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

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

This week's blog is mainly on food items I am afraid.

Has Beans!

Zoot Alors – I do not know what the Italian equivalent is yet. I was looking forward with great relish to eating some roast beef, roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, and, some lovely runner beans from our veggi patch this autumn. Alas, it is not to be. They have grown like billy-oh, fairly zooming up – Jack would have been proud – with loads of and loads of lovely red flowers. Unfortunately, beans have not followed the flowers. After calling an emergency meeting and consulting our vast array of research and reference material we have come up with two likely culprits for this heart-breaking state of affairs, the birds and the bees. The bees have not done their pollination bit right (I thought that was what the birds and the bees were all about) or the birds have come along and eaten the beans as soon as they appeared so it looked as though there had been no bean growth at all.
Highly frustrating. I was thinking about writing to my local MEP, but as the Duchessa correctly pointed out, I cannot write too well in Italian just yet and the result of my letter could be a period of incarceration for some unfortunate turn of phrase I had used infelicitously.
However, our reference sources have thrown up some ideas about being more successful next year.

Competition Time

We have a small problem here at Casa Grotta, and it or rather they, are getting bigger.
We thought we would plant four zucchini (courgette) plants to see how they would grow. You should have already seen the picture of their giant leathery-looking leaves. Well their fruit is now reaching titanic proportions. We see one courgette just about the right size and think I’ll just nip in and get a knife to harvest it and by the time you are back with a kitchen knife, the thing is almost the size of a Zeppelin (apologies to those who don’t know, or are too young to know what a Zeppelin is, but it is a helium filled airship from long ago). So I have to go and get an axe. But again by the time I get that it’s even bigger and I have to go and get the chain saw. Of course, I am exaggerating, but only a little.
So, here is the dilemma. For those zucchini we are unable to catch off guard and harvest them whilst feeling them grow in our hands, we need some ideas of what we can do with them.
Some ideas we have are: hollowed out canoes, floats for sea-planes, giving them to NASA to make an Apollo spaceship, tying them together to make a temporary artificial holiday island in the middle of the Adriatic, as long as it wouldn’t be a hazard to shipping.

Any suggestions will be gratefully received and the winner with the most appropriate use will of course receive a whole courgette for themselves together with a signed certificate. The judges decision is final.

Olive Oyl

The olives are growing extremely well. The berries – if that is the right term – are bountiful on every tree from the littliest to the biggest. They are about the size a large pea now – see picture.
We will have to start finding out what we do to turn them into olio. We think what probably happens is that we will pick them, have them measured/weighed and together with our neighbours have them taken to a processing plant . We will receive our proportion of the whole back as olio. We really are looking forward to having some of “own” olive oil.

Grapes and more birds

Whilst the olives look to be going great guns, the grapes are a different matter. There are some good bunches, but nothing like our neighbours. Her vines are heavy with large bunches. There are a lot of bunches on ours that look as though they never got beyond the forming stage and then sort of withered.
However, although the vines appear not to be doing what we want them to, it does seem they are making something else happy.

A couple of weeks ago we noticed a little bird hopping in and out of a small vine. Out of curiosity, I went to inspect. There was the basis of a nest taking shape. “I must keep checking on this” I said to myself, and then of course never gave it a second thought, until yesterday that is. I was amazed to see the nest completed and with four eggs in it. I really must try and keep an eye on them now as I would love to get a picture of the fledglings if I can. I have been watching the nest from a distance this morning and either the mother or the father is sitting. I want to disturb them as little as possible. Does all growth around here seem to be so quick?

Strange sky

The Duchessa took this photo the other day when we visited Port san Giorgio. It was all bubbly looking, and quite eerie. I hope the picture conveys that a bit

Thursday, July 10, 2008


This time of year brings out these big beasts. They are called Spider wasps or Mud Dauber wasps and there are loads round here. They are not aggressive to humans but you still would not want to cuddle one, unless you are a freak. They build groups of cylindrical receptacles out of mud to form a nest. There might be one or two cylinders up to several. Then the female – it is always the female, have you noticed that? – goes off and finds some unsuspecting spiders, probably hanging around playing cards or just chewing the cud, and then she attacks them – they’re probably thinking, “what have I done?” - and paralyses them with her sting. She then takes them back to the nest and stuffs them into one of the cylinders and then lays an egg on top of them. When the egg hatches it’s got instant room service, but unfortunately, no mini-bar.
Whilst looking up about these wasps I came across one that has huge back legs and they are used to force open a live Antlion’s mouth whilst she lays her (yep, female of the species again) egg down its throat. We do not have any of those here so it is probably safe to wear my Antlion playsuit outfit once in a while. This may be reported on in another, altogether different, blog. Ahmm.

Anyone for cat in a basket?

Sisi is becoming stranger and stranger. She finds herself somewhere between an empty wine bottle and a flip flop

What do you call a dead chicken?

Sisi’s boy-owner came rushing around the other day in a state of great excitement. He proudly announced that they had just got three Galline. A Gallina is a hen. We also heard a bit of banging and thought that his dad was knocking up some sort of hen-house for them. We looked at him with a terribly indulgent look and asked him what he was going to call his new egg-layers. Ho looked confused. We asked him again. “They are dead. Why would I want to give a dead chicken a name?” he said, as he looked at us with a mixture of sympathy and bewilderment at how stupid Inglesi are. Now we were confused. When you buy chicken in the shops it is called Pollo.
Anyway, the story resolved itself later that day when we went to our neighbours for our Italian lesson. A fox had broken into her mother’s chicken house and had taken one but unfortunately had literally frightened to death three others, which they had given to Sisi’s boy-owner’s family. Oh, it’s so confusing.

