Wednesday, 21 December 2011

“The snow above was too hard and cold to fall; if you could shake heaven tonight, it would rattle like a cradle toy.” (“Fludd” - Hilary Mantel)

The French have been telling tales out of school about the British in the last week.  It surprised me that this traditional anglo-french badinage did not include the well known fact that all the anglos ever talk about is the weather.  Surprising, because this has been much on my mind recently.  Live in Le Marche for a while and you will realise that the Brits do not have a monopoly over the weather.  I cannot recall any conversation with any Italian, or overheard any conversation, where the weather has not been mentioned.  From every stall holder in the market, to every barista , hairdresser, shopkeeper, farmer, dog walker, restaurant-goer, builder, candlestick-maker, the weather is a “topic”.  Whether it rains or shines, is windy or calm, is warm or cold, is threatening to snow or not, it is all of particular and peculiar interest; peculiar because nothing quite like this, all of it, has been known for twenty years or more.  Has the weather in Italy been hibernating for the last two decades?
Now here’s the rub... when Italians talk about the weather it is sensational, definitely “different” and definitely worthy of elaborate and “interesting” discussion.  Whereas the weather in Great Britain is boring, mundane, monotonous, un-noteworthy, quite unremarkable really.  Therefore any conversation about the weather in Great Britain is equally boring and all those other derogatory things.  Dare I offer some advice to my fellow countrymen - hold your head up high, talk about the weather with gusto, be proud of it, be amazed by it, rejoice in its Britishness.  Learn from the Italians - it’s not what you say;  it’s the way that you say it! 
This evening we went to have a pizza at an eatery called “Piccolo Ranch” in a little town further up the valley from our “ruin”.  The restaurant, though large, is unimposing.  The welcome is warm - the padrone dressed formally in black; the waitresses brisk; the tables covered in paper.  The atmosphere might have been something of  a roadside cafe trying harder, if it weren’t for the walls.  They were covered in trompe d’oeil murals of idyllic pastoral scenes viewed through painted portals of intricately carved stone.  The perspective a bit awry, the colours unconvincing, altogether a bit kitsch, but with a squint offered a promise of the palatial.
The pizzas, however, were perfect.  Promptly served, more than a generous size, with a thin and crispy base you could almost see through, and charred at the edges.  That kind of charring effect for which pyrotechnic children spend whole afternoons with a box of matches ageing paper from A4 blocks, attempting to emulate the effect of a pirate treasure map and succeeding in creating something close to convincing out of the tablecloth or the rug.
The customer turnover is faster here than I’ve seen for a while.  In the foyer on our way out the elderly padrone, now in shirtsleeves, with a large bright scarf draped flamboyantly over his shoulders exclaimed, “Oh, you are English!” (in English!) as if we’d just landed from Mars.  He had clearly been enjoying some of his own excellent house wine and he called all his friends (anyone else he could find in the foyer) to witness his “find”.  We stood, surrounded by the murals, graciously smiling at each other, each with our own perspective.
When we got outside, how do I put this... it had started to snow.  BUON NATALE A TUTTI !

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