Monday 29 July 2013

Adapting to Italian Summer Living (1)

This is our 3rd summer here in the Cilento & I think we've finally
'cracked it' when it comes to staying as cool as possible
during the hot summer months.
With highs of 36ยบ+ forecast by the end of the week, being sensible
about exposure to the sun & staying hydrated are the main priorities.

Back in the UK, as soon as that rare occurrence, a beautifully hot 
summer day happened, I would be rushing around the house, 
opening all the windows, to let the warm air in; over here that's
a total 'no no'. 

If you think that, simply because all the shutters are closed, there's 
nobody home, you're wrong - living in a 'twilight' world during 
the hottest months of July & August is 'the norm'....
we sleep with the windows open all night,
to take advantage of the cooler air (as low as 22 on a good night) & 
the shutters firmly closed against intruders. 
In the morning when I rise (at some ungodly hour most 
days as I have a lifetime membership of 'Insomniacs United')
I'll check the outside temperature & decide whether or not to close 
all of the windows before breakfast. Then I'll open just two pairs 
of shutters - those to the lounge french doors & those to the 
kitchen window. This is to let sufficient early morning light in 
through windows which aren't yet facing the sun.
As the day progresses and the sun circles the house, so the game of 
'musical shutters' begins. Firstly the kitchen shutters will be
closed as the sun creeps over its windowsill & for the next couple
 of hours only the french door shutters remain open. By mid 
afternoon these have also been closed 

and the shutters to the 2 lounge windows opened to allow in some 
light. Keeping the opening & closing of the front door to a 
minimum is also a requirement if we are to keep the air 
in the house as cool as possible.

And so, although I rush to greet each brand new day, I have finally 
learnt that I have to go outside to meet the day, rather than allow 
its fierce heat to pervade the cool sanctuary that is Il Sogno.

Sunday 28 July 2013

Haiku Challenge

Haiku is a Japanese short poetry form, consisting of 17 'on' or 'morae' in phrases of 5, 7 & 5, although they are written in one line in Japanese. 'On' are not syllables but the conversion to English has brought about an accepted format of 3 lines, 17 syllables. It is something I have only recently discovered, thanx to Twitter, but I am fast becoming addicted to the daily #HaikuChallenge set by @baffled, whereby the task is to produce a haiku containing one specific word. I love the discipline of having to stay within the constraints of the 5, 7, 5 format, just as I love the challenge of only 140 characters max for a tweet.

So I'd like to share with you some of my favourites (which have all made it into the 'top tweets' list - maybe I'm the only one doing the challenge on a daily basis):-

This first one is my latest offering, using the word 'gone'

Slowly it descends
Falling from the evening skies
Final glimpse, then gone

Dream of stars above

Fleeting kiss, forbidden love

Gone not forgotten

And 2 more, the challenge being to use the word 'fragile':-
So it was over

The fragile chains that bound them

Broken forever

Sweet tender first kiss

Fragile as gossamer wings

Never forgotten

Saturday 27 July 2013

Where Are You Staying?

Yesterday evening, as it approached the time to be thinking about dinner, hubby decided it was too hot to cook. Me, I'm 'The Undomesticated Goddess', leaving cooking duties to hubby unless I'm in the mood to cook risotto, so I wasn't arguing when he suggested that we go try out the latest 'apertura' in Santa Maria, La Cuopperia, which is located on Marina Piccola & housed in the building where Bar L'Ancora used to be. We hit town just before 7 (which is way too early for any self-respecting Italian to consider sitting down for their evening meal), so we decided to have a drink at L'Ancora, sitting on the decking overlooking la spiaggia.
We sat watching the activity on the still crowded beach when a lone guy came & sat at the table next but one to us. He looked across & smiled at us both once he'd sat down but didn't speak immediately. Hubby & I were making small talk when the guy asked, "Where are you staying?" And that buzz went through me as I was able to reply, "We're not, we live here" - it really is a feeling that can't be beat.
So began the questions: 1. How long have we lived here? 2. What brought us to Santa Maria? 3. What do the locals make of us?
Answers: 1. Just over 2 and a half years. 2. Couldn't afford the Amalfi coast. 3. They love us for living here all year round. But if I was to answer question 2 in any depth it would have to be as follows:-

