14 June 2021

It’s a joy, each morning, opening the windows and breathing in the perfume of roses and pinks and general late-spring freshness. But there’s an element of dread too. I brace as I open each shutter. Somewhere out there, I know, lies carnage. 

I was blaming porcupines for the piles of precious green parts of plant mixed with stones and soil strewn across the grass in various points around the garden. But lately I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not just bulb-munching porcupines that are out to get me: it’s a diabolical plot between them and the boar. There’s a real battle of wits going on here.

“And porcupines don’t even belong here,” a friend said to me, trying to sound sympathetic. “The Romans imported them from Africa.” 

They are so much not in the Italian animal vernacular: so exotic-looking. We surprise them often as we drive down our lane, clacking along in front of the car for long distances before making up their minds which verge to veer towards. Once, way over near San Casciano dei Bagni, I spied six of them scuttling along the side of a quiet road – two parents and four waddling, flip-flopping babies in a neat line. 

Now, furious I may be with porcupines, but it seems a bit harsh to blame the ancients for the devastation in my flower beds. Especially as it seems the Romans aren’t responsible at all. According to this scholarly study, there were probably prehistoric native porcupines, once upon a long long time ago, but they were frozen (or something) into extinction. It looks like the ones we have now were imported from north Africa, but much more recently, probably on a whim, in the 16th century perhaps. Bad call chaps: you don’t want pets who do this.

Yet in fact it’s only the quills which set them apart. They’re just big rodents really. They’ve been protected in Italy since the 1970s, despite the fact that they’re rated LC (least concern) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Protected status didn’t use to prevent them from ending up on the table: I remember old people telling me years ago that you have to pack them in mud, put them in a big pizza oven, then crack open the baked mud at which point the quills will fall away to reveal a perfectly cooked animal. Bleugh. It’s a while since I’ve heard anyone boast of their istrice-cooking skills.

While porcupines go for the bulbs of my beautiful dark purple-blue iris, the boar have other favourites. They’ll scatter any pesky plant that comes between them and the bulbs of Muscari spp, a taste, I should add, that they share with much of the population of southern Italy for whom lampascioni – the bulbs of Muscari comosum – are a traditional speciality. What they’re digging up in my garden is mostly Muscari armeniacum (grape hyacinth), some of which I planted in the past but which have popped up here there and everywhere over the years. So out come my dahlias and my liatris, turned topsy-turvy in heaps of dirt and stone just as they’re ready to flower, abandoned by boar with their minds on just one thing.

Elsewhere, something has devoured swathes of the snake’s head iris (Iris tuberosa) bulbs which grow wild all over the southern side of the house. I would have thought this was porcupines but honestly, can you dig such deep holes and chuck such large stones about when you’re sporting a coat as weighty as theirs? I’m in two minds. And I’m flailing about desperately trying to calm my ire by finding silver linings.

Whatever is working on the Iris tuberosa certainly did a good job of turning over the tough, hard, rocky soil along there – a definite aid to weeding between the large Rosa Guizzo Rosso (Barni) which are too much of a challenge for them to haul out in their feeding frenzy… so far. And of course the occasional discarded tell-tale calling-card quill always comes in handy. I’ve discovered that a poke about with a quill is the very best thing for reactivating those tiny holes in my garden watering system when they get all glugged up with chalk and other desposits. Small comforts.

This is the spring of broom (Cytisus scoparius), the warm sultry smell of which is everywhere. We are drunk with it by the time we’re half way up the lane: Fabio our neighbour has given up all pretence of keeping his land manicured which is fantastic for nature though not so great for our car’s paintwork. And it was a spring of wonderful asparagus though I have now called a moratorium on that, to give the plants a break after six weeks of over-indulgence on our part. I notice there is some debate as to whether you stop picking asparagus on the feast of St Anthony of Padua (13 June) or of Saints Peter and Paul (29 June). But each year is different. I just stop when I’ve had enough. The next crop looking like it’s going to out-perform all other years is sweet corn, which is almost always a disappointment in my vegetable garden, though I do persist. 

