Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sotto Le Stelle 02 - The Notario and The Builder

Puglia, Italy. Saturday 17-November-2012.

Completing the sale and taking ownership of our Cisternino apartment.

Plan A had been a bit hectic: straight from airport to bank to collect bankers drafts before they closed for lunch, harvest our olives in the afternoon then down to Fasano to complete the purchase. However the Notario and the weather had other ideas. The Notario rescheduled the appointment to late Saturday afternoon and the weather was tipping it down. We still collected the cheques but went home for lunch, a siesta and a bit of packing up the house.

The next morning we had arranged access to the apartment to see it empty of furniture and meet with Pietro (our "man on the ground") and Saverio (our builder). Pietro is a very useful man to know. His wife works for D'Amico, the estate agents, and he has been acting as liaison with them and did the translation for both for this and our previous purchase. He also helps us with paying the local taxes and he will be acting as middleman in communicating with Saverio and organising local permits. He lives, literally, round the corner also in the old town and has experience of and ideas on renovating old properties.

Pietro (translator / local agent), Saverio (builder) and Mary discuss options
Pietro, Saverio and Mary discuss walls

The roof terrace will be an important component of the apartment. There will, of course, be a barbecue up there. Plans include a cloth canopy or sail to provide shade - an umbrella would too risky, the danger of it blowing over the edge and falling on a passerby is too great. We want to have a solar panel to provide hot water to supplement the heating. It will probably go where Pietro is standing, facing that way, out of the way and not visible from down in the street. When Saverio starts work the roof will be the very first thing he tackles re-grouting the tiles and making sure all is watertight below, "start at the top and work down" is his motto.

Our terrace on the second floor
Mary and Pietro on the roof terrace

The initial plan for the interior in simple - strip all the plaster, sandblast the stone clean, make good any essential repairs and then stop and think. There are so many possibilities, we want to do it only once and we want to do it right.

What I hadn't reckoned on, but it's obvious looking back, is getting the exterior done. The front wall in particular is looking a bit sad so we will be having both front and back walls cleaned and redecorated. That will involve scaffolding and disruption in the narrow, one-way street outside. Even worse when we have a skip delivered to clear out the rubble from the interior works. That will mean closing the road completely for half a day.

This will be our kitchen / diner
Soggiorno (Living room)

It was great to see the inside clear of all the heavy, dark furniture but it is still not that huge - 32 m2 in total. There was one surprise which pleases me - our very own well. The small cupboard to the right of the door-like cupboard actually has a pulley to lower a bucket down to a cistern under the building. In the 1700's when the building was constructed there was no such thing as mains water so each building needed its own water supply. How cool it that?

The afternoon was spend picking olives, see: Olive Harvest 2012.

Late afternoon we all went down to the office of the Notario in Fasano, When I say "all" I mean the two of us, all three vendors, Mr Damico (estate agent) and Pietro (translator). At the office we were joined by Laura (witness). So very different from UK conveyancing where it is possible for none of the parties to ever meet in person. It would appear that all sitting together round a table is the norm in Italy.

The Notario read out the entire contract with all present confirming their identity. This was repeated in English by Pietro, with Laura as bilingual witness to confirm his translation. Everyone had to sign every single page of the contract which took some time. We then exchanged cheques for keys and the deed was done.

Sunday morning we changed the lock as a matter of prudence. Lunchtime we showed our friends round, opened a bottle of champange (not prosecco) and went for a celebratory lunch at Osteria di Sant' Anna.

The next trip out is planned for February to see the interior with all the stonework exposed and discuss the next steps. By then we might have firmed up on the floor plan but there will still be many decisions to be made.

Some photos on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/markmclellan/sets/72157632052591805/detail/

Monday, November 26, 2012

Everyday Differences in Puglia: The Pasta Aisle

It does not matter how small or large the supermarket there is always a complete aisle devoted to dried pasta in all it myriad forms. For a hypermarket that is some serious quantities of pasta.

