Just as I was contemplating a long Indian Summer and mellow Autumn, suddenly, shockingly, it has become Winter.
After a perishing weekend during which temperatures here dropped by 12 degrees and shrieking Arctic winds ripped through the valleys, the last remaining sunflowers have been shredded and the cowering countryside pelted with icy rain. We bundled the girls off to school dressed in as many layers as possible but minus their coats or mittens which I couldn’t find at such short notice. “Don’t worry girls, you’ll be fine, you don’t need mittens. It’s not really winter yet.” I explained.
“But why are you wearing your gloves Mummy?”
Still, now I’ve had a week to get my head around the idea of Winter, I’m beginning to enjoy it. The logs have been lugged up from the wood store, the fire is lit and ‘Ceci’ (chickpea soup) is bubbling on the stove. I’ve found the mittens and packed away the bikinis. A brand new stufa is being fitted today to heat the bedrooms and my mind is filled with pumpkins and bonfires.
Winter in Italy, bring it on. I love it.
The best thing I ate today:
A little red drink.
For years now I have been seduced by the allure of those little red drinks that most Italians seem to have as their aperitivo. These ruby red drinks somehow seem so decadent and glamorous and yet, try as I might, I have never been able to acquire the taste for Campari. I thought I had tried it in every form, with tonic, soda water, orange… always hopeful that one day I would join the throngs of sophisticated pre-dinner drinkers, but always one grimace away from spitting it out all over my flipflops.
Until today. We have some lovely ‘boozy’ friends staying with us and they have introduced me to a drink they had in Venice, rather like an Italian Kir Royale. This mixes a small slug of Campari with a rather larger slug of Prosecco. The taste is light and zingy with a subtle, dry, herbal bite from the Campari and, best of all, it’s red.
Perfetto! You have no idea how much this pleases me...
Where to get it:
From the bar, but what is it called? Help!
Suntans are beginning to fade, the leaves are starting to turn and there is a whiff of woodsmoke in the air. All things being Autumnal, the dog and I have taken to walking in the woods. Not any woods mind you, but the woods that grow behind our house. Changeable woods; sometimes languid, cool and green and other times dark and witchy, breathing softly in the dusk. And I bet that if you stood still for long enough, just like the line from that wonderful children's book, The Magician's nephew, 'You could almost feel the trees growing'.
These woods are vibrating with life and the dog is on red alert as we walk. I am just thinking how brave and loveable he is when we stumble across a tiny graveyard in a leafy clearing where the sun slants through the branches of some small scrub oaks. The oldest headstone is dated 1904 and marks the resting place of a 'well loved hound', the others (that I can read) are for Tom, Augus, Menta and Artimissa and have similar epitaphs. Long forgotten friends sleeping under the moss. The dog, blissfully unaware, sniffs about and has another pee.
Further into the wood I realise that it begins to slope away sharply into a deep gulley. The wood is enormous and, in places, impassable. Great brambles are lashed around trees and the tracks disappear into thick undergrowth. It is easy to see how, towards the end of the Second World war, as the chaos of liberation swept through Italy, there were over 40,000 escaped Prisoners of War and deserting Italian soldiers hiding in the woods around here. It would be very easy to get lost in these woods and, with that in mind and as the sun began to sink, the dog and I walked quickly home.
The best thing I ate today;
Olive Oil - Extra Virgin - Poggi al Lago, Chiusi, Siena
When the girls were at Clown School we met the parents of some other clowns, olive farmers. They grow olives on the shores of Lago di Chiusi and make organic olive oil. They invited us to an oil tasting, where Carlo's hot-tip was that " a good oil should retain the taste of nature". From among the oils we tried, his oil shone out as green and grassy as a new mown lawn. "A taste older than meat, older than wine. A taste as old as cold water" Wow! I wish I'd said that, but I didn't. Lawrence Durrell did.
Where to get it;
You can go so far with a digger and a shovel, and feel that you’re getting somewhere. We can put in a good day’s work and be pretty satisfied with ourselves, knowing that we are further along than we were the day before. Then you have a meeting about progress with the builder or the geometra and suddenly it’s all gone horribly wrong.
It might seem rather naïve or hapless, but it has honestly taken this long (about 9 months) for us to get a true picture of how much this is all going to cost. And it does always come down to cost.
So, we have had to take a deep breath and reassess our plans, moving not-so-smoothly to plan B, not a radical re-think but another series of compromises. I imagine that when it’s all finished we’ll have forgotten about plan A, and probably plan B too and will be happy with plan X. That’s what the wise heads tell me anyway.
So, I have been limiting myself to what I know I need to do, and hoping that the new drawings I am doing will work, or at least will save us enough money for us not to have to start looking at the Ryanair schedules quite yet.
Sport has been another issue with which I am struggling at the moment. You get the odd weekend in England when the national side is playing rugby, football and cricket all on the same day. These used to be exciting days for me, I suppose like those days for an Astronomer when planets are aligned on a moonless night. But then try to get excited about ‘watching’ it on a text printer via the BBC web-site. No commentary, no video, nothing except a refreshed page every 2 minutes, hoping that your dial-up internet access doesn’t crash, again.
There is an alternative. Sky. It can be done. But there is another problem. Right now England are doing well in rugby, football and cricket and I am strangely convinced that if I get to watch it all on Sky, something will happen and it will all start going wrong, and it will all be my fault. Sorry, can’t explain it, but it’s true.
The stupidest thing I did today;
Tried tuning in to Five Live for full commentary on the rugby just in case they had changed their mind about overseas broadcasting rights, or maybe my friend at the BBC had persuaded someone to not pull the plug...no chance.