Auguri ( best Wishes )

It is always nice to pop out on Easter Sunday almost everyone you meet will wish you auguri . I went to our small supermarket that opens on Sunday morning and bakes bread on the premises on Saturday night. So hot fresh bread to have with lunch. Everyone in the shop was wishing everyone else auguri and I joined in. I am in cheating mode today as well, buying polpette ( Egg, cheese shaped into small balls and then fried ) rather than attempt to make my own. Most Italians eat them in a rich tomato sauce so no real danger of being found out. It is a little like people that insist on a certain brand of scotch and then fill the glass with ginger ale or gin drowned in tonic. So too I hope for store bought polpette.

The supermarket boast a bar as well with a large covered seating area and there is a regular crew of Sunday imbibers who start about 10a.m. on the wine or Campari .I counted six top of the range Mercedes outside so these aren’t your average early morning drinkers though probably many of them are builders of one sort or another.

The thorny subject of Italian builders came up yesterday when I was chatting to an English guy who is going to help me with my first attempt at wall building. He does work for a few Brits down here and was saying how busy he was at the moment. He charges what would be a going rate in the UK for odd jobbing but also owns a digger so can do trenches etc if required. Again he has used UK rates to attract business. I was showing him a trench we had had dug while we were away because  alongside it is where  my own first ever wall will be built.

The first quote I got for the 10 metre

x 2 metre trench was from a local builder who frequents the supermarket bar. He arrived in the biggest Merc I have ever seen and wandered around the area with no notebook and no measuring stick. Three days later he dropped of the quote €13,850 ! I guess the €850 was to show he had thought about it. The biggest item on the ludicrous quote was for the digger and the man to operate it. €1,000 a day for 6 days.

However in the bar I asked for the going rate and most of the cliental said most digger operators wouldn’t get out of bed for less that €90 an hour to operate a big digger and €45 for a small one. They then charge you for transporting it and for the fuel it uses. For a foreigner around here they charge €500 for a day’s work . My English guy is just 20% of that total. The Italian is also working black so the money goes straight into his pocket.

In our time here we have received all kinds of crazy quotes. Re wiring the whole house bought a plethora of quotes most in the €10,000 to €14,000 range but was eventually done for far far less.  They have clearly decided johnny foreigner is either made of money or stupid or indeed both. A phrase I was taught early on to deal with the majority of Italian workmen and their quotes was ” sono inglese ma non sono stupido ‘ I am English but I am not stupid. It has held me in good stead ever since. An English friend was telling me the other day that he phoned a plumber to get him to come around and quote for linking up some pipes for an ensuite he had built. Over the phone the guy said €2,000. but you haven’t seen it yet . No but that is my starting price !

Well I am on pasta making duty today and must get started

Pasta before the guests arrive. Enjoy your Easter Sunday. At least it has stopped raining though it starts again tomorrow. 20 inches so far this year !

 

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Easter Bunny

The Easter bunny in the form of Wheel of Fortune Renzi came early to lots of Italian tax payers this year. After his cabinet meeting he took to the podium to announce €10 Billion in tax cuts for those earning between €8,000 and €26,000 a year. It will mean some 10 million Italians will get to keep €80 a month out of the hands of the voracious State which can never be a bad thing can it.

Renzi

 

 

The announcement came a few days after The Bank of Italy announced that Government debt is at it’s highest level ever and this four years after Berlusconi was ousted by the EU Mandarins for failing to lower it. In fact the debt just kept spiralling upwards but as the financial markets no longer worry about debt when investing in bonds who cares.

The big question in the papers this morning is how is he going to pay for it? Well he opened with a three of real vote grabbers for the european election which he needs to win comfortably having seized power in a back-room coup 3 months ago. He has capped State owned industrial senior management salaries at €240,000 a year max. So for example the Airport director at little Bari airport will take a €270,000 pay cut.  Then he went on to announce that he is drastically reducing the number of State owned cars that chauffeur the machinery of State around Italy but mainly to rather fancy restaurants most evenings. There are in excess of 700,000 of them ( I kid you not). Renzi is reducing that to just 5 per ministry saying yesterday “let the rest discover the pleasure of walking “. Finally he said all local and regional governments must publish their expenses for last year within 60 days or he will cut their funds off from Central Government. Oh boy I bet there was some midnight oil being burnt around the country last night. Maybe the gravy train that is local government is finally coming to an end. You only need to look around this area and see the lifestyle these petty councillors ( and there are loads of them ) have and the houses  (yes plural) they own.

