Attila e Arrivato

You have to say that the Italian weather guys have a wry sense of humour. Our leader Renzi jets off to Brussels to do battle with Frau Merkel over Italy’s need for looser financial constraints and the boys in the weather bureau name the cold depression that has arrived from Northern Europe Attila the Hun . Attila of course never did managed to take Rome and the Romans defeated him in a couple of decisive battles. Matteo will be hoping to repeat that feat over the next few days.

” Conversing about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative” so said Oscar Wilde. Mind you he came from Ireland where  it is either about to rain, has rained, or is raining so there ain’t much to talk about anyway.

4C last night in Martina Franca and 11C today feeling like 6C with the wind chill. It is not surprising that British expats in Italy will still get their winter fuel allowance from the UK government. It is also sound advice for would be purchasers of property in Southern Italy to try it in the winter months. This is just October remember. But when the wind comes from the north boy does it get chilly. Bob Dylan’s line from Subterranean Homesick Blues always comes to mind when I am out walking in a northerly wind in Puglia ” You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows “.

I swear there are days when I can smell the reindeer herds up in Lapland on the wind but maybe my neighbour Giovanni’s septic tank just needs cleaning.

When Silvio Berlusconi was leader he tried to revitalise the Italian economy ( since him the unelected leaders have also tried and failed) by changing the zoning law that restricted the size of the house you could build on a plot of land. He wanted to raise the percentage from 3% to 10%  as he felt it would encourage people to build larger homes, extend existing ones or build second homes on the plot they had. The law was ratified by all the provinces bar one dear old Puglia who rejected it. Our local leader was by then too busy selling land to the mafia to build wind and solar plants to worry about changing zoning rules.

To be fair I’m not sure whether it worked elsewhere but it does mean that the countryside has stayed in Puglia almost untouched by bulldozers and cement lorries. The zoning laws are in the main rigorously upheld as are the rules for doing up old trulli though the goal posts do get moved rather frequently. The vexed issue of swimming pools never goes away and despite the good old wheeze of claiming that the pool is just a cisterna ( water tank) with a few sun loungers  and a rather nice patio around it has worked for a few, getting permission for a pool can be problematical in many areas.

The old adage never fall out with your neighbour which is a hard and fast rule in Puglia came to mind a few months ago when I was in the barber’s shop. There was a Brit there who had a large house here. He had bought the place off a drug baron who had fled the country. The drug baron had a certain influence and the water board had run a pipe from the main road to the guys house some 3 kms down the road. No one else down that road had water but the baron’s next door neighbour asked if he might tap into the new water supply with a pipe to his place. The drug baron agreed and a meter was placed before the extension as well as a removable tap on the neighbour’s pipe. . The baron never bothered charging his neighbour for water. I guess when you’re into drugs it is not even chump change is it.

The Brit when he bought the house built a magnificent swimming pool

but forgot to tell anyone about it. A few months later the water bill arrived and as the Brit had filled the pool by truck and had been out of Italy for the entire time he took the bill to his new neighbour and asked for the money. To his surprise the Italian took umbrage at this and refused to pay . He had never been asked before and he wasn’t going to start paying now. The Brit therefore turned off the extension water supply and thought no more of it.

A month or so later up the driveway came the Forestry Police. They had a summons to serve on him for building an illegal pool and a court date. Before that court date came the cement truck to fill the pool in. At the court case he was bound over to keep the peace ( not get so much as a speeding fine) for three years or he would go to jail ( they take these laws seriously here) for a year.

When I saw him in the barber’s shop he was still in a state of shock “I just don’t know who would have told the authorities about my pool ” he said to me as we parted. I think I could take a guess !

What a difference here in Cyprus where it seems any piece of land that a house could have been built on has been and within days of completing one house they would then build a house right in front of it taking away any view the house had. I feel pleased that at least in the countryside around us in Martina Franca they do enforce the rules.

 

 

 

 

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Some Like it Hot

It is National Curry Week this week in Britain and people are urged to go out and have a curry. not that many need urging. Isn’t chicken tikka massala the favourite dish in the UK now though unheard of in the Subcontinent ? If you click on the link above you will see the top 10 curry restaurants in the UK with number 1 in Alva Scotland so thank god they voted no or we would need a passport to get there.

Amazingly the first curry house opened in the UK in 1809 when Sahe Mohamet opened one in George Street off Portman Square in what is now London’s West End. Little did he know what he was starting as there are now 9,500 in the UK employing over 100,000 people.

