When we were doing our major internal renovation work in 25 November 2013, I posted about a strange spiritual experience that we’d had.
At the time, I assumed the presence of a ghost in our house.
Well, a year after this event, we learned who this ‘presence’ might be…and it’s only now that I’ve been able to write about it…
We share a common wall with our neighbour’s house. Our neighbour and his wife no longer live in the valley but spend every day out here in Spring and Summer.
In December 2014, our neighbour, his wife and sons walked up the valley to share a slice of pannettone and a glass of moscato with us.
It was a particularly cold afternoon so we wasted no time in welcoming them into our home and ushering them into our dining room. Stu lit the fire and soon the little room was glowing warm.
As the conversation turned to our renovations, we casually mentioned the ‘presence’ that we’d felt the previous year.
Immediately, our neighbour’s wife became emotional and announced with utter certainty that “Bertina era qui” (“Bertina was here”)! She asked us to wait while she rushed to their summer house and when she returned her eyes were red and her cheeks wet.
Her trembling hands held a photo of an elderly lady and a remembrance card as if they might crumble at any moment.
Then she sat down and told us about Bertina. Bertina was a deeply loving woman who used to live in our house with her husband. They had no children and used to treat our neighbours’ children as their own. Our neighbours’ son remembers Bertina reading stories to him and giving him special treats to eat. The entire family remembers Bertina’s smile. She smiled constantly and generously. She smiled through a sour husband and a hard life. She was still smiling when she died at the age of 102.
Having shared our neighbours’ precious memories and felt an even stronger presence of the woman they treasured, our dining room that day seemed a little warmer.
The words on her rememberance card will stay with us always:
“Il mio dolce sorriso rimanga per sempre nei vostri cuori”
(“My sweet smile remains always in your hearts”)
After an extended break from all things normal, we are back on deck and rearing to go with all things garden and renovation!
My last post was in late October 2017. Since then, we’ve survived a trip to Australia (planned), returned to Italy for 6 weeks to ‘baby’ our house through a particularly brutal winter and another trip to Australia (unplanned).
Our winter experience was quite extreme. First, we had a deep snowfall in December which quickly turned to pack ice and forced us to walk in and out of our valley. When we finally built some confidence to attempt our driveway, our car slid backwards 20 metres on the ice! I have truly never been so frightened in my entire life…and am still not sure how our car didn’t end up in the creek! Second, Russia cruelly sent us some icy weather from Siberia and temperatures plummeted to minus 10-14! This happened while we were in Australia (the second time) and we spent several anxious nights biting fingernails while we worried about our pipes freezing. Luckily we have some very very special Italian friends who selflessly braved the conditions to put our heating on for us..and thus save our pipes from freezing.
Now, the first blossoms of spring are budding and we are carefully watching the almond and plum trees which are always the first to burst out. The jonquils and hyacinths are already blooming and the tulips are close. The birds are flitting and singing as they urgently start a cycle of new life.
Nature is tempting us outside to revel in new life…
Bra, a small town about half an hour from us, hosts the famous and highly reputable bi-annual international “Cheese” festival.
The festival is promoted and supported by the Slow Food movement, an international not-for-profit association which promotes the production of food using traditional methods and in harmony with the environment and ecosystem.
The movement is particularly strong in Piemonte where its founder, Carlo Petrini, established the only Slow Food university in the world (located in Pollenzo near Bra).
Embarrassingly, we’ve never managed to make it to “Cheese”.
But 2017 was our year.
It was also the year for many others. Ten years ago, the 3 day festival attracted about 150,000 people; in 2015, it brought 270,000 people and this year approximately 300,000 people enjoyed its delights!
Needless to say, it was hugely crowded but quite spectacular…
I liked the colourful and aromatic Sicilian pecorino that had been infused with saffron, while Stu preferred the 18 month old seriously disintegrated and smelly cheese from the Valle d’Aosta.
We both drooled over the cold gorgonzola dolce, which was served in an icecream cone…
The change of season (and a bad back!) has given me an excuse to spend some time on my computer…so this is my first post for an embarrassing 3 months. My deepest apologies to those readers who have been waiting patiently as well as those who weren’t so patient and have specifically asked me when I will blog again!
On an uncomfortably hot day during this last hot summer, I decided to organise our winter bedding. I emptied all of our blanket crates and stripped the beds. Within half an hour I stood gazing at a mountain of doonas, blankets and throws that were piled high on the spare bed.
In truth it wasn’t that bad but any pile is utter anathema to a minimalist.
I got tough.
I decided that the old woollen queen doona had to go. We had had it for at least 10 years and had stopped using it several years ago because it was too heavy on our leg at night.
I also decided that the 2 single doonas that had been cut from 1 queen doona had to go. Fitting these ill fitting doonas into their doona covers had been a constant challenge for me. In use, they had swum around inside their covers, gathering momentum, until our poor unsuspecting guests would wake cold and uncomfortable, their torsos weighed down by a lump and the rest of their bodies exposed.
Soon I had a nice little pile of bedding that any minimalist would be proud of.
But now I was faced with another issue: How would I store this bedding? Could I discard some of the horrid plastic crates?
When we purchased this place 8 years ago, we had found a certain old tin chest hidden under various detritus in the shed.
