Damaris came back from her eye appointment (she has Glaucoma) and, as she turned off the main road onto the steep narrow local road that leads to our hamlet, she had to brake suddenly because there was a dog flopped out in the middle of the road. This was not a case of some creature choosing an inappropriate place to sun itself (for starters, there was no sunshine to be enjoyed). The animal looked very sick and ill-at-ease and Damaris even wondered if it was rabid – a disease which we have never heard of anyone contracting anywhere even vaguely near us.
The dog was a huge Italian sheepdog and it turned out to belong to the goatkeeper who lives at the bottom of our hill. We knew he had a big female one – she is kept chained up outside the whole year long and even in the middle of summer (35C or above) and winter (-12C and below) she has no shelter or respite. Apparently she gave birth to three pups – one he kept, one he killed and this one which he allows to roam the countryside looking for food (as he refuses to feed it).
Damaris called the local Vigili (police) on their mobile (the guy is going to regret giving her that!) and he sent two dog-catchers around to collect the mutt from the road. How they ever catch a dog must remain a mystery because no matter how old and decrepit it might be, it would still move faster than them. Anyway, they arrived just in time for it to scarper off across the fields.
From the dog’s point of view this is just as well. Capture by the dog-catchers effectively means life (as in until death) in a tiny cage with very limited human contact. Damaris had offered to take the dog (although what we would have done with it, goodness knows). At one year old, it was far too badly set in its anti-social ways to fit in with our plans and, in any case, there is no room left in the back of our Nissan Pathfinder after our three dogs are in it.
This is how locals view animals. If they don’t work or don’t feed you, then they are useless. This is not just the English sense of ‘fair play’ nor our obsession with pets and their rights, this goes deeper. There is something very lacking in the education of the people here. Did you read my post on the hunter who shot a thrush? It was ‘OK’ because it was a migrant bird and not a native one. What has that spurious bit of logic to do with anything?
I don’t think that a single person we know has any idea of environmental changes, disappearing species, overcrowding, pollution or any of the long list of modern ailments. Is this just a lack of interest, an in-built arrogance or the product of a catholic education? For a people who are normally more caring to strangers than many places one could name their attitude seems incongruous and incomprehensible.
Just because I don’t speak much Italian (there’s no point when nobody makes the effort to understand you), it doesn’t mean I don’t understand it. What gets me is that most dialogues are so cliched.
If you went to school in the seventies or before then you probably remember the old language-teaching text books we used to have. The content was so heavily-structured that it was almost impossible to read with a straight face, never mind believe in or learn from. For example, our old French book began with:
“Bonjour, Pierre”, dit Adolphe.
“Bonjour, Adolphe”, dit Pierre.
“Bonjour Pierre et Adolphe”, dit Claude.
“Bonjour Claude”, dit Adolphe.
“Bonjour Claude”, dit Pierre.
But no-one really talks like that, or do they? Well, they do here although it’s more like:
“Ciao, va bene?”
“Ciao, si, va bene. E tu?”
But who the hell is Bennie?
Everything is ‘va bene’. The guy we bought our first Italian house through is a ‘va bene’ addict. I’m not going to say his name but if you know this part of the world, think ‘Shakin’ Stevens’. Anyway, he (not Shakey, that is) can’t say a sentence without ‘Va bene’ in it.
I don’t care what people may say, the reality of it is that the Italian language is impoverished the way it is spoken. On a more serious note, we had terrible problems specifying the concrete for our swimming pool. We needed it to be a particular grade – ie over 300kg of cement per cubic metre of concrete but how can you do that when the word for both concrete and cement is ‘cemento’? What does it mean when you say you want 300kg of cemento per cubic metre of cemento? Absolutely nothing!
… and then we wanted it laid on mesh. Mesh is ‘rete’ but then so again is ‘fence’ and ‘grid’ and probably a dozen other things, too.
The most commonly used word for ‘to paint’ in the house sense is ‘imbiancare’ which literally means to whitewash. Hmmm.
Prunes, plums, greengages etc are all called ‘prugni’. ‘Cetrioli’ (cucumbers, which manage to be both floppy and woody here) are ‘cetriolini’ when they adopt the totally different identity of gherkins.
I can’t stand the way every phone call begins with ‘Pronto?’ meaning ‘Ready?’. I can’t help hearing the English, “Oy, you. Are you listening to me?” instead. No-one says ‘Ciao’ – just ‘Pronto’. Ciao itself means ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’, by the way.
But what gets me most of all is that there must be a dozen or more words for pasta when it’s all the same thing, anyway!
Since Damaris asked the chief honcho to give us warning before he and his calvary come charging across our land in search of some unfortunate creature, it has been relatively quiet on the hunting front. A few days ago, though, we started noticing a regular group of cars parked just off the last stretch of public road (before it becomes our private drive). From the rifle-shots, it was clear that they have taken to hunting in the woods belonging to the Church. These woods abut our land but are at least 100 metres from our house so we are out of range, at least.
I wouldn’t mind if they concentrated on shooting pigeons, the rabbits and hares which find our orchard so nutritious, wild boar and crows but they insist on shooting thrushes, woodpeckers and anything which is foolish enough to think a tree in the middle of the woods is a good place to live.
These hunters are a funny lot. Mainly middle-aged to elderly men, they dress up in camouflage gear, smoke the Italian equivalent of ‘Capstan Full Strength’ cigarettes and creep furtively from bush to bush. They will also take the liberty of throwing their rubbish down in your field and even building a hide from corrugated iron sheets and anything else at hand.
