Today we woke up to find ourselves under the snow. It's already melting away but the dogs loved it!
The day after Christmas - drat, got to wait another year before the festive season comes around again (but there’s still New Year & The Epifania (6 January) to come!
Christmas Eve - coming from New Zealand where Christmas falls in the middle of summer, it never fails to delight me to find myself in a place where Christmas is that of the Christmas cards of my youth - short, cold days, snowy mountains, bright, festive lights decorating the houses. Today & tomorrow we will feast well - Luca's mum cooking-up a big late dinner for Christmas Eve & a wonderful lunch for Christmas day (needless to say we have been fasting in preparation!)
Today, I wanted to load a shot of Luca pushing a barrel of wine in the canteen but got caught-up in the before-&-after photos of some local heroes so it will have to wait until tomorrow.
This winter has - so far- been quite unlike any other. It is a moment of truth for us on the wine-making side & it has to be said that growing your own grapes, making & bottling your own wine is a complicated business if you want to produce something of a decent level.
Yesterday, in response to our application, the Health Department Inspectors came to inspect - with a view to authorising - the room & plant we want to use for bottling wine, the drying area in the barn where the grapes are dried prior to pressing, the store-room where we keep almost everything miscellaneously related to wine-making, plus, the temperature & humidity wine storeroom. The first point that has to be made is that the simple act of asking the inspectors to come was blindingly expensive as every authorisation has to be paid for. "User pays" in a bankrupt State (the Italian State, that is .... well also we are tetering!) means user pays rather too much. The inspection was thorough & professional & accompanied by good advice & intelligent questions but it brought home to us just how much effort & energy we had expended to get to this point.
Preparing the rooms effectively to food-factory standard, having temperature & humidity controls, a wine bottling plant, however small, are not small beer & it’s taken us a long time to get here. When Luca first arrived at La Faula it was his Dad’s hobby farm. For years his father had made wine as a weekend interest & it had largely been gifted away although to hear Signor Franco recount things as they were you would think that he was an astute wine-maker & businessman who ran the wine activity as a profitable side-line. The wine was made in a very jolly style. Hygene didn’t count much - the wine did, as one now must disclose, "contain sulfates" but in random & variable quantaties, perhaps with a bias towards excess to compensate for the lack of hygene. The container that was used to mix the pesticides in the vineyard was during the wine-making pressed into use as a wine container. It was all rather simple & the wine was as honest as the people who made it.
Our arrival here rather changed all that. After a period (unfortunately because it marked the passing of the old ways but fortunately because the old ways in the modern world where people know more are rather a dead end) Franco & his happy band of pensioner helpers were eased out & we found ourselves facing a harvest & wine-making without any idea of what we were doing. We have had some luck during our time here at La Faula & one of the truly lucky things was to have found a young wine-maker at exactly this point who was embarking on his new role as consulting enologist. We didn’t know it then, but this wine-maker was to turn out within a relatively short time one of Friuli’s top enologists/wine makers. We don’t know why he continues to help us. I suppose he’ll never read this so I can say - he seems to help us out of kindness. All these years he’s never asked us for a cent - but we know that if we had to pay him we probably couldn’t afford him. So, there you have it, by some strange quirk of fate we have a great wine-maker. And not only, but we like the way he makes wine. It’s really natural & now comes the test, in the spring, for the first time, we will be bottling the fruits of our labours in these last two years.
The Sagra is finished but the photo’s aren’t!
I’m really pleased to have this series of photos with which I’m going to bore you for the next week. Pleased, because people come to Italy to see the archaeology & soak-up the atmosphere of a glorious Roman past. But this series of photos reflects - & is the unaltered facsimile of - tradition from the time that the Catholic church was established in Rome & it is a direct descendant of the pagan festivals that preceded Christianity.
That is, taking the Madonna - Mary the mother of God - out of her sanctity in the Church & carrying her around the village in procession. This directly descends fromthe ancient Roman practice of taking the gods out of the temples (they were believed to inhabit the statues) & around the town (see "Pagans & Christians" by Robin Lane-Fox).
Today is a national holiday being the festival of the Immaculate Conception & so - in conjunction with the village fete - the Madonna is taken in procession through the village.
As those of you who have read this diary will know we have, this year, had some big problems with the Italian bureaucracy following an inspection by the Guardia di Finanza of our new barn & the finding of some cow manure (I won't go into this again). During this year's harvest the Italian State unleashed "Operation Sunflower" on grape farmers. Operation Sunflower - which didn't involve us - involved squads of Carabiniere, Guardia di Finanza, Inspectors from both the State pensions body & State accident compensation body, supported by helicopters raiding vineyards during harvest days to find pensioners, students, housewives, Slovenes & anyone else who was harvesting without an official (meaning issued by the State) work contract. By law everyone who harvests - whether they are paid or not - must have a work contract &, of course, the farmer must pay at least a minimum of 8 days of social security contributions. The only exception to this rule are direct blood relatives (no in-laws here) to the second degree. Many people harvest just for the pleasure, especially pensioners, & in return there are the nice harvest lunches, the harvest dinner at the end & some wine. Pensioners, in particular, resist having a contract because of the fear that they will be inspected in the future with a view to cutting down their pension. In Italy where pensions are very generous & given early, the tax penalty for those pensioners are extreme so virtually all pensioners try to present a blank slate once they retire & if they work part-time they do it strictly in the black.
The result of such sweeping raids was that many farmers got charged with having un-contracted harvesters. If the harvesters are Italian there is an immediate €500.00 fine plus the pensioner must immediately be employed. If the pensioner refuses to sign the employment contract within 24 hours the fine is €3,000. If the harvest is a Slovene (remember we are on the Slovenian border here) then the act of using a non- EU Community national is a crime (Slovenes do not have the right to work in Italy until 2007) & not a misdemeanor.
Such was the outrage in this area that a meeting was organised under the auspices of the local municipality following the agitation of the farmers in which a local member of parlaiment attended along with the Agricultural Minister of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia Region & representatives of various farmers consortia & unions (here you should note that the proportional representation in Italy means you don't really have a member of parliament).
The farmers' representatives complained bitterly of the repressive nature of the State action especially as the inadequacy of the existing law has been acknowledges (at least by the farmers!) for years. One of the most eloquent speakers was the Nottary Comelli (a big-wig around here) who made the point that while farmers in Friuli were being controlled by overhead helicopters a member of the Regional Government in Calabria (South Italy) was being gunned down like a dog in front the the Regional Government offices as he went to vote (killed like a dog sounds very "good" in Italian - <<ucciso come un cane>>).
The passion - & desperation - at the behaviour of the State forces was certainly there. But when it came to the member of parliament he did a very Italian thing. First he said (against the clear evidence) that the government hadn't ordered the crackdown. Second he said that Tony Blair, following the fashion of saying that the EU should invest in education & technology, wanted to cut farm support & he was against this. Finally, he said that it was also largely the fault of the new Eastern EU members who were getting money that would otherwise have come to Friuli. So, one, he lied & two, he didn't respond in any way to the complaints.
All is lost!
Today was the 2nd day of the Sagra di Ravosa. The morning started with 130 mountain bikers criss-crossing our vineyard for 3 hours - unfortunately, yesterday it rained hard & where the mountain bikes went it seems that the whole United States mechanised cavalry has passed. I think that next year we will be politely suggesting some other route that doesn’t include La Faula!
I’ve just returned from the first night of the Ravosa village fete. Every village has its fete & Ravosa has the honour of having the ultimate fete of the year in Friuli.
We are in the process of up-grading the resolution of our web-site. You might have noticed that La Faula Today is wider than it was & the photo is bigger. We have done this because many people now have higher-resolution LCD screens so they are ably to see the whole page & the enhanced resolution gives us more lay-out space & permits us to load bigger photos. To see the whole page-width, however, it is important that you don’t have any drop-down menus (such as preferences) on the left-hand side of your screen. If you do have the menu, just click on the yellow star on the top tool bar & our web-page will fill the complete screen. Afterwards, you can re-display the preferences simply by re-clicking on the yellow star.
Our barn won a prestigious award for architecture a couple of years ago. It received a write-up in some specialist magazines & we had some visits from architects, students & interested amateurs. But this is nothing since the barn became the centre of investigation by the Guardia di Finanza following the finding during an inspection of some cow manure on the concrete pavement. Now we have a regular stream of visitors to see the scene of the crime. Of course the manure is no longer there but it was seen & recorded by the two Marescialli who conducted the investigation. The office of the Repression of Fraud regarding EU Funding has stepped-in & the matter is being dealt with at the highest levels. Not only, but an alleged irregularity has been discovered on the part of our Accountant who filed an invoice under the Agriturismo instead of the Azienda Agricola (confusingly they both have the same VAT number).
One imagines that in the end it will all turn-out OK in the end but the strategy - & tactics- of the Finanza are clear. Having conducted a series of inspections they need to report a certain number of "irregularities". If in the end the irregularities are found to be perfectly regular it doesn’t matter. The Finanza have done their job of showing that Italy takes seriously how EU funds are spent. But this leaves just one question. Most EU funding goes to major industrial scale agricultural producers. I suspect that these companies, who invariably are supportive of various political parties & politicians, if they are controlled at all, don’t find themselves in alleged breach of some invented infraction.
When lighting our web-burning stove I often glance down at the newspapers I am scrunching-up & often find little tit-bits that I missed when the paper was fresh.
Now the other day when recounting our attendence at Ginny’s graduation I referred to the well-known fact of Italian society - "La bella figura" (cutting a good figure). But, I see from our local paper that La Bella Figura doesn’t just apply to individuals or families but applies to the whole country. It transpires that the Italian government has brought a civil action & is seeking €100,000.00 damages from 14 people, including a member of the Regional Government, because their actions - in demonstrating against the American occupation of Iraq & trying to enter the American consulate in Trieste - have allegedly "damaged the image of Italy".
That’s a shocker isn’t it? There you are, a member of the radical Italian left demonstrating against the Great Satan & trying to occupy its consulate & not only do you find yourself facing criminal proceeding but also a whacking monetary sum because your actions, in your own country, allegedly damaged its image. Some could plausibly allege that Silvio Berlusconi’s actions damage the image of Italy, or the actions of the Mafia; where does it stop? And who is the beholder in whose eyes the image of Italy is degraded? Is it the image of Italy held by Americans as a whole (how defined?), by the architypal American on the manhattan subway, George Bush, do they really care?
Yes the Spotty story does continue for a little bit longer (I think that there are another 4 photos & then that’s it!)
The (rather) big news in the national press during the last days has been the surveys (independently) that the Economist & Time magazines have conducted Italy & how they have found that effectively the country is mal-governed & in a state of terminal decline. I can’t really comment on either of these surveys because, although a subscriber to the Economist, I can never be sure when it will arrive. I hope that it arrives & doesn’t get fliched to be given to some postal worker’s kid who is studying English!
It does make one think to find one’s-self in a disfunctional country, with disfunctional government, institutions, laws & society & an economy visibly winding-down. One does rather wonder if he hasn’t fallen on the wrong side of history or should I say I sometimes wonder if I haven’t chosen the losing side in my move here. On the other side, however, I have to tell you is the shear joy & pride to be able to drive here. I kid you not, not everyone can drive in a city as chaotic as Trieste. It’s like being inside a video game, cars pop-out suddenly, hidden pedestrians materialise before you, scooters weave around you, a truck suddenly begins turning around in a space half of its length. To have done it & come-out intact, unscraped, alive even, that’s really something for a grown-up kid from New Zealand (4 million people, 75 million sheep in case you want to know!).
Janice wrote to us:
"Glad to see Spotty is doing well. Give him a hug from me and make sure he does not get cold at night, he is used to sleeping in at night with us in the red bungalow, so keep him in.
It's about time they cut that polenta, it must be rotten by now!"
By the "polenta" Jan was referring to the photo of a couple of days ago of the harvester cutting the mais. Janice has a particular aversion to polenta which was - & to some extent still is - a staple of the Friulano diet. But she has a point. Mais, being originally from South America - doesn't find itself in its home environment in Friuli. Large scale cultivation has, at least until the present, been under-written by EU subsidies. But there is something more insidious in this that just wasting tax-payers' money getting farmers to produce a crop that otherwise wouldn't be economical. That is, as Janice notes, leaving the maiz until it dries on the plant (thereby saving a fortune in diesal to dry it artificially) risks the growth of funghi & molds that themselves produce carcinogenic micro-toxins that are not destroyed by heat & which pass from the animal that consumes the infected mais to human beings (also via cows milk).
Earlier this year the Friulani (people of Friuli) were scandalised when a leading cancer specialist responded to complaints of pollution in Milan by saying that the health of the Milanese was better than that of the country-side dwelling Friulani who drink too much, smoke to much, eat too many preserved meats (salami etc) & who eat polenta full of cancer-causing micro-toxins!!!
So next time you are in some chi-chi Italian restaurant in some big European city & there is quail (or some other delicacy) with polenta at an outrageous price just think back to Janice & her comment!
(Continued from Yesterday - we are in Trieste) We took a great breakfast in the hotel - how good to be on the other side of the kitchen - & then ventured to drive in Trieste a labarinth of one way streets, little lanes that double as motorways, scooters that weave this way & that, pedestrians forced in front of the traffic by cars parked on the pavement. My goodness, what a chaos! It could have been Naples or Genoa or any mediterranean city. I felt transported from the comfortable provinciale order of Udine!
We headed over to Muggia to a little bric-a-brac shop we know where amongst the dross some nice old things for the house can be found. It didn’t dissapoint - we managed to spend €250.00 on various things! (see the photo below)
Returning to Udine & driving through an area of road-works where the temporary road was fundamentally too narrow for the heavy traffic, a car coming towards us swerved to avoid a heavy goods lorry and instantly flippied on its side into a ditch. Thankfully no-one was hurt but the scene was one to see. Inside the car were an elderly man & his wife. The husband was driving & was sitting in the air strapped to the seat by the now-locked seat belt. The wife was on the underneath part. We opened the door & the woman popped-out clambering over & on her husband all the while commenting that they were returning from the hospital where the husband had gone to see about a bad back! Once out of the car she immediately got into an argument with the driver of the lorry blaming him for the accident while he (fairly) pointed out that his truck hadn’t touched the car. At this point a fair crowd had gathered so we escaped leaving them to it!
Today was a big day for us - we went to the big city (Trieste actually). In the evening we attended the graduation of Ginny - from Chatham in Canada - from the MIB School of Management. Ginny stayed with us for two months while she was doing work-experience & preparing a business plan for a local distillery. Ginny whose ancestry is in Istria (previously a part of the Habsburg Empire, then a part of Yugoslavia, then a part of Italy then lost to Yugolsavia & finally a part of Slovenia - phew!!!) was attending a course called "Origins" financed by the Regional Government, local banks & emigrants’ organisations. As its name suggests the course is for those who trace their origins back to Friuli (the provinces of Udine & Pordenone), Venezia-giulia (Trieste & the carso) & Istria.
The graduation was moving & the spirits of those emigrated long ago were palpable as was the warmth & pride of their descendents who, at least for this short time, "had come home" & so honoured their grandparents & great-grandparents who war, poverty & ethnic cleansing forced away. On the other hand, Italians truly never know when to stop. In Italy the bella figura (as I think we all know) is everything. Appearances may deceive but they must be maintained so at official events every dignitary who sits at the main table - & this includes anyone who would be offended or slighted by being ommitted - gets to speak. Last night that meant 4 speakers for starters. Then from the floor representatives of an emigrants organisation, a local bank & a local factory (all of whom supported in various ways the programme) were called-up to speak. A message was read from another emigrants organisation which was unable to be represented in person. The students got to speak (& at least to our relief livened-up the evening with a warm salute to their time here). So, having commenced at 17.30 the graduation closed at 20.00 (I shouldn’t really write this, but the school had forgotten to sign the diplomas so the professor in charge of the programme at the end had furiously to take the freshly presented diplomas back to sign).
It is nice to see a Region honouring those who emigrated from it & these kyoung people (& those of advancing years also on the course) seemed really to have justified the effort.
Afterwards we treated ourselves to a hotel & a wonderful - but wonderful - dinner in a restaurant evocative of the bell-epoque in Trieste. It was terrific - we shouted ourselves a bottle of New Zealand wine (Trieste meets NZ) & really savoured the luxury of being away from La Faula (which was in the capable hands of Luca’s nephew)
Somewhat surprisingly, our little web-site gets a lot of visits, especially La Faula Today. This has rather put me off the written diary part of it because it has made me rather self conscious. I’m even self-conscious writing this. Anyway, given that we get some correspondence I thought I might reply or comment on some things that people say.
