10 December 2017

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Mud, cold and a battle against the elements to make a garden.

Bleugh. I think this is the first time this season when I’ve looked out of the window and thought “what a miserable thing winter is.” (Yes yes I know: technically it’s still autumn, but you know what I mean.)

A gale is moving even rigid tree trunks and though it’s coming from the south, it chills your marrow. It’s grey, and a thin, mean rain is needling down in odd directions. The world is bleached of colour – the trees are almost leafless now – and spring seems like a dreamy option, far too far away.

The onset of grey has been accompanied by infrastructure failings: the phone and internet line which were down for more than a fortnight, thanks to the boys installing fibre optic cables in CdP, who unplugged our line then refused point blank to admit such a thing was possible; the boiler which is still delivering us ‘lukewarming’ rather than heating.

Part of the problem is that we haven’t been here to let technicians into the house: L has been swilling champagne at a luxury travel trade fair in Cannes; I’ve been trying not to lose my fleece-lined wellies in the mud on an icy mountainside way up where Tuscany meets Liguria which I’m trying, against the elements, to turn into a garden. (Sometimes I wonder whether we’ve drawn uneven straws, until I remember what fun I have creating gardens in unlikely places.)

Our intractable comms problems were magicked away yesterday by a cheery soul who spent five minutes expressing wonder at the incompetence of his colleagues and one minute plugging the disconnected line back into its socket in some hidden box between here and town.

When I called Telecom Italia on my newly reconnected phone to demand a rebate for the two weeks we had spent in the 19th century, a recorded message told me that my call was about to be answered from Romania. This was a first. I have had messages telling me that I was speaking to Albania, but never Romania.

On the other end I found a kindly, chatty lady. Behind her I could hear a fuzz of what sounded like similarly cheery female voices.

Romanian ladies are the mainstay of social care in much of Italy, looking after the old and the infirm. CdP’s palsied eld are often to be seen being wheeled and walked around town, then sat down on benches with gaggles of these carers who chatter among themselves endlessly, to the extent that I often find myself wondering whether there is now a whole generation of Italian nonni (grandfathers, and it more often than not is men: women seem to manage to keep themselves autonomous for longer) with a more or less fluent grasp of Romanian. If they haven’t picked up at least a smattering, they must be mighty bored.

Now I think I’ve stumbled across the answer to where these caring women end up when Italy palls or family business calls them home. They can employ their sweet-talking skills in Bucharest call centres, handling irate and/or incoherent telecoms clients in the same gently cajoling way they did their elderly charges. The woman I talked to sounded organised and efficient. Will this prove to be an illusion? So many of her Italian TI colleagues sound like they have everything under control, only to get absolutely nothing done. I wonder whether pulling the wool over clients’ eyes is part of the training…

And our heating? Well, let’s just say that the woodburners are working overtime and we’re mighty relieved we have them. Some hope for tomorrow maybe? Who knows what the new week will bring.

Another weekend, another display of how seriously pievesi take being pievesi . And when they’re not being pievesi per se, they’re cleaving fervently to their own terziere (‘third’, as opposed to quartiere: CdP is divided into three districts). Yesterday afternoon I ambled up to our lovely theatre, thinking that I’d better put in an appearance at the presentation of a book by a local amateur historian on Borgo Dentro, the terziere where Pieve Suites is located and which also encompasses our home, which lies along one of the country roads proceeding from the town gate on the Borgo side. The venue was large (by CdP standards) I thought: I didn’t want the author to feel she was rattling about.

How foolish of me. The whole population of Borgo Dentro was there. There wasn’t an empty box and there was constant traffic through all the corridors. When I left, an hour after the event had started, the presentation had just finished and the crowds were listening rapt to a Q&A session on the stage, with speakers going into minute detail on historical shennanigans by Medieval and Renaissance bigwigs and townspeople. There were small kids dressed up in Borgo colours – black and yellow – and teenagers showing the kind of enthusiasm generally reserved for much-shared memes or banned substances. Once again, I found it very moving.

