13 December 2009

Snow - Why Now???

OK. Enough's enough.

I am completely and utterly freezing.

I seem unable to lift my core body temperature. In fact, those medical types who say that the core body temperature is 37.5 degrees are all wrong.

My body is functioning on 17 degrees (albeit a little poorly and not in the best of moods).

If my temperature gets any lower, I'll be hibernating like the dormice in our walls.

But hope looms tomorrow in the form of an aeroplane travelling to warmer climes.

Tomorrow this little dormouse will be WARM, WARM, WARM!

And NOTHING is going to stop me from getting on that plane.

That is, nothing except the forecasted snow...

Actually, not even that.

If there are any problems, I will take action akin to that which occurs on The Sopranos.

12 December 2009

The Hulk

I'm happy to announce that we have finished all of our jobs, at least those that we considered necessary before our holiday.

After 2.5 months of heavy lifting, shovelling, dragging, loading, moving, cutting, sawing, wheelbarrowing, etc. we are definitely ready for a holiday.

I'm tired and sore and I feel like the Incredible Hulk.

This morning, I cut a few prickly trees out of our hazelnut grove with the handsaw. I noticed that each truck had a thick coating of ice on it. I learned that handsaws can cut ice.

This afternoon I helped Stu move some roof tiles. Clay tile roofs are an architectural feature of most Italian houses and ours is no different. These tiles are not attached to the roof or each other in any way; they simply overlap.

They last about 50 years so they're a fairly good investment, except after a snowfall when the weight of the snow can make them slide off the roof. Needless to say, walking under your eaves after snow can be quite a dangerous activity. Most Italians do a 'walk around' to check the state of their roofs. The tiles can also crack in severe temperatures. After last year's winter, our neighbour had to replace most of his tiles because his roof points towards the north.

Anyway, the other compelling thing about these tiles is that they weigh about 4kg each. This is a particularly interesting fact if you need to move them.

And we moved 160 of them today...

We have about 300 of these tiles stored on the second level of our fienale. Unfortunately, earlier owners stacked them on top of each other across the arched ceiling of the lower level. There's now a rather ominous crack along the ceiling directly under them so we decided moving them had become an urgent job.

The tiles are quite brittle and will crack and break easily if they fall on each other. So we dragged an old mattress out from the house and placed it on the ground outside the fienale.

Then Stu stood on the second level and threw each tile carefully down onto the mattress. This was a rather difficult task because they tend to bounce in unexpected directions like a rubgy football.

After about 6 tiles, he would call 'OK' which told me that it was safe to move in with the wheelbarrow and load them, cart them and offload them at the rear of the house.

While I was away, he would throw down the next lot of tiles in time for my return.

After about 10 wheelbarrow loads, I was more tired and more sore and I felt even more like the Incredible Hulk.

When I returned to the mattress, I looked at the tiles, laying there haphazardly in the morning frost and I thought of the girls in Little Women, who huddled together in bed to keep warm.

'What's wrong?', I heard a voice from above.

'Oh nothing', I replied to Stu, forcing myself back to the task.

He must have sensed my tiredness because he started going up and down the steps to move the tiles off the mattress while I was away offloading. By the time I returned I had two lots of tiles ready for my next wheelbarrow load. Clearly, my pace had slowed down, which is fair enough when you feel like the Incredible Hulk.

Tonight I glanced at myself in the mirror.

I was incredibly tired and excruciatingly sore.

The Incredible Hulk looked back at me.

11 December 2009

Talking to Trees

When I was young, I used to talk to trees because I knew they would listen to my problems.

When I was a teenager I used to hug them, confident that they would give me strength in difficult times.

Sadly, as an adult, I surf the internet about them.

One job that I felt particularly compelled to do in these pre-winter weeks was the pruning. We have a small orchard with apple and pear trees that have been neglected for years. There are strong fibrous vines growing at their bases which twist up into a maze of branches above. These vines drag the branches down and effectively ruin any hope the tree might have of creating a decent crop.

A friend told me that the time for pruning was after they'd gone dormant, in winter. And I already knew from experience that Spring in Italy meant wild and untamed growth. If I didn't do it now, I knew it would be another year before I could get to the fruit trees.

This morning we woke to yet another frost. This one was so thick that it covered the ground like snow. It was a miserable minus 1 degree so we decided to stay indoors for a few hours until it warmed up. Like any responsible and intelligent adult, I took the opportunity to do some internet research on pruning fruit trees.

At 11am, the 'big melt' had occurred around the house but the paddocks were still white.

Regardless, I pulled my layers on, grabbed my Swiss-made secateurs and walked rather stiffly to the shed where I collected the saw.

Then I crackled down the long grass to the orchard, slipping occasionally on the ice.

The first tree didn't look at all like the picture on the internet. I identified some 'upward growing anterior branches' but where were the 'narrow crotches' and 'whorls' that I'd read about?

Faced with a real tree with its own experience of life, I had no idea how to proceed.

So I reverted to my childhood. I talked to it. I asked it to show me what to do.

Yes, I know this sounds like I've finally gone over the edge or that my brain has partly frozen.

But I knew the tree would show me what to do.

So I talked and pruned and talked until a neat but rather vulnerable looking tree stood before me.

Then I moved on to the next tree and talked and pruned and talked to it.

Before long, I'd pruned four trees.

While this story has a slight tinge of insanity to it, I am actually a sane and practical person. So while I may not be able to expect the world's best crop next year, I'm absolutely sure that I've made a few new 'friends'...we certainly hugged goodbye!

10 December 2009

Something To Be Endured

In a few days, we see our families on home turf for the first time in two years.

While this is certainly the main motivating factor behind our trip, more recently my thoughts have turned to another possible factor.

After four days of frost and ice puddles and hands that don't move, I have been thinking about that thing called 'warmth'.

As I sit in my down sleeping bag in the lounge at night when it's below zero outside and our little fire has managed to get the inside temperature to 16, I imagine strolling down to the beach.

I imagine myself as a child of the universe. My beany, my scarf, my boots and my socks are cast off. Finally, my five layers of clothing are ripped and torn to shreds as I attack them with reckless abandon.

I stand there, a child of the sun. My muscles are liquid, thawed out and loosened by the raw heat so that I can stretch my arms to the sky and twist my body til it cracks and lengthens.

What joy!

The truth of the matter is that after ten minutes in the sun, I would be hot, sweaty, blistered and burnt. And cranky.

So I guess I should focus on family after all and put the warmth into the 'to be endured' box.

Hopefully the family will never need to go in the 'to be endured' box...although three months is a long time...perhaps I'll find myself in the 'to be endured' box???

08 December 2009

Words of Wisdom Concerning Washing Cars

For a second today I thought I'd run out of half decent topics to discuss on my Blog...but then I remembered a topic whose level of importance exceeds that of all other topics.

Before today, I had managed to avoid the 'washing the car' task for all of my 45 years.

Clearly, this is something of which I am very proud.

My downfall came today in the form of an ultimatum.

As I mentioned yesterday, we are a little stressed trying to get several important jobs done before we go on holidays. So I wasn't surprised when I leaned over to read the list of jobs that Stu was redrafting this morning at breakfast and found a certain 'Wash car' task against my name.

Panic seized me. Shivers ran down my spine, sweat beaded on my top lip.

'But that will take all day!', I warned.

'It won't take ALL day', Stu promised.

I did at least TRY to avoid it. I suggested that he might have time to do it later in the week. This didn't seem to go down very well. His eyes bulged and bits of toast sprayed from between his teeth.

'It's either that or YOU can build the security door!', he spat.

Now, no matter what my family genealogy says about my father being a carpenter, I am not the most able-bodied person when it comes to tools and wood and crooked houses.

So, being a cooperative and peace-loving creature, I accepted that I was stuck with the 'washing the car' task. I use the word 'accepted' but I did try not to be too gracious about it, lest assumptions were made about future repeats.

So I swallowed my last sip of hot tea, choked on several bits of 'calcare' that rested in the bottom on my cup, donned my 5 layers of clothing and dragged my lower lip to the garage.

I hoisted my lower lip into the car and reversed the vehicle so that it was close to the house.

Next, I went into the house to get the vacuum cleaner but decided to make a loaf of bread instead. I put the mixture into the breadmaker, then made a couple of phone calls.

About an hour later, I emerged with the vacuum cleaner.

I poked and prodded the awkward thing around until I got every bit of dirt and leaf and twig off the mats and the carpet. When I went inside to get a bucket of water, I took the opportunity to check the bread and bake a date loaf.

I emerged about an hour later.

'Now what was I doing?', I asked myself.

'Washing the car?', Stu grunted under his breath.

I went back inside to get a bucket and cloth. I cut a slice of my hot bread, spread it with honey and sat down to read my book.

An hour later, I emerged with a bucket and cloth.

By now you'll be getting the picture...

I finished the 'washing the car' task at 3.00pm. As you will understand, it took this long through no fault of my own. I was always dedicated and committed to the task. Indeed, I managed to keep motivated right to the end.

I just hope Stu remembers this next time he makes a list...

07 December 2009

'As Is'

As mentioned yesterday, we're rather stressed about all the jobs we have to do before Sunday.

Stu is trying to finish shutter doors which will provide security for two french doors we have in the loungeroom in the house. He has been putting the biggest bolts and hinges I've ever seen in the stones around the doors. This involves picking out the stones, then lodging a bolt in the space, along with a heap of reinforcing and cement.

Unfortunately, he ran out of cement.

So we had an emergency dash to the hardware shop.

Dare I say it, but I went 'as is'.

Now 'as is' on this rural property in winter is not a pleasant sight.

My tracksuit pants had its own knees which bulged and swayed out the front. They made me look like I walk with my knees permanently bent. They are also too big so I have to keep hitching them up lest they fall to an inappropriate level.

My four upper layers can be politely defined as 'practical'.

