24 June 2019

0624DOur chilly, wet May disappeared as if someone had thrown a switch somewhere, turning on a magical flower-filled and ludicrously hot (25-30°C/75-85°F) June, from one moment to the next. This week we’ve been promised a heatwave, with temps rising to near 40°, and breathless sweaty nights.
This meteorological mayhem has had some strange effects.
Fireflies? Well, either they’ve been decimated by the freak weather conditions, or they have yet to really get going. By Midsummer day they’re generally peaking, with waves of them sweeping up from the field and gliding past us. Now we’re treasuring each tiny intermittent flash as if it were a nugget of gold.
Fruit? I had given up on my little cherry tree which usually furnishes me with large bowls of fruit to guzzle all by myself while the L is at the Cannes film festival in mid May (fair swap, I reckon…) This year the cherries were tiny and hard and very yellow at the usual time, and stayed that way for a couple of weeks later, only to explode into marvellous plump red fruit when we were least expecting it.
This has had the great advantage of allowing me to harvest and prune at the same time. I couldn’t reach much of the fruit on the highest shoots – so I simply lopped them off and stripped the cherries more easily. I generally forget that sweet cherries really need summer pruning (the fruit appears on the previous summer’s growth). This year, by great good fortune, it is already done.
The mulberry trees are groaning under the weight of fruit bigger than I’ve ever seen on it. Each time I reach up and casually put one off, a hailstorm of 50 or so lands on me… dangerous if wearing pale colours. I keep meaning to take a big plastic sheet and a pole (and perhaps a plastic raincoat) up there to shake off as many as possible. Will I get to them before the birds finish them off?
There are pears in places I’ve never seen pears before, and the unproductive Reine Claude greengage tree is full of fruit. The feijoa are covered with their glorious firework flowers, which bodes well. My apples continue to underwhelm, which I think is par for the course for someone from a long line of apple growers: the talent-line has to stop somewhere.
Perfumes? Everything this year seems to have come together. We don’t usually have thickets of astounding gorse (actually it’s broom, Cytisus scoparius, but I’ve always called it by the wrong name) at the same time as lime trees which leave you swaying drunkenly as you make your way up to town, do we? In the garden at my Pieve Suites, which is eyeball to eyeball with the foliage of a whole avenue of the trees, the scent is almost overpowering. In a good way.


CdP is beginning to feel superbly summery. The end of school helps: the town is full of gaggles of long-haired, long-legged girls in the extremely short shorts that seem to be all the rage this year. And the beginning of events gives everything a holiday air.
Yesterday (Sunday) we had the Infiorata, which we missed in its full glory but which I savoured on the Saturday night as it was being constructed: another real insight into the things that make CdP kind of special.
0624CEveryone was out: people of all ages including hordes of school kids, all (or at least all those from Casilino, the terziere responsible) participating in making the street-long petal-pics – this year inspired by the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death.
Students from the musical high school were playing in the piazza down by Santa Maria delle Grazie: I love the way they are being wheeled out more and more for these occasions… a nicely melodic part of the local scenery. Older ladies were sitting on low stools, stripping pink petals from little roses. Shops were open, music was blasting from cafés. The garden of the Old Man Bar was packed for the live folk-rock music there. I was out until after midnight but as I headed home to bed the town was still heaving. There’s so much to love about this odd little place.

0624FOne thing that is sorely missing – alas, I fear, the result of the town’s political shift to the centre-right – is the closure of via Vanni, the road that runs between the closed order of nuns and the football pitch. It has long been a summer ritual to bar traffic there from early morning to late at night each day. Beneath the lime trees and the horse chestnuts, grandparents sit on the benches chatting while swarms of tiny children try to catch the poor benighted fish in the little ponds, or to blind each other throwing gravel, while slightly larger ones knee-cap strolling adults by careering into them on out-of-control bikes with stabilisers.
I jest, of course. But for two months this couple of hundred metres of shady tarmac becomes kindergarten, junior school, race track, playground, old people’s home, meeting place and little bit of respite for large sections of the community. It has always also, for me, represented a triumph of civilisation: the victory of community over vehicles. Not so this year.
0624BHave there been voices raised complaining about the inconvenience of having to motor around the ring-road to get anywhere because of the closed sector? Well we’re amongst the most inconvenienced, and we are only too happy to drive the extra 500m.
This year, our new council has decided to close it from Saturday afternoon to Sunday night, for the passeggiata. Which only goes to prove that they don’t realise that if families and grown-ups opt to indulge in that oh-so-Mediterranean pastime of strolling up and down sociably during weekend evenings  which bring a little respite from summer heat, they do it inside the walls, where there are bars and gelaterie and other grown ups – not down here on this open shady space which is the realm, in general, of the very young and the very old, plus the usual gaggle of Romanian ladies looking after the more infirm portion of the latter.
I hope there are sufficient voices to change this state of affairs. Otherwise a key space for multi-generational socialisation, of the kind that sets CdP apart, disappears.

