24 June 2019

0624DOur chilly, wet May disappeared as if someone had thrown a switch somewhere, turning on a magical flower-filled and ludicrously hot (25-30°C/75-85°F) June, from one moment to the next. This week we’ve been promised a heatwave, with temps rising to near 40°, and breathless sweaty nights.
This meteorological mayhem has had some strange effects.
Fireflies? Well, either they’ve been decimated by the freak weather conditions, or they have yet to really get going. By Midsummer day they’re generally peaking, with waves of them sweeping up from the field and gliding past us. Now we’re treasuring each tiny intermittent flash as if it were a nugget of gold.
Fruit? I had given up on my little cherry tree which usually furnishes me with large bowls of fruit to guzzle all by myself while the L is at the Cannes film festival in mid May (fair swap, I reckon…) This year the cherries were tiny and hard and very yellow at the usual time, and stayed that way for a couple of weeks later, only to explode into marvellous plump red fruit when we were least expecting it.
This has had the great advantage of allowing me to harvest and prune at the same time. I couldn’t reach much of the fruit on the highest shoots – so I simply lopped them off and stripped the cherries more easily. I generally forget that sweet cherries really need summer pruning (the fruit appears on the previous summer’s growth). This year, by great good fortune, it is already done.
The mulberry trees are groaning under the weight of fruit bigger than I’ve ever seen on it. Each time I reach up and casually put one off, a hailstorm of 50 or so lands on me… dangerous if wearing pale colours. I keep meaning to take a big plastic sheet and a pole (and perhaps a plastic raincoat) up there to shake off as many as possible. Will I get to them before the birds finish them off?
There are pears in places I’ve never seen pears before, and the unproductive Reine Claude greengage tree is full of fruit. The feijoa are covered with their glorious firework flowers, which bodes well. My apples continue to underwhelm, which I think is par for the course for someone from a long line of apple growers: the talent-line has to stop somewhere.
Perfumes? Everything this year seems to have come together. We don’t usually have thickets of astounding gorse (actually it’s broom, Cytisus scoparius, but I’ve always called it by the wrong name) at the same time as lime trees which leave you swaying drunkenly as you make your way up to town, do we? In the garden at my Pieve Suites, which is eyeball to eyeball with the foliage of a whole avenue of the trees, the scent is almost overpowering. In a good way.

00624E

CdP is beginning to feel superbly summery. The end of school helps: the town is full of gaggles of long-haired, long-legged girls in the extremely short shorts that seem to be all the rage this year. And the beginning of events gives everything a holiday air.
Yesterday (Sunday) we had the Infiorata, which we missed in its full glory but which I savoured on the Saturday night as it was being constructed: another real insight into the things that make CdP kind of special.
0624CEveryone was out: people of all ages including hordes of school kids, all (or at least all those from Casilino, the terziere responsible) participating in making the street-long petal-pics – this year inspired by the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death.
Students from the musical high school were playing in the piazza down by Santa Maria delle Grazie: I love the way they are being wheeled out more and more for these occasions… a nicely melodic part of the local scenery. Older ladies were sitting on low stools, stripping pink petals from little roses. Shops were open, music was blasting from cafés. The garden of the Old Man Bar was packed for the live folk-rock music there. I was out until after midnight but as I headed home to bed the town was still heaving. There’s so much to love about this odd little place.

0624FOne thing that is sorely missing – alas, I fear, the result of the town’s political shift to the centre-right – is the closure of via Vanni, the road that runs between the closed order of nuns and the football pitch. It has long been a summer ritual to bar traffic there from early morning to late at night each day. Beneath the lime trees and the horse chestnuts, grandparents sit on the benches chatting while swarms of tiny children try to catch the poor benighted fish in the little ponds, or to blind each other throwing gravel, while slightly larger ones knee-cap strolling adults by careering into them on out-of-control bikes with stabilisers.
I jest, of course. But for two months this couple of hundred metres of shady tarmac becomes kindergarten, junior school, race track, playground, old people’s home, meeting place and little bit of respite for large sections of the community. It has always also, for me, represented a triumph of civilisation: the victory of community over vehicles. Not so this year.
0624BHave there been voices raised complaining about the inconvenience of having to motor around the ring-road to get anywhere because of the closed sector? Well we’re amongst the most inconvenienced, and we are only too happy to drive the extra 500m.
This year, our new council has decided to close it from Saturday afternoon to Sunday night, for the passeggiata. Which only goes to prove that they don’t realise that if families and grown-ups opt to indulge in that oh-so-Mediterranean pastime of strolling up and down sociably during weekend evenings  which bring a little respite from summer heat, they do it inside the walls, where there are bars and gelaterie and other grown ups – not down here on this open shady space which is the realm, in general, of the very young and the very old, plus the usual gaggle of Romanian ladies looking after the more infirm portion of the latter.
I hope there are sufficient voices to change this state of affairs. Otherwise a key space for multi-generational socialisation, of the kind that sets CdP apart, disappears.

