13 December 2010

Addendum to previous posting

This is to advise that a down and feather doona was purchased today...

There is hope...

10 December 2010

Sex has left the building

Our sex life has taken a dive...

It's decreased like the plummeting temperatures and almost disappeared like our flowering plants in the frost and snow...

It all started when I tossed and turned in bed one night because I was cold.

It didn't take me long to go looking for the cardboard storage box that contained 'bedding'. I pulled out a woollen blanket which I draped over our supposedly already warm woollen doona.

A few days later I found myself again tossing and turning.

I went back to the box and dragged out another woollen blanket and draped this one on top of the supposedly warm woollen doona and the other woollen blanket.

We were now weighed down by bedding and could barely turn in bed.

A few days later I reached into the never-opened 'third drawer'of my bedside cabinet and pulled out a set of old pyjamas. They were faded, stretched and buttoned to the neck.

Another few days and I had fluffy pink socks on.

Another few days and I'd stooped as low as I could get.

I went to the hat and scarf drawer and pulled out a beanie.

Yes, I'm embarrassed to say that I now wear a beanie in bed.

Any hopes of a recovery in our sex life were dashed this week when Stu told me he felt like he was sleeping with 'Dicky Knee'...

(For the non-Australians who read this Blog, Dicky Knee was a character on an Australian comedy show called Hey Hey it's Saturday which was broadcast during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Dicky Knee was simply a 'head on a stick' that wore a cap. He would appear suddenly throughout the show to hassle the compere. I guess when Stu looks at me in bed these days all he sees is a head with a beanie that may as well be attached to a stick under the sheets... ;-(

I've done it again...

I've done it again...

I told the curtain man who came to measure our windows that he shouldn't come in his truck because the road was 'not good'.

'Not good' was the best I could do because I didn't know the Italian words for 'cut up', 'ruined', 'stuffed' or 'muddy mess'.

Anyway, when he looked at me I saw the usual confused expression so I felt compelled to try to explain.

Unfortunately I got the words for 'truck' and 'chimney' confused and told him 'a chimney had driven up our road and made it not good'.

He still looked confused but at least I learned the word for mud out of this exchange (I spied a muddy puddle outside his shop and asked him what it was...)

22 November 2010

How to create panic in Italy...

I mentioned a while ago that I occasionally make mistakes in terms of my Italian.

My last reported mistake was getting the words for hornet (calabrone) and samples (cambione) confused and telling everyone that we had lots of samples at home.

Well, today I did it again.

For some time, we've been purchasing boxes of 'accendifuoco' for our fires. These are little tablets which are available in either a petrochemical or a natural form. We use the natural form which is made up of compressed sawdust. We use them to light our fires because paper burns too quickly. We put a tablet in the middle of the fireplace, build a little kindling tee-pee over the top of it and wait until the fire is strong enough to tackle wood.

Now, any half intelligent person learning Italian would observe that the word 'accendifuoco' is made up of two words: accendi (light) and fuoco (fire).

For months, I've been talking about cutting wood for our 'fuoco', lighting our 'fuoco', wanting a 'fuoco', etc.

Well, tonight when we arrived at our Italian lesson, our teachers asked us what we've been doing lately.

I proudly announced that we had installed a fire in our lounge.

They looked at each other and smiled, then one of them waved her arms in a rather erratic manner above her head and ran around in circles yelling 'Panico! Un fuoco!'

I looked at Stu. Stu looked at me. Clearly our teachers needed a break. We wondered when the next school holidays were.

After a few minutes, they'd calmed down enough to tell us that 'fuoco' was used in a panic situation when a fire had broken out. One of the teachers went over to the blackboard and drew a picture of a fireplace and called it a 'camino'.

So now I know.

I also know that it's far worse to be telling people you're responsible for a fire outbreak than telling them you've got lots of samples at home...

21 November 2010

Have basket, have mushrooms...

While other worlds are concerned about nothing but global warming, our Piemonte world also worries about the continuity of its funghi supply...

At all of the local markets in Autumn, there are bountiful supplies of wicker baskets for sale. I thought the locals were using them to decorate their homes for winter but I've since been told otherwise.

Apparently, in Piemonte it is illegal to collect mushrooms in anything other than wicker baskets.

The gaps in wicker baskets allow funghi spores from the mushrooms that have been collected to fall out and thus ensure regermination the following year.

It's a wonderful sight seeing the locals wandering about the fields in their autumn woollens, caps and gumboots and carrying wicker baskets.

It looks so pure and traditional...and somehow tied up in that purity and tradition is a deep respect for nature...

13 November 2010

The things some people will do for peace

We have a neighbour who lives about 500 metres from us.

We very infrequently come across him. In Spring, he tends to walk up the valley with an old camera to take photos of new growth but in the other seasons we don't see him at all.

During summer this year, we were driving up our driveway after a morning at the market.

We rounded a bend near our neighbour's house and were suddenly forced to brake in order to avoid hitting a naked man!

There was a difficult silence in the car as Stu wondered how to proceed and I 'took in the sights'.

Within seconds, the vision had smiled widely at us and was approaching the car.

It was only then that we recognised the naked man as our neighbour and saw that his most interesting parts were hidden by none other than a whipper snipper hanging diagonally across his body!

I felt like I was looking at a full size photo from a sexy men's calendar; one of those calendars that have photos of well-turned men holding various items of machinery to match their macho.

As he got closer, we saw a pair of loose and faded grey jocks behind the motor of the whipper snipper and were relieved to see that he wasn't entirely naked after all.

He explained with absolutely no embarrassment that he'd been cutting the overgrown driveway because he'd purchased a new car. Apparently the new car was fitted with instrumentation that beeped whenever anything got too close to it. It had been necessary for him to cut back any protruding and overhanging growth on the driveway in order to get his car home in silence.

When he next drove home in peace, I wondered if he would consider the disturbance his state of undress had caused us?

To dog or not to dog...

About once a week, usually on a Friday morning, we find a small red Fiat parked just outside our barrier.

We usually find it when we're leaving home to drive to Acqui Terme to share a coffee with our ex-pat English-speaking friends.

An old man stands beside the car leaning on an open door or sits inside the car huddled in several layers of clothing. When he tries to move, he is slow and stiff. It's as if he's been frozen for some time and is just beginning to learn to move again. We suspect he suffers from arthritis and that his joints seize in the damp and cold of our Piemontese Autumns.

We don't know why he comes or what he is doing here.

Although we always say hello to him and sometimes even extend ourselves to commenting on the weather, we suspect he speaks Piemontese dialect because we can't understand much of what he says back to us.

One week, I asked him what he was doing here. I suspected he was collecting mushrooms.

To our surprise, he said he was collecting 'tartufo' (truffles)!

We had never suspected that our humble little valley could be a source of these precious little treasures. There is considerable income to be had from truffles. Italians all over Piemonte have dogs that are trained to help them find them. Foodies all over the world pay unreasonable amounts just to have a few meagre slices of these pungent little earthy lumps shaved over their meals.

The concept of income is interesting to us. For the following week, we find ourselves contemplating the purchase of a truffle dog. We look with uncharacteristic interest at all types of hunting dogs.

However, it only takes us a few days to realise that we don't want to be professional 'dog-poo-picker-uppers' so we decide to leave the truffle hunting in our valley to the old man.

We still wonder how his poor old body allows him to find and pick the truffles...but I guess the mysterious tradition and the immense value of a tartufo is enough inspiration for him...

12 November 2010

It's a rather strange colour I've chosen...

When we first moved here, we attempted to name each of the 14 rooms in the house and rustico.

We had several obvious bedrooms and bathrooms. We quickly identified what would logically be the kitchen and dining room. After several tours through the house, we eventually found the room that was to be the laundry. It lay in the bowels of the house, surrounded by several other rooms and several layers of stone walling.

This left only two rooms upstairs that we couldn't easily classify.

At first we called the smaller walk-through room the 'library' because we thought it would be a good location for bookcases. We called the other much larger room with a loft the 'gallery' because we thought it would offer the biggest and widest walls on which to hang artwork.

After focusing on the renovation of the bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen and dining room over summer, we'd only recently moved our focus to these two rooms. As the weather cooled and we found ourselves still watching television, talking on the phone and accessing internet in the unheated and uninsulated rustico, finding a room in the house in which to do all these things became increasingly important.

So we launched on the larger room with a loft. As we got to know this room, we realised that the inbuilt hutches with shelves that already existed on two walls would be better served as bookcases. So after Stu installed several more shelves in these spaces, we soon renamed the room the 'library'.

Since the room now had an image to uphold, I set about painting the walls.

I had visions of the 'library' being the most peaceful room in the house. I wanted it to be trendy and stylish and decided to paint two walls one colour and two walls another colour. The colours I chose had to work with the stone walls and the wooden ceiling but also create a relaxing mood.

At the hardware shop the following day, I chose a sort of tea and a sort of coffee. I bought only small tins of these specially mixed colours. With the benefit of hindsight, I now know that this was probably an indication of the confidence I had in my colour choices.

When I got home, I launched at the walls with great enthusiasm with my hairless brush and my hairy roller. My painting instruments had seen better days.

My first colour was perfect. The tea put a lovely warm tinge on the walls, blending with the grey stone walls and bringing the room together.

My second colour was horrific. I piled the coffee on the walls, hoping that with varying thicknesses it might appear less 'orange'. I even pretended I liked it for the rest of the day. When the next day proved that the colour was definitely 'orange' and didn't offer enough contrast to the other colour I decided to take remedial action.

I returned to the hardware shop, adamant that I would select a better colour to go with the perfect colour I had already bought. I was thinking 'taupe' or 'chocolate'...one of those trendy colours that other people seem to choose easily.

I bought a small tin of a brownish colour and painted a line on the wall where this colour would meet the other colour. It was perfect.

The next day I painted the remaining walls with my new colour.

