Sunday, March 23, 2014

BACK FROM THE BRINK

Wow. Four months plus. A record. So an epic fail on 2013's resolution for shorter, more regular posts. Of course I've always got a million excuses, this time mainly that the end of 2013 was spent in a technological abyss: new laptop died again (twice since last May), same time as iPhone busted. Luckily, I’d just landed in London and the wonderful beings from Apple Westfield replaced both anew; crushingly, despite the wonders of Photostream, I seem to have lost most pics and videos from last year, which just makes me cry every time I think about it. All in all, a right old techie kerfuffle.

On the bright side, there's been plenty of happy moments since and the usual hectic not-very-Dolce-Vita life to catch up on. OK, so it’s a short novel rather than a blog post but I really need to log this all in. You can always skip this one and wait 'til next week, when I should (hopefully) attempt the succinct post format. Until then... flashback to November 2013.


Mum & Dad - 3 to 21 November 2013
November 2013
With olive season came the long awaited visit from Mum and Dad. Already a whole year since we’d seen them (not counting Skype) and we were ecstatic to finally welcome them back, this time in rather more civilised conditions. Last time the house was barely liveable, if you’re not too fussed about doors or hot water. They were of course absolute gold in dealing with basic conditions so it was wonderful to show them what we’d done over the past year and to host them in our new and improved (and mostly finished) abode.
October 2012
Their first visit (October 2012) they stayed for three great weeks, following a brilliant weekend all together in Rome. During their stay, they mostly picked olives. From dust ‘til dawn, they picked and they sorted, relentlessly. I knew I was OCD but seeing them both work together, it became apparent where the gene came from: Dad thrives on productivity, up the ladder despite gale force winds blowing, thumb stuck in his belly to hold his then untreated hernia (wt* Dad?), skipping lunch so he can pick some more;  you then have Mum - quality control - picking olives one by one and removing every single leaf from the cases. A great team. Except turns out I’ve inherited both traits, making me Queen OCD. No wonder the hair went grey early.

Rome, October 2012

Been trying to get Dad (and Mum) to slow down, not because they can’t but because they no longer need to be so ‘productive’ all the time, that it’s time for them to start enjoying life on holiday rather than work work work. But it’s in the genes. And after Mum’s concerns at accessing the ‘7th floor’ of life last year, it was Dad’s turn to freak us out when he got hit by the Zostrum virus just before landing in Puglia, spending a week in a Rotterdam hotel, floored to his bed by alarming headaches. It scared the bejesus out of us all and I’m just relieved he managed to get some rest with us and has now fully recovered. The problem with doctors is that they seem to think they are immune to illness... so it’s been a tough reality check for Dr D; just hope he starts looking after himself a bit more. And after Mum of course. They are the most awesome couple I know, a brilliant team, as in love as the first day they met over 50 years ago. So we just want them to properly start living the good years, enjoying more dates together, not just when traveling abroad.

I mentioned before my concern for what Lily and Hooper might be missing down here on the education and social fronts, however family is obviously in an all different category. The toughest part of living abroad is always to be so far from family & friends, loosing out on the benefits of having them in your everyday life. I was very lucky to spend lots of time with my amazing grand-parents and cousins throughout my childhood and it pains me to see the kids missing out on this. Thankfully, despite the distance and extended periods between visits, there is an amazing bond between them that no distance can alter. 


Latin ‘Planning’
Exciting plans to build a small guest house on the land - one of Dad’s retirement projects - were scuppered in autumn by an unexpected change in planning regulations. Basically, you can no longer build in many zones (including our land) unless you have an existing structure to renovate. Which came as an absolute shock to us all as we were ready to roll, plans in hand. 

But we’re already well versed in finding creative (shifty) solutions to all this planning nonsense so we will surely find a way. Dad bought a small piece of neighbouring land with some 10 olive trees on it to add to building allowance (you need 100m2 to build 1m2) and it just so happens that bit's OK to build on. Not the 'in-your-face' sea view we have from the house but hopefully we can offer them a cosy little haven amongst the olive trees and neighbouring vineyard, where they will happily reside as long as and as often as they like.


Olive Season - November 2013
Olive trees trimmed
With Dad unwell and Mum on a dodgy foot, it helped that there were practically no olives this year: they couldn’t really overdo it, even if they had been up for it. Locals blamed lack of rain for this year’s poor crop, however it seems some virus has also developed in Salento, damaging many trees further North, Gallipoli way, with the only solution being to burn down infected trees. It seems the excessive use of poison is the culprit, a popular local practice to avoid the high cost of strimming the grounds.

Hopefully we’ll avoid the tree-killing bug but in the meantime, this year’s production was rather farcical: three cases of olives, painstakingly picked over two days, providing a whopping... five litres of extra virgin olive oil. Yes five (5) whole litres. Compared to 50 litres last year. Thankfully we haven’t used all of last year’s reserve so we’re still good for a while. Seeing we’ve now trimmed all our trees (long overdue), it’s likely to be another poor production in 2014. Fortunately good olive oil is not too hard to find around here... Hello neighbours!


