Tuesday, 29 December 2009

A Popular Singer

I understand that the local dance halls are invariably sold out when this lady tops the bill.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

More Food! More Wine!

Ah, the visual and gastronomic delights of fresh, home-made pasta.

Yet another pre-Christmas family lunch, and it looks like there's about a bottle a head and that's just for starters.
The pleasures of the Italian table are indeed manifold.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

You're only old twice

Down to the Big City by the Sea for a tough match against Bari, only to hear whilst on the train that the match had been postponed because of ice on the terraces. At Genoa? Bathed in Mediterranean sunshine? Another local council weapons grade cock up. Haven't they heard of salt? Only in Italy.
So what to do? Off to a trattoria for a perfectly awful meal, followed by a couple of Camparis at this bar with its sadly festive tree and not much else.
Back to the station. This is Genoa Brignole. Isn't it impressive? This one is for Wilko.
Then boozing on the journey back. Marvellous. Neither of these are Ron, sadly. Far too young.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Sign of the Times

This sign, now on its last legs, is still extant (and still being ignored) at the entrance to an alley in a local village. Doesn't look much like the HuziSuzi MFS50X9 MoFokka Firebreatha favoured by today's local youths.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Genoa Frenzy

A busy Sunday boozing in the wonderful port of Genoa was only slightly spoilt by the result of the match, Genoa 2 - Parma 2, we wuz robbed by the bastard in the black (although now it is the bastard in fluorescent lime green, like some motorway worker but with more sponsor decals).
This is one of my young friends, a bonkers Genoa fan, he works on a cargo ship, five months on and two months off. And he certainly makes the most of his two months off, I can tell you. He eats and drinks for Italy, look at him go.
Genoa is such a wonderful city, full of dodgy bars and stunning architecture. It is quite my favourite place on earth. Just look at this terrible shot of a 50s/60s Campari poster from God-knows-when, that I managed to blur in the stairwell of some bar.
And it wasn't there for museum effect, it has been there since the dawn of time because no one has ever been bothered to take it down. And she's quite fit of course which is a help. The words say "drink life baby!" which sound pretty good to me and that's why I drink Campari at every available opportunity. Having done so, this is where I ended up. Will Ron never learn?

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

I surrender!

The Intrepid One was over with the twinkle-toed Jo. It was quite a demanding weekend.
There was a lot of this.
And quite a lot of this.
And even some of this.
However the climax of the weekend was undoubtedly a first-ever visit to a genuine Italian dance hall, a raid led of course by the evergreen Giulio the Singer and The Tigerwoman.
It was a remarkable experience that is difficult to encapsulate with mere words. It was as if we had all stepped back into an Italian equivalent of Butlin's from the mid-fifties.
Jo wowed the regulars and collected quite a few admirers. She only declined one invitation to dance from a local ("he smelled of pee"). Fortunately TIO had managed not to soil himself and so was allowed to give her a bit of a whirl too.

All photographs © TIO. Cheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeers!

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Going up?

Now here's one for you lot. Which country do you think has more lifts per '000 head of population in the world? Of course, it's Italy. And do you know why? Because all Italians, he exaggerated wildly, live in blocks of flats. And on this single subject, dear reader, there is a book to write. There is a complete, self-contained enormous legal strata that deals just with the (literally) millions of disputes within said blocks of flats, another sprawling, unimaginably vast, layer of administrators, huge gangs of cleaners with their clapped-out Iveco vans, and so it goes on. Most of these palazzi were shoved up during the renowned boom that Italy enjoyed in the 1960s and early 70s, (Italians of a certain age still get misty-eyed when they start banging on about that golden time, and boy do they bang on) and for that reason most are somewhat, er, ugly. But inside...what a time capsule we have. Utterly untouched in terms of decoration or furniture, the halls and landings of Italian blocks of flats are silent, stark mausoleums, with nary a sign of dirt or mote of dust. Perhaps you will hear a distant television, but there is (sadly) little sound of crockery smashing against walls as another marital infidelity is uncovered. There is an occasional 1950s-style notice in a little glass frame advising the complete closure of the main entrance and counselling against the use of the lift in case of fire, but that is it.
Apart from all those bloody pot plants. Every-bastard-where, on every landing, outside every door, just sitting there doing sod all, being bloody shiny and green and evil, growing half an inch every ten years, as they have been since the six storey nightmare was thrown up forty years ago.

