Home Alone 2 !

Once again Rosi kindly lends us her car so that I can drop Ruth off at Catania airport and on my way back to Passopomo I go shopping at a huge Auchan, mainly to buy foodstuff for Giulia´s Birthday Party the next day. Rosi´s daughter is celebrating her 17th and what a year she´s had! She goes to school in Catania, where until his recent death, she was the main carer for her paternal Grandfather. She lives with her Gran, who she also cares for and is, amongst other things, a passionate Tango dancer. Her Mum also has the bug and at the week-end, the busiest time at the Maneggio, Rosi often gets home way after 2am and is still up and mucking out/feeding over 20 horses by 7.30am – on her own – what stamina! But also, what pressure she puts her body under, particularly her lungs – the feed comes in huge round bales which she unravels with a pitch-fork, creating clouds of ´dust´ in the process: not surprisingly she continuously struggles with a bad chest. If ever a situation cried out for the riding-stable equivalent of a team of ‘woofers’ Passopomo is it…….

As my contribution to the party, I decide on a ratatouille and a fennel and orange salad (at the last minute, I also add a fish dish with a lime and parsley sauce… mmm ) It’s an extraordinary gathering of between 40 and 50 people – a swathe of teenagers, the whacky Passopomo horse-owner crowd and numerous other family and friends, who swarm around the out-door grill and ‘club-house’. Here, the ebullient Emilio and another larger than life character, Roberto, hold court,

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toasting halved bread-rolls for bruschettas, grilling endless spirals of Sicilian sausages, deliciously thin steaks and slices of peppered cheese, a complete round of which Luca, Giulia’s father, has brought from his neighbour’s farm in the hills above Cassibile. There are also trays of pasta and salads, all washed down with a strong local wine – which comes in no-nonsense 1.5 litre plastic bottles! All this is followed by 2 birthday cakes and a very touching present-opening/photo session befitting a wedding.

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I get a huge hug for the CD of the Tango Quartet who played at one of the Catania milongas all 4 of us went to, plus an invitation to be a helper at this Summer’s ‘Tango Mango’ in Totnes. She’s already had one offer to spend time at a riding-stable in Ireland and another in Germany, so we’re not sure which she’ll go for…. Mother and daughter were supposed to go to a milonga in Catania later that night but not surprisingly they fell asleep when they got home and missed it – much to Giulia’s chagrin, as there’s a tradition in Tango circles where those celebrating a birthday take to the floor for one track of music and get danced off their feet by a succession of ‘excuse-me’ partners.

On Monday we’d been invited to meet the man, at the Town Hall, in charge of waste disposal (this is the on-going ‘rubbish in the ravine’ saga). This morning he is all smiles and listens to my suggestions of putting up warning signs either end of the road leading to the bridge, from which people continue to dump tyres, ‘fresh’ horses heads – presumably from an un-registered butcher’s – and all types of household rubbish – not to mention whole cars! – I suggest signs with wording to include heavy fines, area under video surveillance etc, as a scare tactic before they’ve even put CCTV cameras in place. He nods approvingly and searches for suitable signage on the internet and even types a mock-up of a possible sign BUT, somehow it just feels like a sop…He could make it happen but equally it could just remain an idea…. yet more words with no action. I leave his office with such a deep feeling of dissatisfaction and frustration that before leaving the building, I call the Consigliere. There’s no answer, so I begin texting in my schoolboy Italian. I’m about to send it when I see him walking down the corridor towards me waving his phone flagging up my missed call. I pour out my story of frustration but his reply comes with the now familiar Sicilian shoulder shrug ‘It’s with him now, he’s the head of that department, there’s nothing I can do’ ‘But’ I counter ‘You have the ear of the vice-mayor and indeed the mayor himself. You could pressure the man behind his desk via them’ ‘Hmm, I’ll try’ he says. His ears do prick up though when he hears my suggestion of a plain-clothes police trap raising funds for the clear-up through the ensuing fines. Well, at least my spirits are somewhat lifted as I leave the building and head for the hardware shop. There I’m happy to report, I find exactly what I’m looking for i.e. the correct stoppers for the assortment of 5 and 10 litre glass bottles full of the most delicious organic olive oil we’d bought from Susan and Ciccio in Noto the week before.

My next mission is to find collars and bells for Ruth and Frank and having worked through the list of hardware and ‘everything for animals’ shops, I’m directed to Santa Venerina’s only Antique emporium. I come away with 2 rustic bells befitting our diminutive Tibetans – one from Switzerland, the other from Lourdes!

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Now, how to ‘fit’ them? Frank’s easy – tempted by food, would you believe? Ruth, on the other hand, takes a smothering rugby tackle in the confines of their own box. I improvise the collars with some spare nylon tape, just the right width not to chafe their wee necks and release them. Their sight and sound bring a large appreciative smile to Rosi’s face. That night, however, neither of us appreciate the full hour it takes to get them back into their honeymoon suite! The following day I get them used to coming to the rattle of a tub-ful of sunflower seeds, so that when it comes to locking them up for the night it proves a lot easier.

Emilio, who is very taken by my marmalade, has arranged to spend his morning off work to see how I do it and there are still a couple of trees at the Maneggio, laden with the ‘magic’ fruit. I prepare the kitchen work-surface to accommodate the 2 of us, sharpen knives, pick and clean a dozen or so oranges, make sure there are enough clean jam-jars and wait. 9 o’clock comes and goes and at 9.40 a very apologetic Emilio arrives, nursing a swollen jaw from which an awkward molar had been removed the day before. His time is limited, as he also has to see to his horse, so I talk him through my recipe and with his help and frequent visits to the dictionary, write down the main sequence of events – starting, of course, with putting at least 3 clean saucers in the fridge! I loved the look on his face as he struggles to see how that fits in the picture… Anyway, when he leaves I settle into the marmalade zone, to the sound of a mellifluous Dave Brubeck album, courtesy of my son Dan’s eclectic I-Tunes library, which I inherited when I swapped his heavy old Mac Book Pro for the lighter ‘Air’ version, prior to his India/Nepal trip a few years back. Some 4 hrs later there are another 9 shiny, Passopomo-labelled jars of the orange nectar on a cleaned worktop (It’s so nice to have something home-made and slightly unusual to offer the special people we meet on our journey)

On a totally different tack, I am very much hoping the replacement part for the chimney gets here soon (damaged some time ago by low branches, which I have since cut back) – while most days are warm, the temperature drops dramatically after sun-down and I’m really missing the cosiness of our wood-burning stove – one lit gas ring and a hot water bottle at both ends, really don’t cut it…especially when Ruth’s away teaching. But Hey Ho (my favourite Kurt Vonnegut expression) she’ll be back home again soon…….

For more photos of the Birthday celebrations, go to this flikr album

For more photos of Frank and Ruth (the goats, that is!) go to this flikr album


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