Andrea wrote: "To be honest, my main concern isSpotty - how is he? I have seen the photos of his operation and he looks so deplorable that I would rather go and comfort him (although Luca seems to handle this fine...) Poor Spotty darling!! Hasn't he already had an operation before, something with his hip? The treatment and the vaccinations of the "Faula fauna" must cost you a fortune! On the photo where Spotty sits in the car he seems to know what is awaiting him. If he were there, I would feed him Pedigree "Markies" now to comfort him - but maybe that's the problem: everybody (I mean the guests) wants to do the doggies something good by feeding them... "
Who knows what goes on in a dog’s head but in the 3-4 preceeding weeks since the ligaments in Spotty’s knee had torn, he had been reduced almost to immobility & could only move on 3 legs. The thing about Spotty is that he is trusting so taking him to the vets’ wasn’t a problem - it was possibile to dominate him with kindness so although he is a big dog with big teeth he stayed very placid even though the initial stages until he was anaesthetised were pretty unpleasant for him. The good news coming out of this thing was that the x-rays showed that contrary to what we had thought, Spotty’s hips are in fine condition. He did (& will) continue to have problems getting up, especially when it is cold, but this is muscular & is just a fact of him getting old.
You’re right - it cost a lot of money, but it just wasn’t possible to put him down - let’s hope he goes on for another few years at least!
Spotty is not overweight - he is just a big dog (& rather fluffy to boot!). We are pleased that our guest give the dogs little tit-bits because it creates a bond with them where they see guests (& people in general) as bearers of snacks & cuddles & this gives them a good attitude towards human beings (who in the end are just another species of animal that the dogs share their space with!).
"What about the others? Are they getting along well with young Hector? He seems to grow very quickly. Will you try to get him and Nellie to have some nice little puppies when Hector is old enough? I remember Nellie's rather reserved (if not frightened) behaviour towards the handsome mate you had chosen for her some time ago... What would happen if Hector chose Barty instead of Nellie? Could be an interesting couple, too... "
Young Hector is a handsome little scallywag snoring contentedly below me as I write. At the end of a long day playing with Nellie, pestering the other dogs, barking at non-existent threats, going in & out of the house 100 times & after some "Special Doggy soup" Hector settles down to a good night’s sleep in his cosy bed. As for Hector’s amorous interests, well he’s still a bit young but he has sussed-out that Barty & Nellie are girl-dogs & likes to pay them just that little bit of extra attention! We hope that Barty is into Spinsterhood but I guess that Hector & Nellie may make a serious couple once they get-over their constant playing & running around!
"By the way, the latest Barty photo (sunbathing) is absolutely sweet. You don't take many pictures of her but if so, they are great!! She is really pretty and still seems to be the smallest of the "white family""
It is strange (well nice actually!) to have the house all to ourselves. It is possible to sleep-in if bed seems especially cosy (as it does on these cold mornings!), go to bed early with a god book. It’s a kind of paradise. The days are short so work is too - all in all very satisfactory!
Spotty is recovering fine. At first he hopped around on three legs (a bit like driving a car on the spare tire after a flat - you hope that all of the other tires will stay the course - in this case we prayed Spotty’s remaining functioning hind leg would manage to take the strain). He has visibly perked-up so must be in less pain than before the operation (although the powerful painkillers he is on must, obviously, be doing their part). On 28 November we return to the vets’ so that he can have the metal staples taken out - & we wish him a prosperous & long life!
The up-grading of the sortware by the web-hoster is causing some havoc with the interative parts of the web-site. Please excuse the fact the the "Browse Back" "Browse Forward" funtions of La Faula Today are not working. Francesco should be on to it soon!
Beautiful weather but the for the first time the night temperatures are slipping below zero. I’ve picked-up the flu (luckily not of the avian kind) & are frightening myself reading R.J.B. Bosworth’s biography of Mussolini. Frightening myself because I am coming to see that Italy is not civilisation as we know it Jim. All of us, seeing the commonalities between countries - Italians live in houses, drive cars, have a parliament, have (17 types of) police (forces - about to be 18!), live in a beautiful country with a picturesque (albeit tragic) history & so we assume that they are more or less like us if albeit a bit more disorganised, less law-abiding & probably corrupt. But they are not - their history, culture & religion puts them in an orbit far beyond the countries of Europe to their North or the english speaking (but no longer - if it ever was - the "anglo-saxon") world. Italian assumptions about human nature (corrupt, corrupting & corruptable), society (it really doesn’t exist - family, paese, region do), the state (avaricious, corrupt, corrupting), the "forces of order" (controlling) are held in such an extreme form - & justifiably so as such attitudes can also only be self-fulfilling - as to be really "Italian".
Beautiful day - but the cold is arriving. Spotty seems to be recovering well (at €1,200.00 for the operation one would hope that he did!). More work in the wine canteen cleaning up after the bricklayer poked a hole in the wall from the kitchen. Both of us are absolutely exhausted & can’t wait for the weekend.
Today Spotty went to have his knee repaired with the insertion of a kind of titanium hinge.
I’m really cheating here - the kitchen was very full of willing helpers this weekend past.
By now the course was over but I have a couple more photos that I want to put on La Faula Today.
From Friday through Sunday we had a group conducting a week-end psychotherapy course (it has to be said that by the end of the course we were in need of psychotherapy!!!). The weather was nice and afforded the opportunity for a nice stroll after lunch.
Our web-site database has been down for more than a week following a major software up-grade by our web-host. poor Francesco is currently going through all the coding making the changes necessitated by the up-grade & so it will be some time before the site is fully working again. thankfully, this occurred right now when our site is less used so it hasn’t been much of a problem (for us at least!)
Today Luca’s father, who is pictured below, entered hospital for a heart operation. The operation is routine & so there is no reason to fear for the worst but it is sad none-the-less. We are here in La Faula due to Franco. As a boy he came to live in Ravosa to escape the bombing of Udine by the US Air Force (one of the main train lines to Austria & Germany passed through Udine & although the city, as such, was not targeted the inaccuracy of the bombing posed risks for civilians, many of whom lived in the vicinity of the station located as it was, & is, near the centre of the town). It was a bit of a case of out of the fry-pan & into the fire. Resistance activity was very strong in Ravosa & the villages in the hills behind it (Attimis, Subit, Faedis). As the result of reprisals the men had fled into the mountains & the villages were abandoned to the women & children (Attimis, Subit & Faedis were burnt to the ground by troops using flame throwers - the beautiful Villa of the Attims family in Attimis was destroyed as well. Ravosa was quarantined with the intention of forcing the population into submission).
La Faula was extremely important to Ravosa in this time. It was being farmed by share-croppers of the Maini Counts of Venice & was much more productive than the desperately poor subsistence farming practised by the Friulano peasant families. Consequently the villagers came to La Faula every Sunday for food & some festivities such as could be had given the circumstances of the time. Luca’s father was a part of this. He remembers sitting under the pergola with the women when the SS drove up looking for the men & remembers a very tall (or so he must have seemed) Austrian officer in a black greatcoat standing over them.
As a young man Franco determined to own La Faula if it should be possible. And in 1959 he purchased La Faula, abandoned & in decline due to the abolition of share-cropping & the industrialisation of Turin & Milan that had taken away the men to work in the factories.
It is time to get back to writing something of a diary. But it’s difficult. As the tourist season flows seamlessly into the grape harvest & then wine-making, once there is some free time the last thing that I wanted to do was to tie myself to the computer - in these last few weeks I have just wanted to do nothing at all!
The harvest went well - perhaps a little too well. We rushed through the grape-picking worrying that the rather poor weather that we had experienced in lat August would presage a wet & cool September/October. We got most of the grapes in before a week of rain arrived. But - in retrospect - it would have been better had we waited for the cabernet because it wasn’t quite ripe when picked. And, after the week of rain accompanied by cool temperatures (so the grapes didn’t get mouldy) we have had the most wonderful Autumn - the days are warm & sunny , one after the other, & the nights cool but not cold. If the grapes had remained on the plants they would be wonderful at this point.
The wine-making itself has gone pretty smoothly. The cantina/wine cellar (where we make the wine - cantina in Italian) is pretty well equiped so it is not so difficult. We have had more problems this year than last - the last two weeks of August were cool & damp instead of being hot & dry so the grapes came covered (invisably) with a host of wild yeasts, not all of them friendly, who caused some problems during the fermentation. We seem to have overcome them, however, & for now the wines so far made are undergoing the maleolatic fermentation in the cantina which we keep at 20°celcius. This is the secondary fermentation that happens after the alcoholic fermentation of the yeast & it renders the wines more smooth with softer tannins.
We have a large number of grapes in the top of the barn drying - the barn has a large room with slats between the boards that allows a steady passage of air. This weather is ideal & the grapes lose some of their moisture content concentrating the sugars & flavours naturally present.
Some of these grapes that are drying are very ready to be pressed but we are dicing a little with fate because we are awaiting the delivery of a small press that will be ideal for the quantities of dried grapes that we have. Finding this press was nothing less than an amazing stroke of luck - it is an old press used for pressing apples in a small operation in the mountains. For our needs it is perfect & it is hard to believe that we would have found one anywhere else. We prefer the old wine/fruit presses because they result in less oxidation of the most than the more modern pneumatic presses plus in our case they are more appropriate for our type of wine-making that seeks to go back to older methods.
This is turning into the vendemmia from hell for many of our neighbours. For starters, the grapes are not great: they are a bit unripe & the rain in August has given a good dose of mold! But that is nothing in comparison to the raids that are currently taking place in vineyards all over Friuli. Traditionally, the harvest sees lots of students & pensioners helping out. Some are paid, some, especially the pensioners, just help out for the pleasure. But Italian law doesn’t allow anyone to harvest who does not have a contract of employment registered with the department of labour (because this puts an obligation on the farmer - employer - to pay the tax & social security contributions). Currently - as in right now during these days - the vineyards around us are being raided by teams of Labour Department Inspectors, Carabinieri & Guardie di Finanza (yes, them again!). In some places helicopters are being used.
Many harvesters without contracts have been apprehended & the farmer given 24 hours to employ the person or face an instant fine of €3,000.00 per person. But those pensioners who aren’t paid - & who don’t want to be employed - are landing the famer with a €3,000 fine - one of our neighbours has been fined €30,000 (yes, thirty thousand Euros) & he is only a small family operation little bigger than us!
This evening it started raining so it’ll be a few days before we start harvesting again - I’ll let you know how our raid goes!
This is waiting time. We have decided to begin harvesting the Chardonnay & Sauvignon grapes on Friday & have notified the people who help us harvest (surprisingly enough, the same people that help with the kitchen - Rina - do the cleaning - Maritza - cut the lawns - Luca’s nephew Maxi) & Luca’s mum who will do the harvesters lunch (well worth experiencing!). The weather is pretty crap. Emilio our enologist wants to keep the grapes on the vines as long as possible to give them a chance to ripen more. We, of course are afraid that the weather will move against us & we will lose the grapes.
Anyway, to fill in time, today I gave our Arga (actually it’s not an Arga but it’s more or less the italian equivalent) a strip-down & clean & cleaned the tubes & chimney. If the weather gets too cold we could find problems getting the wine to begin fermenting so we use the stove to heat the radiators in the canteen plus the hot water that we drip over the stainless steel vats if the grapes have arived from the vineyard properly chilled. Soot goes everywhere so cleaning the chimney & stove takes only half the time - cleaning behind the chimney & the kitchen takes the rest!
We are in a bit of a quandry with this year’s harvest. In a perfect year the grapes mature steadily, the evenings are cool, the days progressively warmer until in August & early September the peak of the summer heat brings them to the maximum of maturity & ready to be harvested. But this year it was extremely hot in June & early-mid July - too hot too early - & then the temperatures dropped-off in late July / August with an increase in humidity that did the grapes no good at all. Normally we begin harvesting the white grapes on the 15th September, like clockwork, but here we are, 20 September, & so far only the Chardonnay & Sauvignon are mature enough to harvest. The rest of the grape varieties are not ready which would not be a problem if we foresaw a warm, sunny & dry autumn but so far the weather is changeable & cool.
The quandry is this: pick the grapes when they are still raw & you will at least have wine but of an unimpressive quality. Wait for the grapes to mature & they may not mature because the weather turns in which case you won’t have wine, mature or not, because the grapes will have rotted. Alternatively wait for the grapes to mature & be lucky enough that some of them mature (but others which go rotten will need to be thrown away) in which case, if you are very lucky, you will have some wine of a reasonable quality.
The joys of living subject to nature, as it was once upon a time!
What a great Sunday .... no breakfasts to prepare .... went for my morning coffee & croisant in a local bar, at 11.00 a.m. went to Udine where, as a part of Friuli DOC, our architects, Maria Grazia & Paola were presenting a book they had prepared on the Agriturismi & Malghe in Carnia (Carnia is the mountainous part of Friuli which is largely uninhabited & which, as the remaining agriculture disappears, is reverting to an almost savage state / Malghe are the high altitude stalls where the mountain farmers would take their cows in the summer to graze. There, they would make cheese from the cows’ milk. The regional government is trying, with some success, to keep the tradition alive even though Mountain Agriculture is completely & utterly uneconomic). After the presentation at which every person possibly involved in the preparation of the book made a speech we were off to Luca’s parents to celebrate his mum’s 70th birthday. It was a great lunch, good food, nice company. As was usual one upon a time, Luca’s mum prepared a great feast which was enjoyed with fine wine. I think that we are very lucky to experience this kind of event because it is dying out now in Italy - it is more common for people in the towns to go to a restaurant to celebrate birthdays & special occasions. I’m not even sure how many city dwellers under 45 would know how to cook traditional Italian food as does Luca’s mum.
Another day preparing the canteen for the wine-making, washing & sterilising the equipment. Such a heavy job & I must be careful not to do my back in.
Today has turned out quite sad. It started out well enough. I had to take Luca’s parents dog - the sister of Barty & Spotty, "daughter" of Minnie - to the vet as she had lost weight & seemed to have laboured breathing. So I got up early, stopped off at a local bar for cuppucino & croisant, got to Lucas’ parents, had another coffee, read the paper, loaded the dog in the van & with Luca’s father went to the veterinary practice. I generally go along because the dog - Daisy - has not been so well trained & tends to be a bit ferocious at the vets. The examination seemd to go well enough - lots of questions, blood test, temperature taken etc but nothing to particularly indicate something serious was wrong. Finally, Daisy was x-rayed. Then x-rayed again because the vet said that the image had been distorted by her forced breathing. I waited with luca’s father & the dog for a couple of minutes. Suddenly the vet appeared at a doorway accross the hall with a serious face. "Can you please come here" he said. "It’s very serious" We lifted the dog down from the table of the x-ray machine & followed the vet into the consulting room. The x-ray was clipped to a light box on the wall. "I’m afraid that there is nothing that we can do" he said. "She can die at any moment". I looked at the x-ray. The first time in my life that I had seen a real x-ray apart from those that the dentist used to do of my teeth when I was a kid. But TV prepares us for these things & so I studdied the picture. "Look here" said the vet indicating the thorax. "This whole area is opaque because blood is seeping out into the cavity between the heart & the tissue that contains it. There is probably a tumour at the base of the heart that we cannot see". And it was true. The thorax of poor Daisy was just x-ray fog, the blood absorbing the rays.
It was strange. On the one hand you find yourself in a scene you have seen on TV or perhaps immagine in your worst nightmares - being told that a disease is terminal & death is inevitable & near. That is pretty bad & so you are extremely sad, extremely sad that this dog you love is at the end. On the other hand, some little part of you is relieved that the scene is playing out over a dog & not a person!
Luca’s father was pretty shocked. Daisy is his constant companion when he is working in the garden or taking the sun outside. When we left I saw that the vet had tears in his eyes & it touched me that he could feel so even though he must have seen this a thousand times.
Today was an ordinary working day on the farm - it’s only that we haven’t had one of these since the season started for the Agriturismo! I worked all day preparing & cleaning the canteen in immediate anticipation of the harvest. The painters had been in over the summer painting the room for barrique-ing the wine & the bottling room. It was a dusty job putting things to rights & I guess that it will take a couple more days before the canteen can be used to make wine.
