Monday, November 19, 2007

snow on 16th Nov

Yep! Lots of it

And here's one next morning! OK, you've got it... this is the other side of the two halves of Italy. Green lizards versus fine wines (and chocolates).

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Bad Italy day

Bad Italy days happen periodically and nowadays more frequently.
Is it because I'm getting older and grumpier, or because they are getting worse? (they being them). Both, Lili tells me, with always the aside 'This is Italy, for goodness sake, you know it's like this, get a grip'
Ok, what am I talking about specifically?
Uhmm, how about yesterday for example?
Weather forecast is for snow arriving later and Lili has to get to Rome for her Tantric workshop.
I've already made an appointment to get snow tyres put on, so I drive into town, at the appointed time of 9.30, only to find the Gommista, the tyre depot, completely chockablock with locals. and then the usual routine......(Oh my goodness).... there's this unspoken communication going on. Twenty men, twenty cars and nobody saying anything to anybody. Look, everybody knows Italians don't like to queue but when they do it with cars, it's just, it's just.... deadly. And it's not just men driving/darting into the workshop as soon as one car departs from a ramp but some are driving in and doing a self service routine, jacking up own their cars, even using the workshops bolt guns (and thus holding up any semblance of progress). Then I see Massimiliano, our earth moving man, and say for heavens sake what's going on here, who goes when and how? Michael, he says, you just have to push and not be English, otherwise you'll still be here this evening. So I try assertiveness, go up to the boss and say I'm driving onto the ramp next.
Sure he says.
So there I am (car that is) up on ramp and he duly sets about seeing to all the other punters.
I get away an hour and a half later, and it's beginning to snow.

Next stop the Anagrafo.
I shouldn't have done this, I should have gone home. Why would I want to punish myself so!
The background story....
Up until this year, non- Italian EU citizens wanting to live in Italy have had to apply for a Carta di Soggiorno. With new more universal EU laws coming into effect, this excruciatingly soul destroying process has been replaced by one of simple registration at the Anagrafo of one's local comune.
Oh yeah?

Lizards at work (in confused state)

There is no doubt in my mind that the creature who runs the Anagrafo office is a six foot lizard, an alien being. Sure he has (almost) the appearance of being a human being, but don't be fooled.
His sole purpose on this planet at this time is to make miserable the lives of non-Italian residents, me being one of them.
So, my Carta di Soggiorno has just expired and, as these documents legally no longer exist, I naturally assume that, as I am already a resident here from nine years back, that all is in order and I just have to do nothing.
Naive, or what?
This week I get a letter from the six foot lizard telling that as my Carta di soggiorno has expired that I must report to his office within 20 days and with every possible document proving my identity (which they already have remember), otherwise my name will be expunged from the Comune records.
What? Hmm. Hence my visit.
There' a young guy working for lizard who does all his counter confrontations for him. Lizard controls him of course, because everything you say (or plead) has to be reported to lizard who is constantly sending telepathic messages to young man (who could in fact be a baby lizard I'm beginning to think).

It goes like this..

Why have you sent me this rude letter?
Because your Carta di Soggiorno has expired.
But the Carta di Soggiorno no longer exists, how could I renew it?
It's the new law and you have to apply all over again.
For what?
For legal residence.
But I've been legally resident here for nine years, had a legal business, paid tax, paid into Italian pension fund, you name it. Also I'm married to an Italian and can claim Italian citizenship.
I don't know about that, but you still have to bring in all the forms we ask plus proof of private health insurance.
What? (at this point my heart beat is making the double thickness glass partition between us begin to rattle) I already have Italian State health insurance (which I'm imminently going to be in need of)
No you don't.
I whip out my insurance card and he looks at it dumbfounded, then takes it over to six foot lizard. Lizard gets his own out of his wallet and scrutinises both together, turning them over round and round. He sends a telepathic command to young lizard who picks up phone and calls Lizard HQ. I leave him talking and go and have a coffee with Graciella and Quinto who I spot outside; comeback and young lizard is still on phone and now I see boss lizard is giving me deadly looks, trying to hypnotise me I guess or damage my brain cells.
Yes you do have this card it's true but you must get an E121 card from your country of origin and take it to the hospital to make it valid.
You mean it isn't any longer valid? If I have an accident , or maybe a heart attack, I'm not covered?
Yes you are but you still have to get this card and I would advise as soon as possible.
For God's sake, I've been resident here for years, etc etc etc.
OK, I'm getting out of here, you lizards don't know what you are talking about.
They flash each other looks and I see the green sparks for a split second, so now I know for sure.

Get back home and Pino turns up because I'd said we'd go to Denis' house to check out a massive leak he'd been told had swamped his downstairs lounge. We drop Lili off in Amandola to catch the bus for Rome and we head off to Illice to check house. Pino hands me his new Tom Tom satellite navigator because he says he's tried for days to get it to work and can't, it keeps on trying to make him go to Ancona airport when wants to go to The Oasis shopping centre in Fermo. I switch it on and it says 'Turn around now. Would you like to take the autostrada.... your journey is 316 Kilometres and will take two and three quarter hours.'
Illice is only 8K away and ten mins I should add.
Try it tomorrow I tell him, it's a bad Italy day. He puts it away. I don't have to explain.
Denis' flood turns out to be a tiny puddle and as we leave the house the snow has really set in and we sooth our irritation by picking as many of Denis' persimans as we can carry. Enough to last until Christmas, you bet.
Back into Amandola for a beer and it's getting darker and colder and I have to remind myself that this weather is not normal. Why this time last year we were still at the beach sunbathing, although I guess that wasn't normal either.
Back home I decide to go to Pilates class even though Lili is in Rome (just me and twenty women, what am I doing?) I kit up, go out wearing my Crocs walk onto snow and WHACK!, down I go. So there I was, in the dark, lying on my back, soaked in wet snow and my back hurting like hell and with Bessie looking over me wagging her tail.
I give up, go back inside house and run a hot aromatic bath.
It's a bad Italy day.
It's the best you can do.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

It's Autumn

A short animal quiz

OK what's this?

