Saturday, 31 January 2009

To Montefalco. Sunglass weather returns.

Montefalco is the sort of town lovers of Italy would like to spend a month in. Its basic industries revolve around twenty or so wineries and a couple of factories that still produce upmarket linens on hand looms. The town boasts a church with world class medieval frescoes, half a dozen reasonable restaurants, one decent hotel, and above all an unspoilt environment that can't have changed much in three hundred years. A visit to a town like Montefalco raises one of the questions about where to live in Italy? Tuscany or Umbria, town or country ? Tuscany undoubtedly has more treasures but Umbria has far fewer tourists and an authenticity that has been lost in its bigger and more popular neighbour.
The weather today was undoubtedly the first day of spring and the first day in months that sunglasses were essential. I always feel a bit self concious wearing sunglasses in January - it's a bit Rodeo Drive - but the sun here, even in winter can be very direct.

What's on the menu for today?

This mornings newspaper reports on the economy are full of doom and gloom after the 3.8% fall in US GDP numbers reported yesterday. One usually sensible commentator in the UK press has written an article this morning in the London Times asking what happens if things carry on deteriorating at this rate for ever. This dire outlook only serves to reinforce my belief that in countries with a vibrant press - the US, the UK and Ireland for example - the media unwittingly fuel the sense of impending gloom with their baleful reporting and alarmist headlines. It is as if in the anglo-saxon world we have moved en masse from a sense of optimism to one where Armageddon lies just around the corner. The worst case becomes the norm because it makes much better copy than optimism. It seems to me just as likely that after a horrible first and second quarter things will start to slowly improve by the late fall and the huge funds allocated to stimulating the economy will begin to bear fruit by the end of the year. A horrible 2009? Yes. Q1 GDP down 6% and Q2 down 4% ? Yes. More bank bailouts ? Yes. The end of civilisation? No. I for one intend to start looking for the first green shoots of spring although they may not sprout until next year.

Lovely start to the day here. At first light Wilf was off down the drive in pursuit of adventure. There was a quite thick frost this morning so he had a fun time using his paws to smash the ice that had formed on the puddles overnight. Don't tell me that humans are alone among God's creatures in knowing how to have fun!

Friday, 30 January 2009

The view of Todi tonight, a scene in the supermarket and Wilf with a new toy.

There's a definite sense that winter is coming to an end and spring is on the way. In the car earlier today it actually got uncomfortably hot with the sun beating down. Although it's clouded over a bit tonight the day was beautiful with blue skies and the softest of breezes and I was able to work in the fields trimming the trees without dressing like the Michelin man.
We had a sense of humour failure in out local Conad supermarket this morning. Anyone who lives in Italy will attest to the fact that it is a technophobic country. This aversion to technology is part of the charm of living here but once a month or so the antiquated systems and lack of a service ethic combine to give you a 'black dog day' . At the supermarket check-out the cashier swiped card after card through the reader as we came to pay. Not one of the cards would work as the telephone link to the bank was 'down' - the cause ? One of the other staff was using the land line dedicated to credit card purchases to make a personal call . As a result we were told to return later. My remonstration that my purchase should take priority over someones social life was met with a shrug of the shoulders and a muttered deprecation about foreigners. When I asked to speak to the manager I was told he wasn't there. We had to get back in the car and do all the shopping over again. This time I'm glad to say there were no problems and the charge went winging through.
The boyz have been happily sitting in the fields watching me at work with a saw and barking at the neighbouring farmers dogs.They were brought back an indestructible toy in the form of a small soft fluffy animal from Harrods as a special treat ( see earlier post ) and at the moment are sitting at the front door chewing away at it.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Polish Lowland Sheepdogs explore the shopping bag

