Colpo D’Aria ( Punch of Air)

There are times when you realise you are living in a different country by being here in Italy. This morning was one of those times.

The Messaggero  a large national paper here had a piece on the front page about the death of a swimmer at Ostia near Rome yesterday. He got into difficulties after swimming out a way and by the time the rescue boat was called and reached him his body had slipped under the water.


He later washed up on the shore. However it wasn’t the tragedy that caught my eye but the reason given by the police for the death. He, explained the police chief, had eaten lunch and had not waited an hour before entering the water and must therefore have got cramp and drowned. Everyone including the medical man nodded sagely in agreement. Silly boy fancy taking such a chance.

Nobody knows where this particular old wives tale comes from but it is thought it started when parents wanted some time after their own meal before they had to go back to monitoring the kids playing in the sea.  However in Italy it is gospel and firmly believed by most of the population and clearly many of the emergency services as well .

Italians have lots of these old wives tales that they all believe with a religious type zeal and are amazed that we Brits don’t seem to suffer from them .  They have an intimate knowledge of their bodies and unlike most foreigners can point to where their stomach is and where their intestines are and are therefore able to differentiate between pains. We just get get tummy ache and point to anywhere from ” down there” to the start of our chests.

Ask a Brit how they feel and they will say ” mustn’t grumble” ask an Italian Nonna  (Grandmother) how she is and you can sit back and know you will not get a word in for 20 minutes as she list the ailments she is presently suffering.

The biggy down here is colpo d’aria and we are all in terrible danger from it especially during the winter months. It can cause anything from pneumonia to death and is caused by either sitting in a draught or just being exposed to a wind. To prevent it you must dress up warm at all times and many believe you should wear a special woollen vest called a “maglia della salute” (a shirt of health). It is why in October you see people in Martina Franca, on what we would call a very warm summer’s day in the UK, walking about dressed like eskimos with huge puffer jackets and scarves. They are merely warding off an attack from the colpo d’aria just as their mamma before them said they must do.

Nor dare you go outside with wet hair at anytime. This leads to headaches or a chill, or an head cold or worse still the dreaded  mystery Italian malady “la cervicale”. La cervicale is something to do with the neck  and most italians suffer from it. We Brits are again immune to it as we have no idea what it is and clearly therefore can’t catch it wet hair or not.

There are plenty of other myths down here in Southern Italy as well. Italians don’t touch wood they touch iron ( tocca ferro) and you must touch iron when you see a nun. Not because they are unlucky but because they are associated with hospitals and we all know that once you are in one of those well less said the better. Some locals carry a nail in their pocket just in case they meet one.

Never take flowers when going to an Italian house. Flowers are for death so you will scare the living daylights out of your host by presenting her with a big bouquet of them . Take a plant instead, preferably a yucca which is considered very good luck . Also just in case you were going to don’t take them some peacock feathers either.




yucca plant


Italians believe the number 17 is really unlucky and here you will not find a 17th floor nor often room number 17 in an hotel. Why is it unlucky well it comes from the Romans again the roman numeral for 17 is XVII and as many of you will have already figures out with your knowledge of Latin an anagram of that is obviously vixi . Vixi means ………………………………….come on out with it Smith minor

Yes it means “I have lived” and therefore I am about to  die . Amazingly Lufthansa the German carrier in an effort to attract more Italians have done away with row 17 and indeed for many of the rest of us they have done in row 13 as well. They will probably have to start naming their rows if they go on like this . Yes sir you are sitting in lederhosen A .

A funny Southwest Safety announcement to end




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Huge Crowds at Grassano

It’s a small world really isn’t it. I asked my Italian teacher Stefania if she had a nice weekend as part of my conversation lesson. Yes she replied I went to my mother’s birthplace Grassano for lunch with her on Sunday.  Lunch or any meal of course opens up a conversation in Italian . What did you eat is the next domanda and then you can normally sit back and read a book or look out of the window for 10 minutes, do your nails, pick your toes what ever turns you on. Meanwhile the Italian will be describing in minute detail every course and how it was cooked . Stefania  is too wise and has been a teacher too long to fall for it though and I was soon back in the hot seat. As I searched for words part of my overworking brain kept saying Grassano why have I heard that name before and then in a  Damascus moment it came to me. The Mayor of New York was going there to get the keys of the town because his grandmother was born there.

