January Generosity

The embers of 2017 have now faded into ash and we’re welcoming 2018 into our hearts. The comparison between last year in Abruzzo and this year is the skies are a cobalt blue and the sun is doing its best to warm the earth. In 2017 we had the worst snowfall for many years, so this warm weather is very welcome. The days however may be warm but as soon as the sun goes down the cloudless skies mean the temperature drops and it’s time to light the log burner and snuggle down for the evening. It’s the need for wood to burn that’s prompted this blog post.

Were just a handful of days into the new year and so far I’ve experienced several acts of generosity. On Thursday morning I was just finishing my breakfast when there was a knock at the door, reluctantly I left my eggs and bacon and shuffled to open it. The door opened to the smiling face of my neighbour Mario who was clutching a bottle of fresh, cloudy olive oil. “Come va?” was his cheerful opening to the English man stood before him still dressed in night attire. I told him I was well and he thrust the bottle towards me telling me it was from the November harvest and a gift for me for my help and my friendship.

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He tells me it’s an exceptional taste this year. Later I decant it into dark coloured glass bottles to preserve its flavour. Sampled simply upon bread the flavour is fruity and fresh and reminiscent of the previous summer.

Saturday, I’m coming home from a trip to the shop when another neighbour, Franco stops me. He’s cutting a tree down that has been made unsafe by the recent winds that took half of the tiles off my roof: that’s a post I forgot to write. “Nice day today,” he says as the chainsaw buzzes away at the tree’s trunk. “You have a wood burner?” he asks, I respond saying yes and he tells me to help myself to as much of the kindling that I want. We open the back of the car and promptly load it up with around a months supply that’ll save us using our store. I thank him and wish him happy new year and drive away as he continues on with his labour.

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The still Sunday air is punctuated by the mechanical chugging of an ancient tractor and another neighbour comes into view over the brow of the hill. “Hello English,” he calls to me, his usual greeting. He’s as ancient as his machinery and has a moustache you could hide kittens in; we’ve never exchanged names, our conversations are mostly, hello, nice day and a wave of the hand. Behind his tractor is a trailer laden with olive branches that have been stripped of their leaves. “Buon lavoro,” I say indicating towards his load with a nod of the head. “Grazie,” is his reply, good for burning, he says indicating to his olive wood with a nod of his head. I tell him that I agree and he says, take some. He pulls the tractor over and jumps down and grabbing a handful he starts to load my arms up, saying he’s more than he’ll need this year. With arms straining under the weight, I say thank you as he climbs aboard his mechanical steed, he bids me buon anno and disappears down the lane.

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I spend the remainder of the morning cutting the olive wood into lengths that fit the burner and wonder at the generosity of my neighbours.

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You Never Know with November

Yesterday the council came and trimmed, (for trimmed, read massacred) the hedges in the lane. This is a great thing for me as it exposes the dead branches and wood that’s been hidden under the greenery all year. So as I wait for some good quality Gorgonzola to melt onto my 6 inch shop bought pizza that’s also topped with some excellent prosciutto I unloaded today’s scavenged wood from the 4×4. Last year I wrote a piece about the cost of keeping warm in winter and how scavenging for wood can save you a fortune and as we have no mains gas in the lane it makes sense for me to collect as much free fuel as possible.

It’s not time consuming scavenging, I don’t make a special effort and today’s haul took just a couple of minutes to stop and collect and although it doesn’t look like much it’s enough kindling for this evening if it gets cold enough to merit lighting the wood burner and using one or two of the stored logs.

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You see November is an odd month here in Abruzzo; one day it can warm and sunny and the next as cold as a snowman’s – you get the idea. This week so far we’ve had a crisp morning with a cloudless sky and mist over the valley that heralded a bitterly cold day. The following day was so warm that the washing line was full of drying clothes. Another day we saw fog hanging over the Adriatic making the coast look a scene from John Carpenter’s film, The Fog and today is bright and sunny with enough cloud cover to mean I’m sat outside in shirtsleeves.

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However the November evenings can go cold quickly as soon as the sun has descended so I always make sure the burner is ready to be lit, however thus far it’s not been cold enough to light a fire before 6:00 pm and once lit I only need to have it burning for a couple of hours and that’s enough to heat the house for the evening.

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Autumn can be quite magical and today the air is still and the sky the colour of cornflowers and the sun is doing a good job of warming the land. The leaves around are turning from green to ochre to gold and the sound of tractors can be heard as farmer’s plough their fields. So I’ll make the most of this day and take the dogs for a long walk along the lane. Because you never know with November in Abruzzo, tomorrow could be grey and wet. But first I’ll eat my pizza.

