Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Birthday treats

Polish Lowland owners beware. When it goes quiet you know something is up. The boyz went quiet for an hour this morning. We assumed they were having a post walk nap in the sunshine. No way. When I went out to check the two little darlings were down with the builders doing their cute "I've never had anything to eat " routine.The builders , who bring their breakfast with them, had fallen for it. Both boyz have shared the workmens jam sandwiches, sausage and pastrami. That doesn't auger well for their digestion!

Happy Birthday.

The boyz are eight years old today . I guess this makes them senior dogs. It serves as a reminder that we are also eight years older - thankfully neither owners nor dogs feel or wish to act their age.

Monday, 30 March 2009

No builders showed up today

With the light rain that was falling this morning the builders naturally felt that the weather was too severe to work outside. As a consequence the garden remains an obstacle course of partially dug trenches, random holes , tractors and piles of stone. The boyz have been contentedly sniffing and marking these excavations all day. I'm betting that there is a 50-50 chance that the construction crew will show up tomorrow. If they arrive they will be dressed as if they are about to go on a polar expedition with padded overalls, mittens, hats with ear muffs, and scarves. This heavy layering would be fine if we were back in Angus but the temperature here is a balmy 19 degrees - about as hot as it gets in Scotland in August. When we lived in Edinburgh we used to see shocked Italian holiday makers wandering around the town at the height of the summer wearing every piece of clothing they had with them to stave off the cold. Lots of Italians come to Scotland in the summer to get away from the heat - indeed the place becomes a little Italy at the time of the festival. What their travel agents fail to explain to them is that summer weather in Scotland is rather like March back at home - you get away from the heat but get hypothermia in the process. Pity the intrepid Italian tourist who makes it to the far north or Orkney- what must they think?

Morning! Polish Lowland Sheepdog hinting that it's time for (another) ball game

The 'Foxy Knoxy' murder trial continues to dominate the press here with its tantalising mix of drugs, sex, violence and the antics of the pretty American defendant. As one of the defending attorneys is also an MP the proceedings have to be held at the weekend so she can attend to her parliamentary duties.After the Saturday hearings the Sunday papers in Perugia have acres of salacious coverage of the previous days testimony. The latest twist is that a tramp claims to have seen the two young defendants together 'arguing' outside the murder scene when they claim to have been safely tucked up in bed in a different part of town. The most lurid discovery this weekend is that the murder scene has become a tourist venue and person or persons unknown have broken in and stolen the victims mattress and curtains. At any gathering around here the trial will eventually slip into the conversation. Locals appear fairly evenly split between the view that a nice young couple like that couldn't do such things and the opposing view that they are drug crazed soiciopaths. Whatever, a murder is a fairly rare event here in Umbria and the press will continue to milk it for all it's worth.

Weather has turned beautifully mild although it's a little wet and windy. This means that the builders will not show up until the skies have turned blue again.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Wilf thinking about the fun of playing in 10 tons of new soil

The common denominator - sand on both noses

In the weekend absence of the builders the boyz have been contentedly exploring what used to be the garden and is now a building site.
In Todi today saw a poster pasted on the side of a building for a town meeting on ' The economic crisis - what it means for Umbria'. This is the first time I've seen any formal recognition by the authorities here that there is a problem. Culturally there seems to be certain reticence within Italy to acknowledging the recession even though Italian exports in January fell by a whopping 26% from year earlier levels. The Bank of Italy last week produced a new forecast for the economy this year setting the level of contraction from 2.0% to 2.9% - at the same time the OECD forecast that the economy would shrink by 4.2% - a more realistic figure. For a long time the press here has been happy to criticise the Anglo-saxons for the mismanagement of their economies . What they have yet to understand is that without the American and British consumers credit driven buying of FIAT's , fashion and food and wine there is a very big hole indeed in demand for Italian products.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Sheepdogs at sunset

A great day. The weather has held up which is just as well as the builders have left the garden a mass of earth just waiting to be turned into deep gelatinous mud with the onset of rain. The gardeners came to lay the pipes for the irrigation system ( we never needed one of those in Scotland) and for the outside lights. We've opted for LED lights along the drive - they are a bit more expensive but only use 1/60th of the power of a standard light - another step on our path to being carbon neutral. Clocks change tonight .