Figures from the last available tax year (2019) have emerged  to show that Umbrians are poorer than the Italian average. Actually, that’s not news really because they always are, though driving around the region certainly wouldn’t fill you with pity for the poverty-stricken locals. On the contrary.

Are Umbrians really poorer, or better at manipulating tax returns? Do we have better accountants (the answer to which is a resounding no, in my experience)? Do we lie (again, another no, at least in small the part of it I know well)? So perhaps Umbrians are just better at bella figura – they know how to put on a good show in the face of adversity. Città della Pieve is in a respectable position in the top half of the chart – which sounds kind of right.

I am half-vaccinated now and sufficient days have gone by for some kind of resistance to have kicked in. Whatever odd algorhythms decide these things depatched me off to far-flung Tuoro on the other side of Lake Trasimeno for a 9.35 appointment on a Sunday morning. Which seemed a little harsh.

The thing that has struck me since Italy started vaccinating is how almost unanimously vaccinat-ees tell tales of amazement not only about the efficiency of vaccination centres but by the sheer niceness of everyone involved. Which, seeing we’re talking about Italian doctors, is just plain weird.

Italian doctors – especially the male ones of a certain age – are famously some of the most unpleasant, grumpy, least empathetic people to walk the earth. It’s pretty rare to hear anything but complaints about them. On the rare occasions I’ve had to have anything to do with them (I choose my GPs carefully, and they’re always women) I’ve had a very strong feeling that I’m an inconvenience in their surgeries and the sooner I leave the better. But not the vaccinators: they’re a different race… though also, to a large extent, of a different age which not only helps but gives one hope for a better future.

For my less-than-a-minute ritual I was ushered into a room with one sweet silent girl who did the jab and two completely adorable young men joking and joshing and generally turning my painfully early Sunday morning start into a jolly game. Ok, it was the beginning of the day and they might not have been so jovial towards evening. But they more than confirmed what I’d been told.

Umbria is a ‘white’ zone now, which is good of course, but scary at times too. More and more people are taking advantage of the fact that masks aren’t obligatory outdoors unless you’re in a situation where you can’t avoid being in close contact with others. Unmasked people anywhere public unnerve me. 

Our beloved curfew has been lifted, opening the floodgates for guests who never leave. We were at a dinner party in Montepulciano a couple of weeks ago, before the curfew was removed. Wine and conversation removed all concept of time. When we left, just after 11pm, we drove along near-deserted roads with our hearts in our mouths, feeling clandestine and expecting retribution. It didn’t come, and we arrived home feeling oddly exhilarated.

I’m told by people in cities that the marvels of emptiness which we were so lucky to experience are fast disappearing. We nipped up to Florence ten days ago. Mid-week it was still superbly rattly. Poor Venice has already witnessed its first cruise ship arrival, as I wrote in this article, and crowds are fast filling its calli and campi. It worries me that we’re moving forward far too fast. Then I wonder: am I crazy? Fast? After all these months? Still, there’s plenty of scope for things going pear-shaped again.

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Elderflower cordial (again)

It’s not the first time I’ve posted this recipe (here slightly tweaked, as always). It probably won’t be the last. Making elderflower cordial is an essential spring rite.

There are a few scents/tastes which for me encapsulate delicious old-fashioned-ness: medlar in jelly form, home-made rose water and elderflower as cordial. The hedgerows around our house in Umbria bulge with elderflower for a few weeks from mid-May. Transforming these abundant blooms into cordial which will infuse your whole summer with the taste of spring is ludicrously simple.

Elderflower corymbs – 25-30
Sugar – 1.5 kg
Lemons – 4 or 5
Water – 1.5 litres

Put the water in a saucepan and bring it to the boil.

Grate the rind (but not the pith) off the lemons which should be unwaxed and scrubbed well. Now cut them in half and squeeze them. 

