12 May 2019

0512AEvery now and then it feels like spring has arrived. Then it stops. With a bang. Over the past couple of weeks we’ve had night time temperatures going into perilously low single figures, snow suddenly reappearing on distant but visible slopes, winter jackets dusted off and zipped up firmly. And how very depressing it is to slide back into the habit of pulling tights on under trousers. It’s all very strange.

0512KI remember years when, at the Venice Biennale vernissage, I’ve had to douse myself in factor 50+ and sweat round the city in hat and short sleeves. This week it was sweaters, rain capes and very damp boots. But it was fun, nonetheless, to rub shoulders with the artsy people at what was one of the better art Biennales I’ve seen. Okay, the Massimiliano Gioni-curated show of 2013 still takes first prize for me. But that was all about working through an idea. This was about art, and there were some extremely bizarre things, rarely seen in Venice… like fine figurative paintings, and straight-down-the-line photography and what have you.

It’s amazing how much you walk in Venice. Well, not amazing really, considering that that’s all you do unless you can be bothered to wait about endlessly for over-crowded 0512Jvaporetti (or of course if you can afford water taxis). And the hard surfaces are tough on the feet/back of a country girl. I did about 43km over those not-quite-three days (thank you trusty step counter on my phone). But despite that I managed to miss the Lithuanian pavilion, which took the Golden Lion. Reasons to go back.

Back in my country life I feel positively sluggish, though I have mowed the lawns (getting in before last night’s deluge) and given Pieve Suites a good going-over for guests who arrive this week. The other thing I’ve done is potted on my courgettes and pumpkins which is a crazy thing to have to do. They should, by rights, be out in the veggie garden already but I just don’t trust this weather. And their roots were bursting out of their little cells. So they’re in bigger pots, in the greenhouse. Funny old spring. 

Our friend Alessandro who is standing in the town council elections and has taken it upon himself – as someone with a background in film-making and communications – to do the visuals for party PR, reports that he’s coming up against some knotty problems in his efforts to produce short film snippets for the campaign.

All the townspeople he talks to complain vehemently about our awful traffic.


We have traffic?

He’s been visiting the retail park down in the valley at what he hopes is rush hour, desperately trying to film a scenario which confirms that this is a valid concern, but as yet has found a maximum three cars in the same place at the same time. I suggested hiring a couple of buses and offering trips to rush-hour Rome to put ‘traffic’ into perspective.

In fact there are moments when you may find a (short) line of cars blocking your road, but nine times out of ten this is because those same people who moan bitterly about appalling traffic have come to a halt right in the middle of the road – a CdP speciality – and rolled down their window to chat with a passerby to whom they’ve been meaning to say something terribly important for ages and here’s a fine chance, not to be missed. As everyone does it, this behaviour is generally treated not with angry honking of horns and gesticulating but with surprising understanding and patience. Or it’s because those people have parked their vehicles (‘just for a moment, while I pop into the supermarket’) in a bottleneck where parking is strictly forbidden.

Oddly, this second point sprang to mind when I was reading George Monbiot’s good-in-some-aspects denunciation of over-fishing in the Guardian this week. (Yes, I admit, my lateral thinking works in mysterious ways.)

After nodding my head in vigorous agreement, and vowing to swear off fish (I don’t eat meat, but I do eat some fish) I thought, wait a minute… is that really going to stop the vast-scale industrial fishing sector going out there are devastating the oceans? There are strict national and international laws to curb over-fishing, and they’re simply not being enforced.

In fact the world’s full of excellent rules for all kinds of things, but where they’re poorly enforced, none of us (and this applies to each of us, as well as to multi-nationals and companies of all shapes and sizes) feels they particularly apply to us. The howls of protest that go up when our local police set up a speed camera on a quiet lane and fine dozens of people for exceeding speed limits, or the rare occasions when traffic wardens blanket-ticket cars parked in forbidden bottlenecks are cases in point: they’re out to get us! it’s not fair! is the inevitable response. No sense of being in the wrong, ever.

