Monday, August 28, 2006

The sky at night in August
The Milky Way
La Via Lattea
La Rue St Jacques (trust the French to be different)
Here it shrieks across the sky and on dark moonless nights such as we are having right now it takes you breath away it does. Bessie and I walk out at midnight along the top road towards Vittorio’s house and there it is, this chunk of white up there.
And they’re all stars for heavens sake I tell Bessie.
Who is as black as the night herself,but I hear her pattering along beside me and imagine her nodding yes.
Bessie, I ask, do you know why The French call it La Rue St Jacques ?
She mumbles something like 'Has it got something to do with the extortionate price of dogfood?'
I let this one go. What do dogs know about stars anyway?
It almost makes up for the disappointment of the La Notte da San Lorenzo, le stelle cadente, the night(s) of the falling stars, which were mainly cloudy.
Saw one tear from East to West above the roof of the house though. Huge it was.
Well, biggish.

During Ferragosto week, Bernie and Cristina visit us to calm their pre-nuptial nerves and we drive up to Lake Fiastra where it's cooler and the water is sweet and fresh. We take the mountain route back and being up there so high is a wonder indeed, another world, of strange blue flowers and diving hawks.

The language lesson
Andrea, the woodman calls me and says Michael I’m delivering your winter logs right now. Yes I say but you said you’d give me a call a couple of days beforehand. Hmm he says anyway I’m on my way now and can you be here to supervise the offloading so that I don’t crush Lili’s favourite rose like last year. No way. I’m busy, I can't get home, but look I say, I trust you, just put them over the wall (as in over the other side of), sopra il muro, avoiding sacred rose bush.
OK he says I’ll put them over the wall avoiding sacred rose bush.
Good idea, I say.
I get back late to find he’s dumped a trailer load over the wall, (as in completely covering).

Andrea, I say when I meet him in town the next day, I meant over the wall, not over the wall.
You should have said, he said.
Great eh? Isn’t that just great?
Your fault, Lili says later when she’s back from her hairdressing trip to Treviso, you should have used your hands, what do you think hands are for in Italy?
How can you talk if your hands are always stuck in your pockets, you English?

Tennis and the death watch beetle
You’ve heard of tennis elbow, but do you know what I’ve got? Tennis shoulder. Yes, that’s what I’ve got, tennis shoulder.
I had a game with my geometra friend Massimo…first game for eight years and I was bit uhm…creaky. The brain stays young, they say, but the body doesn’t always quite agree.
Hell, I remember, I do, I could slam a backhander and get to the net in a wink.
OK, this physical impediment I can handle, but psychological warfare?
Now where did that French soccer captain get his bad football pitch manners from?
I’ll tell you, Italy. He played here for some eight years for Lazio.
And this is the first time I’d played tennis with an Italian, and I’m getting rattled because every time I get a good shot in (which wasn’t that often on account of rapidly deteriorating shoulder condition brought on by whiz bang serves), Massimo lets out the most indelicate and vulgar curses. Monster, idiot, elephant, you are a stupid, fat, slow and ugly elephant he shouts, (these are the cleaner selection of epithets he was hurling my way).
After a while I have to say look Massimo, I find your curses a bit upsetting and I don’t think I really deserve them.
Oh, cripes, Michael, he says, it’s not you I’m cursing, it’s myself.
So we settle back into the game and I’m thinking maybe our Italian player was cursing his own mother and sister and La Captaine Francais didn’t quite understand the context.
Soothing thought.
Doubtful though.
I should mention here that everywhere the Italian flags are still flying even after almost two months since the world cup. It’s as if that’s all there is to hang on to. Two months of Prodi’s government where daily everybody is receiving fresh tax bills, oh not just for tax but everything we are just not used to paying, this is Italy for heaven’s sake, rates, water bills, refuse bills, etc.
Are they crazy? This is Italy for God's sake! (Here BTW you get the added delight of a sweet attachment which says if you don’t pay within ten days they will repossess your car) And what exactly would they do with the ten million cars they repossess? Where would they park them?
Napoli I imagine, or maybe Albania.
Talking about Albania, when we were in Croatia the other week on a short holiday, we were told that Albania is the new Croatia, implying that it’s half the price to go and stay there, rip off the locals and cash in before the Sunday papers start writing about it and the globalisation gets a grip.
Somehow I can’t imagine any journalist coining the term ‘The new Albania’, but journalist would and could, you bet! Last week I read in the Guardian an article entitled
‘Tuscany, the new Tuscany’
Oh, good grief!
Ah yes, the deathwatch beetle.
Tick tick tick. All night it ticks Lili says and you can’t hear it because you’re stone deaf.
Only in Italian restaurants I say and it’s selective.
What’s selective?
My hearing problem, I say. I can only not hear certain things. She says it might have something to do with my excessive use of a mouse.
I haven’t got a mouse I say.
No no, she says, my Rolfing therapist (rolfing?) tells me that using a PC mouse does damage to your back, eyesight, and gives you headaches, so maybe that’s why your losing your hearing too and why your tennis shoulder won’t heal.
And the tick is driving her mad because the beetle is obviously getting bigger and bigger and soon it will have babies which will eat all the roof beams and the house will fall down. Whoa! I say, hold on hold on, we’ll trap and destroy this beast, but do you know why it is called a deathwatch beetle?
Because it watches death, she says.
Oh dear, no wonder you can’t sleep at night, I say.
I call our friend John who used to be a pest control expert in London and he comes over with a bunch of books on wood blights.
And this is what we discover,
a) That the death watch beetle is only tiny, maybe a centimeter long
b) That the ticking sound is not her eating but tapping on the wood with her nose (please don’t ask)
c) That there is a paste which applied to said beams is a sure knock out killer.

