A Little Bit of Me

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Archive for Italy travel

Returning blues in A minor

The return. A friend said to me ‘how was your holiday” and then,like almost everyone, turned a deaf ear, a blind eye, to me. They don’t really want to hear your breathless retelling of 12 weeks of otherworldiness..
Well, i am going to tell you.
At first, it was hard to believe we had gone and now returned. Fortunately the homecoming was, for the most part, positive. A well cared for house, a flourishing garden, caged birds still alive, weather amenable and slightly warmer than Rome. Then, the routines started kicking in again. The mail, the bills, the obligations. Within a week Alison had travelled three times, me a couple. Memories faded. What was the name of that place? Where did we see that? Then the Kaikoura and Wellington earthquakes and, instead of central Italy devastation, we were seeing our own country reeling from a massive disaster and another wakeup call.
I rowed out to check on Faith 11. Angry seagulls circled the dinghy and I should have guessed what would happen next. They had built a nest on the foredeck and laid three beautiful green speckled eggs which they now aggressively were protecting. I felt a bang on the top of my head quickly followed by three more, amid screeching and birds angrily descended on me as I neared the boat. Blood clouded vision and I felt scared. They continued their assault for over an hour and I felt afraid to row back the 100 metres to shore.
Then the weather turned and we endured two weeks of winter like conditions. Seemed like Italy was a world away. My Italian had improved but something happens when I unlatch the gate to my teachers house . Basic words disappear. Conjugations get muddled. We had a piece on Italian University life to translate and I could not do more than three sentences. Fortunately my fellow classmate had the same experience but I wanted to give it all up. And curiously, return 5o Italy.
We are in of all places, Palmerston North for Alisons work for a couple of days. My faith in NZcuisine has been restored and I must note that my own cooking has benefitted from our travels. Simpler meals. Less meat. The meal at Nova in Palmy was a fusion of NZ ingredients married to Asian flavours. And limencello to finish.
So to answer the question. A fantastic holiday which has widened our view of the world. But, like going back to work after a break, a stressful adjustment. Blown away by a different culture but more appreciative of the rich culture of NZ.
Everything seems dull, lifeless, like those husks of wasps trapped in the space between the double glazing and wooden frame as summers heat draws to a close. fb_img_1475394546118


Levitating from Italy

Iimg_20161105_161453 was watching ‘The Way’ last night and I had some thoughts about the last few months. The Way is the Emilio Estevez film starring himself and his dad, Martin Sheen, and is based around the Camino de Santiago or the Way of St James, a pilgrimage that thousands take from France through to the Spanish coast. Its a story of a man (Sheen ) who has disconnected from the world and through the death of his estranged son, and the companionship of three fellow travellers, regains his faith in humanity. It was my second viewing, this time in Italian, so I could more read between the lines.
Some background. I have been living pretty much on my own for the last few years. Alison commutes to Christchurch most weeks for several days so I rattle around in a big house on my own. This trip has forced us back together about a week after she retired so there has been that but also having to be amongst new people everyday. It has been good for me and despite struggling with the language (particularly the further south we go) it has been a terribly rewarding experience. I have kept up links with NZ through this blog and I have joined Facebook and many groups where some very opinionated people have given their world views.
I have also encountered some lovely people who, despite never having met them before, have been friendly, gracious, welcoming and made me feel more welcome here than in my own country.
Why? Well I think a combination of things. Overseas I have engaged more with people, established eye contact, smiled at small things, touched, sought out new experiences. This attracts people to you. And not only Italians. On hearing a language I can identify I ask them if I am correct and that can always start up a conversation. This morning a man smiled at me , I nodded back, he saw my passport, we struck up a conversation, his wife joined on, Alison joined in and all of a sudden we learned of his holiday, their experiences, what they were doing etc. It had happened on a remote railway platform. We spoke to a young man with a bicycle who was lost. Turned out he was an Italian doctor cycling through southern Italy and he wanted to get off the road for a few days. We started talking and it all ended with an invitation to visit and stay with us in NZ . In NZ I do this to a lesser extent. Just get to where you need to be, do whatever you need to do, get out as fast as possible. Take my cardiac rehab class of 20 sessions. It was only part way through that I was informed that the physical exercise was only secondary to the purpose of the class. We were there primarily for social integration. Oh dear! How had I missed that? Di conseguenza be more open to people and engage more rather than being a hermit. And listen to what they have to say. And ask more questions of their experiences. And open myself up to new experiences. When I look back over these last few months the best things have been things that Alison forced me to do. I resisted, preferring my own safe insular world, but ultimately my fears and anxieties are holding me back from experiencing a much fuller life.
Anyway Ryanair got us to Rome where we were picked up by our suave, Mercedes driving chauffeur, who whisked us at 150 kph to our luxury apartment in Central Rome. So cooool. We should do this every stop but once in a while is affordable and a nice change.
Crowd watching at the Coliseum . Selfie hell. No5 only thousands of people taking selfies but getting whacked in the face with selfie sticks, selfie stick sellers pushing selfie sticks at you. Whoever invented them has made a fortune and should be taken to a quiet place along with the guy who invented that trumpet thing that wrecked a World Cup soccer tournament, put against a wall and be flogged to death with a Sedgway.
The family from Morrisville. Desperate to find a toilet at the Coliseum . You would think there would be public toilets where thousands of people visit but the only toilet is in a tiny pizzeria perched atop a hill about 300 metres from the place. Huge queues but I have been successful at sneaking into the ladies so did my business without fuss. We decided to have a pizza and coffee and a couple and their teenage daughter sat down beside us. I thought they were australians but turns out they were New Zealanders from Morrinsville. They have been in Holland, Italy and Denmark. Nice folks and their experience of Europe so refreshingly different. When they asked what foods Iiked most they kind of looked like they were a little bit sick. The only New Zealanders we met our whole time in Italy.