Digby - sometimes the world just looks so big

The porcupines have been out en masse overnight digging holes, eating bulbs and making their strange grunt like noises- Wilf has been out barking at them for the last hour. Digby, who is an altogether more sensitive soul, has settled down under a tree to review his options for the day. With Digby you have the feeling that he's thinking 'sometimes the world can look so big'. Did a quick run to the supermarket this morning in Perugia. At last we've found a chain that would stand muster as a supermarket in France or the UK so we will shift our weekly shop there. On the road,despite having lived here for 3 years now,continue to be amazed at the way Italian drivers will come up within inches of your rear fender and then pull in directly in front of you when they overtake.There must be some cultural rationale for it - but so far the logic behind it escapes me. You are said to be five times more likely to have an accident on the roads here than you are north of the Alps.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Two huge truck loads of earth were delivered tonight - dread to think what they will cost. We have just turned on the television to find Rupert Everett, an old next door neighbour from London, as Sherlock Holmes in a new tv series.Will post tomorrow. Herewith some more photos of the boyz using their stealth techniques to observe the builders.

Piles of sand, rubble and gravel all examined and marked

The builders have got on with the work at an amazing pace. I've said it before but I'll say it again - when Italian builders (or electricians, plumbers etc ) do show up they work quickly, efficiently ,politely and to a high standard. A great change from the UK where it is the exception rather than the rule to find such old fashioned virtues. Before we moved to Italy we had been nervous about the quality of construction work, but those fears were entirely misplaced. The boyz have observed the work from a shady spot under the olive trees with an occasional foray out to sniff the ever increasing piles of rubble and ever decreasing piles of sand and gravel. 40% of the planned works seem to have been completed, and weather willing the foreman has promised faithfully to be with us at six-thirty on Monday morning.

Polish Lowland Sheepdog - the grumpy look.

Have just rescued the builders who have been the centre of Wilfs ball playing attention for the last twenty minutes. I think it quite possible that he would play ball all day if given the chance. The look on his face in the top ( and now I look afresh at it the bottom ) photo tells you all you need to know about his views on having his game interrupted. Is it possible for dogs to frown? The weather forecast for next week calls for rain on Monday so this may be the last time we see the workmen for a week or so which will be a great disappointment for the boyz. Both of us have been down with a bug that has dragged on and on for over a week . Tired, feverish and burning eyes. We've googled to see if there are any flu strains that match this but it doesn't seem that there are. Has anyone else gone down with something like this or is it local to here?

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Digby oblivious to the fact he is blocking the tractors

Polish Lowland Sheepdogs - taking over a construction site

What a day. The builders punctured a gas pipe which meant calling out the plumbers and the electrician to deal with the heating system which had to be shut down and then restarted. In the midst of all of this an Italian couple arrived and started to walk around the garden. When I asked them who they were and what they were doing they said they lived close by, had seen all the work going on and wanted to see it for themselves. I was polite but speechless - the suggestion that they come back when we were less frenetic seemed to be well received.The boyz naturally have gone through the day believing that all this activity is in some way solely for their benefit. Their favourite rest spot is right next door to the earth moving equipment! Friends sometimes wonder what we do to keep ourselves busy here in Italy. Believe me, it takes all the time in the world and then some to get things done.

Promise me you'll never show this photo to anyone!

When we picked up the boyz from the breeders nearly eight years ago they were given a battered old teddy bear to play with on the journey back to Scotland. Nearly eight years on an our 'top dog' will still find somewhere quiet to snuggle down with his oldest, and now very dilapidated friend whenever he's feeling particularly put upon. How embarrassing is that? The reason for todays cuddle with the teddy bear ? I took the boyz out into the olive groves. En route Wilf managed to chase and then corner a lizard ( presumably either a very old or very stupid one ) in a pile of terracota tiles - despite being told to leave well alone he 1) knocked the pile of tiles over in his unfettered excitement and 2) actually managed to catch the lizard which he was proudly going to bring into the house. He will have a very sore tummy this afternoon if he's eaten any of it.

Gardening with two attentive Polish Lowland Sheepdogs

What's up?
Nothing good to eat here then!

