30 June 2015

The white night of gongs, togas and wreaths...

Canelli is well situated, halfway between Asti (the historical centre of the province of Asti) and Acqui Terme (a beautiful Roman spa town).

Last weekend, we drove the 30 minutes to Acqui Terme for their Notte Bianca festival.

This annual event commemorates the influence of the Roman Empire on the town. The museums are open and there is a Gallic village. There is also a craft village where stall owners demonstrate and sell traditional crafts. Music can be heard on every corner, there is dancing as well as traditional food and wine from stalls and bars/cafes.

It was a perfect summer evening, one of those in which the clear sky became a deep indigo blue during twilight.

The festival commenced with a traditional Roman play during which a huge golden gong is played. The musician spins in slow circles as he plays the gong. This artistry adds drama to the music and creates a mesmorising and haunting sensory experience. The pure meditational sounds emanating from the polished metal disk echo eerily off the stone walls in the narrow streets of the old town.

I closed my eyes and was easily transported back a couple of thousand years.

After the play, we wandered through the streets of the old town, where we found hundreds of locals decked out in white togas. This is a tradition that particularly lends atmosphere to the festival. The locals take their costuming very seriously. Men wear centurion helmets or laurel wreaths. Women wear their hair curled into ringlets and decorated with gold, beads or veils. Everyone wears Roman sandals.

We purchased laurel wreaths for our foreign heads and found an outdoor table at a bar/cafe where we sat (crowned in our leaves) to enjoy a plate of farinata, a huge pork shank, roast potatoes and several glasses of wine.

When we left at midnight, feeling and looking as wilted as our laurel wreaths, the party was only just starting...





A summer breakfast...as fresh as it gets!

I nordic walk every morning before breakfast.

I always do 5km unless I'm feeling especially energetic when I do an 8-10km (about twice a week).

This morning, I was just setting off when I noticed a spotted carpet of ripe fruit under the yellow plum tree which hangs over the driveway.

I thought about nothing else for the next 5km.

On returning home, I dropped my sticks at the door, grabbed the cane basket thatnwe use for collecting fruit and vegetables and headed back down the driveway to gather a golden feast.

In a very short time, the basket was full and I returned home to create breakfast.

Our standard breakfast is organic rolled oats (soaked overnight to release minerals), coconut oil, greek yoghurt, cinnamon, almond meal and fruit.

This morning the fruit was fresh organic yellow plums...


27 June 2015

Non-bathroom project activity

Frustration has been building with the state of our shed.

Some of you know that we try to live a minimalist life. Well, it must be said that the shed in no way reflects this lifestyle.

It is wildly out of control, with garden tools hidden amidst piles of timber, cement and rendering items mixed up with painting paraphernalia, rats nests in coils of ropes, etc.

Yes, you read correctly. Rats nests.

So we spent a day this week organising our shed. Since we will be renovating the shed in the next few months, we took the opportunity to move the painting, gardening and electrical items to a temporary location in the rustico.

Then Stu removed the rats nests and presented me with the ropes which stank of rat urine. I was given instructions to soak them in bleach, then dry them on the driveway gravel. I soaked them, then promptly forgot about them! I last saw them drying on the driveway yesterday so I guess Stu must have got involved when he found the festering bucket. This happens with a lot of my tasks...it's one of the hazards of being with an easily distracted person.

There is always a good reason for my distraction though. I left my task to attack a wildly out of control wisteria. The 100 year old vine is so triffid-like that it threatens to wrap around our necks while we're sitting under the pergola! I took to it with the shears and hedge clippers, cutting off several unwanted branches and removing old seed pods. I also trimmed the skirt which hangs down the sides of the pergola to provide shade in the late afternoon and removed thick growth next to the house to let more light into the lounge and dining rooms.

It now looks inviting...just the place for tomorrow's breakfast!



26 June 2015

The downstairs bathroom has a hard concrete floor!

My post dated 19 June 2015 regarding the renovation of our downstairs bathroom explained our initial progress. The plumber had been, a lot of jackhammering had taken place and we were waiting for the concrete floor to harden before we could progress with tiling.