Santa Maria di Castellabate, as well as Castellabate itself, holds a certain type of magic. It has a faded beauty, hinting at a more majestic past, when the Principe Belmonte really would have been revered in sovereignty. The people are warm, loving & proud of their 'paese', this is a close knit community of
4000 people where old traditions and a way of life lost to the 21st century are still very much in evidence; coming here is like being caught up in a time warp. Add to that its beautiful coastal location, the stunning scenery on its doorstep and it is easy to see why any visitor soon becomes spellbound by its magic.

Tuesday 23 July 2013


Cupcake has been with us 3 months today. She suddenly appeared in the garden on Tuesday 23rd April, 2 days before our daughter & her BF were due to fly back to the UK. A timid, rather shy kitten, she scuttled off every time someone tried to approach her. Well, more of a 'limped off' to be honest - it later became evident that someone had abandoned her rather than take her to the vet. She continued to survey us from a distance for several days until we finally managed to persuade her to come to the front door to be fed - having hung around for 5 days, it was obvious that she had no intention of leaving any time soon.
She continued to limp off as soon as she'd eaten, maybe just around a corner of the house, so that she could watch us from what she felt was a safe distance. After a few more days she started to appear at the front door to convey her requirement for food. This was when I decided she'd have to be given a name. 'Cat' in Italian is 'gatto', not dissimilar to the french 'gateau', which in turn means 'cake' and so the name 'Cupcake' sprang to mind.

The longer she's been with us, the more her character has developed and we are half convinced that she's Leila reincarnated; she lies around the terrace in the same spots as Leila used to; she sits at the edge of the terrace surveying the garden, just as Leila used to survey the valley and she follows hubby around & mithers him to death when he's sunbathing on the terrace. She's quickly depleting the lizard & gecko population in the garden but she has also proved herself to be a good mouser - she's caught 3 that we know of in the past few weeks.

Whilst I think she's quite cute, I am not really a 'cat person' so Cupcake will not be allowed to become a house cat - she'll continue to take herself off hunting all night & then curl up on one of the wrought iron chairs on the terrace when she returns each morning, or lying in the shade of one of the tables as the sun casts it's shadows.

Monday 22 July 2013

It's Monday, Please Don't Lock Us Out Again (Part 2)

Tom saw us appear at his front door, only slightly wet, as the torrential rain had literally started as we got to his driveway. We had struggled to unwrap the chain around the gates & then run up the steps to the house. "What on earth are you doing here at this time of night?" "I've locked us out" I answered.
"So why didn't you call me?" asked Tom "Because our phones are locked in the house"."So you guys have driven down?" "Nope, the car keys are in the house too, we've walked"
Tom, being the great guy that he his, kindly offered to let us sleep in his double bed that night but, for me at least, there was a problem - the bathroom is downstairs and the open tread staircase 
is very steep; I had visions of either hubby or I missing a step & falling in the middle of the night. Solution to problem? Phone Danilo & ask if we could stay at Sulle Onde della Collina for the night. Next problem: Tom didn't have Danilo's number in his mobile, barely had any credit on his phone  & Grace, who definitely WOULD have the number, was away for the week. 
Tom decided he probably had enough credit to phone Grace 
as well as Danilo, provided neither call lasted very long and made the first call but Grace didn't answer......wait a couple of minutes & try again - no answer.....wait a couple of minutes, try again, this time, success; as with everything in Italy, third
time lucky! Danilo's number safely stored in Tom's phone, 
the call to Sulle Onde was made and Danilo agreed to come pick us up from Tom's; the poor guy got absolutely drenched dashing from the B&B to his car & again when he got out at Tom & Grace's. We were once more made to tell the story of how I'd managed to lock us out before we braved the downpour to dash to Danilo's car. Maryda was waiting to greet us at the door as we again dashed from car to safe haven, once again we recanted the story of the 'bloccato', before being shown to a room at the back of the house - from whose french doors we could see Il Sogno, nestled further up the mountain, outside lights blazing all night & facing the onslaught of the increasingly violent storm. A good night's sleep was going to be almost impossible for either of us.

