Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dog walking in the fog and rain

Even though it's rainy and drippy and we'd rather be curled up with a nice cup of tea, the dogs still need to go for a walk.  And once we get our coats and hats on and head out the door we find it's really quite pleasant to tramp about the neighbourhood.  Of course I bring my camera and this is what we've seen over the past few rainy, foggy days.

Trees in the mist...

Dripping snowberries

                                                                                 Puddles reflecting the sky...

Water running down the arbutus trunks

Lovely leaf mosaics

Woodland beauty is everywhere, even in the suburbs!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Missing Kevin

Thirty seven years ago tonight my son Kevin was born.  A healthy baby boy who graced my life for nine years.  This was one of the last photographs taken of him before he was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 1984.  He was with us for nine months after that and then left this world.

I miss him every day, although I have tried not to get stuck in the trough of grief.  Since then I've married again and had another wonderful son come into my life.  But on his birthday every year I think of him and wonder what life would have brought him if he hadn't left so soon.  He was a sweet and gentle boy and I send him my love on his birthday.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

From olives to oil

I've been protesting an oil pipeline for the past couple of days, but today I want to think about a more delicious kind of oil--the kind that comes from olive trees.  Just before we left Italy last week, we got to see the process of pressing oil from olives in Travazzo, a little town near Valle San Giovanne, where we had been staying.

Our friend Vincenza from Valle and her husband have this little facility that processes olives from the nearby villages.  It all happens under one roof and includes huge stone grinding wheels, presses, and centrifuges, plus some hand finishing.

The olives come in boxes like this one, trucked in from small groves.  They go into the big hopper and are ground up by these giant stone wheels.

Here's a closer view of the giant wheels.  They're about five feet across.
The resulting oily mush is then pressed between big filters that are large mats made of white poly rope.  The photo on the left shows the press.  And the one on the right shows the residue left behind after the oil and water are pressed out.  It's dry and crumbly and is used for compost I would think.

The oil and water are then put through a centrifuge which separates the water and the bitter tasting stuff from the oil.

This is the spout that the oil comes through with the filter at the bottom.  When we went there the centrifuge wasn't running, that's why you see only a trickle.  

And here's the first press of the olive oil. That green colour means it's extra extra virgin, and absolutely delicious and fruity.  And I can attest to that.  

The filters are made at the plant with a special machine that looks like this. These are the finished filters.  

Each one is hand finished by this smiling young woman. 

This whole process takes place in one relatively small building.  It's the old-fashioned way to produce oil.  The building also houses a a modern machine that does it all.  It looked like a great big metal box about the size of a large motor home. Vincenza says that both methods produce good oil.  But it was more fun to see the step-by-step process.

I wish we could have brought some of this oil home with us but we didn't dare put jars of it in our suitcase.  And last year when we tried to bring some in our carry-on it was confiscated at the Florence airport.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Protesting the pipeline

We've only been back a couple of days--not even enough time to get over our jet lag--but yesterday morning we attended a protest rally at the provincial Legislature buildings.

We joined about 3,500 others standing in the wind and rain squalls to send a strong message to the Canadian government that a pipeline through our province and  oil tankers full of dirty oil on our coast are not acceptable.

I was happy to see people of all ages and walks of life standing together to make a strong statement about this.  The Canadian government is trying to ram this project through over the protests of all the Native Tribal Groups and all the municipalities in our province, ignoring the wishes of 80 per cent of the people in British Columbia.  And they have to be stopped. 

This protest was organized by a group called Defend Our Coast and they've done a really good job of getting people together to make their views known.

After speeches by Native leaders, politicians, environmental groups, and union leaders, a line of people walked across the front of the Legislature carrying a long black banner.  The banner was the length of the proposed super tankers that would be plying our coastal waters if this insanity proceeds.  The length of it was 235 meters long or 770 feet. That's nearly 1/5 of a mile!  It was a graphic demonstration of just how large these tankers would be.  

Can you imagine what happens to a tanker that size in a storm?  Can you imagine what would happen to our coast if one breaks up?  And the provincial government as well as the Canadian government are setting aside environmental regulations and making secret deals with China to push this through.