It pays to gather your elderflowers as soon as they come out: the more recently they have opened, the sweeter they will be: as they age, they become slightly bitter. Unless you have picked your elderflowers from the side of a dusty road or they are full of insects, there’s no real need to wash them (I don’t, as a rule, bother). If you do wash them, pat them dry very gently on a clean tea towel. Over a bowl, rake the tines of a fork through the elderflower corymbs to pop the tiny flower heads off; alternative just pull them off the stems with your fingers. Add the lemon juice.

Put the sugar into a large mixing bowl, and pour the boiling water into it, stirring it until the sugar dissolves completely. Leave this syrup to stand until it cools to lukewarm. 

As you wait, you can ponder the conundrum of preservation. Many people will tell you that you need to add about 75 g of citric or tartaric acid now (these will make the end result tarter) or even a Camden tablet which contains sulphur dioxide. I don’t. If I want it to taste sharper, I add another lemon (which does nothing towards preservation, admittedly). I bridle at the thought of sulphur being added to wine and I’m certainly not going to put it in my cordial.

When the syrup is cool, mix in the elderflower and lemon, stir the mixture, put a teatowel over the bowl and set it aside in a cool corner for 24-36 hours, stirring it occasionally. And that’s all there is to it. It’s best to keep the cordial in swing-top glass bottles with a rubber seal, which should be rinsed, then put in the oven at 150°C for 15 minutes or so to sterilise. Line a colander with a piece of muslin and ladle the cordial into this, through a funnel, into the hand-hot bottles. You should get 2.5 litres with these quantities.

For longer-lasting cordial, I used to put the resulting bottles in a big saucepan of water and boil them gently for 30 minutes, which is a perfectly good method. Now I save one-litre plastic milk bottles and scrub them out well under a hot tap, fill them with the cordial and keep them in the freezer. Strong plastic freezer bags do just as well. Remember though that it take a long long time for such a density of sugar to freeze: don’t put the cordial in anything that can leak while the freezing process is going on.

The cordial has a couple-of-weeks lifespan in the fridge once it has been defrosted and/or opened.

A dash of this in a glass of cold fizzy water is the most refreshing thing imaginable on a hot summer’s day.

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18 May 2021

For the past couple of weeks there has been a slight parallel-universe feel to news from the top. Powers-that-be in Rome have been ordering regions to open vaccinations up to over-40s. And over-30s. And why not over-20s too while you’re at it. Here in Umbria, 60s and above are wondering whether perhaps everyone has forgotten them.

In a gloriously offhand comment to local press last week one regional councillor explained why Umbria’s vaccination drive was still stuck on its Very Old People. “We have far more old people here because they live better and longer. We’ve had to go the extra mile to take care of our over-80s.” 

So is Umbria older? Well… yes, it seems. But not oldest. I’m drawing blanks looking for regional over-80s tables. But Umbria’s concentration of over-65s (25.8% of the population according to Statista’s 2020 figures) places it third among Italian regions behind Liguria and Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

I’m wondering though whether Umbria’s interpretation of ‘caregiver’ – who are also entitled to vaccination alongside the recipients of their caring – might not be rather looser than elsewhere. Because although anyone born between 1952 and 1961 has been palmed off with – as of yesterday morning – the chance to ‘pre-book’ (which basically means putting your name on a list then waiting to be called up when they get round to it), Umbria ranks second in Italy for vaccinating over-30s, third for over-40s and fourth for over-20s – or so says this local rag quoting Il Sole-24 Ore. So we’re stealing a march on the rest of the country? At this stage of the proceedings, it’s a bit of a flimsy record.

In the mean time, the country opens up… despite large unvaccinated swathes. I find it quite angst-provoking. I hope this thing doesn’t backfire.

