3 December 2018

Last weekend, on a lovely, mild December Saturday I was driven inside, and I was furious.

Shots were ringing out all around the house – far too close and from far too many directions around the vegetable garden where I was struggling to extract sweet potatoes from heavy clingy mud. I knew they knew I was there: one of the outliers had come over to let me know they’d seen me, and he would therefore have communicated it around the gang with his walky-talky.

But did I trust them, in their testosterone-fueled gung-ho blood-lust, to remember my presence in that overwrought moment when they spotted a boar skipping by? Absolutely not. It was the first time ever that I hadn’t stood my ground, the first time I had headed for cover. It makes my blood boil.

Who do I talk to to challenge this behaviour? When I hear gunshots and see hunters in their hi-vis jackets around the fields, I kind of presume that they have the good sense (though of course their shooting their own doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence) to all shoot in the same general direction, hopefully away from people’s homes. At the height of today’s detonations, my ears rang from shots which came simultaneously from somewhere immediately down the steep slope from the orto towards Mario’s field to the north and, very close, from beneath the stand of Arundo donax that cuts through the olive grove to the south. Dogs from both sides were going crazy around my garden. Did both these groups of shooters know that I was the filling in a (potential) collateral damage sandwich?

I don’t subscribe to that school of thought – common among non- and anti-hunting locals – that it’s ‘dangerous’ to shop the animal-slaughterers to the authorities: I know enough of them not to suspect them of homicidal tendencies. But I think the place to start is with a leader of the hunter pack. Next time I see one of the gun-toting bigwigs I’ll make sure he knows what I think of being startled out of my own vegetable garden.

Some months ago an Italian friend grew quite angry when I told him that we’d applied for Italian citizenship. This application had nothing – or almost nothing – to do with lemming-leap Brexit. We did the paperwork well before the referendum: after it had been called, but when the very idea of the “leave” option emerging victorious still brought guffaws of laughter. It wasn’t fear of possibly having no legal foothold in Europe that drove us to it, but the fact that we’d been disenfranchised for years and were getting sick of it.

“I don’t think you should just be able to opt to have one nationality or another,” this friend said. “It’s not right. Citizenship is something you’re born with. I mean, which country would you die for?”

His starry-eyed ideal of the sacredness of patriotism bumped up against the hard-nosed blasé-ness of someone who already has two nationalities (British and Australian) and could have another (Irish) but has no real feeling of mystical attachment to any nation – just varying degrees of affection for those ones and several others.

I might possibly lay my life on the line for my family or the values I hold most dear, but wouldn’t die for any country, I told him. On the other hand I pay taxes here, so I want to be able to vote for the party I most trust to use my money wisely.

1203PSo I couldn’t quite account for an odd little butterfly flutter at the top of my cynical  stomach a couple of weeks ago when I checked the status of my slow-moving process on the cittadinanza website to find that after two years and six months all the requisite signatures, right up to the presidential palace, had been placed on my application and it was full(-ish) steam ahead.

I’ve now picked up my citizenship decree from the prefecture in Perugia. All that remains is to take it to our town council and swear to respect the Italian constitution which, incidentally, I do: it’s a very sensible constitution hammered out after World War II by politicians of far greater intellectual and moral depth than almost any who are running the country today.

Our current jokers have just produced a “law & order” bill which is to a large extent a smokescreen for cracking down on immigration. It quite brazenly invites us to equate immigration with crime and lawlessness. It also makes becoming Italian a lengthier process, and makes it easier, once you have succeeded, to have that citizenship revoked.

We were worried that L’s application, presented a couple of months after mine, might have fallen into this populist “keep ‘em out” quagmire but no: his too is moving forwards it seems. Can we then stop bristling about Brexit? Probably not.

My affection for my fellow pievesi and their tendency to turn out for municipal milestones receives constant confirmation. I mean, getting up early on a Saturday morning to watch the mayor cut a ribbon for, and the parish priest sprinkle holy water on the new waste water processing plant? Many people (not including me) did.

