Sunny Saturday Stroll

It’s 29 October and the sun is shining, there’s not even a whisper of a breeze. I’m in the town of Bomba; pronounced Bom-ba and not as I heard one Englishman once call it Bomber. So what can I do on such a lovely morning but take a stroll through the town.

The town of Bomba dates back to 1115 AD with documented proof being housed in the local council offices. It’s a small town, just 18 km2 (7 sq mi) and enjoys an elevated position over the river Sangro valley meaning from almost every part of the town you can enjoy amazing panoramic views .

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The town is divided by a main street, at the top end it is called Via Roma, and my stroll starts here. I stop and look down over the tiled roofs of houses that have a view of the lake, it’s around 11.20 and the streets are already filled with people going about their daily business. Looking down I watch as a small Piaggio: a 3-wheel Ape (a-pay) chugs up the winding hill with several crates of freshly picked olives. I turn and walk as slowly as the ginger cat that’s taking it’s time to cross the road. Local people wish me good morning as they pass me; some possibly wondering who the stranger with a camera is. I stop and pass the time of day with a man who has arrived in a small reddish-orange pick-up filled with wood.

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He’s unloading the wood and stacking it neatly inside his cantina, he tells me he’s done this every year since he was a small boy over 70 years ago helping his father replenish the family’s wood pile. I tell him my own wood pile is growing in preparation for the winter ahead and we both agree that there’s nothing better than the smell of a wood fire on a crisp winter’s evening.

I continue along Via Roma past the water fountain where locals buy their sparkling or still spring water for just 5 cents a litre – just bring your own bottle. I see a lady I’ve met previously and we pass the time of day, she comments on my lack of a jacket and I tell her the temperature this morning is quite similar to an English morning in May, to which she responds with, “Those poor English people having to live in the cold.”

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Via Roma changes to become Cso S. Spaventa and it’s flanked on both sides by tall buildings. Three storey houses and apartments keep this portion of the street in shade and there’s a sudden dip in temperature out of the sun. Entrances with steep steps lead to front doors and it again it amazes me how the aging Italian population take all of these steps in their stride. (no pun intended).

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To my right are streets with sharp inclines that make their way upwards away from the corso while on my left narrow streets become entwined with vici (alleys) in the historic part of town; here in this labyrinthine part of town small dogs bark at strangers who pass by and disturb their sunbathing.

 

One of the town’s churches sits in an elevated position and the road leading up to it is as slender as a wasps waist, yet still cars have managed to make their way up here; some with their wing mirrors pulled in so as not to damage them in these narrowest of streets.

 

I’m again amazed at the skill of these people to navigate these streets and their parking may look like a nightmare for some, but I’m certain there’s some pecking order / unwritten parking system here.

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I continue my walk, stopping occasionally to admire wood piles that are constructed with great precision, one house has what looks like an unused door to its cantina and here are stacked olive branches, each one cut to the same length so as to fit into the space exactly.

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My journey brings me along an alleyway where a scooter stands outside a house with an open front door where the aroma of cooking spills out infusing the air with a the rich tang of tomato sauce and basil. This scene is as Italian as it can get and again reminds me how the Italian way of life is so close to its perceived stereotype.

The alley opens up to the main piazza and here is an image of Italian life as it has been for centuries. Men fill the benches and sit around gossiping while the women see to the chores. One woman hands her husband a couple of euro to buy his coffee with as she steps inside the baker’s to buy their daily bread. There’s no expectation of change here, it’s not a misogynistic society, it’s just the traditional way of life here in central Italy that remains unchanged.

In truth if you asked most of the women if they’d like their menfolk to help with the daily shopping and cooking, you get a resounding, no. “Why let the men make a mess of things,” one lady once told me, “The wife would have to clear up her husband’s mistakes while making sure not to hurt his feelings.”

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I turn back towards Via Roma and make my way back to my friend’s house where again the aroma of cooking is carried upon the air, however this kitchen smell is very alien to this ancient town, as it’s chicken curry. I look across as a neighbour uses an electric winch to lift her shopping from the street up two storeys to her apartment and think to myself what a perfect way to spend a sunny Saturday morning.

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No Clouds and Kitchen Crocodiles

The weather has been quite nice of late, we’ve had clear skies without any traces of clouds so of course I’ve been taking advantage of the chance to do a little sunbathing to get the winter white flesh a healthier colour. I’m not really good at lying in the sun doing nothing and without clouds to watch it can be a bit dull just lying there.

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So with the iPod breaking the stillness of the day up with tunes shuffling I lie and catch a few rays. The first song to blast out over the Italian countryside is, Think Again by 1980’s pop-combo, ABC, in fact the tunes today have a decidedly 80’s vibe. Mel and Kim make an appearance as does King and Tears for Fears. It’s only when Italian metal band, Linea 77, featuring Tiziano Ferro,  thrash the tranquillity with their single Sogni Resplendono,  that I decide it’s time to stop lying around.

