December disappeared. (Just like much of 2018 really.)
Quite early on I attended one of those ceremonies: the quick dash and tricolor sash. In the public records bit of the CdP town council building, with dear friends T&A giggling in the background and L snapping away to immortalise the moment, I swiftly swore to respect the Italian Constitution and signed various very large bits of paper and hey presto, I was Italian. Good.
A jaunt mid-month to the UK – a ruse to avoid spending Christmas there – honed my desire to have nothing to do with that country or the self-harm it’s inflicting on itself. There’s no other topic being dealt with – on TV, on the radio, on the streets and in every home. It’s hashed and rehashed and debated endlessly, yet in alienating fashion. There’s really nothing to say that hasn’t already been said, ad infinitum and definitely ad nauseam. Each solution (other than that of saying ‘ooops, took a wrong turning, how silly, we’d better stay’) is one more unfeasible than another. Positions are consistently fuzzy. On the evening news intrepid reporters step out to hear the voice of a people which seems even less well informed and – in glassy-eyed fashion – less engaged than ever (something which perhaps bodes badly for those urging a second referendum). It all has a surreal feel to it, utterly disengaged from planet Earth.
How refreshing, then, to jet back to a world where the main reaction to Brexit is “what? haven’t they gone yet?”
Prior to that disturbing UK turn, we had another of our luxe experiences in Rome, this time at the hotel recently opened at the Fondazione Alda Fendi HQ overlooking the arch of Janus behind the Capitoline. I say hotel but actually The Rooms of Rome comes on more as a ‘residence’, its suites equipped with kitchens and dining tables and more square metres than the average Roman apartment. Jean Nouvel did the décor which I found I warmed to despite myself: Nouvel is not an architectural name which generally fills me with admiration.
At first glance there’s something a tiny bit old hat about the design of the 25 suites: with its distressed walls and ‘60s-type tiles it sails close to tired. The huge stainless steel boxes (they contain wardrobes and what have you) breaking up the spaces verge on the cold. And the white white bathrooms (some are blocks of other colours or tones, but all are monochrome) fashioned out of Corian has a kitschy space-age-‘80s air. But somehow the various elements hang together, working well with the shadowy corners and hugely high ceilings, and oodles of space for stalking about.
Far be it from me to compare my own little suites with these entirely-on-another-level ones, but there’s a similar lack of clutter here: clean lines and empty space predominate. He has stuck (unaware, of course) close to my mantra of comfortable-minimal. I enjoyed it. (And I felt I’d climbed into my very own comfortably feathered nest in the red Gaetano Pesce chair.)
The Fendi Foundation (aka, for reasons best known to the fondazione, Rhinoceros) is also a rather good restaurant, a roof terrace with a view over Rome to make you weep for joy and a gallery with a handy deal with the Hermitage. It had been inaugurated some days before with a show of sketches by Michelangelo. As we poked about in dark corridors and on empty landings late at night, there they were: Michelangelo drawings just for us. You could put your nose right up to the glass cases and inhale the wonder. It was all rather special.
December also saw me embarking on the long-planned concimaia makeover though after a brief spurt of extraordinary progress, this has ground to a halt. I have little to blame but myself: the weather has been gorgeous and the season is right for the shrub-shifting, earth-moving tasks needed to complete the whole thing. I haven’t even been particularly busy. I simply haven’t pushed myself to get around to it.
I have one thin line of defence, in that the contractors who will – I hope – do the rest of the work have been otherwise engaged and not at all loath to put the whole thing off until the new year.
So since that mid-month flurry of activity, I find myself looking over in that direction occasionally, and am startled by incongruous new walls I had almost forgotten about, not to mention great piles of earth waiting to find some place useful to be stuck back.
This corner is another example of (the many) things I see so clearly in their finished state in my mind’s eye that getting around to actually carrying my ideas through becomes almost academic. But there are moments – especially when my roses are ragged and my grass is a brown and leaf-covered mess like right now – that I look beyond these neglected bits to even worse, long-term dereliction and wonder how on earth I can call myself a garden designer if I don’t pull my finger out and create beautiful elements – liveable rooms, focal points, things of elegance and calm – for myself. It’s all a bit of a hopeless wilderness.
Now days are getting longer again, or at least they are in theory. In fact this year I thought I was detecting signs of hope even before the solstice, though that was probably a mixture of wishful thinking and some utterly glorious cloud-free days that brought extra light into our winter-bound home. I’ve done those year-end indulgences such as tidying my seed box and slavering over the Organic Catalogue and drawing up my wishlist for next year’s perfect orto. I’ve even planned that perfect expanse of intensive veggie production, bed by rotating bed.
But that’s about the full extent of my gardening activity: all on paper (or rather, on screen). At times I love to revel in the fact that there’s really nothing much that has to be done outside when it’s cold. And I slink about the place without achieving very much. But in the end I realise I’m wasting precious time.
The garlic needs to go in the ground now, otherwise the cloves will not divide properly. This sounds like an old wives’ tale, but some pretty trustworthy sources maintain that without a month or two of single-digit or even sub-zero temps you risk finding yourself with heads of just a couple of huge cloves. My aglione (a giant garlic, seeing a revival here in the Val di Chiana) this year was a case in point: many of the onion-sized heads emerged from the ground as a single clove. I planted quite late in the spring. Of course now I don’t know what to do about replanting: deciding what goes into the ground and what goes into the pot is tough when there’s not much to go around.