I’ve been trying to write this post for a week now, and never get past the first three paragraphs. First it was to say that autumn had arrived and to explain what that meant in weather terms.
[22/9: Today was wet and cold; yesterday was brilliant tramontana (north wind), cristalline and cold; prior to that a hot scirocco wind blew, howling in from the south bringing its odd yellow light and nervous-making air with it: it’s the kind of weather where men strangle their wives, and wives run off with dark handsome strangers never to be seen again. Or so it is in (Italian) legend anyway. It just made me feel tired.]
And then I tried to take stock of what was going on outside.
[24/9: I feel like I’m pulling together the loose ends of summer: tidying, organising, making late jams. In fact, there’s still so much going on out there.
My poor benighted roses, which have had such a terrible, leafless, struggling black-spot season with all our rain are gamely trying once again, and more little leaves are appearing; the blooms – which never, through all the suffering, gave up – are getting just that little bit richer. Of course, this is the rose sawfly time of year, and those brave new shoots are being attacked like crazy; but I’m trying to keep them adequately zapped with pyrethrum. Hopefully I’ll be able to thank the plants for all their efforts with an assault-free autumn.
I’m planting winter veg (broccoli, turnip tops, spinach and beet, black kale) but still picking lots of the summer ones (tomatoes, lettuce, beans, berries).
But all in all I feel I’m surrounded with plants that are still recovering from much confusion. The furious heat that they take for granted never materialised; the long periods of draught that they brace for never happened. Now if only autumn can fall into some kind of regular pattern – not too much water, perhaps, and occasional bursts of lovely Indian summer heat – they might once again get into their stride.]
So what do I do now with this succession of disjuncts?
Well, I can say that yesterday and today have been days you dream of: blue and clean and warm and making you feel just right inside whenever you walk out into them or even think of them.
I can also report that my life is a battle against insects.
I have never seen quite so many stink (shield) bugs. There are 7000-odd species in the Pentatomoidea family. I think I have most of them on my poor tomatoes. In fact, I think it’s almost time to cut my losses, gather up the green ones that they haven’t yet massacred and make chutney out of them, then think what to plant next in those tomato-ey plots. I have a whole shelf full of passata already: should be enough to keep us going for winter. Then again, I do like having my own fresh tomatoes through the autumn (I refuse to buy tomatoes: most taste of nothing but water and all are grown from antibiotic-treated seed.) So perhaps I’ll just take out the worst affected ones (the San Marzano and beef toms) and leave the cherry tomatoes which seem to be less palatable to the little horrors.
(I have also, finally, ripped out the cucumber plants. I just couldn’t take another cucumber. Why are they always so happy here, wherever I put them? For months and months they go on producing industrial quantities, until I never want to see a cucumber again. The final few have been turned into sorbet – not an original idea: we were given this when we had lunch last month at the Cipriani hotel – but the recipe I have devised is (imo) better than the one we had there. I wonder if George Clooney was given a taste of theirs too…)
Stink bugs I expect at this time of year. But ants no. And yet the other day they were climbing the walls of the house to such an extent that I had to resort to that thing I hate so much: breaking out the heinous chemicals and spraying the walls. It was the great big black ones – the termite-like creatures that chew through wood if left to their own devices – shinning up towards the roof with its wooden beams that really got me worried. But I’ve stopped them now. I think it must have been the sudden warmth that made them think that summer was finally starting.
And then there are the mosquitos – another result of too much wet. Basta. I hate them dive-bombing my ears and trying to climb down my neck every time I set foot outside. I hate having to wear long trousers and socks to keep them off my ankles. In fact, I don’t think I’m reacting to them at the moment. They bite, because when I squish them there’s blood in them. But few of the bites swell or itch. Which is just as well. Because I would be one big red ball if they did.
My long list of autumn tasks is slowly getting dealt with. I have ordered some bookshelves, and a new cupboard to put in the corner of the kitchen to take some of the piles of really quite unnecessary stuff we brought from the flat in Rome. And I have an appointment with the geometra (the person who would present the plans to the town council) on Tuesday to discuss the possibility of putting solar panels on the roof.
Two big problems here. Firstly, we are in a conservation zone and we really shouldn’t be given permission at all. Then again, energy saving is so sexy that they may waive that consideration. And secondly, I want evacuated tubes which, I’m told by people who know, are hugely more efficient; around here, everyone insists on flat panels. I can’t work out whether this is because they really believe that they’re better; or whether it’s just that infuriating Umbrian “that’s the way we do it: why should we change?” I envisage myself caving in in the end, in the face of granitic opposition from just about everyone.