My St Davids Day Bara Brith

Prynhawn da

Daffodils

Daffodils

Today is the 1st of March St Davids Day a very important day in my homeland. Today we proudly wear the  daffodil and sing Welsh songs.

As unfortunately my daffodils are yet to flower and I am possibly the only Welsh person to be tone deaf making a song out of the question. I decided to bake a cake something I love and enjoy doing ( you can read about this at Tea with Mary B. archive August 2016 )

I am making The most important cake in wales. ” Bara Brith”  with maybe a few little adaptions.

My Italian Bara Brith

My Italian Bara Brith

My Bara Brith recipe Meditteranean style.

Bara brith for any one who has not sampled it, is a type of heavy tea bread containing lots of fruit.

apricots, dates and figs

apricots, dates and figs

We slice it, butter it and serve it with tea. Every family has their own recipe usually passed down through the generations. Just like mine but unfortunately out here I could not find the necessary fruit so I changed it a little.  Here are my ingredients

375 gms of dried fruit this was the problem no currants or raisins out here only sultanas. Luckily when I first decided to try this recipe I had received one of those Christmas hampers as a present.

My first Italian Christmas hamper

My first Italian Christmas hamper

It was full of dried figs and dates which we would never eat. So I decided to chop them up and use them to make 375 gms of fruit.

375 gms of dried apricots, sultanas, figs and dates.

300mls of Hot tea preferably English breakfast etc.

200gms of Brown sugar.

All these are placed in a bowl together, I also put the used teabag in to give extra flavour. ( but do remember to remove it before you add the next ingredients)

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all in together

Soak over night for at least 24 hrs.

Then after removing tea bag add

1 egg

300gms of self raising flour

Stir and blend ingredients together  – it needs a strong hand.

Place into a greased and lined 1 kg loaf tin

Bake at gas mark 2/130c fan for approx 1 1/2hrs or until skewer comes out clean.

Cool on rack

Slice with butter and a good strong mug of tea

Yummy!!!!!

Yummy!!!!!

Iechyd da  — ( good health)

 

 

De Ja vu, our foolhardy project continues!

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Here I am , it is minus 5 or 6 outside and I am standing in my fenile (hayloft ) in half light dust is flying everywhere as I try to focus on the job in hand.

the upper barns fenile are on each side behind the fancy brickwork.

The Fenile are on the upper floor, each end behind the fancy brickwork.

Yesterday after much encouragement from the builder we finally agreed to let him loose in our upper barns. We are quite aware that we need to press on with this renovation as this next phase will include our rental rooms. However we have had quite a good break over the last few weeks which has given us the insight into how life will be after the builders have gone. We now have quite a beautiful and comfortable place to live and we have been  enjoying the luxury. This makes it a huge effort to start the renovation again especially as the dust has started to fall from the ceilings of my smart house and my daily chore is to continually clean and clean and clean.

So back to the job. There is OH, Nicolo, the builder and I in the half light peering into this enormous space like a large black hole from the galaxy. All excitedly trying to plan its future.

You see this is worthy of a grand design programme on channel 4 Uk , Kevin Mcloud eat your heart out. We have broken every rule, yes we started with an architect but we soon parted company ( amicably) took over the designing ourselves and now completely control the project.

Early in the restoration we found ourselves a geometra and changed builders to our choice. OH does the labouring, me all the translating,ordering and dealing with various tradesmen.

cement, dirt all just outside my backdoor

cement, dirt all just outside my backdoor

We do all this on very little funds which now and again keep running out which stops us for a few months till we can save enough to continue pushing forward.

Even worse we are doing this in another language to our own which at times we are not always comfortable with. In fact quite often we feel as if we are standing in the pitch dark staggering about to find our way forward.

The craziest thing of all is that neither of us has had any previous  building experience so we are absolutely naive but  I do think this helps.

making a hole is easy! it what to do with it next!

making a hole is easy!   It is what to do with it next!

Our builder  does not spend his time sighing and shaking his head, he is quite inspirational and very positive, all ideas get credibility even if not put into fruition.

I can see Kevin standing rubbing his hands outside our shack of a farmhouse condescendingly telling the cameras about this crazy couple who break every rule but still manage to continue on.

sometimes it is hard to keep smiling

sometimes it is hard to keep smiling

We have found over the years every problem big or small can be overcome. OH,’ s favourite saying when I am torn between which bill to pay first is

” can they shoot us at dawn”.

of course not and most things are easily resolved. This build has taught us that anything can be achieved if you want it enough.

Most of our design drawings are done on A4 sheets with a biro doodling usually with OH, myself and Nicolo sitting around the table where everyone’s input is listened too,.

we have many of these

we have many of these

We take advice from our geometra who keeps us within the law and obviously reigns us in when things become too fanciful. Especially since June 2015 when we found ourselves in a newly designated UNESCO area which makes it particularly more difficult for permissions.

We have learned to salvage everything nothing goes to waste as it may live another day. Bricks, old wood, sinks, even old rusty nails, Pani our maestro bricklayer loves them.

Last night we were using our other weapon, a spray can which we use to mark out the rooms , doorways, partitions  etc.

How useful is a spray can

How useful is a spray can

We stood up in the cold discussing the usage of the space trying to avoid wastefulness. Ideas were bandied about for balconies, bathrooms, waste pipes, electrics and so on. Why do we need fancy architect designs when we can stand with spray can in hand actually visualising the rooms in their full complement.

Lets face it we had an architect who managed to design a roof for our house  without chimneys. Unfortunately the farmhouse has 3 fireplaces and although OH pointed this out to the builder on numerous occasions during the build. His warnings were ignored until a week before completion when we were asked “where would you like the chimney stacks to be sited.” Funnily enough we said over the fireplaces.

oops!!!

Then it became an enormous and costly job to ourselves to put things right.

Us with our spray can and our A4  can overcome all. We see it , we discuss it, we take advice and we make it happen.

a spray can can be so useful

a spray can is so useful

my 100 spray paint becomes a window with a perfect view of the vineyard

my spray paint becomes a window with a perfect view of the vineyard

After our meeting in the hayloft I spent a full night thinking is there a better use of the area, what can we do to save money maybe less arches, less windows , less doorways. Although this at times maybe tempting there is one thing that we are totally relentless with NO compromises this place is to be the best we can achieve.

It has not been unknown for things to completely change course in a day, like when we were renovating the cantina we all decided it would be a great idea to put a rustic fireplace in the corner of the room. One day Nicolo arrived excited with an A4 drawing in hand of the design of our new fireplace. He had found a second hand stove in a good condition with a beautiful large glass door to incorporate into the chimney, He said he had done this amazing deal with its owner and said it was a steal.  I was sent with one of the young workers to collect and pay for the said item. We were instructed to wait in a car park at a nearby town where the deal would be done. Unfortunately the owner or the stove did not appear he had apparently changed his mind, maybe he also thought the deal was to good to be true or even worse he may have been selling someone else’s property without their permission. We will never know. There we were left standing with a huge empty van in the middle of a car park like a couple of fools.

Plan B there is always a plan B, Nicolo is never phased” We can have an open fire I have just the thing in my yard do you want to come and see.” he says.

I tell you it needed much imagination to work out how a load of cast iron and huge fire bricks one with an enormous crack down the centre could be changed into anything like a handsome open fireplace. Nicolo saw the negative expression on our face and said keep faith in me, believe me, when Pani gets this it will be fine.

It was hard to visualise this could make anything beautiful

It was hard to visualise this could make anything beautiful

We returned to the house all bits carried in the rear of the van to be met by a very  enthusiastic Pani who immediately set about the job. And what a job simply stunning.

The fireplace in the cantina

The finished fireplace in the cantina

Moreover the chimney pulls amazingly well and it does make a romantic spot for a cosy dinner on a winter evening.

The handle for the air vent

The handle for the air vent

They even asked the fabbro ( black smith) to make a handle in the shape of a bunch of grapes which open and shuts the air vents.

So on that particular day we started with one idea and finished with another even better.

We are open to all ideas, changing course and retuning, we do have a sort of idea as to what the finished project will be.        well !  at least OH says he does !! rather convincingly. Me I do spend a great deal of time floundering in the dark or checking the Italian dictionary to work out the meaning of the last two words the builders shouted to us.

Happy days they have returned and the build continues.

 

Please note anyone who is intending to take on a project such as this in Italy,  you must get the professionals ( an Architect or a geometra) involved before you undertake any restoration. We also have found living  on site although very difficult at times has paid huge dividends.

I really do not miss many things from  the UK in fact to be honest the shopping list is very small –  tea bags, birds Custard powder, evaporated milk and occasionally a piece of mature cheddar. But there is one thing that I really can’t live without especially during the winter months

“a good jar of orange marmalade”

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the more bitter the better!!

Now marmalade is not readily available here, what sweet toothed Italian would ever consider eating a jellied fashion of oranges that make your teeth tingle with bitterness for their breakfast.

I was brought up on the stuff and absolutely adore it the more bitter the better. Robinson’s thick cut on hot buttered toast,  – simple luxury.

So after searching high and low to no avail I finally decided it was time to make my own.

So where do I begin, I fondly remember my half term holidays spent at my grandmothers big old rambling house which nestled up on a hillside above the welsh coast. On cold damp February days my cousins and I could be found huddled into her little cosy breakfast room with a roaring fire in the grate. We would be perched on thick fluffy old cushions lifting us up to reach the large cold metal topped table in the corner of the room. It was next to a huge window which allowed us the most perfect view of the grey rippling sea and the occasional oil tanker bobbing on the horizon.

The floor was littered with huge baskets of bright shining oranges.

bright shining oranges

bright shining oranges

Through the doorway leading to the kitchen we could see an enormous pan/cauldron balanced on her stove. It was full of thick bubbling, spitting, gooey sauce, the steam would be rising and omitting this wonderful aroma of sweet syrupy citrus.

Grandmother would place a wooden cutting board and a small knife for each of us, she would peel each orange and place a mound on each of our boards. We would eagerly cut the rind into fine strips. This task seemed to take us hours as we competed with each other as too how many oranges we could achieve before play beckoned us outside.

Now many years on I am here in my kitchen standing scratching my head wondering – ” Marmalade what do I do and how do I proceed.?” I am just wishing that my Grandmother could appear in my kitchen.

After a few searches on the trusty internet I discovered a couple of recipes for the complete novice and even a chef on u tube giving me a step by step guide. I quickly realised that this can’t be too difficult and in fact the ingredients were very simple

Seville oranges, sugar, setting agent and lemon., how simple can that be!.

But nothing is that easy and I found the first hurdle was just to find the correct oranges for the job.

The very next morning, there I was happily queuing at my favourite fruit stall on the local market,  there was a full display of shining juicy oranges.

A rush to the market

A rush to the market

Many different types on offer.

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Baskets of oranges

But when I asked for Seville oranges the assistant looked at me with shock horror saying ” no Spanish stuff here just the best and sweetest quality from Sicilia”.

just the sweetest juicy oranges .........

just the sweetest juicy oranges ………

How amazed she was when I proceeded to ask her which ones were the most bitter, she looked sheepishly around the stall in case any nearby customers could overhear her words and whispered to me discreetly pointing to the Tarucco oranges piled high on the corner of the stall.

piled high on the corner of the stall

piled high on the corner of the stall

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I filled my bags eagerly

I filled my bags with great enthusiasm not just did they look perfect, they were also just 1.50 euro a kilo what a bargain.

