Time Travelling

Last night whilst watching the BBC program, Second Chance Summer, where a group of English people experience living in Tuscany: The objective of the show is to discover if any of them will choose to remain in Italy. Two did choose to stay but it was a comment one of the women made that struck a chord with me. She said that although she liked being in Italy it was like travelling back in time. At first I agreed, but then I thought saying that could actually be quite insulting, as it could infer that the country hadn’t progressed. (But I’m sure she meant it in a nice way).

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Rural Italy is very different from the urban sprawl of Milan, Turin and the other major cities; in fact the difference between southern and northern Italy is blatantly tangible. Things here in rural communities go on as they have done for decades. Today Mario is in his olive grove pruning his trees as he and his family have done for years. The centre of the tree is opened up to allow air to circulate through the branches giving it the familiar vase shape. You could be forgiven for thinking it’s like travelling back in time but it’s a very different situation. Today Mario is using an electric saw connected to a generator whereas if we went back in time it’d be a hand saw. Today the cut branches will be loaded onto a motorised trailer and taken to his wood store rather than in the past a donkey.

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I think the charm of Italy is that much has remained unchanged, towns are still mostly made up of original old buildings giving it that ancient feel. Take Rome for instance, everywhere you look there’s an old palazzo and terracotta tiled roof. This gives an impression of travelling back in time, however look closer and you’ll spot the satellite dishes and solar panels.

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Here in Abruzzo we’re reminded of the region’s history, the coastline is dotted with trabocchi; ancient fishing stations that are still used today. You’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s a romantic notion to continue with tradition, but you couldn’t be further from the truth. The reason why people still fish from a trabocco is that they’re effective. Olives are maintained as they have always been because it’s a fool proof method of cultivation. Backs ache after plots of land are planted up with tomato and pepper plants as they’ve been for years. At times it’s a hard life but rewarding one, but it’s not like going back in time because as time moves on it’s the tried and tested methods that survive through becoming adaptable.

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Eight Things (a continuation)

I follow a blog written by another Brit who has made Italy his home. The Brit in question is Richard Noble and the part of Italy he’s chosen is Piemonte, a good six and half hours north west of here by car. It’s nice to see that another person is writing about their experiences of relocating, Richard’s posts are entertaining and it is nice to see someone else coming up against the eccentricities of la bella Italia. Recently Richard posted a really positive piece about the eight things he loved about Piemonte. Here’s the link, so you can take a look for yourselves: http://livinginthelanghe.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/eight-things-to-love-about-piemonte/ As it’s always tempting to write about negative things; a sort of cathartic writing exercise to exorcise those niggles, (Did you like the play on words there?) I decided to do the same and write about the eight things I love about Abruzzo.

Diversity – Tuscany looks pretty much the same no matter where you go, Calabria is mostly dusty and sandy and Le Marche is green. Abruzzo is so diverse, it has so many different landscapes that you’d be forgiven for thinking they can’t belong to one region. The beauty of this is that they are all within easy reach of each other. I love the fact that I’m a mere 18 minutes from the coast, in particular the trabocchi coast, where rickety fishing platforms lean out over the sea. I particularly love the sandy beaches a little further down towards the town of Vasto. Forty minutes away are the mountains, where Apennine wolves have been reintroduced and the marsican bear shyly keeps himself to himself. Skiing is there for those that ski, and the mountains have some wonderful shepherd trails and walking routes that lead you onto breath taking vistas. We have national parks; lush environments where waterfalls invite you to cool off, flowers perfume the breeze and the clean air has an intoxicating effect. Whatever terrain you favour, you’ll find it here.

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Eating Out – Everyone has their favourite restaurant or bar and I’m no exception, however here it’s hard to narrow it down to just one. When I was living in the UK I had only one favourite, an Italian (no surprise there) pizza house in town called Roberto’s.  http://www.robertopizzeria.com/ if you’re passing through Stoke on Trent, pop in and sample the pizza Pina, and tell them I sent you. If I want pizza I can pop to our local pizzeria and grab a freshly prepared one for very few Euro, but if I want a good dinner then it has to be Il Buchanieri, where superb service and food is always on the menu. We have so many excellent restaurants here that eating out is always high on the ‘to do list’.

Work – I’m lucky, I can work anywhere in the world, all I need is a laptop and internet connection. But I love working in Abruzzo for two reasons, the first is inspiration. As a staff writer for Italy Magazine, when my inspiration levels drop al I need is a walk around and I can find a multitude of things to write about. A trip to the local bar for a coffee gave me the idea for a forthcoming feature on Italian coffee culture. The second reason is the fact that we have an airport in Pescara, 40 minutes away, that flies daily to London Stansted. So if I have to be in the UK for a meeting or presentation I can get there in under three hours. Also, when all is said and done, it’s much nicer to be sat at my desk looking down over an Italian valley than my previous office that looked out over a litter strewn alleyway.

