as time passes I feel quasi-Italian, so I guess I feel 70% Brit and 30% Italian.

My posts will still contain a mix of sensible info-blurb and mindless bonkers observations as before, and you can be sure that my musical tastes will still be mentioned as hardened readers already know my iPod is always on shuffle whenever I’m working. As I write this Contact in Red Square from the Plastic Letters album by Blondie is playing.

Another reason is I’m having an hiatus from writing for Italy magazine, (I don’t have the time at the moment) but I am putting together notes for a non-fiction account of the why’s and wherefores of my move here that may grow up to be a book and Bieng Britalian is the working title. This project is of course subject to vetting from the Renegade’s back in Stoke on Trent, who will advise, critique and inspire me should they feel the idea is worthy of a potential readership.

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So I’ll leave it for today with a photograph taken in the lane yesterday showing that despite today being the first day of spring, it had arrived earlier here in our corner of Abruzzo.

 

More Signs

Welcome to 2014, to start off, here’s another selection of signs I’ve spotted recently.The first was on a water fountain where you bring a bottle and for five-cents you can get ice cold mineral water, still or sparkling. This fountain in town claims to have happy water, although what unhappy or downright miserable water is like I don’t have a clue.

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My second sign is from a signpost at the beach at Ortona Port, I love the idea of people choosing holiday destinations that care for their ‘environmental’ or could that be mental environment? while enjoying the ‘nature’ of their beach: there’s a beach not far away where they literally enjoy the nature, or rather it’s often inundated with naturists.

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In town a new American diner has opened and they’ve erected an enormous menu board outside, here’s a selection of their fare. Peppers or poppers, that could have caused a few problems back in those eighties high-energy discos, lots of moustachioed men sniffing peppers as they dance.

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Have a splendid 2014 everyone.

Out and About Observations

As you know I like signs with spelling mistakes and other observed oddities, so here’s a few more for your pleasure. The first is from a car park in Casoli, it’s a piece of graffiti on the wall, sadly you’d have thought that the person who sprayed this red and blue tag, would have positioned it in a better place than have half of it obscured by a concrete post.

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The next comes from a menu board outside a restaurant in Pescara, I guess English isn’t the owners native language, but you would expect the translation to be double-checked before investing in an expensive ‘A’ board. So if you pop in for a meal enjoy those praw[n]s I also like the idea of a wanton, by definition is this a battered and deep fried sexually immodest or promiscuous woman?

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The nest sign is the name of a shop that sells clothing. Would you really want to buy fashion items that are, ‘So, Last Year’?

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Finally, and this is my favourite. I found a leaflet advertising job vacancies, and the translation is roughly,’We’re not interested in how you dress as we are a call centre’.

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The Pizza Eating Cat

Saturday morning arrives and as I open the front door I’m welcomed by mewing from the semi-feral cat that lives in the lane. I call it Balenò (Flash) as she has an orange ziz-zag on the top of her head. As the iPod shuffles and Mark Owen begins to sing Four-Minute Warning, I retrieve the piece of pork rind from last night’s dinner that I saved in the fridge. I throw it to the cat and she devours it greedily.

It’s a very vocal cat, constantly calling and constantly hungry. She lives mostly in the garden of Adam and Sarah’s, holiday home at the bottom of the lane, where guests staying feed her. But when no one is there it comes on the scrounge up here. I don’t mind giving it the odd morsel, but don’t feed it everyday, otherwise it’ll take up residence here. The cat is about three-years old and seems to be constantly pregnant, as are all the feral queens in the countryside. In 2011, she had one kitten that survived two-days before being taken by a fox. Until recently she was swollen with kittens, but there’s no sign of her offspring, so I can but assume they suffered a similar fate to the other kitten.

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After yesterday’s blustery weather, the morning is still and the cat basks in the sunshine. I drink my coffee watching her as she deftly pounces upon a lizard and swallows it almost whole. Our builder arrives with pizza and the cat becomes interested in the humans, or more truthfully in what the humans are eating. She brushes against our ankles calling out for a morsel. I drop her a piece of pizza and she’s on it with the same swiftness she used to catch the lizard. Very quickly it’s gobbled up and she meows again wanting more. After three more hunks of cheese and tomato covered focaccia, she strolls off towards the shady spot under the drying washing at the top of the steps and flops down and closes her eyes. Time for a morning snooze.

