Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Peace and Joy

As Christmas hits my home town in Australia,
I'd like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a New Year full of good health and happiness.
Thank you for being so encouraging !

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Getting things into Perspective.

I have had more than my fair share of wallowing in self-centered pity these last few months as the nightmarish quality to this year, where I lost my mother to breast cancer and had my father lose a kidney to cancer, has taken a recent plunge in what feels like the descent to hell.

Everything happens for a reason I try to tell myself, and as my own health suffers too, I try to look at the whole picture rather than concentrating on the negative. But it's not easy.

I came across a post the other day where they asked themselves where they'd rather be.
I'm in Luxembourg at the moment but I'd rather be in Positano.

If I was in Positano it would mean that I could concentrate on the holidays.

Christmas would be by the roaring fireplace lit only if the breeze came from the sea and not from the mountain. A breeze, even slight one, from the wrong direction, means a room full of billowing smoke because the fireplace, it seems, was built more for esthetics's than practicality.

An oversized fresh pine cone, closed unto itself would release the scent of incense as it warmed the resin amongst the woody petals. After hours of sitting prettily next to the embers like a closed flower bud, it's petals would slowly unfurl and open to the pine nut treasures under each one. With a nut cracker or even a hammer to split the nut, we would expose the tender kernel . It's a tedious job but there would not be much else to do to while away the time.

We would buy the small parcels of lemon leaves dried and tied with a raffia string. Leaf by dried leaf the handcrafted parcel would be opened to get to the contents inside. The layers removed revealed the dried raisins, candied Cedro (lemon) and candied orange peel which had taken on the perfume of the leaves in which they were wrapped and dried. All locally grown.

Split chestnuts , would of course sit on the coals in their rusty holed pan, passed down from the war times, roasting away with the occasional pop and splutter from fresher logs.

In winter, the house is not heated. We transfer a small table into the sitting room, put sand filled snakes under the doors to block the drafts and eat and live in front of the fire.
The house is at it's iciest in the mornings, so sweaters are pulled over our night clothes before we come down for breakfast.

Oranges from the garden abound and fresh juice is always present. Smaller oranges are carefully spiked with cloves and set in strategic places to waft their perfume our way. Mandarins imitate their parent trees in the gardens as they bend the boughs of a the small Christmas tree set on a table in the corner.

We have a sort of sun room coming off the terrace and welcome the pink sunrise over the edge of Praiano in winter because it means that we might go outside and warm ourselves up soon, as well as open all the doors and windows to dry the mustiness inside.

Salsicci (Italian sausages) with fennel seeds prepared lovingly by Carlo our butcher in Positano, would feature heavily in our menu there, accompanied by cime di rape or bitter broccoli lightly boiled then sauteed in light olive oil with garlic and peperoncino.

Le zeppole, a specialty at Positano of sweet fried dough with sultanas, orange and lemon peel drizzled with local acacia honey would arrive from well wishers by the plate full, and figs dried during summer and stuffed with chocolate and nuts before soaking in liqueur would be the after dinner delight.
Sun lit walks on abandoned beaches in the afternoon with the smell of wood smoke in the alleys on our return would be all the exercise we'd need after meals. No worrying about fighting crowds in department stores or negotiating icy roads.

I really wish I was there.

My husband read an article in the paper about the Maldives slowly disappearing and said haven't you always wanted to visit there? I answered that I'm so unlucky lately, that the Maldives would probably disappear under a tsunami because I went there.

My eight year old son piped up " But you are lucky Mum , you have me. No one else has me !"
I really am blessed.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Bring Italy to your Christmas!

Christmas is just around the corner. For those who haven't yet thought of gifts for family and friends, I have some suggestions from two expat blogger friends in my part of the world whose creativity and resourcefulness has resulted in exceptional products for luxuriating and dreaming without breaking the budget.

The Amalfi Coast, as any of you who have been here will know, is a place which touches your soul.
It's brilliant colours, dramatic coastline and genuine down to earth products made with the traditional methods are a way of life here.
Nicki, who many of you will recognize from her blog, has created beautiful, handcrafted soaps which would look divine in your bathroom from the natural local products in the area. The colours reflect the ocean, the gelato coloured houses and the rocky mountain morphology. They are a feast for your eyes and your skin.

Take a look for yourself at Saponissimo: Etsy for the States and Dawanda for Europe.
You won't regret it!

South of Rome is a newly discovered blog for me by a fair lady who moved to Naples from Sicily.
The blog is well worth visiting and informative with gorgeous pictures as is her published book In Etna's Shadow just recently available on Amazon. For all you lovers of Italy's largest island, this is a travel book with a culinary twist to treasure. Karen offers a discount if you order from her blog. Do drop by and see what she has to offer for yourselves.

A Congratulations to both Nicki and Karen !

Saturday, November 22, 2008

All that you can't leave behind...

Just look at the bounty from our garden.

Our wanderings to and thro from Italy, inevitably involve foodstuffs from the garden, who's weight in a sore arm and hand luggage sometimes outdoes that of their taste, especially if they are slightly out of season. But we just can't leave them behind to rot in the soil.

While we are in Positano in autumn, resounding thumps in the garden announce the demise of yet other melon-sized grapefruits, that have lost their precarious hold on the tree and have fallen dizzying heights from one terraced garden to another, landing on the lawn the equivalent of four storeys below.

Out comes the juicer, struggling with the segments containing four to six pips apiece and requiring the courage of a hardened gladiator to drink. I watch my fifteen year old son and his father try the juice, placing them together in front of me so I can see their reactions. My son downs it in one gulp before his taste buds try to send a 'no go' sign to his instincts. Two seconds pass before a involuntary grimace masks his features and his eyes redden. My other half is a veteran at bitter-grapefruit-juice-sipping, boasting that he had one everyday he was in Positano. But still his eyes stream and his face contorts. These grapefruit are bitter to end all bitter, guaranteeing to suck your cheeks in and grow hairs on your chest.

The mandarines, on the other hand, are to die for. Such is their perfume on breaking open the skin, that I can't waste it and make delicious marmalade to spread on my croissants in the morning. The oranges, still slightly under ripe, get a similar treatment and the tangy perfume of cooking jams fills the house that day. I cover the top of the jam with half a spoon of Grand Marnier before sealing the lid on the jars and will wait a few weeks for the taste to infuse the jam before consuming it.

