17 May 2012

0517GThere are animals all over the place. I mean, apart from the nightingales (the woods are full of them and the one who has taken up residence in the smaller of the two big oaks by the house just carries on chortling even when I step out to talk to it); and the constantly piping cuckoos; and the avian cacophany that wakes me when it’s hardly light if the window is open: all of these are (mostly) welcome.

But this morning there was some huge beast down in the field… or at least it was an immense, dark, slow-moving blur without my glasses on. At first I thought of baby elephants, then of wolves or bears. Of course it was a rooting, snuffling boar (at least I presume it was) but how funny it was, I thought, that I should be so blasé about wild boar that I can fantasize about such improbable intruders. Some people, I guess, would find boar themselves pretty exotic.

I watched whatever it was ambling through the long long grass at the bottom of the field, engulfed completely at times, and thought it had found a very pleasant place for its explorations.

0517F0517EI didn’t have any such indulgent thoughts about my snakes. I was mowing the long, long grass along by my veggie garden #2 when it suddenly occurred to me that there was something odd attached to the netting. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw it was a snake, its head through the flimsy fence and its horribly long body curled neatly along my potato rows. Yurk. It was clearly very dead, complete with hovering flies. But a snake is a snake and I had to fight my instinctive urge to flee, fast, and force myself to stay calm and keep mowing.

It wasn’t the same one that destroyed much of one side of my netting last month  in its frantic – and successful – writhing to get out. That one was beautifully patterned in stripes made up of tiny black and yellow lozenges – a harmless snake (or so I like to think) but still enough to send me zipping off in a panic.

This one, on the other hand, was smooth and brown with a sheen to its underbelly. I steeled myself and mowed on, ready to run should it suddenly spring back to life, feeling no sympathy for it in its plight and wondering how the hell I was going to disentangle it from my netting… or rather, how I was going to get it disentangled because there was no way I was going anywhere near it. Just mowing on by was the limit of my bravery.

Rain was threatening, I still had lawn to cut, so I walked on by, calming my thumping heart. Then I rounded the other side of the orto… and found my yellow and black colubrine friend, similarly dead and entangled in a part of the netting it hadn’t destroyed in April.

So this, then, had been a serpentine tryst – a tryst that had gone horribly wrong. I started imagining them as the Romeo and Juliet of the snake world. Then I realised that I was going to have to brush against this one – more or less – if I were going to mow along that narrow strip between vegetable garden and the steep bank on the other side. No more romantic thoughts; more scrunching up courage as I took it at a run. Even the thought makes me tremble.

And to remove them? I showed them to Indi when he came to wield the strimmer but didn’t ask him to do anything. He looked as shaken as I felt. But later on the snakes were no longer, and the stretch of netting which had remained shredded since the first snake visited was miraculously back in one piece so he had clearly intervened. Perhaps I shouldn’t always think such grumpy thoughts about him and his potential for wreaking havoc in my garden. That was, I have to say, very kind of him.

I have been feeling slightly less belligerant towards poor Indi recently, partly because he seems to have understood (for the time being at least) that when I say he’s not to touch a single plant I mean it: he has done too much damage to too many of them already. (Even this year, the artichokes he massacred last spring have failed to produce much.) But also because we’ve come to rely on his speed-strimming of banks and his patient grubbing out of Arundo donax and general land-clearance (we’re clear now down to the upper walut trees in the field and it’s looking rather fine).

0516And then there’s the restaurant. One day, in a desperate effort to say something to him which wasn’t just a criticism, I asked “is it true that there’s going to be a Sri Lankan restaurant in CdP?” He beamed, and said yes, there will be one but not so much Sri Lankan as part Indian (the cook is Indian) and part Italian (otherwise the locals – averse to anything that their mothers and grandmothers wouldn’t have whipped up – will avoid it like the plague). And Indi seems to have sunk his savings in it. There are various versions around town of where these ‘savings’ came from: a much older, wealthier wife who died and left him her money, or a wife with money who ran away back to Sri Lanka in despair but forgot to take her nest egg with her. But it was what came next which was so surprising.

0517C“Can you come and see it please signora?” he asked. “It’s just not right inside and you’ve got a good eye.” How odd, and endearing, that Indi, who usually just sees me snapping orders and throwing my hands up in despair should seek my words of wisdom for his new venture. I went, I dispensed thoughts on décor and now we’re awaiting the grand opening. By the end of the month CdP may, perhaps, have an Indian takeaway… all that has been missing really!

We’ve been back in Rome, rather too often for my tastes, but interesting each time nonetheless.

0517BMost recently, we stayed in a hotel on via del Babuino. Our suite was elegant and comfortable though just a tad too minimalist for my tastes, in a thoroughly masculine way. But what fun to be up among the rooftops of the Tridente, observing the extraordinary vegetable life squeezed on to terraces, into minuscule gardens and even struggling from beneath tiles. Once again I found myself marvelling at how determined plants are to get a foothold: remarkable. Having our own private roof terrace helped my observations, of course, and softened the edges of the décor by making my heart warm to the place.

0517DThe previous time, we had dinner with architects Carl Pickering and Claudio Lazzarini, in their extraordinary loft-space apartment in that odd river-side stretch of Trastevere

beneath the Gianicolo by the prison. L had to chat to them about one of their projects – the transformation of a belle epoque villa in Beaulieu which he will write about for World of Interiors. Which left me time to ponder whether this wasn’t the very loft we used to peer into when we visited our friends Marco and Suzy – now in New York. From the kitchen of their cramped apartment you could climb through a window out on to their immense expanse of terrace. I think they left when C was about three; she used to love running about out there. Happy memories.

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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3 Responses to 17 May 2012

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