Sunday 07.11.10. Today is cool, there’s a slight breeze and the mist lingers thinly over the valley. We are collecting wood for the fire, kindling and so forth, when Dutch says, “Go look in the shed.” his eyes are wide so I ask why, “Just look, we have a visitor,” is his response. I open the door to the shed; when I say shed I mean half demolished brick building, and see our visitor. It’s a rat snake, about 4 metres long with a bulge in her midsection indicating she’s eaten recently. (I don’t know why I call it ‘she’, maybe just because it’s so beautiful). It’s past the time for her to be hibernating, and although the weather is clement it’s by no means hot enough on a daily basis for a reptile. I grab my camera and take a photo as she stares at me, her small eyes shining, then I leave her in peace. My trusty iPod in it’s dock plays ‘Holiday In Cambodia’ by Dead Kennedys as the crunch of tyres upon the road indicates that Rachel and Paul have arrived. We grab our sacks of wood and head off the help them with the olive harvest. With military precision the ground is covered with orange netting and we begin raking the olives from the trees. In the UK ,we are used to seeing the advert for a well known pasta sauce, where a spritely old lady leaps ten feet in the air on a hot summers day to catch a falling olive. It’s a pretty picture but is far removed from the truth. Olives are harvested at the end of the year, not mid summer, so in reality it could easily be raining and cold rather than hot and sunny. The traditional way to harvest them is by hand and using an olive comb, It’s similar to a child’s toy rake in a gardening play set. You basically comb the branches and the leaves fold down and the olives fall to the ground, captured in the nets. It’s a therapeutic task and ideal for my OCD, as when Paul prunes out a branch I can sit and extract each olive by hand until the branch is olive free. Five and a half sacks of olives later, with aching necks from continuously looking up, we are fed by Brenda. A sumptuous feast is laid on for us, roasted chicken with all the trimmings, Yorkshire puddings like miniature explosions covered with gravy are devoured greedily, a generous payment for our toil.
Still fed from lunch, we have no need for dinner this evening, and with a glass of wine we settle down in the evening to watch a DVD: Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, which for me turns out to be one of the most boring films I have ever had the misfortune to sit through.
Monday 08.11.10. The day starts off with a short lived shower of rain, the breeze this morning is fresh as I eat my breakfast, a boiled egg with a yolk the colour of Van Gough’s sunflowers. Paloma Faith sings ‘Play On’ as the rain arrives again. We drive to Megalo, a shopping mall at Chieti Scalo, only to discover it doesn’t open until 2.00pm on Monday. So we trundle into Pescara and browse around the DIY stores, we spot a few things we will purchase in the future as our property is restored. I buy some fence posts and netting to establish the boundary line, before we pop over the road for lunch. At 2.20 we visit Megalo, and for those who know me personally, you’ll be pleased to know it has a H&M…. cheap fashion, yay! We come home using the Satnav, which decides to take us through lanes at times wide enough for just one vehicle. I slowly navigate a hairpin bend and at once start to climb a steep, almost vertical thoroughfare. I have been to Dunedin on New Zealand’s south island, the town boasts the steepest street in the world, is that so, maybe the claimant had never driven through the Italian countryside. As we reach the top of the road, the car groaning in first gear, the wheels start to slip. With my heart in my mouth I’m hoping we make it over the crest as the option of going back down is terrifying. The wheels manage to grip the shiny surface and we are at last horizontal, that is until we make our way down the other side.
After dinner: spaghetti with a hot spicy sauce, and made with Terry’s secret addition, we watch several episodes of Cold Case before falling into bed and sleeping like the dead. Honestly this Italian lifestyle is quite tiring.
