On Thursday evening I pulled weeds from the garden beds outside the kitchen until 8pm. What a treat. I felt privileged. Never has a winter felt so long. Except as always, I expect that it has but we forget. Anyway. We’ve had quite enough cold and damp. Now we want spring.
Other milestones. Late last night as I pulled the shutters closed, I heard a nightingale. In fact it may have been more than one. It was certainly the first. And yesterday for lunch we ate our first asparagus spear. Just one very large one (there were other things to eat as well, obviously). I told L he should be approaching it reverently. ‘What, with a dog collar?’ he said. I’m not convinced he appreciated it as much as he should have.
Italy’s elections have come and gone, and I’m happy to say that CdP remains red. Well, pink, and a pale shade at that. 36.7% for the centre-left; 29% for the centre-right. (Where did the other votes go? Boh.) But I’ve reacted to the national debacle by (1) trying to ignore all the government-formation shenanigans utterly and (2) joining the Partito democratico (PD). There’s nothing so invigorating as hopping on a sinking ship when all the traffic’s in the other direction.
The PD HQ is a cold stark room above the post office. Portraits of Gramsci and Togliatti and Che Guevara and some other bloke I couldn’t identify watch over proceedings. Away in a corner I spotted a black and white photo of Enrico Berlinguer.
At my first meeting of the compagni, perched on a shaky chair rather too close for comfort to a heater of a type I thought had been done away with in about 1958, I listened to men shouting. Perhaps I’m not being fair, but having always lived with people for whom shouting just wasn’t a thing, I tend to presume that the onset of shouting means that the ability to reason has gone out the window. And I stop listening to the words. But there is something quite fascinating about the Italian capacity for shouting so loud when, basically, everyone’s on the same side. It’s like football arguments among old men in parks: you presume that they must all be fans of opposing teams, until it dawns on you that they’re comrades in arms. But still they yell.
The upshot of the shouting (once it had stopped focussing on national issues which you might have thought they were solely responsible for salvaging) was that the PD needs to be better at listening to the problems of the populace. But everyone seemed to reach the conclusion in a vacuum. Because despite the volume they clearly weren’t hearing each other. Which explains a lot about the predicament of Italy’s centre-left.
Last year’s Buddha’s birthday fest – as pleasant as it was improbable in this small Umbrian town – was a low-key affair but not so under-the-radar that the town council didn’t notice.
Our town council is a wonder, providing us with a remarkable array of shows and displays and happenings throughout the year, all on a budget which should barely cover a couple of nights of Christmas lights. The secret lies in their generosity with municipally owned spaces. They are impressively swift at latching on to anything 100% organised by someone else, costing the council little or nothing: then they will provide a venue gratis, just so long as they don’t have to shell out a euro (which explains some of the less-than-illustrious productions thrown at us).
And so the council has bumped Buddha’s birthday up the CdP top hits chart, elevating its venue from the far-off piazza way down in front of the schools to a closed-off section of the hugely more central street that runs along beside the football pitch, to be provided free to the Sri Lankan community for two whole nights.
‘But they’re not giving us any money,’ wailed my garden helper Indi – the prime mover of the event – when he reappeared abruptly here after a disappearance that had lasted weeks and weeks. ‘Two nights feeding people. How are we going to find enough vegetables?’
This may have been a cry for donations but I, like the town council, turned a deaf ear. I explained, though, about the very laudable Italian law which since 2016 has banned supermarkets from chucking away perfectly good food that has passed its sell-by date. I hope they’ll be big-hearted enough to help out.
For the first time ever, I’m accumulating clients in CdP which has the advantage of having my work on my doorstep rather than a long long motorway slog away, but the disadvantage that I spend inordinate amounts of minutes (cumulatively hours, of course) here and there just ‘popping in’, rather than well planned stretches of concerted work at rare and strictly necessary intervals.