levitating-street-performerSeriously good food. Stopped off on Piazza Nouva and listened to live buskers for a couple of hours, watched street artists and all sorts of trikery by sidewalk artists. I now know how the suspended man trick works. Marvelous square. Indian in the air. How does he do it.Now, thanks to some serious thinking I worked out the only possible way it could ne done and found the props on the Internet. Then we wandered into Quirino restaurant where we enjoyed the best antipasto followed by grilled lamb chops and a salad to die for and Alisons saltimbocca was heavenly. Curiously Trip Advisor rates it poorly for the surly waiter and the incredibly rude and loud female owner who tore a strip off me for using my credit card then her head waiter for making me wait for five minutes so she could deal with me. I loved her.
Knees and hamstrings. Haven’t had a good couple of days of it as my knee and calf muscles have taken a pounding from Romes cobbled streets and the very poor walking surface which found me twisting my ankle and knee several times.
Its Goodbye bata bullets. A new pair when I left and with all the walking the insoles are destroyed, there are holes in the heels and sides, and…… they smell. I tried cleaning them by wading in the sea at Cefalu but they have just given up the ghost. Well done and well done me as my ability to walk everywhere was called into doubt before we departed. Those cardiac rehab classes were more than socialising then. Mind you I have a seriously sore right knee and I lulled a calf muscle climbing over a f3nce which has given me a day of grief in Rome.
A day of rest and reading whilst Alison goes shopping but she returns after an hour. Rome is not a shoppers paradise this time of year although I saw tons of things I could buy but well above my pensioners budget. A decent jacket for €400 is not something I can contemplate right now. img_20161105_101950

Tonka beans

img_20161027_151002Well the drive to Mondello was an experience. I sat in front and I can now see why Alison cringed when I drove the Saab. Narrowly missing wing mirrors and road markings, tail ending cars and suicide braking. Will we or will we not crash when we merge. I struggled to start a conversation but he spoke no English and was one of those men whom conversation when you are driving was ”bastardo, tetardo, fuck,”. Best concentrate on the sights. img_20161027_135409And they were many.

Can’t wait to try the food here. The street food is renowned and I am drawn to pani ci meusa (a sandwich made of fried beef spleen served with Sicilian lemon and caciocavallo cheese), yeah beef spleen. There are also sea urchins which I will definitely give a miss but lots of fish.