0624GWe have a jay (Garrulus glandarius). I can hear him yelling as I sit here writing. He clearly thinks I should be outside in my garden.
The RSPB says that the jay’s a shy retiring bird, dwelling in oak woods with a steady supply of the acorns they love. Well someone should tell this one about the shy bit. He lays down the law around here.
I’m still trying to work out whether he thinks we’re friends to cultivate or sworn enemies to evict. There are times when I’m working in the garden and he swoops – agressively or playfully, I can’t tell – about as close above my head as he can without hitting me. If we eat outside, he’s right there, in the olive tree or hopping across the lawn. Nothing escapes him: he has us in his sights. There have even been times when I drive back down the lane to find him taking off from a branch of one of the dead elms up there, to preceed me down the drive towards the house: coincidence? It happens rather too frequently for that. Can he really be waiting for me?
Which is all very amusing in its way, but it means that every other bird has fled the immediate house area. And who can blame them, when there’s an egg-wrecking, fledgling-gobbling monster in the ‘hood.
Gone are my sprightly flock of bluetits and great tits which have always made their homes in the holes in the old olive tree outside the kitchen (Indi’s drastic pruning hasn’t helped here); gone are the sparrow-like things (I’m not very good on birds) whose noisy babes fill the chicken house with their chirping; gone too are the finch-y kind of birds that appear from time to time outside the front door, hopping about and pecking at the lawn that already looks so very un-sward-like after its brief spring apotheosis.


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30 May 2019

0530AI’ve been trying to stop people (including myself) moaning about this wash-out of a May by telling them that they’ve forgotten all about last year, when the heavens dropped a record 180-odd millimetres on us during the month which should be peak spring. I’ve been alleging that this year – though colder – hasn’t been nearly as wet. Until a few days ago I might have had a point. Now that’s so much rubbish. We’re over 200mm and we’re still not (quite) out of it.

I’ve hung washing on the line this morning in a kind of challenge to the weather gods. But the air out there is so wringing wet that I doubt it’ll ever dry. Ooops. I had to break off to bring it straight back in again as more rain drizzled into my rain gauge. My keep-sane mantra now: it will end.

EU and local elections have come and gone, and gone badly. The nationalist, ‘sovreignist’ League is smirking with delight, the bit between their teeth and ready to stir up more unjustified indignation to garner support for their policies of discrimination and aggression.

At local level, the ‘party-free’ confusion I wrote about before the vote still seems to reign after. In my Pilates class this week, conversation turned to the results. A lista civica had won in CdP they all agreed. But who was it? No one had a clue. And no one seemed to care very much.

We did our bit for the losing lista civica, which, after initial reluctance, made its centre-left allegiances fairly clear. But much of the election was fought over one single, bitter issue: the fate of our little hospital. A lot of incomplete information mixed with long-standing rancour skewed things. Now for the first time in who-knows-how-long, CdP is no longer a left-of-centre town. Hey ho. Let’s hope the ‘others’ run things competently.

Whatever they do, some fundamentals are unlikely to change.

0530DI was chatting with a new arrival in CdP, someone who has bought a house here and is moving their lives to our town, lock stock and barrel, despite having no connections here, knowing no Italian, having no Italian backstory. She grew in up Zimbabwe, she told me, under what were more or less war-zone conditions. As soon as they were old enough, children were sent away to boarding school abroad, and not necessarily close to each other.

What convinced her that she wanted to live here was the scenes she saw in the parks, piazze and restaurants – generations of the same family all together, sharing their lives and pulling together.

Time may show her that her perception is rose-tinted. I mean, being ‘stuck’ here is the bane of many young pievesi, and overwhelming grand/parental interference causes all kinds of problems. But in a very simplified way yes, the great sense of community to be found here begins at a family level. And that is something you don’t get everywhere.

This sense of community continues in the terzieri (ie as opposed to quartieri), the three areas into which CdP is divided and between which there is some very heart-felt rivalry. Which is odd, as they are kind-of-artificial constructs, part-dusted off, part-invented in the 1970s and really not cemented in any way until the 2000s. I’ve been fascinated by a book I picked up recently which documents, blow by rather obsessive blow, the process of creating our terziere, Borgo Dentro. (I say fascinated, but I haven’t actually been able to bring myself to finish it: written by someone very thorough and very much on the inside, it details every step, vote, debate, disagreement and defeat suffered by the various factions battling to control the way the terziere conducts itself.)

What’s interesting about it is not so much the mechanisms as the end result: coming together – at times rowdily and acrimoniously – to whip up a ‘tradition’ out of the blue. The terzieri and their rituals have all the trappings of something emerging from the mists of time. The corteo storico (procession) at the height of our Palio in August features 700-plus magnificently costumed marchers, drawing visitors from all over Italy to watch. Then the three terzieri participate in a dramatic ‘historic’ archery shoot-out – which Borgo Dentro first took part in in 1977 and which took its current form with the revolving bull-shaped cut-out target in 1994.

But chronology doesn’t matter. Pageant does. Rivalry does. As I was thinking while in the cathedral a few weeks ago when bows and arrows were blessed in another of these ‘ancient’ ceremonies which have become an integral part of town life in the space of a few short years. The drummer boys up the back where I was standing were joking about and making sarcastic digs and doing all the things that you’d expect youth to do. But they had dressed up and turned out, and they played their drums splendidly. These, too, can be things that hold communities together.

Campanilismo (from campanile – church tower) is a term that’s often used pejoratively, meaning an exaggerated attachment to one’s own town, even to the point of aggressive antagonism with others around. It is perhaps the inevitable fall-out from a history of centuries of warring city states on the Italian boot. But if it can be parlayed into civic attachments of this kind, that’s not so bad.

In Ikea in the horrible Florence suburb of Sesto Fiorentino last week, the young woman at the check-out asked me for my postcode, as they often do.

Where’s that then? she said.
Città della Pieve, I told her.
Oh, she said, I went there once! I took my daughter for a bit-part in Carabinieri (the dreadful police sob-fest shot in CdP). Nice! she said, then paused. Well maybe it was. I don’t really remember anything about it.

So it doesn’t make a huge impression on everyone.


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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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