London Calling - 30 Nov to 3rd Dec 2013

Although 2013 was a little less hectic than our first year here, and despite so many great perks of living in sunny Salento, the usual concerns got the better of me as I became a little panicked with our ‘life dream’. Jez insisted I go on a solo trip to London and see all our friends but also remind myself why we moved in the first place... so basically, go have a rubbish time in London?! Jez has a slight fear of being forgotten despite his regular UK visits, whereas I left Montreal over 15 years ago and now know at my wise young age that with real friends, no matter how long it’s been, you’ll pick up like it was yesterday. You do need to make time to keep up, catch up, send Xmas cards - all of them I fail at miserably. But somehow, the important ones are still there.

However, I did need a break from paradise so stupidly booked a very long ten days, with promise that it was the opportunity to visit my besties out in the countryside, an impossible feat in our previous UK trips. But it all went a bit Pete Tong. Life in London is so hectic, plans change and if you don’t have your own pad, and if you’re the only one on holiday, you feel in the way and ever so guilty for being there on your own. And a busted phone and no wifi (how ironic... in London!) doesn’t help on logistics.

Think my darling husband somehow had this vision (in JezLand) that I’d be out on the town with our old lot, just like it was pre-kids. Bless him, sent me off with a beautiful letter which had me bawling on the flight (see freak show), with some dinaro for me to go spoil myself - a gem of a man. But although he gets to play the 'bachelor' life out with the lads when he’s in town, my reality is rather different, with most of my mates either expecting, nursing, or managing kids and work and everything else.

Old Portobello Gang and Breakfast at the Catons (sorry, poor quality pics)
Gorgeous Cinnamon - overdue by a week on baby no 2 - was my godsend. Spending most of my week with the easygoing Catons and awesome little Chilly in their new house was way more fun than trying hard to pretend I’m 30 again.

Louisa, Juliet & Champagne Jane
And then all my other pitstops were wonderful as well - in Wales to see Juliet, to Oxford for a brilliant weekend with the Toshes;  an absolute joy to catch up with Carlito after so long, with Oli, Rob, Raf, Steve and the kids, hectic Heath, Garbs and her brood, the Cake lot, as well as dear friends Nicole, Lady Becks and Ben, Carolyn and of course Champagne Jane and her beautiful clan.

The wonderful Tosh family
So despite my telecomm nightmare, despite the daily guilt trip for leaving solo for ten blinkin’ days (never again), I was extremely grateful for Jez sending me off. For the great times with all our friends, which was desperately needed, but also for the chance to miss the kids, to come back a better, more patient Mum (which lasted about 7 minutes), and finally for realising that wherever you are, central London or Salento, we’re all in the same boat, hardly ever seeing anyone else once the family routine takes over. And that, somehow, gives me peace. I’m not alone. It also stressed the importance of going back to civilisation regularly, despite my constant concerns about ‘budget’.

The boys (I include Lily since she’s still decided on ‘being a boy’) fared extremely well in my absence, bar the missed guitar lessons and dodgy homework. Which was both reassuring and a little alarming. An absolute joy to be home.


Christmas & NYE 2013

The reason I had vetoed the family Xmas trip to London was for the kids to enjoy the festive activities here in Leuca, which they’d missed the previous year. And the school Christmas play made it all worth it: Hooper belted out Jingle Bells and all his lines like there was no tomorrow and was hailed as the star of the show, spontaneous rupture of applauses. I could not have been happier and more proud of them both, except would’ve loved Jez to be there.

A few events took up my time pre-Xmas as the socio-cultural association ‘Amici di Leuca’ was resurrected, following months of inactivity (see small town squabbling). We held the traditional ‘Focara’ (Christmas Bond Fire) and also the Santa visit, which was pretty cool as he arrived by sea - very Salento.






A Nuclear Family Christmas



Opting to stay at home made for a very relaxing Christmas, if a little quiet without the extended family. We were still very spoilt - grandparents and aunties were as usual spot on for gifts, in particular a multitude of superhero attires for Hooper and the amazing rock star shirt Auntie Karen made for Lily - we’re still struggling to remove it from her for laundry. 

Lots of indoor and outdoor activity, food aplenty, and lovely family time to recharge before hitting 2014.


New Year’s

So another year, another NYE spent at home, with everyone asleep before midnight. Pathetic. So my first resolution for 2014 when I woke up was to have a party next NYE. Gone are the days (thankfully!) where we used to trail around London clubs all night/day but surely we’re not that ancient that we can’t ring in the new year, young kids or not. Honestly. This stops here.

We did however start the year in style with our dear friends Toni and Patrizia - New Year's lunch at ours, second year going, a tradition we love and hope to keep for a long time. Though aftermaths of a NYE party might make next year's lunch slightly more challenging.