While waiting, we've been using siesta to work out exactly HOW to lay our tiles.

Our plan is to re-tile the complete downstairs area of the house in the same tile as we use in the bathroom. The old tiles are well past their due date. They have lost their initial gloss (if they ever had one) and now absorb everything we drop on them. They are a terracotta colour which makes the rooms look small and also shows every bit of dust that we manage to walk in from our rural environment.

We purchased the new tiles about 6 months ago. They are large, rectangle in shape and sandstone in colour so will be fast to lay and will hide dust and dirt.

Internet searches told us that laying tiles in a diagonal pattern visually expands rooms. This is an important issue for us as our old rustic stone house has thick and very crooked walls as well as multiple small rooms rather than large open areas. We also asked my draftsperson father to provide comparable layouts so that we could better visualise the various looks and wastage rates.

In the end, we decided a straight border around the perimeter of each room and a diagonal pattern in the centre would work best so we started planning the bathroom first. We looked at the walls with critical eyes for the first time. They weren't straight or even at ninety degree angles to any other wall! We had a long (sometimes heated!) discussion about which wall one sees from the doorway and which wall should be the one that takes the uneven edge of tiles. Then Stu started measuring walls, depths and angles with string lines, asking me to hold one end of a piece of blue string while he held the other end then flicked it to leave blue chalk marks on the concrete. It all looked very naiive but it must have been effective because Stu used this technique to work out where the border would go, which tiles would be cut to fit the crooked walls and on what angle the diagonals would be laid.

Once the mathematics had been done, it was my turn. I am responsible for the visual check. We set out about 20 tiles at key points then I stood in various locations viewing the tiles from within the room, from the doorway and from the adjacent room.

It "looked" right so we have now started laying tiles.

For way too many months we've been without a downstairs bathroom. We've had to negotiate multiple doors, corners and stairs every time we wanted to go to the toilet!

This has made us think twice about entertaining because of the inconvenience to guests...but a future which involves an easily accessible bathroom now beckons...



24 June 2015

Our new fruit bushes provide...

A few years ago, Stu planted several gooseberry bushes.

This year, for the first time, we have what one might call a "crop"!


23 June 2015

Cammina Cammina ("Walk Walk")

There is a small town just outside Camelli called Calosso.

Calosso conducts several wonderful annual events and this week we went there for the single best event that we have ever attended in our region!

It involved a 2 hour walk (10km) from Calosso town to the La Canova winery where we had dinner.

At 5pm we arrived at the Calosso Commune where we registered for the event and received a t-shirt and a glass of moscato. By 6pm a strong crowd of at least 100 had gathered and the group set off a few minutes later. The route was clever. It provided a relaxing walk which had just the right amount of ascents and descents to make it enjoyable.

We had a halfway stop at a winery where we were treated to fresh fruit, water and wine before we continued on.

The La Canova winery is on a spectacular ridge with views out over rolling hills of vines and hilltop towns. The final rise to this spot was the hardest of the walk but the fresh fruit, water and wine that awaited us there too was worth it.

While we waited for slower walkers to arrive, we appreciated the views, admired the winery's extensive rosemary hedge and chatted to the resident donkey and goat.

Eventually we were all invited into the cantine for dinner. The cantine at La Canova is extensive and beautifully combines history with modernity. Along the back wall there are huge stainless steel vats, on another rows of oak barrels and on others old historical farm pieces such as carts and signage. In the centre of the cantine long trestle tables were adorned in orange tablecloths. A band was playing upbeat jazzy music and we were instantly rejuvenated.

After finding our reserved spots at a centre table, we sat to watch the remaining 200 walkers and non-walkers arrive and settle.

Within a few minutes we were drinking wine and eating dinner, which consisted of carpionata multipla, ravioli al raga, formaggi, insalata e torta di nocciole con crema di cioccolato. The courses were brought to us on large platters or bowls and dished out by Pro Loco people who proved to be highly skilled! They used spoons and forks as tongs using one hand while they held the platter or bowl with the other hand. Food was plentiful and several helpings of each course could be had.

