Friday, September 23, 2011

Hot, hot, hot

It has been the hottest Summer here for many, many years. It has only just started to cool down, to a comfortable 28-29 C in the shade. We have had no rain for something like eight weeks. The grass is very light brown. The veggies have survived but only because we have been watering them often.
I have probably told you what we do with the big plants like toms, but I’ll just mention it again. We bury half litre plastic bottles with their bottom cut out, head first at an angle to the plants roots. The water that we give them are pretty much guaranteed to reach just the roots of the plant they have been buried next to. It takes very little water but the water is efficiently used. It seems to work very well by the harvest we have been having I must say.


We have had the dad-in-law staying with us for a couple of weeks. He went back on Wednesday looking nicely chilled – mentally, not physically, in fact he looked very tanned!
His trips over and back again were nice and easy-peasy so we hope he’ll book up again and we will see him again soon in 2012.
Because of the heat, he took it very sensibly and managed to completely read our library, twice! No, not really, but he had an excellent reading session. Just what he needed.
We went out for a couple of great meals with him. The first was a little traumatic as every where we tried to book wasn’t open, they were on “ferie”, holiday. I don’t blame them as they were taken advantage of the continuing good weather and having some holiday themselves. However we managed to get in to Pippo e Gabriella’s, which is one of his favourites anyway. As usual we were not disappointed. Tremendous.
Then last Sunday we went to a new place we hadn’t been before, L’antico Gusto. Wow. Sunday lunch – pranzo – was a seven course, yes, seven, set menu, with wine and both fizzy and still water, as much as you wanted. €25,00 a head. The food was fabulous. Fantastic value. It lasted about four and a half hours. Brilliant. Mind you we didn’t bother eating anything substantial until Tuesday!


All present and correct.
Freya, who we thought was growing up fairly well has reverted to early puppyhood. She is nicking knickers and chewing them to bits and no, I didn’t teach her to do it, she is self-taught. Digging holes where holes shouldn’t be dug. Attacking Bertie when he leasts expects it. Chewing plants and plant pots. We found we had three Avocado plants growing in the compost bin. We rescued them and La D lovingly planted them in pots and there were doing incredibly well through her nursing skills. We gave one to a friend who is real whizz with plants – won prizes for his garden’s output back in Wandsworth. Freya got one of those. In fact she is being a general nuisance. But is hard to be cross with a pup, especially when she wanders up to you and starts to lick you all over. Oh well, she will grow up quickly enough.

A bit of better news

My son’s friend has been having his first interventions with chemo and they have gone very well. He is now able to eat more or less as usual which is great news
One day at a time.

Ciao, mantenere la fede

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Weather Report

Stifling. Pushed pass 40°C in the shade on many days. No rain since 1st August.

The holiday season a la Casa Grotta,aka a change is as good as a rest

Because we are as poor as church mice. La D  and myself sat down at the beginning of the month and asked ourselves how we could have a summer holiday without spending any money. We thought and we thought, and then we had one of those “Eureka” moments. La D said, “I know it’s not much, but how do you fancy,” wait for it, “and it wouldn’t cost any extra”, keep waiting, “ we move into the spare bedroom?”
Wow, I thought, this is why I married this woman. Pure genius. It would be like being a different place altogether, and we have the luxury of having an en suite.

Holiday report

The spare bedroom is slightly cooler and it is more difficult to hear some blasted dogs barking in the early hours of the morning (presumably at cinghiale). Err .. that’s it really. We tried to behave as though we were on a holiday, but who were we kidding. Ourselves. Anyway, nothing ventured, nothing gained and it didn’t cost us a centesimo. But do we feel relaxed and refreshed? Do we buggery!
If I could meet the smartarse who coined the phrase “a change is as good as rest” I’d punch him on the nose
Next year we are contemplating a fortnight in the office!!!

