Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Carols

Just look at this stuff!
Dreaming of a white Christmas were you?

We get back from a weekend in UK and whammo! Straight into half a metre of the white stuff (Oh, it's snow I'm talking about here)
Yes, Christmas shopping in London where we saw marvellous things. We saw The Queens' collection of Italian art at Buckingham Palace (well, not actually IN the Palace but in The Queen's Gallery on the side), an exhibition of Futurist Art in Islington, then to Camden market, where we got a Chinese meal for two quid, and finally the new St Pancras station where we had champagne in their new bar there in sub zero temperatures (only the English, I said to Lili.... only the English would conceive of ,and enjoy, anything quite as daft) we stayed with our friends Sheila and Tony who fed us quails eggs and huge breakfasts. Then we zoomed up to other friends, Franca and John, near Cambridge, and arrived in their quaint little village of Brinkley just in time for the Carol Service in the church opposite.
Lili was quite intrigued at the thought of attending an activity in an Anglican church (being of the Papal ilk herself) but I don't think any of us were prepared for what we experienced.
It was odd, very odd indeed.
And this is what happened...
There we were, the congregation, adults, families with kids of all ages, packed within ancient oak pews, all of us clutching our carol song sheets, ready to sing our hearts out, as we English love to do and suddenly, from the back of the church and obviously in a rush arrives the vicar, a lady vicar, a vicarette, carrying a tatty cardboard box which she plonks on the floor beside the alter.
'I suppose you're all wondering why I'm not dressed in my usual vicar's attire' she asks 'and dressed in this coat? Well, maybe you think I'm bonkers, or absent minded, but it's not either of these. I'm dressed to go out because tonight we are going on a journey'
The congregation exchange nervous glances (no mince pies?, out in the freezing cold?). 'We are going on a journey to Bethlehem, to be at the birth of baby Jesus'.
(phew, a metaphorical trip, ok, ok, ok.)
'Let's think first about Mary', she says, 'Now she was only twelve years old when an angel came to her alone in her room one evening and asked her if she'd mind giving birth to the Son of God. "That would be just fine" Mary said, "Oh thanks, but don't tell your mum just yet" said the angel, and then disappeared.'
'Now', says our vicarette, directing her questions at a couple of young girls in the front row, 'What would you feel if your mum and dad had gone off to Tesco's to do the shopping and an angel turned up in your room and asked if you wouldn't mind giving birth to a divine babe? And you were just twelve years old?'
Nervous giggles from the girls and a few muffled grunts.
'You'd be really scared wouldn't you?'(more giggles and shuffles)
'And would you tell your mum and dad? No, because the angel tells you to keep it a secret between you and God?'
'Let's here say a prayer to Jesus for all the young people who have to make hard decisions in their lives'
We pray,
And then sing a carol 'Away in a manger'
'And poor Mary, can you imagine going all the way to Bethlehem on a donkey in her condition? Not a lovely warm BMW! And being only twelve years old, and arriving there and finding all the hotels full?'
'And what about the shepherds?' she asks 'The angel flies up to them on the hillside and declares the imminent arrival of Jesus to them and asks them to go down to Bethlehem at his birth. What must they have thought?' (adults beginning to exchange increasingly nervous glances)
She then drags out the Tesco's cardboard box she'd hidden under the altar and asks the children to come out and put the little shepherd figures into the box along with the manger.
'And then poor Joseph, what must he have thought when the angel told him his 12 year old betrothed was pregnant not with his baby, but with God's? Would one of the children like to come out and put Joseph in the box, uhm.. manger?'
Little boy hops out and bungs Joseph in Tesco's box.
'Now I would like all the children to come up and meet Joseph' (increasingly reluctant children forced by parents to go to front of church)
'Now what sort of job did Joseph have, children?'
'Fireman', one says, 'TV producer' says another.
'Well, he worked with wood, what would that make him?' 'A lumberjack' says a little boy.
Vicarette somewhat impatiently tells them no he was a carpenter.
And so on with more carols and prayers to baby Jesus for all shepherds, carpenters and lumberjacks who have difficult decisions to make in their lives.
Finally (and by this time the congregation are in a state of suppressed mass panic),
She says 'And guess who I've got in my pocket? Yes baby Jesus, I've been keeping him safe and sound and warm all day' And she lugs him out (in the shape of a little cloth mummy) and drops him on the church floor (oh crikey!)
Then she asks a little boy to take BJ and put him gently in the manger (Tesco's cardboard box) 'But don't drop him', she says.
A finally a prayer for the animals in the manger who must have wondered what an earth was going on (what about us in the congregation, I'm thinking, we'd like to know what's going on)
And then we sing 'Oh little star of Bethlehem', a quick prayer to BJ and then outa there, most of the parents rushing home for a quick brandy and on to Google to ask how old Mary was when she had BJ.

Wanna know? try this link, (but not if you're Catholic)

Phew, glad to be back safe and sound in the land of a million nativity scenes (presepe where Joseph and Mary are both thirty years old at least, the animals and shepherds are all happy in their respective positions and the three wise men haven't been forgotten and are also inside the Tesco's box, ......I mean manger).


I'll leave you with a picture of a snowman I made yesterday in the garden.
I've made him look about twenty one years of age, although he's probably only eleven.

Monday, November 19, 2007

snow on 16th Nov

Yep! Lots of it

And here's one next morning! OK, you've got it... this is the other side of the two halves of Italy. Green lizards versus fine wines (and chocolates).

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Bad Italy day

Bad Italy days happen periodically and nowadays more frequently.
Is it because I'm getting older and grumpier, or because they are getting worse? (they being them). Both, Lili tells me, with always the aside 'This is Italy, for goodness sake, you know it's like this, get a grip'
Ok, what am I talking about specifically?
Uhmm, how about yesterday for example?
Weather forecast is for snow arriving later and Lili has to get to Rome for her Tantric workshop.
I've already made an appointment to get snow tyres put on, so I drive into town, at the appointed time of 9.30, only to find the Gommista, the tyre depot, completely chockablock with locals. and then the usual routine......(Oh my goodness).... there's this unspoken communication going on. Twenty men, twenty cars and nobody saying anything to anybody. Look, everybody knows Italians don't like to queue but when they do it with cars, it's just, it's just.... deadly. And it's not just men driving/darting into the workshop as soon as one car departs from a ramp but some are driving in and doing a self service routine, jacking up own their cars, even using the workshops bolt guns (and thus holding up any semblance of progress). Then I see Massimiliano, our earth moving man, and say for heavens sake what's going on here, who goes when and how? Michael, he says, you just have to push and not be English, otherwise you'll still be here this evening. So I try assertiveness, go up to the boss and say I'm driving onto the ramp next.
Sure he says.
So there I am (car that is) up on ramp and he duly sets about seeing to all the other punters.
I get away an hour and a half later, and it's beginning to snow.

