Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Sad Week

Last Saturday evening our wonderful, octogenarian neighbour passed away. We understand that she had been suffering from cancer for a few years and although she had gone down a few times over the last four years that we have known her, she had always bounced back, until last week.

About a couple of months ago she was on the roof of her house dealing with a chimney fire (along with her sons). She told us later that the fire engines had to come from Macerata which is about 40 minutes away, so what else could she have done? Only last month she was at the top of her albero di fichi (fig tree), sawing off limbs deemed to be pruned. I remember last November when we were harvesting our Olives – at the correct time of course as directed by our neighbour – she was up one of her trees and I was up one of ours and we were having our usual stilted exchange of Italian from the canopy of the Olive trees. Brilliant.

She really was a fabulous person – it’s quite hard writing about her in the past tense. She was so welcoming to her new Inglese vicini (English neighbours). We shall so miss her deep brown harsh voice bellowing at the cats to get off her vegetables, or shouting at her sons to do something or other or just engaged in normal, i.e. shouting, Italian conversation with visitors or neighbours.

La D and myself were often tutored by her in the art of the orto (vegetable patch). Pretty much everything from spacing of plants, when to plant and cut, varieties, harvesting, what to eat with what. She even gave us some bamboo poles after she looked at our first, looking back on it, pathetic attempt to stake out our tomato plants. I kept forgetting that we were not growing toms out of Gro-bags in England. Over here the tomatoes need almost Stalinist structures to support their growth, development and ultimate produce.

She would be out tending her garden pretty much every day unless it was bitterly cold or raining. She grew so many vegetables. Frequently she would bellow at us to see if we would like some lettuce or brassica or anything really.

Last summer, a couple of the children who live in our lane would help her in the garden and she would be chatting away to them and showing them how things were done. We don’t believe that she has any grandchildren, but she would have made a great granny.

Often in the warmer weather she would wander down the lane and stop to chat and give us a bit more advice such as “If I was starting again I wouldn’t have planted those there” or “Those canes need to be a bit more straight”. It was all said in very good humour..
Sometimes when she visited, she would have a twinkle in her eyes and produce a few eggs from the pocket of her old wraparound that she wore constantly. She had a great sense of humour and we had been looking forward to knowing more and more of our Italian neighbour.

And then of course there was Bertie. We think it was love at first sight for both of them.. She adored the Bert. Loved rubbing his great soft neck and head while he put his paws on her shoulders and proceeded to wash her face again and again. Bertie was bigger than she was when he stood on his hind legs, by quite a bit.

So, not much more to say really. She lived with her two sons, one of whom, the elder, also has cancer. In fact mother and son were in hospital at the same time recently. We understand that he is very poorly too.

Arrivederci, cara amica.

Ciao, mantenere la fede

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Everything in the garden is …………green

Well almost. The veggies are going gangbusters - this is an expression my brother who lives in the USA uses. I find it very expressive.

I swear the potatoes wait until your back is turned and then suddenly put on a growth spurt and next time you look round they are a couple of centimetres taller. Quite extraordinary.

We have already had some fave – broad beans. They are so sweet and fresh, absolutely lovely. In fact tonight I am doing a fave risotto at La D’s request. Yummy.

Last week I did a asparighi – asparagus – risotto with our own asparighi and it doesn’t get much better than that. One minuet they were in the ground, about 30 minutes later they were being served up in a wonderful, creamy risotto.

Ooh, ahh, Cantona. It was that good.

This morning we were planting the first of our citrioli – cucumber – and zucchini in rather a special way. In fact news of our innovative and groundbreaking method must have been leaked, I am not sure who by but Bertie has suddenly found it very difficult to hold eye contact when you are talking to him. Kew Gardens have sent not one, but three of their vegetable experts to talk to us about our methods.

Actusally it’s quite simple really. We don’t use the vegetable patch as both these plants spread like wildfire and take up an enormous amount of space. No, in the ground that surrounds one of the vegetable patches, we cut out a turf about a spade width size and a spit deep. We fill it with a mixture of soil, bought compost and our own kitchen compost. Sow the seeds and cover with a couple of centimetres of soil and then, this is where the innovation comes in, cover with half a plastic milk bottle which acts as a mini cloche. Brilliant.

Of course it’s in its developmental stage and we won’t know how well the system works for a few weeks. So far – after two hours – everything seems ok, except for one small, or rather large thing. Can you guess? Yes, that’s right, Bertrum.