It was amazing to finish work at 6.00 p.m. & come in to prepare dinner for the two of us to find the kitchen empty, all shining stainless steel & everything in its place. During the summer I spent so many hours in there - cooking dinner was the key element of my day - that to find it so still & unused was uncanny. Uncanny but not unnerving. It is wonderful to have La Faula so peaceful & have it as our home again. There are, of course, guests in the apartments but they seem more like jolly neighbours who we greet occasionally during the day as we all go about our business.
Just as that long awaited day - end of term - arrives for the student so it is that the last evening meal of the season arrives, is served & cleaned away. That's it for this year!
On holiday in Austria!!! Yippeee....
Today we left for Austria!
On Sunday afternoon we are leaving for 4days in Austria. This evening will probably be the last grill/barbeque of the season. I am exhausted. We have had a great season but are completely at the end. Already the days are shortening & dinner under the pergola means candles & lights!
Today I made tomatoe sauce from 50 kilos of tomatoes that had been drying for 5 weeks in the top of the barn (which we use for drying the grapes.
I'm affraid there are going to be a few tedious Ettore shots in the coming months! This photo is for Nicole!
I wanted the kids to pose for the "photo of today" with the baby rabbit that they had recovered plus a couple of bottles of apple juice. It was to be premature. When we went to get the rabbit we discovered that there had been another mass-breakout with three baby rabbits again outside the cage. Boy-o-boy, chasing those wretched velocapeds (fast feet) brought phrases like "run rabbit run" to mind & an overwhelming sympathy for farmer Brown in his struggle with Peter Rabbit. We finally managed to track them all down but I think that if they escape again their future will lie with Hunter Innocente & Mr. Fox instead of us!
Not a heck of a lot to write about today. Some kids here on holiday saw the 5th baby rabbit which we had given up for lost. They were promised a free bottle of apple juice for each day that they are here & they duly brought the rabbit in & collected their bounty. Rina was cooking so the afternoon was passed catching-up on various jobs & then helping out with the service in the evening.
Today's diary entry is dedicated to Louise & Ari - Louise is a lawyer & ex-colleague who came here early last year & stayed with us & give us a hand before she started a new job. Louise cooked-up a few great meals & last night I did the oven-cooked tomatoes & rucola pasta sauce & the marinaded oven-baked lamb. It was very good Louise! Here we sometimes have trouble serving lamb as people tend not to like it but this was a real hit & so will be on the menue from now on. Seconds of the pasta sauce where taken by all the Italian guests which is the best sign possible!
Ari - the cake was wonderful - I did it with apples & sultanas & baking liquor (one tablespoon - maybe I should put more?) - that went down very well too. As the season draws to a close & I'm feeling a bit jaded it is nice to cook-up something so greatly appreciated.
Normally I try not to include guests in the diary - although they are, of course, a big part of La Faula (in fact we wouldn’t be here without them!) they are, by definition, passing through & so are not part of the bricks & mortar that make up our life here. But this lady is more than that - she is a champion baby rabbit hunter! This lady, almost single-handedly, recaptured (& saved from certain death) all but one of the baby rabbit escapees!
I feel terrible for the guests - today it has rained cats & dogs .... excuse the pun but speaking of dogs .... this morning we left the Agriturismo in the hands of Luca’s nephew Maxi &, as every year, went to the animal fair in Sacile. I thought we had plans to get some bantam chickens to leave free in the yard but Luca steared his way pretty quickly to the stalls selling dogs. Now, we have vowed never to buy dogs from stalls but there, amongst the puppies, we found some border-collies. After deciding not to buy because you don’t know how they have been treated or their pedegree or have time to observe well their temperament we settled on a very pretty little male border collie pup & we bought him. His name is Hector & he is a wonderful little dog who has put Nellie’s, Barty’s, Minnie’s & (especially) Spotty’s long noses out of joint! It seems that he has just the character to be an agriturismo dog & the kids who are here now just love him.
This evening we had a feast! As we had the mushrooms - & someone to cook them - I decided to make fresh tagliatelle to go with the mushroom sauce, Luca made two zucchini pies using baby zucchini from the garden & we finished it off with big pieces of strudel. It was a wonderful night. All of us absolutely feasted, the pasta & mushroom sauce was exceptional & between us all we consumed around 3kg of fresh pasta (without the sauce)! Doriana & Giorgio came for dinner, Luca’s nephew Maxi came to help-out with the dishes, & by a stroke of good luck two young guests - Alexandra & Lorenzo - helped-out with the serving side so we found ourselves guests in our own Agriturismo - it is at moments like this that we know what makes our life worthwhile!
Two things happened today, one a bit sad & the other rather nice, & both of them connected in a tenuous way. First, this morning at 7.30 a.m. Ari, Katy & Eva returned to Austria as Katy has her driving lessons & after the girls want to Interrail in Southern Italy. We were sad to see them go as were the guests who were here who complemented the girls on their friendliness, professionalism & comportment. As before, I will use this diary entry to thank you, Ari, Katy & Eva! It was a pleasure to have you here again & you really worked well & made a terrific impression on behalf of La Faula. Since you have gone the kitchen is cetainly emptier, the fountain not as clean & the grass longer! Come back soon!!!
The second thing that happened was that an Austrian girl, Gisella, who did a school work-experience here last year (at the time that Katy, Ari & Eva were also for part of the time here) called to say she was coming to visit with her father & that she had a surprise for us! Well, you can see the surprise - a basket full of the most wonderful mushrooms. We were just thrilled as we love mushrooms. One of our guests was also very thrilled & he offered to cook them for us on the following day, Saturday (you will have to see tomorrow’s entry to see how it went!).
This morning started off very nice - a loverly day - as I walked up the path to the house I enjoed the view of the little baby rabbits munching on the dewey grass outside their cage. That’s right, it was a mass baby rabbit breakout & caused a whole lot of sadness on the part of Luca. That’s it, he said, I’m not going to Sacile on Sunday (where there is an animal fair) - he was just too sad that all those little rabbits would end up being prey for foxes or hunters. We tried to see if we could catch any of them but they scattered & dissappeared. Well, that’s that, it seemed.
On a more positive side, the photo is of Ari getting the eggs in the morning. In fact it is a staged photo - I get the eggs while Ari does breakfast with Eva & Katy but Ari makes a much nicer photo than me. You can see that there is a quality control chicken keeping an eye on things (heaven help you if you put cold hands under a laying chicken to pick-up the eggs!!)
Today started thinknig about the music selection for next year - so far have discovered two very good female Italian singers, Patty Pravo & Giorgia.
Patty Pravo was singing in the 1960's, 70's & 80's & has the most beautiful voice. It's nice to finally have a CD of many wonderful songs that I have heard over the years here but never knew who they belonged to. Giorgia is a current singer also with some wonderful songs.
Pretty tired - started-off the day with a morning coffee at the Forno of Nonno Eglio in Faedis - no newspaper - the giornalists (highly unionised) get Ferragosto off. It was relaxing though, sitting there taking a Latte & cake looking up at the mountains that encircle Faedis.
In the afteroon caught-up with La Faula Today which had been languishing the previous week. Did dinner with lots of help from the girls - the photo is of Ari with her cake which, as usual, was exceptionally good.
Ferragosto - gradisca, porzus, giro of the sagre
Ferragosto - the 15th August - has, ever since the Second World War, been the high point of the Italian holiday season in August. Industrialisation, economic growth, factories & the need for labour, unions all came together after 1945 to permit most Italians to holiday for the whole month of August. Traditionally factories, offices & shops closed for all or most of the month. Agriculture was largely idle - the crops were nearing maturity & could be left to grow, only the cows needed milking & cheese making. And the Country departed for the sea en-mass filling-up apartments in myriad Adriatic & Mediterranean resorts. High taxes & redistribution combined with the strength of the working class to give almost all Italians the possibility to have leasure & consumption never before seen except in the nobility, landowners & rich capitalists.
And probably never to be seen again. Competition, globalisation & a stagnant economy mean that almost no-one now can take August off - the factories close for a week for essential maintenance or keep on going. The small shops close but the large supermarkets keep on going. And the workers, & petty civil servants no longer have the spending power to live the life of Riley by the sea for 30 days.
Anyway, be that as it may, we love the 15th of August. For us, it means the beginning of the end of the season which will tail-off to the harvest. We get-up every year at 6.00 to be among the first at the Sagra of Gradisca full of animals to see & to buy & antiques. It also happens to be the place where we can get the very best croisants in all of Friuli. After the Sagra of Gradisca we go to the Sagra of Porzus in the mountains behind us. There we eat a mixed grill & drink local wine with friends before watching the various traditional events - First to create a traditional hay stack, wood cutting etc - before going home well satisfied with the day.
Today was no exception. The only thing that I wish I had done was take the camera - but after the last couple of weeks I was just too tired to be thinking of La Faula today - next year!
Taking girls to Grado - beach, reading in park, fish dinner, searching for van in the rain
Luca, who is quite taken by the hard work & professionalism of Ari, Katy & Eva, promised to take them to Grado for a fish-dinner in one of the best restaurants there. Somehow this turned into an afternoon at the beach followed by a fish-dinner. After releasing the girls at the beach, Luca & I went to a park & like two old pensioners read our books (between taking one or two ice-creams & coffees in the center of town) until it was dinner time. We met up with the girls & went to a very nice restaraunt only to find that they had mistaken the booking for the following day. We got given a table out in the small lane in front of the restaurant & had the most wonderful dinner watching life & people pass by. Eventually the long-promised thunderstorm approached & we made our way back to the van, soaked by the warm rain. We couldn't find the van in the maize of streets for quite a while & if it had been any colder that evening we would have all ended up with pneumonia (here I should mention, that at a certain point we left the girls under an awning and went to search for the van by ourselves so we did treat them with somewhat more care than ourselves).
If you are wondering about the photo this is Sandro & Donald Duck is about to take a spin on the fountain!
Discarica, got trunk, barbeque with risk of rain
Another Saturday during the tourist season. First the trip to the municipal dump to get rid of the accumulated bottles & cartons of a week. Having an all-inclusive wine policy means lots of trips to the bottle bank in July & August! Plus, there is always the packaging of some new acquisition that we (generally I) have decided is a must-buy. I love going to the dump because there is always something interesting to bring home & today was no exception - I managed to heave a very nice old trunk out of the skip so if you see it at La Faula you'll know where it came from!
Saturday night barbeque. Since last week, Katy & Eva are the barbequ-ers & a very good job they did too. It constantly threatened to rain but, luckily didn't (because grilling all that meat in the kitchen - which is the fall-back option - is not the best.) Ari helped out on the food preparation side & it was, I think it's fair to say, a great success. Ari said she had the very best tomato sauce of her whole life that night.
Visintini for lunch, dinner inside, Ari's apricot cake
It was a pretty grotty morning weather-wise so Luca & I decamped to Tricesimo for a good coffee & pastry at Boschetti before picking-up some prints that Luca had had framed & doing a bit of shopping at Reana. Went ot Pittarello - probably the biggest shoes store in the world - conveniently noting that it was sale time & my trainers were opening-up like Minnie’s mouth. Plenty of choice if I had shoe size 24-26!
Rina prepared lunch for Visintini, the small firm that provides us with our tractors & agricultural machinery. On Friday they close for a week so the owner came to lunch with the mechanics & (only) office Signorina.
We had lunch at Agriturismo La Faula as well but if I keep this up I’m going to have to seriously return to cycling!
Ari offered to bake a cake for dinner & did her famous apricot cake. It was a real hit - a pregnant guest found that it created a craving for apricots so at 11.00 p.m. so another piece was duly provided!
Rina cooks, normal day
Lots of people for dinner. Rina cooked & I did waiting service. The modifications that we have made to the fogolar room mean that we have a nice cosy dining-room nearby - but separate from - the guests, so we ate there with Ari, Katy & Eva.
normal day, dinner
The day just flew by. On Monday I had picked-up our new €2,000+ ice-cream maker (we’ll never get a return on that investment!!!) & decided to give it a try. Boy-oh-boy - even an ice-cream maker has electronic controls & programs 1 .... - all I wanted to do was mix up & freeze, cream, milk, sugar & crushed American chocolate chip cookies - it took a while before I could amidst much turning on & off of the machine, & screaming of its shrill alarm. Luckily the ice-cream was pretty tasty so maybe it was worth getting after all.
Mounting hydraulic piston on trincia, Slovenia
Today I really wanted a day off. Luca didn’t feel able - too much to do, someone’s got to keep La Faula Going - but I was knackered & wanted to go. Unfortunately, there was the issue of the mashed-up drive train plus the fact that a hydraulic piston that we had ordered for the grass cutter had arrived which would make Luca’s life much easier by enabling him to adjust the degree by which the cutting head would jut-out from the side of the tractor (necessary to cut cloes under the vine plants). I just couldn’t leave Luca to work under those circumstances so got the new piston which we successfully mounted along with the new drive train which we shortened. Managed to leave at 4.30 pm. & visited a friend in slovenia. It’s a great thing to be so close to Austria & Slovenia - even a small break seems like a foreign holiday!
Rina cooks, Giorgio & Doriana with son, Broken cardano, search for double-noded replacement
Last Saturday, I was so tired of cooking I asked Rina if she could do Monday, Tuesday & Thursday nights of this week. I used the time to get out & do some fencing on the farm. Fencing is real farm work - basically, because when the fences aren't up/working the cows are on the road. When the cows are on the road in rural New Zealand that's not a particularly big problem. When the cows are on the road in an over-populated part of Europe where the populace drive like lunatics you are looking at a fatal accident, years tied up in the Italian justice (sic) system charged with culpable homicide not to mention the civil case bought by the relatives which will eat the farm. Needless to say we take our fencing rather seriously & I was well pleased to have given it some time.
Luca mashed a drive-train powering a heavy duty grass cutter that he was using to cut grass in the vineyard. Drive trains, for those who don't know, connect the agricultural machinery to the tractor. All the force of the tractor is focused into the deceptively tranquil steel tube spinning inside its protective plastic sleeve. Drive trains have been responsible for more deaths & injuries than anything else in Agriculture. Because they seem so inocuous people pass over them to get from one side of the tractor to the other, lean over them to see why some piece of machinery is making a strange noise etc. It takes just a snippet of material to enter the train, maybe only a few hairs & suddenly 90 screaming horsepower of tractor is pouring all its energy on one small human being. Enough said.
In the evening we had a very nice meal with Giorgio & Doriana, Giorgio's son, who is off to London for work, & his girlfriend. It was nice to be a guest in Agriturismo La Faula!
Oh, what a wonderful thing to wake up to the sound of rain on the roof. It was doubly relaxing because normally the rain preceeds a thunderstorm so one's ears prick-up immediately to see if it will be necessary to dive out of bed & run around discontecting anything that can be damaged by the current induced by a lightening strike. Computers & the fax are obviously at risk but also the elctric fence needs to be isolated from the house electricity supply & in a very fierce thunderstorm it is better to turn-off for, while the storm is immediately overhead, the industrial freezers as they have sensitive electronic controls. Anyway, there was no thunderstorm, Katie, Ari & Eva were looking after breakfast so it was possible to sleep-in, a luxury not available for months. After such a leasurely start we took a very nice coffee & pastries in Tricesimo. It was even possible to start feeling human again!
Well, today Anna actually left. She was with us for a bit over 4 weeks & was a pleasure to be with & a great help. So this is to thank you Anna!
Paul & the kids left later in the afternoon to catch the, by now, famous (at least at La Faula) car-train from Villach. I think that we had all enjoyed this extra day together & the place seemed empty without the tribe all around. Paul got a bit tired playing warships with the kids & you can see below how he made himself useful!
This was the day that Anna left - & came back again. In the morning Anna’s family packed-up & Anna duly departed with Paul (see tomorrow’s photo) & the kids to catch the car-train to Villach that would transport them back to Bonn. Anna’s Mum & Godmum remained as they were driving back on Saturday morning. With Anna gone, I was helped in the kitchen by Katy, Ari & Eva - daughters of Austrian guests who come down for a couple of weeks to stay at La Faula, have a holiday (give their parents some free time) & help us out exactly as Anna & Ky did. Katy, Ari & Eva were here last year & can be considered Faula professionals so everything went very quickly & smoothly. The dinner came off just right & I was outside under the pergola talking to Anna’s mum as dusk fell. Suddenly the dogs became extremely agitated & ran up the hill barking furiously. We all looked up & there, seated on the ground, on the road going up to the vineyard, seemed to be Paul, Anna & the kids. In the dusk they weren’t fully visible & it almost seemed to be a supernatural visitation (in Italy everything is possible!). Having seen them off earlier, & having in mind that they were on their way to Germany, it took some while for us all to comprehend that they were actually back - & back they were - the train was actually for the following day!
