3 December 2018

Last weekend, on a lovely, mild December Saturday I was driven inside, and I was furious.

Shots were ringing out all around the house – far too close and from far too many directions around the vegetable garden where I was struggling to extract sweet potatoes from heavy clingy mud. I knew they knew I was there: one of the outliers had come over to let me know they’d seen me, and he would therefore have communicated it around the gang with his walky-talky.

But did I trust them, in their testosterone-fueled gung-ho blood-lust, to remember my presence in that overwrought moment when they spotted a boar skipping by? Absolutely not. It was the first time ever that I hadn’t stood my ground, the first time I had headed for cover. It makes my blood boil.

Who do I talk to to challenge this behaviour? When I hear gunshots and see hunters in their hi-vis jackets around the fields, I kind of presume that they have the good sense (though of course their shooting their own doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence) to all shoot in the same general direction, hopefully away from people’s homes. At the height of today’s detonations, my ears rang from shots which came simultaneously from somewhere immediately down the steep slope from the orto towards Mario’s field to the north and, very close, from beneath the stand of Arundo donax that cuts through the olive grove to the south. Dogs from both sides were going crazy around my garden. Did both these groups of shooters know that I was the filling in a (potential) collateral damage sandwich?

I don’t subscribe to that school of thought – common among non- and anti-hunting locals – that it’s ‘dangerous’ to shop the animal-slaughterers to the authorities: I know enough of them not to suspect them of homicidal tendencies. But I think the place to start is with a leader of the hunter pack. Next time I see one of the gun-toting bigwigs I’ll make sure he knows what I think of being startled out of my own vegetable garden.

Some months ago an Italian friend grew quite angry when I told him that we’d applied for Italian citizenship. This application had nothing – or almost nothing – to do with lemming-leap Brexit. We did the paperwork well before the referendum: after it had been called, but when the very idea of the “leave” option emerging victorious still brought guffaws of laughter. It wasn’t fear of possibly having no legal foothold in Europe that drove us to it, but the fact that we’d been disenfranchised for years and were getting sick of it.

“I don’t think you should just be able to opt to have one nationality or another,” this friend said. “It’s not right. Citizenship is something you’re born with. I mean, which country would you die for?”

His starry-eyed ideal of the sacredness of patriotism bumped up against the hard-nosed blasé-ness of someone who already has two nationalities (British and Australian) and could have another (Irish) but has no real feeling of mystical attachment to any nation – just varying degrees of affection for those ones and several others.

I might possibly lay my life on the line for my family or the values I hold most dear, but wouldn’t die for any country, I told him. On the other hand I pay taxes here, so I want to be able to vote for the party I most trust to use my money wisely.

1203PSo I couldn’t quite account for an odd little butterfly flutter at the top of my cynical  stomach a couple of weeks ago when I checked the status of my slow-moving process on the cittadinanza website to find that after two years and six months all the requisite signatures, right up to the presidential palace, had been placed on my application and it was full(-ish) steam ahead.

I’ve now picked up my citizenship decree from the prefecture in Perugia. All that remains is to take it to our town council and swear to respect the Italian constitution which, incidentally, I do: it’s a very sensible constitution hammered out after World War II by politicians of far greater intellectual and moral depth than almost any who are running the country today.

Our current jokers have just produced a “law & order” bill which is to a large extent a smokescreen for cracking down on immigration. It quite brazenly invites us to equate immigration with crime and lawlessness. It also makes becoming Italian a lengthier process, and makes it easier, once you have succeeded, to have that citizenship revoked.

We were worried that L’s application, presented a couple of months after mine, might have fallen into this populist “keep ‘em out” quagmire but no: his too is moving forwards it seems. Can we then stop bristling about Brexit? Probably not.

My affection for my fellow pievesi and their tendency to turn out for municipal milestones receives constant confirmation. I mean, getting up early on a Saturday morning to watch the mayor cut a ribbon for, and the parish priest sprinkle holy water on the new waste water processing plant? Many people (not including me) did.

1203NBut it was the packed hall for the presentation of our new domestic violence centre (as in, against domestic violence) that really impressed. L has written (though in Italian only – sorry) about domestic violence here (and elsewhere). In an area which emerged within living memory from that kind of peasant culture where many considered women in much the same light as they considered cattle, things have moved ahead in leaps and bounds… with unfortunate relicts about which everybody knows and nobody says much. In the years 2012-16 Umbria had far and away the worst record on women murdered, mostly by partners or family members.

The idea behind this Centro anti-violenza is to offer support to victims, while working on local children and teenagers to make sure they understand that there’s no justification for indulging in it, and no reason they should take it. Bravissimi tutti.

The one thing that pievesi are less than reliable for is turning up at our gorgeous theatre for artsy performances, so it was exciting to see people actually being turned away from last night’s concert at the theatre in Solomeo, meticulously restored fiefdom of cashmere baron and modern-day enlightened industrialist-benefactor Brunello Cucinelli. Of course Solomeo benefits from being very close to Perugia, and also – widely – to having brokered a deal with a theatre there to shunt punters out of town and into this model village.

It was all looking rather fairy tale-ish with its twinkling Christmas tree lights and flaming braziers in the piazze but for me it’s all a bit too perfectly manicured. I mean, full marks to him and all that for saving a tiny centro which might otherwise have crumbled away, but it’s that kind of perfection that can have overtones of the wrong kinds of corporatism – a feeling highlighted by a glimpse through an uncurtained window of a room lined with banks of CCTV screens. Yes, I know, we’re all watched the whole time, but is a private individual – however much he has donated to the local community – allowed to monitor movements in a space which is, when all is said and done, public? Seems fishy to me. Still, the performance by the Perugia Chamber Orchestra was excellent. In the mood of the moment: bread and circuses.

One of the many lovely old (in the sense of long-term) friends who pitched up to help us celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary last month surveyed Pieve Suites and commented that she’d far rather take the whole place with a few friends than merely occupy a single suite: perfect, she pointed out for being together without extraneous bods but maintaining a large degree of couple-autonomy.

So why hadn’t I thought of that? It never ceases to amaze me how firm ideas get in my head, blinding me to any other possibility.

I added listings for Pieve-Suites-as-whole-house to booking sites and hey presto, I clocked up more interest in the space of a few days than I’ve ever had before. I mean, I’m not exactly turning people away, but things are definitely more lively.

I say I’m not turning people away but in fact, I have had to do just that which is the one pitfall of this new approach: a very short one-suite booking can stymy a lengthy whole-house one if the less interesting request comes in before the far simpler to handle but hugely more remunerative group one does. Now I’m going to have to think of mechanisms to deal with this. Even after a year of this, I’m still on a very sharp learning curve.

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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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