While not exactly the 'taupe' or 'chocolate' I had hoped for, the strange rusty depth of this colour is tolerable...at least it will be, after we cover most of it up with paintings and artwork!

12 October 2010

You're never really sure...

During summer, I learned that Italian tradespeople are especially wary of hornets.

Having never lived with hornets, we must be rather ignorant of them because we simply do what we have to do around the place and ignore them. There are also wasps. Compared to the insects and bugs in Australia, these are almost friendly.

So, in our ignorance, we've had a blissful summer surrounded by stinging insects.

One day, after a particularly aggressive thunderstorm, we noticed that our phone and internet had died. We called Telecom Italia, who sent a man out to check our lines. He was in his 50's and loved listening to our dodgey Italian. At one stage, he got particularly animated, pointed to his arm (which appeared swollen) and hit himself with a pointed finger! He kept repeating 'Non bene!'. We had no idea what had come over him but attempted to smile and frown at the right times.

After he'd left, I launched at the dictionary to look up the word he'd used during his remonstrations: 'calabrone'.

It meant hornet.

The next Italian tradesperson who came had a similar reaction to hornets. He was the muratore and we'd called him about the leaks in the roof of the house. He'd come out to the house, taken a quick look around, pointed out several hornets nests in the eaves, told us lots of horror stories about hornets, then said that nothing could be done about the roof until the hornets breeding season had finished after September.

For the rest of summer, I proudly made conversation with all and sundry, telling them that we had lots of hornets at our house. Unfortunately, at some stage I'd forgotton the correct word for hornet and had replaced it with another word that I must have heard somewhere else: 'cambione'.

The people I talked to looked rather confused at my proud statements and I assumed this was because Italians normally wouldn't be proud of having hornets. I didn't care. I was simply proud that I knew the word for hornet. At least I thought I did.

When we re-commenced our Italian lessons after a very long summer school holiday period, I took the opportunity to show off my new word to our Italian teacher.

She also looked confused.

I stuck my arm out and made a buzzing sound and 'stung' my own arm with my forefinger.

She looked askance and sought the assistance of another teacher.

After a short exchange, our teacher explained that a 'cambione' was a sample. A 'calabrone' was a hornet.

I was so embarrassed.

All summer, I'd been telling anyone who'd listen that we had 'lots of samples at home'.

Goodness knows what they must have thought. At the bare minimum they must have wondered what sort of business we were in...

28 September 2010

Poo trauma (again)...

It seems that we've had some septic problems again...

As always, we try to save our septic traumas for visitors and we're proud to say that we didn't let our current visitors down!

The lucky first visitor was Maria, who arrived in October/November 2009, all smiles and joy, enthusiastic about her stay. Within a few hours, we'd realised that we had no hot water, then no water at all, then a blocked septic system (read no sink/shower/toilet)! Maria kindly braved the week with us as we made regular visits to the local shopping centre toilets with increasingly oily hair and washed ourselves in bottled water.

This month, we saved the experience for Stu's sister Cheryl and her husband Ross. Luckily, we'd at least progressed to having the rustico toilet and shower available. Unfortunately, we now sleep in the house, which meant that our nightly visits to the toilet entailed stumbling down the stairs in the house, unlocking the front door, turning on the outside light, walking across the pergola to the rustico, opening the rustico door. One eventually found oneself in a position to be relieved but substantially more awake than is normally desired at that time of night.

We'd like to ask all future visitors to let us know the dates of their stays 6-12 months ahead of time so that we can be sure to clog our septic system and/or break pipes (whatever is necessary) in order to offer them similar fun...

13 September 2010

Tripping over each other and losing tools

For the 25 years that I'd been employed, one of the key issues at work had always been 'roles and responsibilities'.

I had appreciated the need for these to be clear for the purpose of efficiency and ownership in a work environment.

However, in our new 'unemployed' existence, I had to re-learn this lesson.

We'd been restoring the house for a full six months. We had largely shared roles because we believed this would relieve one person from being stuck with an 'ugly' task and it would also give us variety.

However, we weren't terribly efficient. We would get stuck under each other's feet, we would make more mess and we would lose more tools. We would feel we had the right to comment on each other's standards (usually negative). We would have a limited sense of urgency, no flow and no ownership of any task.

So about a month ago, we settled into jobs that suited each of us. There was no formal discussion and separation of tasks. It just seemed to happen.

Stu is responsible for bricking, plastering, carpentry, electrical and plumbing.

I am responsible for pointing, grouting, restoring, painting and decorating.

Our new 'roles' have eased our communication, made us more efficient and given us a new sense of ownership in terms of the restoration.

All those years at work were not wasted after all...!

On being grateful for each other

One of us (who shall remain unnamed) locked HIMself in the lower bathroom in the house this week.

While he was engaged in this pointless activity, I was cooking in the rustico. I was making two Christmas cakes and a Thai curry. Making my Christmas cake in September allows the fruit to vintage nicely before 25th December. The Thai curry was for a curry luncheon at a friend's house that day.

I had been at my cooking since 7.00am because the cake needed four hours to cook and we would need to leave at 11.30am for the luncheon.

At mid morning we had agreed to have our work finished by 11.00am to allow us to shower and prepare for the luncheon.

As usual, I was a little behind time so it wasn't until 11.15am that I looked at the clock and wondered why Stu hadn't come over from the house.

As I approached the house to investigate, I heard screams of the 'Catherine!' nature. They were pleading, desperate and very loud.

In his haste to re-hang the bathroom door which I had carefully restored, he had taken it from my 'paint workshop', secreted it to the bathroom, gently encouraged it onto its hinges and carefully closed it to check the fit to his frame.

Everything was perfect. It swung on its hinges perfectly. It closed perfectly. The room was warm and draught proof.

When he'd satisfied himself that yet another job had been done well, he had reached forward to open the door.

It was then that he'd realised the door wouldn't open.

When I finally found him in the bathroom, I received a volley of abuse because I hadn't heard him earlier through the six four-foot stone walls that separated us.

I wondered about his mental state. Surely, one should be grateful for a saviour, someone who frees one in times of entrapment. I walked away to allow him to 'get' the concept of gratitude. When I returned 3 minutes later, he was decidedly more humble.

He asked me to force the door. I felt like a cast member from a television police drama as I ran and crashed my whole body into the door.

It didn't budge.

I got a hammer from the toolbox and hammered around the lock where it seemed to be most stuck.

It didn't budge.

Eventually, we realised that the door latch had slipped into it's closed position and all we needed was the handle to open it. The handle was still in my 'paint workshop' so I dashed upstairs to get it. When I slid the smooth metal rod of the handle assembly into the hole in the door, it opened easily.


20 August 2010

The European summer holiday can be so annoying

Scuola vacanza. Ferragosto. Call it what you will. You'd think we'd be familiar with Europe's penchant for it's summer holidays by now, after working in procurement year after year and having trouble every August because 'Europe alla vacanza!'

But we weren't ready and that's all there is to it.

At the beginning of June, we were happily attending our Italian classes when we noticed at the end of class one day that there was more joy than normal. The six students were wishing each other 'Buona Vacanza!'. Never really sure of what is going on around us, we assumed that one of the students was going on holidays. We also wished her a 'Buona Vacanza!'.

The following week, we turned up for our Italian lessons only to find that the shutters on the school windows were closed. We rang the front door bell. No answer. We loitered around for about half an hour wondering if the teachers were late. We even forced ourselves to have coffee at our favourite cafe to pass time until the teachers arrived. About an hour later, there had still been no 'movement at the station' as Banjo would say. We went home.

The next day, we lined up outside the school again at our allotted lesson time. Nothing. We went home.

Because we are commited to our Italian lessons, this went on for about 2 weeks before we decided we should be a bit more professional about this business called 'holidays'. We should find out when the Italian school holidays are and put an end to this weekly waiting outside the school like a couple of bitter parents planning to kidnap their respective children.

To our surprise, we found that the European summer school holidays are very long. Where Australians think of the long holiday as 'Christmas holidays', Europeans think of them as 'Summer holidays' and the short break at Christmas as 'Christmas holidays'. Hence our confusion. We simply didn't 'get' that it's all about Summer, not Christmas!

Our realisation about holidays occurred at the end of June. It is now mid August and the holidays aren't over until mid September...

In the meantime, work on the house is continuing but our Italian is deteriorating!

Tradespeople everywhere!

Since commiting to our kitchen, we've been busy trying to get the necessary connections into the space ready for its arrival at the end of September.

There were already hot and cold water connections, waste connections and electrical outlets but they needed to be redirected into the middle of the room where the island would be. We also needed a gas connection. All of this work meant that we needed a plumber/gas fitter and an electrician.

Add to this a carpenter (because we wanted two new glass doors for the kitchen and dining room entries as well as a new window for the kitchen) and a muratore (because we needed to do some serious stone walling in order to make the space for the window) and you start to get a feel for our penchant for multiple tradespeople. By way of explanation regarding the window, previous owners had bricked in a space in the kitchen wall which was once the original front door. This bricked in wall was a blight on the beauty of the rest of the house because it was orange brick as opposed to grey stone. We'd always dreamed of correcting the brick with stone and restoring the house to its original state but thought that such a drastic change would be impossible or cost prohibitive. Faced with one last chance to make such a change, we agreed to obtain a cost for the work and make a decision based on that.

So all of this required activity and dreamed of activity meant that we needed to engage and coordinate quite a few tradespeople, including a carpenter, a muratore, a plumber and an electrician.

First to visit was the carpenter, who provided us with a quote for the new double glazed window that we hoped could go in the kitchen wall. Bepe is about 40 years old. He is short. Very short. When we first met him, he told us that he was from Calabria. Since then, he has made two external double glazed doors for us. Bepe is an artisan. He is a simply beautiful carpenter. His workshop is an artisan's dream, huge beams of old oak and walnut reach from ground to ceiling against one wall. There are several sets of old lourvres in the process of being restored in another corner. There are countless door frames and windows in various stages of production. There is also a very small dog who caused my heart to suffer irreparable damage when I walked into the workshop and surprised him on our first visit. Bepe said he would coordinate with the muratore regarding the creation of a hole in the wall for the window installation and the re-stoning afterwards.

