Monday, 28 July 2014

Stracciatella, staccato rhythms and smutty jokes!

Another good giggle today courtesy of my metal-working friends.  But first stracciatella: a cheese that originated in Puglia, kind of like shredded mozzarella and cream all mushed together.  You end up with this wonderful, rich, semi-solid gooeyness that is just so good!  Definitely check it out when you're here along with burrata which is probably best described as stracciatella encased in mozzarella.  Dee-lish!

(Because straccia means shred, stracciatella is also the name of a popular flavour of ice cream - vanilla with chocolate flakes - and in other parts of Italy a kind of soup, so be sure to clarify what you're expecting if you order some in a restaurant!)

Stracciatella - not the soup or the ice cream!

The reason I'm sharing this with you today is because we were given some as a gift in a shop on Saturday where we were only purchasing a few bread rolls.  The lady had already given us a chunk of mozzarella each to try, then this tub of stracciatella to take away - really I was quite touched by her generosity, especially as there was no-one else around to see.  Her reasoning - once you taste this you'll come back.  And she's right, we will!  Just 10 minutes before when buying some fruit and veg the owner had thrown in an extra handful of chillies for us and it's not the first time he's done similar (this is the same gent who gave us an extra half punnet of tomatoes along with the furry cucumber last week!)  Such little gestures of generosity and friendliness can really make your day.

And so on to staccato rhythms!  (Well, blues festival just wasn't working on the alliteration front!)  Around this time of year Monopoli really comes to life with street entertainment, markets and outdoor food and drink stands all looking to keep the hordes of tourists happy.  Not all of the entertainment is of the standard I'd expect to see granted a public audience if back home in UK, and coming from a town with an incredible live music scene, Mr RR and I often commented last year how blown away they'd be here if that kind of talent could be convinced to come play in this town.

So far this year, I've been embarrassed and perplexed in equal measure at the 2 physical comedy / clown acts I've seen (I don't think I'm doing them a disservice to describe the 10 minutes I saw of one act as 2 guys dressed a bit funny, moving in circles on the stage moving a wig from one's head to the other's - I mean, really?!  Even the Italian kids weren't laughing!) so it was a lovely surprise, when we saw there was a 2 day blues festival going on, to hear some sound checking early in the evening and to recognise the singer had an incredible voice.  After a few cocktails on the seafront, we returned to catch the set and it was really impressive: all the musicians clearly very talented.

It was the first year they'd held this event so I hope the crowds of people were testament enough to its success and it will return.  Kudos Monopoli!  You gained a lot of credibility with this ragazza!

The whole gang get together for a grand finale

And so on to this afternoon, where the metalwork for the 2 apartments came to be checked in situ before it gets painted white.  Overall I was really happy with it.  Given there'd been so much confusion when explaining the look I wanted, it was a relief to see that more or less they'd got it spot on.  

Beautiful curve

Railings slightly bent out of shape = deformato!

You'll see in the second photo a gap between the stairs and the mezzanine level above.  We had discussed having some kind of metal swirl to fill this gap to stop children getting their heads stuck or squeezing through to land on the hard floors!  (Mr RR says if they do that then it's just evolution at work, but I'd prefer my friends with little ones could relax here rather than worry their kids will fail the evolution test!)  One of the guys had made a beautiful swirling shape for this purpose, exactly the kind of thing I love, but it was unfortunately at least 30% too small to be of any use.  I couldn't help myself!  I started to point out it was a bit small, that I was sorry because it was beautiful but it just wasn't going to be enough, and so on, and soon we were all in giggles, the man suggesting he could try to stretch it, the others loving telling him it was too small!  Now I don't know if good Puglian women use innuendo or whether this was entirely inappropriate and that's what helped them to laugh so much, but I read another ex-pat's blog who said she was only making jokes in Italian that people actually laughed at in her second year here, so I'm figuring this is me, my sense of humour and I'm ahead of schedule: it's all good!

