I can make grown women cry, with my singing.

I can make grown women cry, with my singing.

There are two things I am pretty rubbish at, one is learning the Italian language and the second is singing. I always thought my singing was, well quite wonderful really, however Mrs Sensible says I am tone deaf.

In my defense, it must be said, I have sung at some pretty auspicious places, I sang with Craig at the Welsh National Stadium and  I even once sang with the school choir, you notice I said once.

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Ah the bliss of school.

Craig a friend of mine from Sheffield introduced me to the delights of singing at the top of my voice while standing in the rain with a meat & potato pie in one hand and a cup of bovril in the other. I learnt the words to The Greasy Chip Butty song and sang it as Sheffield United played football.

Craig was a keen supporter of Sheffield United and his enthusiasm wasn’t diminished for his team, when during the match he jumped in the air and landed badly on his foot. He turned to me and calmly said “I think I have just broken my ankle” he then turned back to the football match and shouted “COME ON YOUUUUUU REEDDDDSSSSSSS”. After the match we walked to the pub to celebrate, (admittedly Craig was limping a bit) and the following morning the local hospital confirmed he had indeed broken his leg so they stuck a pot on it.

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The lyrics to the Greasy Chip Butty Song (search on You tube for it)

During 2005 Mrs Sensible took me to her church in Sicily, she introduced me to her friends and then walked off with three of them and left me standing with Giuseppe or maybe it was Marco, anyway I noticed people were starting to sit down. As I went in search of Mrs S, I noticed that all the chairs around her were full! I ended up sitting five pews back and on the other side of the church.

As the first hymn started, I noticed two things, of course everyone was singing in Italian and second, none of the words I knew were included in the hymn. Mind you how many hymns start with the words , ‘hello, I like red white and where is my wife?’

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I knew the tune, just not the words

So I just stood there and listened. I think they were singing the second verse when I felt a little nudge in the small of my back. I thought it was a little strange to be nudged whilst standing in church, so I ignored it. And then I was nudged again. I turned to see a little Sicilian man holding an open hymn book for me, and his wife was smiling and kindly nodding. I took the hymn book, smiled and turned around. Taking a deep breath I joined them.

Pecora Nera Singing

I sang with gusto

I didn’t just mumble my way through the hymn, I sang with gusto, with fortitude and with absolutely no idea what the words meant or how to pronounce them.

I felt at one with the congregation and my maker, well until I looked down and saw a very small and worried looking boy staring at me from behind his mothers legs.

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Please make him stop!!

I smiled at him and gave him a wave, he quickly disappeared from sight. After the hymn had finished I turned and handed the book back to the man and thanked him. I think the moment must have been too much for  his wife, because she was dabbing the corners of her eyes with a lace hanky.

After the exertion of singing I sat down and listened but understood nothing the preacher was saying, it is a problem that still besets me. And then they stood and started singing another hymn and I felt the familiar nudge in my back.

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Give him the Hymn book again

After the service, Mrs Sensible told me I was welcome to visit the church whenever I was in Sicily, at least somebody must have appreciated my singing.

 

 

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Pecora Nera’s Homemade Limoncello Lollies

Pecora Nera’s Homemade Limoncello Lollies

This afternoon I was at a loose end, I checked the cupboards and there wasn’t any chocolate or crisps in sight, I checked my E-mail, Facebook, Whatsapp and then checked them again. A second trip around the kitchen didn’t reveal any biscuits or any hidden food that I could binge on…… but I did find these.

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Five lolly moulds, not six just five.

They had been sitting at the back of the cupboard since last September, Mrs Sensible bought them because they were on special offer and because I had pestered her for some lolly moulds. I was suddenly hit with a cunning plan, which is much better than being hit with one of Mrs Sensible’s wooden spoons. 

Maybe, just maybe I could make five (not six) limoncello lollies. I understand limoncello and especially my limoncello won’t freeze because of the alcohol content.  I did a quick search on the internet and discovered if I add a simple syrup to the mixture the alcohol will freeze. I checked my watch to make sure I had enough time to make a mess and tidy it up before Mrs S got back and then I set to work.

My recipe goes something like this.

Remove one bottle of limoncello from the freezer.

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mmmmm limoncello

Clean the ice lolly moulds and…

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I wonder who has the sixth mould?

Fill three of the moulds with water, one with limoncello and one with sugar.

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Moneta pans are pretty good…. they are really difficult to burn

To make the simple syrup mix pour the water and sugar into the pan and stir it until the sugar has dissolved. Taddda!!!

When it has cooled down a little, add the limoncello and give it a good stir.

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Pan of pee limoncello

Pour the limoncello mixture into the lolly moulds.