First, I wore an old black polypropylene undergarment. Next, I wore an equally old brown woollen jumper that sagged under the weight of its own shapelessness. Bobbles of wool hung off its oft-rubbed areas. Next, I wore an old grey fleece that is normally my top layer on warmer days and therefore carries a layer of dirt and dust on its sleeves. Finally, I wore a bright blue polarfleece that I used when I backpacked around Europe 15 years ago. It is also too big, which is probably a blessing since it has to contain all the other layers!

Depending on the type of people my readers are, some of you will be thinking 'How could she possibly go out in public like that!?' while others will be thinking 'Why does she keep clothes that are that old!?'.

My whole 'look' was capped off by a blue polarfleece beany that tends to grip my head, flattening what little hair I have left. I suspect that I looked like a boy. I felt like an undercover agent.

With a partner like this, it was a credit to Stu that he was prepared to have me follow him around the hardware shop. I could have been his son or his trades assistant.

He was even prepared to discuss hinge sizes with me, although I suspect the conversation was adjusted slightly in consideration of my appearance.

'What size do you reckon, mate?', he would say.

Despite this seemingly cosy acceptance, he must have had a few too many strange looks from other customers because after about half an hour he suggested I wait with the trolley while he went in search of the things he needed.

We'd been piling our trolley up with objects of varying shapes and sizes so it had become rather ungainly. So, while his suggestion was a pragmatic solution, I had a niggling suspicion that I'd pushed my luck a bit too far on the 'as is'.

He left me in the timber aisle. With the trolley.

Now, the timber aisle is not the most exciting of aisles to be in. I longed for the gardening aisle, the handicraft aisle or even the paint aisle.

However, I'm not one to complain about one's circumstances so I made the most of the timber aisle. I went right through the 40cm wide panels to find the best ones for our shutter doors. I looked for twists in the lengths and knots in the wrong places. My carpenter father would have been proud of me.

But one can only amuse oneself for so long in the timber aisle.

Before long, I ventured out. Without the trolley.

Soon I found myself in the flooring aisle. I was on my way to the tiles when I was dumbstruck by the parquetry. Neat boxes of laminated wooden panels were piled on a pallet in the middle of the aisle. My eyes twinkled. My hands reached out compulsively. They were smooth. There were different colour options. They were 'interlockable'.

My curiousity was instantly aroused.

I reached for the four display panels, wondering just how difficult it could be to interlock them.

I lined them up, I twisted, I pulled and I pushed.

Within seconds I'd made a perfect square metre of flooring, which now balanced precariously across the top of the palleted boxes.

Immensely satisfied, I returned to my trolley. It hadn't moved.

I waited.

Eventually Stu returned with an armful of bolts, hinges and little plastic things.

'I've made a floor!' I burst out.

'Good, mate. Are you ready to go?', he said.

I felt wonderful, probably like a truant child who'd had a secret adventure. I hitched my tracksuit pants up, held my head high and proceeded to the cash register with him and our trolley.

As is.

06 December 2009

Christmas Travel Debris

We are now on the countdown to our trip to Australia...and madly trying to complete several jobs that will make the place secure and give us peace of mind while we're away.

We also have the virtually impossible task of PACKING!

Yes, the BIG PACK is going to be the trauma to end all traumas (except maybe the septic trauma...)

For weeks, we've been buying 'goodies' for our remote antipodean family and friends. To ensure that we remain constantly aware of just how many goodies we've got to take, and to smooth the effort of packing, we've been gathering all these goodies on and around a particular chair in the loungeroom.

If I look over at that chair now, I see treats from Switzerland (vinegar and oils from Globus) as well as treats from Italy (nougat, biscotti, cioccolata, Piemontese specialties such as tarti di nocciole and various sauces and jams, etc). And of course there are the mandatory bottles of alcohol (5 to be exact...so far...). If we didn't take several bottles of Limoncello, the fabulous lemon liquor from the south, we'd run the risk of not having a bed! And we simply must take a bottle or two of the local Spumante!

Our problem is that we only have 2 suitcases and both of these are small wheelie cases particularly suitable for business travel. They neatly fit into the overhead luggage racks in business class and they are designed to make one look like a hero when one travels. On many occasions we have felt the joy of being 'business class idiots' as we've exited a taxi and strutted confidently to the business class counters. These suitcases have never let us down. They always made us look like we'd done it all before, like we were so used to travel that we could carelessly throw a few meagre essentials into a midget suitcase and go across the world.

Unfortunately, the trip that looms next week is not a business trip and we're not travelling business class.

This means our suitcases are inappropriate for our purposes and will definitely not fit our image. We will be carrying copious amounts of superfluous debris with a 20kg weight limitation and a luggage rack the size of a glovebox!

What to do???

It remains to be seen how we handle this latest of challenges.

We have yet to broach the subject but I'm fairly confident it will not make for a peaceful or romantic start to our holiday...

05 December 2009

Muscles or Sweat?

Today we filled our septic hole back in.

And tonight, I'm feeling the wonderful warmth and buzz of physical exhaustion.

The dry clay that we had extracted 4 days ago had been rained on and by the time we got to it today it had turned to mud. Very heavy mud.

So I was shovelling for two hours and now I can hardly organise my fingers around my pen. There seems to be a delay in the time it takes for the message to get from my brain to my fingers. I massage them, squeeze them and bend them and even this takes a mammoth effort.

My wrists are even worse. The constant action of twisting my hands to offload each shovelful of heavy clay has made them like jelly. I couldn't even pull my seatbelt on today. And tasks such as grinding salt onto my evening meal and wringing out the dishcloth were absolute impossibilities!

My arms are heavy. They're so heavy I allow my shoulders to sag and my arms to hang beside me, all thoughts of posture abandoned.

So, I hear you wonder, why do I call this uncomfortable state of pain and tiredness 'wonderful'?

Well, I have rediscovered muscles long gone...

When Stu unearthed an unusually large rock the other day, he started to give me instructions on correct lifting techniques. But I'd bent my knees, tightened my stomach and lifted the rock long before he'd finished his sentence. I even held it while we continued our conversation about lifting! So my arms are no longer the 'old ladies arms' that they were ('old ladies arms' are the type that expand, go lumpy, then sag).

Also, my stomach muscles went missing when I gave up dancing 15 years ago. In recent years, my stomach simply wobbled around and any attempt to tighten it brought no movement whatsoever! Now, I think I'm approaching the thing that the fitness experts call 'core strength'. I can make my stomach move! Perhaps I'm not too far away from having a 'six-pack' or at least a 'ripple'!?

And I am not even going to start talking about my rear end...

However, I am fully aware of the danger that is facing me in the very near future...

We'll be going to Australia for a holiday. It's summer in Australia, the sort of summer that has you sweating even when you're not doing anything. So you do nothing and get lazy, unfit and fat.

My newly discovered muscles may very soon be a thing of the past...again...


Today we managed to get the temperature INSIDE our rustico down to 11 degrees.

This new 'low' has brought me to a point where I can't wait to sweat.

Who cares about being fit and slim anyway...

03 December 2009

Beginnings of a Dream and the End of a Saga

I have recently come into contact with a very inspirational woman, Erika Liodice, who runs a website called 'Beyond the Gray' (www.beyondthegray.wordpress.com).

Erika wants to inspire people to follow their dreams. She kindly invited me to be interviewed for her website because she had heard of my recent decision to take 12 months off paid employment in order to follow my dreams.

I feel very humbled and grateful for the interest that Erika has shown in me and I would be hugely happy if my words are able to give any of Erika's readers the tiniest piece of wisdom to follow their dreams...

The interview can be found at www.beyondthegray.wordpress.com/category/interviews-with-dream-chasers/

Now, for those of you who read my Blog for the sole reason that it makes you feel grateful for your sewerage system, read on...

Today was a warmer morning (4 degrees). We woke bright and early because we wanted to be ready for the drainlayer.

He arrived exactly on time at 8.30am. We expected a drain-dwelling sort of person with grime under his fingernails. Instead, we got a very stylish man who wore designer clothes and clean white runners and looked more like a fashion designer!

What sort of drainlayer comes to a job like that!!?? We were immediately suspicious.

As we stood proudly over the hole that we'd dug, he tip-toed around taking extreme care to avoid discoloured areas.

Then he told us to do some more digging and marked out the area he wanted us to dig. He would return at 2pm to reassess the situation.

Stu had been looking forward to doing something that didn't involve digging. But we really had no choice, so we dragged on our work clothes and boots and got started. I'm not sure how Stu dug so continuously today because, right from the first showel-load of dirt that I tilted into the wheelbarrow, my wrists seemed to go limp.

A couple of hours later, we had a bigger hole but we had also found a continuation of the broken sewer pipe which seemed to indicate that it went straight past the septic tank! But where?

Being amateur drainlayers, we assumed that when the drainlayer returned he would want us to dig in the direction of the newly discovered extension to see where it went.

So we continued digging.

At noon, the drainlayer arrived, two hours earlier than expected.

He tip-toe around again, then picked up a shovel and started to prise up a protective cement cover that lay over the broken sewer pipe. He discovered another hole into which a stormwater pipe had been forced. Nothing had been cut neatly, sealed or joined properly and ooze leaked out from all around the hole. He pulled at the stormwater pipe until it came out. It had been thrust into the sewer pipe so that only a narrow channel remained in the sewer pipe. No wonder our sewer was backed up!

As another explosion of backed up sewerage oozed out of this hole, he quickly walked a couple of metres further along the septic pipe, then drilled a hole.

'Niente! Non pieno!', he called. Nothing. Empty.

Apparently, that side of the sewer pipe was empty. He had identified the location of the blockage.

He told us to cut the entire section out (from the leak that Stu found yesterday to the stormwater hole that he'd found today) and he would return at 2pm to reconstruct it.

m afraid the stench was too much for me so I again stood outside my 5 metre radius while Stu cut through the sewer pipe in two places, then emptied it, then redirected the contents to a dam he'd created for the purpose.