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Dog in a Frock

This morning, as we slumbered with little intention of rousing ourselves from the bed, a cannon sounded. The boom reverberated though the valley, followed by a volley of firecrackers. It’s festa (fiesta) down in Altino. Italy loves its feste (the plural), there’s feste to celebrate the humble olive, some to champion their porcini crop and even the completion of a road. I kid you not, in 2011 we celebrated the completion of the new road in Casoli. There was a band, the local bar moved it’s pumps and the local pizzeria also set up stall on the newly laid tarmac. A procession holding a religious effigy sang hymns, a priest blessed the road and children spun around on the merry-go-round. Meanwhile me and my good friend, Christine, drank Peroni.

Today the road to Altino is closed and it’s flanked either side by market stalls selling everything from toys to hats and saucepans to pan pipes. (There’s always someone playing music from the Andes, and cheap wooden pipes that give you splinters in your lips).  Everybody that lives in the area is there, meandering along browsing the stalls and calling out to each other. shouts of ciao, buon giorno and vediamo fill the air as does the aroma of porchetta being sold from vans. A man is selling enormous rounds of cheese and as each customer purchases some, his diminutive wife, picks up the heavy cheese and with a knife almost the length of her arm she cuts a slab for him to weigh.

Michele is there and calls across to me, he introduces me to another man, whose name I do not catch, and before I can ask again they’re off shouting hello to a couple across the street. I ‘m swept along by the crowd, unless you’re buying there’s no time to idly stand around, this human river is hell bent on making it from one end of the market to the other. Up ahead there’s the sound of amusements, that tinny sound you always get at arcades and fairs, and before long I’m watching children as they scream and laugh as rides toss them around or spin them in a centrifuge. A teenage couple wander along hand in hand, she has a dog on a lead. Nothing unusual about that, except this little black poodle is wearing a red gingham dress, making it look like its escaped from a circus. The girl spots a group of other girls and they begin talking in that animated way girls the world over do, no one seems to listen as they all chatter ten to the dozen, words spilling out and sweeping over other phrases, swooping under sentences. A decision seems to have been made and the girls climb aboard a machine designed to take you high into the air before plunging you downwards, free-falling until the brake is engaged and the contents of your stomach hurtle back upwards.

The dog lead is handed to her boyfriend, who self-consciously nudges his mirrored sunglasses onto the bridge of his nose: If he was attempting to disguise himself, he’s failed, as just then a group of teenage lads enter the makeshift fairground, spot him and the dog in a frock. Needless to say, taking the micky is universal no matter what language is used and like the lads I have a little chuckle before walking on.

As I don’t have a photo of a dog in a frock, and couldn’t find a royalty free one, here’s the rainbow outside my front door three days ago.

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Dog in a Frock

This morning, as we slumbered with little intention of rousing ourselves from the bed, a cannon sounded. The boom reverberated though the valley, followed by a volley of firecrackers. It’s festa (fiesta) down in Altino. Italy loves its feste (the plural), there’s feste to celebrate the humble olive, some to champion their porcini crop and even the completion of a road. I kid you not, in 2011 we celebrated the completion of the new road in Casoli. There was a band, the local bar moved it’s pumps and the local pizzeria also set up stall on the newly laid tarmac. A procession holding a religious effigy sang hymns, a priest blessed the road and children spun around on the merry-go-round. Meanwhile me and my good friend, Christine, drank Peroni.

Today the road to Altino is closed and it’s flanked either side by market stalls selling everything from toys to hats and saucepans to pan pipes. (There’s always someone playing music from the Andes, and cheap wooden pipes that give you splinters in your lips).  Everybody that lives in the area is there, meandering along browsing the stalls and calling out to each other. shouts of ciao, buon giorno and vediamo fill the air as does the aroma of porchetta being sold from vans. A man is selling enormous rounds of cheese and as each customer purchases some, his diminutive wife, picks up the heavy cheese and with a knife almost the length of her arm she cuts a slab for him to weigh.