I love all things old and I had decided that day that I would restore this treasure of history one day…but like many tasks here I never quite got around to it. The distraction of all things garden and renovation is strong indeed.
Now I finally had the reason to restore the old tin chest!
It was huge and deep and all of the bedding could find a home in it but it had been exposed to the elements for many years and was dirty, dusty, worn and rusty.
Like a woman possessed, I started my long-promised restoration and, within a matter of days, I had managed to strip, sand and repaint it. It’s not a thing of immense beauty but it is a thing of the precious past.
It is perfect on several levels: for the storage of bedding, for the character of the house and for the fact that I’ve now been able to donate several plastic crates to Stu…
I’ve mentioned the drought recently on my blog…
It is continuing and our creek has now dried up completely.
Any decent dry climate person knows that, in periods of drought, animals seek water where they can find it, which is normally close to inhabited dwellings.
Our place is no different and it says something about the extreme nature of this drought that we have seen 3 snakes close to the house in the last 2 weeks. Up until then, we’d only seen 1 snake in the whole 8 years that we have owned the property!
A couple of weeks ago, I was removing rubble from behind the house when a thin 5 foot long snake crawled out from between several pieces of broken brick. I was mortified, immediately thinking I was lucky to be alive (as any decent Australian would!).
During the course of the following week, I asked many of our Italian friends about this snake and was told that they are “biscia”. They all had smiles on their faces when they described the snake (an unusual concept for an Australian!) and told me that these snakes were not dangerous but were “belle” (not quite the word an Australian might use…)
Our chickens don’t like skittering or slithering creatures and they launch into a great noisy cacophony whenever they see them. We’ve had several of these ‘operas’ this week which we’ve been able to attribute to a door mouse, a field mouse and a snake. Despite all of our soothing words, we don’t seem to be able to stop the noise until (presumably) the disturbing creature goes away.
This morning, while I was on a video call with Mum and Dad, Stu burst through the door screaming “Come and help me! There’s a huge snake in the shed!”
So I hung up immediately. It was clearly an emergency…
We both dashed to the shed where Stu started poking in a corner with the pitch fork.
When my eyes adjusted to the relative darkness, I saw a rather thick 6 foot long creature making its way around the walls of the shed. It was another biscia.
“Do something!”, ‘Stu the New Zealander’ cried, keeping an eye on the creature, “You’re the Australian! You’re used to these things!”
“Yes, I’m Australian…and we’re brought up to be scared stiff of them! I can’t go near the thing!”, I cried back.
The snake wouldn’t stay still and kept making its way towards the back wall where Stu kept all of his equipment, tools and hardware. The back wall is lined with boxes, paint tins, cupboards and all sorts of things that promised to make great hiding places for our snake.
Stu launched into action.
It seemed that he was almost horizontal. His feet remained in the centre of the shed while his hands and arms leaned over at an extreme angle to flounder at everything on the back wall, moving each piece just before the snake got to it.
I continued to watch as Stu chased his snake around the shed, trying desperately to scoop the slippery creature onto his pitchfork.
When Stu and the snake headed towards the front of the shed, it was time for me to leave. I ran outside but continued to listen to the activity inside, which I found rather entertaining.
The cacophony was comparable to our chickens.
Stu was yelling and grunting and panting. The pitchfork was clattering and banging.
Suddenly Stu yelled “Get away from the door!” and I leaped back.
Within seconds, a snake flew out though the door and landed on the path where it immediately attempted to return to the shed.
Enter a panting and sweating Stu with his pitchfork again.
There ensued more yelling, grunting, panting, clattering and banging until the snake became airborne again, this time landing on the grass.
Stu pursued the creature once more, this time throwing it down the bank towards the creek.
Finally, we stood together at the top of the bank, Stu huffing and puffing and wiping the sweat from his eyes, me nursing my sore stomach muscles (it’s not easy being bent over in laughter…)
As Australians, drought is not a stranger to us.
However, drought in Piemonte is just plain strange.
For the last 5 years, the alps have not had their usual amount of snow which in turn means that our underground water reserves aren’t recovering. Our ancient stone well hasn’t refilled after we recently withdrew some water from it.
For the last few years, we’ve had limited rain and virtually none for the last 4-6 months. Our stormwater tanks are empty.
We are now only watering (sparingly!) our young fruit and nut trees (by hand!) and have given up on having our usual colourful summer potplants around the house.
This is the colour of drought…
Our summer began early and brutally.
We’re having a heat wave.
We’ve been closing windows before 8am to keep the daily heat out and not opening them until after 7pm when we invite the overnight cool back in. We hide indoors during the larger part of the day and emerge only at dawn and dusk.
Our chickens have their beaks open and their wings spread wide so we let them wander freely to find their own cooler spots around the house. They spend the mornings foraging, then stop for 4-5 hours in the hotter part of day to bathe in the cool dirt outside the dining room which remains shaded by the wisteria.
We’ve also been doing what we can to help them cool down…and today’s treat was a cold watermelon.
We dished it up then sat down to watch them eat…but it was painful to watch ‘chook culture’ in action.
Our really bossy hen, Drumstick, made sure that she and her man Horris ate first. While they ate, Yolko Ono stared into my camera. I’m sure she was trying to charm me into changing ‘chicken law’…but pecking order can’t be altered so she had to wait until after they’d finished…