Next stop the Anagrafo.
I shouldn't have done this, I should have gone home. Why would I want to punish myself so!
The background story....
Up until this year, non- Italian EU citizens wanting to live in Italy have had to apply for a Carta di Soggiorno. With new more universal EU laws coming into effect, this excruciatingly soul destroying process has been replaced by one of simple registration at the Anagrafo of one's local comune.
Oh yeah?

Lizards at work (in confused state)

There is no doubt in my mind that the creature who runs the Anagrafo office is a six foot lizard, an alien being. Sure he has (almost) the appearance of being a human being, but don't be fooled.
His sole purpose on this planet at this time is to make miserable the lives of non-Italian residents, me being one of them.
So, my Carta di Soggiorno has just expired and, as these documents legally no longer exist, I naturally assume that, as I am already a resident here from nine years back, that all is in order and I just have to do nothing.
Naive, or what?
This week I get a letter from the six foot lizard telling that as my Carta di soggiorno has expired that I must report to his office within 20 days and with every possible document proving my identity (which they already have remember), otherwise my name will be expunged from the Comune records.
What? Hmm. Hence my visit.
There' a young guy working for lizard who does all his counter confrontations for him. Lizard controls him of course, because everything you say (or plead) has to be reported to lizard who is constantly sending telepathic messages to young man (who could in fact be a baby lizard I'm beginning to think).

It goes like this..

Why have you sent me this rude letter?
Because your Carta di Soggiorno has expired.
But the Carta di Soggiorno no longer exists, how could I renew it?
It's the new law and you have to apply all over again.
For what?
For legal residence.
But I've been legally resident here for nine years, had a legal business, paid tax, paid into Italian pension fund, you name it. Also I'm married to an Italian and can claim Italian citizenship.
I don't know about that, but you still have to bring in all the forms we ask plus proof of private health insurance.
What? (at this point my heart beat is making the double thickness glass partition between us begin to rattle) I already have Italian State health insurance (which I'm imminently going to be in need of)
No you don't.
I whip out my insurance card and he looks at it dumbfounded, then takes it over to six foot lizard. Lizard gets his own out of his wallet and scrutinises both together, turning them over round and round. He sends a telepathic command to young lizard who picks up phone and calls Lizard HQ. I leave him talking and go and have a coffee with Graciella and Quinto who I spot outside; comeback and young lizard is still on phone and now I see boss lizard is giving me deadly looks, trying to hypnotise me I guess or damage my brain cells.
Yes you do have this card it's true but you must get an E121 card from your country of origin and take it to the hospital to make it valid.
You mean it isn't any longer valid? If I have an accident , or maybe a heart attack, I'm not covered?
Yes you are but you still have to get this card and I would advise as soon as possible.
For God's sake, I've been resident here for years, etc etc etc.
OK, I'm getting out of here, you lizards don't know what you are talking about.
They flash each other looks and I see the green sparks for a split second, so now I know for sure.

Get back home and Pino turns up because I'd said we'd go to Denis' house to check out a massive leak he'd been told had swamped his downstairs lounge. We drop Lili off in Amandola to catch the bus for Rome and we head off to Illice to check house. Pino hands me his new Tom Tom satellite navigator because he says he's tried for days to get it to work and can't, it keeps on trying to make him go to Ancona airport when wants to go to The Oasis shopping centre in Fermo. I switch it on and it says 'Turn around now. Would you like to take the autostrada.... your journey is 316 Kilometres and will take two and three quarter hours.'
Illice is only 8K away and ten mins I should add.
Try it tomorrow I tell him, it's a bad Italy day. He puts it away. I don't have to explain.
Denis' flood turns out to be a tiny puddle and as we leave the house the snow has really set in and we sooth our irritation by picking as many of Denis' persimans as we can carry. Enough to last until Christmas, you bet.
Back into Amandola for a beer and it's getting darker and colder and I have to remind myself that this weather is not normal. Why this time last year we were still at the beach sunbathing, although I guess that wasn't normal either.
Back home I decide to go to Pilates class even though Lili is in Rome (just me and twenty women, what am I doing?) I kit up, go out wearing my Crocs walk onto snow and WHACK!, down I go. So there I was, in the dark, lying on my back, soaked in wet snow and my back hurting like hell and with Bessie looking over me wagging her tail.
I give up, go back inside house and run a hot aromatic bath.
It's a bad Italy day.
It's the best you can do.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

It's Autumn

A short animal quiz

OK what's this?

'A dog.'

Well done!

What about this?

'Another dog.'

Errr..... yes.

'And this is a photo of a man with the same dog (and Eric the Black peeping into frame)'

Well yes.

'And his friend with the other dog.'


Not really getting anywhere are we?


What I was trying to steer you towards was some sort of exclamation of recognition.


Yes, like 'Hey, that's a hunting dog'. Or, 'That's a bird dog, duck dog, hare dog, any anything dog, apart from being just a dog!'


So what sort of dogs do you think these might be?

'Duck dogs'

Oh. good grief! How on earth could they be duck dogs in the middle of a truffle wood in Le Marche?
There, now I've said it.

'Oh, they're truffle dogs'

Why yes, you've got it, well done.

The story, however.....

Bernie has been invited to write an article about truffle hunting for a very famous magazine which could even possibly be the New York Times (gosh, if only this were true). Although one can never be sure about such things with American journalists (which is what he is) because they all say they are writing for the New York Times and I never know why except maybe it's magic mantra which claims truth by it's very utterance. (Shakespeare, hmm)
So in town we meet Alberto Mandozzi, the President of the local Truffle Society along with his assistant
Marcello. We've already been briefed at some considerable length by Antonio's son about the holy nature of our task and I'm getting to feel that we are going on a secret mission into some ultra-sensitive war zone. We're certainly dressed for the part, wearing what can only be described as combat gear. Truffles after all, can be dangerous critturs warns Bernie.. shouldering his shotgun. The truffle President eyes him suspiciously, dark imaginings flitting across his knitted brow, visions of skies full of helicopters and marines parachuting into his scared groves.