Michele is there and calls across to me, he introduces me to another man, whose name I do not catch, and before I can ask again they’re off shouting hello to a couple across the street. I ‘m swept along by the crowd, unless you’re buying there’s no time to idly stand around, this human river is hell bent on making it from one end of the market to the other. Up ahead there’s the sound of amusements, that tinny sound you always get at arcades and fairs, and before long I’m watching children as they scream and laugh as rides toss them around or spin them in a centrifuge. A teenage couple wander along hand in hand, she has a dog on a lead. Nothing unusual about that, except this little black poodle is wearing a red gingham dress, making it look like its escaped from a circus. The girl spots a group of other girls and they begin talking in that animated way girls the world over do, no one seems to listen as they all chatter ten to the dozen, words spilling out and sweeping over other phrases, swooping under sentences. A decision seems to have been made and the girls climb aboard a machine designed to take you high into the air before plunging you downwards, free-falling until the brake is engaged and the contents of your stomach hurtle back upwards.

The dog lead is handed to her boyfriend, who self-consciously nudges his mirrored sunglasses onto the bridge of his nose: If he was attempting to disguise himself, he’s failed, as just then a group of teenage lads enter the makeshift fairground, spot him and the dog in a frock. Needless to say, taking the micky is universal no matter what language is used and like the lads I have a little chuckle before walking on.

As I don’t have a photo of a dog in a frock, and couldn’t find a royalty free one, here’s the rainbow outside my front door three days ago.

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Chieti Baby Boom

Today it seems everywhere I have been there has been a pregnant woman. Yes, pregnant ladies everywhere today. I nipped to the builders merchant this morning and there was the man with a dirty pick-up collecting some bags of plaster. I’ve seen him almost every time I’ve been and his truck is dirtier each time. However today, standing in the yard and leaning against his mud splashed vehicle is a woman, heavily pregnant and smoking a cigarette. Inside the cab is an equally dirty child, its face smeared with what I’m hoping is just the remnants of a chocolate croissant. The man comes back, barks something at the woman. She then flicks the red ember from the end of her cigarette: an act we called ‘nipping’ when I was a teenage smoker. She pops the half smoked fag-end behind her ear and climbs into the pick-up.

On the way back I decided to drop into the supermarket for some mackerel for lunch. As I drive the iPod shuffles and Toyah, sings I Explode, my thoughts bounce back to the heavily pregnant smoker, and I picture her gorged belly exploding and hundreds of tiny smoking babies pouring out onto the ground. Maybe there’s the germ of a story in that thought.

I’m in the supermarket and browsing when I turn a corner into another aisle and there’s a young couple, possibly mid-twenties. He’s holding her hand and with his other hand is stroking her belly, she too is heavily pregnant. This outward show of affection is nice but it’s odd as it’s the girl who is carrying the basket containing their shopping. A woman spots them and she walks over asking when the baby is due. Suddenly she’s stroking the girls belly too. Why is it that when people see a pregnant woman, they feel the need to stroke the bump. I’m not sure how I’d feel if every person I passed in the store wanted to pat my paunch. As I leave the supermarket another woman walks over to the pregnant girl and more bump brushing takes place.

Later in the day I’m waiting for the ATM in Altino to become vacant, there’s a woman standing using it and after withdrawing money from it, lo and behold; sorry for the cliché, she turns around and is also pregnant. As my seedlings took a pelting in the previous days of stormy weather I decide to check out what’s available at the local shop. I’m wondering if I ought to buy some tomato plants now, or wait to see if mine perk up when another pregnant woman approaches me. This one has a baby in the crook of her arm, balanced on her hip, it looks to be around two-years old, she’s pushing a pram containing another younger baby and in her belly she is carrying the unborn addition to the family. The poor woman looks tired; ever likely. Her husband leaves the local store and calls to her, he’s short and round with enough wiry hair bulging out of the top of his shirt to stuff a mattress. He’s balding prematurely, a sure sign of powerful fertility and as I decline the chance to purchase some more tomato plants and wander away thinking about the tired looking woman, I wonder if her husband could be responsible for the recent Chieti baby boom.