**********

Enquiries. Bookings. Result. Suddenly I’m looking at a scenario in which Pieve Suites may morph into a means for earning, rather than a townhouse-shaped black hole into which I throw my precious savings. It seems so strange after all this time.

Poor L will be hard pushed to come to terms with the idea that someone else might now occupy his ‘office’. With the prospect of paying guests looming, I’m noticing all those little final adjustments that I’ve put off, and off, and off. I need to get going once again.

 

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26 November 2017

Once again yesterday our field was full of men in hi-vis jackets carrying lethal weapons. Generally I treat them all with disdain, accosting the bored out-liers staring enviously towards the wild-boary activity down in the trees, telling them – with as much friendliness as I can muster – how unwelcome they are. But since the recent fatal incident in our valley, I’m feeling less confident around them.

Riding my bike back down the lane from town yesterday – dangerously well camouflaged in foliage green and bracken brown clothes – I tried to make them aware of my human-ness with as much noise as possible from my squealy brakes… until it occurred to me that squealy brakes might sound a little too much like squealy pig, and I adopted a completely illogical mix of stealthy creeping and angry glaring.

Common sense would suggest that these gun-toting countryside invaders should be more cautious since shooting one of their own number. But there was something about their defensive hunching that made me feel they were more nervy and edgy than before. They didn’t turn around, as they usually do, to wave cheerily to the crazy hunter-hating woman as I passed. They hadn’t, as they always do, planted their Vecchio Sorbo hunting fraternity sign at the top of the lane to signal their presence and their identity. I felt strongly that they were more likely than usual to be spooked into trigger-happiness. Or maybe I was just imagining it.

In any case, I wished them all (and their sinister sub-Kelly’s Heroes music wafting up from the valley, and their wild volleys of shots, and their howling, and their tinkling hounds, and the immobile out-lier who sat on the level just below my kitchen on his camp stool for about three hours pretending not to know that I was right there watching him) far, far away.

Of course I freely admit to occasional mixed feelings about the whole business, especially at times like this when, over the past two weeks or so, the porcine bastards have driven deep furrows through much of what I like to call my lawn, made the banks between house and field look like they’ve been hit by incessant mortar fire and destroyed tracts of the low drystone walls holding up my flower beds. One evening this week L cycled down from town in the dark and reported seeing at least 25 of them turning over the neighbour’s field just above our gate.

There are fleeting moments when I want them all dead, immediately. But I fight back my worst blood-thirsty instincts and focus on the damage done by the idiots who wanted this non-native species introduced for their entertainment in the first place.

Though I know and like many of the people who hunt – many of whom have fitted my bathrooms and laid my tiles and worked in my garden and sold me useful stuff in local shops – I loathe them all to a man (and naturally they are all men) as hunters.

Yesterday evening I crept into the cathedral crypt to listen to a man talking about his delve into the remarkable archives found in a hidey hole in the roof of Santa Maria dei Servi – centuries of registers, notaries’ contracts, wills, inventaries. He was talking about that church in particular and the town in general between 1400 and 1500 (when incidentally, the building now housing my Pieve Suites was already venerable, with a couple of centuries of history on its back) and it was fascinating.

I hadn’t realised (because I’d never thought about it) that the idea of ‘church marriage’ didn’t really exist until the Council of Trent (from 1545). Up to then, it was a hard-nosed contract with little or no involvement of the parties directly involved (ie the couple) and generally ending in a stipulation that the contract was fully in force only when he demanded that she consummate the thing… except for one exceptional contract is which she brought such a whacking great dowry with her that it was left up to the bride to decide when this act would take place. Money has always talked, even for medieval women.

He cited a contract in which a pievese man took a certain Catherine from Germany as his concubine, promising to marry her and make any children legitimate whenever his wife died. As there was a publicly registered contract, this can’t have been considered something clandestine or out of the ordinary.

There were contracts for buying and selling slaves, young women mostly, for domestic work. (As an aside, he reported that it’s estimated that 90% of foundlings abandoned in Florence’s hospitals in the 15th century were the children of slaves, so the term ‘domestic work’ was clearly interpreted very loosely.) Who knew that slavery persisted and indeed was common in Italy then?