Things I will miss when we get over this: 

  • masks. I’m so fond of my mask – as a winter nose-warmer; as the thing which keeps other people’s germs away from me; because when infuriating bugs do all in their power to get up my nose while I’m digging in the garden there’s generally a mask handy that I can grab to foil them; because when we’re all wearing them I can pretend not to recognise people I don’t particularly want to talk to.
  • the curfew. We’re opening up but – at least for a few more days – we all have to be tucked up in our own homes by 10pm. We’re now at the that delicious stage where you can invite up to four people into your home for dinner. But at a comfortably early time of evening – how comfortable is determined by the length of their trip home – guests are getting their coats, and you’re planning the rest of the evening’s viewing and/or reading.
  • people bringing us stuff. Already the sweet boys who deliver delicious bread of a Sunday morning have intimated that if we’d like to go and pick it up in distant Paciano, they’d be relieved to be spared the trip. Will Beppe keep bringing us his amazing ricotta? Will we be able to summon meals from Domenico at Il Poderaccio?
  • having a perfectly valid excuse to be a hermit.
  • having to share wonderful places with other people. We’ve experienced empty Venice. Next week we’ll find out what Florence looks like without the hordes. Last week, on the other hand, we had the Trevi fountain to ourselves… give or take an eastern European model and a very red dress.

I was in the city to work on a garden. L engineered a stay at The Hoxton Rome – newly opened and raring for reviews. The hotel was fun, which is I think the way they’d like it to be seen: I described it as a grown-up Generator but perhaps that was reductive. Its rooms are stylish, and really want to be your kind of thing. Public spaces are striving to be the place to be – your external office/meeting area/hangout. For many people, I’m sure they will be.

But being in that hotel – or even a hotel – wasn’t the special thing about being in the city. The special thing was the unique privilege of savouring the city itself at this time in history.

We decided to walk from the hotel’s Salario-zone location to the Capitoline – a brisk 40-minute walk through the northern inner suburbs, then through the northern part of the centro storico. The pattern was: mediumly bustling life in that outer zone (just as I had found the previous day in Monteverde Vecchio where my garden work took me); then, the more centrale, the more devoid of people it became – the entirely glorious opposite of ‘normal’ Rome. 

‘Normal’ Rome is pushy and ill-tempered. It’s beautiful of course – breathtakingly so. But it makes you feel hot and/or flustered, even when you can’t blame the weather. It smells unhealthy. You feel like the city makes you aggressive. You feel like over-wrought Romans would push you under a passing bus to get by.

In pandemic Rome the Romans that aren’t WFH in the sticks look almost relaxed at café tables. (Café tables? Romans gulp their caffè at the counter! With that habit banned under Covid rules, they’re learning new, calmer skills.) When you’re not in a pressure cooker, there’s more time to look about, to take in the superb emptiness of it all. There’s time, too, to wish that it could always be much more like that.

At the Campidoglio, we saw the Torlonia Marbles exhibition. It is extraordinary. The Torlonia family has had that collection of ancient marble statues (plus one magnificent bronze) gathering dust in their Tiber-side cellar in Rome’s Trastevere district for many many generations while branches of the family have squabbled over who owns what, and – perhaps – sold off bits and pieces of it and smuggled them out of the country to settle outstanding debts. (We both had a brief glimpse into the Torlonia world at Villa Albani a couple of years ago; L, on the other hand, recently visited the Trastevere deposit which is also described in a recent BBC report).

The exhibition is an incredible promenade through ancient Rome, displayed publicly for – I think – the first time. The show was in doubt until the last minute as a couple of T-principi fell out over who should be pulling which strings. As it was, the well-spaced visitors (numbers are, of course, very limited) were mainly Roman, and quite a lot of them more than old enough to have been thorougly vaccinated some time ago – elderly Romans making the very best of their remarkably gentler city.