However after the populist stuff things got a bit more pie in the sky. My wife reckons I have a strange way of accounting. Things like we didn’t go to the UK last week so lets blow the £1,800 we “saved” . She tries to point out we didn’t budget for the trip so we haven’t saved it but that is pure semantics isn’t it.

Well I have a new ally in Renzi. The rest of his speech pretty much followed my style of accounting. If was the most used word and I’m sure his masters in Brussels will be on the first plane down here after their four week Easter break of course. Indeed Forza Italia said today it was just a dream.

But hey it’s Easter and believe it or not the weather actually got a little better today ( it stopped raining). So we have been able to venture out to see what 6 inches of rain in three days did to the garden etc.

We are entertaining tomorrow cooking lamb of course which is the staple here in Puglia for Easter Sunday. Then on Monday Pasquetta as it is called we are off to enjoy some cucina povera or poor peoples cooking. It is not a derogatory remark though. Rather it exemplifies what Puglia cooking is all about. Using local stuff found in the fields and making wholesome dishes from it. As one old guy said to me the rich never ate what they thought were weeds growing in the fields so we were able to, and some great dishes they make from them too.

So we are off to the butcher this evening ( sometimes the siesta break in the afternoon works in our favour as he is now open till 8 p.m.) and then hit the bar for a beer or two on the way home. I have all my Amazon packages delivered there now as the drivers seem to love delivering stuff to bars whereas they profess never to be able to find private houses in the countryside and you must drive into Martina Franca to collect them. My new strimmer is winging it’s way to the bar as i write but more about that next week.

Enjoy your Saturday evening.

 

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Venerdi Santo ( Good Friday)

Good Friday is not an holiday in Italy. I’m not sure why , the best I can find on line is that it is because it is a fast day making it not a great day to have an holiday.

Mind you there are fasts and then there fasts. In The Roman Catholic Church a fast day means you only eat one big meal and supplement this with two collations or small meals. These are normally breakfast and lunch  or as the Church calls them in Italian colazione prima and seconda. Now I don’t know about you but that sounds pretty much like my normal day’s eating so quite where fast comes in I’m not sure.

When I first went to work in Bombay I popped out at lunchtime for a breath of fresh air which was a bit of a misnomer there to be fair. On the corner near our office a tent had been erected and in it sat a small group of ex employees removed in one of the many re-organisations a few years before. Pinned on the tent were the chilling ( to me) words “Fast To The Death” . I immediately ducked back into the office and said to one of my Indian colleagues that something terrible was happening outside and that we would be faced with deaths within a few weeks. He looked sympathetically at me and said workers here fast “to the death” by taking it in turns not to eat for 2 hours then the fastee races out to fill up on food and water before his turn comes around again. They could be there for years I said. They already have been he replied. Seems the Roman Catholic Church took lessons from India.

Good Friday this year is a total washout though I presume the many parades and processions will take place in the cold rain. Almost every town has a procession on Good Friday and many have them everyday for the week. This year we have jumped into the 21st Century down here in Puglia. There is now a website Puglia Events that publicises  well yes you guessed it, events and boasts an app as well. It means tourists can plan their trip around things they might want to see which is a really good idea. It’s just a pity the weather has decided not to co-operate.

Without wishing to distract from the effort that goes into the processions nor the considerable discomfort of many of the participants as they drag chains, crosses or huge statues around a lengthy route they are all pretty much the same. For some reason almost all of them seem to feature men in long robes and what I can only describe as Klu Klux Clan headgear.

Pappamusci

Last year I featured Taranto on this blog and this time it is Francavilla but really they are the same in terms of content.

