We are enjoying a few months at Carmela’s house in the Campania region of Southern Italy. Situated in the foothills of the Apennines that run down the spine of Italy, it’s well positioned for exploring so much of what’s great about Italy. Rome, Naples, Pompeii, the Amalfi coast are all no more than a couple of hours drive and even Capri is within a morning’s drive and sail.
However on this visit, it was the lesser known areas that caught the eye. We had a splendid evening in Castello, a small mountain village that puts on a series of ‘Festas’ at this time of year.
But it was in the small Roman walled town of Alife, pronounced ‘A-leaf-a’, that caused my biggest surprise. Usually I have my camera ready for the unexpected, but what happened next as I wandered the tightly packed streets of the Tuesday morning market, was a moment of pure Felliniesque magic, that could have graced the great director’s ‘La Strada’.
I found myself strolling a few strides behind a woman who was perhaps thirty, slender and tall by local standards, wearing a flowing calf length white dress. Just behind her was a young lad, no older than 5 or 6, that I took to be her son. All of a sudden in one magically naughty moment, the son lifted the tail of his mother’s dress above her waist as if a bridal gown, for all to see she was wearing no underwear! And the lad collected a sharp slap on his cheek, for choreographing the entertainment.
Why can’t Suffolk markets be so titillating!
by Roland Blunk
Annabel last week kindly showed the ‘Chelsea Art’s Club’, my ‘home’ in London, the memoir of Auguste Rodin, which was written by her great uncle, Anthony Ludovici, who was for some years the great man’s private secretary. I enjoyed this passage:
“Rodin was 66 years of age when I joined him, and yet his enthusiasm at the sight of beauty in any form was still as fresh and vigorous as that of a youth at his first initiation. Indeed, I was frequently bewildered by the intensity of his outbursts whenever he was confronted with anything that stirred his artist’s soul; and these exhibitions of childlike rapture continued to baffle me, until I realised that it was precisely this capacity to feel as acutely as he did, and to respond freshly and powerfully, in spite of advancing years, to the beauty and harmony of life and arts, which constitutes the truly artistic temperament.”
by Roland Blunk, photo by Anon
Three years ago we were spending a few languid weeks away from Suffolk, in Carmela’s home in Southern Italy. Situated 30 miles due north of Naples in the foot hills of the Matese Mountains, it’s a region that’s poor by our decadent standards, but far richer in the simpler things of life. I suppose the climate makes the obvious difference, with an extended ‘al fresco’ season stretching from April through to October, compared to our nine months of winter, followed by three months of bad weather. Although the locals are very house proud, nobody seems to bother with aspirational status hogging cars. Being a nation of crazy drivers sees to that. A few days ago whilst walking along a street full of parked cars in Naples, I realised that not one of the fifty or so we had just passed, was undamaged.
Just three weeks ago, Carmela and I were cruising at 95 in the mid-lane of the Rome-Naples auto strada, when a white Mercedes overtook us from the ‘slow lane’, swung across us and other vehicles, before heading off into the distance in the fast lane. All at around 150mph!
There’s an Italian apocryphal story that reaffirms that this style of driving is entirely safe: An Englishman accepts a lift from Luigi and is surprised by the Italian jumping the red lights in the busy town centre. A few hundred metres down the road the Italian again drives straight through red lights at speed. Our English passenger by this time has become a little uncomfortable. However, further down the road the Italian screeches to a halt. The astonished Englishman enquires why, with the lights set to green, he has stopped. “It is just in case my brother, Marcello, is driving the other way across town”.
by Roland Blunk, photo by Anon
…and get to dress as a medieval milk maid as well! As Carmela and I are planning to escape Suffolk Hotel life and pass through Bruges this summer, I decided to check out a restaurant that had been recommended to me a while ago. After scouring their recent TripAdvisor reviews, I stumbled on a sublime example of how to write a great review:
“…A quick trawl of the internet revealed a list of top restaurants in Bruges and phone calls were made. The first two declined our custom, I obviously didn’t sound “quite the thing” we checked later on and they had free tables so how did they know that I like to walk out on an evening dressed as a medieval milk maid, replete with black teeth and eye patch?
Anyway Malesherbes had a table, was conveniently around the corner and they had a table, plus chairs, negating the need for my milking stool, so we set out arm in arm, my wife in search of food, I in search of marital reconciliation and the possibility of a cow to milk.
The restaurant was full, and several were turned away during our meal. Our starters of home made leek quiche were superb, particularly the pastry, and negated the need to negotiate soup which has all gone wrong on previous occasions as both my wife and I struggle with spoons.
Duck, sausage and beans to follow for me, which promised a repeat factor of five in the following hours but hardly raised the duvet during the night. My wife opted for the beef which was a concern as red meat often makes her aggressive, however this was so beautifully cooked that we left the restaurant in raptures.
The food is fantastic, the wine wonderful and the service sublime.