Beach versus Pool

Because most of the Italian population are mainly on holiday during August, we tend not to venture down to the coast as it is so crowded. Fortunately, regular readers of the blog will know that we have a public swimming pool about half a mile from us. As the month has been the hottest here for many, many years, boy did the pool come in handy, almost a necessity some days. We took to going down about 12:30 – mad dogs and Englishmen, I know – just when those who had come for the morning were packing up. Often we were the only ones there till about 3. It was fab and the pool’s temperature was about perfect. It was really holiday like. It closed today, but the people running it told us that next year they would be opening for July as well. Good stuff.


We have had two cats living around us now for about 18 months producing kittens left, right and centre. Although here in Le Marche, there is a scheme wherby the authorities will pay for sterilisation of semi-feral cats if you agree to look after them, we made an application quite a while ago and nothing has happened. We reckon we have housed 14 kittens over the last couple of years and we couldn’t house any more. So, with a firm grip on our wallets we took them to the vet and had them done. At about the same time we had Freya spayed too. Poor Bertie, and Freya too, but at least there won’t be any “accidents” such as the patter of giant paws
Freya is still into “chicken tossing” but, thankfully, it is becoming less frequent. Mind you, she is ony 7 months old, today in fact. The trouble is she is now as tall as Bertie and it so hard to see her as a pup, or cucci in Italian.
The chicks are doing brilliantly still giving us 3 eggs a day. Occasionally they have to “play” with Freya – see above – but it doesn’t put them off laying!


We have been watering every other morning, very early before the sun comes up on us. The result has been well worthwhile with everything growing to abundance. Record onion crop. Tommies are prolific. Corn is beautiful, etc., etc.. The only problem this years has been with the spuds. They were very poor. I doubt we got more back in weight than when we planted. We may not do them next year.

A bit of bad news

My son Pip was going to come to Italy -  Porto Recanati on the coast, not far from us - , with a friend for a few days and they were going to stop with us a for a night and we were going up and see them. Just before they were coming my son’s friend was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer and further tests now show it has spread to his stomach and liver. Devastating news. So the holiday was cancelled and Pip is using his holiday time to spend with his friend. It is too early to say how he is getting on but we think about him often here at Casa Grotta and are hoping that they will come out next year. All the very best to him.   

Ciao, mantenere la fede

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Water, water everywhere….what has happened to the sun?

Gosh it’s gone cold. La D and myself were talking about a fire last night. It’s mad. Boiling temperatures one week and thinking-thermals the next. Both of us also seem to suffer a bit when we have these large temperature changes in very quick time. It seems to “knock us off” a bit. We feel very fatigued for a day or two. La D sometimes puts it down to too much Vino Rosso, but I remain to be convinced as we don’t have any changes to our imbibation (is this a word? If not, it certainly should be)

Enjoying ourselves

We are off for our annual wedding anniversary trip to the outdoor opera theatre, the Sferisterio in Macerata this Friday. We are going to see Un Ballo In Maschera (The Masked Ball) by Verdi. We have listened to the music via Spotify – oh yes, we’re well up with the technobabes. It’s fabulous.
The weather, however, might not be. It’s looking a little flaky at the mo, but here’s hoping.
However, we won’t be caught out like last year. We are going to take a tent and a gas stove. This may present Elf ‘n Safety issues as well as annoying some of the audience behind us, but we’ll cross that river, or bridge even, when we come to it.
We booked this back in January and we are so looking forward to it. It is only on for three nights. Anyway, I will report back.


A couple of years ago we approached our comune with a request to have some of the community cats here spayed. Apparently in this region, the comune will pay for this service as long as you take responsibility for feeding and looking after them. With usual Italian zeal, we have heard no more. We also think we have exhausted our supply of potential homes for kittens. so we are arranging to have Tigger and Daisy, who are our sort of cats “done” at our expense. It isn’t cheap.
On top of that, we have contacted our vet about Freya and she has said that Freya really should be done by the time she is 7 months, which is a month away. Gulp. We thought the cats cost was bad until she told us that Freya was going to cost three times the cost of one cat!
So, we are going to have a neutering party. Bring a scalpel. No only joking. Make it anaesthetic. Ha, ha.
August looks like an expensive month.
The kitties go to their new home next week.