There can’t be many places around the world where there isn’t an Indian restaurant these days. In India it is a standing joke that there are no bends in the roads in Gujarat State as otherwise someone would open a shop there and it must be true that any corner attracts a Bangladeshi to open an Indian restaurant.

However there is one province in Italy that doesn’t have a curry house and that is Puglia where I live. I guess there are just not enough expats and the locals are not big on trying new things. People in Martina Franca will tell you the food eaten in Ceglie 6 kms down the road is not as good as theirs so they are hardly likely to try food from the other side of the world and they don’t. Sometimes this is a good thing. Puglia must be one of the few places in the world where MacDonalds had to close a restaurant due to a lack of customers.  However for me a lack of a curry place is a disaster.

After 3 years living in Bombay I need a curry fix at least once a week . Luckily showing huge foresight before we left Bombay Geraldine asked our housekeeper Josephine ( she was baptised into the Catholic faith having been born of a lower caste) to teach her how to make about 6 of our favourite curries . That well worn notebook she has since carried around the world with us.

But the million dollar question is can you get the ingredients to make a great curry in Puglia. The answer is if you have a Dico supermarket nearby you can. They sell ground cumin, ground coriander, turmeric and cayenne pepper, the basic ingredients for a chicken curry. What there are plenty of in Puglia is hot chilli peppers or peperoncino . You buy them in huge bunches in September and freeze them to give you a years supply. I actually grow my own during the summer  but like so may things in Puglia when there is a glut as there is each year it is cheaper to buy in the market than grow your own by buying the plants in April. Ginger is widely available and we buy ours from Auchen supermarket. What is impossible to find is fresh coriander and so we bring seeds from the UK and grow our own.

I have a playlist on iTunes to go with the curry night each week The Top 40 Bollywood Songs.

Bollywood films have come a long way from just showing wet saris !!

One of my first curries was in a curry shop in Eton High Street not far from where I lived. I went with a couple of friends after an evening in Windsor in various pubs. One guy Jeremy asked the waiter for the hottest curry they could make. They duly obliged and even the cook came out to watch him manfully attempt the last few mouthfuls with sweat pouring down his face and a rather green look about the gills. The next day I was walking in the village and saw him go past in his old Land Rover. On the seat was a roll of toilet paper and I found out later that his father had banned him from the house loo and he was having to use the public one in the village car park.

Eating curry late at night is normal in Bombay where parties might officially start at 8.30 in the evening but people arrive until midnight and early arrivals have to try to limited the amount of Black Label whiskey they throw down their throats. At just after midnight a buffet of different curries is laid out for the guests to help themselves to and once you have eaten you are expected to leave immediately. You stagger home full of Black Label and curry to try to sleep at 1 a.m. No wonder most businesses there start at about 10 a.m.  though everyone then works till 8 p.m. at least each evening.

Surely soon one of the many Bangladeshi illegals passing through Bari and Brindisi on their way north to the UK will pause and rather than finding part time work in the market think ” I could open a restaurant in Martina Franca ” he would have two customers straight away.

 

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At Last

According to Corriere Della Sera this morning ( I know the paper is called Courier of the Evening but hey you can’t be picky here)  ENI have announced that fuel prices are to go down by 1 cent for diesel and 1.5 cents for unleaded petrol. They are the first and the others have yet to follow suit. However as winter is coming LPG will go up by 1 cent.

Apart from Holland, Italy has the highest fuel prices in the EU driven by the highest excise duty and 22% VAT which is why the central government is so disinterested in the cost of fuel.  The price of a barrel of Brent crude is now the same as it was in 2011. Average fuel prices yesterday before the ENI announcement were €1.81 for petrol and €1.71 for diesel.

How does that compare to 2011 well Diesel was at €1.51 and petrol at €1.65 so seemingly we have a long way to go to actually get the fuel price down to 2011 levels. Will they return there, don’t hold your breath only the poor consumer is really interested in lower prices and the consumer as we know has no voice in Italy at all.  I am reading a book by Tom Brewer called Branson: Behind the Mask and one chapter describes his travails with Virgin Mobile in Australia, Canada and USA . His advertising falls foul of the regulators for over promising and hiding charges. Oh to have a regulator in Italy for mobile phones or fuel prices or electricity prices ( has anyone ever figured out an Enel bill ?).

Italy imports almost all of it’s fuel and spends €62 billion doing so each year. Our leader is determined to reduce that figure as part of his need to reduce the deficit to please young Angela in Berlin. He hopes to reduce it by at least €14 billion by 2020 and to do so has repealed articles 36,37,38 to allow drilling for oil both on and off shore ( Italy has the third largest known oil reserves in Europe and it is expected that a load more can be found off shore).