I’m afraid I shan’t be venturing out this afternoon or this evening to watch any of the parades. It is a night for a log fire and a few cocktails. Talking of cocktails I read this morning that Campari have bought a large Sicilian grappa and limoncello producer Fratelli Averna. They also produce a cheaper competitor product to Campari but I’m sure that is coincidental.

Campari in their announcement say that the purchase broadens their product range and will help them major on the USA market where there has been an enormous increase in the usage of Italian liqueurs and bitters by mixologists.

Mixologists I wondered, ah they mean barmtenders . There seems a fashion for new job titles these days dustmen are refuse disposal experts, ticket inspectors on trains are Revenue Protection Managers and so on . One I am still puzzling over is Person Centred Transition Facilitator. Answers on a post card please.

Anyway these mixologists are clearly now driving Campari strategy. Here is one strutting his stuff in a Rome bar.

Mind you if you were thirsty a drink could take a fair amount of time to arrive me thinks.

Well I had better go and mix my drinks , the sun if I could see it is well over the yardarm. Enjoy your Good Friday where ever you are and internet willing we will speak again tomorrow.

 

 

 

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Extremes and Extremities

I’m feeling a little smug this morning as I look out of the window here in Puglia. The rain is coming down like cats and dogs,the thunder is booming, the lightening crackling, the wind is blowing at about 40KPH and the mercury hovers around 7C but with the cold northerly wind the temperature feels like 1C. It is April 17th and tomorrow is Good Friday with Easter falling so late this year.

Many thinking about an holiday over the Easter period this year would have thought of Southern Italy. Indeed at the same time last year we were sitting in 25C temperatures and walking along the beach. However last year wasn’t normal and for some reason Easter is a time of bad weather every year in Puglia. Some tell me it is because Easter is always around the full moon and we especially in Spring always get storms around the full moons.
But why so smug. Well several months ago I was sitting in the Malaysian Airlines Executive Lounge in Saigon ( see how easy I drop that into the blog !) . I had little to do while sipping my wine but Malaysian had laid on free internet so I was looking at an American travel forum just for fun. There was a question about Puglia and Easter. A guy wanted to know if he had made the right decision in not renting a trull with a swimming pool near Cisternino and had rather gone for a cheaper non pooled option. There were already a variety of replies but most seemed to say he should have pooled up for his kids sake and would regret not being able to sit by it at sunset with his cocktail and luxuriate in his decision making prowess. Several mention the glorious April of 2013 and how they had even ventured into the sea ( must be mad).

I was the contrarian and said what a wise owl he was . Puglia at Easter time was no place to start thinking about swimming indeed the family would be wet enough just running from the car to the restaurant most days. This would be especially true up here in the high hills around Cisternino and Martina Franca. I ventured that even May was too early to start worrying about swimming pools up here. I hope he stuck to his guns and whilst sightseeing in this extreme weather and no doubt freezing his extremities off at least is pleased no one is going to fall into the pool he didn’t book and die of hypothermia.

There must be several thousand tourists here this weekend wondering what they were thinking of booking a holiday here in Puglia as the forecast is bad tomorrow and Saturday as well poor things. Hang on I must raise the thermostat on the gas central heating and throw another log on the fire.

Where was I yesterday, well I was here but the internet had gone walk about. Nor is it any better today. I’m typing this in Word and will hope to get a slight signal after dark with which to transfer it to WordPress and send it but I shan’t be holding my breath unless that is I venture outside.

So it was with some sceptisism that I read in the morning paper that the Economy minister in Rome has given €62 million to develop fibre optic cable broadband in Puglia. He is concerned it seems about something most of us down here have already noticed . There is what he calls a divide between internet in the rest of Italy and internet down in the south , in other words there is hardly any here. He says private companies are unwilling to invest in the south where they see low demand and therefore low returns. So he has thrown down his Roman gauntlet or is that more Arthurian do you think. To get the money companies must stump up 30% of the total cost which with my simple maths means the dear minister thinks the total cost of bringing fibre optic cable to the south is just €90 million. Methinks this is just another of those “ announcements” that politicians love to make knowing full well they are not risking a centissimo of the €62 million promised and I will still be sitting down here in Puglia cursing the lack of internet progress.