Bernie entering sacred grove

The war zone happens to be in the woods below our house. What? Beneath our house? So that explains the cars we see scattered around our drive all these past Autumns...truffle hunters. Already this eiry feeling that we are entering some magic secret, some other divine dimension.
The dogs, Lampo and Dora spill out of their respective Fiat Pandas and go racing down the hill, our hill, noses already vacuuming the ground beneath them as they zoom down towards the woods.
And so it began, our initiation into the sublime art of truffle hunting.

(Alberto has written a wondrous book on the subject...'i Tartuffi del Piceno' but here's a brief synopsis).
There are, he explains, two types of truffle, white and black.
There are four types of black but only one of white. The white you only find in Italy, it can only exist in the wild where it lives a symbiotic existence with the oak tree, attaching itself to the roots of same. The black, which can be grown domestically also depends initially on this symbiotic existence with the oak and a couple of other trees but it then spreads across the woodland floor. The white is four times more valuable than the black (this year fetching E10,000 a kilo) has a richer aroma but a more subtle taste.
And then, most important of all (and this had both Antonio and Marcello roaring with laughter),
there are no white truffles in France, only black. The poor French...... but nothing less, of course, than they deserve.

Bernie, Eric the Black, Marcello and Alberto, Lampo and Dora

And this was the most amazing part for me.
That the truffles want to be found and eaten.
This is why they give off such a heady seductive aroma which attracts dogs, deer, cinghiale and snails (yes, snails!) If they could talk they be saying, shouting, 'Find me, here I am, dig me up and eat me', although in Italian and not of course in French.
Because this is how they are spread: the spores pass through the alimentary canal of animals and are deposited across wide areas (in the case of the cinghiale) and considerably shorter distances (probably two metres) in the case of the snail. But it's the snails' excrement that contains the best nutriments for the germination of the truffle spore. Now what do you make of that?
And our hunt? Zero! Didn't find a thing. Worst season for years with no rain in the summer they tell us, but I wonder. I wonder if this is all part of the ritual of initiation. That there is a level two, and we've only passed part one. That, metaphorically, Bernie has to change his shotgun for a truffle spear. You know what I mean, don't you. You do.
Truffles next time. They promised.

The language lesson.
Two weekends back I got stuck in London because of a strike at Falconara airport. Anyone who has ever suffered the trials and arrows of outrageous Ryan Air will know that they don't have an office anywhere, a number to call, nor an email address which replies to you desperate pleas for help or even information. Instead they have countless blue clad colleens who are trained to say to each and every demand 'We can only ask you to go on line and refer to information on the Ryan Air web site sir'
I won't go into the dreadful events of that morning only to say that there were other's in a more desperate situation than myself, those with small kids and old parents who were literally left high and dry. I'm sure these people just gave up and went home.
I'll mention one thing though. When we eventually got to the ticket desk to rebook, this one young colleen suggested to us that we fly to Marseilles. 'Marseilles my dear' I said , 'Is in France.' Well I never she said. Then there this nothing going out for days.
What about from Forli. I asked?
pWhere's that' she said.
Well, turn around and look at the Ryan air map behind you and I'll point you to it.
Oooh, she says, l can try that, can't I?
'Oh why not'
We got a flight to Forli next day. I shall spare you the grizzly details.
Oh, but this is the funny bit.
Having missed the flight, I missed out on a meeting with clients that day and when they turned up at the office that afternoon, Lili told them that she was sorry that I couldn't be there because I'd had a stroke in London, but that I should be back the next day.
She said afterwards that she couldn't understand why they sat down so suddenly and kept saying I'm so sorry, I'm so very sorry.

Monday, October 08, 2007

OK, where's this?

Go on guess.

St. James's Park?

Are you crazy? Ok I know there is, or used to be, one flamingo there which I think was actually a scrub that one.

The Nile?

Oh dear me no! Can you see any crocodiles? Come on!

Lake Victoria?

Oh well, could be, but look, you're never gonna guess, so I'll tell you, but only if you keep it a secret.
Alright yes we promise!
Ok then... It's Sicily.
Oh you're kidding!
No no, honest it is. It's a national park, a wild life reserve in the far SE corner of Sicily. It's called Vendicari Oasis.
Of all the years I've lived in Italy, this is the first time I've ever got around to going down there. You know there are some many new airlines now in Italy doing the Ryan Air thing that you can get cheap flights most anywhere. I always had in my mind a criminal, savage and messy sort of image of Sicily, but in fact it's gorgeous, peaceful and clean and exquisitely beautiful, especially in the SE part that we went to.
Here's a picture of a beach on the bird sanctuary.

And one of the tombs at the iron age Necropolis further inland. Incredible place. What on earth were their religious beliefs? Of some sort of afterlife no doubt. Must look this up,


And what do you see here?
Two red apples.... hmmm!
Yes, true, that's what they are but they are more than that.
They are two fresh apples sent two days ago from Jack's garden in San Rafael, CA.
He'd sent Lili a present from his tour of Ladakh, a cushion cover with two cats on to replace (he said) the ones she'd adopted out and he slipped three apples into the courier box just for good measure. Jack, I said, you can't do that, it's a contravention of all known international import/export laws and the apples will be arrested by a sniffer dog immediately on arrival. Oh well, he said, I only did it as a mark of affection.
But, as you can see, they arrived, as fresh as fresh. In fact, I could smell them ten yards away as the courier driver unloaded the box from his van.
But delicious! We've eaten one already, and here is a photo of the one that's left, just by way of deliciousness.

You'd like to take a bite of it wouldn't you?
Yes you would.

Oh, a footnote!
Jack tells me he'd put 3 apples, into the package, not two.
My imagination is racing on this one.

Eva forever.

