2 September 2019


My endless procrastinatory musing this afternoon has been about horseflies. Gadflies. March flies. Cleggs (who knew?).

There’s a point just after you take the final fork into our lane – up above Mario’s house – where, from early August onwards, clouds of the beasts materialise from nowhere and buzz aggressively through any car windows (which in my case usually means all of them) which have been incautiously left open. After which the rest of the drive home is one belligerant twitching effort to keep the brutes from digging their painful probosci into bare flesh while not swerving right off the road.

0902JWhat I’ve been pondering is: when finally I park the car and flee, do they then fly back to the comfort of their nests? And if so, how far away can you take them before they lose their homing instinct? My (admittedly sketchy) research has been singularly unenlightening on that front. It did, however, provide me with a brilliant new word: anautogenous, which means ‘needing a blood meal before being able to reproduce’. Very vampire-ish. (Yes, it’s the females which attack and cause so much pain, while the males are out sipping nectar.) And it revealed that the horrid horsefly (Tabaninae) is related to the equally horrid deer fly (Chrysopsinae) which came as no surprise whatsoever given that the two of them conspire viciously to make my time spent outside so distressful from the insect point of view.

After perusing various scholarly and not-so-scholarly articles on the nest-or-no-nest theme I’ve come to the conclusion: no one knows. Otherwise surely there would be some mention of it somewhere. ‘In the vicinity of water or dampness’ really isn’t good enough. But they certainly don’t hang about around here after being chauffeured down the lane by a frantically batting me; and they always bear down on the car in great numbers at the very same point, suggesting they return to the starting line after each trip. Of course the fact that they’re always lying there in ambush also begs the question: how can I forget to close the windows every single time? Not very smart of me.

Anyway they’ll disappear soon, because that’s one of The Signs.

There’s a strange disconnect between the 28°C (84°F) days and all the signs that summer is fading away. Like last year, we’re having an almost equatorial pattern of sunny mornings then stormy evenings – sometimes with much rumbling e basta, sometimes with rain. One storm last week sent me scuttling down into the house from the vegetable garden when a lightning bolt fell so close that my first thought was that we’d had an earthquake. That same flash blew the phone socket right out of the wall at a neighbour’s house.

There are people who spend the summer here who are leaving; people who spend the autumn here who are arriving; and L has packed his bags and gone off to Venice for the filmfest. Evenings are so dark so much earlier. And did I hear a gun shot this morning? No, I hope not because the hunter-blight isn’t due to begin until September 15.



Renzo Piano’s Paul Klee gallery

Our sole jaunt over the summer was to Bern, to visit C in her current temporary home. There we learnt that the favourite sunny-day Swiss pastime is allowing yourself to be swept along in the glacial (quite literally) water of fast-flowing rivers. This describes the ‘sport’ in Basel. (Ah, look, The Guardian must have been eavesdropping because it belatedly came up with this.) It’s no different in Bern where people have been known to bob all the way down the Aare from Thun, about 28km away. You pack your clothes and belongings into waterproof bags which also serve as flotation devices and splosh, off you go. Odd. And not an idea I found very attractive. Does it say something about the national character? Smiling as you freeze half to death and lose all control over your fate. Perhaps. People drift briskly along, chatting in groups and grinning almost as if they were enjoying it.


A castle in Thun

I’d only really ever driven quite swiftly through Switzerland – never stopped to take a look. It all looks ridiculously Swiss, the great wide valleys with their perfect fields and perfect wooden houses, against a backdrop of snow-capped crags. Very pretty but very dull too. And was I imagining it or was the disapproval quotient unbearably high? Rather than being carried down river from Thun we – extremely ambitiously for me – cycled upriver to Thun from Bern. There was a family-fun cycling event coming in the opposite direction. We were cycling on wide dedicated paths where we had every right to be but you’d never have known that from the tutting – sometimes quite audible – of the participants coming towards us. Midnight Express-like, there’s no room in that country for anyone moving in the opposite direction.

In response to a very peremptory order from our charmless (or at least, I haven’t yet discovered his charms) new mayor I have had my bit of Medieval town walls up at Pieve Suites cleaned. They were desperately in need of a tidy. My trusty gardener-contractor Marco sent a couple of his boys shimmying up there one sunny morning and they did it in no time, removing great piles of itchy-scratchy Parietaria officinalis (wall pellitory I believe) but leaving me my beautiful caper plants. I also arranged the same service for a couple of neighbours. It all went fine until a far-too-neatly parked car didn’t give the boys room enough to set up their ladders with any degree of safety.

How to get the car moved? I went to the traffic police who said I needed to procure an order from the town council and then they’d put up an official sign saying that the car would be towed if it wasn’t moved within x days. That evening, I was relating events to a friend over an aperitivo.

“There are people who park there and don’t move their cars for weeks,” I said, moaning slightly. “I don’t really want to be responsible for impounding anyone’s means of transport but I can’t see any alternative. There’s this white VW Golf that looks like a permanent fixture.”

“Is it very clean?” she asked me pointedly. She’s German and is the kind of person who might be expected to have a very clean car. It was, I told her… and of course it was hers. That’s one the great things about living in such a small town. It only takes an aperitivo to solve your problems.


Città della Pieve

And so to work. My swings and roundabouts professional life went into one of its cyclical slow phases at the beginning of the summer, only to suddenly find myself with two new projects possibly in the offing all of a sudden. So why am I procrastinating? I’m giving myself time to mull… or so I tell myself. I’m imagining scenarios in my mind’s eye and trying to get back into the swing of things. In my own defence, I must say that I spend much time shifting mental trees and carrying out theoretical earth movements. And I have plans on my computer all ready to have my imaginings conjured up pictorially on them. I presume, though, that the garden owners would far rather have something concrete right away. I’d better get down to it.

What I will do is use that as a procrastinatory tactic viz my asparagus bed. I love my asparagus plants. They were so totally wonderful in spring, giving us mountains of delicious spears for weeks. But when I decided that I would sap them of too much life if we kept on guzzling, I rather abandoned the patch. Now I’m inching with severe back strain through a matted mess of couch grass with roots the thickness of electrical cables. Not a fun kind of gardening.

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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1 Response to 2 September 2019

  1. Pingback: 20 September 2019 | La Verzura

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