During dinner the band played Italian folk songs and the 200-strong crowd sang, some taking the microphone and getting involved like only Italians can. After dinner, the band played more rhythm music which we simply couldn't resist and before long we were up dancing too!

The atmosphere was...welcoming...inclusive...intimate...emotional...incredible... It so inspired Stu that he turned to me and said "Being part of this makes you wonder why there is any hate in the world"...

Above: Setting off on the walk

Above: Near the halfway point where we were given fresh fruit, water and wine

Anove: Nearing the end

Above: Two hot but happy walkers

Above: The walkers arrive at the winery

Above: The cantine set for dinner

Above: Two happy diners


20 June 2015

My pollice verde

Last week, our neighbour bestowed on me the esteemed title of "Pollice Verde" (green thumb)!

That is, until I transplanted a cherry tree at the beginning of summer. This caused all manner of trauma. "The the tree will die!", he exclaimed. "Such things can only be done in autumn!", he insisted.

But I am confident that my little transplanted tree will survive because I apply dry land (Australia!) as well as spiritual gardening techniques to our garden.

These are secrets of my "pollice verde":

- I use mulch. Our neighbour has seen me gathering cut grass, piling it up, watering it, waiting for it to start shrinking, then plastering it all over our gardens. He shakes his head at it, asks questions about why we do it and what it does and ultimately decides that it will kill our plants!

- I also talk to and stroke my plants. Our neighbour (hopefully) hasn't seen me doing this!

When you come from a gardening wasteland such as Australia, you simply cannot fail to have a "pollice verde" in the fertile and moist environment we have in Piemonte...


19 June 2015

Some people can't be helped...

I interrupt my normal posts to issue one from my better half...

"I got up early to finish the concreting of the bathroom and entry passage in readiness for tiling next week. I started at 6am and, 3 wheelbarrow loads later, the job was complete.

An hour later, I hear a small voice say "Oh, this is still wet!?"

Yes, Cath had stood in the wet cement.

Now we have a perfect imprint of her slippered foot in the concrete. Amazingly, the footprint is in the section she had helped me to smooth out only an hour before...so her comment is truly beyond comprehension.

I am leaving the footprint there so that I can get some mileage out of it and in the hope that it might remind her not to stand in it again until it has set!"

...back to my posts tomorrow...


Our next big renovation...the downstairs bathroom

With the upper fienile renovation finished, the lower fienile awaits...but we're turning our attention to another more pressing job first: the renovation of the downstairs bathroom and the side door entry passage.

When we purchased the house, the previous owner had installed a strange collection of walls in one of the downstairs rooms. These walls created a separate hallway, laundry and bathroom but were maze-like and labyrinthine.

We don't like pokey so we've been on a mission to open the area up ever since.

First we removed a staircase nearby to make an alternative hallway, which we have been using as an entry passage. We also removed the pokey hallway wall and were left with a laundry and a bathroom that were slightly larger than they had previously been.

Then we had a vision!

We realised that we could open up the space even further by removing the wall between the laundry and the bathroom and making a single room for both functions. So we did. We also removed the toilet, bath and shower (which we wanted to re-position in the space) and lifted the tiles in the entire area (3 different types) to take the floor back to cement.

The project subsequently stagnated while we were distracted by the upper fienile and we've been living with a washing machine in a corner of a dusty room and a bathroom without amenities!

Last month, we turned our attention to thIs entire area again. The first task was to explain to the plumber what we wanted to do, which was no mean feat in itself.

The work included moving one radiator and installing another radiator, both of which needed to be connected to the caldaia (heating) ystem. We also wanted to move the bath/shower to one side of the room and install a basin, bidet and toilet on the other side. Finally, we needed to streamline the plumbing to ensure that the grey waste from the bathroom upstairs flowed as fast as it could given that it would join the downstairs waste system.

When the plumber came, there was a lot of animated discussion and wild gesticulation at pipes and walls before he spray-painted the concrete floor. These red lines marked the channels where the new pipes would be laid. Stu needed to jackhammer through the concrete to create these channels.

Stu dutifully jackhammered, which had to be performed carefully after he found live unprotected electrical wires within the concrete! Finally, with the destruction finished, we called the plumber back. There was more animated discussion and wild gesticulation and yet more spray-painted lines.

