10 December 2017


Mud, cold and a battle against the elements to make a garden.

Bleugh. I think this is the first time this season when I’ve looked out of the window and thought “what a miserable thing winter is.” (Yes yes I know: technically it’s still autumn, but you know what I mean.)

A gale is moving even rigid tree trunks and though it’s coming from the south, it chills your marrow. It’s grey, and a thin, mean rain is needling down in odd directions. The world is bleached of colour – the trees are almost leafless now – and spring seems like a dreamy option, far too far away.

The onset of grey has been accompanied by infrastructure failings: the phone and internet line which were down for more than a fortnight, thanks to the boys installing fibre optic cables in CdP, who unplugged our line then refused point blank to admit such a thing was possible; the boiler which is still delivering us ‘lukewarming’ rather than heating.

Part of the problem is that we haven’t been here to let technicians into the house: L has been swilling champagne at a luxury travel trade fair in Cannes; I’ve been trying not to lose my fleece-lined wellies in the mud on an icy mountainside way up where Tuscany meets Liguria which I’m trying, against the elements, to turn into a garden. (Sometimes I wonder whether we’ve drawn uneven straws, until I remember what fun I have creating gardens in unlikely places.)

Our intractable comms problems were magicked away yesterday by a cheery soul who spent five minutes expressing wonder at the incompetence of his colleagues and one minute plugging the disconnected line back into its socket in some hidden box between here and town.

When I called Telecom Italia on my newly reconnected phone to demand a rebate for the two weeks we had spent in the 19th century, a recorded message told me that my call was about to be answered from Romania. This was a first. I have had messages telling me that I was speaking to Albania, but never Romania.

On the other end I found a kindly, chatty lady. Behind her I could hear a fuzz of what sounded like similarly cheery female voices.

Romanian ladies are the mainstay of social care in much of Italy, looking after the old and the infirm. CdP’s palsied eld are often to be seen being wheeled and walked around town, then sat down on benches with gaggles of these carers who chatter among themselves endlessly, to the extent that I often find myself wondering whether there is now a whole generation of Italian nonni (grandfathers, and it more often than not is men: women seem to manage to keep themselves autonomous for longer) with a more or less fluent grasp of Romanian. If they haven’t picked up at least a smattering, they must be mighty bored.

Now I think I’ve stumbled across the answer to where these caring women end up when Italy palls or family business calls them home. They can employ their sweet-talking skills in Bucharest call centres, handling irate and/or incoherent telecoms clients in the same gently cajoling way they did their elderly charges. The woman I talked to sounded organised and efficient. Will this prove to be an illusion? So many of her Italian TI colleagues sound like they have everything under control, only to get absolutely nothing done. I wonder whether pulling the wool over clients’ eyes is part of the training…

And our heating? Well, let’s just say that the woodburners are working overtime and we’re mighty relieved we have them. Some hope for tomorrow maybe? Who knows what the new week will bring.

Another weekend, another display of how seriously pievesi take being pievesi . And when they’re not being pievesi per se, they’re cleaving fervently to their own terziere (‘third’, as opposed to quartiere: CdP is divided into three districts). Yesterday afternoon I ambled up to our lovely theatre, thinking that I’d better put in an appearance at the presentation of a book by a local amateur historian on Borgo Dentro, the terziere where Pieve Suites is located and which also encompasses our home, which lies along one of the country roads proceeding from the town gate on the Borgo side. The venue was large (by CdP standards) I thought: I didn’t want the author to feel she was rattling about.

How foolish of me. The whole population of Borgo Dentro was there. There wasn’t an empty box and there was constant traffic through all the corridors. When I left, an hour after the event had started, the presentation had just finished and the crowds were listening rapt to a Q&A session on the stage, with speakers going into minute detail on historical shennanigans by Medieval and Renaissance bigwigs and townspeople. There were small kids dressed up in Borgo colours – black and yellow – and teenagers showing the kind of enthusiasm generally reserved for much-shared memes or banned substances. Once again, I found it very moving.


Enquiries. Bookings. Result. Suddenly I’m looking at a scenario in which Pieve Suites may morph into a means for earning, rather than a townhouse-shaped black hole into which I throw my precious savings. It seems so strange after all this time.

Poor L will be hard pushed to come to terms with the idea that someone else might now occupy his ‘office’. With the prospect of paying guests looming, I’m noticing all those little final adjustments that I’ve put off, and off, and off. I need to get going once again.


About Gardens, Food & Umbria

I am a garden and landscape designer, working throughout central Italy and beyond. I have lived in Italy for over 35 years – first in Rome but now in Città della Pieve, Umbria, where I have restored my country home and transformed a medieval townhouse into three rental suites. To relax, I tinker endlessly with two and a half hectares of land, some of which is my garden.
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