La D and I covered the area with some old fencing to deter the beast, just until the seeds started to really get going. Did that deter him? Did it hell.

When we had finished I went to have a bonfire of some vine trimmings that needed burning (that’s my excuse for the bonfire and I am sticking to it) and la D went to do some seeding. After about 15 minutes the air was suddenly filled with some excellent, good old fashioned Anglo-Saxon words. It’s good that the sky was so blue.

I rushed over to where the noise was coming from, I think I guessed it when I heard the shouting.

Bertie the Bastard (one of several alternative names he has) had only gone and dug up half of the seeds we had just planted. He had pushed away the old wire fencing and got stuck in.

To give him a little credit, I think he knew he had done wrong after the verbal pasting he got. He slunk off and sat under the outside table looking morosely at us. After we re-planted our 45 minute old seeds again and put a further protective layer over them, La D called him over. He came to La D almost crawling on his belly. Soon La D had a lovely smile for him. I looked on and smiled too..

“What are you smiling at L’uomo chi fa? Is something burning? Don’t you think you had better go and tend to the bonfire before this part of Le Marche is put to the torch?” La D said. Clearly, I was being dismissed.

Birds in the Wall

Over the past few days. we have been watching the adult blue tits flying into the wall where their nest is. There is so much noise coming from the nest, which of course we are unable to see at all. The poor adults have been flying in with flies and caterpillars and presumably other bugs to try and satiate their offspring’s’ appetite. Then yesterday we were sitting outside having a cup of coffee when I said to La D. “La D, listen”

“What? I don’t hear anything” she said.

“Exactly. The tits have gone. They have flown the nest. So that’s good, but we do miss their daily activity. Perhaps they will be back next year.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way Home

This week we have been down to a town called Comunanza to finalise the importation of our car. It is a very long, protracted and expensive undertaking, but necessary.

On the way home we were just coming round a bend and there in the middle of the road was a very large bird beside a stick. At first I thought it was one of the large grey backed crows of which there are loads here. But then it flapped its wings and rose into the air with the stick in its talons. But it wasn’t a stick, it was a black snake. It was quite something to see. The bird was a Sparrow hawk and the snake was, I think, just a black grass snake. But the snake was writhing in the birds talon as it lifted right over the trees at the side of the road right above us. La D was mesmerised.

“It was a good thing we didn’t have the sunroof open” she said “Imagine if the bird had dropped it and it had fallen into the car. I would have died”

I think it would have given rise to some fairly erratic driving for a few seconds, that’s for sure.

This is just what it looked like, except the snake was black.

Lingua, Lingua, Lingua

La D got an opportunity to do some research for a novel she is writing on set in WWII. Near us in Severigilano there is fairly well known old Prisoner of War (POW) camp. One of our friends over here is a very keen historian and knows quite a bit about the camp. There was a talk being given last Friday at the town hall and he said for us to come along. From what he said we thought it would be about the camp.

Well, there was a little about the camp but it was actually about the “Resistance” movement in Germany itself and in particular about a group of very young Germans called the White Rose of Monaco who helped several Jewish people to escape the persecution.

Now, the problem for us was, that the main speaker spoke in German and then had a translator translating after every sentence. As you know we are not proficient in Italian, and we know no German at all so we were pretty flummoxed. When the speakers spoke in Italian we could certainly follow the gist if not the detail, but with the stop start in German and then Italian with the translator clarifying things all the time with the speaker, it was pretty difficult.

But there you go, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

If you want to find out some details about the camp have a look at:

