Picture the scene: I’m at my doctor’s to ask her opinion on odd headaches I’ve been experiencing since two rather stupid falls in which I hit my head quite violently. My generally (outwardly) calm doctor is in a state. Her brand new printer will only print A5 sheets: there’s no way she can force A4 sheets in. At the end of a long day, it’s driving her crazy.
So, she says, clearly focussing on the printer more than on me. When did these falls happen?
Er… last…um, July?
That grabs her attention. July?! she says in an “are you out of your mind, woman?” way. So I deflect by shifting into printer-mending mode.
A short aside is called for here, in praise of our local health service over the past two weird and immensely exhausting years. From the UK we read and hear tales of people unable to see a GP since February 2020, of surgeries which are barricaded and patients struggling even to obtain online consultations. Ours, on the other hand, have never done anything less than in-person, and have never wavered.
Of course there were none of the usual appointment-less crowds milling about outside surgeries in endless waits for a glimpse of the doctor. Then again, having to book a slot seems like progress to me. In the darkest locked-down days an elderly lady I often visit was feeling terrible. I texted the doctor (we share the same one) and an hour later the indefatigable medic was ringing her doorbell. She really never stopped.
As she lectures me on the need to stop neglecting myself, and insists on CAT scans and tests and various other check-ups (all of which will eventually come back negative), it’s clear that the doctor doubts I’m the printer expert she needs. Maybe, she says, we should alert the tech guy. In the interim, she summons the slightly clueless secretary girl who pokes about at the printer as I google the make and model and try to make sense of diagrams which look nothing at all like the machine in front of us.
Hang on, says the clueless girl, there’s a manual in this cupboard. Her face falls when she sees it’s in several languages, none of which is Italian. I take over, and more by trial and error than by studying, the solution suddenly becomes incredibly obvious. Jubilation, female empowerment – no need for the tech guy. It’s one of those oh-so-human moments of total connection that we’ve been missing over the past 24 months.
The crumbling facade of Palazzo della Corgna is now under wraps and receiving a facelift which is surely necessary, but I so so so hope it won’t be polished up too neatly. Frescoed, fiddly and charmingly délabré, mid-16th-century Palazzo della Corgna is a place of wonders.
The end of mezzadria (sharecropping) in the 1960s left the owners – the Mazzuoli family – with many debts, a whopping tax bill and little income, hence the palazzo passed to the municipality. It’s a huge pile, right opposite the cathedral – the kind of place that’s a poisoned chalice for any small town administration which struggles to find a use for it and can barely scrape together the funds to keep it standing.
But stand it does, and inside is our library, our adorable natural history museum, some remarkable frescoed halls for weddings, seminars and exhibitions, spaces under the eaves for the classes of our hyper-active Libera Università and a terrace on the first floor with the most spectacular view you could ever imagine over the roofs of CdP and the Val di Chiana beyond.
In typical pievese fashion, the scaffolding hadn’t even been unloaded from the truck before the bickering began. Will the horrendous Fascist-era balcony be removed? (There was, at a certain point in history, a fashion for adding the kind of excrescences that il Duce might have enjoyed delivering a rant from.) What Fascist-era balcony?! Haven’t you seen the stone struts holding that up? Are you kidding? That balcony has been there since at least the 17th century!
We’re nothing if not wedded to historical consistency around here.
Unfortunately there was no chance at all of saving another local monument which has been removed and uprooted with unseemly haste. The spectacular holm oak (Quercus ilex) in the little square at the top of via Borgo di Giano is no more.
I stood and watched one morning, ready to cry, as men with chainsaws dismantled it limb by gracious limb. I pass by this green giant most days en route to Pieve Suites, observing canoodling teenagers and talking (mad cat-lady-like) to the local felines who liked to sit around its roots in the shade. As I watched, everyone who passed stopped to tell me about the games they played in that green cool when they were children. But depressingly, everyone seemed resigned to its demise.
I wasn’t. I observed closedly as they reached the bottom of the trunk, ready to do completely otiose battle against a feckless town council were it to prove less than rotten. But rotten it was, except for a tiny healthy section of the otherwise perishing trunk.
I discussed this loss at length with my friend Giuseppe who is not only the best earth-mover but also the most Taliban of tree obsessives.
It had to go, he admitted. But it didn’t have to go like that. It should have been a learning moment for new generations on how not to treat our trees: infant and junior school pupils should have been brought to say goodbye to this monument, encouraged to identify seeds to take home and plant and nurture for the rest of their lives, watching their progress from trifle to trophy, instilling instinctive resistance to the multi-decade cycle of brutal, unwarranted intervention andfatal neglect which had reduced the oak to its pitiful state.
From 1 March Italy will do away with testing for all vaccinated or recently recovered visitors to this country. The news, I suspect, has fallen on oh-so-weary ears. I haven’t noticed any huge leaps in viewings of my Pieve Suites site by non-EU visitors dying for the bel paese.
(They don’t know what they’re missing, of course, these people who are showing no interest: I have pruned my grapevines beautifully and installed incredibly stylish plastic-combatting soap dispensers produced by Ecomenities… and before anyone objects that I’m hardly being environmentally sound bringing dispensers from Australia, I should explain that Ecomenities is… my sister.)
In Venice earlier this week, we were taken aback by the crowds but that was, at least in part, because the empty eeriness of our February 2021 visit is so firmly etched in our minds. And because our rural existence has given us an ever greater aversion to pack-’em-in experiences.
We stayed at the Londra Palace, on the heaving, tack-filled riva degli Schiavoni. (The hotel, I should stress, was neither heaving nor tack-filled but calm and gracious in a slightly old-fashioned-but-good way.) Photo-snappers swarmed around masked-and-wigged Carnevale poseurs many of whom – we noticed to our surprise – were French and no spring chickens either: clearly dusting off the costumes to strut about Venice is considered a Thing To Do in some sections of French society. On the rare occasions when our Venice visits coincide with Carnevale, I find myself wondering: why are the costumes always so straight out of the packet and predictable-flouncy? Where are the creative souls coming up with something more striking? Clearly not in Venice.
Though elbowing our way through the daytime throng was trying, the city returned to its customary quiet at dinner time, with few people venturing out as the evening drew on. Were all these Carnevale visitors just daytrippers?
We know Venice too well to feel any particular need to sightsee. We usually take in any interesting exhibits, then walk walk walk. This time we decided to return to old favourites, and visited Palazzo Grimani and the Museo Querini Stampalia – two marvellous institutions. How very enlightened (at the first) to return so much of the original antiquities collection to that magnificent high-domed display room with Ganymede hovering. And the details in the frescoes: the birds, the insects, the plants… just the kinds of things you need to take your mind off Russian troops invading Ukraine.