Thursday, 30 April 2009

View onto Todi at 5.30 this afternoon

After a wonderful start to the day the weather became schizoid and we've had solid,heavy rain. It's quite unlike Scottish rain which is basically wet and grey ( there is a wonderful Scots word - dreech - to describe it ). Here it has been cascading down as it would in the Caribbean. This is tonights view, with heavy clouds, across the olive groves to Todi.

The mother of all hail storms unsettles the troops

Last night we had the most violent hail storm I've ever known. Large lumps of ice the size of marbles hurtled down from the sky for twenty minutes without pause. The noise was incredible and we had to shout above it in the kitchen to make ourselves heard. The lightning display and acoustics that went with it were positively biblical in their proportions. We had thought that the two boyz had recovered from the violence of the robbery but the sound of the hail cracking against the roof must have reminded them of the sound of gunfire. Digby, who at the best of times is hardly the bravest of dogs started to tremble all over and hid under my chair. Wilf, who until recently was quite unperturbable and took thunder and loud noises in his stride simply came and lay across my feet with his paws covering his eyes. We turned up the sound system and carried on as if we weren't aware of what was going on so that they would calm down.

Today has dawned clear and fair.We went a walk to a little village nearby called Saragano without a cloud to be seen in the sky. The two boyz seem to be fully recovered from their nervousness and enjoyed the outing in the car. The dog vehicle is now two and a half years old. I wonder whether anyone will ever buy it from us ? There doesn't seem to be a vacuum cleaner strong enought to remove the sand , vegetation or worse dragged in by the pups.
The Italian government has said in an official statement that the country has nothing to fear from swine flu. Now I know it's serious.

"If I keep a green bough in my heart,a singing-bird will come" - Chinese Proverb

Wednesday, 29 April 2009


It was already 12 degrees at six this morning so we loaded the boyz in the back of the car and drove off to the mountains. Wilf and Digby view the mountain walk as a great treat - lots of new and unfamiliar smells. We were back for seven with the sun already high in the sky and pumping out heat - the scorching temperatures can't be too far away. Sometime in the next week or two I shall have to get the clippers out and shear the boyz ahead of the 35 degree heat - being boisterous males they naturally make life as difficult as possible during the trimming process and squirm and squeak as if their lives are being threatened.
We saw the first face mask yesterday in the village - swine flu panic has taken root in our small community. I read an interesting article yesterday saying that people can only have one major fear at a time . The volume of calls to environmental and terrorist help lines have plummeted in the last three days while the volume of calls to health lines has skyrocketed.

"Subtle he needs must be,who could seduce Angels": - Milton

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

11.00 am view towards Todi

Joy and courage make a handsome face

Rain cuts short the morning walk.

It's as if we've woken up this morning and we're back in Scotland. The warmth and sun of the last week have given way to drizzle and low hanging cloud. Even the boyz were less than enthusiastic about their morning walk - we got halfway up the hill when Wilf just turned around and headed back to the house with Digby following in close pursuit. They are slowly but surely taking on the mantle of 'senior dogs' - where once they would have thought nothing of ploughing through long, wet grass they now are opting for comfort and the dry, welcoming warmth of home. Having senior dogs is much easier for the owner - for the first seven years of their lives the boyz were constantly moving bundles of fur forever on the look out for adventure- of late they have taken to sleeping more and will take their adventure in smaller doses.

There have been no cases of Swine Flu in Italy so far but from the news headlines today you would think that vast swathes of the local population are being laid low. It must be a nightmare being the CEO of an airline at the moment - first your business plan is decimated by the recession and then,just as things seem to be stabilizing, along comes Swine flu.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Digby's reflection of the day : "Don't think there are no crocodiles because the water is calm" : - Malaysian proverb

Can a day get any better?

