Luca and Myself want to Wish You All A Very Happy New Year. Luck plays a great part in life so let us hope, all of us, to be lucky!
Being New Year's Eve, many in Ravosa and Magredis will be remembering Daniela. The following piece, translated from the original Italian, is for the relatives in Australia who follow this site:
Dear Mother, Dear Wife, Dear Sister, Dear Friend Daniela,
Since you've gone, we feel a terrible void. Slowly, we are trying to fill it with all the large and small gifts you left for us. Through your actions and sense of purpose, without ever a need for lengthy words or discourses, you deeply touched our hearts and left us a precious heritage. You bestowed on us your all embracing love for life, your ability to live every present moment with intensity and joy, as if it was the last. You bestowed on us your unselfish and caring regard for others like on those times you looked after Grandmother Maria, Grandmother Gerina and Aunt Elvira. You bestowed on us your great strength and perseverance in confronting your illness over the past years. You bestowed on us your great dignity as you undertook lengthy therapies without discouragement, always fighting on the front line. You bestowed on us the hard work, honesty and passion you put in bringing up your family and in attending to your businesses, through which you endeared yourself to so many people from the villages of Magredis, Ravosa and Attimis. You bestowed on us your friendly, easy-going, sincere manners and your ability to mix with others conveying gayness and harmony. Now, our love towards you has found greater depth as we remember your last months.
The illness has won over. Yet, you appeared purified and your spirit, more deep-rooted than ever in Faith, showed itself through an even gentler smile and a loving and motherly gaze. This is the image of yours that everyone of us and everyone who came to your bedside will carry in their hearts and no passing of time will be able to blur out.
Thank you Daniela,
From your large family,
Your husband Gino, your children Carol and Luca, you sisters and brothers, all your relatives and friends.
As promised, our problematic relationship with e-mail .....
At the beginning of the internet age many small web-hosting firms sprung up. They were in many ways experimental. Open programming languages such as php were newborn and were unstable. But e-mail was established and as more, millions more, people connected to the internet their first port of call was e-mail. It was simple and many were used to using it at work. This explosion of private users created fertile ground, first for malicious virus creators and then for scammers. And the relationship between valid e-mails and dangerous one's tilted decisively in favour of the latter. In this time there was no broadband at La Faula and no webmail. It was disheartening to spend so much time and money downloading pieces of software code designed to damage one's computer and e-mails promising fictitious bodily enhancements. As the problem grew so the web-hosters sought solutions and there was a fertile market in experimental filters to block bad e-mails at the server level.
Sometimes, our e-mails would cease to arrive altogether. One particularly defective and destructive filter was called 'SpamCop' which was the cyberspace equivalent of an out-of-control Dirty Harry on speed! It killed everything. When I called our agency, in classic Italian style I was reassured and told not to worry as it happened to everyone. But the problem was our bookings arrived, at that time by e-mail!
I decided that we had to get away from e-mail and so I designed a message system for our web-site. At the beginning it was very difficult for people to use. The concept of registering with a website was new and people didn't like (actually they hated) doing it. Before the spread of e-commerce computer privacy filters were set too high and wouldn't accept the validation cookies at the base of all these systems so it wouldn't work. Plus the software code itself was unstable and web hosting firms were not so adept at providing high and reliable levels of service. Many times I asked myself whether it was worth persevering with the system and one thing kept me going. We noticed that the people who booked using our message system were the most wonderful guests. They were, obviously, open to new things and not afraid of technology. They were able to appreciate what we were doing and liked it. And they were gracious and cooperative people by nature. This had shown itself in the fact that when invited to use our message system, they did. And in person they were the same; open, generous, cooperative, helpful and good company. It's a fact!
As time went on the software became stable, registering went through one stage when it didn't seem so bad but then another stage when it seemed a real pain because of the plethora of nicknames and passwords one was required to have (but have you noticed that this is much less of a problem now - the software takes care of it). It was good for us because people, just by the act of registering to ask for information, had invested that little effort which meant that it was worth investing in creating an appropriate reply. E-mail on the other hand was maddening because the same e-mail asking for availability and prices could be bulk sent to every Agriturismo in Italy (and was often sent to every Agriturismo in Friuli). Professionalism required one to spend time and effort on the reply notwithstanding an awareness that the odds of a booking resulting were minuscule.
So we went through a period of equilibrium as far as communications with La Faula were concerned. It was during this period the travel guides went into decline and the first valid web portals for Agriturismi began to emerge from the jumble of wanna-be, aspiring and fraudulent. At the beginning an aspiring web portal would send an e-mail with a proposal to include one's own Agriturismo for €500 a year (it's always around €500 - this must 'feel' like the right amount - or at least it is the amount people are prepared to pay). The challenge was in knowing whether the portal was the real thing or whether, even if it was, it would draw sufficient critical mass to display high on Google's listings.
There were a number of attempts to rip us off. I don't know if this is common in other countries but in Italy the scam-or semi-scam is a way of life for some, maybe for too many for the good of the economy. A particular problem here is the legal scam exploiting the primitive, ill-thought-out and venal nature of Italy's laws and legal system. One certainly has to be hyper-alert here. Eventually one portal seemed to have emerged from the mass - www.agriturismo.it - and so we got ourselves on it. And so it was that e-mail has inveigled its way back into our lives! Once people have registered with the portal it seems just to use the communication system within which, by necessity, is e-mail.
The trouble is that e-mail has come back into La Faula just at the point where we can really improve the quality of Guest experience by using the website and database and improve significantly our productivity.
For example, since we began as an Agriturismo we have had many families with children as guests. A constant problem has been to get right the sleeping accommodation for children; cot, what type, child's bed or normal bed, sides or not? This July we solved it by sending booked guests a link to a web-page where they could see what we have and could make the best selection for them. These selections were automatically sorted by date and room and enabled us to have the right things ready at the right time. No more running around at the last minute swapping a travel cot for a wooden cot, or a regular bed with sides for a child's bed!
This year we began up-dating our recipes list to make it accurately reflect what we serve at La Faula. This year we will send booked guests a link to a web page where they will be able to express their preferences (and anti-preferences!). These will be sorted by week number and give us a broad menù week by week. In a way that we could never have done before, we will be able to incorporate guest preferences into the dining experience. Likewise, we have other ideas planned to use this kind of system.
And this kind of brings me back to the key role that guest cooperation can play in improving La Faula for everyone. If somebody registers and follows the website for their interactions with us it shows a high level of innate cooperativeness, a willingness to trust that our system exists for a purpose and a preparedness to go along for the ride. Of course, this doesn't mean that those who prefer to use e-mail are not those things too! But it does mean that they potentially deprive themselves of a better experience and, more importantly, by not incorporating their input lessen the representativeness of the outcomes. That’s what one could call a sub-optimal result!
Today I spent a large part of the day working on our Google AdWords account. Most small businesses must use Google AdWords. It permits one to bid a sum of money for certain keywords which, when typed by a Googler, will allow a small advertisement to pop-up on the results page. It is an auction and in bidding money i.e. buying the right to have one's little add displayed, one is bidding against everyone else that wants to have their own little ad pop-up on the Google results page. It is infernal. Google offers every online assistance to refine and focus and make one's adds better. But for everyone. So as one refines and - inevitably bids more for the keywords - one pushes someone elses advertisement down the ranking and, maybe, off the page. Of course, there are hundreds, thousands and millions doing this so soon the complement is returned and one's own advertisement stops displaying.
Now, the truth about me is that I am completely undisciplined and more than a bit lazy. I should review our Google account regularly to see which keywords are still 'mine' and those which I have lost as they have been bidded more for by someone else. But I don't. Actually I do it once a year. This time Luca prompted me by observing that our credit card had no more Google debits but rather a lot of iTunes billing and he wasn't sure if this was such a good state of affairs. Well, the La Faula music collection is now superb. Every winter evening after listening to BBC Radio 4 over dinner -PM with Eddie Mair is wonderful - in fact Radio 4 is completely wonderful - I move to the computer and work away while the music streams from our Netgear ReadyNAS device.
But I digress, I started with Google AdWords in 1985 and it has sure developed a lot since then. When I started, our advertisement would display when I bidded as little as 5 cents. Today I arrived at €1 per click for certain key keywords. inevitably as more Agriturismi enter the market, as more Agriturismi use AdWords, the price of important keywords climbs.
When we started here in 1997 one simply got selected for two or three key guidebooks and then waited for the telephone to ring. Now we don't even have a telephone (would you if your home was connected to a 30-year old analogue exchange - good old Telecom Italia!). Fax was the big deal for confirming bookings. For a lazy old person like myself this was a perfect state of affairs. Getting into the guides was the result of luck and application. But for a little Agriturismo there was nothing else to do. Now, however, the internet offers every small business the possibility to reach out to the world via a website. And a website is no good if no-one sees it. So it is really important to master AdWords but to do that there are so many decisions, so specialised, and so far away from the normal humdrum of running an Agriturismo. But they are just as much part of running an Agriturismo as anything else.
Coming to our website. We made a conscious decision quite early on that it would be based on a lot of our own-generated content. We noticed that before most people used internet they would come to La Faula based on the preconceptions that they brought to our little advertisement in the guidebook. Some people knew what they wanted; space, sun, countryside, dogs, animals. But everytime someone arrived at the door and said is this 'Albergo La Faula' our heart would sink. We are not a hotel. We want to be more than a hotel. Our lowest point was when a group of air-hostesses (can one still use the term?) came for a birthday party weekend at La Faula and tried to rise-up to the house from the gravel-covered carpark on high heels! In those days there was even less gravel and the pointy part of the heel would jam in the earth between the stones leaving their shoes behind while they staggered around like some demented flock of Cinderellas!!
Our very first website was a static affair created by a graphic agency. Of course, it had photos of our enormous Maremanno sheepdogs, Minnie, Spotty and Barty. In addition, on the last pages there was a photo of Luca and myself. A rather disturbingly large number of Italians (a fact) reached the conclusion that Luca and I managed the human guest hospitality and that Minnie, Spotty and Barty managed the canine hospitality. So they would turn-up for a confirmed booking with their - he's so well behaved - little 'bobbie' (the Italian pet-name for a pet dog). Of course, being sheepdogs of the protective type, our dogs' idea of hospitality was to rip the interloper to pieces from nose to tail. The guest dog, thus at risk of life and tail would end up cowering inside (and peeing with fear) while our dogs, wolfishly, - and thuggishly, it has to be said -prowled outside.
Tomorrow, as I'm on a roll, I'll move on to e-mail, why we got rid of it, how it forced itself back through the door, and why using the La Faula messaging system instead of e-mail results in a better holiday for everyone (that's a tall order!). Then, if I’ve got any stamina left, I’ll turn to Facebook, and why we struggle to use it.
In the meantime if you go to http://www.faula.com/stats.php you will see just how helpful Google is to get people to your website. Of course, the trick then is that they book!!
LINKS TO RECENT FOREIGN PRESS REPORTS
This year I read 'Italy's Sorrow: A Year of War 1944-45' by James Holland. The Allied Troops who battled their way up the Italian peninsular were enormously advantaged in materiel, especially tanks, lorries, and self-propelled guns. But they were almost of no use. The Italian winters can be fierce and rain and mud turn the clay into a viscous, tenacious, sticky glue. Vehicles, even tracked vehicles struggle to move. As I read numerous retellings of troops and vehicles mired down and unable to move my mind flicked to La Faula and I thought about our own vineyard, etched from the steep slopes of a hill and carved from a clay, unyielding as cement when dry and grabingly tendrilous when wet.
I remembered the times one tractor has had to pull out another, of tractors sliding sideways in a row of vines until stopped by poles and wires. I remembered the times, while replanting vines, that the clay built-up so firm under the bulldozer that it was stranded and sliding sideways. These problems, of course, are only an inconvenience. Provided it doesn't roll a tractor that slides will eventually come to a halt, leaving deep furrows in the mire to mark its passage.
So today Luca went into the vineyard to begin ripping between the lines of grape vines. The 'ripper' is a large blade, around 1 meter long which once it enters the ground slices vertically while being pulled forward. At the base of the cutting blade is a bow towing a plug; the bow raises up the ground while the plug creates a tube in the clay. The effect of 'ripping is to open up the soil, permit the air in to encourage life and create drainage channels to take the water away.
In such a challenging environment one proceeds into the vineyard knowing that there is always the risk of damage. That one is working on a hill adds the risk of roll-over, something every farmer wants to avoid. Modern tractors roll-over. But the event should be survivable provided one remembers in the stress of the moment the right actions to take.