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I watch as resident lizard, ‘stumpy’ patrols in my orto, so named as he’s lost his tail, and decide it’s time to grab a cold drink, I wander into the kitchen just as Olive chases a large lizard through the door and watch as it dives for cover under the fridge, but not until our black terrier has nipped off the end of its tail. I do think if you had a phobia to lizards that central Italy wouldn’t be for you, as there’s so many of the emerald green reptiles here.

A few years ago I was at my friends house in Casoli, and somehow a baby lizard had managed to get through a fly screen, both us being a tad squeamish meant that the operation to remove the small visitor was an hilarious operation, and we then referred to it as the great crocodile hunt. So Now I’m left here on ‘crocodile’ watch as a tail end wriggles about on the floor.

The OH takes the dogs out and I settle down to work and look up and there’s the crocodile wandering across my kitchen floor, so with the yard-brush I coax it towards the front door and watch as it runs away to the safety of the grass.

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OH returns and I tell the tale of the great crocodile hunter that retrieved it from under the fridge and sent it off on its way. At that moment, Alf our lanky juvenile red-legged dog chases another lizard in through the door and this new reptilian visitor takes safety under the kitchen units.

Oh-hum, that’s me in great crocodile hunter guise again.

Blooming Marvellous

Everything seems early this year, especially the warm weather, it’s February and I’ve already seen a snake and lizards running up and down Dominico’s ruin. Today as Stevie Nicks sang, Has Anyone Ever Written Anything for You, I took a couple of hours off from my writing and lay on a sun-lounger in the sunshine soaking up a few rays. There’s been a soft breeze and every know and again there’s a delicate perfume wafting across the patio, I guess it must be the almond trees that are all in blossom at the moment. I must admit as everyone back in the UK is having a terrible time weather-wise it feels wrong to be basking in the warmth: Anyone would think I was on holiday.

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Last week Seppe called me to come look at what he’d found, as he parted some grasses there among the greenery was a massive grasshopper, not the usual alien type stubby ones we get here in abundance in the summer, but a big brown one. Today as I watered my seedlings another of the big brown hoppers flew across the patio and landed on the table where my courgettes are coming through, needless to say if I was scouting for a meal it got short shrift and I brushed it away: If my seedlings are nibbled now, I know who the culprit will be.

Next door there’s a small outbuilding and its roof tiles are covered with a pale green succulent that’s very pretty, but at this time of the year it flowers and the yellow flowers are beautiful and very welcome after the grey of winter. Today I went to take  a photo of them when out of the building a swift darted past me, I looked inside and saw the remains of a neglected nest, so I assume it’s back to make repairs in readiness for chicks.

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Today I took a stroll just outside the front door and as the sun started to warm the morning air I took out my camera: the cheap pocket point and shoot kind, and took some photos of the flowers that are already blooming. I wonder whether it’s like this in other parts of Italy, or are we lucky being so sheltered, that spring comes earlier?

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Dough on the Dash

One thing that has changed since moving to Italy is my bread consumption. I’ve never been a fan of the English white sliced, always preferring crusty farmhouse cobs. Here in Italy there’s such a selection of breads available from ciabatta to foccacia and piadina to pagnotta, so there’s always the right bread for the right meal. As flour and yeast are so cheap here I’ve taken to making all the bread we require; it works out at roughly sixty cents to make a large loaf which when compared to the commercially made loaves available works out better economic sense, not to mention the fact that you can moderate the amount of salt included in the recipe.

At the weekend I decided to make a ciabatta for a change, my favourite is a fennel seed and garlic one, but today I’ll make a plain bread. Ciabatta, meaning, slipper is a popular bread back in the UK, it’s spongy texture making it an ideal bread for soaking up good quality olive oil and sauces, especially when making the little shoe, (fare la scarpetta). In the summer making bread is relatively easy as once the dough has been made it’s a case of leaving it on the windowsill and letting the warm sunshine help it to prove and double in size. The January temperature isn’t quite high enough for dough proving, and as we don’t have a cupboard housing the hot water tank, it a case of resorting to finding other ways of warming the dough enabling the yeast to do its magic. I look at our car sat at the top of the lane, it’s basking in the sunshine and I guess the interior is quite warm. I take a stroll up and open the door and the warmth inside seeps out, it’s perfect for proving dough, so the tray with the ciabatta sits on the top of the dashboard in the afternoon sunshine and doubles in size before being ready to pop into the oven to bake.