On his third visit, the plumber arrived with PVC and copper piping, connections and equipment. He spent the entire day disconnecting and reconnecting pipes within the channels. Then he left, telling us to concrete over the channels then call him again once we'd laid the new tiles.

Stu has spent recent days closing the bathroom channels with concrete.

Since the tiles in the bathroom, laundry and entry passage will be the same, we also want them to be at the same level. This has meant that Stu also needed to jackhammer up the old tiles and floor in the entry passage and level this space with concrete too.

We are now waiting for the concrete to harden in all 3 areas so that we can start laying tiles!

Above: The bathroom floor jackhammered up and new piping laid

Above: The bathroom floor concreted over

Above: A false wall installed which will hide the piping and electrics. This photo also shows the future location of the toilet, bidet and sink.

Above: The side door entry passage jackhammered up

Above: The side door entry passage floor concreted over


18 June 2015

A non-watery experience

I neglected to tell you the most interesting (entertaining!?) part of our water testing experience yesterday...

Our chemist is located in a 4th storey apartment in the centre of Canelli. The rooms in the apartment have been remodelled somewhat to function as an office and a laboratory but the layout is still reminiscent of a home.

After giving us the results of our water test, our lovely chemist asked us if we liked alcohol. When you listen to someone speakIng in a foreign language, you often rely on context to help you imagine what they might be saying to you. In the utter absence of context for this particular question, I struggled to imagine hat he was asking...until I eventually decided he was definitely asking us if we liked alcohol.

I said yes.

He invited us into his laboratory.

We walked from his office, which contained old wooden furniture including shelves packed with books and paperwork, to the next room.

In the next room, which was once perhaps a bedroom in the apartment, we noticed photos of Canelli in the early 1900s on the walls, shelves and cupboards around the perimeter and large stainless steel tables in the middle of the space. On the tables stood rows of empty bottles of various colours, shapes and sizes. On the shelves there were other bottles containing clear, amber, green or brown liquids. Still more bottles stood on the floor and these contained swollen, half-submerged organic matter that floated ominously in their coloured liquids. Each bottle had a white homemade label attached to it.

We had entered a distillery.

Our chemist picked up one of these bottles, read the label (grappa), told us the percentage of alcohol and sugar, then poured us a glass. Then he picked up another bottle, read the label (nocciole), told us the percentage of alcohol and sugar, then poured us a glass. Then he picked up another bottle, read the label (genepy), told us the percentage of alcohol and sugar, then poured us a glass.

Quite simply, these were the single smoothest liquors that we have ever drunk.

After a fascinating half an hour, during which we had felt like characters in an episode of Breaking Bad (our chemist was Walt!), we left slightly under the influence with a bottle of the world's best genepy secreted in my handbag...


17 June 2015

A watery experience

Our only access to water here is via our well.

For years, this worried me stupid. Being a city girl, I was used to drinking water from a guaranteed supply and certified drinkable by the World Health Organisation!

When we first moved here, there was an old stone well that was defunct and a new concrete well that had been built some time during the previous 10 years. Our water system in the house was connected to the new well which brought water up from 7 metres underground. We showered in this water, washed our clothes in it and flushed the toilet with it. We also started to drink it in small quantities and were greatly relieved when we failed to contract cholera.

Then we read somewhere that drinking water high in calcium could give us kidney stones! We knew our water had a high calcium content because a hard white build-up would gather quickly on the insides of the jug. So we started purchasing bottled water too and would only drink our well water if it had been filtered and boiled. This system continued even after our plumber installed a softening system to remove the calcium...in the absence of proper certification, we continued to worry about our well water's potability.

During all this time, we contemplated getting it tested but, as with a lot of things here, we didn't know where to start and there always seemed to be other priorities.

When we mentioned to our neighbour that we were interested in getting our water tested, he gave us the contact details for a local chemist. He also told us that our home's previous owners had drunk the well water and lived to be 101 and 102 years old! One of these owners used to drink directly out of the 100-200 year old old stone well on the property! But this was before the use of pesticides and fungicides and we really did want to know the truth about our water...