It was this time last year. I'd been out to the supermarket and bought a hot roast chicken, some fresh pasta and a fruit tart for dinner. Just as I got to the front door I heard the phone ringing so without thinking hastily put down the shopping bag on the step, got out my keys and rushed through the door to answer the call. Five minutes into the conversation I suddenly became aware of that total,all embracing 'silence' ,only dog owners can know. Rapidly finishing the call to my lawyer in London I went outside to find two guilty looking Polish Lowland Sheepdogs surrounded by torn wrappers,pieces of chicken skin, slivers of tagliatelli and the remnants of the fruit tart. While I had rushed to answer the phone the two little angels had managed to detect the roast chicken and other goodies, tip over the bag, extract the food from the wrappers and devour just about everything. All this within the space of a few minutes. Polish Lowland Sheepdog owners be warned - beyond that cute exterior lies an animal devoted to the pursuit of mischief and the devouring of food. Despite my worries about them eating cooked chicken bones they both turned out to have no side effects apart from a lack of appetite that evening at dinner time and a somewhat bloated look the next day. This breed is great fun,family centric and highly companionable, but also extremely intelligent and capable of irrepressible naughtiness if not monitored closely.

Ball retrieved -- time for another throw!

Views from London.

So the forecast for 2009 is that the British economy will decline by 2.8% and the Italian by 2.1%.Looking at London you wouldn't know that we are in the midst of an economic crisis - maybe the appearance of electric rechargeable cars in Berkeley Square is a sign of austerity.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Digby patiently waiting for his morning saunter.

Crisp start to the morning with blue skies and visibility that goes for miles. We were all out of the house by ten to seven for our usual mad dash up the hill and then gentle amble back down. Digby's hip is not as strong as it should be and he gets tired quickly but we don't want to have him operated on. The papers here are leading with the worsening diplomatic row between Brazil and Italy over Brazil's refusal to deport a convicted murderer. Italy has now withdrawn its ambassador. The radio presenter also mentioned that the latest forecasts indicate that Italy's GDP will decline by 2.1% this year ( they wish ) and that David Beckham has never been happier than when playing for AC Milan. The Ryanair flight to Perugia is on time so the boyz and family should be reunited by noon.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Off to buy wine.

Took the boyz with me this afternoon to buy some wine at the new cantina situated on the top of a hill with stunning views of the countryside around the little village of Marcellano .The cantina is called Colpetrone and is owned by a large Italian insurance conglomerate , which may explain its slightly brutalist architecture. They produce wines both here in Umbria as well as in Tuscany. Italian companies seem to be keen to reinvest their profits into land - viewing real estate in Italy as a much better investment than the stock or bond markets. There was a time when I would have criticised them for being parochial but the last year has shown that they have good point! I'll be trying the Monteflaco tonight and will report on the blog tomorrow.

Another day over - just time for a nap as the sun goes down.

Wilf gets on with life while the local murder trial dominates the press here.

Both boyz seem to be surviving the absence of the family surprisingly well . With the exception of an unsupervised bout of digging down by the pool in search of a mole (which necessitated a bath for both of them) they have been relatively well behaved and seem content to spend much of their time at the garden gate waiting stoically for the missing elements of the family to return. They are also clearly becoming bored with a diet of kibbles and rice ( as far as my canine culinary skills extend - in fact as far as my culinary skills extend ) and miss having hot vegetables cooked for them so a wild and emotional reunion with the culinary side of the family can be expected tomorrow.

Here in Umbria the local murder trial continues to dominate the headlines in the morning press with the court once again in session. Last year a young British student at Perugia university was found with her throat cut. Initially an illegal immigrant was held responsible, and subsequently charged, but then the investigation widened to include the murdered girls American housemate and her boyfriend. This morning the investigating judge has released a ruling showing that the American student was indeed at the house at the time of the murder despite her protestations to the contrary. The sad story hits all the buttons in the popular imagination - murder, sex, drugs, immigrants,satanic rites, violence etc. The trial and police investigation have been going on for more than a year and have attracted a huge amount of coverage. With the formal court sessions due to run for another 9 months I can't help but wonder how long a trial like this would take in the US or UK ?

Monday, 26 January 2009

PON owners guide Lesson 1:You know when it goes quiet there's mischief in the making.

Digby waiting for the family to return.

Glorious morning - the boyz were out for their morning walk as the sun was rising over the mountains. It was a typical expedition - a mad rush out and then a gentle saunter home investigating each rock, sniffing each flower and sploshing in every puddle. Digby has now noticed that he has been left alone with me and is patiently sitting by the gate waiting for the family to return.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

30,000 troops on the streets ?

