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Posts Tagged ‘Food’

Stuffing the Hollow Legs

20/09/2016

Tired Old Tales for Tuesdays

Status Viatoris

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

It never ceases to astound me just how much food the Italians (and the Spanish, and the French) can pack away, and still not be beset by the obesity issues that so trouble some Anglo-Saxon countries.

I spent a truly delightful evening in the company of my neighbours and some of their friends a few nights ago, but had to practically roll myself home afterwards. The combination of a five course meal (FIVE courses on a TUESDAY!) accompanied by five different sorts of alcohol ensuring that the following day passed in a cumbersome blur of post-overindulgence.

Accompanied by copious amounts of red wine, we began with anti-pasti; stuffed courgette flowers (fiori riempiti), courgette quiche and spinach (ge in dialect) quiche.

Followed by pasta; pappardelle (very wide tagliatelle) with anchovies, tomato, mint, basil, garlic and…

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Noshing Across the Cultural Divide

04/08/2016

Tired old tales for Thursdays – originally posted on 07/05/2010

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

Tonight, I had the first of what I hope will be many ‘aperitivi’ in my new village.

Being a girl often on her lonesome own-some, going out and about in the evening has never been the easiest of things in any of the Mediterranean countries I have lived in. Although a solitary visit to a restaurant terrace in the touristy coastal towns would be perfectly acceptable, venturing into any of the village bars or eateries on my tod would get me the sort of attention that I could well do without.

Thus far, my only night-time excursion had been to the local pizza restaurant safe in the company of some French friends who had trekked over the border for the  simple pleasure of my company.

It was an interesting experience that got off to a cracking start with ‘Les Français’ being two hours late due to work issues.

I was then moaned at because my directions hadn’t been accurate enough.

Then there were the snide  asides about what a monied area I must live in because of all the large villas they had passed (either the pitch darkness or a little too much pre-dinner vin had obviously  been at work, for I travel that road at least twice a day and have yet to find myself nez à nez with a millionaire).

I was then treated to a bout of Gallic snootiness because there was no wine list (one just orders a caraffa of rosso, bianco or rosato – which are usually pretty faultless as well as costing less than a round of soft drinks).

To top it off, most of the group persisted in speaking to the bemused waiter all night in French.

I have often noticed that Italians who trot over the border to France, even if it’s just to visit the supermarket for a bit of variety, manage to communicate perfectly well in French. The French journeying in the opposite direction, however, can barely even seem to manage a ‘grazie’, when ironically a large percentage in the south-east of France carry Italian surnames due to the historical overlap between the two countries.

Anyway, although a laugh and a reminisce were had, and some indecently delicious pizza was guzzled, by the end of the evening I was reassured that the path I have chosen is the right one for me. Viva Italia!

(that said, I still get a real thrill from revisiting my old French haunts every few weeks and feeling just as home there as I am starting to feel in my new host country – I acknowledge that I am an extremely fortunate girl who has no reasons for complaint!)

So this afternoon, my colleague/friend and I decided to push the boat out and have a couple of drinks while we were waiting for her daughter to get back from a school trip.

We chose a bar with a terrace alongside the main thoroughfare, and settled back to enjoy our wine and nibbles. Italy is delightfully like Spain in that respect; with each drink, an array of goodies is spread out for you to feast on. For a measly five euros we had two drinks each, 1 bowl of crisps, 1 bowl of tacos, 1 bowl of peanuts, 1 plate of pizza chunks and 2 plates of cheese and ham piadina sections. (Piadine are hot or cold sandwiches made with a special unleavened bread from the Emilia Romagna region). And that was supper taken care of, although if we had had the inclination to continue boozing, the offerings would have become more and more expansive.

Whilst we were scoffing and chatting, a small lorry pulled up in front of us so that the driver could chat to a friend. After a few seconds everyone in the vicinity was made very aware of its cargo, as the smell of manure wafted fragrantly over the tables to mingle with the aroma of the delicacies on our plates.

