Saturday, 30 June 2007

Decisions over Granita and Brioche

It’s a funny thing trying to find somewhere in the whole of Europe to relocate to. We’re travelling with the completely unfounded expectation that the perfect place to settle down will miraculously appear on our road and scream “this is the farm you’ve been looking for guys, buy me!” It’s a kind of bizarre mix of serendipity and stupidity. It means that every day I am open to the possibility that any of the people we encounter on the journey might just lead us to the discovery of our utopian dwelling. It’s a provident optimism which believes in a destiny that’s bright and full of magical experiences. Naïve it might well be. But I’d much prefer to look at life through the lenses of this hopeful naivety than the alternative, and oft considered more sophisticated and mature version, which tends to be a little more pessimistic, sceptical, cynical and therefore distrustful.

One of my clients told me this year that research had just been published into the subject of happiness. It was a big study apparently from a prestigious university involving hundreds of people from all over the world, seeking to ascertain the common factors that make happy people, happy. They found that it wasn’t the existence of money, fame, success, family etc that leads to contentment. The one common trait of all truly happy people, was their propensity to trust others. So we journey on, trusting in each other, in the goodness of life, and in the one that made us.

Another funny thing is when you find something so obvious you think “why doesn’t the whole world know about this?” So it is with the Sicilian breakfast of granita and brioche. A granita is simply crushed ice mixed with juice of your choice. Our favourites by far are Mandorla or Lemon. Mandorla is an almond thing. You find it everywhere here - in biscuits, scrumptious soft cakey things and now we’ve discovered it in ice form. As it’s been between 40 and 50 degrees the last few days in Catania, with massive fires in the city and the suburbs, we’ve had a few Granite to keep us sane.

Last week we wild camped for a few days on a rocky beach in the north until we nipped down to Marsala for a few bottles of sweet sherry. Dry almond biscotti dipped in cold sweet almond sherry are simply delicious and unbelievably addictive. In Marsala we stayed in a car park next to the sherry shop, but unbeknown to us, twas a car park that became inhabited by the young and inebriated til the wee dawn hours, revving car engines, motorbikes, and singing the latest and diabolically poor (why is that?) Italian pop tunes at the tops of their voices. Von slept like a baby as it obviously reminded her subconsciously of the harmonious lullabies of New Cross that have sung has to sleep for the last decade. But for me it was torture.

Michelle called us the next morning and said she’d arrived in Sicily and we should come back up north to see her at Virginia’s place in Castellamare del Golfo – a quaint old little town where Virginia and her man Uchio have been renting an apartment for the last year. They sorted us out for a couple of days at a mate’s little house which is normally rented out but was fortunately free for us. We rested, enjoyed being in bricks and mortar with an endlessly-running-water kitchen again. Virginia also gave us a tour of a local vineyard for sale complete with old broken down farm house. It had everything we said we wanted. In the hills. Stunning view of the sea below. Vineyard. Olive trees. Character with 3000 year old catacombs on the property. Fertile land surrounded and protected by tall rock formations. Perfect in so many ways. Except one. Although it had its own spring, we realised a spring was not enough. For Von to grow the garden that she wants to grow she needs lots of water. A rivers worth. Also streams and rivers provide a flowing energy that even in the hottest days means it’s unlikely to ever feel stagnant. So we are now looking for enormous farms that have gushing rivers running through them, in the mountains not far from the sea. Probably with a small village of farmhouses already in situ (as getting planning permission for new living accommodation in Italy is a trifle tricky they tell us with current State commissions into Mafiosi controlled building developments). Not much to ask I know, but it felt good to clarify what we really want.

We left to see the south coast and the Greek temples at Agrigento and came to the swift conclusion that the north of Sicily beats the south not just because of the beautiful mountainous terrain and endless jaw dropping landscapes, but simply because there are less people that live there! Wherever humans gather in larger numbers we are a disgrace. Or maybe my intolerance for cities clouds my judgement. Either way, large towns and cities are not for us. The quiet of the uninhabited calls me from the deep.

We did enjoy a couple of days at a cute campsite south of Ragusa on the coast where Von noticed an interesting thing about Italians and I got some excellent motorhome tips from Denis and Kath a sweet English couple from Bristol who’ve been on the road for 3 years. Von realised that Italians move in packs. The beach on the weekend where we were staying was rammed. The family unit in Italy is large and all seem to go to the beach together at the same time. But there was no agro like you’d expect on crowded British beaches where families preciously guard their territorial space. In this culture the hustle and bustle of large families juxtaposed in close proximity with one another is not just tolerated, it’s desired and respected.