I really think I should get out more. Or is that stay in more? Can't quite make up my mind. Time for a Campari and Soda I believe.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

And another...

Different table, different bottles, same endless excess, another night out with Giulio the Singer. And on Friday The Intrepid One arrives for some R&R. I may well need some professional help in a week's time.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Bar None

Combo Catering decanted to the town of Vercelli last week to sate the hunger of braying arty types at the launch of a new Guggenheim exhibition in the local museum. Whilst the horribly underpaid and viciously overworked minions sweated away, I was able to take some time out for a gentle stroll around Vercelli, famous for being the rice capital of Italy, surrounded on all sides by flatness, utter flatness, and squillions of hectares of rice fields, each carefully flooded in the spring and summer creating a vast patchwork of mirrored geometric shapes when seen from the comfort of an airliner (get on with it, ed.). Anyway, because of all this, the town is renowned for the size and hunger of its mosquitoes in summer and the impenetrability of its fogs in winter. However, the centre of the town itself is an absolute jewel, with some sensational food shops and beautiful bars like this one:
The establishment is 120 years old, unchanged and still in the keep of the same family. The bar itself is not zinc but a mixture of tin and antimony, whatever that is. That's my coffee bottom right (on duty hence damned abstinence).
Well worth a visit to neck a few Campari and sodas (when not on duty) and soak up Italy's living past.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

No Holding Back

Fibonacci was over at the weekend and there wasn't much staring out of windows, I can tell you. On the Friday it was two different bars for an aperitivo and then a restaurant with Bruno and Giulio and various other topers, then two more bars in town before moving on for one for the ditch.....

...here, a wonderfully tacky bar/disco by the swimming pool. I believe Fred and I were drinking Spritz (see posts passim) by then, but I can't be sure. The weekend after that little outing took on an altogether more sedate tone as you might imagine for men of a certain age. Chopping up wood, cleaning car windows (thanks Fred) and pretty significant consumption of more wine and mushrooms. Fred's brother, The Intrepid One, will be over shortly so if I can manage to survive that as well there is a fair chance that I might see out the winter.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Clearing from the West

Up to the hilltop village to post a letter; after two days of foul rain and cold, this was the view this morning as the weather clears from the west. There is even a some snow visible on the mountains, and they are quite low, towards the sea. Unusual for October. This afternoon Fibonacci arrives, so all hope is lost for the weekend. He is without his Welsh travelling companion this time.
Incidentally, in front of me in the post office was a monk paying a gas bill. Afterwards I saw him getting into a brand new 09 reg 4x4 Panda. So much for an austere bloody existence. Shouldn't he be on a donkey or something?

Thursday, 15 October 2009

It's all over

Well, nearly over. After the day spent grape picking a couple of weeks back, GianCarlo came round the day before yesterday with my payment.
Thirty litres of the finest Dolcetto di Ovada. Should see me through to the end of the month, even with a long weekend visit coming up by Out The Window Bloke. Thirty litres! That's what I call a fair day's wage for a fair day's work.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Close Call

I promise this is the last post about mushrooms. But this year is a very special year in terms of the quantity and quality; Italians are going bonkers in their frenzy to collect. Cars parked badly on grassy verges, shouted pleas of "Giuseppe, where are you?" echoing around the woods, the grunting as creaking baskets are loaded into car boots and the thump, thump, thump of the helicopter ambulance as they look for an open area to pick up some fractured fungaiolo who leaned over just a little too far in his quest for that big fat one and fell 40 feet down a ravine.
And there was a bit of a mushroom frenzy in Casa Combo last night as a good number of these little beauties were wolfed down in the company of friends and a serious amount of Barbera d'Asti. Paying the price today. They play hell with your digestive system.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Penny Buns

