Saturday 30 October 2010. As we leave the house for our trip over to Italy, the iPod on shuffle as usual begins to play ‘Teeth’ by Lady Gaga, one of the songs used in last nights show. I ponder is this an omen and if so what is this portent forecasting? The drive to Dover is uneventful, until we drop into a service station for something to eat. We eat some hurriedly prepared fast food, or should that read horridly? I go to purchase a newspaper when a woman runs into the newsagents waving a white plastic stick. At first I think it’s a plastic knife, but as she gets close I can see it’s a home pregnancy test, she’s obviously just been into the public toilets and peed on the stick. She hands it a man, who I presume is her boyfriend/husband. “Look, it’s the same as the last one,” She says. There’s no expression on his face, so I’m left wondering if it’s good news or not. I leave the couple staring at each other, and walk over to the British Legion stand by the entrance, and after chatting to an old soldier there I purchase four poppies to take to friends in Italy.
We arrive at the Premier Inn at Dover and are checked in by Holly, a very efficient and friendly girl on reception, she tells us, “You’re in room 221. It’s a lovely room, with a view of the harbour .” Now here’s another omen: You can guarantee if someone tells you something is ‘lovely’ there’s going to be a snag. The room is very nice, the change from Travel Inn to Premier Inn seems to have brought about a change in decor and comfort, for a motel the standard has been lifted. We watch the end of Strictly, the celeb’s are dressed in Halloween garb and Gavin ‘spoonface’ Henson, dances shirtless, no doubt in an effort to grab the female vote. We have a glass of dreadful wine, purchased from the BP garage and watch the X-Factor. The show also has a Halloween theme and the contestants are dressed to compliment this. (Hardly original). I have no real comment about the performances, the show is just TV fodder that passes the time. As we’re leaving at 4.00 we turn in early, at least we have that extra hour when the clocks go back. The window to our ‘lovely’ room overlooks the entrance to the pub next door, so up until midnight we’re subjected to the entrances and exits of it’s customers and also it’s smokers, who congregate outside to puff away. The rest of the night, after the pub closure is punctuated by smokers who leave their rooms to stand outside; beneath our window to partake of their nicotine fix. I eventually lose my temper with a woman, who is sat on the the concrete telling two of her friends, loudly, about her boyfriends failings in the bedroom. I open the window and shout, “Shut the F*** up.” It works, cigarettes are hastily extinguished and the three scurry back inside the motel.
Sunday 31 October 2010. The ferry trip and the drive is okay, nothing of any great interest happens, apart from the small French village we pass through that has a sign advertising an event in the town hall. Apparently on Saturday evening at 19.30 there will be a chance to sample a need exciting food, coming into the village: doner kebab and cous cous. Oh what a joy they have in store. We reach Colmar, and once again, for some reason our SatNav cannot navigate to the tunnel, it always takes us over the mountain…is it a mountain? For the first time we are happy to be taken out of our way by the electronic navigation device. The view is spectacular, autumn has arrived and the trees boast every autumnal hue possible. We enter Switzerland and trundle along until we feel the need to stop for a break, we pull into a service area and are greeted by a sex shop. I can’t see the motorway services back in the UK adopting this type of retail outlet. The window display is tasteful, they have butt plugs called Anal Invader and vibrators of every shape and colour. Young men enter the store giggling, and in the corner I see a burly looking man in a check shirt browsing through a magazine.
We drive through the Gotthard tunnel leaving behind weak sunshine and light, only to emerge the other side into darkness and rain, there’s a thick carpet of snow at the roadside. Driving conditions are appalling but we continue on, determined not to stop until we reach Italy. Over the border and the rain continues, we skirt around Milano and down the autostrada; stopping at a service station for pizza and a pee, before finally pulling onto a parking area outside Parma. We set about sorting ourselves out for a night sleeping in the car, every permutation of position is attempted before we settle down. The heavy rain sounds like someone is throwing handfuls of gravel onto the car roof, suddenly there’s a flash of light and a thunderclap so loud the car shakes, so loud was the bang that a local police car came to investigate.