1203NBut it was the packed hall for the presentation of our new domestic violence centre (as in, against domestic violence) that really impressed. L has written (though in Italian only – sorry) about domestic violence here (and elsewhere). In an area which emerged within living memory from that kind of peasant culture where many considered women in much the same light as they considered cattle, things have moved ahead in leaps and bounds… with unfortunate relicts about which everybody knows and nobody says much. In the years 2012-16 Umbria had far and away the worst record on women murdered, mostly by partners or family members.

The idea behind this Centro anti-violenza is to offer support to victims, while working on local children and teenagers to make sure they understand that there’s no justification for indulging in it, and no reason they should take it. Bravissimi tutti.

The one thing that pievesi are less than reliable for is turning up at our gorgeous theatre for artsy performances, so it was exciting to see people actually being turned away from last night’s concert at the theatre in Solomeo, meticulously restored fiefdom of cashmere baron and modern-day enlightened industrialist-benefactor Brunello Cucinelli. Of course Solomeo benefits from being very close to Perugia, and also – widely – to having brokered a deal with a theatre there to shunt punters out of town and into this model village.

It was all looking rather fairy tale-ish with its twinkling Christmas tree lights and flaming braziers in the piazze but for me it’s all a bit too perfectly manicured. I mean, full marks to him and all that for saving a tiny centro which might otherwise have crumbled away, but it’s that kind of perfection that can have overtones of the wrong kinds of corporatism – a feeling highlighted by a glimpse through an uncurtained window of a room lined with banks of CCTV screens. Yes, I know, we’re all watched the whole time, but is a private individual – however much he has donated to the local community – allowed to monitor movements in a space which is, when all is said and done, public? Seems fishy to me. Still, the performance by the Perugia Chamber Orchestra was excellent. In the mood of the moment: bread and circuses.

One of the many lovely old (in the sense of long-term) friends who pitched up to help us celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary last month surveyed Pieve Suites and commented that she’d far rather take the whole place with a few friends than merely occupy a single suite: perfect, she pointed out for being together without extraneous bods but maintaining a large degree of couple-autonomy.

So why hadn’t I thought of that? It never ceases to amaze me how firm ideas get in my head, blinding me to any other possibility.

I added listings for Pieve-Suites-as-whole-house to booking sites and hey presto, I clocked up more interest in the space of a few days than I’ve ever had before. I mean, I’m not exactly turning people away, but things are definitely more lively.

I say I’m not turning people away but in fact, I have had to do just that which is the one pitfall of this new approach: a very short one-suite booking can stymy a lengthy whole-house one if the less interesting request comes in before the far simpler to handle but hugely more remunerative group one does. Now I’m going to have to think of mechanisms to deal with this. Even after a year of this, I’m still on a very sharp learning curve.

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12 November 2018

 

We’ve had so many people staying recently that I had to resort to the industrial-scale washing and drying machines in the very purple-hued local launderette to deal with my mountain of sheets and towels. Unfortunately, because days and days of rain had stopped people getting to their washing lines, so had many others.

I say unfortunately (and time-wise that was so) but in fact it’s a neat glance into bits of local life.

I get the feeling that some little girls who live in Le Barricate – the oddly named out-lying bit of town where the launderette is located – look upon the place as a play-house. One sat there for ages when I was there the other day, talking importantly into a cellphone which I’m pretty sure wasn’t connected to anything, announcing from time to time to anyone who’d listen that her father was about to appear with washing to put in the machine. He didn’t.

Women who flash metaphorical razorblades to ensure no one gets to the driers out of turn will then help each other fold piles of sheets, chatting cordially as if there had never been any tension at all.

A friendly burly woman who looks after the linen for my friend Silvia said she muscled in on the job when she saw the cack-handed way that the previous male sheet-washer was bungling the job: in the realm of the CdP launderette, men are truly the epitome of incompetence.

As the last of my sheets tumbled about in the drier, the non-stop rain that had marked the end of October and early November gave way to bright sunshine and coat-free temperatures. Our drought-ish September, with less than 10mm of rainfall, was amply compensated by 122mm in October – hopeless for getting any work done on my various projects but not quite enough to dampen spirits for our 30th wedding get-together of far-flung friends.

A big round number has that effect, and it’s wonderful. It mobilizes people – in this case from around Europe but also from as far away as Seattle – to make journeys they might not otherwise have undertaken. What a joy.