And on he chatted, and on and on, whilst all around him people heaved, and gagged, and reeled. Eventually a similarly sized lorry, this time with a more acceptable cargo of strawberries, drew up alongside and pointed out that he was causing a Mexican wave of retching up and down the high street. With much guffawing and not a word of apology for the olfactory rape he had just subjected us all to, he drove off.

(and only my revolting Pooch was sad to see him go)

This is Status Viatoris, still chuckling to herself – “Only in Italy!”.

Aperitivo, Anyone?

03/02/2012

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.

Can It Really Be That Time Again?

30/12/2011

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

I’m afraid so.

Snootzer – temporarily replacing Blitzer during his spell in rehab.

Yes: yet another year has managed to sneak on past, astounding those of us who suffer from the malady commonly known as: “Crisping cowpats! Where has the time gone?!”

(I am told it is an age-related thing I shall eventually come to terms with; possibly in much the same way I have resigned myself to rarely remembering what I came into the kitchen to get, or the occasional mad hunt for glasses that are already perched on the top of my head.)

Twinkling Terrazza

So Christmas 2011 has been and gone, and we are now a few short hours from the ushering in of 2012 – and the end of the world if those enlightened spokespeople for superstitious bonkersdom are to be believed.

And other than an on-going list of piffling illnesses (to which laringitus, mouth ulcers and a yeast infection can now be added), I have to admit that the last week or so has been all I could have wished for and more.

Fibre optics spreading a little festive cheer…

Admittedly it got off to a rather chaotic start, with the harrying of the builders from a (still half-completed) apartment in order to install my much longed-for French furniture.

But amazingly (movers grumbling at 54 steps-induced respiratory difficulties notwithstanding)  the whole endeavour was gloriously hitch-free, and having met the removal lorry in My Little French Village at 8h00, by 14h00 I was already elbow-deep in dust and suds getting my newly furnished Italian home scrubbed up to mothership standards…

…for she was due for a docking the very next day and there is nothing I enjoy more than the challenge of a tight turnaround.

Cosy just ain’t the word!

Thus, 24 frantically busy hours later, and I was racing – late, comme d’habitude – to Nice International Airport to collect  Mother who, by failing to recognise my car at the Kiss, Bye, Fly collection/drop-off/ speedy drive-past, almost caused a fatal tits-upping of the entire enterprise.

Luckily our stars eventually collided in a flurry of waves and shrieks, and we were able to stage a triumphant return to My Little Italian Village; snuggling in for the duration amongst the merry twinkle of Xmas decs, and in the company of a most delighted Pooch.

When only tooth and claw will get the job done.

We spent the evening of the 23rd enjoying a typically chaotic and noisy  dinner with my adoptive famiglia (being now utterly inured to Italian decibels, it took Mother’s wincing visage to remind me just how loud they can get), and rather rashly decided to return the favour in the form of an “apero-cena” on the 24th in order to show off the now furnished apartment, and obtain forgiveness for opting out of the Christmas Day meal in a local pizzeria.

Contrary to all expectations, and with the rallying round of these excellent folk with polpette (little meat balls), Argentine empanadas (savoury mince and egg pastries) and a torta di formaggio (savoury cheese tart) to add to the salamini, parmeggiano, insalata caprese, olives and smoked salmon already littering the table, the evening was a roaring success.

Pandoro joins an otherwise rather British Xmas

With all the most pressing social engagements behind us, we were therefore able to spend a peaceful and guilt-free Xmas day at home with Pooch and my favourite Kiwi friend, contemplating the bottoms of rather too many bottles of prosecco and demolishing a roast chicken and apple crumble feast tipsily prepared by yours truly.

Boxing Day brought yet more delights in the shape of a classical concert in our local church. The repertoire was rather ambitious for a small brass and woodwind orchestra, with Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Verdi and Dvorak providing some serious meat to accompany the more light-hearted carol veg.

A gentleman of my acquaintance rather aptly described the performance as “well-meant”, but although parts of it could certainly not be called technically masterful renditions, it was a truly delightful concert delivered with a joy and enthusiasm that was uplifting to behold.