I think this banner says it very clearly! We've seen enough examples of what happens when oil spills have taken place along the coast in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. Here's hoping we can get this insanity stopped and start moving Canada away from our addiction to fossil fuels.   

Friday, October 19, 2012

Homeward bound

Just now we cleared the security at the departure gate at Schiphol airport after a sleepless night due to our hotel's noisy location beside an Amsterdam "coffee shop." I put that word in quotation marks because in this city a coffee shop refers to a place where one can use cannabis. We passed a number of them over the last two days journeying around Amsterdam, but we didn't go inside. Apparently they do a brisk business into the small hours of the morning.

Amsterdam is a fascinating and beautiful city and very easy to explore by foot and transit. Yesterday we cruised on the canals under trees of changing colours and then saw the annexe where Anne Frank and seven others stayed in hiding for over two years before being discoverd and taken to Nazi camps. It's sobering to visit this museum and read the words of one young girl who is now a symbol for the many holocaust victims.

We surely want to return to Amsterdam sometime and spend more time. it's easy to explore as people are so friendly and speak excellent English. What a relief to speak easily with people after struggling with the Italian language in Abruzzo! We would like to return here some day and see more, but now we're looking forward to seeing family and friends after being away for five weeks. And also to reuniting with Maggie and Geordie, who have been under the loving care of our wonderful housesitters.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Art, canals and bicycles

We are loving our time in Amsterdam in spite of the rain. It's so amazing to see the exhibits of impressionist painters and more than 75 Van Gough's drawings and paintings at the Hermitage museum. And then to tour Rembrandt's actual house and see the rooms where hecreated his etchings and paintings.

Most of our day was spent walking in the Centrum and marveling at the masses of bicycles. There are 770,000 people in Amsterdam and 600,000 bikes--and most of them are in the centre of the city.

This morning it's raining again but we're not letting it dampen our enthusiasm for exploring Amsterdam on our last day in Europe. A canal tour and Anne Frank's house are on our agenda.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Saying goodbye to Italy

We've had a fabulous trip and have enjoyed so many things about Italy. The ancient buildings and the fresh, tasty food come immediately to mind. But also the coffee culture here. On every corner there's a bar serving espresso, wine, liqueurs, and snacks. We never once made coffee in our own kitchen because the cappuccino served in these bars was just too delicious to miss.

Each bar specializes in its brand of coffee, and all are different. The one we had most often is Marcafe, but others were also tasty. And in the morning if you are lucky there will be fresh cornetto with vanilla cream in the middle. or maybe a pastry with dark chocolate folded inside. And when the sun shines you can sit outside at a table and savour it slowly. Can you think of a better way to start the day?

Of course I haven't mentioned the wine or the exquisite olive oil. Or the warmth and courtesy of the Italian people. We will especially miss this aspect of Italy.

But going back to the food, there is also the gelato. We indulged ourselves quite often with this treat as well. Some fabulous flavours include mandarino, limone, wild berries, and cherry with almond. We couldn't resist the pastries, or the olive oil or the gelato. And that's why we will have to be going on a serious diet when we get home.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Porcini season

After staying here in the Italian countryside for a month, it has become obvious that life here revolves around seasonal food. October is the season of the grape harvest, the olive harvest and, most important of all, the season of porcini mushrooms. We see people on the roadsides picking and all the menus in the restaurants feature these delectable fungi.
Last night Alessandro took us to a restaurant featuring porcini, where Harry and I had pasta with porcini and truffles--so delicious. Alessandro had crostini with porcini and for his main course, porcini done three different ways.
Today being our last day for touring around, we drove to Castelli, a lovely town in the mountains that is famous for its hand-painted majolica ceramics. On the way we happened on an out-of-the way 12th C church and ruined monastary. It's not in any guidebook but there it is beside a humble bar...

We didn't see any ceramics that we couldn't live without in Castelli, but we did manage to find a lovely restaurant where I had tagliatelle with porcini and Harry had fabulous ravioli with sage and butter. A fitting meal to end our Italian trip.

Friday, October 12, 2012

After the earthquake

The city of L'Aquila is the capital of Abruzzo and until April 6th, 2009, had a beautiful historic centre with cathedrals, piazzas, an opera house and a bustling area of shops, bars and restaurants. But everything changed when a major earthquake struck three and a half years ago damaging huge areas of the city including most of its historic buildings.

