8 April 2012

After weeks and weeks of struggling to keep myself from spending every single sun-filled waking hour outdoors, now I’m finding it tough to be anywhere but indoors. Rain – which has finally arrived – is happening or about to happen most of the time. And though my vegetable garden desperately needs me to be up there, getting things ready for major spring planting, I’m stuck inside watching the big olive tree outside the kitchen window droop under the rain. Even the non-rainy moments are uninviting after the glorious weather we’ve grown so used to.

Se piove venerdì santo, piove maggio tutto quanto. If it rains on Good Friday, it will rain all May. The real heavy stuff hit on the afternoon of Maundy Thursday: over in Palazzone there was an almighty hailstorm, I’m told; here we had about ten minutes of deluge then hours of good steady precipitation. I can’t, honestly, remember what happened on Good Friday. But I’m thinking that if it did rain, it was hardly anything and certainly not enough to merit a squelchy mess a month down the line. All May. I really do hope not.

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Work has begun on the garden I’m doing with Peter in Parioli (Rome). Monday was a long long day of standing in pre-rain dust, planting, moving, replanting, viewing from different angles and wondering whether I really had placed things correctly. But when, in the evening, a large chunk of the client-family turned up and seemed pleased, I was reassured. And Peter, too, was happy when he saw how it was going, which is even more important.

On Tuesday I shall be high up in the Umbrian hills, moving earth in my project in that strange outcrop of inexplicable houses in the middle of nowhere. The client-family will be around there too, over from Ireland on an Easter visit.

I do love that feeling of culmination that standing among workers gives you. Not, in either of these cases, that the job is anywhere near finished. (In the former, the work on the house has been dragging on for 15 years and though the garden, we hope, will be slightly swifter, I don’t see it being wrapped any time soon.) But the move from on-paper (or on-screen) to on-the-ground is such a gratifying one that it’s almost as good as actually finishing. Spring is a fine time when it comes to providing these moments.

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On Wednesday, I dropped the weeding-between-bricks I had been doing outside the kitchen door and drove like a fiend to Perugia for a hearing at a consumer arbitration tribunal. After being abandoned here in the snow for so long by Telecom Italia in February, disconnected from the rest of the world, I decided to demand €1000 in compensation – not so much for the money (though every little helps) but to give myself a chance to air my grievances. When I mentioned this the evening before to the regulars gathered in the Saltapicchio winebar in town, I received many pats on the back and shouts of encouragement: resentment against Telecom runs very deep.

Such a pity then that I turned up for the hearing precisely, to the minute, 24 hours late. I don’t know how the misunderstanding arose: I had always had the appointment marked for April 4 in my diary, while the papers they sent me had always said April 3. However it came about, I felt understandably stupid and extremely annoyed with myself.

To make things slightly less infuriating, though, my inefficiency may have saved me from a very nasty fate.

At the point when I realised it was time to dash, I had about one square metre of patio to weed. I had been at the job for a couple of hours, (unusually for me) gloveless and wearing thin cotton trousers and low gym shoes. I had been doing the work in a rather absent-minded way, sitting on the bricks. As I stood up to run upstairs and get changed, something slithered out of the remaining patch of weeds.

I’m about 99 percent certain it was a baby viper.

I stood on the kitchen step, transfixed, for a while. It just lay on the bricks in its new position, totally immobile, in that way vipers do. It was still there minutes later when I came back to look. I checked before leaving for Perugia and it had gone. Vanished. Had I continued my weeding to the end, I can’t see how I wouldn’t, at some point, have reached in and touched the thing, at which point I presume it would have bitten me.

I’ve always had this deep conviction that there is a viper out there with my name written on it. Clearly – for the moment at least – it wasn’t that particular one.

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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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