New York Mayor


All I needed was the Italian word for Mayor and I had another conversational piece What was the headline it was an odd word ah yes Sindaco .

According to the newspaper it was an hugely successful visit. Bill arrived with his wife and kids, visited the family home which oddly was locked up and then returned to the town hall to get the keys of the town ( maybe they should just have given him the keys to the old house !) and an honorary citizenship of the place. Bill did a walk about and to the surprise of the press spent lots of time shaking hands with locals. He is after all an American politician.

He was given an old painting of Grassano  that almost included his grandmother’s house but the artist had stopped just short of it and a CD of songs called America is Italian, written by another ex resident of the town Gianni Belfiore. Gianni  now writes songs for Julio Iglesias and You Tube has no music from the CD but does have this.

Bill then made an impromptu speech and obviously had glanced at the CD because he said ” Thanks to you Italians and of course Christopher Columbus America is not English which people expect but Italian” It earned him an huge ovation.

Back in New York however the trip has been getting less enthusiastic approval. It seems the previous two Mayors never took an holiday and Bill had not only done the unthinkable but has gone abroad as well. Is there nowhere good enough in the USA for an 8 day break bellowed the New York Times.  Worse still ” he enjoyed in Sant’Agata de’ Goti, birthplace of his grandfather, black pork, ricotta cheese and pear cake, at a lunch that lasted three hours, a concept unimaginable in the US.”

It seems Bill had been touring Southern Italy picking up keys to various towns and actually had the temerity to enjoy long lunches. But a visit to the isle of Capri was the last straw for critics in New York  as what  is ”  a self-proclaimed champion of the poor and underprivileged doing in the opulent, decadent haunt of celebrities, from the emperor Tiberius to Jackie Onassis? ” Shocking .

I went to Capri in the early 1960’s with my parents. We ended up by chance in a bar and restaurant owned by Gracie Fields called La Canzone Del Mare



She popped over to say hello and when the bill arrived the waiter had added 20% because as he explained Gracie had briefly visited our table. My father insisted on it’s removal not only because we had never asked her over nor would have done ( he described her singing as sounding like a cat whose tail had been trodden on ) but also because during WWII she had in 1940 fled to America.

Yup he was right !!

The newspapers have now discovered that Bill actually gets paid vacation as part of his job. But over 25% of American workers do not, which for us European cousins used to 4/5/6 weeks paid holiday seems unreal. There is still no law in the USA requiring companies to offer paid holidays and those that do do so because they believe it leads to better productivity and a happier workforce.

For the whole of the 20th Century the US could disdainfully look down on effete, nanny-state Europe, land of obstreperous unions and the three-hour lunch, and bask in its own superiority. These days, that is not so easy. How is it that Germany, where six weeks’ paid holiday is the norm and workers and bosses actually co-operate, far outperforms not just most of Europe, but the US as well?




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Un Bel Casino

A fine mess. Not a great week for our leader Matteo Renzi. In March he spoke to the Senate and said that he would not be back as he was going to reform them away. Well he has now found that turkeys tend not to vote for Christmas. This week he has been reduced to writing to them ( busy reforming the E.U. at the moment) appealing to their patriotism. Italy expects and all that.

It is unlikely to work as they have never voted for anything but to feather their own nests further.  The plan is now to turn the Senate from a democratically elected body into a kind of UK House of Lords where political parties can reward supporters by appointing them to the new Senate. They are busy debating what it will be called and unsurprisingly cannot even reach agreement on that.