Monday 01 November 2010. I wake from a ’fitful sleep’ that would rival that of Macbeth at 06.10 and we continue on with our journey. We take a detour at Pescara to purchase some essentials and finally arrive at our destination, to be greeted by our friends with the most delicious beef stew in culinary history. We spend the evening sat in front of a crackling log fire with a glass of wine and an episode of ‘Supernatural’: Yes we have brought the DVD’s with us. Eventually sleep wins and we clamber into bed and the day is packed away into the memory box.
Tuesday 02 November 2010. After a refreshing nights sleep I prepare breakfast with the iPod shuffling beside the microwave, ‘Lose Yourself’ by Eminem plays as the pancetta sizzles in the pan, waiting for the eggs to join it before becoming an smoky bacon omelette. I turn out the first omelette as the iPod shuffles and once again Lady Gaga starts to sing ‘Teeth’, I wonder if this is an omen or coincidence, will I lose my teeth? Am I to be savaged in the Italian wilderness by a pack of ravenous wolves? I decide the song is linked with a happy time, therefore the portent must be good, besides I have no time to spend pondering, my omelette is now ready. Despite the date the day is warm and the valley is filled with birdsong, and after breakfast we drive to the local shops, on the way we see a cheeky little robin hopping along the lane. I’m glad we decided to buy a house here, we’re far enough away from civilisation to enjoy the peace of rural life, but close enough to town to enjoy the hustle and bustle of Italian life. We collect some wood for the fire from our land; how nice it is to say that, ’our land,’ the two words alone give the impression of the rural life. We start to mark out our boundaries, and it’s not as straight forward as we first thought it would be. The land isn’t in line with the house, but slopes off at a diagonal. Within minutes we are aware that the two small olive trees; Malcolm and Macdufff near our house are not on our land: a matter of centimetres puts them over the boundary line. Is this the omen, that we have less than we first thought?
We decide to look inside the loft space above the kitchen, the door opens and instantly I’m showered with dried rat droppings. With barely time to feel repulsed, a set of metal stairs squeal as they fall towards my head. I move and they come to rest upon the floor. We gingerly ascend only to find a third room, it’s dry and the floor is tiled, and despite being in the roof space there’s a window and space for a double bed. Good on you Lady Gaga, the portent’s a good one.
Today I’m as lazy as the day is, I go about things with the urgency of a sloth; but why would you want to rush about when the world around you is taking everything at a half a heartbeat? Dinner is followed by a stint in front of the TV with a few glasses of wine.
Wednesday 03 November 2010. Breakfast is eaten as Horse sings ‘Never Not Going To’: Now I am often perplexed about Horse, she has to be one of the finest singer/songwriters to have come out of Scotland, and major success has never emerged. WHY? The sun is high and my shoulders feel the caress of its’ rays: can it really be November? Despite the date, autumn has yet to arrive in Abruzzo, the trees here are still laden with healthy green leaves, the changing colours are yet to happen. Our friend Tina who lives in Castel Frentano calls with a lovely house warming gift, we show her around our house and excitedly tell her of our plans for the place. I finally paint my front door, green, as that was the colour that Zio Gasperino, (Uncle Gasperino) had painted it. We have decided to live for a year with the original windows if we can, to see if we can cope in the winter, as we’d love to keep the original ones if we can. Tina looks at our house through different eyes, and comes up with solutions to problems we’ve been bogged down with concerning layout. It suddenly hits me that we are actually doing this, leaving England for a new life in Italy. Little things like driving to places without the SatNav, or having fluid conversations with shop assistants make me realise I’m becoming a part of the way of life here.
I pop down into the village and buy a Sim card for my phone, it’s one that you buy credit for in advance, however unlike in the UK buying one isn’t just a matter of popping into the shop and handing over your readies. Here you have to show them your identity card or driving licence, also you must have proof of your codice fiscale, (Italian tax code) and an Italian address. All this may seem to be a pain in the ass, but think about the telephone crime it prevents if your number can be traced. I make a spicy tomato sauce for spaghetti as Black Eyed Peas sing ‘Shut Up’, we open the now chilled bottle of prosecco that Tina gave us, and watch ‘Zoolander’. It’s a film I’ve meant to watch many times but not had the time to devote to it. I find it highly amusing.