It is so much an integral part of the Italian psyche that it acts as an emotional shorthand. We first noticed it house hunting when we bought Trullo Azzurro back in 2003. Every house we viewed had a bag of pasta placed prominently on the table or kitchen worktop as a piece of set dressing. The same was true in all the furniture shops and kitchen showrooms - there was that bag of pasta whispering "food, home, family".

Rather like the UK house sellers' trick of grilling a coffee bean or baking a loaf of bread to create an enticing aroma but even more universal in application. The central role of pasta in Italian life and soul cannot be disputed.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Olive Harvest 2012

A bumper crop for our usual end of season close down and olive harvest weekend.

After last year's spring pruning and low yield I was anticipating a big crop this year and so it proved. Olives are like many other trees and tend to produce larger and smaller crops in alternate years. In 2010 we harvested 84kg, in 2011 only 18kg. This year the haul was a record 93kg and there were still olives left on some trees but we were limited by time, accessibility and the capacity of our crates.

Mary harvests our olives 01
Mary harvesting our olives

This year Mary decreed "no ladders"; a couple of friends-of-friends have had nasty falls whilst harvesting. So we bought two broom handles and attached the little orange rakes to the ends. We are therefore limited to the reach of arm plus rake.

John harvests our olives 01
Our neighbour John helping

I also went and harvested olives off our nearest neighbour's trees. They are still relatively immature trees so only added about 4 or 5 kg but every little helps.

We took our olives (and a couple of 5L tins) round to Mino to add in with his as we did not have enough for the minimum pressing quantity of 220kg. He was taking his olives to the cooperative press that evening so we knew we would get our oil back Sunday or Monday.

Knowing we were going to get our oil back from the press in time when we checked in to Ryanair we paid for a 15kg hold luggage.

Mark Rae's Olive 01
Our neighbour Mark's olives

The yield this year was 13% so we would have produced 12 L in total. I double wrapped the tins in plastic bags and then rolled them in towels for the return trip. They arrived intact if a little dented but no leakage. They are now resting in the cellar ready for a pre-Christmas bottling.

Full set of pictures on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/markmclellan/sets/72157632087158658/

Trullo Azzurro logoTrullo Azzurro: beautifully restored trullo in delightful, secluded valley near Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy. Available to rent on a per week basis, sleeps 4-6. For more information visit http://www.holiday-rentals.co.uk/trulloazzurro

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Sotto Le Stelle 01 - The Compromesso

Cisternino, Puglia, Italy. Saturday 06-October-2012.

We made an offer on a bilocale (two room apartment) in Cisternino centro storico (old town, lit. historic centre).

Mary has been hankering after a small apartment in Cisternino old town for some time. While we were out in Italy for my 60th Mary thought we should investigate what sort of properties were available. Just checking out the market, forward planning, you understand.

There are really only two estate agents in town, Tecnocasa and D'Amico. It was through D'Amico that we bought Trullo Azzurro and they act as our agent for renting. So Mary had a rummage on their website and found a number of interesting properties: http://www.damicogruppo.it/trulli-vendita1.asp?idzona=1&idtipologia=8

We rang Pierdonato and he took us to see to see five properties - all in the old town, all in the same price range, all interesting but there was one that was a clear winner.

Floor plan, current arrangement (letto=bedroom, soggiorno=living room, cucina=kitchen)

We went to Bar Fod for a drink and a discussion. Could we afford it, should we make an offer, should we raid the savings reserved for paying off our mortgage next spring? Then I reminded Mary that now I was 60 I could take 25% tax free out of my pension funds. That was it, decision made! We rang up Pierdonato and made a verbal offer straightaway.

Screen shot 2012-10-10 at 22.03.11
View of the Val d'Itria from the roof terrace

Common practice in the UK, under normal market conditions, is to make an offer less than the asking price. When selling you mark up the property a little in expectation of a brief exchange of haggling and settling at a compromise around your actual target price.

However this property was so perfect we did not want to miss it. After a brief discussion we rang Pierdonato back to increase our offer to the full asking price.

762 5p [582_420]
Star vault - these will look wonderful when the plaster is stripped

The next morning we went into the offices of D'Amico to sign the "compromesso", a formal offer, and leave a post dated cheque for the deposit. Then a call to our FX company to transfer funds from the UK to our Italian bank account.

