Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Report

Well, here we are at the end of our first full year in Italia.

What is the report like?

(LD = La Duchessa, LUCF = L’uomo chi fa)

The estate

Pretty good. B++.

Looking better and better. Vines were disappointing. Hope for better in 2009. Olives were great. The olive oil is fantastic. Must be worth at least €50,00 a litre. Any takers? But the best bit was the vegetables. Apart from two problems, the runner beans and the parsnips, we had a bumper harvest from our efforts.

LD: LUCF really needs to pull his socks up next year. I am looking for a 40% increase in vegetable production to counter the blasted Euro/Sterling debacle.

LUCF: I agree – well what else can I say?

The Maniero Casa (Manor house)

Not much. C

But we never planned to do much. We’ll have to see for next year

LD: LUCF really needs to pull his socks up next year. I am looking for a 40% increase in maniero casa work to counter the blasted Euro/Sterling debacle.

LUCF: Oh, she does go on and on.

Income generation

Need to make more progress on this area, so, C

We have had some success but we need more. We have many more irons in the fire than this time last year and we will be putting more and more in 2009. Of course the Euro rate has hit us very hard, as it has with tens of 1000s of British people living in the Euroland and of course in North America whose income comes from the UK. But, nowt much we can do about that. It needs a “work around”. We’ll find one.

Also, LD has completed the first draft of her novel so we hope to have more to say on that during 2009

LD: LUCF really needs to pull his socks up next year. I am looking for a 40% increase in income generation to counter the blasted Euro/Sterling debacle.

LUCF: What did I tell you?

Wine consumption

Very good. A

LD: LUCF really needs to pull his socks up next year. I am looking for a 40% increase in wine consumption to counter the blasted Euro/Sterling debacle.

LUCF: She’s like a stuck record.

PS Readers must make their own judgement on us receiving an A grade in terms of what it means exactly when applied to this topic.

Dog acquisition

Another very good year for this topic. A

Bertie is lovely. We have currently got one of his sisters staying with us. I defy any expert to look at them and believe they are from the same litter.

LD: LUCF really needs to pull his socks up next year. I am looking for a 40% increase in dog acquisition to counter the blasted Euro/Sterling debacle.

LUCF: what is she on about?

Chicken purchase

Again not planned for this year, so C.

But L’uomo chi fa is already drawing up the plans for the chicken coop

Keep blog watching for progress.

LD: LUCF really needs to pull his socks up next year. I am looking for a 40% increase in egg production to counter the blasted Euro/Sterling debacle.

LUCF: I give up. We didn’t have any chickens this year. How can we have a 40% increase on nothing? Doh!

Administrationy type of stuff

Not bad. B

Got LUCF health things sorted out. He’s definitely better than last year. Residency all sorted. Got a couple of things still to do (car ) which will be started in January.

LD: LUCF really needs to pull his socks up next year. I am looking for a 40% increase in administrationy type of stuff to counter the blasted Euro/Sterling debacle.

LUCF: On and on. Oh, my head.

Quality of life and enjoyment

There’s only one grade for this, AAA

LD: Hear, hear.

LUCF: I’m speechless. I thought LD would want a 40% increase in quality of life and enjoyment to counter the blasted Euro/Sterling debacle.

So that’s it really.

We intend to have a fairly quiet night, well apart from the dogs racing round and round. We’ll have a firework spectacular just after midnight. L’uomo chi fa was unable to resist the urge when he saw some fireworks for sale in the local shop, so we will be treated to about 15 seconds of ear shattering, smoke filled, eye watering incandescence in the back garden. The horizon around the house will be lit up with almost continuous firework flashes for about 30 minutes. So we don’t really need to have our own personal display, but he has to be humoured.

We are looking forward to 2009 and keeping you updated on our life in Italy. We hope you will continue to enjoy it.

Ciao, mantenare de fede

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Buon Natale tutti!
That means “Merry Christmas all” in, yes you’ve guessed it, Italian.

Round Britain Trip

We arrived back from our family visit trip last week. It was great seeing everyone again but also quite fatiguing whizzing about in our little Noddy car. If we were able to afford to hire an Audi A4 or other good long distance tourer, it would have been less tiring. But there you go. The Noddy car got us to where we wanted to be.
It felt a little strange being backing England, driving on the other side of the road, and then, it all came back in a rush. We pulled in behind a gi-normous traffic jam on the M25. Oh, to be in England. That is something we do not miss.

We met our new niece, Phoebe Rose, who was utterly delightful - shame you can’t choose your parents (joke).We saw Southern rellies, North Western ones and the North Eastern and Eastern clans. And managed to visit some very good friends as well. We saw all the progeny and the grandchildren. The eldest one was getting very excited about Christmas and Santa. I really wanted to disabuse him about Santa Claus but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, although at 19 (well OK he is only 8) I really do think their parents should tell them themselves. They don’t even have a chimney for goodness sake.
So all in all, a good time.

There was however one stand-out time which I thought worthwhile recounting as it also involves a form of ennoblement.
After watching one son stuff Stockport U19s in rugby, ooh, it was good, we motored over the Pennines to see little Miss Sunshine and her parents plus another son - I do seem to have rather an excessive number of them.
The next day we decided to go for a walk in the afternoon. Bearing in mind it was getting dark about 4ish, we didn’t start the walk until about three and we were going to go about 3 plus miles. Anyway, we parked up in pub car park put our footwear on and off we set.
It was great, nice and chilly and but we were all wrapped up cosy and warm. Little Miss Sunshine was tucked up in a backpack and the dogs were roaring about the fields and into the woods.
You know when you go for a walk with someone who has a map. It usually starts out with him (or her) never looking at it and really it eis there in case of emergency. You notice when things are a going a little off-plan when the map keeps going up and down in front of the face of the map reader with increasing regularity until it looks like he is using it as a fan to keep someone cool. There maybe also a slight twitching at the edge of the eyes.
Well, there may have been a bit of eye twitching but it was not detectable due to the fact that twilight had descended and we were no where near the end of the walk and had yet to enter the woods – or enchanted forest if you are a romantic, and we were not at this stage. However, we could have gone across a couple of fields to the road that was clearly visible with lots of traffic going up and down – civilisation. But no.
Fortunately, although you may not think so, Little Miss Sunshine’s mum had one of those torches that you squeeze to generate a bit of power to use it, a bit like a wrist exerciser. They are OK, you just have to get used to the fact that the beam of light generated is so weak, it actually bends downwards. The map was consulted. Words were muttered. Time to move on.
Not to be wimpish, and as Little Miss Sunshine was by this time as quiet as a mouse, we stumbled on into the woods. Then we stopped while
more map consultation was undertaken. Hands were waved in various directions. Steps taken and then retraced. The gloom was by now severe, bordering on jet.
A decision was made. We tripped our way back to where we could see the road. There was a stile, which yours truly hopped over and immediately went up to his knees in very cold sloppy mud. I thought it was mud but as I couldn’t see anything I couldn’t be sure.
It was nice to get home and have a beer or two and a good laugh at our escapade in the warmth of their house.

So where does the ennoblement come in? Well as the founder (and only member up to this time) of the Ministry of Misleading and Mystified Map-readers or “MMMM, I think it’s this way”, I have enormous pleasure in granting full membership to my son and conferring the title, Member of the Ministry of Misleading and Mystified Map-readers, Prima Classe. A most noble title.
It must be in the genes.
Good on yer mate (he likes Australia).

By the way, after our trip we are thinking of renaming Great Britain, Gray Britain.

Home again, home again, jiggedy jig

It is good to be home. We collected Bertie the afternoon we got back. He is a big boy. We had to take him for his last jab last Friday and the vet weighed him at 10 kilos. He will not be three months until the beginning of January.
He was really pleased to see us and I think he didn’t understand why his sister wasn’t coming with us too. He will see her again on 30th as we are looking after her because her people are going to Austria for New Year.
It will be fun to have two of them for a little while – I think.