Friday, 25 July 2014

How do you say "plain flour" in Italian?!

Some days are just crappy, even if you're in some people's dream holiday destination of Italy!

I should have written this post yesterday!  Yesterday, we had good news, and Mr RR and I went out to celebrate with a few post dinner drinks and nibbles in the main square of the old town.

Aperitivi ("appetisers") Don't tell anyone we ate dinner first at 6.30!

There was a drumming parade by a group for disabled people and a reading/discussion by an author promoting his book about the mafia and all seemed well and good with the world.  Afterwards, we wandered the streets for a bit, even rediscovering a cat and her kittens we spotted for the first time last week.  I mean, what more can you ask than an evening of cocktails, culture and kittens?!

Gattini ("Kittens")

Then today I got 2 pieces of frustrating news regarding properties back home where we will be penalised financially for other people's ineptness and sneaky underhandedness and, excuse my extreme lack of eloquence, but it all just feels a bit rubbish.  Rather than head straight to my old friend chocolate, Mr RR suggested we head to the sea as I have been amazed before at how swimming in the clear blue sea after a tough day can make everything better, but today it just didn't work.

So now here I am at home, feeling a bit sorry for myself, not sure what will help, but anticipating I'll revert to Plan A and try chocolate!   Following this notion however, I'm frustrated that I can't even make my usual home-baked goodness as I haven't got my head round how the flour works here!  In UK, you have plain flour and self-raising flour which is plain flour with some baking powder thrown in.  I was told Italian 00 flour was the same as plain flour but I've tried a couple of basic recipes that work fine with plain flour with Italian 00 flour instead and they weren't even recognisable.  So now, (given my fragile emotional state!) I'm wary of trying to bake again today of all days as there's a real danger that if a batch of my celebrated chocolate brownies come out wrong I will dissolve in a mess of tears!

Oh dear, oh dear!  What's a ragazza to do?!

Monday, 21 July 2014

At last! Photos of the finished apartments!

I am delighted to introduce you to Romeo and Juliet:

Il Palazzotto - Romeo has 
  • a romantic bed on the mezzanine level under the tufo stone vaulted ceiling

  • a sofa that opens into 2 single beds for kids (or those who don't like the stairs to the mezzanine!)

  • a litte kitchenette

  • a spacious shower room (with huge shower)
  • and lots of lovely character features so you have no doubt you're not in a Travelodge!

Il Palazzotto - Juliet has some similarities!!
  • a romantic bed on the mezzanine level under the tufo stone vaulted ceiling
  • a sofa that opens into a double bed for kids (or those who don't like the stairs to the mezzanine!)
  • a litte kitchenette
  • a spacious shower room (with bidet for our Italian guests!)
  • and lots of lovely character features so you have no doubt you're not in a Travelodge! 

As you might have guessed, I've been taking photos for the agency who will be marketing our apartments for the ridiculously popular August period.  Just my iPhone and amateur eye but I'd like to think they have come out at least as well as half the properties I see advertised which have clothes on the floor, dishes in the sink, etc!  Within 2 days we had our first booking for next week!  So thrilled!

So now you have been formally introduced and before the agency fills them, it's the perfect time to let us know if you are hoping to come out so we can reserve dates for you.  Despite recent frustrations (ahem!), they are beautiful apartments in a wonderful town at the perfect holiday time of year, so we'd love to welcome more of our friends out here to share our little Italian idyll.

Plus you never know what little surprises might brighten up your day.  This past weekend we had good friends in town and we spent our days, drinking a little...

Yes, that's a bottle of red wine for £1.50!

(which my friend, who knows his wine - he knows about terroirs! - insisted was perfectly decent!) a little for fresh produce - it's the perfect time of year for beautifully ripe cherries, pineapple and watermelon
Fresh fruit on the roof terrace

(when we asked about this strange, green thing in the greengrocers he gave us one for free, describing it as like a cucumber that you just peel and eat!  Unlike the "red carrot" a friend told us about the other day which sounded so exciting and exotic and turned out to be beetroot, I've still no idea what this green thing would be called in English!)

barattieri (= some kind of round, furry Pugliese cucumber!)