A Grape Harvest Cake makes the most of the last bunch of home grown table grapes, using the untreated lemon and orange peel from the garden, and even the flowers stalks from the basil are put to use in sauces and soups because of their strong flavour.

Come to think of it, the sore arm was probably worth it's weight in gold...

Did you spot the punk orange?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Phantom Neighbours.

When you live in a small village with international fame, you don't necessarily get to know your neighbours. You may overhear snippets of conversations or pick out a foreign accent from over the wall, but you may be just as likely to learn more about them from a third party. I heard something from a third party which really saddened me.

About five years ago, one of the properties was sold, with which we share a neighbouring wall. A construction company mysteriously appeared and the flat was gutted and completely redone. A pretty bench inlaid with tiles, a wood-fired pizza oven and BBQ adorned the patio. New floor to ceiling windows replaced the old ones in order to drink in the view and dichondra grass was planted between pavers for the finishing touch. The ancient bignonia creeper planted in the corner over fifty years ago, was pruned, but left to act as a pergola shade for both the two flats above the house.
The painters were in, the carpenters and tilers, then nothing for five years.

No one came. A local family had the keys to the house but were not caretakers, so the place became overrun.
In Sleeping Beauty style the climber grew and grew until it completely covered all the facade, windows and doors included. I don't know what the musty interior was like but mould and mildew must have been equally as rampant. Season after season, leaves and dirt piled high in the patio and the paint began to peel off the walls.

Until late last summer.
After years of silence, one day, my other half said that he had heard voices next door who seemed to be speaking in English. From the other side of the wall I discerned what seemed to be a young man with a New York accent and another woman speaking English with a foreign accent. They were very obviously sweeping out the patio of the rustling dried leaves.
'That's good', I thought, ' someone is finally taking charge of the place.'

Last week my other half was in Positano again. There was activity in the property once more and the painters were in. Asking about the owner, they informed my husband that the flat belonged to an American model who had the place refurbished. She then died without ever having used it.

Her parents going through her files came across the deed to the place which she had never mentioned owning. They had they discovered it only recently, five years on.

Shattered dreams. Isn't that sad ?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Profumo di Nespole

At the moment the garden is a buzz with bees concentrated on the Nespoli or loquat tree in full flower. The creamy white flowers, clustered in posies inundate the terrace with a heady sweet fragrance. Offerings of nectar to the bees are raised on furry erect twigs. Broad dark leaves crackle underfoot, the tree shedding all year long like an annoying dog.

The roses in the garden are little competition for the large tree. It is the only fruit tree in our garden to flower in autumn and the first to bear the seasonal fruit in early spring.

All winter long the fruit will swell maturing to a rich yellow in April. The fruit is best eaten straight off the tree as it quickly loses it's flavour once picked. Although our Nespolo, as the tree is called in Italian probably grew from a seed, it's fruit is tastier than any you could buy in the shops. We gorge ourselves on the abundant fruit looking at the sea, and repopulate the gardens with the seeds. Dried and very sweet, their natural fall off the tree in summer is the delight of tiny lizards which nibble the casing, that is, if the dog doesn't have them for breakfast first.

Monday, November 03, 2008

You know that you're in Positano at the end of the season if...

  1. With all the talk about the US Elections on at the moment, I thought I'd change the argument entirely :

You know that its the end of season at Positano if...

  1. The sea becomes rough more frequently and reaches right up to the restaurants in Fornillo.

  2. The Mayor issues a by-law which ensures that at least one bar, one restaurant and a few shops remain open by rota in each of the six localities of Positano, to ward off the ghost town effect.

  3. Your favourite Pizzeria warns you that it's closing down at the end of the week, but warmly invites you to come up to their place to eat instead.

  4. The much maligned dock, which has been under construction for some years at considerable expense to the town, gets inundated with the first, not very rough sea, of the season.

  5. Houses built along the mountain become so damp, that if you are absent for any length of time, you are likely to find that the clothes in your wardrobe have sprouted a beard.

  6. The cemetery candles on the tombs for All Souls Day are visible from afar like twinkling stars in the night .

  7. You hear Napolitano (dialect) being spoken more than English.

  8. You easily get a seat on the internal Positano bus and getting back to Positano from Sorrento, is no longer a problem on the Sita bus.

  9. You suddenly find yourself going for walks in the mountain more readily and come back laden with wild rosemary and pine cones for the fire.

  10. You have to tread very carefully as the paths are sometimes worn, have fallen boulders and are missing chunks of steps.

  11. Young children stay indoors playing video games and teens invite themselves over each other's house as there is no where else to go.

  12. There are only a few lonely souls on the beach.

  13. Trails of smoke from grass fires on properties continue to burn even if the council has issued free compost bins for those with gardens.

  14. The pensioners sitting on the wall chatting at Chiesa Nuova at the top of town and at the Grotta bus stop sport a beanie.

  15. At first glance you don't recognize the bagnino (beach hand) from the beach bar because he has clothes on.

  16. You can stop spraying against ants.

  17. The ninety year old lady puts away her bikini and takes up crochet.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Blogapalooza Party - A scary (true) story

Our house in Positano, is quite close to others, but isolated by a long stairwell which leads to abandoned gardens just above the sea. Neighbours rarely live in the houses, coming on occasions for weekends or for the two weeks in the August holidays, so we feel quite alone. The stairwell at night leads into darkness, lit only by moonlight and the shadows of bougainvillea moving in the breeze.

There is nothing but the silence of the sea for company...

A long, long time ago, almost fifteen years to be precise, I was in Positano in the early summer holiday. I was still young enough to be naive about opening doors to strangers. That night, I was the only adult in our house and had three sleeping young children upstairs. A film had just ended on TV, and on opening the door from our lounge room to the large dining room, I was detained from getting the glass of water in the kitchen before retiring, by what I believed to be animal noises outside in the garden.

I approached the moonlit hall entrance to listen closer.

I was used to cats yowling and the scamper of small animals in the night, but this was slightly different and curiosity got the better of me. A scuffling, groaning sound came from behind the door. For want of something better to imagine, I thought it might be two dogs having it out on the steps and thought I could scare them into leaving our garden.