I see the French have just passed a law banning superiors at companies from contacting employees by e mail after working hours and to be fair to the non investing private companies in Italy I think most if not all Puglise work people would whole heartily agree with the French. There seems little interest in the internet here and TV still very much is seen as the way you receive information at night and spend leisure time in front of .

Last night we were out at friends and yes before you ask the TV was on though both 20 somethings were on Facebook all evening. It was bloody cold out but inside a fire roared. This was reduced to hot embers and chicken pieces and sausages were cooked right there in the room. The smell was glorious and they tasted superb.

Open Fire Oven

 

A Pugliese speciality cardoncini accompanied the meats. The main ingredient is a thistle like green that is found wild in hedgerows around here. It is not grown commercially so you can’t buy it in the market. You must go out and find it. Minced meat and cheese are added and it is a very filling dish.

Supper

 

We accompanied it with plenty of red wine and by the end as I walked to the car I was reminded of the saying by the Persian mystic Baba Taher “ shab tar eek o rah e baareek o man mast “ Clever chap Taher wasn’t he ? Though clearly they had more fun in Persia/Iran before the Ayatollahs grabbed power didn’t they.

Well if your reading this blog the internet did appear for a little. Good Friday is not an holiday here in Italy and I have a dentist appointment, though if it is as miserable as today in Martina Franca I will cancel and leave the place to the brave tourists.

 

 

Okay what did dear Taher say

” the night was dark the path was narrow and I was ever so intoxicated !”

 

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Xylella nel Salento

Or Xylella fastidiosa to give it it’s full name. Three days ago I was asked on this blog what I knew about this disease affecting olive trees in the Salento region of Puglia . Not much I replied though there had been rumblings about it’s outbreak before we left for five months.

Well the local papers are full of it today as the first 100 diseased trees were taken down by chain saw yesterday morning .

Olive Disease

 

The disease broke out in fact five months ago and to date infects 8,000 hectares (19,768 acres ) around the Lecce area. The bacterium comes from the Americas and this one is linked to Brazil though at the moment it not seemingly infecting citrus plants just olive trees. It infects the woody water transporting tissues of the tree and so  the many insects that feed on that water all become potential carriers of the disease.

It is clearly very serious for Puglia and for Italy as Puglia produces 36% of the Nation’s entire olive crop . It is also really worrisome for Europe as this is the first time it has ever crossed over the pond and affected plants here. Scientists believe it must have arrived on an exotic plant from Brasil.

The really bad news is there is no known cure and the best that can be achieved is the successful containment of the disease in an area by preventing insect movement and by uprooting and destroying the diseased trees.

The E.U. has already banned the movement of many plants from the Lecce area and yesterday saw the start of the destruction process of the trees.

The tragedy is it is the biggest and oldest that catch it first so amazingly old trees are dying have stood in the fields for a thousand years or more. Hence the almost poetic writings by reporters today of the events of yesterday as they watched the big trees be cut up and taken off to be sold for €5 a quintal as firewood while the families who own the land wept openly. There were protesters too who tried to stop the chain saws though quite why I’m not sure. as one official said the trees are dead so why try to prevent them being cut down.

The guy charged with controlling the outbreak and preventing it’s spread is  plant virologist Dr. Donato Boscia, from the Institute of Plant Virology (IVV) at the National Research Council, in Bari.

donato-boscia

He was asked by the Olive Oil Times ( yes there really is one ) if he felt the disease could be eradicated but he didn’t really hold out any hope at all for these four reasons

1. The contaminated area has a very large extension.
2. The pathogen has several susceptible hosts, and surely several of those are still unknown and may be symptomless.
3. Efficient insect vectors (carriers) are involved.
4. The area is densely populated, with an infinite number of private houses with gardens, which makes unrealistic to expect to get all of them sampled and eventually eradicated.

 

So containment seems the name of the game and meanwhile I guess olive growers throughout Europe hold their collective breaths and wish Donato the best of luck.