There were house sales contracts between regular pievesi and Jews – Jews who until many centuries later were not legally entitled to own property. But here in CdP – with its large and shifting non-native population, as these records also make clear – that particular discriminatory law didn’t seem to be held in much consideration.

One inventory attached to a will (from 1483, if I remember correctly) that he found showed that among the dead man’s possessions were 80 parchment manuscripts – Greek and Latin classics mostly but also copies of Boccaccio’s Decameron (c. 1352) and Petrarch’s poems – an up-to-dateness which put him in the leading ranks of the avant-garde. He also had about 150 paper books. All of which, in 15th century terms, made him the owner of a vast library and a man of immense scholarship, in this tiny outpost in a frontier zone heavily fought over by Siena and Florence and Perugia and the pope.

Perhaps the most striking thing, though, were the participants at this convegno in the crypt. There must have been about 25 or 30 people there, all locals, some of whom I’m on greeting-in-the-street terms with, others whose faces I recognised, a few whom I’d never seen before. The involvement was remarkable, and by involvement I don’t mean passive interest in what was being said. I mean people questioning niggly details because they had read and researched and knew all about it, people thoroughly and deeply versed in the minutiae of CdP through the centuries. I found it hugely moving.

We finally managed to get to this year’s art Biennale, scrambling up to Venice a week before the last day (today). Venice was splendid, under blue skies and shining with jewel-like colours. It wasn’t even particularly cold. We rented a tiny apartment up in Santa Croce, not far from San Pantalon, which is and area I like a lot.

I stayed just two nights (L stayed on another to mop up some work-related things). So now I’m asking myself: how did I manage to squash so much in?

The afternoon we arrived we saw the magnificent Intuition show at lovely Palazzo Fortuny – but only after we had stopped in at the Frari with a guide whom L had to talk to (again, work) who gave us her tour of the basilica and stood with us in front of Titian’s newly restored Pesaro Madonna, marvelling. En route from there we dropped in to ChiaraStella Cattana whose shop of textiles and houseware is as gorgeous as ever, little changed since it moved across the campo. She now has some beautiful (and chillingly expensive) coats, designed by an architect and made of textiles produced in a tiny factory way up in the hills where – she was telling us – they have recently unearthed company registers showing that in the 1920s they had a Spanish woman called Paloma on the payroll. The company’s samples archive shows that during Paloma’s stay there, they supplemented their usual sombre greys, blacks and browns with fabrics in startling pink with pea green spots, eye-grabbing stripy mauves… completely out-of-character extravaganzas of all hues. The woman was given no surname: in fact, she wasn’t even credited with this multi-coloured hiccough. But it started with her arrival and ended with her departure. What a marvellous mystery.

Intuition, also closing today, was a mesmerising show curated by Axel Vervoordt, an art-collecting interior designer really, who added a wunderkammer of his own selection to the treasure trove interior of Palazzo Fortuny. As I went around, synapses snapping in an effort to get my brain around the pairings and juxtapositions and anachronisms, I kept thinking of the Damien Hirst show we saw so many months ago, which I experienced as a slap in the face, and detested. In his extravaganza, DH created something (IMHO) which, once you’d grasped the the ruse – which took about 30 seconds – was utterly dull; he clerly didn’t care at all if the contents raised questions: he was just too busy trying to overwhelm you with scale.

Intuition was diametrically opposed, with mostly unknown works on an approachable scale each of which lobbed a maelstom of questions at you. A very satisfying show.

The following day, we took in Cima da Conigliano’s restored Baptism of Christ in San Giovanni in Bragora and the lovely Bellini altarpiece in San Zaccaria as we made our way to the Arsenale, where I thought the curation was not bad, but not exceptional. But it’s just so huge, the Biennale, that there’s always something that stops you in your tracks.

There was a lot of video art, something which, after a while, I find rather arrogant because there’s no way an artist can reasonably expect a visitor with acres of Biennale to cover to stand still in the dark for 27 minutes while s/he works through his/her artistic vision.

