A little bit of this…a little bit of that…

IMG_0609
I should have written this blog about Venice a while ago…in the middle of May in fact, but as so often happens life and other business gets in the way. My feet hardly touched the ground after our Venice trip as I only had one day at home in Petritoli before rushing back to England for the final show of the Hartley Williamson School of Dance. A North Devon Dancing school that I began over twenty-five years ago and which has been running ever since. When I left the wonderful Maralyn carried on without me and then Davina, a former pupil of ours worked first with Maralyn and carried on to run it on her own for a few years. It was an emotional day with lots of flowers, ballet shoes, tutus and of course tears. But all good things come to an end and we hope all the little ballerinas will find somewhere else to follow their dreams.

Before I go back to Venice I must mention something I forgot to tell you about on our road trip from England to Italy. We went to visit the Bayeux tapestry, a truly magnificent sight and well worth a detour if you’re in the vicinity. They have the whole tapestry behind glass and you follow the story via a recording on a personal handset. I remembered so well being taught in school about this famous tapestry and the killing of Harold with an arrow through the eye. It was amazing to see the REAL thing. Sadly, the weather was atrocious that day so we didn’t really get to see the town at it’s best but I can say the bit we did see made us want to go back one day. Sorry no photos…like I said it was raining, but I have put a link for the museum. Click here

Now to Venice! If you have never been to Venice then it should be on your list of places to go. I have now visited twice and will be happy to return again. You need to get out of the main tourist areas and into the back streets which twist and turn and weave their way over tiny bridges crossing the many small canals that network their way through the town. It’s a place where people live normal lives and go to work. So many tourists, it seems only go to St Marks Square, drink a coffee at one of the famous cafes and queue for ages to go up the Campanile, into the Doge’s Palace or the Basilica…all of these things are great to do but there is so much more to Venice. Also, eating or staying anywhere near this popular area will cost a whole lot more than off the beaten track. It’s the most wonderful city. We travelled this time by train and when you arrive at the station and walk out of the main entrance the first thing you see, apart from a mass of people, is the Grand Canal.

There are no cars, taxis or buses…but there are, of course, plenty of boats! Everything is done by boat so all the services, the police, the ambulances etc., and all the tradesmen travel by boat everywhere. It’s like nowhere else I have ever been. We took the water bus (Vaporetto), you can buy a weekly season ticket for 60 euro which is worth it because otherwise each trip costs €7.50. As the bus is the quickest way to get around then you soon get your money’s worth.The Grand Canal is also serviced by Traghetti, these just cross from one side to the other. They are the same shape as a gondola but have two boatmen on board. It costs around €2 per person.

IMG_0523

A Tragetto

I have never been on a gondola and really don’t wish to. There are so many of them now there are often gondola traffic jams. I think maybe, a hundred years ago it would have been a romantic and inexpensive thing to do but nowadays, it very much a tourist attraction, and I did see more than one gondolier on his smart phone…enough said.

We walked a lot in Venice, mostly around museums. I liked the museum of Modern Art (The Ca Pesaro) which housed some famous works, it gave me a bit of a buzz to see Rodin’s The Thinker and actually touch it, when I had seen it so many times in books and like the Bayeux Tapestry I had been taught about it at school. There were a few modern pieces I couldn’t ‘get’ at all, one that was deliberately unfinished and another which was just a slab of granite on the floor…I’m sure I should understand this stuff but it does nothing for me. I suppose at the very least I’m discussing these pieces!

We did do a couple of touristy things, we took a guided tour to Murano and Burano and I would recommend this to anyone thinking of visiting these two islands. For one thing, if you get a good guide, which we did, then you will learn a great deal about Venice on the boat trips and secondly you will get to visit the glass factory in Murano and watch the masters at work. It was fascinating to watch a ball of hot shapelessness turn into a delicate rearing pony. Most of the glass work on sale at the factory was out of our price range, one beautiful sculpture in the style of Picasso was €28,000 – hey ho…not for us I fear.

Burano is known it’s quaint multicoloured houses and  for it’s lace making which, is sadly now on the decline. There are only a couple of ladies still stitching, it seems the younger generation have no interest in carrying on the tradition. Shame.

IMG_0572

The gorgeous tablecloths and napkins were however, more in our price range so I bought a set plus a table runner. Very pretty. We were told by our guide that the houses were painted different colours so that when the fishermen came home on a friday night, went to the bars and got very drunk they would be able to find their way back to the right house by virtue of which colour it was painted!