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As I don’t have a photo of a pregnant woman, and because it would have been creepy to have taken any of those I saw today, I’ll leave you with a snap of our town. Casoli, CH.

Before posting, a friend just read this and in an Arnie Swarz etc. etc. voice said, “I’ll be back, the sperminator.”

Wee Beasties

Growing up in the UK I lived in a semi-rural location. I was lucky enough to play in fields, help out on the local farm and as a teenager earn money stacking turves destined for the new housing estates being built in the 1970’s.

The first thing I had to tell myself, when I decided that this was the house I’d like to live in, was that I have to get used to the not so pretty of creatures that inhabit the land. The wee beasties that crawl and fly and buzz and sting. Now, I’ve never really been very good with bugs, but this said I’ve always had a live and let live attitude. I’m quite happy to live in a house with a spider, just 100_6169as long as the spider doesn’t want to walk over me. With the exception of mosquitos and ants, I usually take visiting critters back outside. Who am I to say that just because it’s not easy on the eye or creepy looking it should be stamped upon.

This week I’ve been visited by some wonderful creatures. On Monday morning the iPod shuffled and Tiziano Ferro started to sing La Differenza Tra Me e Te (Stefano Maneo Remix) and I spotted an enormous spider trapped inside the washing up bowl. It was desperate to get out, but it’s legs could find no purchase on the sides of the plastic bowl. So I removed it and set it free among the rubble from the restoration, where there’s plenty of hiding places for it to lie in wait for unsuspecting flies.

Tuesday, I noticed a small wood wasp, she was building a nest inside the old window frame in the kitchen. She was a delicate little thing, and when she flies her longer back legs dangle like clip_image002stilts. A visiting friend said I should kill it and remove the little nest that is the size of a one-euro coin, but I refused. She’s doing no harm, I don’t need to open the window, and I know it’ll not get much bigger than it already is. She just needs somewhere safe to lay her eggs, and despite her vicious looking sting, I know she’s more afraid of me than I am of her.

Wednesday, because the doors and windows in the living room were open we were plagued by flies, but a quick squirt of insecticide spray soon put pain to there foray into the house. And Friday, we had our first visit of the summer from a scorpion. I was just about to sit down for my dinner when Dutch said, “What’s that on the floor?” I looked down and a magnificent black scorpion was making its way over towards the darkness created by the heel of my Ted Bakers in the corner. So I soon snapped a quick photo, the flash causing it to scurry to the relative safety of my shoes and armed with card and plastic tub, I removed the visitor and took it back outside, where it scurried off into a dark crevice beneath the house.clip_image003

This is, however, only the beginning, as summer progresses we’ll have the mantis and the grasshoppers to contend with, not to mention the dreaded mosquitos that will be on the attack. Maybe it’s time to start thinking of getting some fly screens made in readiness.

Hanging Baskets and Ancient Cat-Flaps

Last week I took a trip over to Fara San Martino to visit my friends Vivienne and Seppe. Fara is a town renowned for its exceptional pasta and being the only place that produce the pasta destined for the Vatican. I wrote an article for Italy magazine sometime back about this: LINK HERE But I wasn’t in Fara to talk about pasta,

Vivienne, teaches English and had a lesson booked so Seppe took me to see the mountain town of Civitella Messer Raimondo. His fiat panda climbed higher and higher up the mountain past empty bars and vacant shops, “It’s a shame,” he said, “so many people have now left.” For many years, with dwindling work prospects many of the people from this hilltop town have boarded up their homes and moved away to the cities. We park the car and walk through streets that are silent, no footfalls can be heard but ours. “Years ago,” Seppe points to an empty house, “People were selling these houses to foreigners. Many made a healthy profit, but those times have gone, and the foreigners don’t come as often as they once did.” This of course has a knock on effect, with no tourism the shops close as do the bars.