La Duchessa had this great idea of making him a couple of beds to lie on out of an old feather duvet we had. I just wish she would lavish some attention on her L'uomo qui fa. Sob, sob.

A Christmas Message

La Duchessa and I wish all our family, friends and everyone who reads this a very Merry Christmas and New Year – Buon Natale e Nuovo Anno
Let us hope 2009 will be a positive year on all fronts for everybody.

Ciao, mantenere de fede

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

It's that time of year.
La Duchessa and L'uomo chi fa will be missing from this site for a couple of weeks due to committments elasewhere. We have had to leave the lovely Bertie in the more than capable hands of his last fosterers and his sister, Jesse, whom we met properly tonight. She's lovely, but very different to her brother in terms of colouring and size.
We look forward to seeing him in a couple of weeks and hope he won't have forgotten us.

Check out the Natale Especiale nearer Christmas


Mantenere la fede

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Brrrrr. Bit nippy.

I haven’t had to say that for months. But it is true, there is a definite nip in the air.
La Duchessa and I are made differently – apart from the obvious of course. When the temperature goes down, my extremities are nearly always warm enough. La Duchessa’s extremities are nearly always cold. This may stem from the fact that she is a Pisces. Some problems can be encountered. I might be sitting working away in a shirt and jumper, whilst she looks like Nanook of the North. She did say something about whale blubber yesterday, but I am thankful I missed most of what she said about it. She had so many layers on that I could hardly make out any of her features. She has a writer’s blog that she updates regularly and she mentioned it yesterday but the word came out as “blob” as she said she was so cold she couldn’t pronounce her words properly – that is why I mentioned blubber before, goodness knows what she meant to say. I pointed out to her “nobleness” that it was still autumn and there is almost another month to go before winter starts. At this rate, I can see I will be having to decipher more and more incoherent blabbering until some form of human hibernation takes place.
Meanwhile ……………………

Big Bertie

I sent an e-mail to my sister recently and made a typing error and called the dog “Bib” Bertie. My sister obviously thought that this was his real name and whilst she said she could cope with Bertie she was unsure of coping with the name Bib. Perhaps she thought it was a strange Italian nomenclature, rather than just a spelling mistake. Mmmmm. She’s retired you know. Never mind.

The big lad is getting bigger. We take him around the estate now a couple of times a day but have ventured no further as he is having his second inoculation in a couple of days, and then, Le Marche beware, Berties’s about.
He’s really great. He is just so pleased to see us in the morning. He nearly bites your hand off mind, but you have to keep telling yourself that it’s only love. Sometimes that’s a bit hard to take as you run your bleeding wrist under the cold water.
Anyway, when he does out for a bit of a wander and, hopefully, to do his business, although the nerve endings haven’t quite joined together on that front yet, the cats and he still just sniff each other and pass on. Excellent. We obviously hope that that continues and they all get on well together.
Actually, we think he has found a little spot where, if he were a man, he would probably have a copy of Maremma Monthly on hand to read. It was, or rather still is, named Angolo di Roberto (Bob’s corner) after the D-I-L lovingly unearthed a small wall around our biggest olive tree. But, depending on the Bert, we may have to re-name it something like Poo(h) Corner. Here is picture of Bertie with his very good furry friend Pooh.

He has taken to the notion that there is another dog in the house that looks just like him but who lives in the oven, and never comes out. He sits in front of the oven’s glass door and peers at, scrabbles at it and then barks. Funnily enough the other dog sees precisely the same thing, at the same time. Isn’t that extraordinary?

Another of his favourite spots is now on the settee where he tries to lord it over us, with Pooh at his side as an advisor, usually quite successfully. Come to think of it, Pooh could probably get a job as a financial whizzo advisor in London or New York. He’d be good at it, judging from the catastrophic mess the current people have made of things. I think I’ve lost it here. I was talking about a dog and now I have got onto the world’s financial crisis. I think I’ll stick to dogs, and stuffed furry animals of course.
I think La Duchessa and I should start plotting a coup soon, before he gets too much power for our own good. We demand our sofa back.

Food Parcels

A great big thanks to la Duchessa’s son who sent us a Cadbury’s chocolate and Tesco’s jumbo peanuts parcel. It was yummy with a capital Y. Of course I didn’t eat any of it because, you see, I am a diabetic. But not the only diabetic in the village, Guiseppe up the road is too. I’m fibbing, not about Guiseppe though.
Friends and family – apart from you D&M-I-L whose contributions both written and visual keep us from going totally Italiano – all contributions of things naughty and nice to eat always very gratefully accepted.

News from another son - Congratulations

This has nothing to do with us in Italy, but it is a very newsworthy item. One of my sons got married last week. Little Miss Sunshine’s mum and dad took themselves off to York registry office and did the decent thing. Well, she made a decent man out of him. Just the two of them with Miss Sunshine acting as the bridesmaid and the best man.
We are thrilled and delighted for all three of them. Great stuff.

Ciao, mantenere de fede

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Quick Bertie Update

The little (?) fellah is going great guns. Eating, sleeping and, er, you know, all extremely well.
Obedience training is well on target. You tell him to sit and he starts to chew the wall. Tell him to come and starts to burrow into the corner of the settee. I can see we’ll have this training lark licked in no time, or do I mean ever?

He really is such fun to have around. The community cats have had a sniff – no more than that until he has had his second jab. Bertie seems pretty non-plussed, which is good news for him as I wouldn’t back a dog against a cat in a month of Sundays. He can climb stairs, but has yet to master going down. Of course, he has grown a fair bit. His front legs are so big; we think there might even be a touch of Iorek Byrnison in him. If you don’t know who this is, you should be ashamed of yourself.
We have introduced him to the edge of the estate, we don’t want to tire him out, as he isn’t even 8 weeks yet. (I think that is the normal age, in the UK at least, when puppies go to new homes). He needs to be introduced slowly to the land. We wouldn’t want him getting lost in our vast acreage. I should say hectarage but the spell checker says it’s not a real word. He keeps stumbling in the grass and tries to chase the big orangey-brown leaves blown from the Persimmon tree. He thinks it is excellent fun to run away from La Duchessa when she wants him to come to her to go back into the house. I find this rather amusing and when, only once mind, I laughed at the antics, the look I was given was enough to melt Kryptonite.

Big Orange Balls

Right outside the kitchen window is our Persimmon tree. Because we live on the first floor, we look right into the tree.
In the early autumn, the leaves undergo the most colourful change from green through gold to deep orange-brown-rust colour. The fruit becomes very squishy and bright orange. The leaves all blow off in the winds and there is a bare tree with big orange balls hanging from the branches. It looks as though it some sort of large garden decoration.
We don’t like the fruit much and often we see other trees in exactly the same condition as ours, so maybe the Italians aren’t too fond of them either.
But the birds adore them.
From dawn to dusk the tree has tits, blackcaps, blackbirds, finches and the occasional starling all eating away at the fleshy fruit. This goes on for weeks, well into the new year, until all the fruit has been eaten. It is great to watch, especially through the binoculars as they are probably no more than about 3-5 metres away. It must really be a good food source for them at this time of year. The community cats take a great interest in the tree at the moment and we have seen on more than one occasion, a cat just sitting high up in the tree. Some hope.
Last year there was quite a lot of small fruits on the tree. We did a major pruning job on it after the fruit had all gone and this year, there is probably a bit less in sheer numbers, but they are about twice the size.
Come on birdies, fill your boots. The picture is of a blackcap.