We had walked past it yesterday and glanced at the m3nu but all I could see was fish, fish, fish, so we moved on. A guy standing out from cooking on a two burner gas stove , surrounded by little dishes of seasonings, herbs and freshly diced vegatables. Trattoria da Piero. We woke late. I had tried the plug in gizmo to deter mosquitos but the fumes triggered an asthma attack so I had moved out to the balcony and woke to a thunderstorm and heavy rain avoiding the need for a morning shower. It is a bit of a problem showering and washing because one of the many ‘rules’ of the house is to turn off the gas water heater overnight or when we leave. Getting it started again is a bit of a hit and miss affair and twice I have started a shower only to get lathered up and the water goes cold. Trudging back out the balcony I find that the pilot light has gone out and I have to start all over with soap running into my eyes.
Anyway we trudge downtown around 1300hrs and I am prepared to give fish a go. Much to my delight there is meat on the menu but we start with an octopus salad. That the large pot on one of the burners turns out to contain three octopi simmering in a broth of stock liberally spiced and dashes of lemon. One is hauled out and dissected in front of our eyes, smothered in pepper , salt, lemon juice and olive oil, and that folks is your starter. Alison has the grilled sea bass and I , the Angus beef with one of the best simple salads I have tasted in a restaurant. To top it off the beef, oysters, fish , vegetables are actually bought off a truck outside the shop, AND, amongst all this the three staff take turns cooking, waiting, and entertaining the guests. The cook even pulls customers over to stir something, or look in a pot, or smell a jar of something just arrived at the restaurant. All very entertaining and the food is seriously good. I will be back and will probably be tempted to do fish.
What was interesting and he let me have a smell of it was a can of tonka beans, a South American member of the pea family which is dried and looks like a big coffee bean. He explains that he likes cooking with them (shaved) and they go well with fish. They are also put in ice cream and deserts. They are illegal in the USA and several top restaurants have been raided by the FDA. Apparently some Italian liqueurs contain the active ingredient is coumarin which the misguided food police believe is a blood thinner, hence the ban. img_20161027_133119

Goodbye Cefalu

img_20161025_094152Last morning in Cefalu. We stroll up to the old town as the day climbs toward 30+ degrees and take our last coffee and pistachio treats for breakfast. I am tempted to buy that coppola that I spied earlier on but fortunately the shop is closed and I can only look longingly through the window at the poles of €25 hats. Later as we stroll for the last time down the waterfront and gaze jealously at swimmers taking an early morning dip I spy a similar hat for €10, but wrong size. We pay a last visit to the Superstore for refreshments for the train ride and I sit on the bench outside waiting for Alison and ponder on the begging. Sitting next to me is a young African man and his scam is to approach people who are struggling with their groceries and, for a small offering, carry them to the car or taxi. Earlier we were approached by the lesser form of an African guy holding out his hat and asking for money, he does this up and down the street, in shops, in restaurants, along the beach. A variation is a woman, usually with a baby doing the same thing. Then there are the (usually Indian) people selling crap, again along the beach or on the promenade. Yesterday the municipal police turned up and as the cheroot smoking officer with his low slung Glock, looked on, the vendors scattered left and right moving their stuff down alleys, into waiting cars or just over the wall onto the beach. There are signs everywhere warning of pickpockets and thieves on the treno notte but this barely legitimized and marginally tolerated begging seems to be the norm. And 90% of the time is fruitless. At least the masses who roam the beach offer something for your money. I figure they earn about € 160-200 a day, seven days a week, tax free. Not bad and this is the off season so it could be considerably more July- September.
Cefalu has been great. The beach is fantastic, the amenities only a few minutes stroll through the railway tunnel. The supermarket has everything. There are fruit and vegetable and fish stalls everywhere. The apartment, although north facing has a large balcony. There is a great bathroom and apart from nightly visits from mosquitoes good sleeping facilities. We could try harder to avoid them but it’s a luxury to sleep with all the doors and windows open and repellants smell so bad. The old town is fascinating, good eateries , and high end fashion shops.

