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.

An Apple in the Lane

Over the past week the Britain has been battered by Storm Desmond, in the news I’ve seen images of flooding in Cumbria and Lancashire. There’s been videos posted of pensioners being rescued from upstairs windows by the fire service and seemingly stable roads crumbling away. And it reminds me of the storms we had here earlier in the year, where mountain roads overnight ceased to exist and the roads on the coast became flooded with sea water, silt and all other manner of debris.

Thankfully the weather here is better, the December days are bright and sunny and can be quite warm; although the locals don’t think so. I often get reproached for not wearing a coat, with warnings of being struck down with a dreadful influenza that’ll certainly kill me. The temperature drops in the evening and we then have the joy that is a wood burner. Yes, they need cleaning out every day, you have to contend with the smell of smoke and the dust they create would give many a clean freak apoplexy, but there’s that sense of satisfaction when it’s first lit and it starts to warm the room. Also there something joyous on an crisp evening of the sight of stone houses with trails of white wood smoke rising up from their chimneys.

Living in rural Italy can often be challenging, but is mostly for me rewarding. The fact that there’s only 10 properties in our hamlet, 3 are holiday homes, 3 are empty and with only 4 having permanent residents I understand that living here wouldn’t suit many people. But on a day like this it’s wonderful. A short walk along the lane can be breathtaking: The autumnal colours of the trees work so well with the traditional tiles and stone buildings that are dotted around the countryside. These abandoned properties blend well with the landscape and rather than give the area a depressed look they do their bit for the environment, they are perfect habitats for many of the critters that live here and last year one in our lane became the hibernation haven for two hedgehogs.

DSCF5116.JPGA walk along the lane this morning with the dogs more than makes up for the cold evening yesterday. The sun is warm and the sky is as blue without a single cloud to spoil it. Nature’s rich palette of colours are spread out before us as we stroll slowly with no sense of urgency; Alf sniffs every bush and leaves his calling card and Olive scans the ground for fallen walnuts which she cracks open and gobbles with gusto. Ahead of me she stops and investigates something in the middle of the road. I reach her and see that there’s a solitary apple sitting in the middle of the lane. Alf sniffs it and Olive looks up at me as if to say, “who left this apple here?”

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A quick look to the right and I have solved the mystery. There’s evidence of chinghiale (wild boar), the vegetation is trampled and the pomegranate bush has been stripped of its over-ripe fruits and the apple tree has been pulled over. Alf gets wind of the night time interlopers and his nose goes into overdrive and he’s pulling me towards the undergrowth, Olive barks as she gets the scent of the boar and for a few minutes there’s two excited canines, one bewildered human and an apple in the lane.

Bread and Wood Burning

It would be fair to say that today my senses have had an olfactory workout. First the kitchen is enveloped in the delicious smell of fresh baked bread, my olive and pepper loaf sits on a cooling rack as, Never Can Sat Goodbye  by Gloria Gaynor plays on the iPod.  I transferred the song from my sister’s original 7” vinyl single onto my hard-drive and formatted it for my Apple device many years ago. To be honest I always preferred the b-side of this classic, We Just Can’t Make It.

Compared to commercially made bread, I love homemade. There’s sense of satisfaction when you throw together a handful of ingredients and out comes something so delicious. I say, throw, as when I’ve finished making bread the kitchen is a mess and looks like a mad baker has had a fit during the kneading process. I’ve had no training in the kitchen, but my paternal grandfather was a baker, so maybe there’s a bit of flour in my genes. This past two-weeks I’ve produced a rosemary focaccia, a fennel and garlic ciabatta and a couple of crusty white loaves, so am feeling like I’m becoming a little more like a traditional Italian peasant farmer. I was chatting to my friend in the local independent supermarket a few days ago and commented that they don’t sell bread. “We sell flour and yeast, why should we sell bread?” was her reply. “Every Italian mother knows how to make bread, why waste money buying a loaf when it only costs cents to make it at home?” I agree with her, as for the cost of one loaf you can buy the ingredients to make three or four.

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Later in the evening we decide it’s time we tested the wood burner. We purchased it two-years ago from a friend in Cellino Attanasio, and the cast iron burner took us nearly three hours to transport back as it weighed down my old Berlingo as we criss-crossed mountain tracks. The fire was laid and tentatively the paper was lit, I opened the windows expecting the room to be filled with smoke, but none came, it travelled up the chimney, as it was intended to do. The windows are closed and our living room is bathed in a red glow, twenty-minutes later the windows are opened again to let in some cool air, the room is stifling. Not having a handbook or instructions and being wood-burner virgins, we fiddle with vents and dampers and soon the heat is brought under control and a log glows seductively behind the glass-windowed door. Or fiddling has let the aroma of burning wood float into the air and it assaults the senses.

There are some smells that give pleasure more than others, and everyone has their favourites, be it freshly ground coffee or tarmac. It might be vanilla or even wet dog. But for me it has to be fresh bread or wood smoke, so today’s olfactory perception has been pleasurable on two counts. I just love days like this.

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