We took a walk through some of the ruined areas yesterday and it 's sobering to see how much of the centre had to be abandoned. Blocks and blocks of stone three and four storey buildings stand empty with doors locked or boarded up and arches and windows reinforced with wooden beams.

The shops are damaged, with broken windows, fallen-in ceilings and boarded up doors. The whole area has a ghostly empty feeling.

There are only a few people around, with the exception of the restoration crews. In one of the main piazzas there are few wooden huts selling souvenirs or soda pop, and some small groups of young people walking around.

You can see that a huge effort has gone into cleaning up rubble and reinforcing buildings but not much in the way of repair is taking place except for a couple of big churches. Apparently they do want to restore the entire historic centre; it will be taking many decades I think.

After more than three years there's still streets and streets of scaffolded buildings waiting, and some hearbreaking shrines to those who lost their lives in the quake (over 300 people). I can't imagine the cost in human terms or in dollars of such a catatrophe. It makes me wonder why I am so blase about living in an earthquake zone.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The olives are ready

The olive harvest in Valle San Giovanne begins today, Vincenza tells us. And we see from our walks around here that the olives on the trees are changing colour from green to rose to brown.

This morning I saw a couple of tractors pullong metal carts heading down the road to Travazzano, where the presses are. We were inited to go and take a peek at the process, but we thought we would wait for a day or two. The harvest and the pressing will go on until the middle of December and the oil is greatly anticipated. Vincenza has run out of her supply that she normally sells. Hopefully we can get a bottle to take home before we leave.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Four days with friends in Abruzzo

We've been having fun in Italy but sharing the experience with friends is even more fun. Liz and Ritchie, friends from Victoria, came to visit us for a few days to round out their trip to France. We picked them up in Teramo on Friday and had four days to show them the sights.

Highlights included Saturday market in Teramo where we sat on the church steps and ate porchetta pannini...

Sitting in the piazza in Atri on Sunday morning listening to the local band play...

Walking the narrowest street in Italy at Civitella del Tronto....

Tasting the montepulchianno di Abruzzo wine at the marvelous Illuminatti winery...

Seeing vista after vista of fields and vineyards...

Yesterday we took a cooking class here in Valle with Vincenza and made delicious pasta and apple cake, then sat down to a four course lunch ending with the wicked Italian limoncello liqueur.

That called for a walk and we found the 12th century abbey in the woods, with some help from our friend Alessandro who lives here. We didn't even mind that it was raining.

This morning we put Liz and Ritchie on the bus back to Rome and their return flight to Canada. We are here until Tuesday before heading to Amsterdam for a couple of days before we head back home.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The 15th Century Tower

One of the coolest things about Italy is that there are ruins scattered everywhere around the countryside, not just in the famous places. We were driving along a minor country road the other day and spotted the silhouette of tower on the hilltop. As we were wondering about it I saw a small direction sign pointing to "Il torre XV" so we followed it up some hills to a small village built around a triangular 15th Century tower.

We know nothing about it except that towers and fortresses were built all over the country to protect kingdoms during the time Italy was a mass of fortified cities. This one is remarkably well preserved.

Here you can see the contemporary hamlet built around it.

And here's what we saw from the bottom.

I imagine from the top you could see all the way to the Adriatic if you looked to the east.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The road to Scanno

We drove a twisting road the other day to reach two towns way up in the mountains, both lovely in their own way. Sulmona is a town of 25,000 with a Roman aqueduct going right through the centre of town. The day we visited was market day and you can see some of the tents set up in the main square.

Sulmona is famous for what the Italians call confetti, but we call sugared almonds. They've been making them here for hundreds of years and there are little shops all over town selling them in many flavours and colours. We tried one with a soft outer coating of pear and yogourt. Delicious.

Leaving Sulmona we continued our trip winding through a steep canyon to the little town of Scanno. Here the stone houses perch one on top of another going down into the canyon.

This town has a medieval feeling with its steep staircases and bridges and arches that create a warren once you get into the old part of town.

The canyon road is so twisty that mirrors are needed to see if another car is approaching the hairpin turn. After 40 kilometers of this we were glad to get back on the Autostrada.