Now that it’s gloriously sunny after our heavy rains, I’m back in the same holding pattern as last spring: clients clamoring, contractors overwhelmed. I recently shed – in a very amicable way – one client, who said she couldn’t possibly pay me so much for a “project” which consisted of “a computerized drawing and some ideas”. Which got me thinking about what I do as a garden designer and the various ways it’s perceived.

First, of course, I pointed out to this very lovely lady that that was, reductio ad absurdum, my job description: using my training, experience and expertise to come up with ideas for improving and beautifying gardens and landscapes which I then represent clearly in graphic form.

1112FBut mostly it made me reflect once again the degree to which garden-making – so terribly important IMHO in magicking a property into a unified whole – is looked on as something of an afterthought, even by people with connections to very important gardens indeed. Of course (rightly), the garden is always the last thing to done in any (re)building or makeover. And so I often find myself working with the left-over small change of clients who just want the whole lengthy process – most of which I haven’t been involved in – to end, fast.

But then I come up against the ‘one step up from a couple of pots of geraniums’ school of thought. Anyone can stick some plants in is a common attitude among people who have called me in nevertheless – people who would never, for example, say “anyone can stick some curtains up and paint a wall” – things which are equally true. Why do they think that a garden designer is any lower in the pecking order than an architect or interior designer?

Then there’s the problem I have with some clients – more often than not women – who overlook the ‘designer’ part of my job title and focus on the ‘garden’ – as in gardening: a nice thing to potter about doing of a Sunday, wearing your pretty straw hat and your flowery gloves. By extension, they see what I do as a hobby job, rather than the fruit of long architectural training. “I really don’t understand what I’m paying you for,” one client many years ago announced – then proceeded to employ a (male) colleague at great expense to work on another area of the garden with no qualms or questioning.

Am I moaning? Only a little, because the vast majority of the garden owners I work with and for are wonderful. Most, I have to say, really do get it.


Last weekend, on a take-your-breath-away visit to the Villa Albani Torlonia in Rome, I found myself musing on how that owner/garden designer relationship might have been when the immense garden of a suburban villa, designed to wow visitors into abject amazement, was being plotted. Of course, the client there was an aristo with little interest in the professional pride of his designer. But there must have been some kind of implicit mutual understanding of the huge importance of the outside reflecting the grandeur of the interior.

I was quivering with emotion, visiting those magnificent parterres. This villa – six hectares now engulfed in Rome’s northern suburbs – was something I studied in depth for my Landscape Architecture degree. But at that time it was a dark secret: not even world-class scholars got past the Torlonia family – hugely private and perhap embittered by battles with the state over what they could and couldn’t do with their vast art collection… if it still existed and if they hadn’t spirited it away, into collections in the Gulf and the US (it seems that most of the culture ministry’s worst fears have been disproved).

Photographs of the villa were rare, as they still are now that the family has relaxed its rules just a tiny bit: visitors are forced to sign a document swearing not to snap as they go around the place on pain of being sued. This has the fascinating side-effect of making people look. The group we were with were itchy and jumpy to start off with when deprived of their devices. Some people couldn’t resist getting cellphones out – ostensibly checking messages or taking notes but very possibly defying the rules. But by the end, most were peering and staring, and asking questions in a way that they would not have had they been filtering the experience through a lens. It was a very good thing.

We were there as part of the extravagant package of entertainments for yet another relaunch of the Grand Hotel, now the St Regis Grand. The evening before, we guests were taken in our black tie finery to sip champagne inside the Baths of Diocletian, shut of course at that hour, and splendidly illuminated just for us. It was, naturally, breathtaking.

And so on for two days. We managed just 16 hours of the event but were there for the ballroom dinner jamboree, with a scenografia that was quite magnificent, and floral arrangements in Victorian decoupage/Belle Epoque decadence tones which were truly marvellous… though they did make conversation with guests on the other side of the table rather complicated.

And now, after parties and celebrations of various magnitude, we hunker down for the cold months. Each day you tick off the signs, for better and for worse. The hot water bottles. The stoves lit in the evening, then perhaps mid-afternoon. Those small dazzling spots of lower-in-the-sky morning sunlight breaking in around the edges of the closed shutters to hit unlikely points on living room and kitchen walls. The night time trip to the bathroom that leaves your teeth chattering as you hurry back to bed.

