My tomato seeds are in. That means spring must be round the corner. But the icy northerly crashing into the house and rattling trees all day says something different. And I had another load of firewood delivered today, which is pretty wintry too.
It’s not only tomatoes in the trays of next-season produce huddled in my greenhouse. There are lettuce and cabbage, peppers hot and sweet, aubergines purple and white, coriander, basil and dill, calendula and cosmos. And I’m making another attempt with okra after last year’s almost-success with that difficult plant. I wanted to get my runner beans going too but I can’t find them. I know I ordered them: I checked my latest correspondance with the Organic Catalogue and they’re definitely there. And I vaguely remember a big chunky packet arriving. But I can’t find them anywhere. Did I just imagine them? Completely inexplicable. I hope that they turn up and that I don’t find myself doing a last-minute dash to any old seed-seller and making do with non-organic seeds. It’s so easy to give in when you’re in a rush.
I have almost almost almost reclaimed my box-filled office, by dint of much hard graft and book-hauling. Our living room bookshelves – the ones that we’ve been humming and ha-ing about (and doing without) for the past ten years – are now up. As are the ones in the corridor upstairs. And those in C’s room, which is an even greater miracle.
The corridor shelves (literature after 1800) were fairly stress-free, made by my current favourite carpenters and mounted without a struggle.
The downstairs ones (all kinds of non-fiction), on the other hand, were a long and wearisome back-and-forth between carpenters and metalworkers, made extra complicated because I wanted something contour-hugging in a house where there’s not a single 90° angle or properly vertical wall. And I wanted something light but solid. And rough but elegant. Insomma, I’m any craftsman’s nightmare. But I have it now, and I’m pleased with (and not a little proud of) my design.
C’s, on the other hand, I made myself. You can’t just delegate everything to people more able and qualified. You have to do your bit too, don’t you, otherwise it’s all too simple and possibly too bourgeois. This job doesn’t quite come under the heading ‘Anne bites off more than she can chew’ though they were quite a burden, time-wise. I’m better (though I say so myself) at carpentry than at the other over-ambitious things I convince myself I can do: I always say it’s my french-polisher grandfather’s blood pulsing through my veins, though I’m pretty sure he would scowl in contempt if he could see the results of my efforts.
Then came days and days of shifting the contents of all those boxes brought from Rome up and down, and trying to agree on a system. This also involved, of course, integrating the collection we have accumulated here in the interim – so dismantling L’s study too. There came a point when I thought I’d never rid myself of the wheelbarrow full of teetering tomes in the middle of the living room floor. But they’ve gone, and save for an aching under my shoulder blades I’ve come through unscathed.
It’s a funny feeling, having our literature back around us. In the past couple of days, I have caught myself I know not how many times just gazing, rapt, at the shelves. Our move up here was so long-drawn-out and gradual that I don’t think the fact that most of our books stayed down in Rome really bothered us. Over the years we brought up the ones that we needed or that were really terribly dear to us. But now I’m feeling that I’ve re-established contact with a whole tribe of old friends; and also with so many tiny, important bits of my life, each with a story and each attached to a point in my time. It’s wonderful to be reunited.
Now we find ourselves in the very weird position of having space for more books. I can’t remember a time when every book purchase wasn’t accompanied by feelings of anguish over which dangerous pile it would end up on top of. We can expand. It’s odd: our Rome flat was completely lined with bookshelves, all of them packed to bursting. As I commissioned these new shelves, I was worried that I had under-calculated – that despite everything we’d end up having our usual double-rows and things shoved in willy-nilly. But I was forgetting just how very small that apartment was compared to here: we now have great stretches of shelf waiting to be filled. What an amazing feeling. How long will it last I wonder?
I had a birthday weekend, rather than a birthday. C descended from Venice on Saturday and we picked her up at Florence, then drove to the beach in Tuscany. It was grey and the wind was fierce. But for the key beach moments, the rain held off and we flew the kite. I love beaches in the depths of winter. There’s a mix of forlornless and nobility when they’re abandoned and there’s none of the usual in-season paraphenalia (or people) clogging them up.
Marina di Bibbona has murky grey sand but fantastic designer pebbles of subtle hues with elegant white stripes criss-crossing them. I picked up a pale jade-green one which even when dry is polished-shiny and smooth as smooth.
Marina di Bibbona also has our favourite beach-hut restaurant. From outside, you could be lulled into thinking it’s just another sand-perching trat. But Andrea Zazzeri’s restaurant La Pineta is a shack with a Michelin star. The food is exceptional – unfussy, perfect. The feel is happy and relaxed in a very grown-up way.