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In it goes

Replace the lids or put lolly sticks in and hide at the very back of the freezer. This is very important, because when Mrs S finds them, I can say “oh them! I made them ages ago and how has your day been?” Thereby deflecting the question and quickly changing the subject,

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Sealed and ready for the freezer

The other important thing to remember is to wash the pan and wooden spoon, wipe down the sides and in this way nobody knows you have been getting into mischief.

How do they taste?

Fantastic, so good I forgot to take a picture of the finished lolly. I knew you would be disappointed so I went and fetched lolly number two. I took a quick picture of lolly number 2 and sat in the sunshine licking the lolly and admiring my creation.

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If you still think it is out of focus, I can get another

When I opened the photo on my computer it was ever so slightly out of focus. So I fetched lolly number 3.

I took my time and tried to take a nice photo of lolly number three, the taste appeared to be slightly more lemony than lolly number 1 or 2, I decided to try lolly number 4 and then I went and had a little lie down.

Mrs Sensible’s asparagus and king prawn risotto.

Mrs Sensible’s asparagus and king prawn risotto.

Last night Mrs Sensible created a fabulous meal and I just thought I should share the recipe with you. I don’t normally post sensible things like recipes or which hotel to stay in, there are plenty of blogs that do that, however as I helped cook this meal and I didn’t burn it, I thought you might like to try it.

Ingredients.
100 grams of rice
300 grams of fresh peeled prawns
6 fresh king prawns
6 fresh asparagus
2 knobs of butter
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
2 glasses of white wine
1 small onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 small tomatoes
Pinch of parsley
Salt and pepper to season

Method
The very first thing you need to do is pour two glasses of white wine, Mrs Sensible used Arneis which is a fresh crisp dry wine from Marco Bellero’s cantina La Cà Nova

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One glass is for drinking while you cook, the other gets wasted during the cooking.

Peel the king prawns, put the body of the prawns to one side and place the heads, legs and shells etc in a saucepan with half a litre of water, bring it to the boil and allow it to simmer. This will be your stock.

If a foam appears on the top of the stock, remove the foam.

1a

Heads, arms, legs, shells etc in a saucepan.

Chop up the asparagus.  Add the king prawns, garlic, asparagus and peeled prawns to a frying pan, then fry until the prawns change colour in the olive oil,

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By now the smell is irresistible.

When they are cooked, place them in a bowl.

3a

Search for the garlic cloves and throw them away.

Separate the king prawns and asparagus tips and place them in a different bowl, find the garlic cloves and throw them away.

3b

Asparagus tips and King Prawns

Chop an onion and fry it in the frying-pan with a knob of butter. Do not clean the pan you want the flavour of the prawns to stay in the pan.

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Onion and Mrs Sensible’s wooden spoon

When the onion is soft and cooked, add the chopped tomato and continue to fry.

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The dreaded wooden spoon.

Add the rice to the frying pan.

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It was at this point that i asked if we had used enough rice, I would have thrown another two handfuls in. But Mrs Sensible said there was enough.

Pour in the glass of wine and gently stir.

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I nearly cried when she threw my good wine in the pan.

Stir until the wine has been absorbed by the rice and evaporated off.

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Start adding the stock, make sure the head, arms and shell stays in the saucepan.

Add a ladle of stock from the pan and keep stirring the rice and the onions, as the stock is absorbed add another ladle of stock. Keep adding the stock until it looks like this.

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Add the stock little by little and keep stirring or it will end up a horrible mess.

Mrs Sensible used nearly the full half a litre of stock, the trick is to add the stock slowly. keep allowing the rice to absorb the stock. I asked Mrs S why she didn’t just throw all the stock in at once, she told me the rice would go like pudding rice.

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Nearly ready

Add the bowl of asparagus and prawns to the frying pan and stir.

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Don’t you just love this action photo

Pour the risotto into two dishes and decorate with the king prawns and asparagus tips.

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Eat and enjoy

If you want to know what my part in this masterpiece was…. I took the photos and chopped the onion. Oh and drank the wine.

Buon appetito.

 

Get fit…… summer is on the way.

Get fit…… summer is on the way.

Today is an important day, it is the Glorious Twelfth which I am sure you know is the official start of the mosquito hunting season, if you want to get involved, further information can be found here.  It is also the day when Italians start to realise that they might have gained a few pounds over the winter and should consider some sort of exercise or sport if they want to look their best on the beach.

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You need the perfect body for the perfect swimming costume, he is obviously English look how white his legs are!!!