Working with powerful machinery in dangerous situations is common enough but when you are the one doing it, and something starts to go wrong, in that instant there won't be anybody to get you out of it. In that moment it is up to you, and you alone. Of course, once the situation has stabilised, and you have switched-off the tractor and exited from it you will feel great relief. But then you will see that the tractor is still there and you know that it will be you to re-enter it, turn it on and begin implementing your plan to retrieve the situation. One just can't leave tractors abandoned on hills when one encounters a sticky situation!
So it was that today I was behind the house splitting wood. A golfer came up to chat and as we were speaking I was watching Luca's tractor ripping on the hill. Everything was proceeding fine when instantly, but smoothly, the front, wheels still straight ahead, swung to the left towards the vines and ultimately the drop to the next terrace. There was no special noise. It just happened. And then the noise of the tractor stopped and everything was still. I cursed. When one is a farmer, every difficulty avoided is a blessing, every difficulty visited a weight.
We passed a super Christmas. Traditionally, in Italy, Christmas eve is very important with people going to mass and then going to a local restaurant to eat tripe. Afterwards, when they get home presents are exchanged. The following day, Christmas Day, after a good lie-in (that is except for those who are doing the cooking!) everyone sets in for a wonderful, and long, Christmas lunch. It was like this for us (except that we skipped the mass).
On Friday night we went to our local trattoria Ai Cons. Luca had had a craving to eat tripe cooked by Elda, the co-owner and cook, for months. The idea turned my stomach - eating tripe, that is - so I settled for a scrumptious plate of venison stew with polenta (actually two plates, becuse if you like a course at the Ai Cons they are very likely to give one seconds!).
The Ai Cons was bright and warm with happy Christmas lights. Various people from the village were there also to eat or simply to stop by and have a drink in company. It was really nice. We were of course all old. Italy is ageing at a tremendous rate. Young 'indigenous Italians are quite rare; it is the foreign immigrants who are having the children here. Most of the families eating dinner consisted of three generations: people in their 70's and 80's, their children in their 40's and 50's and their children in their late teens. The demographic pyramid was completely inverted: the people in their 70's and 80's were numerous, grandparents, unmarried sisters and brothers, cousins; the people in their 40's and 50's many less and then just a sprinkling of teenagers! It was a joy to see these big families together, and a joy for Alcide, husband of Elda and co-owner of the Ai Cons, as the older people are paying for everyone else in these times!
Christmas day we went to Luca's mum and dads' for lunch. Luca's mum is a great cook, the wine was French and very fine. Luca's sister and her husband had gone to spend Christmas in their house in Spain so we were joined for lunch by Luca's niece and nephew. Luca's parents have been well treated by fate, fortune and Italy and so they always find me a bit of a grumbling stone-in-the-shoe constantly prophesying hell and damnation for Italy. Luca's niece and nephew are actually Spanish but have been in Italy for a long time. They are very polite and have always been the epitome of discretion and good-company at family get-togethers (plus they dress well which is also very nice).
Here I must temporarily digress. Early Friday evening one of our neighbours dropped by to purchase some wine. He follows our website and this blog
'Oh' , he said
'Your Blog has become so critical - all that writing concerning Berlusconi!'
'You've pulled out all the stops!'
'It's true' I said
'Now I just write about it as it is!'
But what I wasn't expecting was what happened at the family Christmas lunch. Luca's niece is just finishing her PhD Thesis. While we were having lunch she remarked during conversation to Luca and myself in a matter-of-fact way that our generation had consumed everything and that while she could accept not getting a pension what she couldn't accept was that there aren't any jobs for graduates.
Of course I demurred at the idea that Luca and I had consumed everything (apart from anything else I'm a foreigner and Luca only returned in 1995) and suggested that she look instead at the generation of her grandparents. I pointed out that we were the only people in the family working in the private sector and it seemed rather a lot to expect our taxes to cover eight people, including ourselves.
Of course, Luca's parents bridled at the suggestion that they had consumed everything, that must have been the others, and as no-one could take responsibility Luca's niece was left with her problem.
Now, of course, Luca's niece is a very able person who will have no problems creating a fine career for herself, if not in Italy, then outside. But in the end, the old people paying for the young will not satisfy the aspirations of youth to build their own lives. Before Christmas the violence in Rome by young - very young - people was extensively covered by the press, here and abroad. Nobody in Italy is taking responsibility for this situation, no politician here is prepared to countenance a shift in resources from the older to the younger. The young have not been cut adrift. Rather they are being towed behind and slowly they are pulling themselves towards the Old People's Express. When they board it times will be interesting indeed.
Luca and Myself Wish You All a Very Merry Christmas!
If you have been to stay at La Faula you will know that we have many guests from the United Kingdom. Having lived in England for 9 years I was always struck by the feeling commonly found in a strata of English people that things are always somehow better on the Continent'. After Thatcher many English people felt that the Continentals with their work protection, short working hours, longs holidays, not to mention better trains, had somehow discovered the secret of earthly paradise. When sunshine and wonderful food are factored in the effect is sublime.
Now that the UK is struggling with snow and cold the normal English breast-beating has again surfaced. 'Why', some (actually more than some) ask, 'can we in the UK never manage to cope well with heavy winters while, on the Continent, life carries on as usual'? Well actually the reality is that here in Italy the motorways got blocked too and people spent nights (and days) stuck in their cars. But at least the Italian media can console themselves with the fact that The UK is managing worse because their airports stopped working! But today the Bank of Italy released some statistics that should make one pause before readily accepting that the Mediterranean (or at least the Italian) way: populism, spending money to spread it around, going into massive debt to keep everyone happy and avoid reforms that would undermine 'social cohesion' is somehow superior, in social equity terms, to the vicious free market anglo-saxon model.
The Bank of Italy reported that at the end of 2008, 45% of the total wealth of Italian families was held only 10% of those families. Fully one-half of Italian families hold only 10% of the total wealth of Italian families. As the Bank of Italy stated 'many families keep modest means or lack wealth meanwhile at the opposite end few hold enormous wealth [Molte famiglie detengono livelli modesti o nulli di ricchezza mentre all'opposto poche dispongono di una ricchezza elevata - http://www.rainews24.rai.it/it/news.php?newsid=148508].
And another little shocking piece of information. ENI is effectively a monopoly gas provider in Italy. It is 30% owned by the Italian State [http://www.eni.com/en_IT/investor-relation/eni-stock-markets/shareholders/relevant-partecipation/relevant-partecipation.shtml]. It has been deeply involved with Gasprom and Russian gas pipeline plans. Wikileaks leaks of US diplomatic cables evinced US concern that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was profiting personally from these arrangements and to this end was leveraging his strong personal relationship with Vladimir Putin. This very night it has been announced that ENI is under investigation for evasion of gas excise duties to the sum of €1.7 billion. I guess what the government doesn't take as tax it gets as a dividend!!
The series of photos for 18 December 2010 were taken in an old Friulano cow stall forgotten by time. The farmer is an old lady. She grew up on the farm with her mother and father and brothers and sisters. She never married and found herself running the farm and looking after her ailing father. Now she is alone on the farm. She was extremely reluctant to have us photograph, ashamed and embarrassed at the mess and obvious poverty.
But the farm buildings showed signs of past affluence. Elaborate and extensive iron-work. Alterations and works - seemingly all from the 1960's. But now the lady runs the farm by herself. Alone, it is too much for her. The cows are milking cows. She milks alone every day and night of the year and brings the milk in churns to the dairy at Ravosa where it is made into cheese. The lady probably isn't personally poor, small farms in Italy still provide a living. But the farm is poor. Alone she and the farm are winding down. Continuing on past momentum until that too eventually finishes.
The farm is interesting because the cow stall is pretty much as once upon a time and as the cow stall at La Faula was.
LATEST NEWS LINKS:
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/f29f3a5c-0a18-11e0-9bb4-00144feabdc0.html#axzz18UmvMtum (you will need to register to read Financial Times Articles. It is free, easy and worth it)
During the day, especially while working in the vineyard, many topics come to mind for this diary. After dinner, having decided what I want to write about, I put the music on low, stretch my legs out under the computer table and start writing. It does require some effort and I don't want it to eat-up my whole evening so when the flow comes to a natural stop I finish it there.
This afternoon we were in the vineyard pulling out broken and consumed poles and pressing down their replacements. What I wrote last night drifted into my mind and suddenly I thought 'At 50, after 15 years putting-up with that fogolar, why should I any more?' Of course, the attraction of the fogolar as it is now is that one can experience passing time around the hearth as in past times. But these are not past times. While talking about the fogolar, our neighbour Alcide told me that when one went into the old houses many years ago, the cooking room - where the fogolar was - was always black from soot and smoke and smelt of 'stiz (burnt embers - in Friulano 'Ciapá di Stiz'). What comes to mind is the image of the old lady who cooked the grill on the fogolar at the restaurant La Rochet. After decades being hunched under the fogolar hood she was almost bent double. It is moreover not hard to imagine that the fogolar was the cause also of ill-health, especially for the women, caused by constant exposure to smoke and combusted gases.
In any case, quaint as it may seem now, it is perhaps ridiculous to venerate an element of past life that was anything but naif and that was a symptom of poverty and which did nothing but inefficiently consume large amounts of wood for little in return and which just laid one other weight, among many, on the backs of a burdened and weakened people.
I think that one day we are going to place a nice, glass-sided wood stove, in the fogolar and my winters emulating old Friulani heating habits will be finished!
LATEST FOREIGN PRESS - 17 Dec 2010
A little while ago I wrote that at a lunch with some of the villagers I was asked what I was writing about life here in Ravosa. Previously, I always imagined that I was writing to you who have been to La Faula and who, in addition to 'the holiday', are interested in 'the rest' (or at least some of it!!). But it turns out that I was also writing for those who had emigrated from Magredis-Ravosa - in fact, for their children. Since mentioning that the La Faula website is a little, partial, window on life in Ravosa, others have messaged and, in fact, I am writing for Friulani in Mexico, Canada, The Untied States and, of course, Australia! When we factor this into the webstats for our site, and add visits from friends, relatives and friends of La Faula we start to wonder if anyone actually finds and visits the site for the first time - for the sake of our business let's hope so!
So it is with some pleasure that I load this evening the photos from last night when we had some local friends to dinner and to pass some time around the traditional Friulano open fire, the fogolar. Of the people in the photo, two were emigrants in the 1950's but later returned to Ravosa. One went to North Queensland to cut sugar cane and the other to Rhodesia to eventually become a mine overseer. Italian culture is still rather blokey so there was only one woman to leaven the male mix.
As I mentioned, the fireplace we were sitting around is known in Friulano as a 'fogolar'. It is the poorest and most miserable way to harness fire, effectively being an open fire in the middle of the room with a hood suspended from the ceiling and a side-exiting chimney. The poverty in Friuli was so great until (and sometimes after) the 1930's that ordinary people couldn't afford to have stoves containing metal parts. A fogolar is a real pain. The diameter of the chimney has to be large or the room fills up with smoke - in fact it often does anyway - so unless the fire is continuously lit or the chimney is closed the constant flow of air up and out cools the whole house down. The chimney closing mechanism on our fogolar consists of a badly-cut piece of light iron plate which one kind of pushes into the chimney hole hoping, at the same time, not to damage the chimney rendering thereby inviting a house fire! Obviously not wanting to force the plate, one then risks that the plate simply falls flat inside the chimney on a windy night and so the room becomes a kind of fridge until one climbs again into the fire hood and repeats the process.
As everywhere, when one goes out to dinner in Ravosa it is normal to bring a gift. Yesterday afternoon we were up on the hill working in the vineyard and we saw our neighbour's white Suzuki 4x4 arrive. He had come to deliver an enormous mulberry tree stump. Until the late 1950's most farming in Friuli was subsistence farming. The challenge for the farmers was to find some activity that was capable of producing cash. The way they did this was to produce silk for Venice. The silk worm lives on the leaves of the mulberry tree. So the Friulani fields were hedged with coppiced mulberry trees. The farmers would have a large room in the house with thousands of silk worms. The leaves were layered on wire-woven wooden frames, rather like bedframes but bigger. The women would harvest the branches with the leaves and the children would look after the worms and harvest the cocoons (I must find out more about this). It was only two years ago that we eventually decided that we could no longer justify storing the frames that were at La Faula and we cut them up. At the time, and still, it seemed like an act of cultural vandalism. It still sits uneasy with me.
So it is that as the farmers increase the size of their fields for more efficient production they remove the mulberry trees including the stumps. Most farmers have a pile of mulberry stumps somewhere piled-up on the farm. The stumps are very difficult to cut with a normal (i.e. farmer's, not woodsman's) chainsaw so they tend to get lumped on the fogolar whole. So yesterday evening, although with some - no, more than some - doubts, Luca and I loaded the stump onto the grate of the fogolar. I made a little nest of kindling around it and set it alight. Well, the reason that the fogolar went out of fashion is that apart from the fact that it can reduce one's house to a fridge, it can also threaten to burn the house down and then smoke all living things out of it!
