Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Bird

This is our favorite winter wonderland picture--little bird of Rainshadow Farm on the hay rake
There is a little bird trying to get in through the window this Christmas Eve morning.  He’s tapping on it as if trying to tell us something.  I’ll choose to hear “Merry Christmas”.

I can’t remember the name of the Christmas dolce that contains chestnuts and is covered in honey, but we got a good supply from the neighbors as we did last year. We will enjoy Christmas dinner at the home of some American friends…we are very thankful they have invited us. We are also thankful we don’t have any travel plans this crazy weather year. Some English friends who had planned a Christmas party here never were able to get a flight out of Heathrow or anywhere else.

We went out this Thursday evening to take some photos of local Christmas decorations. The amazing thing was that at 6:00 PM it had warmed to 22C (72F). Hey, since we moved here partly to get away from snow, we’ll surely take this weather! Di and I never really lived in a small village before (at least not right in town) so I don’t know whether it’s the size or the fact that it is in Italy but only here have we gotten our mail anywhere we happen to bump into the mail carrier, and have had our contractor flag us down during a walk to tell us that they are finally coming to install the persianne (shutters) tomorrow.  As it turned out, we are still waiting for them to finish but here is how the ones they got done turned out—blue was not allowed by the comune so we decided on these. PS, I won with aluminum!

Here are a few photos of our Calabrian village Santa Domenica Talao at Christmas:

We don't know the exact meaning of these stars with tails but they're everywhere

This Madonna is always here but adds a festive touch for Christmas
Romeo is the owner of one of three bars around our piazza. His decorations this year are very creative including the bicycle with lights and silver tree branch.  He has nice lighting inside too. Note the two climbing Santas (Babbo Natale) on the balcony above. These are maybe the most common Christmas features around the area. There are some commercially made light displays in town, but this one would win a prize for Christmas displays in the US because of its uniqueness:

Di and I extend our thanks and good thoughts to everyone and we wish you the very best of holidays and a happy, successful New Year.

Ciao a tutti – Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo,

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Blizzard on the Hill

That's me walking home from the parking area
Santa Domenica Talao doesn't have a whole lot of money for Christmas decorations so the universe stepped in with a well-timed climate-change driven blizzard that was pretty impressive in a place where it "never" snows. We ended up with 4 inches (10 cm) of snow and lots of wind to blow it around.  We drove through the storm to get to our Italian class down the hill in Scalea and, of course, they only had the wind and rain. 

This morning the sun came out and is doing a half-hearted job of melting everything. Doug started a nice wood fire and shoveled the walk between our place, the neighbor's and the wood storage shelter which is located in a vacant house across from us.  The temperature rose from 32 F to 40 as we left the house.

I am writing this down the hill in Scalea since all of the interesting weather lately has played havoc with the cell towers that make the internet possible in our little town.  It's sunny here too right now. In the Holiday spirit I'll let you enjoy our brief winter wonderland:

Made it to the front door

Parking lot this morning

Thursday, December 9, 2010

To Market--Diamante

It’s Guido’s turn to blather about life in Calabria. We’re about the only part of Europe that is not having snow, so I won’t whine about rain--since that’s over with for now, and we are enjoying just great weather again. Wednesday was amazing with a high temp of 25 (77 F-the Italians were saying "fa caldo" it's hot) and another festa, so school and some businesses were closed. 

We visited Diamante about 25 minutes away where the biggest market of the year for this area was held. It was laid-out in a linear fashion thru the town along the waterfront and probably covered 2.5 kilometers. A lot of walking! Most of the vendors were “typical”, but some were unique and we looked and bought. 

Di didn’t find the right size rug. Guido bought one of those 5€ shirts for work and painting as well as jumper cables for the car. I recently watched a woman try to start her car during a torrential rain – crossing herself and praying each time she turned the key. Next time, I’ll be ready for chivalry with my cables.

What is this used for anyway?

I counted 3 big food stands and all were doing a good trade and there were pet vendors selling things including those tiny turtles complete with plastic water trays and the little palm trees. I have not seen those for 50 years! These boa snakes knew the big turtles were not something they could deal with, but the snake on the left sure was interested in those bunnies next door :

Whilst Di was looking at some ear rings or something, I stopped next to a mirror vendor and played with the camera--aint he cute...

 The market was very popular and I’d guess several thousand people made there way thru with many buying things. It reminded me of a Christmas bazaar and there were many colorful, seasonal things for gifts. We spotted our first real xmas trees. I’ve got to tell the story of an expensive artificial tree (the norm here) in a local store – it has a combination of fir and pine needles.  They couldn’t fool this old forester:

These are real

Back on the home front, Di discovered that the new boiler (water heater) in the guest space gave only a 6  minute shower. To convince the plumber, we had him watch the water run in the shower and go cold rapidly.  He’s replacing it. He says an 80 liter tank should give 4 showers. That equates to 2-3 American style showers--or 1 for my daughter.