I set off home with much glee to begin the task and what a task. To strip, peel and slice the skin into fine strips without any pith..

Now i understand the reason my grandmother encouraged her young grandchildren to spend their holidays with her. I am unsure that she found the job as monotonous and time consuming as I do. She did love us all dearly but what a clever way to keep us out of mischief and to hurry her work along. Cheap labour comes to mind.

My first attempt of peeling took a whole morning for one kilo of oranges, this was extremely frustrating and immensely boring. Not to be beaten I tried modern techniques unheard of by Grandmother, in ways to eradicate the cutting job.

Hours of cutting and peeling

Hours of cutting and peeling

The food processor, not good it just turned into mush, a cheese grater just as bad and equally as gluey, various types of  knives, potato peelers, cheese cutters but all in vein. I then tried to peel the oranges as you would normally and then strip the pith inside with a sharp knife.

this resulted in cut fingers

this resulted in cut fingers

This resulted in cut fingers and split nails and on one occasion I even left out the peel altogether which resulted in a rather anaemic tasteless yellowy yuck.

Sadly I do not have any enthusiastic grandchildren to do the job so i have finally resigned myself to the task the old tried and tested route.

peel the rind thinly

peel the rind thinly

I have even become quite adept at peeling the orange part of the rind and leaving the white pith on the orange segments. I cut it into small thin strips and later peel the orange once again to remove the pith before the flesh goes into the pan.

peeling the orange again

peeling the orange again

The process can take an hour or two!

put into a large pan

put into a large pan

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about 1 litre of water

“once the peel stripping job is finished I put it in a large pan along with the orange flesh and about 1 litre of cold water. I bring it to the boil on my log burner and leave it to simmer for a few hours.

my trusty log burner

my faithful log burner

I adore the heady scent of the citrus that wafts around the room, it brings back all the old memories so vividly.

the steam rises high wafting citrus up and around

the steam rises high wafting citrus up and around

The next part of the preparation always seems quite challenging, how to get the marmalade to set OH is always complaining as his marmalade runs off his bread before it reaches his mouth.

Pouring the marmalade

Pouring the marmalade

He rather tactfully mentions it is supposed to be more jelly like not a runny sauce. So each batch has become an experiment I have used lemons, more sugar and packets of fruit -a- pec sometimes it sets and sometimes it doesn’t I don’t know why maybe it is the oranges themselves or just me, the cook but there is one thing it tastes absolutely delicious even if we find it quite difficult to keep on the knife.

I have great pleasure at looking at the orange jars lined up along my cantina shelves.

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cantina shelves full of all my experiments

Oh how we love our marmalade.

My Recipe

1kg of Tarucco oranges the largest you can find

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The largest you can find it cuts down the pain

1.2 litres of water

600kg of sugar

I packet of fruit a pec.

Juice of 1 lemon.

Method

Peel the rind off the oranges leaving the pith, slice into very fine pieces, place in pan with the flesh of the orange, 1.2litres of water boil until about 750mls.

Add the packet of frutta pec, ( setting agent)  lemon juice and 600gms of sugar boil rapidly and remove any of the white scum from the top of the liquid.

Test for setting on a cold saucer, then add to jars. It makes approx. 4 x 500mls. Of Marmalade.

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The finished item.

Good luck let me know how you do, any other suggestions for improvement will be very gratefully accepted.

It is absolutely gorgeous with on crackers with dolce gorgonzola.

 

 

 

The magical Christmas tree.

Two fat snowman making a pizza

Two fat snowman making a pizza

Are you superstitious, well I am for sure because I am welsh and we live our lives completely controlled by myth and legend. no walking under ladders, no passing on the stairs, if I put something on inside out it has to remain throughout the day!!! because simply it is bad luck . My friends here in Italy are fascinated by the fact that I will only leave a house from the door that I entered  which has on occasions resulted with me climbing over various hurdles and falling over objects in the pitch dark knocking and bruising various bones. When the stupidity of my behaviour is pointed out by my long suffering husband.  I always answer convincingly

” imagine what could have befallen ,me if I had left by another exit I could have broken a bone !”

You see it is the the fear of something worse happening to me if I break from tradition in Italian they say “Porta male” bringing bad luck.

My lovely renovated house is full of all the old religious artifacts, all still resting in the same position as when I took over the ruin watching over us and keeping us safe.

Mary stands in a small recess on my kitchen wall with an ever watchful eye as  I go about my daily chores.

Mary watching over the playful reindeer

Mary watching over the playful reindeer

The old dingy rosary beads hang in the corner of the bedroom over the beautifully painted dressing table. keeping nightmares at bay. It just goes on and on.

The trouble is that superstitions and legends are created by ourselves passed down by the generations and on many occasions with no idea where they had originated.

I worked for a period  in OH’s catering business and was bemused to see ardent football supporters about to watch their heroes, making the same drink  order week after week, sugaring and stirring in a certain way and making two gulps before they entered the ground. All because somewhere in the back of their memories they had done these deeds when their beloved team had won. Anything less in their own minds would only bring imminent disaster

So for me my most important lucky mascot is my magical Christmas tree. A very special little tree.

It was many years ago when OH and I were first together , we were somewhat down on our luck living in an old rented cottage with little spare cash, happy to be together but struggling to make ends meet.

I have always loved Christmas it is a special time it brings happiness and love. I adore to see the children’s faces light up when they see  Santa laden with his sack of presents even though his cotton wool beard keeps coming away as he chuckles.

Babbo natale

Babbo natale

To them it is real and they believe.

Me, I love to decorate my house create a wonderland for us and our guests to enjoy. Our little bit of magic.

But that Christmas we had nothing I was woeful without a tree what  bad luck could that bring. We emptied our pockets and put together the grand sum of twenty pounds

It was Christmas eve and we went searching for a tree, everything we found were too expensive. We just happened to pass by a rather expensive garden centre reputed for their spectacular Christmas displays. We looked at each other and OH said “Ok lets give it a try and see what we can find”. We entered with trepidation but to our relief everything was reduced. We strolled about our eyes wide looking at the dazzling displays. red , silver, blue, gold everything was colour themed and twinkling in the dimmed light. Then suddenly we came across a large display. A forest of glistening Christmas trees all decorated beautifully with red, gold and green baubles, it was simply stunning and there, standing right in the centre was this bewitching little pine tree.   Its little green needles where tipped with frosted snow that shimmered in the light. It had a few golden baubles, and lovely  red and gold candles clipped onto the end of its little branches. It was so enchanting We both looked at it catching our breaths I whispered to OH ” I  have never seen a tree like it,”

“nor I” he replied.

What were we to do?

We thought it would be much more expensive than our twenty pounds. Thus completely out of the question. We looked on longingly but then continued our search trying to forget the little tree. But it had waved its magic spell and made us unable to leave it behind.

OH  went in search of some help still unsure as to whether it was even for sale. After a few minutes  he emerged with the assistant at his side he was beaming, “she says it is an old one and we can have it for twenty pounds if we take it as it is, without a box and decorated.

Wow what a dream ! what a special gift! she had given us.

We paid our money and the tree was lifted out of the display, OH carried it carefully and placed it in the rear of the car opening the sun roof to allow it to peep its head out. We kept glimpsing at it admiringly on the way home.

That first Christmas we just had those few baubles and candles to adorn it and every time we looked at it, it made us smile even more so when our little cat would hang from a nearby chair pushing out his little paw to try to catch one of the golden baubles.

From that day on wards our luck changed and we were on our way but we never forgot our little tree.  It became a Christmas ritual for us to buy a special little ornament from where ever we visited to adorn its pretty little branches. Wheelbarrows, colourful christmas pudding,

colourful Christmas pudding

colourful Christmas pudding

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A silver moon with a ghostly face

a silver moon and even a Scottish father Christmas piper it went on and on.. Christmas never started until she was erected and decorated standing proudly in the corner of our different homes.

Visiting children loved it I would make little competitions to find the various objects and award them with a bag of shining gold chocolate coins.

So now many years on I am here in Italy In a house under renovation and to my horror and immense concern the little tree had to remain in a box.

What bad luck could this bring I ask.

Maybe I will never know but this renovation has certainly been one of the hardest things we have ever endured, testing our patience and tolerance to the limit, constant dust, freezing cold, mud, builders and a continual drain on the funds.

A few years have now passed and although the renovation is not complete I finally have a handsome house to live in and today 5th December 2016 I finally get to put up my special little tree.

finally I get to build my little tree

finally I get to build my little tree

What a delight to see and touch each little decoration, remembering each purchase as it tells the story of our life together, our travels our secrets. OH says proudly this is our history. What joy we have when we find the two loving turtle doves nestling in their basket,

Two loving turtle doves

Two loving turtle doves

the lucky Christmas rabbit and the golden swans with their billowing fluffy white tails.

Now I know that Christmas has at last arrived at my house and the little tree sits in the perfect spot under a cotto brick arch in the corner of our lounge, looking magical shimmering in the light crowned by her little guardian angel watching over our Christmas festivities.

our magical little tree

our magical little tree

Once again it creates a smile on the faces of all that see.

And us our memories fade of all that doom and gloom from the renovation. I gaze over at our twinkling tree and I think how lucky I am.

What a special little tree.

Happy Christmas everyone. I do hope that you find

your special little tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Julia Gilmour

November 22, 2016

Torre del Benaco

Torre del Benaco

Our special day

for always and ever

for always and ever

It was several years ago on a very warm sunny day  in Torre del Benaco on the banks of Lago Garda that I took my vows for ever and a day to my beloved husband.

the venue

the venue

 

Set in the courtyard gardens of a beautiful old castle I tripped in as light as a fairy to the stately notes of the the triumphal march from Aida played so passionately by the violinist and key board player of the Verona Opera Orchestra .AS the music reached its crescendo I crossed the rickety old moat bridge and entered into a magical  world perfumed by the intoxicating scents of the orange and lemon blossom trees

I tiptoed towards my patiently waiting Italian  prince (ok with a Scottish accent) and  beamed towards the Sindaco proudly waiting in his regal attire to carry out this important duty.

the show must go on

the show must go on

It was at that moment that I heard the evocative chords of “O Mio Bambino Caro” the music was haunting and beautiful. Unfortunately it was just all too much for my Latin blooded beloved. The moments emotion just whelmed up inside him and the tears were rolling down his face he pushed an outstretched hand towards me and smiled weakly,

cring like a baby

crying like a baby

I turned to acknowledge the guests and to my amazement I found everyone crying, sobbing  literally bawling.

“Hey wait a minute” this is a wedding, I thought, I have  been to funerals with far less tears.

an everyone else too

an everyone else too

But that moment, the beauty, the passion, the romance and intoxicating atmosphere was just overwhelming.

The mayor proceeded on with the ceremony somewhat mystified and by the time we lit our candles and drank our toast the smiles had returned.

our promise

our promise

The Sindaco thankfully sighed with relief, happy he had not caused two people years of oncoming grief.

here is to us

here is to us

The day was amazing, wedding in a castle, a walk through the streets to applauding Italians to a lakeside restaurant were we sat through 12 courses of delicious food washed down with bubbly pink prosecco and excellent wines. Wedding cake and spumante sitting on motor boats on the lake as the sun slowly set in the sky. julias-wedding-454A speed boat race just out of a James Bond film across the shadowy waters to the hotel where they were waiting to serve us a wonderful supper of fresh fish with pasta and risotto and we danced until sunrise to old Italian music in the beautiful lakeside gardens under the stars.julias-wedding-470

What a start to our married life my only wish that I could have been a guest at my own wedding I can honestly say it was the best day of my life and well enjoyed by all who were there.