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Piano Piano – It hasn’t taken me long to slot in with the pace of life here. No more rushing around, no more stress levels rising as I sit in a traffic jam, no more ‘I need this, like yesterday’. Driving to the shop is now a relaxing affair, I pootle along, taking in the scenery. I sound my horn and wave to friends. The low levels of traffic on our rural roads makes driving a joy, so what if I’m behind an octogenarian in an Ape doing just 15 kmph, I’m in no hurry. If I need some tomatoes for dinner, I have all day in which to wander over to the plants and pick them, no need to dodge shopping trolleys in Tesco. This said I like the fact that I can browse in my local fruit shop, handle the produce and take my time over buying. The pretty girl in the bread shop; actually she’s beautiful, always chats, asks how the house is coming along and waves to Olive the dog, who’s always in the car looking through the window. Okay buying a loaf takes several more minutes than it needs to, but I have time.

Community – During my final year in the UK, we rented a house in the north of the city and apart from my friend Tim a few streets away, I didn’t know any of the other people that lived close by. In fact i can’t recall having any conversations with my neighbours. Granted most of the houses were tenanted and this in itself leads to a fractured community. Here, I know my neighbours by name, we stop and pass the time of day. Acceptance within the community has been quick, cars pass and slow to see the work on the house progressing, the occupants wave and now ask how things are, we’re no longer the crazy foreigners, we’re now the English on the hill. If we go to our favourite bar in Casoli, the owner asks how we are, we get served tasty titbits with our beers, and many of the locals that pass by say hello. It may not work for some people this bonhomie, many think the Italians take too much interest in the lives of others, but I like it, I like that I know about my neighbours forthcoming prostate check-up and another neighbours problems with her daughter’s husband, it makes me feel part of the community.

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View from my office window

Taxes – Here’s an odd one, as no one enjoys paying taxes, but here in Italy and particularly the comune we are in, the comparison to what we paid in the UK makes me very happy. Back in Stoke on Trent, my town of birth, I was paying at one point £2,168 in council tax per annum. Understandably at the time I did reside in a large detached house. Profits from the sale of this house went to buy our current casa italiana. In my final year in the UK my council tax, which covered refuse removal, once weekly and street lighting etc. was £978. Here in Italy my council tax is €115 and my rubbish removal tax is €118 with recycling/rubbish collections taking place daily, except Sunday. The total taxes are €233, add to this the sixty cents it’ll cost to pay at the post office and the conversion to GBP is £201.67, saving me a total of £776.33 each year.

Dog Friendly – For a country that has an appalling record regarding dog welfare; approximately 650 dogs are abandoned during the summer months of June to September, that’s a rate of one dog every two minutes. http://ow.ly/nm07N These statistics are shocking, but on the other side of the coin, living here is great for people with dogs. We have lots of open space for them to enjoy, the roads here in the countryside are quiet so it’s possible to wander along them with your pooch on its lead without having to dodge traffic. The bars are dog friendly, I can take my dogs to the two bars I frequent, and they are welcomed as we sit outside enjoying our beers. There are even shops, large international ones that are okay with small dogs coming in with their owners. So if we take a trip into Ikea, Olive our terrier can come along with us and enjoy a sneaky hot-dog at the end of the trip, but our big hound, Alfie has to stay behind in the car. (In the underground car-park of course where it’s cool).

Wine – Hands up who thought I’d not give the red stuff a mention: As if… I like the fact that I can buy a good bottle of prosecco for as little as €3 compared to £11 back in England. There’s a plethora of good wines on offer here for very little money, yes the supermarkets have undrinkable red plonk for as little as 99 cents, but a good montepulciano d’abruzzo can be purchased for around €1,49. But a big change I have discovered is there are a few whites that I can drink and enjoy. I’ve never really taken to white wine, having found it mostly acidic and unpalatable. Now when we eat at our favourite restaurant, I can be seen sipping a chilled, dry white with my seafood pasta.

Italy isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, there’s elements of living here that infuriate, there are things I miss about the UK, silly things like walking down the road and instantly understanding every written sign around me. I miss being able to go to my writers’ group on a Wednesday evening and enjoying the company of like-minded people. Mostly I miss hearing the potteries dialect, the flat vowels and nasal sounds I grew up with. But there’s much more that I don’t miss, and as this is a post about being positive I’ll resist the urge to go into detail.

I hope this idea of positive things about where we live is taken up by another blogger and directed back to me, and this in turn will filter back to Richard and of course his edition will  kick back to the Brit in Bavaria who unknowingly started this chain. http://boahbayern.wordpress.com/2013/07/11/top-twelve-reasons-i-love-living-in-germany/ So come on, one of you bloggers out there tell us all, why you love where you live.