Went with Anna food shopping in the morning. Was feeling tired so suggested only two courses for dinner tonight (Osso buco with Risotta alla Milanese) but Anna felt that we shouldn't let standards slip so insisted on doing the starter (a big-salad) & desert (trays of fresh fruit). What a relief to have such an able asistant! Took Anna for a coffee in my favorite bar where I take a coffee & croisant before going beginning shopping (she thinks that Luca might just be correul in saying that I don't do much at La Faula!). Two big trolleys later we were set for dinner. The Osso buco was very tasty but could have done with a bit more time cooking so the meat wasn't as tender as it could have been - at least with cooking there is always a next time!
The photo is of Eva (left), Anna (midle) & Ari (right). This is the hand-over lunch from Anna to Eva & Ari. Katy arrives tomorrow.
Another day like yesterday. Plans to write the diary & do various things - but the morning passes quickly & then dinner preparation time. One good thing this year is that as Luca is not involved in the cooking or preparation he comes in to take over from me once dinner is cooked & works with Anne to do the dishes & clean up. Tonight was a really nice night - it was warm under the pergola, one of our young guests was celebrating his birthday so there was a nice cake & his mum had bought us a very nice Dorigo wine which I gratefully enjoyed outside with the guests while Luca & Anna saw to the kitchen.
Preparing the dinner was fun. Anna, Vincent & I made fresh tagliatelle for the first time - 2 kilos of it. It was really scrummy. The trouble with starting to make your own pasta is that afterwards ordinarly bought pasta seems so uninteresting.
This week is the peak of the season for us. From next week on the Agriturismo gently slows down until we begin the grape harvest on 15 September. But for now it’s an inferno. The days are blastingly hot & dinner has to be cooked every night. Rina is away on holiday in Val d’Aosta for a week so it falls to me & Anna. Luca & pretty fully occupied around the house. Anna, though, is up to it & by now is pretty good on the salads & sauces. Those stressful two hours prior to serving are inescapable, however, & they are only off-set by the relief one feels once desert is served (& if the guests are content!)
Today we took the afternoon off & went to Austria- How nice to have a moment away. Returned to find poor Rina in the kitchen having prepared & served dinner for 18. Something that would reduce a normal person to a psychological wreck doesn’t turn a single hair of hers!
Sunday - it should be our day off .... well, almost. At least in the evening we went out to the Pizzeria Paradiso with Anna's family & godmother - the evening was cool, the company nice, we were sitting outside on the veranda, the beer was cold & the pizzas tasty. It was a quality (as opposed to quantity) break!
Here you can see the photo where Anna's brothers & sisters are staying.
This is our friend Claudia who has just opened her Herbal / Organic Food shop in a large shopping centre a little way from Udine. Claudia is from the Veneto & the Italians say that the people of the Veneto are natural traders & afraid of nothing. Claudia has an optimism & belief that things will end out well that carries her on in places where less hardy souls would quail! She has located her shop well, as you can see from the photo it is spacious, bright & has attractive products. Let’s hope for the best!
Isn't this a wonderful photo - kids & the dog.
We are really into the beauty, wonder, power of the Italian summer. The days are incandescently bright & hot. It would be unsupportable all year but you know that it is the summer's swansong because by mid September the days will be changing as summer prepares to move into autumn.
It was a very nice day. The place is full of children & dogs, & water from the pool, damp footprints upon the terracotta floor, it is a lovely atmosphere. In these days my cooking skills ( such as they are) seem to have returned - or at least my confidence. I have managed to do a couple of pretty good dinners. It really helps having Luca's garden which right now is in full production so there seems to be an endless supply of fresh vegetables.
Finally, a moment to myself & the diary!
Went accross the road (well, down the path, accross the bridge & through the fields) to get milk from Nicola's stall. He had slept in so all was in turmoil as he has to get the milk to the latteria in time for the cheesemaking. Given that he hadn't even started milking, took the opportunity to skive-off & drink a latte at Bins.
Got back & helped Luca fill in the notification of our next years prices - it runs to 12 pages & must be submitted in triplicate to the Commune. Got all the necessary stamps but noticed that the year on the date stamp was 1999 - back again to have the thing redone & restamped amisdt much grumbling on the part of the official responsible. The amazing thing is that here the bureaucrats who are the recipients of these tons of paper that we must continiously produce to justify our existance complain about their miserable lot. I felt like suggesting that the Official change to another job outside the state sector but guessed that it would probably be counter-productive to our long term interests to open this line of discussion.
Beppina came with her husband. I guess that I can say that it is Beppina without disclosing any confidences. She has developed a medical problem that doesn't seem serious but she cannot work until it is resolved. We were glad that the problem while invconvenient for her doesn't seem to be anything grave & luckily - given our complete reliance on Beppina for the cleaning - have had ready for a long while a plan of what to do if for some reason Beppina was unable to work. Fundamentally, we have always kept involved in the farm a number of local women -all mothers - with some free time every now & then to help out on the various jobs that our activity throws-up (pruning, harvest, cleaning windows to name a few). One of these women is available & will take over from Beppina straight away until Beppina gets back. For once in our little activity we seem to have got it right.
Talking of getting it wrong - tonight Yetmir called around. Seemed that he might have been looking for a return - but I think that there has to be a limit to the number of times you can fire a person & with Yetmir we have surpassed it!
OK - here's how my day went .....
Got up, released the dogs (one of the nicest parts of the whole day - cuddles all around), took payment from a guest, found one of the people who work here in floods of tears because of some kind of medical problem that had shown itself properly for the first time - luckily my Italian didn't extend to understanding exactly what it was that she was telling me (so I was saved the embarrasment!) but I gathered that it was a "woman's" type of problem. Made lots of reasuring noises about these things happening as one gets older & used lots of old cars & garages analogies to encourage her not to hope that the problem would go away but to actually go straight away to the doctor to see what it was. Of course, as I imagine all of us know, as one gets older & little things pop-up or don't work, it is often convenient to ignore the problem - & generally, it has to be said, the problem goes away but it's not really a strategy to be recommended for a healthy life.
Afterwards went to the bank where the assistant bank manager in concerned - doctorly even - tones asked me how things were going. Replied that they seemed to be going well but that in this wretched country there are too many unreasonably high fixed costs - bank charges being among them.
Went into Udine - this is where the photo below comes in - to meet with our architects Maria Grazia & Paola. Two great architects juggling work, kids & families. I met with them to explain that we wanted to abandon the swimming pool on the hill idea because it was just too expensive. This would involve returing to the regional government a sum of money that we had received to commence work. After our problems with the Guardia di Finanza we are pretty sensitive to having public money & would like to pay it back & carry on by ourselves. After a good discussion where Maria Grazia brought a clear head to the matter (& I put some emotions to one side) we agreed that she would speak with the relevant person in the agricultural section of the regional government to clarify our options.
Came home - lunched with Luca & Anne - put on a door catch that three years ago I had removed (who knows why), created a bonfire to burn the smaller branches & leaves of the pine tree that blew down in the storm earlier this month. Sweated literally because it was so hot & figuratively because I was worried that the thick white smoke coming from the wet pine needles might be mistaken for an incipient forest fire leading to who knows what consequences in Italy.
Cleaned myself up. Cooked dinner, chatted with guests, cleaned-up, loaded the photo of today & wrote this diary. I bet you're bored but for me it was a hell of a day!
This morning Luca was up at first like to spray the vines. I intended today to be a day of relaxation & intended to laze around in bed for a while but I realised (as I vaguely heard the tractor going up & down the vines) that pieces of the tree that blew down in the storm of a couple of weeks ago were blocking the entrance to some of the rows of vines so did the gallant thing & got up & cleared them. After that off to the Agricultural Supplies store for more copper sulphate powder as Luca was running out (Luca seems to run a "just in time" operation with our supplies which means that I arrive at La Faula just in time with whatever it is that he hasn't got enough of). At 9.00 a.m. an appointment with our computer guy to hand over the new booking module & scheme for booking seminars & courses at La Faula on-line. Have reduced everything down to the absolute most simple & basic elements - I think that we can say that Italy is not in the forefront of adopting computer technology! After that various jobs around the place that kept me occupied until around 12.30 & then Anna & I (not Luca because he had too much work to permit himself a break) took off for Caporetto in Slovenia.
Entering into Slovenia before Caporetto can be a trial. On the Sloven side there is usually one border policeman who waves you through. On the Italian side, however, there is a whole contingent of Guardia di Finanza (yes, them again) who - unbelievably given that one is leaving Italy - subject Italians leaving to the most severe of checks. As we drove along the winding road I said to Anne that we were sure to be questioned & searched - this is par for the course at any time but this time we were a 45 year old man on a British passport with a 15 year old girl on a German child-pass. No, she said, surely this wouldn't happen - whenever she went through with her parents they were just waved through. We rounded the corner & stopped in front of the check-point. And there they were - 4 officers of the Guardia in uniform & one in tight jeans & tight T-shirt surrounding a completely ordinary looking Italian couple who were in the process of emptying out the contents of their car. As we watched the poor woman emptied out the contents of the door side pockets. The Guardia in the jeans & t-shirt sauntered over & asked for our passports. He must have been about 20 years old. All were young & from their appearance seemed to be from the South of Italy. They exhuded hostility - I imagine because they know that it is only fear of them the keeps the Italians from having a go at them.
It was an ugly scene to see two ordinary looking Italians completely humiliated emptying out the contents of their car in broad view of everyone else surround by Guardia officers. It leaves an impression because they are doing it to people leaving - not entering Italy - it is designed to instil fear & it does.
Anyway, we were saved by the Italians who had arrived ahead of us & were allowed to go on with a surly nod of the head.
The rest of the day was great. We did a 12 kilometer hike around Caporetto passing through first world war trenches, excavations of Roman ruins & the beautiful river Soca. After eating well we went to the Natisone River just up from where it enters Italy & snoozed beside the water, intermittently reading in my case & listening to the walkman in Anna’s case.
Today so exhausted after the 4-day course held here at La Faula. I hate to generalise, but I think that it can be fairly said that many Italians are individualistic in the extreme, don't think of the common good, resist rules & have the gift for saying one thing while thinking, or planning, another. It is so tough - unbelievably tough - providing residential accommodation for courses in Italy attended by Italians. It takes so much time - & experience - to understand what kind of hospitality you need - may - have to - offer, what rules you may impose without
(a) creating open rebellion
(b) having them completely ignored.
Like Italian politics everything is up for negotiation, nothing is agreed until it is agreed & you always risk having the group turn against you if you are perceived as being unfair. It is always a fine line on the razor back!
Anyway, we got it right this time. The previous two seminars we got abit less right. Tomorrow I meet with Francesco, our web guy - to modify the Seminar section of the web-site to take account of what we have learned & concluded from this last seminar. After every seminar it gets modified - I hope inching towards perfection, but in my heart know that this would be too much to ask for.
For a foreigner chaotic Italy seems charming but that chaos - for all here - in the end absorbs - drinks - energy & is exhausting.
I feel good - even relieved - that it went well & that we earnt a bit. But that's it - I need a break.
These groups certainly take a lot of work!!!
Vaccine time! It's not a great day for the dogs when the vet comes to visit!
Today was the day before a 4 day seminar is to commence at La Faula. The photo is of Luca with Silvia, the organiser of the seminar, going over the paperwork. It is a lot of work. We have a large meeting room in the upstairs of the house. For these four days we provide full board for the participants so we are on the go until late Sunday afternoon when the seminar finishes. In all honesty the best part is properly that moment on Sunday evening when the last person has just departed & we sit with Silvia & Andrew drinking a glass of wine, savouring the quiet of the countryside & just letting the tension of the hectic previous days ebb away!
Today we didn't take the dogs down to the river to cool-off. Instead we went to the beach. I should have taken a photo of the beach maybe or of the barbeque at Daniela & Stefano's afterwards. It was, in any case, a really nice day. The only thing that disturbs me is that I seem to have lost the passion to go into the water. When I first arrived here, I spent hours in the sea at Sistiana where we go. Nowdays, I'm just happy to read, sunbath & do nothing. Is this how old age creeps-up upon us?
Today was a nice bucolic day for the sheep. I got this foto as they snoozed in the afternoon behind the barn - you are looking at Mario the ram (he has the black stripe on his head), Dolly & Marilyn.
We had a few technical glitches getting the photo of the day started but now it seems that the system is functioning as it should.
This is Ky with the dogs. As you may know, Ky came to stay with us for some weeks in June & July & had a break away while helping us out. Today Ky returned home to Sweden. So this diary is to say Thank You Ky. Thank you for all your help, your professionalism, the improvements you made to the breakfast & dinners. Thank you also for your good company & your sense of humour.
We really enjoyed these 5 weeks that you were here & look forward to seeing you again.
Best regards - Paul
Saturday night - the grill over - time to relax! Today I was reading an old-ish Newsweek magazine that Giorgio brough us (I give him my old Economists & in return get Newsweeks) about the depopulation of rural Europe & the return of wilderness to the European country side. I read the article, as one does, in the manner of reading about something distant from us, not something that touches our reality. Then, this afternoon as I wandered down the gravel driveway from the house, my eye set upon the large field to the right of our entrance. Every year, for how long one can only guess, the field was used to make hay - it was habitually cut three times during the summer but last year not. And this year neither. I looked & saw that the beautiful meadow is now colonised by small acacia trees (a fast growing infestation from South America) - in another year it will be scrub. It is no longer worked by its owner. But the story doesn't finish there. I looked over to the field in front of our house. We have not made the second cut of hay this year, & won't make the third - the first time in, probably, 100 or more years! With the costs being what they are it isn't worth doing. If we need hay we will buy it. From now on we will cut the field once a year only to make hay & let the cows graze on it in the Autumn. We hope that it will revert to a beautiful meadow with wild flowers amongst the grasses but the decision is purely economic - if it made economic sense to make hay 3 times a year, as before, we would do it. But it doesn't so we too, in our own little corner of Italy are seeing, & participating in, the return of a more wild & less managed environment. I think that this is OK.
But spare a thought for Loris, our friend, who used to make the hay. How long will he be able to make a living from the countryside?
Cheers - Paul
Loverly summer's day - temperatures on the rise again. Managed to slip down to Bin's to have a latte & read the paper with the excuse of going to the hardware store. I do love sitting in a bar, sipping a latte macchiato, eating a brios (croisant) & reading the Messagero Veneto (The Venetian Messanger). The only problem is how to justify the time & expense to Luca & (increasingly) to myself.
An item that got my attention was that it will now be possible to denounce other people on a new site which has been opened by the Ministry of the Interior. In Italy, if you have a dispute with someone, or feel that someone hasn't treated you properly, or you just want to get even with them, you denounce them. Up until now you went to the Police or Carabiniere & made the denouncement & gave a list of witnesses who would support your version of events. The "Forces of Order" as the numerous law enforcement agancies are called here are obliged to record the denouncement &, under the constitution, do not have the power to decide whether the denouncement is valid, frivolous, malicious, false or otherwise. So the denouncement goes to the magistrate who investigates further & (I imagine), decides whether the case should proceed to trial. If it does, eventually, each side goes to trial with its "witnesses" & (I suppose), a judge decides the case. The problem is that there is no initial filter - not even to ascertain whether a law may have been broken or not, so denouncements are a common way of furthering conflict between individuals & getting even &, the so-called justice system blocks up, is inefficient & is subverted by the widespread us of false (often paid) witnesses that each side is obliged to produce to further its case.
Here we have an example of Italian logic, so-called. Much time is taken-up - & wasted - by the "forces of Order" (their words, not mine) processing denouncements - so now you can just call-up a web-site & do it yourself on-line. Presumably, the magistrates will be even more swamped & more cases will be shelved because too much time has passed (it happens often). Obviously, the idea of on-line denouncemetns is not to serve justice. On the other hand, without wanting to be too paranoid, imagine the information the state will be able to glean about people from the denouncements - true or false - of others given freely to an Interior Ministry website. Now that dictatorships in Europe (& pretty much everywhere else) are out of fashion, what would a modern fascist state look like?