Tremendous. Everything growing very well. The toms are abundant and sweet and juicy. Have made some great tomato ketchup a la Jamie Oliver with our cherry toms and San Marzano (long in shape) and some Beef ones that a friend gave us. It is excellent.
The freezers are getting fuller. Fortunately our nearest neighbours don’t grow anything themselves so we are able to give them extra produce. Of course we also are able to give some to the chicks who do eat anything and in return provide us with some beautiful eggs.

Ciao, mantenere la fede

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Yes, we still have it. Lots of it. Now it’s a bit breezy too. Had to do some emergency repairs this morning to the stakes holding up the cherry toms. We think they will be OK.


Doing well. Starting to harvest some lovely toms, cucumbers, melanzane (egg plant), French beans, onions, spring onions, etc., etc..
Of course we are having to water every two to three days but it looks like we may have some rain over the week-end.

Love amongst the animali – part 1

I had to go and shut the chickens in their coop the other night. It was dusk. We try to shut up shop for them a little earlier than this usually.
As I made my way down to the pen, I noticed Freya lying in the garden playing with what looked like an old piece of black plastic. Tossing it in the air and then catching it again. As I got nearer, I saw that the bit of plastic had wings and feet and feathers! The bloody dog was “playing” with Wilma. Aghh.
I issued a sharp command and Freya immediately went running off, tail held high, with a body language that said, “chase me, chase me.” That dog.
Anyway, I picked Wilma up quite gently. She was soaked with slobber. I placed her in the coop where I could only see one other chicken, Na. I suddenly heard a soft clucking sound coming from behind one of the olive trees just outside the pen. I went out and found Doris. She too was rather soggy. She ran into the pen and I picked her up and put her into the coop.
I know Freya’s only a pup – she’s not 6 months yet – but tossing chickens should not be part of her repertoire, particularly as her breed are protecting dogs. We know she does not mean any harm but we find it difficult to explain this to Doris, Na and Wilma. I have tried but they have lousy eye contact and just continue to cluck over me and peck the ground. There’s no reasoning with chickens,…..or dogs.

The next day the chicks seemed fine as though nothing had happened, although I did notice that whenever Freya went too close, they all moved off quite surreptiously. They are still laying well. Phew.

Love amongst the animali – part 2

The kitties are doing well and will be going to their new home in about 10 days or so. We have just started them on proper food yesterday and they seem to have got the hang of it.
They are going to be called Samson and Delilah, so we have started to call them Sammy and Del.
Sammy is a bit of a bruiser, but woossie. Del is petite but is into exploring everything she can. She has a great crush on Freya.
When the cats are out on the porch floor and Freya comes up, Del immediately makes her way over to Freya and starts to touch her paws, tail, nose, any part really. Freya just loves this. She licks Del back and because her tongue is so large compared with Del, Del does a backward summersault. But the little kitten comes straight back for more.

So this is a very delightful scene. Cats loving dogs and vice versa.

As I was getting breakfast ready yesterday, La D took some implements out to the table and announced, “Where is Del?” This was a rhetorical question as I was in the kitchen preparing the coffee and food and, as the saying goes, did not have eyes in the back of my head. None the less, La D seemed to overlook this fact as she announced again, in a louder voice, “Where is Del? WHERE IS SHE?”
We looked all round the basket they sleep in, and all over the porch. Both she and Sammy are still too small to go down the stairs unless they fall. So we went down the stairs. No sign of her.
We went round the back of the house and saw Freya lying in the garden, playing with something.
Yep. It was Del. More imperious commands were issued at the dog, who again went bounding off. You could almost sense the chuckling.
Poor little Del was pretty much unfazed by this. Apart from being covered with the, now, ubiquitous slobber she seemed fine. There was no way she could have got there under her own steam, so Freya must have carried her in her mouth all the way there.
La D picked her up and gave her a cuddle and bough her back to her brother and mum, where she settled right back in.
Yesterday evening, Del and Freya were billing and cooing over each other on the porch again. Quite lovely really as you can see.