Wilf has started his day on a high note - as we set off from the house on the morning walk he quickly found a partially eaten boiled egg left behind by one of the builders . After four days in the sun it must have just reached that gourmet level of canine putresence.By the time we noticed he was lagging behind the appetising article had been swallowed , leaving only a tell tale trail of small egg shell pieces as a clue to its existence. Naturally, the horrid day-glo plastic starfish with the annoying ( and miraculously still functioning ) squeaker joined us on the morning excursion.At this time in the morning the only sound , apart from the wheezing starfish, was the breeze rustling the leaves on the ash trees along the driveway.
The Italian morning news covered the Swine flu epidemic in great detail on its six o'clock bulletin. It can be said that faced with the choice between a cold factual appraisal of the outbreak or a burst of hypocondriacal hyperbole the media here has chosen the latter approach.I would expect the lines at the doctors surgeries here to be stretching round the block this morning amid stories of civilisation in the America's coming to a grinding halt.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Digby's pensee du jour: "The beginning is always today" : - Mary Shelley

Morning! Do I smell bacon?

Morning newspapers from the UK as gloom and doom laden as I've ever seen. The governments budget which was announced on Wednesday of last week is torn to shreds - the commentaries are caustic even in the papers that are generally supportive of the Prime Minister ! The basic premise seems to be that there will need to be stinging budget cuts across the board but they will not be implemented until after the next election by which time the remedies will need to be even more severe. To make matters worse in a week in which taxes were raised , MP's were debating awarding themselves a $225 per day allowance for just showing up to work. You couldn't make it up. We had dinner with American friends last night who were complaining about the state of the US economy - I suggested they should try coming to the UK for a while to get a feel for just how fortunate they are.

Italy provides a perfect palliative for the woes of life north of the Alps.The day has dawned bright and fair, the boyz are out at the fence barking at the last of the foxes scurrying back to their dens after a nights foraging,and we are about to sit down to pancakes and bacon.Worries about the world can wait until Monday morning.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Spello on Liberation Day

Not as well known as its neighbour Assisi, Spello is a lovely little Roman town that sports one of the best restaurants in Umbria. It is quite a haul up from the Roman gate to the restaurant at the very top but on a clear, sunny day like today the view across the plain makes it well worthwhile (as does the food and the wine). Today is the Liberation Day national holiday in Italy, so everywhere is packed with local families enjoying themselves. We are fortunate in having a marvellous ironmonger here. After the burglary, while we were in the hospital, he and his family worked until one in the morning to weld together new security gates to replace those that were torn off the wall. Where else in the world does the well of human kindness flow as deep as in Italy?

Digby's reflection of the day : " It took me a long time not to judge myself through someone else's eyes".

Out by six this morning - another of those wonderful Italian days with the sun already on your face , not a cloud in the sky and the gentlest murmur of a breeze. If ever you want to come to Italy the months straddling late April/early May and late September/early October are the times to come - no hoardes of tourists, no oppressive heat, and no queues. The boyz were on leads this morning to keep them out of the long grass where the vipers have been spotted by the builders. They both seemed to enjoy the security of being walked rather than running wild. It's a national holiday here today - Liberation Day - so everything is closed.

Friday, 24 April 2009

'Live all you can: it's a mistake not to' : Henry James

Thunderstorms are rolling up and down the valley. From our perch on the hill we can see the lightning arcing across the sky and clouds building up to a tremendous height over Tuscany. Wilf is quite unperturbed by this atmospheric display but Digby has opted for safety over valour and decided to come and hide under the dining table. The builders have reported seeing two poisonous vipers in the fields so the boyz will be restricted to walks on leads and away from the long grass in the olive groves for the next month.

'Enjoy present pleasures in such a way as not to injure future ones' : Seneca

Problems posting and responding to comments

Many thanks to all of you who sent comments of encouragement and support after our recent burglary. They were all very much appreciated. Unfortunately , we seem to have a problem with Windows Vista (?) and many of the original comments and our responses seem to have been lost in the ether. If you want to get in touch please send the comment again or an e-mail address and we'll reply again ( technology willing )


Up and out by six. Today, the lurid day-glo starfish with the bulging eyes joined us on the morning walk - it seems to have become the companion of choice for the two boyz. This morning as soon as it was light the two of them rushed down to the cupboard where it is kept and sat imploringly waiting for it to be brought out. The attraction of this strange piece of plastic may lie in the fact that amazingly the squeaker is still working after two days of chomping and general rough and tumble . When squeezed it emits a high pitched wheeze that must pluck some chord deep in the sheepdog soul.

Here the morning news revolves around the Italian governments decision to switch the G8 heads of government meeting from the luxury of Sardinia to L'Aquila in Abruzzo, where the earthquake recently took place. Cynics claim that the change in venue is because the conference center in Sardinia won't be finished in time. Others, taking a less political view say the presence of the G8 leaders will bring a flood of investment into the striken region.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.