Next to visit was the muratore. Aldo is about 60 years old. He has a bad back, probably from lugging stones around for all of his 40 years in the trade. He looked at the stone wall like only a muratore can and finally announced that it was possible to insert a window. He asked us if we had spare stones so we took him to our little stockpile of stones that we've dug up from the garden and other places. He was relieved, explaining that stones are very difficult to get these days. He even told us that building the stone shell of our house in current times would cost around EUR 200,000! He provided us with a quote for our relatively minor work (by comparison) and we gave him the go ahead, confident that he and Bepe would coordinate the work.

Next to visit was the plumber. Lilo has helped us since our early traumas with water and sewerage. He is about 35 years old and a marathon runner. Because the phone makes me nervous, I prefer to send Lilo text messages on his mobile. They usually start with 'Ciao Lilo, sono Caterina, abbiamo uno problemo...' which you might think would scare him away. Despite this method of communication being a bit too intimate, he always responds immediately so it appears to work for us. In no time at all, we hear a disturbance in the valley and seconds later see a white van speeding up the driveway and sending gravel all over our paddocks. It screeches to a halt in front of the house and Lilo dives out of it. While he gives us a broad smile and a loud 'Buon Giorno' we appreciate his perfect teeth and curly dark Roman hair. He runs into the kitchen, we explain what needs to be done and he runs back to his van. Through the window we see him stumble on a wobbly rock in our uneven path along the front of the house. We watch as he loses control of his body and flails his arms and legs in an attempt to stay upright. We wait for him to fall, perhaps even slide under his vehicle. We worry that he has spained his ankle. But he dives up, throws his body into his van and emerges seconds later with various pieces of plumbing-related paraphenalia.

A few days later, we heard vehicles making their way up the valley and dashed outside just in time to see Bepe and Aldo pull up outside the house. Bepe had the window and Aldo had the tools. We oohed and aahed over Bepe's beautiful workmanship while Aldo took a jackhammer out of his truck. We offered to act as labourers for Aldo so when it started he didn't waste time asking us to cover the stone pile with a tarp. Apparently, the stones slide off the cement if they are wet which makes wall building difficult. Once the pile was covered, we returned with a wheelbarrow and spade to collect the rubble that Aldo was creating at alarming speed from the old bricked in wall. When he'd finished the demolition, he sent us off to the stone pile to find heaps of flat stones with at least one right angle for him. We dashed off and picked over the pile until we found several stones that roughly met his criteria. Then we wire brushed the dirt and mud off them before presenting them to Aldo. While we waited for his approval or rejection, we felt like new chefs in a Michelin Star restaurant! Before long Aldo had re-stoned the base of the wall up to the window. After Bepe fitted his window, Aldo finished off the wall work with plaster to match the other windows. In the afternoon, when the sun proved too umconfortable for him we rigged up a tarp to provide some shade. We also gave him water and an icecream. He was a perfectionist and his wall was perfect and strong. He had built the external wall first, then the internal wall, then filled the gap between the two walls with cement and brutto (ugly) stones. This meant that the wall was almost three stones thick!

Next to visit was the electrician. Paolo is an enthusiastic 69 year old who is third generation Piemontese. He has an open face that draws you to him. He is a gentle and endlessly happy man who likes to talk. His patience with my Italian is momentous and he goes to great lengths to help me conjugate my verbs. He even introduced me to the Piemontese dialect which I managed to reject immediately. If I get distracted with another 'language' my 'pure' Italian (which is already horrific) will go to pot! Paolo arrived with a helper. The helper did all the work, while Paolo dashed off to buy bits and pieces, have long lunches and even attend his friend's father's funeral! The helper was the slowest worker we have ever seen. He had to run two cables across to the island, drill three holes in a stone wall for new powerpoints, pull cable to and through the holes, move a light switch and wire up the fan for the fireplace. It took him two full days.

I love these visits from tradepeople. Much talking goes on. Much more pointing and postulating goes on. There is a real feel that they want you to be happy with the job and that they want to do the right thing by our old rustic house. It is as if they feel a responsibility towards history. Italians don't preserve history in order to look at it from afar; they live in it.

Having said all that, we do try to minimise our use of tradespeople in order to keep costs down. Managing funds is a constant challenge for us and spending it when we don't have any income is even worse.

So we appreciated the electrician's view of the 'do and pay' relationship between tradesperson and customer.

When we offered to pay him immediately, he smiled and whispered 'Pagi a dopo...pagare e morire' ('pay later...to pay is to die')

What wonderful words of wisdom...but we're wondering exactly HOW MUCH later...our funds planning still needs to be done...

15 August 2010

The 'new kitchen' experience

We were at a stage in the house renovation where we needed a kitchen.

The kitchen 'space' is a square box with stone walls. However, all four stone walls are 'interrupted': a fireplace and radiator stand along one wall, two windows stand on another, there is a door on the third and another window on the fourth. As such, there is very little wall against which to actually place a kitchen.

Confident in the knowledge that kitchen shops are experts in such problems, we've been stalking several kitchen shops in the area over the last few months. This usually involves finding them, getting the gumption to stop outside then actually entering them, viewing the sample kitchens, then leaving before anyone can ask us questions. We'd done relatively well using this approach until we discovered the kitchen shop at Canelli. We were finally 'caught' at this shop. It happened too quickly for us; we hadn't even made it into the shop!

Fabrizio met us at the doorway with a loud 'Buongiorno!' and the smoke of his cigarette. He was in his 20's with very dark hair and very dark skin. He was very tall, very thin and very distracted. He lurched inside, turned the lights on in the showroom and watched our faces as we took in the initial view of several gleaming kitchens. Then he physically pulled us inside and started to demonstrate their features like a model on a game show. He opened every cupboard, moving it carefully and watching the hinges as they swung silently. Then he opened every drawer and turned to look at us to ensure that we noticed the smoothness of the runners. Then he played with every tap, turning them left and right. He even pulled one out of its casing so that we could fully appreciate its flexible hose. He ran his fingers along the stainless steel utensil rails revelling in the quality. Our smiles and our many 'Molto benes' caused him to beam with joy. I'm actually not sure who was more excited about the kitchens, the person selling them or the people buying them. Later we were to find out that his primary interest lay in details and beauty rather than the overall layout and other practicalities.

Then he waved his arms wildly which apparently meant that we should follow him. We soon found ourselves in his office. His gangly legs seemed to wave around dangerously as they lurched him towards the air conditioner which he turned on, and then the window which he closed. He then fell into his chair where we were relieved to see his appendages finally stilled. Not knowing exactly what we were getting ourselves in for, we watched him, perched on the edges of our fluorescent orange chairs. He opened his computer and waited. There was an awkward silence. Without enough Italian to make small talk, it was a very uncomfortably long wait. Was he opening his emails? Should we leave? Suddenly he burst into action and demanded measurements. A bit shocked, we told him we didn't have measurements; at this stage we just wanted to know about quality and approximate cost.

He sprung out of his chair and fell onto the door, opening it and again beckoning us outside with arms that looked like they would flail by themselves were they not attached to a body. Back in the showroom he walked us around the various kitchens again, this time providing approximate prices. I noticed his very long fingers lingered on certain elements of the kitchens, obviously his favourite pieces. We thanked him and told him we would think about the kitchens. On our way out he thrust a small piece of cardboard at us. 'Vieni!', he pleaded. The cardboard was an invitation to a special event that was to be held the following week. The business was launching a new cooker range. Guests would enjoy free wine from the region and free food cooked by a local Michelin Star chef.

Back in the car, we agreed that the kitchen prices were attractive. We also agreed that the event was attractive.

A few days later we found ourselves outside the showroom again, this time with a list of 'nice to haves' and several hand-drawn plans of our kitchen. I'd translated the 'nice to haves' into bad Italian. They included an island, a pull-out pantry and cupboards with wire shelving. The plans showed various views of the room: the first showed the walls, the second the arched ceilings and the third the wooden beams. Fabrizio's arms and legs were still worryingly active as he ushered us into his office. He took copies of the drawings, sat down, settled his limbs around his chair and opened his computer. Again, he waited for software to open, then he started to input all the dimensions on my plans. Slowly. Very slowly. After ten minutes, we realised that he intended to enter all of the dimensioms into his program then and there. Since he'd only got as far as half a wall in ten minutes we started to worry about the deep hole of silence and patience that stretched out in front of us. We suggested that we leave him to it and return that afternoon to see his design suggestions.

Five hours later we were sitting in Fabrizio's office, waiting for him to reveal his initial design.

We knew there was a problem because his arms and legs were considerably less animated.

'La cucina e molte difficile!', he announced, 'Molto problemo!'

'Si', we agreed.

We sat there, watching his face keenly for signs that something might be possible. Our faces must have inspired him to take further action because he suddenly beamed again, leaped out of his chair and bounded through the door. He returned with a short man in his 50's. This was apparently Giovanni, who we later discovered was Fabrizio's father. We watched Giovanni dither around the office for a while before he picked up my drawings and beckoned us to follow him. Like father, like son. We followed him out to the showroom but then found ourselves alone again except for a jittery Fabrizio who hovered around us playing with taps and cupboards. Eventually, Giovanni burst through the back of the building (via a door of course) with another man who we later discovered was his other son Luca. Giovanni beamed into our faces as the two of them walked past us and jumped into a car, where they started the engine and waited. We saw them peering into the showroom at us. We looked back at them, wondering where they were going. When Fabrizio mentioned that they were going to our place to measure our kitchen space, we realised that they were waiting to follow us home!

