Recently, water has filled our days rather dramatically. It pours down heavy and relentless from the sky, obscuring the landscape. It cascades down the hillsides. It tumbles down the roads. It overflows the riverbeds. It clashes and smashes against the stormy waves of the sea.
When we don't hear it pounding loudly against our windows and rooftops, we hear the roar of the river at the bottom of the valley.
All this water has caused damage and deaths in north Italy and across the border in southern France. In the last three weeks, we've had several days of Level 2 weather alert, meaning that schools and offices were closed, and people were asked not to leave their homes. Our provincial road to town is closed because of a series of landslides (thirteen, no less, on a ten-kilometer road).
Yesterday we had a brief respite from the rainstorms, and took a walk in our woods. Here on our hilltop, all the water that has fallen over the last few days sparkled white and bright in the sunshine. Downhill, on the other hand, it's brown and muddy, and cannot be contained.
I'm grateful that we're all safe, but keep in my thoughts all those near us who have been less fortunate.
There was once a little seven-year-old girl, driving with her mamma back from ballet through a big, dark Mediterranean forest late on October 31st. Mamma was quiet, her mind busy planning all the steps that would make dinner happen as early as possible that night: carry the groceries up, store the frozen food in the freezer, put a pot of water on the burner, start a fire, slice the cabbage, unload the rest of the groceries ... when the little girl interrupted her train of thought. "Mamma, may I go trick-or-treating tonight?". Needless to say, a trick-or-treating step wasn't included in mamma's plan that night.
Mamma's thoughts, in fact, were so far away from Halloween - her least favorite celebration, and one that, fortunately for her, hadn't even been mentioned until then - that for a moment she was left simply speechless by the question.
Driving through the big, dark Mediterranean forest late on October 31st, she started processing the request as fast as she could. Would "No!" be a fair answer? The little girl had made a blue Halloween costume the previous year, her first ever, but had never got the chance to wear it because she was sick on the day. Could the wicked mamma deprive her little sweet girl of one trick-or-treating experience? And how would the neighbors react if their doorbell rang in the night? Had they ever heard of Halloween?
"May I please go trick-or-treating tonight?" The little girl tried again in a persuasive voice from the back-seat of the car. Mamma started re-calculating all the steps that would get dinner ready that night, squeezing in an extra digging-out-the-Halloween-dress step. It could be done ... maybe ... But then the little girl added, "And you will come with me!".
The wicked mamma had no intention of going trick-or-treating. This mamma had done many things in her life, climbed many mountains, and trick-or-treating was not something the doctor had ordered.
Between slicing the cabbage, and unloading the rest of the groceries, the little girl got dressed up in her blue Halloween costume, while her mamma texted the neighbor to know whether trick-or-treating was something their doctor had perhaps ordered. It wasn't either, but their heart was kind as always, and they replied, "Give us five minutes first, then send her!".
One excited little girl in a handmade blue Halloween costume went out trick-or-treating on October 31st. One light was on in the sleepy, rural Italian village. One door opened when she rang the bell. One neighbor was too scared to be tricked, so she handed some treats.
The little girl came home overjoyed. In her little wicker basket were eight Italian cookies, individually hand-wrapped candy-style in foil. They were the best treat ever.
As the woods reclaim the fields that formerly were farmed around here - once upon a time, when these little villages on top of steep, distant cliffs were still poor but bustling rural communities - there is one plant above all that, despite total neglect, continues to grow and produce, season after season: the grape vines. Though their trellises have long since collapsed and they haven't been pruned or watered for ages, the vines grow each springtime, trailing through the grasses, climbing over brambles and trees. And come the fall, they still produce bunches of tiny grapes packed with flavor.
We foraged these, "distilled" their precious liquid (in a juicer), and drank pitchers full of juice of these hardy, "survivor" grapes.
