Si Spegne l’Estate

The summer turns off. It sure did with a colossal storm yesterday that dropped 2 inches of rain on us and knocked out the electricity for 8 hours. We now have 14 days of storms and showers so the decision to head to Greece is looking better and better.

However before it turned itself off we had the final 30+ degree day on Saturday and that brought fun as well.

Obviously after 26 days without rain the ground was parched as was the undergrowth. There is a law here that prevents you lighting open fires from June16th until the beginning of September. However like all such laws in Italy it clearly applies to others but not the guy who wants to just burn off some freshly cut straw or a little rubbish that he has. The law doesn’t apply to him but to everyone else. This is especially true of the good gentlemen that come to empty the large dumpers where we deposit our household rubbish.

It always amazes us Brits down here in Puglia when we read our internet Daily Mail and see that councils are now saying that households will need up to 8 different boxes in which to place their household waste because of new draconian EU rules being imposed on councils by Brussels. We still throw everything in the dumpster at the top of the road and every other day it is emptied by the local comune for the princely sum of €120 a year council tax.

However the guys that do the emptying are a rule unto themselves. They incidentally still cling to the back of the dustbin truck as the Louis Hamilton impersonating driver hurtles the thing through the narrow country lanes with his hand on the hooter . Again something I am sure the EU have stopped in the UK where everyone must be snug in the cab before the health and safety conscious driver even pulls away.

They always come on a Saturday to empty the dumpster ( bidone) at the top of our driveway and they did so this week. However they were doing their bit, as they saw it, to tidy up the countryside or more to the point the area around the bidone which as you can imagine gets a little covered in rubbish as people drive slowly past the bidone and throw their stuff into it from the car window. They normally miss and no one is going to stop and put it in properly.

How do you clean up the rubbish around the bidone. Well if you are a dustbin man you reach into your pocket take out your lighter and light one of the offending articles . Then you quickly hop on the back of the truck before the driver has roared off with tyres smoking and wheels screaming.

What normally then happens is the rubbish and the undergrowth burn for about 200 yards in each direction on the same side of the road until the fire hits a wall, a driveway or simply fizzles out. However on Saturday just after the man had lit the rubbish the wind got up and started to blow strongly. The fire spread quite quickly and we could see it moving quite fast.

Fire is a worrying thing down here especially in the countryside. The fire fighters are all in the towns and some are volunteers. No one seems to really believe that they will come out to attend these small blazes and in the main your neighbours have no interest in worrying about your house if they are watching from the other side of the street as the fire rarely jumps right across a road . So you are on your own.

This fire did quickly jump a small driveway which it has never done before when a bidone is set on fire. Quite quickly the fire was going crazy and everywhere at the top of our road was alight.

Fire all Around

There followed a large explosion and tons of black smoke and flames leapt into the air. Some petrol stored years ago in an abandoned old trulli had blown up. The reaction of the guy across the road was to run down and close his gates and then retire back to bed.

For the first time ever the fire then started to move down the hill towards our house and the acres of woodland behind us. In our garden is a freshly filled 1000 litre tank of LPG gas and of course our house.  Up the hedgerow it came a yard at a time

Comming up towards us

If it it got to the woods it would envelope the house. We filled buckets and decided to make our stand. Many water buckets later we had doused the hedgerow and the wind as fast as it had sprung up had died. The bar beckoned for a couple of amateur firefighters.

The deluge on Sunday was welcome in  that it doused the remaining smouldering piles of wood nearby.

Bidone

The bidone after the rain looked a little worse for wear and the area around the explosion was pretty charred too.

olive oil blows up

All we kept thinking was say we weren’t here when the fire was started by the wretched man. What then ?

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Passata

Our neighbours ( they of the grandchildren from hell fame ) have been up since 6 a.m. making passata the tomato sauce so loved by Italians and down here in Puglia very often made by hand.

My water man Mario told me yesterday that he too would be up this morning doing the same with his family.