“Ho.. ho… how the floating pooh sticks am I going to get back up there after all those delicious mince pies that SV was so incredibly touched to receive?”

Thus I slide, well-fed, contemplative and still a little snotty, towards the dawning of a brand spanking new year.

And on that note, I would like very much to wish all Status Viatoris readers, their families and their friends, oodles of health and happiness for 2012.

 “Dance as though no one is watching.

Love as though you’ve never been hurt.

Sing as though no one can hear you.”

And, most importantly:

“Live as though heaven is on earth.”

Because that is precisely where it is.

This is Status Viatoris, extremely hopeful that 2012 will see all French notaries being rounded up and repeatedly slapped with wet fish in a public place, in Italy.

Confessions of a Serial Comfort Eater

30/11/2011

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

Or should that be a “cereal comfort eater”?

I suppose, given my lifelong love affair with Kellogg’s, that the second term is equally valid, if a smidgen less encompassing of the whole truth.

Having hinted at attempts to gain control over the blubber that has been souring my existence since my late teens, it seems right and balanced that I also share with you the low points.

Of which “right now” would qualify pretty nicely.

Because at some point over the last two months, I appear to have fallen off the healthy lifestyle wagon and the damage is starting to show: digging-in waistbands over rolling hillocks of tummy, bras that pinch, the disappearance of any semblance of a 90° angle where neck meets jawline.

But by far the worst symptom of all, has been the gradual erosion of my self-esteem: that most welcome of weight-loss side-effects.

And as I find myself in Italy, there is absolutely no hiding away from the reality of the situation:

“Goodness, you have put on weight. I can really see it in your face.”

“Goodness, you have put on weight. I can really see it round your middle.”

and my favourite old chestnut:

“How exciting! I didn’t know you were pregnant!”

Mortifying, depressing; but may possibly serve to heave my bulk back onto the healthy lifestyle wagon sooner than if I were surrounded by more polite souls.

Tracking back, it seems likely that things began to take a downhill path when the autumnal chills brought with them my first dose of flu; the negative connotations of such an occurrence being two-fold:

– I was not well enough to take Pooch for his customary walks.

– I had to rely on “easy” food stuffs because I was unable to take care of shopping or cooking.

But when flu turns into gastric flu, which morphs into a sinus infection, and then descends to a chest infection – all of which drag on in a seemingly interminable fashion, and are interspersed with persistent migraines; the risk is that a perennial comfort eater will eventually turn to that which their brain has decreed will bring temporary alleviation of all misery: calorific foodstuffs.

And when fevers, coughs and sniffles also conspire to prevent said comfort eater from keeping up their calm, but regular, exercise regime, then the result soon becomes visible to all and sundry.

So this is the point at which I find myself, yet again: gazing with horrified fascination into the mirror, torn between wanting to hide in a corner and sob self-loathing into a packet of biscuits, and the knowledge that with the right psychological impetus, I WILL be able to turn this around.

For although it may well be so that the consumption of high-fat, high-sugar foods fosters addiction for high-fat, high-sugar foods; as long as the resulting satisfaction is fleeting and the price that satisfaction demands too high, I decree that my physical and mental health, and my sense of self-worth deserve to be fought for.

PLEASE DON’T GO ANYWHERE, HEALTHY LIFESTYLE, I’M BATTLING TO MAKE MY WAY BACK TO YOU!

This is Status Viatoris, the battle of the blubber is never over, a comfort eater is never cured; trying one’s best is the best one can do, in Italy.

Oh Nuts!

26/10/2011

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

Sunday played host to another important event in the annual My Little Italian Village calendar.

It was time for Festa della Castagna: a heart and cockle warming day of crackling fires, roasting chestnuts and a reminder that perhaps winter isn’t that bad after all.

Just the ticket…

Providing excesses of weather do not halt play, the main street and village square usually fill up with stalls peddling anything from local cheeses to olive wood carvings, paper flower arrangements, and even bizarre “owl” dresses made in Thailand (I’m just bitter because I desperately wanted one, but was too podgy to fit into any of them…), whilst folk mill around scoffing bags of roasted chestnuts and local sausage, all washed down with red wine and chestnut beer.

