My giorni della merla were very cold and very movimentati: the former means that spring should arrive early; I’m not quite sure what the latter might usher in.
January 29-31 are the days when Persephone sent her blackbird-messenger – a female bird, hence merla – out from her home in Hades to see if the time was right for a visit to her agriculture-goddess mother Demeter. If the temperature was too warm the blackbird disappeared back to the underworld to tell the icy daughter to postpone her trip. If it was cold on the other hand that was the kind of climate that drew Persephone out and Demeter could take the opportunity to get spring could get under way.
Confusing? If you don’t follow, (many) other myths and backstories are available.
The snow which fell early last week was the heaviest since the famous winter of 2012. We had a full 15cm, quite unexpectedly. I mean, snow was forecast. Just not that much snow. Oddly, if you started down the hill out of town the thick white stuff only continued for a couple of kilometres. At around 500m, CdP was high enough to get the full whack. Fifty metres lower and there was absolutely nothing.
It was the kind of snow I like. Very pretty and all that. Snap some photos. Take a brief winter wonderland walk. Then two days later the only signs were grubby mounds here and there by the side of the road. That’s quite enough snow for me. But the cold continued. One morning as I set out to a project in the Val Niccone the thermometer showed -4.3°. I had thrown a tarp over the windscreen the night before but by the time I reached the top of the lane, ice had formed in a fairly uniform sheet anyway, despite windscreen wipers going full tilt and the car heating cranking into operation.
Extreme cold couldn’t stand in my way though, with so much to do. Our November-December-January rain (157, 153 and 111cm respectively) wasn’t record-breaking but boy was it wet though. The projects I’m working on – or not, given the conditions – were marshy and bleak. (I note that, despite everything, Lake Trasimeno still isn’t filling up. They reckon it’ll take three more rainy years to get the level back to where it should be.) Rain and snow over, the weather shifted to dry and crisp – just what I’d been waiting for. I’ve been having fun earth-moving.
One day driving back from town absent mindedly, I kept seeing odd yellow things lying in our lane. Had my brain been switched on at all I might have wondered what tardy tree was still dropping such bright leaves. But honestly, I clocked them but failed to process them. Until, that is, I got to Mario’s house (which, of course, has been Fabio’s for many years now but the name sticks) and it dawned on me what I’d been not-focussing on.
In the parking area was a pickup with a trailer attached. On the trailer were Mario’s lemon trees. My heart fell as I realised: these magnificent, magical specimens were being taken away.
Mario/Fabio’s house has been in vendita forever. Mario put it on the market when he was old and infirm and completely unable to keep the property in the shipshape state he would have liked. I should say that this only ever applied to certain bits: his olive trees, his vines, his fruit trees. He paid little attention to aesthetics, and the returning-to-nature piles of junk we found around our property after we bought that section from him were widespread and gargantuan.
To call Mario’s sale effort half-hearted would be a wild exaggeration: under pressure from the family he put it on the market – but at a vastly inflated price. He had shut the interferers up, but he had no intention whatsoever of leaving the place.
Now Fabio is making another push – he may even have found a buyer – but he’s running into the contrarian spirit of long-departed uncle Mario at every turn. The reality of the house doesn’t match the cadastral records so building alterations have been necessary. The lake down in the valley – now almost inaccessible – doesn’t exist at all, by which I mean it’s there all right, and it’s full of water, but the stream was clearly damned for irrigation purposes in the 1970s or ’80s when building regs were mainly ignored, and anyone with a digger and a need for water could and did make themselves a reservoir. In the intervening decades no one thought to declare this one to the powers that be. In our more stringently regulated times, there’s no way you can sell a property with a non-existent lake; and making it suddenly ‘real’ is an expensive business.
The irony is – I discovered when I told this story to a builder I know – that it may not even have been Mario who had the bright idea of damming. On the far shore of the pond, on the neighbours’ land, was an orchard which we only ever scrambled down to once or twice, when we first purchased our property two decades ago. The reservoir was almost certainly made to irrigate these trees. In my mind’s eye it has become a place of wonders: long long rows of beautifully espaliered trees of many varieties along the bank of the little lake – in decay by the time we glimpsed them but redolent of the most careful cultivation. I might have been spinning fables to myself all these years.