Regulars will know that I did my bit last year and by the end of the day the last thing I wanted to ever see again was a ruddy tomato . It is a lengthy process done mainly by hand and if you are like me you end covered in the stuff to boot.

Passata

This is the finished article prior to bottling.

With the crisis still on going more Italians are doing it themselves and in the market you can buy boxes of toms for a few Euros. It is probably no bad thing as the TV the other night was uncovering yet another passata scandal where nasty shippers were sending Italian toms to China and bottling so called “Italian Made ” passata with all kinds of nasty substitute ingredients before shipping it back here for sale.

Certainly the Italians around us eat tonnes of the stuff. Last year I helped make 260 bottles of the stuff for a family of four though to be fair only one, the head of the house, really eats lots of it.

My waterman was also going for the 250 mark today. The neighbour is more restrained and only makes enough to have each Sunday. The rest of the week he is buying store sold stuff so needs to be careful now about where it really came from.

Machine

Like most Italians down here the cats get the leftovers from the table as their staple diet and my neighbour has two of them. Their bowl is by the driveway so each day I can tell you what Maria and Giovanni had for lunch and as I walk in the early morning what they had for supper.

House guests are always amazed at what Italian cats will eat. Most guests who have cats in the USA or UK feed their little darlings a range of expensive cat food bordering on the luxurious. One strict rule seems to be that they never ever feed their cats chicken bones so it is with amazement they watch the cats here chomping down bone after bone as part of their diet. One house guest tried to drag the bowl away from the cat afraid that it would choke and nearly got a bite for his troubles.

I can tell you that everyday at lunchtime Giovanni and his wife eat a type of pasta ( mainly short pasta in the South of Italy) passata, tomatoes and bread. For their evening repast they eat um well um pasta, passata, tomatoes and bread. I think perhaps twice in their normal stay here of 3 months do they tackle a piece of meat but in the main they live on this diet. Healthwise I am sure it is really good for you but the repetition of it day after day would drive me mad.

At the house where I made the stuff last year the head of the house has never in his 50 years not had pasta every lunchtime  every day of every month of every year though his sugo is made with meat as a base. Again the monotony is to me incredible.

When I first went to work in Washington D.C. I went at lunchtime to the local sandwich shop just around the corner to get a sandwich. ” Next” yelled the busy guy and I moved forward . I peered at the board to make my choice. Ham I said ” Hold it buddy ” he said  “bread first ,wholemeal, rye, white, brown ” I hesitated er wholemeal and ham I tried again. ” Butter , mayo, mustard ” er um er. ” Okay buddy I don’t have time for this get your goddam act together and when you’re ready get back in line and start again. Now next” and I was supplanted from the line. I went back to the office sandwichless and sat at my desk and wrote my order.Domestic ham and foreign cheese on wholemeal with mayo,  tomatoes easy on the lettuce heavy on the cucumber. With my script I returned and when shouted at rattled off the order and got my first huge American sandwich. I stayed with that order for the two years I was based there petrified to change it. It wasn’t till I was leaving that I dared to to say to the guy that actually his foreign was my domestic and his domestic was my foreign because I was British. He didn’t get the humour I have to report.

Anyway it seems I am not alone. Throughout Italy in various places where illegal immigrants are being housed in Hotels or camps there have been in the past few weeks food riots.

The illegals are protesting the “boring” Italian diet. All we get they say is pasta tomatoes and bread. We want decent food from our own countries. There has been some reaction to this as you can imagine . Italians are understandably a little upset that having lifted these people out of the sea and saved many from drowning they in turn are critical of the diet here. Giovanni would certainly consider himself in heaven if he could eat for free what he pays for and cooks at his own house everyday.

 

 

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L’Estate Collasso

The summer collapses is the headline today. There hasn’t really been much summer to be fair but August has been hot and the past two weeks have been very warm especially in the evening and at night with so little wind. It has made sleeping difficult as up here in the high country of Martina Franca it is not normally necessary to have aircon so we never fitted it . Let me also add that hot humid nights are murder if you have shingles !!