Digby's musing for the day : Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers,pray for powers equal to your tasks

Hot at six this morning, the boyz get a new toy

Up and out at six , our pre-summer walk time. It was hot rather than warm this morning so we may have to switch onto the five o'clock slot before too long. One of the most difficult things for a northerner is getting used to Italian time - everything here opens early and then absolutely everything shuts down between one and four ( and sometimes five ) in the afternoon. Once you get used to having a catch-up sleep in the afternoon it's fine but to a Brit or American it somehow feels rather decadent to be dozing during the prime daylight hours.
The boyz have got a new toy. It is a horrible day-glo orange starfish that doubles up as a frisbee. Most importantly, it has a squeaker that has survived more than five minutes of sheepdog rough and tumble. Wilf ,who for the first five years of his life was the strong quiet type, has learnt a full repertoire of noises from his infrequent stays in the kennels outside Asissi. Whenever the starfish comes out he becomes turbocharged, he bounces up and down on the spot,makes high pitched squeals of transcendent delight and reverts to his preferred style of going through things rather than round them.
There were seventeen workmen here yesterday - what they were all doing is one of those mysteries of Italian life. We certainly don't employ more than seven of them. The boyz were certain that all these visitors had come to see them, so they were in dog heaven. By nine o'clock last night they had passed into that canine tired but exhausted stage. We found them upstairs in the bedroom in a deep ,deep sleep and neither moved a muscle until we got up at five thirty.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Perugia - a thousand feet above the Tiber

As we drive north from the house in the direction of Florence we soon see the skyline of Perugia outlined against the invariably blue Umbrian sky. To a Scot similarities with Edinburgh quickly spring to mind. It is an ancient town approached through thick Etruscan and Roman walls and is less touristy than its flashier counterparts on the holiday travellers route Siena, Bologna and Ferrara. The cathedral is a wonderful unfinished old building that is still waiting for the covering of marble that was planned for it before the Black Death intervened. Gloriously and exotically ,( to a Presbyterian Scot ) it is famous for being the home of the Virgin's wedding ring. This is said to change colour according to the nature of the person who holds it. The ring lies securely in an intricate cocoon of 15 steel and iron boxes one within the other rather like a Chinese puzzle. Each one has its own key and each key is held by a different town functionary ! The 15 boxes are locked inside a steel lined chest with a golden key that is in the possesion of Perugia's bishop. How I love Italy and its customs .

Wild flowers galore and a study in contentment

Since we stopped using insecticides on the land the number of wild flowers and birds has increased dramatically. However, our carefully and expensively nurtured lawns are being taken over by a rather beautiful but prolific wild plant - I think it must be a form of white wild crocus. If anyone knows its name please advise - all hints gratefully received. Wilf is as happy as a dog can be - so far today he has said hello to the lovely post lady,two electricians, five builders and three gardeners - naturally all have been presented with a ball to throw. This afternoon the plumbers are coming and some garden furniture is being delivered so the excitement isn't over yet. Readers of this blog will note from the photographs that as the day progresses the white fur around the mouth gets dirtier and dirtier and the overall coat more and more tangled.

The welcoming committee

Pity the poor builders - their arrival has been greeted by a welcoming committee comprised of Wilf (with ball) and Digby. To think that last week, in the immediate aftermath of the burglary, we were worried that the two boyz would be traumatised and would shy away from humans. How wrong we were!

Brushed,combed and ready for the day.

Boyz were keen to get the day started. As soon as the garden gate was opened they charged off through the fields at warp speed chasing after critters. I'm glad we don't have to rely on them to catch anything. Their hunting skills are based on never failing optimism and a limitless ability to put hope above experience. In the aftermath of their
enthusiastic but fruitless romp in the grass they emerged covered in grass,leaves and twigs and have had to be thoroughly groomed from head to toe. The two of them are now sitting in the courtyard waiting for the gardeners and builders to arrive. Their pristine state will last all of ten minutes before they find some mud to roll in. How in heavens name do championship breeders ever find the time to keep their dogs groomed?