Outside, I’ve taken down the tomato supports. Gales battered the persimmon leaves badly so they’re not as startlingly scarlet and salmon this year but the luminous fruit glow as ever. I’m trying to find a moment to give the grass (such as it is) one final cut before I take my brave neglected lawn mower to be serviced, but it’s still too damp underfoot. The trees across the valley looked so green for so long this year that I had begun wondering whether we’d have autumn colours at all but I shouldn’t have worried.

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22 October 2018

The other day a viper (Vipera aspis) fell on my head. I opened the french doors in the living room, then pushed the heavy outside shutters open. The top edge of these shutters is a favourite haunt for sunbathing lizards, which often manage to cling on as the shutters swing back towards the wall of the house – or alternatively drop themselves at a strategic point from which they make a dash past me into the house.

But snakes, I suppose, don’t have those scrabbly lizard toenails, the ones that drive me up the wall at night when some imprisoned reptile is cavorting on our stone floors. And so they can’t cling on so efficiently. I flailed and flapped and yelped as the flying object hit my head then plopped on to the brick paving of the outside terrace. But my blood ran cold when I saw not an undignified lizard scrambling back upright but a thick bootlace with its very distinctive markings lying there stunned, its head snaking (haha) up and down in that “duh, what happened?” way that vipers have.

Now each time I approach that particular door I crane up to see what horrors might be lurking before opening, closing, or passing through it, which is of course completely irrational: why on earth would the viper choose that spot again? It made me realise, though, that – even more irrationally – I still tend to peer upwards as I exit through the front door too. When was it that I went out, then turned back to discover that the little head peering down at me from above was not the lizard I thought it was, but a viper cleverly suspended right above where I had just passed? So many years ago! Some part of me is still expecting it to return. Odd.

It says much about this warmth of this remarkable October that there are still snakes about to terrify me. They should be tucked up in their winter hidey-holes by now but I’ve spotted several in the past couple of weeks – to date rather less traumatising grass snakes.

Today is grey and cold, and there’s a north-easterly slamming into the house in angry gusts. I had a fit of “that’s not fair! I want my lovely days!” when I looked out on the miserable scene this morning. And with just one measly millimeter in my gauge, there wasn’t even the comfort of inclement weather blowing in lots of rain after what must surely count as a drought.

Planting large trees last week in two of my on-going garden projects, it was quite remarkable how deep you could dig without finding the least trace of damp. Granted, one project is on sandy terrain, where water drains away rather too freely. But the other is on clay which is still hard-baked like high summer. All our weather averages are being turned brusquely on their heads.


We have a large group of far-flung friends coming to stay in a couple of weeks’ time, so I’ve been taking advantage of the balmy days to restore something like order in my garden. My capacity for turning a blind eye to things that I simply don’t want to see quite amazes me, in those rare moments when I snap out of it and try to be objective.

What was that upturned broken bench doing there among the weeds by the compost bins? And why were the compost bins weedy, wonky and overflowing, in full view of the carpark which everyone – including myself, obviously – uses? And what about that bank as you drive into the place, the one where bullying clary (Salvia sclarea) – pretty when in flower for about two weeks in early summer but otherwise unremarkable and in the end quite smelly – had beaten everything else into submission to rule as sole, scrappy occupant: why had I left that to its own devices?

I could go on. Some of these faults have now been rectified but it’s a slow process, especially as my occasional garden ‘help’ Indi has bought himself a house and is dedicating weekends more to his own property than to mine: understandable perhaps, but unhelpful too.

So I’m thinking (as, admittedly, I often have done before) if my garden were less (faux-) spontaneous and more structured, would I be better placed to keep it looking as it should be? Is it time to put those plans which have been being honed in my imagination for so long into action? I am certainly planning to make a start this winter – though of course I’ve said that before.

This time I’ve already asked a builder for a quote for work around our wonderful concimaia – that beautifully crafted brick manure-heap floor, almost imperceptibly sloped to funnel run-off from the mounds of dung into an underground tank at one end: solid and liquid fertilizer in one easy move. These were made obligatory by a 1926/7 law, in which Mussolini dragged Italy into the early 20th century by banning farmers from dumping manure any old where, such as on the doorstep where children played.

