A couple of taste things have been niggling at me recently. By which I’m not referring to the public loos by Chiusi station which have been painted to resemble (ahem…) an Etruscan tomb, though that could well feature in my list. Finally, after almost ten years, the room off the kitchen where we used to fall over tumbling piles of buckets and brooms has become a very organised laundry, complete with sink set into a rather fetching zinc surface which is already acquiring that time-worn patina which is the look I was aiming for. Getting that top was a struggle. I went to a carpenter’s workshop down in the valley – one which I’ve worked with before and which knows full well that I am a designer with very clear ideas, and one who brings them custom to boot.
I gave them my detailed drawing and said I wanted the wood cut like that, with holes in those places and then I wanted the whole thing covered with a sheet of acciaio zincato (galvanized steel). There was a moment’s silence, then the sales person – a man with an extraordinary gift for not grasping things – said, smiling rather condescendingly “ah, yes, innox (stainless steel).” No, I explained, I want acciaio zincato. Another longer pause. Then he began writing notes on my plan. “So,” he said, looking serious, “innox.” I asked him to cross that out, and to write acciaio zincato. He looked pained. “But no one has a zinc laundry surface. No one. Do you understand what acciaio zincato is?” I gave him what I hope was a withering look, pointed out that I was a designer and told him that even if no one he knew has zinc tops in their laundry, I was fully intending to. I said that if it was going to be a problem for them, I could easily find someone else to do it. No no no no no, or course they’d do it. And they did. One of the carpenters brought it round and installed it. The plumber put the white ceramic sink in place. Then the salesman dropped round to have a look. In my (utterly misplaced) enthusiasm, I ushered him in to my beautiful laundry and said “look, what do you think?!” How naïve I can be. He stood there, staring bleakly and shaking his head. Finally he said “I’m really so sorry.” More head shaking. “I knew I should have insisted.” I decided it simply wasn’t worth pursuing.
The other thing is the rabbit. Or maybe it’s a mouse. Difficult to say really because it’s a bit of topiary which appeared in the middle of an expanse of green grass on the new roundabout they built at the other end of town. This roundabout is a raised circle of bricks, divided across the middle by a path, each half set at a jaunty angle and filled with lawn. The rabbit (?) sits on one of these halves. Now, when it first appeared I thought it was a good candidate for attacking with an axe when everyone else was asleep, a bit like the two dwarves (à la Snow White) which used to sit on the gateposts of one of the new houses on the way up to town. (These have since been replaced by terracotta sweetsie animals, which in some ways are almost more offensive, though mercifully less colourful.) But as time goes on, despite its being unspeakably kitsch, I have come to appreciate it in a strange way. I mean, it’s easily within reach of the hundreds of kids who traipse across there every day between school and bus stop. And yet it has survived intact. I mean, it has thrived. Where else could this happen? Is there anywhere else in the world so civilised that even disaffected teenagers don’t lop the heads off silly topiary when it would be so terribly simple? So the ghastly rabbit (?) has come to symbolise something wonderful about where we live. Great, but sad at the same time. I find myself involuntarily checking on the health of his silly little ears, the inquisitive tip of his little head each time I drive by. Whereas the refusal, on the grounds that “we don’t do that like that”, by salespeople of questionable discernment to accept graciously the choices made by someone whose business is design (or by anyone, in fact, who isn’t them) is not endearing at all. This same person showed me, beaming with pride, their newest line: doors with painted panels (by, incidentally, the Etruscan loo woman) of true awfulness. Perhaps I was too visibly unimpressed when he showed me? Because besides being so dismissive about my laundry when he came by, this man also paused in the front hall and peered around him, then sighed deeply. “I’ve heard about this before, but I really don’t get it,” he said, as if there were something ineffably baffling about our home. “It just doesn’t seem right, putting these modern things in an old house.” Parallel lines, I thought, as he ambled off.
They say it’s going to stop raining tomorrow. I sincerely hope so. We’ve had 106mm already since the beginning of November***. On the last sunny day before the heavens opened a builder poured cement for the foundations of a wall in a project I’m doing on the other side of the lake. Since then, he hasn’t been able to lay a single stone of the wall. It has been relentless. And even in the non-raining moments, the ground has been so soggy as to be impassable. There and here, which means that my own garden has been horribly neglected too: no point trying to weed when each plant pulled up comes with a muddy clump bigger than itself, of course. I’m feeling incarcerated and stiff and very restless. Just as well we’ve had some autumn colours to illuminate the gloom this year. It’s funny around here for autumn colours. Some years the leaves drop off the trees without passing through colours; other years – well, it’s never Vermont but it does get impressively pretty. Some English clients of mine in the Val d’Orcia sounded resigned to uneventful autumns on that front. You can never expect much in the way of colour on calcareous rock, they said – something I had never heard before and haven’t been able to verify. I think, instead, it’s more a question of the species that grow best around here, with woods dominated by Quercus pubescens (downy oak), which keeps its leaves for ages – first green, then immediately brown with no interim splash of autumn – then drops them all at once, well into the winter. Down in our valley we’re lucky, with Salix and Populus and our magnificent Acer campestre (field maple) to create highlights. And in the garden, the pomegranates and the persimmons are a delight.
***In the following 24 hours, another 72mm fell.