During the summer of 2013 I reported on the bizarre sport of Summer Skiing, I understand the sport originated in Finland and has becoming very popular in Italy, mainly due to the relatively few accidents and because you don’t have to pay for ski lifts and expensive clothes.

Summer Skiing

Summer Skiing, no need to pay for expensive boots and skis..

I know over the winter I have managed to lay down a little bit of winter Insulation fat but I wasn’t sure which sport would be most suitable for a man of my tender years. Please don’t get me wrong, I have not been idle during the winter, every morning I do at least two sit ups, one as I sit up to turn off the alarm clock and another as I roll out of bed. Sometimes I manage a third sit up especially if I hit the snooze button rather than the off button on the alarm clock.

Summer will be here soon and I know that if I take up summer skiing I wont lose my winter fat until maybe the summer of 2017 or even 2018 and the thoughts of walking onto the beach in Sicily and having to hold Mrs Sensible’s bag while she goes for a swim is depressing.

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Let me hold your bag while you go for a swim

Drastic measures cause for drastic actions, I have taken up karate. I know you will want to know which hospital to send the get well soon cards to… at the moment all injuries have been self inflicted. The first three week I started training, Mrs Sensible had to help me in and out of bed, after each visit to the club it took me nearly three days to learn to walk unassisted.

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Pecora Nera is learning Karate, I thought he got his exercise from drinking wine !!!

At times it was so bad, I would not even consider trying to wobble over to open a bottle of wine and that’s saying something. And what is Mrs Sensible doing I hear you ask! Well Mrs S has decided to get fit by walking, she meets up with her teacher friends and they go walking after school. I did consider inviting her to join the karate club but, I don’t know, it just didn’t seem appropriate.

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Mrs Sensible is dangerous enough with her wet wooden spoon.

Besides there are already two very dangerous females at the club, I am petrified of them, I thought females were supposed to be the gentle sex . On Thursday we practice what we have learnt by fighting each other. We are supposed to partner up with someone with the same ability and skill, these two horrors keep picking on me. I really need to consider complaining to our instructor.

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If they don’t stop picking on me I will take up dominoes

La Bella Chaos.

You know I am normally upbeat and can usually see the funny side of attempting to live a normal life in La Bella Chaos. Today it very nearly beat me, I have spent a couple of hours gnashing my teeth, ripping my sack-cloths and growling at fellow human beings.

I weathered the storm and laughed when it took Snr Cretino eight months to organise my Italian driving licence, but today my insurance agent tried to baffle me with stupidity. Maybe today was just another normal day in Bella Italia and I was tired or maybe I just assumed renewing my car insurance would be easy.

Two years ago we decided to economise and put one of our cars into storage, Mrs Sensible and I tossed a coin and she lost the bet (double headed coins are very useful). Her very sensible and economic Peugeot was abandoned stored and my uneconomical but fun Mini was used by both of us.

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Mrs Sensible’s sensible diesel Peugeot.

 

Last night Mrs Sensible made a very valid case for blowing the dust off her car and bringing it out of storage. First she swapped to her schoolmarm voice and then suggested we should insure and tax her economic car and put my fun and gas guzzling mini in the shed or she would go off in search of her wet wooden spoon. I could not think of a suitable argument and she wasn’t going to fall for the double headed coin a second time.

I phoned my insurance company and told them to reinstate the Peugeot’s insurance and I set off in the Peugeot to find someone who would test the car for me. Now in the UK if a car does not have a MOT certificate it is possible to drive it on the road as long as  1) You have an appointment booked for a vehicle test 2) You are driving to the test center. I have no idea what the rules are in Italy, but I doubt they are so straight forward.

Typical stop and search

Typical Carabinieri  stop and search. IMPORTANT: It is not true that the red stripes on their trousers are so they don’t put them on inside out, nor is it true that they wear wellies because they don’t know how to tie their shoe laces.

In Italy the local Carabinieri are not regarded as the brightest of people,  I hasten to add I think they are really, really nice people and I don’t believe a word of the stories nor do I laugh at the Carabinieri jokes. I know I was a little less than impressed when they investigated the burglary at my house…. and I do think it is impressive that they always choose the same places to set up their ‘stop and search’. After all consistency is a good thing. It also means if you are in a rush and don’t have time to say hello to them it is possible to cut across the countryside.

A little scenic drive

This morning I was in a little rush.

Mrs Sensible’s car passed it’s test first time. I was incredibly relieved and managed to uncross my fingers. When I arrived at the insurance office to pick up the new insurance documents, the man tried to give me the insurance paper for my lovely soon to be stored Mini.

Ciao Snr Pecora Nera.

Ciao! I go here take paper insurance for wife car.

These are the new documents for your Mini.