While I truly believe that trying to eliminate single-use plastic, and obsessively recycling everything possible are good things to do on an individual basis (ie doing your bit to mitigate the ghastly collateral damage of end-products) I am dubious that my individually giving up fish (a raw material) could ever have the kind of effect that simply policing the seas and peremptorily closing down any operation – however massive and powerful – that breaks rules could have. (Which doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be legislative crack-downs on plastic use and waste at all levels too.) But somehow, George, I don’t think a fish-eating boycott will cut the mustard. It’s a bit like disallowing all parking in CdP to stop the ‘traffic’ caused by a couple of cars obstructing the bottleneck.

Our little town has grown sophisticated over the years. Of course you can still find the odd elderly person who regards the outside world as something very removed indeed, but the younger people are as travelled and educated as people anywhere, and it’s rare that I find myself regarded with that exotic-creatures awe that we used, as foreigners, to inspire. So it was very odd, sitting waiting for my doctor the other day, to be treated to a flashback.

Also waiting was a young woman with her son, this latter with the truly unfair double whammy of Down’s syndrome and Tourettes – or maybe his little whoops of joy were just his way of communicating. He was a gorgeous boy of about ten with a melting smile and – I’d say – a lot of mischief in him. She was confident enough of being in friendly territory (one of CdP’s most endearing traits) to let him roam about the room while she sat down next to me. I could feel her edging closer and closer, peering over my shoulder at the LRB I was reading, her breath coming in those uneven bursts that mean someone’s trying to not draw attention to herself but which in fact get her noticed even more than usual. Finally it was all too much for her.

“Are you reading in, in… English?” she burst out, in a way where ‘English’ could have been replaced by ‘Martian’.

I gave her my biggest smile and told her that yes, that was English.

She expressed wonderment, and I went back to my article. But she was still right there, almost leaning her chin on my shoulder. A minute later she asked “but, how does it get here? Do they send it by… post?”

Yes, I told her, it comes in the mail. Her look was all amazement.

Returning for one moment to the Biennale, permit me another little rant. I had read that the boat that sank in the central Med in 2015 with 700+ migrants in its hold was on show there, and part of me was iffy and another – trying to be balanced – thought “good, if it makes people think”.

But as I stood in front of the boat – one hole in the hull where the boat had hit the vessel which was trying to rescue it, one larger hole where the hull had been cut open with acetylene torches to remove the bodies – my insides felt lacerated. All around me people were walking by, heading for the next pavilion or the nearest spritz. I didn’t blame them. They weren’t being callous. There was no contextualisation. But it wasn’t right.

I’m sure that the intention was good. I’ve heard the president of the Biennale saying that he hopes the boat’s presence there will shake consciences. But talking later to smart, well informed friends, I found they were completely unaware that the great hulk of rusting metal that they had strolled past in the Arsenale had any particular significance. In our world of constantly-rolling-onwards news cycles they had no recollection of that shipwreck and the tragic end met by so many people so desperate to get away to something better. Their consciences were unshaken.

Until they have 700 people lying by that hull to demonstrate the enormity of the loss, until they have more than a tiny explanation on a hidden piece of cardboard, until it’s clear that this is not art but a real-life reminder of an unthinkable tragedy, that ship should not be there. It’s not a fitting memorial. It shouldn’t be.

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29 April 2019

0429HIntermittent rain disrupted my all-weekend grand sweep of weeding yesterday afternoon which was a pain because I’d reached that most rewarding of places: going over beds weeded quite recently. It’s a bit like my Monday to-do lists, into which I take care to inject a few things which are a doddle, or – even better – already done, in order to have a satisfying little selection of immediately-cross-off-able things to make me feel pleased with myself. How easily I pull the wool over my own eyes.

But you do need that in the garden, especially at this never-ending-work time of year. Not that I’m endlessly working mind you: I just let it mount up, then do the occasional partial blitz, then try not to notice the messy bits. With great tumbling effusions of things in flower (the creeping thyme and ceanothus are cases in point) mowing the wildly overgrown, daisy-packed lawn is another great instant-gratification option. Push the cranky old mower about for an hour or so and suddenly these marvellous blossomy mounds stand out grandly against a (momentarily) smooth green sward. So extremely satisfying.