 

We took a trip to The Lido and on the boat trip across The Lagoon, (La Laguna) we saw two ships that could not have been more different. One was a beautiful three masted, tall ship, an Italian training ship I believe. It was tied up alongside the Arsenale, it was a sight that draws one quickly back into history and nostalgic for times past. Just after we had passed it by, I turned to look on the other side of our boat and there, I saw it, an absolute monstrosity. A cruise ship looking like a block of flats on the water. It was so big and ugly I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was being guided in by two tugs boats, one pulling from the bow and the other tied to the stern, presumably to keep it on course. It passed us and headed in towards Venice and as I watched it turn the bulk of the ship dwarfed the buildings in St Mark’s Square, in fact the ship blocked our view. No wonder there have been many complaints from the residents of Venice about these cruise ships visiting.

 

The Man decided it would be a good idea to walk the length of the Lido…actually we managed about two thirds of it. I’ve been walking a great deal lately and keep my eye on the ‘steps app’ which told us at the end of the day that we had walked over 23,000 steps!

I LOVED a particular place on The Lido (even though it had cars, buses and trucks on it) We had walked through the main town and out through a bit of an industrial area along the footpath until the footpath no longer existed and then we were walking on the road. I was in the mood for turning around but then we arrived at Malamocco. A gem of a place, away from all the tourists, clean, pretty and a bit like a film set. We found a trattoria for lunch which was busy with local people and a few visitors like us. The waiter was a short older chap with a quick and friendly manner, ‘we got mussels, we got fried fish, we got pasta with fish sauce…’ he actually spoke in Italian though…It was a take it or leave it menu, which we love, so we took it, along with a quarter carafe of white wine for me and a litre of fizzy water for The Man.

At the end of our walk we came upon the Film Festival venue, an ugly looking place…why do the powers that be have to do that? Why could they not have built something classical and attractive instead of a concrete monster? Perhaps I’m a bad judge of architecture…but it wasn’t to my taste.

IMG_0705

The food in Venice was great but expensive even though we ate outside the main tourist areas. I think one can expect to pay between €30 and €50 a head for a decent meal. It was our wedding anniversary one evening, so we felt that splashing out was perfectly acceptable. We arrived at A La Vecia Cavana by accident and it turned out to be one of the best places to eat according to our guide book, (which was ten years old – sorry). I think the reason we liked the restaurant so much was not just the excellent food but the service, our waiter made us feel important and he did all the right things to make sure our meal was the best experience it could be. The walls of the restaurant were covered in photos, some famous people and some family and they had a great piano player which added the final romantic touch to the evening. My mother would have loved it, all the old familiar songs.

One of my sons has an Italian girlfriend and her sister works in a bar in the San Polo district of Venice and after many wrong turnings we eventually found it. It was packed with young local people, not a tourist in sight and we enjoyed a drink for a normal price, a glass of Prosecco and a glass of Crodino for only 5 euro. It was supposedly called La Poppa, but that was one of the problems we had when looking for it, the name was in the process of being changed either from or to La Poppa but no-one seemed very sure. Typically Italian.

I took hundreds of photos of Venice and I would love to upload them all but that could be boring so I’ll leave you with these…

 

We’re now in Puglia so I’ll let you know about this area of Italy in my next post which I hope won’t be too long away.

Cricket, Coconuts, Pimms and Pasta…

The last month has been particularly busy for me. After a trip to the UK visiting friends and family we got back to Italy in time for the Festa De le Cove which I blogged about last year. (Festa 2013) It was a good weekend once again despite some bad weather but somehow the clouds dispersed and the sun came out just before the main parade of floats. There weren’t many this year but, one was spectacular and I’ve put up a photo.

Amazing Chicken Made from Straw and Corn

Amazing Chicken Made from Straw and Corn at Festa De Le Cove 2014

The following weekend I was responsible for organising a joint 60th birthday party for a couple of old friends, one from England and the other a resident in Sydney Australia. These two chaps had been at university with The Man (many years ago) and more friends joined us all for a fun packed weekend. For the main event on Saturday 19th we invited a few Italian friends to tag along and planned an English summer fete with cricket and coconut shy included.

flagsgarden

coconutshy

We hired the garden at the back of the Comune (Town Hall),a huge area of grass, a bandstand and a smaller area of with mature trees. The view from the gardens towards the mountain was pretty AWESOME! I use that word for our visitors from Texas! (Sorry I didn’t get a photo) The weather was scorching, far too hot to lob balls at either a coconut or a cricket bat until at least 8pm!

We managed to set out the tables and benches under the trees and fortunately for us a door had been left open to one of the ground floor rooms which was empty and cool so we set up the tables in there for food and alcohol. Naturally there was Pimms on offer. The Italian guests had never supped this delicious beverage and after a first cautious sip they guzzled away!

garden

The Man made sure everyone had a turn at bat and a chance to bowl in the cricket and that equal opportunity was given to bash a coconut down. He ran the events in his own inimitable fashion – in other words – no one quite understood the rules. It was a knockout kind of thing. Prizes were indeed won! Petritoli fridge magnets were awarded to first, second and third in both events. Is there no end to The Man’s generosity? There were some happy faces around.

