Thursday 28 January 2021

It’s in the preparation

One long wall of our Italian garage is below ground. It’s made of stone which  for many years was damp in winter. A couple of years ago Mr FF installed outside a new damp proof course above and outside this wall, Piero our village muratore laid new porfido, the crazy paving I like a lot, the area on the right of this photo. 

It took a long time for the stone to dry out but now it’s fine and ready for Mr FF to re-point.  It’s not so beautiful at the moment but I think it has potential to look really nice, Mr FF has made such a good job of the garden walls I have high expectations. 

The old mortar will need raking out and that’s going to cause a lot of dust so Mr FF decided to section off the area and work in his own little room.  Ingenious, I imagine I won’t see him for days on end and just keep passing cups of tea behind the plastic.

The garage has a rather nice tiled floor, we’ve never used it for the car as the descent was far too steep.   Many years ago we changed the up and over door for a pass door and window so it’s not really a garage any more. It’s always been a dumping ground and I’m hoping we can install shelving rather than putting everything on the old table tennis table.

In fact I’m thinking of a nice wine cellar, as you may notice we are already well stocked in the booze department.

Saturday 23 January 2021

Italian daily bread

We really only eat bread at breakfast though some days Mr FF makes himself a sandwich at lunch time.   This was a loaf we bought last week, it wasn’t easy to keep our butter and jam in place.

We ask for bread based on where it comes from, the little local towns all provide loaves often from wood fired ovens and using natural yeast.  Some loaves have tiny paper labels confirming their town of origin, only bread from that town can claim to be from that town.  We used to buy bread from Paliano, a town we look onto, there were two locations within the town each producing a slightly different bread, you had to specify which you wanted Santa Maria or Rosalba.  We have recently discovered this one which is from Genzano in the hills near Rome. 

It’s just bread, white mostly but sometimes dark (brown) or wholemeal, it’s all robustly crusty offering a challenge to my various crowns, fillings and dental implants. Rustic loaves are sold loose by weight at around 2.50 euro a kilo and popped into brown paper bags.  I buy the round one, pagnotta, which I cut into portions and freeze so it’s fresh every day.    Usually I eat just one slice each day, even less when it’s full of holes obviously.   I dream of a sour dough loaf or a proper French baguette, seeded bread would be nice even a thick white sliced for toast.   Sometimes I make my own wholemeal loaf which is a deliciously soft change and toasts well, I should do so more often as fresh yeast is available everywhere.  

It’s also possible, if not advisable, to buy small plastic wrapped sliced loaves that have a shelf life of months but not from any self respecting bakery counter.

Monday 18 January 2021

Probably my biggest rant to date

As we became Italian residents at the end of last year we can apply for the new biometric cards that came into effect this year.   We are not quite sure if they are ID cards or permission to stay cards or residency cards but it seems we will need them to get back into Italy if we ever leave.  

So we contacted the state police in our regional capital and got an appointment for this morning at 9 am.  We then asked if we could pay the 32 euro each fee using online banking and show the online receipt with our documents.  We were told to turn up for the appointment and all would be explained, which didn’t help one bit. We were trying to avoid visiting the police, having to leave to go to a post office to pay the fee then returning to the police with our receipt.  So Mr FF made the decision, filled in the complicated payment form that requires so much detail, tax code, code for the specific fee, and went to the post office in the lower village, ours is only open every other morning. He was charged 3 euro for processing the payment which didn’t impress the Yorkshireman.

I was feeling a bit uneasy about todays visit, firstly because we had snow on Sunday.  We cleared our road and moved the car up the incline from our house, it was icy.  Secondly all of Lazio went into the orange (middle) lockdown zone on Saturday with stricter restrictions, like only going out for work health or study, otherwise not leaving your comune.   In small villages like ours, under 3000 inhabitants, it is possible to travel up to 30k but not to the regional capital.  We were going to the capital and it’s 45k away.  We emailed the police to ask if we should still turn up, they didn’t reply.

So we got up at 7.45 this morning, scraped all the ice off the car, well I did while Mr FF sat inside apparently controlling the heating. Our track down was fine, it was a bit icy in the village, freezing fog in the regional capital.  To get into the police building we had to complete a complicated covid declaration that challenged my Italian while my glasses steamed up from wearing a mask.   We had to wait outside in below zero temperatures as access to the immigration department was being limited, it was freezing cold once we got inside too.  