I had a couple of busy days at Pieve Suites recently which felt stimulating in parts and panicky in others. It seems so long since I’ve had guests! The odd requests have begun again too. One character wanted the whole place for three months; then wanted one suite for six weeks; and then fled – very graciously and apologetically – when I quoted him a very discounted price for one suite for one month. Had he not checked the tariffe page of my website? The same question goes for the man who was very keen on having a “very discreet and private” suite for one night: he would arrive that same evening and his lady friend would turn up the following day at 11am after which they’d need the room until about 6pm. Ummm, I explained: check-out is by noon. So how much is two nights? No apology here, just stunned silence: clearly his lady friend the “dottoressa” wasn’t worth the price of a two-night stay. Does my website emanate an air of maison de passe? I don’t think so.

Look carefully: there are dozens of boar of many sizes down there
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26 April 2021

In a normal year, this would be a moment of glory for my lawn-not-lawn. Even my surprising biodiversity (for which read: weeds) generally looks green and lush at this point in the spring. This year? It’s baked hard underfoot and the thin green around the bald patches has a decidedly mid-August air to it.

April so far has brought us 26mm of rain (av. 73mm*), after March’s record-low 9.5mm (av. 89mm*). After some blue days of pure joy, greyness stretches away into the foreseeable forecast-future now – but what we’re promised is drizzle, not rain. Which really isn’t all that useful. It’s amazing, all things considered, how beautiful everything (except my grass) looks.

How it should be
How it is

All right, while I’m complaining… my wisteria. Oh, my wisteria! That one early-April night of -4°C, whisked in on a northerly gale, must have turned the metal pergola outside the kitchen into a deep-freezer element. My flowers are fried. I’ve read in several places that I shouldn’t touch them, that the plant will expel them and heal in its own time. But it’s painful each time I open the door and see the bedraggled things. Maybe I’ll be rewarded with a bumper summer reflowering. 

And now on to spring positivity. At the end of the very same day I heard my first cuckoo, we fell asleep to the first nightingale-melody. How I love that sound! The lilac has been splendid; the irises stop me dead in my tracks each time I go through the front door. The asparagus are finally going beserk, though really only since I attached the timers and got my watering system going for regular dousing. 

Down in the woods – where we, and especially L, have been spending much time on our path-clearing projects – the flora is spectacular. What a superbly magical world it is down there, with a quiet which is unlike any other, alive with rustling and birdsong that sound like they’re coming from somewhere else. 

We’ve snipped and hacked our way through the brambles and other undergrowth in that valley (dark green on the photo below) across from our house which was wooded even in this 1954 photo (there’s nothing but dense scrubby vegetation now). It’s a very special place. Next up: the rather shorter (pale green) route to the house on the facing hill – one of the very few constructions we can see from our own house and, coincidentally, home to friends. This as-yet-uncleared path was obviously once a farm track wide enough to travel with your horse and cart: you can see this from the trees lined up neatly along what used to be the track-edges. Now it’s well-nigh impenetrable. But one big push and we’ll be through. It’s so satisfying breaking out into the clear.

L has also been pursuing his other mission in these end-of-lockdown (hopefully) days: tree sculpting. The few trees protruding from our field are being made shapely. The old apple tree, liberated and refashioned last autumn, has been heavy with blossom and is looking splendid. Last weekend’s challenge on the other hand were the waving willows which are now so elegant that I shall henceforth describe them as a ‘stand’ rather than a ‘clump’. It sounds more fitting somehow. 

All this as re-opening fever grips the country. Or at least so I’m told, though personally I won’t be rushing out to take advantage of our new (as of today) freedom to cross regional borders. Driving south for a work appointment this morning, L said the roads were packed, like he hadn’t seen them for months. In fact for over a year. But as people who needed to cross borders for work (or medical reasons etc) were never barred from doing so, I’m kind of wondering where all these extra travellers are going. I’m also thinking that it’s a while since L drove south early on a Monday morning, and I’m suspecting that perhaps it has been like that all along – we just haven’t been sharing the road with them and so we haven’t noticed.

