Oh dear, where did July go? It passed by in a rush of good resolutions dampened by heat exhaustion. And in the end it was gobbled up by a wedding.
Wedding in the Time of Covid. Marrying off your daughter is a complicated business at the best of times I guess but in an era when planning is more a shot in the dark than a roadmap, it acquires extra levels of fancy footwork.
To be honest, some of the toughest hurdles were thrown up by the massive, unbending spirit of Swiss bureaucracy (our newly acquired son-in-law is Swiss) which moves ponderously and inexorably, never deviating from its well worn tracks. When global pandemic gets in the way, it continues down its usual route, flailing blindly as it presses up against obstacles, even when it is absolutely obvious that a little Italian-style side-stepping would speed things up immeasurably for everyone. The lady in CdP’s records office didn’t bother to hide her smugness. The Swiss? Ha! We’re soooo much more efficient…
So from a date in early June (when, admittedly, the guest list would have consisted of a rather sad us, the groom’s parents and two brothers, e basta), the event limped back to late July, and a handful of friends were summoned from continental Europe for the occasion (though not, alas, from the UK which still, at the time, had a two-week quarantine requirement for returning travellers).
With all the requisite Swiss paperwork finally completed, Italian flexibility made the wheels turn smoothly.
No more than 15 in the room where marriage ceremonies are performed, came the message from the mayor’s office. We’ll be 22, I said. Hey, the rather vague answer implied: who’s counting?
Next complication? Our photographer-friend wanted to bring his drone. Are drones even allowed when our prime minister has his private residence just down the road? A local sometime-drone-user advised notifying the vigili urbani. When I went to the vigili, they looked nonplussed. They suggested notifying the mayor’s office. So I did. For the mayor, all was fine. For the premier’s security people not so much, and when the whiny thing tried to take off it was stymied by an automatic flight exclusion zone for several kilometres around the Draghi residence. One minute (and a nifty workaround) later though, it was in the air.
No authorities seemed perturbed. We’re still waiting for images from above our parched but pleasant land.
The Italian civil wedding ceremony is short, and over-long. It consists of just three simple, eminently sensible articles from the codice civile which say partners are equal, should each contribute according to his/her abilities, should decide together how to run the household and should each help any offspring fulfil his/her own ambitions. Then – in our case, as the groom is not a fluent Italian speaker – it had to be translated (by me). Then it gets repeated, under different guises, then there’s a lot of reporting back what has just been said. Then there’s some signing and explaining and general verbage. Then it’s done.
I say the three articles are simple and in fact they are, but when I tried to cut corners by googling for a translation instead of doing it myself I was amazed just how many weird and wonderful English variations I found. Sleek wedding planners with impressive websites have been leading newlyweds up some interesting matrimonial garden paths with vows to do things which really aren’t anywhere in the codice civile. I guess it’s the signature on the paper that counts.
One interesting thing about having groups of people hanging around your garden for the best part of three days, is seeing the way they use it. I – as I’ve often said – rarely sit in my garden: my idea of a nice time outside involves endless pottering. But here was a group of visitors most of whom were ignorant of the usual dynamics of the place, and all of whom had to be kept in the shade of trees for the best part of an hour before the wedding lunch could begin, when the sun had moved off the far side of the long long table we had created outside the kitchen. I threw rugs and cushions under the oak trees. The wedding guests plonked themselves down in that little-used space. And that became their salotto for the whole event… they made that shady slope very much their own.
Ditto the poor neglected concimaia. The table from up there had been removed to extend the one outside the kitchen. The concimaia became the dancefloor, with the console (brought by one of the guests) on the never-lit barbecue and our Christmas fairy lights providing a twinkle around the perimeter. I crashed at about 3.30am; the music just kept on going. Living in the middle of nowhere has its advantages.
So I’m newly determined to plant the raggedy slope down from the oak trees: the collection of weeds there added nothing to the bucolic scene on the grass. And it would be lovely – one day, when I have the cash – to get a pergola over the concimaia table. There are so many bits of my garden which are beautiful in my mind’s eye – and hugely in need of work if I try to be objective. A fervid imagination is a great excuse for inactivity.
In the run-up to The Event, L decided that it was impossible to have a wedding party on our burnt, sear “lawns”. So he decided to water, and I decided to humour him. It’s good for a relationship, going along even when you know that what’s being watered is mostly expanses of extremely dead annual weed (with a little grass mixed in) which has no hope at all of being revived until the next generation pops out, egged on only by autumn cool and returning showers. Somewhere deep down I was hoping for L’s sake that some other vaguely green thing might miraculously appear.
For a few evenings we dragged sprinklers around. I even carried on after he disappeared off to the much-delayed Cannes film festival. The result was… as I expected. The very little grass that there is certainly benefitted. The rest, however, continued to look sear. But it’s not only my so-called lawns that are in a desperate state: everything is sunburnt and parched. Plants are behaving oddly. It’s not a great year for things being green.
From wet and cold we went all too swiftly to hot and dry (my July rainfall total of 5.1mm was vastly lower than an average of about 40mm; just under 20mm in June was similarly pathetic). In spring, there was no opportunity to dodge the showers to get plants into the water-logged ground (and those who did lost much to the great Easter freeze). Then all at once temperatures were more August than June: growth was blocked, everything looked stunted. My tomato plants, which should be tumbling off the highest point of their supports, are barely more than knee-high. There’s fruit, yes, but it’s small: what should be huge beefsteak tomatoes are the size of sad, bland supermarket specimens. My courgettes have given up the uneven struggle. There’s none of the usual cucumber avalanche (which is a shame because I’ve become rather partial to cold avocado and cucumber soup – very refreshing in this hot weather.)
If all this didn’t make you think about climate change, you’d have to be pretty determined to ignore it. So what are we going to do? I mean… apart from protest and campaign and raise awareness and all that. Short of trying to grow tropical crops – which I think is rather sweeping the problem under a rug and pretty sure not to work – I’m going to have to research more heat-resistant varieties, and perhaps have a larger, more productive greenhouse where I can really get things going properly before planting them out.
So far at least (and with fingers crossed, and knocking on wood) our water supply has held out, which is a bit of a rarity around here where I’m constantly hearing tales of sinking water tables and essential liquid being shipped in by the exorbitant truck-load. On that front, I count us lucky. Red-faced Renato the water diviner who told us where to dig all those years ago still swears from under his pork pie hat, every time I see him, that our water will never run out. Fingers crossed.
With all this in mind the comments under a recent photo on a town Facebook page made me smile. The photo shows post-war people in nearby Montepulciano, harvesting wheat together in the fields. It’s just like when I was a child, in Maranzano! said one. Maranzano is an outlying part of CdP. My wonderful mother and all her girlfriends went out to harvest by hand, she wrote. The good old days!
I rather wonder whether the mother would agree that old times were so very good, after weeks of agonising cutting and bending and stacking and stooking – skin roasted and hands sliced to pieces by rough corn stalks. But at the very least there must have been some regularity (inevitability?) in those seasons which could be better or worse but not one long inexorable slide towards a state which we – to a greater or lesser extent – have brought upon ourselves.
In the mean time as I sit here writing the loud-quiet of massed cicadas is broken regularly by passing helicopters, each of which makes my heart miss a beat or two. I presume they’re patrolling. With everything so very dry and gusty breezes shaking the foliage, it’s perfect bushfire weather.
***I should point out that not all these photos were taken by me. But I can’t remember whom I need to credit. Lee, Sabrina, perhaps David. Thanks for your contributions, whoever you were.