With that in mind each year on may 21 we have celebrated in style always something special, opera, exotic places, gardens etc etc

So this year when my friend Doreen said to me rather appealingly I would like to invite all our friends to my house for a Scottish night but I just don’t have the room to accommodate everyone, it just seemed natural that I should say use our newly renovated cantina it is the perfect venue for a party. In fact it is just waiting for such an event and of course it must be May 21 we have something to celebrate ( god sometimes I can feel my brain trying to stop my mouth opening but by then the words were out )

All finished and waiting for a party

All finished and waiting for a party

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Within moments everybody was in full swing planning the big event but me where do I start after all I am not Scottish I am Welsh and quite honestly this whole Robbie burns thing has me completely perplexed and the thought of finding haggis never mind cooking it. Oh my god

But my friends were not phased they took over the organisation.

Haggis and even black pudding was bought and carried carefully from  Scotland, salmon was smoked in an old wooden wardrobe in a friends back garden giving a wonderful woody taste , local wine purchased along with Scottish Blantyre whisky.

Specially designed haggis invites were sent and 17 acceptances were received what a great night this was to be. Even more of a celebration because of the work we had to do to get to this point ( previous story the cantina)

All that I had to do was to find tables, chairs, make shortbread and a pasta for the less daring guests to eat. Those who could not quite master the art of eating sheep’s inerds or blood rich pudding.

Saturday morning was spent begging and borrowing tables, umbrellas seats etc from our neighbours which were duly delivered on the back of Antonio’s little green ape.

We created a long table, sited down the centre decorated with white, red and green cloths for our Italian association and little blue and white Saltire flags for the few Scottish in attendance. Little vases of clove scented pinks perfumed the air.

The head chef John brought his keyboard and the scene was set.

All enthusiastically arrived chattering eagerly outside amongst the roses. My neighbours happily escorted the guests about relating anecdotes of how the house used to be.

Then they were all invited into the cantina piped in by the music of bag pipes from Doreens tablet sited discreetly in the entrance.

We all sat down to a hilarious night, great food,  wine and crazy entertainment even Robert Burns rewritten. Litres of wine ,beer and toddies of whisky were consumed and by the early hours we all ended up trying to do the Saint Bernard waltz and gay Gordon crashing about in complete disorientation. Causing great amusement to all our Italian friends..

haggis consumed

haggis consumed

This was certainly an anniversary not to be forgotten.

The following day utterly exhausted from the previous evening we chose to spend a quiet few hours strolling around the rose festival in Govone just a few kilometres from our house, as we ambled around the ancient castle walls we were aroused by the haunting sounds of the high notes of a violin, we followed the music and entered the stunning formal rose gardens set high above the rolling hills,carpeted by vineyards and hazel groves.

The heady perfumes and haunting sounds

The heady perfumes and haunting sounds

Standing close to an ancient water fountain of Neptune was a waif like girl dressed in a scarlet evening gown passionately playing  “o mio bambino caro ” the perfumed air from the many roses enshrouded me bringing back so many memories. I went to say, but the words would just not come out the tears were soaking my face and the emotion had frozen my tongue. This time it was me who was crying I looked around and saw the many relaxed faces of the Italian young and old listening attentively in the warm spring sunshine.

high above the vineyards, young and old

high above the vineyards, young and old

what a place this is, Italy gets into your heart, into your soul , there is always something waiting around the corner to surprise you and today it was something so simple but yet so beautiful and special.

Happy anniversary My darling Prince.

 

 

What a lot of to do about windows!!

Have you ever been lucky enough to visit Monet’s House in Giverny?
well I have, it was many years ago and I have one lasting memory, looking through the beautifully painted sage green windows and viewing an unfolding vista of the garden.
So when faced with a garden to design I carried this memory forward and planned that each of my windows should carry a view of something special.
Unfortunately before I could get to this point I really did need to sort out some windows to look out of.

 

 

old rotten windows

old rotten windows some without glass

As most of the apertures on our house where fitted with old, rotten, worm eaten wooden frames holding dusty panes of cracked glass. It did not take any genius more than a few seconds to realise we needed replacements.

So off I went on the hunt!!!!

 


WINDOWS   

A double glazed window is a window with two panes of glass ………. correct,

I soon realised that in Italy it is not quite that simple. They have numerous extra details like specifics of the glass , width of the wood, insulation, handles , locks etc etc and as you have probably guessed for all these there is a huge price tag.

I was advised to ask one of the specialists from Nizza and was told he had a good reputation. So I invited him to come and do some measuring. He very enthusiastically arrived and even brought me a lovely glossy folder containing pictures of all the other houses he had fitted out to other unsuspecting souls with deep pockets.
If you note,  the picture of our house,

plenty of windows

plenty of windows

 

and more to the rear

and more to the rear

windows are certainly one thing we are not short of. I had actually never stopped to count but this guy did and in fact suggested opening up more areas to improve the overall appearance of the house.

and of course

“we really must not forget the shutters”
He left here with lots of measurements promising to contact me the very next day with a preventivo (estimate).
I waited a few days but heard nothing so rather foolishly went and visited the shop. I was immediately given the grand tour and subjected to hours of explaination about the building of the said windows. It was built up to such a crescendo that when he eventually produced the quote I was to be eternally grateful to him for giving me such a service.
For such a small sum of 22,000 euros I could fit the front of my  house, with windows and shutters. ( that is just to provide the windows to the front  not the fitting)
Pick me up off the ground I have had to graft hard for my cash and this guy was not going to get 22,000 euros from me for windows. So I baid him farewell and thought he can fund his luxury cruise from someone else.

Back to the drawing board

A joiner friend who owns a house nearby had done some renovations in France and had used a french company Lapeyre, he said that the windows were good quality and priced very competitively. I checked this information out and discovered that I could replace half the house for a quarter of the quoted cost .

Ok, they may not be all singing and dancing, top of the range but they were wooden double glazed windows. just the job. simple and effective we have to make savings on the budget somewhere and this was to be our compromise.
But as always there has to be a drawback ………. we could not order from Italy so we had to travel to France to make our order. Our nearest stores where either Nice or Chambery both being a three hour journey from here.

So we decided to leave the ordering until our next journey to Britain.

A couple of months later  We made a small detour into Chambery . We easily found the store and were even luckier to find ourselves an English speaker. As I must confess my French goes no further than” Oui” or “merci”. We eagerly placed our order and all was going well until the guy asked our address, there was a moments silence and then he took a deep breath and shook his head.

” Italy Noooooooo”

“Why?”  said I thinking is there a ban on taking windows to Italy?
He shook his head again and said “what route are you going to take?”
“through the Alps” I said thinking what business is it of his, what does it matter which road I take.
then to my amazement he said “They will explode at high altitudes”

explode!! exploding windows!!!!!! have we got a translation problem, it certainly wasnt April 1st  in fact it was the middle of December and very cold

I looked on shocked as he proceeded to phone the customs patrol on the tunnel entrance to the Frejus, I listened patiently while he had a 10 minute debate about the altitude of the road and whether the windows would explode or rather implode,

He later explained that this was due to the gas pressure between the two panes.

Anyway, to cut to the chase they all agreed that it was too high a risk and we ended up paying an extra 30 euros per window to change the gas pressure within.

It seems that no other person has ever experienced this, if you have get back to me I would love to know.
We returned to Chambery for our order on a sunny March day after a beautiful journey through the Alps.

a beautiful sunny day

a beautiful sunny day

Following a nights stay and a delightful visit to a nearby garden centre where I purchased some golden bearded Iris for the grand sum of 2 euros a plant, (what a bargain) we returned to the warehouse to collect the windows.

our new windows

our new windows

They were loaded onto the van and we set out on our trek rather apprehensively climbing the Alps.

Many furniture haulage trips

a slow climb

very little was said !

When we reached the tunnel entrance we looked at each other with concern OH said

“no explosion yet”.

I sat in silence considering our big old van which was only supposed to have remained with us for six months.

a dear loyal friend

an old faithful friend

 

 

It has become the stalwart of our life here it has not just saved us vast amount of haulage costs, but is now the community van carrying bits and bobs for everyone. It has a tail lift so it enables us to collect heavy objects without a problem. Unfortunately it is slow and a bit noisy.  Inside the cab we hear little else than the engine  it would be most unlikely that we would hear any explosion from within.

As soon as we passed the Italian border we stopped at the nearest car park to check our precious cargo
OH peered over the tail lift terrified that he might find tiny pieces of glass but all was fine and we continued our journey with smug satisfaction.

A few months later the windows were reluctantly installed by our builders who repeatedly told us we would be better buying Italian.

Not sure about the colour

Not sure about the colour

To our disappointment the horrid orange wood colour did not enhance the house at all and I suppose our builders were correct.

By this time I had planted my golden iris and watched it grow but after a few weeks it flopped, struggling to make growth.
I said to myself  ” just like the windows you get what you pay for.”

BUT By the following season the Iris had doubled in size and during the month of May the large golden blooms were shining brightly in the sunlight.

shining brightly

shining brightly

I was so delighted. I sighed happy with success but as I turned and surveyed the windows, I thought      ……mmm! not much improvement here.

Yucky orange

Yucky orange

After a coat of paint

After a coat of paint

Then I remembered Monet and the colour of his windows. Crikey all We need is some paint. During the hot summer OH set about painting them Farrow and Balls Tarrow, a creamy white. By the beginning of July I had some rather handsome windows adorning the front of my house.

Certainly an improvement

Certainly an improvement -just the ones on the left

As the seasons pass the garden is starting to mature and each window has started to frame a perfect view.

The views get better and better

The views get better and better

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Just like the Iris ” patience is a virtue.”

Tea with Mary B.

We have now hit the hottest part of summer so little work is being done and it is time  of holiday and festa.

A much needed rest

A much needed rest

OH and I are giving much needed time to designing the garden and finishing off the decor and furnishings of our newly renovated rooms.

Today we are busily trying to revamp the seats of our antique dining chairs. As neither of us have the slightest experience in upholstery it is taking much patience and perseverance.  There are literally 100s of little tacks to be removed before we can begin to refurbish. This allows me plenty of time to reflect on our life here and how we have changed over the past few years.

Firstly would I have ever tried an upholstery job ?  no way,especially not on valued furniture but  spare time and lack of funds means that we turn our hands to all things. As they say needs must. It is amazing what you can learn especially with the help of u-tube site for the dummies.

My thoughts turn to food which seems to preoccupy much of my time these days, I have never been much of a cook or a foodie fanatic but I am always keen to learn and try new techniques. On moving to Italy I have certainly had quite a food changing experience as the people around here spend every waking moment thinking, speaking and making food.

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Village outing just a wee picnic.

Every time I visit my friends and neighbours all they ask is what have you eaten today? what are you going to eat next? and what are you planning for tomorrow?.  They wait in anticipation for me to list each dish and then discuss in great depth all the ingredients and how they are put together. It is all so important to them and it has rubbed off on me. I have learnt that the main factor is for it to be fresh and the best quality that you can buy it makes the cooking easier. After 3 years of this intense education I am quite definitely becoming a food snob.

It was in the early days here that I realised I could never compete with them at the savoury food preparation but there was one thing that I had up my sleeve my favourite was the dessert.

