You Never Know with November

Yesterday the council came and trimmed, (for trimmed, read massacred) the hedges in the lane. This is a great thing for me as it exposes the dead branches and wood that’s been hidden under the greenery all year. So as I wait for some good quality Gorgonzola to melt onto my 6 inch shop bought pizza that’s also topped with some excellent prosciutto I unloaded today’s scavenged wood from the 4×4. Last year I wrote a piece about the cost of keeping warm in winter and how scavenging for wood can save you a fortune and as we have no mains gas in the lane it makes sense for me to collect as much free fuel as possible.

It’s not time consuming scavenging, I don’t make a special effort and today’s haul took just a couple of minutes to stop and collect and although it doesn’t look like much it’s enough kindling for this evening if it gets cold enough to merit lighting the wood burner and using one or two of the stored logs.

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You see November is an odd month here in Abruzzo; one day it can warm and sunny and the next as cold as a snowman’s – you get the idea. This week so far we’ve had a crisp morning with a cloudless sky and mist over the valley that heralded a bitterly cold day. The following day was so warm that the washing line was full of drying clothes. Another day we saw fog hanging over the Adriatic making the coast look a scene from John Carpenter’s film, The Fog and today is bright and sunny with enough cloud cover to mean I’m sat outside in shirtsleeves.

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However the November evenings can go cold quickly as soon as the sun has descended so I always make sure the burner is ready to be lit, however thus far it’s not been cold enough to light a fire before 6:00 pm and once lit I only need to have it burning for a couple of hours and that’s enough to heat the house for the evening.

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Autumn can be quite magical and today the air is still and the sky the colour of cornflowers and the sun is doing a good job of warming the land. The leaves around are turning from green to ochre to gold and the sound of tractors can be heard as farmer’s plough their fields. So I’ll make the most of this day and take the dogs for a long walk along the lane. Because you never know with November in Abruzzo, tomorrow could be grey and wet. But first I’ll eat my pizza.

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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.

Pizza and the Continuing Dock Saga

As I need to have music as background noise as I work the demise of my iPod tower last week has continued to bug me, not only did I have to return one faulty dock to the store near the airport I had to do the same again, but this time somewhat closer.

I love pizza and It would be fair to say that the Italians do too. The pizzeria is busiest around lunchtime with people clamouring for their slice of heavenly goodness (that’s how I see it.) I’m in no way stereotyping the Italian population by saying this; I’m not saying they are anything like the Dolmio family, but the truth is they do love pizza. In a country where McDonalds and other  takeaway restaurants sell less product than the traditional Italian pizzeria, you can understand why, it’s perfect fast-food and also in Italy tradition and culture are vitally important. I’ve sat in the McDonalds near the university and watched as young Italians flock through the doors in much the same way as their English counterparts, the difference here is they purchase very few burgers and opt for traditional Italian panini and slices of pizza.

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So after OH and myself had a slice of pizza and with the remaining two slices in the car for consumption later, we set off on a quest to buy a new iPod dock. We trawled through electronics shops and I am quite taken with a black, Sony device, but this has a clock included and a radio and really all I want is a dock and speaker combo. We tramp our way through the major supermarkets and drive backwards and forwards between the two in the centro commerciale. I eventually spot a nice little white LG device and it’s on offer, down from €79,90 to €49,90 for one week only… How fortuitous I think to myself, it’s fate. I read the symbol that states designed for iPod and iPhone and hand over my euro notes to the cashier.

I drive the 22 Km home and open the box eagerly, plug in all the cables and turn on the power and plug in my iPod and nothing happens, “Not again,” OH says remembering the saga with the first one and the no sound issue. “I’ll look at the destructions,” I say opening the instruction booklet, and read the words, suitable only for iPod Nano 4th generation and onwards. “I’ll try the USB,” I then say. But it’s to no avail, the dock is completely incompatible with an iPod classic. (I really should take my reading specs out with me).

So you guessed it, I had to return yet another device. I drive to Lanciano and explain that I had purchased it as a gift for my nephew and it was the wrong one; a lie I know but at least It gave me the chance to form a sentence with the word ‘sbagliato’ in it.  Taking no more chances I ask the assistant if they have any docks suitable for a classic iPod, she tells me, no and then refunds my money saying, “You speak sir, well Italian.” I’m convinced it’s the use of sbagliato, that boosted my language skills.

I return to Euronics and test the Sony device by inserting my iPod into it and Peter Murphy fills the shop with his song, I Spit Roses, an assistant comes over to see what I’m up to and within minutes he’s fetching me a docking station from the back of the shop. So finally after two false starts and a total of four trips and 178 km’s I finally have a new speaker pumping out tunes as I work away. Will it make me a better writer I doubt it, will it make me happy, you bet.

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And for those wanting to know what song was the first to shuffle and play on my new device, the artwork is above showing it was, Revive the World by Toyah, from the acoustic album.

