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Monday, 6 September 2010

Abruzzo and the UFO

Wednesday 25.08.10 – I sit here at 07.15, a cup of English tea beside me and the Italian landscape all around. The morning is bright, a slither of mist rides the top of the hills in the distance, and the early sunshine bounces of white stucco, it’s welcoming warmth heating the terracotta tiles. The view is peaceful, all that can be heard is a distant barking dog, the chirrup of a bird and the odd coo of a wood pigeon. 100_3969We are staying at an apartment literally three doors down from the house we’re buying, and as an example of what the summer mornings will be like, it can’t get any better.  The link to the apartment, which is great for a holiday is:,-abruzzo/135685 Amid this stillness is industry, ants march up and down the stems of a nearby climber, their work day having begun. A hoverfly zooms in to pick aphids off a geranium, and quietly on the fig tree to my left, its fruits are ripening like silent explosions. Is all this the reason why I love It here so much? No, but it’s a big part of it, this week my blog will once again be coming from Italy, to be more precise, from Abruzzo, the region I have chosen to come to live in. I leave my laptop, and the fly that fails to annoy me on this glorious morning and place the iPod in the dock and, at a suitable volume, ‘Aftermath’ by Adam Lambert spills out of the apartment door.

I take a short walk over to the house we’re purchasing, the overgrown garden we last saw, has in the absence of care become a desperate tangle of foliage, grasses fight for space with candytuft 100_3974topped weeds. I see my first snake, a small black harmless one, it senses my presence and slithers away into the mess of greenery. I shower and get ready to go out when I have my first encounter with a scorpion, it’s quite a fat one and is clinging to the wall in the kitchen. I leave the scorpion to do its own thing and head off to the beach.

The beach at Fossacesia is a mere 14 miles away, and I spend the afternoon chilling out with friends old and new. Everyone of us has chosen this region of Italy to move to. We’re a rag-tag brigade, a mix of people from innumerable backgrounds. But we all have one thing in common, we’re all members of a very good website and forum, where we chat and gain advice and give support to each other.

I’ve been very British and have arrived for the picnic with a chair IMGA0067to sit on and sandwiches. The people who already live here have arrived with swimming costumes and towels, I paddle in the warm waters of the Adriatic whilst my companions swim and play ball games….. A lesson has been learned today.

After the beach, we do a little shopping, food and wine at Eurospin, once again we’re amazed that what we buy is at least a 100_3987third cheaper than in the UK, and so what if the vegetables are fresh, complete with a little earth on them and not a uniformed shape, it still beats the supermarket chains back home. We buy a €1,49 bottle of wine, Fragolino, it’s sparkling we know, because there’s a small piece of string holding the cork in. For €1,49 we don’t expect it to be very palatable, but when we get it home and open it, we are surprised by the gorgeousness of the flavour, with a hint of sweetness  I expect we’ll partake of many more times before we leave for the UK. (Has anyone noticed I no longer say, home?) 

Thursday 26.08.10 – Another sunny morning meets my rousing,  and at eye level through the open window pours the Italian landscape. There’s a slight breeze at 07.00, not much, just a lazy kiss of air, but enough to refresh the senses. For the first time in my life I have fallen victim to the mozzie and have several red swellings where the pesky insect has taken a nip.

Breakfast is once again taken al fresco, and as I tuck into an omelette stuffed with salami and tomato, with my music as usual playing in the background, this time Ms. Dynamite100_3986 with ‘Judgement Day’, I watch scarab beetles swoop down on the potted geraniums. Like futuristic spaceships these beautiful beetles with petrol stained wing cases look like impossible flying machines, but fly they do. I sit watching them when a small lizard runs past me followed in close pursuit by a larger yellow one. The small one wins the race and disappears into a mass of purple petunias, the larger one sits downcast on a log and soaks up the sun’s rays.

