It’s All About Perspective

What a time of it we’ve been having here in Abruzzo lately. Snow came and within an afternoon many towns and villages were cut off, our collection of houses overlooking the valley was stranded for 5 whole days as the lane was impassable; even taking the dog for a walk in the deep snow was a challenge.

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Along with the inconvenience of snow we had power cuts, with as many as 100,000 homes without electricity for days. Water pipes froze, people lost their broadband connections and then came the rain. A deluge of epic proportions that threatened to be second only to the rains Noah had experienced turned the fields into swamps, the lane ran like a river and mud slid onto the now flooded roads.

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During these frustrating times did we moan and complain? You bet we did, when people were able to get onto social media there were angry posts about the electricity suppliers, gripes about how we were sick of snow now and woe is me postings about having to cook dinner on top of the log burner: That one was mine – ironically after posting my moan to Facebook and served up said dinner by torchlight, the electricity came back on just as I was about to eat.

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After the snow had cleared I had clients over to view properties, (which is no fun in the rain). As the viewings with one lady started there were reports of earthquakes near Amatrice where there’d been a devastating one back on 25 August last year. My client told me a woman at her hotel had asked her why she was here in Abruzzo, she told her she was here to hopefully find a house as she plans to move to the area. Her enquirer then asked why she wasn’t worried about the earthquakes*. She told me her response was – “It’s all about perspective. I live and work in central London where there’s more risk of me being a fatality of crime or a victim in a terrorist attack than perishing in an earthquake.” – Brilliant response I thought.

* News companies in the UK have been reporting earthquakes in Abruzzo, sadly their reporting is flawed as the earthquakes occurred in the Lazio region.

So, yes it’s fair to say we’ve endured a lot this year thus far; it has been one of the worst winters in many years. My friend Mario said he remembers a winter where there was bad snow, torrential rain and earth tremors, but seeing as he’s in his mid eighties and his recollection takes him back to being a small boy, they’re frankly few and far between.

So yes let’s put it into perspective, we all moaned and griped about the snow for six or seven days and in the grand scheme of things seven days out of 364 isn’t bad going, that leaves us hopefully with 357 snow-free days. Rain may be unpleasant but there’s many more unpleasant things out there to feel aggrieved about. IMG_1172

There were issues with some electricity pylons being badly damaged by the weight of the snow, and some land slippage, but on the whole Italy is quite good when snow hits; roads are cleared quickly and close-knit communities care for each other.

But sadly this winter has brought tragedy in the form of the Hotel Rigopiano avalanche in the mountain town of Farindola, so putting it into perspective, a day without electricity or a few hours without broadband aren’t as Shakespeare said, the be all and the end all

But will we moan if it happens again – you bet we will, we’re only human after all.

The Invisible Market and a New Baby

It’s fair to say that the Italian people don’t like rain, if you need proof, pop along to any social gathering and watch as they flee when it starts to rain.

In the autumn I was at the festival of the bells in Lanciano when it began raining, the crowds that were gathered around the abundant stalls selling ceramic bells dissolved in an instant into shop doorways, under awnings and crowding into the open doorways of bars and restaurants.

This dislike of rain was again proven on Friday when I went along to the local open market, streets that are normally teeming with shoppers and cluttered with stalls were deserted. hardly any stalls had bothered to turn up and the only shoppers where the diehard, we need fresh fruit and veg brigade – who left as soon as they’d purchased their provisions.

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I took a walk along the main street, there was only around seven stalls, set up in their usual spot, which made them look odd with no neighbouring stall beside them. During my (pointless) visit I spotted a sign on a house that was telling all and sundry that a baby had been born.

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I quite like the Italian way of sharing the news of a birth with passers by, the hanging of a pink or blue rosette on the house must cut down on the amount of time a visitor would pop by just to enquire on the new arrivals gender. The house in question displayed that the baby was a boy, and the stork attached to the balcony implied it arrived without any bedroom antics having taken place.

So with the market literally a washout, I switch on the iPod and walk back to my car as  Project B starts to play Summer Dreaming. Kelly Rowland sings, ‘Come on over, let’s have some fun, dancing in the morning sun.’ Okay, lyrically it’s no masterpiece but least on a miserable wet day, there’s some sunshine in my ears.

Misery and the Pink Umbrella

Today I popped to the post office. I park up and see an elderly gentleman walking down the road towards me, I wish him a cheery good morning, hoping it will make the drizzly day seem better, but no, not so much as a smile let alone a reply.