So yesterday we finally got around to visiting the chemist. It was one of the easiest things we've done here, which is often the case with the tasks we've avoided or procrastinated over. He was a lovely older man who explained all of the tests that needed to be done in detail. They included PH, ammonia, nitrates, calcium, hardness, iron, manganese and sodium as well as herbicides, insecticides, pesticides, fungicides and phosphates. On top of this, he would also test bacteria counts for faecolis and streptococcus. He also explained that we could bring samples to him or he could come to the house and take the samples himself. I thought it might be better if he understood our set-up in terms of the well location and the softening equipment so I invited him to visit. He said he'd be there within 3 hours!

Our chemist arrived on time armed with a little blue plastic bottle carrier. He took samples before the softening equipment and at the kitchen tap and left saying that the results would be ready the next day.

We went to his office this morning to get the results where, to our joy, he declared our water to be "bellissimo"!!!

It looks like we've purchased our last bottle of water...


16 June 2015

The first flush is over, the petals on the ground...

I think there is nothing sadder than dying roses...

The huge flush of flowers that our climbing rose offered us in Spring has finally faded and every time I look at it now I feel depressed.

So I got the extendable ladder out of the shed and the sharp "rose shears" out of the cantine and dead-headed it with brutality. I also cut back excess green growth to allow better air circulation during the hot humid days of summer. Our heavy summer weather encourages small green caterpillars which are capable of stripping entire branches of leaves overnight.

Not a single dead rose remains...the ground is sprinkled with fading petals...and the bush is free to breathe again...


15 June 2015

Fresh garlic!

This is how we are buying our garlic from the market these days...not dried...but fresh!

It is moist, mild and we've taken to eating it raw in salads!


13 June 2015

A trip away...and a day at Limone sul Garda

On our return from Bolzano, we took the opportunity to drive the pretty route along Lago di Garda.

We dropped into a little town called Limone sul Garda which is spectacular because it is right on the lake but also has a backdrop of high steep rocky mountains.

This little town is famous for its hillside cultivation of lemons which has been happening since the 1700s.

We stopped to taste the local limoncello and walk the narrow streets of the town. We also enjoyed a lake fish pasta lunch and a cool gelato as we cooked in the heat reflected off the rocky cliffs and the humidity rising from the lake.

The historic stone buildings, the lemon groves, the watery foreground and the rocky mountains provided some great photo opportunities...





A trip away...a day in the mountains

After a day in the towns of Trento and Bolzano, we were keen to get out in the mountains.

So we took the cable car up to the Renon, a high plateau 1000 metres above Bolzano. The cableway is the longest one track cableway in the world. It travels about 4 kilometres in 12 minutes.

Historically, this plateau was first mentioned in AD 870 and a mountain inn was established on the plateau in AD 1200.

The plateau is dotted with towns and is populated enough to justify a railway line (built in 1907) which travels for about 5-6 kilometres along the top, stopping at about 8 stations along the way. We travelled from Oberbozen to Klobenstein.

Once at Klobenstein, we got off to walk to a lunch spot which had been recommended by the man from whom we rented our apartment in Bolzano.

The agriturismo was a 30 minute walk away, past ancient black wooden barns and across rolling green hills which caused us to stop and sing "The Hills Are Alive".

At our destination we patted horses and donkeys, played with cats, teased chooks and smelled the earthy sweetness of mountain cattle before settling down for lunch.

The 4-course meal was a combination of Italian and German foods. It consisted of salamis and cheeses, ravioli containing wild meats and cheeses, beef steak and wiener schnizel, raspberry semi freddo and apfel strudel.

While our mouths savoured these local tastes, our eyes feasted on views of the DolomitI and our ears rang with the sounds of Germanic-style church bells from nearby towns.

We left the agriturismo three hours after we'd arrived, walked back to Klobenstein then on to Lichtenstern (halfway back to Oberbozen). We caught the train again at Lichtenstern to travel the rest of the way to Oberbozen.

Late that afternoon, several tired people returned from the plateau in a silent cablecar, then stumbled back over Bolzano's cobblestones to their apartment.

Our dreams that night involved history and high pastures...