The people most affected by the reforms are of course the Italian electorate and they have no chance to vote on it. Renzi is the third Prime Minister to be appointed by the octogenarian President without recourse to a vote. Now they are to do  away with an elected body and yet again  no input from the electorate.

It seems the vote for European M.Ps was taken as a vote for reform in Italy.

There is a kind of Nero fiddling while Rome burns feel to this whole exercise. As M.Ps debate what the new chamber is to be called it was announced that the public debt had again increased to a mind boggling 137% of GDP up from 129% when Berlusconi was thrown out by Ms.  Merkel and Monti bought in to reverse the trend.  Unemployment is at 12.6% and youth at 43% ( 65% in the South) .

The solution by Renzi is the same as his predecessors more taxation. He did bring in a lower tax rate for the worse off but that has to be paid for and within the €80 bill ( the amount of money per month the poor will be better off  by) there is a swathe of new taxes. Fuel will be going up by 1.5cents a litre which will increase the price of everything. The tax on smart phones, tablets and anything with a digital memory will rise from €0.90c  to €4.80. There are also large increases on hard drives USB sticks etc.  They certainly know how to slow  Italy’s  very pedestrian march towards the 21st Century in Rome don’t they.

Meanwhile over at Alitalia there is stalemate with the unions who can’t agree on salary reductions demanded by Etihad before they go ahead with their merger. Renzi says the unions must change but they show little appetite for it and remain firmly back in the 1960s.

Etihad hope to bring the airline kicking and screaming into this new century just as one presumes Renzi wants to do to Italy but Italians don’t really do change. The longer you live here the more you realise that under the surface it is a very controlled form of society very set in it’s ways and very conservative with a small c. That is why strangers are feared and outsiders not understood.

Lots of America is like that and much of it is that Italian influence. We often say to each other ” just like America” when we see people’s behavior here in Southern Italy.

Airlines in the States are almost all now “me too” ones giving poor service and lousy handling on the ground very much like Alitalia here. The difference is with the internet better developed and a generation of youngsters willing and able to use it ( unlike Italy as yet) they are being punished for it at last. Take this youtube effort that has been seen by an incredible 14 million people

It has done United no good at all. So it is refreshing to see an airline over there that has broken the mold and is focussed on both  the customer and good service at a great price.

Virgin America ( in which Mr Branson luckily has but a small stake ) has spent money on the experience rather than just a huge advertising spend and relied on word of mouth and social media like Facebook and Twitter to spread the word. This is their inflight safety video

They also have enhanced the passenger ground experience as well as tons of great stuff on board like being able to view snack choices on you inflight video screen and then order it by the push of a button . The crew member then brings you your order. How sensible is that why hasn’t anyone else thought of it.

Quite makes me want to go back to being a road warrior as frequent business fliers are known as in the USA

Road warrior


Or maybe not !!




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English, La Lingua dell’ Europa

This month sees thousands of Italian 17/18 year olds packing bags and saying farewell to their parents as they head off to the UK. They travel by plane,train,or car and end up either in a university town like Oxford, York or Durham staying in accommodation vacated by students for the summer holidays. If not there then they head for seaside towns like Brighton, Eastbourne and Torquay.

The reason they go is to spend 3 weeks learning or improving their English . They will be joining hundreds of thousands of other students from Europe who are there for the same reason. It is an industry that is worth some £100 million to the British economy.

For many Italians it will be the first time they have met kids from other countries and is the first time they have been allowed to slip away from Mamma’s control and experience true freedom. The Vacanza- Studio ( study holiday) as it is called .

What they all find is that to speak to the opposite sex from another European country they have to speak English. An Italian boy wanting to date the beautiful Swedish girl from Stockholm  will need to brush up on his technique in English. A Dutch boy eyeing up an Italian girl will have his English phrase book out the night before rehearsing his opening line.
What ever proficiency they obtain during the 3 weeks in Britain they will come home knowing that to succeed in Europe they must lean more English and for many it will be the start of a new beginning when they study hard at English with the idea of obtaining a good professional job in Italy or  Europe or simply develop a love of English and become teachers like my present Italian teacher Stefania.