With Christmas around the corner, Di says maybe she’ll get me the clothes drier I want. It’s hard for
a spoiled American like me to wait two weeks for dry weather to hang clothes on the line. Maybe I’ll surprise Di with a nice compost bin with a big ribbon around it in return. 

Cordiali saluti, Guido

Friday, December 3, 2010

Cirella Dreams on Permesso Renewal Day

Our November day trip to the Cirella Ruins--the part we didn't see the last time
Oh, what a beautiful Indian Summer November day it was!  I can still feel the sun on my face.  Yesterday, however, I spent the entire day organizing our documents for the Renewal of our Permesso di Soggiorno (Green Card).  It just lasts a year the first time, so we have to renew it 60 days before it expires in February. Of course, it wasn't issued in February, but that's a story from 
the past (which see). 

I promised to record these details because I remember how difficult it was for me to understand what to expect my first time at bat with the Italian bureaucracy (it's the Yankees of bureaucracy, believe, me--or since I was a public servant, I should say the Mets or the Cubs--suffice to say it's not good public service).  I tried Googling everything I could think of to get some information and the best info came from blogs, not governments.  I vowed when I started this blog that I would record what I can with the caveat that it only applies to Americans and other non-European Union immigrants who are retiring in Italy and not expecting to work. To refresh your memory, our permesso is called Elective Residence.  There is a slight difference in the application procedure for a renewal--but first you need the application.  The Scalea Post Office was out of the application packets and said they'd get some by Wednesday--this was in early November.  We now understand the Italian need not to disappoint (right away anyhow) so we knew better than to come back on Wednesday.  Sure enough, they still don't have any application packets in Scalea.  We traveled up North near Maratea (Lauria) to locate them.  It was fortunate that Doug came with me since they at first refused to give me two packets until I pointed to the "marito" sitting waiting for me.

It's time to distract you with more photos from our trip to the ruins in Cirella--since I didn't think you'd appreciate the inside of the Post Office in Scalea..


I filled out the applications yesterday.  The only differences when you are renewing your Permesso are that you mark "Rinnovo" for Renewal and you don't have to fill out the Visa section.  No more Visa.  You still need a valid Passport but your Visa gets you into the country and once you are in, you're in--as long as you keep getting permission to stay (Yes, you can leave the country as long as you have a valid Permesso, it's your ticket back in). There are also differences in what documents to include with a renewal.  Once you get your first Permesso, you apply for residency with the Comune or town hall.  You get a carta d'identica or identity card from the Comune and you request the certificates of residency and the "state" of the family (how many people are living with you) when you are ready to renew the Permesso. Your residency is only as good as your Permesso.  If your Permesso expires, you are dead (as far as residency is concerned, that is).
Here are the documents I included in the application:

  1. COPY of the PERMESSO about to EXPIRE
  8. TRANSLATIONS Explaining
  • Finances (letter from your financial planner or institution)
  • Health Care situation (letter stating your coverage)
  • Marriage Certificate 
We did not include our FBI report again as Italy in now in charge of our conduct.
I have never been certain that we need the health coverage info but it can't hurt  since it further shows financial independence which is the basis for this type of permesso. We just got our Italian health card here but that's a whole other procedure...Okay back to Cirella:

We brought the applications to the Post Office where the clerk who helped us last year was amazed at how short a time his work lasted.  I explained that this renewal should last two years.  We paid about 120 Euro total for the experience.
Our appointment in Cosenza is January 3 when they will fingerprint us again and hopefully not lose my file once more. Meanwhile, we will remember what it's all for and head for the beach, mountains or museums nearby.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Giorno di Ringraziamento-Thanksgiving in Calabria!

Thanksgiving is just another day for Italians, but we decided that we would try and make it special for our fellow Americans here.  We also wanted to have some Italian friends there...somehow it didn't seem right to have a big dinner in Italy with only expats there. It ended up an International dinner. We had six Americans, a British  mother and daughter with holiday house in Scalea and our two closest Italian friends from here in the village. As you can imagine, there was a lot of fun Italian being battered around the table – some done well and fast, some less so.

Thanksgiving is the most popular of American holidays and 40 million people were expected to travel for the holiday, and check-out TSA’s new security features at some airports. Weather can be an issue with Thanksgiving. I know my brother was expecting -29C at his place in Montana, my daughter had snow in Denver, and Oregon had snow and freezing rain – delightful! We are still in a wet rainy pattern in Calabria with highs around 14C. Regardless, it was a great day with a bunch of good friends just like the holiday was meant to be.