The summer goes on Monday with the arrival of Cyclone Electra that will bring much lower temperatures and rain.

Each year Puglia and indeed Italy gets a storm that pushes summer away. It can come in late August or in September and after it the weather becomes iffy. There will be warm or even hot periods but they tend to be short lived and the weather is more UK like than Mediterranean.

Electra was the daughter of Agamemnon of  Trojan War fame. When he returned home he was killed by his wife Clytemnestra. Nice coming home present.

Electra and her brother then plotted and killed their Mum to avenge their father. All good Greek tragedy stuff but interesting as we are to head off on September 6th on a ferry from Brindisi to mainland Greece and then are driving around the Peloponnese as well as consulting the oracle at Delphi . Greek mythology is therefore all I am reading about at the moment as I plan our drive around the Mani region.

I am hoping that the weather here will not be the weather there. It normally stays much warmer for longer in Greece and let’s hope that is the case this year.

Anyway the weather falling apart kind of closes the door on all these politicians asking for the beaches to stay open or the schools to stay on holiday. You can’t dictate the weather especially in Puglia.

If you don’t know what to do form a committee seems the rule for all politicians throughout the world and Italy is certainly no exception.

After months of doing nothing the Ministry of Agriculture has finally come up with a plan to handle the olive tree decimator xylella . Yup you guessed it form a committee to report to, wait for it, the Scientific Committee which will report to the Committee of Plant Health. Wow that should quicken everything up shouldn’t it.

The new committee is mainly accepting the findings of the experts who have been demanding action since May of this year. The chopping down of dying trees , the control of insects likely to spread the disease and a corridor of insecticide to prevent it spreading northwards.

They have now identified that along with olive trees the oleander plant, the almond tree, some types of vines and the cherry tree are likely to get the disease. However citrus fruits are not.

 

Last week the councils in the Salento region where the outbreak is at the moment contained voted to oppose the cutting down of trees and the idea of an insecticide corridor as have a variety of environmental groups. So quite where this is going who knows.

Still the government has formed a committee and all is well in Italy !!

 

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Naughty Naughty

The Italian press have been having a field day with the arrest of a Frenchman and two Frenchwomen found in the ancient baths at Pompei having a sex romp while trying to re-enact the raunchy frescoes on the wall .

Pompei

The French who were arrested after being spotted going over the wall have said they intend to return to finish what they had started so to speak at a later date.

This follows on from a British couple found in broad daylight having sex on a bridge in Venice. They too seemed surprised about what the fuss was about in the most romantic city in the world.

What with skinny dipping northern Europeans in Rome fountains and Florence rivers, nude tourists sun bathing in public squares and tourists taking a bath no less in various fountains after camping out on the streets this is the year when the more law abiding Italians, prudish by nature, are having to get used to the ways of the young from the northern countries.

Quite nicely the papers seem to blame Italy for it all. It is they say a romantic country and perhaps the tourists  just can’t help themselves. Others blame the mess the country is in politically though quite how that fits I have no idea. Renzi is a fool so come on Chardonay  lets jump naked in the nearest fountain doesn’t really add up.  One even blames the fact that in the South of Italy there are acres and acres for landfill sites and that especially in the South the locals happily toss rubbish from their cars and over their fences to litter the countryside.

What most don’t seem still to realise is that most of these excesses as the Italians see them are drink fueled. I have yet to see an Italian male drunk in public down here and trust me I spend plenty of time in local bars researching this subject. They make lots of noise but either hold their booze well or watch what they are drinking. At home most take a few glasses of wine with their meals but going on a bender is almost unknown.  The young do do shots in the bar but normally just the one and then that is it. The great majority of women over 25 in the South maybe 90%, take no alcohol at all.

Were it the same for the Northern European youth who invade Italy each summer. It is no Costa Brava or Ibiza but boy they enjoy themselves.