Tuesday 09.11.10. The sun is back, and as Ozzy Osborne rocks in the background with ‘S.A.T.O.’ we have our breakfast, before I evict two scorpions that must have come in with the logs last night. One is a magnificent specimen, quite large and haughty to say the least. Rather than kill them I’d rather put them back outside, the smaller one cooperates and crawls onto the dustpan with the minimum of effort before being taken outside. The bigger one refuses to play ball, each direction I want it to travel in, it chooses the opposite. Eventually I win and in seconds it’s back outside scrambling for somewhere dark to hide. I take the iPod over to the house and we put up our little piece of fence, and the Proprieta privata sign. I continue to clear the path between the two houses, I clear next doors jangle of weeds too, knowing the Italians will consider me crazy to do someone else’s work for them. At 14.00 I decide I’ve had enough and go back to the apartment and chill out. Brenda calls down asking if we want curry? (is Emmerdale set in the Yorkshire Dales?) “Yes, please,” is our resounding response. I do a little work on the laptop as Ke$ha sings ‘Stephen’, for a moment I ponder of my reason for having her album on my iPod, as she just gets on my nerves, the shuffles comes and k.d. Lang takes over with ‘Constant Craving’, the classic track becoming swallowed up by a devious gust of wind that blows up my short sleeves inflating my shirt.
After the delicious curry, I wander down into town to take some photos and shoot some video of what we have here at Guarenna. We are remote regarding the position of our house, we are one of only 7 houses and a small rabbit farm. However just a few minutes down the road we have a plethora of shops and suppliers. I find the deserted railway station, it’s forlorn and neglected, windows in the ticket office have fallen victim to vandals. There is talk of it being reopened and linked to the main line that goes to Val di Sangro. The evening sees the shops open up for trade, and the lights flicker on inside the Pizzeria on the bend in the road that leads to Altino.
Back at the apartment we try out the halogen cooker we purchased a few weeks ago, it looks impressive sat on the worktop, glowing orange like a mini spaceship. Thirty five minutes later we have braised fennel (courtesy of Tina), roast potatoes, carrots and beef. It works a treat and will save us a small fortune on electricity bills we envisage.
Wednesday 10.11.10. Today I realised that I’d been living since we arrived an hour ahead of time, to be clear what I mean is my phone has auto update, so it must have updated when the clocks went back, but since we arrived in Italy it has updated again, this time forward. So I have been rising at around 06.00 rather than 07.00, no wonder I’ve felt knackered at the end of the day. We travelled today to the English war cemetery at Val di Sangro, a small group of us gathered for a remembrance ceremony. We have our poppies on and Lynn has brought a poppy wreath to lay. We had a short service held by a clergyman who works for N.A.T.O. in Napoli, I read a poem called, ‘Don’t Call Me Hero’ halfway through. We all agreed the service was lovely, and the warm sunshine helped. After the service we all went onto a nice little restaurant in Lanciano and had a fine meal with friends old and new.
We came back home and took a trip down to the shops to buy some wine and whilst there we stopped at the pizza bar, Valter served us a tasty pizza bianco, with a sausage and cabbage topping and a strong shot of coffee. Dutch had a look around the new shops that have opened, before we popped into the supermarket. At the till a gangly youth with scraped back hair and silver rings on both of his thumbs, pushed past to chat to girl in front of us. He was so obviously in awe of his reflection, as he kept glancing at the window, now transformed into a mirror by the darkness outside, “Pity, you couldn’t get a suit that fitted properly,” I think to myself as he checks himself out once again, “And those trousers could do with a good pressing”. Perhaps crumpled is the look that all narcissists are going for this season. Back at the apartment, and we open a bottle of prosecco, Rocky is outside barking into the dark, something is obviously winding him up tonight, and Liza Minnelli sings ‘Don’t Drop Bombs’ from her album ‘Results’ for which she collaborated with the Pet Shop Boys. After what we’ve been doing today, I feel the song title quite apt.
Thursday 11.11.10. We woke up today to the most magnificent blue skies, a handful of cotton candy clouds drifted overhead, and the sun warmed us. Breakfast was a disaster, first I dropped the frying pan and spilled the last of our olive oil on the floor, next a fly landed on the last two slices of bread we had and did it’s dirty fly dance all over it. To top off the breakfast calamity, I noticed our last two eggs were already broken in their little plastic holder. A mental note to drop into the supermarket later to buy more breakfast type provisions is made as The Verve play ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony. I go machete mad over at the house and hack away at the bamboo that’s over 8 feet tall, once cleared we have more of a view of the valley, a couple of trees are chopped down and it’s time to retire for the day, as the sun is high now and it’s too hot to work outside. We have lunch, focaccia with pecorino Romano followed by a steaming bowl of risotto Milanese. After lunch I lie outside in the sun to soak up a few rays, however after just 5 minutes I’m back inside and in the shade, enjoying a beer as Tears For Fears play, ‘Watch Me Bleed’.