Eva wasn't at home when we'd got back from Sicilia. Pino, our friend who animal sits
for us said that she'd been around but had eaten little and had become moody (you know how she is sometimes). After four days Lili had given up on ever seeing her again but I had a feeling she was still alive. I had to go up for a Qi Gong weekend in Reggia Emelia and on that Saturday morning she suddenly turned up, depressed (Lili said) and a bit the worse for wear.
Anyway, now, after four days at home, she is back to her normal principessa self.
i.e. fed the best gourmet food and given 90% of our attention, prodigal returned status A1.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

That bright tight forever drum

This week I lost a friend. Gabriele died and I shall miss his honesty, his kindliness and his infectious smile and twinkling eyes. Gabriele was a builder in the daytime and a restauranteur in the evening. He was always working and I see now he worked too damn hard. I wish I'd told him this. I wish he'd taken a holiday sometimes. I wish he was still here. I shall miss him very very much.
Ciao Gabriele!

With a Scirocco searing up from Africa and temperatures hitting 40C, the sun a bleak
and creamy burning eye in the sky, gardens burned dry and houses and swimming poolscracking, fires in the hills around Ascoli and conflicting weather forecasts. (some say it will, some say it won't ...uhm...rain? ...yes that delicious word)....
Well, we are all nervous, the skies are full of smoke and the trees are shedding their leaves to survive. Nobody can remember a year like this one.
Vulcan Gas Company

Bernie calls (and here's an example of the way we are all , like the earth, cracking up) to say he is emotionally overwhelmed by the fact that The Vulcana Gas Company have finally agreed after three and a half years, to take away the gas tank from his garden. Close to tears he says and I say save them until the job is done.
Luckily I am home when the truck arrives and able just in time to stop it backing into his apple tree. The driver hooks the tank onto his crane and shouts to me to come look at something he has found inside the top rim of the tank. It's a nest full of tiny eggs, I think wren's eggs.

This is terrible he says, what shall I do, come back in a few weeks after they have hatched? This, I know, will cause Bernie a major breakdown as it would be another three and a half years for sure.
A dilemma for me too, it's either the wrens or Bernie. I choose, of course, the wrens. But he says, look let's take the whole nest out and construct a platform about the same height and maybe the mother won't notice. This we do and the driver zooms away with the maladetto bombola.
I place heavy rocks on the construction to hold it down for the scirocco which is building up apace and wish wren family good luck. What else could I do?
The Boyscout
On Sunday evening I get back home after a swim in lake Fiastra and find Renzo and a Boyscout at the front door. The scout says he is with a troop camping nearby and they have all been given a task to go out and find a family to stay overnight with. Of course we take him in and he begins to tell us that this is the centenary of the Scout movement and about Baden Powell and Brownsea Island. My favourite island I say. 'You've been there?' Used to live right by it I say. 'So you know about how the Scout Movement started there?' I was a scout too, I say. So you know about the Jamboree that's going on now?' Yes, I was at the last one in '57, I say.
By this time, the poor boy (he's sixteen), is overwhelmed with awe and he almost faints when I dig out my Jamboree catalogue and show him pictures of me in it.
'Did you see the Queen?' Yes, I was chosen to be her bodyguard and march next to her Land rover.
By this time I feel like a visitor from another universe.
And it warms me to talk with this young man who is so caring and respectful of nature, to animals and, well, he reminds me of me when I was his age.
I dropped him off at his camp the next morning and when I got back home the house was still full of his gentle presence.
50 years! How can I measure these 50 years?
With stories? Yes with stories.
Thank you Giovani, Boy Scout Giovani.

Footnote 1.
We are at last connected to the wireless antenna at Gualdo and we can disconnect Telecom. Haha! Italia

Footnote 2.
Now you won't believe this!
Last Friday 40C, then five days later it crashes to 10C!
A drop of 30C!
With snow on the mountains!...unheard of.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

the day of nature

I've just been attacked by a wild carrot (or maybe it was the other way round, or a bit of both). Let me explain. Last week I was on a friend's garden and as I stooped down to pull up a weed (don't ask me why), the friend shouted 'Don't touch that' I froze in horror expecting... what? ..a baby viper maybe? (very dangerous this time of year).. but no, it's wild carrot friend said, can do untold damage to your entire nervous system.

'Come on', I say (in Italian) 'Pull the other one'. 'there isn't another one' friend says 'At least I hope not'
I sigh deeply at this linguistic chasm and listen to his boring explanation.

Wild carrots indeed. Next it'll be wild crisps, or wild hosepipes (talking of which, see below).
Anyway...I decide to cut what's left of the lawn during this torrid Saharan
drought; not really to cut the grass but a cunning way of dessicating the leaves which have been shed by our trees in their frantic attempt to survive. Then out with the strimmer to cut my ruined lettuce patch and then I attack the area around the organic bin and by this time I'm not seeing too well on account of sweat in eyes and clogged up face masked. Clogged up? with what? You guessed it... wild carrot! dessicated wild carrot, dessicated all over me, i.e. I'm green all over and my legs and arms are beginning to sting like hell.
So what do I do? Do I panic? Yes! You bet!
I rush to the house, shedding shorts and T shirt en route and dive into shower and start washing down as I await the closing down of my complete nervous system 'If I should die, think only this of me, that, slain by a wild carrot in this distant land...etc', I'm thinking poetry for God's sake when my body's closing down forever!
OK to cut a short drama even shorter...I didn't die (at least I don't think so), so let's move on to finer things.
Like Liliana's Hydrangeas. Just look at them , drought victims too they are

Or maybe let's talk about a bee!
Seriously..a bee.
In fact a bumble bee. Now I've never heard of any of these sweet chaps ever stinging anyone but maybe because this is the day of nature, maybe this one had to make a point...and he the top of Christina's thigh and what's more she ended up in hospital. I had my hand out of the window of the car, she says, to keep cool, and this bumble bee whams into it and then bounces into my lap and, yipes, stings me right through my jeans. Good job I wasn't driving. Phew!
So, if you following the drift here; heat, stroppy bees, wild carrots, baby vipers, gasping hydrangeas. What does this all mean? It means, dear reader, that the world of nature is upset. And it's withholding rain from us as a punshment. Instead we have torrid heat, no rain for weeks and guess what? The water in our reservoirs isn't for drinking. Oh no! What it is for is to drive our hydro electric system. Our drinking water comes from underground caverns which are fed by melting snows in Springtime, and this year we had hardly any snow at all.
On Tuesday we all received a letter from the Comune. It says there is an energy pack available to every family in Amandola; wondrous goodies like energy efficient bulbs and water saving gidgets, a pack of delights. Bernie is down there like a shot of course and he calls and says ya gotta get down here dude, this pack is worth a ton of bucks. Actually he didn't say that, it just sounded that way. So down I go, queue up, sign up and get presented with my pack by our tasty Vigilezza urbane with that certain smile she has.