0429FIn an attempt to demonstrate to L (who quite rightly says I do far too little exercise) just how much gardening gets you moving, I made sure I had my cellphone in my back pocket all day. I’m still getting a slight thrill out of that step-counting device that I’ve only recently realised I have. That whizzy mowing took me to almost 10,000 steps in no time. Though I expect quite a lot of those were not so much mowing as rushing back and forth fetching things that I needed but I had absent-mindedly left in far-flung spots around the garden. I’m not the most organised gardener.

It’s rather wonderful, ticking off the special events that this time of year brings. The first nightingale. The first cuckoo. The first evening when you suddenly realise it’s 8pm and you’re still outside and it’s still light. The first poppy and the first flower on the pea plants. The first baby artichoke poking through its rosette of leaves.

0429AThen there are the less welcome happenings. The first viper caught napping under your flowerpot (L put an end to that one, and was traumatised for hours afterwards by his murderous outburst). The first aphids appearing on the roses. And of course, my nemesis… the first ant invasion.

Oh how I hate them. I hate them outside where they are doggedly carting off all the grass seed that my garden helper Indi has now spread on part of my newly remodelled areas. But I hate them even more in my kitchen. It’s a complete obsession.

To the point where L, fed up with my hysterical moaning, decided he would take the situation in hand this year. Mr Ant Slayer. My hero. Except that he decided – as I should have known he would – to approach the problem rationally, setting up observation posts to study the movements of the little bastards, in order to come up, he said, with a dramatic and lasting solution. How little he knows ants!

This morning when I went to make some hummus and found his closely observed ants had nested inside the hollow stem of the the stick blender inside the cutlery drawer, I fired my hero. I dumped the contents of the drawer (and much else) into a sinkful of water and took vicious pleasure in watching the invaders perish. Then I attacked any possible chink in masonry with heinous chemicals. So much for me and my 100% organic property. You have to draw a line somewhere, and that somewhere, for me, is ants.

0429BFinally, with less than a month to go until we head to the polling station, the contenders for our local council elections have finally got their acts together. I have to admit, it was ‘my’ side that was foot-dragging more than the other. But now they’re moving forward with great gusto. The presentation of team and manifesto drew a more-than-capacity crowd to the biggest room in Palazzo della Corgna last Saturday afternoon.

Our mayoral hopeful spoke at length. The candidates standing with her said their brief bit. Everyone clapped at appropriate times and no one, until almost the very end, uttered the word sinistra (left). When they did, it brought thunderous applause. But I had been holding my breath up until that point, wondering if anyone would dare to lay their cards on the table, all the while thinking of a question a German friend who has lived here for many more years than we have asked me a couple of weeks ago.

“I read the manifesto in the paper,” she said, of the programme presented by ‘the others’. “What I don’t understand is: where on earth do they stand? Are they left wing or are they right wing?”

0429GMore I think than ever before, the political actors are trying to keep party affiliations out of these elections, even here in what has always been a dyed-in-the-wool left-wing stronghold. There are just two (to date) candidates for the mayor’s office. Neither of them wave party symbols. Which doesn’t mean they’re not backed by parties: they very much are, however much they like to sell themselves as apolitical liste civiche. Their programmes are similar (there’s bound to be crossover in such a small town) even if their motivation and approach differ. The centre-right-ish list is led – confusingly – by someone who used to be active on the left.

0429CThere’s a lot of talk about how people are disillusioned by traditional politics, how parties have exhausted their political capital by failing over the decades to provide what people want. But really, in a small and relatively well run little town like CdP, have they?

The shout that greeted the first candidate to show his true colours says no. And my friend’s inability to see the political leanings behind so many fine manifesto words says no as well.

Parties – or at the very least a clear left/right divide – give short-hand clarity to those who don’t have the time, energy or desire to delve too deeply into the liste civiche and what lies behind them. On a national level, there will be much media focus which will slot everyone neatly into those old divisions. But locally, when people find themselves faced with these formations that so many simply don’t understand, I truly fear that banishing the old, simpler, ways of doing politics might alienate people still further.



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10 April 2019


Our odd unseasonal drought broke one day last week with a thumping 70mm of rain in about 12 endless hours of downpour. Forecasts presented vistas of dreariness and damp from then on, but not a drop has materialised, and our bits of overcast have alternated with some pleasant wan sunny stretches.

