Monday, 31 August 2009

Last night of the carnival.

Just as we were turning in for the night the whole valley shook with a series of very,very loud explosions. It was the last night of the carnival. Promptly at 11.56 pm (or midnight according to the village clock) the week of festivities came to its long anticipated culmination with a ten minute barrage of tricolore green,white and red pyrotechnics each generating at the apex of its ascent an earth shattering explosion. The laws governing firework manufacture must be quite different in Italy for these were not the half hearted exhalations of British maroons but deep basso profundo roars that carried for miles. The effect seen, and heard, from our little hill 2 kilometres away was as much martial as it was entertaining. That said, for a small village the display was really rather impressive and would put to shame many displays that I've seen in British towns with populations 100 times greater. Wilf, bless him, oblivious to everything slept happily through it all but Digby, being the shy retiring type emitted exasperated groans from under the bed. If a dog could be heard invoking divine protection then it was Digby. This morning the village had the same maudlin air as Edinburgh at the close of the festival - the deserted square seemed to be saying the fun and frippery are behind us,now back to work.
Italian politics become ever more entertaining. Sgr.Berlusconi , the Prime Minister, had hoped to go to a mass of absolution to expiate his alleged misdemenaours with underage starlets and a string of 'professional' ladies. Sadly for him the presiding Cardinal deemed that the presence of the PM in church would have been somewhat inappropriate.
And to think that Bill Clinton was nearly impeached for his activities!
I sometimes wonder what a seriously clever, flawlessly ethical and fiercely independent woman like Frau Merkel, the German Chancellor, must think of her Italian counterpart.Perhaps the sign of a great politician is being able to hide your feelings.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Blogging and human kindness.

It was 22 degrees when we went out on our early morning inspection walk - at long last there were clouds this morning tantalisingly holding out the promise of much needed rain. Temperatures that would have graced a really good summers day in Scotland struck me, in the new incarnation here in the olive groves of Italy, as being decidedly chilly. Time to dig out the sweaters.
Digby seems to have bad cuts on the underside of his paws ( despite much thought we can't even begin to imagine where he got them) and lay stretched out immovable on the driveway while Wilf ambled alongside me exuding simple undiluted canine contentment. As top dog Wilf clearly feels that the morning walk justifies and reinforces his position in the pack.The two of them are now asleep under the table in the breakfast room.
You wouldn't know it from reading the blog but we've brought the boyz up in quite a Calvinist way. No getting on the furniture, no begging from the table, waiting until after we've finished eating before being fed and so on. Yesterday, as the 'fonts' car came down the road after three nights away the two of them sat by me watching in absolute, well mannered silence. Wilf did his very best to control his mounting excitement and sat stock still while the car approached, the luggage was unloaded and the font (after what must have seemed like an eternity) finally chose to appear at the garden gate. At that moment any pretence of having well trained dogs disappeared - Wilf let out a high pitched howl of delight ( the really loud embarassing sort that must make non dog owning neighbours think he is being tortured with a cattle prod ) and rose, as if propelled by a huge jet of compressed air, four feet in the air in an entirely natural tongue licking frenzy of welcome. The 'font' puts the warmth of the welcome down to a simple recognition by the boyz that the kitchen is once again in competent hands.
Discovered while reading a book on the Dark Ages that that the word Easter in English comes from the spring festival of the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre - whose name was sequestered by early Christian missionaries to Wessex.
The blog is coming up to its 500th post. What is really interesting to me looking at the daily comments is how decent and natural the internet has made us. In responses posted by people quite unknown to me,and frequently half a world away,there is a sense of trust,gentleness and kindness that seems to contradict a cynical world weary wariness .That's an outcome and response to technology I'd never have anticipated when the first post went up last Fall.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

The contentment of middle age.