Aghast at the speed at which things were moving but feeling almost as enthusiastic as the locals we said goodbye to Fabrizio, who yelled 'Buongiornata!' at us through a fog of smoke, and jumped into our car.

There started a journey of two cars towards one home. The conversation in our car went something like 'How did this happen?' and 'Are we sure we're ready?' and 'How do we know they're the best/cheapest?'. The conversation in the other car probably went something like 'I hope they don't want it before the summer holidays' or 'Siesta's only an hour away' or 'Mama's made pasta for lunch'.

A few short minutes later, Giovanni was in our kitchen almost before we could open the door. Within minutes, Giovanni and Luca were deep in discussion regarding design alternatives and there were scotch tape lines all over our kitchen floor. I wondered how the tape was sticking to our dusty tiles and how long it would stay there. Then he grasped our wrists and took us for a journey around the imaginary pieces of kitchen. We liked it. Somehow, amidst many smiles, nods and grazies, we understood that Giovanni would give the design to Fabrizio who would enter it into his software and that we should return to the showroom to view the design within a few days.

We spent the next few days wandering around our scotch tape kitchen, considering possible enhancements. We also attended the special event, where we met two people who have since become our close friends (but that's another story...).

A few days later, we were in Fabrizio's office looking at our new kitchen in 3D. He had already built our enhancements into the design and we were in the process of signing a contract. We were immensely happy with the family and their business. We loved Fabrizio's enthusiasm, appreciated Giovanni's capability and felt secure in Luca's seriousness. We'd even met and adored Fabrizio's mother Philomena and we'd enjoyed the special event immensely.

We have a kitchen. Well, almost...

18 July 2010

Things are not always as they seem

Some people take their toilets for granted.

We've learned the hard way that one should never take for granted the fact that their excess waste can be swooshed away in one easy push of a button.

During some trauma with our sewerage system in December last year, we were obliged to get very close to the toilet in our Rustico. Now every time we flush we sing the praises of this toilet.

The renovation of the Main House is now at a stage where we needed to finish the bathrooms.

When we purchased the property, these bathrooms had all their fittings, including a clawfoot bath, sinks, showerheads and taps. Some of them were in their original cartons but all had been opened and there was evidence that they'd been the subject of some rummaging. We'd had a cursory glance in the cartons and were confident that all the main parts were there. We also logically assumed that all the preparation work for installation of these parts had been completed because the previous owners had been at a stage where they were purchasing such extravagant fittings (the taps were EUR 600 each!)

What we discovered was something quite different.

The opened cartons did not contain all the necessary parts and some of the parts that they did contain were broken. The benchtop of the huge wooden handmade cabinet in the upstairs bathroom was not actually attached to the rest of the cabinet. The wooden character framework that sits on top of the bench and extends up to the ceiling was not joined to the cabinet but simply balancing on top of it. No holes had been cut in the benchtop for electrical cables or taps. The shower had not been tightened properly so leaked in several places. The toilet had an old-fashioned ceramic water tank that was positioned on a lacework frame at the top of the wall behind the toilet. It had a chain pull that had a ceramic bulb on the end of it but it had no water cock to control the level of water in the tank and therefore the tank overflowed when the toilet was flushed. The pipe bringing clean water to the tank leaked in several places. The pipe taking water from the tank to the toilet leaked at the base of the tank as well as where it entered the toilet bowl.

I had the good fortune to peek into the bathroom at the exact time that my very frustrated handyman (Stu) was being sprayed with water from all directions.

I tried to withdraw immediately in order to avoid both the water and Stu's swearing but I was too slow.

He spat his frustration at me, showing me how poorly every connection fitted. Ignorant though I am, I could fully appreciate that a 20mm chrome pipe could not be adequately connected to a 1 inch ceramic pipe with silicon alone. I saw the magnitude of the problem immediately and, fearful that I might never get out of the bathroom, I suggested a trip to the local plumbing shop.

Completely conquered by the mess that he had to fix, Stu gathered all of the problem bits and pieces while I reversed the car out of the driveway.

We pulled up at FARS and cringed at the number of tradesman vehicles in the carpark. We'd been there once before and experienced total humiliation in the presence of several wizened and wrinkled Italian plumbers. Nevertheless we were desperate.

While Stu got his goodies out of the back of the car, I scanned the English/Italian dictionary for a word necessary for the sentence I was preparing. Leak. Fuga.

Our confidence level dropped as soon as we entered the shop and saw the main man behind the counter snigger just before he dumped us on his junior. The man who had dumped us was one who we'd dealt with before. Perhaps he remembered that we were foreigners who didn't have any idea of plumbing? I glanced at Stu and we shared an 'I want to run away' grin. Several plumbers were already being served so we waited. We felt like two convicts at a military event.

When we finally approached the counter, Stu took great pains to set his bits and pieces up in a manner that might appear logical. I told the junior that we 'had a problem, we had leaks in lots of places and we wanted a solution'. He immediately grasped our problem but not the solution. Instead he called one of the plumbers over to inspect our embarrassing connections. My Italian didn't extend to explaining that we weren't responsible for the chaos that lay on the bench in front of us. As the plumber fingered our connections, I concentrated on the five black stitches that tied together the skin at the tip of his thumb. He kept putting one pipe into the other to demonstrate that they didn't fit, then promptly lost interest. We cringed again. Another plumber came over. I looked at his fingers. He suggested a seal and the junior brought out several, none of which fitted. After that plumber lost interest, the junior told us that it 'wasn't possible'. He gave us a price for a whole new assembly but also suggested that we also try his competition closer to town.

Stu gathered his embarrassing bits and pieces and we skulked out of the shop, vowing never to return no matter how bad our plumbing situation got.

We drove to the competition and found a carpark devoid of tradesman's vehicles. Acting quickly lest tradesmen come, Stu gathered his bits and we entered the shop to find a woman behind the counter. Stu let out a quiet groan, unfairly assuming that the cleavage wouldn't be able to offer a solution. She immediately looked at our pipes, measured everything with a vernier and proffered a correctly sized seal and a little concertina gadget. Although she was worried that one of her solutions may not work, we were more than happy to pay the EUR 2 for the parts and her positive attitude.

One should never take for granted the fact that their toilet refills with water without leaking all over the floor. Buyer beware.

17 July 2010

Summer evenings in the valley

Summer evenings in the valley are simply exquisite. They bring welcome respite from the heat and silent salvation to the soul.

After long uncomfortable days, we usually sit outside for a few precious minutes before we go to bed.

At first the stillness makes us wonder where the air has gone. Then a gentle breeze meanders down the valley. It makes a fluttering sound which changes volume as it works its way through the leaves towards us; if the leaves were metal they would sound like chimes. Then the breeze moves around our pergola like a ghost as it chases the heat of the day away.

My pride and joy, a beautiful climbing rose, seems to stretch wider and higher in the cool night air after it's long drink of blood and bone that I annointed it with at dusk.

There is an occasional distant bark from dogs on the surrounding farms.

The sky is a dark midnight blue and there is a line where the tops of the even darker blue hills meet it. The stars are strong and scattered, their distance from one another making them shine even brighter.

At 10pm, I can hear a farmer still working on a tractor in his paddock at the top of one of the hills. I imagine the dust gently rolling behind his tractor wheels. I imagine the peace that working amidst the grapevines at night might bring him, rows of healthy vines promising fruit his only company.

The birds are silent. They've been replaced by the squirrels, tapping and scratching on the roof. Occasionally one of their stolen nocciole is dropped and it rolls and bounces down the terracotta tiles of the roof into the copper gutter.

Then there is silence. Songs of silence sing. There is also peace. Perfect peace.

The unknown creatures of the creek are squeaking and croaking but when the beetles start their whistling, we realise that they give us the single strongest sound of summer.

I AM artistic...I think...

Stu has such blind faith in me. He believes in my artistic ability, even after I tried to copy Van Gogh's 'Sunflowers' and ended up with a canvas full of conflicting colours of a palette that might be called 'babies excrement'.

Since he believes in me, I have no choice but to believe in myself.

For our 200 year old stone house, I have visions of painting our walls with a rustic effect. Stu agreed, saying that I would do a 'beautiful job' of the painting.

It would be easy. After all, I'd watched a video tape on creating textures at the hardware shop.

So I purchased a natural sponge at great expense (EUR 15!) and prepared the walls in the library with the 'white paint for interior walls' that was already in our stock at home.

Since I was eager to create my artistic effect, I was dipping my dampened sponge into the coloured paint almost before the walls had dried.

My colour had come from my artist's box that I normally use for canvases. Unfortunately, my stocks are a little low so I only have the primary colours. However, I was blindly confident in my ability to mix colours so I sat down at the kitchen table with a plastic lid from a container and my five primary colours and set about mixing.

My first colour was along the lines of my 'Sunflowers' attempt. My second colour was a pink that might be appropriate for a 5 year old girl's bedroom. My third colour might be useful during times of war as it was somewhere between khaki and purple.

After spending copious time on blending (5 minutes), I decided to try the second and third colours. They might look better on the wall.

I gathered my sample colours, dashed over to the house and bounded up the stairs. My confidence was blown out of all proportion.

I dipped my dampened sponge into the first colour, then spotted and stroked the white wall with wild abandon.

When I stood back to appreciate the new look, all I saw was a blotchy pink mess that appeared to stick to my perfect white wall like some sort of alien mould.

I tried the next colour.

But the khaki/purple splotches simply made the wall look like the side of an army tanker!

I panicked.

Maybe both colours would be better if they were blended? I dabbed the pink over the khaki/purple and the khaki-purple over the pink.

No, they were not better. In fact, they were far worse...far worse...

Stu was in the next room installing a bathroom cabinet with the utmost care. He wouldn't be making any emotional choices on colour and he would not be acting rashly in any way.

'How are you going?', he called to me.

'OK...'. No matter how hard I tried, my reply tapered off to a wobbly murmur. My heart was beating rapidly. If the sweat on my nervous skin had a colour, I would have looked like my blotchy wall. I tried to think of something else I could say that might discourage him from peering around the corner. Nothing.