 

On Sunday 20th I arranged for a bit of pasta making. It was again a very hot day but with tables under the trees, a few beers keeping us hydrated a jolly time was had by all at La Scentella with our friend Roberto Ferretti.

Roberto with Olivespastavino

Roberto with Olivespastavino

Roberto gave a demonstration of how to make fresh tagliatelle the way they do it in Marche…secret ingredient? A little vino cotto. This is ‘cooked wine’ and tastes a little like Madera, it’s traditionally given at the end of a meal with almond biscuits or cake which you dip into the liquid. Delicious.

kneading

Roberto allowed four people to give a hand. It was hard work ‘kneading’ the dough for a good fifteen minutes and luckily no one lost a finger when carefully cutting the prepared dough. Looked pretty dangerous though, I thought at least one pink painted fingernail might end up on our plates!

Our Four 'Demonstrators'

Our Four ‘Demonstrators’

Twenty-four people sat down to eat after the demonstration. Roberto prepared a feast for us, it was a completely vegetarian meal and even though the majority of the guests were carnivorous I never heard one complaint. In fact the opposite was the case. We had a small taste of the pasta prepared by our friends, followed by a massive plate a pasta that had been made earlier. The tomato sauce served with it was simple but delicious, wild celery was detected, I understood it to be a herb, quite distinctive. Roberto is a keen herb grower and can easily identify any wild herbs growing in the fields. I’ve often seen him out with his carrier bag searching and collecting. The next dish on the menu was a fabulous ratatouille with potatoes, peppers, aubergines, tomatoes and herbs. Roberto is a very good cook.

Lunch with Friends

Lunch with Friends

The food was amazing but what really made the meal perfect was firstly the company; close friends and family.  Secondly the ambience; we were eating outdoors, seated around a long table, everyone talking, laughing drinking and eating in the shade of a few trees, surrounded by lavender and rosemary bushes. Our guests from Australia, the UK and America were given the true Italian experience. The Man and I think we’re very lucky to be able to enjoy this lifestyle all the time.

I stupidly didn’t get the recipes for the sauce or ratatouille but I do remember the pasta. Basically, 100 grams of strong flour, an egg, some oil and about a teaspoon of vino cotto…and…a great deal of elbow grease. I’m going to try it soon, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Ratatouille

Ratatouille

Phew a long blog from me this week, but there was a lot to write about. Actually, this barely covers half what we all got up too but don’t want to get boring!

Learning Language and Laughing…

Teacher

Last Thursday I took my Italian Language examination at level A2, I got 98 out of 100 and I should think so! A2 is not a very high level considering I’ve been here for six years. However, I wanted to go back to lessons and the next level up wasn’t available. The teacher was very helpful, even during the exam. It would have been difficult for anyone to fail.

The first question on the paper was to match up questions and answers. We all dutifully waited to begin and he put on the tape recorder. I looked around the class and everyone was perplexed as the track that was playing seemed to have no relevance at all to question number one. I slowly put up my hand and asked the question.

Chemistry Teacher with Students in Class

‘Teacher, what has this to do with question one?’

‘Oh,’ he said, then laughed. ‘Turn over your page this is question three.’

The exam went on a bit like that,the teacher wandering round the class looking over certain shoulders and coughing, letting his hand point vaguely in the direction of any mistake that might have been made. Farcical really but hey, he was such a nice man. I just have to point out here that I didn’t need any help. As each person finished he marked their papers. I’m not exactly sure why I lost two marks but it appeared to be for missing a lesson during the course.

I think it’s really important to learn the language of the country you choose to live in. In Le Marche there is little English spoken and I see no reason for me to expect them to learn my language. I can understand most of the time now except when the locals start speaking in dialect (dialetto) or when they speak too quickly. Italy has only been speaking Italian for a relatively short time, (I’m sure The Man will comment on this and put us straight as to exactly how long). Previously the different provinces, towns, regions all had languages of their own and today some of the older citizens can still only speak their dialetto. In Petritoli they speak dialetto from Fermo and in Carassai, (a town about 6 kilometres away) they speak Ascoli Piceno dialetto.

The Italian language is derived from the Tuscan dialect, ostensibly from Dante Alighieri. I’m no expert on this so don’t shoot me down if I’ve got it wrong.