The kindling took and the flames wrapped themselves around the dry mulberry stump which began to glow and give off light blue flames. The flames increased and soon were roaring up the chimney. The chimney sits against tinder-dry wooden beams, the hood has a wooden surround and a nice edging of fabric. Being a bit of a sissy I always hate the beginning of getting the fogolar going. Probably the only thing worse is when atmospheric conditions mean that the chimney doesn't draw so the fire doesn't take and the room just fills up with smoke. Anyway, last night was high-pressure so soon the trunk was glowing amidst the flames like some infernal creature. I wondered to myself what mess the fire extinguishers would make if I was forced to use them. At the same time the enormous size of the trunk meant that even though it was burning cleanly and rapidly, the fierceness of the reaction was producing more heated air and smoke than could be drawn-up the chimney. The room inevitably filled-up with smoke. I then opened all the doors and windows. Of course the room stayed warm but it does seem bizarre to try and warm a room by creating a fire that requires all the windows and doors open!
By this point I was supposed to be preparing the lasagna and the apple crumble!! Unwilling to leave the room to the fire I was forced to sit and hope for the best and pray that the stump would soon reduce to gently smouldering embers!
ITALY UPDATE: According to Confindustria, the Industrialists Federation, since the beginning of 2008 Italy has number of employed has fallen by 540,000 not counting the 480,000 who are being paid to stay home and not work by the State. Economic growth for the next two years is forecast to be weak with unemployment continuing to climb. http://www.rainews24.rai.it/it/news.php?newsid=148388 Considering how few work in Italy (see the post for 20 November 2010) apart from the issue of who is to pay the public debt the question must arise as to who is to pay for the Dolce Vita?
LINKS TO RECENT FOREIGN PRESS REPORTS
14 Dec 2010 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11995277
14 Dec 2010 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11996551
14 Dec 2010 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11992034
14 Dec 2010 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11994321
14 Dec 2010 http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/gavinhewitt/2010/12/berlusconi_survives_storm.html
14 Dec 2010 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/15/world/europe/15italy.html?hp
Today Silvio Berlusconi narrowly survived a no-confidence vote in the upper and lower Houses of Parliament. In the streets of Rome and other major Italian cities there were protests, sometimes erupting into violence, by students and other young people.
But what does this mean? Absolutely nothing. Italy is a country governed by old people, run solely for themselves and their own pleasure. Of those who might care about this state of affairs, the various Police & Paramilitary Forces and the weight of the State squeeze all but those with nothing to lose into inaction. A democracy it isn't. One votes for a party and the party leader chooses those who sit in the parliament. The party that gains the most votes obtains an automatic majority in parliament irrespective of the actual number of votes it receives. Most Italians consider Italy to be a democracy. Generally, the people are ill-educated ( http://www.pisa.oecd.org/dataoecd/54/12/46643496.pdf ), lack capacity in foreign languages and are by nature insular. The Italians, collectively, find themselves every time misjudging great moments of change in human society. Now they have to affront a world changed by advanced technology, by the internet and by the need for the State to remove itself from those spheres where the private is more efficient and productive than the public. Italy can not and will not manage this challenge.
The latest Bank of Italy statistics show that only for the month of October the public debt reach a new record increasing by €22.6 billion. From October 2009 until October 2010 the public debt increased €62,857 billion - €87.25 billion per month. The public debt stands at €31,123 for every single inhabitant in Italy ( http://www.rainews24.rai.it/it/news.php?newsid=148318 ). The Finance Minister, Giulio Tremonti, is roundly praised by commentators for his prudent handling of the public finances.
LINKS TO RECENT FOREIGN PRESS REPORTS
13 Dec 2010 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11980275
13 Dec 2010 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11982228
13 Dec 2010 http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/gavinhewitt/2010/12/berlusconis_last_days.html
13 Dec 2010 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11981740
13 Dec 2010 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/14/world/europe/14italy.html
Note: To view 17 free Financial Times articles every 30 days it is necessary to register - it is worth it - the articles on Italy are superb!
FOREIGN NEWS ON ITALY:
11 Dec 2010 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11963648
9 Dec 2010 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11938665
20 Nov 2010 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/9209907.stm
10 Dec 2010 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/11/arts/music/11scala.html?hp
3 Dec 2010 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/03/world/europe/03italy.html?ref=italy
1 Aug 2010 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/01/business/global/01italy.html
Before I continue recounting the affairs of meeting between 'interested citizens of Povoletto' and the tourist consortium 'Dolce Nord-Est' I must rather sheepishly apologise for the difficulty in following the diary entries in the website. After my observing in my yesterday's blog my recent loquacity I received a call today from a wonderful woman (she really is, I'm not just saying it!) who sweetly told me that as a frequent guest to La Faula she often visited our website but had found finding previous diary entries on 'La Faula Today' a real trial, if not down-right frustrating. That neither the diary entries nor her visits to the site followed a regular pattern meant that it was extremely difficult finding previous diary entries, especially those over one month old.
Intrigued, shocked even, I tried it out myself and discovered that the lady was right. The system that we had implemented to allow browsing of previous photos and blogs was completely hit and miss and was too uncertain. We will, of course, put it right, one of our motto's (nabbed from the advertisements of LV Martin & Sons, Lambton Quay, Wellington, New Zealand in the 1970's) is 'If it's not right, we'll put it right' (see a version for the 21st century at http://www.lvmartin.co.nz/public/aboutus/advantage.aspx ). It did remind me, though just how our website has grown. The precursor to this site was created in 1997 (you can visit it at http://users.libero.it/faula/ ).
I started my Diary on the 18th of July 2001 (see http://www.faula.com/news.php?start=10 ). The diary was a fitful affair as I never found the right 'voice', always being torn between the desire to speak, as if among friends, frankly and openly, and the necessity to use the website as a marketing tool. Many aspects of life at La Faula aren't relevant to having a holiday here. They become interesting, of course, to people who have been coming here for years and who enjoy knowing more about our experiences than those that they can see during their stay. It is this fact and the reality that we now have a confidence in the Agriturismo born of experience that we lacked at the beginning. In 2001 all was to play for. We had just finished remodelling the house. Hospitality was a new thing for Luca and I. We had no idea how it would go or who our guests would be.
Of course now we know not only who many of our guests will be but, for those coming for the first time, we know pretty much what they broadly will be like as they chose to come here on the basis of what they found in the site.
In 2005 we began La Faula Today with the first photos of the day (see http://www.faula.com/photos/dailypht.php?start=1400 ). The digital camera had arrived. At the time it seemed perfectly reasonable to enable browsing by clicking on back and forward arrows or by inserting a date. It just didn't occur to us that it would be a hit and miss affair for a website surfer to find a date on which I had made an entry! This has been the state of affairs for the last five years. Please don't hesitate to let us know those other things that don't work!
I can see that I won't be carrying on with my Dolce Nord-Est story this evening so the latest little snippet from Rai, the Italian State broadcaster, is that one family in 20 with a mortgage was, as of 2007, insolvent. Rai was reporting a just-released report by the Bank of Italy, the central bank (see http://www.rainews24.rai.it/it/news.php?newsid=148133 ). This puts Italy right up there with Spain regarding the risk to banks of mortgage defaults. But the difference is that Spanish mortgage holders are in difficulty because they purchased grossly over-priced accommodation in the middle of a speculative construction bubble. This didn't happen in Italy. Mortgage holders in Italy were, of course, sold mortgages by the banks that they never should have been. But the fundamental problem is that the Italian economy is either contracting or becalmed and stagnant. As people become poorer at the margins they get into difficulty with their mortgages. The Italian economy is like an over-ripe fruit. Going mushy from the outside.
Maybe you've noticed that recently I've become more prolific in my diary entries. The reason is simple. After dinner with Luca, the wood-burning fire cracking away in the corner, I sit in the warm and cosy kitchen, Annie the Border Collie in a wood-box beside the computer, luxuriously stretch out my stockinged feed, go through the news, load the photo of the day and then it seems only natural to drop you a line. If I think of the peaceful calm of the Faula kitchen in the winter compared to the summer it barely seems the same place!
http://www.rainews24.rai.it/it/news.php?newsid=148108 Rai reported today a Eurostat release that one in two Italian women between the ages of 16 and 64 is completely outside the labour market neither working nor seeking work. Of these only 15% describe themselves as being wholly dedicated to the family. It's no wonder that cunning Italian Finance Minister, Tremonti, was this week pushing the idea of the EU issuing Eurobonds. How much better to get German tax payers to underwrite Italian leisure!
Today we started breaking canals into the stone walls to bring ethernet cabling to the half of the house that we didn't do last winter. Stone walls are the most amazing producers of dust. We smashed- off the rendering by cold-chisel and hammer hoping to keep the dust down. It must have been better than using a jack-hammer but at the end there was a lot of dust about all the same. Today we started on the 1st floor and are dreading the next couple of days when we will bring the work down to the ground floor. The thing is that relying on mobile broadband requires us to have the 3G Router in the highest point of the house whereas the internet connectivity is required elsewhere - generally much lower down. We can't rely on the WiFi of the 3G Router itself because the stone walls and long layout result in poor or no signal. So the best solution is to pipe the connection down to where we need it. Unfortunately this means making tracks through the walls. If only we could have foreseen the need for ethernet in 1999 when we renovated the house into an Agriturismo!
Picking up my previous diary entry, I wanted to recount what happened last Thursday evening when I went to a public meeting called by the local Municipality. The purpose of the meeting was to report on the activities of an organisation created by 5-6 local councils to promote this part of Friuli Venezia Giulia. The name of the organisation is Dolce Nord-Est (Sweet North-East) and we at La Faula have been very happy with their work as they created a public footpath around and through La Faula and they have created a number of relaxation areas for tourists in the locality.
Representing officialdom at the meeting was the president of the organisation, a staff member and six council members with responsibility for the productive sector, tourism, wine etc. In the audience were Agriturismo owners, wine producers, ’frasca’ owners (a type of bar operated at the winery door), representatives of each village committee plus some other well-wishes with nothing to do on a damp winter’s night.... to be continued
Times in Italy are uncertain. It has been unequivocally established that the Prime Minister and many of his allies are a criminal gang with a side-penchant for wild parties involving prostitutes. The economy which has spent many of the last 15 years in recession is struggling to return to growth. And it has recently become clear that in a Country where 81% of the private sector workforce works for companies employing less than 250 people but accounting for more than 70% of GDP, many of those same small companies are not going to make it and will close or go bankrupt.
Some of Berlusconi's allies, betrayed or with an eye to a future accounting, have peeled away and made cause with other small parties to try to bring his government down. Remembering the end of Mussolini (on whom he consciously modelled many of his mannerisms) - when dead, defiled and exposed to public ridicule - and Craxi (godfather and godfather to one of his children) - pelted with coins by a baying lynch mob and forced to flee in exile to Tunisia (where he died), Berlusconi is hanging on, using every old trick in the book against his enemies.
But here at La Faula life goes on as usual. As it does in all Italy. As far as us small guys are concerned it is the State that runs our lives, not the government. The Police forces are numerous, the bureaucracy perverse and inclined towards malicious, the legal system mystifying, arbitrary and capricious. One must just keep one's head down, hope that one's business goes well and that luck, for only luck it is, keeps one out of the clutches of the Italian state system.
When times were good and Italy was racking-up its public debt, devaluing, washing the country with liquidity, it didn't matter how the government or the State worked. Everyone won the lottery every day. But now, the Government has made a decision to keep paying the extravagantly generous pensions to the numerous Italian pensioners - they, with massive savings, then repay the compliment (with encouragement from the Italian banks, should it be needed) by pushing their savings into Italian Government bonds (the income from which is tax free). But this only enables the government to refinance a large part of its deficit internally. For the rest it must look outside. And now the bond markets want to know how Italy is going to get its debt down.
Growth is not an option to reduce the debt. The lunatic regulation of the private sector, the inept public sector, the myriad controls and requirements, the state-sanctioned monopolies and oligopolies in key sectors are but sand in the mechanism and so the private sector, as a whole, is surely winding down.
Bringing up tax revenues is not an option either. It is a totem in Italy that the black economy is enormous. And this is used to calculate GDP and numerous other statistics of how the country is doing. But if it were known for certain how large the black economy was it would be possible to eliminate it. Italy has a separate army - yes, it is an independent army within the state - to deal with tax evasion. The black economy is black because it is hidden although, of course it does leave its traces. In the past the Italian government was served by over-estimating the size of the black economy - for one thing it made the public debt seems smaller if GDP contained a big chunk of, as estimated, underground economy.
