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?