Saturday, November 05, 2005

Vendemia time

Sambuco Newsletter Oct 31 2005

It’s the 2nd of October and we are on our way to Rome; to meet friends, see art; try some new restaurants… all that cultural stuff that us country types need more than once in a while, or more often
Before we get to the Salaria, (the old Roman salt road to Rome), I look up and see that the Grand Sasso in the distance has received its first sprinkling of snow and to the right I see Vettore has too. It’s too early for snow even at that altitude but I remember that even in mid June we had a dusting across the Sibillini peaks. For a weather freak like me (one who visits the Met Office site everyday) this is interesting info. Did you know for instance that they (the UK Met Office) predict an old fashioned winter in Europe, the first for over a decade? Well of course you don’t, normal people don’t visit weather websites.
(You read it here first, right?)
But Rome was nice. Not too many tourists (it seemed at first)….and you know the centre is quite small really to walk around.
But it’s sunny and we all feel lazy and decide to catch an open top bus and do the tour. Why not? We can chat and learn a bit of history from the plug in lecture.
So there they are, the tourist buses. And we go to the first in line and the driver says they are having trouble with the door and we should maybe go to the one behind which we do. On the bus it says pay as you get on so we attempt to pile on in and the tour guide appears from upstairs and shrieks no no you must get your ticket from the, office. Which office where? You have to ask she says… ‘But it says here tickets can be bought as you get on’, that’s only if you get on at other stops she says.
I begin to get ruffled but Lili says forget it, It’s Rome,…..they’re Roman.
We eventually find the ticket booth and here are the tourists, hundreds of them. And written on the window of the booth it says ‘closed for two hours’ (like from when?)
We walk away in despair and see a ‘Pilgrimage bus’ ‘Learn about Ancient Rome the way the original pilgrims did’ it says ‘ Take a voyage through time with a lecture on your headset which describes in graphic detail the wonders of Christian Rome’
We do, and it turns out to be more like an hour in Dante’s inferno. For a start the headsets don’t work, ‘Well they did this morning’ the guide says (to everybody on board who is fiddling with their bits of plastic) and we set off, lectureless into the Rome traffic where we get stuck in a mass of cars.
So we get off at the nearest opportunity and walk. Walk walk walk.
We have learned a lesson.
Visit Rome by train and walk when you are there.
And.. Say to yourself’ I am not a tourist, I am not a tourist, I will not do touristy things, over and over…and then walk (or catch a real tram or metro).
In the evening we find a nice restaurant by the hotel and as usual Lili reminds me not to behave like an Englishman (which means don’t drink before you eat and drink more water than wine and don’t eat too much and eat slowly and decline a pudding)
Our friend Silvia says ‘but Lili, Michael is not overweight’ Yes he is she says, he’s got an enormous pancia. But Lili, Silvia says, he’s got a perfect figure (ego massaged)
Yes, Lili says….. for a pear. (ego crushed)

A week later and we are back again to warm weather up from Africa and the frogs and toads are celebrating in their usual fashion by playing chicken in my headlights as we drive back from a pizza in town. I’ve given up trying to swerve away; they only jump in the same direction. But I felt bad about squelching a really big one. Must have been ancient, at least a hand span in width and, uhm, slightly wider afterwards (I saw as I drove past the next morning)
Frogs and toads playing chicken on the frog and toad?
I banish the conundrum from my mind.
Not easy.

This time of year we eat only potatoes and nuts.
This is not true but it feels like it.
Most of the nut trees hereabouts are to be found along the roadside; walnuts, chestnuts, almonds, hazelnuts. This makes sense of course because historically it meant that folks could collect nuts in the easiest way possible as they wandered along the ancient pathways. Now in this age where everybody has two or three cars, you see bunches of cars and people as you drive about, all within slippery red brown lakes of leaves and squashed nuts which spread across the roads and where you have to slow down on bends to avoid skidding.
And the road crews are out and about too at this time of year with their extending long armed grass and bush munchers, trimming the roadsides for better visibility now that the growth season has ended. A man at each end of these cavalcades (always there are three machines, munching at different heights) waving stop/go lollipops.
Driving back down from Sarnano yesterday, I see one of these guys darting about from one side of the road to the other and as I get nearer I see he is stuffing his pockets with walnuts as they cascade down in the gusts of wind. His pockets are bursting and he is temporarily de-lollipopped, completely oblivious to the hooting cars
Harvest time
It’s the time of la vendemia; grape picking. Usually we help Graziella with the harvest but this time we were away in Treviso. They kindly left us though some table grapes which Lili polishes off within two evenings. It’s a thing she has with grapes.
But the harvest this year is poor. Too much rain, not enough sun. But on Sunday morning it clears and we wander down to Graziella to ask if we can borrow their moto-sega (chain saw) to cut our logs in half because, (as you will no doubt remember), imbecile woodman didn’t do so. OK she says she’ll send Quinto up and we walk back ladened with a pumpkin, a dozen fresh eggs (plus as many not so fresh eggs from witch Pepa) and celery, potatoes and apples.
Sure enough, Quinto drives up half an hour later with the chainsaw but unfortunately he has been a bit too close to the wine vat this morning and he’s waving the chainsaw around like a tennis racket as he homes in on my logs…which he tells me to hold so that the saw won’t bounce. Bounce?
Forget it I say as I watch him slip for the second time and stagger towards the fig tree.
Oh my!
But then appears Graziella and prises the whirling machine from his grasp just as he slips again and plunges it into the metal log support which I had cobbled together for maximum operational safety. There’s a sharp whistling sound as the chain flies off the saw, sails between us and embeds itself in the fig tree.
Log sawing cancelled for rest of day.
Maybe forever

Our bread machine
It was a wedding present from Franca.
And I’ve really got into bread making.
Perfect life for me I tell Lili after another prize-winning loaf emerges from the machine. The perfect life would be days spent making bread, working in the garden, writing, painting, playing chess and the odd game of darts.
What about eating she says.
And drinking?
I pour myself a glass of water and go in search of the biscuit tin; find it; and swerve away, meaningfully, just touching the tin and no more. Touch touch!

End of the newsletter and I haven’t even mentioned little Eva and the T shirts, nor the gang warfare in Butundoli, nor even the miracle of the two plumbers and the electrician. NOR even the changes at our famous sinful nightclub, it's now a striptease disco!
Next time

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