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A passing family in a Fiat Panda give me a puzzled look as I later remove it from the car, I smile wave and under my breath I say, “It’s amazing how resourceful we Britalian contadini can be when we need to be.” They just smile and give me a half-hearted wave, I can read their minds as once again they think, si straniero pazzo, (you crazy foreigner).

Body Clock, Barbecue and Balcony

When people hear that you live in Italy, they assume you have year round sunshine, but it’s not really like the Spanish Costas, where pensioners pop over for tinsel and turkey and ex-pats are still topping up their tans in November. In middle Italy we get snow; albeit not very much unless you’re up in the mountains, and we get miserable, wet, drizzly days in the winter, but what a revelation December 2013 was. We had more warm sunny days than cold wet ones and this meant we could extend our outdoor activities without donning an overcoat.

Throughout the month we took the dogs for a run on the beach; deserted now the holiday makers have left, and we also spent more time generally outside. With the back garden almost finished I spent a very warm December day getting my orto ready for the New Year, I was actually in a T shirt, sweating as I worked the earth, planted some garlic and built a seed bed.

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On the 29th we spent a morning walking with friends on the beach at Lido la Morge, (that’s where I scratched the Buon Anno, message in the sand) and following the beach trip we popped into friends at Torino di Sangro for a planned barbecue. I’d told a friend in the UK about the barbecue and he said we must be mad, a barbecue in December. We expected it to be chilly, but instead what we got was glorious sunshine and a warm afternoon. So as my friend in the UK shivered and locked himself away from the rain, I was outside in my shirt sleeves looking at an amazing view as I munched on a burger and the best homemade coleslaw I’ve ever tasted.

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On the 2nd of January, with the New Year still in its infancy, we had our first get-together of 2014, we spent a delightful afternoon on a roof terrace belonging to friends in Bomba. The views over the countryside and the lake are breath-taking, made all the more enjoyable when they’re viewed whilst holding a glass of wine. We had a lovely buffet lunch followed by great conversation that drifted into the early evening.

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Now I’m not telling you this in an attempt to make you jealous… okay maybe just a little bit, but to point out how unusual it is when you’re not used to the difference in the climate. There’s this odd feeling that it can’t be real when you sit outside having lunch in the sunshine in a month when you’re used to wearing scarves and coats. It’s not like when you escape the winter for an intended holiday in the sun, when you’re living here and doing the mundane day to day things, there’s this odd feeling that your body clock has misfired. I’m not complaining mind, I’d much rather be sat in the sunshine with my sandwich than in a café in Stoke with condensation running down the inside of the windows. Maybe next year we’ll have a colder, wetter December to remind me of one in the UK, who knows. Mind you that said, if that’s so, you know I’ll be here complaining about it.

November?

It’s November. The clocks have gone back and the nights are darker sooner. We’ve seen pumpkin heads on gateposts with candles flickering inside to accentuate the ghoulish grimaces. All the components to make up autumn, but wait, has no one had a word with the sun?

So far summer has continued to hang around here in middle Italy. The temperatures at night have dropped, but it’s still clement enough to have a window open while you sleep; meanwhile, the daytime is another matter, temperatures are still climbing into the mid-twenties. I can’t believe it is November and I still have to open the car’s windows first thing in the morning to prevent it from becoming an oven on wheels should I need to go anywhere in it.

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I have mentioned this good weather to friends back in the UK: I know, what a mean thing to do. So today I decided to show them and took a couple of pictures of the view from our garden on this lovely sunny day.

Normally by now the temperature has started to dip but according to the weather forecasts we’re in for a warm autumn, a short winter with no snow predicted until the new year. How awful is that… Eye rolling smile

Dog in a Tree

I was sat outside a day or so ago, just soaking up the last of the summer sunshine. As usual the iPod was shuffling and Devil Gate Drive by Suzy Quatro was playing, I looked across at Alf snoozing but there was no sign of Olive. Just above my head is a rustling in the fig tree opposite, I look up and see a black thing moving between the branches, is it a polecat looking for the now over-ripe fruits or worse a rat? No it’s Olive a small black terrier that today seems to have developed cat-like skills. I start to worry that she’ll fall onto our wood pile and do herself an injury, so don’t call her in case she becomes distracted and falls.

I watch as she deftly walks along the boughs to reach the figs, she grabs one and scoffs it in a moment and begins her descent, I wait until she’s on a relatively safe part of the tree, and see the shock on her face as I call her, telling her to get down. She gives me a, ‘what me’ look and hurries along the branch and jumps down, but not until she’s grabbed another fig from the tree.

She trots over to Alf, gives him a self-satisfied grin and I imagine her, like a playground bully saying to him, “Bet you couldn’t do that, could you, lanky.”

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Olive, relaxing after her foray into the tree.