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...