Yesterday the Puglia Regional Council called on him to re-instate the articles and to go further by calling on the EU to ban any oil exploration or drilling in the whole of the Mediterranean Sea .

The council claim that Puglia has borne the brunt of the drive for solar power farms, wind turbines and the like which is a bit rich to be fair as many of the self same politicians are under investigation for fiddling the land deals and possibly accepting ( could it be true) bribes. No not an Italian politician surely.

The council is worried that off shore drilling could ruin Puglia’s beaches which is a worthy cause I’m sure though these are the same fellows that have allowed huge oil refineries to be built in Taranto and Brindisi and have done little to monitor the effect they might have on the population.

The cynic in me therefore starts to look at the real reason these eager wind and solar farm enthusiasts don’t want off shore drilling. Maybe we need look no further than down the road in Basilica where drilling is happening a pace in the big oil field there. Under the Renzi repeal  he has sweetened the pie for regions that find oil. More money stays in the Region for ” development” and politicians here love those loose terms. Industry Minister Flavio Zanonato last fall described the move to spend more locally as having a “dual objective:” to reduce unemployment in the regions and build consensus in favour of increased production.

The Val d’Agri field has already created a mini boom for Basilicata. Between 2008 and 2012, Eni and Shell paid the region almost €500 million in royalties.

The Basilica oil is being piped to Puglia but all the extra dough stays in Basilica. Off shore oil would similarly be merely piped or bought by tanker to Puglia and still no  “development lolly” .

Put a bit of pressure on the boys in Rome and who knows what concessions you might get from them ! No no I know the Council has merely gone green on the issue, of course they have.

I’m not sure anyone has told Cyprus that 6 regions in Italy want the government to lead the crusade to prevent any oil development in the Mediterranean Sea as yet. Here the papers are full of the terrible Turks who have announced they are to do seismic blasts in an area the Cypriot Greeks are already testing.  Here the Greek Cypriots are always searching for the next money spinner that will solve the problems that they could easily solve themselves . First it was the Brits buying houses by the thousand, when that dried up it was the Russians and now that has dried up all the property ads are in Chinese. However the oil and gas reserves promise to give them wealth to live like sheikhs in Saudi Arabia they think and I don’t think Puglia regional council is going to dissuade them in a hurry.

 

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Gambero Rosso

I am reading a book by Paul Feeney called A 1950s Childhood From Tin Baths to Bread and Dripping in which he takes the reader through what it was like to be a child in that era. For me it is pure nostalgia, a trip down memory lane no less, remembering things as he talks about them that I had forgotten. Izal hard toilet paper in my grandmother’s outside loo and the scariness of going there after dark. The lack of fridges and the pantry with it’s wire mesh window for ventilation. No hair dyers, the mangle on the sink on wash day, the front room for entertaining “guests” who ever they were. The move from the radio era into the TV era in the 50s. In 1948 there were just 13,000 households with a TV in Britain by 1964 there were 13million households glued to the screen each night.

I loved the radio and still enjoy a good radio play and until they handed control of The Archers over to the guy that used to run Eastenders ( with predictable results) I still listened each week to the omnibus edition. But Paul Feeney reminded me of another one I listened to in the 50s Mrs Dale’s Diary

Now Mrs Dale normally used to start off ” I’ve been worried about Jim ” as you can hear on that clip. And I guess I can say “I’ve been worried about Taranto” or not me particularly but the tourist industry of the area. They have finally woken up to the fact that tourism is down and continues to go down so the council have been trying to do something about it. They have looked enviously at areas in the north of Italy and the number of foreign tourists going there and wondered why.

At the hearing last week they asked tour operators and travel agents to attend and tell them what was wrong. Little seems to have come out of it other than the usual suggestions to attend travel trade shows most importantly the big one each year in Rimini and the shows in the USA, Germany and the UK. However you rather need something to present and show at these things and bear in mind this is the area that has problems with pollution, high cancer rates, big oil refineries, grim steel works and is the same city that closed it’s archaeological museum ( reckoned to be the second most important in terms of artefacts in the whole of Italy) for two summers for repairs so the workers didn’t get cold by doing it in the winter.

However it seems this weekend a white knight has come a-riding into Dodge City  (actually I guess that should be cowboy but there you go)  in the form of Gambero Rosso.

