Spring scribblings

spray 0508C

24 April 2016
Note to self: be wary of going supermarket shopping with people who don’t understand/share your obsession with the ghastliness and iniquity of industrially processed ‘food’/muck.
I was driving somewhere with my friend Tom and decided to pull in to Lidl to replenish my supply of the few things I buy there: avocados, mangos and Californian pistachio nuts. (I often suffer some discomfort at the check-out when I realise that my ten-odd items cost more or less the same as the high-piled trolleys around me.)
At first I had Tom on my side as I peered at the labels on nets of oranges, and explained that I wouldn’t buy any that were sprayed with carcinogenous and development-stunting Imazalil. (They all were, so I desisted.) But as we toured the aisles and Tom pointed out all kinds of interesting goodies, my reaction was always and inevitably “but have you seen the ingredients list (shudder)?!”
There’s a limit to the number of times you can say that before you begin to sound like a madwoman.

30 April 2016
I had earmarked today – a day of splendid sunshine according to yesterday’s forecast – for making up for much lost time in the garden. The weather gods had other ideas for me, though, and are currently chucking down large amounts of water accompanied by pyrotechnics. All I managed to do before this exploded around me was move my tiny tomato plantlets into larger pots, and plant out some coriander seedlings. Not much of a catch-up.
Now it’s rather chilly and I’m slightly damp, and I’m certainly not going out in that to fetch firewood to light the stoves. Until there’s a break in the storm, I’ll just wrap up.
I was planning to make my usual early-spring dash to the Amalfi Coast last weekend, for some lungfuls of ozone. In the event L drew me down there mid-week by flying off his bike as he hurled himself at breakneck speed around a hairpin bend on the descent from Agerola to Furore (he was already down there, for his Sirenuse Journal work, and a handful of hotel reviews).
At Salerno hospital we witnessed the unexpectedly smart and efficient (A&E), and the scarily medieval (the orthopedic section, where we went first by mistake and wouldn’t have been surprised to see a gore-splattered butcher with hacksaw step into the waiting room to fetch his next patient). The gaunt, shaven-headed, gap-toothed nurse who trussed L up mummy-fashion looked like he was on day release from the local high security prison.
The pain was minimal, the thought of abandoning a programme of visits and interviews arranged so painstakingly and with great effort too stressful, so L remained down there, with me to tie his shoelaces (in the final analysis, about the only thing that it’s impossible to do one-handed) for two days of blissful sunshine in Positano then Capri. There are worse places to play Florence Nightingale – especially as the weekend of my planned stay was a wash-out.

On the dock in Capri, waiting for the hydrofoil to Sorrento. A suave-looking Italian man, perhaps in his late 30s, is hovering around a very young, very leggy American blond, trying to dazzle her with Capri facts and his southern smile. He’s a guide, maybe employed by her parents. His local knowledge and his smiles are being met with the politely glazed look she probably usually reserves for those parents. In desperation at her indifference, he missteps catastrophically: he tells her that Zayn Malik spends a week or more here each year. She lights up. Her eyes are sparkling, but not for her cicerone. Could Zayn be here now? Where does he stay? What does he do? She’s eagerly scanning the crowds of shuffling shapeless elderly tourists, as if Zayn might step out from between them and advance on her. It’s as if Capri suddenly makes sense to her. She squeezes her guide for more Zayn facts, which he invents valiantly. But you can tell that he knows all is lost.

