We really passed a pretty tiring Christmas with Barty - one of the Maremmano sheepdogs. On Christmas Eve noticing that she wasn't well, I took Barty to the vets expecting to leave with nothing more than an antibiotics prescription. Instead, the vet told me that Barty was hours from death as her uterus was infected & her kidneys were at risk of packing-up. By midday Barty was on the operating table.
In the evening of Christmas eve we took Barty home. On Christmas Day we took her again to the vets (good service eh? - our bank balance has taken a hit!) & she seemed OK but by boxing day she was declining fast. On the 27th we took her again to the vets & they found a very large tumour under her tail that was blocking everything. She was effectively being poisoned by her own body wastes.
This time, the sugeon told us there wasn't much hope - that they would operate & if there was something to be done they would do it but if not they would call us (& obviously we would agree to her being put down). After a large operation the tumour - which turned out to be benign - was removed & Barty returned to us with catheter, tubes etc & strict instructions that the catheter was not to be pulled because if it broke-off in the bladder that was effectively it for the dog.
For one day Barty was too destroyed to even move but this morning she got out of her bed pulling & separating the catheter tube. Luckily, it didn't break but then in my confusion reconnecting the catheter-bag I deflated the balloon that closes the bladder & holds it all in place so it was another trip to the vets.
Tonight everything seems OK but the dogs weighs 47 kilos, moving her around, holding her still when the vets are prodding & probing plus always wondering if the story is going to have a happy ending (& wondering if everytime there is an operation whether the money is being spent in vain!) have rather exhausted us!
Christmas dinner was nice but we ended up having an argument about politics with Luca's parents (who are staunch Italian communists of the old school) so, overall, we feel that it might be a christmas to recollect & recount but not to experience (at least not again)!!
Otherwise, things here have been very nice. The weather is sunny & warm & to be outside working is a real pleasure. It has also been a good time for dinners & drinks with friends (& sleeping-in in the moring when one feels like!).
By New Years Eve Barty seemed to be progressing well & we, ourselves, were able to look forward to a fine dinner (no politics, however!) with friends.
Happy New Year!
Tomorrow will be the fist time since March that there isn’t a breakfast to prepare. Pondering on this as I worked in the wine-cellar this afternoon, I wondered if I should celebrate by sleeping-in. But the good weather has returned &, paradoxically, I think that I should be up & awake to enjoy my freedom rather than inert in bed as another lovely autumn day breaks upon La Faula!
The photos came back. Having a dynamic web-site means every time you think that it’s just working the way you want it to, something stops working the way you want it to or at all. Most of the problems we experience with the site relate to the photos. Last winter I had terrible problems loading the photos & it would take 5 or 6 tries before one was accepted. This problem, after 5 months dissappeared as mysteriously as it had arrived. A couple of days ago when I saw that the photos weren’t loading, I felt like diching them. It seemed impossible that after two good years without problems, & given the rushing pace of technological improvements, this last year could have brough so much grief concerning getting photos on & off the site!!!
Well, that’s it - after tonight, no more dinners to cook (well, for the Agriturismo at least) until the start of next years season in March! The great thing about this job is every year there are a number of points where you have that old school end-of-year feeling (even if not looking forward to 6 weeks of summer holidays at the beach as when young!). There really is a day when the Agriturismo winds-down,the last guests for the year leave & the house reverts to our home. The harvest & wine-making really do have an end when the wine is safely tucked-away in the cellar & winter’s chill has descended upon the vines. And at the end of winter the time comes to leave all that & revert to the Agriturismo, the first guests arrive & so the cycle goes on!
Last evening a very violent, fast-moving thunderstorm passed over us. Its fury was disconcerting & the amazing thing was that a beautiful, sunny & clear morning revealed almost no damage!
Today, Monday 17 September, was the first day since March when we have found ourselves at La Faula without any guests.
We passed from running the Agriturismo full tilt to harvesting the grapes with nary a second's break. It seemed, at the time, that it would all be rather impossible to pull-off: due to the warm winter past & the very hot June & July, the grapes' maturity was advanced by about a month but the night's thunder-storms of August & consequent humidity gave us concern about the risk of the grapes rotting away on the vine.
The Agriturismo was fully engaged until 15 September but on 10 September, with the forebearance of the guests, we began the harvest of the white grapes. The early harvest & harvester’s family difficulties left us short of grape pickers at this time & it took some fortitude to keep pushing on.
We began by harvesting Sauvignon blanc, the grapes of which have a fine skin & so are prone to rot. It was necessary, therefore, that the harvesters clean the bunches of grapes, where there was rot, to remove the bad grapes. This was unbelievably time-consuming & was pretty tough on those few pickers as it seemed that the lines of grapes were endless & that closure would never be reached. After a week, however, the sauvignon was all in the canteen & the quality of the grapes left was superb. They were extremely rich in sugar & taste. I think, though, that we probably lost around 35% of the harvest.
Fortunately, the weather held: hot, sunny days with warm drying afternoon breezes.
We moved on to harvesting the tocai - some of the grapes had the 'noble rot', a kind of fungus that absorbs moisture from the individual grapes leaving the remaining juice, with its sugars & aromas, rich & concentrated.
Finally, we harvested the Pinot Bianco & Chardonnay, finishing the later today. These last grapes were perfect & could not be bettered.
All the wines are now bubbling away in the canteen / cellar & seem to be very good.
Tomorrow, the rain is due - at least it will allow us to sleep-in without a bad conscience!!!
After a certain point, we just got too busy & I abandoned the web-site for a while. Although I kept collecting & tagging the photos, somehow, loading them just seemed too much. We are still full & busy with guests & with the Grape Harvest ready to start the minute we can find a moment to dedicate to it, but after this break away I am ready to come back to the daily section of the site.