It's Monday, Please Don't Lock Us Out Again (Part 1)

It was Monday 2nd May 2011, it was 10pm and a storm was
blowing in from the Amalfi coast. The strong winds were howling round Il Sogno and suddenly we heard the tarpaulin which covered the outside table break free and begin to flap wildly.
We didn't relish the idea of chasing it down the mountain so hubby & I both ran outside to retrieve it and the front door closed behind me........

"Oh shit!" I muttered & hubby's language was just as choice; I've never seen him so angry. Il Sogno is like Fort Knox when all the shutters are closed for the night - I had well & truly locked us out! The TV was on, the lounge, bathroom & bedroom lights were on, our mobile phones were inside & so were the house keys. We were dressed only in our jeans, t-shirts & slippers and the thunder was rumbling ever louder and the lightning flashes coming closer but luckily it still wasn't raining.

"What the hell are we going to do, where will we spend the night?" asked hubby. "Can't we see if Tom's still up? He's only just come back from the USA, he should be up for hours yet" I replied.
So we set off, down the potholed tarmac track that passes for a road, to Tom & Grace's house at the foot of the mountain. It was pitch black between the lightning flashes & hubby was so angry at me he'd marched off in front, not seeming to care whether I
was following him or not.
It didn't take as long as we expected to reach the foot of the mountain & we literally got to our American friends' house just as the heavens opened. To say we were relieved to find the lights still on is an understatement.

Saturday 20 July 2013

de Gustibus

Yesterday evening we'd been invited by Danilo for pizza at his latest venture, the de Gustibus pizzeria, which he opened a few weeks back. Again, hubby had to 'earn his keep' by taking some photos for Danilo to use on his website & Facebook. We'd texted Danilo in the morning to check what time he wanted us there to which his reply was, 'pomeriggio alla sette o sette mezzo' (pomeriggio being afternoon, this made us chuckle somewhat as to Danilo's concept of time; maybe that's why Italians are always late for everything). So we set off at about 7 & got stuck behind the slowest car ever, she refused to overtake the MAMIL ahead of her (Middle Aged Man In Lycra for those not 'in the know'). Luckily, she turned off for Castellabate and we were able to proceed at a more reasonable speed to our destination.
We've eaten at de Gustibus once before but the pizzaiuolo has changed since then. The last one was an Italian-American who made a fair pizza, but nothing spectacular. The new guy, Marco, is a huge Pugliese with flattened palms that have obviously been making pizza for years. Of course, when we arrived there was no sign of Danilo & no-one was expecting us so I shot into the car park to take some pics of the sunset, as it's always nice to view it from a different location and it really was quite dramatic as a storm was threatening too. By the time I walked back Danilo had arrived & indicated that Marco was going to be giving a pizza making class to some tourists who had obviously been asked to turn up specially for the evening. I made a quick exit as I am not the most domesticated of wives and the kitchen at Il Sogno is really hubby's domain (although I DO make a mean risotto).
Pizzas made, they were put in the oven for 90 seconds and no longer, in true Napolitano tradition, each one cooked to perfection. We ourselves opted to go for a plain & simple Margherita, which Marco produced in almost no time at all but it was probably the best one I've ever tasted. Washed down with a glass of Casa Bianco, it was savoured all the more because it was a 'freebie'. And to end the meal, we had a slice of Danilo & Maryda's son Matteo's chocolate cake from his birthday celebrations of the evening before (sorry, it got eaten as soon as it was placed in front of us, so no pic).
Yes, I know this isn't a Pizza Margherita either, but we were hungry!