All this talk of booze reminded me of a joke I was sent the other day . An Italian Mother Superior in a convent is dying and asks a nun to get her a glass of milk. The novice nun seeing a bottle of whiskey used by the priest who visited on occasions near the bottle of milk decided to put a generous measure in the glass with the milk. After the Mother Superior drank the glass the nun asked what piece of advice she would leave them with for their lives ahead. The Mother Superior looked at the nun and said ” don’t get rid of that cow whatever you do.”

That in turn reminded me of a true story I heard many years back. I was crewing on a boat going from Henley on Thames to Ramsgate. It wasn’t just any boat but one of the original Dunkirk Little Ships that crossed the Channel and ferried troops from the beach to the waiting Royal Navy ships anchored in deep water. Indeed this one still had the marks of the hobnail boots of the troops on the deck planking.

We were doing the sea bit at night and rightly the owner had insisted on two of us being on watch as we motored down to Ramsgate. I was sitting with James Burke the TV presenter who was going over with the owner the following day for the yearly commemoration ceremony on the Dunkirk beaches.

He had just returned from doing a Tomorrow’s World piece in the USA and had had he said the misfortune to be on an aircraft that on approach to LAX found that the front nose wheel wouldn’t come down. The Captain advised everyone about this and that he was going over the sea for 30 minutes to drop most of the fuel before landing without it on a bed of foam being laid by the fire brigade. The good news he said was that the cabin crew would be coming through the cabin with free drinks for those who wanted a little Dutch courage. James said that in the row alongside him there were three nuns who began to cross themselves and chant to their rosary beads.  The trolley arrived and James asked for a miniature brandy and the stewardess gave him two. She then turned to the nuns and immediately apologised ” so sorry sisters’ and started to move on. “one moment” said one of the nuns “we will have three whiskeys each please ”  . James said the whole plane exploded in laughter and people were still chuckling when the aircraft made a perfect landing on just the main undercarriage with the nose slowly plopping down into the thick foam. They all walked away and he had this great story to tell.

 

 

 

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Goodness Gracious Me

First we had Justin Timberlake’s wedding here in Puglia but he is about to be eclipsed in a big way. Enter UK based Indian billionaire Premod Agarwal. Premod is in iron ore in a big way. A Bombay boy he went to Brazil in the early 1990’s and did a deal to buy as much iron ore as they could mine. China took off a few years later and the price of iron ore went from a few bucks to 200 a tonne and Premod coined in the cash.

premod

He is quite reclusive and is a devout Hindu being both strictly vegetarian and tea total but he has three daughters and when they marry Premod dips into the coffers in a big way. Daughter one was married in India, daughter two was married in Venice in an event that stopped the city and is still talked about. Step forward daughter three and Premod has chosen Puglia or more specifically two hotels the San Domenico and the Borgia Egnazia. If you phone them for a booking between August 30th and September 8th they happily tell you they are both fully booked . Premod has sucked up every room in the area for his 800 wedding guests, 300 seamstresses, India cooks, workers and stage acts plus 400 staff from Balich Worldwide Shows who are based in Milan but did all the shows at the London Olympics. Like I said Premod pushes the boat out !

At daughter number two’s wedding Shakira was flown in from Los Angeles to perform live and who is coming for this one is still a well kept secret.

This weekend two Asian elephants are being flown in. One for the groom to be be carried to the wedding .

The event lasts from Sept 3 to Sept 6th. Three parties are planned for each day. One at Borgo Egnazia , one at San Domenica and the finale on the beach at Cala Masciola.

Two huge marques are being erected one for the kitchens which will cook Indian food every day for all the guests and one for the other workers to do things like making saris etc for the guests and doing mahindi for the female guests plus the 70 Puglian girls chosen to be hostesses for the event. These girls all selected for their fluency in English ( I wonder where they found them ) will be throwing rose petals over the guests, presenting garlands and showing people to their tables etc.