Fog rolling in tonight - Todi standing out on its own hill across the valley and still (just) visible. We'll be in the cloud here in about half an hour. Thankfully, it's getting to be much lighter with dark not falling until about six so the worst of the winter should be behind us. The boyz have decide to come in after a day outside and are now dozing in front of the door and trying to figure out where the family is.
Italian television news leading with the insight that the recession isn't just impacting the EU and the US. The economies of the African and Mediterranean countries to the south of Italy are all facing a period of real contraction. This economic malaise has led to a sharp upswing in the number of illegal immigrants trying to get into the EU with Spain and Italy by dint of their geography being the first target. The government is now talking about putting 30,000 troops onto the streets to combat a wave of violent crime and help out the sorely stretched carabinieri.

My suggestion is a walk,breakfast and a game.

A cold morning so made porridge for breakfast -the boyz arrived in the kitchen with an air of expectancy and put on their best 'adorable but I've never been fed' look. Oats give them an excellent natural start to the day but goodness what a mess they make when eating it!

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Digby on hearing that I shall be looking after him for the next three days

I shall be alone here in Italy for the next three days looking after the boyz,or vice versa as some would have it. My meals have been pre-cooked ( the kitchen is not my natural habitat ) and instructions posted for what needs to be done to keep the house functioning smoothly. I shall post as and when .

Feeling better.

The impact of the worming tablets seems to have worn off - Wilf has emerged from his 'sad and lonely' routine and is once again charging around full of vigour. After thirty minutes of ball throwing in the courtyard the boyz have just had a thirty minute walk up the hill from which they have returned happily shaggy and covered in mud - in short Polish Lowland Sheepdog heaven !

The red sky at dawn pressaged what in Scotland we would call a 'dreech' day - wet and windy. The barometer has fallen to its lowest level since we arrived here, so I guess we are slap bang in the centre of a huge low pressure system. The weather has now abruptly changed again and we have blue skies and an eerie stillness.

Senior dogs enjoy a quick nap after the morning walk

Stunning red sky this morning - probably a sign that more bad weather is coming down from the north. This has been a miserable winter - much wetter , windier and colder than usual. None of this has put off the boyz who seem to become more enthused about life the muddier it is outside.

We gave them their worming tablets last night.I hate doing it as the chemicals clearly are powerful and upset their stomachs but the alternative is even less appealing. If I could find a natural remedy for worming that really worked I would switch to it in an instant. Digby is as right as rain this morning but Wilfy is off his food and keen to have a long post walk rest. He's settled down in front of the door so that he can monitor all movements in and out of the house - a very hard wired sheepdog trait to herd his family.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Synchronized treat eating.

Boo !

The weather here is wonderful - not a cloud in the sky and air as clear as it comes. At dinner last night one of the guests, a vet, told me that porcupines can run more quickly backwards than forwards. They defend themselves by raising their quills and charging at full speed in reverse towards any adversary. That's how dogs manage to turn into pin cushions if they annoy a porcupine. The only way of dealing with them is to plant solar powered lamps around the garden - they will steer well clear of any light.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Strange sale mark downs

Have been sent out to get wine for a dinner we have been invited to tomorrow night. It's delightful being invited out by kind Italians but I always get exhausted translating ( or trying to ) the conversation. No one ever tells you that every region in Italy has its own impenetrable accent. I can understand the President of the Republic when he speaks, I can understand the Pope , despite of, or perhaps because of his German accent but the local Umbrian dialect is totally impenetrable. In France we would be invited out because of the dogs here we get invited out because people seem to be genuinely sociable .

In town en route to the cantina I came across this shop window advertising its sale items. The photos are bad but the reductions are very precise 43%, 26%, 28% and the end price of E25.65 oddly annoying.I would have expected to see 25%, 30% or 50% or a rounding out to a nice even number such as 25 Euro's exactly but such esoteric arithmetical reductions as 26% or 43% strike me as decidedly illogical. Does any other country reduce prices with such precision and employ such strange uneven percentages?