 Everything has a flaw, even perfection has an impurity somewhere, if you look hard enough, and this tranquil idyll has one. It is impossible to get a decent cup of tea. I know tea is a very British thing and here the Italian’s have great coffee. In Italy tradition is important, the breakfast beverage is a cappuccino, now although I like a nice strong Italian espresso, I cannot stomach a milky cappuccino. I have discovered that if I pop two tea bags into a mug, both different manufacturers I can get what passes for half decent. A pointless expense so I’ll make sure when I move over I bring a substantial supply of Yorkshire tea.

As Kraftwerk start to play ‘Spacelab’, a song that has popped up just recently on a daily basis during my iPod shuffle, we get ready for another adventure in Abruzzo.


We take the coast road into Pescara, not an economical way to get to the seaside resort, but a prettier one. As we slide past the azure sea, people are enjoying the shade beneath gaily coloured umbrellas, and the lazy waves are inhabited by children, jumping and splashing in the warm water.

We visit the DIY stores in Pescara, to do price comparisons on things like showers, toilets, tiles and ovens. We discover some things are pretty much the same price as in the UK, showers however are about a third cheaper. Here the things that we have found to be much more expensive is medicines, simple things like aspirin. I very rarely need to take them so a box from the UK would last me a couple of years.

Coming back we program the SatNav to avoid the motorway and toll roads, it’s not the ideal route, as it takes us out of our way, but what it does do, is show us parts of the area we wouldn’t have IMGA0120 seen. The sad thing is, there are many beautiful vistas, but nowhere to stop the car to take photos, this said, it’s probably a good idea, as we’d be stopping every hundred yards to snap away. We end up passing Guardiagrele, as it’s early evening we stop to buy some of their delicious local cakes, le sise, commonly called Nun’s Breasts. If you ever find yourself passing through, do pop into Emo Lullo, pasticceria on via Roma. I take no responsibility for the extra pounds you may gain.

Friday 27.08.10 – Today I did something I very rarely do. I woke up as usual at 07.00, But today I rolled over, looked outside and saw everything was peaceful, the sun was warming the cacti at the side of the road. I closed my eyes again and dozed, finally rising at 07.56.

I took an early morning walk up the road, glanced longingly at our little house, then took some photo’s along the lane. A young lad on a new Vespa buzzed past, he shouted ‘Giorno,’  as he IMGA0174 disappeared around a bend and quiet tumbled around me once again. I stood listening, there was that odd background rumble that silence has, in the distance a bell tolled, a dog, many miles away barked and a cricket rubbed it’s legs together, the vibration rising from the long grass. It was nice just standing listening to nature going about her business. The tall grasses moved with a hush in the faint breeze, whilst the dry bamboo rattled an accompaniment.

Breakfast is al fresco again, (I can see a pattern emerging), the iPod turned on and the first track to be released from the black docking station was ‘Dolcemente Come Niente’ by Dolcenera. It suddenly dawns on me that my worries about buying such a small house are pointless ones: you know the ones, like, ‘What will we do without having a room designated for the act of dining?’ We already have one, it’s called the Abruzzi open  air, (well for most of the year). Now I understand why Italian’s are passionate about even the tiniest scrap of land, and will fight to reclaim it if it’s utilised by someone else. For people living here in the countryside, the outdoors becomes very much part of the indoors, and therefore home.

I make some spicy pasta sauce ready for tonight’s dinner, using  the lovely fresh chillies we purchased a day or so ago. As the red 100_3991sauce bubbles away on the stove,  Friendly Fires play ‘Lovesick’. I was due to go out with friends tonight in Pescara, but as my phone is broken, (long story), I have no internet access to  pick up emails or Facebook messages. looks like there’ll be some long distance, grovelling apologies when I get back home and have web access again.

