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!)