29 April 2010

A 'Real Man' does not work in the 'Giardino'

I refer to my Blog posting dated 6th April 2010 ('Tomatoes Anyone?')

It is with great horror that I share with you that Stu has planted 10 rows of potatoes. There are 7 potato plants in each row. That makes 70 potato plants.

Assuming that each plant will give us about 10 potatoes, our total yield is expected to be 700 potatoes!

Does anyone know any good recipes that combine tomatoes AND potatoes???

Still on the subject of gardening, yesterday we attended our second Italian lesson.

The connection, you ask?

Well, up until yesterday, I used to tell our neighbours and occasional contractors that Stu had been working in the 'giardino'. This is not only because I am proud of him but also because I know the words!

So yesterday when we arrived at our Italian lesson, I told the teacher that Stu had been working in the garden.

She looked slightly askance before enquiring exactly what he was doing.

I thought the question a little strange (what does one normally do in a garden and why is anyone else interested in such detail?)

Luckily, my gardening-related words extended further so I was able to explain that he had planted potatoes.

She laughed.

I looked askance. Stu turned red.

What was so funny about digging for hours to plant potatoes?

She then explained that 'giardino' refers to a flower garden, while 'orto' refers to a vegetable garden.

Fancy! I've been telling everyone that Stu has been playing with flowers!

I hope I haven't ruined his reputation completely...

27 April 2010

Never Act in Undue Haste

For those of you keenly interested in whether or not I had to expose my chest to the Polizia (see previous post), read on...

On Monday, I arrived at the Questura at the appointed time.

A very robust looking police woman took my resident permit paperwork and my (spotty) photos, then gave me a form and directed me to their 'criminal scientific lab'.

I followed their directions, which involved walking through a door to a bright light which I soon realised was outside. I then had to walk across an internal quadrangle to a yellow door. When I entered the yellow door, I found men in white coats peering into microscopes.

I wondered about their expectations. Did they have serious concerns about my spots? Would they attempt a blood test? Or even a biopsy?

One of the men came to take my paperwork.

He looked carefully at me. I was tempted to expose my chest immediately but I resisted.

He checked my height and my hair colour (under his interrogation, I confirmed that the colour was natural...why would anyone PAY to get the combination of brown and grey that I have!?)

Then he checked my eye colour. Blue I had said. He leaned forward and looked deeply into them as if he'd never seen blue eyes before. Or was it that he was assessing me with some new lie-detector test? I felt sure that my spots had been noted and that my honesty was being tested. Was now the right time to expose?

Then he pulled on surgical rubber gloves! I panicked. This was it. My fingers were already undoing my buttons when he took one of my hands in his.

One by one he pressed each of my fingertips onto the screen of a scanner. I was being fingerprinted!

He made fingerprints of every finger of both hands, then a 'group' portrait of all of the fingers of each hand, then another 'group' portrait of the palms of each hand!

Then he smiled and explained that my residents permit would be posted to the Canelli Comune and that I could collect it in approximately 1 month.

I left, relieved that I had not acted in undue haste and stood partly naked before an innocent fingerprinter.

23 April 2010


On Monday, I go to the Questura (state police) for the next step in my quest (pardon the pun) for a Permesso di Soggiorno (residential permit).

I have been really excited ever since I made my appointment 2 weeks ago.

That is, I was excited until I went to the local Kodak shop to have my required 4 passport-sized photos taken.

I'd brushed, primped, dampened and moussed my hair until it no longer looked like I'd slept on it.

Then I'd put a respectable amount of make-up on. A little of everything.

I'd even dragged a 'new' shirt out of my cupboard. These days, it isn't difficult for me to find an 'new' (i.e. recently unworn) shirt. I seem to wear the same things for days on end!

So I was feeling beautiful and confident when Stu dropped me off outside the Kodak shop then drove away to find a parking space.

I still felt beautiful and confident when I walked into the shop and asked for some passport photos.

I felt truly beautiful and hugely confident when I sat on the little stool, looked at the camera and arranged my expression.

It was only when she showed me the photos she'd taken that my confidence fell on the floor, rolled away and hid in the corner.