I take a stroll up the road and meet up with a yellow snake, it’s around a metre in length and has a healthy girth, so must be well fed. The snake watches me as intently as I watch it. For a minute neither of us move, we just make eye contact, then with a flick of it's forked tongue it sidles off into the undergrowth.100_3993

Today has been great, all I’ve done is listen to music and chill out. Lunch was mixed antipasti with chilled prosecco, and we had good company, our friends dog Rocky. He’s come to share some  salami and take respite from the heat, so he lies on the cool tiles on the kitchen floor.

Saturday 28.08.10 – No al fresco breakfast today, instead we took a trip into Lanciano, more specifically the open air street market. Whilst there we bumped into our new friend Tina, and it was nice to chat. It felt more like this is where we should be, at least we wont feel displaced, there’ll be people we know. We had a good nose-rind (Potteries dialect), and I got a cheap replacement phone before stopping off at a small Pizzeria, here we had a delicious slice of calzone, stuffed with peppers and green beans and a cup of espresso.

UFOOn the way back we stopped to admire the view, when something odd appeared in the sky, it was a perfect circle, and didn’t seem to move. I grabbed my camera and snapped away, after the shutter clicked I looked again and the sphere was gone. Take a look at the photo and see what you think. It’s not a speck of dirt as the subsequent pictures taken before and after don’t show it.

So far today the iPod hasn’t been on random shuffle, it’s been playing songs by Tiziano Ferro, shuffling between his four studio albums and the many duets he’s recorded. The afternoon heat is 100_4045made easier by a slight breeze, and I have an Italian black beer, nicely chilled to take the edge off. It’s not the Irish black stuff but tastes just as nice at just 59 cents a bottle.

We come back and spend the afternoon just chilling out, before popping to the shops, to buy a lettuce, cucumber and a halogen worktop oven…. Random I know. As the iPod is back on random shuffle we cook dinner. Boney M sing the Bob Marley classic, ‘No Woman, No Cry’ as the oven chips cook. Not very Italian I know, but we just fancied chips and egg, we’re also having Olive all’Ascolana; battered olives stuffed with beef. I have another glass of the delicious Fragolino, this time chilled, as the song changes and Gina X starts singing ‘Exhibitionism’.

Dinner over, the Olive all’Ascolana were nice, the meat was the consistency of cat food, or how I’d imagine cat food to be, but despite this, tasted nice. We spend the evening watching ‘Avatar’, which we got on DVD today in Euronics……. So much for the peasant lifestyle.

Sunday 29.08.10 – Sunday morning starts off quite cloudy, there’s evidence of an early morning shower still lingering on the patio tiles. I look across and there’s a grey cloud straddling the mountain, that looks like a dragon, stalking to town of Altino.  After breakfast, I put on long trousers (jeans) and a long sleeved shirt and venture down into the overgrown garden at our house. At first I realise it’s not as steep as first thought, and there’s evidence that suggests the land was previously worked: For previously, read ten years ago. I find more olive trees, and 100_3977estimate that there’s at least ten of the wizened old things hidden in the bowels of the mess that’s been allowed to propagate. I video pockets of the land, naming trees as I go. The two olive trees outside the bedroom door are already called Malcolm and Macduff, as they remind me of the scene in Macbeth, when Malcolm asks what the wood is before them, to be told it’s Birnam. These two trees are standing high above the gradient looking down onto the other trees below.

Today we take it easy once again, the weather has brightened and music fills the apartment, ‘Blood and Earth’ by Love Among Ruin plays as we leave to have lunch with our friends, Brenda and Terry. Brenda has made a delicious avocado salad, which I eat with gusto. We chat as the afternoon slips away, then a bottle of prosecco is opened and as the fizz runs riot in my glass, I inwardly smile, it’s very rare I can feel so relaxed, and sitting here with good food and good friends on a beautiful Abruzzi afternoon, makes me feel all is well with the world. Well, my world anyway.

100_4059 I string up the remaining chillies I have and hang them to dry outside, on my way back I meet Adda, my next door neighbour to be, she’s ninety two but still has a twinkle in her eye and a smile as intoxicating as a twenty year old. We chat, sporadic words bouncing back and forth, she speaks in dialect, and has no knowledge of English. I then realise how much more work I need to do on my study of the Italian language. She is joined by her friend Giuseppina, and very soon we’re all chatting, laughing and breaking down international barriers.