We presented our papers, Mr FF had carefully checked the night before that we had everything, they asked for our passports, ok,  if we’d paid the fee, we showed the receipt.  They asked for our residency document, did we have a photocopy, no we didn’t, some tutting.  Did we have our marriage certificate, well that wasn’t on the list of documents required but fortunately we did as we’d received this, 6 weeks after despatch, from the UK on Friday and taken it to our comune on Saturday.  Did we have a photocopy of it, no we didn't but then we didn’t know we needed it anyway.  If we had taken photocopies they would still have wanted to see the originals, I think they were trying to save on printing costs.  Did we have two 16 euro stamps, they weren’t on the list either, we thought the 64 euros we had paid was the total cost.  The woman behind the desk then said ‘you have done nothing’ and tutted again.  I kept calm, it was the police station after all though I wasn’t sure if these people could arrest me, they were wearing white coats like doctors but with some gold trimming on their lapels.  

Much computer taping. I thought things were looking up when they started stamping furiously and stapling pages together, always a good sign.    They asked for our photographs, didn’t mention how awful they were, two attached to a form and stamped, one attached to the receipt they gave us, presumably to identify us when we go back for the cards though the same photo would be on our cards anyway, goodness knows where the other photo went.  

Next the finger prints.  Mr FF went first, there was a little machine with a square lens on the counter but it didn’t seem to work.  He tried several times as instructed, they gave him some cream to apply to his fingers, no joy, they told him to use the sanitiser gel, no, they brought alcohol and applied it to his hands, they inspected his fingers and cleaned the lens, eventually said it was ok, but that was just his index finger.  They took his middle finger and thumb, it was much the same performance of try and try again until it worked.   Mr FF said it was because he’s  always working he’s worn his finger prints off but in fact when I took a turn it was just as bad, cream, alcohol, try again and they only took my index fingers.

Then they called Mr FF into the back office behind the counter and glass screen.   I thought they were going to test his Italian, but they took his finger prints again, all of them, on a bigger machine that did work.  Meantime the woman told me we would need to go to the tobacconists down the road for the 16 euro stamps.  When Mr FF returned he said he’d get the stamps because I had to go into the back office for the new improved finger print operation which also included a palm print.  I was quite surprised to find that behind the counter the office was warm, it seems that heating is not considered necessary for the long suffering public, another cost saving exercise.

This whole procedure took 1.5 hours during which time a huge queue had built up.  Only 3 people were allowed into the office at any time, there must have been 20 waiting outside in freezing temperatures and based on our experience there weren’t enough hours in the day to process everyone and this was early morning.   At one stage several people started coming inside, they were sent out again.  One man came in saying he had an appointment at 10, it was 10.15, he was told to wait outside.  Fortunately no one objected when Mr FF came back in with the stamps, I was worried he’d have to fill in the covid form again but he didn’t, we handed them over, were told we were done and left.  We have to return to collect our cards when they are ready, we need to check online, I dread to think how long we might have to queue to do this.  I’ll take a flask.

It isn’t really within the covid restrictions for us to get coffee but I was desperate.  We stopped for takeaway cappuccini and croissant at a little bar in the shopping centre, where we could gel and have our temperatures take, fortunately I had cooled down from my rage.   We had the nicest coffee and lemon custard filled croissants I’ve had in a long time, I started to forgive.

Back at the car a man handed me a small envelope, he said it was a calendar.  When I opened it there were 3 plastic cards from Avis, a blood donation charity, with each month a list numbered 28, 30 or 31 with a saints name against each date, everyday is some saints day in Italy.  The man was going round putting them on all the car windscreens.  What the hell good are they, they don’t work as a calendar, they are hardly readable, what a useless polluting waste of money especially from a charity.

So today on San Liberta day I despair at the total disorganisation here.  We just spent half a day presenting to the police the same information we’d already given to our comune and the health board.  We shall have been to our comune 3 times and travelled 4 times to 2 other towns for our residency,  mixing with staff and members of the public.  We’ve been to various post offices, bars and tobacconist for stamps, we’ve paid the best part of 200 euro which is fair enough but not when it’s wasted so much of our and their time.  There has to be a better centralised system, it shouldn’t have to be a battle, surely a residency approval should trigger health entitlement without visits and duplicated information.  As for these bloomin stamps it’s crazy that the authorities that require them slapped on documents cannot provide them, or even take their own fees.  

Ending on a brighter note, I may be making a charitable donation of the 50,000 staples Mr FF has back home, they should keep our part of Italy going for a day or so.

Thursday 14 January 2021

After the rain

Last week I had a good old moan to anyone who would listen about the rain, cold and general misery of being stuck indoors.  As if everyone isn’t stuck indoors anyway, I was just feeling sorry for myself and I have snapped out of it now.

Two days ago the weather started to improve, half a day of sun when we took a long walk down into the valley and back up again, we were barely home before dark.  We met, again walking their boisterous dog, the couple who helped us when we found the wallet.  We saw a shepherd with his sheep, pretty lambs and about 8 sheepdogs, and several people we know from the village. It did us the world of good.