1022AThey had to be ten metres from the house, far from water sources and wells, rectangular on a north/south axis and on the opposite side of the house from most doors and windows. Ours, with its runnels direct from what we call the chicken house but which certainly once held larger animals, followed these rules to the letter.

The barbecue which I rather over ambitiously built there many years ago is yet another one of those abandoned, crumbling monuments to my gift for turning a blind eye, bits falling off steadily. And how the hydrangeas planted beyond have survived since the whole watering system around that bit of garden gave up the ghost a few years ago is anybody’s guess: presumably it’s their water-retaining weed-cover that has saved them.

And that’s what I see beyond my bank of sweet-smelling Felicia roses (once again splendidly in flower, I must point out): neglect and disorder. Let’s see if I can rectify the situation.

1022C

Our first boar of the season (bottom left) – sadly dead

We had my least favourite people lurking in the fields and valley yesterday: hunters. After last year’s tragedy there was a noticeable charm offensive – on their part, of course, not mine.

I was stopped as I drove up to town by one of their number who pointed out that he hadn’t come down early in the morning to warn me that they’d begin shooting mid-morning “because I didn’t want to wake you up.” When did that ever stop them before? Winter Sundays for me are synonymous with being startled out of bed by sun-rise gunfire.

And the old-timer they posted a couple of levels down in the field to ‘protect’ me was singularly disquieting. “We won’t shoot towards the house, I promise we won’t,” he repeated, swinging his gun round and pointing it in my general direction each time I emerged on to my terrace. Well thanks guys. That’s very reassuring.

It was this outlier who in the end got the beast – or at least one of the beasts they shot yesterday. It was a weird noise which shot (haha) me out of my seat: a very old-fashioned shotgun noise as opposed to the echoing boom of the high-precision weapons that the younger hunters favour. When I looked out a massive boar was rolling in the bottom field, dogs worrying it as it writhed. At times boar are a regular sight on our field but I hadn’t seen any down there for months – a very sad way to see the first one of the season.

Thirty six non-stop hours in London last week were just about enough to sate any desire I might have felt for a bit of dirty air and urban crush. It was warm there too, and unseasonably sunny. Semi-naked Brits were much in evidence in parks, and immediately post-work all streets outside pubs were completely impassable.

1822GWe snatched our chance to compare and contrast Bellini and Mantegna which was superb and fascinating but of course we are spoiled for art.

So it was our trip to the National Theatre which stood out. Because for all that our little theatre here does its very best (and theatres in Rome and Florence of course have rather more to offer), when I do finally get to the theatre I realise how much I miss it.

Antony and Cleopatra: a superb Ralph Fiennes, a truly marvellous Sophie Okonedo. Shakespeare could have tightened up the second half a little, but this production was so fantastic that even the on-off to-fro battle scenes were acceptable. It brought home – as any good production of Shakespeare does – how amazingly relevant he remains. In modern dress, exploring the temptations and foolishness of declining masculinity, and the machinations of politics, especially when mixed with passion – there was much to take home.

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7 October 2018 – L’Eroica

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I succumbed. I always refuse to accompany L on his bike ventures. But L’Eroica is something else: a vintage cycling event through some of Italy’s most dramatically lovely landscapes. And this year, Chianti was looking particularly splendid.
Not so much a post as a photo essay.

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4 October 2018

1004AI have little affection for the vintage Mercedes camper that has taken up residence in the top carpark, blighting (as I see it) my lovely cosmos-punctuated vegetable garden. It comes as a love-me-love-my-van package with our daughter’s partner. Its only plus points for me are (1) that it came in quite useful when I needed to transport a large-ish piece of decorative iron work to a client in Tuscany and (2) its rear-mounted spare tyre is a very good spot to prop my cellphone when I’m weeding up there. There’s a signal (never a given around here) and I don’t risk putting a spade through my device.

I’d forgetten this practical boon the other evening as I waved them goodbye. They were off to the hot springs in San Casciano dei Bagni. Fifteen minutes later, I leapt up from my weeding seat and yelled “oh [expletive]!” Not only my phone, but my camera were inside that wheel rim. Panic stations.