Why not stop that and come for a walk?
The builders arrived this morning at 6.30. The boyz were (as always) delighted to have company and started to pester the team laying the new stone in the courtyard within five minutes of work starting. Wilf is of the opinion that all of humankind has been placed on the planet to play with him and views it as his pre-eminent canine duty to bring a ball to be thrown every two minutes - this is of course cute the first dozen or so times but quickly becomes irritating for even the most dog friendly of workmen. Digby is much more likely to find a spot where work is just about to take place and make that his position of choice for a morning nap.To allow work to proceed according to something approximating budget and schedule the boyz have been relegated to working with me in the garden while I pot out the new seasons geraniums. Why all Italian houses become a riot of red geraniums every summer is one of those cultural shibboleths that we are happy to adhere to although the process of getting the pots filled is both expensive and time consuming.The terraces are now brimming over with a hundred fresh plants . The next job is to start work in the gardens where we only allow cool blue and white plants - red is a very hot colour and when it's 35 degrees a not very restful colour. The two dogs have very quickly discovered that plants are not good to eat and their interest has very quickly waned - annoying the builders is much more interesting than being with family!

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

British Airways a delight both outbound and return.

Polish Lowland Sheepdogs employing their beguiling look while dinner is being prepared
Back from London. The British Airways flight in both directions was an absolute joy - leaving on time and arriving early both coming and going.People always love to criticize airlines but BA and Lufthansa both make an effort. I'd been a bit worried that the recession might lead to BA trimming flights from the schedule - some of the flights in February were less than 40% full - but the lure of the eternal city seems to be working again with the aircraft close to being full.
I've managed to fly for more than three decades without anything exciting happening to me at all. That's not quite true, I was once on a flight in the Middle East that ran into a ditch that had been dug across the active runway - but that was in the late 1970's and I was of an age where it was exciting rather than scary to go hurtling across the runway sans a large part of the undercarriage . I also once had to be evacuated out of the rear door on a Boeing 727 on the Boston Logan to La Guardia Shuttle when a fire alarm went but I'd had a gin and tonic or two and barely noticed it. Oh, and I remember being on a DC-10 of some cheap and cheerful budget airline when I was a student that had to make an emergency landing en route from Kennedy to London. Of all places we landed at Gander in Newfoundland.All in all it's a sign of how uneventful flying is.
These days it seems to me that the danger lurks in the cabin. You may remember my recent trip to Switzerland when a young drug crazed boy came rushing screaming to the front of the aircraft , collapsing in front of the cabin crew as we were taxiing out. Well. a rather strange thing happened to me on the flight from London. A sharply dressed Italian businessman in the seat in front of me reclined his seat as soon as we had taken off from Heathrow. Not a problem as BA gives you lots of legroom and I was happily immersed in reading all the London papers. When it came time to serve breakfast I let down the table in the back of the seat as the stewardess was passing me my tray ( the English breakfast on BA is worthy of the airline, or as worthy as anyhting can be at 35,000 feet ) at this point the aforementioned businessman went ape**** , undid his belt, leapt to his feet , turned 180 degrees to me and shouted : "Don't kick your feet on my ******* back". I don't know who was more alarmed - the stewardess or me. Thankfully the crew are clearly well conditioned in handling 'stress' and diffused the situation with great aplomb - explaining that seats have tray tables built into the back of them! I kept half an eye on him for the rest of the flight in case he tried to stab me.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Dogs in clover - the end of a great day

Freshly trimmed, combed and very clean. How long will it last?

Snow turns to sunshine and 20 degree temperatures

What a beautiful day - once again the climate has done a volte face and we are back in perfect sunny weather. Have been outside enjoying the sunshine and trying to drum up some response from the builders who had promised to be here last week. The latest excuse - everyone is down with the flu. They seem to forget that I can see them working on a house on the other side of the valley owned by a well known industrialist from Turin. Keeping a good builder is part of the human condition and requires cutting them a large degree of slack. The supervisor has promised that he will come along on Wednesday to 'review' the job. All around I see the houses on the hill are busy building - I think there must be something in the Italian tax code that allows you to deduct 100% of home improvements or renovations from your tax bill.
Am off to London tomorrow - back on Wednesday - hopefully in time to see the builder.