0508D 0508B

7 May 2016
I don’t remember ever having so much trouble with digging beasts. Quite apart from the boar which have created craters in my grass and systematically knocked down my little drystone walls each time I rebuild them, there’s something – and I’m still not entirely sure what – that’s doing all it can to destroy my summer vegetable production.
At first I was muttering darkly about my cleaning lady, wondering quite how hard she had turned the hose on to water my tiny seedlings as I saw to L’s shoelaces on Capri. There were great depressions inside the pots, with soil scattered all over the place. That turned out to be unfair. I tidied things up on my return, but each morning it was back to square one. Or perhaps further back even than that. Because my tiny spikes of sweetcorn were mashed to pieces and my cucurbits were completely trashed, the shells of the seeds hauled out of the earth and chucked about willy nilly. So what was scrabbling about in the greenhouse?
There was a very brazen lizard living in there, which just sat and stared (indeed sits and stares) at me every time I slide the door open, registering its mild irritation at having its domain invaded. But lizards are carnivores, my research tells me. If anything, I should welcome an insect-devouring guest in my greenhouse.
As the greenhouse tends to creep away from the wall (it’s held in place by a couple of hooks, for easy removal) I began to think that the cheeky bluetits who have nested in the hole in the big olive tree out there might be buzzing round the back and feeding on my seeds. It’s not an impossibility. But I’ve pushed the greenhouse firmly back against the wall now, and I’m still finding displaced soil.
So that leaves mice. The fact that it has been predominantly the pumpkin and courgette seeds, and the sweet corn, suggests that it’s some creature that likes nice chewy seeds. I did that thing I hate – putting down poison – but haven’t found any mouse corpses anywhere, though the tablet has clearly been nibbled.
My seeds when small are no longer going into the greenhouse now. For the time being C’s room has been turned into a conservatory, with trays of seedlings beneath the south window. The only problem, though, is that with the grey days which keep interrupting phases of splendid sunshine, the temperature inside the house is lower than the temperature outside. These inside-bred plants must be thinking that it’s still February.

My other source of trouble in this spring which should have been so action-packed is foot-dragging up at my purchase in town. To obtain all the necessary permits I handed my refurbishment plan – worked on over months and exactly what I want, to the nearest millimetre – to my new geometra, a very Italian qualification which is not an architect and not a surveyor or engineer, but permitted to do many of the things that those people do. I explained that that was precisely what I wanted to do. But like all geometri, he and his helpers felt they had to justify their fee by fiddling. It’s infuriating. It has become a tug of war. They change; I get him to put it straight back; they change; I get him to put it straight back. I will admit that one of their suggestions – to remove a large bit of top-floor ceiling – was great… especially after I had altered their design, again to the nearest millimetre, so I could squeeze in all the things I need to squeeze in. But when they drew up my alterations, they had changed them yet again. So I got them to put it straight back. And so it goes on.
The result of all this is that the paperwork didn’t go to the town council in time for the last building commission meeting. If it doesn’t go this month, I’ll be looking for a new geometra.

Last week, L had to go to Prato, to interview the director of the Pecci Centre. I could have put him on a train, but decided instead to investigate this oasis of textile industry success.
All over town are vast hangars full of textile stock. Some are specialised, others are bursting with great piles of everything. It’s heaven. Of course, you need time and patience to sort through the dull, the garish, the ghastly and the utterly unsuitable.
In Gori Tessuti (actually closer to Florence than Prato), very old-fashioned serving blokes tried to tell me what I wanted, pushing me towards all kinds of unsuitable stuff. (To give them their due, I was utterly unable to explain to them what I wanted: it’s not easy when a client simply tells you that she’ll know it when she sees it.) I fled, but only after making a mental note to go back and explore their weird collection of furniture and what have you.
In O.B. Stock on the other hand, voluble students from fashion schools were rifling through great material-stacks. Here I unearthed bolt-ends of glorious Rubelli fabrics at a tiny fraction of the real price. And liberated from L’s disapproving clucking (I do sometimes wonder how we have managed to rub along for over 30 years, our tastes are so very different) I plunged in and selected three materials, one for each of my three floors. Now I can start thinking colour schemes and bathrooms, furnishings and lights. I really needed that to help me see beyond the bureaucracy and get my imagination going.

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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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2 Responses to Spring scribblings

  1. Lesley says:

    Yes…lucky to avoid the !talian orthopods as I know from when I broke all those bits and pieces last year. Do send my commiserations to L though it seems he did better than could be expected.

    We arrive next Monday and look forward to seeing you and viewing especially the new house.

    love L

  2. Carol Nunan says:

    Can empathise re geometra! Have you tried Sacco? We also know another great guy over on the lake who actively praised my husband’s plans and did not change a millimetre. Our only problem then was “head in the sand” medieval architetto at the Comune.
    Loved your story about the hospital visit too – hope the husband is now recovering.
    Lots of love to CdP from rainy Melbourne!

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