Then we waited.

When the drainlayer returned at 2pm, we were refilling some of the superfluous holes we'd dug (we like to think of them as 'exploratory holes').

He opened the back of his 4WD, extracted eight orange PVC pipes and started to measure the gap Stu had created. At one stage, he came dangerously close to contact with the ooze. But this was properly avoided by a quick trip to his car where he extracted a pair of soft white gloves. He now looked like a fashion designer who did a bit of surgery on the side.

We watched as he measured, cut, matched, joined, placed and glued a new maze of pipes for us.

Tonight we spent a long time in our bathroom. Aahh! There's nothing quite like the pleasure of running hot water that drains away properly...

02 December 2009

The True Saga of the Septic

I announced yesterday with immense pride that our 'foul water' (sewerage) was better than everyone else's 'foul water'. This certainty came about when we opened our septic tank and found that no disgusting odours emanated from it.

Well, things changed today. For the worst.

And because I desire to be a writer of the truth, I feel compelled to share the grisley details with you...

This morning, I phoned our geometra to ask him to view the maze of pipes that we'd uncovered while we'd been looking for our septic tank. We wanted him to suggest how and where we should proceed. With acres of land and no idea where our septic tank was, there was a great risk that we would dig up the entire property before we found it.

He came within an hour. In the bitter cold of a heavy frost, he walked around the pipes, leaned over them, measured and estimated distances, falls and likely locations for pipes and tanks.

Finally, he suggested that we do more digging.

As Murphy would have it, he wanted us to dig in exactly the place where we'd thrown all the dirt from the previous holes we'd dug. The mound was so huge and heavy (it had been soaked by recent rain) that it took us a full hour to move it.

By the time we'd cleared the dirt off the chosen spot, we were already tired, our arms barely able to be lifted, our backs fragile.

We needed a break so we staggered into the warmth of the rustico for lunch.

An hour later, the frost still had not melted. We had no choice but to layer ourselves with clothing and emerge.

We had agreed to take turns at working. Stu would use a heavy crowbar to spear and loosen the hard earth, then I would collect the loose dirt on my shovel and throw it onto a new pile.

The cold sun was now making its way into the valley. Feeling the light on my face and listening to the dull thuds on the clay was relaxing.

Suddenly, the dull thuds stopped and I heard a grunt.

I looked across just in time to see Stu recoil.

Cautiously, I advanced with my shovel, unaware of the revolting sight that awaited me.

Stu had broken through a pipe. And there was absolutely no doubt that this pipe was backed up, alive and pumping with gas. As he poked in the hole, I watched all manner of half decomposed fetid crap ooze out of the pipe and creep down our driveway.

I gagged.

I hoped the neighbour wouldn't be out today.

I wondered about cholera and black death.

Then the stench hit me and I was forced to retreat a few metres (Stu said afterwards that I dropped tools and 'fled' inside the rustico).

After a few minutes spent gathering myself, I ventured back out, sensitive that we were in this thing together. There was also the small possibility that I may have been personally responsible for some of the ooze.

I circled the area, careful not to come within smelling distance (approx 5 metres).

While I provided spiritual support (talking, gagging), Stu waded in the mess, occasionally slipping in the mustard-like ooze. His gloves were wet and the soles of his gumboots were caked.

For some reason (probably a need to be distracted from the work at hand), I noticed that the broken pipe had a crack through it. The crack was discoloured so it must have been leaking for a while. Indeed, we had noticed some strange water levels in our toilet recently and our plumber had hinted that we may have had a broken pipe.

I phoned our geometra again and told him we'd found the septic and a cracked/broken pipe. He confirmed that he would send a drainlayer and a supersucker tomorrow.

While this was a really horrible experience, this afternoon we agreed that it was a good thing to have discovered both our septic and the cracked pipe. We now had an opportunity to have the world's strongest and cleanest sewer pipe as well as the world's cleanest septic!

Morals of the Story:

If your septic tank smells good, there is something wrong!

If you ever need to get close to your sewerage, remember that no matter how good you think you are, your excrement stinks!

01 December 2009

Septics and Solids

Today we experiened the joy of looking inside our septic tank.

We woke completely committed to our septic. At least, Stu did. I was committed to any other task. Oops! I mean I was commited to another critical task. Okay, so gardening can't really be defined as a critical task when your drains are blocked. But gardening was the best I could offer. I just couldn't be exposed to anything distasteful that might cause me to have nightmares for a week.
I positioned myself and my spade within 10 metres of Stu and the septic so that I could monitor his expression and evaluate the horror of his discovery.

After half an hour of digging, everything at the septic went quiet. I looked over. Stu was preparing to lift the lid. Seconds later, I watched him lean forward to look down the hole.

I'd imagined a stench that would hover around for a week. I'd imagined rats that would bound out of the stinking mire, wet and slippery and dark. I'd imagined worms and other life forms that would ooze and squelch as they sucked at the sludge on the sides of the tank.
'It doesn't smell!', he cried.

Believing that the situation was tolerable, I walked over to the hole. It was true. It didn't smell.

Confident in the purity of our septic system, Stu decided to see how deep it was. He carefully poked a crowbar into the water. About 10 centimetres down he felt resistance. He prepared to add some force to the poke. I stepped back, just before the crowbar burst through.

'There's a crust!' Stu exclaimed (I'm sorry, there's no other word for it)

I gagged. Visions of a mass of hard excrement came to mind.

He kept poking and stirring, exploring the thick viscosity of the liquid under the crust like a witch with her cauldron.

'I've hit the bottom!' he cried.

Seconds later, several large bubbles popped lethargically on the surface.

The witch keeled backwards.

'Phaw!' he sounded, unable to formulate words.

Once he recovered, he dragged the crowbar out of the mire, up through the soup, the crust and the water.

I felt a weird compulsion to watch. Whatever was lurking on the bottom of the tank would be speared on the end of the crowbar. Perhaps one of those rats? Or perhaps some other organic matter?

The end of the crowbar was wet with what looked like, well, mud.

I proposed to Stu that he should smell it. Now you're probably thinking we're a bit strange and morbid in our obsession with our septic. But really it's quite critical that we understand how things work around here and what better way to do this than to get your hands dirty? (well, Stu's hands, anyway...please pardon the pun...)

He looked at me like he was about to chase me around the yard with the the gooey crowbar.

I fled to the refuge of my garden. When I looked back, I saw him lean over to smell the wet end of the crowbar.

I gagged. Visions of a soft excrement mixture came to mind.

'No smell!' he yelled.

Both confused, we went inside to read our 'restoring old houses with septic tanks in Italy' book.

Apparently, our septic system ('biologica') is a fascinating balance of nature. 'Foul water' goes into an initial tank which is filled with water, 'solids' dissolve or fall to the bottom, then as more 'foul water' is introduced to the tank, the cleanest water (at the top) seeps into a filtration unit which consists of gravel and sand, then into a 'soakaway' which diffuses it into the land.

So all we have to worry about is having the undissolved 'solids' sucked out every few years!

Despite the beauty of this system, we are unfortunately at the point in the cycle where we have a tank full of undissolved 'solids'. And worse, since we've only been here 2 months, these undissolved 'solids' are other people's undissolved 'solids'!

Regardless, our new wisdom tells us that noone else will fix the problem except us so tomorrow we will phone the 'pit emptier' and invite him to view our 'solids' and perhaps even supersuck them.

Of course, I will record this momentous event by taking photos a safe distance from the supersucker...

30 November 2009

Let There Be Light Amidst the Rain!

Yesterday, I mentioned that it had rained 2 days out of 60.

Today, I'd like to change that to 3 days out of 61.

The good news is that the rain forced us inside for the day, something we've been dreaming about since we got here. Having exhausted ourselves for weeks doing heavy work like chopping wood and digging gardens, we spent a wonderfully relaxing day going through paperwork and generally wasting time.

Stu also did some indoor maintenance jobs. He was especially inspired to change our bedroom light fitting after he shook one of his jumpers and sent the hanging light swaying. We've both had altercations with this light fitting ever since we moved here (me when I make the bed) and today was the last straw for Stuart.

He charged over to his workshop and returned with his toolbox, drill and several light fittings that we had brought from our apartment in Switzerland. It was not difficult to choose a fitting: the prerequisite was 'must not hang or swing'.

Being a safety conscious individual, he turned off the electricity and asked me to hold the torch while he performed the work. What he hadn't considered is how distracted I become when armed with a torch ('You're just like a 5 year old!' is what he yelled). But I was not listening, enraptured with my viewing possibilities as I was!

At one stage, the torch beamed across the room to the corners to check out the cobwebs. Later, it scanned the bed to check the amount of dust he was creating. I told him he should be grateful that I always come back to the job at hand even though I have these little distractions involving enhanced visibility. He thinks that this isn't a lot of comfort when he's got his arms up in the air holding wires and light fittings ('A fat lot of good that is!' is what he yelled). I guess he has a point. But you'd be amazed what I can see with a torch!

Then in the middle of the crucial part (connecting the wires), the torch went dull, then yellow, then dead. I rushed to get candles. Stu told me to go upstairs to get the spare torch. I bounded up the stairs, then back down with the spare torch, only to watch aghast as it went dull, then yellow after only two minutes! But at least it wasn't completely dead...

Since Stu is slightly colour blind, he finished the job with me giving him instructions on the colours of the wires.

Tomorrow, we'll be ready to dive back into heavy work...specifically, digging for our septic tank and poking hoses up pooey pipes, etc.

Actually, come to think of it, maybe Stu will dive into that work...I'm sure there's another job I can do?

Stay tuned...tomorrow's activities promise amusement and definitely horror...

29 November 2009

Fiere e Pioggia...

Canelli hosts two major fiere (festivals) in Autumn: the Fiera del Tartufo and the Fiera di San Martino.