Polish Lowland Sheepdogs : The mature dog

The boyz hopefully have a fulfilled,happy life chasing the local wildlife to their hearts content and exploring the olive encircled boundaries of their new outdoor existence here in Italy. However, there is no escaping the fact that they will be 8 years old in May and their behaviour is slowly changing from that of the eternal puppy to that of the older dog. They now sleep much more than they used to,and the whizzing little bundles of fur that only recently were in perpetual motion are now quite content to lock in an hour or two of quality dozing in mid-morning and again in the late afternoon. Even the arrival of the post lady which once caused a near pandemonium of scratching at the door and howling is now greeted with rarely more than a warning bark .Joints and muscles that used to be supple and tireless are now prone to stiffness. One very useful supplement in dealing with the onset of older age has been the Dorwest Herbs glucosamine tablets - a half tablet at lunch and dinner has kept them both free of arthritis and kept Digby's early signs of hip dysplasia from developing.Dorwest also does a marvellous garlic tablet which defends against minor illnesses - neither of the boyz has ever picked up anything when in the kennels so it seems to act as an excellent prophylactic and keeps them secure as they segue into advanced age.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

What a day!

Just finished watching the inauguration coverage on CNN. I wish I'd been there. The last inauguration I went to was Reagan's second term - that is a sad personal reflection of how quickly time passes. Striking how the language of an inauguration , whether the invocations or the speeches, are so rooted in the linguistic legacy of Bunyan and the King James'. Guess the linguistic legacy of the Pilgrim Fathers still echoes through the New Worlds sense of self. Thought the old pastor at the end of the ceremony was absolutely wonderful with his echoes of the civil rights movement- wasn't so sure about the Revd.Warren.

Boyz have been slightly neglected but have now had a well deserved 30 minutes of ball playing.

American lucidity

Watching CNN's reporters doing live interviews among the crowds massing on the Mall in DC. Amazed at the lucidity and self confidence of those being interviewed. Could it be that good English and soaring rhetoric have deserted Britain and taken root in the US? Anyone watching British television will know the answer to the first point and we'll know the answer to the second after the President elect speaks.

Todi on a windy Tuesday morning in January.

A quick trip into town this morning before we settle down to watch the inauguration on CNN. Before we left there were already people beginning to gather on the Mall and by now it looks as if it's going to be packed solid all the way from the Capitol to the Washington Monument. What a joy to see participatory democracy flourishing despite the cynics.
Todi was deserted.One of the oddities of Italian towns is that every parking space can be filled but there are never any pedestrians in sight. In the main square they are demolishing the Christmas garden and there is now a large unsightly pile of brown earth heaped up in front of the cathedral. This square is one of the most perfect renaissance squares in Europe but is devoid of life - the town needs a good small boutique hotel with a quality restaurant and wine bar attached- then the tourists would come. At its highest point Todi has a church with the most perfect accoustics. This would be an ideal venue for concerts but for some reason it is rarely ever used.

Sun's coming up - how's about a walk ?

Off into Todi - the boyz had a great walk this morning. The big one has given up on waiting for his little brother and charged out of the house at maximum velocity- Digby did his best to keep up but the torn ligament is cramping his style and speed. He settled for sniffing the wild boar scents. Will post later. We've decided to be in for the inaugural speech - it's apparently been written by a 27 year old.

Monday, 19 January 2009

A trip down to the pool-waiting for Obama

It's cold and a bit wet today so we've been busy doing all those things around the garden that have been put off and off. The boyz love to trail along when work is being done outside although both of them managed to hide under the garden dining table when I got the leaf blower out.

It was difficult to find the Obama concert on television in Europe but we eventually tuned into the end on a satellite channel. Why is it that the US always manages to do things with such self confidence? You wouldn't have found a European version of Josh Groban singing a patriotic song like 'My country 'tis of thee' so assuredly. We'll be watching the inauguration tomorrow - most of the channels here will have live coverage from five thirty in the evening onwards. Has there ever been an event anywhere which has attracted so much global attention? The viewing figures will be stratospheric.

New week . Ready for the off.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Just a scratch at sunset.

Family dogs suggesting it might be time for a Sunday afternoon walk

Italian porcupines

A quick trip to the local farmer for an intensive course on porcupines.

