Amalfi Coast

The Art of Culinary Seduction: two close shaves in southern Italy

My first sighting of Vesuvius turned out to be quite the Kodak moment

My first sighting of Vesuvius turned out to be quite the Kodak moment

A few years ago, I found myself sad and alone in Naples. Exactly why I was sad and alone is not the story here, but you should know the previous day I had waltzed into a hairdresser’s, and after much frenzied hand gesticulation, convinced the horrified staff to shave my head.

I was staying at the eccentric B&B Morelli 49, in the almost too posh for me Chiaia district. The owner Massimo spoke no English and I spoke almost no Italian. Unable to communicate with words, the 80’s memorabilia proudly decorating all of his rooms nevertheless meant we had the unspoken connection of childhoods awash with shoulder pads, fingerless gloves and Madonna. I had been filling my days visiting nearby Pompeii, Sorrento and Positano in an attempt to dodge the surprising May heat. But come early evening, I wandered Napoli’s streets searching for somewhere to eat.

Hunger ritually struck at 6pm, but back then I didn’t know Italian restaurants open late. So I’d sit on a park bench in the bayside Villa Communale, or on the steps of the Commune di Napoli in the Piazza Del Plebiscito. I’d watch Neapolitans going about their ritual evening walk, la passeggiata, and kids playing soccer while parents gossiped nearby. Most nights I’d make do with a take away arancini al ragu or a slice of pizza.

Ah, pizza. After five centuries of making it, Naples certainly knows what it’s doing. But delicious as it was, I craved something more.

Some people will tell you the way to discover fantastic food abroad is simply to follow the locals. Of course, if you follow Londoners, you’re likely to end up with a box of fried chicken or a sandwich and a packet of crisps, so it’s not exactly foolproof. Being hours too early each night for such discoveries in Naples, the smell of Massimo’s freshly baked breakfast cakes convinced me to try him for ideas instead. The next day I cornered him in the kitchen and mimed munching on my fingers, asking “mun-gee-ah-ray?” He winced, then gave me the business card of Pizza Margherita, which was just a short walk away along Via Riviera di Chiaia. Massimo insisted it was better than the more famous Pizzeria Brandi (which ironically invented Margherita Pizza in 1889).

As you can tell, our hand gestures had reached quite an advanced level by then. (more…)

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Where’s De Winter?

Well… that’s about all the stories I can squeeze out of my May trip to Puglia. I’ve booked the next one for late September and between now and then will attempt to figure out how to make contact with Real Estate Agents. My goal for September is to see as many apartments as I can so I can get a proper understanding of the current property market and what, realistically, my money will get me.

If you have seen my other blog The Bum Diaries, you’ll know I have taken a year off work. That year is almost up so I’ve started the job hunt again. Unfortunately that also means I’m out of moola and to survive I’m now dipping into my Italy savings. So exactly what I’ll be able to afford to buy and where it is located is very much going to be dictated by what’s left in the bank and how long it takes to get a job. Oh and the Aussie dollar is currently making a spectacular plunge after a couple of years of never before seen highs.

Thanks very much Australia. Bloody wonderful timing.

So – what I’m saying is there’s going to be a lull of posts on this here De Winter Retreat. I did have one little story from Naples to tell you, but I entered it into a competition so can’t publish it yet. I thought it was pretty good (considering I only found out about the comp 5 days before it closed) and actually thought I might have a chance – until I checked out some of the past winners once mine had already been sent off. I know, I know – Goodonya Nat! Must check style guides first…

A quick peruse told me my style was about 180 degrees from what they were looking for. Boo. Mine was smart-alec self deprecation, as per usual. They seem to want earnest and laden with fluffy analogy. So you can expect to see that post on here around the middle of August, once I get official confirmation it was rejected.

In the meantime, you can always pop over to The Bum Diaries and see if any of my tales of unemployment and expat discoveries amuse you, or if you want to know if something’s worth watching, have a look at What Did Nat Think of It and I might have reviewed it.

See you in a couple of months with more tales of Puglia… and judging by what I wrote about this time, probably more evidence of my gluttony.

Enjoy your summer, and if you need some more inspiration to visit southern Italy, here’s four reasons why it’s my favourite region of the world (the Amalfi Coast this time).

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How to Keep a Dream Alive – eat it

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Since I don’t have any Puglia stories yet, let me tell you another Italy one. This is my bowl (and his mate, the candle). Bowl comes from Positano, which is a little slice of heaven on the Amalfi Coast, southern Italia. Bowl doesn’t know it, but he’s a daily reminder to me of my Italian dream. You see, every morning like a five year old, I fill Bowl with my Rice Krispies, the little breakfast grains so full of air they wouldn’t fill the stomach of an ant. As I’m sitting there half awake, half still wrapped in the fuzz of night, each spoonful reveals something new. Look… it’s a little house… with a little red roof… and a conifer tree… and a field of poppies. Or at least they look like poppies.

And then I remember, oh shit yeah, Italy. That’s why I got out of bed.

The day before I got Bowl, Italy was not exactly living up to my dream. Nor was anything else in my life.

It was May 2009, nine months after I’d moved to London. Owing to the stupendously intelligent decision to move to the UK smack in the middle of the banking crisis, I’d struggled for months to find any work. But then I got a temporary position at the BBC. WOO HOO, THE BBC!!!! And then I got fired from the BBC.

It was three days before I was due to fly to Naples.

That’s a whole other story, but let’s just say, my bottom lip was hanging pretty low, weighed down by an invisible anchor of “woe is me”. I was also traveling alone, something I’d never done before, and little me, the ignorant Australian, was dismayed to learn that nobody in Naples spoke English. At all.

Cue the violins… and it was my birthday in a couple of days.

For three days I didn’t speak to anyone. I tried, but it would just end in mutual frustration. One day a guy sitting opposite me on the train tried to pick me up -I think. Normally I would have shut him down earlier, but that day I was willing to let him try, if only for a sliver of human interaction. After five minutes, and only about three words understood on either of our parts, we both sighed in unison and went back to staring out the window. (more…)