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