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We walk through a narrow vincolo (alley) and are treated to a view down to Fara, the late evening sun is cutting through the mountains, spilling over the red rooftops creating a magical effect. We wander along streets with empty narrow properties, three storey high, I peer into an empty cantina and it’s almost like looking back in time. It’s unchanged, a piece of living history. Seppe points out the ancient feeding trough, telling me this would have been for the family’s donkey, over in the corner is an old cage, possibly where rabbits or chickens were kept. We continue along and see where water over the years has caused damage. Looking into one house we see the upper floors, having fallen years before, lying derelict upon the lower one. It’s a haunting image, knowing that years ago the walls would have contained the clatter of family life. We pass a door with a plaque upon it, “It’s where the old Alpini would meet and talk about the old days,” Seppe tells me, “I’m not sure if the old mountain soldiers remain or still use their club.” 

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The visit to the town is tinged with a little sadness but when I look up and see flowers growing in the cracks in the brickwork above my head. I feel hopeful as life will always find a way. Seppe points to a neat little square in the bottom of a cantina door, I look at the cut and it’s definitely man made, the house next door has one as does the one next to that. “Do you know what that’s for?” asks Seppe, I shake my head, I’ve not a clue. “For the cat,” he tells me. I laugh, an ancient Italian cat-flap. Of course it makes sense, if you keep animals and feed in the cantina beneath your house you’re bound to get rats and mice, so a cat is a necessary part of the family and therefore must have its own door.

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Our visit over and we return to Fara in Seppe’s Fiat, and I’m treated to a trip along streets as narrow as the car and with almost impossible right angle junctions, as he’s an experienced Italian native this is normal for him, but to me it’s an amazing feat of navigation. Back at the piazza opposite his house, like all Italians he squeezes the car into what looks like an impossibly small space and we go back to his house for a cup of tea. Vivienne’s lessons have finished and we all sit chatting as the light begins to fade. I leave with a portion of Seppe’s local history embedded into my consciousness and with one of the amazing olive wood hanging baskets that he makes. Below is a photo of the hanging baskets he makes and his amazing handmade olive wood strawberry planter.

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Painting Crossings

People often comment that driving in Italy can be stressful. The stereotype is of a young man with music blaring, phone attached to his ear and his foot heavy on the accelerator. To be honest this stereotype isn’t that far wrong, the main difference being that driver’s gender doesn’t come into it. Driving on major roads and the motorways can be stressful, cars behind hug your bumper, headlights flash to urge you to move faster and horn sounding is all part and parcel of the overall driving experience. However on the rural roads, driving is a much more sedate affair: A week ago, I actually found myself conforming to the stereotype; I was travelling behind a man in a Fiat who pootled along the lane at a mere fifteen miles per hour.

A couple of days ago, I was driving to San Luca near Attessa, as there’s a builders’ merchant there who’s much keener on price than the nearest local one, and I actually enjoy a leisurely drive through the small villages that surround mine. The Colourfield were on the iPod playing, Yours Sincerely, as I travelled down almost deserted roads: a gentle tune for a gentle pace. We pass a patch of purple irises, their heads held aloft for the bees to find. As regular readers know, I rarely travel anywhere without a camera and I can’t resist the chance to stop and take a few photographs.

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I climb back into the car, the iPod shuffles and, Kirsty MacColl sings Caroline. I pass under the bridge on the road to Piane d’archi and head towards the T junction, I pause to allow a priest cross the road: it’s twenty-one degrees and he’s wrapped up in a long black coat with a fur collar: heaven forbid he takes it off in such inclement weather, but that’s another Italian idiosyncrasy. I reach the T junction and turn left and suddenly I’m part of a long queue of cars. Traffic on the left hand side is moving freely, and in front taking advantage of any gaps cars on the right side pop around whatever the obstruction up ahead is. Soon it becomes clear what is going on with this normally quiet stretch of road, they’re painting in pedestrian crossings and have painted only the right-hand side, so all along the road heading towards Atessa has congestion – well I say congestion, it’s actually around twelve cars in total.

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Of course it makes sense to paint one side first to minimise disruption. This said, I’ll make sure my plans for the next few days don’t include driving in the opposite direction.