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Il Sogno

It was Thursday 2nd October 2008. Thursday was my day off from work each week; the day I did the supermarket run, occasionally had lunch with the In-Laws and usually managed to catch up with one of my friends for a lovely afternoon of girlie chat - my idea of a day well spent. I would arrive back home about 30 minutes before hubby was due in and assume domestic duties in the kitchen, so that something suitably delicious
from M&S Food Hall was wafting it's aroma from the fan-assisted oven and the veggies were whizzing round in the microwave when he set foot through the door (my culinary skills are probably 'zero' on a scale of 0 to 10) The usual 'hello' kiss between us when he got home, followed by telling each other about our day ensued; I'd had a lovely afternoon with my friend Morag and hubby announced that they'd had a director's meeting at the office and he was going to take early retirement the following year, at the same time as his fellow director who would be leaving on grounds of ill health. "And how about we sell up & go live in Italy?" he asked, with a hugely sheepish grin on his face.
This was a total 'bolt out of the blue' as far as I was concerned. There'd been no hint that hubby had been thinking along these lines at all, although he had always said that he would retire at the same time as his co-director, this was all now going to happen at least 7 years earlier than expected. "What, really? Really, really go live there?" "Yes, why not?" A million reasons why not whirled through my head, quickly followed by a million reasons for giving it a go.
And so began the chasing of a dream........

Sunday 14 July 2013

If We're Drinking Coffee On The Terrace It Must Be Sunday

As I said in my blog 'It's Saturday, Let's Do Lunch' it is so easy to lose track of the days here on Leila's Mountain. Although I work from home, I am free to work when I choose, so tend to deal with admin in the cooler parts of the day in the summer, i.e. early morning or late evening. Pretty much every day can seem like a Saturday or Sunday - trip to the supermarket, chores, reading a good book in the sun, either here on the terrace at Il Sogno, down on the beach or even sitting outside Bar L'Ancora in Santa Maria. Whilst we now 'do lunch' on Saturdays, Sundays are marked by morning coffee, (illy, of course) taken on the terrace whenever possible (which is most Sundays from May through to October).
Of course, being Brits we tend to drink copious amounts of tea at home, but quite often grab a coffee when we pop into town. Coffee at home has become our Sunday 'treat', and I love our Bialetti caffeterie. This 'one cup' pot is my favourite, but doesn't get used as much as the more common 'Dama', which every Italian household seems to own, in varying sizes to accommodate the unexpected visitor who may drop by. And then there's the fact that I simply adore my illy Art Collection Francesco Clemente cups, which were a pressie from our son when he flew back
with me in December 2011 to spend a few days with us - they are just soooo cute! And they bring back memories of an afternoon spent in Agropoli's Centro Storico & getting caught in a heavy shower, forcing us to take refuge in Fashion Bar on Corso Garibaldi before making our way back to the car.

Friday 12 July 2013

Danilo aka The Bear

We first met Danilo, his wife Maryda & their son Matteo, when we arrived in Santa Maria on 3rd October 2010. They run Sulle Onde della Collina, a B&B located slightly lower down the mountain from Il Sogno and are our nearest year round neighbours. Flavio at the estate agency had booked us in for a few nights so we could hunt for somewhere to rent for a couple of months whilst work on the house was finished. Maryda is an artist and Danilo is a big friendly bear of a guy I just want to hug whenever I see him. He does all the cooking at Sulle Onde and this evening was the first time ever we've tasted his cooking - it really was a 'mouthgasmic' taste of the Cilento. We'd originally been invited last week, so that John could take some publicity shots, but, as we've come to learn in our new life, nothing ever happens at the first time of asking, or even the second - it's always a case of 'third time lucky'. The original promise had been that he would get us to take the shots and then we'd either dine with him or all go to his pizzeria, de Gustibus, on the outskirts of Santa Maria - again that plan didn't come to fruition & we instead found ourselves in Sulle Onde's kitchen watching Danilo cook ravioli ripiene, pancetta e fichi, topped with mandorle (ricotta stuffed ravioli, pancetta & figs, sprinkled with almonds).
The ravioli had been resting in the fridge in a huge tray and the other ingredients were lying on the central island unit - everything was ready to go as soon as we arrived.
The water for the ravioli was coming to the boil in a pan and a frying pan was put on over a high heat. After a couple of minutes the pancetta was added to the pan, stirred briefly & then the flame turned off. Next the ravioli was added to the boiling water & while they cooked Danilo chopped the fresh figs, added them to the pancetta and stirred until they had turned almost to syrup. By this time the ravioli were cooked and it was time to plate up. First the ravioli were arranged on a pristine white plate, then the pancetta & figs were poured over and finally a few chopped almonds were sprinkled over the dish. I was very kindly proffered a taster plate of the spare ravioli while hubby & Danilo took the main platter out to the terrace to take the photos
The whole combination of flavours just burst in my mouth; this was a typically simple yet tasty dish, the fresh ingredients combining to perfection. Photoshoot over, John & I were invited to eat the plateful of food, washed down with an excellent white wine. Dining on Sulle Onde's terrace as the sun slowly descended was wonderful and we hope to do so many more times in the coming years.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Leila's Mountain

