21 February 2012

I never thought I’d miss snow, but in many ways I do. In general, I hate the stuff. And the idea of doing something ludicrous like hurling myself down steep and slippery snow-covered slopes with my feet strapped to bits of fibreglass is completely inconceivable. But now that ours is mostly melted, and we can use the car again, and our phone line has (finally) been restored, I’m missing my silent, clean, dazzling world.

My feeling of loss is partly aesthetic. Hard edges had been done away with, and – because I was here all alone and was happier crunching through powder than, for instance, digging paths which instantly became icy traps – everything remained all-but-pristine: after all, there weren’t many places I was all that keen to get to when everything had 70 centimetres of snow on top of it. When L came back, aching to ‘sort things out’ in an effort to stave off impending cabin fever, the situation changed.

Of course, by that time the thaw had set in gently. But beside his paths appeared angular piles of soiled, sad snow. And what had been my beautiful narrow path of footsteps – very deep at first then daily getting a little shallower as the thaw set in – in the otherwise virgin wastes between  our front gate and Mario’s house was destroyed as snow and ice were heaved and hauled out of the way in attempts (finally successful on Sunday evening) to get the car out.

But the loss is also of lifestyle. My daily tramps up to town were doing me such a lot of good. I was feeling so fit, with admirable thigh muscles. But I was also stopping to chat, socialising with snow-obsessed people all the way along my route, becoming an habituée in the convivial post office sorting room beyond which our mail would never have travelled had I not gone in to pick it up (ours, plus practically anyone else’s I chose to take – they weren’t being very fussy). Then there were the people passing through the Caffè degli Artisti where I set up my office for a couple of hours each day – just long enough to check and answer emails. It was all extremely jolly. And I’m missing it already.

The phone line drama was a less tranquil element in my world of snowy calm. From 2 February until 20 February: that’s a long time to be cut off from the world. Endless bootless conversations with the Telecom call centre, endless promises of immediate action – or rather action by ‘midnight on…’ – endless incompetence. At one point I was brushed off with a story of an enormous fault in the CdP central switchboard. Rubbish: the problem was, as always, severed lines down in the valley. Yesterday morning, my final brush with the Telecom Italia switchboard ended with the woman at the other end, having heard my sorry tale, saying “signora, you need a lawyer.” Not encouraging.

But then a technician called, I rushed out to intercept him, and when I saw him looking askance down into the valley where the phone line lies in its tangled mess on the ground, off I set, in true-Brit pioneer style, yelling “let’s get this thing sorted.” He would have looked like a wuss if he’d stayed behind. We clambered and scrambled down there, where bent and fallen trees and saplings had pulled the wires into all kinds of unlikely combinations: it was a miracle that only ours had gone, and not Mario’s and our Canadian neighbours’ too. Ours was severed in two places, one – inexplicably – snapped off cleanly at a point where there was nothing to fall and break it. “It looks like someone has cut it with a knife,” I said. “That’s what I was thinking,” said the tecnico. A mystery.

We patched it up with tape and extra bits of wire and hey presto, contact. But I felt sorry for the poor boy, despatched by himself to do a job which was simple with an assistant but completely impossible alone, by a company which is going bankrupt because Telecom is so slow to pay monies owed, and which hadn’t paid him for three months. That’s not the way to run a public service.

What has emerged from beneath almost a metre of snow, and after ten days of sub-zero temperatures, is heart-warming, as always. When I dug down 50 centimetres to the bed where my broad beans had been, there they were, beneath their thin covering of fleece, bigger than ever. Ditto the baby cabbage plants. Clearly the snow had insulated them, falling as it did before the really freezing weather arrived. My rosemary bushes, completely flattened beneath the weight, have sprung back and somehow look more freshly green than before. Even the poor battered old lavander plants by the chicken house are fine. The roses are covered with little buds and seem fairly unperturbed. The only thing which has suffered much, it seems, is the lovely field maple at the south end of the house – the one my washing line is strung from. Huge branches split and snapped from there, quite unexpectedly. It makes me think that maybe that tree isn’t really very well.

Most endearing, perhaps, is the parsley, popping out from beneath its shroud looking very chirpy indeed. I love plants. They just get on with it. Unlike so many people.

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About Gardens, Food & Umbria

I am a garden designer, working throughout central Italy. I have lived in Italy for over 30 years – for many years in Rome but now in the wilds of Umbria where I have fixed up one wreck of a house, am working on another, and tinker endlessly with two and a half hectares of land, some of which is my garden.
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