When summer rain falls in Latin countries it is as if the population has been betrayed. There is a dismayed rush for shelter; the streets empty; the waiters fall over each other to whip tablecloths, chairs and tables into safety; cars skid; drains become clogged; the electric light fails; the telephone refuses to work; and a few brave figures, head down before the storm, cross the flooded road with something about them which, were it not so ludicrous, would be a tragic reminder of those who fled before the red-hot dust of Vesuvius.
H. V. Morton A Traveller in Italy
There is one book that always sits on my bedside table, Morton's A Traveller in Italy, which I never tire of reading. On many nights, in fact, I reach out, open it randomly, and enjoy Morton's acute observations, travels throughout my country, and snippets of Italian history (I wrote about this wonderful book here). I came across the above passage last night, and had to smile: like my Latin ancestors, I too feel betrayed by summer rain. I too, dismayed, rush for shelter, and never more than this past summer, which has been a terrible betrayal. The reason why I rushed home each time it rained, though, wasn't just for shelter, but to make sure that windows and doors were shut, because this is what I'd find this summer on my front door during summer rain storms :
Though it wasn't the red-hot dust of Vesuvius threatening to invade my house, I can assure you that my sensations of horror and tragedy must have equalled that of my Latin predecessors in Pompei.
Before we could even seriously consider restructuring the hayloft in the barn, the ancient roof clearly needed to be repaired. However, the current owner of our house and of the barn in question - the grand-daughter of the man we originally rented from - wasn't interested in its renovation at first.
The ancient roof, though, isn't just decrepit, but dangerously so, and old terracotta coppi roof tiles fall down through the rotting beams and planks. Some kind of intervention was urgently needed, so the landlady eventually decided on a "tapullo", which in local dialect means a "patch".
These days Angelo the builder - The Builder in our tiny area, and the man who knows everyone and everything (including where to find spare roof tiles, left over from another re-roofing job of the nearby church decades ago, hidden away in the ivy) - is working daily "tapulling" the barn roof.
As used as I've become to country isolation over the last decade or so, it's kind of strange to have someone right out there all the time, talking away (Angelo is a wonderful man, in a rustic sort of way, and swears vehemently at the ancient roof when it doesn't cooperate ... which seems to be happening all the time), who's able to look into our house from the barn he's re-roofing, and who watches me and comments as I work in the garden. This tapulling of the roof, is turning out to be a very interesting experience indeed, in many unexpected ways.
A week ago, the street fiesta our village holds each June seemed doomed by the elements. An hour before it was to begin, the sky turned an ominous black, the wind picked up and thunder claps echoed down the valley – all signs that an outdoor street fiesta that evening was likely to be a wash-out. In fact, because of the weather, only a few people had turned up, but the usual huge amount of food had already been prepared.
(Note: the men in this family decided to take the car, while the brave women wore rain jackets and marched fearlessly to the fiesta).
We gathered in the street, looking up at the threatening sky and at the people who had come, many of whom were elderly and frail. And the decision was quickly taken to relocate indoors, in the little communal room next to the church at the top of the hill.
(Note: fortunately the men in this family had come by car, so they got to be in charge of moving all the food to the new venue, while the other cars were used to transport the elderly).
(Also note: though it is generally believed that an SUV or similar is required when you live in the country, I drive the tiny vehicle pictured above, which carries us up and down our steep hill perfectly well, and can fit all five of us, so long as we all assume compact yoga positions - sometimes I grab my son's knee instead of the gear shift, but hey! Plus my tiny white car can be parked almost anywhere, including this little spot at the side of the road, millimeters from a steep drop-off).
In the end, the rain never came. But no one noticed, because our little room was loud with happy talk and clatter. When the time came to leave, we emerged into a night glittering with stars, and brilliant with winking fireflies.