I feel obliged to write - if anyone is reading - to mention that it didn’t freeze last night!
As I sit here writing this I can see that the temperature outside is 2.8°c and dropping. All farmers are on tender-hooks tonight. The unseasonably warm weather up until today has caused the plants to bud early. If a frost comes the dmage will be severe. This evening a cold wind is blowing from the north. We can only hope for the best.
On the other hand (I suppose that there is always an ’other hand’) the heavy rain that preceeded this cold was just what was needed to assist the earth to subside around the pool so that the pool-suround can be concreted. As things currently stand, the building work related to the pool should be finished Friday. At that point all that will remain will be the landscaping & fencing, both of which we will do ourselves (we tend a vineyard as if it were a garden after all!).
This morning I went to a food technology fair held at the exhibition hall in Udine. By now, at least in Italy, the cooking & chilling technology stipulated by law is so standardised & computerised that I guess that perhaps more than ever, each location (be it town, province or restaurant) will be distinguished by the quality & type of ingredients used & the personal skill & flair of the Chef. All the new ovens are computerised & cook at exactly any temperature, with or without steam, humidifying or de-humidifying. No longer will ovens, such as ours, have their quirks, be too ’cold’ or too hot. A Chef won’t need to know the personality of his or her oven. The new ovens have a microprocessor for a brain which gives them an even digital temperament. We, however, will have to labour on with our analogue oven for a while longer - maybe I might even prefer an oven with personality!
This week passed saw some big strides on the swimming pool front with the structure being reinterred (leaving space on the top for the water, of course!). The pool will be our last major investment here at La Faula & I am just dreaming of future years without any vineyards to remake of things to construct. Every year for 10 years we have had one or more projects underway & I think that this is more than enough for a lifetime!
Tomorrow afternoon I will attend the third of four lessons on Friulano cooking. The course is organised by a local higher education college (belonging to the main communist trade union), through the auspices of the Friuli Regional Administration (they need to do something) using European Community money (keeps everyone keen one Europe!). The Chef teaching is quite famous & rather jolly & the end of the lesson involves trying out the recipes with some good wine. Unfortunately, I feel unable wholeheartedly to enjoy the wine as a new law has just introduced a fine of Eur.24,000 & 6 months in prison for driving over the limit (one glass of wine). I have a feeling that Italy was rather more fun before they learnt to marry Protestant dissaproval of sin with Fascist enforcement!
This week saw some very good news. Our poor cleaner who went on a home visit to the Dominican Republic with an about-to-expire work permit, had her passport & work permit stolen, had the work permit expire finally, after a lot of pleading, got a visa to return to Italy. Without her we wouldn’t know what to do. We guess from what we read about other countries, that cleaning jobs are often done by undocumented workers or people working in the black economy. In Friuli - & we understand much of North Italy - constant raids by the Work Inspectorate & Guardia di Finanza, criminal prosecution & mega fines have all but eliminated the ’informal’ workforce. The result is that no-body is available to do jobs such as cleaning, washing dishes in restaurants etc. When you find a cleaner, such as ours, who is fast, efficient, productive & professional it is like having a rare pearl - to think that we had lost Mariza was making our stomachs churn! When she gets back it’ll be time for a big fiesta with her & her sisters!!
This morning, reading one of the newspapers of the NorthEast of Italy in a bar in Tarcento (as well as enjoying a very nice cappucino & croisant!), I was astonished to find a full-page advertisment attributed to the Regional Government (there are many levels of government in Italy) of Calabria that sported 9 young women of around 18 years with the text ’Terroni? Si, siamo calabresi’ followed by ’Gli ultimi saranno i primi’
Translated the text is more of less: ’Brown like the earth? Yes, we are of Calabria’ My dictionary does not define ’terroni’ but simply says ’Derogatory term used by Northern Italians to describe Southern Italians’. So there you have it, the Northern Italians denigrate those Italians with darker skins than they! And, it seems that the Calabresi, or at least the Regional Government of Calabria, have decided to follow the example of (some) American blacks who reclaimed the ’N’ word & (some) gays who reclaimed the ’Q’ word (or the ’F’ word but this was only for the truly daring) by appropriating the terms of abuse applied to them & instilling them instead with pride.
This is all very well as discrimination is always wrong. But it is worth remembering, amongst others, that refuse collection is managed by the National Civil Defence body because the pervasive influence of the Calabrese ’mafia’ resulted in years without rubbish collection, that there are 22.000 state forest guards covering an area the size of Lombardy that manages with only 390 (& it is also worth remembering that every summer the region, notwithstanding the forest guards, is wreathed in smoke from burning forest fires) & that only two years ago 2 killers calmly shot dead the President of the Regional Government on the steps of his office.
In Italy there is a common saying ’l’apparenza inganna’ - appearances deceive. So it’s hard not to wonder whether the Regional Government of Calabria wouldn’t be better spending its money to create a Region that the Calabresi can truly be proud of instead of worrying about what a bunch of snobbish northern italians think of them!
A second good rain has just passed so work should recommence on the pool. After the pool structure was mounted, & the soil re-filled in around it, it has been necessary to await rain to cause the clay to consolidate & settle. Luckily, the rains have come & we can only hope that on Monday the bricklayers will, themselves, come!
Building, with the forthcoming season of the Agriturismo in prospect, is not a great pleasure. We have been very lucky this winter that there hasn't really been a winter so the builders were able to start after Christmas & no inclement weather came to impede their progress. But in a couple of weeks the first guests will arrive &, experience has taught us, that in the hospitality industry it is better to leave nothing to fate nor risk being a hostage to fortune so we will breath peacefully only once the project is finished !