Fire, Fire

The weather has been extremely hot and dry for quite a while, with the odd downpour, and I have been having withdrawal symptoms from not having had a bonfire for months now. In fact, it all became too much and I just had to have small one the other day.
Now, I know I have certain arsonistic tendencies, as was proved by a third party many years ago, but I do believe that I know what I am doing when it comes to bonfires.
I chose one little pile of dried grass that I had strimmed ages ago. There was no wind. So, I flicked the lighter and a little flame spurted into some of the dry grass. Then the wind suddenly got up. Oops. It really was very, very dry. The pile was obliterated in less than a nanosecond. The surrounding grass was first glowing then blackening at an alarming rate, moving towards the bank that divides the bottom of the garden and the top one by the house. Because we have numerable veggie patches there are a few watering cans around the place. So after a few trips to a water butt and several watering cans worth of water, the bush fire was under control. The area of the fire was about 10 times what I had intended and was now a black, steaming space. The thought of offering it as a set for an Oliver Stone movie swept through my mind but was quickly forgotten as I noticed that one of the small trees that sit on top of the bank looked a little “tired”. A few days later the Duchessa and I were having a cup of tea under the gazebo and she noticed this tree and asked what happened to it. It was now not so much tired looking as, well, extinct.
I did a bit of George Washington and owned up that I had had a little fire. She looked at me benignly with one of those smiles that in fact means “you £$%^ing idiot!”
I think my need for bonfires has been met for the next little while. Roll on Autumn I say.

Sunflower Soldiers

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


We have seen some very lovely and large butterflies here. The Inspectors bought us a beautiful Bougainvillea when they were last time. As I was going about my early morning chores, which usually comprise yawning a lot, just looking at things and scratching various unmentionable parts of my body whilst slurping a large mug of tea, I saw this fantastic Swallowtail butterfly sucking up the Bougainvillea nectar. The picture really does not do it justice. The markings were exquisite. We are hoping to see more.

Bloodied but not bowed – Tony Hancock, Italian style

Because of my desperate chronic medical condition, which I won’t go into too much for fear of putting you off your food for a number of days, I have to go and give some of my bodily fluids to the health service for analysis. Think Tony Hancock - if you don’t know what I am talking about, just ask someone older than you – and you won’t be far off.
My veins are extremely protective of the blood they carry round my body and, unfortunately for me, are also extremely reluctant to let any of it escape unless by accident.
As the poor technician tried to find a vein, any vein, I apologised and said it was never easy for me to give blood. I was actually feeling emotionally uncomfortable about it. Here he was sticking needles into imaginary veins as though I was some kind of pincushion, and I was feeling embarrassed. Work that one out. I could not be anything other than British to feel like that, could I?
Most people who were there to give blood were in and out within about 3 to 4 minutes. Almost 25 minutes after I had entered the “office” I staggered out (allow me a little literary licence here). I had several bits of cotton wool over my arms that I was trying to apply pressure to staunch the flow of my precious lifeblood. Fortunately, I had chosen to go to the hospital on market day so the Duchessa was with me and she insisted on driving when we left the hospital, as she said I needed to concentrate on not letting the car smell of blood. She’s a very caring, sharing sort of a woman is the Duchessa.

On our way to and from the town where the hospital is, we passed this house where a new baby had just taken up residence and demonstrated in the photo below. Brilliant, isn’t it? Beats a personal in the Times any day.

Surf’s Up

As the days are very hot at the moment, we decided last Friday to get everything we needed to do done by mid afternoon and head to the beach for late afternoon and early evening. We thought it would be better to go then rather than the weekend. It was busy, but nothing like what it would be over the next two days.
We could not walk on the sand without going “ouch, ouch” It was too hot. So we threw our towels and things down whilst hopping from one foot to the other trying to get stripped down to swimming things and hot footed it (ha, ha) to the sea where we were expecting a fairly cooling experience. It was like stepping in to a tepid bath. It was ludicrously warm up to our knees and then it got gently cooler a bit further out. Absolutely gorgeous. We could hardly keep out of the sea.
As we were drying ourselves off in the sun, we heard a motor noise that didn’t seem to belong to a motor boat and there was this little Microlight float-plane bouncing across the water near the marina. It didn’t take long before it was up and away and buzzing about in the sky. It looked really excellent. It sort of did a big circle and flew past where we were so we could see clearly the “float” bit it had for taking off and landing.
I am very pleased I was not in that contraption. You know those yellow plastic dinghies with plastic oars you can buy from Woollies in the summer for about £9.99? The ones that clearly state that they should not be used in any way as some sort of life-saving aid and should only carry 2 emaciated children under 6 at most? Well, the float on the Microlight that looked as though it was just tied on, could almost have the word Woolworths printed on it.

There were a couple of German families beside us enjoying the sun and the sea. I told the Duchessa to shout out “Viva Espanã” just as we were leaving, but she was having none of it.

Hopefully, if the weather keeps up we will probably try and get down there again this week. I wonder if Biggles will there again, that is if he hasn’t gone to see Davy Jones.

In praise of Spain

Good game to end Euro 2008. I’m glad the Spanish team won. I thought they did play a classy game (one of several) and Torres’ goal was good. The Germans didn’t play badly, just a bit less good than the Spaniards. I must say I have really quite enjoyed watching the footie as I am not particularly a fan of the game. I was wondering if it was because there was not a British or Irish team there and so there was no team I expected myself to feel I had to support. If you have no preference than you can just watch, hopefully, a good game of footie being played.


Great word, isn’t it?