...and lots and lots of chilling at the beach, relaxing in piazzas soaking up the atmosphere, and eating!  Bliss!

We had such a lovely time they emailed to say within 24 hours of their landing back in London they were looking into flights to come back in September!  Apparently getting back into work mode is difficult when you know your friends are in Italy and heading to the beach as soon as 5pm comes around!

If I may, I'd like to close with a few things my friend said this weekend that will stay with me.   Maybe it seems like bragging, maybe I shouldn't share them on here for all to see, but these sentiments coming from such a sweet, smart and successful person really made me smile from ear to ear.  Firstly, they said that they have always admired me for my ability to make friends in new places.  Secondly, that I inspire them to be brave and go after what they want, knowing that I would likely say it's nothing that can't be achieved with a bit of hard work.  Thirdly, that they grazed their knee on the ceiling!  (I'm not sure this quote will make the marketing blurb, but it's certainly not something you can say about any old holiday!)

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Sometimes you just have to laugh!

I just got accosted in the street and scolded by a group of women!  Well 4 women but one ringleader as the others seemed less interested in telling me off as observing what the outsider had to say for herself!

So here's what the problem was: water here in the old town doesn't run into drains but down cleverly paved sloping streets til it reaches the sea.  Today I had a lady clean all 4 storeys of the house top to bottom and it was so, so worth it, but the water that had run down when cleaning the front door had made its way down the centre of the street and round the corner and was perturbing this dear lady!

Hardly a torrent!

I mean, seriously!  Does she shout at the sky when it rains?!  Rather than get into an argument about it being only water and nowhere near her house and probably cleaner than the street, I put on my most concerned face and used my best Italian to say I was sorry and explained it was the cleaning lady and said I wasn't sure what I could do.  And when she went off on one about it being the evening, I said I didn't understand and the other old ladies softened, and I asked if it would be better to have water in the street in the morning and she said yes and I said ok and politely wished them a good evening!

I still don't really see why she had a problem (maybe one of my Italian readers can explain what I'm missing?) but find it funny to imagine her seeing the water, marching round the corner to find its source and then being so happy when I passed so she could say her piece in front of her friends!

Altogether now: "Signora.  SIGNORA!"

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Is it possible I may be just a little bit homesick?

I embarrassed myself today.  With everything that's been going on and another confrontation regarding another missed deadline I ended up having to excuse myself as I got overwhelmed and upset.  The lady and man present were very sweet, the lady coming to offer me a tissue, me apologising as it was the first time I'd met her and I didn't think I was making the best impression!  At the end of the meeting, affirming to the man again the importance to me of a quick turnaround and him prioritising the work, they replied I should join them at the beach sometime!  I'm really left wondering if that is the answer to everything here and also the cause of so many of my frustrations!  I can see the allure when you have beaches on your doorstep that look like this...


...and I love that their work-life balance is so much better than in UK but is it possible the pendulum has swung too far the other way here?  Is that just an over-efficient, still ridiculously-punctual Brit talking?!

I had another meeting just afterwards with an agency who want to help us rent the ground floor apartments this summer.  Lovely couple, I've rented through them before, and they concluded their meeting by insisting I should come join them for breakfast on their sea view terrace sometime.

It's so nice to know I make a good enough impression (even if a bit over-tired and emotional sometimes) that people invite me to join them socially, and after a second dinner with some new friends on Saturday night, I'm confident that slowly but surely I'll build a new social network out here.

