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.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Here's one for the Rules and one more for the Roads

It’s time to bring up topics related to rules of the road, laws, and the Italian bureaucracy as witnessed by us here in Calabria.  It’s pertinent because 1) we must, once again, apply for a permesso di soggiorno (permit to stay), and 2) I am getting ready to meet the challenge of seeking an Italian driver’s license.

The permesso story has been told and we are pretty well prepared to run the gauntlet again.  At least the renewal permit is for two years.  The longer we are here, the longer the permit is valid until, at the six year mark, it becomes permanent.  Two documents we needed from the village took me 7 minutes to obtain, so things really are getting smoother and we have yet to pay a bribe to anyone or found a friend of the mayor or anybody else to grease any skids!

My American driver’s license from Oregon expires in December and they do not renew online.  I could spend $900 to fly back to get a license or bite-the-bullet and get an Italian one.  My law-abiding wife says I must do this because “legal residents must have an Italian license within one year of residency.”  Well, residents are supposed to have an EU license from an EU country, but does anyone care? (Di points out to me that she intends to wait five years until her Oregon license expires to jump into this mess, so it's about driving with NO license that is upsetting to her).

I believe the reality is probably something else.  I have been stopped a number of times by the national police – the Carabinieri – at their random roadblocks.  Yeah, the guys in the cute uniforms and a sub-machinegun.  Each time, they heard my stumbling Italian, recognized I was a stranieri and sent me along.  The last time, the guy asked if I was English, so I acted insulted about such an accusation, stating I was an American.  He then started asking why on earth I would move here, where was I from, etc.  No documents were ever requested.  Just a fluke perhaps?

The English language version of the driving test goes away next month, so I’ll have to take the written test in Italian and the driving test is given in Cosenza, the provincial seat.  None of this can happen until January at the earliest.  In fact, I cannot even get a copy of the driving study book until November 20. The good news is that for €450 ($630), I get the privilege of skipping the class work with teenagers and to take the test in Italian. More truly good news is that some online samples of the test are pretty easy, even in Italian. Va bene, eh?

Sounds easy and customer-friendly right? I should add that one of the documents I must provide is a health certificate from the “officials”.  Well, that could be okay cuz the same office issues the national healthcare card that I’m eligible for as a resident. But, I’m told that that test will show I need glasses to drive, so I’ll have to go to an optical doctor for some other document. Ah, the never-ending Italian document chase is on.

You’ve probably already heard many hair-raising Italian driving stories.  Posted speeds, stop signs, centerlines on the roads, any safety measure at all--just suggestions.  Abide by the rules if they are convenient at the time is the reality of these roads. Last spring a young woman who tailgated me out of town (24 inches is typical), passed me as we hit the highway to Scalea. She blew past me AND the Carabinieri car in front of me at 80-90kph in a zone posted at 40. The two cops didn’t bother to put down their mobile phones or cigarettes when she went by. But hey, I know the rules and can really follow them with an examiner sitting next to me!

The condition of the roads in Calabria caused me to reflect on tax evasion – the national pastime of Italy. When I asked a mechanic and tow truck driver to show me the bill I paid for in cash, he told me it would cost an additional 20% for an official receipt from the cash register which is inspected by the tax police.  Well, I have decided (being a non-Italian American Democrat) to pay these taxes as often as I can.  Imagine what the roads COULD BE like around here if everyone paid the taxes they should!! I have paid the builders with bank checks this year in lieu of cash and no one has complained. It’s my contribution and bid for a sane system—but the fact that this empty gesture will never light the fire of the Italian heart takes away a bit of the sanity of it, I fear.

Saluti to Bureaucrats Everywhere, Guido


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