20 June 2016

0620B 0620A

And it’s raining. Again. All right, so the forecast for the next few days promises a sudden leap into summer, with temperatures soaring to 32°. But yesterday and today have been as soggy as ever. Yesterday afternoon it was 13°. Enough already.

Cue howls of disagreement from L: this is – with the exception of the odd, heavier downpour – a cyclist’s dream climate. But it will get hotter and dryer, and soon… I hope.

In anticipation I have ordered an evaporative cooler to forestall long moans (from L) about how you can’t sleep upstairs in our house in the heat. I can, but then again I don’t mind the heat so much. As air conditioners irritate me even more than over-heated laments, I think evaporative cooling is a good compromise. What’s more, it reminds me of Joy, the lady – with hindsight, probably rather a bitter old bird, but my friend… and not that old either though she seemed that way to me – who lived next door to us when I was something like seven or eight.

She and her husband Phil knew my parents before my time, when they all lived on Thursday Island, in the Torres Strait. When Phil ran away (Joy’s clipped version of events) and the house next to us in a north Sydney suburb came up for sale, Joy moved down from Thursday Island and bought it. She told me, deadpan, that she had married a dashing prince but when she kissed him he’d turned into a slimy toad. I was a pretty literal child, and as Phil never materialised in her house, I took this as gospel truth.

Joy had a jungle of a garden, dark with great twisting Monstera deliciosa plants (she must have told me the Latin name because I have always known it as such). One day she sliced her big toe off with the lawnmower and limped across what we children called the fairy dell from her top lawn to ours carrying the toe in a bloody welly-boot tip (in my memory, the boot is black and white dogtooth patterned). But most importantly she filled her house with electric fans on hot airless days, each fan with a big wide bowl of cold water sitting in front of it so that the air moved across the surface and struck cold and damp against your hot skin. Evaporative cooling ante litteram. The effect was wonderful.

0620N 0620Q

I have had my first dip in the sea for this year. Blink and you would have missed the spectacle, because the water was far colder than I like. It was more being able to say ‘I did it’ than the exquisite blue of the sea off the Eolian island of Salina that lured me in. Moreover there were jelly fish blobbing about in the rocky bay beneath the village of Pollara, which didn’t make it any more appealing. But with stiff upper lip I immersed myself. And then we went to lunch in a bar which served the most amazing almond granita I have ever experienced.

Once again we were there for the documentary festival, though my participation was limited to an opening night screening of the excellent Fuocoammare – and much time catching up on back numbers of the LRB and the New Yorker  by the pool at Capofaro. (L, on the other hand, was on the jury.)

We zipped about on a scooter, climbed high up a hill to a prehistoric site and wondered what on earth possessed those people of old to live on a barren windswept hillside rather than down by the sea, and – most importantly – we stocked up on capers.

0620T 0620R

I made a startling discovery about capers as we ambled back to our room one evening. Caper flowers have the strangest perfume at night – like a pungent, pleasant version of a horrid hair-removing cream. So sure was I that I knew capers, and couldn’t be surprised by them, that it took me quite a while to work out that that scent was indeed emanating from the firework-burst flowers lining the path running between rows of malvasia grape vines.

One of the many charms of Salina is that they cultivate capers on arching bushes in open fields, not cascading out of sheer walls, their roots insinuating themselves into soil-less mineral. Here, they’re part of a well-worked peasant landscape with a different colour palette from the one I’m used to, full of prickly pears in flower, fig trees pruned so low that I’d be head and shoulders above the foliage if I crept between the wide-spreading branches, tomato plants that are well nigh over when mine are still fledgling (already in early June ladies have great tables full of the quartered fruit laid out, drying in the sun) and all punctuated by the rusty orange of Euphorbia dendroides and the screaming scarlet of poppies.

0620J 0620U

There are more pictures of beautiful Salina here.

 **********

The latest excitement in my building scheme in town (after the secret door, now fully revealed as the photo below right shows) is a beam. Again, it was hidden beneath one of the thin hollow-brick veneer walls that previous owners put up whenever the existing wall wasn’t bump-less enough for their tastes. It’s on the ground floor, high up on the short wall that cuts transversally across the centre of the building. It’s a huge old beam, sloping down from the wall that divides me from my neighbours to the north, towards a column of bricks that sticks out more or less in the centre of the short internal wall (we haven’t removed the veneer on the south side of the column, so I don’t know how far the beam continues). The gradient isn’t steep, but neither is this beam anything like horizontal enough to support a floor above. So what’s it doing there?

It’s a huge beam, and therefore clearly intended to support something: they wouldn’t have bothered to heave the monstrous thing up there if it didn’t serve a purpose. Could the brick column end have subsided, easing that end of the beam lower? No, because you’d see that uneven-ness downstairs in the cellar.

In fact, the gradient on the beam looks very much like the gradient on a lean-to roof. Is that what we’re looking at? Was the first manifestation of my house – originally part of the fort at the far end of the street – just a one-story shed with a roof resting on this beam? It was, after all, a stable block: no need for the further three floors above. Could this beam have been levered up there some time shortly after 1280, then incorporated into the structure as it grew upwards over the centuries?

There must be some way I could have the beam analysed. Or I could go on speculating, which is just as much fun.

And of course it keeps my mind off the fact that bureaucracy – or rather the seeming impotence/incompetence in the face of it of the people whom I’m paying specifically to deal with it – is still driving me crazy.

0620C 0620D

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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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