It is the most perfect of mornings here with the baking Saharan heat finally ebbing away - in the cool dawn air Wilf followed me down to the farm gate,stopping every so often to sniff the scented breeze and check for porcupines, while Digby looked on from the safety of the porch. After their 'exertions' the two of them are now asleep by the breakfast table, Digby resting his head on Wilfs back and each snoring softly. I've noticed in the last three months sleep has become an ever more important and enjoyable part of their schedule. Gone forever are the days of adolesence and early adulthood when everything with the boyz had to be done at double quick time .They have now settled contentedly into advanced middle age - after eight and a half years they know exactly what's expected of them and they know what to expect from me. It's rather a nice age for dogs and owners - they somehow become a natural part of the daily rythmn of the house and family, as real as the bricks and mortar that surround us or the natural routine of meal times. Perhaps most tellingly, their advancing age and acts as the gentlest of reminders that we too are maturing - can it really have been 2001 when I picked them up from the breeder in Derbyshire?

Friday, 28 August 2009

Learning diplomacy.

The new mayor came to the house to discuss his plans for marketing the comune's olive oil. He was due at nine and arrived,prompt by Italian standards,at ten thirty.In other words just in time for a cup of coffee. Making coffee is one thing I can do well in the kitchen .Years of trial and error have instilled in me a knack for knowing which levers to pull and which dials to turn on our proud looking Gaggia machine in order to produce a to die for espresso. The 'font' is highly suspicious of our little vaporetto believing its unforecastable tremblings, strangely vulgar gastric rumblings and sudden discharges of super heated steam to be a precursor to a dreadful kitchen catastrophe.
Anyway, the mayors latest idea is for a marketing campaign to enable Americans and Brits en masse to adopt an olive tree. The idea (as far as I could understand it) is for foreigners to pay €100 to nurture a tree and then pay a premium to buy oil from it. Four years in Italy have taught me to keep my impressions to myself so I smiled non-commitedly throughout while trying desperately to drive the words hare brained from my mind.
As I sat and listened I couldn't help but remember that when I was a wee boy growing up on a Scottish island olive oil used to be sold in small glass bottles by the pharmacist as a way of removing ear wax. The good god fearing west coast folk would have sooner died rather than use it for cooking. This was a memory that I chose not to share with the mayor who I'm sure believes (as do all Italians ) that anglo-sassones operate under the thinest veneer of culture - scratch it at your peril. Thank heavens the 'font' had reminded me to dress up - if the sindaco had seen me in my Hawaiian shirt and sun hat his prejudices would have been confirmed.
The two boyz spent much of yesterday chilling. We played ball (a lot), cut more vines,added to the swelling pile of cuttings,and checked for holes in the irrigation system. When I'm on my own the two of them sit by the farm gate in quasi guard mode. From the tone of Wilf's bark I can tell whether 1) he's bored and wants company 2) his little brother has got the ball and he wants it back now! 3) a porcupine is wandering past 4) a car is coming down the hill or 5) there are people about. When I hear bark #5 it is time to go and see what's happening.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Wilf on patrol.

The 'font' is away for a few days enabling both me and the boyz to rapidly regress to our feral ways. This means that I can dress as unstylishly as I like in old shorts, hawaiian shirt and floppy sun hat while the boyz can go sniffing and ferreting away in the olive groves to their hearts content. The 'font' disapproves of my natural dress style believing anyone bumping into me would dig into their pockets for 50 cents and suggest I go and get a cup of coffee and a doughnut. How many visitors are we likely to have at six in the morning I ask?
Today, we were all up bright and early, out in the glorious post-dawn morning sunshine, cutting down old vines and carting off the cuttings to an ever growing mound of dessicated vegetation. It's against the law to have a bonfire during the arid summer months so the pile of grass ,olive and vine cuttings has grown over the last twelve weeks to rather impressive (the font might say alarming ) proportions - come cooler weather I'll be out here in a flash with a box of matches to send our miniature Gibraltar skywards.Wilf and Digby lay contentedly in the field watching the activity with an air of proprietorial indifference . They like to pretend that they are brave, independent spirits but whenever my pruning took me too far away from them they would stand up and saunter over to join me as if to say 'don't worry we're here now'.
Interesting article in the Washington Post about healthcare. Every year 700,000 Americans are forced into bankruptcy over their medical bills. In the UK, France,Germany and Japan the number of medical bankruptcies is zero.
Spoke last night to a friend who works in the Treasury in London. He can't understand why everyone is acting as if the economic crisis is over. Sure, the banks have been saved but now the reckoning is at hand and the financial maitre'd is hovering over the table with the bill in his hand. A hike in UK sales tax to 20% and income tax to 25% would 'only' raise about £25 billion of the £75 billion that will be needed each year to service and paydown the recently incurred debt. This tells me that there's a huge wave of government cutbacks in services on the way - what's the betting Britain will be hit by a rerun of 1970's industrial action next year?.
The 'font' has just been on the phone to remind me that the mayor is coming this morning so must go to have a shower and upgrade my tout ensemble.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The festivities continue.