On a lighter note our old friend Il Cavaliere  Silvio Berlusconi has finally been sentenced for his tax fraud . He is to do one year of community service while the other 3 years of his sentence were pardoned. Actually it isn’t really one year, it is 4 hours once a week for a year and some restrictions on his travel without the Court’s permission.

What is he to do? Well he is 78 this year so they have put him to work helping the elderly many of whom will, in all likelihood, be younger than him . He is working for a charity Cesano Bescone run by a friar who he knows well. As an ex cabaret singer no doubt he will be able to sing them a few tunes during his 4 hours and regale them with stories of his time in power. One of his quotes was ” Only Napoleon did more than I have done but I am definitely taller!” He also in 2007 called upon all judges to be tested regularly for sanity which might not have help his case. Still the Court has agreed for him to go to Rome and to fight the European elections so he is certainly not out of the political picture though the opportunity of bunga bunga parties in the old peoples home might be somewhat restricted.

And finally another comment on this blog recommended me to try Duolingo to help with my Italian. I did and it is really great. You set yourselves targets for each day and are pestered by a “coach” who e mails you and sends notes on the iPad if you don’t do the work. Just what I was looking for and I’m hooked.

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J’en Suis Bouch Bée

Ah if only I was multi lingual or even lingual. But actually I looked it up . It means in French I am flabbergasted . Why am I in French when i was moaning last week about my Italian. Well our French neighbours have returned from their winter sojourn in Paris.

Regulars will remember from last year that we live in Petite France as it were. There are by August some 8 families in residence in our area and more arrive each year as properties become available. They are all younger relatives of families who were friendly with an Italian and his wife who came from this area and he went on to become something big in the Embassy in Paris. It seems that we were lucky that the widow of the Italian guy didn’t know our house was for sale when we bought it or it too would form part of Petite France.

We saw lights come on a few nights ago but apart from one party last year we do not really know them as they profess to speak no English unlike all the other French families around us who not only speak it but are fluent.

However I was up checking out a wall that was being built further up their small road (I’m very nosey and am also planning a wall at the back of this property) not to keep the French out I hasten to add and was invited in for coffee later that  day.

It was apparent we were still on the ” speak noEnglish” kick which meant we conversed in heavily french accented Italian on one side and heavily English accented Italian on the other. I think an Italian listening in would assume we were speaking Esperanto.

My French never really got going at school. At infant school there were a few very nice French girls and I had a smattering of French but by 9 years old it had gone even though our French Master was called Mr. French until he was replaced by Mr. Cornwall   ( I think the headmaster had a thing about apply named masters) as Cornwall was the geography master but was pressured in to helping out in French and never left. By boarding school French had regressed further and was a complete mystery.

I briefly tried to resurrect it at 16 years old when I discovered I could get into the Curzon Street cinema in London to see French X rated films. The problem was the French films always seemed to be filmed in motor cars with the windscreen wipers going and the two actors in the front wearing white shirts so I couldn’t read the subtitles. But I soon found the films dreadfully boring anyway and was never sure why they were X rated.

and often they just said nothing at all !!

So there we sat with our coffees and they told us that while they had been away in   Paris ( driving a car in the rain I bet) their house here had been robbed. Now this was a shock as these guys are old Pugliese hands. They built their house in 2002 and seemingly know the area well and have not only a guy that comes to look at the place but a load of burglar alarms as well. And hey we are right opposite them so the thieves would have been looking down from their place straight into ours while they were busy forcing windows and doors and being deafened by sirens and blinded by flashing lights.

Wow, I said J’en suis bouche bée. Well I didn’t of course but boy I wish I could have done. Instead I said terribile in Italian which doesn’t sound as good does it ? Anyway the thieves broke in through a window and took bits and pieces but nothing worthwhile other than the spare car they keep in the driveway for when they are here. Bouche bée.

But that wasn’t all, three months later they were robbed again. This time the thieves brought their own car and broke into the places they hadn’t managed the first time using huge stones they lifted from  the big stone wall that surrounds the property . Bouche bée.

French ad time

maybe their ads are like their films.

And what of security I asked them. Well the company responded but they weren’t sure how long after the event and had merely told them the car had gone and the gates were open . They drove down from Paris to find the forced windows. The second time followed a similar pattern but this time the security company called the police as well when they found the broken doors.