1004GNo answer on C’s phone, so I began my long slow troll up to town, peering down overgrown banks and amid long grass on verges. My camera I found amazingly unscathed in the middle of the lane up before Mario’s house. There was no trace at all of the phone. All I could ascertain was that it was somewhere with a signal.

By the time I eventually got through to C, a good hour had passed. I had resolved to wait until L returned home, then repeat my tramp to town with his cellphone, ringing my number in a final attempt to locate it beneath roadside vegetation. But it the end there was no need. C found the phone sitting, undisturbed, in the wheel rim. Not wedged. Just sitting. After 21km of bumps, hills, sharp twists and turns and a long rest in a very public carpark. Is there a patron saint of iPhones? Is s/he conspiring with that van to make me love it more?

We have been regaled with a series of perfectly blue autumn days, interrupted more by howling gales than by the rain which should bring relief to our lovely countryside at this time of year – we had just 9.5mm in September against an average somewhere in the high 60s.

Between long slogs up and down motorways to inject fresh post-summer life back into my various garden projects, I’ve been battling utilities companies.

At Pieve Suites the drains that had been merrily gurgling through the last days of my full-house August marked the departure of my last guests by blocking completely – brilliant timing, for which I was grateful. I called a drain purging firm, expecting to discover that city-dwellers used to more sophisticated waste disposal had chucked all kinds of everything down sinks and loos. An hour and a half later than scheduled, and not very long before ten lovely ladies were due to turn up down at home for dinner, a big burly bloke with a headful of Medusa curls stomped into my immaculate townhouse, stuck a hose through the inspection cap in the niche halfway down the cellar stairs and unleashed a high-pressure jet that sent a spurt of unspeakable stinking horror straight back into the house.

“It’s blocked,” he announced. Thanks.

As I tried to mop up the worst of the raw sewage sloshing about my shoes, watching the minutes till dinner time tick rapidly away, he began playing with his electronic toys, sending a camera down the pipe until it hit what looked like a solid black wall.

“About ten metres away,” he pronounced, then got his geiger-counter-like gadget to seek the spot his camera had reached. “It’s here,” he pronounced, pointing to the floor inside the neighbour’s garage. “And it’s about a metre and a half underground. You’ll need to call a builder to dig a hole.”

I demurred, pointing out that ten metres from the inspection cap would take us half way into the street outside. All I got was a withering look (what do women know about this kind of thing?) and some garbled explanation in a bored tone of voice about how I obviously didn’t understand measurements. I mentioned my architectural credentials: he was unimpressed.

But not nearly so unimpressed as I was. I abandoned my stinking house, went home and fed my friends, then called the water board before starting in next morning on a disaster clean-up operation.

Unless you actually have a geyser spouting through your floor Umbra Acque is remarkably slow to respond to emergency calls. But come they did, after many days (luckily for me I had no clients) of countless ever-grumpier phone calls. The first time it was just one muttering soul who poured yellow colouring agent down a bathroom sink, after which we stood side by side and stared into a hole in the street and waited, and waited, and waited. About 20 minutes later something he said was yellow (I had my doubts) trickled down the pipe.

“It’s blocked, but not completely,” he announced. Thanks.

More days passed and back he came, with two colleagues – one in a sewer-purging truck and the other in a van which looked like the bargain basement version of one of those undercover police surveillance vehicles you see in movies. They unreeled their camera-probe and sent it wiggling all along the sewer pipe which runs down the centre of the street.

I admit to being fascinated by some very strange things, but I loved this glimpse into our nether world – the simplicity of it all. It’s just a big tube, with smaller pipes emptying into it on each side from bathrooms and kitchens and gutter downpipes. There’s no grey water and black water: everything finishes up in the one place, and access to it is through what I had always thought were merely heavy iron rainwater drain covers in the street. It’s about a metre beneath the surface now, but that’s the only difference between today’s sewer and the open drains which would have run along the length of the street through most of history. So why doesn’t it stink in summer? Why don’t we have rats and cockroaches climbing up those extremely accessible pipes? My three workers, amenable as they were, didn’t offer any answers. Such eventualities had never seemed to occur to them.