The fiere are held approximately 3 weeks apart in November.

This year, we had pioggia (rain) on both days. This was extremely unfortunate, especially given that we have only had 2 days of rain in the whole 60 days we've been living here.

Both Fiere are marked by mercati (markets) in the streets of Canelli.

The Fiera del Tartufo celebrates the famous and rare white truffle, which is only found in southern Piemonte and is on the wish list of every reputable chef in the world.

As you can imagine, there is a strong focus on food and it's market stalls sell cheeses, salamis, pane, pasticerrie and biscotti. The prized truffles are hosted on stalls located in a large covered area in the manufacturing facility of Gancia, the area's largest producer of wine and spumante.

And this location isn't short of atmosphere. There are musicians dressed up in medieval costumes who mingle in the crowd and play old Italian folk music. The air is heavy with the smell of special cheeses such as the piccante that is fermented in Barolo grape skins. And of course there is the all-prevading scent of the truffles themselves.

Most stalls sell both black and white truffles but they are always few in quantity. Only about five to ten are visible on each stall. As I walk past one stall, an enthusiastic young man pushes two white truffles at me. I lean over to smell them but he keeps waving them at me clearly inviting me to hold them. I take them, delighted to have the opportunity to see, smell AND feel these exquisite treasures of cuisine. The little lumps are about the size of a golf ball. They are heavy, cold and knobbly. I bring them up to my nose and inhale. As a damp pungent aroma wafts into my nostrils, I quickly understand why some people say that these truffles 'carry the smell of the earth itself' and others say they are the 'diamond of the kitchen'.

Yesterday, I talked about dogs and men with guns. Well, sometimes we have dogs and men without guns walking up our valley. Our neighbour tells us that these men are truffle hunters. Their dogs have their noses glued to the earth, desperate to pick up the smell of truffle. This is understandable, given that white truffles are worth approximately USD 3,000 per pound. Truffle hunters can be extremely protective and will not normally disclose the location of truffles that they have found. I like to think that there are truffles growing by the thousands on our land. How I would find them I don't know but given my story about guns yesterday, I'm not sure it would be a wise thing to try...

As the host of the main displays, Gancia takes the opportunity to promote its products by offering free flow spumante.

And, of course, it is not difficult to lose the entire day in such hospitality...

The Fiera di San Martino celebrates the itinerant labourers and immigrants who have tilled the fields of this farming community for centuries.

It's markets sell clothing, shoes, hats, belts and bags. There are also stalls that sell ethnic goods and handicrafts from South America and Africa and 'fast food' stalls that sell Farinata (a pizza shaped thing made out of chick peas that is cooked in wood fired ovens) and deep fried pastry that is eaten with a light dusting of icing sugar.

Not quite the same atmostphere as the Fiera del Tartufo...but still meaningful and enjoyable...especially when you finish off with a Campari Rosso e Soda!

28 November 2009

Something Different...

Even I know when I've written about a certain issue once too often.

This is how I feel about our plumbing problems.

So today's post will not mention any issues of a plumbing nature.

I will talk about guns instead.

Today we were enjoying a nice little toasted cheese sandwich in the safety and comfort of our rustico when we looked up to see a man walking past our window with a gun.

Men with guns regularly walk up this peaceful valley and past our place. At first, we were shocked to come across these visitors but then our neighbour explained that they are hunting for cinghiale (wild boar). Apparently, our valley is filled with deer and wild boar and is therefore a favourite spot for hunters. While we have seen a few deer, we have never seen a wild boar. I'm not sure how we would react if we were faced with a big pig but I suspect we would not react like one of the locals.

The men with guns always have dogs. The dogs are usually scrawny, dirty and diseased looking. Actually, the men are also usually dirty and diseased looking. Regardless, we watch from the safety of our rustico while these dangerous men holding dangerous weapons walk past us with their dangerous dogs. If we're outside, the men sometimes ask if we've seen any cinghiale. We respond in the negative, not sure if we should tell them we wouldn't recognise one if we fell over it.

So today, while I did my usual thing and watched the man and his dog, Stu (otherwise known as Louie) watched The Gun. He is obsessed with The Gun and feels a weird compulsion to explain The Gun to me: its material, its size, it capacity to do damage, etc. It must be a boy thing. Apparently, today's gun was a '22' (whatever that means). All I know is that it was the biggest gun I'd ever seen. I had to look twice because the gun was slung over the man's shoulder in such a way that it looked like something he'd already slaughtered (albeit a skinny one). I was sure The Gun would kill a whole pack of cinghiale with just one bullet.

This led me to wonder if we would be as obsessed about guns if we had come from a country where guns were legal or if we'd grown up in a rural area where guns were permitted.

The Italians in our area just seem to accept guns and hunting as a way of life.

Tonight, Stu wandered down to the bottom paddock to check if the gate was closed. At 6pm, it was cold, damp and a thick fog hung in the valley which prevented him from seeing very far ahead.

Suddenly a gunshot rang out and echoed around the hills.

He told me later that he simply froze to the spot, chills moving up and down his nerves like electricity. He couldn't tell how far away The Gun was because it was muffled by the fog. He was clearly shocked that bullets would be fired in such poor visibility.

When he was finally able to move his legs again, he crept back to the rustico careful to stay on the driveway and as close to the fence as possible, just in case The Gun mistook his fawn coloured tracksuit for a deer (or a cinghiale!).

27 November 2009

Who's Louie?

In country Italy, tradespeople don't seem to finish jobs; they leave the finishing up to Louie.

Stu keeps wondering who Louie is because Lilo, our plumber, keeps saying 'Louie will do this, Louie will do that'.

Today, Lilo came to finish the instant hot water installation. He screeched up the driveway right on time. We were dressed and ready for him this time. As he bounded out of his van, his black curls danced around his wide grin.

I pounced on him with the bad news.

'Noi abbiamo una grande probleme! Nostre canale sono blocco!', I screeched. We have a bigger problem. Our drains are blocked.

I'd prepared the sentences the evening before.

I detected a twitch in Lilo's facial expression. A certain distaste. A squirm.

He wandered around the immediate area, shrugging his shoulders. At one point he asked us where our septic tank was which was met by blank stares. He continued shrugging his shoulders (which in Italian means 'This situation is hopeless; I have no idea') and finally announced 'Geometra' (which in Italian means 'This is too hard for me; you'll have to ring your renovation go-between')

He then muttered something vague which sounded to me like, 'Bad luck' then continued around the back of the house to recommence his hot water job.

Clearly he didn't have much interest in drains.

Stu and I looked at each other. If your plumber isn't interested in your blocked drains, where do you turn?

Lilo's work lasted all morning, which was good because it gave him ample opportunity to see us doing some serious work in the garden.

At about noon he started looking at his watch. Siesta. His eyes glazed over. No doubt he was thinking of pasta. He quickly packed his van, told us that if there were any problems we should phone the manufacturer and that we should also phone the technica to set up the water purification system once Louie had installed a power plug.

'Grazie', I said.

'Who's Louie?', Stuart said.

We waved Lilo off, feeling like we'd been dumped. We were alone in Italy with blocked drains. It doesn't get any worse than that.

We crept inside, our confidence squashed between our toes. Negative thoughts abounded. How naiive we'd been to think that we could cope with renovating a 'casa vecchia' in a foreign country.

I phoned the Geometra. No answer. I texted the Geometra. No reply.

A short while later, he phoned back. After I explained our problem, he said, 'No problem! If a house is not used for a while it can go hard in there!'. I was imagining the hard stuff as he continued, 'I know a company that can clean your septic tank!'

'Va Bene', I said, graphic pictures of hard stuff looming.

Suddenly, there was a screech in the driveway.

Lilo jumped out of his van, waving a plastic contraption which had a circle at one end and a handle at the other.

'Chiave!', he shouted, clearly enraptured with the tool.

We smiled back. Stu told me afterwards he thought it was 'one of those wand things that you wave over the ground that beeps when it locates your septic tank'. Sometimes it's sad being an optimist.

Anyway, we followed Lilo to see how the chiave worked. To our great disappointment, the chiave was used to change the filter on our water purification system. Lilo probably noticed our distinct lack of enthusiasm. Surely he saw that our 'canale blocco' problem was oozing from our pores?

He must have. Because a few seconds later, he suggested we ask our neighbour if he knows where our septic tank is. Our neighbour is a long term resident of Canelli. The stone house attached to ours used to be his mothers.

I phoned our neighbour and put Lilo on.

While our neighbour talked, Lilo walked around the house taking measured steps against our neighbour's directions. He walked to the window near the bagno in the casa grande and took 4 large paces into the driveway. This was the location of the septic tank for the house. He walked to the corner of the house outside the kitchen and pointed down. This was the location of the septic tank for the rustico.

We were overjoyed! There is nothing quite like the joy of knowing where your septic tank is!

'Louie scavera', Lilo suggested.

'Si', I replied.

We waved Lilo off.

'Who's Louie?', Stu said.

Stu is trying really hard to understand Italian. The 'Louie' he keeps hearing is in fact 'Lui' which means 'He'. Stu didn't know it yet but Lilo and I had just volunteered Lui to dig for his septic tank...

26 November 2009

We Never Do Any Work...

Many of you who have followed our plumbing woes will not be surprised to learn that the tradesperson who gets the most business out of us is our plumber, Lilo.

This week we gave Lilo more business.

And early this morning, while we were still in bed, he screeched up the driveway.

We both jumped out, groaned, then stood around like stunned deer while we looked for our clothes. I pulled my beanie on, which really wasn't enough to go public. When I looked over at Stu, he was wandering around in circles searching for his work pants. He kept repeating 'Lilo mustn't think we do any work...whenever he comes, we're inside...'

Anyway, after what seemed like hours, we were clothed and welcoming Lilo.