'A dog.'

Well done!

What about this?

'Another dog.'

Errr..... yes.

'And this is a photo of a man with the same dog (and Eric the Black peeping into frame)'

Well yes.

'And his friend with the other dog.'


Not really getting anywhere are we?


What I was trying to steer you towards was some sort of exclamation of recognition.


Yes, like 'Hey, that's a hunting dog'. Or, 'That's a bird dog, duck dog, hare dog, any anything dog, apart from being just a dog!'


So what sort of dogs do you think these might be?

'Duck dogs'

Oh. good grief! How on earth could they be duck dogs in the middle of a truffle wood in Le Marche?
There, now I've said it.

'Oh, they're truffle dogs'

Why yes, you've got it, well done.

The story, however.....

Bernie has been invited to write an article about truffle hunting for a very famous magazine which could even possibly be the New York Times (gosh, if only this were true). Although one can never be sure about such things with American journalists (which is what he is) because they all say they are writing for the New York Times and I never know why except maybe it's magic mantra which claims truth by it's very utterance. (Shakespeare, hmm)
So in town we meet Alberto Mandozzi, the President of the local Truffle Society along with his assistant
Marcello. We've already been briefed at some considerable length by Antonio's son about the holy nature of our task and I'm getting to feel that we are going on a secret mission into some ultra-sensitive war zone. We're certainly dressed for the part, wearing what can only be described as combat gear. Truffles after all, can be dangerous critturs warns Bernie.. shouldering his shotgun. The truffle President eyes him suspiciously, dark imaginings flitting across his knitted brow, visions of skies full of helicopters and marines parachuting into his scared groves.

Bernie entering sacred grove

The war zone happens to be in the woods below our house. What? Beneath our house? So that explains the cars we see scattered around our drive all these past Autumns...truffle hunters. Already this eiry feeling that we are entering some magic secret, some other divine dimension.
The dogs, Lampo and Dora spill out of their respective Fiat Pandas and go racing down the hill, our hill, noses already vacuuming the ground beneath them as they zoom down towards the woods.
And so it began, our initiation into the sublime art of truffle hunting.

(Alberto has written a wondrous book on the subject...'i Tartuffi del Piceno' but here's a brief synopsis).
There are, he explains, two types of truffle, white and black.
There are four types of black but only one of white. The white you only find in Italy, it can only exist in the wild where it lives a symbiotic existence with the oak tree, attaching itself to the roots of same. The black, which can be grown domestically also depends initially on this symbiotic existence with the oak and a couple of other trees but it then spreads across the woodland floor. The white is four times more valuable than the black (this year fetching E10,000 a kilo) has a richer aroma but a more subtle taste.
And then, most important of all (and this had both Antonio and Marcello roaring with laughter),
there are no white truffles in France, only black. The poor French...... but nothing less, of course, than they deserve.

Bernie, Eric the Black, Marcello and Alberto, Lampo and Dora

And this was the most amazing part for me.
That the truffles want to be found and eaten.
This is why they give off such a heady seductive aroma which attracts dogs, deer, cinghiale and snails (yes, snails!) If they could talk they be saying, shouting, 'Find me, here I am, dig me up and eat me', although in Italian and not of course in French.
Because this is how they are spread: the spores pass through the alimentary canal of animals and are deposited across wide areas (in the case of the cinghiale) and considerably shorter distances (probably two metres) in the case of the snail. But it's the snails' excrement that contains the best nutriments for the germination of the truffle spore. Now what do you make of that?
And our hunt? Zero! Didn't find a thing. Worst season for years with no rain in the summer they tell us, but I wonder. I wonder if this is all part of the ritual of initiation. That there is a level two, and we've only passed part one. That, metaphorically, Bernie has to change his shotgun for a truffle spear. You know what I mean, don't you. You do.
Truffles next time. They promised.

The language lesson.
Two weekends back I got stuck in London because of a strike at Falconara airport. Anyone who has ever suffered the trials and arrows of outrageous Ryan Air will know that they don't have an office anywhere, a number to call, nor an email address which replies to you desperate pleas for help or even information. Instead they have countless blue clad colleens who are trained to say to each and every demand 'We can only ask you to go on line and refer to information on the Ryan Air web site sir'
I won't go into the dreadful events of that morning only to say that there were other's in a more desperate situation than myself, those with small kids and old parents who were literally left high and dry. I'm sure these people just gave up and went home.
I'll mention one thing though. When we eventually got to the ticket desk to rebook, this one young colleen suggested to us that we fly to Marseilles. 'Marseilles my dear' I said , 'Is in France.' Well I never she said. Then there this nothing going out for days.
What about from Forli. I asked?
pWhere's that' she said.
Well, turn around and look at the Ryan air map behind you and I'll point you to it.
Oooh, she says, l can try that, can't I?
'Oh why not'
We got a flight to Forli next day. I shall spare you the grizzly details.
Oh, but this is the funny bit.
Having missed the flight, I missed out on a meeting with clients that day and when they turned up at the office that afternoon, Lili told them that she was sorry that I couldn't be there because I'd had a stroke in London, but that I should be back the next day.
She said afterwards that she couldn't understand why they sat down so suddenly and kept saying I'm so sorry, I'm so very sorry.