In the afternoon we head off towards Civitella and the home owned by our new friends Lyn and John, the journey takes us up snaking single tracks, the views are spectacular, Lago di Bomba is still and silent below us as we slowly labour upwards; more steep roads to navigate, with another portion that’s almost vertical. We reach a fork in the road and start to now descend until we come to a halt outside Lyn and John’s house. The house is beautiful, quite large and with a delicious uniqueness, that the original Italian furniture they inherited with the property brings. We have a drink on the terrace, overlooking the mountains, here you really do feel like you’re sitting on top of the world. Gunshots are heard in the distance, however the hunters remain hidden among the dense greenery below us. The sun begins to drop from view and we make our way home, with a parting gift; a bottle of Lyn and John’s own olive oil from their trees. Once through the door a hunk of focaccia is torn away from the loaf and we use it to soak up some of the oil. The kitchen is filled with sounds of approval, it has a deep green, fresh taste followed by a peppery nudge at the tongue. The flavour is as bold as the mountains overlooking the olive grove, with hints of fresh cut grass and the Abruzzo rain, clear and pure. With oil this good you don’t waste it on fried eggs, but we can’t resist it and at dinner time we use a little give us phenomenal roast potatoes.
Friday 12.11.10. After breakfast we drive to meet Tina at Castel Frentano, after a brief confusion as to which fountain we should be at, we clamber into Tina’s car and head off to see her properties. The first is in the historic centre of Lanciano, it’s a mini maze of rooms and floors with what looks like a cupboard door on one floor, but once opened it becomes a secret bathroom. We next travel to San Vito and see the apartment, it’s part of an old palazzo, and has a magnificent view out over the sea. The juxtaposition between the old building and the ultra modern interior is very clever, the high gloss blue kitchen sits well with the whitewashed walls. We see an idea Tina has had for a space saving bathroom at our place, and it’s a perfect solution for our second bedroom. On the way back we drop into the abbey at Fossacessia and I take some pictures as we saunter around the cloisters enjoying the temperate day and the peace. Back at Tina’s house we have a glass of wine, then try her olive oil, it’s surprising how different each oil tastes, Tina’s is more peppery with a slight bitterness at the edge that’s quite pleasant. We eat pasta sat on the patio, which has a breath-taking view over towards the Majella mountains, which at the moment have a generous covering of snow on top.
We stop off at the supermarket to buy some odds and ends, once back home I check my e-mails, my inbox is groaning under endless Facebook update messages and spam, I delete 79 messages and quickly read the three or four that are of interest. I check over the contract sent to me for the acting job I shall be starting when we return to the UK, but ignore the script as I don’t intend to spend my time here learning lines and songs, I can do that when I return; 3 days is plenty of line learning time before rehearsals start. ‘Prologue’ by Kate Bush plays as we pop chicken into the oven for dinner and open a bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
Just before bed I step outside and look down into the valley, the lights below sparkle like gemstones, Aladdin would have believed this view to be his cave.
Saturday 13.11.10. I wake up around 04.00, it’s warm and I haven’t slept well, I toss and turn until 07.00, when I get up to make a cuppa. Already the day has woken, the sun is up and the skies are as clear as ice. Birds are singing as I open the door, letting Rocky in to say, hello. We catch up on the BBC news, looks like the weather in the UK is grim, according to the report it’s high winds and rain over most of the country. ‘Demigod’ by The Humans plays as we finish breakfast, before we set off for Lanciano. We take a stroll around the outdoor market, that is a sprawling mass of stalls selling everything from jackets to jewellery. The stalls have taken over the streets and alleys and neighbours squeeze past each other with a cheery, buon giorno. We buy some ceramic numbers for our house before bumping into Tina, who’s at a clothing stall, searching through the vintage items. After the market we pop over to Tondis to purchase some shopping and a wine rack, as we leave we notice the temperature on the farmacia, it’s 19o so we have to drive with the windows open, It’s hard to believe we’re almost mid way through November. After Lunch I sit outside working on my laptop for an hour or so, finishing as the iPod shuffles and ‘Boy On The Dancefloor’ by Lisa Scott-Lee bounces out into the sunshine.