Friday, December 23, 2011

Natale in Calabria

Christmas lights in the Piazza
Maybe “northern Italian/European” traditions are slowly creeping south.  The TV commercials here related to Christmas are tame and not many. We do laugh every time we walk past a mechanical Santa on the sidewalk that is putting out holiday music in English (at least 3 in Scalea). Another sight that brought a chuckle was a young Pakistani lad in Santa suit, without beard, playing jingle bells from some a fake keyboard and asking for cash.  If he had donned a beard, I might have donated.

Nunzia offers much holiday cheer

Decorations and light have slightly increased in our village, but it's still by far more traditionally centered on the family and food. Please enjoy these images of Christmas in town, and an introduction to more of our village. We’ve never compiled a list of the businesses here, so ecco: 5 alimentari groceries (2 are also butchers); 2 clothing shops; 6 bars; 2 pizzerie; 1 flower shop; 2 tabacchi; 2 small casalinga shops; 1 electric/appliance shop; 1 restaurant (summer); 1 shoe store; 1 hardware; a sporting shop for clothes & air guns that we have not been in; and the largest retailer in town is a farm/construction equipment place that also has done most of the ironwork for our apartments.  Lastly, the ESSO fueling station.  Not bad for a town of 1300.

It is a wonderful village with the greatest people, and we are fortunate to live In Santa Domenica Talao.

Cooler weather, but still no killing frosts here
Myriad Christmas cakes (panattone) on sale in Scalea. Doug has watched people take 6-8 boxes thru check-out for weeks.  Each box contains more sugar than Doug could eat in a year! Also lots of sweet sparkling wines and chocolates on sale.  Christmas is sweet!!!

Our 2005 tree in Oregon
We have noticed, and English friends agree, that there is slightly more going on here in advance of Christmas than we have seen before. We refer to more Christmas decorations for sale in stores and an increase of outdoor lighting by families and towns.  We think the locals have done alberi di natale (trees) inside their homes (a lovely one next door) for some time. We, however, have downsized Christmas considerably. On the left  is our 2005 tree at Rainshadow Farm, and on the right our current albero di natale:

 2011--smaller and not real
A festive farmacia

The flower/plant shop with fish pond

Two generations of same family staff the store

Local fischio (mistletoe) that grows on the oaks

Buon Natale & Buon Anno Nuovo,

Di and Doug

Friday, December 16, 2011

Renault Redux

Di groaned at my idea to do a car blog this week.  As long as I make it more about Italy than about the car I'll be OK says my editor. As you may know, you cannot buy a car in Italy if you are not a resident. We bought the Alfa Romeo before moving here from English friends knowing it would take 6-8 months to gain resident status. If not for that deal, we might have spent €7,000 for hired cars. The Alfa was very handy and served us well. It was, however, built for “handling” and not comfort and we and our kidneys wanted something else. There are about 8 used car dealers in Scalea and one actual car dealer. We went to 3 places before finding the dealership Mondoauto that sells Renault, Nissan and Dacia cars. Small, compared to an American car dealer, there is the owner Franco, a secretary, 2 mechanics and a cleanup person.

We found what vehicle specialists tell you to buy – a slightly used car with low use on the odometer after the depreciation is done. We found a Renault Scenic with only 25,000 km and one year remaining on the guaranty. Yes, the French make nice cars too and probably 1/3 of the vehicle population here is French. 
Similar in outer dimensions to our Subaru Outback in the US, this car is taller and much more roomy.  The rear compartment actually has a couple pop-up seats so you can carry 7 people. Amazing leg-room in the rear seat. My old friend Dave Peterson is 6 ft. 4 in, 114 kg and he would fit inside this car with his big cowboy hat!

This car has good windows and visibility, ride, comfort, etc. Some things like Blue Tooth for phones and cruise control will never or seldom be used.  Maybe in Puglia we could find a calm enough highway to use cruise control. The auto parking brake is weird, but works OK. The auto wipers are doing well in the rain that has arrived.
xSpecs: 1.5 liter diesel engine; 81 kilowatt engine; 110 cavalli (horses) engine; 6 speed transmission. It officially is rated to get 55 – 63 miles per gallon efficiency. Since Italy increased fuel prices by 13 cents last week to raise more tax money, diesel in the village is up to €1.75/litre = $8.94/gallon, so this efficient car will be welcome. The Alfa was getting about 40 mpg.  In comparison, Scenic is a more spacious car than the Toyota Prius -- cheaper and without the need to replace a hybrid battery. Europe builds incredible little diesel engines. Maybe with FIAT running Dodge, the US will get some efficient engines/vehicles there even for pickup trucks.

So what’s the downside? That would be Italian auto insurance.  The 10-year old Alfa cost €800/$1200 per year. This nearly new car is €1500/$2505 per year.  Imagine insuring a brand new Audi, Alfa, Mercedes, etc.  A Ferrari??  Better be friends with Berlusconi.
We shipped the money for this purchase when the euro was selling for $1.35.  Of course today it is $1.29, the lowest we have seen since 2005. But at least it was all done in euro and not lira – which still could happen in this EU crisis.

Oh, the Scenic is 10cm closer to the ground at the rear hatch, so Vince will have an easier time jumping in and his space behind the rear seats is larger also.

What did we NOT get with this car?  this sexy Peugeot logo. Maybe I can get one from a junkyard and wire it on.


Thursday, December 8, 2011


I can't describe life in Santa Domenica Talao as quiet because southern Italians don't live life quietly. There is life in the town nearly every night and firecrackers from the hands of little ones announce the arrival of the many festas--too many to list... Although it's not quiet, we have always felt quite safe. There are no wierd neighborhoods or the uncomfortable feeling you might get walking around at night elsewhere. So we were very surprised at the news that our very own post office was robbed at gunpoint!  Doug was able to snap some photos just as the Carabinieri arrived.