She came out of the sea. Blue suit, my favorite. Pale. Probably not local. Stretched towel. Daughter, I phone, furiously texting. She shook off the sand, donned goggles, swam out an impossible distance. Glanced back. Had her lover returned. She had to pick up Raffeleo at 1339. Rush along the beach. All good. Change to swimwear agong. Stroke out. Don glasses. Dive. The sand is so white, the rocks so green. From out here she can see the beach. Stick figures. Closer, the men, leering at her, the women, envying her. Roffello arrives. “ Oappa is here. He has pizza’. The scheme ends.

Train journey to Palermo has its moments. We wait at the Cefalu train station, validate our tickets, we are leaving from platform 3 which is a trek across two lines. We have thirty minutes to wait in the now blistering sun and I idly consult the board and see that a train from Palermo arrives at 12.57 and one leaves for Palmero at 13.05. Alison and I first have an argument about whether it’s the same train (she it is, me it is not) much to the delight of the young Italian beauty sharing our platform seat. We consult the board and they are indeed 1291 and 1298, two different trains. I demand an apology which raises a smile from our onlooker and then the train from Palermo pulls in and suddenly the board changes and there is much station announcement in Italian, English and German I cannot hear because of some loud youths yelling and playing music. The train sits and both tourists and locals sit and then a guard comes running down the platform yelling Palermo, Palermo, and there is a mass scramble for seats on the very flash new train. I run up to the guard and ask Palermo and indicate that the train has just come from Palermo and is it possible its going back without img_20161023_173500going anywhere else. “si, si , Palermo” as he mimes a thumb back along the track. I throw my suitcase on board and see Alison stubbornly standing on the platform. I can see her little mind going “he’s wrong, wrong, wrong, and we have a bloody taxi waiting in Palermo to take us to Mondello, wrong, wrong”. Finally, her pride shattered she jumps on board and pretends that she can’t lift her suitcase up onto the rack in a vain attempt to make me feel even more guilty. She then sits and mutters under her breath how this is all going to turn to shit and we will be back in Messina and ……….. Actually I am a little concerned myself because I can’t see why a train would just retrace its steps like thisimg_20161025_123823 but, much to my great relief, the train starts going to Palermo. And then… the loud youth from the station have populated our carriage and one of them has obviously got a boom box attachment for his cellphone and suddenly our carriage is bombarded by some really bad Italian rap. Despite dire warnings over the intercom that the railway police are on board and that all carriages are under police surveillance it doesn’t deter them from turning the crap up even louder. Suddenly Alison releases all her rage and ‘politely’ asks them to turn it down. And they do.

Lovely train ride and they get off at some dump about two stops on so we can enjoy the coastline and intensive agriculture on the other side of the tracks. I keep wondering about irrigation as Sicily does have a problem in that area and they don’t seem to store what little rain that falls.
Finally we pull into still bomb damaged from WW2 Palermo. It doesn’t look great. Some obvious rubbish problems (Mafia) and awful high rise dwellings. We are met by Carlo , our driver, who, for €15 is going to drive us to Mondello , on the airport side of Palermo.

Is that thunder or the sound of my teeth chattering?