He had dropped off our new instant hot water system and water purifier. Unfortunately, he had an urgent job at the post office so he promised to return to install them either that afternoon or the next morning.

Since we were up and dressed we decided to start work immediately. We chainsawed wood for three (3!) hours, stopped for a quick lunch, then Stu continued cutting wood with the axe while I cleared gravel off our future vege patch and moved it to the driveway.

Three (3!) hours later, Stu had filled our woodpile and I'd made the perfect driveway. It's bumpy surface had been filled, raked and compacted, over and over again. To absolute perfection.

So when we fell into the rustico at 4pm, we felt we'd justified our existence and earned our keep. We had a wash, lit the fire and sat down with our books and a wine.

Then Lilo screeched up the driveway.

Even though we were fully dressed this time, we groaned. It took us the same amount of time to get off our chairs, put our boots on and go outside. On our way to the back of the house, I heard Stu mutter 'Lilo mustn't think we do any work...whenever he comes, we're inside...'

25 November 2009

Things In Rows Make Me Smile

If I line anything up in a row, it can make me smile, sometimes even laugh.

Now, don't be alarmed and let me explain...

It was foggy today. My skin and every one of my bones was damp and cold.

Fog in Australia means 'its a bit overcast and dewy but it will be a lovely day'. Fog in Piemonte means' its thick and covers the whole region and it will not lift for weeks'.

So we did what the Piemontese do. We worked.

We emptied our fienale.

A fienale is an old stone building close to the main house where previous famers used to keep their animals. Our fienale's old stone walls have soft white fluff oozing out of them, the gentle evidence of concrete cancer, and blotches and rough patches where previous owners have badly plastered them. But it is also a haven of earthiness. Mixed in with the damp smell of wet dirt is a raw animal smell. It makes my nose want to smell. I can smell a farmer damp with hot sweat as he hoists hay into the pigs; I can smell the pigs, steamy but clean as they push against each other inside their pen.

Our fienale was full of 'things'. We weren't sure what 'things' exactly except that there were a lot of them. They lined the space, floor to ceiling and promised treasure and discovery.

Amongst the treasure, we found old garden tools, old wine making equipment, old gates and doors and old farming equipment. And old furniture.

It took us all day to drag everything outside and find a better place for it.

The furniture was placed along the driveway while we poked and prodded it trying to assess its value and potential for restoration. We went for lunch and when we returned in the afternoon, the furniture had taken on a personality. It was loitering in our driveway like youths wanting to make trouble. It was a group of friends who had come to visit. It was a group of strangers on their way to somewhere else.

Regardless, it made me smile.

I smiled through the fog and felt warm.

23 November 2009

An Unwholesome Ingredient

When the hair off your head becomes a regular ingredient in the meals you cook, you really need to reconsider your 'look'.

Twice this week, I've fed Stu strands of long curly brown hair. Although it appears not to bother him, it would certainly be enough to turn me off eating. (Perhaps this is why he's been losing weight?)

Anyway, for the last week, I've been entertaining ideas that involve scissors. I've sent cries of help to my younger sister which have been met by silence. I've tried to resist but I've been getting increasingly desperate and in the wee small hours of last night I made The Decision.

When I dived out of bed this morning, I went straight to the mirror just to be sure that my 'look' wasn't worth saving. It wasn't. It definitely wasn't.

An hour later, Stu and I were in the car on a desperate mission to find a parrucchiere.

Half an hour later we'd found the perfect one: a salon that didn't require appointments!

Anyone who knows me will know that this is the stuff of dreams for me. When it comes to beauty I have a complete and utter inability to plan. Being a woman of little vanity, ugliness tends to creep up and surprise me. Going to the hairdresser is a decision that is made quickly and must occur immediately.

There were already 2 women in the salon. One had thick grey colouring cream in her long hair which made it look horribly matted. The other was sitting at the washing basins, her wet hair wrapped in a towel.

The hairdresser told me there would be a wait.

I pretended that I didn't have much time but my act only lasted 2 seconds. I was desperate.

So I sat down and waited.

Stu went to the cafe for a cappuccio.

He returned an hour later.

I was still waiting. The other ladies had progressed slightly. One was having her hair dried. The other was waiting for her colour to take.

Stu went to the supermarket to buy hot chocolate mix and a toilet plunger (don't ask...)

He returned an hour later.

Mere seconds before his arrival, I'd been promoted to the wash basins. I was proudly in position. One lady had paid and left. The other lady was getting her hair dried. A new lady waited.

Stu sat on a bench outside the shop. I watched him unwrap a chocolate bar and eat it. I gestured for him to give me some but I was to remain chocolate-less.

Half an hour later, I'd had my hair cut. More specifically, I'd been shaved.

Oh, but what joy!

Of course, I now have a cold head and a cold neck...but I can only hope that my new 'look' will arrest Stu's slide into anorexia...

22 November 2009

Hard Butter & Not Enough Time

I'm currently reading a biography of Jane Austen in which the author describes the weather in terms of the laundry. She writes that the laundry froze before it dried.

This got me thinking about weather. It's so cold here that sometimes I come inside and feel cosy in temperatures that once would have had me sitting ON the heater (14 degrees).

Anyway, the other day I decided to make a cake. I took the butter out of the fridge and softened it in the microwave so that I could cream it with the sugar. Then I quickly dashed outside to do something that I can't remember and which is irrelevant to this story.

I was only gone a couple of minutes but when I returned, the butter was hard again.

I quickly realised that 14 degrees probably wasn't that warm after all and 2 minutes in such a temperature is a very long time if you're soft butter.

This got me thinking about time.

Like many others, I never have enough of it.

I used to blame this lack of time on work. I used to promise myself that if I ever had the opportunity not to work, I'd have lots of time to do the things I always wanted to do.

And I knew exactly what I would do. I would grasp it, clutch it, never waste it. I would write, read, write, cook, write, paint, write, etc.

Obviously, I've been telling myself for years that I would write...

And now here I am without a fulltime job but with a very ideal environment and I still don't have enough time to write.

My learnings for today?

That I should never allow myself to be distracted after I've softened the butter (at least not until Summer) and that I should never allow a day to pass by without writing.

21 November 2009

One Dead Tree & Lots of Noise

In my pre-sabbatical days, I used to get violently angry when I heard a chainsaw. A chainsaw doesn't just cut something. It cuts lots of those somethings.. It does acres of damage and creates thousands of deaths in a short time.

Today we used a chainsaw.

We cut one tree down. One dead tree.

I don't know how old the tree was or why it had died. It wasn't a huge tree (about 3-4 metres in height and 30 centimetres in diameter) but its grey leafless branches made the entrance to our property 'sad'.

So, this morning we stood under it with chainsaw, handsaw and axe.

First, we pulled off the thick ivy that was crawling up it's bark. Great swathes of the tree's bark came away with the ivy until suddenly the tree stood clean, naked and vulnerable before us.

Next, we cut off one of the three main branches with a handsaw, then the second branch, then the third branch.

Then we cut the trunk into several pieces with the chainsaw.

The branches and large pieces of trunk that lay scattered around the stump then had to be cut into smaller transportable pieces with the chainsaw.

Then the stump had to be mulched and grubbed with the axe.

All in all, we worked for 4 hours to remove this tree. Half a day of chainsaw noise.

What did I learn? What is my new wisdom?

I learned that the noise of a chainsaw doesn't necessarily mean irresponsible forestry bloodletting. It could simply mean a couple is struggling with a single dead tree, eager to use it as firewood before the white grubs get it as food...

20 November 2009

The Bottom Paddock

Today we ventured far beyond our immediate surrounds.

We ventured to The Bottom Paddock.

The impetus for this trip came with the purchase of a lawn mower.

Just before lunch we took possession of our new toy, then celebrated with the purchase of 2 coffees and 4 bottles of wine. And before you wonder about our drinking habits, we DRANK the coffees and brought the wine home for our cellar...

Anyway, when we arrived home, we gulped a quick lunch of sausage rolls and commenced preparations for our 'trip'. We knew that these sorts of expeditions were not to be taken lightly. Equipment had to be collected and checked (lawnmower, petrol, funnel, chainsaw, ear muffs, safety specs, tree clippers) and provisions gathered. The trailer had to be attached to the car and the passenger boarded onto the trailer (me!).

After 20 minutes we commenced our journey.

We arrived 2 minutes later.

We toiled for 3 hours at The Bottom Paddock. We walked the ground to remove stumps and branches, we cut the grass, we unloaded mulch and we pruned one of the long-neglected apple trees.

All in all, we spent a busy afternoon in the remote reaches of our property.

When we finally returned home, we were satisfied with our achievements but also proud of our proven ability to thrive in the wilderness.

(The Bottom Paddock is 100 metres from the house...)

17 November 2009

Social Climbers

For all you die-hard Cath's Cache Blog followers, I'm treating you to a sneak preview of our 'new look' (see bottom of page). This 'new look' will appear for a short time only (in order to minimise our embarrassment) so make the most of it. Hopefully our deterioriation will remind you to be grateful for your jobs...

In the meantime, we are proud to announce that we appear to have penetrated the upper eschelons of Canelli society.

Yesterday, we went to the Post Office to pay a bill for the annual fill of our gas tank (EUR 1,500).
We parked outside reasonably easily and looked in the windows to assess how busy it was. Thankfully, we saw only a few heads bobbing along the window.

So we walked in with supreme confidence, our breasts beating proudly in the knowledge that we had money in the bank and plastic. This bill would be paid in an efficient and smooth manner.

We waited. People left. More people came. Even more people came.

Finally, our number was called. We approached the desk and announced that we wanted to pay a bill.

The lady behind the counter was late middle-aged, one of those important public servant types who exudes indispensability and prides themselves on the speed at which they can process paperwork.

She processed our bill for long minutes in the computer before she turned to us and asked for the money.

I gave her my plastic debit card.

She turned to her keyboard and typed for more long minutes.