I turned on the light in the hall and opened the ancient wooden door, just a chink, to peer outside.

I slammed it back shut straightaway and double locked it my heart thumping madly.

What I'd expected to see and what was there, were as far apart as the moon and the sea. Smack leaning against the door, was the back of a man dressed in a blue striped polo shirt obviously embracing someone.

Well, I let all my rage out and yelled at them that they could find another place for their canoodling. There was no need to trespass in private property.

There was no response from them and after a while I couldn't tell if they'd actually left, so I ran upstairs on to the outside top balcony which overlooked the stairs to see if I could spy them. They were quite calmly leaving the gate. The girl following the man someway behind.

The following day, I received a call from a neighbour in the alley behind our house, with whom I was only on 'Bongiorno' terms. She asked if she could drop by with her sister-in-law because they wanted to talk to me about something.

Seated in front of that very door, the upset sister-in-law thanked me in person because my timely interruption of the little scene on my porch had prevented a friend of her husband's from violating her daughter, a young teenager.
The man (a neighbour), believing the house uninhabited, had led the girl there with the surmise of showing her something. After my intervention, he told her not to say anything and to walk away. She was too shocked to react. Unfortunately I couldn't help more by testifying, as I had only seen him for the second before I panicked, but she was grateful that things had not gone any further and they eventually pursued the matter in court.

Guess whose scared to open the door at night now?

For more Halloween 'Blogapalooza Party' stories Just Go over to Angela's !

Monday, October 27, 2008

End of season

The clocks have been set back and the season is closing in Positano too.

Late Sunday afternoon, a huge bonfire blazed and crackled on Fornillo beach with the remnants of wood left from the beach restaurants /bars. The wisps of smoke trailed well into the evening.

The warm weather belies the season. My other half still swims every afternoon. His days are spent in the kayak, fishing with his friend or eating the 'frecinette' bananas well ripened from our garden.

Soon the tourists will trickle, the ferries will blow their horn of salute to the village and the rest of the hotels will close for winter.

The town will belong to the locals again.

I'm sure many of you recognize where this photo was taken.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


My two eldest have been sick with fever over in the UK this week, but it seems that a virus has hit bloggers too. 'Tags' have been spreading all over the web. I caught my tag from The Cottage Smallholder whom I visit regularly for useful information on gardening and keeping animals on a domestic scale with an English twist.
In order to be cured, I have to abide by the following rules:

1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Here goes and I've tried to be very 'off the top of my head' random and actually jotted these down on the back of an Ikea catalogue, while waiting for my son in the car:

  1. I can reach out with my hand and grab mosquitoes as they're flying. This has turned out to be very useful, as each year, in the two summer months that I am at Positano, I average a score of 120 (yes, I count them) whereas everyone else is at about 12.
  2. My hands and feet are always icy in winter so I often get chilblains. I wear woollen gloves under my gardening gloves and have an electric blanket on the bed which helps. I love to make homemade pizza in winter so I can lean against the oven for warmth.
  3. I suffer the heat in summer even more and am quite happy to sleep on the floor tiles at the terrace door on humid nights rather than toss and turn on an overheated mattress.
  4. I have only ever met one person with wall to wall carpet in his garage and that is my father (in Australia).
  5. I don't know how to type so it takes me forever to write emails and posts. My handwriting is much nicer when I hold the notebook on my lap.
  6. I decide things very much on instinct. If I like something straight away, I will always like it. If I have to stop and reflect before deciding, I am more likely to regret my choice.

It's hard to decide whom to tag, as most people have been tagged out.
I'll pick:

Salento Blog
Amid the Olive Trees

Bella Vita In Liguria
Rubber Slippers in Italy
On My Way to Work and Other Stuff
I am Dog, Hear Me Snore

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Art of Persuasion.

I was pulling on my wellingtons, at the back door, for a dose of leaf sweeping, when my eight year old son called out "Mum, what does persuade mean?".

"Sort of ' to make someone choose to do something , by telling them things." , I replied distractedly, my mind already on where I'd left the rake.

Later, while putting away his homework, my eyes fell on the book report.

Last question : 'What would you tell a friend to persuade them to read this book?'

Answer: ' If you read this book I will give you five Euros. If you don't read this book, I will punch you in the face.'


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Nuts for Positano!

Although the sea in Positano is still warm enough for swimming, most of the bars along the beach are beginning to close shop in a reversal of their frenetic hammering of May. Plank by painted plank, the faded blue platforms, worn down by many bare feet crusted in black sand, are dismantled. The boards will be stacked for winter in the hotel, a fresh coat of azure blue applied in May to camouflage the scratches from the scraping of director's chairs, where beach clad bronzed bodies lounged over lunch or a late afternoon drink/gelato before attacking the stairs. There is still the odd sunbed left on the beach for tourists or weekenders, as summer has lingered this year, but November brings other tasks for the bar/garden owners of Positano.

Positano, seemingly a haphazard mishmash of gelato-coloured houses stacked one on top of another to follow the lay of the land, is just that.

The land or properties are not divided into square or rectangular shapes following your average domain, but are quite irregular in shape, with parcels of smallish gardens protruding from the house at different angles, or not necessarily joined to the house. This can create squabbles with neighbours, as they have right of way to harvest fruit from their garden, through yours.

Late October is the time for walnut gathering. For those of you whom are not familiar with fresh walnuts, the shell is encased in a thick green husk. When the fruit inside is mature, the husk cracks open, releasing the nut. This can occur spontaneously or if helped by a firm rap on the branch at the right time of the year.

The Fornillo area of Positano has a lot of mature walnut trees overlooking the bay, in many cases stretching out over the property of those below in order to get a better view (or at least catch the sun), so when the time comes for the battuta, or the hitting of the trees in order to fell the walnuts, the owners of the trees have to enter in the property of the neighbour below to collect their nuts.

This is the case in our smallest garden. This pocket-sized garden has a small locked gate so the neighbours above the garden let themselves down by climbing the grape vine pergola along the wall after they've beaten their tree. If they know we are home, they furtively gather the fallen nuts in a hurry. If not they take their time to search better between the plants.