I had to work fast. I had to obliterate my mess before Stu came into the library to see my 'beautiful job'.

I grabbed my roller which was still loaded with white paint and drove it over the coloured spots like a drug-deranged madman on a rampage.

The first coat didn't colour the spots! And it had to dry before I could put another coat on!

I needed time. I could hear his footsteps. I didn't have time. I heard the footsteps stop. I looked up to see Stu's face in the doorway.

'That looks good', he said, always supportive.

'I'm just at the stage of testing colours', I said, 'Which one do you prefer?'. I tried to be as nonchalant as I possibly could.

Stu looked at my collage of goo. I could see he was having trouble recognising any colour at all.

'Do you like the 'fresh green/soft lavender' or the 'warm rustic pink'?', I helped him.

'The lavender', he replied, 'I think...but then, I'm colour-blind...?'.

Life is good. I have a supportive man who is colour blind. It doesn't get any better than that for a woman who imagines that her artistic ability is akin to those of the Renaissance artists.

(TO BE CONTINUED...my confidence is currently at an alltime low and I can only summon enough energy to LOOK at the wall...)

Stolen Jam

We had been working in the garden when we heard our neighbour Renzo call to us. He was standing at the fence with a large cane basket which was full of small yellow fruit.

As we approached the fence, he explained that the fruit had come off his yellow plum tree that hung over our driveway. When he encouraged us to taste it, we popped a few into our mouths and found that they were very much like a red plum. Then he waved his basket at us and told us to 'take, take!'. I quickly dashed inside to get a bowl and happily transferred a few handfuls out of his basket.

That afternoon when we drove to town we noticed that the driveway was covered with these yellow plums. Renzo had said he collects only the 'duro' (hard) ones from the tree because the 'morbida' (soft) ones on the ground don't last long. I wondered if Renzo would mind if I picked some of the soft but newly fallen ones off the ground to make jam.

The following morning, before the sun had made its way into the valley and onto the driveway I set off with my own basket to collect plums. There were even more on the ground than the previous day so I had plenty to choose from. Since the quality of jam is only as good as the quality of the fruit and since I didn't want to deal with any grubs that might be dwelling inside them, I was careful to select only those plums without a broken skin.

As I knelt, bent and squatted to gather the fruit, more fruit kept falling from the tree. The soft dull thud they made as they hit the ground was the pure sound of nature giving which sounded only slightly less relaxing when they hit my head. It was as if by tapping me on the head, the fruit was warning me that there were more of them coming and that I should make haste with my jam making and not waste them! I imagined that it was probably preferable for them to be giving joy in a jam jar than squashed to pulp under a car tyre...

Since my initial expedition, I've made several more trips down the driveway with my basket. The result so far has been 3 batches (18 jars) of tangy yellow jam.

This taste of a bountiful summer will make it easier for us to get through a dormant winter.

Bambi is back!

We'd spent a very hot and uncomfortably humid day at several hardware shops in search of various parts that were needed to finish the bathroom renovation.

Our brains were pulsing with the frustration of not finding what we were looking for and the wet heat had make our skin sticky as if we'd just spent a day on a Mediterranean beach.

The shady driveway that meanders up our little valley was a welcome relief from the sun and we were eager to get home to shelter behind our thick stone walls.

When on one of the curves in the road I caught movement, I immediately assumed it was a kangaroo (Australia affects you that way...)

My sandaled foot moved quickly to the brake, ready to stop if necessary, when suddenly out of the forest bounced a deer and two bambi's!

After they'd crossed the road and bounded a few metres into tall grass, they stopped.

I stopped.

We spent a few delicious moments observing each other.

While we were marvelling at their beauty and elegance (and the fact that we had any deer in the valley at all after recent visits by hunters), they were probably wondering if we had guns...

07 July 2010

It takes courage to destroy

It seems a contradiction but one of the high points of our renovation has been demolition.

One end of our house had two flights of stairs. One flight travelled from the ground floor to the second floor. These stairs were of concrete and tile construction but were dangerously narrow and steep. They also blocked out considerable light, making the laundry damp and the wall between the laundry and the kitchen mouldy. The other flight travelled from the second floor to the attic. These stairs were made of brittle and borer-eaten wood that wobbled and threatened to crumble under foot.

I used to dread going into the laundry to wash our clothes. Instead I would stand for long minutes rolling my eyes around the walls, the ceilings and the floors, thinking of ways I could improve that end of the house.

One day it came to me. If we removed those two flights of stairs we could insert an atrium or a light well in the two-storey high space that was left. This would provide light, warmth and circulating air for the entire area in two levels of the house.

It was quite simply a wild but brilliant idea. I embraced it with both arms and secretly nurtured it until it was a fully developed concept.

Then I told Stu.

Unfortunately, he was rather tentative about my foray into architecture and design. He failed to reach the same level of enthusiasm, which could have something to do with the fact that he does the work whereas I just dream it up...

So it was with great joy that I heard him mention a while later that my idea had some merit.

A few weeks after that, when our levels of courage were running high, Stu took to the upper stairs with a saw, a cold chisel and a hammer. He carefully took the ceiling out (so that we could re-use the wooden tongue and groove panels), then he cut the stairs and pulled each end out of the walls easily.

We had not bargained on the layers of dust that had impregnated the old wood. As we waited for the dust to subside, we coughed and spluttered our way through a conversation on our progress. We wondered if a section of some of the steps should be retained as shelves jutting out of the wall. Since I was keen to retain some of the history of the house, we decided to keep the best specimens and re-visit this decision once the entire demolition had been completed.

The next morning, it seemed that our enthusiasm woke us early. We dived out of bed and gulped a quick breakfast before heading, belching and burping, towards the house.

The lower stairs proved to be harder to demolish as they had several layers of construction materials on them. As we uncovered the layers one at a time, we found ceramic tiles, then cement, then plaster, then slate. It seemed that the top layer had only recently been added but that the original layer had been there for some time. In the cavities in the walls where we pulled the original slate steps out, we found several sheets of a magazine dated 1950. These sheets were treated with the care afforded to Tutankhamen and have now been framed for hanging in the atrium when it is finished.

While Stu demolished, I swept and shovelled countless loads of rubble into our wheelbarrow and out to our rubble pile.

As with the upper stairs, we retained sections of some of the steps for further design consideration.

Finally, a few days later when the lower stairs were gone, we stood in our sweat and the dust and watched the light rush in. It seemed to rush around the dark corners and lick the cold damp stone on its way. I thought I could almost see the furry white spores of mould desiccate and drop off the walls.

We then turned out attention to two other walls that annoyed us at the base of the new atrium. The previous owners had installed these walls in order to make a hallway from which to access the bathroom and laundry. But now that we'd effectively created a new hallway via our atrium we could remove these walls in order to enlarge the bathroom.

Since it was too late in the day to start on them, we decided to look at them again in the morning and make a final decision after a good sleep.

That night my tired and twisted mind worked against me until I believed that the stairs that we'd removed had been holding up the entire house. In the wee small hours of the morning I tossed and turned in wretched agony as I watched our dream home crumble to the ground, caving in at exactly the place where we'd removed the stairs. I woke exhausted and adamant that we should refrain from doing any more demolition.

By lunchtime, Stu had calmed me down enough to explain that the walls now under our consideration for demolition were not load bearing. I remembered Horace's words of wisdom ('In times of stress be bold and valiant'') then hid in the rustico, covering my ears lest I hear the thud of falling stones while Stu hammered and destroyed.

It is now almost two months since we finished our demolition work and that end of the house has a wonderfully happy, healthy and spacious feel to it.

It hasn't fallen down.

06 July 2010

Food just has to play a part...

I can't resist. At the risk of sounding like any other foreigner who writes about Italy, I'm going to share with you the simplest and best recipes I've yet found in Piemonte...

Tonight we lashed out and had a 2-course meal. The non-ignorant will already know that Italians normally eat a 5-course meal. Unfortunately, I am still some way from achieving a feast of these proportions.

My first course was fresh agnolotti (meat ravioli) with sage. All you do is boil the agnolotti as per normal pasta (always salting the water of course). While it is boiling, fry a handful of cut up sage in butter, then add it to the cooked and drained agnolotti with added olive oil. Delizioso! And yes, I did get the sage from my garden...

The second course was salciccia (sausage) with zucchini and basil. All you do is fry the sausage, then remove it from the frypan. Add butter to the juices and fry the zucchini with a handful of cut up basil. Meraviglioso! And yes, I did get the basil from my garden...

Fortunately for my health, I've discovered the delights of cooking with herbs straight from the garden...

But unfortunately for my health, I've discovering the delights of cooking with butter...

28 June 2010

Our little Strenua

I'm about to embark on Colleen McCullough's seven 'Masters of Rome' books.

So it seems only apt that I introduce the concept of Roman mythology to my Blog.

In giving myself a quick internet-based history lesson, I found a list of the Roman Gods. I learned that the goddess of strength and endurance was Strenua, who is also suspected of being responsible for the Italian tradition of Befana, when on Epiphany Eve (the night of 5th January) an old woman called Befana delivers gifts to children throughout Italy. She is also known as Saint Befana, La Vecchia (the Old Woman), and La Strega (the Witch).

Now let me digress...

We purchased a trailer in Switzerland just before we moved to Italy because we needed something that would help us in our move but also something in which to cart building materials, collect firewood and gather mulch once we were here.

We chose the smallest, cheapest trailer we could find. Actually, at Swiss prices, it wasn't really cheap at all...but it was small. 1.5 metres square to be exact. We thought it was huge when we purchased it but once we saw it clinging to our car we cringed. Perhaps this initial impression was partly due to our car being rather short too (a 2-door Suzuki 4WD). In fact, looking at our car with its trailer reminded me of John Wayne with a horse. Something wrong in terms of proportion.