Olive Oil

This is a picture of OUR olive oil. Yep, our own stuff, hand-picked by La Duchessa and L’uomo chi fa whilst listening to 12 scantily clad virgins singing Clair de Lune in Italian (not French) and dancing round the olive trees accompanied by the Penna san Giovanni Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by .. OK, OK maybe I am overdoing it bit, but still the oil must be worth a fortune.

Ciao, mantenere de fede

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What a week.

It has been said that a week is a long time in politics. Well whoever said that should try a week in Italy with a very young, large puppy when it is also olive picking time.

Bertie is doing fine. We went to see the vet in Sarnano for his first inoculation. The vet is a lovely lady who studied veterinary science at Edinburgh. Her English is good and she speaks with a hint of Scottish.
She gave him a really good going over and pronounced herself very pleased with him. She was the vet he went to when he was first rescued, so has known him since he was 2 days old.
Anyway, she said she needed to weigh him. She got on the scales, noted her weight and then held Bertie and got on the scales again. She got off and got on again. Then put him down and got on the scales again, alone. “Oh,” she said. “He’s 3.8 kilos. I had to check. He’s quite big, isn’t he?” I thought, “3.8 kilos and he’s only just over 6 weeks old. He’s going to be huge”. Look at the size of his paw and my thumb nail:

We have had a few conversations with various Italians this week and whenever they see Bertie or we mention that he a Maremma, they have all said, “Ooh, grande cane!” Yes, yes we now know he is going to be a big dog.
Anyway he has to go back to the vet for his final jab at the end of the month and then he will be able to consort with the hoi polloi. It will be lovely to have him outside. He is so curious about pretty much everything. He is great fun and keeps us amused with his puppy antics. He doesn’t yet realise that there is a link between his front legs and back ones when it comes to climbing stairs. He goes onto the first step and then stops. You can almost see him thinking that something else should happen now but he has no idea what. Mind you, it won’t be long.

Olive Oil – part 1 the picking

Why did we have no one staying at this time of year? It would have been very helpful.

Here we are now in full olive picking mode. The world and his wife seem to be out with nets and ladders, perched in olive trees, stripping them of their yummy harvest.

Our neighbour said the best time to pick was on and after San Martino, which is the 11th November (remembrance day). Some people here also take it to be the beginning of winter and it is often celebrated with roasted chestnuts. The forecast was not looking too good for the 12th onwards, so we actually started to pick a bit on 10th. We started on the trees furthest from the house on the basis that we would have more enthusiasm during the initial harvesting, and wouldn't mind the lugging and carrying up the garden.

So we were hard at it that afternoon. We inherited some very old ladders that have been fabricated from what I take to be smallish, straight trees and fashioned rungs, held to together with, yes you’ve guessed it, wire. Now this has both up-sides and down-sides. When they are used against a solid object and rest on a solid surface, like concrete, they feel very flimsy and move about sideways rather alarmingly. However, when they are used to put up against olive tress they are really good. The reason being that the bottom sort of finds its own position on the rough ground and the top fits does the same against the branches. The result being, almost 100% of the time, a good, solid feel to it. Of course there is always an exception that proves the rule (or some equally obfuscating cliché). I was really getting into my stride, stripping the berries from the twigs. There was nice big bunch just within reach. Ooh, it suddenly came more into reach and then it suddenly shot past me as I hurtled past it and jumped off the toppling ladder onto the ground. Fortunately, I was only about a couple of metres up the tree, but it is on quite a slope, so I ended up quite a bit down the garden. “I’m OK. Nothing broken” I said to the mildly amused la Duchessa. “Well, do stop messing around and get the ladder set up again. We haven’t got all day”, she said. I limped gamely back to the tree clutching the ladder, put it up against the foliage and started again. No further mishaps to report.
We did quite a bit more on Tuesday after returning from the vets and then really got stuck in on Wednesday. We did not pick all the olives, leaving the small ones and those on trees that are almost impossible to reach either because they are positioned in the most extraordinary places for harvesting purpose, or the berries were too far up and out on the edge of the trees. We will be even more drastic in our pruning this time and try to make sure that what olives do grow, can be harvested.
A net is essential and we had bought one that had to fit the biggest tree we have. So we got an 8X8 mt one. It was a bit of handful on the smaller trees, so next year we might have to invest in a smaller one too. We kept filling our plastic boxes having rolled the olives down the net to collect in one place. Fairly rapidly the boxes began to fill. When we weighed them that night, we had picked about 170 kilos.
Injuries? La Duchessa had a twig whip round and catch her in the eye. She spent most of Wednesday night winking at me. I took this as a positive, rather romantic tic, whereas in fact La Duchessa informed me as I tried to pursue my line of belief, that she was having trouble seeing out of it. Apart from that, two pairs of sore hands were evident, and of course we were a bit stanco. We are only amateur pickers at the moment.

Olive Oil – part 2 Il Oleficio

After the weighing, we nipped up to our local oleficio, mill, where they would take the olives, press them and produce our own olive oil. This was quite exciting.
We were met by an old lady who was sweeping up outside the place and whose broom had just lost its head. Was this an omen?
In our best halting Italian we asked if we need to book a pressing for our 170 kilos. She asked again how much we had. After repeating the quantity, she seemed to suffer a quite infectious laughing fit. Still cackling with laughter she went off to find the capo. The capo came out and we re-iterated our request. After a little while of more laughter and “ho capito” and “non ho capito”, we understood that we just had to come back the next morning with the olives and they would be pressed then. We discovered that the reason for the mirth was that the lady thought we wanted to book the whole mill just for our 170 kilos. Very expensive olive oil.

So, up early next day. Packed the car with our olives and returned to il oleficio. There were a few people there already and the press was in full flow. Quite an interesting process. There is a big hopper at ground level, so the berries can be poured or tipped in from crates. An elevator takes them up some at a time and then they go through a sort of debris/leaf shifter before going into the press. Not sure what happens from here on in, but the oil comes out a bit later and goes through a cold filter and into the customers’ containers. These varied from old 5 litre wine bottles, through 20-30 litre plastic containers (like we had) to 50 litre stainless steel jobs with taps at the bottom. You are only supposed to use plastic containers to get the oil back home where you must decant into glass or stainless steel. The waste comes out looking like a lot of dryish poo really. What happens to some of it is that it is taken away and pressed into briquettes for use on an open fire. They are very good to burn and have a lovely smoky (daft as it sounds) fragrance to them. The smell reminds me of peat burning. The rest I think is used for compost somehow. The mill has been operating for a couple of weeks now and will probably be busy till the end of the year. They had stopped by mid December last year because of the poor crops – too dry a year and many olives were struck down by a parasitic worm that attacks them – but this year is much better.
More and more people were turning up and they mostly had more than we had, probably averaging around 250 – 300 kilos. Everybody knew everyone else and it was quite a social gathering. The other thing that I quite liked was that the average age of people there made me feel like a teenager.
We saw all this oil going into the containers. Beautiful pale green nectar. Then it was our turn. It really was quite something to see “your” olive oil. Our first ever olive oil, all 22 litres of it. Fantastic. We are hoping that it will last until this time next year.
We paid the capo and returned home feeling pretty chuffed.

Ciao, mantenere de fede

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Closed Visitor Season

We have now entered into our closed visitor season, unless we get an unexpected but extremely welcome visit from one of our sons who has been threatening to pop over but has yet to materialise.
We have had a lovely Summer and early Autumn seeing “the family”. No seriously there is nothing “mafiosa” about them, well most of them anyway, one or two might be a bit dodgy, especially the mum-in-law and the latest granddaughter. She doesn’t use threats to get what she wants, she just smiles at you so you are completely under her spell.

The weather of course has contributed to everyone’s stay being enjoyable, being able to live outside virtually the whole time. Which is just as well. Our living quarters are small and will remain so until we are able to open up the other half of the house, which won’t be just yet.