No! Wrong not Mini, wife car.. Peugeot! 

Ahhh! You want to insure Mrs Sensible’s car. Let me work out a price for you.

Italy runs on paperwork. Households save till receipts and  proof of payments forever. In every house there will be a box with a mass of yellowing receipts going all the way back to the receipt for the wedding dress. My father in law told me, he once had to prove he had paid his car tax, a bill he had paid four years previously!

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Every Italian house needs a Tin of Denial

Snr Pecora Nera, your wife’s car will cost € 460.00 to insure.

What? My 1.6 petrol Mini  € 420.00. Peugeot  1.4 diesel. Look again! 

Pointing at his computer screen he said, But your wife’s car has not been insured for four years. She is now a high insurance risk.

It took me a minute before I understand what he was trying to tell me. I delved into my cardboard box and produced the insurance document for 2013 – 2014. I gave him the paper and explained it could be risky to suggest Mrs Sensible was a high insurance risk. Although paying over the top to insure Mrs Sensible’s Peugeot and explaining to  Mrs S that Italy considers me a better driver might have been fun.  

My insurance agent suggested I should go to the bar for a cappuccino while he sorted out the mistake on his computer. Halfway into a nice brioche and cappuccino. He phoned me.

Snr Pecora Nera, I have sorted it all out.

Grazie, On the way I am.

The agent then explained that the car is owned not only by Mrs Sensible, but her father’s name is also on the car’s documents. This meant because her father lives in Sicily, the car will be at a bigger risk of having an accident and the insurance cost will be €530.

I tried my best to explain that her father wouldn’t be driving the car and can’t we just remove his name from the document….. I have some Tipp-ex here and after all this is Italy

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Tipp-Ex perfect for correcting blog posts

The insurance agent said I would need to either transfer the ownership of the Peugeot to either me or Mrs Sensible’s. This will cost around €400 – €500 euros.

So for the moment Mrs Sensible’s car is still in storage and my little Mini is drinking it’s way through a fortune in petrol.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Limoncello Recipe

Limoncello Recipe

During the summer of 2014 Mrs Sensible and I had two Workaways Guestaways staying with us, while they were here we had another visitor, an engineer from one of my customers was allowed to fly from the UK for a product training course.

One evening the four of us were playing cards and drinking wine and probably grappa and maybe even a glass or two of limoncello. At about one thirty in the morning, I decided I had better go to bed, I left the three of them with an ample supply of wine and a half full bottle of limoncello.

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The two workaways during the infamous barbeque. see the post Press the button

During the early hours of the morning while I was snoring in bed, they managed to not only finish the wine and the limoncello, but they drew lots to see who would go down into the cellar in search of more limoncello. I was told with complete sincerity that they believed that I would not want them to go thirsty and therefore they felt obliged to source another bottle ……. and drink it.

In six weeks time the two girls are visiting us again, and knowing how much they enjoyed my limoncello I have made them a small batch.

So here is my recipe.

Ten organic and non-waxed lemons

One litre of 95% proof alcohol

One litre of water

800 grams of sugar

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I managed to smuggle these in Mrs Sensible’s shopping

The first stage is to wash and dry the lemons. Then very carefully peel the lemons making sure you do not include any of the white pith because it will make the limoncello bitter.

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Yours truly peeling the lemons

Place all the lemon peel into a clean plastic bucket and pour in the 95% alcohol. Cover the bucket and leave it in a dark place for three weeks. Once a week give the mixture a stir.

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After 3 weeks the flavour and colour will have leached out of the peel into the alcohol.

After three weeks the mixture will look yellow and the lemon peel should look almost white.

At this stage it is very important that you are not tempted to taste or to breath in a lungful of the aroma coming from the bucket. I can vouch that it takes at least five weeks for the hairs in your nose to grow back and I vaguely remember it was at least an hour before I could talk or breath properly after I decided to lick the wooden spoon I had just stirred it with.

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Try not to burn the spoon or the water, believe me it is possible.

Pour one litre of clean water into a deep pan and bring it to the boil, while the water is boiling, slowly add the sugar and stir it until the sugar has completely dissolved. While your water and sugar mixture is cooling remove the lemon peel from the alcohol and allow them to strain, each drop of alcohol that drains is one more sip on a hot summers day.

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The peel should look pale yellow, almost white.

When the sugar / water solution is tepid, pour it into the bucket. Cover it and put it back into a dark place for a week.

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Limoncello and one of Mrs Sensible’s wooden spoons.

After one week give the mixture a stir and bottle it.