So John has ordered magic paste from friend in London and soon we will be saved, forever. And the magic paste will fix everything, my shoulder, my hearing… and soften the deathwatch beetle’s nose.

Our war with our neighbours?
They are suing us to try and take away a piece of our garden so it can be theirs, citing a medieval law which is called ‘Usocapione’ They have witnesses to swear on their behalf that they cultivated this piece of land whilst simultaneously living and running a bar in Rome for twenty years. A difficult task. Must have exhausted them.
And you know what surprises me the most?
That I have murderous thought running through my mind.
Blood and earth.
Must be the Saxon- German blood in me.

The animals
You ask about Diabolika?
She has now accepted her new name of Marina.

She has won the hearts of us all and even snoozes cuddle up to Bessie.
Eva has returned home after her few weeks of jealousy and is beginning to play with her, and Forch is basically knackered because being her adopted father is one thing…. but playing with her all day? Come on. Some respect for my age, please, says he.

You can read my other stories in the Physik Garden,
And see some of my paintings on...

Saturday, August 26, 2006


This is a photo of our little niece Margherita.
If you live in Italy, you might have seen her face on TV and in the newspapers over the last two days.
She was born with a very rare physical deformity which has meant for her that virtually her first two years of life have been in hospitals, with feeding tubes in her nose and down her throat (because she didn’t have full control of her swallowing mechanisms) and only a small body frame to get around on. But try to achieve she did; and showed such amazing courage in the face of obvious pain and continuous discomfort.
She had her second birthday some two weeks back and she was so proud that she was beginning to walk and talk, if just a little, and even feed herself with a spoon.
On Wednesday she went in for a routine check up before she was to be taken to the US
where her parents had found a specialist who might have been able to help her to grow up in a more normal fashion.
She was to have a simple scan and the doctor there decided that she should be sedated to stop her moving during the process. He couldn’t find a vein in her arm to inject into and told her parents that he would give her gas instead. He applied the mask to her face and despite her struggling to pull it off, he held it firmly and then after too long a time he was seen to ask an attendant nurse to switch the gas on. There was then a whoosh of gas and Margi took a deep breath and her eyes rolled back. The parents at this time realized that something was wrong but the doctor told them he knew what he was doing and then tried to revive her. At no time did he call for assistance in what was obviously a deteriorating situation. Nor did he even after an hour of pumping her body for response when she had obviously died. But this he did not have the balls to tell the parents saying all the time that he had the situation under control.
Yesterday morning we went to see her at the morgue in Castel del Franco.
She looked so sweet and peaceful and was still dressed in her pretty little outfit all dolled up for her final hospital visit before her trip to the States.
The family of course is in pieces.
How can you handle this? You can’t, you can’t.
All that we can ask is that you say a little prayer for her.
And for those of you who have never met her to hear, if only from me, that such courage, albeit during a short short life, was something one comes across rarely.
Courage, that’s what she had.

And I shall never forget this that she has taught me.
That above all you need courage and to be brave in life.
Thank you Margi.

And the doctor?
I hope he gets struck off and put in jail.There will be an autopsy and investigation next week.
He is being prosecuted for culpable homicide.
But that doesn't bring back our little Margi.