Something sweet and indulgent

Something sweet and indulgent

As a child I only ate my dinner to get my pudding —  well not always   — Angel Delight comes to mind. Italians do not give much importance to the dessert, —- tiramasu, gelato, nut cake or a bowl of fruit are about all they seem to aspire to.

It is the custom in Italy when you are invited for a meal or even just a visit that you take something particularly lovely and sweet for dolci. You are expected to purchase these from one of the fancy pasticceria situated in all the villages.

fancy cake shops

fancy cake shops

This along with a good bottle of wine can result in a pretty costly business.

So this was my challenge to give something personal and do a little saving.

Although I was good at making hot desserts I had never baked a cake.

It was time to learn, how hard can it be I thought, let’s face it  I have watched every episode of bake off even in Italian. Mary Berry is my heroine so with her Baking Bible in my hand I set about the task.  My first cake was a success a lemon yoghurt cake , springy, light, moist and tangy and from that moment onwards I was smitten.

lemon yoghurt cake

lemon yoghurt cake

Orange cinnamon cake, lemon cup cakes, bara birth, birthday cakes, anniversary cakes it just went on and on. As did OH ‘s waistline.

Orange cup cakes

Orange cup cakeswork in progress 014

All were gratefully received and eagerly tried with great gusto and much admiration. Every creation was becoming more and more ambitious I was building quite a reputation for these  little delicacies.

So it was just a matter of course when they persuaded the inglese donna to enter in the cake competition at the August festa in the village.

I was a little timid and quite conscious that I was competing against the pros with  the same winner for eternity. I was also warned that the winner was in fact the village hierarchy  so I was advised not to try too hard as we do not want to upset the important folk. This reminded me of a story my mother had related to me on many occasions, when early in her married life She was encouraged to enter the cake competition in the produce marquee at the village show. She produced a splendid victoria sandwhich cake and to everybody’s horror she got first prize beating the “cake queen” Her very own mother-in- law ! . She never did endear herself to her new family. So with this in mind I decided that I just wanted to join in the village activities and possibly make a little impact not to win just be remembered.

I scanned the recipe books and found just the one “Mary Berrys chocolate and rum cake”, 20160801_154256Mary  even goes onto say that it is the recipe chosen for the chocolate cake entry at her village show and furthermore all 12 entries were beautiful and delicious.

This is definitely the winner

This is definitely the winner

How could I go wrong? the Italians absolutely adore chocolate and of course this recipe sounds absolutely infallible. That is in the UK where a British summer may not get above 18 degrees cent. I am in Italy and last summer was the hottest on record . So silly me tries to create this rich moist indulgent chocolate cake decorated with thick fudge icing and little white chocolate stars in 40 degrees C. heat.

This was one I made earlier

This was one I made earlier

Ok ok it was obvious, but not to me!!!

The day of the competition,,

up early and on with the job, sponge was soon made beautiful and light,all was going well.

All is going well

All is going well

Then to the filling,  a few frantic moments over the next few hours as I attempted to make the icing set , eventually decorating was complete if not a little lopsided!

OH inspected my work making little comment rather worrying as he is always so encouraging.  I carefully transported it to its waiting stand inside the village hall. But the temperatures kept rising and rising. When the judges started to peruse all the beautiful manicured creations my cake just went

“slurrrrrrrrrrp”

completely collapsing into a mound of rich chocolate goo erupting outwards with chocolate lava dripping over the plate.

I looked down at this sorry site of sticky mess and heard OH say “you had some guts girl bringing that here it is pretty embarrassing.”

I shrugged and graciously accepted my booby prize —– a wooden spoon to the sympathetic looks of the village ladies.20160801_195301

What the hell I thought at least I took part and after all I had achieved my aim I had made an impact.

When all the locals were let loose for the cake tasting, guess where they headed.

I looked on with amusement to see all my fellow villagers walking around with chocolate smeared about their faces. They had certainly decided against all odds to have a try.

One of the ladies even came over and tactfully suggested that perhaps I should have made it a few days earlier and then it would be dry.

Oh dear, Italian cake is always dry and this is why my spongy, moist cakes have been such a hit here. Had she missed the point I decided not to try and explain.

Perhaps Belveglio is not quite ready for our british afternoon tea and cake, although it will certainly be remembered.P1040757

There is always next year maybe the lemon yoghurt cake would be a better bet and I will keep the chocolate cake for winter.

 

 

 

 

 

The dream of an English garden.

“Look at it, how beautiful!! its an English garden”. I hear the words crisp and clear in her polish accent she is one of my English language students and was making an impromptu visit the  other evening.  She seemed fascinated to see so many different flowers happily growing together and lost no time in asking can I have some daisies to take home.

All she wanted was a posy of daisies

All she wanted was a posy of daisies

Ok if you look deeper, then you can see what I see the flaws, the holes the lack of planting but the overall impression of a deep English border is certainly working.

So why you may ask would I choose to move to Italy and then want to  create an English garden?

I do love the English garden Style of Gertrude Jekyll and those who followed in her footsteps Rosemary Verey, Christopher Lloyd  and even Prince Charles has a go. I used to love visiting many famous gardens where I admired and yearned for their deep billowing flower borders, . Crathes Castle, Banchory, Floors castle, Kelso,  Hidcote manor, Gloucester etc. their planting schemes thrill me .Over the years I have created many gardens, especially show exhibits, creating borders with all the beautiful cottage plants that we all Know and love. But sadly for me, my own gardens have always been situated on steep hillsides with all the associated problems, I was continually battling the elements and designing around steep gradients. I have always wanted a flat piece of land with an empty palette to paint my picture. So here I finally have it.

a daunting prospect

a daunting prospect

The garden is huge where do I begin.?

It was quite daunting at first but thankfully I was blessed to be in an area with very fertile well drained soil and  a perfect climate. Each season being markedly different .It can be a challenge to handle the droughts and slightly worrying when the temperatures hit lows of minus 18 in winter. But that is gardening!

The garden completely surrounds the house with a gentle slope to the rear where it changes into vineyard. The house faces south and here to the front of the building is where we started to beat back the wilderness.

At the beginning I made many plans, sketch after sketch I could see it in my minds eye but there were many considerations to be made, it had to be viewed not just from ground level but from the balconies and terraces above, it needed to be beautiful all through the year with its highlight throughout the summer, with plenty of interest, vistas and seats for our guests to enjoy . It had to be able to provide us with fresh vegetables and cut flowers for the house, it had to encourage wildlife and most importantly to be fragrant.

I am sure it will be beautiful one day

Spring 2013 I am sure it will be beautiful one day

Our starting point was to create a pergola walk  situated at the front of the house leading down the garden. We used an old existing wisteria  as the first corner post. We cut this hard back almost to its roots, It took a couple of years to tame and this year it has finally rewarded us with long racemes of delightful scented lilac blossom.

Finally this year it flowered!!

Finally this year it flowered!!

 

 

The building of the pergola turned out to be  quite a challenge especially for OH the first post was as I said the wisteria and the other 11 were to be planted with scented climbing roses. He spent a few days erecting the poles and completed the job with the help of our neighbour Antonio, while I was out shopping. I arrived home to inspect the work, took one look , shook my head and said have you viewed it from the balcony .

Making sure all perfectly measured

Making sure all perfectly measured

i

Poor OH a trained engineer had thought he was building a bridge everything was measured perfectly to enable the horizontal poles to be flat and level. He had overlooked the slight undulations of the land and when viewed from above the last posts gave a false perspective of being at least  1 metre higher than the start.

Lesson 1 in landscape design the eye is always better than the measure.

Lesson 2 although it looks flat it is not always what it seems.

It took us a few hours me on the balcony him in the garden before we were happy and the first part of the garden was complete.may2014 031

20160607_192340

our orto

To the side of the pergola we measured out a square area and we surrounded it on three sides with deep borders. In summer time when the flowers are in full bloom this becomes our secret garden only seen from certain view points.A vegetable garden called the orto in Italian. This is where OH grows , beans, sweet tomatoes etc etc all fresh and ready to eat.

My passion is the flower borders especially the two deep ones flanking the side of the pergola hiding the gardens beyond. I have spent the last three years experimenting , searching out,collecting and  propagating the plants .each day I learn which thrive as its most important to plant those that love the conditions. Bulbs in the spring, iris, peaonies, daisies, roses,dahlias gladiolis and huge lilies all are enclosed with huge rounded grey lavenders bushes.

Mounding lavenders in spring

Mounding lavenders in spring

These give permanence to the beds creating ball like silhouttes in the winter and a silvery blue haze in the summer. The long purple spikes are a haven for bees, lady birds, and many goody insects along with a few nastiesl  it is these two areas that give the English style.

The first bed is cool pinky hues planted with daisies,

pink Echinacea and yellow Rudbeckia

pink Echinacea and yellow Rudbeckia

yellow Rudbeckia, deep pinky purple and white Echinaceas and huge pink shrub roses.20160531_094125 In July the pointed heads of white gladioli, and spidery dahlias poke their heads above frothy gypsophylla.

The second is hot fiery colours deep red Dahlia bishop of Llandaff,

where do I begin

hot colours

P1050081

Echinacea “Tomato Sauce”

Crocosmia lucifer, roses terracotta,salmon and deep yellow gladioliis abd deepest red foliage of amaranthus all set against spikey forms of eryngiums which creating a bluey shimmer .

In the daytime the roses exude a fragrance light and musky and I brush along the lavender as I peer into the depths  to catch a glimpse of a flowering treasure within.

Little butterflies

Little butterflies

I can hear the continuous buzzing of the bees and hover flies and hundreds of little orange white and blue butterflies flutter around my legs resting the delicate wings on the aromatic herbs extracting the nectar within.

Occasionally I hear a rustle under the leaves which sends Lucy into a tizzy darting about in the undergrowth searching out our resident Romaro ( big green lizard). Sometimes she is lucky enough to come across him  and suddenly confronted by something a little larger than the norm  makes her panic and she scadadles into the shade.

Often we take an evening walk with our little dog Lucy  the scents waft in the evening air and the garden becomes quite intoxicating inviting in the little moths and insects to do their work.

 

For a gardener and a designer this is purely heaven,everything grows with such vigour performing to its hearts desire. I just love putting these schemes together and wait with grateful anticipation to see what works and what doesn’t.

tall regal lilies perfume the night air

tall regal lilies perfume the night air

My poor husband thinks i am obsessed well maybe I am ,just a little. But the garden is for the enjoyment of all and It pleases me to see OH pleasure as the tiny little green plants we set into the soil grow into such a  masterpiece he is not a gardener  and finds it difficult to foresee these borders in full bloom. His interest is more to the nature ,the bees, the vast array of butterflies and all the colourful birds that frequent our garden, sometimes I feel like we are living in a nature reserve. (well actually there is one closeby  and I don’t think animals have any boundaries)

Our many visitor

Our many visitors

I love to give a tour to any unsuspecting visitor and will happily bore them to tears giving in depth information of each little beauty and quite often they can be seen leaving clutching a little cutting or two.

I just spend each morning keeping it in check always manicuring trying to purvey the natural.

Keeping it in

Keeping it in check

It has taken three years to get to this point.

March 2014

March 2014

 

So today when I heard those words my heart warmed maybe I am finally managing to create my dream. An English garden at the foot of a Piemonte hillside.

20160714_114811-1

My garden yesterday July 2016

Please keep reading next up will be the making of OH s rose garden.