This is mahindi

mahindi

 

When based in Bombay with British Airways we were invited to many indian weddings and they are sumptuous occasions. The biggest was for the daughter of one of the billionaire ( even then) Hinduja brothers. It went on for a week and the invitations one of which arrived each day were each individually painted by the top Indian artist of the time. We also were dressed for the main event in full Indian gear with me learning how to tie a turban in case it started to unwind during the dancing which it did. The bride had a gold sari made that was so heavy she could barely walk and then guests pinned money to it as presents. Thousands and thousands of pounds let me add.

I have never seen such wealth on display like at all Indian weddings. Our driver at the time had two daughters and no son and his entire life was spent trying to save enough money for the dowry that he would have to pay to get them married. It is all relative but from his wages he will have spent probably in a ratio the same as Premod is doing.

The Venice show was reckoned to have knocked him back US$10 million at least and this one is going to be more.

The only cloud on the horizon for the event is the fear of full scale protests by Italians about the Puglian marines still held in India over the shooting, in international waters, of an Indian fisherman whose boat they feared was actually pirates coming to seize their ship. The Italians sent them back after Christmas at home last year thinking they would stand trial but nothing has happened.

Police presence is going to be vast says the chief of police and most roads around Savelletri will closed off with residents living in the area given passes. This they say reflects the worry about demonstrations but also that the guests at the event are estimated to control some 25% of total Indian wealth and that is a staggering figure these days.

The mayor of Fassano the town that controls the area who is called quite confusingly Sr. Bari is on the guest list and has said that he hopes this wedding will bring yet more prosperity to the area. How many he muses of the 800 guests will come back to holiday here.

Not many I fear Sr. Bari as Indians really do want authentic Indian food when on holiday and to date there isn’t a single curry shop in Puglia. When I have been with Indian friends in London they have always taken me to excellent curry places where when you walk in it is just like being in Bombay or Delhi. Everyone knows everyone else as they are all visiting and spending time in their London houses whilst escaping the summer heat and rains.

Oh well lets do the headline now shall we.

 

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Doggone

As the Americans would say, Puglia which has been nosing ahead in the abandoned dog statistics ( get the headline ?!) has now jumped way ahead of every other Italian province. We now have more abandoned dogs than anywhere else by a country mile.  These are stats compiled by the various dog protection agencies so do not reflect the numbers that are never reported by members of the public or taken in by mainly British expats. I would imagine if you added those in we would be world champions at “losing” dogs.

The majority of Brits down here are doggie people. Whether that is a British trait or maybe it is just fortuitous that doggie Brits keep moving  to the right area of Italy I’m not sure. Any other province and they would have a leaner time grabbing a doggie off the road.

I am not a doggie person myself but we are surrounded by Brits that are. It is normal, it seems, for them to have 6/7 dogs on the premises and some far more. A lady around the corner has 15 of them at the last count though she is unsure quite how many she feeds.

Italians in the country have dogs that they keep in cages in the garden. However with the recession lingering on and on more and more cages are empty now. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that there hasn’t been some terrible disease that has caused this decline. The dogs are clearly part of the statistics and were let out of their cages and  “encouraged” to seek pastures new . Libero “free” is how one of our Italian neighbours described the missing dog when I asked about the empty cage.

In the north of Italy Italians tend to have dogs as pets rather than in a cage. They might not sleep in the house but they are walked with a lead and generally well looked after. It is noticeable when they visit here for their hols they are out walking the dogs which is not something you see here at any other time of the year.

To be fair there is almost nowhere to take a dog if you no longer want it or can look after it unless you want to pay a vet and they are very expensive. It is also hard to have dogs neutered . Male vets just won’t do male dogs and they always want female dogs to have had a least one litter before they will do the task. Does it say something about the Italian male I wonder. Answers on a postcard please.

Rome is also quite a doggie place. A family friend I used to visit in the early 1960s had an Alsatian that he inherited when he married a countess. Caff as he was always known  though it was his surname ( like inspector Morse) drove a large Alfa Romeo and he had trained the dog to run alongside the car and when he tooted the horn twice the dog would jump in through the rear window. So the dog got plenty of exercise and Caff got to drive the Countesses big car. In those days though dogs on leads in Rome all had muzzles due to rabies still being a huge problem.

