Posts Tagged ‘Alcohol’

Alchemy of the Vine


(tardy) Weary Wanderings for Wednesdays

Status Viatoris

status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

The steady stream of gifts – flowers, eggs, courgettes, tomatoes, basil, peaches, figs, cucumbers and apples forthcoming from my self-sufficient and incredibly generous neighbours is slowly giving way to bunch upon bunch of grapes.

Every day I pass people lugging huge great containers of the fruit from their campagne to their cantine, and that can mean only one thing; it’s wine-making time!

Having already sampled a bottle of homemade rosé, obtained through one of my bartering exercises, and rejoiced in its fresh-tasting hangoverlessness, I was intrigued to find out more about what was involved in the elaboration of this local elixir.

My camera and I were invited into the cantina of the local retired schoolmarm, for a step by step lesson in how to transform the humble uva into that sumptuous nectar, vino.

Step 1: The…

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Doing the Piazza Rock


Weary Wanderings for Wednesdays

Status Viatoris

status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

The village festa season seems to be suffering from a few fits and starts this year, if reports of last year’s back to back parties in the piazza are to be believed.

A few weeks ago it kicked off with a night of somewhat eclectic musical tastes from the live band. Old style waltzes and paso dobles, so beloved of gentlefolk ‘d’un certain âge’ in villages the length and breadth of France, and apparently also Italy, joined forces with 80’s rock anthems and 60’s ballads, with the odd Latin American ditty thrown in for added piquancy.

Excessive amounts of beer and constant urging from my Argentine neighbour had me up on the dance floor for much of the night, but even my efforts could not compare with the star of the evening. He must have been ninety if…

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Indubitably Intoxicatingly Inebriated


status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

One of the many “issues” that recent British governments have attempted to resolve, is the culture of binge-drinking so prevalent in the UK.

I certainly do not speak from any dizzy moral heights on this topic; my “all or nothing” personality type lends itself almost perfectly to the excesses of binge-anything: drinking, eating, watching three dvd box sets of LOST back to back – overkill rules in the world of SV.

But living abroad for so long has, amongst other things, given me the opportunity to observe other nations’ attitudes to alcohol consumption; in turn leading me to wonder where on earth us Brits have gone so very wrong.

Arriving in Spain at 18, freshly plucked from the almost obligatory booziness of my British peer group, it took me some time to realise that when out with Spanish friends, I was the only one knocking back rum and cokes to the point of incoherence.

It took me even longer to notice that this behaviour was regarded with something other than amused indulgence.

But it was not until I got to France, eight years later, that I really grew-up as far as alcohol was concerned. Nights out with my new Gallic friends tended to consist of a civilised meal, with one bottle of wine shared between three or four of us, and then a drink or two at a local bar should the mood strike.

No stumbling, no slurring, no soulless sex, no sick, no shame and no regrets: it was a revelation, and I was chuffed to bits to finally be able to have an adult relationship with liquid refreshment.

But then I went to work in a Scottish pub for seven months, and was abruptly deposited back into the Danger Zone…

A zone where people from practically all age groups are only too happy to get absolutely lathered, pie-eyed, bolloxed, trollied and pished as veritable farts.

A zone where that is, in fact, the primary aim of many of their evening excursions.

A zone where there is little shame in drinking so much that you fall arse over tit, vomit copiously, pick fights, talk shite or jump the bones of complete strangers before falling into the dribbling snoring slumber of the soon to be deservedly hungover.

A zone where the following day’s amusement is the recounting of the previous night’s drunken humiliations.

Yes, it’s the Brit Zone, and yes; I have been there. Again. And again. And again.

So why are many of us seemingly wired up so very differently from our Continental cousins?

It’s not as if booze does not form a part of European life: in fact in all of the countries in which I have lived, alcohol figures very prominently in most social activities. But in Spain, France or Italy it is rare to see the extreme levels of inebriation that we are faced with in the UK.