From time to time we have to go to the ‘Hunting and Fishing’ shop (also an ironmongers). We’ve renamed it the ‘Rootin’, tootin’, shootin’ shop’ for obvious reasons. It is usually full of the aforesaid old men hanging around boasting about (presumably) the smallest bird they’ve ever shot. Apparently it’s ok to shoot migrating birds because they aren’t native. You can never be too sure what they are talking about because the nose-tapping and whispering stops as soon as you enter the shop.
Fortunately there is a growing movement – particularly among the younger generation – that finds hunting unacceptable. Unfortunately, the government makes a great deal of money from license fees paid by hunters so it is not about to throw that revenue away. This leaves each individual land-owner to attempt to come to some agreement with the local hunters group.
We finally managed to get a plumber to replace our copper guttering which means that there should no longer be a constant stream of rainwater running down the face of the house from the dove-cote balcony. We had a few short words, first, though as the guttering was initially about 15cm short of the eaves it should have lapped under. Any rain, therefore, would have merely gone around the guttering and straight down the walls.
The guttering was organised by the painter whom we had given up on. No fault of his but we had made it a condition of his work that he organise a plumber to do the guttering – the last thing we wanted was two different contractors and two different lots of staging/scaffolding.
As always, our decorator went round in a whirlwind. None of his men seem to move particularly fast but turn your back for a second and they’ve done another wall. The house wall area is around 415 square metres and there are 25 windows (it cost a fortune to double-glaze). One coat of sealant on top of our fading and deteriorating paint and then two top coats of high-quartz, exterior quality emulsion in glorious pink!
It was a relief to see our repairs disappear under the new paint. If we had to sell in a hurry, the crack signs would upset a lot of buyers – unjustly so since the root cause was that the house is built on two separate foundation grids and they settled differentially when the house was constructed; six or seven years ago.
The new stove is gobbling up the pellets although now we’ve got everything automated, we use less with the fire on 100% of the time than we did when it was being switched on and off manually. It is a brute of a thing and cost us the best part of 4,000 Euros. It gets through 3 sacks of pellets every two days (4 Euros a sack) but in return it heats up the underfloor heating of the long-room (100 m2 floor area), the radiators, the water for the shower and the water for the indoor swimming pool via a heat exchanger. Unfortunately there is still some work to do on it and neither of the two side panels have been fitted on yet.
The insects and such are beginning to look for a winter home. Yesterday Damaris fished a drowned scorpion out of the indoor swimming pool and I killed a queen hornet in the long room too. Either would have been ‘fun’ to stand on.
The gardeners are coming less frequently now that the weather is turning. Although there is a lot to do, the colder temperatures make it less appealing and they cancel at every opportunity. They are a group of Moroccan brothers who alternate at weekends but have a tendency to take liberties – eg if it is raining where they are, they don’t come despite the fact that our microclimate is very often different to that in the valley where they live and it is commonplace to drive up the hill and out of the clouds (like on a plane) when going to our home.
We’ve bought a few more plants – climbers mainly – and these need to be planted this weekend. I can see Damaris struggling to do them if we get abandoned again.
Until recently we had two golden retrievers. The older one is still alive but is prone to fur balls which usually manage to manifest themselves at about 3am when he insists on waking us to do something about it.
We’ve tried all the usual stuff including letting him go out and eat grass to make himself sick. The best thing we have found is a stick of celery. This is digestible yet stiff enough to push the furball down into his belly and send him back to sleep with a full stomach! Accordingly, we try to make things like celery and carrots (another option but not quite as good) into treats. Like many retrievers, he suffers with weight problems and I can’t see that feeding him roughage like celery and carrots isn’t a damned sight better than high calorie ‘doggie snacks’.
It’s been a short but hot summer here up in the mountains. Our oldest dog doesn’t venture far from home these days as he overheats. He is, however, prone to nocturnal jaunts to our nearest neighbours whom we’ve dubbed the ‘Hillbillies’ namely because they seem to resemble the ‘nouveau riche’ hicks of the tv series inasmuch as their brand new house is already surrounded by bits of farmyard equipment, animal dung and there is a mad old woman who spends most of her day running around it crying, “Chee” in a very high-pitched voice to her chickens.
Needless to say all their dogs are securely locked up in cages all day long. Apart from a couple of very small ones, they don’t ever seem to be let out. Our dogs wander over there from time to time (against our wishes, of course) and wind up the resident canines. We have a sneaking suspicion that our mutts somehow get to eat their food.
No doubt we will get a complaint one day soon. That said, we’ve been here a year now and not spoken to each other. We get on ok with the other people on the hill except for the guy who runs the hotel and who served us that inedible, greasy meal at 25 Euros a head (see this blog).
The outdoor swimming pool has finally been chlorine-shocked and sheeted and the pump put on ‘casual duty’. The winter storms haven’t really started yet but one is scheduled for tomorrow and we know that the north wind that blasts sub-zero temperatures up our valley cannot be far off.
That said, we’ve still been cropping strawberries and the odd raspberry although there don’t tend to be too many left after the dogs have picked them. The tomatoes go a similar way, too.
Now, we just sit and wait to see if our new under-floor heated, double-glazed option room with insulated walls and ceiling and thickened north wall are up to those gales we can expect. More to follow, no doubt.