Wilf has had a haircut and some long overdue praise for Mr.Geithner

Wilf has now had a haircut and is feeling rather shell shocked. We used to take him to a groomer in Perugia but the owners would leave the front door open and we would be on tenter hooks worrying if he had done a runner along the main road that sits just outside- so now we do it ourselves which leaves him with a slightly 'unstructured' look. His little brother made a dash for freedom at the groomers in Avignon when we lived in the south of France and ran at high speed across the road and disappeared into the old Gothic parish church opposite. I still occasionally wake up in the middle of the night with the horrible memory of trying to coax Digby out from under the chairs at the back of the church while mass was going on at the front. That was an occasion when the rule that the French like dogs did not apply and when we discovered that the priest knew some words that we had to look up in the dictionary!

Good sensible article in this mornings Tribune by Thomas Friedman who points out that we are in a once-a-century crisis and yet the President is being criticised as if it's politics as usual. He also points out that by vilifying anyone who tries to find a way out of the mess such as the Treasury Secretary all that politicians do is ensure that no capable person will ever sign up for government service. Articles like this which remind us of public service, inspiration and duty are the perfect antidote to the pessimism and the can't do attitude that surrounds us.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Out and back..Wilf goes walking alone..Digby stays by the fire

The trial of an American student and her boyfriend accused of killing a flatmate in a drug crazed sex game that went wrong is a genuine topic of conversation here. What is worse to be the parents of a girl that has been murdered or to be the parents of children whose 'unwholesome' activities are dissected for all to see in court? The latest twist is that the girl accused of the crime claimed that she had been at her boyfriends apartment until ten in the morning. However a witness has come forward claiming that she had been buying cleaning fluids at eight that same morning.

Roll on summer...

Have looked at the plants that came out of the greenhouse - sadly they all appear to have suffered greatly from the snow and the wind and nothing short of a miracle will save them. Quite what you do in a garden here is still a mystery - in winter it's every bit as cold as in the north of the continent and in the summer the soil bakes into a solid crust. No wonder gardens as the French and English understand them don't exist here. The plant best suited to these conditions appears to be rosemary.The boyz were up at 5.30 this morning with the wind whistling around the house - I don't object to getting up early for a walk the alternative would be staying in bed until lunchtime!

Read the NY Times and the UK press on line this morning. Can it be only 2 months since President Obama was inaugurated. From some of the criticisms it would seem that the days of a honeymoon period for a new President are long gone.Today's Corriera has on its front page an article saying that Europe must stick together as the financial crisis is now becoming an economic one which in turn could lead to political and social unrest - a cheerful thought over the cornflakes!

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Wilf looking out towards a snow covered Todi while Digby decides to come inside

There was a time before we moved here when we were of the opinion that winter in Italy lasted for a maximum of two months. From our pre-move research it seemed as if the bad weather occurred pretty much on schedule sometime between late December and late March. This year the winter has dragged on and on , and has been made all the more unbearable by sudden,prolonged bouts of bright sunny weather that serve to remind you how life should really be lived. With the wind it's been a bit like being in the Hebrides with the notable difference that here in Umbria you can usually see a patch of blue somewhere in the sky. The locals here go around dressed as if they are about to go on a trip to the Antarctic with layer upon layer of down filled garments and a variety of hats that look as though they should be in a remake of La Dolce Vita. Our current colds are blamed by the cleaning lady on the fact that we Scots, unlike Umbrians, don't know how to dress for bad weather. The barrista is of the opinion that after such a horrible winter we are going to have a summer of extended exceptionally hot temperatures - out of the freezer into the chip pan!

And still it snows...

Thank you to all our friends in Scotland who have sent heartfelt wishes telling us how warm the weather is. Be sure you are all off our Christmas card list! The weather here goes from bad to polar, and I'm afraid by putting them out on the terrace I've done to the pot plants what Hannibal did to Rome.
Wilf has been going mad stuck inside the house so has been allowed out to get his feet caked with snow. Digby being a gentler more reflective soul has retired to a wind free corner where he has hidden himself in a blanket and refused to move. He did manage a 400 metre walk to the gate but in doing so lost a ball and fell into a hollow full of very cold snow.
For our part any thoughts of going off to do some sight seeing have disappeared in preference to slumping in a chair and watching reruns of Will and Grace on Italian TV. The wine will be opened early tonight!