 

DO YOU BELIEVE IN FAIRIES

There was nothing particularly remarkable about this evening ,We set out as per usual on our nightly dog walk. It was sultry and warm but possibly a little cooler than normal for a June evening this maybe due to the high winds that we had experienced throughout the day. I do hope this brings much needed rain for my beloved garden it really does need some natural water to make it thrive and OH is getting fed up dragging the hosepipe around.

A moonlight shadow

A moonlight glow

We saunter along the lane edging the  bottom of our vineyard dawdling a little to allow Lucy to smell about the undergrowth.  She suddenly spies Antonio’s little cat snugly tucked into the high grass. Lucy is always happy to meet a friend,she looks on eagerly tail wagging with gusto in hope he comes to rub  noses with  her but not tonight, as he is focused on something more interesting  probably a cute little field mouse with long pointed ears. He starts to wiggle his bum catching his breath with anticipation as he makes to pounce.

Lucy gives a loud sigh of disappointment and continues on her way.

Our nostrils are suddenly filled with the intense perfume of the lime trees . There are so many different flowers around us that the scents mix together giving us a heady cocktail of spice essence making OH sneeze and me gasp for breath. Crikey it is certainly not the place for allergies and until now I had never been effected by the plant perfumes. This year they seem particularly intense and I am gasping for breath like a blacksmiths bellows.

In the background we can hear the evening choir –

The hissing and chirping of the crickets, the wonderful notes of the soprano, the nightingale lifting ever higher quivering  as it reaches its crescendo and then falling gently to waver on and on. I had never heard a nightingale sing till I lived here the closest I had ever come was the song the nightingale sang in Berkeley Square (did it __I don’t think so)

Her sweet voice is accompanied by the echo of the baritone frogs croaking and harmonising somewhere along the valley floor. Occasionally there is a piercing squawk from a little owl eager to catch it’s prey and then silence as the choir takes a breath to restart with more enthusiasm and gusto

We start to climb the hill leaving the house lights behind us, walking along the winding lane .Our path was lit by the almost circular moon high in the sky casting a warm shadowy glow to our surroundings.may2014 045

The woodland flanking the lane was dark and forboding, I try to adjust my eyes to the low light always  vigilant watching for wild animals. Then suddenly there appeared out of the darkness hundreds of twinkling little diamonds emerging from  the shadows swirling above our heads,circling our  bodies hovering high and low.They were dancing ,pirouetting, turning under,over,around and around, moving slowly and gracefully about us.

We both fell silent, mesmerised by the spectacle before us , disturbed occasionally by Lucy jerking and snapping trying to catch them as they fly past tickling her nose.

We had been transported into a magical world a place of dreams.

I stop to catch my breath and look around me, at these sparkling little creatures. It seems that  one decides to break free from the group and inquisitively come close to my face.I thought it was gazing at me, studying me, curious as to what it saw,I hoped it would touch me.

Could I see it’s silky wings?

Was that possibly a shadow of its little body a silhouette of a tiny  human form?

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They are there but not everybody sees them. Can you?

I put out my hand inviting it to land but sadly it was not to be and in an instant it was gone shyly disappearing into the dark beyond.

The Italians call these little  creatures lucciole, the English fireflies but me I believe in Fairies and now I can say without doubt that I have fairies at the bottom of my garden.

 

 

 

 

 

How much cement can we possibly need? – The Cantina

This morning over breakfast which we always take at 7.30 before they arrive(the builders) we discussed the situation

” yes there is very little for Pani to do today apart from finishing the tiles and a little bit of cement work,  maybe half a day or maybe he won’t come at all?”

As 8.00am struck along the drive came Pani,” Ok” I say “this I can handle builders for a couple of hours, Then well earned tranquility”

but no,

within seconds I hear my name echoing through the walls and as I emerge with a big question mark ? I am met by a cheerful smile as he states “we are going to cement the floor of the Cantina today” I look at him shocked “But why now, it can surely wait!! we want our living accomodation finished first, we need to move in” I can hear the anxiety in my voice basically the thought of a few more months in our wretched apartment sent shivers down my spine.

“No” he says forcefully Nicola( the boss) says it must be today.

But why today, there is no hurry, as yet we had not decided on the floor covering. we had thought of coloured cement, granite blocks, even ceramic tiles but it is such a large area that it was going to cost us dearly. I chatter on determined not to be forced into a quick decision. By now Nicola had arrived and they ignore me completely continuing on heedless as to any comments I make.

After several minutes Nicola stops and grinning over to me he says “Don’t you worry Julia I have it all sorted , I have just the thing some beautiful traditional floor tiles, I will bring them later for you to see”

How did this not surprise me ! ,

I took a deep breath and said “I hope they are also a special price”

he says “Oh definitely”  as if the decision has already been made.

I shrugged and accepted that there was no stopping them and watched endless deliveries of sand and cement arrive.(

How could we need so much?

Just 6 weeks ago we started phase 3, of the build the renovation of the Cantina. We felt quite a responsibility with this task as it had been the place of work, well treasured and the pride of the farmers living here in the past. Our neighbours still speak fondly of helping out during the grape harvest ( vendemia) Angelina remembers removing her shoes and climbing into the grape vat , tramping and jumping up and down with the family to squash the grapes. They say the wine was so pure and sweet it tasted of strawberries.

With this in mind we wanted to preserve as much as possible of the interior. We wanted to create a beautiful room full of atmosphere for storing wine, sauces and conserves but also for big get togethers and parties for everyones enjoyment.

The cantina is a large area extending across the rear of the house about one and a half metres lower than the rest of the ground floor, it had three entrances one at each end leading to the old porticoes and one in the centre which led off to one of the kitchens.

camera shot of inside the cantina

camera shot of inside the cantina

It was a dark damp hellish place stinking with musty air, in fact when we first bought the place it was pitch black and only the camera could show us the horrors within. The floor was mostly soil in parts and was scattered with various wine making implements. There was a black mould climbing up the walls and some extra residents,mosquitoes and other biting things. There were three large wine casks and a type of drain which connected to the portico above.

It did  not get off to a good start with me on our first day of ownership curious to see what we had bought , we entered in  through the big wooden worm eaten doors and scrambled about in thd dark using the light on OHs mobile phone. Unfortunately I fell against the wine press knocking a large iron handle (bar) onto my foot  breaking my big toe in two places. It was so painful and took over a year to completely heal. As a result I had  my first experience of the Italian health service which is exceptionally professional and good all be it a little slow (allow yourself a few hours if you need to visit casualty)

Due to this unfortunate happening I tended to  keep well away ,leaving the work to Pani and OH who set about the task enthusiastically thinking it would only take a few days to clear.

The old wine press

The old wine press

The first job was to remove the old wine press not so easy as it was exceedingly heavy. They struggled to release the old nuts and bolts which had rusted from years of damp. It was then that I had a brain wave  WD40 (good for everything). One spray and amazingly the bolts slowly came apart. The next problem was how to get it out of the room. They set up ramps to the portico above and worked like ancient Egyptians pushing it up  with long poles and rollers.

They then carefully removed the old large wooden cask which still contained rich thick gooey wine and black glue like grape resin.

Large wooden wine barrell

Large wooden wine barrell

The thick substance stuck to their boots and they slipped and fell clambering about trying to  balance. It was walked throughout the house and I spent days trying to scrub it off the floors.

Up to now the clearing seemed comparitively quick and easy but when they reached the second and third cask the problems began.

As sturdy as an airshelter

As sturdy as an airshelter

They were constructed of thick concrete reinforced with Iron grating definitely fit for their purpose but also exceptionally useful as an air raid shelter ,in fact a nuclear bomb could not have penetrated them. Pani tried various cutting tools and ended up using a road drill he worked doggedly day after day, I could feel the building shake and shudder as he set about the task with such verocity.

Everything was shaking

Everything was shaking

OH made endless trips clearing the way, pushing the wheelbarrow full of concrete rubble up and out through the portico. one morning Pani arrived laughing to tell us that the  previous evening when he tried to eat his dinner the room was still shaking and even when he went to bed he could feel the vibrations of the hammer drill in his arms.

They worked on through January ,it was perishingly cold with some days well below freezing, it was certainly a hard task.  As the concrete was slowly removed, three beautiful brick arches were revealed within the rear wall, OH even found a very old bottle of wine tucked behind some bricks.  He now proudly displays it on our new shelves.

Uncovering the archs

Uncovering the archs OH even found a bottle of ancient wine which now adorns our new shelving.

As  Pani finally reached the corner of the third vasche, we all congregated  to discuss the next step. As the concrete fell away, we heard a rumble from above , the ceiling started to crack and bricks were falling. The cask had been used to prop up  the ceiling above. We had actually foreseen this eventuality and placed acro – props to secure above whilst the work took place . Unfortunately even these could not hold back the weight on the old rotten joists, realising we had a problem we fled for our lives up the ramps and within moments we were all covered in white cement dust.

Looking upto the concave bedroom ceiling

Looking upto the concave bedroom ceiling

As we emerged from our place of safety we peered up and saw through the haze the concave ceiling of the bedroom above.

Ever since we  bought the house we had walked trepidly on the floor of the room above the cantina. There were large cracks running along the length of the wall and the floor itself had dropped by at least 10cm. Luckily we had removed all the original cotto tiles the previous year to resite on the floor of another bedroom.  Obviously the repair of the floor was a job in waiting but we never imagined quite this way

Finally the cantina was clear and it was time to rebuild, OH cut the original wooden cask with his chainsaw and Pani set it into the walls using the bricks that we had saved and cleaned throughout the summer of the roof build.

Setting the cask

Setting the cask

Nicola would arrive with various objects and they would be placed within the new walls. Pani even found an old tile with a date 1925 and set it close to the arches.

Granite  was brought and used for the steps and an edging shelf on the rear wall.

Oak beams

Oak beams

The ceiling was rebuilt with some very heavy old oak beams and much needed iron reinforcement.

We decided that a fireplace was required to enable us to use the room throughout the year. Pani set about the construction which turned out to be a creation, a fabulous job by a craftsman.

The new fireplace

The new fireplace

When completed we all celebrated in front of a roaring fire without a bit of back smoke. Much to the amusement of all, as the one he had built for his boss Nicola, had smoke filled the room and choked all and sundry.

So today we are finally laying the floor, I am watching ten tons of concrete being poured into the room via a long pipe. The guys are in their wellies with spades and brushes levelling it all out.

The three arches

The uncovered arches

As I look on with pride I hope we have created something inspirational and beautful,I do hope that its new keepers in years to come love it like us and dont feel the need to spend weeks trying to remove all that we have done. If they do all I can say is Good Luck to them.

 

 

A VERY SPECIAL ROSE

The rose garden

The rose garden

On our morning patrol through my small rose garden accompanied by my beloved husband and treasured puppy dog, Lucy. I noticed to my joy that the little buds on my Tuscan rose were slowly peeling back their outer coat uncovering the delicate petals crimped and creased like aged tissue paper, the colour of deepest royal purple. They clustered together creating a circle of ruffles enclosing a ring of golden stamens within. I sighed with pleasure to see such a delight and started to reflect. I have waited several years to see this beautiful creation and smell the intoxicating scent.

I first set eyes on this beauty in an old mill garden, set deep in the Staffordshire countryside. It was open for charity one Sunday afternoon, the owner had looked on with immense surprise when we arrived bumping along the very dusty uneven driveway in my husband’s treasured porsche. However as he guided me through his billowing ,colourful garden his surprise soon gave way to pure pleasure as he realised he had a fellow enthusiast. As I sauntered along the grassy paths edging the overfull borders I suddenly caught a heavy musky perfume hanging in the air.