It took Pierdonato a couple of days to persuade the vendors to accept our offer even though we were offering the full asking price. They had dropped a lot from their original asking price and had some inheritance tax to pay so were not eager to accept a full offer. In the end they agreed and countersigned the compromesso. Jubilation in Wandworth Town!

Screen shot 2012-10-11 at 06.19.48
First floor apartment with our own entrance (three steps)

We were already due to go back out in five weeks time to harvest our olives and close down for the winter - a perfect occasion to meet in front of the Notario and complete the sale. So that is what we arranged.

Full set of estate agents photos on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/markmclellan/sets/72157631855893815/detail/

Noun: compromesso m (plural compromessi)
  1. A compromise, a settlement, an agreement.
  2. A preliminary contract, an agreement to sell.
  3. An arrangement

Friday, November 23, 2012

Chimney Balloon

Does what it says on the tin: it is a balloon and you put it up the chimney.

We have a fireplace that is unused, because we have underfloor heating in our half of Trullo Azzurro, and we use the opening to house a cupboard. The chimney balloon will stop hot air going up the chimney and rain and bits of grit coming down.

The first chimney balloon we bought was way too large because we ordered from memory basing it on the size of the fireplace. Unfortunately it narrows rapidly into the actual chimney so it didn't really work. This time we ordered the small rectangular balloon from ChimSoc which fitted well (insert, inflate and turn the tap) with just a tiny gap along one edge which is recommended anyway.

That should do the trick then. Interesting to see how well it stays inflated at our next visit.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Jan Garbarek at the Royal Festival Hall

London. 13-November-2012.

While at the John McLaughlin concert we discovered that one our favourite musicians, Jan Garbarek, was appearing a couple of days later with the programme annotation "Queue for returns". Ever the optomist Mary went online and manage to bag a pair of return tickets - in a box!

The concert was fine, two hours without an interval, and we particularly enjoyed the extended solo from the percussionist, Trilok Gurtu.

The FT review summarised it as
"Gurtu’s tour de force solo on some unconventional percussion was the high point of an otherwise bitty evening"

The Guardian review was similarly ambivalent:
"Where has Jan Garbarek gone? I miss him. The Norwegian saxophonist used to be the king of icy cool jazz – but at this gig he sounded more like Kenny G. What's going on? If you know anything about Jan Garbarek, you'll know him as the Norwegian who invented a uniquely Nordic language for the saxophone; the guy George Russell described as "the most original voice in European jazz since Django Reinhardt"; the guy whose austere albums with the Hilliard Ensemble have shifted millions of copies; the guy who almost single-handedly defined the ECM label.
Garbarek – mainly playing his tiny, odd-looking curved soprano sax, but occasionally switching to tenor – mainly sticks to simple, nursery rhyme-style melodies. He occasionally restates them with light improvisation, but rarely lets rip with full-on solos. Nor does his playing tonight ever really imply the weight of jazz history that he usually holds in reserve. Instead, he sounds like a jazz musician at a pop session, where the producer is nagging him to "cut that jazz crap".

What transforms the lineup is the rhythm section: German veteran pianist Rainer BrĂ¼ninghaus, Brazilian bass guitarist Yuri Daniel and eccentric Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu. For much of the gig, they push at their roles magnificently. Gurtu multitasks on his Aladdin's Cave of a drum kit, switching from kit drums to tablas, from hand percussion to vocal percussion, and – during his extended solo – performing his usual tricks with a bucket of water. "

Hey, ho. We enjoyed it and that is what matters.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

John McLaughlin at The Barbican

London. Sunday 11-November-12

My brother-in-law, Pete, has been a fan of John McLaughlin for years, so much so that he is a member of a Mahavishnu Orchestra tribute band The Sapphire Bullets. Jane and Pete booked early and got seats in row B of the stalls, by the time we booked we got row B of the circle. Further from the stage but an excellent view all the same and, dare I say, better sound balance as we were more or less above the mixing desk.