But I digress. Us small companies - all of us employing 81% of the private sector workforce, that is - are where the thin edge of the State wedge strikes. We don't have the resources and the bulk to deal with the State at a distance. For us being treated bad is personal. There is nothing we can do about it but we carry antipathy in our soul.
So it is that many small-business people are carrying enormous resentments right now. Business for many is tough to extreme but taxes are being levied arbitrarily, militarised controls inflicted. The Courts, swamplike, don't give protection or respite. One just has to put one's head down, like a mule, push-on, hope for the best, try to have some money for one's-self at the end of the year.
But occasionally, there is a local public meeting where the State, pathetically represented by the local municipality, can be, well, if not kicked, at least vented at. ... to be continued
When our Maremanno sheepdogs Minnerva and Spotty died this year we put photos of the burial on the Home Page Photo of the Day. A guest who came shortly afterwards remarked during conversation 'Boy, I was really surprised to see these photos on a Web Site Home Page but then I guessed that they must have really loved those dogs'.
This year, Dave my old plumber who would do jobs in my apartment when I lived in Hampstead came to visit. His 'girlfriend' Janice (of 35 years) was, until she retired a dog breeder. They have been here many times over the years (I got all the money I paid him over the years in London back!) and Dave had always said that the big disadvantage of having dogs is that you outlive them so have to go through the pain of losing them .... but that the reverse would be worse! I always thought that this was a rather witty remark until it happened that I lost my first two dogs Minnie and Spotty.
It is obvious that only some people are 'dog people' and our relationship with these canines, seen from afar, must seem a bit odd, even exaggerated. But looked at with a dispassionate eye, it is amazing, and somehow wonderful, that of all the animals that shared the world with man before he came to dominate it, some very, very few individuals decided to live near and eventually with man and that man welcomed them into his life. If one lives with a dog, that cooperative relationship is reestablished every day that the sun rises and man and dog wake.
In the case of Minnie and Spotty they performed the service of looking after the farm in the winter. They warned us when predators such as foxes took interest in the chickens. They let us know when people arrived in the carpark. Their loyalty was to us as ours was to them and we enjoyed passing time in each others' company. Of course we fed and accommodated them but wouldn't one do this also for a human watchman?
And in the spring when the Agriturismo opened they understood that it was again normal for people to be constantly around La Faula and many a guest entering the house late at night has had to pass over their prone and sleeping forms, perhaps with some trepidation at first, but never eliciting a response. Minnie and Spotty also provided friendship and hospitality on their own account remembering affectionately many returning visitors. We knew that they had their special favorites but it was a secret that we faithfully kept. They were true hospitality professionals!
And so it is that we enter our first winter without them. To our great pleasure, joy even, Barty is still with us but, already an old dog, we are providing her with a tranquil retirement. She is no longer a working dog. And today we remembered the service that Minnie and Spotty gave us.
The Photo of the Day for 30 November is of Yetmir, of whom I have written previously. Yetmir who had arrived in Italy as a minor came to us permanently on his 18th birthday when, attaining majority age, he was 'released' from the institution that housed and educated unaccompanied minors who had arrived in Italy from outside the EU. Previously, he had undertaken his work experience at La Faula.
Now Yetmir is 26. He has become a man and is a fine worker (and quite a poker player). He came to us to work again when he was made redundant. He will stay with us until he finds again a job in his sector (which is not agriculture!).
In the photo Yetmir is trying to switch on the circular saw. When I arrived at La Faula there was an old circular saw that attached to the tractor with an exposed drive drain. The design of the saw was such that in pushing the wood against the blade with outstretched arms one arrived with one's chest above the madly whirring blade. I hated this. The drive train was a menace. It was exposed without protection and had all the tractor's power in it. This was Italy before it began to implement EU directives on safety. The Italy of wet wineries without an electrical earth, of tractors without roll-bars, of washing bar glasses in a sink of tepid sudsy water.
But Yetmir's arrival at La Faula eight years ago coincided with the implementation of the new law on work safety. We got rid of all the old and unsafe farm machinery that Luca’s Father had happily used for years without incident and we bought a new saw, the very one in the photo. Using a circular saw is never pleasant because of the noise and because being around such a big and sharp blade is a bit disconcerting. But it least it is safe to use and it has the most amazing safety switch which at the onset of too much vibration, or the bang of a piece of wood not cutting cleanly and hitting the guard, turns the saw off. It is incredibly sensitive and, eventually, through time and use, it will allow the blade to spin-up but will not keep it going. Of course, this is a gradual process, so at the beginning a few attempts will result in the saw switching on and remaining on. As time passes it gets harder to keep the saw on and the process of trying to get the thing to boot-up and stay up becomes ever more maddening. Once the saw is working one tends to keep it working with just the minimum of breaks.
Today, after Yetmir stopped the saw to change his safety glasses (he is a safety conscious chap) he couldn't get it go lock-on again. Neither could I. We tried and tried and the minutes of these short winter days sensibly passed. It became apparent that we either had to do something or take it to the repair shop (but not the same one as my computer - which is still there!). I always think that when machinery malfunctions it is a great opportunity to dismantle it and understand how it is put together. With most of the agricultural tools this is also obligatory as there is nobody to call if it breaks. One simply pulls the machine or piece of it apart - buys the replacements one needs and puts it back together again (easier said than done, however).
Normally I draw the line at dismantling electrical things, though: one just buys a complete new component and remounts it. However, the switch had me so curious that I decided to remove it, open it up and see if there was anything we could do to make it work. Of course, mounted as it was under the push-bar and against the guard it was excruciatingly difficult to remove. The job was done where the saw was, so we risked dropping and losing nuts and bolts. I don't know why it is that one risks the extra frustration of dropped and missing pieces by undertaking mechanical interventions 'in the field' when it would take so little to bring the item down to the workshop. It is irrational, mad, tempting fate and tranquility but one does it anyway. And I have noticed that I am not the only one to do this!
Eventually removed and opened the switch revealed that it even had its own motherboard full of components and protected by its own fuse. That was amazing. The electronics obviously controlled relays that operated the switches. But these were in their own sealed block so we gave it all a good spray of CRC, closed it up and remounted it meanwhile discovering that we had forgotten which nuts, bolts washes and screws of different sizes went where. But at least we hadn't dropped any.
It seemed improbable that anything we could have done could have got the switch working properly but hope springs eternal so we turned on the saw and then felt our hearts sink in harmony with the diminishing rotation of the saw. So, it still didn't go.
When I was a very young kid my grandparents got one of the first TV's. A Phillips. Everytime we went as a family to visit them it would 'go on the blink'. It seemed that we jinxed it and my grandfather, a very big, gruff Scotsman who worked on the wharves, would bang it on the top in an attempt to make it work. I don't remember that this intervention was ever successful and the TV was often away being repaired.
Here we know never to force things or bang them around too much. They just break or shatter or bend or distort thereby brutally compounding one's original problem. At that moment, however, in front of the switch which, despite all the time it had consumed still refused to work, I gave it a bang on the side and then as an afterthought pushed in the green button. And so it was that the saw sprung into life and remained spinning for hours, and that Yetmir cut the pile of wood that he had set his mind on to cut.
Of course, the epilogue is whether we have really discovered a way to 'reset' the switch (maybe the relay sometimes blocks so a taps frees it) or whether it was just a lucky and casual event. I'll let you know!
On Friday last, in the morning, I finally surrendered and took my computer to the repair shop. For a couple of weeks it had been freezing and blocking unexpectedly. As I couldn't think of anything that I had done or any event that may have caused this condition, I hoped that it would go away as suddenly as it had arrived - maybe with the loading of an automatic software update. This was obviously a mistake. It reminded me of one of the cardinal rules that we have had to learn at La Faula. whether it is on the farm or in the winery or in the Agriturismo, when something goes wrong one must intervene immediately to put it right. Hoping that a problem will go away - a wonderfully well rooted human response giving primacy to hope over the learning of experience - means that the problem just gets worse and addressing it, eventually, is often more complicated, more difficult and more costly than it would have been if one had acted instantly. I suppose for those that believe, there is always the possibility that god will intervene to put things right. And sometimes, at least for them, it seems that he does. But most often I think that we are on our own, God either isn't on the line or won't take the call so it is up to us to get things fixed.
Which brings me to the second related lesson that we have learned. When some piece of machinery is malfunctioning intermittently it most certainly won't at the moment that it is performing for an experienced technician. Our vacuum packer nearly drove us mad until one day - after numerous visits to the repair shop it malfunctioned in front of the repairman. Until then, its flawless performances when under examination had resulted in all the blame being loaded upon us, we who obviously didn't know how to operate it. And so it was that when I took the computer to the repair shop it booted-up and performed flawlessly. As things stand now, I was forced to dust-off an old, infuriatingly slow, computer with a minnie-monitor, to keep internetting meanwhile praying that sooner rather than later the computer in the repairshop will malfunction so that they can identify and fix the problem.
Moving on, this morning I went to Attimis for my morning coffee and croisant and to shock myself by reading the local Sunday newspaper containing the latest news on how things are going in Italy (you wouldn't even believe it possible if I were to recount the things that happen here!).
On my way home I passed our local Trattoria 'Ai Cons'. In my previous blog, I wrote about the Ai cons and Alcide and his wife Elda who run it, and the family of Alcide who are generous of spirit and practice, and how we go there sometimes for special seasonal meals. In my mind I was writing this for those of you who come to La Faula, I see you in front of me and I write to let you know, sometimes, what we are up to and my reflections on things that are happening here. I was sure that those referred to and present at the lunch would never know of what I wrote and would never envisage my writing about them. None of them has a computer and Ravosa is not covered by broadband (we are only able to have a mobile broadband connection because being on a rise we can receive a signal from a mast somewhat distant).
Entering the Trattoria I found Gino a friend since we arrived here. Gino and I have a special bond in that he spent three years in Australia in the 1950's cutting sugarcane in North Queensland. He did return to Italy but somehow left a part of him in Australia. So he studies English and likes to reminisce about things he did down under. I particularly wanted to find Gino as he has just suffered a bereavement so I thought it would be good to have a coffee with him.
'Hey' Gino said. 'What are you writing about us'
'What do you mean' I replied
'On the Internet. You wrote about here and Alcide, the Clocchiatti family'
It transpired that Gino's cousin, who also emigrated to Australia but remained there, visits the website to see the photos and, in particular, the webcam. Being the only local webcam, it is about as close as one far away can get to seeing what Ravosa is like in real time. So there you have it. Tucked away here in Ravosa, enjoying the spirit of old Friuli and making a little window on it that others can see, I myself am subject to the community - not apart but enclosed!
Ravosa, a small village of around 300 souls, located in the largely unknown Italian Region of Friuli Venezia Giulia has two principal families: the Clocchiati and the Fattori. These two families live side by side but don't really like each other. The Clocchiatti regard the Fattori as closed and clannish while the Fattori regard the Clocchiatti as know-it-alls, a bit pushy and tricky. It must be said that both families exhibit equally these traits but history has shaped how they view each other.
One current branch (among others) of the Clochiatti centres around a family of 4 brothers and 3 sisters, the eldest being in her ' 60s and the youngest in her 30 's. They are united, open and generous souls and during the year two of the brothers historically host dinners celebrating various points in the year and Luca and I are always glad to be invited (although it must be said that an invite depends upon the existing closeness of contact at the time of the dinner - when contact is close and firm an invite is forthcoming, when contact drifts a bit generally due to work commitments or simply time constraints then an invite might be skipped).
Today, Luca and I were present at the pre-Christmas lunch hosted by one of the brothers , Alcide, at the local trattoria 'Ai Cons' ('The Counts') that he runs with his wife Elda. Elda, is the cook, and a very fine cook she is and, among other things, we ate exquisite wild boar shot locally. Elda comes from a nearby village close to the Slovenian border. Her village is ethnically Slav so looked down upon by the local Italians. But she is a spirited type and we never miss the chance - when we are two foreigners united together - to take the mickey out of the Italians.
Present at this lunch, which started at 12.00 midday and finished at 18.00 hours, were the very few aunts and uncles of the brothers and sisters to remain alive. Of course, in past times in Italy, many children were born of a family, many died and the time-span between the first-born and the last was often great. Also present were most, but not all, of the children of the brothers and sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews. Then there were others who had a claim on the family or who the family claims: the lawyer who handles their legal problems (but who is currently being tried for defrauding clients), close ex-colleagues (current and retired) of Alcide who was until he retired a Municipal Policeman, the man, now in his 70 's who went to live with the family all those years ago when his grandfather and patriarch banished his children (and grandchildren) from the family home and us, the nearest neighbours as the crow flies.