The petals of deep[est puple crimson

The petals of deepest puple crimson

I turned and spied this shrubby rose with the darkest purple flowers dotting the light green foliage. “It is the Tuscan Rose”  the owner said proudly, what a beauty what a scent !!!! and how apt as our dream of moving to Italy was becoming ever closer but at least for now I could buy this little love and plant it in my garden.

So began the search, on our way home we visited Davis Austin’s rose nursery and strolled around his gardens which in mid June where in full flower. Oh what a paradise especially for Ian, he loves roses and was like a child in a sweetie shop he wanted every jewel. They flowered like colurful dolly mixtures,tumbling, creeping covering they were fountains, waterfalls , hedges and tunnels. Oh the choice was endless but for me only one rose was the trophy The Tuscan Rose . Home it came a strong well potted shrub with its roots looking for the open soil so it could draw nourishment and perform to its waiting audience . But oh no this poor little shrub had is roots pressed into the cold dank soil of our welsh hillside with the sun glimmering at its leaves through gaps in the tall trees from the forest behind.

My little rose sat there leaves hanging low in sadness never a flower to be seen. I do believe it was depressed, I can’t blame it I also found it an effort to work and survive in that garden.  I gazed sadly at it “Stick with me little rose I promise to make things better”

So now many years later I have my house in Italy maybe not in romantic Toscana but in lovely Piemonte at the foothills of the craggy Alps, where the hills roll carpeted by vineyards and crowned with colourful villages in umber ,terracotta rust and yellows.

Our beautiful hillside

! Our beautiful hillside

The valleys open out with lush green foliage of the fruit trees and harvest crops and roses billow from every corner.

My Tuscan rose came too and when it sank its feeble roots into the warm rich soil  I could feel its delight. The winter snow bathed its roots and the spring sunshine strengthened its stems and each day the buds formed ready for today’s spectacle .

Just like me it became stronger loving its surroundings settling into its new home,. feeling the culture and the passion for growing and now it thanks me just as I thank all my new friends for their help and encouragement in my new home.

Oh what a beauty

Oh what a beauty

 

 

Our Swanky New Kitchen

The other day as I begrudgingly counted out my last few spare euros to the outstretched hand of my builder, he gratefully exclaimed I am off to Sicilia now on holiday how about you. Well it is  mid August and in Italy everything stops for a fortnight. Who can blame them it is intolerably hot and quite honestly at the moment the thought of a couple of weeks by the beach is very appealing. However I looked at him rather desolately and answered

how can I ?

I gave all my money to the builder  —- you.

He smiled smugly , he has this very irritating smirk which at first we mistook for an air of superiority. He looked about the room where we were standing at the new swanky wooden Farmhouse kitchen with all the mod cons, opened his arms out wide gesticulating in his Italian Sicilian way

“but you have all this”

And Yes I do, but it hasn’t come easy in fact two years, nine months and ten days to be absolutely exact of very hard work, which took our tolerance level to almost breaking point. I remember standing looking hopelessly at the house, actually apologising to the old place that it was in for a long wait to be returned to a handsome proud building with every luxury our imagination could muster. Give me a garden and I can tell you how it will look in five years time but regarding the house I can’t get past the front door.  But I never gave up and neither did my forever hopeful husband he never seemed to see all the mess, rubble, the money problems and pretty chronic living conditions, he could only see the winning post and as he always says hold on to my shirt tails we are going up, what other alternative did I have but to hold on tight. So I did and what an achievement here we are today with over half the house renovated but most importantly with my new complete sparkling kitchen. P1040860

The room we are sitting in was the stable it had housed beasts I suspect oxen but I am sure there had to be pigs involved as the smell was disgusting.

Floor cleared but what about the damp

Floor cleared but what about the damp

It had two metal doors one to lead outside to the cortile the other opening into a dark murky room which had been used as a kitchen area. Between the doors there was a metal framed window its glass thickly encrusted with years of dirt and scratches from the various inhabitants. The floor was covered with old compressed straw and fodder beneath which was a concrete base. The walls were plastered and had been painted white many moons ago. They were now a shade of yellow caused by the excrement of the various beasts. The damp had also risen up around the walls creating a black and green mouldy shadow and causing the plaster to flake. The room did have one redeeming feature a small nook in which there was a little statuette of Mary holding baby Jesus with a lamb at her side.

the little stauette

the little stauette

The adjoining room  was dark and had hideous dark brown patterned tiles on the walls.

The old kitchen

The old kitchen

The wall flanking the staircase, now had a large gaping hole where once had stood a log burning cooker Under the staircase in the corner of the room there was an old stone sink where someone had neatly placed an old pair of shoes, an apron and a pair of dirty yellow rubber gloves.

yipes !! I felt the owner was likely to return at any moment to start her daily chores or maybe to give a watchful eye or a frown of disdain as we set about clearing things and ripping the old place to bits.

The concave ceilings after the sand blaster

The vaulted ceilings after the sand blaster

The one saving grace was the vaulted ceilings the kitchen was plastered but the stable area was beautiful old bricks. Unfortunately we later discovered that this had to come down as the stable was not designated a habitable room within the house but was sgombero a box /store room. So to change this into living accommodation we had to adhere to building regulations which determine a specified height from floor to ceiling, our ceiling turned out to be 10cm below what was acceptable. we could not dig down any lower as it would take us below the ground level and cause more damp problems. The only way forward was for the Ceiling to go up. once again we were faced with another huge cost that we had not planned for,  we offset this cost by labouring ourselves and before the builders arrived on site. july 2014 004We knocked the old ceiling down, OH did this balancing precariously on builders planks placed across the barn above. In fact he removed all the plaster from within and we both set about digging out the cement floors. We were told to go down a metre this was not so easy as the barn floor had layers of concrete shale and bricks. Oh spent days with a pick axe and I had a large shovel we were going nowhere fast. OH had to return to Britain for a  business meeting leaving me to continue digging, realising this was impossible i enlisted the help of a friend who brought a guy with a small digger to crack the surface and loosen the rubble below. I had to pay him but it was well worth it, I thought.july 2014 003

When Oh returned he was thrilled and thought I had dug this out myself. We once again set about digging out the soil but nothing is ever what it seems especially in a place as old as this. The spade soon struck another concrete base below, to our horror we discovered that with a hundred years of cattle they had never cleaned the floor just added a new layer of concrete again and again.  My goodness it did smell.july 2014 001

We literally filled hundreds of barrows and during last Summer and Autumn all I could hear was the endless squeak of our long suffering wheelbarrow as oh disappeared to the bottom of our garden dumping layers of smelly earth.

During this whole slog we were supervised by our builder Nicola always with the smirk that I mentioned earlier. He would arrive at the house carrying a wooden measure which he would then place into the dug out ground. We would hold our breaths awaiting the judgement he would look up smirk on his face shake his head and say ” di piu, di piu.” Thankfully he did not know a word of English as OH s replies where somewhat strong nearly always questioning his birthright., Finally by the beginning of the summer we had done the job.  Just in time for our now resident builders to arrive and start the  transformation of the place.

The building work begins

The building work begins

 

 

WELCOME PRIMAVERA!

Spring has arrived here, it came just the other day.  One night I went to bed in winter with  frost  thick on the ground the soil brown and bare and when I woke the next morning  there was a definite change in the air, a warmth which immediately caused nature to explode into life.

Spring bulbs

Spring bulbs

In the garden there was a sudden surge of growth and within hours the buds were pushing through the soil covering the brown earth with a tapestry of green. The pace is relentless growing in front of my eyes. I watch on with amazement as the first crocus push their heads through, opening their delicate petals wide and flat in the midday sun, they are followed closely by the dwarf narcissus golden yellow against the bare earth. Within a week the fruit trees are in full blossom and the garden is full of heady perfume from the daffodils and hyacinths all vying with each other to play the starring role.

Each year the spring garden is improving I have been buying hundreds of bulbs in Autumn and planting them in large swathes throughout the borders.  Castello piea 033Inspired by my Spring visits to Italian castles enclosed within stunning formal gardens filled with spring bulbs.

Castello di Piea

Castello di PieaCastello piea 013

Last year one of my favourite visits was to castello di Piea sitting high on the hill above the village encircled by a beautiful ancient garden intensely planted with thousands of Tulips in all colours of the rainbow.

They call these events Tulipani and many castles open their doors to the public  throughout April.

Tulipani

Tulipani

Visiting gardens has always been one of my passions, and I used to have my own garden open to the public but now as I gaze around and scan the vast open areas of  my new garden I think it will be a long time till I reach that standard again.

Naturalised Tulips Castello di Govone Easter 2016

Naturalised Tulips Castello di Govone Easter 2016

Finding spring bulbs here has proved to be quite difficult and costly but now plant market and shows are growing in popularity.  I have been able to find a good variety available from the more specialist nurseries.

The problem is I am an addict, a show groupie I am all the things I used to warn my students what not to be. Impulse buying, wrong planting, risking hardiness but what the hell this is what gardening is all about. Pushing the boundaries. I find it exciting each day to stroll around the borders to see what has appeared and what has survived. Today I noticed the rosy red crinckled leaves of the Paeonies pushing their way through the aster bed, the iris are fattening up and most of the roses have breaking buds.  The little Leucojums the winter snowflakes have opened and there are two or three white bells fluttering in the wind.

This afternoon I spent a few enjoyable hours weeding my large herbaceous border occasionally catching a whiff of scent from the hyacinths or from the lavender as my arms brushed against it.  Just wonderful. The garden does reflect my personality  ” mary mary quite contrary”  – that is me . It is always bounding endlessly forward, forever enthusiastic, always changing and in a state of controlled disorganisation. How I love it and everything that goes with it.

Yesterday while working in one of the local towns I took a quick coffee break . I was thrilled to find a pamphlet for a plant fair next weekend. Later I managed to persuade OH to come on the belief that he will be visiting new places of interest, with a special picnic and a visit to the local cantina. Brilliant I can look forward to my first adrenalin rush of the year. Crazy as it may seem after spending ten years of my life exhibiting in most of the garden shows in the UK one would think  that I would be showed out but now the bug is worse than ever. I will be first in the queue with purse in hand to buy those must have on trend fashion plants.

Just as I did last year when visiting a lovely little garden show in Ovada I got completely carried away buying loads of plants and forgetting our guests David and Glenna who had accompanied us in our little Mini Uno.  I was finally faced with 4 people, a dog, loads of bags, pot plants and various holiday gifts.

Now this is impossible!

Now this is impossible!

It was quite a task to fit everything in, much to the amusement of the Italians watching on and quite hilarious for us.

I think we can get one more in here!!

I think we can get one more in here!!

Once the boot space was filled Glenna and I climbed into the rear and the guys passed the plants to us we had them between our feet knees and around our necks. Every little space was filled unfortunately for us two of the plants were roses somewhat uncomfortable. The men could not see us amongst the foliage it was like sitting in a hedgerow. Thankfully Glenna is a plantaholic like me the slight discomfort was overruled by the little treasures we had bought.

As the years pass I have found specialist nurseries, rose gardens, the stalls on the local market, I have bored Italians with my stories of my old exploits and begged cuttings and splits from all around me.

Rosa Iceberg

Rosa Iceberg

The garden is starting to fill up with all my new acquisitions and although today it appears quite bare within a few weeks the roses will be flowering and the borders will be billowing with daisies and lavender.