Arun Ghosh & the Twin Tenors

John McLaughlin & the 4th Dimension

I enjoyed the support act as well as the star but I do not really know John McLaughlin's music so I will leave the reviews to the professionals:

Jazzwise Magazine gave the concert 5 stars: "He might be approaching 70 but the guitar legend ain’t getting there quietly as he proved with a blistering two-hour set at the Barbican last night."
Jazz breaking news: John McLaughlin Storms The Barbican

London Jazz wrote "McLaughlin may have been in a mellow mood, but his music is as powerful and hard-hitting as it ever was, and in the multi-talented Husband, bassist Etienne M’Bappe and drummer Ranjot Barot he has found the perfect band to showcase it."
London Jazz Festival Review: John McLaughlin & the 4th Dimension/Arun Ghosh & the Twin Tenors

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Carrot and orange cake

Two Weight Watchers points per serving
25 minutes to prepare + cooling
40 minutes to cook
Makes 10 slices
  • Low fat cooking spray
  • 125g (4 1/2oz) stoned dried dates
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 100g (3 1/2oz) pineapple chunks in juice, drained
  • 250g (9oz) self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 100g (3 1/2oz) carrots, coarsely grated
  • Zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 25g (1oz) icing sugar
1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 / 180°C / fan oven 160°C. Spray a 
20cm (8in) square cake tin with low fat spray and line the bottom
 and sides with baking parchment. Set aside.

2. Put the dates and spices in a small pan with 200ml (7fl oz) water 
and bring to a simmer over a medium heat. Continue to simmer for 
5 minutes until the dates are soft, then set aside to cool. Meanwhile,
 blitz the pineapple chunks briefly with a hand-held blender until 
roughly pureed. Set aside. Puree the cooled dates until smooth.

3. Sift the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl.
Stir in the pineapple, pureed dates, carrots, orange zest, juice of 1/2 the orange and the eggs. Beat until combined then pour into the
 cake tin. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until firm and springy to the
 touch. Allow to cool in the tin.

4. Remove the cake from the tin and take off the paper. Add enough of the remaining orange juice to the icing sugar to make smooth 
icing. Drizzle over the cake and leave to set. Slice into 10 pieces and store in an airtight container for 2-3 days.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Daffodil Dining Club November 2012

Roux at Parliament Square, London. Friday 02-November-2012

The first non-Christmas Daff we've been to in a long time. A chance to catch up with Pete and Amanda who we hadn't seen for ages in the indulgent surroundings of Michel Roux's second restaurant Roux at Parliament Square.

We were seated with a mixture of "Daffers" old and new; some we had met before and some not, but always charming and sociable

Beforehand the chef came out and described the dishes he had planned. Then the sommelier explained the matching wines she had chosen to complement the food.

At the end our host and organiser, John Amiry, did a victory lap and a chat. We are indebted to him for organising these events.

Next up - The Christmas Daff aka The M&M Enterprises works Christmas party!

The wines:
Cremant de Loire - Langlois-Chateau, By Bollinger Champagne
Vondeling 'Babiana' 2008 - Voor-Paardeberg, Paarl, South Africa
Les Vignes de Bila-Haut "Biodynamic" 2010 - Michel Chapoutier, Cotes du Roussillon Village
Chateau Cabezac 'La Garrigue' 2010 - Minervios, France
Maury Genache Noir 2009 - Jean-Marc Lafage, Languedoc Roussillon, France

The food:
Parmesan custard, ragu of chanterelles and chestnut, pumpkin veloute
Ballontine of Loch Duart salmon, salad of beetroot and watercress
Roast pork tenderloin, sage emulsion, white onions, pickled apple
Selection of French artisan cheeses Jacques Vernier
Classic dark treacle tart with walnut ice cream
Coffee, infusions and petit fours

Sunday, November 04, 2012

19th Wedding Anniversary - The Horne Section

Purcell Room, South Bank, London. Tuesday 30-October-2012.

We had planned a quiet evening in for our actual wedding anniversary, especially after the extravagance of the weekend, but Mary spotted an item in The Metro on The Horne Section - a musical comedy act. Sounded like fun so tickets were booked and pre-theatre meal organised.

