Home BasePosted: January 14, 2012
It’s fresh and a cool, invigorating 0 – 6 degrees. The earth is covered – be it asphalt, concrete, tiles or grass – it’s covered. The Supermarkets are enormous with an incredible array of food choices, meats, cheeses, fresh food – hygiene is an art form, plastic gloves, white coats and hats, cleaning products!! Remnants of traditional Christmas lights still illuminate the plaza at Como and Santas’ are still coming down chimneys backwards! The amplified droll of the Islamic Call to Prayer is replaced by the pensive peeling of the hourly bells – the Catholic Call to Prayer.
It’s Italy – and we’re back!
Two full days and two full nights later we arrive on Italian soil from Morocco and, as described above, life could not be more different. We immediately head north to the Italian Lake district and base ourselves, in Cubby, on the lake out the front of the Yacht Club and Aeronautical Club of Como. Surprisingly we did not see George Clooney but satisfied ourselves with walks around the scenic city and lake and just took in all the wonderful facilities. We are eager though to head “home” to our Italian base for the next 3 months – Antonios home town – Maniago.
It’s an easy drive, across the Po Valley. The valley of the River Po is long, (about 650 kms), wide and flat. A huge expanse in the northern middle part of Italy, it stretches from one side of Italy to the other and is bordered by Alps and Apennines. An ancient geographical phenomenon, I read, caused by the tediously slow and gradual “filling in” of ancient canyons. Incredibly fertile soil results and this valley is known as the bread bowl of Italy.
We can tell we are getting closer to Maniago. There in the distance, across the flat, we think we can see crisp white clouds, or is that a snow covered mountain?
We are an instant fit back into the little community of relatives we said goodbye to a year ago, and that Antonio left behind 59 years ago. Literally, a draw of straws determined his future would be in Australia. 3 families, 17 people, lived together and worked the “sharefarm” for the Count of Maniago. There was not enough work or food to feed them all and someone had to immigrate. Straws were drawn and Antonios father, mother and two sisters embarked on a 4 week journey by ship to a new life, in a new country, Australia. Antonio had his 9th birthday on that ship. (There is more on this and Maniago in the Italy section of the Blog!)
Being with family again, in Maniago, is wonderful. Maniago, approx 11,000 population, is a prosperous Italian provincial centre. A heritage as the “Colteleria” centre of Italy, its economic base has been created from the artisan industry of knife making. It’s a clean easy town to get about in with a high standard of quality shops, restaurants and bars, a cinema, a library, an excellent laundrymat; everything we could ask for.
The “bars” and restaurants are run by the families who own them. Husbands and wives, sons and mother in laws, sometimes second wives! The owner of one of Antonios favourite restaurants that sells Baccala (Cod) every Friday, was born in his restaurant. Sometimes he thinks about leaving and recently had a young chef ask to look around with a view to buying the restaurant. Half way through the tour he began to cry and sorrowfully told the young chef, sorry – it’s not on the market!
A walk around the streets is to encounter many wonderful aromas. Coffee, freshly baked pastries or the tantalising aroma of something superbly cooked and ready to eat; rabbit, duck, chicken, ribs – from the Rotisserie.
Add to the mix Antonios food and Noreenas!!! Noreena is surrogate mother, sister and best friend. We live in Cubby at her place and its warm and wonderful. Most often Noreena does the cooking and the kitchen is her favourite domain. Lasagna filled with cheese and greens from the local field, risotto with mushrooms from the mountains, a specialty tripe (not for me!) and eggplant parmigiana.
Fortunately there is an ideal morning walk to burn off the accumulating calories and often (or for Antonio, every day) we are a little gang, including Flavio my English/Italian co-student/teacher! The mornings and days are crisp and clear, later sunny. Our 90 minute routine takes us up the hill, past the old castle, up through the woods of the foothills, and down again to meet the plaza and pick from about 20 places for coffee.
Maniago is brilliantly situated. Taking advantage and sitting on the very last of the flat and fertile Po, literally on the foot hills of the pre alps of the Dolomites. 80 kms from Venice, 1/2 hour to a ski field, and only a 2 hour drive to Adriatic coast line and Slovenia. A little further to Croatia!
Mmmmm, Slovenia and Croatia ……………………
The Api – a favourite commuter for the industrious Italians. Named Api (bee) due to the noise they make, they usually sit only one person, two can be cramped in, and can carry all sorts of loads – I like to think of them as Italys version of the Moroccan donkey.