0624GWe have a jay (Garrulus glandarius). I can hear him yelling as I sit here writing. He clearly thinks I should be outside in my garden.
The RSPB says that the jay’s a shy retiring bird, dwelling in oak woods with a steady supply of the acorns they love. Well someone should tell this one about the shy bit. He lays down the law around here.
I’m still trying to work out whether he thinks we’re friends to cultivate or sworn enemies to evict. There are times when I’m working in the garden and he swoops – agressively or playfully, I can’t tell – about as close above my head as he can without hitting me. If we eat outside, he’s right there, in the olive tree or hopping across the lawn. Nothing escapes him: he has us in his sights. There have even been times when I drive back down the lane to find him taking off from a branch of one of the dead elms up there, to preceed me down the drive towards the house: coincidence? It happens rather too frequently for that. Can he really be waiting for me?
Which is all very amusing in its way, but it means that every other bird has fled the immediate house area. And who can blame them, when there’s an egg-wrecking, fledgling-gobbling monster in the ‘hood.
Gone are my sprightly flock of bluetits and great tits which have always made their homes in the holes in the old olive tree outside the kitchen (Indi’s drastic pruning hasn’t helped here); gone are the sparrow-like things (I’m not very good on birds) whose noisy babes fill the chicken house with their chirping; gone too are the finch-y kind of birds that appear from time to time outside the front door, hopping about and pecking at the lawn that already looks so very un-sward-like after its brief spring apotheosis.

0624A

24 June 2017

0624C

There has been a population explosion in CdP. The town is packed with howling bundles of overheated misery being pushed about by proud nonne (grandmas) – the mamme I presume taking advantage of captive child-minders to stay in cool interiors.

We thought the population down here had grown too, but all that’s growing now is the mystery.

Coming home late one evening we rounded the corner past Mario’s house to see one of the Smogs (the semi-feral cats who extract food from me with hard stares, both of whom I’ve always referred to as ‘he’ or ‘it’) crossing the lane preceeded by a bouncing bundle of kitten. Just one tiny kitten. Since when, there have been no sightings. Smogs I and II are about, reclining in any cool spot they can find, or padding down the lane to sit outside the front door and do their hard food-extracting stares until I emerge and cave in spinelessly.

Did some passing fox get lucky and have junior for lunch, or are the Smogs keeping it well hidden? As the days pass, I’m suspecting the former.

There was an item on BBC radio the other day announcing that researchers had discovered a clear sense of ‘fairness’ in animals – a trait formerly linked only with humans, leading me to muse how (1) it was severely lacking in many humans and (2) I could have told them that anyway.

They couched their findings in rather negative terms, saying that a dog who saw another dog rewarded better for something that it too had done would get upset or aggressive. The Smogs – stand-offish and generally supercilious as they are – are a far better model of a positive kind of fairness.

When I pour nasty-smelling cat biscuits into the piece of roofing tile where I feed them, up near the new vegetable garden, there’s a very set ritual. Whichever of the two is present (and it’s generally the slightly friendlier one, the one that seems to enjoy lying on a damp patch of just-watered ground in the shade and listening to me wittering on to it about nothing in particular as I garden) leaps across to the tile and eats precisely half of what I’ve put down. Sometimes half length-wise, sometimes half width-wise, but always half. The divvying-up is almost mathematical. The other Smog appears later and hoovers up the other half.

There was a point, a couple of weeks ago, when for a while the uneaten food remained until the following day. At that point Smog I would return and finish it up 24 hours later. I was worried that Smog II had met a sorry end. But some days later II reappeared and the ritual resumed as normal. Now I’m wondering: was that when the kittens were being born? Did everything go pear-shaped and the rest of the litter die?

But the almost maniacal division of the goodies by two such ragged felines is hugely touching, I find. They’re looking out for each other. With an immense sense of fairness.

The very elderly man who sits on a step beneath a huge oak along the street between the Rocca and my project in town, chatting to anyone who’s willing to slow down or stop, and keeping his daemon – a splendid long-haired oyster-coloured cat by the name of Cioppi – company is back. Which is great, because I was beginning to fear that the winter had done for him.

I stopped briefly the other day and he immediately turned to his favourite theme: passano gli anni, the years go by.

“I’m going to be 100 soon,” he said, which stopped me in my tracks. All right, he looks elderly, but 100? I wouldn’t have said so.
“Gosh,” I said, “congratulations. I would never have said!”
“Yes, I’m 92 already!” he explained.

How wonderful to be 92 and already looking forward to your hundredth year. He clearly has no plans to leave us for a while yet.