Supper was at Zen China in the old County Hall. Tasty and a few minutes stroll from the Purcell Room. One nice thing about the Purcell Room is that you can take drinks in so we settled into our chairs with a glass of wine apiece.

The guests that evening were comedian Nick Helm and Felix Buxton of Basement Jaxx. We were in Row B and had an excellent view - that is the back of Felix's head just right of centre in front of us. It was all rather jolly.

The review in The Guardian described is "... under-rehearsed to the occasional point of collapse, but undertaken with charm and an open-minded curiosity as to the types of fun available when a comedian and some musicians convene. Horne may be no Sinatra, but the show goes with a real swing." and gave it four stars.

Friday, November 02, 2012

19th Wedding Anniversary - Padstow Seafood School

We have decided to re-institute the habit of alternately organising mystery weekends away to celebrate our wedding anniversary. When we married we had all the toys we needed which makes for a challenge when present buying. Instead we took it in turns to organise a surprise weekends away.

That worked well until the 10th when we went back to Egypt for another Nile cruise and the sights we didn't visit on our honeymoon - Cairo, the pyramids, sphinx and Abu Simbel. The next year we bought Trullo Azzurro so we started combining anniversary with olive harvesting and close down for the winter.

But now we are resurrecting the original plan apart from next year's 20th which will be a joint planning exercise.

Mary got the ball rolling by organising this weekend. I knew nothing and it was a piecemeal reveal. First to Paddington where my ticket told me I was going to Bodmin Parkway. On arrival, getting into the taxi which told me I was going to Padstow. Which obviously meant dining in Rick Stein's posh restaurant and staying in the hotel above (or nearby). So far so good and a very fine meal it was.

Then I was told that I had to be breakfasted and ready to go by 9:15 the next morning. Oh, there's more!

Walking along South Quay Mary suddenly turned left into a door labelled cookery school. We were going to spend the day at the Padstow Seafood School learning how to prepare and cook a number of fish dishes:
  • Prawn and squid caldine
  • Ceviche of monkfish with avocado
  • Fricassee of turbot with button mushrooms and salad onions
  • Bream baked in a salt crust
  • Lobster with ginger, spring onion and soft egg noodles


It was great fun and the food delicious if we say it ourselves. I learned loads including how to prepare a squid. Potentially very useful in Puglia as they are usually present on the fish counter.


That evening we decided to take pot luck on eating. We were on the wait list for one restaurant but no one cancelled so we ended up having fish and chips and a pint of Doom Bar in The Golden Lion Hotel (really a pub). Then on to The London Inn for a nightcap of a pint of Proper Job.

Next morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we took a stroll down the estuary and back getting to the hotel just as it stated to rain. Check out and the homeward taxi and train - first class naturally.


Well done to Mary for organising that. I now have two years to plan our 21st.

Full set of pictures on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/markmclellan/sets/72157631898170859/

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Marcus Bonfanti at The 100 Club

London, UK. Tuesday 23-October-12.

Our third time of seeing Marcus Bonfanti. I have a suspicion that Mary's work travel plans were geared round this as the tickets were booked a way back.

I had "team building" drinks after work followed by a stroll through Green Park and up through Mayfair. I grabbed a quick pasta meal in Stef's Restaurant in Berner Street - an excellent fresh tagliatelle carbonara and a glass of red wine. Mary arrived just as I was finishing and off to The 100 Club.

Rave review from Ruth Page in The Upcoming:

"The 100 Club lived up to its historic roots, providing a great night of alternative music. Not something to be undervalued amongst the money spinning streets of commercial London, the club is always a place of solace for music lovers. All in all, great music, great venue and Marcus Bonfanti is a true inspiration of UK music and definitely one to watch for the foreseeable future. We would urge you to go and see him as often as possible. We know we will."

Full review http://www.theupcoming.co.uk/2012/10/24/concert-review-marcus-bonfanti-at-the-100-club/

Then a taxi home as we'd had a couple of beers and couldn't be bothered with late night tubes and trains.