Everybody has been chipping in. It has been brilliant.

So now it is down to some serious chores outside, of which we have many, and of course getting back to some regular blogging, which quite honestly I have missed doing.

Welcome to Bertie

Those of you who know us, will appreciate just how hard it was to leave our dogs in the UK when we left for Italy. We did a lot of heart searching but decided that it was not feasible or sensible on all levels for them to come with us.
We have missed them dreadfully. The more we have settled in the more we have missed having some canine company. The community cats are excellent, but ……..
We had more or less agreed quite recently that next year we would get a mutt and also a couple of chickens.
How rapidly things change.

A few weeks ago, an English couple who live not far from us, found a plastic bag containing six two-day old puppies, all with their umbilical cords still attached. They took them to the vets in Sarnano, who checked them over. They were OK but were going to need a lot of TLC if they were going to stand any chance of survival without their mum. The vet showed the couple how to feed them and so, armed with perfunctory knowledge, some syringes and some sort of formula milk, they took them home and started some serious fostering. The vet waived her fees – she has done so for other visits too. Excellent.
On an Internet forum that we belong to, they wrote about the plight of these pups but also said that they had to leave Italy for England in a couple of weeks time. Would anybody provide a home for these little waifs? We were very tempted to step in and say that we would have one of them, but we have had a trip back to the UK planned in for some time at the beginning of December, which we couldn’t cancel. So we didn’t do anything then, but we, well La Duchessa was monitoring the story, something that she only informed me of after we got Bertie.

This couple deserve a medal. Can you imaging trying to feed six pups this young? Pups this young need feeding about every two hours for days. No sooner had they finished feeding the sixth then the first needed feeding again. But these little beggars are obviously fighters. All the pups responded to this enormous commitment of care, and the vet was very pleased at how they had responded. But the deadline for these people to return to England was getting nearer and nearer. They were getting more worried and emotional about leaving the dogs than their own upheaval.

The upshot of this was that another set of fosterers stepped in (S&M) – no rude comments please - and offered to take the pups, but thankfully two were taken on by other people. S&M decided to keep one and took some photos of the others – two dogs and a bitch - and put them out on the forum, where we saw them last Monday.

We “revisited” our earlier decision about having a dog now. We explained to S&M about our trip. Problem solved. They would look after the pup when we went away and we would return the dog-sitting exercise because they are having to go back in January, and we could do exchanges in the future. Brilliant.

So we set off for Amandola where they live. We stood around chatting to S&M trying to avoid standing in pee and poo having our laces pulled about by these fat balls of fluff, at least when they weren’t attacking each other and then suddenly collapsing in a heap falling instantly fast asleep.

We chose Scruffy. My reason was because although the pups for going to homes were essentially all white, Scruffy had a hint of redness on his fur on his head. La Duchessa said, “Are you’re sure it’s not pee?” No, it’s not. I think if I hadn’t chosen, we would also have had Big Bear and Little Bear in the car with us too.

The pups are a cross between a breed called Maremma, which are Central Italian sheep herd/guard dogs dating back to ancient Roman times and something else, not sure what. Looking at him, it seems at the moment that he is mostly Maremma. They are not sheep dogs like collies. They will often stay with the flock all the time to protect them from wolves and other predators. Having looked up about them, they are quite an interesting breed.
Have a look at or

They are also big dogs with male adults averaging around 27/28 inches shoulder height. Phew, that’s a big dog.

Of course we have gone through various names, Totti (Italian footballer), Bertie, Chewbaca (he is quite ursine) and Scooby. Taking everything into account we have chosen to call him Bertie. What the neighbours and the cats of course will think, goodness knows.
He is about as wide as he is long at the moment and has great trouble walking in a straight line for more than one step. He has tried to run, but that is just hilarious to watch. He has a little ball that he tries to stalk and then goes to bat it with one of his paws. Most times, he misses and sometimes he loses his stability and falls over as well. Beats watching Italian TV.
It of course is 100% engaging to watch him. Thank goodness, he sleeps a lot which allows us some time to do other things.
He is sitting on my lap at the moment chewing my watch strap as I am trying to type single handed. Very helpful.
One other thing. It’s helpful that we have tiled floors.

He is very lovely and loves to be made a fuss of, not surprising really thinking of what he has been through in his first 37 days. He and his siblings are all fit and well. All the owners of the pups will know of the other owners and it will be easy to hook up with some of them now and again and bring the dogs on walks around here together. They are special dogs thanks to a spirited and selfless action by a couple who are now back in England. We hope that they will be able to come over sometime and see at least some of the results of their wonderful actions.

Of course the entry wouldn’t be complete without some pictures of Bertie, so here we are.

Ciao, mantenere de fede

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Little Miss Sunshine and her parents

We have just had our newest granddaughter and her parents with us for a week. I don’t think I have ever come across a six month old who smiled when she got up, smiled when she played, smiled when she ate, smiled when she poo’d, I think you get the picture. She is just such a happy bambina, all the time. La Duchessa named her “Little Miss Sunshine”.

The journeys to and from Italy were not without incident unfortunately.
I arrived at Pescara airport just as the aeroplane landed and I thought excellent, we will be away within the twenty minute free parking period, well every centesimi counts you know. Best laid plans, blah de blah. I waited as all these people came out big smiles lighting up their faces as they saw those who were meeting them, but no sign of my party of travellers. I waited for about 30 minutes after the first passenger had come through. I decided to text him. Did they get the ‘plane? Were they at another Italian airport beginning with the letter “p”? Was he my son? All there silly questions going through my head. They were the last ones out. However all was not well. Someone had taken his bag because it looked similar. The reason they were so late coming through was because there was a suitcase going round and round on the carousel and no one was claiming it. There was no more luggage to come. So they grabbed the bag and came through. Abandoned Little Miss Sunshine with me (this is a little bit of literary licence here). I didn’t mind at all as I was soon engrossed by my great little granddaughter just smiling and giggling at me. I had last seen her when she was about three weeks old, so she hadn’t a clue who I was but she was just so happy to see me smiling and going goo goo at her. I just wish some others would be so smiling – no names (or titles mentioned).
Fortunately, they saw their bag on someone’s trolley. He was queuing to collect his hire car. He was most apologetic and when it was pointed out that the suitcase he had was full of young women’s clothes he looked slightly miffed that the mistake had been found out so early.

On the way back, la Duchessa came with us as she and I were going to do some serious shopping, you know the sort of 24 loo rolls for €1.99 shopping.
We went through some fairly heavy rain but by the time we arrived at the airport, it was dry and the sun was out again.
So, we dropped them off, said our good-byes and went on our shopping expedition.
On the way back the sky did look pretty black and menacing and at one point we saw some serious lightening in the far, far distant. At one point I glanced at my watch and thought “well, I expect by this time you will all be flying north up the Adriatic towards Venice”.
We got home and had a meal etc., after we had found a storage space for a gross of loo rolls of course, and then we got a text message on the mobile ‘phone from my son that said they had just got on their ‘plane. It was just coming up to 21:30 and their flight time was 17:15. What on earth had happened? Whatever it was, La Duchessa and I both thought it was such a rubbish way to end a holiday.
We managed to speak with them the next day where they were staying with relatives who live not far from Stansted, before driving to their home up north the day after.
A flight from Frankfurt had come in but had been hit by lightening and had to be repaired before it returned to Frankfurt. What the authorities decided to do was to let the Frankfurt-bound passengers have the London ‘plane, as they had been waiting for about four hours. The London bound passengers would then have the original Frankfurt ‘plane for their return trip.
But guess what? Little Miss Sunshine just smiled and giggled during the delay and made lifelong friends with lots of the London bound travellers. She slept like a log on the ‘plane and again in the car at the other end. Imagine if she had kicked up a storm because she was tired and routine seriously disrupted, and who could blame her?
What a star.