Yesterday was pleasant too, today is just fantastic.  I have been sitting out on the terrace in a short sleeved t shirt knitting, listening to radio 4 and just soaking up the warmth.  The actual temperature is only around 10 degrees but the heat from the sun is strong.

I am knitting up 50 g of lovely soft Adriafil pure wool to make a little cowl.  The pattern is Brake Cowl by Donna Smith, an easy 8 row repeat, every other row is knit.  I’m hoping that this wonderful sunshine is being incorporated into each stitch  so that when I need to wear the cowl on a cold day I shall recall this beautiful winter weather and remember there will be more like this.

Note to self - not quite so much moaning next time

Saturday 9 January 2021

A damp week

It’s been a grim week particularly for everyone back in the U.K.  The new lockdown, record numbers of covid infections and deaths, we realised we won’t be getting back to Yorkshire for a while and however we travel home it’s not going to be easy.

Here in Lazio it’s been mostly raining and as you may know Italian rain is extra wet.  Wednesday was not so bad and we enjoyed breakfast outside, in January that’s got to be a result.  Despite having over 4 tons of wood delivered to see us through the winter we discovered a lot of it isn’t seasoned so it doesn’t burn well, in fact it’s a complete waste of time and money and needs to be stored for a couple of years before it’s used.   Mr FF has spent many hours rearranging the log store to find the best pieces to burn, we keep a good supply in the house hoping that might speed the drying out process but we can’t help feeling cross.  We have central heating too, it’s not the end of the world it’s just not as pleasant as it could be.

Let’s be positive.  I finally got my haircut this week, I hadn’t been to the hairdresser since the end of September, I was a mess.  It was quiet at the saloon, just me, a man who came in for a quick trim and 4 hairdressers hanging around.  It’s such a shame as they are the sweetest people, when I left they had a beautifully wrapped New Years gift for me, a lipstick and a lip gloss, organic, made in Italy, expensive and perfect colours.  Such kindness lifted my spirits.

I met Mr FF after my cut to have photos taken for the new biometric ID card that we need to get from the police, at the headquarters of course which is over an hours drive each way.  We’ve already applied on line for an appointment and heard nothing.  Anyway we found in the shopping centre one of those machines, 4 passport photos, which is what we need to take, don’t ask me why so many, for 5 euros.  It’s hard at the best of times getting a decent photo from these machines doing so with the instructions in Italian was stressful and we both ended up with photos of us looking cross and miserable and old, very much true to life they will be a constant reminder of this trying time.

We came out of the Christmas lockdown on Thursday now we are back in the lowest yellow zone during the week but in orange at the weekend when we must stay in the village. That’s absolutely fine, we are just going to have to sit it out, we all are, so do your best, keep safe, keep cheerful and keep dry.

Post post note - I meant to say the shade of lipstick is Creamy Brick, a perfect name

Monday 4 January 2021

About Enrico

Enrico our stripey grey cat first appeared over three years ago,  a feral tom that we discouraged from hanging around, in fact we called him the nasty party.  He persevered, arriving most days to be chased away.

The following year he was still coming round, by which time we only had Grigio as her sister Crema had decided to go and live with Mario and was subsequently killed on the road.  Of course we gave in and started feeding Enrico outside.  In summer the terrace door is always open and gradually he had the courage to come inside, firstly just beyond the door, then onto the sofa until eventually he claimed one of the dining chairs as his own.  

He was always a little afraid of us so when he was occupied with food I started gently stroking him from a distance with a small stick until he got used to the sensation.  After some attempts I was able to touch him and now he is one of the sloppiest cat we’ve had, the other was also a feral we took in when we lived in Scotland. 

This year Enrico appeared within a couple of hours of us returning after 8 months absence.  He was thin but well and over the months has put on weight,  I can no longer feel his spine and his coat is glossy.  He has obviously lived a life, his ears are tatty and he has no bottom teeth. We never see him play or climb trees as Grigio does and it takes a lot of encouragement to get him to walk round the garden with us.  We have no idea how old he is, a friend in the village told us the average life expectancy of cats here is only 6 years.   He eats anything, including his worming tablets, generally stays close to the house, unlike a lot of male cats he doesn’t go off for days on end and best of all Grigio loves him as much as we do.  

He climbs onto our knees at every opportunity, let’s us pick him up and loves a cuddle.  Grigio who has been ours since she was born is strangely less affectionate, maybe she takes us for granted,   Enrico is generally well behaved, doesn’t steal or beg despite probably spending most of his life hungry, and willingly goes out at night to sleep in the apartment or his little house at the door, better known as the Hotel Splendido.  

We are so happy we gave him a home, at last he is loved and cared for, he repays us with devotion.