Sometimes, it is hard to explain, even to one's-self the attraction of Italy and the Italians. Italy, in and of itself, is very beautiful and being projected into the Mediterranean and closer to the equator has a better climate than most of the rest of Continental Europe. But the magic of Italy lies not in this alone. It lies also in its history. Those who formed and lived in the Roman Empire also formed and refined and created our culture and in many ways how we think today. But those people are not the people that we know as the Italians.
And yet the Italians exert a strange hold on the imagination of the english speaking people. From the writers of the New York times to the New Zealand Herald we see that there is something free, earthy and liberating to the Italian way. A lack of discipline that somehow brings forth fine food and wonderful restaurants and wines.
Yet we also know that for the last 15 years the Italian Prime Minister has been Silvio Berlusconi, an acknowledged user of prostitutes (and unacknowledged user of under-age prostitutes), charged and tried numerous times for corruption, found guilty numerous times by Courts of First Instance but afterwards, by pushing the trial out, acquitted through the expiry of the constitutional Statute of Limitations. His exploitation of Mafia links to develop his business empire has been established as fact by courts of First Instance and Appeal. And yet the Italians, those very people who exert such a hold on our imagination continue to vote for him. One may wonder, what does this say about them?
Returning to our lunch, 6 hours of fine company, food and wine it was heaven. But the magic part was the feeling of being included and protected by 'family' in the looser sense. Life in Italy, historically and today, was and is a constant struggle. The bureaucracy in Friuli, while generally not being corrupt is arbitrary and hostile, venal and slow in every sense. Relations between small business people and the State are adversarial and non cooperative, from both sides. Interactions between one's fellow citizens can be fraught with difficulty. The legal system is slow, erratic and uncertain and delivers little protection so those inclined to exploit their relations with their fellow citizens have a large margin of manoeuvre. Even between gentle people there is little fellow-feeling and each, assuming and expecting to have the complement returned, seeks to exploit his or her interests to the maximum. It is a society were empathy for one's fellow is not instinctively felt.
So the family is everything. No matter how dysfunctional, venal or unpleasant a place the family may be, it is the only protection that its members can have from a hostile world. Literally, everyone hangs together or figuratively hangs separately. Obviously, a family comprises its biological members. But as we all know, our lives also touch upon others who may be important to us and these threads weave a fabric in which an Italian family sits. And these threads need to be affirmed, and maintained and strengthened and tested for strength occasionally.
So it is that a grand lunch, of many courses, a closed affair only open to a select few serves to bring the family together, to strengthen bonds and establish that each within will be treated with sympathy and respect. It is the case that in a hostile Italian world the family is one place where one may, for a moment let one's guard down!
As a postscript I wanted to mention something that my friend Loris said to me. Loris is a member of the Fattori, the other big family of the village. In general the Fattori are united in smaller groups and we also enjoy their company (being a foreigner, one is able to be a bit more promiscuous in this regard!). Loris is also a farmer. He is by himself, living with his mum (in a very Italian way as he is 41 years old). Farming alone requires heavy investment in farm machinery and while he undertakes normal maintenance and small repairs by himself he is dependent for help with larger problems, mechanical and otherwise. One day, after finding that he had purchased something at an excessive cost while being assured by the vendor that he had been given an extremely favourable price Loris said to me: 'But Paul, how is it possible to live like this, one's whole life being a constant struggle against being taken advantage of, where no-one's word can be trusted, where one is forced to treat and negotiate in ways that run contrary to one's own character? Where to be open and trusting is a factual weakness and regarded by others and the society in general as a deficient stupidity.' And of course he is right. Loris is by nature a tolerant and friendly soul, open and honest. He hates negotiating and wishes to trust that others will treat him fairly as a matter of course. Which they don't. So he tends to be defensive and hostile and against the society of which he forms a part.
And this is, of course, a real problem that we, Luca and myself, face. Coming from New Zealand the souk played no part in my up-bringing. I hate to think how much and how often we have overpaid here in Italy. By nature, I am not tough enough to negotiate effectively in my own interests preferring to trust others to treat me right. And so we too, apart from the foundation of Luca's family, have our own web of those we trust and keep close to us.
The only problem, of course, and those of you who read this and who are familiar with the three Godfather films will recognise, is what if one of the 'family', one of the 'trusted' turns out not to be on one's own side at all?
In the Italian Statistics Agency Yearbook for 2010 it was established that the Italians are getting on just fine. A direct translation from the RaiNews24 of 19 November 2010 report is:
'All Getting on Just Fine
They [ the Italians] are continuously getting older, lazier and ever more tied to the cellphone. They don't read newspapers or books. They only visit museums when they don't have to pay but they do go to the cinema at least once a year. 50% are not connected to the internet. Three in four live in the house of the owner. Employment is going down and so is school enrolment. Only 10.9% have a degree. Yet, in the round the Italians are getting on fine. This is revealed by the Italian Statistics Agency in its Yearbook 2010.'
The article goes on to disclose that only 52.3% of families have a PC while only 50% have internet access. Out of a population of 58 million people only 23 million work. Of these workers, 3.4 million work for the public sector. 15 million Italians of working age are inactive - neither in employment nor actually seeking work ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/9209907.stm). One person in four aged between 16-26 years inclusive is without work. ( http://www.rainews24.rai.it/it/news.php?newsid=146820). The public debt is 120% of GDP and increasing.
Today was the first day of the annual fencing chore. I shouldn't want to exaggerate, however. To a New Zealander fencing means leaving the homestead, often by miles, to make and remake miles of fences. At La Faula we would be lucky to have even one mile of fences. But by the end of summer, the grass grows slower and the grass on the other side of the fence seems greener so 'Daisy' (or Ermintrude or Bessie or whathaveyou) finds the inevitable weak point and pushes through. The too-ing and fro-ing of a 3 ton cow wreaks damage, more than the fence can bear and the brambles are more than ready to help out by covering, more or less instantly, and fence that is down.
But it's great to be outside. Fencing, even at the most minimal level, is deeply satisfying and speaks to the cowboy in those of us who led secret lives as cowboys as children (not to speak of Brokeback Mountain types of cowboys!). Cowboys wrought order out of the great American West and there is nothing like viewing a fence, soldier straight, wires perfectly taut, poles perfectly vertical, knowing that the corralled cows will thus not be free to roam and make harm on irascible neighbours' property!
On Friday afternoon Yetmir turned up to see us. Yetmir was carried to Italy in a fast speedboat from Albania some time around 1998. Being a minor the authorities were unable to deport him after he was picked up by the police so he was sent to a type of reform home run by the Catholic Church on behalf of the Italian State. There the boys learnt Italian and elemental skills like wood and metal working. Yetmir came to us on work experience and afterwards we gave him his first job while he worked out what he wanted to do.
Having left grinding rural poverty in Albania, Yetmir wasn't much enthused by agricultural work but he stayed with us for a couple of years before moving to a warehouse job with a large manufacturer of steel plants. From time to time Yetmir would call round to visit. He obtained and lost girlfriends, he bought and broke flash cars. He got on and fell out with flatmates. He had into occasional scrapes with unfriendly Italians in discotheques, sometimes over his nationality, sometimes over a girl.
When Yetmir was with us we went with him to north Albania. This was in 2002. At the time Albania was just emerging from the anarchy that broke out after the fall of Enver Hoxha's mad and madly xenophobic regime. Blood feuds based on the Canon of Lek had returned and foreigners could only travel safely if in a group such as the Charities operating at the time or if protected by the rigid rules of Albanian hospitality. Thus we were both the guests and wards of Yetmir and his family!
It was a wonderful and wondrous experience. The people of Albania are directly Illyrians and until the fall of communism had retained a clan society going back to European pre-history. Their rules on hospitality were unyielding. A stranger and guest must be treated as king while in the house. Thus Luca and I had the only bedroom and beds while everyone else in the house slept on mats on the floor. But a guest has a reciprocal obligation to respect the rules of hospitality, eating what is offered without hesitation, respecting the segregation of women, not imagining to go into the kitchen and not offending by demurring when every morning one found one's shoes cleaned from the previous day's mud.
We went to Albania in December. It was chilly so the rooms were heated by a brazier. We sat with the men as they 'chewed the fat' (as my Scottish Highland grandfather would say - he too knew a bit about clans). We were served by the women. More than one man carried a firearm. One man, barely away from being a boy, was in the village as to venture outside would involve death at the hands of the family of the young man he killed. We knew that we were seeing another time already transitioning away.
And so on Friday Yetmir came again to visit. 26 years old and with a flash Alfa Romeo. He had been laid off as the company had outsourced some of its logistics previously done in-house. And as his job went so did his right to stay in Italy. And so, for the time being, Yetmir will be with us again. It was the only hospitable thing to do!
Well, that's it, the Grape Harvest is finished and all the wines are in various stages of creation. It all happens so quickly. From the day the first grape is picked until the day that the last lid is screwed tight on the last wine to finish and stabilize my life revolves around the winery. The transition from a fermenting juice to a finished wine can be rather tricky. As the sugars are consumed and the yeast begin to die off there are some risky moments until the wine stabilizes and every wine maker dreads to discover problems at this time. On the one hand, there is the need to leave the fermented juice a little to decant while on the other there is the risk that the wine will reduce during this time. The red wines achieve their colour and complexity through the twice daily pumping over of the juice through the skins. It is a tedious job with lots of cleaning and putting everything in order until the next time. On lovely sunny days being in the winery is not so bad. On rainy days when it is damp outside and inside it's not the best!
Right at this moment the white wines have finished their fermentation. Without a consulting winemaker it falls to Luca and myself to sample the wines at the various stages to decide if we are happy with them, if we need to intervene in the process to help the fermentation and to know what has been the outcome of the various processes used in wine making. Neither of us are big wine drinkers. Luca, in fact, rarely drinks alcoholic drinks and I prefer a cold beer. But the process of knowing what we have in our winery and what it is doing and how it is evolving is leading us inexorably deeper into the whole mastery and mystique of the small wine makers art. Making that wine that you have in your head seems so difficult, it is a dream, and no matter how far away from its realization you seem this serves only to prompt a deeper longing to ’get it’ the next time, and so on. As one makes wine only once a year this yearning seems to fester and grow with time. Suddenly, being 50 seems far to old to be starting this lark!
It's nice to return to our web site after quite an absence away. We finished the season of the Agriturismo two Sundays ago. That Sunday morning we waved the last guests goodbye and enjoyed a moment's peace. Monday morning was straight into the winery to prepare for the Harvest and the first grapes came in on Tuesday morning!
The speed at which grapes mature depend upon many factors including the temperature and weather conditions during flowering and fruiting and the amount of sun falling on the leaves. This year the white grapes, which begin the cycle were held-back by the brutal spring weather. Thus the time difference between the white and red grapes was greatly reduced and within the space of ten days we harvested all the grape varieties except one.
This year, for the first time, we were operating a refrigeration unit to cool the grape must prior to fermentation (allowing a prior clarification of the juice of the dust, bits or leaves, insects etc.) and to control the fermentation temperature.
Prior to the harvest I harboured familiar forebodings that come with the application of new techniques or the operation of new machinery. Not having studied enology or winemaking and not having experienced other wineries we are of the learning by doing school and the doing always involves a fair bit of crying!!
I have to say that the machinery - 20 years old - functioned as it should. It did the job and the mistakes we made this first time carried no grave consequences. However, the poor grape-growing conditions this year had left the grapes somewhat deficient in nutrients required by the fermentation yeasts. That and a grape must still and lacking in dissolved oxygen (yeast need to breath too, you know) confronted us with a juice that just wouldn't begin the alcoholic fermentation.
Of course, we didn't know at first that the fermentation train wouldn't leave the station and as it became plain that we had a problem that we had never before experienced we had to suppress the niggling thought 'what if the must never ferments, what will happen to the juice then?'.
Working with yeast is like working with any living thing. You can bring it to water but you can't make it drink! So it was a case of creating - on a small scale - conditions so attractive that the yeast couldn't help but begin to go forth and multiply and then scale this up for all the must. It was like being a yeast horse-whisperer!
The days passed and each night one would go to bed saying 'I've done the best I can for today. Tomorrow is another day and I'll face its challenges then. No point in ruining the evening with worry' but nonetheless waking up at 3.00 a.m. worrying about what would have to be done if in the morning there was no progress from the previous day.
One by one the tanks of must began to ferment and each of these current days seems lighter for not having the previous weeks worry on one's shoulders!
As I write this on Saturday morning of 28 August, the Codroipo volley Ball girls team, who hold their summer camp at La Faula in the last week of August, are preparing to leave. And with this, psychologically, if not actually, our season begins to close. Next week kids are back at school and so the guests tend to be more out-of-season types, couples looking for a more peaceful holiday or families with pre-school children.