Years ago, we had a magnificent mature walnut tree growing alongside our house in the property of our neighbour below. The tall tree cast shade on our terrace in the summer and it's boughs beckoned within an arm's reach, temptingly clustered with walnut husks.

Around this time of the year, the men working for the bar owner would arrive, mounting ladders from the terraced gardens below in order to climb the tree. The delegated lightweight would crawl along the branch as far as his weight would stretch and with long canes, whack the nuts grouped between the leaves. While he was there he'd also prune any dead branches and to my consternation, those good branches over-shadowing our terrace.

If I peeped over the edge to see what the commotion in the gardens below was about, the gatherers would trill out in Napolitano to the tree-hugging man, to hit some walnuts in the Signora's direction and I in turn would gather the nuts from our terraces. Those fresh sweet nuts peeled of their inner bitter skin were a delight. I didn't care how black my fingers would stain.

Unfortunately, this centenary tree, keeled literally over, a few years ago, probably due to the leaking sewerage at its feet. A baby tree has sprung a few metres from its mother's side. Maybe I'll see shade and nuts on our terrace yet.

In the meantime, I'm reduced to scavenging the fallen walnuts overlooked in our garden, from the other neighbour's tree.

Go on over to Casalba's post on Hazelnuts!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Gardener

Don't you just love local festas with their catchy traditional Neapolitan dance music.

We had a gardener at Positano a long, long time ago, long before I arrived on the scene who loved to get up and dance the tarantella at these local parties. The music was improvised and spontaneous with tambourines, castanets and guitars. The mood was inebriating, the food cooked on the spot. Michele, our gardener, was a local personality.

Michele came from Montepertuso just above the town of Positano and had worked for my husband's family for over two decades. My elderly mother-in-law lived alone in the house after her husband passed away and having someone come in regularly to look after the top garden gave her a sense of security.

Michele was a poor man and didn't need much to make himself happy. He looked after many gardens in Positano. He considered the vegetable and fruit orchard at the top of the house his own and spent many a day in it cultivating his vegetables for himself and his sister. He'd arrive with his plastic shopping bag with a flagon of wine and bread and make himself lunch with peperoncini and whatever else he could find to eat at the moment.

A yell down to my mother-in-law in the lower section of the garden was the signal to tie on a basket to a rope. The height between the levels is equivalant to three storeys so a long electrical cord improvised for a rope and he would pull the basket up to the garden. Another 'Signora!' followed and the basket would dangle back down with whatever the garden had to offer at the time.

My husband shared many a meal with Michele when he was in Positano. I was lucky enough to meet Michele in the later years so we also had quite a few lunches together.

Being a true full blooded italian, pasta was essential at lunch, and always made with garlic that Michele pulled out of his pocket. I remember looking for chili peppers while preparing the food, and seeing his hands dip into his pockets for the fieriest pepperoncini you'd ever had. One or two seeds from these chillies were enough to liven any dish. If I ever rubbed my eyes after touching the chili, they burned for ages. Michele liked his pasta so 'al dente' that he used to say that it should stand up on your fork.

For seconds, he did without meat or fish preferring to shallow fry delicious tiny new potatoes still in their skin with rosemary and bacon. The potatoes that he'd grown were sizzled in sugna or fat, which he also happened to have with him. All washed down with his flagon of local homemade wine. Add the fruit to that and we could barely lift ourselves from the table.

The meal went on for hours, with Michele regaling us with his stories of when he was held prisoner of war in Africa by the English. He also boasted that he could still remember a few words of the English language. He'd had a hard life, as his wife had left him for another during his imprisonment. Although I could barely understand what he was saying, as it was a strict dialect from the mountains that he spoke, I was happy to keep him company. My mother-in-law from Poland, was completely lost and would just smile and nod her head, with my husband translating occasionally. Michele loved to reminisce about the parties that had been held and was proud of his prowess for dancing.

Later Michele became too elderly to garden and my husband's uncle moved in and began to look after the place. Michele didn't get on too well with him as he considered the garden to be his and although he still planted his vegetables there, the harder work was left to the younger generation. He still came for meals at our place and was with us just a few days before he died.

The irony is, after both Michele and my husband's uncle died, they were placed side by side at the local cemetery.

The beat of tamburriati (tambourines)at the festa's remind me of him and the days long gone.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Mission Impossible

When you go to Church on Sunday and the priest announces that he is organizing a Missionary trip for his Parishioners, what do you expect to hear ?
Certainly not that this trip is going to be based in the Caribbean Island of Cacun, and that in two weeks of travel, only four days will be dedicated to the Missionary 'experience.'

Yes Folks, some things are particular to Positano.

A hefty 2,000 euros will get you there and pay for lodging and meals, and who knows, may even be tax deductible (seeing that 'part' of the trip is for Charity). I don't know who will be paying for the Priest's part. So much for the vow of poverty. Excursions to archaeological sites are included and you will have plenty of time to laze in the sun.

I may be old fashioned, but I believe that a simple donation of even part of that fare to the mission, would probably be more effective. But this 'mission' was obviously an incentive aimed at the wealthier parishioners and hotel owners. Even for a family of three, it would work out to quite a sum.
Have you ever come across this type of group excursion in your town?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Love Thursday - Love Cake

Anyone Love Custard filled Cakes?

Sorry it's late...

This cake is an absolute favourite in my house for birthdays. It comes from a well used recipe of my darling late mother, who made this cake her speciality. Today is my son's eighth birthday and he has ordered this cake with the chocolate cream. I have already baked two chocolate cakes for his class to share, he will have another sponge with strawberries and cream for the party on Saturday and then on Monday we have another birthday in the family with another cake...

Make sure that you read right through the recipe before starting!

Torta di Mamma
What you need
One large sponge cake
1 cup of strong black coffee
1/3 of a cup of coffee liqueur
1/3 cup of brandy
1 tablespoon of sugar
1/2 cup cream
cocoa for dusting

What you need for Custard Frosting and Filling:

1/2 cup of cornflour
1/2 cup of custard powder
1/2 cup of sugar
2 teaspoons of Vanilla
1 1/2 cups of cream
2 1/2 cups of milk
30g butter
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
90g dark chocolate

Frosting and Filling:

Combine cornflour, custard powder, and sugar in saucepan. Gradually add milk, stirring until smooth. Stir in vanilla and cream slowly. Stir continuously over low heat until mixture bubbles and thickens. Add butter and simmer stirring for 3 minutes. Away from the heat mix, in beaten egg yolks. Place in bowl covered with plastic until cool.