The Defunct Tower and Pizza

Calamity struck today. Following the return from my trip over to England, I was ready today to get back into my normal working routine. I fired up the laptop, dug out my research notes and plonked the iPod into the dock ready for some shuffling as i write. I pressed the power button but nothing happened, I checked the plug and all was okay there, but still no power appeared in the tower where my iPod sits when I’m working. I tried other wall sockets but all was to no avail, the tower that I purchased back in the UK before we came out was dead.  So to console myself I dropped down to Quadrante, the pizzeria. I was tucking into a slice of black olive and anchovy pizza when I decided there was nothing for it but to purchase a new docking station.

100_8406  While  I was over in England, i ate all those things that I thought I’d missed, KFC, oatcakes, (a north Staffordshire delicacy not the Scottish crackers) and black pudding. I discovered that yes I still liked these things and that the only one I think I have missed most is black pudding; I will start a quest to see if Italy has anything similar. While I was there a friend asked me if I’d like to join him at Pizza Hut. My response was  a polite, no. (Living in the country that invented pizza and therefore in my opinion produce the best makes you more discerning).

   The following day, as I had to pick people up from the airport I dropped into the electrical store near the airport and had a look at what iPod docks they had on offer, they had a good selection on the shelves but their stock was found wanting and all they appeared to have on offer was a couple of cheap plastic models and a very expensive Bose one, that I’d love to own but at €449 is out of my price range.

I dropped into the Auchan supermarket and they had a nice slick black one with white speaker grills for sale and at €79 was ideal for my needs. I collected our human cargo and dropped them home before unpacking the new iPod dock. I set it up, plugged it in and the green light came on but no sound was forthcoming. I checked the instructions, rechecked the connection and still no sound. It appeared that for the second time in one week I had a defunct device. This meant another trip to Pescara to return it. So an hour and half later with my refund in my pocket I was driving the 68 km distance between home and store for the fourth time that day.

It’s now six days later and I still have no iPod dock to replace the tower that’s still standing in the living room looking forlorn, but the upside is, I have discovered there is the Italian equivalent to English black pudding, it’s called buristo and comes from Siena, so next time I pop into town (our local one that is) to look for a new dock I’ll try to find some of that too.  

Stop this Nerk (one)

I’ve recently returned from a trip back to the UK to see family and friends and although it was great to catch up I couldn’t wait to return to Italy and be back home.

Now, whenever I’m travelling by aeroplane, I’m sure I have a sign that flashes above my head that reads, ‘can’t be trusted’ or ‘bloody liability’ or possibly, ‘stop this nerk and check his case’.

As we checked in at the airport in Pescara a man who had enjoyed a few drinks asked us if we’d carry his brothers’ case on for him, obviously we said no, and despite him slotting it in-between mine and my friends cases he didn’t succeed in getting an extra case past the security team. My hand-luggage went through the scanner and the machine beeped, the woman looking on the x-ray mentioned the word, coltello (blade/knife) to her colleague and my case was taken to another bench. I remembered then that in a gift box inside my luggage was a pizza cutter. A different man came over and opened my case, the first thing he found was my deodorant and as it was larger than 100ml, he confiscated it as he shook his head at me. He pointed to the gift box that was exquisitely wrapped in expensive wrapping paper: (for expensive wrapping paper, read, free newspaper of offers from supermarket) .

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Photo by Becky Tickle.

“What’s this?” he asked, so I told him it was a gift of cups and saucers, he smiled and closed up my case and I went on my way with the pizza cutter still inside. Well after making such an effort with the wrapping paper it’d be a shame to have to remove it in the airport just because of a simple little circular blade, it’s not as if they were delivering pizza on board the 20.35 to Stansted.

Sign of the Day

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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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Piano Piano

There are many things that the Italians are good at, pizza is one, pasta obviously and football: I’m reliably informed. But there is one thing that the Italian people excel at. Waiting. Everywhere there’s a piano piano mentality, (slowly, slowly). They really do show off their waiting skills at the post office. Here bills are bi-monthly, meaning if you don’t have direct debits set up you have to endure a minimum of six visits per year. “Direct debit,” our builder says, “You might as well give your Bancomat card to a stranger and tell him your pin number,” Banking options other than cash are still relatively  new here and many of the older generation are sceptical about security.

Friends posted on Facebook that they had got engaged in Florida and I thought, I know, I’ll send them a card, so it’s there for when they get home to the UK. Now having only previously posted postcards before I remember that any guide book tells you to buy your stamps at the tobacconist. So I write out the card and drive to the local Tabacchi, I ask for francaboli, (stamps) and am told they don’t sell them. I try another three and get the same response. So there’s nothing for it but to go to the post office. I decide on the small one in Altino as the larger one in Casoli is bound to have its usual crowd spilling out into the piazza. In fact so busy is the Casoli office, they post traffic police outside in the morning so that people don’t block the road. I have experienced the Italian post office before and know that when people joke about taking a flask, book and a packed lunch they’re not being ironic but telling the truth.