0410CBefore the storm, I had the wonderful Giuseppe in with his digger. Giuseppe is an artist.  From the cabin of whatever piece of unwieldy earth-moving equipment he’s manoeuvring he sees volumes and gradients and the tiniest undulations that are unimaginable to mere mortals. I had (who knows why?) actually tried to involve a different earth mover in my long-running attempts to reshape the bit of garden beyond the concimaia and behind the chicken house. But when that fell through, and when I spotted Giuseppe working in the agriturismo up the road, I collared him, and dragged him down here.

One afternoon with Giuseppe, and the place was transformed. (A testimonial to his skill: 70mm of rain on freshly shifted ground failed to disturb a grain of dirt – except out in the old agricultural road where water gushing from the pipe that brings run-off from our lane carved an impressive channel.) Since when, I’ve been trying, and failing, to move forward. It’s most frustrating.


Timing here is of the essence and I’m afraid I may have missed the boat. I need trees and bushes in the ground, so that – more urgently – I can then sow grass seed before the ants really get going. As the temperature rises, I’m beginning to see ant activity seething all around me – tiny holes in the ground with crumbly soil around their entrance, rapidly expanding into huge omelettes of churned-up earth here and there, messing up the grass.

Once they’re on the move, it’s a nightmare: they’ll fan out immediately in their nasty, vindictive campaign to pick up every single seed and carry it back to their lairs where they’ll pile it up in infuriating heaps, on full view, just to taunt me. Am I being too me-ish about this? I think not. They are, without a doubt, out to get me.

I was a hair’s breadth away from completion yesterday and today… until the person supplying and planting went down with what sounded like the cold to beat all colds, and retreated to bed. The forecast says there are four days of rain coming up. Will they materialise? If so, I’ll find myself with earth so damp and claggy that there’s no way I’ll be able to sow for many days afterwards. Aaaagh.


Città della Pieve nel blu dipinto di blu

While I’m on the topic of insects that have it in for me personally, let me mention: vine weevils (Otiorhyncus sulcatus). They even sound like evil creatures.

They have invaded my poor little greenhouse (half-dismantled by icy gales last month, ripped about again in last week’s storm, now put back together expertly, lovingly, and with rather more duct tape that I would have liked). Every morning when I go to check on the watering situation, there’s another blighted stump poking out of its pot where a nascent tomato plant used to be. Interestingly (though not really…) they seem to like some varieties more than others. Or maybe they’re just being methodical and working from one end to the other.

There’s something so mean and underhand about an insect that lurks in the soil, hanging about waiting until it’s dark and you’ve gone to bed so that it can wiggle out and start gnawing at your precious seedlings behing your back. I’ve brought the tomato trays inside now. I’m watching and waiting, ready to grab the little devils as they emerge, and put an end to their evil nibblings. How many have I caught so far? None. But I will.

0410FSo it’s just as well, then, that spring’s niggly challenges are being made up for by an extraordinary explosion of blossom, to lift the soul and make the heart sing. The little crabapple has gone beserk; the cherry trees are magical. How I love flowering trees!

In my new stretch of garden I have replanted my wonderful oak-leaf and Annabelle hydrangeas – the ones that I allowed to be engulfed by a weed patch, arguing to myself (ha ha) that that would protect them after I’d had to remove their sheltering elm trees which had been wiped out by disease. How easily I fabricate excuses for my slap-dash gardening methods!

I really needed Giuseppe and his digger to get the monumental specimens out (they had been there for ten years, or maybe more). Getting them back into the ground, by hand, nearly killed me. I only hope that they won’t take too much offence at being disturbed so violently this late in the season. For the time being, they all seem to be happily pushing out pale fresh leaves in their new position. Fingers crossed.

Most of what still needs to be planted is tree, and exclusively flowering tree: more fruit trees, magnolias and red-flowered witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’).


Maremma trees, Maremma light

We fled coast-wards last weekend, for a dose of sea air on one of L’s so-called work assignments. We stayed at La Pescaia Resort, a wonderful old agricultural estate-turned laid-back holiday venue near Roccastrada.