Melt roughly chopped chocolate in bain marie. Mix chocolate into half the custard mixture.

Put it together:
Combine cold coffee, liqueur brandy and sugar. cut sponge cake into four layers. Put first layer into serving plate and brush well with coffee liqueur mix.
Spread with half of Vanilla custard. Put a second layer of cake on top and brush with coffee mix but spreading with a third of chocolate custard. Brush coffee mix and alternate the custards until layers have finished. You should have enough chocolate custard to cover the top of the cake, and dust with cocoa powder. Pipe cream around edges.

Alternatively, lick the remaining custard from the bowl and dust with icing sugar!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Down The Drain

You may find this post dull, but this is a problem in our house at Positano which I have at heart, because in the twenty years that I have been there, it is still not resolved and gets worse.

I read with interest the report on Positano News regarding the sewerage build up due to clogged drains in the Grotta Di Fornillo area and the subsequent flooding of the street after the first seasonal rains. The brief article also hinted at the inconveniences experienced by locals along the stairs due to the lack of channeling for storm water. I had recently touched this problem in my post here, and think that this is a good time to show you what reality is at our place with photos. I apologize for the quality, I scanned a scanned photo.

The public drain pipe along our house in Fornillo, was laid in 1973 under the steeply descending stairs, when only a few original houses and villas in the neighbourhood were attached. Since then houses have sprouted all along the cliff side and more importantly Hotels in the area have been built and have branched on to this same pipe, creating an important flux of waste water especially in the summer months. The drain pipes, already stretched to maximum capacity in summer, clog regularly and during rainfalls, regurgitate the overflow into any escape route nearby - namely out of our shower plug hole and out of our toilet bowl.

During heavy rain, we don't just mop up rain water which has leaked in under windows and doors but also need to clean up the filthy water around the bathroom floor. Sometimes this overflow has been so important that the water has gone past the bathroom and into the bedroom. Our solution has been to place a barrier on the floor against the door to prevent water leaving the bathroom , and to drill a hole in the base of the bathroom wall with a tube channeling dirty water directly into the garden.

This is a bathroom which has been long overdue for renovation but given the important damages it suffers from the inadequate sewerage pipes, we have had to postpone work until the Town Authorities find a solution and decide to do something.

Tube runs from bathroom to terrace.

The drain pipe that runs down along the stairs at the side of our house turns sharply in an L bend at its base. The extreme descent and the force of the water cracks the pipe regularly each year. The odour of sewerage at certain times of the day is so strong that we have to close all windows and doors to avoid the stagnant smell. Sewerage leaks out from under the stairs creating luxuriant foliage in the weedy gardens below, which in turn, masks a swamp of mosquito- infested lurid water.

Soil subsidence is evident in two areas along the leaking sewerage tube causing important structural lesions in terrace and causing the steps coming down from the garden into lower area, to break away from the wall.

We go to see the Mayor about the problem every time we are in Positano. Sometimes he sends his engineer, sometimes he tells us there are no funds for repairs. Sometimes he sends repairmen and they cannot find the important cracks, so they place a tube to displace water from the leak into the gardens of those below us. They create a sewerage leak overflow, the continuous trickle of which sounds to the unwary like a garden fountain.

This year we had a sewerage fountain and a swamp, so the Town hall, at our insistence, finally sent someone to repair the tube. They were at our place in summer on and off for two weeks and did some major reparation to the pipes reducing the leakage fountain to a drip. The problem with the overflowing rain water in the bathrom has not yet been resolved by the Council.

Many years ago, the Town Mayor came in person to our house to see the problem with his engineer. They visited the garden below to get a better view and as they came up, I told him about the increase in rodents around the area due to the sewerage leaks.
He said (in Italian): ' While we were down there, we saw a rat as big as a cat!'
Then I remarked, that when we have a sewerage problem in Luxembourg, we make one call and the Council sends out repairmen straight away.
'Si', 'Ma qua e`venuto il Sindaco in persona ! ' , he replied.
(Yes, but here, the Mayor came in person ! )

Would you put up with this?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Seventh Heaven

Positano has been bubbling with celebrities in these past few days. Beverley Mitchell from 'Seventh Heaven has her wedding celebrations at Positano and invited her famous friends from the Hollywood scene. They are lodged in all directions in the town and apparently even Madonna was seen arriving at a Villa at LiParlati last night. Jet setter's names thrown about are Justin Randall Timberlake and Jessica Biel as well as the rest of the cast from Seventh Heaven.

Sorry, I have no photos. I wouldn't recognize a celebrity if they walked two inches from my nose. (Madonna or the cast from Grey's Anatomy may be the exception). I only know about Seventh Heaven because of the reruns on Italian and French TV in summer. If they opened their mouth and spoke in English, I would have my doubts that it was them.

I don't always carry the camera with me either.

Our house in Positano is next door to a VIPs house, or rather ex-house as he sold it last year.

I didn't know that he was so important, until I googled his name after he left. I knew he had a film coming out soon.
To me, he was just the dishevelled neighbour from next door with whom I would exchange a few words when bumping into him in the morning on his way to grab cornetti for breakfast, or the father of the little girl with whom my son would play with on the beach. My eldest son spent a whole summer in his company as he was 'courting' the girl staying with them and when he asked #him# what films had he directed, he just shrugged off the question.

My husband had known him for a lifetime and his mother would 'you-who' me whenever she heard me coming down the stairs past their place. To me, they were everyday people.

At Easter, a few years ago, I was sitting at the bus stop waiting to catch the bus to the cemetery (one of my favourite haunts in Positano) and Colin Farrel walked past me with his girlfriend. He looked familiar and was attired in a way that attracted attention (as well as being attractive) so I knew he must be 'somebody' . I queried my daughter on my return and she confirmed that he had been seen around town and that all her friends had headed for the beach to seek him out. And I had had him at arm's length without knowing who it was! God knows who else I've ignored like that.