We had a lovely time with them. We went to the beach one day. It was a bit windy and there were about, ooh, 6 people there. Anyway, my son was keen to have a dip in the Adriatic. I lent him my trunks – they were a bit small for him (I wish) – and in he duly went. After a few seconds wading out we all saw him grip himself in the nether regions as the water lapped inexorably higher. At one point I wondered if he had done any studying of the amazing feat Sumo wrestler can do with their bits. Anyway, he came back testes intactus and looked thoroughly refreshed. Obviously the Italian sea agreed with him.

I managed to get a bonfire going while my son was was over. One of the line of vines was very poor. Loads were missing, loads were “barren” or whatever the correct viticulture word is for having no grape growth, so I decided we should take it out. We might decide to replace it with new vines some time, but not just yet.

Anything else?

Not really. More rellies arriving tomorrow.
Getting into gardening mode time with autumn planting and pruning coming up – ooh I can almost smell the smoke.

Ciao, mantenere la fede

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Walnut Hunting

We have quite a few walnut trees at the bottom of the estate (!) and at the week-end we went to see whether they any were available to harvest.
I do not know whether you know but walnuts have an outer skin of green stuff under which is the shell that covers the actual kernel or nut.
The green skin opens when ready and the walnut falls out. I think that is the idea. Sometimes, they ripen without spitting out the walnut itself and the green stuff rots and becomes very black and sticky. The whole thing then falls from the tree, but the walnut inside is fine.
So we went strolling down the hill in our his and hers 4x4s (green wellies) to the trees. I had been strimming underneath them for some time to ensure there was minimal ground cover so we could try and pick out the walnuts when they did fall. Even so the ground appeared to be very bare of any vegetation, and we soon saw why. Evidence of the cinghiale was everywhere – pig poo. We hadn’t been down to the tress for sometime and of course we now wished we had.
Indication of major walnut munching was lying everywhere; crushed walnut shells. The boar obviously adore them, unfortunately.
Not to be outdone by them porkers I got the longest bamboo pole I had and under la Duchessa’s careful direction, I started knocking down what walnuts we could see. This was on the basis that if they fell, they would be ripe and if not, they would cling tenaciously to the tree. It was sort of a cheat’s conker gathering operation. Remember when you were children and you threw sticks up at the chestnuts to knock them down. Bit hit and miss with a stick, but my length of bamboo was pretty accurate.
I was happily knocking seven bells out of the trees and they came raining down. Unfortunately La Duchessa then pointed to one directly above her, a big black and sticky one. I don’t know how, but it fell like a stone, straight down on her eyebrow, and then tracked down over her cheek. The vision wasn’t pretty. She looked as though some mascara had been applied by her worst enemy who also happened to be blind and had no control over the movements of their hand. Fortunately, I am a little quicker at running than La Duchessa is.
We decided at that time that It would be a good point to stop our activity and anyway, we had managed to collect a great big bag full of the little tree nuggets. We are going to go down every couple of days to see if we can pick up any more but that of course is only the boar haven’t got there first.
La Duchessa has this fabulous recipe for walnuts and cream with tagliatelle. Very simple but absolutely scrumptious ….. a bit like me.


It is very autumnal now. The days recently have been just great to get out into the garden and do quite a bit of work without melting. I really have missed it. So, had a few bonfires yesterday (without fear of being arrested for arson, see earlier blog entry) – excellent.
I half expected La Duchessa to come out and look disapprovingly at me, as if to say “Are you sure you know what you are doing?”, looking at me over her glasses (new) in that imperious way she has – ooohh I love it, makes me go all goose-pimply. Anyway, enough of that at this time of day.

I gave the strimmer a good work out as well. As I was strimming away, my mind just wandered all over the place, imagining all sorts of surreal things. I find it a great job for allowing this sort of thinking. Yesterday I was being interviewed by Parkinson (remember the film The Commitments when the leading character is sitting in his bath talking to a hairbrush as though it was a microphone? He was imagining that his soul band had become incredibly successful and he was being interviewed by Terry Wogan). Well, first, I was an astronaut that had been to the moon and back and then I was an airline pilot who had managed to land a ‘plane that was in trouble and saved all the passengers and crew. Extraordinary.

There were all sorts of ground creatures mainly hopping and leaping ones that were jumping all over the place in order to avoid this metal cutter that was approaching them spinning at 5000 revs per minute. They didn’t half shift. But then if I was in their position I’d probably be leaping like mad to avoid complete obliteration by a spinning death machine.
The other things I saw were these enormous spiders. Honestly, they had bodies the size of a 50p/2 Euro coin and they could really move, probably for the same reason as the leapers and jumpers.
The garden is just full of all sorts of insects. I saw a mantis and he (she?, I’m not very good at recognising the gender of insects … yet) must have been a good 12 centimetres (5 inches) from top to bottom. There was also a tiny little iridescent green beetle. The ground is positively alive with living insects, it is quite wonderful to see.

We also know it is autumn because the local town has just put the signs out for the Castagnato at the end of October. This is a great event and is an annual celebration of the chestnut. People set up things like huge baking trays on legs. Underneath these, log fires are lit and the chestnuts are roasted on the big trays. The sights, the smell of the cooking chestnuts and heat from the fires is just great. Makes a good autumnal evening out.
Looking forward to it.

Ciao, mantenere la fede

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I’m back! Sounds a bit like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, but I’m not, I’m much, much worse. You should see my chopper. Just ask La Duchessa.

End of the Summer? Brrrrrrrr.

Sounds just like a British tabloid headline. We have gone from a clear blue sky and 30+°C to lashings of rain and less than 20°C in 24 hours. Extraordinary.
As usual, I put on my shorts that morning and I had to nip to the post office to send some mail. Everyone else was dressed like it was Winter. Local people looked at me as though I had just stepped out of a spaceship.
It is less warm, no doubt, but not cold and anyway Autunno is only a week away.
Of course you could almost hear the vegetables singing in the rain out of sheer enjoyment. They have perked up no end. Within two days they were looking much stronger, healthier and greener. It also means we do not have to muddle about with hoses for our unique water distribution system that we have been having to do for quite a while now.

Summer relly season climaxes

The last of the summer visitors left at the end of last week. Lots of sadness ensued for a couple of days as we got used to no noise, shouting, crying, more shouting, ants carrying bits of food dropped by the grandchildren, more noise, screams, card playing insistence, more ants, poster paint pots being tipped over, fewer bottles (ahem, plastic pop bottle of course), well, you get the picture. We had an excellent time and we hope they all did too. The trips to the beaches were great fun The sea was so warm and the beaches were not packed as went just when the main Italian holiday season ended. So all the facilities were open but you could see a bit of beach to unload your towels, arm-bands (not mine, I have now progressed to a rubber ring, lurid orange actually, since you ask), toys, books, bats and balls, picnic, and other beach paraphernalia. Although the weather was extremely hot, enough precautions were taken so that no-one got sun-burn. Then we had some fantastic gelati (ice cream) to finish off before setting off for home.
The Italians really know how to make fantastic ice cream.

In a couple of weeks, the Autunno invasion begins with another grandchild. This one is a real baby being only 6 months old. In fact, what is quite extraordinary is that she was born on the same day as another of the grandchildren, only three years later. Amazing coincidence.