In Italian they are known as istrice and are widespread throughout the region. The local variety are about 2 feet long and weigh in around 30 lbs and live in large networks of burrows. They don't hibernate and have a couple of litters every year. They come out at night and by first light are scurrying back to their burrows after an evenings foraging . They simply adore to eat bulbs and will burrow down a foot to eighteen inches under a fence to get at them - so much for any hope of daffodils or tulips in the garden here. They will usually amble off when they see humans but can be a danger to dogs as they can charge backwards attempting to spear their canine challenger with their quils.

The local farmer says that last year after picking his 30 walnut trees he left the walnuts out overnight in a large pile and the next morning they had all gone - devoured en masse by the istrice. If he's right there must either be one heck of a lot of them or they are absolute gluttons. He also said that you are more likely to hear their grunts than see them - such is the in depth knowledge of the locals imparted to 'we' foreigners. The offer to come down at dawn and shoot them has been politely declined - I think that we and the istrice will get on just fine now that I know not to plant out too many tasty morsels.


On the look out for porcupines

Just back from a bracing walk. Wilf as always charged ahead in a frenzy of delight and expectation while Digby sauntered gently along behind - the chances of the little one staying at home with his sore leg were exactly zero. He was going to join his big brother come hell or high water and we weren't going to stop him. The presence of Digby and his sore leg on the walk meant coming to a halt with Wilf every hundred yards and then waiting while his brother caught up.What should have taken twenty minutes took forty five this morning.

Thankfully,the Rimadyl anti-inflammatory tablets work quickly and have no side effects so Digby's leg should be back to normal within a few days . He does however get tired quickly. Polish Lowland Sheepdogs are prone to hip problems and I fear that Digby is getting to an age where sore legs and hind quarters are likely to become more frequent.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Mist rolling in

We've been out in the garden this afternoon collecting up leaves and generally tidying up. I had it pointed out to me that we wouldn't have been able to do this in Scotland at this time of the year because it's already dark by 3.30 in the afternoon and it would probably be below freezing with a strong wind. Here, it's been another perfect day although there is a bank of mist rolling in from the Tiber. Once again the valleys have disappeared into the fog and the house hangs suspended above this vast sea of cloud with the occasional island surmounted by a town breaking the surface in the distance.Quite magical.

Polish Lowland Sheepdogs in the wild - grooming needed.

The boyz have been enjoying themselves all day in the wilder parts of the garden. Both of them are now in dire need of a wash and brushing. The little one, Digby, has torn a muscle in his back right leg probably as a result of leaping off a tree stump when chasing a squirrel- he has been put on Rimadyl and confined to less arduous activities for the rest of the week.

Great morning for checking on porcupines

The porcupines have been back in the garden leaving a swathe of destruction in their path. They have now turned their attention to the roses along the driveway which are looking very bedraggled. Porcupine infestation is not something dealt with in Scottish gardening books so a trip up to the local farmer for some advice is on the cards for later in the day. The boyz have been happily following scents all morning. Wilf has now come in and been caught snuggling up to a Teddy he had as a puppy - no matter how much bigger and older they get they still remain little boyz at heart.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Two accidents on way back from Rome

The camera on the Sony phone seems to have given up the ghost despite my best efforts. The screen is filled with a message in large font saying: ' No Pictures !'. I'll try to get it sorted.
In London stayed at the Sofitel St.James's - it's about as good a location as you can get in London - almost everything is within walking distance. The hotel has a great little restaurant that is rarely busy - although with a glass of Chablis costing £12 maybe that's not a surprise. The Royal Academy with its Byzantium exhibition is three minutes away from the Sofitel's front door. Prices have come off by about 30% and it's now getting to be reasonably priced even though it is the flagship of the brand.
It took two hours to get back from Rome by car yesterday afternoon. On the orbital motorway there was a pile up near the exit for Naples with a van that had hit the central barrier and then flipped over on top of a taxi. At the local turnoff a senior citizen had got confused a driven the wrong way onto the motorway , colliding head on with another car. The second accident of this type this year !

The garden centre came to trim the trees along the drive this morning. They pointed out that we are attracting porcupines who are coming to root up the bulbs that we planted - tulip and allium bulbs are an absolute delicacy for them. The beaver like animal the local farmer was complaining about is a coypu - a form of south American rodent.
Still haven't discovered what little animal has decided to nest in the engine compartment of the SUV - whatever it is has left a trail of olive stones around the oil filter.