Awoke to the sound of thunder rolling in the distance. I rolled over and went back to sleep. Bone tired. We had a mosquito in the room last night. A particularly angry one who divebombed me every moment I felt safe. After two hours cowering beneath the bedding I gave up and sacrificed my arm for the sake of some sleep. Then I awoke to the sound of really intense thunder and bright lightening. Then the room was filled with a bright light. My God. We had been hit! No it was this curious light I had Noticed in two of the rooms. A soft glow that didn’t respond to any switch that I could locate. My first thought was it was an evacuation light (the building had been hit by lightening and was on fire) , then, I realised it was emergency lighting for a power failure. When all the street lights are out it is pitch black and new apartments must have them fitted for such an emergency. What a grand idea. I managed to locate a gas flicker thingy so we could have a cup of honey sweetened tea and watch the fireworks. But how do the electric trains keep running?. In 2003 Italy had a serious power failure which turned off all of Italy, Switzerland and affected 56 million people. The railways shut down, people were trapped in buildings, a major SNAFU.
Three hours later and I am losing my faith in Italian ingenuity. Still no power and as the thin light of dawn starts to brighten up the apartment, I think of no hot water (gas heated but requires an electrical prompt), no internet, no supermarket as the doors will be closed and nothing open. This was our big day out. Shopping, a restaurant meal, and maybe a visit to a church. Yes! A church service! I have been to one other Roman Catholic service and it was fascinating. IMG_20161023_135522.jpg
Then a train flashes by and I think “that cant be right” , locate the switchboard and see that the main fuse has been tripped. Power on and the day resumes. We had spied a cool restaurant that has chairs out over the rocks and you dine while the waves kind of break all around you. Unfortunately, it being Sunday, its shut down but the one next door has a balcony for about 15 tables overlooking the same stretch of rockery so we settle into q fine IMG_20161023_160746.jpgmeal. Me the antipasto and then pistachio encrusted entrecote, Alison, some fishy thing. The only fishy thing that tempted me was the anchovies in pasta but I was curious about the steak and it was a winner.
Then a stroll back along the promenade where the local police seemed to be having a blitz on beggars and thy were fleeing everywhere. I struck up a conversation with a French lady and suddenly realised she was asking me for money. Time to move on and as we sauntered along, infused with the lovely Sicilian lunch time wine, I spotted this sexy little Ford coupe with pinafornia styling. While was trying to focus my camera Alison had struck up a conversation with a short, burly Italian and, in broken English/Italian he was showing the even bigger prize parked in f4ont, a mint Fiat Abarth. Great conversation and the love of fine cars really breaks barriers. He proudly displayed his Alfa Romeo patch and we parted with much Ciao & Arriverderci.
The bedroom has been mosquito proofed, the night is drawing in, the vespas are rattling under the railway bridge and another day in glorious and surprising Sicily draws to a close.


Tchotchkes everywhere. It’s a beautiful old town, narrow streets, old church buildings, bells ringing every quarter but its also a tourist trap. Hundreds of shops filled with – well tchotchkes. Badges that represent something, sea shells, old fishing nets, and then high end stuff like Burberry child gear. I stop at a shop selling, amongst other things, coppolas made from old sacks. Quite beautiful to hold and look good on but € 25 is a little step for sackcloth. We find a space where the locals used to bring their clothes to wash. Long closed over but a fresh water stream that flows under the village to the sea.
Then its back to the beach. I must confess that we have a week pass to Lido Beach which allows us a parasol, a sun bed, access to the restaurant and toilet block and changing sheds. Yesterday we slummed on the public beach because my socialism would not allow me to enjoy the ‘private’ one. I say private but I fail to see how this all works. Apparently it’s the same in most European countries. Yesterday I was approached by a slight Asian lady touting a card and smiling sweetly. There is a lot of this on beaches. Guys with racks of baubles, selfie sticks, wallets, sandals, and umbrellas. You develop a thick skin and either “ no thank you or fuck off”. Some are very persistent but hey you are here to relax , not to be bothered with street shlock. Anyway, I could not work out what she was selling as she waved this brightly colored card about. Later in the day I saw her in negotiation with a young lady and it looked very civilized and not having the flavour of the other hawkers. We were lounging back on our beach loungers, adjusting our parasols, and thinking of that first martini, when she appears again. She is a masseuse and for €20 you get a 40 minute full body massage. Seems reasonable to me and I can tell you there is nothing like getting a full body massage while the sun beats down on you and the Mediterranean gently flows beneath your lounger. Only downside was that after I paid her she kept chanting ‘domani, domani, you domani’ which I thought meant I hadn’t paid her enough but quickly realized meant see you same place tomorrow. Unfortunately we have found a ritzier lido further up the beach so we may never see each other again. And she gives a good massage. Except when she pulls your shorts down to have a better go of your butt or, if a woman, asks you to rollover with fully exposed breasts, in front of 50 or so fellow lidoers, who don’t give a toss.
Very impressed by the politeness of some Sicilians. For, not the first time, a person in a supermarket queue, seeing my meagre buy, has ushered me in front of them. Rarely have I seen this in NZ. Also, people we have dealt with in shops or stalls will see us in the street and wave and boungiorno. Very friendly and touching.
Started off the day with the Guardian updates on the third and final Bledisloe cup. Why we have to rely on the Poms for up-to-the-monute commentary I do not know. The Herald and Stuff were about 49 minutes behind and Sky does not broadcast in your location. Why not! I’m still paying my bill. I listened to last weeks game in Catania from South African radio and then switched to Australian radio. Totally different game. The SA thought they were in with a chance but the Aussie radio told it like it was. Same this week. I checked out Aussie media and it was all about bad ref calls, and booing Quade Cooper. We do live in a parochial little world. I have tried to watch Italian football on a Sunday but not knowing any of the teams or players makes it hard and football is , at times, a pretty boring spectacle.
I started with tchotchkes and I will finish with them. Small, worthless, icons or tokens often sold to tourists. You will probably see them on mantlepieces, coffee tables, maybe pinned to a wall. Like those endless photos that are taken. Or when you get bqck to the office and someon3 asks how was the holiday. But they don’t want to hear your stories or look at your photos. They are YOUR memories – to cherish, to fall to sleep to. TCHOTCHKES.20161023_02251920161020_062925