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The Cost of Keeping Warm

Welcome to my first blog post of 2016. I had a couple of people message me to say that I hadn’t mentioned what music was shuffling on the iPod in my last few posts; one of whom was my stalker (I say in the nicest possible way) in New York – Those who’ve been following A Life on Shuffle for a while will probably remember him?) So to kick off,  il primo post di quest’anno, the first song playing, appropriately is an Italian one called, Piove by Giusy Ferreri.

Most people ask me what the comparison is between utilities in the UK and Italy and obviously I can only comment on my own experience. Electricity is on a par with England, however mains gas here is a little more expensive. We have no mains gas in our lane so last winter we used a portable gas heater and kept a record of the costs which during the coldest months totalled €365.00 (£268.50) which we think wasn’t bad considering we had a couple of weeks of deep snow.

Wood BurnerThis year we installed a wood burner, it’s a 9 kw that is capable of heating 190 m3 and so far we’ve been really happy with it.

We at first we assumed we’d have to buy a pallet of ready chopped wood, but then we thought about how the locals here sort out their winter fuel and we decided to do it the same way if we could.

At first I cut down some overgrown branches from our fig tree and left them over the summer to dry out.

We then had a friend who had 2 very small olive’s that he wanted to cut down and said if we cut them down we could have the wood, so that was the start of our wood pile for 2015. Then another friend had a rather unruly olive and we were allowed to cut down this one too.

There’s always lots of kindling around so there’s no need to store it as a 5 minute walk down the lane can supply this, however we had lots of off cuts of pine from the restoration and this was then chopped and added to our store.

A trip to the beach is finished off with a walk into the woods to collect a box of pine cones: Brilliant for resurrecting embers should you neglect the fire. Pine Cones

 

The olive harvest came and Mario asked us if we wanted his pruned branches for our fire. They are a little bit labour intensive as you have to strip them, but the larger pieces make great logs and the smaller branches are very good; as olive burns very well and doesn’t need to be left to season for a year. We very soon had several wheelbarrows full of extra wood.

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Finally, we often take a trip to the coast as it’s only 15 minutes away, and we’ve now become seasoned driftwood scavengers, with each trip bringing us two large bags full of wood.

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So when you look at it, the cost this year is minimal, a small amount in petrol (which we’d have used anyway going to walk on the beach) and a few cents on fire-lighters.

So we’re happy that the cost of keeping warm this year is considerably cheaper than buying gas bottles.

Stay warm folks and see you next time.

A Stair is Born

Today has been an odd one. Looking back at the posts on this blog, you’d be forgiven for thinking aren’t most for me. Our builder arrived and proceeded to measure me, “Aspetta,” (wait) he said as I walked away after he determined I was 1.557m tall, he then measured the length of my foot, then made me walk normally, stopping me he then got down on his hands and knees to measure the length of my stride. He makes a remark about measuring an other part of my body, then screws up his eyes and laughs at his own joke. I tell him, I think he’s a nut job and leave for the bank in Lanciano.

Now initially, I’d been led to believe that in Italy, it costs more to withdraw cash in person rather than use an ATM. Turns out that whoever passed me that nugget of information was wrong. At our bank cash transaction at the sportello (banker’s window) cost nothing, unlike cash machines.  I collected my cash from the very pretty girl and am leaving when Massimo, the manager appears, he calls me over and we exchange morning pleasantries, he asks if I’d like a coffee, I say yes and he opens a door to let the person the other side that he’s popping out for coffee. I peer in and sat at the desk is a woman who is the spitting image of  Marge Simpson’s sister Selma Bouvier: the one with the parting in her hair. The woman stands up and despite not being bright yellow looks even more like her cartoon doppelganger. I want to laugh but this would be rude, so I cover it by pretending to sneeze and go outside to wait for Massimo.

Coffee over, I drive back when the iPod shuffles and Barry White, begins to sing Can’t Get Enough of Your Love Babe, as his bass laden voice fills the car I smile wondering what our builder’s up to back at the house. He calls me Barry White, I asked him why once and his answer was simple yet honest, he said because you are named Barry and you’re white. You can’t say fairer than that.

I get back and the result of all the measuring is revealed the staircase has been started to be installed. He explains that being a big man he had to get the headroom correct, I in turn correct him and explain the phrase is tall not big, he says why, because he’s a small man. I explain that small and short are different words in English, he then says he has tall feet for a small man. We laugh and I give up correcting his English, even when he says for a tall man my feet shouldn’t be so short. I’m tempted to tell him size 8 (42) is average, but realise that I’d be unable to explain why in this case short and small are correct usage when talking about feet, but not when talking about his height.

The day ends and after he’s gone, I spend my time walking up and down my bespoke staircase. You see I’m easily pleased.

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