How I love that Maremma bit of Tuscany: it has an arcane feel to it. If a buttero (an old-style Tuscan cowboy) lollopped past on his horse, tending his herd of massive long-horned white Maremman cattle, it wouldn’t surprise you. On the road between Roccastrada and Sticciano, the forest of cork oaks (Quercus suber) is magnificent and unsettling, with those writhing trunks, recently harvested and scraped a red-black the colour of dried blood, twisting up out of the undergrowth.


Maremma flatlands

At Alberese we rented bikes and whizzed along the levée (swamp drainage channels criss-cross this flatland) to the beautiful stretch of sand tucked in behind the Monti dell’Uccellina. Herons lifted off the water in slow motion. Maremman cattle studiously ignored us as we passed. Signs along the way had a difficult-to-interpret drawing on them which seemed to suggest that it was forbidden to feed peanuts to wolves, but we saw none of these – just one furtive fox checking out the rubbish at the almost-deserted picnic area at the beach end.


Spring crops

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Bitter (Seville) orange marmalade


The first time I made bitter orange marmalade I used my lemon marmalade recipe, on the presumption that the two – both being citrus fruits – could be handled in more or less the same way. But my lemon version is a refined kind of affair, with delicate swirls of thin rind suspended in tart jelly. Not suitable, I realised, for Seville orange marmalade.

On subsequent occasions when L returned from the citrus-packed Amalfi Coast (he goes there regularly, to work on his Positano publication) with bags of the bitter fruit, I worked on a more aptly chunky result. What follows is a list of hints rather than a recipe. It looks long, but it’s more chat than blow-by-blow instructions, so don’t be alarmed. I’m hoping it makes sense.

Bitter (Seville) oranges – as many as you can find
Sugar – depends on oranges and taste

Wash your oranges – which should be untreated on the outside and as organic as possible – very well to remove any dirt and residue. Chop each in half and squeeze it. As you work through your pile of fruit, put the juice in a large bowl (or better, straight into the large saucepan or preserving pan which you’ll use to make your marmalade: it’s a good idea now to know what volume of liquid your jam pot holds, in order to know how much you’re making, and therefore to gauge how much sugar you need to add later). Keep the skins to one side. Keep the pips and any flesh removed by the juicer too, and put them into a muslin sack or jelly bag.

Now you’ll need to go back through the skins, one by one, using a teaspoon (or at least, I find that’s the best implement) scraping out all the pips, any remaining pulp and as much of the membrane that separates the segments as you can, and placing them all in the muslin sack or jelly bag with what was stuck in the juicer. You don’t have to be too thorough: any odd bits and bobs left clinging to the inside of the half-oranges will dissolve in the cooking process but it doesn’t hurt to get the bulk out now.

Once you’ve completed this long process, an even longer one awaits: using the sharpest knife you can trust yourself with, slice the skins as thinly as you can. Or maybe I should say, as thinly as you like. Because these pieces are what will give the marmalade that bitter-orange chunkiness. In my case it’s generally patience – or lack of it – that has the final word, but it’s up to you to decide how thick you want them.

As you chop, take care to discard stalks and blemished patches and anything that you don’t want appearing in the final product.

Put the strips of sliced peel into the bowl or saucepan with the juice. When you’ve finished, the juice will probably be almost invisible beneath the mound of peel. Add enough water to cover the peel comfortably – a hopelessly vague indication, I know, but that’s as precise as I can get. Pressing down gently on the peel with the flat of my hand to stop it from floating, I run cold water into the bowl until it barely covers the back of my hand. That should, more or less, do it.

Now find some way to suspend your muslin/jelly bag so that the pip+membrane mess is fully submerged among the peel+liquid. The former oozes wonderful natural pectin into the marmalade mix, helping it to set beautifully. Leave it like this overnight if you can.

Next morning, move the whole lot on to the stove. (Obviously, if your juice and peel is still in a bowl, you’ll need to transfer it into a suitably sized cooking pot.) With the muslin bag still suspended on top of the pot – its contents submerged in the peel+juice – heat the whole lot up slowly and allow it to bubble gently for an hour or so.