'Non posso!', she said, 'EUR 1,000 limita!'

I looked at Stuart, assuming that he hadn't made a transfer from Switzerland (when embarrassed, always blame someone else...)

'But we have way more money than that in the bank!', he whispered.

We stared at her.

I forgot all my Italian. I'd become deaf, dumb and stupid.

She became louder.

'Non posso!'

I did what I always do when I'm in a crowded room and I can't understand.

'Inglese?', I asked.

'Non Inglese!', she yelled.

At this point, the eyes of all 56 people in the post office were upon us. Every one of them knew that we couldn't speak Italian AND that we couldn't pay our bill.

We were instructed us to go to the bank and return with cash so that she could complete the payment.

We crept away quietly, our heads inside our shoulders.

At the bank, we put our plastic in the machine and discovered that we had a cash withdrawal limit of EUR 500 each per day. That meant we had EUR 1,000 to pay a bill of EUR 1,500. Any idiot knows that this is 'non posso'.

With our confidence in our gumboots, we returned to the Post Office, where approximately 20 new people were waiting to be served.

She beamed when she saw us. Now she could process! Her reputation would remain intact.

She dumped her current customer and gesticulated for us to approach her counter.

We worried briefly about the customer who already stood at the counter. Her request for a stamp for her parcel had been suspended in mid sentence.

'Non posso', we said to the public servant, 'Soltante EUR 1,000. Noi pagiamo domani'.

She frowned. She talked to herself. She reddened. She expanded in a Hulk-like way.

The customer waited while the public servant yelled our problems to a colleague. Eventually, and only after everyone in the general vicinity knew our business, she gave us a form shreiking instructions in fast Italian.

The customer leaned over to us.

'I speak English. Can I help?', she said.

'Yes please!', we gushed.

She explained that the public servant had already processed the payment so we needed to complete the form in order to annul the payment. It would be processed afresh when we returned at a later date with the correct amount of cash.

While Stuart was listening, I was observing her non-verbals. She was an elegant woman of early middle age, with thick shoulder length hair that had been well coiffured. She wore heavy makeup and jangled with an expensive wrist watch and other jewellery. I turned my eyes to her parcel and strained to read the name and address on it.

It seemed that she was from the only Michelin Star restaurant in Canelli. We were 'socialising' with a member of the Canelli elite.

We thanked her and everyone else in the Post Office and left, confident in the knowledge that we'd taken our first step into Canelli society.

p.s. Some time later, Stuart suggested that if we ever went to her restaurant she'd be highly likely to ask for a downpayment before feeding us...

16 November 2009

A Woman of the Computer Age

A few weeks ago, I shared with you some things I'd learned about myself in my new environment...

Well, over the last 2 days, I've learned even more things...

1. That I cannot tolerate feeling helpless when it comes to PCs
2. That I should not rely on my Blog and emails to write

This new wisdom was bestowed on me by my PC, or rather, the failure of my PC.

It started doing weird things after a download of some virus scanning software and my life turned sour very quickly.

I dreamed of the luxury of a employer-sponsored helpdesk and someone who I could complain to in a rather vague way (e.g. 'There's something wrong with my PC' or 'My PC doesn't work'). This someone would have a bookcase at home that was full of PC magazines and a spare room that was full of old PCs that had been dismantled and fused together in wonderful ways to create time machines. This someone would embrace my PC with joy and 'make it work' again.

But I did not have a helpdesk.

I was sad, shattered and alone.

The other member of the household would say I was cranky, negative and childish (and I suspect that his view of my personality change during this PC-related trauma may be more accurate...)

Regardless, I am now happy to report that I am back online and more committed to better juggling my Blog and my emails with my 'serious' writing...

p.s. I am also very proud to report that I fixed the problem myself which means that I can exist without an employer-sponsored helpdesk after all...!

13 November 2009

Is this what they call 'community'?

I fear we are being stalked by our post woman.

Our post woman is a 30-something artificial blonde. She has a vibrant personality and large facial features and is one of those people you simply notice.

She drives a tiny white car at break neck speed around Canelli and zooms up our driveway as if she hasn't noticed it's potholes or fragile edges.

She spied us walking along our driveway a few weeks ago. She stopped the car, leaned across the front passenger seat, smiled her big teeth at us, then yelled and gave us a number of letters. While we were still wondering whose letters they were, she sped off.

Then this week, I was doing the rubbish run. The rubbish run is one of our regular outings and is cause for great excitement in the household. It involves throwing our non-organic rubbish, our plastic bottles and our glass bottles into three separate skips. Thankfully, all the skips are lined up along the side of the road just outside Canelli so we can perform this activity with some measure of efficiency.

Beside the skips is a side track where vehicles can stop to offload their goodies. This side track gets rather muddy after rain so careful assessment is required before deciding to take it.

I was just making my way through the mud, laden with our embarrassingly sizeable non-organic rubbish bag when a car slid to a halt beside me. I had just enough time to register teeth and eyes before I found myself holding a number of letters and parcels. I said 'Grazie'. In return, she asked me what was in the parcels. Being a rather private person, I was a little stunned at her intrusiveness but I heard myself explaining anyway. 'Produtto per saluti della mio marito', I said, 'Vitamine'. I think she heard me but she might not have. I saw her disappear in the distance just as I finished my sentence.

I stood for a while in the mud with my rubbish bag beside me, trying to make sense of the warmth I was feeling.

Today was our third visit to the open air market in the centre of Canelli and several of the vendors now recognise me.

We stopped at the frutta e verdura stall first and brought a week's worth of fruit and veg for under EUR 10. The stall owner gave us mandarins to taste and a free lemon. We then wandered over to the salciccia stall for a few days's worth of salami and a dozen free range eggs. The stall owner gave us three salami cacciatori. Finally, we found ourselves waiting in line at the caseificio to buy a selection of cheeses. At all of these stalls, there was a sense of joy and celebration. Joy of life? Celebration of food? We weren't sure...but we were so inspired that we continued to the supermarket to get a few extra items. Sadly, the gloom of the supermarket was all pervading. The eyes on the woman behind the cashier were glazed as she asked if I wanted a bag. It was a dismal contrast to the market. No joy. No celebration.

In an attempt to lift our spirits again, we dropped into our macellaio on the way home to ask for 'una pezza carni per arrosto'. Our butcher and his wife smiled and yelled conversation at us before wobbling into their freezer and bringing out a piece of meat that could feed us for a month. I panicked. 'Soltanto uno kilogrammi per favore', I said. What I hadn't realised was that the butcher wanted to share the joy of this wonderful piece of meat with me in all its freshness and beauty. He even asked me behind the counter so that I could watch him tie it before he cut our piece off.

I shared his joy.

For my whole life people have been talking about 'community' and I've never really understood what it meant, much less appreciated it.

Now I think I'm starting to understand...even if it does involve stalking...

12 November 2009

Water Wonderful Water

For those of you who have followed our progress since we purchased 'Casa Tranquilla', you will already be more than familiar with our water challenges to date.

And, not to disappoint (lest we take the clear liquid for granted!) we had yet more water challenges this week.

On Saturday, water was pouring in a rather torrential way from the skies but we couldn't coax even a drop from our taps.

So we did the usual thing and panicked that the well had run dry, then phoned our geometra, who promised to get someone to look at it 'probably on Monday'.

It was Saturday. We had a friend from Australia staying with us. We had no water. The situation was more than a little frustrating, not to mention embarrassing.

Faced with the dismal prospect that we would have to drink, cook and wash in bottled water for 3 days at least, a generally gloomy atmosphere settled over our little rustico.

Finally, the most optimist one amongst us (who also happened to be the only male), encouraged a better atmosphere by suggesting that we go out for a coffee. And to buy copious amounts of water. And to go to the toilet.

So we headed off to the supermarket where we browsed the shelves, not seeing anything. The females of the party were distracted with thoughts of how long they could go without washing their hair. At what point would it stick up obscenely from the tops of their heads? At what point would it become plastered to their scalps? There were also thoughts related to community health. At what point would the toilet fill with obscene stenches? How long would it take for multiple deposits of excrement to back up?

The coffee helped. At least temporarily.

On Monday, the females donned hats and took a trip to Torino, while the male worked with the plumber for 3 hours until clear gold poured from our taps.

All in all, we coped reasonably well...but I certainly have a new respect for the person who invented buckets.

p.s. As I write this, something 'different' has happened in our water situation. We have supplies of hot water that last 1 minute only...but I guess that's another story...stay tuned!

06 November 2009

Finding Fuel between Torino & Canell

As the title of this post suggests, we had a bit of a scare last night. Sadly, this is a scare that we tend to challenge ourselves with on an annual basis. Last time it happened we were travelling north towards the Gotthard tunnel when the low petrol indicator came on and there were no re-fuelling stops for 30 kilometres. If I want to be entirely honest, I've been running out of petrol since I got my licence. Just ask Dad.

So last night, we had travelled to Torino to collect an Aussie friend from the railway station.

On the way back, at about 10.30pm, the car was bubbling along to the joyful noises of shared memories and new stories.

So it was easy to understand how we could forget to look at the petrol gauge until a certain little yellow indicator was flashing.

'How long has that been on?', I asked Stu.

'Not long. It just came on', he replied. I looked across at him. He was biting his nails. I suspected the light had been on for longer than was suggested in the Suzuki owners manual.

Conversation in the car dried up. We became 3 people living their individual fears of being stranded on a highway with a dehydrated vehicle. Although we weren't to find out until after the trauma had passed, each had decided on a separate course of action that should be taken were our car to choke, tremble and dwindle to a stop before we came upon a petrol station. Maria had decided to walk to the closest farm and knock on their door, Stu had decided to walk 50km to Canelli, collect his HD and ride it (illegally) back to collect us one by one. I had decided to sit on the side of the road and cry. Maria was practical, Stu was illegal, I was tragic. Typical.