0624L

Last year, my beautiful little street in town won – and rightly – the prize for CdP’s best kept and most flowery in the competition linked to the Infiorata, which is this weekend. Not wishing to let the side down with my cobwebby, dusty, builder-bashed entrance niche – a conspicuous black hole in a street overflowing with geraniums and aspidistras – I rushed up to do a bit of sweeping and install some pots of flowers. I’m so glad I took the trouble.

In the short time I was there, knocking nails into the brick walls to drape a lovely dark purple Clematis over, one woman contrived to saunter past four times to inspect my activity. And from a window across the street, an elderly signora leaned out to say “brava signora, brava: ha fatto una cosa bellissima,” thus making it all worth while.

Next day the builders, of course, were skeptical, pointing out that it just robbed them of space and got in their way.

I’m doing my civic duty, I said, in the true spirit of the Infiorata. And so they grudgingly admitted that it was all right … especially when I told them I was planning to remove the plants after the event was over.

There’s manic activity in the house at the moment, with painters painting, carpenters fixing windows and electricians installing a heating and hot water system that looks big enough for a stately home. My fear now is that it will necessarily limp to a halt as these peripheral workers hit the buffers of the builder himself, who is failing to keep one step ahead of developments to allow the others to move forward.

The risers of the stairs need rendering otherwise they can’t be painted; the floor downstairs needs leveling otherwise the flooring man will arrive next week and be unable to do his work; there are still inexplicable holes in walls that have to be filled. I swing between manic happiness and utter despair. This can’t be good for my blood pressure.

In the huge barn of a hardware/builders’ supply store down in the valley I was buying lengths of steel cable in different weights to improve the droopy arrangement that holds up the two immense Concord grape vines that shade my little town garden so verdantly. (I have since abandoned the task, realising that the weight of the grape-laden plants makes it completely unthinkable.)

I like that place (there’s another tale from there, right down the bottom of this post). I rarely see another female in there, but as I generally go in with dilemmas to solve rather than straightforward requests, the two dour brothers who run it seem to have adopted me, displaying something like enjoyment as they rise to the challenges I set them.

The shorter brother was painstakingly measuring out steel cable for me when a customer (male, of course) blustered over and demanded to know where he should search for something or other. The look that the brother gave him was pure venom, and he raised his voice, barking out the metres at top volume as he counted to show his extreme displeasure at the interruption.

I’d love to think that he was fighting my corner against the type of man all too frequent around here who presumes that women have no place in hardware stores and must surely be doing something frivolous and totally interrupt-able. I suspect, though, that his ire was due to the fact that multi-tasking is simply beyond him.

Our ludicrous-for-June weather continues, without a day where it doesn’t go above 30°. As soon as we turned our backs – going down to Rome for the Queen’s Birthday Party of which more below – there was a downpour. We came back to 14mm in the rain gauge. Since when, we have sizzled.

My cleaning lady is indignant, and possibly a little heat-addled.

“This climate change thing,” she said to me. “ I don’t know what’s going to become of us. You know, on the news last night, they were saying that it’s so hot that the Chinese have even managed to grow potatoes on the moon.”

That took a few seconds to sink in. A week later, I’m still trying to work out what kind of stick must have been thrown for her to get hold of such a very wrong end.

We hadn’t been to the Queen’s Birthday Party for years – struck off the guest list for some odd reason but now, equally as inexplicably, reinstated. It was a packed event in fantastic Villa Wolkonsky, the ambassador’s residence in Rome. The new ambassador was decked out in a long lamé Vivienne Westwood number that lent her an uncanny resemblance to those men who gather coins for standing stock-still in piazza del Popolo dressed as Tutenkhamun.

The theme was English Village Fete and wandering around the gardens were Alice with a Red Queen, a couple of Sherlock Holmes with their Watsons and at least one Shakespeare whom we bumped into at the coconut shy (L won an unidentifiable pink furry animal-like thing with a masterful shot).

But who are you? I asked, to be informed haughtily that he was William Shakespeare, quite obviously.

No, I said, apart from that. I know you from somewhere.

He was, it transpired, an Australian bit-part actor who had been in a comedy TV English teaching show that L wrote for Rai Educational about 100 years ago. It was the 1980s, we hadn’t been long in Rome, and we were extremely poor. The amount he earned for that series – presumably considered risible by RAI standards because Educational was not where the Big Money went – seemed like a fortune to us.

I like to think we’ve moved on just a little bit since then. This man, though, was being Shakespeare at the QBP: I think that probably counts as a step backwards.

L told him that he still has VHS tapes of their show somewhere.

“Oh wow, you should put them on YouTube!” he shot back.

Is that it? Is that the hope that unsuccessful actors cling to? That one day you’ll put some of your opus from long long ago on YouTube and it will become an internet sensation, propelling you to long longed-for stardom?

Sadly, I think it is. Equally sadly, I suspect it’s not going to happen.