Monday, 11 December 2017

talking and eating

That about sums up our last few days in Abruzzo. Well trying to anyway. The talking was less than satisfactory when Google translate was involved (but I am thankful that technology made it possible at all) and the eating goes on and on and on.

We loved being in Vasto. My cousin recommended a B and B in the old part of town. It was beautiful and like most old parts of towns sat on the top of a hill, and yet again we had a spectacular view.

Vasto is not too big but big enough. In the old part of town there are winding alleys lined with homes, shops, restaurants etc... (although a lot are closed now in the off season), the piazza is lit with Christmas decorations, the church bells ring regularly and the sea is a stones throw away. We have wandered the streets, perused the shops and been guided by my cousin to see some of the historical sights. We also visited the place where my cousin's olives are made into oil. We have marvelled at the snow capped mountains and the blue, blue sea. We have been welcomed with open arms into homes and been fed the most amazing food.

Pollutri is a small village sitting atop a hill, my father's family were share farmers nearby. Like the rest of Abruzzo the land is dominated by olive trees and grape vines; oil and wine.

We joined my cousin Anna and her husband Giovanni at the festival of San Nicola, an important annual event in Pollutri. It involves a mass, the cooking of fave (broad) beans in large communal pots and the sharing of the cooked beans. There is also a street procession with chanting and the carrying of a silver statue of San Nicola.

sorting the beans the next day
Once again family gathering to eat together around large extended tables was central. It took us a while to figure out the Italian rhythm of entertaining friends and family. First you eat lunch together, a multi course affair that begins around 2 and finishes around 5. Then you head out for a passeggiata  (walk). At this time of year it is dark by then and the Christmas lights and decorations blaze warmth and welcome in the piazza. After a while you return home for round 2 of eating and drinking. The evening finishes with liqueur (or for the Australians an espresso also)

my cousins vines in Pollutri

Sunday, 3 December 2017

crazy tourists

We decided to explore the coastal area between Casalbordino and Punta Aderci. The idea was to do some walking along the coastal track. We got sidetracked at Ortona though and stopped to look at the castle overlooking the sea and walked through some of the streets.

We continued taking the coastal road and were rewarded with beautiful towns perched along the Adriatic sea with the olive groves and vines growing almost to the waters edge. It was getting close to lunch time and it seemed like a good idea to eat before we walked, especially at one of the places perched along the coast. Seafood was looking good. As usual a lot of things are closed during the off season. We were milling around the entrance to a restaurant trying to look it up online, an Italian couple in a motor home pulled in and went into the restaurant. They re-appeared and with some gestures and the help of google translate we understood that they didn't think the restaurant was very good and they knew a good one a bit further down the road and we could follow them if we like. So we did, why not?

Once we arrived and the guy had parked his motorhome he proceeded to direct Colin to the parking area and more specifically into the spot he thought was best for us. He took us inside and explained to the waiter about a table, looks like we were all eating together, which was fine by us. Having introduced himself and his wife we quickly figured this was going to be an entertaining lunch. And it was. The seafood was really good, Remo was a character and we managed to understand enough to enjoy a pleasant lunch. Remo and his wife were doing the typical Italian multi course lunch, we opted for a single course (uncouth tourists that we are, also somewhat overfed of late). Fortunately the waiter spoke a little English so we could excuse ourselves and explain the reason for our somewhat rude departure before Remo and his wife had finished their lunch - we wanted to go for a walk and swim in the sea before the sun was gone (it was mid afternoon by now). The waiter and Remo were incredulous at this news, swimming at the beginning of winter!  Remo proceeded to give us further advice about swimming - don't go out too far, the edge drops away, don't swim too long it is too cold (we had already figured this out ourselves) and wait a little while after lunch before swimming.  Good byes and thank you's were given and we were off. It was now mid afternoon and we had neither walked or swum, just eaten more food.

We did make it to Punta Aderci, the promised walking track did not really eventuate (well not in the way we think of walking tracks in Australia) and some of the crazy tourists went for a quick dip. Now they can say they have swum in the Adriatic sea...

the mountains

The Gran Sasso National Park in Abruzzo is part of the Apennines, and L'Aquila, where my cousin Dino and his wife Maria Grazia live, is nestled amongst them. The drive to L'Aquila was jaw dropingly beautiful...

