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.