The Lido-short version

The term Lido, originally coming from this island, is used to refer to certain types of outdoor swimming pools especially in Great Britain, and the “Lido deck” on a cruise ship. It also forms the first part of many place names in coastal locations throughout Italy.

A lido (/ˈliːdoʊ/ LEE-doh, /ˈlaɪdoʊ/ LY-doh)[1] is a word inEnglish for a public outdoor swimming pool and surrounding facilities, or part of a beach where people can swim, lie in the sun, or participate in water sports. Lidos tend to be found in towns and cities in southern England, particularly London. On a cruise ship or ocean liner, thedeck with outdoor pools and surrounding facilities is often designated the lido deck.
Lido is an Italian word for “beach” and forms part of the place name of several Italian seaside towns known for their beach, e.g., Lido di Venezia, the barrier beach enclosing the Venetian Lagoon. Possibly, the term found its way into English from English visitors returning from the Lido di Venezia, where sea-bathing took place from the lat7e 19th century.[2]

The reality is, weeeelll. A long white beach , private in places, dotted with the ‘public’ bits. Only on our passiegea the next day did we see the roped off sections, clearly telling you where you belong. Its strange for someone used to NZ BEACHES, free and accessible to all. We have a pass that allows us unto the Lido Beach Club, but we haven’t used it yet or to be truthful, found the said club. We, spent an entire day at The Lido. First get your towel. And they are beautiful towels sold by a promenade vendor. Alison has become adept at barging but falls a little short not understanding Italian numbers. When I interpret the towel guy thinks thats the price. Still, eighteen € for two cotton , beautiful lightweight towels is a bargain. Next day she managed to spruke down from €10 to €5.50 a belt. She is learning.
The beach is an e⛱🌐exercise I observe humanity at its best and worst. There is no shame. Grotesque bodies, huge man breasts, sunken bellies, sagging, necrotic skin, pale bleached anoretic, huge wrinkled, flabby arms, hanging butts. Its all on display and no-one cares.
A Japanese lady walks by, cardboard display, begging, I think, but she is offering, on-the-beach massages. I watch h in dismay as a beautiful German mother, takes all her clothes off a is pampered for a half hour. Three buxom males are next, submitting to her heavenly touch.
I dive into 27C water to cool off. Offshore a yacht ha lies lazily at anchor, A very huge Slavian women stands a few metres from me and removes her bikini. No shame. Huge pendulous breasts, swinging freely, gross pubic hair. She smiles as she pulls on a faded blue, striped dress.
I look down the beach and see a well tanned elderly gentleman gingerly making his way, step by painfully step, into the Lido bar for a cocktail to get him through the next few hours. He has obviously had a right side, left brain stroke and I want to go and help him in his painfully slow walk. He makes it and despite a severe right side deficit manages to get back to his wife on her lounger.

We wander back to our apartment and discover the old part of Cefalu. A distant tower from our balcony, a light at night, a bell that sounds every quarter hour. The big chime is the hour , the little , the quarter. The streets are like Naples, narrow, steep, quirky shops, many tourists, getting the real experience.

The days are cooling. Low 20s today with a promise of afternoon rain and thunder. Still, humidity is high and anything more than a little effort results in drenching sweat.