Dino and Maria Grazia took us into the Gran Sasso National Park. In another month or so the whole area will be covered with snow and the ski season will be under way. At the moment there is just a hint of what is to come...

Without local knowledge we would never have seen these old shepherd huts, many of them restored and converted to holiday homes. There is also a chapel in honour of Pope John Paul the second and a bronze statue of him, apparently he spent time walking in these mountains, often alone...

And what family gathering is complete without eating together - another amazing, multi course lunch showcasing local produce. We paced ourselves better this time and could do justice to the 'dolce' which were magnificent...

Not much left of the dolce by the time we were finished.
We only just made a dent in the other courses. though.

Friday, 1 December 2017

la famiglia

I have started this post a number of times and found myself stuck. I do not know where to start or how to describe such an extraordinary day. I usually try to keep my posts short but that won't work this time.

The main reason for our being in Italy was to spend some time in the place where my father was born; to see his country and his people, to experience something of his culture and most importantly to meet the Di Cocco family here in Abruzzo. It was also about discovering and reclaiming a part of my own heritage. The first anniversary of my father's death felt like the right time to come.

If you want to understand something of the Italian way of being then the following tells you all you need to know.

We arranged (via my cousin Marisa in Melbourne who actually speaks Italian, and Google translate, because I do not) to meet my cousins on a road near to Pollutri. I have three cousins in Abruzzo, Anna in Pollutri, Dino in L'Aquila and Vincenzo in Vasto. Vincenzo, Dino and his wife Maria Grazia were there on the side of the road waiting to welcome us. We exchanged greetings and apologies for the misunderstanding in where to meet (Google translate is not that good!). We followed them all to Anna's house nearby where we met her husband Giovanni and two of her daughters. Google translate got a good work out and my very rudimentary Italian was rescued when Luigi (a second cousin) arrived speaking some English.

We walked around the corner to the place where Anna's daughter lives. It also happens to be the place that my father helped his father to build before he left for Australia. The old part of the house still remains (unused) and the new house has been built along-side it. We met my Aunt, Zia Teresa, who is about to turn 90, she lives downstairs. She is one of the few remaining from her generation. (my father was one of seven boys, two remained in Italy, four came to Australia and my father's identical twin was tragically killed in an accident when he was 13. There is only one of the brothers alive now)

my sister Carla and I with my cousin Dino outside the old part of the house
A short drive and we came to the house where my father was born, where he spent his childhood working on the family farm. It is abandoned now. We saw olive, fig and pomegranate trees, wild asparagus growing amongst the weeds, the old well and the outside kitchen area where so many tomatoes were bottled and food preserved.

my sister and I sitting on the steps of the old house

the cousins

the women

the family of my generation
Lunch was at two in a trattoria nearby. We were joined by Vincenzo's wife and brother in law. First there is antipasto (cheese and salami), followed by primi (pasta, in this case lasagna followed by fricelli, a kind of maccheroni) My kids were very full by this time and thought that was the end. My previous experience had taught me otherwise. Primi is followed by Secondi, the meat course; in this instance a huge steak accompanied by baked potato and salad. It is all washed down with red wine. Then it is photo time, a record of this special day. Dolce consists of platters of fruit and the family have brought along a cake saying 'welcome to Pollutri' accompanied by a selection of local biscuits/sweets. More photos and champagne, followed by coffee and liqueur.

It is now close to 7pm. During the preceding five hours the second cousins and third cousins and parents in law have all arrived. Thankfully some speak a little English and we can set Google translate and its questionable translations aside for a bit.

It turns out that next week there is a special festival in Pollutri in honour of their Patron Saint, Saint Nicola, for whom my father is named. Would it be possible to come? We change our tentative plans to travel to Napoli and decide to stay here in Abruzzo longer. We also organise to visit Dino and Maria Grazia in L'Aquilla, organise to stay in Vasto and see Vincenzo and Giuseppina (and their 3 daughters) when our time here at the villa is complete and to join Anna and her family for the festival in Pollutri.

Family and food is the life blood of Italians. We were welcomed with open arms and privileged to experience both in abundance...