We, of course, are now starting to look towards the grape harvest and wine making which will commence in about a week. Another year past!
2010 was a year different to any other we have had. The season started rather slowly, we guess because of the prolonged bad weather in spring, the closure of flights over Europe due to the Icelandic volcano eruption and the general effects of economic uncertainty and recession. The summer, however, was a scorcher as far as the agriturismo was concerned. We have never been so full. And, at least from our point of view, it went well. The guests were all a jolly bunch, appreciative, good company and gregarious with each other. The Volunteers this year were fantastic particularly showing a real desire to do good - even great - things in the kitchen.
This year in the vegetable garden zucchini were down and eggplants up for reasons we can't really fathom. But in the kitchen, each year builds on the experiences of those previous, and so we felt better about the meals and saw improvements such as the nightly salad bar. The aim for next year is to use the website to enable us to identify guest's food preferences before hand so that we can deliver what people would like to have while continuing to have a 'home kitchen'.
Of course, this year saw the passing away of Minnie and Spotty our companions at La Faula since the beginning. These two events did mark the passing of an era for us and to be human is to feel the loss of those that held a place in our affections.
The light now is moving towards yellow. The days are sensibly shortened. Slowly the leaves of the trees are loosing their fresh green gloss. Soon it will be autumn.
Today was sad as we had to put Spotty Dog down. In the last days he had lost the use of his hind legs and was suffering so the time had truly arrived. He was, however, lucid which made it all the harder.
I must admit to shedding a tear or two. It seems maudlin to do so over a dog but Spotty and Minnie were great dogs and in the winter we all live here together, humans and dogs, and it is a great time!
By coincidence Spotty's end arrived when Jonas, the boy to whom Spotty was completely devoted, was here. Spotty was put down at the back of the Red Bungalow with us, and Jonas and Haike to keep him company.
It is a bit like 'Puff the Magic Dragon', one day it did happen and Spotty will come to the back of the Red Bungalow no more.
The photo of the day for today is Matthew caramelizing the sugar on the Creme Brulee's that he had made.
This year has seen the biggest change in the La Faula kitchen since we started and it is all due to Matthew.
Matthew is a volunteer from Glasgow. He is volunteering here with a friend from home, Declan, and Marlene who is undertaking at La Faula the compulsory work experience required by her course at Hotel and Catering School in Carinthia, Austria.
Matthew also volunteered last year and during that time he asked if he could cook some of the recipes that he liked to cook at home. Here it must be mentioned that Matthew will later this year begin his degree in Aeronautical Engineering at Glasgow University so he is a self-motivated cook (luckily for his family!). His focaccia was a big hit earning the accolade of 'the real taste of Italy at La Faula'.
This year Matthew again expressed an interest in cooking as did Marlene who cooks as part of her schooling. They wanted something more challenging than simply food preparation, salads and washing dishes and cleaning-up. Declan, on the other hand, had never set foot in his kitchen at home except to snaffle food from the fridge!
It seemed a big step to let these 17 years old cook for guests. Obviously there was the issue of whether they would apply in a completely rigorous fashion the rules regarding hygiene in food preparation. Then there was the substantive issue of whether they would be able to prepare meals of a standard that guests could realistically be asked to pay for. And, finally, there was the presentational issue of what guests might think about having 17 years old cook their dinners!
The first issue regarding hygiene in the kitchen was relatively easy to meet as we require it of the volunteers in the kitchen anyway. The big surprise for them, however, was to learn - and more importantly, come to believe - that most contamination of food comes from the kitchen workers themselves and bad work practices rather than 'bad' raw foods.
As to the more substantive issue of whether the volunteers would be up to cooking well, we looked to the database of recipes that over time we have built up in our website www.faula.com/ricette.php This has been a handy repository for Luca and myself, and a resource for people doing cooking schools at La Faula. The challenge would be to modify the recipes to make them internally self-explanatory and complete to enable the full preparation of a course by someone without years of cooking experience behind them. Of course, I would be always in the kitchen guiding and advising and at the beginning taking the volunteers through each recipe a bit at a time but over time the recipe would have to move to being a self-sufficient resource.
For 3 weeks I worked modifying a set of the recipes, simplifying them and structuring them to be a logically cascading sequence. They were tried out and lessons learned incorporated. Commonalities between recipes were identified and standardisation achieved between similar recipes. Experiments were undertaken, changing recipes to see if greater efficiency could be achieved in the kitchen (kids are big on 'greater efficiency' and this often rhymes with 'less work') but generally these didn't work (especially creme brulee and creme caramel which have too tight tolerances to really allow of much variation in their preparation!).
An issue that arose was of timing: when should the various courses be prepared. Personality traits showed themselves: a tendency to procrastinate meant preparation was often too close to serving while planning ahead and initiative was rewarded by a relaxed working environment in the kitchen.
It seemed to myself and Luca that after three weeks - and putting aside the experiments of mine which didn't get there - the quality was up to that of our own cooking. Here I should mention that I generally prepare the second course while the volunteers prepare the first course, salads and dessert. The quality of each course can thus be easily compared with that of the others. I'm sad - and glad - to say that I don't always come out ahead!
The big question that remains in our mind is how it appears to the guests when they see that dinner is a collaborative effort between myself and two 17 years old. On the one hand, we could have chosen not to publicise the fact. But I want the volunteers to know that they are identified as the authors of the various dinner courses. It imparts discipline knowing that they must account for their creations and allows for praise when something is really special.
In summary, as the result of Matthew's input this year and last we have arrived at this way of doing things. For better or for worse, it is a step on in the evolution of La Faula!
On Saturday the vet came and put Minnie down. She was 14 years old which was a fine old age for a Maremmano. She had reached the end and it was the right thing to do.
We had Minnie from when we began our adventure here at La Faula. Our great adventure. She shared with us and was witness to all the different events and happenings, phases and changes that we have been through creating a business at La Faula where before there was not one.
Her leaving us is a full-stop in a chapter of our lives and we felt sad also because of this. We are no longer two (relatively) young guys embarking upon the road to create a modern winery and agriturismo out of the historic structure that had been in Luca's family. Now we are mature guys, the agriturismo, for better or for worse, is what it is. It is easier now because we have a familiar rhythm to our lives and the challenges seem less. But also those challenges at the beginning brought up in us the desire to prevail and create something which was ours.
We have done it. And we feel greatly satisfied to have got this far but one of our fellow-travellers and companions, albeit canine, has just left us. The memories, of course, are with us always but the substance is reduced.
ON 3 JULY EWAN WROTE:
This is Ewan. We're coming to stay one week with you. We're looking forward to seeing the dogs! Is the fountain pool ready? Are all the big dogs alive?! How old are they?
See you soon,
I'm sorry for not writing back earlier. Unfortunately, Minerva - the mummy big white dog - died on Saturday. She was 14 years old which is very, very, old for a dog of her type.
We were very sad but she had a good life with us so it was nothing more than nature taking it's course.
Now Minerva lives with us always; in the memories we have of her here at La Faula she is always present and she brings us happiness and joy just as she did when she was alive.
There are some photos of the funeral we had for her on Saturday. She is buried in the garden.
All the other dogs were a bit sad too but they also have happy memories of Minnie and, in the end, happy memories of happy events are the best things that one can have. The events are ethereal and can never last but their echo is always present.
We should be happy for her and happy that we knew her and have the other dogs to love and play with!
Hector sends his biggest love!!
See you soon - Paul
Wednesday 16 June was a good day for our winery activities. A small hotel in Austria decided to source the major part of their wine supplies from us. They have previously been good customers taking away certain local wines like Refosco or our Faula Bianco (made with Friulano) but this time they took a wide selection and it was deeply satisfying and affirming feedback on where our wines fall in the market. The market is amazing in its action. When one produces a wine that the market wants at the right price it just goes - automatically and all by itself! On the other hand, and we know this well from when we had a 'consulting wine-maker', one can convince one's-self (or be convinced by the consultant) that a particular wine is exceptionally good but if the market doesn't like it it will remain in the winery. All well and good you might think - but rather obvious. It is obvious, but often wine-makers (and carmakers and makers of lots of other things) are so convinced of their product, and the way that it is made, that they forget about the market.
It is the same in the case with the sovereign debt problem. The whole world knows - or would know if they followed the news - that Italy is a badly managed country with a bloated public sector, a hostile and obstructive bureaucracy, scant regard for markets, encouragement or at least toleration of cartels, gross mismanagement of public projects and corruption (without mentioning the Mafia or Berlusconi!). It also has the 3rd highest public debt in the world being 118% of gross domestic product. It is inconceivable that a nation such as Italy which has only ever exhibited in its history inadequacy of national decision-making (a true case where the 'wisdom of crowds' exposes the poverty of intellectual capacity of the people) can ever pay-back this debt. And its ability to maintain such a debt level will only reduce as the Italian economy stagnates.
In true Italian fashion the Italian government has failed to tackle the problems besetting the country (although the problems besetting Berlusconi are readily and ingeniously, if controversially, addressed). Instead, it has spent its energies convincing the world that it really isn't like Spain ('spivvy-newcomer') or Greece ('decadent, going no-where oldgoer') so we don't really need to worry about that public debt. But Italy is worse, much worse than either Spain or Greece. It didn't create its debt splurging on cheap Euro-denominated funding. No, instead, a whole generation over the last thirty-fourty years borrowed and transferred that wealth to itself. So Italy has an enormous public debt and extraordinary high household wealth. The debt is held by the State on behalf of the people. It is wholly inconceivable that the very people who engineered this situation are going to transfer their wealth to pay-down the debt. When the markets finally grasp this who knows what will happen? Maybe Italy will once again become a rather charming - if a bit run-down - cheap holiday destination!
When we came to La Faula I was 35 and Luca was 32. We felt young. Our friends were young-ish and having kids. Families came to La Faula and our principal preoccupation was with children’s’ safety; would the white dogs bite them?; would they fall-off the various walls or pieces of machinery and injure themselves?; would they come to harm in the ponds and streams around La Faula?
Time passed with nothing major having occurred and then this year a lot changed. I am now 50 and Luca is 47. Suddenly, Europe can no longer shoulder the burden of low productivity and growth with an ageing population. And that ageing population is also reflected at La Faula. Of course, we still have plenty of families with kids, as the daily photos show. But we are also having always more - can I say it - older people. Older people who are independent and clear of mind but not always of step and for whom machinery - even unfamiliar coffee machines - can pose a bit of a challenge. Some of these people find their own way to La Faula - but not many because generally the Internet is still a step too far away. But they come through recommendations and, they come because they have come many times previously, and during the meantime they got older.
Now, in 2010, our concern is to view La Faula, physically and its systems and processes from the point of view of more elderly guests. One obvious change is that whereas parents wholly supervise their young children (at least the attentive one’s do), with older people, to some extent, that concern and assistance has to be shown - and exercised - by us.
Obviously, every generation has to live through change. Historically, it was often war. In Continental Europe today it is these massive demographic changes wrought by the generation born just before or during the war. They worked hard, rewarded themselves with early and generous pensions for that hard work and now they are travelling!
MY heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began,
So is it now I am a man,
So be it when I shall grow old
Or let me die!
The child is father of the man
So many people who have written recently have asked how things are going at La Faula that I guess it merits a blog entry.
The most important thing right now is our relief that the weather has turned and it is now consistently sunny and warm. April and May, just passed, were truly horrible and were a real problem for an Italian Agriturismo. Of course, it must rain sometimes here otherwise the place would be parched like the Sahara Desert but the weather was really unpleasant, cold, sometimes with driving rain. It was pretty much like winter in Wellington, New Zealand.
Although we don't control the weather we felt bad for guests who came from colder northern climes, seeking sun and warmth, and instead just found a milder version here of what they had at home. On the contrary, when the weather is warm and sunny, the sky always blue, we almost feel responsible for holiday-makers obvious enjoyment!
Probably due to the weather but I think probably also due to economic uncertainty which is playing-out also in our sector, the start to the season was less than stable with great fluctuations in the numbers of guests. As our seasonal student helpers don't arrive until mid-June we found ourselves sometimes really pushed to manage the numbers of guests staying and especially dining. Maritza, the cleaning lady, found herself also pushed into kitchen duties more than once! Other times, were very quiet and would have given us time to devote effort to the vineyard- if the weather hadn't been so damp, that is!
Anyway, now the ship is out and the season for the Agriturismo moving along.
On the wine side things have really gone well. Our change of strategy, to produce lighter, easy-to-drink wines has had an immediate impact with sales soon to outstrip supply (it must be said we are relatively small wine producers!). We won another Silver Medal at the Italian National competition for 'organic' wines (those made from organic grapes - currently there is no European standard for organic wines) for our Merlot 2007. We guessed that this would do well just by looking at how many guests took it away at the end of the holiday.
