24 September 2016

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No chimney sweep is just a chimney sweep, my chimney sweep told me when I asked him why on earth he was in the earthquake zone ten days ago when I tried to get him here.

Marco, it turns out, is a fireman, and multifariously talented firemen were in the vanguard of emergency operations when the earth shook so horribly on the Lazio-Marche-Umbria border last month. (My former chimney sweep’s day job was upholsterer: go figure.) Marco’s unit was dispatched to a hamlet called Grisciano. I told him that despite all my obsessive news-following, I hadn’t heard that name mentioned once.

“That’s because only one person died,” he said. And I suspect he was right. None of the buildings remained upright, but there was only one fatality – not nearly enough for blanket news coverage. Of course the fact that Grisciano had a population at last count of just 11 might also have kept it under the radar.

The funny thing about Grisciano, though, is that like the badly shaken Amatrice, there was a great culinary peg for hanging news on. Even this wasn’t sufficient to get it mentioned. The whole world was alerted to the fact that Amatrice was the home of spaghetti (or bucatini, depending on how much stodge you like) all’amatriciana, and restaurants everywhere were urged to donate part of their takings for this dish to earthquake funds. The word spread as far as Australia, where L was asked to pontificate.

Had they not had bigger things to worry about – such as having lost everything – the good people of Grisciano might have been gritting their teeth as Amatrice stepped into the limelight. Local lore says that pasta alla griscia (or gricia) long pre-dated pasta all’amatriciana, being made of the basic non-perishables (dried pork cheek, pecorino cheese) that shepherds carried up to summer pastures with them, without the (later) addition of tomatoes which are a main ingredient of the upstart spaghetti all’amatriciana.

I asked my chimney sweep whether my good opinion of the emergency operation was warranted. Perhaps he’s not the most unbiased person to ask, but he said that they had already rehoused the Grisciano lot (considerably more than 11 minus 1 were directed to that tent facility) before he left, and the tents in Amatrice would all be down very soon. No one who has been left homeless is being moved further away than they want to. Family units are being provided with €200 per person per month to pay for rented accommodation, which will keep any still-habitable hotels in the vicinity full through the low season.

Why did I need a chimney sweep? I’ve now heard two terrifying descriptions from people who have suffered chimney fires – and Marco the fireman confirms: you really, really don’t want one. So I’ve added that to my list of (healthy) obsessions. L thinks I’m crazy. So I wait for one of his autumn absences and have them surreptitiously swept. That way I feel secure, L can pretend that he doesn’t know, and everyone’s happy.

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There’s a garden across the other side of Lake Trasimeno where I’ve been working for ages, but not a huge amount has been done because the water supply goes from scarce to non-existant. I took a water diviner there long ago. (Oh my, was it three years ago? Really? I would have said summer 2015 or 2014 at the very extreme. Sometimes keeping a blog can bring distressing surprises!) Since when a heavy metal umbrella base has marked the spot where Renato the diviner ordered them to dig.

Much dithering occurred, during which a water tank was installed, rain water was directed there from the roof, a small area of garden was planted by the pool, and permits were – eventually – applied for. Then last Friday the well-digger arrived with his digging equipment.

He called before he even got there. “I’m sure the geologo said we had to dig somewhere different,” he said.

Where? I wondered. I thought we had agreed that Renato’s spot was the place.

It’s too close to the septic outlet, the well digger said. No, I argued, we’d measured and debated and decided that it was fine. What’s more, we have permission from the town council to dig in that precise spot and no other.

The well-digger was adamant, however. The place was wrong.

So I called the geologo.

“He wants to dig it up near the driveway, doesn’t he?” the geologo asked wearily.

How did he know?

“It’s been raining. He doesn’t want to get his feet muddy. Of course he wants to dig it right next to the road. Just tell him to do as he’s told.”

I don’t usually feel naïve about the machinations of workmen but of course, this was the only logical explanation.

All settled? Of course not. Late Friday afternoon, the well-digger calls again.

“So where is it that I have to dig exactly?”