Weirdly they are studying in places like Eastbourne amongst a people who are the most European sceptic of all the E.U. countries and in towns that are the most non European in style and loving every minute of it.

Debussy composed ‘La Mer” in Eastbourne and since then French, Italian, German, Hungarian and Polish amongst others have made the amazing discovery that for all their obvious differences they are all very much the same with lots of things like music to share. They return home with a whole new list of Facebook friends many of whom will be with them all their lives.

They also see Europe differently than say their parents and certainly from the way the Eurocrats in Brussels do.

It also allows the same Italians  who have learnt some English to mock their politicians who attempt to make speeches in English. The internet is now full of examples and have become a humorous  diversion for Italian youth who feel their politicians are not only out of touch but shouldn’t really try to speak  English unless they too have a couple of lessons. Maybe a few weeks in Eastbourne would do them the power of good too.

The latest to get the treatment is Matteo Renzi who made this brief speech in English

No one is quite sure what  he was on about. Quite why a genius would want to invent the telephone just to speak in the theatre is unfathomable but there you go.

It has now been put to music.

Love it.

This is a chart of the number of people who can hold a good conversation in English by country



Apart from Spain and a couple of Eastern European countries where Russian was the order of the day. They are impressive figures. Just look at Scandinavia where when I was running Abercrombie and Kent the tour operator we sent our English brochures over there rather than bother translating them. Sweden has almost as many people who can hold a conversation in English as the UK !!!

Whilst Brits might complain in say Paris that no one speaks English it is now becoming far more common for a Dutchman or a German girl to complain that too few people in say Naples speak English. It is now the language of Europe. Poor Charles De Gaulle must be turning in his grave.





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Alla Spiaggia

To the beach ! July 2nd was the last time we went. Since then we have had cloud and rain but  the forecaster promised a “un po’ di bel tempo ” “a bit of summer” and so we took a chance. Seems it will all fall to pieces again on Sunday.

This was our bit of beach on July 2nd

Beach July 2nd


That was our umbrella so way in the distance was another person.  Now you can imagine there has been a little pent up demand from holiday makers who came to enjoy a beach vacation. This was the same bit today.

Beach 24 July


Most of the beach has gone in the storms of the last 2 weeks which made finding a spot even more exciting. For the Italians of course this was finally paradise. Everyone on top of everyone else, beach chair to beach chair, umbrella touching umbrella. They were in seventh heaven.  Let’s turn our music up and share it with everyone was the order of the day. Let the dog loose ( strictly forbidden on the beach of course but hey rules are for breaking) everyone will love him like we do. Get the beach tennis set out there’s no room  here but people will love us playing over their reclining bodies won’t they. Oh a football lets stand 100 metres from each other and kick it as hard as we can to each other. Whoops, well I’m sure the kid will recover.

Billboard voted this “Best Summer Song Ever” this year.

We were Italian though in buying focaccia for lunch at the local bakery on the way down

Forcacia I was sitting so close to an Italian that he took a bite out of my piece as you can see. He said it was good so that was okay.

Here is Gordon making focaccia the Bari way with toms and rosemary and not a swear word in sight.

I saw a birthday card the other day with a woman on the front of the card kneading bread and saying ” god this is so boring no wonder Gordon swears so much.”

Eating focaccia on the beach is very Italian and almost everyone brings it or buys it from the lido bar.

Well it didn’t cloud over as they forecast nor did it rain at 1600hrs either. In fact the sun was out all day and tans were topped up, Italian children got to strengthen their lungs screaming at the top of their voices, dogs barked in unison with them, food was served, beer drunk, conversations shouted between two people sitting not 1 metre from each other, mobile phones bellowed into to tell Mamma all about it ( the guys ) or the neighbour what she was missing by not coming too ( the gals) . Bodies were rubbed with suntan oil, couples cuddled on one bedchair, almost not a single book was read by an Italian but all went home happy from a great day at the beach. Roll on August they all said then it will be even more crowded. Oh the joy. Let’s bring six bats to play tennis next time.