We do feel confident on the wine-side of our business as we have only just embarked on the road towards producing light and fruity wines and every year will bring improvements in techniques and equipment (for this year's harvest we will have, for the first time, a refrigeration unit to cool-down and clarify the must prior to fermentation, for example).
The Golf Club - which is separate from us but which uses our fields - is really proceeding apace. To our great pleasure they are putting-in a (very) small putting area with synthetic turf and a (very, very) small bunker. They have worked on the hill behind the house and a creating 9 rustic holes. We don't know anything about golf but we are really pleased to see their enthusiasm - quite apart from the improvements that they are making to our land!
Continuing-on from my previous blog where I mentioned that after 15 years at La Faula we have arrived at the point where we have no prospective projects in mind to undertake or complete. We just want to live well and enjoy the fruits of our earlier labours ....
The very last project, recently completed, was a measure of how much technological change has occurred in the 15 years since we have been at La Faula. The renovations to the main farmhouse, rendering a purely agricultural structure into one suitable for an Agriturismo, took place in 1999. At that time it seemed perfectly prudent to pipe-up the walls with space to run telephone cables and TV antennas into the rooms, if necessary. In the event, room telephones and TV's seemed out-of-place in an Agriturismo context, and noisy to boot, so the pipes envisaged for telephone and TV cabling gradually filled-up with power cables as we modified the electricity system of the house over time to meet guests and our own needs.
In anticipation of increased guest demand for WiFi service in March we rented a second Hutchinson 3G HSPA Router which, for best reception, had to be located in the very top of the house. Thick walls and the length of the house precluded using the Router's WiFi to access it so the question became how to cable-up the Router with other strategic parts of the house. Suddenly, those wall pipes once placed for envisaged telephone lines and TV cables seemed like a stoke of good luck rather than an old futile investment. The problem was to go back to the beginning and liberate the pipes of the electricity wiring that, over time, had grown into them. This job, as most in an old stone farmhouse, inevitably involved kanger-hammering walls and copious amounts of stone dust. It wasn't such a big job, but our tolerance to having the house resonate to the staccato thuds of a jack-hammer and to finding a thin film of white dust over everything has waned with age, time and repeated experience and we realised at the end that we just didn't want to go through the procedure ever again.
So that was it. The job is done. We have a kind of LAN within our old stone farm house and with that, our last project, ever, was closed. 'Ever' you might say. How can it be the last project ever? It is the last project because coming to a vineyard in Italy, learning viticulture and wine-making; often, too often, learning the hard way by making mistakes and errors of judgement, creating an Agriturismo where a service lives as the soul of an ancient place, these are all things that amount to withdrawals of the vital energy with which we arrived at La Faula. Now, our psychic bank account empty through investments, we realise that we don't want to, or can't, invest any more. The time has come to enjoy the fruits of what we have done and to savour, every moment, the pleasure of seeing what we have created. One realises that further creation always involves some destruction of the old and that this destruction has become intolerable to us.
Yesterday, I was working in the vineyard late-pruning the young vines in a piece recently remade. Most vineyard work is monotonous and boring but if it is to be done well it requires understanding and concentration. Vines, naturally climbers, must be trained to stay still and the pruning of one year determines the amount and quality and grapes for the next. Vineyard work is not unlike that of a solicitor. At the end it is satisfying and the occasional flashes of insight during the applied labour stimulate, but much time is passed repetitively.
One's mind is apt to wander and while mine was ranging far and wide it came to me that for the first time since we took La Faula over from Luca's parents we have no current or future projects (apart from living well and having a viable business, that is!). For the first time in 15 years we don't have something on the horizon that we must or want to do. We really have passed into a period of consolidation (I hope that decline doesn't come next - you were thinking that, weren't you?).
For the record, the two last jobs we have just completed were the connection and putting into operation of a refrigeration unit for cooling wine most during the harvest/wine-making process and the placing of a LAN connecting the Hutchinson 3G Router with key points in the house.
The refrigeration unit was something that Luca had wanted from the very beginning of our wine-making here at La Faula. Refrigeration units are very helpful as they allow the wine-maker to keep the fermentation calm and orderly and at a controlled cooler temperature. Otherwise there is a risk of the fermentation flashing-over (in a manner of speaking) at high temperatures which is bad for the yeast, the wine and the mental state of the wine-maker. I was never enthusiastic about the idea of a big cooling unit in the winery. It seemed like just another thing to go wrong, to have to learn to master by error and a big drinker of electricity (imagine cooling down thousands of litres of wine most in the space of a few hours). I cool the wine using the very cooling plates normally connected to the fridge until. Intead, I run tap water through the plates and while not as effective as using a fridge it does enable me to keep the wine from doing anything bad to itself.
Anyway, two years ago a second-hand but renovated fridge unit came our way at a price which, while shocking, was about the best we could ever expect to find. We bought it blind (you can't just plug it into the nearest wall socket to check it out) and for two years we didn't know if we had bought a pup or not. La Faula at that point didn't receive sufficient electrical capacity from the grid to allow us to put the fridge into operation.. We asked ENEL (they do great advertisements in The Economist but are a real, true-to-life Italian monopolist with service and prices to match) to increase our supply to 20KWH. ENEL has very serious supply problems in Italy due to years of under-investment and for two years they fought a guerilla war with us doing everything to stall the increase in capacity. By law, we had the right to have this much power available but Enel 'lost' the documentation, the quotation period expired twice and for two years they held us off. Eventually by identifying on whose desk the paperwork was sitting we were able to apply enough pressure to have the job done. Here I should mention that the work took only 20 minutes and involved no more than changing-over the meter. The cabling from the substation, however, was not increased so when the fridge starts it sucks every last electron out of the house electricity system. It's like being in a depth-charged submarine with the lights going on and off and flickering crazily!! .... to be continued
Normally, it is in the winter when I take most of my photos. In Friuli, winter light is generally clear and the low angle of the sun enhances the spectrum from rich deep yellows through to every type of red. Skies tend towards china blue, delicate rather than rich. Birdlife is abundant as reduced food draws all types of birds towards the rivers, stream and ponds around La Faula.
But this year, winter hasn't been like that. The winter wasn't particularly harsh but it was slightly colder than the average. It snowed three times which was frequent by our standards although the snow is just a topping and never lasts. What was different was the absence of clear, warm sunny days and clear sunlight. Rather, the days were frequently cloudy and the light rather dull. Birdlife was well reduced as the birds obviously moved further south seeking better food prospect.
I stopped taking my camera out with me in the vineyard many weeks ago. The light didn't provide the possibility of interesting photos. Even birds of prey on the wing were flat and two-dimensional, lacking that illumination from below that the low-angled winter sun affords. It was a strange winter.
Spring has, however, arrived and the temperatures are sensibly higher. And today was an event, of sorts, because for the first time in months the sky, and the clouds, and the light created a window into heaven. It made me realise just how flat this winter has been!
Spring is here, the first guests have arrived and soon it will be Easter. Time to make sure that everything is functioning smoothly in the Agriturismo!
One important item is the music that we play. Of course, being in the country, it's nice to enjoy the peace, however, it is also nice, in a warm, relaxing environment, to hear, sometimes, nice music that maybe takes you back to some earlier time or reminds you of how much you enjoyed it when it first came out.
Obviously, we started here with a multiple disk CD player. It was simple to operate, and the music was fine, if limited by the number of CD's that could be held in the player at any one time. Two years ago the CD player was at the end of it's life and it was time for a change. At that time mobile broadband had not yet arrived in our area (we don't have ADSL on the telephone line - actually, for that reason we got rid of our telephone line!) and so mp3 players, itunes, music downloads and podcasts belonged to another world. Helpfully a guest called Len decided that something had to be done so he took me off to MediaWorld, we purchased a Creative mp3 player and set about moving some music onto it. Unfortunately, the mp3 player died so we carried on with the geriatric CD player. Of course, I replaced the mp3 but decided to wait until the winter before trying to work the whole thing out.
In the winter I loaded music of various formats and in stacked folders into the mp3 - it all seemed rather simple really - kids can do it!! - chucked-out the CD player and, the mp3 hooked-up to some speakers, it seemed that we were in business!!
Unfortunately, all last summer even though I put the mp3 on random play (I hadn't yet got the idea of playlists) it really loved Johnny Cash. Some other artists it hated so much that it would freeze and need to be reset with the old un-bent paper-clip but Johnny Cash just kept coming around again and again. Now, we have a rule here that once the tourist season starts no 'improvements' are made - these must wait for the winter because experience has taught us that making changes to the Agriturismo when it is working is like trying to change the tire of a moving car.
All the kids who did work experience here over the summer started-out liking johnny Cash (we even showed the film Walk The Line a good few times). By the end they all wished that Johnny Cash had spent his life closed-up in Folsom Prison!
This winter, I felt that it was time to really get a grip on this mp3 music thing. I got a little programme to convert all non-mp3 to mp3 and starting loading music into the player on one level (i.e. without multiple stacked folders). It was great. I got into podcasts and my time pruning in the vineyard has been changed from one of monotonous routine to a programme of continuous education (I'm particularly keen on History). It all seemed to be going so well that I purchased a Logitech Squeezebox radio (highly, highly recommended) to bring us BBC Radio 4 with breakfast and dinner and NPR with the dishwashing! That was just unbelievably good. Here we are in Italy - good food, nice climate, great scenery - but free of Italian radio and tv (it's bad, really, really, bad - all of it and now Berlusconi controls it all). And not only, you can stream your music from your computer - WoW!!!! This was going to be the answer to all our music problems - unlimited music from my computer streamed to the Squeezebox Radio and then beamed wirelessly to the wireless jbl speakers in the dining room. Sound to good to be true?
Yes, it was too good to be true. Every time we had guests or a dinner with friends I would start my streaming music. Excellent, that is until the music came and went, the player lost its IP, then it came back, then it went away etc etc. All winter, I've spent hours, maybe days and weeks trying to work out why this problem presented. Installing and uninstalling software, running up and down the stairs to turn-off then turn-on the Router. Shut downs and boot-ups, cleaning out cache, unplugging equipment for 20 seconds. What a yucky waste of time!! Oh!! This new technology is such a drag if it doesn't work the first time!!!
I guess that if you've got this far you might be wondering what the music situation will be for this summer. Well, it turned out that the transmitter for the wireless speakers which transmits at 2.4GHz was interfering with the Squeezbox player even though the player was connected to the Ethernet and the WiFi option was not selected. So there you have it. If I'm going to use the wireless speakers - which I am - I will have to use the mp3. But that should be OK!
This is probably quite a good point at which to mention internet connectivity for guests in the Agriturismo. Last week we got a second 'Hutchinson 3' 3G HSDPA router which is connected to a Netgear 802.11n WiFi. This 3G Router will be exclusively for guests connectivity. Of course, bandwidth is more limited with mobile HSDPA internet access but we find it perfectly adequate for our two computers plus Squeezebox Internet radio. Obviously, if everyone comes here with an iphone, ipad, laptop, netbook (sooo 2009!), or internet radio then speeds will slow a bit - we'll be a bit like AT&T in New York! Last year when we tried this arrangement out with up to 6 connected devices everyone had pretty good connectivity with good speeds.
We are not, however, able to offer access to a computer this year. Commonly shared computers accrue layer upon layer of problems - our lap-top that we put at the disposition of the guests in 2009 died and could not be resuscitated (as chance should have it, I had just paid for a memory up-grade!!).
This year, in January, I turned 50. We also understood in these last months, as a part of our being, where fine wines are made. These two rather important events have made the long winter of 2009-2010 different from our preceding 13 winters at La Faula.
Turning 50 didn't seem to be such a big event. I got some nice presents (the best one being, after all these years, an electric bed warmer!) had some nice dinners and carried-on much as before. However, we had a revelation on the wine-side of our business and were helped to this by the unlimited generosity of one of our young neighbours who is an agronomist specialising in vineyards in addition to having an academic background in oenology.
Having had a consulting wine-maker we had absorbed the idea that wines are made in the winery. That is, this raw product, being the grapes, are transported into the winery where by the exercise of winery techniques they are transformed into wine. Our previous consulting wine-maker encouraged us in this belief, obviously. So it seemed that if you really didn't have that elusive know-how as a wine-maker you would never really be able to make fine wines. Of course, as all wine-makers, we glibly affirmed that wine 'is made in the vineyard' but the import of this never really struck home. That is, until this year.
Working with our neighbour, who gives his time freely with the excuse of having the possibility to speak a little English, he brought us to see that wine is not made in the winery. That wine is derived from, and its qualities are inextricably bound with, the grapes from which it is made. So with a light, knowledgeable and wise touch in the winery the quality of the wine is determined by the quality of the grapes from which it is made.