Where the umbrella base has been sitting for the past three years, just below the pool.

“There is no umbrella base. There’s no marker at all.”

I know for sure that the marker was there a month or so ago when I last dropped by. Samuele the gardener checked on Saturday and confirmed: it’s not there now. I’ll probably never know whether the well-digger removed it himself in a desperate bid to bore in his preferred spot, or whether it was the sunbathing offspring of the owners who shifted the heavy metal base when they needed a bit of umbrella-shade in the summer heat. For whatever reason, a Sunday morning jaunt with the water diviner was the only way to keep the well-digger from thinking up more reasons to procrastinate.

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I’m so absurdly, ludicrously easy to please in my projects that sometimes I can’t quite fathom why people don’t simply intersperse major setbacks with minor bits of forwards-moving just to placate me and stop me being the client from hell.

After weeks of gloom as my builder in town made – then laboriously filled in – holes which hadn’t been there in the first place, we’re finally (triumphantly) going up. There are vestigial walls in places where new walls should be. The joy the other day when I walked up the brand new staircase from ground to first floor for the first time was immense.

5 August 2015

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This summer has been incredible. Searingly hot, yes, with sticky nights until July 26 when one of those immense storms we had watched sweeping blackly up neighbouring valleys finally dropped its load on us: 62mm in less than an hour. It was less than we had been told to expect the previous day, when in the end not a single drop fell. But when it did arrive, we could barely see beyond the kitchen terrace.

Since then, hot days have been blessed with deliciously cool evenings: not cardigan- or shawl-cool but just enough of an edge to ponder whether perhaps a bit later a cardigan might be needed. You get the anticipation without the reality: the perfect combination.

Two further well distributed mini-drenchings of 10mm each have created the strangest situation in the garden: despite this being the hottest summer since records began (or something of that ilk), the so-called lawn – until recently a ragged patch of straw and dust – is now spring-green in colour. Our field, cut a couple of weeks ago and usually a parched colour until the September rains begin, is already bouncing back again. The raspberries have plumped out. I’m having to pick tomatoes when still barely red otherwise the excess water makes them split. Now if only my roses would come out fully: they were beginning their serious second blooming just as the big storm hit us, removing any open petals. So they’ll need to make an extra effort.

The heat has driven people in droves to our town water dispenser, where for five cents you can fill your 1.5 litre bottle with cool water, carbonated or still. It’s just town water – the stuff that comes out of our taps. But filtered through a machine, it enveigles those people for whom water must necessarily (and inexplicably) come out of a bottle into thinking that they’re getting a properly processed product.

Considerable queues form around what we’ve taken to calling the stoop, and a strange water-cameraderie has developed. It’s like gathering around the village well, one man commented to me in a fit of nostalgia the other day as we waited with our milkman-style plastic carriers full of empty glass bottles. And he’s right, it is, except in one particular. I’m sure that in times past when the village well was the primary water source it was women who were expected to do the manual hauling and carrying. Now that there’s machinery and technology involved, there’s a high male water-fetching quotient.

Water-wise, my clients over the other side of Lake Trasimeno picked a very bad year to begin planting with just a tank to catch rain water from the roof, rather than a well. In last year’s wash-out of a summer, they would never have had to order water in. But this year the tanker has had to refill the 10,000-litre tank seven times so far, for a very small patch of drip-irrigated greenery. (We abandoned the water-guzzling lawn to its own devices).

They now wish to proceed with well-digging. I contacted a pozzaiolo who put me in touch with a geologist who would look after the permit side of things. I went to look at the site with the geologo (who turned out to be a neighbour of ours in CdP) and pointed out the old umbrella base placed two years ago by the local water diviner in what should be a watery spot.

Renato put that there, I told told the geologist. That’s where he said to dig. “Er. Yes?” he replied. So, do you trust him? Do you believe in all that? I asked. Puzzled silence. He didn’t actually say ‘duh’ but that was the tone. “Yes,” he said. “Why ever not?”

It’s the kind of scientific approach I love.