Sunday, 20 November 2011

"But when the slates came off extravagant Sky entered and held surprise wide open". (from "Glenmore Revisited" Seamus Heaney)

Days after celebrating 150 years of the unification of their country, the Italians are again flying their flags for the final fall (they hope) of Berlusconi; perhaps like Garibaldi, they'll name a biscuit after him too - fruitier, but less tasty.

We have finally got wi-fi installed in the apartment and here are some photos showing the progress on our house. No front wall and no roof! Although a new interior wall has been built to the first floor and, importantly, within it an original wooden beam has been carefully replaced; it does not look out of place, it's a little lopsided.

One evening last week we were invited to Paolo's house for a celebratory tasting of this year's newly pressed olive oil. Fifteen or so guests seated around a linen covered banqueting table with a wood fire blazing, "help" in the kitchen, and all the courses,starting with polenta and porcini, basked in olive oil. This virgin olive oil is unlike anything Peter and I have ever tasted before. In the bottle it is pale green and cloudy, like grape flesh. Its taste is not at all oily, subtle and slightly bitter. It is treated at table with the reverence afforded a vintage wine.

After the the meal Paolo gave us a proud tour of his house. He not only built it himself, he also precisely chose everything in it from floor tiles to doors to furniture to bath taps, each detail savouring the "rustic" flavour of the original building and of the traditions of the region. He repeats: Of course you can choose anything you like for your house", but this is just rhetoric, we know that, in his view, nothing will be right unless it replicates his vision of the "rustic". His house is a sound premise for his point.

The next day we went back to our man with the red rimmed spectacles, Ricardo (no really, you can't make up alliteration like that). We have to pay the bill for the wi-fi installation. We are invited again to sample "The best coffee in all of Italy" which today comes with a lecture on the production and appreciation of olive oil. Whilst Paolo may be his good friend, Ricardo is not shy of hinting at criticism of his olive oil making methods, nor of its resulting quality, not to mention the consistency of its shelf life. We quickly realise that there is a chauvinism amongst olive oil producers second only to that of "viticoltori" of DOC labelled wines.

As one guest at Paolo's table said: The three most important things to Italians are family, food and fashion (the fourth is women), not always in that order. Flying the flag, it seems, lags way behind in the order of priorities.

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