Beautiful day! Started the morning early doing the shopping - in the summer it's best to get to the market early - the vegetables are fresh & you can get them home before the full sun has a chance to wilt them. As I returned home noticed that the workmen who have been laying large plastic tubes in the ground were connecting them up to the street lights running through Ravosa & down our way. Looked-up & saw that the lights are fed by aerial cables running between them - but - & this is the best part - the main road into Ravosa from Savorgnano has never had working street lights. We assumed it was to save electricity - but they don't have cables in the air connecting them - so since they were put in, around 20 years ago, they have never been hooked up to the electricity supply. And here I am, prophesying gloom & doom in Italy but now, right at this moment, when the economy is in crisis etc. etc, they have decided to hook-up the lights in this little forgotten corner of a foregotten corner of Italy - maybe things aren't so bad after all!
Tonight Rina began the first of her twice-weekly healthy dinners - it was great - really top & appreciated by all. This is a torture for me. Without any doubt Rina is a great cook but it really puts me under pressure. In the last couple of days I turned-in two acceptable but not quite convincing dinners. Now the pressure is on to bring my next dinners up to her standards. The trouble with cooking is that you can never rest on your laurels. Last week I produced some really good dinners but this week just don't seem to have it. Maybe now that things are settled down here again, Yetmir is gone, Luca seems to have the vineyard under control, the Guardia di Finanza are working away to find wrongdoing in a pile of manure in our barn but they are doing it quietly, I'm just too relaxed to have that edge!
Cheers - Paul
Today was our day off - yippee - & off to Austria we went. Austria is so completely different to Italy that it makes a day away seem like an exotic holiday (an exageration but you get the gist of it). Ky & Anna rushed through the breakfast, the animals were fed, the guests saluted & the doors to the farm buildings locked. Locked tight not because we fear burglars here - no, locked-up tight because we fear a visit from some arm of the Italian State doing a "controllo". When we are here we are obliged to cooperate - not because they have a warrant - but because not to cooperate would mean you would never sleep soundly again. But if we are not here we don't want them snooping around. Imagine living in a country where you are more afraid of the State than of criminals (in Italy of course .... but best not to say that!).
We took Ky with us. Ky leaves on Sunday so it was good to let him visit Austria while he is here. When Ky arrived at La Faula he hardely ate. He seemed smaller than he does now & he currently eats for two (it turned out to be an expensive trip!).
We went to a lake close to the border (after, it has to be said, stopping for a few coffees & scrummy cakes). We laid our blankets down at the lake's edge & immediately fell asleep - instantly relaxed not to be always on-call. Afterwards we read (& Ky being 14 played with his game-boy) & then went to our favorite gasthaus where Ky & I launched into chicken & chips & big deserts while Luca went for the salad option. Ky has suggested that Luca would probably suffer less if he simply fasted for a couple of days a week.
Took the motormower to be repaired. I have been going to the shop, which sells chain saws, electric fencing - all the stuff a farm needs, ever since I arrived here in 1997. It was always chocker - full of woodcutters, landscape gardeners & pensioners - a long wait was inevitable. How everything has changed. The service is as good as ever, Severino the owner is as gruff & brusk as before, but now the wait has disappeared - service straight away. Not only, no more are there the brushcutters all lined-up & being assembled in the yard, boxes of new Stihl chainsaws waiting to be put away. Now the shop is full of garden machinery being repaired. Beat-up old garden tractors, chainsaws of brands I've never heard of - if it can be repaired it will be.
Stoppped into a bar for a capuccino on the way home. The newspaper said that the Bank of Italy had announced that the public debt had reached it's highest point ever. The only comment of the economy minister was that he knew that the economy was in difficulty.
Today went down to Grado & met up with Bruce & Andy, friends from New Zealand. Grado was a pleasant surprise. I last went there in the summer years ago & was shocked (appalled really) at the banks & rows of sun-beds & umbrellas upon which various north europeans were slowly roasting. Adriatic beach resorts are appalling when they are heaving with people. Yesterday, however, there were people in abundance but not so many that it wasn't possible to have a tranquil walk down the beach or enjoy the town centre. The atmosphere was great - relaxed & easy - hustle & bustle. After the peace of La Faula it was nice to find myself amidst it all!
The morning started out promising rain & seemed to put the Saturday night barbeque in peril. We were tricked, however, & the evening was gloriously clear. We had many people to dinner & so Ky & Anna cooked with suggestions from me - the result was great & it was very nice to leave them to serve the meal while I relaxed & looked on. We had as guests to dinner a lady who came to live at La Faula when she was three years old. On Saturday night she was accompanied to dinner by her husband, two of her grown-up children & their respective spouses. The father of the lady was one of three brothers who were sharecroppers at La Faula until the 1950's. La Faula was part of the estate of a large Venetian noble family & they gave it to these three brothers to work as tenants taking 50% of each year's harvest. These were probably the best of times for La Faula. There were 30 people living here, the whole hill was cultivated with cereals such as wheat, there were orchards of apples & plums & cherries. They grew melons. It was a veritable larder & the local kids from Ravosa would come & steal fruit to eat avoiding the sticks & stones sent flying in their direction to disuade them.
During the Second World War, Ravosa & the nearby villages were centres of partisan resistance & the old lady recounted to us the time that there was a German marksman in the Ravosa Bell Tower shooting at them as they ran up the small valley behind the house to get into the woods, the bullets thudding into the soil around them. The men had already disappeared to avoid reprisals & only the women & children remained behind. One of those children was Luca's father.
Today was taken up with blast freezing the meat of our three year old bull that Luca had brought back from the butchers on Wednesday. The blast freezer has an enormous fan & it is a bit like having a Spitfire in the kitchen when it is on. Today was the first proper day of work of Anna who is here with her parents (who are on holiday) but who is helping-out like Ky. They make a good pair - Ky is a good teacher & Anna is very able so I'm hoping soon to be out of a job in the Agriturismo!
The day started very well with the sound of rain - the joy of having an excuse to sleep in! Managed to slip down to Attimis for a cuppucino at Bin's with Loris but then - the weather having turned - it was back to work. In the afternoon we took Bruce & Andy to Venzone to see the mummies (these mummies which are 500 years old were produced through the effects of a mold that, colonising the skin of the deceased, dried out & mummified the bodies. When, as is the custom in Italy, the remains were exhumed so that the bones could be put in the common ossery, instead of a skeleton the grave-diggers found complete corpses!). Before the massive earthquake of 1976 there were 21 mummies all hanging on pegs in a little chapel. The earthquake, however, did for them as the chapel - along with the rest of the town - was levelled. Six mummies were retrieved in a complete condition & have gone back on display.
Beppina, our cleaning lady, comes from Venzone, & she & her husband were in the town when the earthquake struck. Hundreds were killed in the town on that evening - mainly in the streets into which they had rushed seeking escape.
Tonight we had a great thunderstorm - always a big treat with bangs & falshes in the hills around the house!
A lot of things on today - the bull that we had butchered a couple of weeks back was ready to be cut into pieces & packed into plastic bags so Luca had to go up to the "macello" (abattoir) with Maxi his nephew to do the packing & bring the beast back here for freezing. I, for the other part, was involved with the painter in the canteen. We want to be able to bottle our own wine but must have a special room authorised by the local health department. This requires, in addition to the usual wash-hand basin with pedal operated taps, that all the walls are painted with washable paint. The problem with our canteen is that it was once the stall of the farm & so the finish on the walls tends to be pretty flaky. We are having it brought right back to the base & then stabilised with a morter finish.
During the morning I found out that the Guardia di Finanza are pushing on with their enquiry into the cow manure found in the barn. Their approach is pretty clearly to try to establish that we had intended to create a stall for the cows in a section of the barn. This would have needed to have been financed under a different regulation than the one that we used so it seems that the push is to get the money back & fine us. The problem is that there is no stall & the 7 cows live in the open pasture & always have. Despite this, it is extremely disconcerting to have the full force of the Guardia di Finanza trying to establish that you had created a stall where there isn't one. The Italian State must be desperate for money & the Guardia must be desperate for results to have created this Kafka-esque situation but I must say that I will most certainly be glad when it is over. These kind of checks - including those this persistent - are now commonplace in Italy so w have to remind ourselves that we are not criminals even if it seems that, for the case of a cow pat, we are been treated like ones!
Today in theory we should have had the afternoon off. But, somehow, it just didn't happen. Finally, at around 5.00 p.m. we took Ky out to eat an ice cream (although in truth I ended up eating two enormous ice-creams to his one) & then went out to dinner at Giorgio & Doriana's (guests who liked to locality so much they bought a house & moved here). As I'm sure I have written before, Giorgio has a great wine cellar, Doriana is a terrific cook & from their terrace there are great views of the mountains so even though all our relaxation was compressed into that evening it did the trick.
I just escaped from a conversation on geopolitical themes between guests representing old Europe & (let us say) the new world. As a New Zealander I find myself unambiguously in the new world camp but have learnt that on these matters I can express myself in this diary but am better to leave guests to exchange viewpoints by themselves.
But I don't want to write about this, instead I want to write about cooking for a living. Yetmir, our farm-labourer didn't arrive for work for another day so Luca & I needed to adjust our work routine to take account of the fact that we are one person less on the farm. Tonight, being Saturday night, is barbeque night. A barbeque may seem simple, but from the preparation point of view it is very time consuming - one person has to literally be barbequeing so someone else should be in the kitchen preparing the rest of the buffet. A buffet by its nature involves a choice of dishes so just to prepare that simple-seeming food takes a lot of effort.
I decided that Luca should have the whole day free to dedicate to the farm & so undertook that Ky & I would prepare the dinner & that it would be enough for Luca to arrive immediately prior to the meal at 7.15 p.m. I have to say that it was a really stressful undertaking. the knowledge that people are paying us for their meals here imposes an incredible pressure to perform plus, you find yourself simultaneously desperate that the guests should enjoy the food & fearing the shame that would arise should they did not!
It was tough. Ky was great - very cool & very precise which is 99% of the battle won. But I really had to think how to manage the grill & the rest of the meal assisted by a 14 year old who, obviously, is more at home with video games than kitchen utensels! Starting back from the serving time of 7.30 p.m. everything is an interlocking process - everything has to be cooked at exactly the right time & in the right order. It was, in fact, pretty scary. But we did it. It seems simple but it's really complicated to produce a good (I would love to be able to say great) meal at a fixed time for everyone at once. It is a challenge, like sitting an exam - of course, there is always the deep pleasure if you succeed - today we did, so I was able to find an excuse enjoy a few celebratory beers!
"What day is it today" said Ky as we were finishing the dishes in the kitchen.
"Friday" I said "Just think, back in Sweden during the school year Friday evening would be an evening of liberty, on the cusp of a weekend's freedom."
But here, at La Faula, during the tourist season, Friday has no meaning - it is just a day like any other. I had a moment's nostalgia for Friday nights past. Leaving work, the weekend's activities stretching ahead. At La Faula every night & no night is Friday night; you are always free & never free.
This morning I went to our supplier of chemicals for the swimming pool to see what he recommended for the fountain which is now operational again. I made a point of telling him that we had abandoned the project of the pool on the hill because of spiralling costs & plumeting desire to invest in a country which is by turns more oppressive in its attempts to squeeze money out of the private sector & more delusional in its assesment of its options. As he had quoted for the actual "pool" part of the structure I can say that he was pretty gutted. The general economic downturn is impacting widely, & the project would have been a good one economically for him. As it is, I don't think his pool business - any pool business here - is booming. On the other hand, the decision that we have taken feels increasingly like the right one. An infinity pool on the hill would have been really something but at this point doesn't really make economic sense. I spoke to Mariagrazia the architect & asked her to dust-off the very first pool project we had done - a pool in the field where the external pool is currently mounted. She said that she would have to break it very slowly to Paola, who did much of the design of the pool project - after all this, it seems that we are back at the beginning.
Maybe it feels like Friday night after all!
Cheers - Paul
I'm always dubious about writing this daily diary after I've been out to dinner & had a few beers but it's today or never so I'll carry on ....
Today was a hot, muggy type of day. Very quickly, in the late afternoon, a bank of black cloud built up behind the house. I was brush cutting & unaware of the change in weather. With the first drops of rain I realised that a storm was bearing down & returned to the house with all haste.
All that energy built-up in the last days collided with banks of cold air moving south from the mountains. The effect was tumultuous, a furious thunderstorm descended over the house, the wind wipped-up in a circular fever, anything light was flying, chairs rolled over & trees came down. We closed the shutters & barracaded ourselves with the guests inside. It was only 5.30 p.m. but was so dark that the external lights automatically came on. Some dutch guests arrived in the carpark in the middle of the storm; we said if they are sensible they will stay in the car, a short while later we heard voices saying "it's open" as they tried the external shutters - we opened the door & they rushed inside.
night descended over the house, rent only by blasts of jagged lightening .... & then it was over. The black cloud rolled away, moving on, the sun returned, we counted the damage, trees down, things broken, not too bad ... & we went out for a pizza with Ky.
Cheers - Paul
This morning I went into the vineyard with spraycans of red & yellow paint. The vineyard is terraced & irregular but we have never particularly given thought as how best to spray the vines. I want to say, how to use the tractor in the most economical way so that it doesn't have to back-track & goes the least distance necessary while covering all the vines that need spraying. We realised we needed to give this some thought when we saw Yetmir spending more time going backwards than forwards up the hill. It turned out that with just two colours it was possible to mark the end-poles (strainers) of the lines of vines in such a way that the person driving the tractor following a simple code doesn't need to worry about where he is going or where he has been & is guided automatically around the hill. As it looks like Luca is going to return to spraying the vines this should be fairly helpful.
While I was on the hill the siren that we use to call someone in the vineyard was sounded, lightly at first, but then more insistently. I went down to find everything in a state of confusion - today at 12.00 midday we had a photo-lunch (more of that later) in the field in front of the house. It was 10.30 when I got down to the house. Rina, who was cooking, didn't know what time the lunch was being served or what she was preparing. Luca's mum who was here to make beds & give the final touches to those rooms that had been cleaned didn't know what rooms needed attention. Luca was hopping mad because he thought the lunch was a stupid idea & he doesn't like being photographed - we had a quick but fierce argument at the back of the house hoping that the guests couldn't hear & I had a feeling that maybe the lunch was going to be a very big disaster - a lunch of disunity instead of unity!
The idea of the lunch was to bring us, Luca's parents & some of the people who work for us & help us together for a lunch & have it photographed (I wrangled things so that our graphic agency pays for the photo service but that's another story!). It's not an original idea but the problem was that this afternoon it was 35°C in the shade - sitting at a table with a white tablecloth in the middle of the field under the blazing sun was really quite something & was probably closer to 45°C. On top of this, none of the participants apart from Francesco our computer guy could see the sense of the whole thing. Luca's dad thought that it was a plot to kill him. Our famous guests who liked the place so much that they bought a house here were turning gray. Luca was blinded by the glare so had to wear shades (hmmm.....), everyone was in agreement that no foreigner would ever believe that Italians were so stupid as to lunch under the blinding force of the midday sun in June during a heatwave. Once everyone was more or less settled, I gave over to alcohol and poured myself a big white wine. luckily I had discoved a while back ,a slip-on IKEA wine chiller jacket which had been patiently waiting for the freezer for just such an occasion - today it saved my life & confirmed Ky's belief that IKEA is everywhere - even in the middle of a staged lunch in the Italian countryside!
The temperatures are steadily going up - as the temperatures that I can choose to record in "La Faula Today" are in whole degrees I only round-up if it is .5° or more. Today, I recorded 34.4°C - I will admit I was tempted to round-up to 35 because the days are unbelievably hot - especially for Luca & Yetmir who are working in the sun all day.
Started the day with a trip to the local iron-mongers for a bolt that we could use to substitute one broken on the bull-dozer. On Friday I discovered while talking to Yetmir, who was next to the tractor, that a key restraining bolt was broken & if Yetmir had carried-on working it would have resulted in serious damage to the tractor & the cutting arm that was mounted at the time. It seems like an exagerated comparison, but the bulldozer must be checked for breakages & damage before every use, just as a pilot visibly checks a plane before take-off. The forces on both tractor & implement on the hill are so great that breakages are common - especially retaining bolts & the like or hydraulic tubes - failure to pick this up straight away can risk the life of the tractor driver & result in tremendous damage to the machine. Yetmir knows this & I think that we both felt his time at La Faula drawing to a close.