Is alcohol treated with more “respect” in other countries?

Well yes it is, but I would not say that was a reason in and of itself. It appears to me to be more due to the fact that most Spaniards, French, Italians and others don’t “need” alcohol in the same way that we appear to.

They are confident enough to be able to converse, to laugh, to dance, to have a generally good time, without requiring to be a hat trick of sheets to the Mediterranean breeze in order to do so.

So what are we Brits so scared of?

This is Status Viatoris, would murder the box set of Homeland right now, in Italy.

Aperitivo, Anyone?


status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

The Italian aperitivo is a veritable institution, and one that I have come to wholeheartedly approve of; although my waistline may not thank me for my adherence to such traditions.

Carbs ahoy!

If you care to drop by your local bar at any time from about 11h in the morning, you should be able to witness the breakfast paraphernalia of cappuccino, caffè latte, latte macchiato, brioche, focaccia and so on, being cleared away to make space for an alluring spread of calorific nibbles.

Patatine, arachide, funghi, olive, prosciutto, formaggio, crostini, crackers, salame (or in other words; crisps, peanuts, pickled mushrooms, olives, ham, cheese, croutons, cheesy biscuits, salami) amongst many other morsels, are spread out along the bar and brought to the tables in order to delight the tastebuds of those who file in for a tipple before plodding off home for lunch.

A small drink to wash down a mountain of snacks.

The drinks themselves can be quite a different matter, however, as many Italians are fans of a concept that I have never been able to come to terms with.

One that makes my stomach gyrate like a landed fish and my tastebuds retreat up my nasal passages every time I see an example of it being poured or consumed:

it is commonly known as The Drink With The Foul Bitter Taste.

Exhibit number one: ick.

The non-alcoholic versions of this particular abomination; this crime against the senses, are the Crodino – an innocent-looking orange fizz, which lured me in one day and managed to rape my tongue with a single sip before I caught on and cast the pernicious bubbles down to their plughole-ulate doom.

And then there is the Sanbittèr, made marginally less evil only by dint of the warning contained within its name.

Revoltingness in a bottle.

Joining these are their alcoholic cousins (look away now if you consider yourself to be delicate of stomach, or at least make sure there is a sturdy bucket in the vicinity…) of which below are a few examples served in my local watering-hole:

Americano – campari, martini rosso, soda water.

Maison – bitter campari, white and red vermouth, gin.

Negroni – Campari, martini rosso, gin.

Bruttaçao – sparkling white wine with a splash of campari.

And many other similarly gut-churning – and almost certainly gut-rotting – combinations of some of the most gruesome booze ever to have been bottled.

Extremely Italian, but still yucky..

Another popular aperitivo, is the Aperol Spritz: made when the lightly alcoholic Italian mixer, Aperol, is criminally and inexplicably chucked in to ruin a perfectly good glass of sparkling white wine.

But luckily for me, and others like me, it is possible to get stuck into the free vittles without compromising one’s delicate palate, and yet whilst also continuing to support the Italian liquid-beverages industry.

We have Prosecco to pave the way for the parmegiano, Peroni to precede the prosciutto and a superb selection of Italian wines to accompany the rest of the moreish foodstuffs to their final resting place.

And for those who do not wish to pass the remaining hours of the afternoon in an alcohol-induced fug, why not try some Spuma? A sparkling soft drink that comes in nero or bianco and tastes almost nothing like anything else that has ever passed my lips.

– Although the white is perhaps vaguely elderflowery and the black has a slight dandelion and burdock tinge.

But don’t quote me on that.

An… ummm… interesting alternative.

If by any chance that lunchtime aperitivo has left you hungering and thirsting for more, my advice would be to enjoy a long siesta before making sure you are back at the bar around 18h in time to begin the process all over again.

There will almost certainly be a certain somebody in situ who is very pleased to see you…

Got any spare crisps, mister?