One does not find turkeys in the stores here – just turkey parts, so we ordered a whole turkey, asking for a 10 kg bird. It arrived at the local butcher’s Monday where they mentioned it was a little larger. Yes, it was 16 kg which converts to 35 lbs. So how do you put a bird that big into an Italian refrigerator or oven? Take out all the racks, say a few choice words, push, shove, kick. Every surface in the oven was in contact with the turkey including the door.  Ecco.

I asked Giussepe Antonio at the meat market whether it was really turkey, or perhaps a struzzo (ostrich). Here it is just out of the oven—nicely falling apart done. 

For this event, we used the new space in the guest flat because it has a bigger table, and we sat 10 pretty well. Di set a lovely table to go along with all the great food she and the guests were making.

We had to hope for the best with some things given what was available locally. No familiar winter squashes or yams at the market, but we found zucca--it looks sorta like a pumpkin with the same meat, so pie from scratch and baked pieces. Our two guests from England brought a bag of Canadian cranberries that were fun and comforting to have.

We adjourned upstairs for digestivo drinks and more conversation. I think Sofia was bored listening to the adults talking about mold on their walls, water heaters and the Italian bureaucracy in general, but no one fell asleep on the sofa watching football as in the States--just a lively time spent with good friends.

Well you know where to find me for the next couple days--we used real flatware and china instead of the plastic throwaway that is more popular here—I see why. Didja see how that turkey hung over the pan?  You would NOT want to see the inside of this oven!!

Ciao a la festa prossima, Guido

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ecco! Finito! Restoration Fun

Our guest apartment is ready for guests! Of course, we won't have a whole lot of interest this time of year--but it's great to know it is done. We have had a good number of people ask us what we will "do" with the space when there are no guests, which will be most of the time. We have always used the downstairs area for storage, and now the storage is neat and tidy. We use it for ironing (Doug still does lots of this...he even irons his jeans--go figure) and hanging the laundry on the terrace. More importantly, it's a quiet place to relax and read. The wood stove's heat is very very cosy so we will undoubtably start a good fire on those rainy winter days.  It's also now the place with the big table for large gatherings in the winter or in the summer if it's too hot on the terrace.

As promised, here are a series of before and after pictures.  Note that the two walls that formed the kitchen, and the walls around the stairs are all gone now to open-up the whole place. (We really never owned the italian furniture shown in the before pictures. The owners cleared it all out before we moved in):

Friday, November 12, 2010

Raccolta Delle Olive-Calabrian Olive Harvest Old and New

Sitting by the fire at the beautiful Villa Tranquilla
One of the many things I love about my new life is that one minute I can be sitting in the spacious living room at my friends' beautiful villa near Maratea and the next be hanging from an olive tree helping another friend with her raccolta della olive (olive harvest). This is a story of contrasts--Contrasts of weather, way of life, and methods of olive harvest.

Our friend Pina mentioned that she was about to harvest her olives.  Since we are typical expats, we said we wanted to help.  (Most expats in Italy want to help with the grape and olive harvests--probably because the books we read before we come all describe the fun had by all). Remember Doug and I just came from a farm so we figured we wouldn't be too stupid about the work involved.  It wasn't bad at all and the day was perfect.  I can hear Guido right now reminding me to tell you about each step involved and the equipment used and to cut the philosophy in half.  So okay, here it is in captioned pictures:

Pina wouldn't let us climb the trees since she weighs less than we do and the branches break easily--
plus I think she liked it
I honestly don't know what I was doing here, perhaps lowering a branch so I could reach the olives
This olive grove is in our town, Santa Domenica Talao, down off of the hill
Pina helps her friend Franco harvest his olives so she can harvest some oil
These are what the olives look like on the tree
They are very bitter so there is no tasting while you pick
The first thing that is done is the laying of the mesh--Pina said that when she was a girl they just raked them off 
of the ground. Doug is holding a long handled rake to rake 'em off onto the mesh. 
Note the stakes downhill of the tree to avoid any olives falling downhill off the mesh

The next step is gather in the mesh, then pick all the errant leaves out of the olives, put the olives in the bucket and then in mesh bags for Franco's tractor to pick up and take to the frantoio (oil press)

Here is Franco using his 500 Euro electric rake (works off a tractor battery)
He is happy because he is getting a lot more done than we are
Pina is probably out there again today since we had that one nice day and it has rained for about a week since then. Today is a glorious olive picking day but we have other promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep...sorry Mr. Frost.


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