We christened the mountain 'Leila's Mountain' after we brought Leila here to live when she was 8 weeks old. I say 'we' but I was actually on a trip back to the UK when hubby picked her up from our expat friends, Lisa & Joe, in Licinella. Hubby & Leila were to spend the best part of 11 days together before I returned home, so I guess it was always on the cards that she would be 'his' dog rather than 'ours'. Whilst I was away, hubby kept me updated with daily skype calls & e-mailed me photos - the e-mail with this next pic attached asked for washing instructions;
I told him she needed to go on the delicates/silk setting, although handwash was probably best. As soon as she arrived, Leila seemed to know she was in puppy heaven - we have just under an acre of garden - and she explored more & more of it with each passing day. She would quite often follow me down to the washing line in the olive grove and then stay down there for hours, sitting under a mature tree and looking out over the valley, almost as if she was surveying her kingdom (or should that be 'queendom' if I'm to be PC?) As she grew older, Leila began to explore further afield. We used to walk her up the mountain every day but she would often take herself off for a walk, disappearing for maybe 30 minutes at a time at first, but gradually building up the time until she'd be gone for at least an hour. That's when the mountain truly became hers.
And why did I choose today to write about Leila? Because it's 4 months exactly since she died. Totally unexpectedly, some time between 2 am and 6am on Saturday 9th March. Hubby buried her at the end of the olive grove & planted a tree for her to lie under as it grows. This will always be Leila's Mountain, because Leila will never leave it. RIP Leila 21/2/12 - 9/3/13

Monday 8 July 2013

22 Years Ago Today

This pic is the avi I use on Twitter and on my Google+ profile. I hate having my photo taken and I am reluctant to show the world the 'real me' but in today's blog I'm going to do the 'big reveal'.

Twenty two years ago today my mum succumbed to the breast cancer she'd been diagnosed with only 3 months earlier. The tumour was a very aggressive one & the radiotherapy treatment had failed. She died exactly a week before she was due to start chemotherapy. She was 54 and it was 5 days after my 34th birthday; no age at all and I certainly felt too young to be losing my mum. And now I was left to comfort my dad with no siblings to support me - being an only child 'sucks' at times.

But being an only child also has its advantages. There is no sibling rivalry and no benchmark to live up to. Despite a strict upbringing, I was free to be me and become the untamed spirit that I still am.

So today I reflect on the fact that I have now lived 2 years longer than my mum did and for me that's a big achievement. Maybe that's why I love life, my family & friends with a passion - who knows when I'll step off my mortal coil? Although, given the choice, I want to go to the beach and simply swim off to the horizon, never to return - burial at sea 'on the cheap'.

And what have I achieved in those 22 years since she died? With the help of my amazing hubby I've raised a wonderful son & daughter. In 2007 we seemed to spend the whole year celebrating: January saw the In-Laws' Golden Wedding Anniversary; in April our daughter was 21; July saw me celebrate my 50th birthday in Sardinia and August held a double celebration for us - our son got married 15 days before our Silver Wedding Anniversary. And my pressie to hubby to celebrate 25 years of wedded bliss? A 'How To Look Good Naked' photo:

Yes, I was lucky enough to find a super female photographer & the photo sums me up: naked as the day I was born, apart from my second set of wedding & engagement rings, my Gucci Twirl watch and the shoes & wrap I wore to our son's wedding. And a monochrome study because all of my parents' baby photos of me are in black & white.

As for my other achievements: in 2009 I became 'Nanali' to our first grandchild, Megan (hubby will be forever know as 'Grumps'); the following year I chased a dream & ended up living in one of the most stunning locations I've ever seen. But more of that later.....