Monte Carlo is probably the doggie capital of the world and the advice I got when staying with friends there that ” the tourists look up at the buildings and the locals look down at the pavement” was hugely valuable. There is  dog poo is everywhere .

Not being a doggie person I can’t get too excited about them and  so on my daily walk I have made a list of dogs that I really wouldn’t mind if they ” disappeared “. The bullmastif that throws itself at the gate as I walk past, the yappy little thing that nips my heels if the owner isn’t around, Paulo’s dog that barks most of the night. The list goes on. Several have gone in the last couple of years and my walks are a lot quieter now than they were.

Doggone it Paulo’s dog has just started barking again and the sun has hardly set yet. Anyone know a dogcatcher ?

 

 

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Tempa Rossa

But first a little celebration as today up the driveway went the grandchildren from hell still screaming as their hapless parents drove them away. Twelve weeks stay in 2012, four weeks stay in 2013 and now just a six day stay in 2014. Ah the joy of our neighbours getting older for as sure as hell the grandchildren don’t seem to !

We can put the AC/DC and Iron Maiden playlists away for another year and stow the outside speakers again. No more running to the hills

Now I have seen in the paper several times, Tempa Rossa and have never really bothered to find out what it is though it was clearly some kind of project that had some bearing on Taranto as it always was linked to the various health problems caused by reckless industrialists in the city.

Well it is in fact an huge oil and gas field presently being built in a National Park down the road in Basilicata. It is slap bang in the middle of an area of natural beauty but has managed to go from project to actual building in the last 5 years. Total Oil are doing it and  the plant system – among the most advanced ones in the oil sector – will have a daily production capacity of approximately 50,000 barrels of oil, 230,000 m³ of natural gas, 240 tons of LPG and 80 tons of sulphur. That is 10% of Italy’s oil needs for the next 20 years and the LPG will just about be enough to keep my house heated in the winter if ever we decided to stay here for one,  given the poor insulation.

The development project 

  • 8 production wells, 6 of which have been drilled and two to be drilled after obtaining authorizations.
  • Construction of an oil processing centre where the extracted hydrocarbons, transported via an underground flow line network, are to be processed and separated into various sub-products (crude oil, gas fuel, sulphur, LPG) and then sent via underground flow lines or, in the case of sulphur, via tankers.
  • Construction of an LPG storage centre (2 underground tanks with a total capacity of 3,000 m³) with 4 road loading points.
  • Construction or modification of service infrastructure (adjustment of municipal roads, creating water and electricity supply systems for the processing centre, connections to existing networks for the transport and distribution of the hydrocarbons)

However the piece of the project that is of interest to Taranto and with the prevailing Southerly and Northerly winds the whole of Puglia is this one

“the oil will be transported via underground pipelines to the “Viggiano-Taranto” oil pipeline that is 51 cm in diameter and 136 km long (96 km of which is in Basilicata), which connects the Val d’Agri oilfield plants to the Taranto Refinery, its export terminal.”

The plan is then to build two offshore jetties for ships up to 45,000 tonnes to dock and load the oil to take it around Italy.

Total Oil are waxing eloquently about modern systems and clean air etc but Eni who own the oil refinery don’t have a great track record on that kind of thing and are mainly criticized for filling the air with nasties at the drop of an hat.

The real bugbear though is that all the royalties on the oil and most of the jobs are in Basilicata which has lead to the cry “they get the money we get the bad lungs ” from Taranto residents.

I posted the other day about our King Canute but it seems Italy is breeding them now. Tuscany has been really badly hit by the lousy weather this year.
They have had the wettest coldest summer ever and the tourism industry is on it’s knees. The mayors up there have got together and asked the Education Minister in Rome to delay by a month the start of school throughout Italy to allow Italians to take an holiday if the weather improves. Luckily she just laughed when she got their petition and has now rejected it. For a terrible moment I thought we might get those pesky grandchildren back again !!!!

 

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