One video grabbed me though: of a group of people (perhaps in south American somewhere? can’t remember) standing in a stream up to their hips and making wonderful rhythmical music using the water as an instrument.

I think the one piece which most spoke to me was a big site-specific work in the Italian pavilion – odd because that’s a place you can usually write off, packed as it generally is with mediocre works by friends-of-friends of someone with the ear of a politician or a bigwig in the incestuous art world.

In Giorgio Andreotta Calò’s (very un-photographable) installation, you walked into a large room which was a forest of thin, very regular, scaffolding poles holding up a ceiling which felt quite low because it stretched away into the distance. So far, so unremarkable. At the narrower end of the rectangular room were steps which, as I was dropping from my trek around the Arsenale, I considered not even bothering to climb. But thankfully I did. Up there, the already-large space spread infinitely further into the unlit semi-darkness, and the beautiful bulking triangular beams holding up the tiled roof were perfectly reflected in what seemed to be the largest, most flawless mirror imaginable. It wasn’t until we manoeuvred ourselves to a point where we could touch the thing (and be shouted at by the guard for our pains) that we could confirm my suspicions. The scaffolding below was holding up a thin room-sized basin of water; a mirror occupied the far wall. These reflecting surfaces turned your concept of space completely topsy turvy. It was magnificent.

 

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11 November 2017

I have spent so much time at Pieve Suites this week that I found myself feeling quite homesick. Out here in my country home, final tomatoes need picking, quinces are falling from the tree, and crabapples and medlars are about ready to transform into jelly.

But I have spent almost all week up in town, keeping an eye on the men transforming my garden space, furiously attending to last-minute details (many of which shouldn’t have been last-minute at all) or simply sitting at my first-floor desk trying to get this venture up on booking sites while soldiering on with ‘proper’ work at the same time. Put that together with a series of extra-early mornings to let the builders in, and it has all been pretty exhausting.

What’s more, with family coming to visit next week and wanting all the excitement of being the first to stay in the town house, I found myself paralysed by despair over the filth walked through the place by an endless series of labourers, doubting that I would ever get it clean again. (I have now, more or less.)

That all sounds quite negative, but somewhere buried in there is a kernel of positive. It’s ready. It’s finished. A mere, um, year and ten months after buying it; a paltry year and five months after starting work. I no longer have any excuses for not opening the place. I have managed to put it off for another week, cleaning up the aftermath of garden-building, then putting plants into the new space. But now I can’t delay any longer.

It’s odd how difficult it has been, grappling with AirBnB and Tripadvisor, ploughing through their interminable listings processes which come across all user-friendly but in fact conceal layer upon layer of hidden corners where more useful information can be squirreled away to lure browsers (in the people sense). Each time I look I find another empty box into which I can insert more guff… all magnified by the fact that for various reasons I have to list my suites one by one, rather than as a single venue. But hey ho. I’ll get it all done in the end.

Quite apart from that, there’s all the other stuff: the Facebook page, the Instagram thing, the Twitter account (both @pievesuites) and the website which has been an endless to-and -ro with my techie guy in India, trying to get something that reflected how I feel about my venture. Now all I need are bookings…

A belated response to a question I put in my last post, a question I thought was rhetorical. Do hunters shoot each other by mistake?

After the thick fog of omertà (conspiratorial silence) lifted on the tragic episode in our valley last month, I found that the answer is: yes. There was no plunge down a ravine, no ill-timed heart attack. There was just a pack of gun-toting, testosterone-crazed males staggering around a moderately misty valley with a shocking degree of gung-ho Rambo-ism.

One next-door neighbour told me of two armed-to-the-teeth young men staggering up to her back door earlier in the day saying “can you tell me where we are? We’ve never been in this valley before.” They were new members of this particular hunting fraternity. If they had no idea where they were, then presumably their bloody-thirsty mates weren’t keeping track of them either. When you come to think of it, it’s amazing fatalities don’t happen more frequently.