Saturday 6 July 2013

It's Saturday, Let's Do Lunch

It has become a tradition that we 'do' lunch at La Torretta in San Marco di Castellabate, just a few minutes down the road once we get to the foot of the mountain. We always used to eat out on a Saturday lunchtime in the UK but it wasn't until this year that we picked up the 'old routine' here in the Cilento. It does help us keep track of which day of the week it is, as it is all too easy for each day to blend into the next with no defining moment. As soon as we step foot inside the place, we are asked if we want our usual spremute, to which we always reply 'but of course'. Sometimes the oranges are the beautiful arancia rossa but today's were the normal sweet ones - no matter how sweet, I have adopted the Italian tradition of adding at least one sachet of sugar before even tasting the freshly squeezed juice.
Drinks ordered, we check out the menu board, matching what's on the board with what we can see displayed before us. Sometimes this is impossible to do, as they may have run out of a particular dish, cook will have substituted something else but the board hasn't been changed.
Me, if there are gamberi in any of the dishes, it's 'no contest'. Luckily today paccheri seppia e gamberi was on the menu so that was my mind made up; hubby soon followed suit, so it was 'due', with a side order of fagiolini. Hubby then went to pay at la cassa whilst I chose a table in the cool air conditioned dining area.....funny how I always seem to choose to sit opposite the cabinets with all the dolce on display
Spremute on the table, paccheri & fagiolini warmed through & brought across by hubby, we bid each other 'buon appetito' and tuck in... not once have we been disappointed with the dishes we've tried here, the freshness & quality of the ingredients always makes for a mouthwatering lunch....sometimes it can even be 'mouthgasmic'
Today La Torretta was unusually quiet - maybe the summer heat kept people on the beach to dine at one of the several Lido's, so we didn't have the 'in house' entertainment we can sometimes have from watching locals & Italian holidaymakers alike being the loud, gesticulating, indecisive characters they can be. The locals with their Cilentan dialect are still almost impossible for us to understand but we are slowly getting used to picking out the 'stranieri' from Naples or even further afield. Whether we will ever understand them completely remains to be seen, but we certainly have fun 'eavesdropping'.

Thursday 4 July 2013

The Day After Yesterday

It's the day after my birthday and I've had a relapse into the summer flu I woke up with on Monday.
But hey, I had a fantastic birthday, rounded off by dinner at our favourite ristorante, L'Eco del Mare.......

Family run, nonno e nonna were looking after grandson Vincenzo, who was running around demanding figs be picked from the tree in the garden. He was so thrilled when his demands were met, 
he shared his 'booty' with us and hubby & I enjoyed the sweetest figs we'd ever tasted. And I absolutely hated figs before we lived here!

We sat at a corner table on the terrace, watching the sunset, which wasn't the most spectacular by any means, but it was nice to have a different vantage point.
We shared a starter of locally caught alice (anchovies) & carfciofi (artichokes), swimming in olive oil; we don't have the hugest of appetites and a €9 starter is sufficient for 2. The olive oil was mopped up with thick slices of beautifully crusty bread.
Onto our main course - again, with our less than huge appetites, we can't manage an antipasto,
primo e secondo so we just decide which we'd like best and ask that our choices be brought to the table at the same time. I chose a primo of  spaghettoni, gamberi rossi e pomodorini & hubby chose
orata con cozze ('fat' spaghetti, giant prawns & tomatoes for me, sea bream with mussels for
hubby). We also ordered a side salad, but it had loads of onion & hubby HATES onion so I was
left to help myself to as much as I could manage.

Whilst we were eating, I was also clicking away with my camera to capture the sunset......

And then it suddenly struck me that I'd had the sort of birthday we used to have to pay to come away on holiday to celebrate. Now it's become 'the norm': lazing on sunloungers, enjoying the sun & the amazing views, playing my favourite music & enjoying great food. And I can't wait to celebrate again next year.

Oh, the fireworks are from the evening before my birthday, but as they continued to go off all over the valley until 1 am on 3rd July, they count as part of my birthday celebrations.