Over the months, we've come to respect our trailer. We got over the initial shock of discovering that we couldn't actually see it behind our car (which caused major challenges in terms of reversing). We found it was capable of everything we asked of it.

We have recently felt a compulsion to name it, mainly because people just don't seem to respect it.

And since our trailer has the loyalty of a saint, the dignity of an old woman, the magic of a witch, the strength of a god and brings gifts to us like Befana, we have named it 'Strenua'.

However, it has to be said that it has caused us acute embarrassment on several occasions.

This week, we needed 60 pavers (20kg each) and 1.5 tonne of bedding sand for the base of our new pergola.

So we attached our trailer to our car and set off for the heavy duty building materials warehouse in Canelli. When we entered the carpark, we were quickly dwarfed by the builders trucks and construction lorries that surrounded us.

We parked and fled from our vehicle before anyone could see us. In the office, a man took our order and told us to drive around the back of the warehouse to the sand storage where someone would load us up.

When our humble 'rig' appeared around the corner of the building and proceeded to the sand pile, we noticed the driver of the front end loader smother a smile.

After we had proudly manoevred into position near the sand pile, he told us that 500kg of sand couldn't be carried by such a light trailer. We were indignant as we replied that our trailer could take 800kg!

Eventually we convinced him to load it and it was our turn to smother smiles as we watched his expression morph into shock, then twist into a wry sort of amazement.

We made 3 trips for the sand and 2 trips for the tiles.

Our little Strenua has the magic of a witch, the strength of a god and brings gifts to us like Befana...

27 June 2010

Who invented the concept of stress anyway?

I've been reading Frances Mayes' latest book, 'Every Day in Tuscany' (ISBN 978-1-86325-676-6)

She talks about how Italians choose a relaxing lifestyle at all cost. They focus on peace, nature, food. She also talks about the concept of 'stress' and how Italians don't really get the 'stress' thing. Apparently, the Italian word for stress, lo stress, is only a recent import into the language.

I particularly appreciated her comments because they helped me to understand a weird reaction I got from my neighbours the other day.

I haven't been speaking to them because, in trying to learn the correct grammar in my Italian lessons, I have lost confidence in my ability to speak Italian at all, let alone 'properly'. I wanted to be forgiven for my elusiveness so I explained all this to my neighbours.

They looked at me as if I'd grown horns. They stopped speaking, their mouths opening and closing like fish. In the silence, I noticed their utterly perplexed expressions.

Now I know that they just had no idea why I would feel stressed about such a thing when I'm living the perfect lifestyle, doing what I want to do, breathing pure air, living with local flora and fauna and growing my own food, all in a perfectly peaceful valley!

Uncomfortably close and very weird noises

The hunters that come into our valley keep telling us they're shooting cinghiale.

But even though we've been here for nine months, we've never actually seen or heard or even noticed any evidence of these cinghiales. Apparently these wild boar maraud at night and cause all sorts of damage to rural land by digging inconvenient holes all over paddocks and lawns and even under fences.

Either they don't exist in our valley or else they've all been shot...

Instead, we focus on the Lucciole (Fireflies).

Our bedroom has a window that looks out at the vertical tufa drop that reaches down from one of our grape paddocks to the rear of the house.

Every night when we're lying in bed we gaze out our window at the Lucciole who fly around this drop.

These beautiful little creatures keep us entertained for a few wonderful minutes before we gently fall off the edge of consciousness and into sleep oblivion. There are hundreds of them, all shining their little luminous bottoms in the perfect warmth and dampness of the drop.

While I'm not sure exactly how a luminous male bottom attracts a female, I do appreciate the light show they provide. They loop and frolick around the drop, all the while turning their lights off and on. It's like watching the stars on a night when the sky is speckled by tiny clouds that sometimes expose the stars and sometimes hide them.

Our sleep is usually long, our bones and sinews heavy and over-extended, merging into the sheets.

But in the wee small hours of last night, our sleep was broken by a rather unfortunate and somewhat aggressive sound.

It was a loud rough grunt that was repeated every few seconds. One grunt was very close to our window; the other some distance away. The noises sounded like a very large dog with a seriously sore throat or a cow with a seriously bad case of worms.

I knew instantly that it was a cinghiale. It was just so strange, abrupt, earthy and, well, pig like!

Stu dived out of bed, grabbed the torch and went outside.

I maintained my half-conscious state, occasionally imagining a boar of massive proportions much like the one in an Australian horror movie I'd watched in my youth. In 'Razorback', a monster of a boar would charge at humans and trample them to a bloody mulch in the remote lonely outback.

I rustled myself into greater consciousness to listen for the desperate cries of Stu.

When I heard him creeping around the back of the house near our window, I opened my eyes to see the torch light looping and frolicking about the tufa and the foliage on the drop.

I wondered what the Lucciole were making of the giant illuminated 'bottom' that had entered their space.

Meanwhile, the grunts had stopped. Clearly, Stu's presence had scared the cinghiales away.

Before he returned inside, he stood at the window, shone the torchlight on his face and made ghost noises at me. I can't remember my response but I suggest that I didn't play the game.

We now firmly believe that cinghiales exist in our valley and they certainly haven't all been shot!

20 June 2010

Canelli under Siege!

Last weekend we attended the two-day re-enactment of the Siege of Canelli which occurred in 1613 AD.

The city is very serious about this event. For two days they take the city back to the year 1613 AD. They wear period clothes, deal in medieval currency and eat only foods served in the 17th century!

They even work hard to create a sense of the Canelli of the period, when it was surrounded by a stone wall and the only entry was through a grand stone gate with turrets.

During the week prior to the event, the city centre is closed to non-residential traffic while the city 'gates' are re-erected. These gates must be made by professional film set designers because they look like stone but they are made of wood!

On the actual days of the event, 'inside' the city is closed to all vehicles so you really feel as if you're under siege but are safely taking protection within the walls of the city.

Also 'inside' the city the buildings are draped with hessian to make them look as if they are from the 17th century. There are outdoor stalls and taverns that are also made of rough hewn wood and hessian. It all looks so wonderful!

The people of the city play out the re-enactment over a 2-3 hour period on the first day. Initially, men on horses knock on the gates to warn the city of the enemy's proximity. Then groups of 'farmers' and 'peasants' leave the countryside to seek protection within the city walls. There are also rebels, soldiers and many other groups parading into the city.

The whole event is punctuated with drums and medieval music.

Once you've finished watching the re-enactment at the city gates, you enter the city, where you convert your Euros to Testinos.

With your Testinos, you buy a wine goblet which can be re-filled at every makeshift tavern 'within' the city walls.

It helps you get up the hill to watch the battle of the warring forces, which occurs in the fields surrounding the castle. Half an hour later, the Canelli forces return to the city exhausted after the battle. You continue to drink...

That evening, there is ribald revelry 'inside' the walls as the farmers and peasants amuse themselves at the taverns that have sprung up in the streets. There is even the odd prostitute positioned to hassle you! The party goes on until midnight.

The next morning there is a huge battle at the gates, which the Canelli forces win, then there are celebration lunches held all over the city!

A truly amazing event!!!

19 June 2010

The Monster

My relationship with my garden has been difficult ever since we moved here.

I would launch at it with enthusiasm, then lose interest with surprising speed.

Within a few weeks of being here, Stu had realised that my problem was The Monster.

The monster is a huge expansive bush that sits at one end of my garden. The monster is one of those plants that propagate via sucker roots. The monster is very established and frighteningly rigorous. It's roots reach out insidiously under the dirt and suddenly appear somewhere else!

Actually, lots of somewhere elses.

So gardening for me was depressing. I would launch on it, weed it and plant special bushes and flowers in it only to find that yet another monster had appeared. No matter how hard I worked to manage my garden, the monster would breed copiously. It could haunt me from all different locations!

Finally, we decided to remove it. Simple.

Six months ago we cut it back severely in order to see what we were dealing with. Once all the foliage and branches had been removed, we found that the root ball of the main bush alone was 1 metre in diameter!

Since Stu has a level of perseverance akin to the bush, he used all manner of instrument and method to take to the monster with vigour. He dug around its roots with a spade, he hacked at it with an axe, he scraped at its suckers until his fingers were raw.

But nothing moved him any closer to the demise of the bush.

It was when he found that the roots of the suckers had diameters of 100mm that he finally cracked.

I looked out of the kitchen one morning and found him poised above the monster with the chainsaw.

I knew it was time to suggest a break.

I did better than that: I took him to Australia, where it was easy to forget about the monster.

But on our return, it was there to greet us. In the early Spring, it had flourished with even more enthusiasm. Although we had shorn it down to a few stubs of wood, it had sprung into life again and sprouted seemingly stronger foliage.

Not able to cope with this sort of challenge immediately, we focused on other jobs instead. We planted seeds and seedlings in the vegetable garden, we tiled the bedroom floor, we even created an light atrium in the house.

Although we tried to ignore this stubborn plant, eventually we had to acknowledge its existence: after all, the great gaping hole around its base wasn't enhancing the appearance of our front garden.

When Stu attacked it with the axe, we watched as the metal bounced off the healthy green wood. He poured fuel on it and tried to set it alight. I poured poison on it. But it still lived!

We ignored it again.

Finally, our neighbour suggested soaking the root ball in water and using high pressure water to remove the dirt around the solid mass of roots and suckers before then attempting to chop the roots out.

So Stu soaked the roots and was eventually able to see light between several of them. It was painfully slow work but he was encouraged. After several more days, he finally axed through all of the exposed roots and rolled the main root ball out of its massive soggy hole.

Tomorrow I can't wait to get into my garden!

17 June 2010


I am proud to announce that I am progressing well with my book.

I now have 35,000 words and am aiming at something like 90,000-120,000 which would make it consistent with similar books.

I am enjoying the journey...and am encouraged hugely by the number of people who read my Blog!