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Unfortunately I needed to drink the last glass of grappa so that I could use the bottle

With the above ingredients you will create about three litres of limoncello. Because the alcohol content is so high (much to the disapproval of Mrs Sensible) the limoncello won’t freeze when it is stored in a freezer. And on a hot summers day there is nothing better than an ice cold glass of limoncello.

Mrs Sensible is very keen on being environmentally friendly and we tend to compost anything that is compostable. We were living next door to Luigina the last time I made limoncello and I dutifully threw the alcohol infused lemon peel in our vegetable waste bucket and then threw it to the hens……. When I realised the hens were fighting over the lemon peel I spent a very worried night wondering if the hens would survive their pub crawl.

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If anyone has a recipe for peeled lemons I am all ears, especially if it contains alcohol

This recipe was taught to me by Mario Masia, Mario owned the restaurant in Sheffield where I met Mrs Sensible. If you are ever in Sheffield UK go to his new restaurant called Akentannos at 270 Sharrow Vale Road Sheffield and tell them his crazy English friend sent you.

Italian Rituals

Italian Rituals

I have had at least a  month to ponder and write a post about Italian weird rituals for the April C.O.S.I post, it is now the 5th and I am still struggling.  Maybe it is because after living here for nearly nine years Italia no longer seems so strange and weird. Or maybe it’s because I am pigro.

We are coming up to the start of the mosquito hunting season and I did consider telling you how Italians can hold a very serious conversation whilst standing on one leg and attempting to either splatter a mosquito that has landed on their leg or soothe the bite mark by giving it a quick rub.

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Robert Downey Jnr attempting to kill the mosquito that is biting his leg

The second possibility for a post, was the annual ritual of sending your winter coats and heavy blankets to the dry cleaners, packing away all the winter clothes and getting the summer clothes ready for summer. This has always bemused me and I refuse to co-operate with Mrs Sensible. I maintain that I can’t pack away my jumpers and winter coats because if I fly to the UK in August I will probably need them…. and an umbrella.

Besides, I am yet to meet an Italian that doesn’t wear a scarf in summer to protect them from cervicale.

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A tartan bed sheet used as a scarf

On Sunday we were having a bring and share with a group of friends from church, Mrs Sensible turned to me and said ok we are going now. Under normal circumstances this means get your hat and coat we are off, but in Italy this means we are nearly ready to go, we just need to start the ritual of saying goodbye to everybody. So I wandered off in search of another glass of wine and a slice of chocolate cake.

While I was savoring a very nice glass of Barbera, Mrs S was chanting ciao, arrivederci,  ci verdiamo, arrivederla, a presto, a domani etc. As I stood next to the table with the cakes I started to wonder how I could put a post together.

Good bye 5

The correct way to say goodbye in Italia. Notice the perfect peck on the cheek and the way he is making sure he has a firm grip… on the bottle of wine.

Mrs S had got around to the kissing on the cheeks and had actually managed to make some headway in the general direction of the door, when someone held her hand (so she couldn’t escape) and started another conversation. I swirled the wine in my glass, admired the colour and took another drink. I knew I had at least another twenty minutes before I needed to start looking for my coat.

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This is not the way to kiss cheeks… she is in danger of gaining stretch marks and the kiss kiss noise she makes will be deafening

Mrs S looked over towards me, so I casually replaced the glass on the table and pretended to walk towards her, as she rejoined the conversation I picked up a piece of torta di mele and replenished my glass of wine.

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This is maybe a little to over the top, we can see she isn’t wearing a wedding ring, but that is no excuse for taking the kiss goodbye too far.

It was at this point that I wondered if I could put together a post on the ritual of drinking wine in Italy, after all it is something I have a passion for, I could also ask the permission of Mrs S if I could maybe, you know, visit a couple of wine cantinas to further my research.

Good bye 1

yep, in Italy even men kiss each other. Please note that they are also shaking hands, this is to prevent accusations that they are more than just friends

So here I am, it is the 5th and I still don’t know what to write about. I could tell you about my first day teaching English to a class of seventeen 6 year olds! That was fun, or maybe the first time I tried to sing a hymn in Italian and scared the three rows of people in front of me!

So while I ponder what to write for the C.O.S.I post on Italian Rituals let me leave you with Maria Cucinotta who starred in Il Postino to kiss you goodbye.

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Maria Grazia Cucinotta kissing goodbye

The COSI Group

Rick’s Rome: Ridiculous Rituals In Italy/Under The Puglia Sun

Sicily Inside And Out: Culture Shock In Sicily

Sex, Lies, and Nutella: Food Traditions

Surviving in Italy: Top 7 Weirdest Rituals in Italy

Girl in Florence: Strange wedding traditions