Keeping it Local

One thing people often ask about coming to live here is, “Is it easy to fit in?” There’s no definitive answer to that question as I guess quite a lot depends upon how much you want to fit in, and also how much of an effort you’re prepared to make. I can say, don’t expect to assimilate in a matter of months. Becoming a part of any community takes give and take and what you need to remember is you’re trying to become part of an established population, so it’s mostly giving rather than taking.

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A lot of people who move here are retiring to enjoy the slower pace of life. One thing that we are lucky to have here is that the majority of Italians are welcoming of foreigners. They appreciate their buying of houses they’ll never be able to sell and understand that by coming here the local economy benefits.

One piece of advice I always give people is to use the small independent shops as often as you can, rather than the larger impersonal supermarkets. Yes the produce may be a few cents more expensive but the service you get is priceless. For example, we have a very good local independent supermarket just a 10 minute drive away. The gardens are always welcoming and well kept; even the mini roundabout in the car park is in full bloom continuously.

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People often say it’s more expensive, but here you find branded products rather than supermarket own brands and if like me you prefer your cooked meat to be freshly sliced rather than sat in a plastic packet, then here you’re in luck. My friend; yes she’s become that over the years of shopping there; will cut as many slices of good quality prosciutto cotto or spicy ventricina that you want. The weather is commented upon, we talk about work, we laugh and she’s always on hand to give advice on which product is the best: After years of eating mass produced supermarket polenta she pointed me in the right direction of a superb local brand.

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Here there’s more pasta than you ever imagined and all the top brands, wines and spirits and canned goods. Just by walking through the door you can purchase storage jars and soap powder through to shoe polish and spices. The staff are always happy to see you and everyone is greeted personally. But importantly it’s the customers that can help you in your quest to fit in with the local population.

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The independent shops do not have the same opening hours the supermarkets have, they’re mostly open until lunchtime then close for lunch and re-open in the early evening for a few more hours. Just getting into this rhythm is a step toward assimilation, as you meet your neighbours and it’s a chance to pass the time of day and often be told just how to cook that piece of meat you’ve chosen.

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And of course, with each visit you’re contributing to the local economy, you’re treated with respect and often get discounts or gifts for your continued custom, not to mention superb locally sourced produce. I know all the staff in my nearest independent store and always prefer to shop there, because it’s good to keep it local.

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Courgette and Lemon Cake

Yesterday at the supermarket we ran into a friend who had been working in her orto and she kindly gave us some of her surplus round courgettes. So when I got home I looked at these lovely sunshine coloured globes and wondered what to do with them. Then the word, cake popped into my head and I thought: I know, I’ll make a carrot cake but without carrots I’ll use courgettes.

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So I adapted my carrot cake recipe and here’s the ingredients: I used:

350g grated courgettes. 200g soft brown sugar.  300g plain flour. 2 tsp baking powder.      3 eggs.125ml sunflower oil. 1 tsp butterscotch essence. Zest of a lemon. Juice of half a lemon.DSCF2250

First squeeze as much water out of the grated courgettes then add them to a bowl alongside the oil, eggs, sugar and lemon juice and zest. I added the butterscotch essence as I had no vanilla, but to be honest it didn’t add anything to final cake flavour. Mix together then fold in the flour and baking powder, but don’t over mix it.

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    Make sure you have the oven pre-heated to 180C (160C fan) gas mark 4. Grease and line the base of your chosen cake tin and fill with the cake mixture.

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Bake in the middle of the oven for 40-45 minutes until it’s golden coloured and the kitchen smells all nice and cakey. (that’s a correct technical term – Mary Berry told me)*

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Similar to carrot cake it’s a dense crumbed cake but unlike carrot cake I decided not to do a cheese frosting and opted for Mary Berry’s recipe for lemon drizzle, which is 50g of granulated sugar and juice of a lemon. Mix together and pour over the warm cake. Let it cool and then scoff at will.

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* blatant lie

The Cost of Rudeness

They say that good manners cost nothing, so how much does bad manners, or specifically rudeness cost?

Well today I discovered that rudeness actually costs just 37 cents or in English money, 30 pence.

I was in my local supermarket this afternoon and stood behind an English family who had a trolley bulging with provisions; you can tell the people who have just arrived for a self-catering break just by looking at the volume of shopping they buy including all those store cupboard things like boxes of salt, pepper, ketchup and the multi-packs of bottled beer and wine – you can spot them a mile off.

Anyway, they had their shopping scanned and the English woman handed the girl on the till a €100 note. The husband was packing the shopping when the Italian girl asked the customer if she had thirty-seven cents, confusion spread over the woman’s face and she said, “What?”

“Do you have thirty-seven cents, please?” the girl on the till asked.

“What did she say?” the woman asked her husband, who just shrugged his shoulders. The girl on till asked again if she had the correct change and the English woman replied saying, “I don’t know what you are saying, can you speak English. Don’t you speak any English?”

“No, she doesn’t speak English,” I said interrupting, “they have very little small change so she’s asking if you have the thirty-seven cents.” As she asked her husband for the small change I said to the girl on till, “I’m sorry, she’s a very rude English woman.” I was surprised to hear the woman say to her husband; referring to me, “I think he’s explaining that we don’t understand the language.”

I nod and smile as she hands the girl the thirty-seven cents, she then says to me, “We’re here on holiday, for ten days.”

I respond, saying, “With your attitude, thank goodness it’s just a short stay.”

Exit one red-faced harridan.

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I don’t have a rudeness photo so here’s a snap of my dogs Olive and Alf finding the gravel outside very interesting.

Gin and Tonic

I’ve not posted for a few days as I’ve been a little preoccupied with our builder, who turned from a great guy to a lazy arsed so and so. Needless to say, we have now parted company and rather than post about his recent misdemeanours I think I’ll leave it at this.

Yesterday, while in the local supermarket: Eurospin, I was standing at the till waiting my turn when the man behind me, said in perfect English, I like a gin and tonic. I turn and look at the elderly gentleman who is pointing to my shopping on the conveyer belt. I acknowledge him and then compliment him on his excellent English. He goes on to tell me when he was younger he worked in a hotel in London, where he acquired the English language and a love of British spirits. He holds up a bottle of whisky, telling me it’s to see him through the long day ahead.

He tells me about his previous day which was spent bottling peaches, that he tells me are very sweet this year due to the rainfall in early May. Today, I’m bottling my tomatoes. I ask him about making passata and he tells me he has a bumper crop of juicy tomatoes, and yesterday they were all picked and ready for the long day ahead. I ask him if it’s dangerous to be drinking while making his sauce, what about all that boiling water?

My job is skin splitting early on, he tells me, after that the women set to, pulping and cooking and bottling. I’m the supervisor he laughs, so can have a few nips of scotch throughout the day, I’ll need it just to cope with the chatter of women. When the day ends, I shall share a small glass with the other men, and we’ll toast the bottling of summer 2013. By now my bottle of Gin has beeped as the assistant scans it, and I start to pack my shopping away.

Do you live here, he asks me and when I tell him yes, he says I understand why. The air is so pure, the people are nice and it’s a beautiful part of Italy. I’m a bit surprised by this as most locals are bemused when they meet foreigners who choose to live here. Most asking why leave a prosperous country to live in, what they refer to as a poor region of Italy. What my new friend says, proves the point that this area may be cash poor but it’s wealthy in many other ways.

I bid him farewell and start to leave with my shopping, when he says, next time you’re passing through Vicenne, be sure to drop in and try my peaches.

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Photo: Screenshot from Google maps