In the course of the last two weeks of plumbing tribulations, we learned a lot about how drains and pipes worked when this house was built, starting sometime in the Middle Ages and continuing - or rather evolving, room by room - through the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Early Modern period, until the Second World War (the first known historical record of the house is from the 18th century, a census done under Napoleon that's held in the national archives in Turin). Whenever in time it was that the plumbing system was installed in the house, it worked on simple principles that dealt efficiently with waste: the kitchen drain went straight down into the pigsty right below the living quarters, while the bathroom drained out into the stream. It was an uncomplicated plumbing system that was still in use some fifty years ago, and remained in place until the house was remodeled/restored twenty years ago.
Despite the best of intentions, though, modernizing something that runs through walls of solid fieldstone was a serious challenge, that sometimes led the modernizers to pay more attention to the huge stone chunks they encountered in the walls than to the key to all successful plumbing, the force of gravity. The result is a system of pipes that runs from our house - a top floor apartment - down to the sewer that meanders, winds, and backtracks to the rhythms of our ancient stone walls, even passing in the abandoned house next door. And inside one of these meanders we'd never dreamed existed, some ten meters away from us, mineral deposits inside one pipe were slowly accreting and hardening. Eventually, our modernized medieval plumbing system had a massive arrest.
All this is probably more than you really wanted to know about our plumbing, in these festive days just before Christmas. It was certainly more than WE wanted to know. Sewage and merry-making don't mix. All the more since our usual holiday baking spree which fills the house with gingerbread aromas and Christmas cheer is a lot tougher to pull off in a kitchen with an overflowing sink.
However, one part of the Plumbing Affair was worthwhile. Not as exciting as going to see Santa and his elves at work, perhaps, or as magical as walking through Christmas-lit streets. But as exciting, maybe, as opening a present - or an old, secret box - and discovering what's inside. For the first time in the sixteen years, in fact, we passed through the ancient, locked doorway right next to ours. We got to walk through the abandoned house that we've often wondered about, and wander through the rooms just beyond the walls of our kitchen and living room. A household of country farmers with their saints and their mirrors, their golden yellow walls and pale blue ceilings, their narrow beds and cast-iron wood stoves, an entire way of living that stopped here, quite suddenly, fifty years ago, and is now draped with dust, cobwebs and silence.
And now, my friends, I think we're all ready for some gingerbread cookies!
Of all the places I've had to kill time over the last fifteen years, waiting for my kids to finish some activity or other, nothing equals the music academy. It's in a seaside village that's packed with tourists during the summer, but deserted in the winter. I've never had any occasion to explore it until this year, when Rebecca's music lessons brought me there once a week, and presented me with an hour's worth of exploration time.
Now, I'm a seasoned chauffeur-mom, and always have knitting or reading handy in case my patience and interest should wane. But on music day, I found that I was actually enjoying my hour by the sea, and needed neither knitting nor books nor patience to make the time enjoyable. The music lesson is at sunset at this time of year, and there's nothing more peaceful and glorious than walking on the beach and wandering among the tiny alleyways of a small Mediterranean town as the sky and the water become rich gold, then pastel pinks and blues, and finally darken to deep cobalt before disappearing into the night's blackness. By then I'm walking back towards the school, the moon rising above the dark silhouettes of the palm trees, as from a high, bright-lit corner window of the music academy, Rebecca's piano music rings out.
Around here, you know it's October and a new season has started when certain rich scents fill the air: the distant whiffs of woodsmoke from chimneys and garden waste being burnt in the fields, the musty smell of soil damp with the first autumnal rains, and sweet smell of winemaking drifting up from the cellar below our house. Each of these tells us, year after year, that October is here.
On the little road where I live, which runs along a river, just before you reach the nearest town, there's a small gap in the fence, where a path leads steeply down to the river below. In fifteen years of driving up and down this road numerous times a day, I'd never noticed it.
Rebecca and I went through this gap in the fence and walked down the path for the first time one day, at the end of summer. We crossed the river on a makeshift bridge, and climbed the riverbank on the other side. Beyond, hidden by vegetation and the ruins of an old wall, is a horse stable.
There I sat looking at Rebecca fulfilling her dream of riding a horse, in a secret field surrounded by olive trees shimmering silvery, vineyards glowing emerald in the sunlight. It was one of those moments when I felt all the difficulties of living in the middle of nowhere, rural Italy melt away, and a warming sense of all that country life here has to offer.