Just sign here and take your pack, she says and I act as droolingly overwhelmed as a child picking up his present from Santa Claus.

This is what's in it.

Energy saving bulbs which consume 20W but give out 100W of brightness (use less electricity and save the water in the reservoir,neat!) and six fittings to go onto taps to aerate your water (and thus consume half amount of drinking water, cool!)
But don't you think this is just great? Actually giving you the wherewithal to save instead of telling you to shower with a friend or to clean your teeth with washing up water? I feel quite proud of our little town for this and you know they have calculated that they will save 13 million euros worth of energy if we all fit these devices. We will, we will!
In the meantime on this day of nature, Bernie's sewage removal truck turns up to clean out his septic tank. It's a very special truck because it has a video eye which travels done tubes to spy out blockages. What a wonder! And off it zooms to deposit Bernie'e sewage into a methane gas producing factory.

And to cap it all on this respect for Gaia day, two Oz friends tell me of a way of saving even more water. You take a bucket into the shower with you and save all the cold water that comes out before it gets hot.
(It's best to keep the bucket inside the shower and leave friend outside, they say)

So, that's my 'Give to Gaia' day!
The day of nature.
Oh, and it ended with a 'thank you' sunset.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Janissaries

Two of the Janissaries in their tree

Janissaries....This is their collective name now; Socksie, Lila, Lilo and Pix.
(Suddenly I have the TeleTubbies tune playing in my head and their adventures match those of those colourful inarticulate creatures).
I'm talking of course about our kittens and the adventure of the other evening; an adventure which almost turned out to be a tragic disaster, and one with unthinkable circumstances in its wake.
Read on....
Lili had gone into town for a few hours and for the first time ever had left the kittens outside in the garden to play. I'd returned home to find them gone and nowhere to be seen. I'd scoured the dense little wood beneath the house, scratching myself on bramble and getting completely filthy, but with no sign of them anywhere. Even went down to the hunter's lodge in the lower field and then a complete circle across to Vittorio's field to look back at the house, hoping to see them from there. But nothing.
By the time Lili got back, our worry was fast moving to panic as friends turned up to join in the search.
At this time of year, especially because it's been dry and perhaps because of their need for food, wolves are seen outside of the National Park, in fact just last week in a little village just below us.
Also it is a time when young foxes are kicked out of home to fend for themselves and being inexperienced they takes risks and come too close to human habitation. Vixen mothers are hungry too and they are known to take kittens, something which they wouldn't usually do.
All this we knew and it was on all our minds, only nobody wanted to voice these fears.
I walked twice along to Vittorio's house with Marina (the Janessaries' mother as you know), and twice she veered off into V's field of corn but I took no notice of this, thinking she was just searching too.
I was beginning to feel sick with worry after what was now almost ten hours since their disappearance and Lili was sitting crying at the top of the Pastore's field.
We had a gloomy dinner outside on the patio and and at about 9.15 I said I thought we should try one more time. I'd thought about Marina's sidestep into the corn field (it's American corn, maize) and I said I thought we should search there. I looped around the back of the field and Lili, Richard, Nick and Cider plunged into its dark green jungle.
And there they found them!
Playing amongst the plants they were with not a care in the world.
I took us a while to catch them all but we were all so triumphantly happy that we opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate.
Nick told us later that he'd said a special prayer given to him by his Tai Chi master, one that he'd only used twice in his life, it is so powerful. Lili said she'd recited a Tantric prayer and I confessed I'd logged in to my star cluster for a bit of help. Richard said he'd known all along that they were safe and well, said he'd read the signs reflected in his bottle of Hieneken. Cider just said 'Cool' (he's fifteen).
What an adventure eh?
It has a nice ending too in that Lili was so overjoyed to see Socksie and Lila alive that she has decided we should keep them ( do you know how much cat food costs here?)
But I'm glad too.
Bessie the dog?
Hmm...she's giving out these long sighs and those ' what next?' looks in which she specialises.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Are you scared of ghosts?

I suppose everyone is really, although a lot depends on the time of day, or night and whether you are alone or with a friend or a pet, but not a rabbit (the old man keeps rabbits)
On Sunday evening our door bell rang and it was our neighbours (no, not the enemy) but Graciella, Simona, Renzo and Angela from down the road.
We've come to take you for a walk they say.
OK, sounds good, the evening is warm and almost balmy with a slight breeze as we wend our way on the four kilometre walk towards the upper bins i.e. the junction of the Sant'Ippolito and Monte San Martino roads. It's the night of the new moon (auspicious!) and there is just enough light left in the sky ( it's after 10pm) to see the road. And on either side of us the fireflies are weaving their symphony of light and Renzo does his usual trick of catching one and using it as a torch. Completely ineffective of course.
It's pleasant to stroll and chat at night and the conversation rolls around between us and life is easy at such times and this sauntering gradually smooths away the cares of life.
Bessie is puffing away at my side because she still hasn't shed her winter coat and is over heating (and over eating I might add) but she is managing to keep up. She's ten years old now and not quite as agile as she used to be of course and at such times I wonder what life would be without her. And I feel sad.
By the time we get to the junction it's completely dark and we are passing by the house of the old couple and Renzo mentions the son who comes to the house a lot nowadays to work in the garden. I say I've never ever stopped to talk to the old father but I always wave as I drive past although he never waves back just sort of stands there with his bent back and ancient hat, always the hat.
But he never acknowledges me I say.
Who? Renzo says.
The old man I say.
But when he asks.
When I wave to him I say, why, just this week when I saw him over there bent over the vegetable patch...
Michael, he says, what are you talking about? he's been dead for three years.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