I’m walking away when a woman comes to ask me if I’ll be parked for a long time, I tell her I’m just going to the post office and she shrugs and tells me that I’ll be too long and she wants the space for her friend to park, so she wont get too wet walking to her car. I try to tell her I’m sure I wont be too long, but she ignores me and walks off slamming her front door.

There’s a handful of people in the queue before me and the at the counter is the cheerful woman and the miserable man who hardly says a word. I’m trying to work out if it’s possible I’ll get cheery woman when the door opens behind me and a woman enters. One of the gentlemen sitting gets up and offers the woman his seat but she declines and shuffles past him to sit at a vacant seat further away. He looks at her and asks if she’s all right, to which she responds by telling him to mind his own business.

My turn comes and sadly I’m left with the man behind the counter, I can’t offer my turn to anyone else as this would cause consternation in the queue and throw post office etiquette in the air. I hand him my bill, he takes it, sniffs because the edge of the paper is torn, so he takes a pair of scissors and trims it before holding out his hand for the payment. No words have been exchanged and he just drops my change onto the counter and when I say thank you, there’s still no response.

I am beginning to come to the conclusion that everyone in town is miserable today. Maybe it’s the rain?

I’m walking back to my car when a man wishes me good morning, I turn and he’s smiling beneath his umbrella. A bright pink umbrella with a frill. I guess he’s so comfortable with his sexuality that he’s happy to be seen with this feminine umbrella.

I wish him good morning and climb into my car as the miserable woman from earlier comes out of her house to stand in the now vacant spot. I shake my head in disbelief as I watch her getting wet as she waits for her friend to arrive.

Pazza donna.

Al Fresco Dining

One of the best things about living in a country with a temperate climate in early autumn, is the ability to still eat al fresco. In summer eating outside can be plagued with all manner of problems, flies, mosquitos and ants to name a few, but in autumn when the dreaded mozzies have faded away outdoor eating is a pleasure. A few weeks back when we finally had our cooker fitted we had friends around for a traditional (English) Sunday roast dinner. The weather was good, and as we sat tucking into roast potatoes and chicken it was hard to believe we were in the tenth month of 2013.

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A couple of weeks later I decided to invite a few people over for an afternoon of al fesco dining, and as my mate: partner in crime so may say, was over from the UK it seemed a good idea. I checked the weather forecast and it all seemed okay, until a week before the proposed date, when the forecast was for thunderstorms and torrential rain. “Oh well,” I said the the OH, “Looks like we’ll have al fresco, inside. If we have the door open we can call it in fresco.” My attempt at humour instigated just a reedy snigger from OH and a roll of the eyes.

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So al fresco day was upon us, I spent the previous afternoon prepping, and the morning; with my OCD in overdrive making canapes and antipasti. The mini porchetta were in the oven as was the Sicilian lemon chicken and the Abruzzi green torte was cooling. All this kitchen activity is of course accompanied by the shuffle of the iPod, and as I take the riccotta torte from the fridge the excellent new single, Loud Like Love by Placebo is replaced by Bauhaus’s, Kick in the Eye B-side, Satori. The rain has been continuous all morning and as the final dishes are finished people begin to arrive, then as the last of my guests park their car, the rain stops and the sun peeks out from behind a grey cloud. It’s still a little chilly but everyone gathers together, half of us are standing on the patio outside the front door while the rest are just inside the kitchen.

The weather may not have been perfect for out gathering, but as the last of the guests leave we give ourselves a self-congratulatory pat on the back, and vow next time to do any group gatherings in the summer, and to hell with the mosquitos.

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Orange Moons and Rainbows

There are times when I wish I had a better camera. Before I came to Italy I always had my camera with me, I used it for work, as it’s sometimes quicker to take a photo than write notes about what you see. Here in Italy, there’s always new surprises around each corner, so in theory I should have a camera with me constantly. I can’t tell you how many events I’ve been to, dinner parties I’ve attended and fiestas that would have benefitted from being recorded. Recently, we had a beautiful orange moon and I went inside to get my little Kodak, I got from E Bay a few years back. I tried to get a decent shot but sadly this was the best I could do.

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The problem with getting a new camera is it’s an expense I need not have. Very rarely do any of the magazines I write for ask me for photos, so I can’t really justify it as a genuine business expense. I could buy a new camera for my own photo collection. I could use it for images for my blogs, but they’re really only just snaps: This hasn’t stopped some of them turning up on other people’s blogs, hence the copyright notice. While we are on the subject of copyright, I received a mail from someone anonymous who said they thought my copyright disclaimer on this blog was a bit harsh. I hardly think so, let me know if you think it is. The same notice is on my other blog, http://barrylillie.wordpress.com/ and no one has commented about it there.