Dante_Alighieri_1

Learning a foreign language is not easy when you are older, (the wrong side of 60) but I enjoy the interaction of the classroom and it is so much better to be taught by a real person rather than all this long distance, internet virtual stuff that’s readily available now.

I can’t wait for September, to get stuck into B2 the next level, and hope that by then I haven’t forgotten every single thing I learnt this term. I can get by in most circumstances and everyone understands me and the Italians give plenty of help with corrections, but it is so satisfying to actually format my sentences and verbs correctly, the basic stuff anyway!

Why ‘Laughing’ in the title of this week’s post’?
Well, isn’t it wonderful that laughing is universal. We don’t have to learn how to do it in a foreign language. ‘Smile and the world smiles with you,’ I think that’s the expression.

Boys Telling Secrets

The Man is going to think there’s something up this morning now I’m talking soppy. ☺

Evening Market…

Piazza Del Popolo

Piazza Del Popolo

Fermo Antiques Market in Marche, compared to Arezzo in Tuscany, is not as big and doesn’t have as many furniture or larger antique stalls but the atmosphere is fabulous. It’s held every Thursday evening during July and August and when darkness falls around 8 30 pm it gets very busy and there’s a distinct hum of excitement, money exchanging hands and everyone looking for a bargain.

Antiques and Bric-a-Brac

Antiques and Bric-a-Brac

It was a wonderful balmy evening last Thursday and we met friends for a delicious supper in the Capolinea Café before strolling around the market and savouring the excellent variety of goodies on offer including local crafts, food, bric-a-brac and antique stands. The Piazza del Popolo was buzzing with a mix of tourists and locals enjoying the relaxed ambience, friends greeting each other, laughing and chatting in that familiar Italian animated way, arms and hands flying, purchasers and vendors negotiating for lowest or highest price depending on which side of the deal they were. The Italians strolled about in family groups, like little gangs, Nonna holding the hand of the little ones, Mamma or Babbo, pushing the buggy and straggling behind them, the teenagers eagerly keeping an eye out for school friends they could escape with to enjoy a coke and a conspiratorial chat.

Books and Photos

Books and Photos

Apart from the main square the market spilled over into the big road leading from the Piazza and several side streets; the stands here were mostly craft and local foods, salamis, pecorino cheeses etc., A favourite of mine is ciabuscolo which is a smoked and dry-cured sausage made from pork meat and fat, typical of the Marche region. I love the moist texture and spicy taste. Not sure it’s good for your heart though to eat too much of the delicious stuff. Olive Ascolane are another popular local dish; large green olives which are pitted and stuffed with sausage meat, dipped in breadcrumbs and deep fried. Yummy, my mouth is watering!

Olive Ascolane

Olive Ascolane

ciabuscolo (pink sausage on the right of the photo)

ciabuscolo (pink sausage on the right of the photo)

I loved this stall 'Any Old Iron' !

I loved this stall
‘Any Old Iron’ !

standsHope to make the market at least another twice before then end of this season!

Brooklyn New York

Matches

Olivespastavino is on holiday. I’m taking a break, how lucky am I? I’m in New York for three weeks, blogging from the other side of the Atlantic, how cool is that?
I was able to fly direct from Rome to JFK with Alitalia and the experience wasn’t too bad. I have to admit that I was a little concerned, knowing that Alitalia have been in a bit of financial trouble in the last few years but generally it was all good. The aeroplane was modern and comfortable, the food was passable and the crew, although not falling over themselves to help, were polite. I was in the happy situation of having three seats to myself even though the plane was pretty full.

The weather here was not kind to me on arrival, windy, wet, misty and miserable, but I’ve been promised a good weekend. As I’m staying with family the initial impact of a cold miserable day in Brooklyn wasn’t so bad. Seeing my daughter and son-in-law for the first time in several months was far more important to me.

No sightseeing has been possible yet but we’ve been out to DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass). Close to the river and tantalisingly within reach of Manhattan, sadly the mist took away the expected view of the city but the excitement and buzz of this magnificent place was tangible. Cobbled streets by the waterfront, conjure up images of an old New York I have only seen in films. We took coffee in West Elm Market, a fabulous home and garden shop full of items created from recycled materials. I loved everything.  I wanted to buy it all! Thankfully the size of my purse and my suitcase restricted me from being over indulgent in this respect so I had to be satisfied with a box of matches. Strange but practical purchase. Must be something to do with jet lag.

There is a big Italian influence in New York, I’ve been here for less than two days but already I can sense it in the coffee shops, the streets and the ice-cream! I’m staying in Brooklyn and Little Italy is a thirty-minute train ride from here so I’m planning a visit soon, unless the imminent arrival of my first grandchild interferes with arrangements!

Saturday morning. Brooklyn NYC 13th April 2013.