With taps inside Pieve Suites running at full tilt, no water was coming out of any of the pipes below the street. They ran their camera through my inspection cap inside and found the blockage almost ten metres away… out in the street, of course, and precisely where I’d said it would be. But not quite as far as the main sewer pipe, which meant the blockage was in my feeder pipe and was therefore my responsibility, they told me in no uncertain terms.

At which point, having established that they didn’t have to do anything, they simply went ahead and solved all my problems. Everything is impossible until, hey presto, before you know what’s happening it’s done: it’s a common enough phenomenon among Italian tradesmen and one that I treasure, storing up memories of positive outcomes for the infuriating times when it all goes pear shaped. In this instance, a high pressure hose, a suction pipe to remove any foul stinking back-wash well before it cascaded down the cellar steps, and 20 seconds later they had blown out what was probably a lump of concrete which had settled there decades before, then accumulated other hard matter around it until it almost (but not completely) blocked the pipe. With heavy use at Pieve Suites over the summer, it had been unable to cope.

They rolled up their equipment, cleaned up after themselves and drove off. Two weeks of waiting. Two hours of musing. Twenty seconds to fix it. Better than digging a completely unnecessary chasm in the neighbour’s garage…

My other battle has been with Telecom Italia, which is not only slow but inscrutably awful. I can’t bring myself to go into detail. The frustration is too great and, to some extent, on-going. Suffice it to say that our attempt to hitch our home number to CdP’s shiny new fibre optic network was less than successful: we soon realised that in our splendid rural isolation we were too far from the source to get a good signal, with frequent breaks in any kind of signal at all.

Fine. Back to ADSL. This was quite within our rights, and sounded simple. Hah.

After who-knows-how-many calls from Telecom re. my “request” to cut off this phone line (no!), cut off my line in town (no!), convert my line in town back to ADSL (no!), change my phone number (no!), change to fibre (no! – how can I if I already have it?), have another line installed (no!) and so on ad infinitum/nauseam, I yelled like a banshee at not one but two very nice-sounding ladies who on successive days called to ask when I’d like a technician to come round to revert from fibre to ADSL.

“No! Don’t touch it! Leave me alone! We’ll keep the fibre! Stay well away because you’ll only make things worse!”

Just hours after the second call, a technician turned up at the house, removed the fibre and hooked us back to ADSL.

“Fibre was never going to work down here,” he said. Thanks.

Since when, our ADSL line has worked far worse than the fibre optic one ever did. Ci vuole pazienza.


1004F

Overheard in the doctors’ surgery as I wait to meet my new doctor, my previous very lovely one having sadly succumbed rather to her troublesome nerves…

Man to woman sitting next to him: “is this new one any good? Because I need to change from that awful man I have.”

“Why’s that?” the woman asks.

“Well, last time I took my father there he said ‘what’s the point of bringing him to me? He’s over 80: why should I bother to do anything for him when he’s over 80?’ Well now I’ve turned 70, I bet he doesn’t care whether I live or die either. I think it’s time to change. And anyway, he’s never there because he gets drunk every night and can’t get up in the morning.”

Just to confirm that that particular doctor is not really up to scratch, a well dressed elderly lady – kindly looking and wholesome – walks up to his surgery door, which is shut with a ‘no doctor today’ sign stuck on it. “Vecchio stronzo,” she declares and strides away. Old piece of shit indeed.


1004HThis is another van that has marked our life in the last few days – a van that took away part of our life, in fact.

On the top floor of the chicken house (so-called) we stashed everything, from the ghastly Spode dinner service that my father kindly bought for my disappointed mother in about 1979 when she had been hoping to choose one for herself (how did it even get there?!), to ugly iron bedheads that were in this house when we bought it, to sections of the caravan we had towed away aeons ago, to old bikes and rocking horses.

But I fear that one day in the not too distant future a particularly strong breath of wind or virulent downpour is going to bring that whole building down, and the less stuff cluttering it up, the easier it will be to deal with the collapse. So I got some blokes with a van and had it all cleared and hauled away.

Well, when I say all… I was trying to be resolute but for some reason the dinner service is still sitting up there. I kept C’s rocking horse too. There were some photos that I managed to snatch from their arms as they stashed it all in their van. Now I’m sure for years to come I’ll snap out of sleep in cold sweats thinking of the memory-infused things that I allowed them to drag off by mistake.

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