This stage of the process has two purposes. It softens the peel even more than the overnight soak did. Let it go on bubbling until the peel is nice and soft and remember: once you add sugar, the peel will not get any softer. (Remember also: if you’re using a wide-topped jelly bag like mine, that acts as a kind of lid, and the mix underneath is quite likely to boil over unless you watch it carefully!) The cooking also releases even more of that precious pectin: the mix will probably start looking deceptively jammy even before the sugar goes in.

When the peel is just right, remove the jelly bag and suspend it over a bowl to drip and cool. When the bag is no longer untouchably hot, put on some clean rubber gloves and squeeze all the viscous, slimy pectin-packed liquid you can into the bowl, then tip this into the saucepan. Even before you do, you can add your sugar to the pot and start the final stage of the jam-making.

How much sugar you use will be dictated by how you like your marmalade. I like mine tinglingly bitter – the kind that makes your taste buds throb for hours after eating. So I do 50% sugar, ie if I have five litres of juice+peel, I’ll add around 2.5kg of sugar. I repeat though, this ratio is for bitter-orange extremists. A more ‘normal’ recommendation would be 1:1 (5 litres liquid, 5kg sugar); some people prefer less, some people more. It really depends how sweet your tooth is.

Now keep the mix at a gentle bubble, stirring regularly to stop it from sticking or boiling over, until it shows the usual signs of gelling. This could take an hour, or even two. How long depends on the pectin content of the fruit, on the amount of sugar you use (more sugar, less boiling, as a rule) and on the time and effort you put into ‘milking’ pectin from your jelly bag, as those slimy gloopy drops contain the precious gelling agent that will do the trick for you.

You’ll know when it’s done when your sugar thermometre reaches 103° (one degree less, more or less, for each 100m above sea level) or when, if you dribble some hot liquid on to a saucer and let it cool right down, the beautiful amber gel forms a slightly crinkly skin as you draw a finger through it. Purists keep a pile of saucers in the fridge for this purpose, to make cooling and testing a speedier affair. I can’t be bothered, and my decision to call the marmalade ready is educated-guess work. Beware though that if you over-cook it, the marmalade will set to a soft sticky toffee once it has cooled down in its jars: absolutely delicious, but not necessarily the consistency you were expecting.

There are instructions for sterilising jars here. When it’s ready, leave the marmalade mix to sit for five minutes or so, in order to minimize the risk of cracking jars with this ultra-boiling liquid, then spoon it into the hot, sterilised containers, up to about 1cm or slightly less from the top, and put the sterilised lids on tightly straight away. Never fiddle with the lids once the cooling-down process begins: the vacuum seal that forms inside between marmalade and lid will preserve the jam for months – even years… though chances are, it’ll be eaten long before you can test this theory.

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22 March 2019


I’ve been swamped by a wave of lethargy. Is this my usual change-of-season spring slump – the one that hits me with the same exhaustion every year but always takes me by surprise? Or am I still readjusting to my normal rhythms post-Lesvos?

It’s not helped by the fact that this spring I find myself (for the time being) with a reasonable amount of garden design work rather than going crazy with clients pulling me this way and that: this means I have time to indulge my indolence and let it seep out into places it shouldn’t be. I had managed to persuade myself that there would be a return of the Big Freeze that stopped spring in its tracks last year, with sub-zero temperatures for ten days and vegetation going into shock. For those days of grande gelo and the impossibly soggy weeks that followed on from then, working outside was a near-impossibility. But there has been no such thing (the icy tramontana gale blowing for the last couple of days has frozen us to the marrow, but the clarity of light and feeling of zingy clean is exhilarating) and I no longer have any excuse for not plunging ahead and getting things done. I need to stop dragging my feet.

One thing that I have done, in a kind of half-hearted way, is started to think a little harder about marketing for Pieve Suites. It doesn’t come naturally to me, I now realise. But I have decided an effort is necessary.

Besides advertising in a couple of British publications, and arranging for a full review in another (so far, so traditional), I’ve also sought advice from one of those people who knows about social media and how to use it. This person is a lovely English woman – not at all the kind of abrasive millennial you’d expect (or at least I’d have expected) in that role. She has little mantras (engage, educate, entertain!) and solid advice on where and how to use social media with a view to marketing. She sees all the advantages that for me get lost in a miasma of vague hostility. On my part I mean. I object to the power and pull that Instagram and Facebook and the rest exert on us, while at the same time finding them oddly mesmerising.