We skipped the trip up to the village for last nights festvities prefering to stay at home and avoid the heat by eating out by the pool. There are just so many nights that you can go and eat pasta at trestle tables with two hundred 'close' friends while listening to highly amplified music at close quarters- put it down to advancing middle age. I stopped off in the village square to look at the adverts for the next few nights entertainment.Tonight a performance by one Emanuele Fideli is scheduled. From the scant information on the poster I think we can assume he plays the accordion. Tomorrow 'Roberto' and his energetic young friend with the trumpet take top billing while Friday night culminates with a performance by a 60's revival band with Latin influences ( what's the betting a few Abba numbers are thrown in for good measure?).
The two boyz are in fine fettle having discovered that the 'font' and I are locked inside with them during the heat of the afternoon. This has been interpreted as a not to be missed opportunity to play catch on the hard,cold stone floor in the hallway for extended periods of time ie until they both drop from happy exhaustion.
We are watching the weather forecasts closely and hoping that a big cold front that is sweeping in from the Atlantic will make its way to us across France and the mediterranean in the next 48 hours.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Finding shade wherever and whenever you can.

It's still hot - very hot - but I can't help but feel that this is Summer using its last reserves of strength to go out in style. The air carries a presentiment that within a week the scorching temperatures will be nothing more than a distant memory. The morning walk with Wilf reinforced the growing view that the olive harvest that I'd high hopes for now looks as though it will be a disappointment - the continued unrelenting heat of the last few days has stunted the formation of fruit on the younger trees - while even the older ones are now looking tired.
We sat outside last night marvelling at the antics of Wilf and Digby as they attempted to chase lizards across the terrace. The boyz still can't get it into their heads that lizards can run up walls. They scurry round, noses to the ground, in an exuberant display of fruitless activity. Over a post midnight final glass of wine the 'font' wondered aloud whether we laughed nearly as much before the two boyz arrived .
It was 70's night at the village carnival last night. You knew it was 70's night because a lady with big,big gravity defying hair and a lot of makeup belted out a medley of Abba and Diana Ross songs - no one was asked to join in but everyone did. The evening ended with that really annoying modern song that contains the line ' are we human or are we dancer ?'. I thought it was dancers but the font informs me it is dancer which makes the question even more annoying in its pointlessness.
The man from the bar who always wears a string vest and black baggy shorts was there at the carnival dressed in well, string vest and black baggy shorts. I asked him what he'd come as and quick as a flash he replied 'Elvis'.Humour is still alive and kicking in Italy. I'm still chuckling this morning.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Coping with the heat

The boyz , who have coped with the high temperatures pretty well, finally wilted under yesterdays oppressive heat. It was real Atlanta style weather.For the first time ever both Wilf and Digby refused to come out for lunch preferring to sprawl morosely in the air conditioned kitchen and sulk.
Desperate measures were called for. I found an old blue plastic laundry basin in the store room, carried it down to the shade of the pool, filled it with 15 inches of cold fresh water from the tap and then called the boyz down to join me. I threw one of their favourite balls into the water and then stood back to watch what happened. For the next hour they had a fun fest. At first the two of them sat staring into the basin unsure what to do - particularly as that evil element water was involved. Wilf quickly learnt that he could stand at the side of the tub and grab the ball with his teeth but Digby found that it was much messier and infinitely more fun if he actually clambered into the basin to retrieve the ball. He started off hesitantly but after five minutes he was clambering in and out like a puppy. The 'font' and I took an hour out of the day to throw the ball backwards and forwards into the water roaring with laughter at their carefree antics and increasingly dishevelled appearance. Finally,even they tired of the game and two very wet but revitalised dogs clambered back to the house looking for something to eat.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