If like me you aren’t sure who that is, let me tell you what I have found out. The magazine Gambero Rosso or Red Prawn in English ( it comes from Pinocchio and is the tavern where the Cat and the Fox eat) is huge in Italy and indeed in many parts of the world. It was founded in the early 1980s to counter a wine scandal that had rocked the Italian industry ( a small matter of sticking anti freeze in the wine to save money ) and has grown to be the authority on Italian wines. It’s wine guide is read by millions as is its’ restaurant guide. In 2009 it launched it’s own food channel on Sky Italia ( channel 411 if you have Sky) and also launched Citta del Gusto in Rome then Naples, Catania and Palermo. The Citta del Gusto is a cooking school, TV studio, bookstore etc ( the Rome store is 10,000 sq metres in size) and promotes the local genuine cooking of the area.It is much valued brand to have and hugely popular.

Anyway guess what they are interested in Puglia cooking ( who isn’t these days) and I tell you after 5 weeks of fried lamb chops so am I. But they didn’t go to Bari they came to Taranto and it is here they want to put down roots. The idea is to promote real Puglia food with new labels that reflect the authenticity of  food products from Puglia , to develop regional cooking schools and to ensure and grade restaurants that serve real Pugliese food made in the traditional way ( oh why aren’t they in Cyprus).

With this Taranto finally has something to hang it’s hat on and could attend trade shows as a Citta del Gusto. It would be nice as despite all the problems it is a pleasant city with a lovely centro storico as well as having the beautiful islands just off the port as well.

A popular chef  appearing always on the Gambero Rosso channel is Jamie Oliver  so who knows we might have him in Taranto soon

I’m not sure about Altamura having the best bread in Italy or indeed in Puglia. Most Italian friends tell me that the bread in Matera is the best bread in Italy though I love the bread from my local bakery in Martina Franca. Wonder if he delivers to Cyprus ? Wonder if Mimma’s restaurant in Ceglie could deliver me a pizza ?

 

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Snakes Alive

After the ” summer” ( a bit of a misnomer this year) in Puglia it is a surprise to get to Cyprus and hear so much English. Our entire apartment block is British, indeed barring one Greek family our entire street is British. There are more Brits living in our small town here than there are Brits and all other foreigners living in the whole of Puglia. Over the hill from us is the Russian compound but to get by they all speak English, On the other hill is little Birmingham and they speak Brummie .

English is the language of the town. The bars and restaurants are full of Brits, the local Greek Cypriots don’t come out to drink and eat out only on Sundays or when one of the restaurants treat them to a free meal ( they are all related to each other). There are Brits on the town council here and in areas of Paphos there are British mayors running the place.

Almost no one bothers to learn Greek, there is little point. In the main if you speak in Greek the locals will reply in English. This is not a new phenomenon when Lawrence Durrell the poet and writer whom I mentioned in several blogs from Greece arrived at Limassol on the boat to take up a teaching position on the island he used his fluent Greek to the customs officers. They all replied to everyone of his statements in English and he found it quite a fine game to continue to do this on the island always being replied to in English. He wrote a book Bitter Lemons about the island and his life here but eventually left in 1956 as the uprising against British rule and for union with Greece took hold. He recounts the Greek taxi driver on the way to the heavily defended airport telling him” the Greek though he fights the British, he really loves them. But he will have to go on killing them—with regret, even with affection.”   

Walking here in Cyprus is a very different kettle of fish to walking in Puglia. In Puglia I walk on quiet country roads.

Long and Winding Road

I pick figs from overhanging trees and from July feast on blackberries as well as collecting wild herbs and asparagus.

Cyprus is a lot more like a lunar landscape

Lunar Landscape

There is far more traffic here ( all those Brits with two or three cars) so road walking is no fun but it is easy to take to the hills, up dusty tracks made by goat herders driving their 4 wheel trucks up to feed the livestock

Walking

These tracks wind their way around the various headlands but to really get off the beaten track it is better to emulate the goats themselves and take to their tracks that criss cross the area.

Goat Tracks

 

You need to keep some landmark in sight as these tracks can lead you around in circles, there ain’t much upstairs in goat’s  heads it seems. However the views as you reach each headland can be worth all the effort.

Great View

In past years I walked with a ex Royal Marine colonel who had found many walks in his time here . He unfortunately has gone to that great walkway in the sky but I now know many of the best walks thanks to him. He had an hatred of snakes . It seems the Royal Marines spent lots of time jungle training in Borneo and given the inclement weather there many poisonous snakes would seek shelter in one or other of the Marine’s sleeping bags.

There are loads of very poisonous snakes in Cyprus, most will slither away as you approach or hide from you long before you see them but vipers are territorial and will come after you.

As I walked today I came across one. It looked dead lying prone in the middle of my pathway and indeed I wondered if maybe it was just the skin of a snake as I approached it.