As a (relatively!) normal British girl, such a network of friends is really important to me.  (I think it's a girl thing to enjoy and appreciate the company of others so much, as Mr RR could quite happily sit with his computer all day!)  With so many of us in UK living away from our families, I think friends for us take a focal place in our lives that family do for most Italians here (our electrician in particular finds it very strange that I'm living so far from my family - he even asked after my parents' recent visit if they'll be moving out here!).  I've been reminded of that this week chatting away for hours to so many of my wonderful friends and dear mum back home on Skype and Facebook - one even making me cry today at the story of her 2 year old daughter who kept saying my name when she saw the electric mixer, as we so often end up baking cakes together when I'm over at hers!

(Just a little boast - check out just some of the cakes we made on our last day together.  Was really excited by how this "red for Arsenal" icing came out!)

and so yummy too!

Very occasionally, hearing stories like that of my friend's little girl, I yearn for the comfort and familiarity of home in UK, legs curled up on the sofa with a friend, tea and cake, putting the world to rights, but in reality, I couldn't ever swap this adventure for that.  And, hey, one of my best friends is coming out to visit later this week so before long it'll be like the best bits of the UK are brought to me!

P.S. I'm sure I'll accept the lovely offer of breakfast on the sea view terrace, but the beach invitation?  As long as I need help covering this pasty English skin with SPF 50, I won't be going with anyone but Mr RR!

There are some things that just don't need to be shared!

Monday, 14 July 2014

Flowers: always a good start!

Am I right, ladies?

Always a treat to receive a beautiful bouquet

Plus the delivery man was so complimentary about the little he saw of the house.  Must have said how much he loved it at least 5 times in the few minutes it took me to find a pen and sign for the flowers!

Still comes as a bit of a surprise when people are wowed by our home.  You expect people to be polite, but one lady even asked my permission to take photos of the bathroom and bring her boyfriend back to see the place!  Of course I love it, but I know I've not decorated or furnished it in the usual modern or even traditional Italian fashion so it's always so heartwarming to hear people appreciate my style.

More photos of the finished apartments and house coming soon.  Hopefully you'll like it too!

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Clarifying my background for the locals!

This has not been an easy week.  I'm not dwelling on it and the less said about it the better.  

There were however two questions I was asked that made me smile.

Firstly, our not very friendly neighbour who insists she never understands a word I say, asked our electrician to ask me which country I'm from.  I replied Inghilterra ("England") and she asked if that was near Canada!  I'm guessing, like many people here, she hasn't travelled far from Monopoli!

Secondly, the electrician's new helper asked me if I fai TV, which really threw me - Do I make TV?  Do we have TV in uk?  Eventually he asked me what I did for work and the electrician explained that I buy old houses, renovate and sell them, to which the young guy replied that he'd seen programmes on Sky of people doing the same, so he was asking did I make these programmes?!  I'm not sure if it's so rare to be a property developer in Italy that he assumed it was the same in UK and so with all those programmes I must have featured on one if them, or if he actually thought I was Sarah Beeny!!  Either way I assured him that no, I didn't make TV shows and wasn't famous, but I'll take it as flattering all the same!!

Saying goodbye and good riddance to this week...

... and looking forward to better days ahead, thankful for all the blessings in my life

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Straying from my perfectionist tendencies!

I had a good giggle recently with the man who will be helping us with all the metalwork that remains - handrails, barriers on the mezzanine levels and roof terrace, balconies etc.

My Italian is improving but I am a long way from fluent and my vocabulary leaves much to be desired.  So when I was trying to explain how I wanted the metalwork to look using words such as not too modern, hard, straight or machine-made, but more organic, more like it was hand-made, more classical, more traditional, he wasn't convinced he understood.

Eventually, I tried, using all my childhood Pictionary experience, to illustrate the difference between the perfect, precise look I didn't want and the look I did, and he said ah: deformato!  I explained that deformed to me meant something really badly out of shape, and he said it meant the same to him!  Then we joked about how they would be like something not hand-made, but made by someone with their feet, someone blind and just out of the hospital using their ears to guide them!

He's back tomorrow to take measurements and they should hopefully be ready within a couple of weeks.  Just how deformed they are going to look I'm not sure but if it's reliant on my drawing skills it's a worry!