It seemed that my face was even only in its lopsidedness! My eyes were on different levels. My eyebrows were shaped differently. My lips were full at one end and narrow at the other. And on one side, they followed a wrinkle that ran down between my chin and my jowel. I was completely and utterly crooked.

She must have seen the same sad signs of ageing because she offered to take more photos.

I settled again on the stool, this time arranging my face so that it FELT crooked. I assumed a surprised expression on the right hand side of my face in order to even up my eyes. I puffed out my lips on the side where they appeared too narrow. I squinted on one side so that the cheek would lift and flatten the wrinkle and thereby raise my sagging lip. To top it all off, I then attempted a very subtle smile. I felt like I'd just had a Botox treatment.

She showed me the new photos.

Unfortunately I was still crooked but now in a different direction. And all my efforts to improve on the earlier photos had simply made me look severely retarded.

Not wanting her to think me too vain, I chose one of them, then waited for her to process 4 copies for me.

Stu walked into the shop while I was waiting.

'How did it go?', he asked.

'I'm the ugliest person in the world', I replied.

He ignored me.

Shortly after, the woman came out with 4 photos in a little plastic pocket. She opened the pocket and invited me to view the final result but I didn't dwell too long. Probably a total of 1.25 seconds. I just wanted to get out of the shop before she realised how ugly I was.

Out on the street, I stopped to have a better look.

It was then that I saw it. I looked away. I brought the pocket closer to my face. I re-focused. It was then that I was sure.

I had a red spotty rash on my neck and chest!

'What the hell is THAT!?', I yelled at Stu.

He brought the photo up to his face and squinted.

'Ha ha! The resolution must be wrong or else that woman's got some pretty low quality processing equipment!', he said, 'It looks like you've got some terrible disease! I wonder if the Italian authorities will let you in looking like THAT!?'.

He was hysterical.

If the police at the Questura look the least bit doubtful about my 'disease', I have determined to bare my chest to them...

22 April 2010

Giant Rats

Yesterday we were walking through town and stopped on a bridge in the centre of Canelli to look down on the birds along the river.

We were watching the ducks and seagulls sunning themselves when suddenly Stu went quiet.

I assumed he was in a state of bliss, the sun warm on his back and the river flowing gently below him.

Oblivious, I continued to rant on about the ducks. I wondered which ones had been to visit us in our valley recently. I wondered where they went in winter. I wondered at their laziness and simplicity.

Then I heard Stu gasp.

I looked over at him, wondering now why he would gasp at my rantings.

'What's wrong?', I asked.

'Can't you see THOSE things?', he said, pointing to the banks of the river.

I followed his finger.

Now it was my turn to make a noise.

There playing gleefully in the river was a pack of giant rats!

These things were very long and massively fat. They had webbed feet and rats tails. They looked like giant wombats. Call us sheltered or ignorant Australians but we'd never seen anything like them before.

We were about 80% through the 'freaking' stage and 50% through the 'preparing to sell' stage when I became so desperate that I accosted a lady who was passing on a pushbike. I blurted my demand : What WAS this animal?

She confirmed that it was from the rat family. She kept talking, clearly telling us everything about this creature. Unfortunately, my knowledge of Italian didn't stretch far enough to understand much of what she said. So in the end I simply asked her if it was 'good or not good'. She shrugged her shoulders and dropped the sides of her mouth in thought (the way Italians do) then announced that it was 'good'.

Stu and I thanked her then walked back to the car in silence. Why would she say they were 'good'. Surely no rat, especially one that big, could be good. Hadn't they had giant rats in Europe in the middle ages? Hadn't these rats been responsible for the plague?

We had visions of these rodents invading our valley, perhaps even our septic, bringing the plague to us.

We rushed home, dashed upstairs, fell onto our PCs and signed onto internet.

Neither of us spoke. We would occasionally glance out the window lest we missed the hoards of giant rats that would soon penetrate our valley.

Stu looked up 'giant rat' while I looked up '*rat*water*webbed feet*Europe*'.

My search took me to sites that told me way too much about the various rat families. Did you know that there are 5 Suborders, 4 Superfamilies, 2 Infraorders, 1 Parvorder and a total of 34 Families of the little blighters!?