There aren't many good places left to go out for dinner in our corner of the world. Most of the little family-run restaurants, where they serve the fried fish caught early that morning, or game they've hunted, or their own produce, all cooked in traditional Ligurian regional style, have largely disappeared. Lots of little family-run restaurants remain, but their fare has changed to attract tourists, offering menus with more "international" dishes and appeal (like the ubiquitous hamburger and french fries).
But a few die-hard places remain. One of my favorites is a spot on a nearby hilltop, where nothing has changed in the last fifteen years – probably the last fifty. It's a tiny little deconsecrated church, decorated with incongruous stuffed critters – badgers, foxes, owls, weasels, wild boars. We prefer to sit outdoors, under a thick canopy of grape vines, with views over the surrounding hills, olive groves and woods. The menu is so short and stable that they don't even bother to print it: homemade ravioli or linguine pasta, wild boar or rabbit, fruit jam tart. The staff is one extended family: scruffy, friendly, brisk. Reservations are a good idea, because although you'll never find a tourist there, it usually fills with locals. We go once a year, to enjoy both the hearty local fare, and the reassuring sensation that some good things, at least, don't change.
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What's inside the grand, decadent palazzi in Genoa? One can't help wandering what those facades and big windows - often looking no farther than at window or wall of the palazzo just across the narrow alleyway - hide inside, and we had the most amazing surprise when we entered the palazzo where we were hosted.
Oh, wow! This spiral staircase was so unexpected and beautiful, that Rebecca and I spent quite some time exploring it: taking the elevator up to the sixth floor (little country girls get excited when they can use an elevator), and walking the helical stairs all the way down ... to the elevator door on the ground floor again.
PS Sorry about the ugly and, frankly, promotional way in which my photos display on the blog. Flickr is changing the embed coding adding "progressive enhancement" features, and hopefully options will soon be offered to have access to the plain, good old HTML code again.
For me, no other Italian city feels as foreign as Genoahttp://www.fuoriborgo.com/fuoriborgo/2015/07/4th-of-july-on-the-9th.html. Squeezed between the sea and the Apennine Mountains, its old port district - Italy's largest medieval neighborhood - is a web of steep, dark stairways, small, winding alleyways too narrow for cars (yet where, surprisingly, no motorini or bicycles are to be seen and heard speeding along), decadent palazzi and forlorn hunks of the old city walls. Many of the locals have a hard-worn look, with a higher density of tattoes and chain-smoking than I've encountered anywhere else. In a five-minute stroll through Genoa's centro storico, you can see: boulevards bordered by elegant palaces and shaded gardens, prostitutes sitting in dark doorways, chic cafes bustling at all hours with fashionably-dressed Genoese, nail parlors and junk shops equally crowded with immigrants and sailors. Genoa is a bewildering blend, like several cities in one.
We were invited yesterday to the celebrations of American Independence Day in Genova, held by the US Consul General in Genoa (on July 9th, for some reason). The 4th of July always amuses me, because it reminds me of the first time I travelled to the US, which happen to be on the 4th of July. That date meant absolutely nothing to me, except that it had been a very long day. For me that 4th of July had started early morning in London, and carried on fifteen hours later across the globe, where the 4th of July was just kicking off. Everyone in the New World seemed to be partying and having a jolly good time - for no other reason than that it was the 4th of July, people told me! Little did I know back then that I'd be marrying an American citizen, and I'd too be partying on the 4th of July - on a terrace-garden in a grand palazzo in Genova, decorated with Union Jacks* US flags shining under the Mediterranean sun.
*thanks Brenda for catching my mistake!
The setting could hardly be more dramatic: a Roman theater built 2,200 years ago into the rocky slope of Fiesole, a hill town just outside of Florence, as the sun set and night slowly cloaked the olive groves, vineyards, country villas and rolling hills all around. The ancient theater came alive once more this past weekend, with the music and song of Arthur Honegger's Le roi David, performed by the choir where my sister sings and by the orchestra conducted by Johanna Knauf. I felt privileged to share the experience of an ancient Roman Theater filled with music with my kids. So grateful to my sister, who made this possible for us, and whose voice is still singing in our hearts.
gardening + knitting + crafting + cooking + family life in the middle of nowhere, rural Italy
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