As of today we can resume consuming in cafés and bars, though only seated at tables (ie no counter service in bars) and only, for the time being, in the open air. I had an appointment to celebrate this with lunch in town but the date fell through and really (though it would of course have been nice to see those friends) it’s not something I’ve been hankering after so much that I felt the need to dine out at the first opportunity to make up for lost time. I say that slightly guiltily, in that I know that this is a godsend for purveyors of food and beverages who have suffered through some hellish times over the past year.

Pieve Suites

For them – but also for myself – I’m hoping that not everyone shares my lack of enthusiasm for escape from captivity. It’s a challenge, trying to guess how hospitality in all its forms will pan out in the months to come. On the eating- and drinking-out front, there’s no doubt that local hostelries will be heaving. Accommodation is a little harder to predict. Brits seem to be confined to quarters for the foreseeable future with the £5K fine for frivolous border-crossing still in place. But today the EU is muttering about the possibility of allowing vaccinated Americans to visit (also this from The Guardian) once again. (We are still waiting for our jabs, though the campaign has picked up speed remarkably. For the time being we’re keeping a low profile but rather enjoying telling people “us? no! we’re far too young!”) And, like last year, Italians will be dying to flee their cities for some country cocooning. 

So I’m trying to do a little sprucing up at Pieve Suites, painting rusty old iron railings and generally getting the place ready for a season which will probably happen and may burst upon me sooner than I expect. At least, I keep my fingers crossed.

*averages based on my rainfall measurements, over the period from 2013-2020

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12 April 2021

I was feeling quite smug about my decision to leave my tomato seedlings indoors on Wednesday night when temperatures sank to an April record low of -4°C… only to discover that disaster has struck on my wisteria pergola. Formerly promising flowerlets are now drooping like the tails of so many freshly drowned kittens. Not that I’ve ever seen a freshly drowned kitten I should add. But the two things cause me more or less equal amounts of despair.

Our rain-less two months have given way to miserable, relentless drizzle that barely registers on my super-dooper new weather station, even though the machine measures tiny fractions of millimetres. So far this evening, for example, we’re up to 0.79mm despite the fact that moisture has been thick in the air since early this morning. It’s horrible.

It was serendipitous, then, that we made another of our work-escapes just before the weather changed, motoring over towards Tuscany’s Maremma coast, to Saturnia. 

Saturnia played a big part in our early days in Italy: in the mid-1980s we’d drive up from Rome to the hot springs out in the countryside and immerse ourselves in the cascades before eating in a nearby restaurant which had a separate dining room for post-dip diners reeking of sulphur, then drive home again. In those days there were grottoes on the upper stretch of the steaming stream which functioned as natural saunas; they’ve fallen away now. And there was nothing in the way of organisation: you parked in the field, generally alongside a couple of bedraggled VW campers with weed-smoking occupants. Now there are carparks and bars and souvenir shops, though this week they were all closed under lockdown rules of course.

That wasn’t where we were headed anyway. Our destination was the Terme di Saturnia. The hotel’s PR was keen to host the kind of journalist who would almost certainly use any experience gleaned now in some future article. They were determined, she explained, to position themselves properly for when the tourism sector roared back to life.

The strange thing is, though, hotels like the Terme di Saturnia which are officially designated as medical facilities have, if anything, benefitted from the pandemic: with the competition hamstrung by travel bans (inter-regional travel is still not permitted in Italy; hotels remain, for the most part, shuttered), they’ve been doing just fine throughout. Get your doctor to prescribe essential sulphurous steam treatments; even simpler, write yourself a certificate stating that your organism can’t do without hot water baths and constant massages. And hey presto: you can brazen it out if stopped by the police en route, argue your trip is for medical reasons, and hole up in this five-star get-away completely legitimately, lockdown or no lockdown.

And people have. It was a little glimpse into a world where liquidity puts you outside the rules that the rest of us are bound by. There were guests who’d stayed there for weeks or even months, we were told – parents distance working, kids attending online school classes from their suites between dips in the hot pool. Well fed and pampered in this five-star nest (which at first I found cold but which grew on me over our two-day stay, mostly because of kindly, very professional staff) you can see why some people might be tempted.