I'm good with politicians, their faces are plastered on the Italian news for half an hour each night and so their image becomes embedded on my mind. My husband has even been asked if he is a politician! But with actors it's a question of being able to see them as ordinary people rather than the role play they have.

We have a local who does occasional gardening at our house and in the summer, he works at a five star hotel. Along with the tomatoes, eggplant, basil and wine from his garden, he also brings me the latest as to who is staying at Positano. I don't usually recognize the names, so he needs to tell me what film they are in too. I'm really hopeless. But at least then , I know who to look out for!

Have any of you seen (and recognized ) famous people at Positano or in every day life?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Colour Me Autumn

My creation, originally uploaded by bellavventura.

Yesterday in our garden.

Why is it , that for every three apples that I pick, one has to land on my forehead ?

Friday, September 26, 2008

In the UK

Best things I heard this week:

I was in the UK and out shopping with my daughter, buying the bare necessities for her new home away from home.
I had a kitchen knife, and a small pot and pan amongst the goods.

When I went to pay, the shop assistant said apologetically,
' Are you over 18 ? Sorry but I'm obliged to ask'.
'Yes, but thank you for the compliment !', I exclaimed flattered.

Later: The Taxi.

A taxi brought us and a myriad of packages, shopping bags, suitcases, and a guitar from the B&B in the city to my daughter's home.

When we got in the car, he asked 'Are you Italian ?'.
'Well, yes' I replied, 'Can you tell?'
'You can tell who is Italian, by the elegant way they dress'.

I had a pair of jeans and a suede jacket on!!!!

They made my day.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sail away

Update - My daughter has found a decent house to share with four others, only newly completely renovated a ten minutes walk from Uni ! She can even move in a few days early if she doesn't mind not having curtains at the window for the first nights.

Many many thanks to Casalba and Anne for your offers of help with the accomodation !

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sail away

I've been a bad blogger lately, but a good mother.
I have been glued to the computer (in between gardening for sanity), but not for entertainment. My second fledgling is about to leave the nest and go to Uni in the UK so we've been looking at the student digs in desperation.

My daughter applied too late to get a place in the Student Halls and now skims the student notices for flatmates wanted, trying to avoid houses which look like they should be condemned or deemed acceptable to only students on a limited budget. Cubbyhole bedrooms, kitchens missing cupboards and sofas in indescribable colours stained with unimaginable spills abound in these adverts. Prices, unfortunately not corresponding to the state of decrepitude, also are frequent.
She could have gone to Uni in Luxembourg and lived in, but the institution is very young and doesn't offer a large variety of courses. Many of the courses are in German (not her favourite language) or go to only first year. Naples was also an option but it meant commuting at least three times a week for two hours to get there and two hours back from Positano. Living there she didn't even want to consider. Likewise, Salerno is three hours away on the other side. She missed out in getting into the course she was after in Italy, by only two points in the entrance exam, so she has settled for second best in the UK.

We decided to raise our children in Luxembourg as the system here would have a few advantages or privileges over that in Positano. One not negligible, is that they wouldn't have to commute to Amalfi or Sorrento each day in the higher years. Lots of kids learn to hate Amalfi for this reason. Another being that most high school graduates on the Amalfi Coast, go to work in areas in the tourist industry and don't always look beyond that. Even those graduating in something entirely unrelated to this will be found working in their parent's restaurants or hotels in summer, or even post-graduates will be driving buses because this is what the town offers. And this is unemployment in Italy.

So she's off on Tuesday to the UK without a roof over her head unless she agrees to something on the basis of the photos or address's on the internet. Should she accept a house this way and risk finding things aren't perfect in reality or miss out on places close to Uni because others got there before her?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Rain again.

The rain finally arrived in Positano over the weekend. After two and a half months of sunshine , it wasn't the after-summer deluge we expected. It was enough to water the very dry garden, but even though it had been a waterless summer, it hadn't felt like one of its hottest, with the exception of only a few days. The thunder in the morning flickered the lights several times and the sky clouded over with ominous clouds but it brought just an average long shower.

I have been through quite a few of these late summer storms and the most severe of them have a pattern:

It know its raining in Positano if:

The craggy mountain behind you goes into shadow and a black foreboding mass of clouds gathers on it's edge;

The bagnini on the private beach sections start collecting the two front rows of chairs and beach umbrellas just in case the sea becomes rough;

Owners of lighter sea vessels pull their craft on to the shore rather than risk losing it at sea;

The rain comes as a sudden heavy curtain blanketing vision across the sea;

You run around the house closing all windows against the temperaments;

You become glued at the window looking at the downpour and mesmerized by the din as it pelts down on the vaulted roof;

It becomes hot inside and the windows fog up;

The bath starts gurgling; the sink in the kitchen starts gurgling as the drains fill up with rain water;

You hear heavy gushing outside. You open the front door and see a waterfall running down the steps. You husband strips down to the waist and climbs barefoot up the waterfall in order to clear the debris from the drains in the alley. Niagara falls trickles to a rapid river. While he is wet, he thinks that he may as well check all the drains around the house and walks through the house to the other side dripping every where.

The windows start leaking from the tell tale moldy signs around the arches where the plaster and silicone has given way. You put rags there to catch the drips and others to catch the water coming in from underneath the doors, and skylight on the stairs which has also sprouted a leak.

The downpour lasts a long time. The kids have nothing to do as the TV antennae has been disconnected as a precautionary measure against lightening (known to strike in the area especially at Monte Pertuso in the hills).

All the tourists have taken refuge in the bars, shops awnings and restaurants and have to wait it out. There is nothing else for them to do. The stairs are nonnegotiable unless you roll up your trousers, take off your shoes ( or happen to have a pair of rubber boots in your summer wardrobe).

You have to use a small umbrella and hold it sideways in order to get through some of the narrow alleyways,

If the rain persists at falling at an alarming rate there may be rock falls or land slides and the state Amalfi road will be closed.
If you live in one of the houses based at the lower part of town towards the end of the sewer pipes, you may find (as we do) that the pipes are unable to cope with the rain water being channeled into the sewers illegally and that this said water begins to rise up and come out of the drain in the showers and over the edge of the toilet to flood the bathroom and any room beside it. You only discover this the next morning (unless you have unfortunate guests staying ), when you go down to hang out the wet rags used for mopping the leaks in the house and step into a room full of dirty water and debris.