The herbaceous border in late May

The herbaceous border in late May

It is a very special place to be and even more satisfying that it is our own creation. My Italian friends look on with interest as they have never seen anything quite like it. They shake their heads and say” but you cannot eat this”.

daisies, lavender, daylilies

daisies, lavender, daylilies

They don’t quite understand why I should want to slave so hard to create something of beauty when there is so much available around us. Even if they are a little unsure I think the bug is contagious as after each visit they can be seen leaving the gate clutching cuttings and seeds with reverence.

 

I do share my garden with wildlife, the  bees, butterflies, hoverflies, damselflies it goes on and on, along with my little dog who delights in searching for lizards under the lavender bushes or digging holes in OH’s Orta.

I am sure it is under the lavender plant

I am sure it is under the lavender plant

There is no better place I would rather be on a warm sunny spring morning. Happy Easter everyone. Buona Pasqua

 

 

LAYING DRAINAGE PIPES. HOW HARD CAN THAT BE!

Today I was helping OH stack logs into the old portico at the rear of the house. It is now mid winter and the days are cold and damp. Last night had brought flurries of snow which covered the ground and made Lucy run around the garden in a frenzy of excitement. She loves the snow. The logs arrived on the back of Gianni ‘s little red tractor. They were piled high and we hoped they would see us through the rest of the winter.

I stopped for a breath and paused for a moment to look around, this side of the house is still a building site in fact a better description would be a bomb site. P1040767There are mounds of building rubble, loads of old windows, doors, old  pipes, broken red cotto tiles and of course mud loads of mud.P1040765 In the centre of all this mess is an old cart which would have been used for the grape harvest. It is now loaded high not with fruit but with floor planks. They had been lifted from one of the rooms and are now waiting to be re laid elsewhere.P1040763

I look over at the old rear wall which is actually holding up well. A friend who is a British builder told us in 2013 it was in danger of falling in on us and his advice was to knock the whole thing down and rebuild it.

How thankful I am now that we chose a different course. We had wanted to retain the house’s originality and the back wall was to be kept at all costs.

However this decision came with its problems and stresses.

I remember back In March 2014 when the land clearing contractor, Enrico arrived .may2014 016

His first job was to knock down the old outbuilding to the left of the house and clear the site. He then proceeded to dig deep into the hillside at the rear of the house clearing away years of heavy damp soil leaning against the old back wall.may2014 021

We all stood crossing fingers and toes as we saw the wall shake and shudder as the digger moved ever closer, could those old bricks precariously balanced on top of each other hold up under the pressure. If the wall gave way then the new roof would have collapsed –  ending our dream. As the layers were slowly scraped away it became apparent that the wall needed some added support. The digger came to an abrupt halt and Enrico shouted for acro – props to be placed under the barn ceiling.  We had nothing, We ran about in a mad panic,  terrified this was about to end in disaster. Luckily OH found some long poles laying against the posts in the Vineyard. He hastily removed them and we set about pushing them tight under the steel beams of the ceiling. Happy with our accomplishment the digger resumed, we held our breaths but it was all a scare for nothing. The wall settled and seemed to straighten and no longer looked distorted .

The rear of the house now free from soil was at last able to breathe. It slowly dried out in the spring sunshine. Thus enabling the builders to begin the internal work..may2014 018

It is good to have a look around here as it reminds me what we have achieved, the whole site was like this when we began. OH has great plans for this portico it goes from a storage shed, garage for vintage cars , workshop, etc etc but at the moment it remains a sorry site waiting for his decided project to start.

It was during this land movement that the old septic tank was demolished. It had been sited in the soil behind the house and was unfortunately smashed into pieces by the shovel..  This caused us an immediate problem as it was the only working sewage system. We were aware that the drains needed attention probably renewing. The previous summer the old pipes had fractured seeping sewage into the Orta. Causing our tomatoes to swell to giant proportions. One of OH’s worst jobs was digging for hours in the heat of the day removing putrid smelling soil to find the gaping hole which he managed to temporarily repair with an old pipe.

So now we were faced with no toilet or drainage pipes, we needed a new system. A quick decision would have to be made by all present. Our geometra pointed to where it should be placed and without any plans Enrico dug all the ditches. We made a visit to the local builders yard and returned with a van full of pipes, pipe bends, joints and a large concrete fosso bioligica (septic tank). In Italy all black water must go through a septic tank before entering the main drain. Enrico sited the tank behind the house and filled the ditch with sand.

Fossa bioligica

Fossa bioligica

It was now late  Friday evening, he announced cheerfully ” I am going now and will return on Monday your job is to lay the pipes. arriverdeci”

Had we ever done anything like this before  NO…..  OH forever optimistic set about the task saying how hard could it be to lay a few pipes, but we had no experience and the darkness was forever creeping near. We could not get the the pipes to line up properly. We had pipes of all sizes with bends to the left, to the right and upside down.

Pipes all shapes and sizes

Pipes all shapes and sizes

We were ever mindful of the absolute need for a loo let alone a shower. We had been instructed that once in position they then had to be glued together. Finally as darkness fell we had managed to complete the job, happy and truly amazed at our success. We now could use the toilet and take a shower in our humble bathroom.

The very next morning , I strolled into the garden to inspect our work and to my horror I saw that the pipes had all retracted in the cold night air and had pulled apart.  They were all distorted and twisted , I called OH and he came rushing down rather glumly he said ” Clearly this is not a job for novices, What are we going to do now?”

Within the hour help came in the form of our neighbour NIno,  we call him Torino Man ( a sort of superhero) he is always ready to help especially if the job requires danger as he enjoys hanging from high places.  He used to work for Telecom so is pretty adept at all these type of jobs. On this occasion there was little danger but it was not now the cleanest of jobs. He and OH set to work and after a few hours the pipes were all relaid .

Enrico returned bright and early Monday morning and was pretty impressed with our achievements but little did he know of the stresses we had faced.

He set about filling the ditches and the job was complete.

It certainly puts a different aspect on pulling the chain when you know the toils and sweat that went into that work.

 

 

.

For the first day of February it is very pleasant and warm, the thermometer reads 15c and the  sun is pushing it’s weak rays through the clouds .

Snow capped peaks of the Alps

Snow capped peaks of the Alps

The views are stunning I can see for miles, the white peaks of the Alps peer above the bare and brown landscape,

Lucy and I are taking a stroll around the vineyard. We pass by the groves of hazelnut trees with their orangey coloured catkins hanging listlessly in the still air,  there is a silence in the valley, little moves. february 2016 074

We continue meandering through the vines when suddenly we stumble into 3 cock pheasants nestling in the undergrowth. They immediately start squawking and take off with such gusto that lucy and I jump with fright .

We live with nature here I am always mindful of what I may trip into.  The tracks of the wild boar cingiale can be seen in the paths, along with large hoof prints made by deer. They are all heading from the forest behind which is a national park, through the vineyard and down to take water from the river below. february 2016 072

I had really needed some fresh air, OH has got man flu and has taken to bed.  He has our large stufa churning out heat all day and the house feels like a sauna.

I pause for a moment catching a glimpse of our house through the vines I reflect back, what a complete contrast to the last two passing winters. It has not always been the case for us to have such comfort.  How quickly we have forgotten our trials and tribulations of those years.

It was shortly after the roof was completed in October 2013 that I informed everybody that we would be living in our makeshift accommodation of two rooms for the forthcoming winter.  I remember the horrified look on Ernestina’s face,  she looked at me in disbelief shaking her head maybe December, but January and February non lo so !! .  The previous year we had rented an apartment for the worst months. During that winter the temperatures were recorded to be at least minus 20c.

But now we had no other option we could not justify spending our savings on posh apartments we felt the money could be better spent.  We were determined to stick it out no matter how hard it could be ,thinking back it was like some sort of endurance test the cold of deep winter permeates all, the dry icy cold penetrating the body like a sharp knife.

The night times ,were obviously the worst.

We would fill the little stufa with wood then jump into bed wearing fleecy pyjamas, hats, gloves and socks  .

our little stufa

our little stufa

We would cosily watch the shadow of the rosy red flames dancing on the wall but by 3 in the morning the fire had died and the cold would start to creep up through the bottom of the bed. We tried blankets, extra mattresses , fleeces etc etc but nothing could stop that cold. I would hug a water bottle and cuddle close to the dog, waking endlessly during the night wishing for morning and the relentless cold to stop.  A trip to the loo was completely out of the question.

Daytime was not much better our hands were chapped from continual washing in the cold,. I was quite sure we were getting frostbite when they started to crack and bleed. Our only running water was in the bathroom at the back of the house with absolutely no form of heating. To bathe or shower was impossible so we had to carry hot water in a blue bowl from the bathroom and wash close to the fire.

We found that it was warmer outside in the sunshine and very often ate outside, warming ourselves in the winter sun.

winter lunch

winter lunch

On cloudy days we would head for the coffee bars and even visit shops to get extra warmth.

In the evening we would nestle close to the log burner watching our TV which was situated on the top of a piece of old rescued wardrobe, riddled with woodworm.the new kitchen 002

After treatment and a coat of paint it worked well as a mini pantry to store the pots and pans. Unfortunately the cupboard was almost two metres high so we all had to look up to watch tv, causing a permanent crick in our necks. april 2015 018

The satellite on our new roof was tuned into Italian TV and we sat rather uncomfortably many an evening watching deal or no deal in Italian , I admit that the presenter Flavio was much more affable than Noel Edmonds but the programme was still as stupid.  My brother – in – law Ugo after watching it for a whole year still could not understand what it was all about but there again does anybody?

The seating, was some old directors chairs donated by my mum , the original canvas had ripped and Ugo and I spent our first summer making new covers from some cheap material I had found on the market. Our only sewing implement was an antique singer sewing machine which we used to proudly display in the hallway of our old home.  It took some working out how to use the treadle and how to thread it up but amazingly from that machine I made twelve seat covers and took up every ones old trousers making them into shorts. The dining table was a metal four seater affair which we had bought from a closing down sale for 20 euros and to be honest that was probably more than it was worth. My cooking facility was a 2 ring camper stove balanced on OH ‘s workmate bench. I had a small fridge freezer that I had bought from a second hand shop in the UK.april 2015 045

It was truly incredible how we got by not just did we survive in that room but we also held dinner parties too. Our friends would frequently visit, I am unsure if it was from pity or just wanting to be part of this crazy couples adventure.

John and Doreen  our close friends who  have a beautiful little terraced cottage in the village of Noche close by would come quite often bringing their big labrador dog, Holly.  Space was somewhat limited so everyone would take their place around the table and sit still. Holly would always sit underneath in the chance of catching the odd tit bit. The table would be laid full of dishes and wine and they would marvel at the amount of food I would produce.

No problem until Holly stood up, disaster struck as the table raised up on her back. OH could be heard bellowing hold onto the table as it started to move around the room balanced precariously on her back. Wine and food would be tipping everywhere and we would be rolling about with laughter. Poor Holly would look on completely unaware of the chaos behind her.

There was one occasion when all my friends and family descended on us in camper vans I managed to give a party for well over 20 people. I remember showing them around and seeing the shocked faces when they saw our living accommodation. It wasn’t quite the Italian dream.  One of the girls,  little miss perfect, looked at me completely mortified and with utter pity  she said You actually live here!!!!.   I immediately felt the need to defend myself and said yes and it is great and I can’t understand why I left that fabulous designer kitchen in the UK  Why would I need a dish washer when I can have this little blue bowl for my washing up.