Gatti update

Sisi has gone seriously missing. We have not seen hide nor hair(fur?) of her for weeks now. We miss her quite a bit actually.
Tiggy and Winkle are around but we do not see much of them at the moment as we have been adopted again, but this time by Clarence, Mum and Starlight.
We have called the male Clarence after Clarence, the cross-eyed Lion in Daktari (come on, you remember Daktari) because he’s got, yes you guessed it, cross-eyes. Mum, because we think they are a family and she just looks like, well, a mum somehow. Starlight is so called, because she has a little burst of white on her chest. Clarence has quite a bit of Siamese in him and the others are black apart from Starlight’s bit of white. They are great to have around and La Duchessa has put an old cloth in a basket we used to harvest the potatoes in and they sleep in it outside the door.
They are cheeky though. If the door is left open they like to come in and explore.
In fact one of Clarence’s internal excursions brings me on to the next topic quite nicely.


Clarence came into the kitchen the other day looking for food. He was sniffing round the cooker where the electric wire that fires up the gas lighters on the cooker is. I have had taped the wire to the wall to stop it getting in the way of people’s feet. After sniffing for a bit, he started to claw at the tape covering the wire. I shooed him off and thought nothing more of it.
My attention was drawn to this area again this morning. I had dropped some paper as I was going to put it in the bin, and it fell near the wire. As I bent down to pick it up, I noticed a bit of a niff. I also noticed that the tape had come away at one end. I thought again about Clarence and that he must have had another clawing session. But, what was that smell?
I decided I had better take up the tape and have a look. I didn’t fancy La Duchessa getting a whiff before I knew what was what. Heaven knows what she would want me to do and when and what with. Gulp.
I ripped up the tape and found a very dead snake stuck to it. There were also a few small grubs crawling around on the floor under the wire. The smell was a bit stronger now. Yuck.
I cleared away the remains and the grub things and disinfected the whole area, three times.

More animals

There has been a lot of wild pig activity around us in the last few days. We had to get up very early to see some visitors off, about 04:30 and I opened the door and there were a lot of grunting noises not too far away. I shone a torch down the garden and caught a couple of eyes in the beam. The pig could not have been more than 10 or 15 metres away. I think they had been in the neighbour’s garden. Fine by me. If they find her garden more to their liking that’s great. I threw a couple of stones where I thought they were and they grunted a bit and seemed to move off. I am sure they are just as wary of humans as we humans are of them, but as I have never actually bothered to ask them, I do not really know. I think I will keep a reasonable distance from them.

Caio, mantenere la fede

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Long Hot Summer continues

As this is the case and the rellies are here, we are on holiday …… but we will return

Ciao, mantenere la fede

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Exclusive – Local Experts Baffled

Some strange objects have been seen appearing, albeit briefly, in the sky above central Italy. Local experts are completely baffled by this phenomenon.
UFOs have been ruled out because the objects look too wispy and no small green men have been seen looking out of them. So too has some kind of military operations as all flyovers and manoeuvres are suspended in the summer months.
A local newcomer did suggest that they might be some form of a thing called a “cloud”. When this was voiced however, some people just looked at him in disbelief. Others just looked wistfully at him whilst shaking their heads with a small smile on their faces.
National phenomenon experts are being called in to help with identification.
Have you seen them where you are? Perhaps they are more common in the northern climes. If you have and you know what they are called – just keep it to yourself. Thanks.

Piggies in the orchard

La Duchessa and I were sitting outside last night after the sun had been down for about an hour, our candles flickering romantically, even the citronella ones that I have to have lit. I seem to be a sort of MacDonalds for biting flying insects. They also flock to me whilst leaving La Duchessa well alone – no further comment on this. Yes it was very romantic even allowing for the heavy scent of lemon.
Anyway, we had had a lovely light Italian salad and were just sitting listening to some pleasant background music, Christian Death/Thrash metal or was it Rammstein with some Industrial Rock? I can’t really remember, but I think I had closed my eyes just settling in to a lovely relaxing moment when I heard some crunching and grunting noises from way down the garden. I looked up and noticed that La Duchessa wasn’t in her chair. My immediate thoughts were that we hadn’t had enough to eat and she had just popped down the garden for a few apples or pears. Then I realised that neither the apples nor the pears were ripe enough and she wouldn’t have gone there anyway she would certainly have aroused me from my reveries and despatched her L’uomo qui fa to get them. After all, as she is keen on quoting, “Why have a dog and bark yourself?” I am never sure what this means, but I do know that we did have dogs and I’m sure that neither of us used to bark, even when it was a full moon. Maybe she just misses them, I know I do.
However, I got up out of my chair and la Duchessa, said “Quick, come over here”, she was only down at the edge of the patio, well OK rubble. I saw her and made my way over. “Listen” she said. Sure enough there were more grunting, crunching and movement through plants noises. It was the pigs. No. not the carabinieri, real ones. They call them cinghiale here and they are hunted reasonably often.
Now we have heard them before. One night a couple of years ago, my youngest son heard them at about midnight. We went outside and there was a field of maize opposite the house and you could see the whole field in the beautifully moonlit night. We could see the tops of the corn swaying about as they made tracks through it. Think of the film Signs and you get a good picture of what the scene looked like.
We have also seen the damage they do as they root around the trees looking for dropped fruit, apples, pears and olives. But we have still to see one. From pictures they look quite nice, but I believe they can be a bit anti-social. They are not the sort of aperitifs and canapé type animals, more on the Taz front (remember Taz the Tasmanian Devil cartoon?)
We did wonder whether they were in our bit of land, but when we inspected this morning we couldn’t see where they had been. I think they were farther away than we thought. Although they did sound close. Just suppose they were far away? In that case they might look like this.


Relly Invasion.

More rellies on the way this week and then for the next three weeks. We have a little break and it starts up again.
Will keep you up to date.

Ciao, mantenere la fede

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Night at the Opera
It was our 10th wedding anniversary back in June. We wanted to celebrate but at the time there was nothing we particularly wanted (could afford more like) to do, so we booked to go to the Sferisterio in Macerata last week.

In July and August, it is the venue for an open-air Opera festival. The Sferisterio is recognised as the second best open air opera theatre in Italy after Verona and the third best opera venue overall after Milan (La Scala) and Verona. We went to see Tosca by Puccini.

Before the performance, we went and picked up our tickets – good old Internet – and found a small café to have an aperitif, well, all right a beer. The café had some tables under cover and some which spilled onto the piazza in front of it. We chose to go under cover, a) because it was cooler and b) no one else was there, they were all out in the piazza. We had just sat down at a table and I had put down a little street map we had of the city when, plop, a great big pigeon pooh landed on the table just beside the map. The proprietor had seen this and rushed out being very apologetic – I don’t think it was his pigeon somehow - with his arms waving and yelling at the flying rat to go away which was perched high up towards the ceiling. It did. Now we know why the rest of the customers were sitting in the piazza.
We then went off to grab a pizza. We had found out the name of the best pizza restaurant in Macerata (San Silvano). I think about 3000 others had found this out too. We had a lovely pizza there. First rate.

The opera was brilliant. The arena is amazing. As you will see from the photos, it is like half an oval, straightened up a bit at both ends – OK, I didn’t study architecture, so I don’t know what the correct architectural term for the design. The stage stretched along the straight, back wall is therefore very long. The audience sits along the curved side opposite and consists of stall, a sort of low circle and above that many, many boxes separated by stone columns.
The acoustics were fantastic. No microphones were used and you could hear every part of the songs from the quietest notes to big, full on arias which of course are the ones most known. The orchestra was excellent.
As usual over here you can wear what you like. Some of the audience were dressed up to the nines whilst others (ourselves included) were very casually attired. It all made for wonderful relaxing and enjoyable time.
Just sitting there at 11:30 at night, in shirtsleeves, the clear half-moon and stars way above with this wonderful entertainment in front of you was pretty magical actually. The way the arena was built allowed for no noise from outside to penetrate. Extraordinary really.
Driving home we both thought that this would be great place to celebrate next year too.