07 June 2010

Our New Neighbours

A few weeks ago, we were driving up our little valley when we came across a length of thick white tape that had been strung across a line of temporary posts on one side of the road. On closer inspection, we found that the tape was electrified and that it made a complete circuit around a section of land.

Someone had installed a temporary fence.

We'd never seen anyone in this block so we didn't know who owned it, if anyone owned it at all! It couldn't really be called a paddock; it wasn't the most agriculturally useful piece of land because of its narrow shape, its steep sides and the shadows it received all day.

When we stopped to peer through the scrub along the fence, we found a white horse and a donkey!

We watched our new neighbours for several weeks. It didn't take long for the grass in the fenced area to disappear and the foliage along the temporary fence to flatten.

One Sunday, a young man drove his small white sedan up our driveway and parked outside our house. We were working upstairs in the casa grande and looked out of the library window in order to see our visitor. The man was short and skinny, perhaps 20 years old. He wore a tidy collared shirt, old jeans and boots.

As we watched the man walk towards us, I heard Stuart's brain clunk as it prepared the necessary words to explain that we couldn't speak much Italian. But before he could get any words out, the man had positioned himself under our window.

As his enthusiastic face beamed up at us, he launched into a torrent of words.

I felt like Rapunzel.

I caught 'cavallo biano' (white horse) and 'mangiare qui' (eat here) amongst them. When he pointed down the valley, I quickly figured out that he was the owner of the horse and donkey and that he was looking for another agistment location. Our large grassy paddocks must have seemed perfect to him. From their now muddy patch, the horse and donkey could probably even smell our grass!

As with everything we do, we wanted to make sure that we followed any traditions or expectations in the region. Luckily our neighbour Renzo was visiting his property at the time, so we walked the man across to Renzo where I explained what was being suggested.

Renzo talked to the man and eventually confirmed that my translation had been accurate. The man had a horse and a donkey that he wanted to agist on our land.

We asked for his advice. He explained that the man wasn't offering a contract and therefore agistment may not be advisable. If the animals took fright for any reason (e.g. a cinghiale) they could pose a potential risk to the walkers, cyclists and horseriders who pass through our property to enjoy the tranquillity of the valley.

We had to make a decision and we wanted to make one that was right for all of us.

We decided not to be too enthusiastic about the idea.

Renzo kindly explained our quandary to the man and it was agreed that he would seek alternative agistment but that he should feel welcome to return if he couldn't find any.

The horse and donkey have remained in the same section of land along the road and we have not seen the man since.

But we've often wondered how he faired finding alternative agistment.

This week, we were driving up our little valley when we noticed that the thick white tape had been moved to the opposite side of the road.

When we stopped to peer through the scrub along the fence, we found a white horse and a donkey...

04 June 2010

You never know...

A few months ago, I announced with great pride that we had an almond tree.

I was proud of my tree. I loved it's thick dark trunk that stretched strongly into the sky. I felt happy when it blossomed in early Spring. I wasted many hours imagining what I could do with the nuts that would grow on the tips of it's branches.

So you can imagine my shock when I looked at my almond tree today and found clusters of bright red cherries hanging from it!

31 May 2010

Vines, prickles and thorns

After avoiding it for a few weeks, it was time to get back into the vineyard again to see if we could uncover any more vines.

I say 'uncover' because the vines have been hidden in a tangle of undergrowth and a mass of overgrowth for the last 15-20 years.

You can imagine what a mess it is.

Blackberries reach insidiously through every other type of vegetation; a blanket of woven prickles. Some of the trees growing between the vines have trunks that measure ten centimetres in diameter. We even found a cherry tree growing horizontally out from the hillside. It was resting happily across several of the rusted wire fences. The poor ugly specimen seemed unaware of the precarious nature of its position; it had an orchard of cherries hanging from it.

We commenced our attack at 9.00am but eventually withdrew from the battle at 2.00pm. By the time we agreed to stop, the chopping of branches, pulling of weeds and dragging of detritous to our burning pile had made us wet and dizzy.

Happily, we did uncover the odd vine struggling to stretch its little tendrils to the sun.

We also uncovered far too many thorn trees.

Later that afternoon, I noticed Stuart carefully feeling his head. When I asked him what was wrong, he told me that a thorn tree had fallen on his head earlier and he thought he might have a thorn embedded in his skull!

An emergency operation was required on Stuart's head.

While the patient sat patiently (?) in the kitchen, I quickly assumed the role of surgeon and went in search of some surgical instruments.

Shortly after, I returned with my eyebrow tweezers and a torch.

After a few jokes about the suitability of my equipment and whether or not the thorn had penetrated his brain, I shone the torch in a rather wobbly way at his head. Then I tried to focus my blurry eyes on the thorn long enough for my tweezers to actually make contact with it.

The bit of thorn that poked out of his skull was minute but definitely solid. When I finally grasped it and pulled, it made a woody sound as my tweezers slipped off it.

At mid-operation, I experienced a slight panic that the thorn really had penetrated his bone and brain. But my panic was short-lived. Stuart brought me back to the task at hand when he yelled at me to 'just get it out!'

Eventually, I grabbed the thorn with more conviction and was a very surprised surgeon as I watched a rather long and evil piece of tree emerge from Stuart's head.

It seems that the vineyard offers more challenges than simply finding vines...

29 May 2010

Embarrassment is a powerful thing

Our neighbours live in Canelli but come to their second house, which shares a wall with our house, every afternoon in Spring and Summer.

We enjoy the solitude when they're not here but we also enjoy the company when they are. We exchange a buon giorno or a buona sera, then make our way to our shared fence where we have an extended chat about the clarity of the air or the beauty of the forest and the birdsong.

Our private road, which is shared by five residences, extends one kilometre from the public road.

Three of the residences are located along the first five hundred metres of the road. We share the last five hundred metres with our neighbours.

The gravel road takes a meandering route up our valley. It hides like a snake under the heavy forest foliage of Spring. The bends are sometimes sharp and the vegetation growing on the shoulders can make it difficult to see too far ahead.

In wet weather, it develops puddles, one being so big that the car has all four wheels in it as it travels through it, the water reaching the rims of our wheels. In a few areas it has landslides where the road threatens to drop into the creek.

In dry weather, the puddles are potholes. The stretch that is shared by the first four residences is potholed through use. The vineyard at the beginning of the road has been responsible for much of this; they have been clearing their land as well as replacing their old vines with young vines.

The road is single lane but there are several places where vehicles can pass each other. This normally requires one of the drivers to back up but it is rare to meet another vehicle so our travels in and out of our property tend to be non-eventful.

In the late afternoon last Wednesday we set off for our Italian lesson.

As we were trundling down our little track in second gear, another vehicle suddenly appeared, sliding and skidding in front of us.

Stuart responded quickly, hitting our brakes and veering to the left.

We watched helplessly as we seemed to skid in slow motion towards the other vehicle.

When we finally came to a halt, the drivers and passengers of both cars stared open-mouthed at the inches of space between the vehicles.

Only then did we register recognition.

As Stu moved to the left to allow our neighbours to squeeze past, we shared nervous smiles and giggles before continuing on our respective ways.

Since then, we haven't met at the fence for our usual chats.

Embarrassment is a powerful thing that hopefully lessens with time.

24 May 2010

The secret to all ills

Did I mention that the secret to all of our ills is our electric blanket?

Yes, we've discovered that no matter how much work we do and how tired and sore our bodies and how wildly our muscles spasm, if we lie on an electric blanket at night we bound out of bed with the vigour of 5 year olds the following morning.

Of course, we're a little concerned about the suitability of this 'solution' during summer...

Spinning around

This afternoon, Stu threw something at me.

Now before you consider calling the polizia, the thing he threw at me was the EUR 1 coin that we'd used to 'hire' our trolley at the supermarket. And I guess he didn't exactly throw it AT me; he threw it TO me.

And I caught it!

Now some of you better coordinated individuals may find this trivial.

But those of you who are familiar with my poor motor-neurone skills may appreciate this as a significant achievement.

In my office-based past, whenever I threw anything it would land in a completely unpredictable location. And whenever I prepared to catch something, it would drop, bounce and skid away long before I realised that it had been thrown! For example, if I was to throw a stone into the ocean, it would land on a sand dune. If I was to throw a ball across a field, it would land on my head. Get the picture?

Well, it appears that my coordination skills have improved since I left an office-based life. Lately, I can catch AND throw things with some measure of accuracy!

Of course, it could be that I'm just too exhausted to deliver something to someone or to collect the something that I didn't catch...

But above and beyond this mere throwing and catching business is the fact that today I almost managed to spin my lettuce spinner off the table and out the door!

I am strong. I am invincible. I am coordinated.

21 May 2010

The international guests

It won't be a surprise to anyone that I love books.

They keep my soul warm.

Last week, our Italian teacher Graziella, brought a book into class.

She waved the book around and waffled on in Italian about it but I only caught a few words.

Basically, I heard that something was going to happen with the book for about an hour at 5pm on Thursday in the school library.

When we saw Graziella the day after, she was still wandering around with the book as if she was the publisher.

The book was clearly important to Graziella so I told Stu I was going to do the 'book' thing. Being the selfless human being that he is (coffee addict), he offered to come with me but spend the hour in the cafe nearby.

So on Thursday afternoon, we finished work in the garden, jumped into the shower and then dressed for town.

We arrived in Canelli central a little late because the once-an-hour train decided to come through at an inconvenient time and we got caught at the crossing.

However, we were on time for Italy, where everything starts at least 15 minutes late. Even our Italian lessons don't start on time.

As Stu sneaked off to the cafe, I poked my head in the door. The library was tiny. It was only the size of a loungeroom and it was decked out with approximately 10 rows of 10 chairs. Almost every chair was taken. I was tempted to escape to the cafe.

But Graziella saw me and bounded up to welcome me. She wore a suit and jewellery; her hair was coiffured and her face was made up. She was not the Graziella we knew from our lessons.