The Italian State is omnipotent. It even announces when people can start mushrooming - a national pastime here. Anyway, today is the day as the heavy rain of about ten days ago was followed by some hot weather, making conditions ideal for funghi. And not only do they say when you can go but also how much you have to pay for a permesso, the mushroom picking licence. I think this year it is about €35; and it doesn't finish there. You then have to validate it with a marca da bollo, which is an official government stamp (only available from tobacconists) at €14.90; so you are meant to wedge up the thick end of €50 to get muddy, catch a cold and run the risk of a wild boar using your rear end as target practice whilst you are bent over not finding mushrooms. I don't know anyone who actually pays it, but maybe the professional funghioli (mushroom hunters) do in case the Italian Forestry Police (yes, they really do exist, spending most of their time driving round in Land Rovers and 4x4 Pandas doing sod all) nab them.
Licence-less I was out with Lucky this morning in the Combo woods and found these beauties. They are porcini or ceps (in French) or, rather pleasingly, penny buns for us lot. I shall slice them finely and fry them in a little olive oil with finely chopped garlic and parsley. Fresh bread and washed down with some decent Gavi di Gavi. Yum yum pig's bum!

PS Set prop courtesy of Unmitigated England.
PPS I am aware that what little posting there has been of late has been virtually alcohol-free. What with one thing and another I have been distracted recently. I shall do my utmost etc etc

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Ready for Winter

The local and much-loved ritual of ripping off the dumb foreigner reached its usual annual zenith with the delivery by some locals of our wood for this winter. Gone are the days when Ron trudged off up into the hills with a chainsaw, jerrycan of petrol and can of chain oil. Sod that for a game of soldiers. Firstly, the consignment was to be seasoned oak and ash. The trailer had been bulked up with poplar. Then, where was the print out from the public weighbridge for the trailer weight? Much scratching of heads whilst staring at the ground and grunting.
Looks like I may have to get the chain saw out of storage not only to menace the peasants but also to chop down some of the Combo timber for next year. It never ends.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

One for Vinogirl

The rose-tinted image of grape picking is not even remotely near the sheer back breaking horror of it all. For a start, the lovely bunches of grapes are not at a good height, but low down so you have to bend down. All the time. And then, most of them aren't just hanging there neat and tidy, waiting for the, snick, precise snip of your secateurs. They may be squashed between vine branches or trellis uprights, many will have sent out hardy tendrils that clamp to other branches, lots are hidden behind foliage, there is the ever-present danger of the person working the other side of the row taking off one of your fingers, then there are the wasps and hornets that arrive in droves once the sun is up. Oh no, it's a tough life in the vendemmia season. And then there's your back, which when you are the wrong side of, er, old really doesn't want to carry on after about four hours. I had the misfortune to be working the rows with a 78 year old local woman, Adrianna, who doesn't understand the meaning of "please, I beg you, for the love of God, slow down". Started at 8.00am, finished at 6.00 pm, half an hour for lunch. Never again.
Not much grape selection here Vinogirl. Everything goes in, mildewed, rotting or not and then it's off to the local co-operative. We picked all barbera on Friday.

At least Piero's happy, the old dog.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Two New Additions

Here are two newcomers to the Combo drinks cabinet; Punt e Mes is one of Italy's oldest vermouths and China (pron. keena) Martini is an extra-herby version of the classic Martini Rosso that is drunk as a digestivo. It took a bit of a caning the other night from some Brits so some re-stocking may be called for. The Punt e Mes is OK (any port in a storm etc) but red vermouths aren't my favourite. Vermouth comes from the German word wermut which means wormwood, this being the principal ingredient in absinthe. Which did for the frog poet Verlaine, who fell off his perch at 51.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Country Boy

Spotted near a country trattoria at the weekend. New one on me. Diplo?