This evening after the rain a rainbow appeared over the rabbit farm. I took another picture again wishing my camera could do justice to the view before me. I do like the sunshine here in Italy, but sometimes days of endless hot weather mean the view remains unchanged. Tonight there’s a low cloud blocking the view of the town of Archi, the mountain is swaddled in mist and although you can’t see it the air is full of that indescribable smell you get after rain. (How would you describe the smell?)100_7211c

Who knows what the view will be like tomorrow, maybe completely obliterated by fog, or impenetrable by heavy rain, possibly lit by a high bright sun. Either way better camera or not, it’s still my view and I’ll savour it at every opportunity.

Swedish Meatballs, Storms and the Electric Mosquito Box

Last week when the weather was good, we replaced the horrible tiled living room floor with a new wooden one. The weekend arrived and with it rain. A thunderstorm raged throughout Saturday night, great forks of lightning skittered across the night sky, and sporadic sheets of lightning lit up the Abruzzi countryside like a stadium. Now I like a good storm and it helps to clear the air, which has been quite humid for the past few days, I see storms as nature’s thermostat so to speak.

Sunday arrived and reports of a tornado causing some devastation up in northern Italy are in the news. Thankfully the most distressing thing we’ve had here in Chieti is a neglected bag of cement that is now sodden and useless. So we eat breakfast as the iPod shuffles and Petula Clark, sings Downtown. “That’s what we’ll do,” I chip in, interrupting Ms Clark, “we’ll go downtown, so to speak. Let’s have a trip out to Pescara.” As we need some essentials, milk, bread, wine etc. we head first to the large Auchan supermarket near the airport; what a mistake this is. The store is packed with shoppers and the handful of checkouts open have queues fifteen people deep. Oh well, as I’ve already said previously, waiting is the Italian national pastime. Back in the car with our purchases stowed in the boot, the iPod shuffles and Marilyn Manson, starts to play, A Place in the Dirt. I’m not in the mood for Mr Manson’s rock on such a sunny day, so do something I rarely do, I manually move to the next track, and Sting, sings, Fields of Gold.

We have lunch in Ikea, the canteen is spacious, much bigger than any I’ve seen in any of their English stores, but the Italian’s take lunch seriously, it’s a time to relax over a plate of pasta and chat. The store has a clever little trolley device that means one person can stack and wheel up to four trays of food from counter to checkout to table. We have a small beer and Swedish meatballs with skinny fries, before clearing our table and heading into the store. One thing I’ve noticed that’s very different to self-clear restaurants in the UK, is that the Italian people actually do clear away their trays. In UK branches of fast food stores, I’m always amazed by the people who leave their table covered with the remains of their lunch, expecting someone else to clear away the table detritus for them.100_6291-crop

Back home I look at the electric anti-mosquito device I’ve purchased, it’s a sort of light attached to a speaker that emits a high pitched sound that I can’t hear but apparently repels the vicious little insects. I’m dubious but at just five euro, I’ll give it a go. The dinner dishes are put away just as the rain starts again, it’s coming down in great sheets, big fat blobs of liquid pelt the ground tossing up dust and sand. With video and TV watching quickly eating up the temporary internet connection’s meagre monthly allowance, we’ve resorted to watching DVD’s in the evening and at the moment we are almost at the end of the second season of the eighties TV drama, Dynasty. Joan Collins plays a great TV villain while Linda Evans has spent much of season two, either weeping or mostly doing rabbit-in-the-headlights face acting.

Monday morning arrives after a night of constant rain, the only good thing is no extra mosquito bites, so did the device actually work or did the rain keep them away – only time will tell. I lie in bed listening to the plop, plop of rain coming down the chimney before getting up and poking my head outside. My herb planter is submerged, the plughole in the sink cum planter hasn’t been able to cope with the deluge. Suddenly there’s more rain, a heavier burst pelts the house and drives itself sideways against the windows. Oh well, I think I wasn’t planning on doing anything special today. Water is running down the lane and I’m half expecting to see Noah come around the bend in his ark.100_6289

I’m about to make breakfast when more, plop plopping is heard, this time it’s in the living room, water seems to have been forced under the tiles and is now dripping into several pools on my nice new wooden floor. Where’s Noah now, I think, I heard he was handy with wood. Maybe he can sort out this new problem.