This is Status Viatoris, who you needn’t think is overlooking tonic water or bitter lemon either for they are both the work of the devil, in Italy.

The SV Guide to a Good Night Out


status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

Step One: Put on your best party frock – making very sure not to forget your dancing shoes – and carefully apply glittery make-up (optional for men).

Step Two: Make your way to the village bar, where good friends and oodles of beer await.

Step Three: Pile seven people of various sizes into a small Italian car, and laugh far more uproariously that the situation actually warrants as the driver makes four attempts to propel said vehicle up the steep ramp and out of the carpark.

Step Four: Pump up the music and sing unnecessarily loudly for the entire 2km journey to the local beer festival’s Brazilian evening.

Step Five: Fill your plate with rostelle (little kebabs), stinco (pork shin), chips, pasta, sausage, bruschette (various things on toast) and indeed anything else that you can think of  (it helps if they are also on the menu).

Step Six: Fill your glass with beer.

Step Seven: Repeat step six.

Step Eight: Ditto.

Step Nine: Ditto.

Step Ten: Ditto.

Step Eleven: You are now ready to hit the dance floor. Now, you know perfectly well that you are the undisputed queen of dance, so when the nice lady with the feather on her head and the nipple tassels shimmies up to entice you into joining her in a bit of samba, just do it!

Step Twelve: Repeat step six – dancing like a goddess is thirsty work.

Step Thirteen: Ditto.

Step Fourteen: Chat to lots of people. It really doesn’t matter if you know them or not; your wit is sparkling and your conversation scintillating. Your presence can only serve to enhance their beer festival/Brazilian evening experience.

Step Fifteen: Repeat step six.

Step Sixteen: It’s time to shake that booty again, and show all those rhythm-less people how it’s done. Wiggle those hips! Windmill those arms! Holy moly, you’ve sure got the moves…

Step Seventeen: Refuse the offer of a perfectly good car seat, and instead travel home in style. For the flat bed of a small red motocarro undoubtedly constitutes stylish transport. And comfort. And warmth. As well as providing a sense of adventure and a really good view of the stars – which look strangely more appealing this night than any other you can remember – luckily there are lots of people around to whom to impart this suddenly very important conviction.

Step Eighteen: Stagger up the squillion steps to your apartment, making sure to giggle loudly enough to wake the neighbours (their little brats make enough noise the rest of the time, so what the hell).

Step Nineteen:
You really haven’t consumed enough calories in the last eight hours, so cook up an enormous pot of pasta and consume rapidly and messily.

Step Twenty: Drink a large glass of water and collapse into bed – you are still blissfully unaware that the builder will be ringing on your door bell in a little under four hours, so make the most of such ignorance, and go to bloody sleep!

This is Status Viatoris, please note that the SV Guide has not been approved by any medical professional thus ensuring absolute enjoyment, unhindered by any boring and tedious “health” advice… 😉

Welcomed into the Flock by a Bloke in a Frock


status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

Simply angelic…

I write this bleary-eyed and distinctly sluggish of mind following a most hedonistic week; the likes of which will only worsen as the jollities of summer in my little Italian village get seriously under-way.

Live bands playing in the village bars, late night outings with the extremely friendly members of a local rock group, a lazy all-day barbecue in the sun, a drunken birthday evening with friends, and then… a date with my nemesis – the Catholic Church.

For Sunday was the First Communion of my friend’s daughter, together with seven other village children, and I had been summoned to attend. Absolutely no excuses admissible on pain of, well, eternal damnation I can only suppose.

And to be honest, I was quite curious to discover whether getting dressed up in my posh togs and heading to church for a deep soul cleanse would work as well for my habitual Sunday morning hangover as a lie-in followed by endless cups of tea.

