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!