One last thing, this morning, La D caught Freya with Del in her mouth just about to go down the stairs again, no doubt for a bit more of cat tossing. We didn’t let them proceed.

Here is a link to some kittie fun.

Ciao, mantenere la fede

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Serious Weather

La D, myself and the animali are sweltering at the moment. Under our gazebo at the back of the house, it was 42.7 deg C or if you like, 109 deg F, at 15:00 today. Man it's hot.

Too hot to do anything more than move your eyes and fingers over a keyboard in case you dissolve. There is a fan on most of the day in the middle room and then all night in the bedroom, when the temp dips to about 26 C inside. 26C at 03:00!!!!! One must assume that there will be a hiatus in births in about nine months time!

We can't  sleep either. The dogs stay outside and occasionally start to bark at something, we are presuming cinghiale. We are up at 05:30 which is the only time when you are able to do anything physical. like having like water the veg - which are doing well right now because of the watering - or pick some apricots.

We've stopped walking the dogs this week as they were just poddling along with us, not running about. So there seemed no point. They start to play at about 21:30 and chase each other round the garden for a bit. More exercise than they would get when we went on a walk. Most of the day they just stay in the office with La D, which is the coolest, sorry, the least warm room at the moment.

Ciao, mantenere la fede

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A great day out

Last week I told you we were going down to Abruzzo to see one of the writers that is involved with La D’s virtual writers’ group,

The criteria to be a member is that you have to be living in a country other than your birth country and that you write in English. It is very successful with quite a number on the waiting list.

The person we went too see, Paola,  is in fact Italian, but writes in English and lives, at the moment, in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She has never lived in Italy. She was born in East Africa. Quite a person.

She and a few others get together for a week near a small town called Abbateggio in the north of the Majella National Park which is in the region of Abruzzo. The group take over a whole B&B place, They teach each other things. For instance, one of them gives Yoga lessons, another does creative writing, etc.. La D’s contact teaches Italian. This is all mixed in with some personal repose, trip to the beach, maybe a visit to a vineyard, local restaurants. It sounds as though it could be a very relaxing and interesting time.

We made good time, despite driving through a torrential downpour for a few minutes and arrived in time for a coffee. Fantastic place. The views are quite spectacular. We were introduced to those that where there, and then a delicious bowl or two of soup that a couple of them had made. It also turned out that Paola’s husband came from Belfast and as I did all my schooling there, I was quizzed about which school I went to Methody (Methodist College Belfast to give it its full title). Her husband went to Methody’s traditional rival school Inst (Royal Belfast Academical Institution). Then we got onto the schools’ cup (rugby) but it turned out that he was two years younger than me so it was unlikely that we tried to knock seven bells out of each other on the pitch, sorry, played rugby against each other. Anyway, Methody leads the cup stats with 32 wins to Inst's 29. Oh yes.

 Afterwards we went into Abbateggio itself. We parked up and then went walking into the centro storico (the historical centre). Paola’s parents moved there from Rome in 1947. Her dad was the appointed GP for the town. The commune helped with his transportation issues by lending him a mule!! If he were late at a baby delivery, he often kipped down in the same bed as the mum and new babe to get some essential ZZZs. We went past the house where they had lived and where Paola’s brother and sister were born. The house looked as though it was once quite grand, but now would require a total restoration. The population has reduced from 2500 pop to 450 pop over the last few decades. Desperate.

As were were walking down a street, Paola suddenly opened a door to a building and called out to someone. A few minutes later we were sitting in a tiny front room/kitchen listening to a lady talking about her family. When we asked her age, she replied that she was 98 and 5 months!