There are, apparently, now about 570,000 hunters in Italy – half a million people who make 60 million people think twice about going for a walk in the countryside for six months of the year; half a million people who between 2002 and 2015 ‘inadvertently’ killed over 130 people according to figures compiled for Wikipedia.

Yes, the boar around here are a pest – especially since the herd was re-invigorated some years ago to keep the hunters happy. But to me that sounds like they need the occasional well organised cull, not a jolly jape for boys with lethal toys that can end in tragedy.

It took a while for the culprit to come clean, protected by the wall of silence thrown up by his fellow hunters. Guns were confiscated – though I’m told that the real die-hards simply went straight out and bought themselves new weapons the following day – and the investigation went forward. Awkwardly and ironically, it was a carabiniere policeman who had fired the fatal shot.

Now many lives are in tatters, including, I should imagine, that of the shooter. It brought home to me one of those niggling terrors – lurking well to the back of the darkest part of my imagination, but there nonetheless. What if I were to knock someone down with the car and kill them. Could I live with myself? The nightmare is gapingly infinite.

Pieve Suites (Tripadvisor)

Pieve Suites (AirBnB)

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22 October 2017

1022AToday has been a blustery day of wild, bruised skies and the hint of a chill – all the signs of storm with hardly a drop of rain falling.

Yesterday was warm blue, and humming with winged insects.

I went out mid-morning to do some shopping, and returned before noon to find a helicopter sitting in the neighbours’ field. We had been woken by shooting in the valley. Have the hunters shot each other in the mist again, I asked L (a popular tale though I’m not sure that it’s much more than a rural legend). Or are they air-lifting boar carcasses out these days?

1022BIt was neither of the above. A hunter from Perugia had plummeted down a little ravine, suffering massive trauma when he landed on his head. (The story in town now is that he fell as a result of a heart attack, not clumsy footing.) He died shortly after his fall. The helicopter clattered out of the field, leaving the body where it was until the coroner could get there. And an insect- and bird-filled quiet settled back over our sunny valley.

Until an hour or so later, when cries of wrenching pain echoed up to us. Some loved one had arrived, to pour out her grief in a place where the only loud noises we ever hear are mewing buzzards, barking deer or the occasional power tool or piece of farm machinery.

She surely won’t have noticed the loveliness of where her man died. It would be nice to think that one day she’ll remember it, and feel a tiny wave of bitter-sweet comfort.

**********

For as long as I can remember in my CdP existence, one of the signs that you’re nearly home after a weary journey has been the execrable surface beneath the long row of umbrella pines (Pinus pinea) on the road up from Po’ Bandino. The situation started bad, then deteriorated year by year – or rather winter by winter as snow and ice and and damp and inexcusable neglect did their darnedest. But there has always been a silver lining to the entropy: however travel-jagged you’re feeling, you’re snapped back to life for that final stretch as your neck jars dangerously over the ridges.

For a cyclist like L, the slalom is a nightmare. For a cyclist’s wife it’s even more so, as I imagine him swerving to avoid an eruption only to be mowed down by the unsuspecting HGV that has crept stealthily up behind to overtake at that precise moment.

Over the past few days, while my back was turned, graders and asphalters were unexpectedly at work. Now it’s smooth as a baby’s bum. I miss and don’t miss the shocks. We glide homewards now, musing on changing times.

**********

Last weekend I set off with my earth-moving colleague Giuseppe to identify the proper place for an underground water holding tank on the property of clients. We stalked about for a while, debating the relative merits of 20K litre plastic and 30K litre cement, seeking a spot where water-delivery trucks (there’s no well here, yet) could get close enough to pump in their load.

As we examined, Giuseppe lifted the lid on an old well, or maybe a defunct cistern – one that had been experimented with for reservoir purposes years ago, I had been told, and found to leak, fast. When he had rigged up his powerful spotlight, what appeared was a thing of unexpected beauty: a circular space, about two and a half metres across and six or seven deep, of perfectly undamaged brick. The only intrusive roots grew down from the surface, not through the walls. Far down before the stratum of mud at the bottom, there were small brick arches all around.