She has little time for Twitter which is, in a way, my favourite of all the electronic time-wasters in that it’s a portal into a world of information that I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. But perhaps that’s the rather uncharacteristic way I use it – a bit like my own private library magazine catalogue. I have to say that I’m discovering that Instagram (I’m @pievesuites) is the place – again, when used selectively – for visual-minded people, uninvolved in the malice that Twitter often brings in its wake. Of course I like pretty pictures too – though perhaps, secretly, I like words better.

As well as my ill-defined borderline hostility towards these things in general, I’m in danger of developing a crystal-clear aversion, towards being always on the lookout for the postable angle, seeing everything through the lens of ‘how will this look to potential guests?’ (engage! educate! entertain!) instead of through my own personal rapport/appreciation etc. I’m forcing myself to do it, but through gritted teeth.

I mentioned the icy wind, which today, thankfully, seems to be dropping. What we’re left with is warm and very blue, which has been the pattern for most days in the past few weeks. Rain? What’s that? I’m watering already, and seriously considering re-attaching my automatic timers. Last year, I did that in the second week of May. We are, to all intents and purposes, in a drought, with not much rain on the forecast in the foreseeable future. My ‘lawn’ which generally achieves its one and only moment of verdant mown-weed glory in spring, looks as seer as August now. But due to its being unfeasibly early, lots of things which I could really be getting fast-tracking in my vegetable garden have yet to be sown. It’s all very confusing.

To compensate, long clear evenings are beginning to make summer feel just round the corner. And what’s more we had the most beautiful spring equinox full moon.

No full moon these days can just be a simple full moon: they all have to have epithets, and be hyped by the press – possibly looking for something not calamitous to report – as quite extraordinary, with names that get more and more ridiculous. This month’s one was, I read, a super worm moon. Or, if you prefer, a super worm sap moon. Because it’s a perigee moon and so appears super-large. And because it’s the moon that signal worms wiggling and sap rising. Which, I would say, are things that happen full moon or no full moon. They  are also things which, I’ll wager, mean very little to many of the people who lap up over-hyped moon lore in the press.

Elections to renew our town council take place on May 26 so it’s no bad thing that finally, at this late stage, our centre-left parties have come up with a mayoral candidate – a woman, to boot, which is a novelty for these parts. As I found out at last night’s meeting of the Partito democratico, that’s about as far as preparations have gone. (I’ve seen no signs, I should say that the centre-right is much further ahead.) Now they need to get down to little details such as a programme. And finding 12 town-council candidates to stand alongside her. Here, things began to get woolly, and very mathematically complex.

To garner maximum votes from across the spectrum, these 12 have to include representatives of outlying towns in the CdP municipality, of CdP’s three terzieri (our version of quartieri– quarters), of local business, of civil society organisations, of sporting associations… and the list goes on. What’s more, the law says that no one gender can exceed one third of names on the list, ie at least four on the list of 12 have to be either male or female. The Venn diagram would be bewildering. And, ventured one of the mostly 65-year-plus men (I was the only female in the room after the candidate left), what about… someone younger? General consternation. Names plucked at random – “but is she right or left?” “Boh.”

On a local level, as on a national level, the old-school aging-male left has succeeding in circling its wagons to such an extent that all other demographics feel almost completely alienated. They’re going to need more than random name-floating to reverse that state of affairs.

L’s local cycling club members devote a lot of time to their Whatsapp feed. Raunchy postings of naked women (they’re all men, needless to say) have been curtailed by righteous outrage from a less unreconstructed minority. Occasionally comments pop up that offer an endearing peek into local mores.

This morning for example, a cry for sympathy went up from one outraged pedaller who had driven across to Castiglione del Lago to check out the route of an event to be held some time soon. When he returned to his car, not only had someone smashed a side window to break in, they’d also stolen his wallet!

I’m sure he’d only taken the trouble to lock the car because he was somewhere ‘foreign’… 20 minutes’ drive away. But this sense of stranger-danger hadn’t extended to thinking that anyone would want to make off with his valuables if he left them inside the vehicle. Sorry as I feel for him, I can’t help loving the fact that that’s the kind of kinder world I live in.


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