In September 2007, we went to stay in the snake house with our friends Laura and Nick. It was our first anniversary during that time so we went to visit Marco at Le Chateau de ma Mere where we introduced Laura and Nick to an Abruzzen digestive liqueur called ‘Centerba’, literally meaning one hundred herbs. This drink is bright green and of high alcoholic content (between 30-75%). It is certainly an aquired taste. You don’t generally see the Abruzzens drink it, I think they keep it for it for tourists! During that time, Will and Nick strimmed the land, which had grown into a kind of jungle. This would become the first of many gardening trips to Abruzzo for Nick who has become Will’s gardening buddy. Initially when the house was built, we were hoping to employ somebody locally to look after the land for us, but there isn’t anyone who does that kind of work. A missed business opportunity. There are a fair few holiday homes in Abruzzo with a lot of land and it would be good work for someone.
We had no heat in the house as there are no gas mains on our street, so Will decided that we would travel by car at the end of that October, with a wood burner and fit it ourselves. We were learning that unless you live in Abruzzo, it is best to try and organise things yourself because otherwise they don’t get done, or they do, but a year after you have asked for the work to be done. Once again, we asked Aldo to come along and our friend Edvina. The boys, again, did an amazing job and managed to fit the wood burner in one day. Enzo came to visit and could not believe how good the work was and how quickly they had done it. He said in Italy a job like that would have taken 3-5 days. Enzo and our neighbours often comment on how admirable the English attitude to DiY is. I didn’t realise it, but I was three weeks pregnant on that trip. I didn’t find out until I was home two weeks later. It was a nice surprise, although I was nervous after last time.
We decided to spend Christmas in the snake house so we were extremely glad that Will had fitted the log burner. By then I was three months pregnant and we were able to tell our Italian friends and neighbours our news. They, of course, were thrilled with the thought of a bimbo/bimba to fuss over.
The nine months came and went, with Will and Nick fitting in a gardening trip or two, and finally our handsome little Alfie was born in the Summer of 2008. When he was eight weeks old, we drove down to Italy for a two week holiday. Paul came with us for the first three days to fit a balcony rail. Another job that had not been finished on the house! Will had found a company online and ordered the materials so again we packed the car up and off we went. Alfie was treated like a rock star wherever we went with toys and bits of panne or gelato being given to him in cafes and restaurants and waiters bending over backwards to make him smile. Italians genuinely do love children.
Again, we spent Christmas in the Italian house. We flew to Rome rather than Pescara and there were some nuns on the flight who blessed Alfie and made a fuss of him. Not something that happens every day!
We visited a town called Guardiagrele for the first time. It was a lovely town, but it was absolutely freezing so we had to buy Alfie an all-in-one baby ski-suit to keep him warm! We were getting used to how the weather in the mountains can change dramatically, even somewhere that is only twenty minutes away can be vastly different. Where our house was, the weather was mostly between 14-18 degrees, which compared to the UK in the Winter, is positively balmy. We drove to the top of Passo Lanciano to watch the skiers and snowboarders. We stopped in the Ski Cafe for a cioccolata calda. It is proper chocolate, none of that horrid powdery stuff we have in the UK, but in some cafes it is so thick, you can stand a spoon up in it. We were given lots of panettones too. The only thing I don’t really get in Italy. I find it dry and I am not a fan of dried fruit. All the villages have pretty lights up for Christmas and the New Year celebrations and the church bells are often ringing. It was nice to experience Italy at a different time of year.
We spent an evening at one of our neighbours houses where some of the other villagers also popped in. We ended up having dinner. It was so nice to be cooked for and to eat real Italian food. We ate homemade chicken soup which was served with homemade ravioli and homemade bread, we then had lamb with some sort of incredibly tasty, cold cauliflower which had been pickled in olive oil, garlic and lemon and some mature pecorino and grapes to follow. All delicious.
Will and I are nowhere near fluent in Italian, but we have to speak Italian in Abruzzo because, apart from the rare few you come across in Pescara, nobody speaks English. This is very good in helping us to learn. We are amazed at what we do understand and that we are understood. Sometimes we make our Italian friends laugh like when Will got one of the villagers names wrong, our friend’s daughter was nearly crying with laughter, she said the name in Italian would mean ‘wee-wee’ if pronounced incorrectly!
One typically Italian sunny morning we were having an expresso on the balcony when I heard a weird noise underneath us. I leaned over the balcony rail and a grey kitten was scaling the corner of our house, almost making it to the balcony. We discovered it was Assumpta’s new cat, bought for her by her grandson, Francesco. Francesco said he called the cat ‘grigio’ (grey) and said the cat was crazy and ‘sempre, molto energia’ (always lots of energy). I can’t remember why, but we ended up calling the cat ‘Woogie’ and it stuck. Sure enough we saw Woogie every day doing something mad such as dangling from the branches of our biggest olive tree, chasing a car or chasing a dog. We also made friends with Assumpta’s little terrier, Robbie, we saw him all over the place. He just used to wander. One day we were a good three miles from the house and we saw him walking along, doing his own thing.
Another year gone, we had some new memories in Abruzzo.