Before long, the village is crunching happily through the charcoal covered remnants of a day’s feasting…

Exhibit 1: Chestnut shells on an ex-pat table…

Unfortunately I was halfway down my bag before I remembered that foodstuffs reputed to make normal people fart, tend to have rather more serious implications for my delicate innards.

Too much information, perchance?

Sorry.

Exhibit 2: Chestnut shells under an Italian table… 😉

This year I was able to experience the Festa della Castagna from a slightly different perspective – a more commercial one – thanks to one of my new “mini-jobs”.

Ci Vuole (it’s needed or necessary) is a tiny, but perfectly formed little emporium that belies its size by managing to bulge with a seemingly endless stock of interesting bits and bobs – antique mirrors, dresses, dressers and lamps; olive oil and handmade soap, aluminium jewellery, paintings and agricultural baskets and pots – the variety is as rich as it is fascinating.

An Aladdin’s cave of goodies…

And lucky old me has been offered the opportunity by the Italian-American owner to pongle around amongst the goodies act as sales assistant for a few hours a week.

I am even to be remunerated for the privilege, and life don’t get much more satisfying than that.

A selection of bits…

So Sunday saw us perched in the street outside the entrance, holding court over a table hopefully festooned with cinnamon and olive oil soap, brass bells, candles, olive sifters and fragrant bags of pot pourri – the perfect opportunity to make contact with the masses and introduce them to the delights of Ci Vuole.

Non-locals and foreigners wandered in and out of the shop throughout the festa, casting admiring glances over the wares and asking interested questions about their provenance. Interspersed with them were some of the older villagers, who simply looked rather bemused whilst wondering out loud about the intelligence of anyone prepared to pay good money for old stuff.

(Luckily for the future of this particular concern, those are the very locals we are relying upon to delve into their attics and sheds in order to keep us supplied with “old stuff”, and not the target client-base we are hoping will cough up for it.)

…and an array of bobs.

Sadly Sunday’s sales did not extend beyond the odd soap an a couple of bundles of incense sticks, but by all accounts we were not alone – trade in general was pretty lax: whilst there is apparently always just enough dosh for seasonal food and drink, could it be expenditure on heating bills that  is currently taking precedence over the acquisition of pretty trinkets?

Warmth come at a price, you know.

Which brings me to the interesting conundrum I now face: how to winkle enough cash out of the Ci Vuole customers in order to finance the toastifying  of my own humble abode…

This is Status  Viatoris, keen to see whether her modern-day nomad status has deprived her of her previous membership to the nation of shopkeepers, in Italy.

A Scoffulatory Journey

19/10/2011

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

Having resolutely put all things culinarias from my mind in 2003, I was barely back over the border before my taste buds began involuntarily wallowing in a swill of nostalgic juices.

All concerns about putting back the weight I had lost over the past nine months disappeared in the squeeze of a lemon and the grind of a pepper mill, as I feverishly started planning my menu for the coming days…

First and foremost on my list of must-have-on-pain-of-deaths, was my definition of a proper Spanish breakfast: café con leche (infinitely more bearable than the gut rot they serve up in Italy), zumo de naranja natural (the health benefits of which are often offset by the addition of several sachets of sugar) and best of all; pan tumaca – fresh pitufo bread rolls, lightly toasted and spread with tomato innards before being drenched in olive oil then lightly sprinkled with salt.

Boy oh boy, some things never change – it turned out to be still far and away my favourite way of starting the day.

The desayuno of Kings

Breakfast taken care of, it was to the famous tapeo that my thoughts then turned.

How I had missed that glorious spread of bits and bobs, each expertly crafted to tickle the taste buds and seduce the senses: tortilla de papas, croquetas, papas bravas, ensaladilla rusa, morcilla, calamares a la romana, pulpo gallego, montaditos, pimientos piquillo, gambas al ajillo, pimientos rellenos, boquerones en vinagre – the mention of any of which is still capable of sending my tummy a-rumbling and filling my greedy mouth with lakes of lustful saliva.