But it was an hot day and it could well have just been basking . I took the camera out to give you a picture of it as it was very stout . This is the picture I intended to take but I have pinched it off the internet

snake

 

That is the type it was and weirdly pretty much how it was lying. As I focused I kicked a small rock at the prone and what I thought lifeless body.

Well up it came into the attack position and took a lunge at me. This is the actual shot I got for you

IMG_0502

as I took to my heels and ran. The snake stood it’s ground no retreat but didn’t give chase. I walked a little more carefully after that as I waited for my heart to stop pounding.

This is what the blurb says about the little critter on the web

The blunt-nosed viper (Vipera Lebetina)

RISK: High, Dangerous and highly poisonous. Its teeth remain embedded in the tissue and the movements of the jaw pump large amounts of poison into the wound. If bitten it is imperative that medical attention is sought from a Doctor or Hospital immediately.

Identification: A stout snake with a total length up to 130-180 cm, the most stout and dangerous snake species of Cyprus. Top of the head covered with small, keeled scales, including over the eyes.

 

 

 

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Arrivati a Cipro

” Is there anyone there ?” said the Traveller in Walter de la Mare’s poem The Listeners and I guess I echo that as I have been off the air for so long but those of you who live on Mainland Europe will understand the hoops that have to be jumped through to do something as simple as bring a Cyprus registered car back to the place of registration after a gap longer than a few months. Add to that the shipping of it from one Greek speaking country to another one and you have a red tape nightmare when it should be so simple.

Days have been spent in various ministries explaining this simple proposition. The car has been away and now it is back. The officials on the other hand are busy explaining the number of penalties ( money) that you must pay for doing this. Indeed at one stage on Monday we were to have had to toss the old Cyprus plates and put new Cyprus plates on the car to reflect the fact that cars from Cyprus  should only go on their hols for a maximum of three months without another penalty.

The concept of free movement of goods whilst built into the EU Charter is not something that any EU southern state has ever embraced . There are just too many penalties (money) to be imposed. I read the other day that Portugal still has a tax on the import of cars from other EU countries and the income is greater than the EU fine so they continue to do it. Still the car was pronounced Cypriot again at 3 p.m. yesterday and I can now drive past road checks here head high rather than praying the policeman isn’t about to raise his baton.

We are now in the apartment and settled after those 3 weeks of hotels in Greece. George Bernard Shaw wrote ” the great advantage of a hotel is that its a refuge from home life” but I would paraphrase it as the great advantage of a home is it is a refuge from the buffet breakfast.

In Italy buffet breakfasts in hotels are rather sad affairs or certainly in the 3 star places I frequent. A small room is set aside and in it sits a gurgling coffee machine whilst on a table sits an heated (partially )plastic see through cabinet with a few stale baguettes. It is why when you read Tripadvisor reviews of hotels outside of Italy the Italian reviewers spend all their time talking about the breakfast. In fact it is true of Italians writing about Italian hotels. I stayed in one near Otranto where all thirty Italian reviews merely talked about the number of cakes on offer so surprised were they to find such offerings. The hotel was in fact not bad but I couldn’t get on with eating just cake for breakfast whatever Marie Antoinette said.

In Greece the buffets have been grander affairs as they are quite keen on tourism ( Italy take note) and try to pander to the requirements of a more international group of breakfast eaters. In the Peloponnese this international group tended to mean German. Now a bit like eating cake I am not great on eating cured meats and sliced cheese for breakfast like our German cousins but normally the odd boiled egg and a toaster are hidden amongst the meats. .

Breakfasts are well attend by the Germans staying in the hotel and as many would do justice to a defense line backer in the NFL getting to and from the buffet when they are in attendance can be a struggle. To me it is essential that the hotel at least has someone delivering the tea and coffee and then you can focus all your effort of grabbing the morsels that are being left before they head out to the pool.

The last hotel we stayed in before Glyfada ( which is best just forgotten ) was in Githio ( a lovely town by the way)  and prided itself on its breakfast buffet. Not only didn’t it have someone delivering tea or coffee so you queued like a small quarter back behind his offensive line but horror of horrors alongside the said coffee and tea dispensing machine they had placed a juicer !

The Orange Juice Maker

A guest has to first cut up his oranges then place them in the Juicer and await the juice. Now I’m sure the wretched staff member that came up with that great wheeze has been warmly congratulated by management. But in reality it is a disaster. In your mind’s eye place three 300 pound hotel guests in front of that juicer. Then surround them with 6 equally large people trying to get to the coffee maker and the rest of the restaurant trying to get to the plates and cutlery you can see on the left of the juicer.

I rest my case. George Bernard Shaw you are wrong.

 

 

 

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