Now it’s a small world sometimes isn’t it. Yesterday at lunch we are recounting the story to the 7 lunch guests and one of them was the policeman that responded to the call. Not only that he told us that the car had been used in two further robberies one in Ceglie Messapica and one in Villa Castelli and then was burnt out in a street in Grottaglia a few weeks ago.

But, everyone, the even more exciting news is that , you remember yesterday I said we were taking apple crumble as a “british” dish that the host had asked for. Well this self same policeman ate three portions of it and then asked if he could have the bowl to get out all the crumble and apple stuck to the sides. So a man also of impeccable taste as well.

Now I  was going to show you Nigella’s recipe here, but in Hong Kong of all places we watched a UK TV  programme called Gogglebox where members of the public critique TV shows from the comfort of their homes. This is their take on her latest show.

Great fun isn’t it ?

 

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Fly Away AZ

When I left these shores for the five month journey Alitalia (AZ) were in  their death throws and about to be injected with cash by the Italian Post Office ( read Italian tax payer as they own the Post Office). The EU were ” considering” whether this was actually an illegal government subsidy.

Well clearly it all went swimmingly well, the Post Office with tax payers money did their bit and the E.U. as only they can, decided that tax payers money is certainly not a government subsidy.

Alitalia have been a basket case for years. My one and only longhaul flight on them from Bombay to Rome 20 years ago in their Business/First class as they called it summed it up. The crew set up a bar in the middle of the cabin of the 747 and then invited passengers to help themselves while they took to the crew rest seats after a particularly hectic 4 night lay over in Bombay.  Amazingly they had no Italian wine nor a single Campari on the flight.

Anyway it seems a white knight has come riding in to save them in the guise of James Hogan the CEO of Etihad Airways from Abu Dhabi . He has €450 million burning a hole in his pocket and is keen to stick it into Alitalia the brave or maybe foolish thing. He is treading where several other airline CEOs have trod before the last being the head of Air France/KLM who ran a mile when confronted with the size of the debt.

James has a new strategy though. Get the government to do all the dirty work before you buy. So he has had long talks with Wheel of Fortune Renzi in Rome this week. 3,000 workers must go from the 14,000 workforce and the government must pay.  The debt must be restructured ( postponed or cancelled in other words) and the government must sort that out with Unicredit Bank who unbelievably are not only the biggest stock holder but also the biggest debtor. I think we know why their share price is where it is if that is their idea of investing in successful companies. Wonder how much the lad at Unicredit got in bonus for that trade .

So far it has worked and our man at the top has seemingly promised to do all that to rid himself of the airline.  James who was a Hertz man who switched to airlines first at the now defunct British Midland then at Gulf Air has no real experience of grandfather rights and the kind of union control that has frustrated anyone who has controlled or looked at buying Alitalia.  These boys aren’t going quietly off into the sunset.

go on let’s have another Campari ad shall we

James plans to make Alitalia a five star longhaul airline with few if any European or internal flights. For that he will need the full co-operation of the cabin crew unions, the pilots and the dear old ground staff unions. He will need to dramatically lower costs at the same time as Alitalia have come off most of their longhaul routes because they can’t make money with the union agreements they have in place.

I wish him well and if he gets there maybe they will stock Campari again on their flights

And maybe some Martini Gold as well

Still it is Sunday and we are off to lunch . Our Italian friends have asked us to bring something British as a dessert . Apple crumble is the dish as I forgot to get the bread for bread and butter pudding. Luckily Apple Crumble is full of sugar and so should be an hit we hope. I will let you know what they think of it.

Last time we took a starter and chose prawn cocktail. There were plenty of strange looks and some very hesitant forays into their individual bowls. No one wanted to be first to actually put the mix into their mouth. Eventually one brave soul did and announced it buono. The rest followed and before long we were serving seconds. That classic 60′s dinner party starter can still win people over it seems.

Have another Martini to finish up with

don’t mind if I do. enjoy your Sunday.

Brings tears to your eyes.

 

 

 

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