In the afternoon went to see the architects to talk about the famous case of the cow manure in the barn & about the swimming pool project. It turns out that the case of the cow manure in the barn is not as clear-cut as the Guardia di Finanza had painted it, as the documentation submitted to the local Council for planning approval at the time & to the Regional Inspectorate of Agriculture when we requested financing, referred to use of the building as being for grap-growing & wine-making & bovine husbandry. Thank goodness we have Mariagrazia the architect on our side in this but I have to say that I found both her & Paola pretty down regarding problems that they are currently having. It seems that everyone in the productive sector in Italy is struggling with oppressive inspections, non payment, fraud. Oh well.
The good news - in the sense that we feel really good about it - is that we have - as a result of this inspection from the Guardia di Finanza decided to hand back the money we got for the pool (the financing was only partial - it gets paid back with interest), cancel the project & leave it at that. Given the economic climate, the pool project was probably too ambitious & we are really content just now to stick with what we have & improve it instead of launching another stressful, expensive & time consuming project.
Having caught up with my three last diary entries I can have a beer!
Sunday morning, got up, Ky doing breakfast, go to check the web-site & message system thinking that it seems to have settled down again & blamf - all the messages, registrations, all the database, in fact, has disappeared. It is a bit disconcerting because by now we open to the world through our web-site. The message system works really well for us but it's not much good if it keeps disappearing. Didn't get too flustered this time - sent an SMS to our computer guy Francesco & hoped for the best. After breakfast we took Ky up to a river in the mountains behind us. He must have been bored witless because we spread our snow-foam mats on the gravel & promptly fell asleep, despite the scorching temperatures. Afterwards we made it up to him by taking him to Tarcento where we had some big luscious ice creams.
Came home to a beautiful evening. Luca went running & I (who should go running too) went out instead with Loris & his friend Nichola for some beers in Cividale & a trip to the "Count of Montecristo" nightclub. Less said about that the better - very beautiful building, stunning, in fact, which I had plenty of time to appreciate as I sat outside the whole time. I think that every male in Friuli for the last 100 years has been to the "Count of Montecristo" nightclub (even Luca's dad when he was young!). Now I've been there too & I can tell you that it's name translated is the "Christ Mountain nightclub". Seems a bit strange really. Returned home late - I'm too old for these larks & would be better in bed at 10.00 p.m.!
This morning went to pick-up two repaired bikes from the bike shop in Faedis. Luca, who runs the shop was as friendly as ever but can't quite see him in the same light since he had a birthday party at our place a couple of months ago & I heard him leaving at four o'clock in the morning singing rude ditty's in english full of extremely colourful words. I guess sometimes we use swear words in a language that isn't our own without realising their full import. Had a great pastry & latte at the "Oven of Grandfather Ellio". Read more in the paper about Italy's economic crisis & felt that I too am participating in it to the full! Afterwards went to the local dump / recycling centre which is always a great pleasure because I tend to go with the back of the van full of stuff & return with it full of stuff. My only regrets are about the wonderful things that must be thrown away every day that I never get to retrieve. My haul this time was 3 really shocking 1960's laminated wood dining chairs. They are so outragious they are just the best. Moving over to the traditional, I retrieved two old whicker baskets which are already full of flowers on the edge of the back yard. Had a swim in the pool - very nice too - intend to do it every day.
In the late afternoon Ky took the dogs down to the river to cool off. The water is stopped & a bit green but Minnie, Spotty & Barty lumbered in, happy to be able to cool down. Nellie who loves been squirted with the hose, however, doesn't like going into the water & runs up & down the water's edge nervously licking the other dog's noses & us. Of course, one of the great pleasures about taking the dogs to the river is, try as you might to avoid it, you are sure to get a showering as one of the dogs sidles up beside you & shakes him or herself off!
In the evening kept Loris company on a trip to the airport to pick-up his sister & her husband who were returning from a holiday in Taormina in Sicily. Heard that Taormina is full of Americans, English & Japanese & reflected that Friuli could also do with some more of them!
Success! For those of you who aren't Swedish, today is midsummer for the Swedes & they like to celebrate it. For us, it is just another hot, sunny day, like those which will continue on until mid-September. However, it fell to us to prepare a kind of mid-summer night's appropriate dinner & we were at a bit of a loss. We settled on a barbeque which on a cool evening after a scorching day is always a winner (plus, it permits me a very cold beer while barbequing which is a pleasure I never avoid!). I went for a Baily's Irish Cream panna cotta which is a sure-fire winner. The Swedish people were appropriately adorned with flowery garlands, had the Swedish flag on their table, did a number of very nice circle dances under the pergola & all in all gave us a flavour of pagan fesitvals that in one form or another have survived in Northern Europe until this day. In Italy, of course, those pagan festivals not appropriated by the Catholic Church have been eliminated & extirpated as paganism is little tolerated in the territory, de facto, of the Popes.
Ky - 14 years old & Swedish (yes, La Faula is rather Swedish at the moment!) is also a rather dab hand in the kitchen & took the grilled vegetables post with much success & appreciation.
Today, Yetmir moved into a flat. He stayed here in a portacabin (which to be fair, has curtains, air-conditioning, TV, all mod cons etc) but which has not been approved by the local council as sleeping accommodation. In Italy, people can only sleep in those rooms & places that are specifically authorised by the council for that purpose. After the numerous inspections we have suffered recently we could see the headlines in the local newspaper: "Albanian found by Guardia di Finanza sleeping illegally in builders hut - rent not declared" "I was treated worse than a dog" said the victim when interviewed!" We just couldn't face it - the air conditioned builders hut will become an office & escape when we need some privacy & we won't need to worry so much when we have our next general inspection from some part of the Italian state aparatus!
Nothing exciting today (thank goodness). Took Yetmir up on the hill to check his work cutting with the "brush-cutting arm" attached to the bulldozer (all the banks etc that it is impossible to cut with the strimmer). All in all a very patchy affair .... hmm...
Luca was in the vineyard with Barbara from San Domenico who live in our village & is a kind of girl-Friday here. They were cleaning the small vineplants, as usual, & Barbara who is new to this, was great - fast & accurate.
I harvested the garlic, this being close to the longest day (tomorrow our Swedish guests are having a midsummer barbeque - happy midsummer all you Swedish diary readers! - well, at least two of you are Swedish!)
We are really trying to think how best to structure our business - both the agriturismo & the vineyard - wine-making. We need to tie our costs rigorously to production of profits so cannot have full time workers. Plus, the whole story about the smoking cow manure has made us stop & decide that instead of going for growth - new luxury pool etc - we would be better to focus on what we have - which is pretty good - & keep our resources aside for that rainy day which we are increasingly convinced will hit the whole country before too long. At this point I think that the focus will be on really improving what we already have - gardens, food comfort etc but no effective new investment.
This evening Ky & I had dinner together, it was very relaxed, Ky was drinking his "orange" drink (doesn't taste like orange but it's very nice all the same!), I was having a nice cold Udine beer (yes, made here & very tasty too!) & was recounting the on-going story of the smoking cow manure & recounting to him more or less what I wrote in yesterday's diary. We had a good laugh, finished dinner, went outside & into the arms of the Carabiniere! (they were here looking for Yetmir who needed to go to the Carabiniere office to give a statement regarding the punch he got in the chops from the bouncer last week (just read the relevant diary entry!!!). I think that Ky though that the whole thing had been staged!
Yesterday I was just too annoyed to write the diary. Until I had a clear mind, I didn't feel like writing but now that it seems amusing I will give Wednesday's diary a try.
Wednesday, we planned to go to Austria with our magazines & books, lie beside the lake at Presegger See, & relax. This didn't come to pass because it came to our notice that the famous Guardia di Finanza are pursuing us over the famous cow manure found in the end of the barn in a space measuring 6.9 X 4.8 metres. (a case of of cow-shit?) The question is whether at the time we made the request for co-financing for the barn, we intended that from time to time one or more of our 6 cows would temporarily be in this space or whether this was just something that occurred to us afterwards. At first you think,"oh no, I've the whole state aparatus of the Guardia di Finanza after me because they found cow manure in our barn. Because the guardia have almost unlimited powers & can destroy your business this seems truly daunting. Then suddenly you ask yourself "all this for a hint that one of only 6 cows (we only have 6 cows - all registered, blood tested & holding valid EU cow passports - cows have passports too you know!) at some stage had done a pooh in our barn?" Now that's truly daunting! It seems quite funny - if it wasn't so sad, sad because the Guardia take all this so seriously, sad because normal people are treated as if they are criminals & fraudsters & sad because the State is so short of money it resorts to these measures. The desperation of the bankrupt Italian state is probably unnoticed by most foreigners. And the real daily life of the average italian business is unknown to the embassies who tell their governements what goes on here. But, I have the sense of living like some englishman or american who lived in Germany from 1933 until the outbrake of war. Not that I want to say that Italy will spawn a Hitler - but Italy is by my reckoning risking catastrophic economic collapse - & this is in a country that culturally never renounced its fascist past & where fascism & communism (in their modern guises) face off each other still - kept only in check by the postwar truce - but the conflict is on ice - once that ice melts things are going to get really rough here.
This probably seems melodramatic but today the government statistics institute issued some numbers which - in a modern country in these times are shocking - especially as we are not talking about a country undergoing some reforming transformation. In the last 3 months spending on basic food items is down 3.8% & spending on household items such as furniture, TV's etc is down 4% bringing levels down to those of 15 years ago. This is happening at at time when recorded indebtedness to banks has been steadily growing & with increasing factory closures.
The government finances are out of control & businesses are being squeezed until the last pips squeek!
Interesting times indeed!
Freedom! Tomorrow's our day off - we'll go to Austria, eat scrummy cakes, go to a lake near Hermagor, pay our money to go to a private beach there & sleep & read & generally do absolutely nothing! Today was hot as usual. In the afternoon the butcher came to take away a bull for slaughter. We had anticipated lots of trouble loading him into the truck but he was so bad tempered & surly that while we were fixing down the ramp of the truck in the pen holding the bull, he - the bull - pushed his way under the chain which was supposed to keep him away from the butcher, the butcher jumped out of the way, & the bad tempered bull furiously walked up & into the truck by himself. There was nothing to do but close the door. I'm sure he repented instantly but it just goes to show that acting in anger can truly lead to a bad end! Nellie thought the whole thing was just grand - she loves these gladiatorial spectacles that we put on for her - tonight she'll be dreaming that she was in the pen with the bull for sure.
Later on in the afternoon the Alcan rep came with the samples of the Stelvin screw-on cap that we want to use to close our wine (the failure rate with corks is so high that if you come from outside the wine industry & so are not steeped in all the mumbo-jumbo that surrounds corks you just don't see how corks can be a viable form of closure). The colour was nice & we are happy with the design so we sign-up for €5000 worth of these screw-caps (That's a lot of bottles of wine!).
Yetmir is performing very well at the moment - its very wearing though, that he needs to arrive within a hair's breadth of being sacked before he pulls his socks up & works as he should. We dream of a La Faula without Yetmir but at least for now it's not to be.
Little to report today. Up first thing to do the shopping - gave myself a little treat by buying a very nice chef's knife. Luca was out in the vineyard all day cleaning the small vine plants & even Yetmir was up & out working before 8.00 a.m.! Ky helped me with dinner tonight & proved to be a very able hand in the kitchen. I was a pleasure to see the look on the face of the Swedish group that arrived today when Ky greeted them in Swedish! I fear that sometimes La Faula is not Italian enough - the problem is that none of the Italians involved in our activity, apart from Luca, speak English (or any other language) so there are two worlds here - the Italian world of us, our workers & Italian guests and the rest & they never meet.
Tomorrow I wanted to take a day off but the butcher is coming at 2.00 p.m. to take away a veal. We had an extremely aggressive bull who fathered a number of male ofspring, all of whom have an unatractive agressive streak. Luckily we breed them for eating because these animals would represent a real risk in the future. When you see in a herd of animals an inherited trait of aggressiveness you realise just how balanced the relationship has to be between man & beast. Once the beast becomes unpredictable, & dangerous, one - in the sense of the man - is extremely vulnerable - compared even to a three year old bull, reared in the pasture, we are absolutely nothing so it is best to keep those types in the freezer where they can't cause any harm!
Another scorcher of a day! We passed a pretty lazy day with lots of visits from various neighbours. Local kids came & swam in the pool - lots of boisterous behaviour, noise, splashing & holding under!
Some neighbouring farmers passed by to share a glass of wine & compare notes on how things are going. As far as I can see they are going pretty badly. The reality is that if they weren't protected by the Common Agriculture Policy these farmers would be out of business overnight. But the CAP has remained so unreformed that these farmers have for years been diverging away from economic reality. The cowardice, stupidity & inertia of generations of Italian (& French & German) politicians has allowed these farmers to arrive at the point where their economic existance makes no sense whatsoever. Lack of government money & the recession in Italy is bringing the reality home to small farmers with some force. So far, all hold on & wait to see what will turn up.
But it's incredibly sad because so much time has been lost - only now are local wine-makers trying to create cooperatives, only now are the medium farms trying to grow. But I have a feeling that it's all a bit too late, closing the gate after the horse has bolted. Farming has been held ossified by the CAP for 40 years & it has, in fact, done these farmers no favours at all.
Bella giornata! The guests having gone out to eat, Luca, Ky & myself had a marvelous dinner eating last-night's leftovers sitting outside watching the sun set. The bird life was intense & as I write there are about 9 courting tawny owels calling each other in the trees around the barn. It is times like this that make one understand that no other style of life is possibile or even conceivable.
Today Ky did the breakfast, Luca worked in the vineyard cleaning the trunks of the small vine plants that we planted 3 years ago. It is important that the vine develops a good, strong, straight trunk so it is necessary to clean the trunk of branches up to a certain level. It is all manual work & under the hot sun of today it must have been cooking. I, instead, did various chores including cleaning all the heat-exchangers of our fridges & freezers. We have a rather vast array of freezers & fridges & the heat exchangers need to be cleaned roughly every 4 months to keep them operating efficiently. It is a little but important job as the temperatures begin climbing again.
In the vineyard we dicovered that Yetmir, our farm labourer had not been spraying the vines in a systematic way. Because we are an organic farm we are limited to spraying with copper based sprays such as copper sulphate. But under European rules the amount of copper (a heavy metal) that we can spray is strictly controlled (we had soil test last year in addition to the regular testing of the vine plant leaves) & is steadily reducing. There is no room for margin & Yetmir was beyond it. We will have to reveiw things at the end of the month but are already thinking of how we can run the farm without a farm-labourer.
Tomorrow is Sunday, Ky is doing breakfast & we are free!
Cheers - Paul
Today started really nicely, the weather was fine, Yetmir got up & actually went to work spraying the vines, Ky was cutting grass, I was thinking just how good our message system was as I logged in - & to my horror found that every user & every message had disappeared - completely. There was a glitch in the database hosting our web-site & all the data was lost. Luckily we have a back-up - in this case it was from the previous Tuesday so the latest registrations are lost - this just reminds us of the impermanence of the information held in a computer & the need to always keep a paper copy of important correspondence. By now, we have had a few disasters with our web-site - once it disappeared completely when the hosting company in Calabria took the money & ran not paying the U.S. company that actually held the servers (we didn't know this for some weeks), another time most of our e-mails (when we had them) disappeared for weeks at a time when extremely aggressive anti-spam software was applied without us knowing, once we lost all our messages when the host database computer had its date erroneously moved forward causing all the messages in our message system to expire & disappear!
My guess is that people who have a small business become so locked into the daily struggle for survival that they confound it with living. As life is full of challenges that you just can't leave over the weekend even the smallest successes & enjoyments become wonderful & keep you going forward even as entropy carries all towards disorder & inertia grinds things down!
Speaking of small enjoyments, tomorrow Ky starts looking after the breakfast - yipee -the possibility to sleep in again!
Cheers - Paul
What a period! Today threw-up a little set of challenges concerning Yetmir, our farm labourer, who has gone into a terminal decline since Sunday night when a bouncer at a disco bashed him one, straight in the chops. Apart from the obvious discomfort of having had three teeth rocked on their roots, the whole event has brought down a cloud of shame & hurt feelings that have left Yetmir - not the most willing of workers at the best of times - thoroughly demotivated & wanting to pass the days away hidden under the blankets.