Ciao. Mantenere la fede

Friday, May 8, 2009


Some very sad mews. Mum’s kittens were getting on for two weeks old. We let her get on with it in the old laundry room under the external staircase.
We popped our heads round the door every now and then and made sure she had fresh water and sometimes a bit of food just for her, not to be shared by the other cats.
We looked in last Sunday evening and they were in the little basket. La D even picked one up. It seemed very comfortable.
The next morning La D heard Mum mewing in the laundry room. When she opened the door, only Mum was there, all the kittens had gone. It was obvious that Mum was “looking” for them. Poor Mum was frantic, we even let her come into the house so she could have a good nose round, but of course they weren’t with us.
All this brought back last year and Sisi and the “wolf” that had got her kittens, funnily enough at almost exactly the same age, just under two weeks. Clearly there was no wolf involved this time.
We did some research on t’internet and found that tom cats can often take kittens away. We were unable to find out why nor what happens to them. This to us is the only explanation. We have seen one of the old toms coming out of the access hole, an old black thing, called Lucifero – you can probably guess the English equivalent! As I said there certainly wasn’t a wolf involved, nor, we feel sure, a fox. A fox couldn’t get through the small access hole high up in the wall. Also Bertie would have heard it and smelt it, in the night and would have gone berserk with barking.
All we do know is that the toms are again on the prowl, harassing the poor female cats, just like last year. So there will be some more kittens soon no doubt.
We were wondering whether the taking of the kittens makes the females more receptive to the overtures of the toms. We have seen one poor female cat surrounded by four of them. It’s looks like a form of feline gang rape.
We already had a home for one of them. Two of the others had creamy fur very like Clarence’s, and we were going to have one of those. Anyway. C’est la vie.


Unlike last week, the weather is now Yes. Lots of sun and warmth. Fabulous. Lots to do in the garden now it is drying out a bit and we can get out without galoshes and umbrellas.
However, at the week end we suddenly heard a lot of noise, a bit like pebbles landing having been thrown in the air.
It was a hailstone shower. The noise was incredible. The hail was pinging off the metal guttering and smacking onto the ground. They were about the size of broad beans. Bert went out to have a look and soon came back with his broom-head-size tail between his legs as he obviously felt pretty uncomfortable being hit by bits of ice.

A Bird In The Wall

You know the old saying “A bird in the hand, blah, blah, blah”? Well this is nothing to do with that adage.
At the back of the casa are three large stone/brick buttresses, which are part of the back wall. Like the rest of the house they have been sort of pebble-dashed. We will be taking this off in the next 20 years or so to expose the lovely stone and brick work beneath and then have it re-jointed. Anyway, we have started the taking-off process, well, mainly one of the sons continued the work started by La D. So there is already an area that has been exposed. Being pretty old, there are many gaps between the stones and this time of year some of then are used by the “Lidards”. Now Lidard may not be a word you have come across before However, our favourite three year old granddaughter calls Lizards, “Lidards” and therefore Lidards they will remain.
However, we have noticed little blue tits going in and out of one of the gaps, taking in food. Sure enough once they go in, if we are close enough, we can hear the little chirrups of the babies. So that’s rather lovely, isn’t it? Helps make up for the kittens, in a small way.

Bertie Is Famous!

Bertie’s story appears in the May issue of Dogs Monthly. Go round to your local newsagent and get a copy and you can read all about him and also get a glimpse of La Duchessa - -a good photo actually. Or if you are too tight or in desperate financial straits, nip round to your local vets and pretend to have sick animal. If you don’t have an animal, borrow one. Sit in the waiting room and rifle through their waiting room reading matter. Once you have found the magazine and read the piece, just say to the receptionist that your animal has made a miraculous recovery, and leg it.
It’s an extremely well written piece even if I say so myself. In fact the editor said he had to make no changes at all to the text before sending it for print.

Bertie Celebrity Status Brings Bizarre Behaviour

I think we have gone wrong somewhere in our training. All the books etc say never your dog into your bedroom and don’t feed him titbits. What do we do? We let him into the bedroom and give him a bit of our biscuits in the morning.
But, and this is really taking the biscuit – pardon the pun. Since his celebrity status has been confirmed, it seems to have gone to his head.
He now looks at La D’s tea , only La D’s not mine, and starts to bark and shake his head up and down, until La D gets up and takes what left of tea, normally almost all of it, and puts it into his dinner bowl for him to drink. He absolutely loves it.
During the warmer weather there is also a spin off benefit for me when La D has to get up out of the bed, but I am too much of a gentleman - stop laughing – to go into any more details. Suffice to say it brings a smile to my face. Enough said.

Bertie Confirmed As A Water Baby

Bert, as you know from previous entries loves the water. Well on Monday he had his first proper swim. He so enjoyed it, we had difficulty getting him out of the river. We were throwing sticks a little further every time and he suddenly launched himself into the deep stuff and doggie-paddled round and round. When he came out he seemed to enjoy the act of shaking himself from head to tail so much that he did it over and over again. But when he first came out and his coat was stuck to his body, you could see the real size of him, without his fluffy coat. He is a magnificent, big dog.
Here’s a of pictures of him standing guard.

This is a bit of a Bertie Blog!

Ciao. Mantenere la fede