24hrs in the life of Micer Red

Sometimes it's important just to write about a day, the simple little things you do to get by. Technically, I suppose, such a day as this could be considered crushingly boring. But it all depends on how you feel inside, don't you think?
9.30 a.m. Monday morning. I drive into Amandola to renew my tax for the Kangoo (my strange French car).
Nice chap there; forget his name but he is always courteous to me once a year when I do all this car stuff. No problem he says as I hand him my log book. He types my data into his computer and, bingo, all my driving misdameanors pop up and before you know it, all the backdated car tax I owe too. You know, even if you don't pay road tax for a few years, nothing seems to happen, until one day you get a massive bill, ten times what you originally owed, plus a threat to possess your car..... then you move real fast. (and that's how I met this nice chap at ACI, the road tax office who is always helpful, especially at the time I owed three years worth). And then, and then, I see my MOT has run out (every two years here) and he says come back at 3pm and we'll fix it
10.15 Still in Amandola, I stop at the chemist to buy some hand cream. Now this is the chemist's home made stuff and it'll cure my rough gardener's hands he says with a wink. Why the wink? No Idea.
10.30 a.m I'm in Sarnano and I go to the comune to pay my parking fine which I picked up last Thursday at the market. But the vigilezza (the local police lady) isn't there, just her son, playing on her computer. He gives me that shruggy brain dead adolescent look to every question I ask, like where is she? when is she back, where could I find her now? I give up and wander over to the office to download mail. BTW, town halls and offices generally are always full of sons and daughters just doing...what?... just hanging around, lost.
11 a.m. Lili turns up and we go for coffee and read the newspaper which is full of vitriol against the current Prime Minister, Prodi, who is generally hated to about the same measure as wicked King John in the time of Robin Hood. Of course Berlusconi is currently playing the role of the latter, accusing Prodi of robbing the Italians with his new taxes (you may laugh here, please do, I mean given his track record), Absentmindedly, I walk off with the newspaper and have to go back to return it. The barman just laughs and shrugs, I do the same.
Enzo, the chap who is our shiatsu masseur in Gualdo calls to remind Lili of her appointment but she doesn't feel too well, so she asks me if I'd like to go instead.
Ok, love to, at 6pm, fine.
12.30. We drive home for lunch. I pluck a lettuce from the orto and we have salad and pasta. Plus a handful of cherries each, those dark red ones you love.
13.30 It's sunny in the garden and we spend a while there just simple stuff like pruning and watching the grass, reading a bit too (Orhan Pamuk, 'The Black Book')
1400 Back to the office for a spell to clear up some mail and then..
1500 I whizz back inti Amandola for MOT. Now the MOT (the call it revisione) is run by the ACI chap's daughter, a slight 25 year old who darts about like a squirrel, plugging in tubes and leads to my car and winching it up in the air on rollers where the car travels 60mph at standstill and she brakes. Zack!
Finally she zips to the computer screen, prints out the reading and zooms past me to the office. Despite myself, I find my heart beating fast because this is how I always was when I had to get MOTs in UK. I ask, in a dry whisper 'Everything OK?'
'Of course' she says.
So I pay up and drive to the car wash and give my Kangoo a thank you shampoo and then to the car tyre workshop just down the road from the Car wash to get a wobbly tyre looked at. The boss takes it for a spin down the road while I wait and half way down he meets his wife and kid driving up from the other direction. They both stop their cars in the middle of the road and get out to talk to each other, of course blocking the traffic in both directions. But nobody cares. This can only happen in Italy I think, only Italy. Sure enough, one tyre is slightly out of kilter, come back Friday he says and I'll put two new ones on the front, I'm out of stock right now. Maybe Monday I say.
I drive home and my nephew calls from UK telling me of his arrival on June 18th. Here to do work on my sister's house. Work? what sort of work. Chipping off plaster and making windows he says. Now the house is currently being worked on by two Italian builders and look, I say, you can't just move in there without coordinating with these chaps first. It'll be fine he says. Hmmm.
Jack calls from San Francisco and says he's going to India via Germany and Italy and we work out a timetable so we can all meet in Venice on The 30th of's his birthday and my friend Lorenzo has some work in the Biennale so we can double up and see that too.
1715 I drive back to the office and answer some mail and then to Enzo for that massage. Enzo's really good, he does bones as well as muscles, and is an expert on heads. Just as I am leaving his wife arrives and asks if she can practice her English on me. She's pretty good but a bit rusty and she says we can do a swap. Massages for English lessons. Poor Enzo (who doesn't speak a word of English) just looks baffled and has no idea of the deal we have just struck (he, after all, being the one who has to do the massage whilst she gets the free lesson)
1930 Back home in a storm and as we've decided to not watch world news anymore (a deadly drug) and there are no films worth watching, I read to the end of Pamuk's book, still struggling to understand his parallel world idea.
I write a bit, fiddle with a painting that's blocking me and at midnight take Bess for a walk and then to bed, whilst the kittens are still racing around the house.
That's it, that's a day.
What I want to know is, was that boring?
Is was a bit, wasn't it?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The trials and arrows

......................and by thus defeating end them.
Schoolboy memories.
We were in a restaurant just around the corner from our art show in Padova and Lorenzo's dad asked me to write something on my serviette. Like what? anything he said, so I did the schoolboy rote memory bit.
Hey, he says, this indicates to me that you have a great clarity inside you but you show chaos without... but that's OK because you use this in a creative way.
Ooh, I like that I say, but get uncomfortable, doubting looks from the other dinner guests.

Currently Bernie and I are continue to suffer the trials an arrows of new technology.
Yes, you guessed it, Fidoka, the wireless wizards..... More later.

You see, we have on loan from them a whole boxes full of wonders...wonders to charm the most illustrious of sheiks and international arms dealers. And with what we have in these boxes, Bernie (according to Fidoka) can wander great distances from this flashing blue beastie on my desk, the router.......

...and still pick up a signal and write an article for the Buenos Aires Herald (were there such a thing, could be, could be). It would be like throwing a paper dart into the sky, he says,.. as easy as that.

No such luck., not today, not today. Today which has the mountains covered with fresh snow just as they were at the beginning of June last year

.....and here we are wearing winter woollies, winter wellies, again. Today is a bad Fidoka day. You see how that word has already entered the main stream of ex-pat English here?...'Hey, come on, you're fidoking with me' and similar configurations of la lingua inglesi.
But, you know, I shouldn't be so hard on this little pioneering company.
Truth is, we got the wires mixed up in this wireless escapade,

I mean, just look!