Moving Shop


Some people of course had to work and this guy carries his shop up and down the beach everyday. He actually seems to do quite well selling to the crowd. The Africans on the beach do less well as most are selling beads. Didn’t we take them there in the first place ? Anyway now they are bringing them back for us to buy but we are probably as disinterested as their ancestors were.




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I popped into Villa Castelli today to visit  the barber’s for an haircut.


The place was busy and the locals were chatting away about the most important subject of the day. It wasn’t the reforms of Renzi that interested them as Rome is a long way away and in the main of little consequence to them. The reform of the Senate merely induces yawns from everyone. It wasn’t the rather pleasing fact that Uber the phone app booked taxis have arrived in Rome causing the usual protests by official taxi drivers and the ubiquitous Italian union solution to every threat to their price controlled competition free  status quo, a strike.

Actually just staying on that subject for a moment, Uber started just a few weeks ago having already stirred the market up in Milan. They are seeing double digit growth figures each week and have just launched some amazingly competitive taxi fares to and from the Rome airports. The taxi union is having kittens because the airports originally promised they would not allow them in showing that luddism even exists in a more modern airport environment. However they then did a 180 on the union.

It will come as no surprise to my brother in law Dick that Rome taxi drivers are rated bottom of the all the European continental countries for customer service, knowledge and friendliness.  They are also the most expensive taxi drivers in Italy apart from Milan so you can see how Uber target cities now.

No the subject everyone wanted to talk about was the weather and the storm that swept through in the early hours of this morning dropping 3 inches of rain on my house alone.

Yesterday morning after that memorable breakfast we went to Paestum ruins via the railway station.

Train Arrives

If you are in Naples or Salerno the train service to Paestum is excellent and the station a 5 minute walk from the ruins so amazingly convenient too.

Paestum Gate

From the station you walk through this old gate and down to the ruins.


Paestum is one of the world’s best kept secrets and the local council seem determined to keep it that way. There are many articles by distinguished archaeologists bemoaning the fact that so little is done to improve facilities or even let the world know it is there. the comune on the other hand make their money from the fly or drive flop brigade that arrive in their droves in June/July/August. They are easier to please, and require almost no outlay by the local citizens.

Paestum was built by the Greeks in 600 B.C.   who named it Poseidonia after the Greek god Poseidon ( the Roman god Neptune). They built a town there and  three temples.

in 273B.C. the area now run by the Lucans after the Greeks left was invaded by Romans and taken. The Romans renamed it Paestum..

As a result of deforestation on the hills surrounding the town the rivers that ran to the sea silted up and the area became a marshy swamp. Malaria became rampant and the population that didn’t succumb to disease left the old town and moved off up the hill.

The Greek and Roman town disappeared into the swamp and was covered over by vegetation .

It was not until the 18th Century when excavations began at Pompeii that archeologists began to also look for this lost town and began to excavate.

They were amazed to find the three temples almost intact and in far better condition than the parthenon in Athens or anywhere else in the Mediterranean .

Big Boy


This is the Temple to Poseidon built in 450 B.C. and is the biggest of the three.  The photo is taken from the roadway that runs along the site and from which you can saunter down snapping all the various finds without paying a single penny. The amphitheatre for example has the road where the stage should be so you are right in it.

In 1957 further excavations uncovered the Roman town built close to the Greek site. Pathe News covered it though on this clip the sound was lost.


I always say when there can you imagine if this had been found in say Arizona, what kind of tourist trap would it be.

Indeed Paestum reminds me of Stonehenge 30 years ago when you pulled off the A330 parked on a grass verge, strolled around the site, sat on a few of the stones for a photo and to both drink your hot chocolate from a thermos flask and eat your cheese and tomato sandwich. Then back in the car and on to Devon for your real holiday.