This was a job for my builder/restorer/(and serendipitously) speleologist. I called him and demanded he join us, immediately.

Some time later he did.

No cistern this, he said. This was a well. The mud at the bottom probably fills a lower space – another metre or maybe more. There must have been a vein that flowed through the arches, depositing water into the lower area, to be pulled up to the surface in buckets.

A vein of water. At six or seven metres. How extraordinary. And presumably it was a good, reliable one if they went to the trouble of constructing such a sturdy well to harvest it.

In these parts nowadays, it’s a miracle if you find water at 50m. The norm is around 80m. I’ve heard of cases in which they had to go down to 120m to find a drop. Over this dry dry summer, I’ve heard many people lamenting that their hitherto-bounteous wells have evaporated.

What have we done to our ground water? All right, this well may have been seriously old – a hundred years? Maybe more? But still, if ground water has retreated in so dramatic a fashion over such a relatively short time in an area which is so thinly populated, that doesn’t bode well for anywhere. Is it bad management, or the ground beneath our feet protesting at our use of resources?

There can be little doubt that future wars will be fought over water if obtaining it requires perforation as if for an oil well. I find the thought deeply unsettling.

**********

And talking of drought – on and on and on it drags. Very occasionally – like today – clouds rush over, but pass us by. (L set out twice on his bike today, and twice returned like a drowned rat: somewhere they had a bit of rainy relief.)

Despite unseasonably glorious conditions, I have already filled my early-autumn with foul colds – something I’ve never been particularly prone to.

“So how much time did you spend outside in the summer?” a nutritionist friend asked when I moaned about it.
“You must be joking! Do you know how hot it was here?!”

How many times did I write about our troglodytic existence, exiting from the house blinking like animals freshly awoken from a long hibernation in the cooler dusk?

“Well there you have it,” she said. “Vitamin D deficiency will decimate your defences.”

I’d never thought of it.

Apparently it’s common among pale-skinned people in very hot places. The only efficient way of ensuring adequate vitamin D intake is letting the sun help your body make it (butter and oily fish help a little). But you’re told to avoid the sun’s skin-wrinkling rays, and cover yourself with slap. You’ll never catch me outside without factor 50+ and a hat. And in this summer of extreme temperatures – plus too much to do in town to dedicate much time to my garden – I spent even less time that usual in the too-hot-to-be-fresh air.

Now, any sensible person would go and get their vitamin levels checked. Having ascertained that you can’t do much damage with it however much you ingest, I’m just taking pot luck and dosing myself from a bottle. For someone who rarely takes medicines or supplements, is this sensible? Right now as I battle the hacking cough of my second cold in as many months, I don’t really give a damn.

**********

Returning home the other evening, as I came down our lane, one very large and one quite small boar where standing beneath the vast oak that overhangs the road just before Mario’s house. I drove up slowly, expecting them to scarper. But they stood and watched me and munched the acorns scattered on the road. I thought I was going to be able to pull up bumper-to-flank. But in the end they gave me an “oh if you insist. This is terribly dull” look and sauntered off. The cheek of it.

1022C

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10 October 2017

The other evening we walked into the Cinema Caporali in Castiglione del Lago to watch Bladerunner 2049 (they were showing it in English) wearing cotton shirts and enjoying the warmth of this glorious early autumn. We emerged two hours and 20 minutes later, to be buffeted along the town’s deserted streets by an icy tramontana wind. Since when days have been gently balmy and evenings have been like that: we’ve been lighting the wood burner in the living room around dinner time – though I have to admit that far from luxuriating in delicious warmth last night, we had to keep a window open to stop ourselves melting.

The lower temperatures and that tiny bit of relief brought by dew at night has made our surroundings seem less parched, but there has been almost no rain: look a little deeper and the situation is much of a muchness. My watering systems are still running to keep things alive. I realised yesterday evening that I had been neglecting to water one tube-less bed of roses which are now particularly dog-eared as a result.