It seems two robbers showed up on a motorino and managed to make off with 60,000.00 euro from the post office just as it was stocked with money to deliver to pensioners (Italians get their pension money in cash from the post offices). They left the post office and escaped on foot--leading to suspicion that they might be locals or know someone local.

The crooks pistol-whipped some poor guy in the post office who ended up in the hospital. Apparently no one could identify them because they left their helmets on. The U-Tube story says that Santa Domenica Talao may have been attractive because we don't surveillance cameras in the post office. 
Utube Report (in Italian) 

I have to admit that part of the reason (other than pure newsworthy-ness)
for posting this story is the fabulous job Doug did capturing the essence of the Carabinieri. These inspectors look so elegant...let's just hope they also are smart enough to catch the bad guys. 

Whatever happens, there will be enough to talk about in town for awhile!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Autumn in the Misty Pollino

The fall color really was beautiful.  The landscape reminded us of the Columbia River Gorge with nicer architecture
We live in the Province of Cosenza – a province being equivalent to an American county. In the middle of the province is the largest park in Italy. Our home is actually within the park on the northwest side.

For a long time, I've wanted to drive a certain road that accesses the deeper recesses of the Pollino National Park. This road, SS105, starts in Belvedere on the coast ½ hour south of here, and meanders thru the mountains to the city of Castrovillari. From there you can hop on the A3 Autostrade for a short run to Mormanno, then back west down SS504 to S.Domenica Talao where we live.

As we did the drive and when I was thinking of it after, my mind was comparing things with Wasco County Oregon where we lived. So here’s some stats: Wasco County is 6203 km2 and Prov. di Cosenza is 6650 km2. Wasco County has a population of 28,000. Cosenza’s population is 733,000. Both places have lots of open space and rural countryside. Here, we just happen to have large cities like Cosenza, Paolo, Castrovillari and others. In Wasco, the largest city is 13,000 people. 

SS105 has miles and miles of stone guardrail.  One of the Italian roads that inspired the Columbia River Highway...
The park map shows some summer trails and some winter cross country skiing NW of Castrovillari that are accessed by good secondary roads into the center of the park. Our 6.5 hour drive didn’t allow for an excursion there.  prossima volta (next time).

The SS105 (SS = stradale stato – a national road) is wonderful. It takes you thru some gorgeous mountain areas at a slow speed, and when we drove it last Saturday, there was almost no traffic. So relaxing to watch scenery instead of doing fulltime defensive driving. I wager our average speed on that very windy road was around 40-50 km/h. 

Early on, as we entered the forested area, we stopped to let Vince, err...stretch his legs. You can see the white fir trees. It did not dawn on me till I looked at the images that these are some of the bigger trees we’ve seen here other than pine.  

It's unusual to this old forester to drive into the woods and mountains and then come across fair sized towns. S.Agata was the first and is known for a big castagno (chestnut) festival. Lovely city and square.  

S.Sosti and S.Donato followed. These towns are all along the border of the park, or in it. 

Most of these eastside towns have a strong Italo-Albanese culture. The few people we spoke with on the drive spoke Italian, but at one photo stop above guys harvesting olives I heard a very foreign tongue that must have been Albanian or a form of it.  

The road stretch between S.Donato and Aquaformosa is very windy and scenic. It reminded us of driving in the Columbia River Gorge of Oregon USA. (SS105 turns). Again, the lack of traffic was just great. I could stop almost anywhere for a Kodak moment without fearing a collision.
Olive Harvest below Saracena
San Agata
San Donato
If you ever follow this route, remember that you have left the tourist zone on the coast and most of the villages have no restaurants, hotels, etc. Bars aplenty for caffe and snacks. We found an eatery in the town of Lungro. L’Oasi del Viale Hotel Ristorante Pizzeria. One thing about the mountain towns is they have a slightly different menu than coastal Calabrese. Here you can get soup which is a wonderful find on a cool fall day! I also had one of the finest grilled meat lunches ever. We found soup in Mormanno during a previous jaunt, so it seems to be a mountain dish.

The mountains of Southern Italy still amaze me with their rugged nature and that there is still so much undeveloped land. Remember I said the province has 733,000 people! The hill city of Saracena is spectacular and demands a return trip because it also has a smaller road giving access to the interior of the national park. 


Finally, we came to a misty overlook of Castrovillari which I guess has 20,000 people or more. 

This one-way street in downtown Castrovillari surprised us.  

Di was the first to notice how wide it was! Not very often we see streets like this in older Italian towns. And there were open free parking spaces all over the place. Very pleasant.  The city might be a good base with overnight lodging from which to explore further into the park. I now realize that a day trip for cross country skiing is questionable since Castrovillari itself is slightly over an hour drive from us, then off onto very slow windy roads with snowy conditions??? We no longer have an all-wheel drive car and spending €100 for chains (and having to put the bloody things on whilst crawling in the slush etc)??  Maybe we’ll stay home and read about skiing on our Kindles!

It was a 6.5 hour tour. We all liked it. Vince had a short time when a 2 litre water bottle was rolling back and forth in the curves, smacking him, but he didn’t complain. I still like driving-for-pleasure. Di is not there as much anymore. It used to be America’s top form of outdoor recreation. Even when we drove 140 miles to and from work each day, I enjoyed the scenery. It’s ironic that I took the Italian nickname of Guido (my middle name is Guy) so my neighbors could call me something easier to pronounce in Italian, because when using the verb "to drive" (guidare), to say I drive = "Io Guido". 

Sono Guido e io guido...

Ci vediamo, Doug


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