Six days and counting. No phone, no internet. We were fuming on our hillside, cursing Telecom Italia for their inability to get someone here to reconnect us with the world. Now I’m incredulous at my own supine-ness. I know where our communications hiccoughs lie, down in the valley where the lines are on the ground and any passing boar can trip over and detach them. So why didn’t I go down and look for myself? In which case I would have known straight away that what we had was not so much a problem of no line, but one of no hill. Right beneath Mario’s house, a whole section of hill has slid down into the valley, taking lines and poles and everything with it in a muddy, melma-filled wallow. I could have told the poor fools at the Telecom call centre to send a whole emergency team: instead we got one angry man. Who knows when we’ll be reconnected with the rest of the world now.
This is a disastrous state of affairs for people as dependent on the internet as we are. But it’s the peripheral things that annoy me: not being entertained by Radio 4 while cooking, not having the Today programme to wake me up with the world’s problems as I make breakfast. There are good sides to this too however: instead of spending evenings with the computer compelling us into our own spheres, we read books and watch films. Which we do anyway – just that now we do it more.
Do wood-burning stoves have to ‘learn’ to burn? I was wondering this the other day when we finally got the new one in L’s study up and running.
It took forever to get to this point. Getting the builder down here, getting him down here at a time when he didn’t just shrug at the rain and leave again, getting the copper chimney pot ordered, getting the builder back to stick the chinmey on… such logistics.
But with the stove all set up, the coffee made, the slices of cake cut for the lighting party, the instructions to hand to be intoned as part of the ceremony, it took forever for the kindling to catch, during which time the funny-looking little thing belched huge quantities of foul-smelling smoke (the smell, the instructions say, is normal and harmless and will soon disappear – normal perhaps, harmless who knows, but the same smell took days to disappear from the Jotul stove in the living room).
I remember that the stove in the projection room did much the same thing, on the belching smoke front. It did it alarmingly, for days after it first went into operation. At times it was difficult to work out where so much smoke was coming from. Then it stopped. It took ages to warm itself up when lit over the first few months, then suddenly the kindling caught and heat spread rapidly even before logs came into play. Do, with time, the iron molecules learn what’s expected of them? Does the chimney flue somehow, gradually, perfect the art of dealing with smoke? Lighting and feeding seem to grow easier by the month, and the heat effect improves in leaps and bounds. So something must be changing, over and above our expertise in handling any given stove situation. Or so it would seem.
Until this morning, when I opened the shutters on blue blue sky and air that tasted like champagne, murky damp seemed to be our lot this winter. It’s hasn’t been cold, though the grey makes you feel it might be. In Rome the other day, it was 15 degrees – not a February temperature at all. But I drove to Rome (to evict C from our flat and remove a remarkable amount of clutter accumulated in a record short time) in absurd circumstances. Illuminated boards flashed above my head, telling me that the polizia stradale recommended I turn around and go home. On the traffic news radio, presenters delivered dire warning of what might happen to anyone foolish enough to drive into the maelstrom of adverse meteorological conditions around the capital. But I had clutter to transport and so persevered.
The final stretch of motorway before the Rome ring road was under water, and closed. Then it was being cleared. Then it was being opened. After driving through heavy but not extreme rain for most of the way, I pulled on to the newly reopened stretch. Here, as for most of the journey, I had the road almost entirely to myself. I made the trip in record time.
(I gloat, but it’s perhaps as unfair as it is misleading. Friends arriving from England that same day found the Fiumicino motorway closed, and the ring road between the airport and the Florence turn-off axle-deep in water: they took close on six hours to do the two-hour trip to CdP. I, clearly, got lucky.)
Later that evening, with few drops falling, C and I crossed the Ponte Sublicio on foot, en route to the Indian restaurant in via San Francesco a Ripa. The Tiber in spate is a marvellous site, churning and molten and ochre-yellow beneath the pinky street lights. There’s a power and a headlong-ness in its rush, but’s all so dishevelled, carrying trunks and twigs and flotsam of every kind. The basements of the Fatebenefratelli hospital on the island were flooded (they always are, so why oh why do they put expensive x-ray equipment down there, and then complain?), the playing fields around Monte Milvio were awash.
These are the only times that Rome comes anywhere near those wonderful 18th-century paintings of the Tiber dominating its supine city. Pre-banchine (river walls), it washed into river-side dwellings (in fact, it washed them away) and made life unliveable for months in low-lying areas of the city. But the river’s lows gave daubers scenes of such urban-pastoral calm that it all – now – looks rather enviable. These days the tall banchine can make you forget there’s a river down there at all. It’s good to be reminded.
Beneath Orvieto is one big lake, near Attigliano you can no longer tell where the Tiber ends and the flood begins, in our own Val di Chiana fields are again turning back into marshland. And the roads! Winters of rain, and snow, and rain – coupled with no money to spend on repairs – have turned them into potholed tracks. The valley road from Ponticelli to Fabro will break your axles if you don’t go slowly.
Days that regularly go up to 14 degrees, nights that rarely go below five or six – they are leading our plants up the garden path (if they can get there through the weeds, in my case) and convincing them that spring is here. (I even saw a busy ant today, though that thought fills me with such dread that I prefer to put it out of my mind.) Yet in my obsession with Venice guide and projects for spring, so many of which need drawing up immediately, I have pruned less than half of my roses, and I’m several sprays behind for my poor unpruned fruit trees. Most troubling of all, I still haven’t had the one really cold day I need to be able to put the contents of my freezer outside just long enough to defrost the poor clogged-up thing and get it working properly again. Are we going to have a real bit of winter at all?