This probably seems fairly self-evident when put like this but it poses what seems an insurmountable challenge to the small 'boutique' winery operation. Small winery operations by definition don't have economies of scale. So they must produce something special. And this means special - really special - grapes. And this means unbelievable dedication and application of time and resources in the vineyard. A dedication and application never this far given to the La Faula vineyard. Suddenly we realised that was no longer enough to be passively content that the vines on the hill produce grapes which are fermented into wine.
Think of it like this. Sometimes one buys a bag of apples from the supermarket. They look great but they are really a disappointment. They might be tasteless, floury, strangely sour. Sometimes, however, one buys what seem to be the same apples and they explode with flavour. The sweetness is perfectly balanced by the acidity. They are crisp and delightful. Our challenge is to have grapes full of flavour, with a perfect balance between sugar and acidity, tannins to stabilise the wines without giving background bitterness. Obviously, to get this perfect mix it becomes important to harvest at the right time (and to have been lucky with the weather) but most importantly, a healthy well-balanced vine will generally produce healthy, well-balanced grapes.
It is strangely, really quite difficult to have a vineyard full of healthy, well-balanced vines. Vines naturally grow in poor soils (clay or gravel), in ferociously hot summer climes and we ask them to produce, in this environment, grapes for us. Vines that have been transported to cooler or damper climates battle incessantly with fungal, viral and bacterial disease and the growing season may be too short to allow effective maturation of the grapes. Other vines grow in climates that are so perfect that the plant can produce seemingly unlimited quantities of rather bland grapes.
In Friuli the best grapes are produced by strong, healthy vines that are slightly stressed by the paucity of the soil and the toughness of the summer. Vines that don't grow to be strong and well-balanced are unable to find the resources to produce the grapes needed for fine wines. So this year everything in the La Faula vineyard has to be 'just right'. The pruning has to allow for the creation of a strong trunk with a growing head where shoots will reliably sprout every year. The small plants must be fed with natural cow manure. The clay in which the vines grow has to be worked and reworked so that it doesn't set as concrete around the roots slowly suffocating the vines. The grass which competes with the vines for nutrients has to be manually removed.
This winter, we have really worked a lot in our vineyard, located high-up on the hill behind our house. The more we do the more we realise there is to be done. Tools and farm implements break under the strain. The tractors need repairs. Money needs to be spent. And at 50, after a day on the farm, and after a simple but wonderful meal prepared by Luca, it is just so much more attractive to doze-off in the rocking chair by the wood-burning stove in the kitchen than to go to the internet and get a grip on the faula website!
Today I'm Home with the Flu (so to speak), so it seemed a good time to add to my modest little blog!
Yesterday we began to prepare the white wines of 2009 for bottling. We have never before had white wines of one year's harvest ready for the spring of the following year! It's extremely satisfying. White wines bottled soon after being made are fruity and crisply acid - and we hope good to consume chilled under the pergola in the summer!
Our expertise and know-how have increased dramatically in the last years and we have mastered techniques that allow us to work the wines - all wines require some working - while retaining the perfume and taste and without risking oxidation and spoilage. In English and Italian we refer to wine-making (fare vino) to describe what happens in the winery before we eventually find the wine in the bottle. However, the verb 'to make' is not really the most accurate as it can imply to create, construct or fabricate. What really happens in the winery is that the wine makes itself through the intervention of yeasts and, sometimes, bacteria. So anybody, in this sense, can 'make' wine. They just need to let the grape juice ferment and in the end they will have wine. This, of course, is how wines were historically made.
Modern oenology - much of it deriving from work done in Australia, New Zealand, California and other parts of the New World - focusses strongly on creating the environment in which the yeasts and bacteria can be encouraged to produce wine that is pleasing to the human palate. It involves favouring the yeasts that give a pleasing result and creating a comfortable environment for them to work. Stressed yeasts in mortal competition don't make good wines! Creating this environment can come down to such banal measures as keeping the winery so completely clean that the numbers of competing organisms is at a minimum.
Obviously, like us, the yeasts need food so the grapes must be healthy and well developed and from balanced plants that are in themselves healthy and in equilibrium with their environment. They must have oxygen when they need it and must find a stable and temperate environment. On the other side, the world is full of organisms that love grape juice and wine as well but which don't give us the wine we want. Keeping colonies of these organisms (such as those that make vinegar) out of the winery and out of the wine is very important. But, in general, it's always a case of prevention is better than cure!
Thus, creating satisfactory winery techniques for the scale and type of winery one has is really at the basis of being able to have at the end of the process the type of wine one envisaged at the beginning!
Moving-on from the wine side of things, in the last couple of weeks numerous business people and politicians have been arrested or notified that they are under investigation for corruption. It is on a scale which Italy has seen many times before, but if true it means that the Berlusconi government has seen a level of corruption at least equal to that of the 1980's Clean Hands corruption investigations which led to a reforming of the old political order. The interesting thing is that with a destruction of the old parties, Berlusconi stepped into the vacuum with his new Forza Italia (Go Italy) party which comprised many people previously not active in politics. The Clean Hands corruption involved kick-backs to fund the political parties as well as to personally enrich politicians and state employees.
This time, the political parties are fully - and opaquely - funded by the State (notwithstanding the passing of a popular referendum banning State funding of political parties) that many see as legitimated theft. So this time the corruption, if proved, will have been wholly and completely to personally enrich the actors involved. It seems that many joined with Berlusconi either with the intention to profit themselves or the intention came later when they were in a position to so profit. When we who live in Italy think of the legal abuse of taxpayers money, it's doubly-shocking to think of the corruption overlayed on top. Legal abuses are constantly disclosed. For example the most recent was the government's admission that there are in Italy 679,000 official vehicles (compared to 51,000 in the UK and 60,000 France). The cynicism with which the Berlusconi government operated is depressing. And it is mirrored by the corruption and exploitation practised by the administrations also on the Left such as the Regional Government of Campagna.
There are two interesting twists to this tale. One is that the Berlusconi government has been successively reducing the powers of the investigation magistrates while simultaneously reducing their resources. Berlusconi himself argues with much justification that the Investigating Magistrates are not politically neutral and themselves constitute an inefficient, wasteful and self-serving caste. The second is that, of course, Italy is sitting on Europe's biggest public debt. It has passed 15 of the last 17 years either in recession or with no economic growth. Italy is not getting the attention Greece is getting because its deficit is only 5% of GDP. However, the deficit has been sensibly reduced by the effects of the tax amnesty which after extensions is due to finish this spring. The Minister of the Economy also has form in massaging the national accounts and a key feature of the Berlusconi Government has been getting control of and then censoring the news outlets. I would be prepared to bet that before the year is out the talk will be of the sudden deterioration in Italy's finances. These should be interesting times!
There is an Italian word - trascurato - which comprises, altogether, the idea of neglect, not having done one's duty, of having been remiss. In these last two weeks the website has been a bit trascurato! We received at the beginning of the year a large wine order for Japan. The boat leaves Genoa tomorrow 22 February and our wines had to be on it! The truck was to come - and did come - on 15 February and we had to have everything ready by then. The wine was, at the time of the order, only partially bottled as we prefer to bottle to order. Coming up to Christmas we were out of bottles and labels and the printer was closed until the new year. In early January we guessed that we would manage but we also knew how long it takes to get things done in Italy. Economic crisis or not, everything continues to go at it's own pace. It's virtually impossible to make someone do something faster than they want to and so we watched the weeks tick by waiting first for the bottles and then for the labels.
You might think that there shouldn't be any problems in finding wine bottles in Italy. Instead we encountered two problems. First, bottle stocks have been run down all along the chain from production to wholesale to merchant. Nobody wants to hold onto a lot of stock. In addition, we use Stelvin screw caps on our wine bottles. Stelvin has never been accepted by the Italian market and so it use used only by those wineries that export overseas. Cork and synthetic cork is now moving to be the exception for export wines but it makes sourcing the bottles here rather difficult and there is a generous lead-time between order and arrival.
The bottles arrived and we divided the bottling of the wine into two stages. First we would bottle 1200 litres of Pinot Bianco and second 1000 litres of Friulano (ex-Tocai Friulano). That these wines would be in transit for six weeks passing under and then over the equator, that they might be exposed to high temperatures sitting on the ship or on a wharf, rather focussed our minds on ensuring the absolute stability of the wine in the bottle. This led us to review our whole bottling process, from the filters to the sanitisers, from the water heater for sterilisation of the equipment to the best temperature for the wine at bottling to the amount of head-space in the bottle (Stelvin bottles are more generous than the standard bottle to allow for thermic expansion). It was really a good experience and led us to improve our whole bottling process.
Which brings me to a reflection. Wine-making must be one of the very few sectors of the food processing industry in which amateurs still have a role. In recent times, of course, universities have started producing oenologists versed in wine science and these people are steadily entering the largest wine producers. Many wine producers, while not formally educated in oenology, come from families that have been making wine for generations and so they are repositories of the accumulated know-how of decades if not centuries. However, there are still the enthusiastic amateurs who decide they want to dedicate themselves to making wine, they get a winery, and give it a go. This is obviously more common in the New World and many of these wine makers make the very best wines using inovative techniques and technology (see Stelvin screw caps).
In addition, there are those who having been successful in some other economic sphere rather see themselves as land-owner wine-makers - Chatteux without the title. These people, despite the economic slowdown, are still buying wineries and launching themselves upon the choppy, if not downright dangerous, wine dark seas of wine producing. Those of you who have read past editions of this blog will know that neophyte wine producers are often attended by very expensive consulting wine makers. A kind of cast serving those completely bereft of wine-making knowledge and skill. In many cases this is fine but the novice wine-maker is not an informed consumer of the advice being so expensively bought - in fact he (generally) knows absolutely nothing of the topic at hand except that he knows a good bottle of wine when he sees one and he will have his own label on one too!
Being completely ignorant of the whole winery business the new owner is in the hands of the consulting wine-maker. The risk is of commissioning a consultant who is nothing more than a parasitic trickster. It happens in Friuli and it is still happening. I can imagine that more than one novice winery owner from the canyons of Sydney or Melbourne has found that the expert winemaker who promised so much produced actually very little. That is the road to ruin as wine is a food, that, in the end, must be voluntarily consumed.
Coming back to us, having inherited Luca's Dad's hobby farm we entered the wine business through circumstance (I'm a beer drinker) rather than by choice. We wanted to make a great farm-stay and this consumed most of our energies over the early years. But we also knew that we wanted to have a good integrated wine business making tasty and interesting wines. And we too got our very own charlatan consulting wine-maker who knew almost nothing about wine-making but that didn't stop him leading us down a very expensive path to make wines that, in the end, were not what people wanted and which didn't cover their costs of production.
These situations are rather difficult. The problem is that tricksters always trade either on greed or insecurity, vanity and shame. We had doubts for a long time but always feared finding ourselves alone making wine. While we had our consultant we could always dream of the great wines that would eventually emerge from the barrels while suppressing our nagging doubts. When the eventual wines were just ordinary oaked wines, too heavy for many tastes, we knew we had to go it alone. And so we have now since the harvest of 2007.
This is probably one of the best and most positive things that coming to La Faula has given us. We now know how to keep the vineyard because going it alone meant that we got help and - very good - advice from unexpected quarters and we applied our own experience and know how and learning to the mix. We know what kinds of wine we want to make and are beginning to make them. And the whole process is replete with learning - learning by reading whether in books or articles or on the internet - learning by doing, by experiencing, by making mistakes and working out how to do it better. Instead of being blocked still, as previously, every thing done adds to our whole sum of experience and expertise. We drive our own ship now upon the choppy wine-dark seas. And we wish our wines a fair voyage to Japan!
People who stay at La Faula in the summer when hot days are the norm, often ask, rather incredulously, whether it snows here in the winter. On days when the temperature in the shade is 40°C both Luca and myself find ourselves marvelling that a place so hot could really experience any cold.
In fact, it snows rarely at La Faula and any snow that does fall tends not to last long. So when snowy days come I tend to shoot a lot of photos to cover all those years when there is no snow at all. It is cold at La Faula rather when dry, cold winds push down into the Adriatic from the North-East. The days are sunny and dry but in the morning it is like being in a freezer.
These last days have been cold but unsettling. Unsettling because the days are lengthening appreciably, the first primroses are poking out of the earth and although in the depth of winter we are on the cusp of spring. When the cold recedes here the warm air pushing-up from the Mediterranean basin changes the climate in an instant and suddenly all those winter’s jobs so far undone take on a new urgency.
This compares with the months of November and December. In those months the farm-stay season, for better or worse, is passed. The days are shortening and with them the farmer’s working day. Evenings are long and cosy and one always has in mind that the jobs awaiting can always be done after Christmas!!