Just think this picture above was taken yesterday the 22nd of July, high season, on a cloudy but as yet dry day when most people were at a loose end and  just after midday.

What can you see ? Three people that’s all wandering in and around the huge temple. I wonder what the Parthenon in Athens ( which incidentally you can’t get close to anymore) looked like at the same time yesterday or Pompeii ?

I always park alongside a bar just a 2 minute walk from the first temple. Cappuccino there is still €1 a cup . What do you reckon a cappuccio is that close to Pompeii and good luck drinking what the Greeks might give you that they call cappuccino.

It is alway nice because guests you take see the first temple and if you haven’t explained the place they assume that is what you have bought them to see. Wow they go fantastic and start taking loads of pictures. Because of trees the other two are not seen from the first. Then you walk them on and past the line of trees they see the monster in front of them. Their faces are always a picture.

The heavens then opened and the drive back to Martina Franca started.


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Meteo Peggiore

Weather worse

Worse Weather

Rain till August is the latest forecast .

We drove to Paestum yesterday afternoon and arrived there at 6 p.m. . I had booked an el cheapo hotel on line as it was high season. Most hotels were over €150 and many over €200 reflecting the height of summer. The weather had been threatening all the way to Potenza and once over the mountains the heavens opened .

However just after we arrived at the Hotel Clorinda a storm of biblical proportions struck. The noise was intense and the rain came in waves almost as if the sea itself was throwing itself at the area.

We checked in and went to the cupboard the hotel believed was a room and decided not to bother unpacking. Maybe 2 nights is going to be too long here given the weather and the fact that noise wise we were sharing our room with the lovely Italian woman next door who was on the phone to Mamma and the four girls on the other side who were having an interesting and what they thought was a private conversation about the boys on the floor below.

Time for a beer I said and we headed down to the hotel bar on the ground floor. It was under 2 inches of water. It seems that when they built the hotel nobody thought about drains and the only drains were merely soak aways. Well with 4 inches of rain in minutes there was no time to soak away and in it came.

Kindly one of the mopping staff left her brush to serve us beers and then returned to the job in hand. A family of three Somali quickly joined in and did an amazing job.

Mopping Out

and quite soon as the rain helpfully also stopped progress was made as I encouraged their efforts from the bar stool

Mop Mop

More Mooping

Once the fun was over and a huge wet carpet was left with the accompanying smell we moved to the small local bar almost opposite. The friendly lady owner was discussing the weather with a couple of 60 something locals. Neither could remember a July like this one. Never they said in our life time have we seen rain in July. Maybe the odd drop but day after day never.

An excellent meal at a new find in Paestum The il principe pescatore locanda da luca and we returned to our cupboard for the night. Our room guests stayed chatting till gone midnight but the grappa did it’s trick and I left them to it and fell asleep. By the way our meal was nothing like the top review ( click on the blue type). Ours was barely €40 but we had a house wine which was in fact very good.

By 8.30 a.m. our friendly room guest was back on the phone to Mamma in Milano and clearly to have her voice carry had to shout. So my shower was spent listening to her telling Mum about the breakfast they were going to have. The four or five girls  sleeping seemingly in our room were out for the count.

Breakfast can only be described as, well how can I put this as kindly as I can,  revolting though as the rain came down it was good to see all the optimistic Italians wearing their beach gear in the dining room. Bikini’s have always been the clothing of choice for inside dining. Mind you maybe they had bought nothing else. Still some of them did take my mind off the machine made coffee.

I returned to the machine to get some hot water to try the tea instead and the thing rumbled burped a few times and then seemed almost to up chuck. The result in my full cup was a mix of hot chocolate, coffee and water. We left the others to the fine dining and checked out. At check out was the male member of the water bailing Somali family. the manager rightly was heaping praise on him and his two girls for the job they had done. Free drinks he offered. Don’t drink said the man and the girls are too young. Free food at lunch and dinner was the next offer. Okay said the guy . I’ve never felt so sorry for someone in my life.

Time to find  the train station. More tomorrow.

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