Anyway, I eventually got to the rat family 'Myocastoridae' and there I found our giant rat!

It turns out that our horrible man-rotting sewer-dwelling animal is actually a Nutria, which is a sort of otter or beaver that has historically been slaughtered for its fur. It lives in burrows along waterways and feeds on plants.

'Good', I guess...

15 April 2010

Time will tell...

They say time heals everything.

Well, I hope time heals grapevines.

After hours of erratic wielding of knives, daggers and machetes (read 'hedge-trimmers, shears and secaturs'), our grapes have now been completely and utterly mutilated (read 'pruned').

Yes, I pruned our grapevines today, approximately 2 months after every half decent winemaker in the region did theirs.

Stu also worked in the vineyard, installing new posts and wire to support them. Ever the optimist, he honestly believes that a profuse amount of foliage will burst forth from my twigs.

Sadly, the vineyard is a little 'patchy'. Several of the vines were rotten so had to be pulled out, while others had been laying on the ground for so long that they'd rooted in all the wrong places.

The ones that are left have 1 or 2 weird looking 'canes' that stick out at not exactly the right angles from their 'stocks'.

Oh well...if I'd been neglected for 30 years I probably wouldn't look too good either!

Only time will tell...

06 April 2010

Tomatoes anyone?

Last week, we proudly announced to our neighbour that we'd planted a lemon tree and a lettuce patch.

Our neighbour's response was to go quiet so we naturally assumed he was jealous of our progress. Perhaps he was even concerned that our garden would be better than his?

But after a 'hum' he suggested it might be too early to plant, as the valley tends to get late frosts right through to May!

A trite embarrassed, we have been eyeing the weather report every night for fear that we make fools of ourselves.

So far, the temperature has been above zero. Except for one night when a non-forecasted snow storm in Switzerland sent our temperatures plummeting!

I wasn't really sure what damage a frost would do, so I crept out in the whiteness the following morning to inspect our lemon tree and lettuces. Amazingly, they all seemed to have survived.

So it was difficult to convince Stuart NOT to buy tomato plants when he spied them his morning at the market.

He purchased 8 plants.

Our 8 little babies are now installed and Stuart has enthusiastically announced that the yield is expected to be 70kg!

Since this announcement, I've been pacing up and down the driveway trying to think of what to do with them (pasta sauces, pizza sauce, bolognese sauce, tomato relish, tomato jam). Any ideas would be much appreciated...

In the meantime, tonight I watched fondly as Stuart 'put his tomatoes to bed'.

He gently folded a temporary plastic cover over them to warn off any stray icy fingers that might choose to come this way tonight...

01 April 2010

Obsessed with all things septic

As you know from my postings late last year, we've had our fair share of sewerage problems since we arrived here...

We've also had our fair share of freezing temperatures. December caused some panic as we learned (the hard way) how much wood we would need in order to keep our hearts pumping throughout an entire winter.

In order to store a larger amount of firewood, we have made some adjustments to our garden design.

We have decided to move the woodpile from a location against the fienale to a location at the end of our vegetable garden. This would make the wood accessible from both sides. This would also allow our woodpile to be 1 metre wide x 8 metres long (almost double what it currently is!).

Unfortunately, the new position was but a dream until we could determine exactly where our septic tank was.

So today Stu started digging again.

Luckily, within half an hour he was tapping on cement and shortly thereafter had uncovered our tank! There was great rejoicing as we peered into our tank, alive and pumping and 'aromatic' as it was!

So it seems that we can now confirm the new position for our extended woodpile.

It also seems that next winter will be a cosy one...

We now have ducks!

Today we discovered 3 ducks in our creek!

They normally live along the main creek in Canelli but the melting snows and the recent rains have swollen our little creek and they appear to have migrated up our little valley!

Mind you, if I was a duck, I'd head up this valley too. It's quiet and peaceful and pure.

Of course, when the creek runs dry in Summer, they'll have to go back to Canelli in search of water.

But in the meantime, we'll marvel at their pretty faces and their glossy green feathers...