According to my informant – who was sent to harvest the fruit in his youth – the orchard supplied a local supermarket, mostly with apples… immense quantities of apples that no one quite knew what to do with nor had room to store. They were sold, with much fanfare, as “untreated” though in fact, he told me, the owners threw every synthetic chemical they could get their hands on at these poor trees. But they did so, he said, in such a disorganised fashion and at quite the wrong times of year so the fruit was full of worms anyway. The “natural” label was a perfect cover for the worms and blemishes.
And the lemons? They were Mario’s babies: more enormous spreading bushes than trees as a result of careful pruning over many many years, and always bending with the weight of their fruit at the end of each winter when he got his tractor and dragged their wheeled platforms out of the almost totally dark shed where he kept them through the cold months and back into the sunlight. Why hadn’t I thought to ask Fabio what he was planning to do with them if and when he sold the house? Why hadn’t I put in a bid for at least one or two of them?
One of the smaller ones had been set aside by the two jolly types who were carting the trees away. Could I buy it? It had already been promised to someone else. If he didn’t turn up Fabio would let me know. I’ve heard nothing back. I presuming I’ve lost that one too. I’m a little bit heart broken. They really were unique.
Immediately after new year I received one of those odd messages through AirBnB which prompts AirBnB to ask me “is everything all right with this enquiry?” It was for the whole of Pieve Suites, for four days, for purposes which were not fully explained but which seemed somewhat nefarious.
Soon after, I received a similar message directly through my site. It gave a little more info (we want to use Pieve Suites for a photoshoot) and suggested I call the company’s head office if I wanted to check. It still looked very dubious to me.
Is there any truth in the online rental legends about places being hired and turned into pop-up brothels, or of them showing up as background in grisly porn movies? The stories of houses being ripped apart when used as venues for wild parties are certainly genuine. Week after week I get oddities, some repeating again and again: the cricket team seeking a quote for accommodation, the corporate HR department wanting the price of full board (full board? I don’t even do breakfast) for 20 staff members on a team building experience, the odd messages which are too jolly or too obsequious or so imperfectly perfect that you just know they’re machine-produced.
My first instinct was just to ignore the request. But there was a company – Piumini Danesi – mentioned in the email, and it was one I knew. I called the number.
The gruff character who answered – the photographer he claimed – was most affronted when I told him I thought his messages were a scam. He bristled and bridled but sought quite hard to convince me otherwise. I talked to the CEO of the company. They put rental money in my bank account immediately. They asked me – and perhaps this was the clincher – if I could find them a local lady to spend three days ironing the quilts and luxury bedlinen that they’d be photographing in my suites.
But I still had my doubts as they rolled up with their van load of duvets and their alternative bedheads. I needn’t have had. For four days the photographer and his assistants turned Pieve Suites upside down, transforming it to the image they wanted to convey in their catalogue. And then they (mostly) put if back to how it was. I’ve still seen only glimpses of the results: they said it would be a while before the catalogue was ready. It’ll be interesting to see what they made of it.
Since when it has been very quiet on the Pieve Suites front… except for one dramatic development. The deal has been done, the atto has been signed. As of 1 February I own both halves of my slice of via Borgo di Giano. What on earth I’ll do with it is anybody’s guess. I’ve spent all my (or rather our) money buying it, so fixing it up will have to wait. But it did very much feel not like a new purchase but a completion of a process begun in 2016.
It’s smaller than ‘my’ half and the ground floor is a garage rather than habitable space. (L, naturally, is already planning an influx of lycra-clad guests now that there’s somewhere for cyclists to store and tinker with their bikes.) The two floors above are far less run-down than my original section was but they’re still in need of pretty serious work. Piano piano. I’ll get there. And in the mean time I’m just happy in the knowledge that I’ve returned the property to its original state – made it whole again.