Avocado and prawn montadito nestling happily next to quail’s egg and salchicha montadito

Pimientos masterfully rellenados (and not long for that plate)

Spicy papas bravas, exquisitely accompanied by creamy croquetas de jamón

Calamares, boquerones in vinagre and pescaito frito join in the fray…

Despite the straining of seams that resulted from such excesses, there was nearly always room for pud; and a teensy dish of practically calorie-free crema catalana would do the job nicely, thank you very much…

Crème Brûlée by any other name…

By the time we reached Portugal, even I was flagging a little. And having ticked all of the most important food stuffs from my list, I was ready to return to a more controlled way of eating. So what better than a modest and healthy bowl of seafood soup?

My darling, I dream of you still…

Spicy, fragrant and rich, it proved to be utterly and totally the most delicious bowl of seafood soup I had ever supped in my entire life, and washed down with copious quantities of iconic Mateus Rosé, (complete with fancy ice jacket)…

For re-hydrating purposes only…

…and the odd taste of my travelling companion’s goat (in the nicest possible way, you understand)…

I kid you not.

…it was quite possibly the most fabulous meal of our entire trip. So thanks a bundle, Porto, I will now be unable to visit Portugal without suffering similar paroxysms of greed as those which assailed me in Spain.

And once Burgos had been kind enough to provide us with temperatures wintery enough to allow a guilt free rendition of chocolate con churros, I knew the time had definitely come to kiss goodbye to my scoffulatory journey, and begin finding my way back to a more healthy life.

Spare tyres guaranteed.

(T’was exceedingly nice to be naughty, though…;-) )

This is Status Viatoris, thrilled to have returned to find broccoli season in full swing! in Italy.

The SV Guide to a Good Night Out

19/07/2011

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… 😉

Bil-hanā’ wa ash-shifā’…

12/07/2011

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

Beef tajine with prunes. Yum!

…or for those of us who do not have our modern Arabic down pat  – “May you have your meal with gladness and health.”

Which is exactly what I did on Sunday night, having been lucky enough to have been invited to an evening with a very international flavour: four Poms, a Kiwi and a Canuck, all sitting down to enjoy the most mouthwatering repast, prepared right in front of our eyes by the Moroccan cousin of one of the girls’ paramours.

A pasticciere (confectioner) by trade, and a passionate adherent to healthy eating, he excels in combining traditional Moroccan recipes with an organic style all his own. Herbs to clean this, spices to purify that; it is all minutely thought-out in order to provide guilt-free sustenance to those who treat their bodies as a temple, as well as titillating the taste buds of us rather less corporally-discerning souls.

Whilst the tajine was cooking I was set to work hand-rolling seasoned meatballs, quite a few of which the paramour was then popping raw into his mouth  – making me mightily relieved that it was not going to be me kissing him later on in the evening ;-). They were then cooked in a spicy tomato sauce, before being scooped into hungry mouths with lumps of soft Moroccan bread – a vast improvement on the often ghastly dry Italian stuff.

All those familiar food aromas, coupled with the sound of what is one of my favourite languages, ensured that I spent the entire night awash on a tide of nostalgia. Whisked right back to Granada in the late nineties, and the three years I spent with a pharmacy student from Ksar el-Kebir. The relationship itself was an unmitigated disaster (my speciality), but boy did I revel in the exoticism. The music, the food, the traditions; all perks of an association with someone from a vastly different background. And, for a while at least, more than enough recompense for turning a blind eye to the glaringly obvious examples of long-term incompatibility.

So I am led to conclude that Moroccan food with an organic twist is manna of the gods, my desire to see Cheb Khaled live in concert remains undiminished and I STILL DESPERATELY WANT TO LEARN ARABIC!

Oh dear, let’s just hope that the renewed itching in my flip flops is simply a sweat-induced fungal condition and not something with more serious geographical ramifications…

This is Status Viatoris, wahad for the sharia, and off we go!

Welcomed into the Flock by a Bloke in a Frock

06/06/2011

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.


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