After we said our goodbyes and went for a bit more a walkabout, Paola did the same thing to another house and again we were ushered in and offered refreshments. This lady was one of the children that Paola’s father had brought into the world. It was really most interesting. We were treated to the tae of how she and her husband met and all sorts of family history.

We asked Paola how she had come to know people and things about Abbateggio when she only visited the place once a year, and then not until recently. She wasn’t even born there.

The town has very interesting mayor (sindaco). He wanted to try and make contact with all living diaspora of the town, and their offspring, because he was trying to reach out to people who knew the town and wanted more interest to be shown in what it, and he, were doing to promote it. He made the effort to trace as many people as he could and wrote to them asking them to make contact. He also gave them a vote they could use the for the town elections.  He even found out that were 200 ex-Abbateggions in Belgium. He also wrote to them and invited them to a re-union with some current townsfolk in Brussels. He then flew up to Belgium with some of the towns people to meet up with the ex-pats. Just over 100 came to the meeting. I personally think that is a huge success.

Anyway, this was all a few years ago and Paola was so amazed at the effort being made that she came to Abbateggio and started making contacts with people who had known her parents and her siblings. She then started her annual bash. Her parents come often now and stay at the same B&B.
And yes, she did vote at the town elections.

Great day. Thank you Paola.

Ciao, mantenere la fede

Friday, July 1, 2011

Happy 1st July to everyone.

How eggasperating is this?

The girls appear to have been having a bit of a break (ha, ha) in their egg laying. We have recently only been getting one or two eggs a day, which is not the norm. The weather has been v hot. A couple of days ago a local thermometer was nudging 45°C. So we have been putting down the lack of eggs due to overheated hens.

However, the hens have pretty much a free run of the middle and upper gardens and love wandering about. What they don’t like is Freya stalking them and suddenly leaping on them and grabbing their tail feathers. But that’s another tale.

This morning I had to go and do a few chores at one of the local villages and when I got back this is what La D had found in a nesting place in the garden. The little buggers. Why have they stopped laying in their perfectly good nesting box? Doh!

Matters of the teeth

Both La D and I have had reason to go to the dentista recently. Both of us hate it and it is expensive, or at least we think it’s expensive. But what can you do? We don’t to be called the “gummies” before our time do we? Having seen some pictures of Russian country people who use stainless steel for replacement teeth, maybe I’ll just go and have a “Jaws” job, a la James Bond character. On second thoughts, maybe not

I have to go back for a further consultation at the end of the month. Oh joy.

Social scene

Went for a great BBQ the other night. Some people we know have a great place with a pool that they rent out but this week there were no guests so they decided to have a do. Absolutely brill. We met up with the people who rescued Bertie and his siblings. Poor bloke, he recently fell off a ladder doing some arboreal work. Broke his back. Fortunately he fell very levelly(?) and the break is quite healable. Apparently if you break a vertebra from the side, that is a completely different matter.

The library is going well but quite slowly. I am on duty this afternoon. Hopefully there will be a few people through the doors.

Travelling down to Pescara next week for lunch with one of the people who belongs to La D’s Writers Abroad web group. She actually lives in Bangladesh – her husband is in the UK FO – having just moved there from Belgium. She runs a writing course in North Abruzzo once a year.
Bertie and Freya are going to spend the day with their friend Lola. I do hope Lola’s people know what they are taking on! I’m sure they do.

Talking if dogs, here is a picture taking today during our early morning constitution. The sun is just rising at this time and it creates beautiful dappled light in some areas where we go.

Had a lovely long ‘phone call with my number three son this week. He and one of his friends are thinking of coming to Italy for a week in August and was sounding me out about some places. Have given him lots of info on places in Le Marche but also in the South (Sorrento peninsula) and North West (Italian Riviera, Liguria). So we’ll wait and see.

No more news on baby Annalise. Some photos have appeared on Facebook, but that is all. It’s rather sad really as Facebook as most of you know is a massive personal networking website, with people able to acknowledge others as friends. My son only has two friends on it. Rather defeats the object.

Ciao, mantenere la fede