After about 25km we knew we were getting desperate when suddenly the warm and welcoming lights of a servo appeared in the distance just off the highway. Stu made a sudden exit and we soon found ourselves parked at a fuel pump.

Conversation bubbled again as we piled out of the car armed with our wallets and our intelligence. The place was unmanned but we lived in hope of technology allowing us to do something 'automatic'.

We stood at the machine, fumbled with the place where you insert money, poked at the place where you insert plastic cards, then pushed another few buttons, grasped the pump and squeezed the trigger. Niente. We read the instructions and tried again. Niente.

We were starting to become morbid again when a car pulled up. A small dented farm vehicle. It contained a middle aged man who looked like he'd worked for too many years. We asked him for help. He took our EUR 20 and pushed it into the machine. The machine spat it out. He did it again. It spat it out. He took out his own wallet and pushed his own EUR 20 in the machine. The machine spat it out. He did it again. It swallowed.

After a few other tweaks of the pump and the trigger, we could hear the pump build pressure as the fuel line filled.

Relief would be an understatement.

04 November 2009

The Canelli Market

Today we woke at 8am, had a slow breakfast of fried egg and mushroom, cloaked ourselves with every bit of warm clothing we have and set off to walk into Canelli markets, which are held every Wednesday and Friday.

Unfortunately, it seems that the Canelli markets are NOT held on Wednesdays.

Not wanting the neighbours to see us returning so soon after we left, we wandered around town for a while, dropped into the bank to collect our new credit cards and spent an hour at the post office to post a letter. Yes, you read it correctly. The post office is probably the biggest time-wasting and patience-building exercise in Canelli. We haven't figured it out yet but it seems that everyone goes there to have a chat. We have adopted the attitude of the locals, which is to listen to everyone else's conversations while you wait to have yours. Unfortunately, my conversation is considerably shorter than the locals...

When we returned home, I warmed up some leftover pumpkin soup for lunch, then wasted the afternoon.

I say wasted because I really have no idea how I spent my time, only that it appeared to go very quickly. I would like to say 'I wrote a chapter of my book this afternoon' or 'I made 6 loaves of bread that all rose perfectly', etc. But unfortunately, the dreamer in me doesn't permit such achievements.

If I think REALLY hard, I could come up with a few things. For example, I searched in the removalists boxes. Again. On an inefficiently frequent basis, I recall various objects that I used in an earlier life. There follows the realisation that I simply cannot live without them in this life. So off I go to the house to rummage through the removalists boxes that are piled high in one room and contain all the things that I will no doubt recall in the future. Probably one by one.

So I guess it would be fair to say that I wasted the afternoon with my head buried in cardboard boxes, although it doesn't quite have the same ring to it as 'I wrote a chapter of my book'.

Of course, I guess it would be even fairer to say that I wasted the entire day...

02 November 2009

Man-Eating Reptile

You know you're an Australian when you see a black reptile with yellow spots in your garden and freak in the expert knowledge that it simply must be deadly poisonous.

This is what happened to me today.

All day I've been admiring how quickly Autumn is turning the leaves. We haven't experienced Piemonte in this season before and we are simply overcome with the beauty of the colours.

Unfortunately, Autumn also brings days of fog and rain and today was one of those days.

This afternoon, I was walking from the laundry to the boiler room (to hang up our washing), generally dreaming and minding my own business, when my eyes rested on a black and yellow leaf.

But this 'leaf' was not like the other leaves. It was too shiny, too perfect, too bright. I kept looking at it and within seconds I had decided that it was a snake. I leaned closer to see if it had legs. It did. Thankfully.

I called Stu over. He had been loading wood into the boiler room fire box to create the hot water to heat our radiators (and dry our washing). He marvelled at the 'leaf' for a few short seconds before he also panicked that it was a snake. I told him to calm down. It had legs.

While Stu watched it, I dashed over to the rustico to get the camera and was able to take a few photos as it laboured slowly up our embankment and under our pizza oven.

As you can imagine, one of my main priorities this evening was to identify what manner of deadly animal we now needed to brace ourselves against! Apparently our 'leaf' (also known as 'snake') is a Fire Salamander, a harmless lizard common in European woodlands. It is mostly active at night but also on rainy days, it can live up to 50 years and needs small clean brooks in order to survive and breed.

We had always hoped that the environment in our little valley was clean and pure. We already knew that the lichen growing on our trees indicated good air quality. But the discovery of this little reptile and the fact that it needs a healthy environment to thrive now confirms our hopes...

01 November 2009

The Garden starts with the Wine Barrel

'Every garden needs a wine barrel' may seem a wild generalisation but it certainly seems that our wine barrel has been the catalyst to imagineering our garden!

A few months ago, long before we moved here, Stu decided that the grey stones of the house and the grey stones of the courtyard paving and the grey stones of the gravelled driveway were a little too...well...'grey'. He was inspired to 'green up and soften the place'.

For a man who consistently says he has no imagination, he really does have a knack of 'seeing' possibilities when it comes to a property. Indeed, in an effort to redefine himself, he has taken to calling himself a 'property developer', which isn't too far from the truth: noone needs to know that he is only developing ONE property...

Anyway, Stu's garden inspiration has recently been pulling his attention away from our relationship. In the early morning, he has been sneaking outside to make plans without me, to measure spaces and lay string lines to define borders and claim areas. Later, after I have risen, we hide behind walls, creep around corners and steal each other's gardening tools...It could be said that we have drifted apart in our attempts to define our garden.

Our relationship improved only after we'd positioned the wine barrel. On that day, it had all become clear: we knew what had to be done and what had to go where.

Ever since, we've been out in the stones, dirt and dust of our 'construction site' surroundings, building our garden like a couple of cloned Don Burkes!

This morning, we lingered at the kitchen table reading gardening books and establishing a planting and harvesting calendar.

This afteroon, we were out 'on location'. Stu continued on his stone wall while I moved 12 wheelbarrow loads of bedding sand from our future vege patch to our future reduced driveway.

Meanwhile, our barrel oversees the progress of our garden...and the improvement of our relationship...

31 October 2009

Reflections on Fire

I've been contemplating our fire today.

When we first moved here, we had a fire in our cosy every night. I used to worry that everything I owned would very quickly smell like wood smoke. I had visions of all my beautiful Zurich clothing going rank in the odour of fire.

Today I realised with a little surprise that the fire makes me happy.

It was a cold morning and, since I don't feel too well (flu), I decided to stay inside and restore a little cupboard. To provide a bit of comfort in my misery, Stu started the fire and soon the little rustico was warm.

While I was sanding and painting, the fire was crackling and whirring away and generally doing what it's designed to do. That is, until I got distracted with my painting and sanding and let it die out...several times...

Sometimes at night the fire emits a strange noise and I worry what's it's up to. The other night there was a terrible whistle from the flue and Stu and I looked at each other. I wondered if an animal had fallen down the flue. Stu wondered if white ants squealed when they were being burned.

Noises aside, one thing is certain: I no longer worry about the smell.

Mind you, I suspect this may be because I myself now smell like the fire...!

29 October 2009

Staying Positive

I am still remaining positive, despite the fact that I can't eat any food.

Yes, you read it correctly. I can't eat.

Let me explain. I told you a few days ago that I baked this week for the first time since I've been here. Well, that joyful experience of baking lead onto bigger and better things and yesterday I found myself making a chicken casserole in my slow cooker. So, I hear you say, what has this got to do with not being able to eat? Well, the casserole smelled so good and I was so famished from my day of weeding that I tucked into it a little too quickly and burnt the roof of my mouth!

So now I can't eat...

But there are other problems too.

Stu can't walk.

Let me explain. He was a little too over zealous constructing his stone wall yesterday. To place the stones properly and securely in the soil and gravel, he decided he would kick them into place. Well, he kicked a little too vigorously and bruised his foot.

And now he can't walk...

However, aside from my food problem and Stu's foot problem, all is well.

Yesterday, before these misfortunes befell us, we were able to achieve great things in the garden. I told you a while ago that I was cleaning out the garage? Well, one of the things in the garage that needed to be removed was an old wine barrel and we had already found a place for it. The Pomegranate tree that had recently died had been growing out of a circle of cemented stones about 1 foot high at the start of our driveway. This circle of stones would be a perfect base for the wine barrel, where it could frame the beginning of our garden.

So we cut down the tree, axed the remaining trunk, made firewood, made kindling, levelled the stones in the circle, poured sand inside the circle and bored holes in the bottom of the barrel. And yesterday, finally, we were ready to 'roll out the barrel' as they say!

So, with great concentration, Stu tilted the barrel until it rested on its centre of balance, then he carefully rolled it out of the garage and across our gravel driveway to its new home. Once we positioned it, we were impressed by the character that it added to the place, so much so that we then did 2 hours of gardening around it to do it justice!

Since we are not (yet?) making wine, we had some initial concerns that our barrel made us look like 'pretender foreigners' in this very farming-authentic region. However, after much soul-searching, we have been able to convince ourselves that (since grappa-making is part of the history of this property) it is acceptable for us to have a barrel in our garden.

And even if I can't eat and Stu can't walk, we can still be proud of our barrel...

28 October 2009


In a couple of days, we will have been here 4 weeks.

During this time, I have learned a lot about myself. Just when I thought I was at an age when I knew everything (at least about myself!), I've discovered that I'm not particularly self-motivated (I spend more time dreaming and imagining what this place could be like than actually doing anything!), I'm stubborn beyond my wildest dreams (I spent a full hour yesterday fighting a particularly prickly weed that left thorns in my gardening gloves!) and I'm most definitely a team member (I work best when Stu and I are working together!)

Also, I get so distracted here...I have trouble sticking to one job because I see other things that I'd like to do. This drives Stu crazy. He's the lucky one who looks at the tools and things that I leave all over the place as I jump from one job to another and never finish or tidy up.