Yep, all it needed was a bit of fiddling around and Bingo! we got the router to work. And yes , Bernie walks in a straight line up the road from the house, slowly disappearing into the distance cuddling his apple laptop , shouting 'I'm still on, I'm still on!'
And now there's only one problem...when he's on, I'm off!
We can't get both on line at the same time. It's like he's sucking the lifeblood from my PC with his fidoking Apple.
So off he will go to Fidoka this afternoon to sort out those techies once and for all.
If only, if only he understood Nerdish.
And he comes back and says I've got it sussed, I've got a diagram. OK let's see it I say, where is it? It's in my head he says. I groan and head for fridge. Mind you, to be fair, I must admit that things (instructions) do get lost in our heads sometimes (I'm talking about men here) Just this week I was sent to the supermarket with a shopping list for a dinner party that evening. Now, I always go into a state of panic and become word blind when I enter supermarkets and somehow just buy stuff which is immediately in front of me; shampoo, biscuits, baked beans. So instead of steak of vitello to make pancietta rolls, I come back with stewing beef! Can't tell you how it happened. I said I'm sorry but...
Hey, you know, the dog box ain't so bad a place to hang out of an evening.
With Bessie and her sasso museum.

We visited some friends up in Treviso on the weekend who live up in the sky in the middle of the historical centre. If you look up at their apartment from the piazza below, you see only what looks like a terraced garden. But up you go in a lift and low and behold they live in a wondrous rooftop palace with five children and this is what Francesco tells me about life up there.
We only watch SKY between channels 400 and 500, he says, and have our ADSL on all the time
to be in contact with the world outside, Why? To get reality, not the Italian version but info from the world outside (what does he mean, I'm thinking)...because nobody understands them in town and their need to think outside of the mainstream and they very seldom venture down, except to work (they are both dentists). Up in the sky they have everything, even a bonzi garden to care for at weekends. You must, he says, read up the Red Ocean, Blue Ocean Strategy. There are parallel possibilities in the main stream of life. So, I've ordered the book from Amazon. You know, we've gone wireless, I tell him. He gives me an empty look. Couldn't take the risk, he says. I let it go.

The kittens?

We've found a home for all of them, they are going in pairs, Socksie with Pix, and Pipo with Panda, his sister, who is somewhat strange with a long nose (picture)

Our battle with the neighbours?

They are such intimidating morons that they are not worth even the tiniest space in our minds, so I'll be brief. Suffice it to say that our lawyer says it could take 30 years for the case to be settled. Should turn out to be an interesting outcome for the 83 year old instigator of the whole mess. Climate predictions are that by that time this area of Italy would have become an extension of the Sahara desert, so their jealous eyes on my plum and apricot trees stare enviously and in vain.
And only the photographs will remain, only the photographs with submitted to our lawyer of their misdeamenours, like the photos I saw in the comune this morning as I was waiting to pay my parking fine. Pictures from the thirties: beautiful people on the Sarnano ski slopes, so elegant and cool and fashionable. And not even one of them could still be alive. Such stories there, such stories,

Monday, April 30, 2007

Mainly cats

This blog is mainly about cats.
Well, actually, not just cats but also insane neighbours, motorbikes and space and foxes.
Let's start with cats.

We now have seven. How come?
Well. you remember the story about Marina aka Diabolika?
Hmm, well we didn't think fast enough to act on our decision to have her doctored.
You guessed it...four kittens.
And here they are......

This photo was taken a couple of days after they were born..

And here's one from yesterday..His names's Rocco (the rest are girls I think)


Saw these wondrous sculptures (by Antony Gormley) last week on a beach near Southport (Liverpool). A hundred bronze men scattered across 2k on beach looking towards the ocean, towards Ireland, America.

They looked so wise and expectant and hopeful. Also expansive and downright good natured. I hear they're scattered around London rooftops too.
Just couldn't help comparing them with our neighbours (of whom you always ask, don't you?) who are currently turning our once peaceful domain into a war zone. They got Vittorio (who'd bungy jump into a barrel of battery acid if asked) to move a huge cement trough/animal feeder up to the edge of our garden.

They've planted a sprig of Ginester in it, according to Graciella, which they'd illegally (it's protected) plucked from the woods nearby. This adds to the line of plants and flowers which follow the same route along this border. This is their way of saying, to themselves I can only imagine, that this little stretch of land is their's. Then I imagine they photograph it and send the pics to their lawyer as evidence to sue us with when the court case comes up (in ten years time).
Mean-minded medieval mentality. And a medieval law to boot.
A characteristic, they say, of Marchigiane Romans.

Although it's cool and raining as I write............. (ooh it's now's a garden pic fresh from the lens).......

................we have in fact heard the first cuckoo (hooray) and the swallows have arrived and the house martins have returned to their nest on the sill above the back door.
The young foxes are venturing away from their mums and know no fear, so we have be careful to keep the kittens inside. The older foxes are hungry and they take risks too, coming close to the house to look for anything they can scrounge.
Lili was in the garden for a final look at the stars through the cigarette smoke and she yelled up to me that there was some strange animal in front of her. I rushed down but it had zoomed off.
She didn't know what it was so I quizzed her; you know, its size, how big were its ears, nose, head, its colour, length of its legs etc. Then we went upstairs to look through our animal book and the nearest creature we could match to her description was a leopard.
But I don't think so.
Think it was an old fox with hypnotic skills (they hypnotise rabbits don't they?) Squirrels too probably....and Lili.

And motorbikes?


This is a picture of a couple of bikers. Actually, they are Lili's cousin Paolo and his wife Donatella. I didn't get a pic of their massive Honda bike because I was feeling ill on account of having ridden on the back of said bike through the winding lanes of Caldarola. It was sea sickness made worse by vivid dark memories of two accidents as a youth on motorcycles. I'm strictly a car man. This part of Le Marche is a biker's heaven in the sense that it has countless empty roads with just manageable curves until, whammo! We see accidents almost weekly at this time of year.
Heaven indeed.