100_4069Adda has three kittens, and I have fallen for a scrawny little ginger fellow, who I’ve nicknamed Fred. (Fred and Ginger, get it?) When the other’s are at a distance, I sneak Fred a slice of salami.

Monday 30.08.10 – Before breakfast I pass a slice of salami and a sausage through the fence to Fred, I have a yoghurt and a cup of tea. It’s 07.30 and the world around me is stirring, Kings Of Leon play ‘Closer’ at a discreet volume, and two finches flit around the branches of an olive tree.

We go into Lanciano for a meeting with our lawyers, it is the first time we’ve met face to face, and the meeting goes very well, if not a little surprising. Surprise 1 - We have been told the olive groveIMGA0180 at the end of our mess of weeds and trees is also ours. Our lawyers will find out who has been farming it and write to him telling him he now needs our permission to work the land, and we need to draw up a contract. Surprise 2 - We go to the bank to sign all the documentation to set up the account that we’ve transferred money into already. we meet our handsome bank manager, who has a good command of English, but a sing-song silly surname. We ask him about charges to transfer money from  the UK, and he IMGA0173 tells us to transfer Euro’s it’s a single set fee of just €1, UK banks led us to believe the Italian banks would charge us an exorbitant fee to accept the money. Turns out it’s the UK banks that are charging the high fees. Surprise 3 - Everything has gone through and our house purchase is complete, all we have to do is come back in 2 days to pick up the keys and pay the Notary. We can’t believe how simple the purchase has been, people have been hit with red tape and legal obstacles, since finding the house, all we’ve done is send a handful of e-mails, side-stepped the compromesso, and been taken on trust by our lawyers.

We have a coffee at a bar on the main street, then I buy a CD; Alessandra Amoroso’s first album ‘Stupida’, back at the apartment and I’m about to put into my laptop when my phone rings, it’s Goblin, one of the children I teach calling to say hello. Today really has been one to remember. The iPod shuffles and as Scritti Pollitti play, the 80’s classic, ‘Wood Beez’ and Green’s gentle vocals float out of the door into the afternoon air. I enjoy a gin and grapefruit juice in the sunshine, and Rocky is at the gate shouting at shadows.

Tuesday 31.08.10 – It’s relatively late when I open the laptop to write today’s diary entry, It’s 17.30 and an agreeable breeze is blowing across the valley. Blancmange play ‘That’s Love, That Is’. It’s actually song 683 to have shuffled forth and played since we got here. We went shopping today for those essential things that you never get until you find you need it, and need it right now. Thing’s like 4 gang plug extensions, double plugs, mop, bucket, nice leather flip-flops…. oops how did they slip through the net? Well a bargain at just €12,90. People are always saying that things are more expensive here in Italy, but I disagree. For a start you can get good wine for as little as €2,00 a litre, if you pay more, then you’ve been seen flashing your cash like a tourist. Food is cheaper, I say it is, but what I really mean is the Italian produce I pay through the nose for in the UK is rock bottom here. Petrol is cheaper, household goods are too. Okay clothing and bed linen is more expensive, but to be honest even a blind person would shudder at some of the Italian bedding designs.

On the topic of cost, we had to buy some really strong weed and tree killer, to eradicate some young shoots of a nuisance tree that's started to creep into the cracks between our terrace and the house, which if left can cause structural damage. The liquid that does the job is about £12.00 in the UK to make up 2 litres, here it works out at €8,00 for 100 litres, that’s just 8 cents a litre. We spray the small suckered offshoots and hope it works, as soon as they have died, we’ll remove them and cement up the cracks where they’ve got in. As I type this Depeche Mode play, ‘Black Day’, it was for the young trees……. hahahaha, pantomime villain laugh.

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