She immediately introduced me to the book 'whatever' man (was he the author, the publisher, the illustrator?). He wore a checked shirt and jeans and was a small man, bald and humble but with smiling eyes. He shook my hand warmly and his eyes shone at me. I was then introduced to the school's 'presidente' (principal) who was a little distracted with the event but friendly. I found myself so warmly welcomed that I simply couldn't escape. And I no longer wanted to.

When Graziella asked if Stu had come, I realised suddenly that Stu simply had to be part of the enthusiasm that seemed to be spilling over the place.

I dashed outside to get him, only to see him already in position at an outdoor table waiting for someone to take his order. I gesticulated wildly until he saw me then I waved him over. His reaction wasn't exactly positive, his body language less than enthusiastic at being dragged away from his little luxury in the sun.

I gave up. I know when I'm beaten so I returned to the library and took one of the few free chairs that remained. In the front row.

A few seconds later I felt a shadow hover over me as Stu sat down next to me.

I noticed that Graziella had taken a seat at the front of the room, along with the man who was the book 'whatever' and another particularly dashing young man who wore a shiny grey designer suit and soft handmade leather shoes. I knew they were soft even without touching them. They were the ultimate in Italian craftsmanship.

Fifteen minutes later than scheduled, the very dashing young man started to speak.

I think he was introducing the book 'whatever' man but I didn't catch exactly what he said or what the 'whatever' was. Then he said something about 'journalista'. Immediately after, he asked the book 'whatever' man a question. There was a long response during which the 'journalista' interrupted the 'whatever' man several times. In the typical Italian way, they overspoke each another but talked naturally and enthusiastically.

Suddenly, Graziella got up, armed with her copy of the book. She took a deep breath, which seemed to give her another persona. She then read from her book with such expression and artistry that we sat open-mouthed wondering about the hidden skills of our teacher.

We realised quickly that she was reading an excerpt out of the book. After a 5 minute reading, she sat down again and the 'journalista' asked the 'whatever' man another question. This cycle went on for about an hour.

At the end, the journalista thanked everyone for their attendance and Graziella thanked the 'international guests' for their attendance.

We blushed deeply when we realised Graziella was talking about us. She then asked us if we'd understood anything. I said 'un po' (a little) and the audience laughed. As most people left, a few people closest to us hovered around, asking us where we were from, where we lived, etc.

I still don't know what the event was or who the 'whatever' man was.

But I do know that along with books keeping my soul warm the locals are keeping my heart warm.

20 May 2010

For the love of the right snake

We've been here for eight months now and had been convinced that Italy was perfect. Put simply, 'perfect' meant snake free.

But our dream has been shattered.

Yesterday I saw a snake!

Yes, I saw a snake behind the house at the top of the stairs near the pizza oven.

I was bounding up the stairs in order to get to the second level of the fienale when out of the corner of my eye I saw a 'stick'.

Now, a stick wouldn't normally attract attention in this place of many sticks, but I had only been up the stairs the day before and this stick hadn't been there then!

I was immediately suspicious, turned to look at it and realised approximately 20 minutes later that it was a snake. Okay, so it wasn't 20 minutes. It just felt like 20 minutes.

Time stood still. It might be fair to say that this little Australian, who should be used to snakes, freaked.

Somehow I got back down the stairs, walked casually over to Stu and mentioned that I'd seen a snake.

He came immediately and sneaked up the stairs but it had already disappeared.

We did the only thing we could do. We stopped all work. Tools down. Gloves off. Silence descended as we both privately wondered how we could tackle the land if there were snakes in the vicinity. PROVEN snakes in the vicinity.

Then we did the next best thing we could. We told everyone we know.

We told our Italian teacher, Graziella. We told our neighbours, Renzo and Maria. We even told a poor unsuspecting lady at a book launch.

Each of them seemed agitated. They initially waved their arms around and made diamond shapes with their hands, all the while pointing to their heads. Then they seemed to calm down and repeat the word 'acqua' (water). Finally, they smiled. We wondered if they'd had a dose of anti-venom at some stage in their lives.

Later that evening, Stu surfed the internet and found that the only dangerous snake in Italy is a viper which has a colourful diamond shape on its head. Luckily, vipers do not make this area of Italy their home. But harmless water snakes do. Apparently, the water snake is 'a European non-venomous snake that is often found near water and feeds almost exclusively on amphibians' (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grass_Snake).

Locals are a blessing. So are water snakes.

19 May 2010

Now different 'rubbish' is haunting us...

A few posts ago, I mentioned the trauma we were experiencing in terms of our rubbish.

While this particular problem still hasn't been resolved, another rubbish-related problem has raised its ugly head...

When we cleared our overgrown land late last year we didn't realise that we'd make such a huge pile of trees and branches. Actually, make that three huge piles of trees and branches. One in each paddock.

We knew that we had to get to our jungle early, or at least before Spring came in all its glory and force. We simply had to make an impact urgently because the rate of growth was destined to be incredible once the temperatures exceeded 6 degrees.

So we cut trees and pruned branches with a vengeance and made 3 huge piles of wood in the process.

And Spring hasn't disappointed us.

In fact, we've been SO NOT disappointed that we got to a desperate stage a few weeks ago. The piles of dried tinder that we'd cut in Winter were now a problem. Firstly, the piles might completely disappear amidst the new Spring growth. Secondly, the piles were a potential fire hazard for the hot Summer.

While burning was an option, the greenies in us just couldn't see all that lovely garden goodness go up in smoke.

So last month we invested in a mulcher to 'eat' our piles. We launched ourselves at the pile in our front paddock almost immediately. After a whole day, we'd finally reduced it to 3 trailerloads and 6 wheelbarrows of little pieces of munched up wood. The said wood is now all over my garden keeping my flowers company.

Today we launched at the pile in the second paddock. This pile is massive. We had been avoiding it but when we looked at it the other day we were a little concerned to find that the grass growing around it and within it had reached the height of the pile.

Now this job is not a particularly enjoyable one. Although we are doing good things for our garden and being responsible green citizens, it is simply a fact that it is a boring job.

So, being the ex-professionals that we are, we took the time to establish our roles and responsibilities. Stu was to take the car and trailer down to the paddock and work his way through the pile while I was to talk to Mum and Dad (!!??). Then, when Stu brought the first trailerload up I was to be out there, gloves on hands, sunhat on head, ready to work the mulcher.

Surprisingly, we both took to our roles in earnest. Stu would bring a trailerload up and I would mulch it, then he'd bring another trailerload up and I'd mulch that. And on. And on. And on. To amuse ourselves, Stu listened to his ipod while I muttered and challenged myself to finish one trailerload before he brought the next one up.

Unfortunately, I never achieved my objective.

But I live in hope. After all, there's one pile left. And it simply must be tackled within the next few days.

Perhaps next week I'll be able to report at least one rubbish problem solved...

15 May 2010

A problem with positioning

Stu has observed some very strange behaviour in me.

Apparently I plant flowers, then move them to another spot a few weeks later. I re-plant them, then move them to another spot a few weeks later! This is a continuing cycle.

Unfortunately, it is true. I do this!

But what absurd aspect of my character makes me do it?

Am I indecisive or dissatisfied?

Perhaps I have a fear of putting down roots?

12 May 2010

Blood, guilt and emptiness

We could have been forgiven for thinking that Santa had come to our valley 7 months early (or 5 months late)...

A few days ago, we were taking a well-deserved lunch break on our terrace when we suddenly heard bells.

They were of the 'Rudolph the red nose reindeer' variety and they were coming closer.

We bounded off our seats and leaned over the railing of the terrace, our heads turned hard right towards the entry to the property.

Within seconds, 5 dogs appeared on our driveway: 4 beagles and 1 blood hound. Each dog had several small bells hanging from a collar around its neck. They were shortly followed by 4 men in boots and orange fluoro vests who carried two-way radios in their pockets and wore rifles over their shoulders.


The dogs were fine specimens, the hair covering their sturdy bodies clean and glossy. They hovered around our hedge for a while, pushing their noses into the greenery and bumping snouts in their eagerness to take on a scent. We wondered if they could smell the hare that had appeared there the day before.

The humans oozed the same level of excitement. Their steps were strong and deliberate and their faces tense as they called a distracted 'Buon Giorno!' to us. They didn't even take time to stop and talk, instead explaining in mid-step that they were hunting 'Cinghiale!' (wild boar).

Excitement must be contagious because very shortly we felt as exhilarated as these strangers in our valley.

But as animal and man moved off, we slunk back to our seats to ponder the concept of hunting.

As Australians, we are well aware of the fox hunts that are still conducted in England today. We'd always been critical of blood sports. Our conversation went along these lines for the next half hour. In the end we agreed that there was something different about hunting a wild boar to eat. Italians hunt for food. Since they have such a deep respect for food, it seemed easy to justify hunting for this purpose.

The bells hung in our valley for the next hour. Sometimes they would sound close by, perhaps in our vines or down at the creek. And sometimes they would seem at a distance, possibly on our neighbour's property or in a secondary valley.

At one point, the bells came very close. There was a cacophany of noise only metres away from our seats on the terrace. This time, we jumped up and pounced on the gap in the stone wall to try to see something. The men were calling loudly to each other constantly; their two-ways scratching frequent messages. We wondered if the purpose of this constant communication was to minimise their chances of being accidentally shot.

We could feel the tension. Our hearts pumped faster. The hairs on the backs of our necks stood up in anticipation of a gun shot. Every few seconds a dog would come into our limited view as it bounded through the long grass, clearly chasing 'something'. The men would yell louder, the dogs would bark stronger and the bells would tingle faster.

So it was strange that, when a volley of gunshots finally rang through the valley, we suddenly felt guilty and lonely.

At that moment, we hoped above all else that the bullets had missed their target.

It was one of those times when I truly wished it had been Christmas and that the visitors to our valley really had been Santa and his reindeers.