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...