Tag Archives: Italy

Figs anyone?

Standard

The husband has a daily routine now.  Each morning, before we leave to sightsee, or go out for lunch, or make a trip to the supermarket, he cleans up our courtyard.  Namely, he picks up the figs that have dropped from the tree since we were last outside, and tosses them over the stone wall.  One day he barely missed one of the owners, cleaning the apartment on the other side of the wall.  We try not to leave them for too long – they attract ants and wasps.  But if we do, and if the sun is shining and the day is hot, then by the end of the day there is a distinct, cloying aroma of dried fig.  The tree is old, has been pruned many times and is tall.  The ripe figs are well out of arm’s reach, otherwise a fig and prosciutto aperitivo with some prosecco or a beer at the swimming pool would be a good idea.

Il Fico

Il Fico

We are staying in an apartment in a converted farm building, a masseria or fortified farm, one of many that you find scattered through this area.  There is an old wall, a tower, and the remains of a moat.  Fortifications provided some protection from invaders, coming from land but also frequently by sea in this part of Italy.  Fortunately, there is no shortage of rocks  from this stony Apulia* soil with which to build walls and towers and ramparts.

Masseria Spina pool and farmhouse

Masseria Spina pool and farmhouse

Archway at Masseria Spina pool

Archway at Masseria Spina pool

The farm where we are staying grows olives and, from the size of the trunks, has done so for maybe centuries.  Apulia is pretty much Olive Central for Italy.  Driving down from the Murgia plateau, as we look down to the Adriatic, across Monopoli, north to Bari and south to Brindisi and the tip of the heel, as far as the eye can see there are olives, blanketing the landscape.  Mostly planted in careful straight lines, contained by pretty rock walls – some of these are new, some still under construction, and others ancient and crumbling – olives are clearly big business down here.  But not only do they add deliciousness to the seafood, provide a wonderful source of unsaturated fat (the olive oil and tomato combination is essential to the healthy Mediterranean diet), but they soften the landscape and, even in their uniformity, provide endlessly changing vistas.  The large, old, gnarled olive trees are scraggly and scrappy, the roots and trunks twist around themselves, often giving the appearance of two trees clinging together through the decades.

And the light – that September Puglia light that the Italians swoon over?  In the late afternoon and early evening, the sun turns the landscape golden.  The beautiful Apulia stone glows, the Adriatic turns an even deeper blue (if that is possible), and the olives soak up the warmth of the last of the summer sun.

 
 
*  I’m using Puglia and Apulia interchangeably as you can see.  I hope it doesn’t confuse anyone.
Advertisements

Toast

Standard

Since we left Rome, we’ve been travelling so much that keeping up with the blog has essentially been a business of recording where we’ve been. And that was not the kind of blog I had anticipated keeping. The writing is easy. But the visuals – loudly clammered for in the first weeks – delay publication, and any thought of moving on to shorter, interest (frivolous?) pieces.

But this week, the weather has packed up, and we’ve caught up on sleeping, cooking, organising (and backing up) photographs.  So that brings me to a very important topic.  Food. More specifically, bread.  More specifically, toasted bread.  The Italians like bread.  There is always bread on your table in a restaurant – usually charged for in a coperto (cover charge) – and this is of varying quality to be frank.   And we’ve found some bread we like for sandwiches, and for toast.  Except that there’s the problem.  Italians don’t toast.  They advertise “toast” in bars and cafes, but I think that is similar to our more familiar cheese on toast, or grilled sandwich.  (We had a memorable cheese toast at the top of the Simplon Pass – the amount of cheese on the plate would have fed a family of four.)  Our first apartment had a toaster, but finding the right bread was an issue.  Anyway, we’re realising that that was probably the exception.  The journalist in the tower clearly doesn’t eat toast.  There was no toaster in sight.  And the apartment we’re in now has a sandwich griller, which the owner called a “toaster.”  (Poor innocent Italian that doesn’t understand Toast).

So the husband, who is addicted to toast and considers it a perfectly acceptable dinner, has had to resort to the ready-made toast we find in the supermarkets.   Each piece is identical, crisp throughout, evenly tanned on both sides.   And yes, it comes in a convenient, resealable pack.  But it’s not the same.  The texture is all wrong and crumbly, the spreads don’t melt on the toast, and most disappointing of all, we don’t get that delicious, toasted bread smell.  It didn’t matter so much when the temperatures were raging outside, and the idea  of hot food was often repugnant.  But now, with colder, rainy days, we miss the comfort of toast.

Room with a view

Standard

The beginning of August in Italy. This is the height of summer. Flowers bloom profusely in gardens, on roads, in meadows, and of course, hanging from window boxes at almost every window. The heat never goes, building and building, often reaching its height at 7 pm, well into the 30s, and giving little evening respite. The garden at our rental accommodation, with trees, bushes and a hammock, lies unused. We are lucky that the temperature doesn’t soar to 40, as is possible in Italy in August, because our new accommodation has air-conditioning in only one room – at the top of the tower.

Yes, that’s what I said. Tower. We rented a stone tower that dates back almost a thousand years. Renovated about 12 years ago into a charming home, owned by a former travel journalist, it is now rented out periodically by the owner. How idyllic, I thought, sitting in our tree house in Wellington before we left. And in many ways it was. Stone walls three feet thick, an arrow slot in the bathroom, and a studio at the top floor, with views across the river to the forest, and villages beyond, their church bell towers stretching above the trees surrounding them.  (The studio also proved to be a great location to watch a thunder/lightning storm from). But the heat in our third-floor bedroom, the smell from the owners’ dog in the living area (and by the end of the week, the fleas we found), and the constant concern that we were in someone’s house and had to keep it spotless, didn’t help me feel entirely relaxed.

The tower was in a small village, with a tiny shop just a few doors down, one bar/restaurant over the road, and a trattoria next to the shop, and a church. Sounds perfect.  But the bar (in Italy, a bar is in fact a cafe) served the worst coffee I’ve had in Italy, so one visit was enough. The tiny shop was like a small expensive dairy, and the trattoria was only open a few days a week. So we didn’t frequent the local businesses as I would have liked. To add insult to injury, some local luminary – or perhaps the local priest – had decided that the church bells should ring multiple times a day, sounding services or simply the hour or half hour. Why they thought it was a good idea to ring the damn bells about 50 times at 7.30 on a Saturday morning, I don’t know!

The location was brilliant though – so close to the lakes, and very close to the airport (though virtually no noise). But as soon as we ventured out from the village, and before we got to the local town or the lakes, we found ourselves in a kind of no-man’s land. We were in airport services land. Airport hotels were scattered around – in fact, the Crowne Plaza, usually an excellent brand, was tucked away in a back street in a nowhere collection of buildings. (Though nearby, there was a very good pizzeria we visited several times, on the recommendation of the Easyjet guys.) And then there were the carparks. Everywhere, on the main road into the nearby town, tucked behind the Crowne Plaza, the pizzeria, everywhere, there were long-term low-cost airport parking lots (basically just fields crammed with tiny Italian cars), with a constant stream of vans taking their customers to and from the airport. It was all very odd.

Yet in Castelnovate, our little village, set on the edge of a national park, with the Ticino river just at the end of the road (maybe a km away), with our tower, and church bells, with the charming cemetery at the end of the road, the sports field, and the children’s play ground, and friendly neighbours and lots of dogs, it seemed hard to believe that a major international airport was practically next door.

Our ancient tower in Lombardy

Our ancient tower in Lombardy