26 July 2017

A few days ago the CdP town council turned the water off at night – or at least they said they were going to: I didn’t notice any difference. This last happened in 2001 and 2002, the dry, dry years when we had just bought this house, and where there was nothing much save muddy sludge where much of Lake Trasimeno should have been.

Just a very few drops of rain since March, on the back of an extraordinarily dry winter, and accompanied by record-busting temperatures from May to now, has left us gasping for moisture. Where my grass once was, I now have a dusty mat of thin straw.

But the last few hours have brought respite: 12mm of rain yesterday, almost the previous day. After so many weeks of checking my bag before leaving home to make sure I had my fan with me, it felt very strange, shivering as you step outside.

The forecast for the immediately future is back to big suns and temperatures over 35° each day. I can feel the weeds bursting out.

My brief tussle with Italian courts has (I think) come to an end. After my first shaky experience as a witness in a more-than-forgettable case of driver sueing insurance company, there were more false starts: the time when I schlepped across to Perugia to find that a strike had been called long before by the court’s office workers for that day but no one had deigned to inform me; the time when a summons was dispatched to me just four days before another hearing – a tardiness which, combined with our utterly hopeless postman, meant it didn’t reach me until after the event (with no dire consequences, I might add, so so much for intimations of contempt of court proceedings if I didn’t appear as ordered).

And so to the closing chapter, in which I turned up dutifully at the courthouse in Perugia, nabbed the same chair in the same room (now sweltering) I had occupied so many months before, and waited. And waited. And waited.

Until Ms Pompom from the lawyer’s office – unforthcoming as ever and sans jaunty headwear – shoved me through the door and manoevred me into a seat before the justice of the peace who failed for some minutes to acknowledge my existence. Then I was handed a sheet of paper with a formula to read, promising to tell the truth and accepting that if I didn’t I could be prosecuted. I read it. The judge told me to read the last paragraph again. I did. And again. I did.

“Do you understand what you’re saying?” she asked, talking as if to a habitually stupid child – both disinterested and aggressive in the same breath. “Yes,” I said. “It’s hardly difficult.” She shot me a look of pure venom.

She told me she was going to read me a series of statements. I was to tell her whether they were correct by answering yes, no or don’t know. Not a single other word. Did I understand?

“Seems clear enough,” I said. More venemous looks.
Sì. No. Non so (yes, no, don’t know),” she spat. “I don’t want to hear anything else.”
Bene (fine),” I said. I wasn’t going to give make things too easy for her.

The first question went something like “on the Xth day of month Y in year Z you, Anne Hanley, born in Australia on [date] were driving along via XX when your car collided with the VW Polo, license plate aaa bbb, of signor Pinco Pallino. Sì, no o non so?”

“Which bit am I answering?” I asked, not unreasonably I thought.
Sì, no o non so?” she said through clenched teeth.
“Date, yes. My name yes, name of road don’t know,” I began before she shut me down fast.
Sì, no o non so!”
I explained there was no simple answer.

“I’ll take that as a ‘don’t know’ then,” she snapped, and scribbled something down before moving on to the next compound and 100% unanswerable statement. By which time, already broken down by the system, I’d lost interest and couldn’t summon more than a weary non so to each spurt of the stream of nonsense that followed.

Was this what I had made all those pilgrimages to Perugia for, risking earthquakes and record-dry-summer bushfires, not to mention angry early-morning drivers and the aesthetic onslaught of the city’s ugly outer suburbs, for? Had I helped the wheels of justice to move forward in any way?

By the time I uttered my final non so, the judge was already scouring the next file and failed to look up or say any words of farewell. Ms Pompom shoved me out of the room as unceremoniously as she’d pushed me in. My part in this case, I gathered, was over.


On a recent work trip to Positano I learned two interesting things.

The first is that you should never swim in the sea before June 24. That’s because on that day San Giovanni (St John, whose feast day it is) heaves a burning wooden beam into the sea and heats it up to suitable bathing temperature. Why he does this, no one seemed to know. But as the tale comes to us care of the same southern Italian mamme who bring their bambini up believing that swimming without digesting for four hours after eating is sure to bring on the kind of cramp that will send you in gurgling agony to Davy Jones’ locker, I rather suspect that this might be another yarn invented by southern Italian women in order to spend a little of their time somewhere other than on the beach with a bunch of screaming kids.

The second– perhaps more useful – thing is that you can grow courgettes up stakes. I spotted this is the wonderful vegetable garden of the Hotel San Pietro .

It’s odd, because courgettes are about the only cucurbit that I’d never thought of growing upwards. I construct odd tower-of-babel structures in giant reed stalks and bits of string for my cucumbers; I’m currently allowing pumpkins and squashes of various kinds to creep along the fence of the new vegetable garden, even at the risk of bringing it down. My courgettes on the other hand were doing what they always do: spreading their tentacles along the ground in such a way that paths become unpassable, and the mashed-up lower leaves in constant contact with the damp earth go swiftly mouldy and so infect the whole plant until I pull it up in frustration with nothing more than a handful of middlingly successful zucchine to show for my troubles.

0726AStaked, that doesn’t happen. Well: I say it doesn’t happen but what I mean is, it hasn’t so far.

I eased the knobbly central stems off the ground, tilted them up gently and provided a sturdy cane for each to rest against, tying stem to cane to make sure it stayed where it was put. Then I lopped off copious quantities of lower leaves, creating bare spaces at the bottom of the stalks and lifting the whole architecture of the plant into the air. Only leaf tips brush the soil; air passes around the plant. The plants look happier, incipient mouldiness seems to have dried up and I’m desperately trying to deal with quantities of courgettes which would feed a family of 12, day in day out.

Of course, our hot dry summer might also be helping lack of mould. It’s certainly helping keep black spot off the roses and bugs – apart from infuriating tiny flies – are at a minimum, presumably having thrown in the towel with no moisture to suck and no appreciable new growth to decimate.


0726GAt my project in town, the end is tantalisingly nigh. But it keeps creeping closer, only to be whisked out of my grasp once more. The roof is on finally and the scaffolding down, but as yet I haven’t summoned up the courage (or found the time) to begin work on the garden, knowing that someone, for technical reasons, will need to dig up anything I might created out there.

Every now and then I’ll make a brave attempt to tidy up the debris left by the various passers-through – plumbers, carpenters, electricians etc – then the moment it’s looking well on the way to inhabitable, they sneak back in to finish off some vital thing, scattering chaos in their wake. Quite often I see them rushing about after each other with broom and dustpan but it’s all show: however much they wield these things, the chaos remains.

It’s a funny feeling, pressing switches and seeing lights come on. Come to think of it, it’s a funny feeling having switches. Now as we rush towards August and everyone vanishing along traffic-jammed highways towards ridiculously crowded beaches, I’m worried that the missing pieces of the puzzle will irk me until well after ferragosto (August 15), when ordinary life starts up again.

My usually reliable metal worker is the most foot-dragging. Each week, everything will be ready for the next. This has been going on for too long.


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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