If you want to see more information on the Sferisterio you can go to: They do have an English “button”

Cuddle – Italian Summer Style

The summer here continues to be hot and dry (as in rain, not humidity which can be very high). Now the Duchessa and I are very partial to cuddling. We do like a good hug now and then. However, recently the thought of any bodily contact with the consequent rise in body temperature is a bit of anathema to both of us. A big hot hug is something we could not pursue right now. In fact, we have decided that the best thing we can do is to constantly play the game Statures. I bet you remember playing this. You have to stay as still as possible. The first person to move is out. The game starts again and so on until there is only one person left and they win the game. Admittedly this is not a very adult game, but so what, it illustrates the problem extremely well. It works. It works so well in fact that there has been no winner yet. Unfortunately, very little gets done. So a slight re-think might be in order, or an alternative. Individual walk-in portable fridges perhaps?
Anyway, back to the cuddles. We have come up with a solution. Not a great one, but a solution nonetheless. We call it the Italian Summer Hug or ISH for short – see the picture below.

We can hug like this for, ooh, about 20 seconds before our fingertips glow with heat and get so wet they just slip off each other.
I am thinking of taking out an Italian patent on the idea, but I will need to brush up on my EU/Italian patent laws first.

Where has he gone?

I did some strimming the other day. As we have mentioned before any manual work really needs to be done by mid-morning or else something terrible could happen. I was a little bit late going out to do some strimming. It was getting hotter and hotter but there was a piece of ground I really wanted to finish so I pressed on a bit longer than I perhaps should have.
I arrived back at the house in my strimming gear – you really need to wear long trousers and wellies to avoid flying bits of green vegetation attacking your legs. I obviously looked warm as the Duchessa said, “I hope you not thinking of coming into the house like that and dripping all over the floor and furniture. Just go and sit down and cool down first”
“But it’s quite warm out here. Where am I going to get cool?”
”Just do as I say and you can come in later” she ended the conversation. So, being the compliant l’uomo chi fa, I did as I was asked and, well, you can see the result for yourselves. This was how she found me two hours later.

Ciao, mantenere la fede

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Men in tights

What a spectacle. We went down to the Quintana in Ascoli Piceno which is one of the five provincial cities in Le Marche and the most Southern (this doesn’t sound like good English to me). It is an extremely lovely town not far from the next region down, which is Abruzzo.
The Quintana is a collection of pageants that have been staged for centuries held in honour of the city’s patron, St Emidio.
The whole shebang goes on for about a month and we went down for pretty much the last main event. It is a parade through the city of over 1200 Ascolis dressed in medieval costumes that represent the city’s “sestieri” or boroughs, which can probably be traced back to clans or families, although I don’t think there is any association with other Italian families, particularly in Sicily. Each sestieri was fronted by a lady in the families’ colours, most with little children holding up the trains of their dresses.

The parade ends in the field of games where a modern joust takes place between equestrians representing the sestieri. This starts at about 17:00 and concludes near midnight, when the winner takes his colours back through the city. We only went for the parade because the joust is a ticket only event and it gets sold out quicker than you can say “Michael Eavis”. Unfortunately, you can’t buy them online.

It was another scorcher weather-wise and we got there early and had a Panini in the Piazza del Popolo – the people’s square. It is really a fabulous spot. A wedding reception was going on at one of the restaurants in the square, which seemed to add to the festivities somehow.
After lunch, we stationed ourselves in one of the other three main piazze, Piazza Arringo, to see the parade. It was a nice wide piazza that offered some shade – it is the one where Ascoli Piceno’s Duomo or Cathedral is situated, along with the baptistry, the town hall and art gallery.

We heard the drummers and trumpeters and then we saw the head of the parade coming into view. It really was a remarkable sight. We took over 160 photographs which when we looked at them later that day we whittled down to about 70. I am afraid we can only include a couple here.
I don’t know how some of the people survived in the heat, I guess they are just used to it. Some of them would have been standing or slow walking in full sun for about three hours. Not only that but the costumes were very real. Men wearing metal breastplates, others in velvet cloaks. Some were in tights, some even in woollen tights. The colours were wonderfully vibrant.

The Duchessa was busy snapping away as I looked after bags and things. Before we set out, I got some spare camera batteries in case we needed them, and popped them into the Duchessa’s bag. I was going to put them in pocket, but batteries are a bit heavy. It was a good job I did.
I was watching some flag throwers; they were really brilliant to watch, in fact one of the early Quintana events in July is just for flag throwing. Anyway, above the general din of the crowd and drums and trumpets of the pageant, I heard “Oh no, the batteries have run out! Quick, quick, I need some new ones” The Duchessa thrust the camera into my hands and turned back to view the spectacle whilst she waited for the camera to become operative once more. Something she thought could be done in about 2.5 seconds. I need to explain at this point that I had not been wearing sunglasses as a rogue cloud had appeared and temporarily blanked the sun, so I had taken them off to get a better view. Just as I grabbed the camera, the sun burst into full 100% mode again making it slightly more difficult to see for a few moments. I realised time was precious here if I wanted any dinner later on, so I removed the battery cover, tipped out the used ones and put them in my pocket, to keep them separate. I took up the Duchessa’s bag and rummaged in the corner where I thought I remembered putting the spare ones and came up with four double AA sized things. I quickly put them in, more by feel than anything else - I had changed the batteries loads of times before - as my vision was still not very good. They all fitted in alright and I kept glancing up to see what was happening with the parade. I closed the battery compartment and hurriedly gave the camera back to the Duchessa, who by now was foot-tapping, yet I’m sure I hadn’t been more that 6 seconds, at the outside. She swept the camera up to her eye and prepared to take more pictures as I put the bag back down on the ground and resumed watching the spectacle.
“It’s not working, it’s not working!” she thundered. It was once said that Helen of Troy had the face that launched a 1000 ships. Well, the Duchessa’s look at that precise moment would have sunk them.
I took the camera and turned it upside down to remove the battery cover, thinking, I know what has happened, I just threw those batteries in and I bet that at least one has gone in upside down, a negative end when it should have been a positive, or vice versa. Imagine my surprise, no, not surprise, horror more like, when as I pored out the batteries, three double AAs came out along with, a very personal item of women’s hygiene. My face reddened, but the people around me would not have noticed it was through sheer embarrassment, because of the sun. I snatched up the Duchessa’s bag and groped frantically around the bottom until I felt absolutely sure that what I had in my hand was the fourth battery. It was. I put them all back in and powered up the camera to make sure it was working before, rather meekly, handing it back to the outstretched hand that was twitching impatiently. Phew. I discretely returned the unwanted item back to the depths of the Duchessa's bag and got on with enjoying the show.

The Duchessa was able to snap away to her heart’s content until the last of the parade had passed.

Learning point? Keep your spare batteries where you know they, and only they are, namely, in your pocket.

It was a great spectacle and we were very pleased we saw it. We hope to go to one of the other events of the Quintana next year.

If you want to learn a bit more about the events, there is quite a lot on or

Ciao, mantenere la fede

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Annoying Incidence(s) of the Dog in the Night

You know what it is like. You go to sleep like a baby and then suddenly you are awake. At first you don’t know what it is that woke you, but asleep you are most definitely not. You try to get back to your lovely sleep. Then you hear it. A small but distinct noise, which is being repeated, and repeated. You are waiting for it to stop and when it does, you are wide awake waiting and listening harder than you have ever listened before, for it to start and to hear it again. This may be a dripping tap, the slight repeated coming together of the shutters in a susurrous breeze, or, an infuriating little mongrel (there are no proper dogs where we live) somewhere over the valley who starts up with this incredibly annoying yap in the early hours, about 1, 2 or 3 0’clock. We cannot close the windows otherwise in the morning, we would just end up as two damp spots on the bed at this time of the year.
“What is he barking at?” we ask each other rhetorically, bleary eyed in the morning. “How the hell would I know!” we reply dreadfully sleep-deprived. It is probably the wild pigs (cinghiale) that have disturbed her (or him, I don’t mean to be sexist). But then again, if it was my dog, just outside my home, I doubt he would have done it more than a few times before he was despatched to the great canine creator in the sky, and to hell with the pigs. It has been going on for some time now and honestly, we are knackered when we get up in the morning. In fact, the Duchessa is having quite a job getting up to get l’uomo chi fa a cup of tea. It’s monstrous. It must end soon, for I fear for our sanity.