The medieval banquet

The village carnival is now in full swing. On Friday night the festivities got underway with a torch light procession through the village followed by a medieval banquet. This opening night is a jolly affair with huge tables set out in the square at which the locals (and anyone else who can squeeze in) sit on tressles eating pasta and drinking copious amounts of wine. Purists may question whether penne all' arrabbiata was a staple of every day fare in fifteenth century Umbria but such details are of no consequence to the participants who sensibly place enjoyment above a pharisaic pursuit of realism. The locals, as always, enter into the spirit of the event with abandon and are to be found dressed in a variety of what pass in these parts as period costumes. Under the light cast by flickering wall torches the whole affair has something of the feel of a budget production of Camelot. Plumes,leggings,swathes of multi-coloured velvet and those strange tall conical ladies hats that are always to be found in costume dramas of the period are much in evidence.
It remains stiflingly hot with yet another day of 40 degree + temperatures. The boyz are holding up well but I get the feeling that they can hardly wait for the arrival of colder weather.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Autumn knocks at the door - Rome is given over to the tourists.

Autumn is suddenly beating impatiently at the door. At five this morning it was still dark and a torch was needed to safely navigate through the rows of trees in the fields. Only last week I was out with the boyz at five and watching the sun start its leisurely climb into the sky - what a difference a few days make when the seasons are on the point of shifting.
Thankfully, the olive trees are hardy things and most of them seem to be holding up under the onslaught of 40 degree+ temperatures day after day. The older more mature trees with deep root structures are positively thriving and are heavy with olives but some of the younger ones are demonstrating signs of heat stress and needed a helping hand from the irrigation system. Wilf and Digby made it to the front door with me for the walk but took one look at the impenetrable darkness outside and decided instead to snuggle down together by the wall to continue their sleep. They looked so cosy curled up together that I didn't push the issue.
Rome was chock full to the gunnals of tourists.On the surface everything looked as though it was 'business as usual' but it was soon apparent that the locals had fled en masse to the cool hills or the sea. Rome without the Romans is a very different place - a mere shadow of its real self populated by seasonal restaurant and hotel workers who are already thinking about moving to the ski resorts. My favourite fish restaurant by the Pantheon, da Fortunato, was shuttered for the duration and Cafe Sant Eustachio,which according to the the 'font' makes the best cup of coffee in the world, was well and truly boarded up. Faced with the summer closure of all my usual hangouts I had dinner in a restaurant that was strongly recommended by the hotel but which turned out to be,in the most polite of terms,' little more than adequate' . You couldn't help but have the feeling that the heat, coupled to the teeming throngs of 'stranieri' milling around in bermuda shorts were testing the patience of the waiting staff. They demonstrated a bored efficiency bordering on surliness.
My dinner companion was a Polish politician who proved to be surprisingly entertaining with his personal, and sometimes scurrilous, vignettes of Europe and Americas leading parliamentarians. Our conversation was listened to intently by the well mannered predominantly 'BosWash' couples dining alongside us. I always find it interesting to watch married couples on tour - there are broadly two categories. Those who talk to each other and those who sit in abject silence as if dining alone. On this particular night the restaurant was full of the later category - I wonder if they repeated the stories about Mr.Bush to each other when they got back to their ( hopefully airconditioned) hotel?.

Friday, 21 August 2009

The Tiber and the Vatican City at 7.00 am today

Click to enlarge

Hunting lizards in the rosemary border.

Wilf did his triple barrel roll of delight on the grass when he saw me walking up to the gate.It was a swelteringly hot journey back from Rome but the roads were thankfully deserted and I made it back from the centro storico to the front door in an hour and a half. I'll blog about it all more tomorrow - suffice it to say that Rome is not an ideal August destination if you are having to wear a collar and tie. In the meantime here are some pictures of Wilf chasing lizards ( with a zero success rate ) in the rosemary border - we are all off for a long 'splosh' game down by the pool.