I was hoping you wouldn't ask. I can't get hold of Telecom to cancel the broadband order I made.
And Fidoka, the wireless provider still haven't climbed to the top of Gualdo tower to fix the aerial which still isn't sending me signals. Look, I'll do it I say, let me do it, I'll climb up there with a spanner and whack it one.
I still have to pay them but for what?
I'm in a dilemna.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The big day

Yes, today's the big day!
Bernie's on his way over from Rome and I've got it! It's true, I have...the aerial.
The aerial for our fantastic new 'wireless' adventure. Do you know what this means to us? No? Shall I tell you?
Well, for Bernie it means that he can come over and work in his country house away from Rome, send articles zooming out at 2000kps and Skype to his heart's content, even from the garden, (if we can manage to wireless the wireless as the lady at Fidoka tried to explain to me, unsuccessfully)
For us at Sambuco, it means Skype and being able to work from home and check our mail and then also to go out into the garden, or even snooze occasionaly. Oh, you know, all that stuff which will give us everlasting freedom and happiness. Yes, surely it will.
But, oh, if wishes were fishes!
Did it work?
Did it happen?
Hmm! sort of!
It became, in fact, an adventure.
Two days later
I came away from Fidoka with a box full of tricks and promises. This is what you have to do they said. You must plug all the wires and bits in and then wave the dish in the direction of Gualdo (4.7K away, it says on my form) and when the green light stops flashing, bring up the signal strength box and jiggle the dish until you get the lowest number between 50 and 90, (Whhhat?)
Have you ever tried adjusting a satellite dish after a scirocco? when the dish is one side of the house and the TV the other?
Easy, it's a breeze compared to wireless signal finding.... .
So there they were, my stalwart friends, standing on step ladders, hanging out windows in a howling gale, rain and sleet with me shouting no up,no down,no... where you were, hold it there, hold it there!
Until, bingo, we get green light to stop flashing and I call Fidoka and they say Nope, we can't pick you up this end.
(what?, we've been out here for two hours)
So we have to wait until Monday because they close on a weekend. They close?
But this is the only time when most folks have time to jump up and down in the garden with their wireless dish. Hey! But this is Italy, remember, they don't do service. OK Ok.

On Monday Pino arrives with a ladder and he fixes a metal pole onto the wall of our house and attaches the dish to it and points it at Gualdo and ...zilch, LED flashing like crazy.
Winds begins to pick up again and Pino's grip on the ladder is looking decidedly
precarious then suddenly he shouts we've got it, the green light has stopped flashing! Again I call the company and no, they can't locate us.
So I look out of the window and see that Pino has the dish pointed at San Ginesio (9K away) and not Gualdo. Call Fidoka again and yes, they've found us beamed on to San Ginesio, but it's impossible, San Ginesio is too far!
So here I am, typing this via an ADSL broadband connection which can't possibly work but does.
Today I bought a compass in town to try to get at Gualdo the Boy Scout way.
I get home too late to try, It's getting dark, Gualdo has been consumed by a black cloud and it's beginning to snow.
And why was I late back?
I confess, I dropped Lili's precious Nikon wide angle lens this afternoon and took it in for dispatch and repair, swiftly and immediately to avoid death sentence ( which I'll get anyway)

The ski season, up until now) has been non existent. In fact wiped out, so no work for those poor chaps in the snow industry. For weeks it's been hovering above 20C, but guess what? Angelo shouted to me from his Kangoo yesterday afternoon that on Monday it's gonna drop by 15 degrees and we are all gonna be covered with the white stuff (snow, that is). Your dreaming I say to him (Angelo BTW is a ski instructor up in the mountains above us here) but no no he says, it's coming, it is, it is. But how can this be? All the trees are blossoming and the lizards and butterflies are out and I can't my grass yesterday evening. Hell' it just can't snow. What's worse, the geraniums are all outside and the lemon tree too. Oh dear, oh dear, I'll keep you posted.

See above, It's March 21st and it's snowing like hell outside.

Just look at my blossoms, for goodness sake!

Do wireless waves travel through snow?
I mean, snow like this??

Bess and Rocco love it of course.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

It's the end of the World as we know it

Or maybe it's just a very warm winter.
So this blog/newsletter is mainly about weather
Giovanni the builder told me this morning that his Grandmother is 85 and she's never experienced a winter like it.. Today is the 20th of January and it's 22 degrees C outside and the earth is bleached dry by the Scirrocco we had for the last two days which blew away untold treasures (like the ash from our fires which I'd sprinkled lovingly on the orto and one of Lili's paintings which was covering the strawberry patch). The snow slopes haven't even opened this year and their are some pretty glum faces around town.. no snow, no work.
But still most folk are walking around in winter clothing and mumbling about the snow that must come in February. It must, mustn't it?
Not so sure myself. We were in Istanbul last week and it was absolutely freezing and sleeting and I know the type of weather I prefer.
Warm and sunny.
I think I'm gonna enjoy global warming
The animals are all quite happy and not at all phased by the upside-downness of it all. And bees, wasps, butterflies love it too...even flies (depending if educated or not, see below)
And yesterday it hit 25C..and then...and then..
That Scirocco. a blast up from the Sahara which tore my Buddhist prayer wheel to shreds and tore any remaining leaves off the trees too and took Lili's painting a kilometre away to Graciella's backyard.
Pictures show Renzo drinking my beer on the Saturday (or maybe he's just reading my beer) and then the day after,the Scirocco (see shredded prayer wheel)

Then as we drive off to Reggis Emelia for the weekend it's stars to snow and the temp drops a full 25 degrees.

So that's my global warming bit.
Today, as I write this before zooming it off to the ether, the temparature is back up to 16C again and as sunny as sunny. And Pino said to me, 'my potatoes are confused' (I think he means the ones he has sown is his orto (veggie patch))
Which? the red or the whites I quipped.
The reds he said.
I let it go.

Now what does this mumber mean to you?
I walk into Massimo's studio yesterday and there on his door is the number 58, large it is.. a big number 58.
Hey! Happy birthday I say
He throws me a quick frown (meaning how can you think I'm that age?)
It keeps flies away he says.
It's scientifically proven that if flies come into a room and see that number they fly right out again.
But there are two flies in here I say.
They're obviously uneducated ones he says.

I think this is called the Fohn effect.
Too many ions floating about addling people's brains.
And to top it all, I find that Lili's has thrown away my Doc Martens.

These are the first effects of global warming.
Folks are going nuts.