Today he had to be coaxed out of the room we give him when he is working here, made to eat some health-restoring broth, sent to the hospital as his doctor ordered to make an appointment with the teeth & jaws people & told that if he didn't get his act together he would not only be toothless but also job-less. I think that he was expecting to be turfed-out straight away (because he has a very vigorous history of absenteeism) so he visibly perked-up when threatened with future firing! This rather took me by surprise but I suppose it means that our staff relations in this case were sympathetic & understanding!
Today I took Ky to the perifery of Udine so that he could get a bus into the centre of town & see what it is like. There is a bus that does a continuous service, looping around the outskirts of Udine, passing through the centre & then going back out again. It doesn't have a terminus or final destination & just keeps going around & around on the same circuit. Luckily, I had given Ky my mobile & told him to call me if he had any problems. About a hour after I returned home Ky called up to say that he was still on the bus, was having a very scenic trip but after two or three times he wouldn't mind knowing where to get off - I had told him everything except where he had to dismount! Tonight we're taking Ky to a pizzeria to make up for it!
Cheers - Paul
Well, I've truly got faith in my little Oregon Scientific Weather Forecaster - yesterday I wrote that it was forecasting sunny, cloudless weather, even though at the time it was raining (& despite the fact that the weather forecasts for today all showed rain) - today, just as it prophesised, the day was sunny, hot & cloudless. Thank you Oregon Scientific!
Another normal day for these weeks at La Faula. First, was the return of Yetmir our farm-worker who had disappeared for two days. During the winter his disappearances were really a problem but as he owed us money we had lent him for his car our leverage was not strong. It turns out that this Sunday night he got into an altercation with a bouncer at a disco & the result was the inevitable one that he - & not the bouncer - ended up losing his front teeth. I suppose going out & scrapping with bouncers is a kind of farm-labourer thing to do - it even seems romantic in a kind of rural way - but it didn't leave us very impressed. He had the riot act read to him (again) but only age & maturity will solve his problems (& luckily now he doesn't owe us anything so our scope for action is rather widened).
This afternoon the local Carabiniere came to take Luca's statement concerning our complaint of non payment by a participant of a psychotherapy group held here. Our complaint is to protect ourselves from the complaint of the non payer (the details of which cannot be disclosed to us until the paperwork is finished) which, it has to be said, was prompted by my rather unwise threat to report the non-payment to the Carabiniere. Did you understand that? At first it seems hard but once you understand the logic of it it's very simple - everyone makes complaints until all are withdrawn. Of course, bureaucratic time is wasted but the Carabiniere are there for this - it is a written system based on denouncements of citizens by other citizens that can only, by the Italian constitution, be decided upon by a Judge (& not the Police or Carabiniere). So every little dispute clogs the legal system until it doesn't work any more - which would be a fairly good description of Italy's legal system.
When I told Loris, a friend of mine in the village, that I am writing a diary in which I try honestly to record what happens day by day he was aghast. "What will they think of you if you write the truth?" he said. As always, in Italy truth loses out to the bella figura!
Cheers - Paul
(p.s. Ky is doing just fine - we couldn't be more content!)
Every day, I use my Oregon Scientific radio controlled 433 MHz cable free Digital Weather Forecaster with Remote Thermo-Hygro Sensor (& radio controlled clock) that cost €75.00 to record the max & min temperatures that I load onto the web-site. But now, I have to say, that I have my doubts. It is raining outside, but sitting down to write this I noticed that the instrument is showing 95% humidity but sunny skies. I seems to me that there is something not quite right - I hope that at least the temperatures are accurate - if not who knows whether I am making La Faula seem hotter or colder than it really is!
Today we the big day when we had to go to the Commando of the Guardia di Finanza (Revenue Police) to receive & sign the "Verbale" resulting from the inspection of our barn. We found ourselves suddenly in a small room with three officers - the two "Marshalls" that had undertaken the inspection (this time in Uniform), an "Appuntato" (less than a Marshall) & waiting for the "Capitano" (the officer in charge of the Station). When the Capitano joined us I suddenly had a feeling it was going to be like the play of Dario Fo "The Accidental Death of an Anarchist" & we would be slung out of the third story window. All joking aside, I had a moment of unease asking myself why we should be facing so many officers - obviously all witnesses. Then it became clear - they were all there to witness each other! Unbelievable as it seems, the "Verbale" which ran to a good 15 pages was signed, page by page, by each of the 4 Finanzieri plus Luca. Each Finanziere is there to witness the behaviour of the others!
The Capitano sat down & after some pleasant chit-chat about wine-making in New Zealand said that they had undertaken an inspection of our barn for which we had received some European Community funding & that the inspection had revealed breaches - that the barn was being used for some impermissable purposes & that these were detailed in the "Verbale". (Here I will remind you that the impermissable purposes listed in the verbale were to dry clothing on a drying rack, store two bikes, park two fridges, keep mothering or sick cows which were not present at the time of the inspection but their manure was). I thanked the Capitano, admitted that things were exactly as the Marshalls had written, it was a fair cop, the inspection had been carried out extremely fairly, we had no complaints & would take whatever punishment was coming to us. With that the Capitano got up, shook our hands & left. We made some minor changes to our statement in mitigation (basically, that we are a farm & a barn will, from time to time, be host to varying agricultural activities), Luca signed more copies of the documents than I ever signed in my life as a London lawyer, we thanked the finanziere again for their good sense & professional behaviour & away we went, weighed down with folders containing our papers & invoices, all the architects papers & all the accountants papers relating to the barn!
What do you make of that? It's going to take me a long time before I know what to make of it!
Cheers - Paul
At last a day off! It is so nice to lie in bed listening to the rain on the roof & having an excuse not to leap straight out & dive into the agriturismo or start working on the farm. After the weekend's wedding our guests very kindly insisted that breakfast could be late today - & so it duly was. Our new assistant - Ky from Sweden (this part is for Ky's dad!) - is just the thing. He picks things up quickly, is good company, works well & I can see that he is going to take away a bit of our burden while he is here. He is to take responsibilty for breakfasts, some gardening, feeding the dogs & domestic animals, cleaning the pool & preparing the tables for dinner (I think that this should keep him busy!). But today Luca & I dissappeared to Austria for a mixed day off & shopping for electric fence components that we can't find here in Italy. It is so strange to be so close to a country so different to Italy. Austria is so orderly & neat - & the climate changes instantly that you go over the Alps. We tend to stuff ourselves on big cakes & eat fried chicken that the Austrians do so well so it is probably better that we stay here in Italy & stick to pasta & vegetable sauces!
Cheers - Paul
Well, that's it - the wedding finished, the guests departed, La Faula back to it's peaceful & tranquil state. I don't know whether to be thankful that the weather held up & we could serve outside or to be dissappointed that it wasn't a more sunny & suitable day. Well, in any case, everyone had a great time & enjoyed themselves so, I suppose it doesn't really matter.
I had, once everyone was gone, to unmake the rooms. Why I have to do this I'm not really sure. Beppina, the cleaning lady, likes to arrive at 7.45 monday morning & get right down to cleaning the rooms. If she finds the towels in the bathrooms & sheets still on the bed you risk finding them thrown out to you from a strategically located first story window as you pass by
"Just take these" she says as she levers out a bundle of used sheets & towels weighing 10 kilos. As grabbing falling sheets & towels to your bosom (do men have bosoms or only ladies?) is not something to be repeated you find yourself rushing to unmake the rooms before Beppina can get to them.
Today I had a bit of a disturbing experience. Last night in the middle of the wedding the toilet light blew out (a bit bad for the lady who was seated inside at the time!). I grapped the nearest bulb which was of very high wattage as it had been bought for the principal outside light. I was quite pleased at just how nice the bathroom was under the light until I looked in the mirror. I didn't realise just how many grey hairs I have. It's obviously not only Spotty dog who's getting older!
Cheers - Paul
Well that's it .... it's currently 7.07 p.m. & the wedding have been a big success. But at 5.00 a.m. this morning when I was woken by thunderclaps of the passing thunder-storm it didn't seem that it was going to turn out this way. I found myself in bed at 6.00 a.m. laughing (a bit hysterically) at the thought that if it rained today there would only be room downstairs for the three groups of musicians who were to attend the wedding - the 60 guests would have to stay out-side (here I should say that in the dining room of our house we can only comfortably seat 30 people). This wedding went ahead - all risks known - by some friends who were determined to wed at La Faula. The morning cleared-up & it was sunny & spectacularly beautiful on the hill behind the house where the actual ceremony was held (including a quartet with grand piano). The afternoon went pretty well weather wise although we were interrupted by two passing rain showers that had everyone racing inside & finding themselves intimately next to about 7 other people. At the time there was the harp player so we squeezed her into a corner & got her to keep on playing - rather as the band on the Titanic!
Rina & Bepina have insisted that we have the evening free (even though there is to be another quick dinner served at 9.00 p.m.) so we are going to the airport to pick-up Ky, a young guest from Sweden who came here last year with his Dad & sister & who is coming back to give us a bit of a hand this June / July.
Cheers - Paul
Today was the day that our telephone line was repaired having sat in the river in front of the house since Wednesday morning. After lots of calls Telecom Italia came & made a temporary connection but, as the line spans a river, it will take the infrastructure company to come & put everything back together again. For now its all the temporary joints & red & white warning tape that's keeping this diary on-line. Honestly speaking it was really nice not having telephone or Internet. Francesco, our computer guy, put a warning notice on the site so we got the crucial calls on our mobile but for the rest it was nice to be isolated for a while.
One of the first challenges for today was the call from the Guardia Di Finanza (Guard of the (public) Finances / Revenue Police - a part of the Italian Army - yes, army). We have an appointment with them following last Saturday's inspection of our - party publicly financed - barn. Just to remind, they found two clothes drying racks & a couple of bikes in the area where we dry the grapes at harvest time & they found cow manure in an area where there should have been farm implements. Now, following their meetings with our accountants & architects we have been called in to receive our "Verbale". A verbale is a kind of petty-charge sheet that lists any misdemeanours that we have committed & forms the basis for the fines to follow. We will be invited to review it, make a statement & sign it. This really poses me, as a lawyer, with a problem. Making signed statements to the forces of law & order in any country restricts the scope for later action & so it is generally to be avoided without expert legal advice. Here we are dealing with the Italian Military no less with all the powers of the Inland Revenue, Customs & Excise, the FBI & the firepower of, well, the Italian army! I've decided not to take legal advice as the scope of the control is pretty clearly revenue gathering for a State that is unable to pay down its national debt, has a growing deficit & is being proceeded against by the European Community for the state of its finances. Instead I've decided to take Mariagrazia our architect as she knows all the facts around the building of the barn, the request for funding assistance etc. I've decided that if the facts stated in the verbale are accurate I will sign up & pay the fine. I don't see much money in getting involved in lawyers at this stage & would rather see if, by cooperating with the Guardia, we can reach a kind of ammicable settlement.
I've left Luca & Rina down in the kitchen so I can get to the diary. today the house is full of people here for a wedding. It's a wedding we really didn't want. Not because the people aren't nice, they really are & we like them a lot. No, it's because there will be 60 guests & we only have room for 40 inside if it should rain. &, hard to believe as it is, it seems that after weeks without rain it is going to arrive tomorrow! Yes, tomorrow - we are praying that it arrives in the evening. Otherwise, watch this space (if you want to know what the weather will be like go to www.ilmeteo.it - have a look at the top-right hand corner of Italy):
Cheers - Paul
Today was a day without the telephone which was pretty good. I went down to the river to see if Telecom had arrived to fix the line. I didn't find Telecom but I did find our neighbour, Valentino, owner of the now felled tree cursing & swearing at the council - what a big mess they had made, they didn't know how to cut trees, they had cut the pieces too small so he couldn't sell the trunk to the factory that makes wooden pallets etc. etc. If I had just called him ... etc. etc. I was very sympathetic & agreed with everything he said meanwhile thinking he had got his just deserts after years of innaction - thank goodness for the council. In the afternoon Valentino was joined by his 11 (?) year old son, who drove the tractor forward pulling the logs out of the brush as his father cursed & swore & got red in the face. I was reminded of an image of once upon a time with the angry old peasants, their cowed children & wives & beaten donkeys ...
This was the day that our telephone line went down ... I'll get back to that...
For a couple of years I've been fretting that an old poplar tree by the bridge would fall on the telephone line (plus any car passing underneath it). I pointed this out continously to the owner of the land, Valentino, for years but it always just seemd to hard for him to cut down, seeing as it was rather tangled-up in the phone line. We sent telecom Italia a fax asking them to come & take the line down (it spans a river at the front of the house) so we (i.e. Valentino) could cut the tree down but when, eventually, the man from Telecom came he said they would repair the line if the tree fell on it but preventive work was not in their line of business. This winter when it snowed a poplar tree at the other end of the bridge (& belonging to Valentino's brother) became overladen with snow & crashed down destroying a part of the bridge railing. It took the opportuntiy when the local council official came to point out that the other poplar was a real & present danger & suggested that as it was on the river bank they could intervene & cut it down as part of the civil defence powers they have. & today they did - they cut it down over our telephone line, ripping the steel support cable, bending the pole & driving the line into (the largely dry) river.
Even though I had been worried about losing the telephone for years once it happened it was a relief - when you live surrounded by enormous dangerous trees it is always better to see those old & unstable trunks down instead of up waiting with the menace of forseeable but contingent possibilities.
What a day off!!
Today we wanted to escape to the beach but first decided to removed the cows manure that showed that occasionally we keep cows in the stall at the end of the barn which is not allowed under the terms of the funding we received for the barn. Now the area is all cleaned-up & empty which is what the law requires (for another 7 years after which we can put what we like). Once you realise that you must comply with every petty Italian regulation no matter how absurd or illogical you get a sense of satisfaction putting everything right - at least you know you won't have problems if there is another inspection.
At 2.00 p.m. we finally escaped to the beach only to be frozen by a cold front sweeping down from northern Europe. In the space of a few hours the temperature had dropped to 14°C (which is pretty cold if you are in T-shirt & shorts!) so there was nothing for it but to go for a pizza & a couple of beers.
Coming back we saw our now nicely-behaved sheep in the paddock as they should be. A jackal is now living on the hill behind us & the sheep have lost the urge to push under the electric fence to search for greener pastures! We fear - well, we know really - that we have lost a lamb to the jackal which is not so afraid & we have all seen a number of times. It was so amazing the first time to see this animal immediately behind the barn. It was immediately identifiable as a jackal even if I had never seen one before. I passed a period of confusion after all the locals told me that there are no jackals here but we subsequently discovered in a book on local animals that jackals have recently returned, coming over from the east, & are doing pretty well as their usual compeditor, the wolf, is no longer in these parts.
Rina did dinner tonight - thank goodness for Rina!
Cheers & goodnight!
Sunday ... how we enjoy Sunday. The day starts, as usual, with breakfast & then - off to the beach - taking in the sun, sleeping, reading doing nothing .... nothing at all, then a pizza bomba, chips, two beers ..... this diary & ....zzzzzz
Today, it was just a relief to be able to go ahead & prepare breakfast & pass the day without having to deal with an inspection from any other part of the Italian State aparatus. It seems so strange to have on the desk in front of me a preliminary "Verbale" - a kind of prefects' chit - which runs to 7 pages & which specifies the major infractions of a "clothes drying rack" & "bicycles" in the barn.
The afternoon & evening were very fine - old guests (well, they are middle age like us but they come regularly) came back & it was like seeing friends after a year has passed. It's good too to explain how things have changed - all the "improvements" made etc & you realise that you are never still here for a moment. Maybe this time we were a bit down about being in Italy - when you are so tormented by the bureaucracy here it is debilitating. Moreover, a month ago a participant on a psychotherapy course held here who could not pay the full amount for the accommodation denounced us to protect herself from being denounced for non-payment. It's a very Italian game - denouncement & counter-denouncement - but it eats up time & if you are not Italian it's pretty frustrating. For the Italians its all pretty normal which explains why Italian society is not such a normal society.