It made me very uncomfortable however. It wasn’t so much my natural aversion to a sense of entitlement (we didn’t have contact with any guests to gauge this) as a feeling that we were likely among people who felt themselves justified in finding a work-around for Covid restrictions which are, in the long-run, designed to keep everyone as safe as possible – both the haves and the have-nots. Were these the kind of people we wanted to spend time among? (Is this self-righteous of me?)

Frankly, though: being in closed spaces (I’m thinking of the really rather good restaurant here) with unmasked strangers is weird and threatening enough; being in that situation with lockdown-dodgers is even more unnerving. Yes, we had a lovely break. But yes, we were very happy to return home… despite the mixed emotions of flourishing tomato seedlings and forlorn wisteria.

In my last post I wrote about losing important pieces of the local community. Another one has gone since, though not – as far as I know – because of Covid. Bruno Coppetta opened his restaurant well over 50 years ago and it has been a CdP mainstay ever since, now run by his son and daughter-in-law, Maurizio and Gianna. In recent years Bruno had been relegated to chief slicer of the great big haunch of ham that was wheeled around between tables. Then he gently faded out altogether, too doddery for the bustle of a packed trattoria.

But my musings over these last few days haven’t been so much about Bruno as Gigi whom I dwelled on last time. And not even directly about him. 

I had a phone call from a friend in the US with an apartment in CdP right opposite where Gigi lived with his sister. My friend was worried about this sister, who is tiny and frail and only seemed to cook for her brother. Sending flowers or chocolate would be a little too token. Could meals be delivered to her, so she would be tempted to eat? 

In an odd coincidence, the call came shortly after I’d listened to a BBC radio programme about the rise of food delivery apps which are, in my opinion, emblematic of so much that is wrong with modern society: huge conglomerations which ’employ’ people on atrocious terms, exploiting them and paying them a pittance but still incapable of making money, encouraging the spread of mind-boggling amounts of polluting packaging, dehumanising food and removing all the sociability that should spring from it, enveloping eating in a huge cloud of soulless loneliness… and yet despite all this, deemed an excellent investment when floated on the stock exchange. What kind of self-delusion is this? What on earth is wrong with us?

By way of contrast, what did we do? I filled my absent friend in on which CdP eateries are doing takeaway through the lockdown (several, though not including Coppetta). We discussed who might best handle a sensitive case of this nature and which type of food might interest someone of such a tiny appetite. Then she called the Bistrot del Duca and explained the situation and decided on a menu to be delivered over the following few days to Gigi’s sister. 

When the Bistrot’s owner-manager-cook Christian phoned to inform the old lady, she was incredulous. “You mean, I have to eat every day?” she said. I suspect that having a kindly young man turn up on her doorstep with food he has prepared just for her (and transported up the road himself in compostable packaging) will do her far more good than the food itself. In this neck of the woods, eating is still companionship, delivery has a soul and there’s a straight, tangible, personal line from producer to consumer.

A propos of absolutely nothing, I was fascinated by this data which appeared on my Twitter feed (@gardensinitaly – or was it @veniceexpert or @pievesuites? I do confuse myself with my split personality.) Scroll down to the bottom of this report, and take a look at Table 1. Agriculture accounted for 40% of all jobs in Italy in 1955 and 32.8% in 1960. Today, that figure stands at 3.6% three percent. And then I wonder (and I often do) why so much of the territory around here has rewilded itself so efficiently. There’s simply no one looking out for it.

And another passing thought, summoned up by a stray photo: the Segheria Ferri woodyard down by the railway tracks in Fabro Scalo is a place that I love. It’s so woody. The scent of freshly cut logs is divine. Those short planks there are bits of chestnut, for repairing the collapsing steps linking the terraces on our land. They don’t come from the huge trunk sharing a trolley with them: that’s poplar wood which would rot away in no time outdoors. But the whole yard is stacked high with trunks of every description. It’s wonderfully raw.

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