For one of these new clients I was enquiring quite how soundly he could legally fence in his property to keep boars from devastating his grass, and his fruit and olive trees. The answer, I found out, was hardly at all, except with electric fences that are totally movable. This is because our wild wild valley (he’s just on the other side) is not, as I had previously thought, hedged about with planning restrictions just because of some old local regs, but because it’s an SCI (Site of Community Interest) – a kind of wildlife super-highway set up under the EU’s Natura 2000 accord. Who knew?
Confirmation that it works as a wildlife corridor came from the Corpo Forestale when one of their officers went around to decide which (small) bits of wood my client could fell and which had to be left intact. When he heard that the landowner was planning to dispense with grass-cutting and run some sheep under his fruit trees (not really a great idea, as I reckon sheep in their milder way could probably, in the long term, do as much damage as rampaging boars) the officer was perturbed.
‘No! No! All sheep will do is attract wolves and bring them even closer to populated areas,’ he warned.
Now, everyone knows that there are wolves about. A friend on the Tuscan side of the valley was playing with his new toy – a night-vision camera – and surprised himself by catching one on video. But despite knowing that they’re perfectly safe, that if they see you they’ll just run away, that they don’t attack humans (unless, I presume, they’re very very hungry…) you still don’t necessarily like the idea that at night time they’re strolling beneath your apple trees. It’s difficult to shake the niggling Big Bad Wolf terror.
Easter was a rushed affair. I had set myself that weekend as the absolute limit for installing the long-promised kitchenettes at Pieve Suites. All I needed was for the plumber to come by and swiftly attach the three sinks to the ready-to-roll water outlets/wastewater pipe. Simple. Ha!
With guests expected mid-afternoon on Good Friday, the plumbing boys finally turned up on Thursday about four (for which, I should say, I was grateful because I know other people who were just as desperate as I was whom they never managed to reach). Naturally the holes in the kitchen tops were just slightly too small for the sinks once their clamps were attached. And one of the stoppers that these same plumbers had attached to the water pipes months ago simply wouldn’t budge. At all. Not a millimetre. Panic.
On Friday morning I dragged my carpenter boy from his sick bed to enlarge the holes. And my painstakingly assembled top-floor kitchen had to be unceremoniously taken (partly) to pieces in a final desperate attempt to loosen the stopper. That worked. Phew. Panic over.
Well, that panic over anyway, because in the process of resolving that little hiccup, my beautifully cleaned-and-polished house had been well and truly trashed. Back to hoovering and dusting, right up to the moment when the doorbell rang and guests arrived: the definition of the nick of time. Is this what the rental accommodation business is like?
On a sunny morning (because there have been sunny mornings) last week I stopped at the vegetable stall in the square by the war memorial where Pasquale the fruit man was deep in conversation with a kindly looking old lady, lamenting the youth of today and how they take everything for granted and how they don’t know how lucky they are and all they want is booze and drugs etc etc ad nauseam. (All this a proposito di a 21-year-old found dead at the bottom of a cliff in Positano, 24 hours after going out clubbing.)
I stood and listened and didn’t say a word, until Pasquale – who knows that I’m not usually slow to voice my opinion – started to look a bit nervous. ‘Eh, Anne, what do you think about this?’
Well, I told them, perhaps I’m odd but I know so many fantastic, creative, inventive, committed, intelligent, hard-working, dedicated (and all the other adjectives I could think of) young people, I kind of feel that the ones who aren’t that way are complete anomalies.
By the end of my diatribe Pasquale and the signora were helping me along, nodding in agreement, reaching for ever more enthusiastic adjectives, singing the praises of our wondrous young people.
Driving to Perugia this morning, I heard an expert telling his radio audience that an estimated six percent of young Italian females and 21% (or thereabouts) of young Italian males – interesting disparity – have a problem with drink and/or drugs. Yet of course they are the only ones people talk about. Perhaps more people need to focus on the majority, not the out-of whack minority.