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A week ago I used the Altino P.O. to pay some bills for a friend and was lucky enough to only wait for thirty minutes before I could deal with the woman behind the counter. Now what you need to know is that the office has two sportelli (glass windows/counters), one is for P.O. bank products and the other is for P.O. postal products. You can pay bills at either window, but only withdraw money at the bank window or buy stamps at the postal one. So I join the throng of people already waiting, three women are sat against the back wall chatting animatedly, the other seating contains a mixture of men and women of various ages. I squeeze in behind a display stand next to a young man who is sweating and smells ripe and a woman wearing an overpowering perfume, thankfully both fragrances cancel out the other. I count fourteen people, seven per window if all are here to pay bills. Twenty five minutes later I count thirteen people. Now maybe it’s a requirement of the job with post office workers the world over that the staff must work with the momentum of a corpse. Another twenty minutes pass, and five more people join the queue, asking who they follow. I’ve ascertained that I follow the perspiring youth. Forty minutes later, the youth has finished his transaction, but sadly he’s at the bank products window. Confusion reigns, isn’t the Englishman next. I explain that I need to wait for the postal products window, a late arrival sees a chance and nips into the vacant space at the window and a man reprimands her for not working out who is next in line. Eventually the window I want is vacant, I make my way over, the old lady is confused wasn’t she after the Englishman, but why isn’t he at the other window. Consternation ensues and a man explains to her what’s happening and that she should have used the window that’s now taken by the interloper.

So after seventy-five minutes of waiting, it’s my turn. “One stamp to England please,” I ask. The woman behind the counter takes my letter and sticks a stamp onto the envelope, removes the sum total of seventy cents from me, for the transaction then says, “Instead of waiting, next time go to the large tabacchi across the road,” (the only one I haven’t been to.) “They sell stamps.”

Have you ever tried to smile through grinding teeth, it’s difficult

Generosità

I think the Italian people are inherently a generous bunch. Over the past four weeks I’ve been showered with no end of free things. My builder has brought me bags of De Cecco pasta, croissants and pizza. A neighbour dropped by to welcome us with a bag of fresh eggs and I’ve had two litres of home produced olive oil given to me, not to mention my lovely handmade olive wood hanging basket. All of these things have been greatly and graciously received. One thing I have noticed that the Italians are very generous with is advice. Everyone has the answer to any little problem, and despite everyone’s answers being different, theirs is always the definitive one.

I’ve had advice about foraging and had the results for dinner, I’ve been directed to shops that will save me money rather than using the large supermarkets and even had three different people ask if I’d like to buy their house for a very good price. Because I already live here, I am entitled to get it at a discount unlike a foreigner who’ll have to pay more for it. I’ve politely declined all three offers, much to the sellers amazement; Why wouldn’t I want a second house a few kilometres away, Italians have more than one – I really am a pazzo straniero, (crazy foreigner)

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Last night I was watching a DVD when at 9.00 there was a knock at my door, at first I was quite shocked, as we’re so remote you don’t expect visitors to arrive unannounced. I open the door and its Nicolo from the farm down the lane. “Genziana, un regalo per te.” (Genziana, a gift for you). I take the little bottle from him and thank him, he squeezes my hand and wishes me a good night, calling me his new friend. I close the door and say to my other half, “See it pays to be friendly with the locals.” Genziana, is a straw coloured liqueur made from the roots of the gentian plant. It’s drank as a digestivo after dinner and has a bitter, herbal taste. This gift is obviously homemade as it’s in an old beer bottle with a plastic stopper. As I’m not really keen on it, I shall save it for visitors and stick with grappa and my own homemade limoncello.

I was waiting in line today in the post office, when a young girl came in and gave everyone that was waiting a small polystyrene cup with a shot of espresso inside. Now she could obviously have looked at me and assumed that being a foreigner I’d not want a shot of the rocket fuel, but no, she didn’t even enquire if I’d like one, she just handed me my cup and along with the Italians in the queue, I thanked her and enjoyed my mid-morning coffee, feeling very much an accepted part of village life here in Abruzzo.

Later, in the afternoon, a car pulls up and its our builder’s wife, she arrived with dolce (sweet.) So we all tuck into a slice of soft brioche style cake and munch sugar coated almonds as we stand around gabbling away like turkeys, while the iPod shuffles and fortuitously Mac and Katie Kissoon sing Sugar Candy Kisses

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04.05.13: Last night I decided to post this addition to my blog when there was a knock at my door, I opened it to find Michele there with another handful of wild asparagus for me. I’ll have to think of a way of repaying all this kindness.

More Signs

I was wandering through town the other day, Nina Simone was singing, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood and I spotted a new take-away was opening. It had this poster in its window offering margherita pizza and chips for £4.50. I hope their cooking is better than their spelling.

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Later I pass another take away and they had this poster in their window. I wonder if they require a few lessons in English.

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But my favourite sign isn’t a spelling mistake, it’s a deliberate piece of mischievousness. As the sign was defaced near-by the school I’m assuming a student did it with a bottle of Tipex. Made me laugh though.

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