(I have since concluded that aspirin sales are in no danger of decline…)

Ten o’clock sharp saw straggling groups of bouncy children and fraught-looking adults making their way into God’s front room for a protracted photographic session next to the altar – heavenly portraits; tiny hands clasped piously, childish eyes glowing with religious fervour (or in anticipation of the presents that would be forthcoming later in the day. Jewellery, mobile phones, brand new bicycles – souvenirs of an important day, or bribes in exchange for commitment to a belief system they are as yet too young to understand or to choose for themselves?).

Tastier than a communion wafer…

At long last, the faffing and snapping came to an end and the service itself began.

And even I could not avoid observing how intensely seductive all that pageantry, choreography, that pomp and circumstance can appear: the choir’s glorious notes wafting up to fill the church, the repetitive and lulling murmur of priestly intonations and the strength-sapping clouds of incense, all combining to render the senses weak-kneed and vulnerable to suggestion.

Having nipped out mid-way for a much-needed cappuccino and a natter with those lucky folk sitting in the sun with their aperitivi, I made it back just in time to see the brand-new lambs of God receiving their first communion wafer, before heading out of the church to carry a statue of Jesus round the village in the company of the local brass band and a horde of hangers-on.

Once that was taken care of, the day really began; white robes were unceremoniously discarded to reveal spangly party outfits beneath and off we all headed to our respective restaurants (not before us adults revived our incense-numbed taste buds with dram or two, naturellement).

Not a halo in sight…

What followed was a feast that surpassed even Easter’s calorific overload; but lessons having been learnt, I partook of only half of every portion that arrived on my plate, thus exchanging a feeling of imminent death for the lesser evil of extreme gastric discomfort.

It was a truly delightful day because it was spent in the company of the people I love most here in Italy, and I was extremely touched that they wished me to be a part of it – despite being aware of my deeply held atheist convictions.

Nevertheless, I cannot rid myself of my distaste at the indoctrination of young children into the stifling hypocrisy of a flawed institution that seeks only to control, and to enrich itself at the expense of its followers.

When will opium give way to reality?

This is Status Viatoris, longing for the day that organised religion becomes a thing of the past and faith takes its rightful place as a personal choice made by adults alone, in Italy and indeed everywhere.

Caution! Beer Goggles at Work!


status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

Drunken Stoned Man: I’ve seen you around, what’s your name?

SV: Status.

Drunken Stoned Man: Well, Stacey, do you know just how sexy you look in your glasses?

SV: It’s Status, and no; but I do know how squinty I look without them.

Drunken Stoned Man: And Stacey, the way you walk is really rather sexy too.

SV: It’s Status, and the way I walk is purely a means of getting from A to B without falling arse over tit; not that I’m not thrilled it appears to be serving a dual purpose, you understand.

Drunken Stoned Man (turning in a perplexed manner to friend): Is Stacey offended? Have I offended her?

Friend: It’s Status, and no, it’s very hard to offend her. I think you’ll find she’s just taking the piss…

Drunken Stoned Man: Don’t be offended Stacey! I’m in love with you! Can I read your palm?

SV: It’s…. never mind. If you insist.

Drunken Stoned Man: You will have one child.

SV: Really. How fascinating.

Drunken Stoned Man: There’s something else I can see here too…

SV: Don’t tell me, a tall stranger with a taste for special brew and fragrant plantlife?

Drunken Stoned Man: No. I can clearly see from your palm that you are someone who gets to a certain point in her life, and then walks away from it all in order to start over again.

SV (mouth hanging open in distinctly un-sexy fashion): ???

Drunken Stoned Man: I’m knackered. I’m going home. Will someone roll me one for the road?

This is Stacey Viatoris, really quite impressed despite herself, in Italy.