Friday, 4 September 2009

Red Cross Parcel

Friends from Blighty have arrived by motor car bringing vital supplies. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Friday, 28 August 2009

Hooligans on the Lash

Down to a new bar in the local town to watch Odense-Genoa in the EuropaSuperLeague Cup of Cups, or whatever it's called this year. The bar owner, in the light of the West Ham - Millwall action, thought that he might cash in on the English hooligan presence (me) with a beer promotion. Given the paucity of the offer (I mean, buy three medium beers and get a small one free? A small one?) I snubbed his poor marketing and drank Campari and white wine all evening. However, I still managed to uphold his rosy view of all things English by lobbing empty glasses at passing cars and later on throwing a metal chair through a window. At the end of the match he waved at me warmly as I climbed into the ambulance, escorted by two carabinieri and a not wholly unattractive female paramedic.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

One for Wilko

Back in the fresh, hope-filled days of May the excellent English Buildings blog had a post on an exquisite bus shelter in Worcestershire. You can see it here. I had been meaning for quite a while to photograph a nearby bus shelter that is anything but exquisite but is rather more functional being a repository for death notices, local dance hall posters and a decades old declaration of love for Laura. Anyway, snapped as I passed by this morning on the way to the post office to send a couple of letters to Blighty (queueing time: 12 mins; processing time: 4 mins, a sort of record hereabouts given that I was the only other person in the queue).

Monday, 17 August 2009

Kingers on Drink

I am a big fan of Kingsley Amis and I think the above book to be a true literary classic. The hangover scene is probably one of the best-ever descriptions I have ever read. And, believe me, I know about hangovers. Nice cover, eh Peter?
I am currently re-reading Amis's "Everyday Drinking" which is a collection of pieces he wrote on booze and boozing between 1971 and 1984.

It is of course dated (there is mention of Double Diamond) and is perhaps a little too heavy on cocktails, but it is written in the typical breezy but dry Amis style and he is unsparing on his favourite bêtes noires. Your Ronnie is a fan of this book because Kingers is very much of the quantity rather than quality school of boozing. You can buy the paperback here.
I thought I'd just share this cocktail with you, just to get the week off on the right, bracing note. I quote Amis in full:
The Tigne Rose
1 tot gin
1 tot whisky
1 tot rum
1 tot brandy
1 tot vodka
"Even if you keep the tots small, which is strongly advisable, this short drink is not very short. It owes its name to Tigne Barracks, Malta, where it was offered as a Saturday lunchtime apéritif in the Sergeants' Mess of the 36th Heavy A.A. Regt., R.A., to all newly joined subalterns. The sometime 2nd Lieut. T.G. Rosenthal, from whom I had the recipe, says he put down three of them before walking unaided back to his room and falling into a reverie that lasted until Monday morning parade. A drink to dream of, not to drink."
Highly recommended (the book not The Tigne Rose).

Monday, 10 August 2009

Blood and Guts

To the 50th birthday party of a local chap last night. His main job is selling fruit and veg on the local markets with his brother. But he also works as a stuntman and specialises in fighting. He had just returned from Pinewood Studios near London where he had been working on Russell Crowe’s latest film which is a blood and guts version of Robin Hood, although the film doesn’t have a final title yet.
What was amusing were the other guests. The Market Trader and Stuntman is a keen fan of all things ancient British/Irish and belongs to a society called La Fraternità della Spada (The Brotherhood of the Sword) which re-enacts ancient battles, and half the guests were his fellow members. There were a lot of beards, ponytails, beer bellies and celtic cross tattoos. And that was just the women.
Virtually all his presents were weapons. He got two swords, three daggers, some sort of Chinese fighting stick and, as a nod towards high culture, a 19th century book on mediaeval shields. I, predictably, gave him two bottles of St Peter's Best Bitter, cheapskate that I am. I suppose 'though that he can drink the contents, smash the bottles and gouge someone in the neck.
Mrs Combo and I decided to leave when the hairy ones all settled down around a table to talk about disembowelling techniques during The Crusades.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

No Contest!