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Time for reflection

One of the new security gates was fitted yesterday but progress was laggardly and the others will have to wait until this afternoon. Just as we were getting ready to prepare dinner last night the Carabinieri arrived with more witness statements to sign. We have belatedly learnt that there is a wave of violent crime across Greece,Italy and southern France caused by gangs of former soldiers who fought in the Kosovo war. In the absence of any job opportunities at home they are now looking to use their particular skill sets to make a little extra money where they can.

The boyz started their day as they mean to carry on - carefree,happy and boisterous. Dog owners will have a better sense than most that animals can actually teach us things that can enliven and improve our outlook on life.

Walking through the olive groves I detected signs of a preadtor at work. I think we may have a wildcat which has come down from the mountains for food.

Did you say lunch ?

Peculiar light

A rain storm has just blown up out of nowhere. The clear blue sky that greeted us at dawn this morning has given way to a grey drizzly day that wouldn't be out of place in Scotland ,although I have to add the rider that its much , much warmer here. One of the things that tells me I'm no longer in the north of the continent is the quality of the light . Somehow after a downpour the whole landscape seems to glow with a purple tint in a way that is quite alien to those of us from less sun blessed regions.

The local farmers have taught me two things this morning that I didn't know. The Barn Owls that live in the drainage pipes in the courtyard have evolved feathers with a velvety coating so that when they fly at night they make no noise whatsoever. This stealthiness enables them to catch their prey unawares.They must be succesful if the growing piles of shrew and vole bones beneath their nests is any indication. The second thing I've learnt is that the dandelions that have suddenly sprung up in the fields are known here in Umbria as hawkweed. I wonder if hawkweed is the formal name for dandelion?

Monday, 20 April 2009

The builders have had enough ....

After a morning of happily getting under everyones feet the two boyz are now indoors... and not being allowed out. Despite our worries that they might have been traumatised after last weeks robbery, they seem to have settled back into their friendly and inquisitive ways. This has made it difficult for the builders to get anything done without the active participation and involvement of either Wilf or Digby,or both. No hole can be dug or earth shovelled without the two of them wanting to enthusiastically see what has been going on.Even the most placid of builders tires with throwing the ball for them after two or three hours of constant interruptions. As we want the new metal grill security doors firmly in place before nightfall the boyz have now been consigned to the house for the duration-a state of affairs they are decidely unhappy about.

Boston Legal and our unsophisticated ways.

Earlier this year we had an old friend from our student days in Atlanta staying here at the house. He now has a chair at a well known Boston University and was in Europe to arrange the publication of his latest book. We had a great time together visiting Orvieto,Perugia, and Spoleto and all the 'must do' cultural sites. However, come seven o'clock in the evening he was absolutely horrified to discover our dreadful little secret - come rain or high water we sit down in front of the television to watch our favourite show - Boston Legal. It is so tightly written and has a pace and subtle humour that is way better than anything a British series can serve up. It also seems to be a repository for every retired actor from the 70's and 80's - even Magnum made an appearance alongside Captain Kirk this past week - how retro and tongue in cheek is that ?. Anyway, it was beyond our friends comprehension that we could stoop to such mundanity when we're living in the middle of sun drenched olive groves with a view onto one of Italy's most unspoilt medieval towns. In his view we should be out on the terrace every evening watching the sunset ,painting or writing poems. We had to gently explain to him that when you live surrounded by cultural treasures the last thing you need of an evening is more of the same. He remains unconvinced.

The boyz turn head on into the first of the summer winds

A strong warm wind has started to blow up from Algeria and Libya bringing with it a mass of fine sand and dust that coats all the garden furniture. The arrival of the wind is a pretty good sign that the heat is at long last on its way and the cold fronts are slowly being pushed back further and further north towards the Alps. The boyz are standing outside facing into the wind and looking vaguely aerodynamic with their fur flying every which way. They seem to love the wind, it fluffs up their fur and manages to keep them both warm and cool at one and the same time. It won't be long before I have to take a deep breath and get the clippers out for their short summer cut.