Fancy a Highland Fling?


status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

The summer of 2009 spent in North West Scotland sounded like just the ticket – work a few hours in the local pub, and spend the rest of the time writing, learning Gaelic, walking and reconnecting with nature…


A Highland Burn

Regretfully there were a number of elements I neglected to take into consideration when conjuring up that fantasy: the fact that I chose to work in one of the busiest pubs in the Highlands, for one. Not having worked in the UK since 1995, I also grossly overestimated hospitality industry wages, thus necessitating a 50 hour week. And then there was all the boozy, after-hours socialising – not obligatory by any means, but very hard to walk away from when you are a person of minimal self-control.

And I mustn’t forget the biggest and most unexpected spanner in my Highland works: the moody bisexual lover.

Oh yes, no girl should be without one of those in her past. It makes one look frightfully modern and open-minded, don’t you know.

Just a rainbow…

Actually that is a lie.

It’s horribly confusing, and potentially very damaging to a girl’s self-esteem. Lured in by tales of world travels, an exotic background and a bloody-minded body clock tempting me to desperate measures (don’t worry, I have since removed the batteries…) I found myself caught up in an obsessive tangle with a most unsuitable man.

Sexuality aside (he professed to love “women’s souls”, but his eyes certainly preferred young men’s legs, and his memories of past seductions – primarily of inebriated younger, heterosexual men – were fresh indeed), he was financially unstable, slightly delusional and apparently hell-bent on convincing me that I was lacking in most meaningful areas.

It took me nine months and a visit to the other side of the world to come to my senses, and it may be a while yet before I stop kicking myself for my lack of judgement and my utter stupidity.

Num nums

Anyhoo, he warrants not a mention more, and thankfully he is not my sole memory of seven months in Wester Ross. No, I also have a whole stack of other memories to fall back on: taking orders for local delicacies I would rather have been eating – prawns, mussels, oysters, scallops, haggis, steak, cranachan; tearing my hair out trying to find seating for the queue of tourists snaking out of the pub door, fielding endless questions about Monty Halls (don’t ask), getting constantly stuck behind bloody tourists driving at 25mph on winding single track roads;  not to mention the many, many blurry evenings spent consuming far more liquor than was good for me…

They maybe bendy, but 25mph IS STILL TOO BLOODY SLOW!

And although I never did get round to the Gaelic, like all the other Sassernachs now residing up there, my vocabulary was soon splattered with ‘wees’ and ‘ayes’, and there was generally a good craic to be had.

I have lived in small communities all my life, but I don’t think anything can quite compare to the isolation of some of these tiny outlying villages. Everybody knows exactly what you are up to, probably even before it has occurred to you to get up to it.  Many of the residents greatly enjoy the pub and the wealth of drams it has to offer, but there are still those who live bound by the strictures of the Kirk, the Wee Free, or even the Wee Wee Free (I have yet to learn the differences).

Alcohol and depression are two prevalent problems in these areas (the rigours of the climate and the sheer remoteness surely being

Looking at a loch

contributory factors) but there is still a great sense of community spirit which especially comes to the fore during the ceilidhs that are put on by local bands throughout the year.

There are many aspects of life which for necessity’s sake are not lived as they would be in the metropolis, but even these communities are not immune to the adverse affects of Southern bureaucracy. Only recently the Post Office, in all its great wisdom, and from the comfort of its HQ somewhere in Englandshire, decided that post vans should no longer carry anything but mail. So older and/or carless people, who would have relied on the postman to drive them to the next village, or collect their shopping, were suddenly cut off.

(Globalisation? Centralisation? I don’t know what you call it, but it has definitely brought with it an inability to think outside the box or take into account that humans do not all live identical existences.)

The scenery wasn’t ‘arf bad

So despite not doing any of the things I had intended to do, and instead doing a lot of things I had absolutely no intention of doing, I am still very glad to have been able to spend a summer in such a beautiful and unique place. But should I ever make my way back,  a writing, Gaelic learning, walking and reconnecting with nature orgy would most certainly be the ordre du jour…

This is Status Viatoris, Hey! Madame Poisson and Mademoiselle Noix, I’ll take the lowe road if you’ll take the high one! in Northamptonshire.

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