Thursday 04 November 2010. The sky is a menacing grey this morning, but through the clouds shafts of sunlight are rushing down towards the valley. After breakfast as ‘Bad Blood’ by Siobhan Fahey finishes playing, we drive to Ortona. We take the coast road and drive at a pace that allows us to drink in the views. We spend the morning walking around the market before stocking up with supplies at Iper, a large supermarket complex on the outskirts of the town. The afternoon is first spent trying to battle our way through the twisted mass of undergrowth that is our land, and second making another batch of Limoncello, ready for Christmas. Dinner is a delicious roast chicken, that is so far removed from the bland supermarket chicken back in the UK, with roast potatoes and veg. Then we realise there’s something missing, good old British gravy: Pencil is retrieved and ‘gravy’ is added to our list of items we must bring out with us from England. (Top of said list is, Yorkshire tea and HP sauce).
Friday 05 November 2010. We are greeted by a warm and sunny morning, in the distance the chug of machinery can be heard, down at the bottom of the lane olives are being harvested. Occasionally the buzz of a chainsaw can be heard and the shouts of men, giving instruction in dialect. It’s the olive picking season, trees are hanging heavy with a mix of green, purple and black fruits, fat, juicy promises of lucious oil. We walk over to our house and start to clear the land at the right hand side of the house. As we clear the weeds and dig through the unkempt earth we discover it’s not a slope but red brick steps. we toil beneath the hot sun, I can’t believe that it’s Bonfire Night today in England, and here I am in Italy this late in the year working outside shirtless. (not a treat for the neighbours I hasten to say.) The steps are finally revealed as ‘Kish Kash, by Basement Jaxx, featuring Siouxsie Sioux plays. Next we set about demolishing two low walls made up of odd bricks and concrete. I dig out some tree roots as Dutch cuts the vegetation behind the house down. We stop for a few minutes to marvel at our progress before setting about chipping away the horrid concrete covering the bricks around the front door. Four hours and forty five minutes later we decide it’s time for a break.
We have lunch and open a bottle of Maschio Traminer Aromatico; as the bubbles dance around inside the glass, I tear at hunks of bread stuffed with green olives and gobble it down greedily. Lunch over and I chill out reading a little before languishing beneath the shower, washing away the hard work of the day, finally at 15.00, I sit outside, open a can of Peroni, and listen to the men still hard at work harvesting their olives.
After dinner we watch a DVD, sadly without realising it’s set in Montreal, and the dialogue swaps from English to French in a whisper, and there are no subtitles. We persevere and as the credits roll, I realise I don’t have a clue what the film was about. I rectify this with a few episodes of the banal American sit-com, ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’, (do they?) The boxed sets of series 7 and 8 were drastically reduced in HMV, so I got them on a whim, thinking at least it’ll be some English speaking TV to watch in Italy. There’s part of me thinking I should have saved my money.
Saturday 06 November 2010. I wake several times from 04.00 onwards, each time I settle back into slumber, I dream about Lorraine Kelly doing a piece to camera about pantomimes. Now I like Ms Kelly, but feel her effervescent presenting style too much for the early hours. At 07.30, still tormented by Lorraine I rise. Ribbons of mist drift over the valley, the towns of Archi and Altino on the ridge opposite are hidden from view. A weak sun tugs at the mist but to no avail, the diaphanous ribbons are winning. Breakfast over and the mist has taken over the entire valley, even the houses at the base of the mountains have been swallowed up. The sound of the machinery and men harvesting now has no substance, disembodied noises emitting from within a cloud. In the distance to my right the dog that sounds like it has a perpetual sore throat barks.
Tina and Richard call over to look at the work we want doing on the house, before leaving to put a quote together for us. Tina leaves us with an enormous, fat bulb of fennel, she grew on her orto. We dig some more, uncovering a cobbled slope underneath the years of weeds and dull earth. To my left there is a commotion in the undergrowth, the squealing of what sounds like wild boar cuts into the stillness of the day. I take Rocky for a walk down the lane towards Merosci, the hamlet down from ours at Guarenna. I chat to some men who are loading sacks of olives onto a pick up, a handsome man shakes my hand and says “Hello”. and an elderly signora eyes me suspiciously, only smiling when I bid her good afternoon. As I walk back home, I see two magpies land a few feet in front of me, their heads bob up and down before they fly away. What is it they say: two for joy, another portent, and an accurate prophesy, at this moment in time my joy is immeasurable.