Digby stoically facing the arctic wind

More snow - why does it always come when you've put away the winter clothing?

Up bright and early this morning to find the countryside blanketed under four inches of snow. Welcome to the first day of Spring! We'd gone to bed last night looking at the television news reporting heavy snow in the far south of the country and thanking our lucky stars that it had missed us. It hadn't. During the night the storm with its centre over Albania swept north with violent winds, freezing temperatures and snow. I fear the abutilons and hibiscus plants that I dragged out into the garden are goners.Next year I won't do anything in the garden until April.Boyz have had two long walks with Digby uncharacteristically entering into the rough and tumble of exploration with his big brother. Piles of dried leaves and snow drifts hold out huge interest to Polish Lowland Sheepdogs who can't resist leaping in them.

Read an interesting article about Senator McCain in the Financial Times this morning. He continues to be his own man and is refusing to join in the Republican chorus criticising President Obama and his Treasury Secretary. Between the lines he seems to be saying we created this mess let's give these guys time to sort it out. How refreshing to see someone taking the higher path in politics. In Italy the Fascist Party is merging with Prime Ministers Berlusconis party.

Friday, 20 March 2009

And then it snowed

Having moved the hibiscus plants out of the greenhouse in the belief that summer was here we now are suffering an arctic cold . The winds are making the shutters shake on their hinges and we have had sprinklings of snow. I chose yesterday to give the boyz a haircut and they are decidedly unhappy with the cold blowing around their exposed nether regions. Wilf has made three separate forays into the fields but has returned very quickly.

We discovered something quite amazing today. Italy is the only country in the EU that doesn't have unemployment benefit. With a debt level that is greater than GDP the government has said there is absolutely no chance of any money being set aside to help the unemployed in this downturn.Now I understand why the family is so important here.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Switched on the irrigation system - an hour later it poured

The new grass in the courtyard - put in at huge expense and backed up by a fancy eco-friendly rainwater collection system- was looking parched after a week without any rain so I switched on the irrigation. Naturally an hour after a copious watering of the grass a huge, and entirely unforecast storm blew down from the mountain and we had forty five minutes of rain, hail, lightning and thunder. Digby would like to think he is a brave dog - but he isn't. We eventually found him hiding under the bed trying to make himself invisible to the cacophony outside. Wilf slept through it all.

Italy's 500,000 stray dogs

The papers here today are full of two truly horrible stories - the first is of a 10 year old boy mauled to death by stray dogs in Sicily and a second similar story concerning a 24 year old German savagely attacked by dogs while walking on the beach and now in critical condition . According to the morning papers there are at least 500,000 stray dogs in Italy with the vast majority of them in the south - Calabria. Puglia and Sicily. Every summer thousands more are simply abandoned as their families go off on vacation and leave them by the side of the road. With local authorities short of funds there is simply no money here for the establishment of dog pounds or for looking after abandoned dogs.Add to all this a culture where hunters simply leave their dogs in the wild or poison them when they are too old to be of any further use and you have a major problem.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

If a wet nose was a sign of health and happiness...

If a wet nose was a sign of health and happiness then Wilf would be way up there. So far this morning he's had a conversation with the gardener ( which ended as soon as the grass strimmer came out ), barked at the stone masons who have been delivering more stone for the entrance, and chased lizards to his hearts content.

With stock markets moving up over the last week the Italian press has moved from deep depression into a universally upbeat view that all is well and that the downturn in the economy will be over by the later part of the year. Everything will be back on track in 2010 and Italy will be growing robustly again. A house guest is of the opinion that this stridently black or white , doom or euphoria view of life is deeply routed in the Italian psyche and goes back to the conformity that was imposed at the time of the counter reformation.That seems a little trite to me but it is interesting how the mood can change so rapidly here whereas in the UK there is more of a perception that current woes will linger for a long time.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Wilf demonstrating the art of flying

Lizard chasing in the afternoon sun - what better way of passing the day?