Phonetically speaking (well almost), what has Damon Albarn got in common with us?

A Grillo
Gorillaz or Grillos – the last one is really an Anglicised Italian word as I have added an “s”, because the plural of Grillo is Grilli. Here endeth the Italian lesson for the day.

It really is the sound of a summer holiday on the continent, in France, Spain, Italy or other Mediterranean countries. Sitting in the evening with the little fellas rubbing their legs together to give this wonderful and memorable noise.
We’ve got some big fellas here for sure, and they don’t just start whatever they do in the early evening, they are at it all day.
One starts up and then another joins in and soon there are loads of them.
I have yet to see one in the throes of his leg-rubbing antics. They sit, mainly in the Olive trees. I can pinpoint roughly where the noise is coming from in the tree. Stealthily I move forward to try and locate the noise generator and suddenly, it stops – I wish it was a certain dog. No matter how hard I look, I just cannot see it. Then I gently retreat and the bug starts up again. It’s as though they are having a jolly good laugh at a human's expense.

The nest is empty

I went and had a look at the nest a couple of days ago and it was empty. I saw the bird on the nest Sunday week ago. I cannot believe the birds would have fledged in such a little time, but you never know.
I must say I was looking forward to seeing the fledglings, so I am a bit disappointed. I just hope everything was all right and they did not receive an untimely end. We have a good number of Magpies and their cousins, Jays, here. They are noisy too, come to think of it.

Skimpy Bikinis

The Duchessa and I have been popping over to the coast one day in the week because the weather is so lovely for that sort of activity – we make up the weekday at the weekend if there is anything we need to do. Right now there is a good amount of space there and it is easy to park. The sea is gloriously warm and lovely to swim and muck about in. At weekends in July it would be pretty chocker. Of course, next month, it will be heaving everyday for the whole month. Trying to visit the beach in August is not for the faint-hearted. Fortunately there is a public open air pool about 15 minutes walk from us which is open all August. I think we well give up the beach for a stroll down the road next month.
Anyway, back to the seaside. I carry the Duchessa’s play thing in to the water – a Frisbee or a tennis ball – walking about two steps behind in due deference. We splash about for a bit. The Duchessa goes for a proper swim out to the rocks while I slink out and get her towel ready on the beach. Then we do a bit of reading and soak up the sun for a bit.
The Italians, male and female, do a lot of walking to and fro along the beach. They do love the sunshine and it is a good way to get a tan. As for us, we do see some sights as we are lying down to get our tan.
Nearly all Italian men over the age when they really should know better, seem to have shares in Speedo. And then of course, there are the women. The latest bikini bottoms seem to only cover the top half of the bottom, leaving the bottom half – there are a lot of bottoms in this sentence – free to wave to all and sundry as they pass by, which unfortunately they seem to do, even if you do not wish to be waved to. But hey, good fortune to them. They don’t seem to care. They like the sun and what they are wearing, so if anyone has a fashion issue/age/size problem with it, it certainly isn’t theirs.
The Duchessa and I exchange meaningful glances and smirk like naughty schoolchildren behind teachers back. I’m pretty glad I never saw any of my female teachers in anything like these new bikinis. It would have put me off the delicious school dinners, as well as my lessons.
I wanted to put a picture here of what I mean, but the editorial team, i.e. the Duchessa, vetoed it. What does she think this is, the UN Security Council?

Ciao, mantenere la fede

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Wolf comes again

Just after I had finished last week’s blog, Sisi turned up looking a lot thinner than she had the last time we had seen her. She obviously had had her gattini. Over the next few days she stayed around our place for much more time than she had the last time she had given birth. We think this means that the “wolf” came very soon after the birth. She hasn’t been wandering around looking for them, again as she did last time. Two of the other cats have had litters since then, and one more, who we call Winkle, must be about to give birth any minute, literally.

This is Winkle
C’è la vita (this is a literal translation of c’est la vie, so it is probably wrong, but I am sure you get my drift).

Weather or not …..

We have at last had some rain. Not only were we pleased to see the veggie patches (VPs) get a good drenching and our rain water collecting bins replenished – we can store about 700 litres, but also it took some of the humidity out of the air.
The light at the moment is just fantastic. Driving to our nearest towns involves going a bit uphill. As soon as get to the top the magnificent Sibillini are on display and you can now see them with crystal clarity. Look the other way and you can see the Adriatic which must be at least 30 kms away. It is so beautiful.
So now I can sit out and write this blog (I always do it longhand first) without large droplets of sweat falling onto the page and making the ink run and paper wet so the whole thing look like a bad piece of papier machè. Or my pen slithering and slipping out of my grip. I did in fact have a spontaneous amorous turn a few days ago. I went over to the Duchessa and gave her a great big hug. Unfortunately a combination of my sweatiness and her perspiration (have you noticed women don’t sweat, they perspire) had a deleterious effect. She shot up in the air like an Apollo moon shot and landed in an Olive tree. The Judges’ verdict? 10/10 for technical merit. The Duchessa’s verdict? Deeply unimpressive.
I do not think I need to point out that few brownie points were garnered with that particular episode.

Relatively speaking

We have had one of the Duchessa’s sisters, the Marchesa, staying nearby with her family. It has been great fun to see them.
We went down to the beach at Porto san Giorgio where the men, well two men and two boys, re-enacted the Euro 2008 final. I wanted to be Torres, but everyone laughed and pointed at my hair, or lack of it. I felt quite hurt. So while we modern gladiators battled it on the beach, the Donne ate, drank and gave general encouragement.
It was a close game. 4 all. We were going to have to go to penalties but the rain started, so we agreed a respectable and creditable draw and went off to a lovely gelateria in Monte san Giorgio – this lad Giorgio obviously got around a bit.
The Duchessa and I were treated to a couple of fab meals out and we are meated-out for at least a week.
Excellente. Thanks rellies. Hope you had good trip back.

Competition Time - update

Well we are terribly disappointed. The courgette competition telephone lines closed last night at 21:00 and we had received …….. no winning entries. The solutions offered were quite frankly ludicrous, outrageous, impossible, dangerous, rude, disgusting or a combination of most or all of these. In fact, they were all rubbish.
Thankfully all is not lost, especially as the recent rainfall has given them a growth spurt and they are now so numerous and gigantic that I thought they might be heading for global domination. We have been approached by a consortium who own the Eden Project. They think they could use them as some sort of vegetarian bio hangars. Fortunately they have agreed to purchase them ex VP (remember, veggie patch?) with all shipping details and costs down to them. So it’s a done deal.

What else?

Oh yes, the bird is still sitting on the nest but it cannot be too long until the eggs hatch.

I discovered a wasp’s nest in our letterbox. I opened it up to see if we had any mail and three big wasps came buzzing out in a rather abusive and aggressive manner, at least I thought so. Well, they don’t own the box, we do and I’m not going to have any fly-by-night family of black and yellow stinging insects squatting in it. If they did, you bet your life the crime rate would go up and old people would be scared to put their noses out of the front door.
Call me waspist or insectist, but I’m not having it.

I’m rambling, but I will return to this subject at a later date.

Three big toms, not feline, or incorrect use of wine glasses

Ciao, mantenete la fede