2014


So here we are, well into the new year as we shape things up for a more ‘official’ season at Puglia Glamping. We’ve finally been given planning permission for the outdoor kitchen, the famous ‘variante’ which we applied for 18 months ago. They’ve refused a few things: decking, photovoltaic panels on car port - which we can re-apply for, to be placed on the rooftop terrace (so just another year's wait and a couple of grand for that pleasure) - but hey ho, that’s not really stopped us so far. Becoming masters at the game of 'planning interpretation'.

Planting trees, building stone walls, sheds and compost loos, and overall site improvements are well underway. Very encouraging, despite the always-too-slow pace and a few weeks of rain.


John's Next Chapter

 Rather less joyful has been Jez’ dad's start to the year: poor John had a stroke mid-January and has been in hospital ever since. It’s not his first medical crisis - John had a very near brush with death on the eve of our wedding day nearly 10 years ago, as he suffered a severe aneurism, cardiac attack, cardiac arrest, you name it, he went through it and miraculously survived; an ‘adventure’ I’ve yet to write the book about, though John has already published his own version in 'An Itinerant Engineer'. 

And hardly a year ago he celebrated his 80th birthday again in hospital after a bad fall on ice. He is of course tough as nails and with his amazing nurse Joyce and family by his side, we know he'll be back on his feet again soon. Again the distance makes it impossible to be there with him but Jez has been delivering video-messages from one side to the other as he’s been back and forth for the past two months, in between mad travelling for Havas. It was wonderful to see them all on Skype a few weeks ago, including Joanne who'd flown over from Canada to help set up rehabilitation plans; John looked great, out in the spring sunshine and he cracked us up with his 'facial exercises'. We're equally concerned with Joyce getting enough rest and food in her. Every day the family is in our thoughts, as we send all our positive energy for a speedy recovery. Looking forward to the next UK visit so the kids can give them all a great big cuddle.


Puppy Love

And here was me worried that the little ones would get too attached to Snowy’s puppies. Turns out I was the weakest link after two months of looking after them. We'd agreed to keep one but then all four of us wanted a different puppy so we ended up keeping two: Smudge and Baz (short for Bastardo). Leaving the other two at the Vet for giveaway was extremely painful. Snowy has now been sterilised to avoid any further accidents and we’re building a little place for them OUTSIDE!

So Dad will only be slightly relieved there’s now at least two less pets to deal with. A massive hit with all our visitors but no so much with Dr D who’s not a great fan, his relation to dogs being mostly based on his medical studies (figure it out). But he’s made a great effort to be friendly to Roger and other four-legged housemates... at least when were looking.


Rocking Matera - 1st and 2nd Feb 2014

Being back to 100% work for Havas this year, and with John in hospital, Jez has been travelling pretty non stop since January. So when we get the chance, we try to get away for some much needed family time and to discover cool places in our adoptive country.

First up was the amazing Sassi of Matera, the UNESCO World Heritage site in Basilicata, Matera being one of the six shortlisted candidate cities for the European Capital of Culture 2019. An absolutely fascinating place and lovely weekend away, despite the torrential rain.

Best discovery was Il Sextantio - Le Grotte della Civita hotel, where lovely Roberta invited us for coffee and breakfast in their stunning cave (former chapel) refectory. Top marks for hospitality. And a treat indeed it would be to stay there (though well up there in the Mr & Mrs Smith budget category). We would most definitely recommend it to all visiting parties.


Skiing in Roccaraso (Abruzzo) - 21 to 24 Feb 2014


12 years since I'd been on the slopes and I was relieved to see it was just like getting back on a bike - even thought I wasn't too bad at all. For years I'd felt a bit sad thinking my children would never really learn the winter sports I did in my youth; but six hours of lessons and they were zooming down the hills - Kamikaze Lily and Hooper La Bomba Jowett. What a fun family weekend. Jez and I even got some rare 'free time' and enjoyed skiing together, albeit at rather steep babysitting charges (Freeski, excellent ski school). Staying at the Hotel Sporting was also a good choice - not so much for the accommodation but kids daily entertainment with Elena & Pakino was just brilliant. Definitely one to be repeated annually.


Carnevale & Pentolaccia - 1st & 9th March 2014


 Another year, another carnival. Again spent a lot of time organising these events and despite the challenges, it was a success.

Jez was a huge hit with his Worzel Gummidge outfit (which locals of course mistook for a scarecrow) and would've won first prize if he hadn't escaped before the best costume competition. He did however win gold medal for effort and for managing a full few hours of dancing and waffling on in his boozily improved Italian (which somehow brought memories of the good old dress up days at The Cross). Well done husband and kids, very proud of you all.


In addition to the Corsano parade, kids enjoyed a Carnival treat baking workshop at the yummy pastry shop Arôme de Cacao, organised by Vivere di Gusto. A very sweet morning indeed.



And finally, last community event for a while, the traditional Pentolaccia (piñata-style game). Which I still find a little confusing as they tend to hold this 'sweet-and-candy-based' event in the first week of Lent. So much for consistency...





So there you go. Finally up to date. Now that wasn't so bad, was it?   You can wake up now...

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