Food, however, grows in overwhelming abundance – the last throes before winter travails. I give away great bags of green beans: if I could be bothered I’d freeze them but blanching is such a pain, and my days are so full of long overdue work, that we eat what we can and bequeath the rest to any friends and neighbours who’ll take them. The bean plants clinging to their fallen-down supports (huge gusts of wind blew them over weeks ago) are looking thinner and rattier now. Occasionally I catch myself thinking that I won’t be all that sorry when I can pull them up.

At the house in town, the two vast uva fragola (concord grape) plants are cascading fruit, to the extent that they’re threatening to tug away the rusty wires which have been holding them up for decades. I’ve sent round-robin e-mails to friends and acquaintances, demanding that they come with buckets and secateurs. Some have, but the dent they’ve made in the general abundance is insignificant.

One of the older generation of the family from which I bought the house came by a couple of weeks ago to see what I had done with the place where she spent summers with nonna (grandma). She told me that she and her sister would sit at the window half way up the old stairs (I’ve moved them now) between ground and first floors, and gorge themselves on all the grapes they could reach. That must have been 50 years ago at least. Even then, those two vines were stretching across the six-odd metre stretch of garden from trunk to house wall and producing fruit for eager little hands to grab.

One friend filled an old lady-style shopping trolley with grapes then wheeled them off to a talk she wanted to hear in town. She wrote to me later about the raptures into which those grapes had sent people attending the event, particularly the Italians who reminisced about uva fragola-filled childhoods and lamented the fact that they hadn’t tasted them since.

I hear this from time to time, as if that grape variety – and not only: various heirloom things I grow have elicited similar responses – had simply vanished into the mists of childhood, a translucent memory from a more innocent time. Which is inexplicable, seeing as you can pick the plants up in just about any vivaio and stick them in your garden where they’ll whizz off on their way with little fuss.

So why the nostalgia? Fashions come and go, I guess, and even in such a linked-to-the-land place as CdP, disconnects can arise if things are not regular features on supermarket shelves. But Italy (and indeed Europe) has always had an on-off relationship with the Vitis labrusca which only arrived here in the early 19th century from its natural habitat in the cold north east of the United States. The phylloxera – another American import – that virtually wiped out Europe’s Vitis vinifera vines in the late 19th century left the disease-resistant uva fragola unscathed, creating more resentment towards this intruder from which – the general opinion is – only extremely inferior wine can be produced. Its rootstock got Europe’s wine industry back on its feet, and is still used for grafting European vines. But the ban on fragolino wine still stands, here and around Europe.

Was it our long hot summer or just exhaustion that put paid to the one of the lumps of execrable topiary which for me are an ever-present marker of the goodness of the place we have made our home? For three whole years, two unidentifiable vegetable shapes (rabbit? mouse? duck?) have perched on the roundabout outside the schools; I’m guessing that during that time, someone has been lovingly pruning them. For three whole years, stroppy schoolkids have been traipsing past these affronts to nature and not one has lopped any bits off. They continue to huddle there on their well kept bit of roundabout grass, unspeakable signs of undeniable civilisation. Now one has shuffled off its mortal coil and I’m feeling quite nostalgic about it. I hope the other doesn’t pine away too swiftly.

**********

I’ve found a use, of sorts, for the sweet potato plants which are smothering my orto. Not that I’ve used them much. The English woman who sold me the plants in the first place  tipped me off to the fact that you could eat the young shoots. I picked some, minced them finely and tossed them in the wok with some garlic and a bit of soya sauce – delicious. Now I see that the leaves contain high levels of vitamins A, C and B2 (riboflavin), and fight off nasty LDL cholestrol too. I must eat more of the stuff.

L says my life at the moment is one long displacement activity. It isn’t of course, but maybe there’s just a tiny grain of truth deep down. I don’t think I’m inventing things to keep myself from taking bookings at Pieve Suites. But I may be wallowing just slightly in the inevitable last minute detail-focussed hold-ups.

My aim is to have the website on line by the end of next week. And though I’m not naïve enough to expect to be suddenly inundated, the very idea of having to deal with guests does fill me with considerable dread. The moment I actually do it, of course, it’ll be a doddle. Or so I hope.

 

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