A pile of sand and a ball..what a great start to a day

The boyz were off happily sniffing the porcupine scents this morning which meant we had the time to look at what's going on in the fields rather than constantly playing ball with them. We planted wild lupins under the olives last year and they are now growing quickly and just starting to come into flower. If it works as planned the view from the house down to the river at the bottom of the hill should be spectacular in a months time with a huge blanket of scarlet coloured flowers running under the olives. Lupins are wonderful for putting natural nutrients back into the soil and also make wonderful animal fodder. By trying to be as organic as possible we've also had the joy of seeing the wild flowers re-establishing themselves in droves - on this mornings walk I saw wild orchids, grape hyacinths, several varieties of poppy and some stunning white flowers the name of which I shall have to look up.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Of all the places to play the building site is always best.

Bliss .. an afternoon of hunting in the garden.

The boyz have spent a happy,if ultimately fruitless, afternoon hunting for lizards in the lower garden. We have been splitting our sides with laughter watching these two 20 kilo bundles of fur practising their 'stealth' techniques. Suffice it to say that any wildlife within a 500 metre radius will have heard them and disappeared long before the two troubadors ever see them . What they lack in finesse they try to make up for with enthusiasm - this hunting technique involves a variety of whines and other peculiarly canine noises culminating in the occassional bark of pure frustration. If you're not a dog owner you will never ever know the simple unallayed pleasure of living with two permanent clowns and always having a smile on your face!

The view towards Todi from the house this morning

There is something about the Italian landscape that appeals to the northern soul. Scotland is beautiful but in an Alaskan-Norwegian-elemental way. Here, the evidence of continuous cultivation and habitation gives the land a softness and sensuality that can't be found anywhere else. This is the view across the fields towards Todi at six this morning. The local villagers think that we are terribly isolated being all of 2 kilometres from the nearest tarmaced road. We on the other hand coming from Scotland think that we're in the middle of it all.The joys of cultural differences!

Digby pondering the enormity of the world

The poor hotel and restaurant owners in the area are licking their wounds after a miserable Easter. If the recession wasn't exreting a bad enoughinfluence on bookings, the big earthquake in Abruzzo on the Monday before the holiday led to a spate of last minute cancellations - for most of the hotels here occupancy levels were down 20% from the levels seen last year.Everyone in the village bar is still hopeful that there will be a rush of foreign bookings for the summer . I'm gently trying to steel anyone that asks me to the fact that the Brits and Americans are suffering a weak economy and are less likely to travel than before.

Wilf has recovered his sense of adventure and went on a long walk on his own through the fields this morning. Last week he studiously made sure he was always within sight of us, but this morning he charged after the sparrows and blackbirds as contentedly and as carefree as if he was a puppy. He has a sore back leg so we think one of the burglars had probably given him a hefty kick. We've put him on glucosamine and he's definitely improving.Digby, the little one, has discovered the sand pit in the courtyard and is lying basking in the sun as I write.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Digby pauses on his 6.00 am walk

The builders have shown up again - on a Saturday! At this rate of progress the new paving around the house may be laid by the start of summer and the gardens may stop looking like a battlefield. The boyz are much improved in spirit after last weeks scare and are back to spending their days contentedly irritating the builders. There is nothing that the workmen do that is not of immediate and compelling interest to the boyz - particularly is it involves digging up earth or shovelling sand. Wilf has now settled down in the courtyard to observe what is going and will be there until he detects signs that it is their lunch break at which point he will leap into activity and do his ' I've never been fed in my life' begging routine.The police came again last night and stayed for three hours - we were exhausted when they left at ten.Interestingly, if you are attacked by men wearing masks you are likely to forget the attack much more quickly than you would if you had seen their faces.

Friday, 17 April 2009

How about a trip to the butcher?

Things are rapidly getting back to normal here. We had a visit from the Marechal - the head Carabinieri officer - to talk about the burglary. Everyone is proving to be extremely solicitous in a way that probably disappeared in the UK forty years ago. The two boyz were thankfully on their best behaviour for the police visit and didn't disgrace themselves by growling at the officers.
This afternoon I go to have a dozen stitches taken out at the local hospital.The standard of health care in the new modern hospital was excellent and efficient - as I mentioned before the MRI scanner was more modern than the one at the private hospital in London. I can't praise the Italian health care system too highly.
Weather is wonderful - sunny, mid-20's,with light showers every night around eleven. We're planting more olives so the showers are very welcome for watering them in. Newspapers here full of the latest Berlusconi comment - on a trip to the earthquake scene in Abruzzo yesterday he saw a small north African child and said ' I wish I had as much time to sunbathe as you do'. Plus ca change...