Where are you now Mr Gadjo Dilo? Cowering under the stairs? Skulking in the cellar? Did you hear how the traders on the Bucharest tomato futures market reacted when they saw the size and the juiciness of Ron's tomatoes? For you it is all over! The European market for tomatoes belongs to Ronald Combo! And this is just the beginning of my harvest! Hah hah! Weep your black East European tears because for you the game is up! The glittering prizes are all mine, do you hear? All mine!
Right, I think I'd better go and lie down for a day or two. All those exclamation marks. I blame the Punt e Mes.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

A Wedding in the Mountains

Went to a wonderful wedding at the weekend. Bruno the Car Dealer's daughter got married to her long-term boyfriend at the family home in the lower Alps beyond a town called Biella. The family home happens to be a folly castle built in 1890 by some serious family money, so half of it looks like a ruin. Perfect for an Italian wedding in the sunshine.
Leaving the church there was a tiny travelling circus in the park (can you spot Coco the Clown?).

There were two hours of aperitivi before we sat at table.

This is the Pimm's table that your correspondent loosely supervised until around 3 in the morning. Looks like things got a little out of hand.

Then it was the kitchen with the hard core drunks for a bowl of pasta and more wine and beer. To bed at four o'clock. A truly terrific wedding.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Rolling and.....action!

Combo Film Productions International is busy casting for its next blockbuster. Cheeky little minx isn't she?

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

"Better an empty house...

than an unwelcome guest" would be the invariable comment made by an extremely dull former acquaintance of mine from Bristol after he had belched prodigiously, having just downed a pint of Smiles Best.

Some unwelcome guests arrived at Casa Combo last weekend. A group of motorbiking lawyers who booked to stop over on a 'run' for an extended aperitivo, that is a table full of food and drink.
They were coarse, foul-mouthed, offensive, bigoted, arrogant, ignorant, boorish, objectionable drunks. I liked them enormously of course.

The t-shirt speaks volumes. And I thought us English had a virtual monopoly on uncivilised behaviour.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Doctors on the Lash

The Combo Empire's Catering Division was busy on Saturday and Sunday, supplying the food and drink for an all weekend thrash at a private house for three doctors from Milan who were celebrating their 50ths. The Ron Combo Combo kept the dance floor packed with a deft blend of hits from the 70s and 80s, Mrs Combo kept the partygoers' energy levels up with some fabulous food and I kept them all pissed with some frightful cocktails and thousands of bottles of wine. The picture above shows the Combo version of the Mojito. The Italians just couldn't get enough of this on Saturday night (although some of them were paying the price at lunchtime on Sunday). I have to say this lot drank like Brits, most unusual for Italians.
Shortly after this shot was taken (I'd been on the gin, this is at nearly three o'clock on Sunday morning and is a glimpse of the dance floor next to the swimming pool; the weird strips are bamboo fronds from the makeshift roof), it all kicked off and everybody started hurling other people in the pool. I didn't make my excuses and left anyway.

Monday, 13 July 2009

San Guido's Birthday

The patronal festival in the local town is a long-enduring marriage of Catholic devotion and awful tat. A major service in the local cathedral is followed by old Guido being carried around the town in his extremely heavy, gilded, glass-sided coffin by a team of red-faced old buffers. The streets are full of market stalls, mostly selling junk like special cloths that absorb 100 gallons of water or 'African' art.
There is also a big funfair with garish rides and the usual collection of chromed-up old lorries, as in Blighty. All the bumper cars have a big flag, which is a nice touch. I took the photographs early this morning with not a soul about. Without people a fairground is one of the gloomiest, most depressing places on earth. A rollercoaster ride in Italian is Una Montana Russa, a Russian Mountain but no one is able to tell me why. Odd.