Anyway, enough of all that - for sure there will be other horror stories to recount about our dealings with the Italian State (& some Italians!) as this diary goes on. Back to the nice stuff.... Three or four years ago we had a young student of the Harp to play here on evenings during dinner one summer. It was great. Emanuela is a warm & generous person & there it would have finished. But ... Emanuela won a scholarship to study harp in Israel - off she went & now plays with Israeli orchestras & with conductors such Zubin Mehta. She called me the other day & said she was back here for the summer & was having her new harp worked on. I asked here if she could come & play (for old time's sake) & to my delight she agreed. It was the most wonderful evening. Saturday night is barbeque night & everone was outside under the pegola when Emanuela starting playing inside the dining room. The music drew everyone in. It was stupifying to have a word class harpest somehow playing at La Faula - this little Agriturismo in Friuli. The night was warm - the dogs came in an lay down before the harp, a thunderstorm was in the distance & the lightening flashed in the windows behind the harpest, & nobody spoke until the concert was over. It was, as the guests said, as if to be in a dream.
It guess it's this that keeps us here!
Today was eventful. It started-off very normally - I got up & prepared breakfast, breakfast was proceeding as usual when I noticed a green Fiat Punto driving up the driveway. Shortly afterwards, Luca came to tell me that we were being inspected by the Guardia della Finanza - not a tax raid but relating to some regional financing that we had got for the barn 3 years ago (around 30% of the total). I saw that Luca was pretty annoyed & that things were not going so well so went out to join them. I found myself in the middle of the full-on inspection of our new barn - literally meter-by-meter - first to make sure that it had actually been built (this was established very early on in the piece) & secondly to make sure that at that moment it was only being used for activities strictly relating to the growing of grapes & the production of wine (the financing was - we now know - wholly & exclusively for these purposes - none other whether related to the farm or not). I didn't see any particular problems given that we are a farm & the barn was only being used for farming things - but I was wrong. In a fenced-in section in the end of the barn there was evidence that cows had been there (manure now that you ask) - no cows were present because we only put them in to birth or when they are ill but - bang - there it was - a non-authorised use. There was ground maize in two 50 gallon tins - another infraction - animal food is not related to grape growing & wine making ... & so it went on. Moving-up to the area where we dry (essicate) the grapes, more problems. There were two freezers & a clothes-line with clothes drying on it (not so unusual in a barn) - bang - another infraction. Some bikes in a corner - another non authorised use - into the store-room - some stored feather duvets & an iron - another infraction....
It has to be said that the Officers were extremely reasonable, polite, professional & the like but there it was, they had us - it's a fair cop - we were using the barn as a barn - when it should have been largely empty waiting for the next harvest. "Now" I said, "look I've paid for most of this barn - in fact I know this because I'm paying the bank month by month - & you're telling me that i have to leave it empty & unused when it's not been directly used for grape growing or wine-making?"
In Italy there is - & can be - only one answer - yes.
So I found myself following those signs that you see on street corners - & wonder why they should be there - signs that point you to the station of the Guardia. There I went & signed the statement admitting that it was a fair cop. What else could I do? We are a farm &, yes, there it was, manure on the barn floor - a cow had been there - I couldn't wish it away. Two stainless steel, industrial freezers, closed under lock & with signs "Uso Agriturismo" - "it's a fair cop guv - you've got me bang to rights". Those duvets for the agriturismo - red-handed I'm afraid.
For sure the aim of all this is to fine us & having admitted guilt fined we will be. But what is the outcome - to find my money tied up in a structure that I can't use out of the grape harvest season for 10 years (10 years is the period) is so debilitating that we - along with most of the Italian private sector - have decided from now on the it is not worth the candle investing any more. The swimming pool project will be cancelled - we would just be inviting more inspections from the anti-sophistication branch of the Carabiniere (NAS), if there was an accident we would automatically be denounced under the Italian system & perhaps even sued. We just don't make enough money to justify the risk. So that's it - we'll keep & incrementally improve what we have but we won't risk anything substantially new because in Italy it's just not worth the .....
(p.s. dinner was: a vegetable pasta with pine-nuts & anchovies, a frittata with salad & sachertorta for desert.
It's so nice to have the house full of guests, to be cooking for them & to have finished by 10.00 pm.! Rina who cooks for us 2-3 nights per week is on holiday in Sicily with the "True Friends of Ravosa" - the committee that organises & runs the village fete so the kitchen is fair & square back on our shoulders as it was two years ago before Rina came on board. We almost died in those first years - trying to run the farm & the agriturismo at the same time. The worst part was the dinners - long nights that never seemed to end hunched over the sinks that seemed bottomless !
How things have moved on. The main thing was to move the dinner into the forefront so that instead of being the last event in a whole series of events during the day it was a milestone to be planned & organised for. Now we take turns to be responsible for the kitchen - this year & last it is my turn & has become a real pleasure. Last year I was less confident & less experienced so there was more uncertainty as to how the food would turn out. This year I feel more able to predict how things will turn out, I'm more sure of the techniques to make sure they turn out well & it is a real pleasure to plan & execute something enjoyed by others. For sure, the food is simple but it's good. So today I started in the kitchen at 2.00 p.m. & one thing led to another & I found myself preparing things just because I found that i had the ingredients to hand! Plus, it has to be said that I'm learning a lot from Rina - it's interesting because it is real Italina cooking which I'm absorbing over time at my own pace as I get interested in the things that she prepares.
Talking of cooking ... tonight we had:
- lasagne with bolognese sauce
- Australian mince pie on a bed of lettuce with olive oil & balsamic vinegar
- home-made cherry & ginger frozen yogurt
(our ingredients were: the mince meat used in the bolognese sauce & the pie, the yogurt & the cherrys. The cheese used in the lasagne came from the latteria in Ravosa, & the slad from Luca's garden.
Today was pretty relaxing in the sense that everything went as it should, nothing broke down, Yetmir sprayed the vines without problems, Luca tended the vegetable garden, I did the shopping in the morning, worked in the canteen in the afternoon & prepared the first two course for the dinner (there is a kind of agreement between Luca & myself that if I do the first two courses he will take care of the desert - luckily).
speaking of dinner it was: spaghetti with a summer sauce of tomatoes, olives, capers, garlic, basil, oregano, toasted pinenuts & anchovies, home-made meatballs cooked in a tomatoe & white wine sauce, strawberry cake.
Today promised rain, but it never arrived. It seems very rare in the country-side that the weather is just right. It's either too wet or too dry, too hot or too cold. Of course, this is just the natural variation of the weather which we measure against our own preoccupations: is it too dry / wet for the hay, too wet for the grapes - will they develop fungal infections, too wet - will the roads get eroded & washed away, too dry - will the trees / small vines we planted wither away. It certainly adds spice to life & gives you a respect for water & the rain that provides it that one just never has in the city. As the ground dries-up & cracks, fissures opening-up in the clay, the the grass yellows & you begin to look forward to the next rain - will it come soon, will it be a forceful thunderstorm that will wash away the dusty earth causing other problems, will there be flooding or will it be a gentle rain that gives time for the earth to absorb the moisture.
Anyway, the rain didn't come & so it's hot & dry here - on the other hand we have, to some extent, diversified our risks - when its warm & sunny the guests are happy, when there are days of showers the guests are unhappy but the plants do just fine.
No dinner tonight as it is our day off.
Last night I was stumped when it came to writing La Faula Today because the server was down - this was La Faula of yesterday:
The day was extremely hot getting up to 34°C. It is extremely dry so a lot of Luca's time is taken up with watering the plants - on the other hand the grass doesn't grow so you save on lawn-mowing time.
We had a very busy weekend & the bulk of the guests went home Sunday & Monday morning. Consequently, yesterday seemed like a day-off, even if it wasn't, as we we again free to follow our own time-table.
Luca stacked up the round bails of hay using the new tractor to do this for the first time. In the past our friend Loris had done it with his enormous 110 horse-power tractor, navigating (or blundering) at speed in the small space in front of the barn. Last time he did it all the dogs bowls got squashed, the time before a pile of pallets was reduced to splinters - this time the job was a lot less stressfull.
Yetmir cut the grass under the vines with a machine attached to the caterpiller tractor. The machine has two rolls of flailing nylon cord - the fine cord cuts (or rather, shreds) the grass & the thick one rips off the putitive branches growing out from low-down on the trunk of the plant. Unfortunately, it's an iron rule that if you go out & operate an item of agritcultural machinery that is not 100% in order - for example is missing a bolt or some other piece - during the operation that deficiency will provoke some more serious damage. In this case one of the two bolts that fixes the spinning core had broken previously so, following the law of certain consequences, the second bolt came loose during operation & all 70 horsepower of the tractor was suddenly focussed on the nylon cord. The tangle took more than an hour to put right, the replacement bolt was duly got but its placement provoked perplexity as it wasn't in form (although in function, it was) identical to the original - in fact, Yetmir was of the mind to reject it. It is hard not to escape the conclusion that for Yetmir a piece of machinery is either perfect or it is rubbish to be discarded. Fair wear & tear is a difficult concept to impart as is the idea of promptly intervening when something goes wrong so as to prevent things going worse ....
Dinner was consequently late but it was rather scrummy (at least according to the guests): spaghetti with fresh vegetable sauce cooked in stock & white wine, involtini with cheese & pacetta on a bed of ruccola, a cake that Luca made (but I'm not exactly sure what type it was!).
Very nice Sunday. Breakfast over & cleared-up by mid-day. Afterwards lunch at the restaurant "Ai Pavoni" with Silvia & Andrew followed by a visit to the "Aquila del Torre" winery (today was the "Cantina Aperta"). All very impressive - on another scale to La Faula but, in the end, all the same techniques. In the afternoon a little sleep & then a haircut from our visiting barber (a friend of Yetmir). Finally, dinner at "Ai Pavoni" with Louise.
Really good day - relaxing.
Today was a really nice day. The house is full - & full of nice people. Breakfast is two hours on the run - I hoped to be finished at 11.30 to go to Bin to have my daily latte & brios but wasn't free until 12.30. The afternoon was really cooking 32° C in the shade but absolutely baking in the sun - nothing to do but take a good nap. This evening we had the barbeque. Dorian & Giorgio came around - lots of wine was drunk but Rina had everything under control. We sat under the pergola in the dark listening to the croaking frogs & singing crickets - wonderful! As I came up hered to write this it seemed that there was a distant lightening flash - my little Oregon Scientific device shows rain but none is forecast -who knows.
Day like this make it all worthwhile - Good Night!!
The problem with writing a daily web-diary is what happens when you go out for dinner & return having had a few - what do you write under the influence? Well, I want to write this: tonight we left Rina, our cook, in charge of the Agriturismo & we went out for a pizza with Sabrina - a girl who worked here on a work placement two years ago - & Louise who took a bit of time out to stay with us before she started a new job in London last year. We went to our local pizzeria & had a great meal all for a good price - but I want to write this - talking to those who work there & who come from the Amalfi Coast, we said "Why did you leave a place so beautiful, known in all the world, for this little pizzeria in Friuli & they replied: "In Amalfi, in the Costa Amalfitana, there is no work - no work for those graduated from University & for those who haven't. What can we do". & this is Italy, the Italy that exists, the real Italy of unfairness, an Italy that offers nothing to the ordinary person while those in power eat off the carrion that the system throws up. A Country without hope, a country in which a whole generation has consumed all & left nothing for their young. This is the real Italy, the Italy of today behind the Gucci handbag & charming smile!
It's nice to come in & have a second to myself to sit & make these jottings of what happened today. We finished yesterday camping in our own house because it had in some significant part been commandered by our graphic design agency & their clients to do a photo shoot. This morning didn't start out in a very promising way: I sought - but didn't receive - assurances that the whole thing would be over - & out - by 4.00 p.m. as we had guests arriving & had to cook dinner etc. These tricky moments can - if one lets them - take a bit of a "bloody italians" versus "rigid anglo-saxons flavour". As one squares up to negotiate the situation (as often one has too even if it seemed that everything had been agreed previously) it pays to remind oneself that you are in another country, a country, moreover, where the locals are absolutely sure (& the evidence backs them up in this) that every anglo-saxon wants to come to live. The retort (before the recent economic crisis rendered such retorts indefensible) to criticism of things Italian was "If it's so bad here why does everyone want to come here?" It was hard - until now - to answer that one. Now however a series of television programs have explained why the English & Swiss, at least, are buying up, wholesale (it seems incredible that there was still something left to buy given the Chianti-shire flavour of much of Tuscany) all of Tuscany & Liguria - because the Italians are getting poorer & the English (& I guess Swiss) have seen steadily rising national incomes.
But anyway, to return to the story, the day teetered on hysteria but never quite went over the edge (although I was a bit bitter about our computer guy being roped in as a last minute model in the dining photos when he should have been putting "La Faula Today" on-line). A number of our guests found themselves pretending to eat lunch or drink wine in various immaginary locations conjured-up out of our house to show-off the furniture that was subject of the photo shoot. At the end, some-how, everything returned back to normal, money was offered & refused, big kisses & hugs all around & everyone went home with their boxes of re-flat-packed restaurant tables, wine-racks, sofas etc.
Dinner tonight: spaghetti with curried vegetable sauce, lamb-chops in red wine & tomatoe sauce, cherry strudel
A day when everything coincides, when everyone who arrives seems to arrive at the same time. First came the plumbers to fit the air-conditioning in the canteen. I've always remembered that Peter Mayle in his book "A Year in Provence" recounted the impossibility of getting the local plumber to come around - we persevered with a plumber like that for a while (& almost went mad) but now we have one who is as reliable as they come - pricy but not overly so when you consider the quality of the work & the timeliness - today the summer heat really started & there he was, first thing, with his little crew to see that the canteen would not exceed C20° this year (unlike previous years but it's better that I don't mention what temperature the canteen reached in the hot summer of 2003). He is also a good customer for our wine so maybe this had something to do with it.
Next came one of the partners in the agency that does our graphic design. Rather under sense of obligation I agreed to let them use the house for a photo shoot for some furniture advertising they are doing for another client. It was rather an ominous start when the big removals van rolled into the car-park full of furniture. Things went down-hill from then on in. The three workers were very polite & careful but at the time of writing ourselves & our guests are forced to eat & relax outside as the house resembles the inside of a furniture wharehouse. Everyone promises that by 4.00 p.m. tomorrow everything will be back to order but I have my doubts. I've told them that I want the photographer to do a shoot for us for free in payment.
The only person who was content was Yetmir who, coming inside & seeing our beautiful old tables & bar piled up in a corner, & the new flat-pack fake rustic furniture set out for the photographer tomorrow, complimented us on the improvement & said how much nicer it looked! (where does he thing we would get the money from to randomly replace perfectly good furniture?)
Dinner tonight: vegetable lasagna, schnitzel on ruccola, chocolate mousse.
Luca: Luca cut the grass under the small vineplants in the new vineyard with the strimmer. After getting sunstroke the other day wearing a base-ball cap he has adopted the Friulano style straw hat so seems rather quaint & rustic up there on the hill in the struggle against the weeds.
Yetmir: Yetmir sprayed the grape vines today. This is a job that needs doing roughly 14 times from the beginning of May until the beginning of August. Spraying is done to protect the vines principally from fungus attacks. We only spray with insecticides (pyrethrum) twice a year as we are required to do by law to protect the plants from a virus carried by an insect recently arrived from America. Yetmir is a good boy but he forgot the check if all the doors to the house were shut when he sprayed under the pergola - the dining room won't need to worry about fungal attacks either for a while!
Loris came to cut the hay - immediately after as the grass was drying ominously black clouds appeared & threatened a thunderstorm which thankfully didn't arrive.
Me: Went to the local bike shop in Faedis to pick up both our bikes - Luca's having been repaired after his accident & mine to have an inner tube changed. Took the opportuntiy (as one does) to slip into the Vecchio Forno of Nonno Eglio (the bakery of grandfather Eglio) for a rather good latte macchiato & two rather nice creamy cakes (didn't do much for my waist but good all the same). News in the papers all rather bad & dreary - the economy is on a tumble, Italy can't repay its public debts but the politicians tell us it's not that bad & mostly the fault of those statistics-wallahs at the European commission.
More electric fencing in the afternoon - it seems that I'm the only person at La Faula who can do electric fencing (I'm rather doubtful about this) & nobody likes helping me do it because they say I'm bossy, even tyranical. I don't beleive it myself but they are rather surly when they have to work with me. Afterwards prepared dinner for some guests & us - finished it all off with a (tepid) beer & apart from this that's it for the day.
Dinner tonight: Sausage orzotto, Involtini containing pancetta & cheese cooked in white wine with potatoes, Hazelnut cake