By late afternoon, the sun will be shining. If you are lucky you will see the rainbow that falls into the sea.
You will be out in your shorts again avoiding those cobbled puddles on the stairs and making your way down to the beach so that your son can ride the waves to his fill on his boogie board.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Ups and downs of Positano. Part 1

"Dai Claudio, vieni !" Maria yelled.

The August night sky was unusually clear, notwithstanding the warm air. My father and I lean't on the railings on the terrace overlooking the beach. I could just make out my two sons and their friends fooling around on the beach sun loungers.

I straightened up and shook my hand to get the ants off.

Alexia and her two American friends grabbed a lilo from under Pupetto Beach Bar and ran into the water.

Their New York accents carried perfectly up to our house. There was no babble on the beach nor sounds of motorboats to smother it. I could even hear the chink of the glasses in the restaurant below.

Milly, our small dog, sniffed disinterestedly around the terrace and then came and lay at our feet.

I could pick out my sons and their friends because the beach had been lit up from the restaurant. There were three lilos in the dark water and three people per lilo. I knew that they'd ordered a pizza to eat on the beach and seeing that my boys hadn't come up at all from their afternoon swim, that they still had a swimming costume on. The two Americans were leaving the next day, so it was a sort of going away party together with the Positanesi.

"Are you spying on them ?" asked my father.

"Course not! Can I help it if they chose this moment to have a swim?" I replied.

Milly suddenly got up and started sniffing around the edges of the terrace again. I imagined that there must be a gecko in her favourite haunts as she was taking long sniffs in the usual places.

"Lasciali stare (Leave them be)" said my father. I presumed that he was talking about my sons rather than the geckos.

Milly started getting more and more excited, running from one area of the terrace to another. She finally stopped at the corner which overlooked our garden below. She started whimpering a little.

"What is it Milly?" I asked gently.

Her fur was on end and she was on alert, fixating the tops of the mandarine trees which were at terrace level.

As soon as I asked, she began running down the steps which brought to the garden.

"She probably saw a cat." said my father.

I could hear her barking frantically below. Milly is a dog who never barks.

"Milly, come" I ordered.

She raced up the stairs immediately, returning to her post in the corner of the terrace. She took long deep sniffs into the tree tops then barked and yelped simultaneously. Obviously there was something there.
She suddenly looked up into the pergola overhead, barking and yelping as if her life depended on it.

I could hear a rustling in the wisteria leaves above me. I ran to turn on the terrace light which I had been avoiding so as not to attract mosquitoes.

My father and I looked up. Just as I had suspected.
It was the old rat-in-a-tree trick.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

All for tourists??

Positano News recently published an article on the work done around the Amalfi Coast and in particular Positano dock. If you look at the webcam on any given day, you can see a barge with a huge crane on board . What exactly it is doing there we don't know. The fact is that the extension of the Positano dock to a platform which resembles a sea of cement, has altered the shape of the beaches. In particular, created an the erosion of the public beach at Fornillo.

Just last Saturday this barge presented itself in front of Fornillo. There was a helter skelter around the area as boat owners moored just off the coast, rushed to move their boats so as avoid damage from the large ship.

The barge was slowly moved into the cove stopping just in front of the Grassi Beach establishment. It was tied onto the beach and the crane was lowered into the water. People bathing gathered on the beach to look on. It seemed to move around a little and then was pulled out. A long metallic structure was tied on and lowered into the water close to the shore line. Two divers detached the lines underwater. And the barge finally moved on. All this took two hours.

What it was all for, I can only guess. It seems to be a launching ramp with which climb on to the boats , but I maybe wrong.

Anything done in Positano seems to be with the tourists in mind.
The dock on the main beach was constructed for the non- stop ferry loads of people arriving to the detriment of the local's beach at Fornillo. Garbage can't be deposited in containers on the street between 8:00am and 9:00pm because the tourists might see it and associate it with the rubbish crisis in the Naples area. Long cement paths are laid along the main beach where once simple pathers did the trick giving the area a 'Disneyland ' feel - a facade where nothing seems real. Other local - trodden paths crumble and become dangerous to use but are not considered important enough for public spending. The fisherman village is no more and hasn't been one for many years.

I wonder if going full speed in this direction is good for Positano? Certainly not for the Positanese. Only winter brings the tranquillity of yesteryear. What little natural beauty is left is enroached upon by greed and tacky modifications for tourists. Public works do little to maintain the simplicity and original character of the town. And definitely won't add to the future popularity of the present town Council.

Love Breakfast at Positano

My favourite part of the day at Positano has to be the early morning.
We always have breakfast outside on the terrace in summer. The light is soft, the colours brillant and the sun still not too warm as to become unbearable. The day ahead is always full of promise.
Come and have a coffee with me.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Beach that !

Just a few contrasts from our beach in my home country.

Positano. June 2008. One and a half hours drive from Naples.

Fornillo beach at 8 :00 in the morning.

Mornington Peninsula.

Safety Beach, one and a quarter hours drive from Melbourne.

Height of Summer holidays. 9:30 in the morning on the public beach -

Private beaches don't exist.

Looking towards Dromana.
Looking towards Mt. Martha.

Time necessary to walk across Fornillo beach - 10 minutes if you are slow and stumble a lot.

Time necessary to walk along the sand to Dromana Pier (closest obstacle) - an hour at a very quick pace.

Time necessary to walk to Mount Martha in the opposite direction -an hour at a very quick pace.
Safety beach water in the morning.

Fornillo Beach water in the early morning.

Safety beach it stays like that. At Fornillo it doesn't.

Difference in temperature - about 20 degrees. Difference in depth -who knows!

Fornillo beach late afternoon when the public beach goers have packed up due the the shade coming across the beach. You can see the bar in the distance.

Safety Beach. You can see the beach huts in the distance.

Safety beach in the late afternoon.