Next, a drive to Syracuse for a day rubber necking at the Roman amphitheatre and Greek theatre was topped with a meal out at a Pizzeria where the pizza was the best yet. Although the pizza was awesome the most special moment happened when an old granddad celebrating his 78th with his family at the table next to us, invited us to share his ice cream cake. Maybe it was because we sang along with the chorus of “tante auguri” but I suspect it was our kids. The most touching thing here has been the way so many Italians have utterly adored Josh and Ellie. Everywhere we go it seems that people can’t wait to be introduced and when they are, they lavish attention and praise on the kids and Moses, and through association, on us as a family as well. Hardly a day has gone by where we haven’t heard “You are a beautiful family. You have a beautiful dog. You have beautiful kids. Beautiful. Really beautiful.” After a while you actually begin to feel it too.

Day 50, Sunday 24th June, an afternoon spent sharing coffee, limoncello liqueur and loads of laughs with 2 similar aged Italian families parked up next to us in the Syracuse parking lot. Marco and Nadia, Giuseppe and Laura and their fabulous kids from Trento on the Austrian borders, holidaying in Sicily. While all the kids cooled themselves down with a water fight in the sprinklers the parents had lengthy discussions in our broken English and Italian on the merits of home schooling. I do hope we see those guys again. They were good people and we very much enjoyed their company.

Today we’re on our way to Regione di Calabria on the mainland and then onto a speedy trip through the mountainous regions of Italy – Abruzzi, Umbria, Tuscany and onwards. Probably going north to get away from this blistering heat and onto Norway for Roberto’s wedding if it’s still happening in late August. Then I suspect we’ll head for Portugal as we keep hearing how gorgeous and how cheap it is there. Not often you get that. Gorgeous and cheap. Must be worth another little serendipitous adventure.


Arlene said...

hi guys! it was excellent to read your blog when i came back from Bim! as much as i enjoyed my hols i missed u all. when i got to Barbados i could not believe how hot it was. the first week i thought i was going to melt, keep asking everyone if it has gotten hotter, to which they all replied no. so then i realised that i was now an english rose, to fragile!! haha! i hear u laughing!
Barbados has changed so much during the past 8 years,some of it looks very scary..the grand father of independence must b turing over in his grave...the hotel owners seem to be trying to block out locals from getting onto some of the beaches by using chains and walls. from the airport 2 spring garden will now have 4 lane roads 2 on each side. not much fresh produce sold in the markets like they did before, lots of land has been sold out to the rich and famous, reducing garden land, house prices are almost the same figures as the UK. not to mention the amount of trees that have been slaughtered, I actually had a Lord of the Rings moment when the trees were is very shocking when u c trees that are hundred of years old cut down so carelessly.the whole of Paradise, and Batts rock is blocked off by a zillion foot walls so the locals cannot see what they r doing behind the wall anymore. the food is not bajan anymore, it is Caribbean food and most of it that we tried was horibble. there are loads more Guyanese now, which is good in some ways, but they seem 2 be the more violent ones.the shop that is outside of mum's front door which is now occupied by them has seen a murder already.quite a few robberies at gun point which mostly involve Vincentians. the police went to the new port charles where the rich yachts dock and the rich people live to answer a call, do u know that some rich idiot did not want the police to come unto the property armed. why do they always go to other people countries and want to change the laws to suit them.
Mum's breadfruit coucou and saltfish gravy was superb, Ann ate a lot. flying fish was good as usual. rotis from chefette was great, the garden at the house was the most relaxing place in the world.the cherries trees were full with fruit and i made cherry juice very day and cherry juice and mango smoothies. the first week we went to nearly every beach on the south and west coast and settled for the two best, Pebbles beach was lovely as grand B'dos was closed for repairs so the beach was empty nearly every day. Brown's beach is our favourite beach. Ann snorkled and saw lots of baby fish, which were also swimming around our feet. There are changing rooms and showers if you need them. bajans are still very friendly generally. Men could not stop looking at Ann and trying to tell her how beautifuly she was she was not very happy because they stared. Ann got to see some of the father's family the end of the holidays and they were extremly happy to see her and want us to keep in contact with them. mum's good and mac the same as usaly but was much more happy having us there.Oh! did u c the new singing sensation 'RIHANNA'she bajan and went to school at Combemere, making her millions on the charts..Good for her!

Well guys it looks as though we have to find a new PARADISE 'because that beach don't belong to we no more.' partially quoting "The Might Gabby."

geoff.bennett said...

Hi Andrew et al

It's been a while since I've had a chance to catch up on your travels and, amidst a month that's been more than it's usual amount of turmoil in the concrete jungle of London, it sounds like you guys are a heap load smarter then all of us living the rat race. Keep on trucking in the free world.
Geoff x