Along with these self-discoveries, I've learned about personal achievement. For example, I feel great personal achievement when I grub my garden and when I make kindling. Yesterday I spent 2 hours breaking small branches into kindling and proudly stood over my bulging cardboard box, comfortable in the knowledge that I'd spent valuable hours of my life in this mundane activity. Yes, I know...it's tragic that I have come to this. My global career has been reduced to pulling weeds and breaking branches... :-)

I have also learned about appreciating simple pleasures. For example, I used to take cafes and bakeries for granted, dropping in for some little delight on a very regular basis. Now I have 'big days out' in town every 2-3 days, when the joy of having a cafe lungo and a crema pasticceria is completely beyond belief!

So, I hear you say, why should my readers be interested in my self-discoveries?

They don't need to be. I'm sharing them because they are enlightening for me and may help to explain the anticipated unbounded joy of my future posts. For the first time today I've felt at home here. I'm not sure if I would actually call it 'home' yet but I certainly feel comfortable.

I think it's 'right' that I'm here doing what I'm doing...even if I do dream about it a little too much...

26 October 2009

Goodbye Fruit Tree, Hello Firewood

Today I woke with a sore back, so I was having a slow morning wondering what to do and waiting for writing inspiration when I remembered my new oven! I dashed upstairs to the lounge where I found my trusty Edmonds cookbook waiting for me on the bookcase. I found a nice easy chocolate cake recipe, one that I'd previously marked 'lovely but not dark'. The cookbook and I went back downstairs where I made the chocolate cake mixture and put it into muffin tins. So I guess I made chocolate muffins.

Stuart has been losing weight at the rate of a chronic anorexic so I need to feed him more. My baking should do the trick. We've also upped our carb intake something amazing. If we were working in an office now, we'd both be dangerously obese!

Then I decided to clean. Yes, tragically, cleaning appears to be my new pasttime. Cleaning is not something I've been very good at to date (just ask Stu) but apparently it is one of the critical tasks associated with renovating a house. Why didn't anyone tell me this before!? Renovation cleaning means removing construction detritus and cobwebs and sweeping tonnes of cement dust.

Last week, I cleaned the main bedroom and the ensuite bathroom. Among the detritus I found two grotty t-shirts which I can only assume belonged to a previous renovator, several strange circular metal contraptions and many fluffy pieces of decomposed insulation batt (used to seal the gappy door).

Today I cleaned the smoke house (the room where long dead owners used to smoke their salamis and which will be our lounge) and the dining room. The smoke house requires the most work of all the rooms so we have decided to use it as a construction storage room while we do the rest of the house.

Just before lunch, Stu sought me out to talk about our fireplaces. He had found a brochure on fireplaces and wanted to identify the types of fireplaces we have and how to use them. In one of them we found an ashtray full of water which had leaked and rusted its marble front. I guess it's never too late to correct problems during a renovation. And I guess you've always got to expect surprises. Yesterday, we found a hole in the cement casing of our stormwater tank and had to do some quick repairs (but that's another story...).

After lunch, Stu started up the chain saw in preparation for another afternoon of firewood cutting. We have an incredible amount of wood lying around the place which just needs to be cut to fit our fire places. The benefits of cutting are two-fold: we get firewood but we also tidy up the place. The pile we cut today was in the garage so we are getting nearer and nearer to parking our car in a covered area!

We have a good system. Stu cuts while I feed logs into him, pick up the bits, throw them onto the wheelbarrow and transfer them to the woodpile.

After 3 hours of cutting, we finally agreed to stop.

Unfortunately, we always have trouble stopping and the next thing I knew Stu had wandered over to a tree and started to cut it down!

This tree had been dead since last winter when it had perished in the severe frosts and minus 10 degree temperatures. We had been eyeing it off for some time because it stood at the beginning of our garden and we wanted to replace it with a wine barrel in which we would grow strawberries next Spring/Summer.

So we spent another hour cutting and making firewood and kindling from this tree before finally calling it a day.

This once beautiful fruit tree, a pomegranate, had been adored by the previous owner and our neighbour. Now it seems Summer 2008's fruit tree will be Winter 2009's firewood...

25 October 2009

The Big Day Out

Yesterday we forced ourselves to take a day off...

The sun was shining for the first time in 3 days so we decided to wander into town and investigate all the little shops.

Always considering Siesta, we headed off at 10am, which meant that we would get 2.5 hours of viewing in before they all closed on us.

First we found a little salumeria just around the corner from the end of our strada, where we looked at dozens of fat salami hanging on hooks from the ceiling.

Then we found a little Carni spesa (meat shop = butcher) a little further along the street. I went in to talk to the older couple behind the counter. Thankfully there were no other clienti in the shop so I was willing to share my Italian with them. I told them I had been living here for 3 weeks and I was from Australia; they told me all their relatives were living in Perth! They gave me a quick lesson on present and past tense related to eating marrone (chestnuts) which was really valuable and I told them that I would return to buy meat and cheese often. Stuart stayed outside, worried that they might try to communicate with him too..

Then we wandered into and out of several other small alimentari (grocery) shops. I'm not sure how they make money because there are heaps of them (4-5 between our place and the Canelli train station!) and each of them is only the size of a single garage!

Then we dropped into church (Sacred Heart) to see what times Mass is on Sundays before we continued into town, buying a cannoli at a pane shop and a coffee at a pasticceria.

The tourist bureau told us that the Tartufi festival on 8th Nov is held in Gancia's (Canelli's main wine maker's) premises and they have truffle dog displays and run buses to take people out to typical truffle areas to hunt...sounds like fun! And I'm sure Gancia will put on a few free drinks...hopefully!

This got us thinking about food and wine so we found it easy to talk ourselves into eating out for lunch. This was our first meal out since we arrived 3.5 weeks ago so we made it a good one and went to the Enoteca, an underground cellar near the train station. There are several Enotecas in the area and these restaurants showcase the local wines on behalf of the growers so the alcohol is really cheap. We had a lovely 2 hour stay there, during which we had primi, secondi and dolce courses (as well as several 'gifts' from the chef) and vino rosso and moscato!

We then walked home, through our little dark valley and up to our little elevated spot where the sun always shines...

A truly beautiful day that gave real purpose to what we're doing here...

23 October 2009

A Cold Day

Yesterday we reached a top temperature of 8 degrees. A bit on the cold side so we had the fire going almost all day until we decided to get out and about during siesta (as usual). We wandered around the grocery shop, then the hardware shop (typical haunts) and had a coffee, then returned and waited for Lilo the plumber to come and connect the gas to the new kitchen.

Lilo's appointment was at 5pm so we were surprised when he arrived basically on time! He got to work immediately by extracting a huge drill from his van and proceeding to destroy our beautiful stone wall next to the kitchen. The drill he used was the largest drill I have ever seen (beyond serious underground mining drills!). It was probably 25mm in diameter and 1 metre long. He shuddered and shook for a full 15 mins before giving up and going to his van, where he extracted an even bigger drill. This one was 50mm in diameter and 1 metre long! He leaned and forced and finally managed to create a hole about the size of a man's head (!). I'm not sure why the hole ended up being this big but I suspect he misjudged the level at which he was attacking the 1 metre thick wall from both sides. He told me 'vuoi marito chiuso' (your husband can close that) and then asked me if I had a broom. As I stepped forward to do my thing (that is, clean up the mess after the tradie), my mouth dropped open at the quantity of cement and the huge rocks that had fallen out of the hole!

The rest of the story is fairly boring. He selected connectors and valves and welded different pipes together until finally after 2 hours his work was done.

Today we reached 16 degrees which was a pleasant change and we launched on the woodpile and the garage again.

Stuart split kindling while I removed bricks from the garage. The kindling pile is now full and the garage is now empty (of bricks anyway).

We are pondering treating ourselves this weekend and going out for lunch or dinner! We promised we'd do this every week before we left work (we worked the cost into our budget) but it seems that our early enthusiasm and hyperactivity has got the better of us in our first 3 weeks here...

21 October 2009

Vodafone Italia

We had the trauma called 'Connecting the Phone' yesterday.

We had an appointment with Vodafone 'on site' (home) at 10am so we were up and having breakfast in our dressing gowns when a van pulled up at 9am. Yes, 9am. And yes, it was Vodafone.

After quickly flattening our wayward curls and throwing on the habitual trackie dacks we went out to meet them.

(Niente Inglese...)

We showed them what we believed was our telephone cable, which was a cable that attached itself to the second level of the house and then ran into a cable box and underground. We then showed them what we believed were 2 phone outlets inside the house. They huffed and walked away from these, which we think meant 'you are stupid' (the outlets turned out to be fans for the wood fires in the smoke house lounge and the kitchen). Then we found another cable box and twigged the cable in there and found that both cables that headed underground moved each other but neither appeared to be connected to anything else!

The Vodafone men seemed to be concerned that the cable might belong to the owner of the connected house but I assured him that the neighbour did not have a phone. I told them to cut the cable and redirect it into our rustico. Stuart asked me if I was sure of this. I said I was, but I wasn't. Stuart suggested I check with Renzo (neighbour) first. I said OK and got my mobile phone. I phoned Renzo. No answer. I went outside to the Vodafone men to ask them to wait before cutting the cable. I looked at 2 Vodafone men already holding a cut cable in their hands. Oops.

They busied themselves doing things that phone people do. Then they left, saying they would be back. We weren't sure if this would be in an hour, in the afternoon, this week or next month.

We waited.

Two hours later they returned. They did more things that phone people do then gave Stu a huge roll of cable and instructions in Italian. It seemed that the job of running the cable, drilling holes in the wall and connecting was much larger than their scope of work would allow. So they left and Stu stood there, with a roll of cable and a join in his hands.

A lot of work and 1 day later, we appear to be connected!

Unfortunately, our phone, which we purchased in Singapore in 2001, appears to have died so we're off today to buy a new one...