Mission accomplished, we departed arm in arm with the day’s misdemeanours a distant memory, no cows required milking, so we visited the restaurants that had declined our custom and belched post prandial contentedness at their empty tables”.
by Roland Blunk and Anon, photo by Anon
We’ve just returned from staying with my good friends Helena and Raymond Turvey in Cornwall. I’ve known the two of them since our Art School teenage years in London and a few days away from Suffolk, as much as we love it, was a refreshing break.
After visiting the ‘Eden Project’ and checking out the local terrain, we were introduced to the St Ives ‘Tate Modern’, with the most impressive work being this extraordinary conceptual piece by Slovakian artist Roman Ondak. The participatory/performance piece ‘Measuring the Universe 2007′ (above) grows over the course of the exhibition, emerging from an empty white gallery space. Each visitor is asked to stand against the wall, their height is measured, marked, named and dated using a black pen. These marks then build to form a dense black band running entirely around the walls with every visitor leaving a physical trace on the show.
Stunning in it’s simplicity and a great finale to the few days away from Beccles, completed with my first Tate exhibition!
by Roland Blunk (iPhone pic)
The Austrian Alpine menu is invariably very traditional, with a selection of heavy dishes that, although quite tasty and certainly filling, do not ooze subtlety. Oodles of calories are maybe just the ticket if you are about to assault the Hahnenkamm, but perhaps not for our delicate palettes. However, just when I was on the verge of giving up the thought of exporting a little bit of Austria back to Suffolk, I discovered their cheese dumpling soup. The Austrians don’t believe in using three words where just one will do, and so ‘Kaspressknodelsuppe’ has made it onto our home menu.
Shakespeare likened food with music as well as love, so lets just say that whilst music has an infinite capacity to be fresh and innovative, although little is, food is far more about embracing influences and reinventing classical or traditional dishes.
by Roland Blunk
I had a surreal and truly magical experience today, whilst being uplifted to the piste in a cable gondola at Bad Gastein, Austria. Usually these brief journeys are a chance to reflect on the climate, snow conditions, plan the next descent and all importantly, where to have lunch.
But on this occasion no sooner had my Godson lloyd, his father Richard and I settled, when a young man dressed in a black dj, jumped in, sat down and introduced himself. “I am a magician can, I show you what I can do?” He then proceeded to entertain us throughout our fifteen minute journey with his astounding rope and card tricks. As soon as we arrived at the piste, the young man true to his profession, disappeared as unexpectedly as he arrived. Jokingly Richard concluded: “He was good, but not that good. I’ve got his wallet!”
by Roland Blunk (iPhone pic)
This has been my 59th ski trip to date, some of which have been pure holiday, most of which I’ve worked as a ski guide, occasionally attended training courses and other times coached. But on this occasion I was just a punter, free to pull up and lunch wherever and whenever I liked, without worrying about the dozen skiers on my tail. Just Carmela.
Zermatt is very much my preferred destination and this trip did not disappoint. Although I know the pistes really well here, I never tire of them. The scenery is magnificently varied, with the Matterhorn dominating the entire valley (the foothills and the Matterhorn are just visible in my iPhone snap). It’s the archetypal ‘boys own’ mountain, awesomely chilling in it’s presence, although I suspect the top section has been added on with paper mâché and chicken wire, just to acquire that finely chiselled, iconic peak. Anyway, it didn’t prevent ‘Caran d’Dache’ and ‘Toblerone’ making excellent use of it!
The restaurants, generally regarded as the finest mountain eateries in the world, are the other great attraction. A couple of hours ago we pulled up at the restaurant in Zum Zee, a chocolate box mountain hamlet (pictured above), perched just above Zermatt. So popular that the only lunch option was ‘al fresco’ in -10c! Perhaps surprising for those unfamiliar with Alpine ‘dry’ air, the outside tables were almost as busy as those inside, as we grabbed the rugs provided, wrapped up and anticipated our meal.
by Roland Blunk (iPhone pic)
It’s Wednesday early evening and I’ve just planted a couple of lemon trees in the hard baked ground outside Carmela’s house in Southern Italy. Using a pick axe and spade, I feel I now know what it’s like to be a fugitive from a chain gang!
My hands are blistered …and my back aches, and so we decided to ease the pain by dining at Valentina’s, in the nearby mountain village of San Gregoria. We call first to check she’s open, she’s not but insists we come and she’ll open up anyway. This makes us feel pretty bad either way: ungrateful if we decline or inconsiderate if we go. We decide to be inconsiderate and arrive just as the sun dips down. Our hostess is a typically rotund Italian mama, in her late sixties who cooks from the heart and speaks far too fast to give me a chance. Her menu is always simple, just a couple of dishes per course, always verbal with never a sordid mention of the price. The wine is charged by how much of the bottle we drink.
The first time we ate here we were a bit apprehensive. Were we about to be ‘tucked up’ for my ‘give away’ English accent? But not so, the bill has always been more than reasonable and on this occasion 18 euros was excellent value for my pasta, Carmela’s steak, a shared ‘Mille foglia’ dessert, a bottle of mineral water and half bottle of an excellent local red wine. By this time memories of the ‘chain gang’ had long receded.
If only life back in Suffolk, could be as ‘laid back’ as this.
by Roland Blunk, engraving by Anon (I was away that day)