What you can't see are the flies!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Last day in Positano

My last night in Positano was interrupted by fireworks (again) at midnight as part of 'La Notte Bianca' celebrations. They were being held at La Marinello at Fornillo beach so we had a bird's eye view of them. A light in the mountain caught the corner of my eye and I lifted my head to see flames rise high above the village of MontePertuso. There were three fires burning in the same area, the orange flames licking the dark and creating a riveting scene much more interesting than the 'done to death' firework displays.
Apparently the fires had been lit in the beginning of the beautiful mountain walk called "Il sentiero dei Dei" -The Path of the Gods. This pathway is no where near the roadside so it was not accidently lit.

The morning showed flames even higher in the mountain and the helicopters were out by 7.30 swooping down to dip their buckets into the sea, then sweeping up over the house spraying droplets of water behind them.

"Drop us some fish" my son yelled.

I counted four helicopters at one stage - two were touristic and two for the fire. You can imagine the noise.

I had to leave Positano on Sunday in the early afternoon to catch my plane back to Luxembourg and the helicopters were still at it. According to my husband, they continued all day yesterday too.
We are now back in the autumal grey climate after two months of endless sunshine and blue skies. At this rate, my golden tan will soon end up on my towel.

Hold that thought.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

And I'm off for the long summer break. I've had to wait for my youngest to finish school and for my second oldest daughter to graduate with her European Baccalaureate. Now I'm organizing house and suitcases and early tomorrow morning we'll be gone. Don't try to burgle me because my eldest son will be here for a while yet!

To all of you, have a lovely summer. See you in September!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Mountain fire at Positano.

Positano is once again under the attack of mountain fires.
The first fire of the year has been lit on the road between Positano and Sorrento in the same place where it caused extensive damage and a blackened gap in the vegetation last year. The road for the moment is still open.
What this means is the sound of helicopters going up and down from the sea to the mountains holding buckets from their bellies all day long; sweeping ashes from the terrace; the smell of smoke in the air and eventually a sea full of ash and debris again. As if it didn't have enough to put up with already!

Friday, July 04, 2008

You know that it's Tourist season in Positano if ...(2)

  • You have to wait for people to have their panini (bread roll) freshly made up by the grocer before he serves you.

  • They ask for things in funny Italian. He answers in stranger English.

  • Australians are everywhere. You keep turning around to see if you know them. You try to restrain yourself from inviting them home.

  • Water pressure is less in the morning and in the evening.

  • The drains gurgle loudly from 9-10am; 5-6pm and 10-11pm.

  • They smell much worse too.

  • In the evening, you come up the bougainvillea clad walkway leading from the church, geriatric style, due to the amount of people trying to do the same thing.

  • Due to the demand from air conditioners in hotels, electricity voltage comes in flickers of lows and highs so that it seems that the bulb needs changing.

  • You finally meet up with your friends - regular seasonal 'tourists' to Positano.

  • Restaurants are full from 6pm for the English.
  • Restaurants are full from 9-12pm for the Italians.

  • You see hopeful tourists drive into town on the oneway road at the top, and then drive themselves out again at the bottom not having found a place to park.

  • They think that the price that you have to pay for private parking for one hour, is the price for the whole day.

  • They are the only ones to put sunscreen on.

  • They are the only ones to wear a one piece bathing suit.

  • They are the only ones to wear a hat.

  • They yell out : 'There's rocks and they're slippery', when they are in the water.

  • They bring sea glass home as a souvenir.

  • There is a babble of voices on the beach at midday, noisy motor boats coming and going, and what seems like an endless sequence of ferries depositing crowds of people on to the dock.

  • An unexpected rain storm means that the pinball machine area under Pupetto restaurant quickly fills up with people in bathing costumes.

  • You see them walking down at the top of the hill all along the scorching road, unsure of which stairs to take as a short cut to the beach.

  • The granita seller at a small stand at the hot Mulino bus stop, suddenly finds himself in big business.

This is for all of you who will be heading off to your holidays soon. And for all of you who thought that Positano is a good idea in summer - be warned !

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Love Thursday

Being a gardener at heart, I always look at nature for inspiration.

Dicentra commonly known as Bleeding Heart became an obvious Love Thursday opportunity when it flowered for me this week in Luxembourg.
I love plants that pick quirky places to flower . This Campanula flowers on the corner of the terrace at Positano.
It's the unexpected in nature, that makes you stop and marvel !

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

You know that it is Tourist season in Positano if..

  1. In order to have a nice view at a restaurant, they are prepared to eat their meal right on the road, risking having their elbows grazed by a passing bus.

  2. They are left stranded at Positano because the Sita buses on their way from Amalfi to Sorrento arrive too full to take on any more passengers.

  3. Tourists presume that the bus service Sita, which connects Positano with the rest of the Amalfi Coast, must contain a silent 'h'. No guesses why.

  4. They marvel at the bus driver's skills because 'Roads are carefully designed to be a little narrower than two cars side by side'. (John Steinbeck).

  5. 'Attractive little alleyways ' in hotel brochures are redescribed by tourists as having 'slopes akin to those of Kilimanjaro'.

  6. You hear tourists exclaim : "She told me that it was an easy 200 steps to the hotel. It felt like an easy 2000 ! "

  7. As you walk past restaurants, you hear the waitress saying 'Buona sera' to every single stranger that goes past, hoping to entice them in.

  8. Mobile phones are out everywhere taking impromptu videos of singing waiters.

  9. Tourists stroll absentmindedly in front of moving buses taking off from the Mulino bus stop with a granita or gelato in hand risking their lives.

  10. The bus taking off from the Mulino bus stop is always full of sweaty bodies clad in damp beach clothes.

  11. Complaints from clients about all hotels, whether 3 star or 5 star, have got at least one thing in common : Ant invasion.

  12. You hear voices over your head. You look up and see a bus load of people stopping at the Bel Vedere (view point) over your house to take photos.

  13. There are brides EVERYWHERE.

  14. Tourists hurry out of the water with jelly fish stings because they didn't understand the cry 'Medusa'.

  15. The waiters at the beach bars become distracted from their duties by blonds in bikinis.

  16. Day trippers arriving by ferry don't go up any further into town than the Mulino bus stop.
  17. The bay is full of yachts and the beach is full of sun chairs.
  18. You have to keep redirecting waylaid tourists who mistake your house for the way to the beach, back up past the sign that says 'Spiaggia, Beach ' and then points in the other direction. On their way up they help themselves to lemons off the tree.