We aren't really house hunting actively (yet), but because we have outgrown our little stone house, and I've always dreamed of owning a house that we can truly make our home, as one can never really do with a rental, from time to time we go and look at what's available in the area. Unfortunately (for us potential buyers, at least) the real estate market here doesn't seem to be suffering from the economic crisis Italy is going through, and houses near the sea, only a couple of hours away from the prosperous cities up north, such as Turin and Milan, are still very sought-after. On one of our recent dream-home hunts, here's what we saw in the not-quite-crazy-expensive bracket.
This house was rented out until a short time ago, despite the fact that it has no heating (not even a wood stove) and the "bathroom" is no more than a cubbyhole with a toilet and a shower head. Although it obviously needs lots of work, it has one other major problem for me: no land. I'd rather move to an apartment in a city, and take advantage of all city-things, than live in the middle of rural nowhere without a garden. Am I aiming too high?
Oh, poor house! It's seen better, grander days, but it's been abandoned for twenty years now. It has a fresh-water well and a little chapel, but it's in terrible state of disrepair, and all the houses nearby are just as decrepit, which make it a rather creepy, haunted neighborhood.
This would be the perfect house, even if it's brand new ("new" for Italy, as it was actually built ten years ago), and doesn't come with several centuries of history. After fifteen years of living in a stone house, though, I've come to appreciate bricks as a better construction material in terms of thermal efficiency. I can see it as our dream home, as it's surrounded by a large (though totally neglected) olive grove. It even has a tiny view of the sea. However – yes, there's a non-negligible however – it requires a huge investment to buy it, and another to do all the construction needed to complete it.
Here's where we call home today. This house has seen three changes of ownership since we moved in, from father to son to granddaughter, and has also seen our three children grow from babyhood, to childhood and to almost adulthood. It's been a good house ... but one can always dream of home!
Corner View is a weekly appointment - each Wednesday - created by Jane of Spain Daily, where bloggers from all corners of the world share their view on a pre-arranged theme. If you'd like to join in, please leave a link to your Corner View post in the comments below, and be sure to visit other participants too.
Many thanks to Ibabe for the theme today!
We celebrated Palm Sunday last weekend, one of my favorite rituals as it blends a religious festivity with the agricultural cycle. It begins in the olive groves where the trees are pruned at this time of year, continues in the village square where the olive boughs are blessed, and ends in the church where the Passion of Christ is read and the blessed boughs are distributed among the villagers.
The theme next week Wednesday, 30 April is "small things", and comes from Kristin.
Happy corner viewing!
It's a bit of a grand title, because - as you can see from the glimpse above - the space in question is a little on the derelict side right now. Could it become "my own space"? It does have potential. I know for a fact because Angelo, the builder who came to fix our roof the other day, told me so. And when Angelo spoke, standing in a beam of light that came from the window, it rather seemed like a sort of an annunciation to me, and all of a sudden in place of the ancient barn, I saw a beautiful room, with immaculate white walls, dark wood beams on the sloping ceiling, a wood floor, and a sewing table by the window ... my space!
I can't say that Tom shared my vision exactly. He quickly pointed to the terrible state of the roof, to the threatening cracks in the walls, to the collapsing part of the barn just adjacent (the large room with the stone and brick oven that served the whole neighborhood on the weekly baking day). Yes, yes, but maybe ...
It was once a hayloft, above the stables where we've been keeping our firewood since when our neighbors sold the sheep and goats, and Angelo had told me to clear the floor of hay and debris so that he could take a better look at it. So I did, though I was a little naive, and perhaps underestimating just a little the size of the task, when I set to work with the heavy-duty broom I'd bought in Portugal. Decades of disuse, in fact, had caked the hay and the "debris" (which included a mummified toad and ... well, I'll spare you, but I can assure you that it was nothing that any broom of any nationality could sweep up) solidly to the floor.
By a stroke of luck, in a corner I found a large hoe. Just the tool I needed, and as I picked it up in amazement, I wondered whether my finding it in the right place at the right time was some kind of sign that the derelict barn does in fact have a future as my space.
Family life at the edge of an ancient rural community near the Mediterranean
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