OK we are slightly mad but this was our vision and we were willing to make every sacrifice to realise our dream. I also found it quite a humbling experience and a way of learning what is actually really required in this consumer must have world.

Last May we moved into our newly finished part of the house and In a strange way it was quite a wrench to leave behind that little safe haven. But now as I look around me at the beauty we have created. I revel at our conviction, tolerance and determination our actions have made it possible and we would’nt have changed anything.

So would I do it again  ………….WELL NO

 

OUR LUCY, A LITTLE TREASURE

It was very early in the plans that OH decided we needed a companion for our adventure. It was to be in the form of a dog. Quite a challenging prospect for me as I had only ever had cats, they are your equal, you never own one they actually own you. A dog was a different kettle of fish this was quite a responsibility.

I conjured up a romantic bike ride in the beautiful morning sun a little dog sitting in a basket in front of me, my straw hat,my flowery skirt flowing behind me,arriving at the bread shop to buy warm loaves for our breakfast.

Reality check OH wanted something big, a proper dog and said “over my dead body will I have a little dog especially one with a pink collar and lead.”

This was a problem as I am not keen on big dogs and I am also an asthmatic with an allergy to dog hair. Not to be deterred I checked the  various dog breeds and eventually came up with the idea of a poodle it does not cast and there are various sizes. Although he did not seem particularly keen.!!

One day while we were working at a local Game Fair I saw the cutest dog you could ever have seen. It was very small with black curls and had a round face which had a strange amazed expression. The proud owner stated  that it was a ” jackapoo”   what he really meant was that it was a mongrel a cross between a poodle and a jack russel.

With this idea in mind I looked at poodle crosses and decided a king charles cavalier cross would be our aim.  Then came the shock the cost was far more than a full pedigree dog. Some celebrity or other had one, so therefore it became the fashion ( on trend) thus enabling the breeders to  charge a premium.

By this time we had moved to Italy and were now on a tight budget so the dog idea was put on hold.

Whilst on a return visit to the Uk, late one evening I went onto my favourite site called preloved and saw a cavapoo  10 weeks old in urgent need of a loving home for little cost. I sent a message of interest and was immediately contacted  by a poor soul who poured her heart out to me. I was laid heavy with her personal problems things you could not imagine. I agreed to visit her the next morning In Manchester !!! which was not exactly close to Wales.

We arrived at the house nine o clock sharp with my mum who had kindly agreed she would look after the pup until it had a passport.

I walked into the house to be met by this enormous cage and inside was the funniest looking little thing, a ball of fluff the size of a tennis ball, it could easily fit inside OH’s hand. It was black and cream with the biggest eyebrows I had ever seen. They brought her out and she crawled weakly across to my knee. trembling and cuddling into my coat, my heart softened,  here was a little baby waiting for love and I had lots to give.

just look at that face

just look at that face

OH melted immediately and within minutes we were all leaving with a tiny bundle of fluff in my hand.

I knew this little bundle was about to change our lives and she certainly has.

From those first uncertain steps she has remained on my knee when ever the chance arises and those eyebrows are now  bigger than Dennis Healey’s

It took about six weeks to do all the formalities, rabies injection, microchip, passport etc. Then we returned to the Uk to collect her and bring her to her new home in Italy.

What a shock for the little creature after starting her life caged up for a few weeks now she had acres to run in. we watched her playing and tumbling around the vines, snuffling in the meadow grasses, hiding under the bushes always happy. Well not always unfortunately she has to share her home with a dozen or so lizards which during the summer months torment her continually scurrying about the ledges, sunbathing just above her nose she chases them all over the place but never manages to catch one. Her summer days are spent endlessly checking all the nooks and crannies tongue hanging out nose twitching panting frantically as the little beggars disappear into the nearest hole. Poor Lucy she loves her home so much but those lizards they are a pain.

lizard search

lizard search

She has now grown just a little but she is still very cute and those eyebrows make her look so serious, she has the funniest face just like a gremlin. She is a faithful companion always at our side. lucy arrives in italy 014 Here dogs are always welcome especially the small and cute there are loads and she has many doggy friends. She loves everybody and everyone loves her. Children enjoy playing with her especially when we are walking in the town or sitting at the cafes or restaurants. She is also a particularly good football player according to OH he should know he used to play for Kilmarnock F.C ?

OH has got over his need for a large dog he adores her and is always protecting her from anything  as much as 2cms bigger than her.

or

perhaps he has realised the potential value of this lovely little pooch , w hen we are out and about it seems that I can’t disappear from sight without returning to find him dog  in his arms wearing her fluffy pink jumper and surrounded by numerous woman old and young  cooing and kissing  HER.

I love you daddy

I love you daddy

My latin blooded husband has found the perfect way to catch the ladies eye, it never fails!!!

I HAVE SEA SHELLS IN MY GARDEN

“It could be an Anthropod, it is over 25 million years old ”

The words are echoing in my ears as I pick up the small rounded stone. I rub my fingers across the perfect markings completely indented within and marvel at its perfection. To me it looks like an oyster shell but it is just a piece of stone.  february 2016 068

The other day whilst skyping a friend in the UK I let slip about my garden finds, his wife a geologist was immediately interested and enlightened me as to what I could possibly have.

This little morsel is just one of many we have collected as we attempt to overcome the wilderness. It was very early in our labours that we started to dig up these perfect fossilised shells from the soil and realised that this beautiful part of Italy had once been at the bottom of the sea.

I have sea shells in my garden

They are everywhere in the vegetable patch, the flower borders, the meadow, the vineyard, even in the house walls. We line them up on pieces of granite placed within the flower beds.  Leaving them on display for people to admire and wonder why we would want sea shells so far from the sea.february 2016 065

Now I can’t boast that the garden is that old but it certainly felt like it when we first moved in. Especially the wisteria bush which had been originally planted by one of the oldest patrons.

The giant Wisteria

The giant Wisteria

Originally it would have covered the arbour, perfectly sited across from the front door giving much needed shade from the burning sunshine. The remnants of the structure  could be seen crushed under the thick green foliage, all that remained standing were a couple of upright wooden poles which were completely engulfed by this vigorous thug.  Its twining stems had escaped and were now running across the garden suffocating everything in its path.

The garden was quite a challenge, to beat back and get some control after many years of neglect. It is well over four acres and completely encircles the house . The land is flat to the front and rises sharply to the rear as it reaches the Vineyard.

The soil here is incredibly deep and fertile slightly alkaline and definitely leaning towards the clay. It grows everything and anything with absolute vigour,

deep rich soil

deep rich soil

well nearly everything unfortunately not rhubarb much to OH’s annoyance .

Poor OH , I did say that it was not the climate to cultivate such a plant but he loves his rhubarb and custard so we tried  a little crown last year. We placed it into an old bottomless metal container in the shadiest part of the garden.

What a struggle !! he watered it faithfully each day and took great delight as he watched its first large leaf unfurl but the spring was very hot and it wilted and sagged. By mid June it had only managed another couple of rather sickly stems.  We were sad to see the little plant suffering such stress. Eventually he conceded and picked the stalks before it finally expired. We achieved one spoonful of rich rhubarb sauce which we ate on our yoghurt for breakfast the next morning. What a luxury! I don’t feel it was a failure of our soil but more the fault of the relentless penetrating sun of the spring and early summer. I now know why none of my Italian friends had ever heard of the plant never mind tasted it.

In Italy the most important area is the vegetable plot the ORTA everybody has one , it keeps them in fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit throughout the year. Winter is for clearing, spring for planting and growing, summer and autumn for harvesting and bottling. we still have broccoli, sprouts and leeks in the last week of January. Although on occasions they feel like they have just been removed from the freezer and I have had to defrost them in the kitchen before they can be used.

Our house came with an Orta which of course had not been cultivated for many years it was also to the front of the house somewhere under the massive wisteria bush. All we could see was an outline of a type of fencing and some sturdy growing grassy spikes peeping though the mass of smothering foliage.

Pleasant surprise

Pleasant surprise

The first summer we owned the house I had little time on my hands on such fleeting visits to try and conquer the wilderness. So it came as a lovely surprise when one sunny summer morning we arrived to find that Ernestina had hacked back the wisteria  pushing it against one of the wooden poles. At the foot of the other pole she had placed a sweet smelling jasmine. Behind this she had uncovered the orta a strange triangular shape enclosed by a wire fence and a rickety metal gate. She had cleared an area and had planted rows of tomatoes , peppers and aubergines.

Gosh I was thrilled but a little apprehensive as I was somewhat rusty on the veg gardening. I had stupidly boasted my previous occupation and now all eyes were on me . With a reputation to keep I had to quickly set to work. Here you are judged on the quality of your veg not on the beauty of your flowers they cannot be eaten. Veg was never my forte but I dug deep into my memories and remembered the days I had spent with my father on his market garden.

Through the passing years my neighbours and friends have watched on with intrigue as my orta has blossomed with large headed sunflowers, stately gladioli, scented stocks and everlasting flowers. The paths are lined with lavenders,chives and nasturtiums. I allow the rocket to flowers and it gives rich nectar for the thousands of insects that share my paradise. The neighbours  have started to ask questions and come to admire this strange creation made by an eccentric welsh gardener growing flowers in a veg. patch. Now they even ask for seed coveting every little treasure and rushing back to their gardeners to sow immediately in the rich dark soil.

Flowers in the veg patch

Flowers in the veg patch

 

The first year was completely trial and error the little time I had spare was spent weeding, pruning, tieing in the tomatoes.

 

working hard

working hard

To my amazement they survived without very little water. Not may I add due to my green fingers but by pure luck. I was able to harvest a couple of baskets of ripe juicy tomatoes but sadly the rest rotted as I had to return to the UK.

One basket of sweet ripe tomatoes

One basket of sweet ripe tomatoes

Many years ago I created a nursery specialising in cottage plants and herbs many for dry places. I was in a field on the side of a mountain in Wales fighting everything that nature could throw at me and it certainly did.

After  the closure of  my Nursery “Julias garden”  I threw myself into working with my husband in his catering business. I spent many years kidding myself on that I did not need to be up to my elbows in soil, I would admire my perfectly manicured nails and soft hands, I congratulated myself on the lack of aching limbs, and not having to spend every waking moment worrying about those little gems relying on me for nourishment and care.

I soon realised how very much I had missed it.

I loved it, my gardening bug was back and I am again starting with a small patch in the centre of a huge meadow. This time my beloved plants are thriving with the kind climate.  Julia’s garden has come to Italy but this time no nursery, just a place for me, Oh and my little dog to enjoy and a special place to share with our future guests.

 

 

FINDING OUR BUILDERS what a task!

FINDING OUR BUILDERS

Once again I decided to enlist the help of my friend Ernestina she tracked down seven local builders and  a couple of others our geometra invited along. We must have had about 10 in total through the house.

They came and perused our house.  They were tall, thin, fat, old, young and some downright cheeky and arrogant. Some were way too expensive , some could’nt even converse in Italian never mind English, the problems went on and on. At times it was quite amusing albeit stressful. It was also extremely time consuming as they all insisted that we should go round and view their previous creations.

They would arrive at the house stomping towards the front door have much to say about everything taking deep breaths and rubbing their chins mentioning big jobs etc etc etc.

We would look at each other knowing that this was a non starter.

So we came up with a strategy  the room that we had decided to allocate as our dining room had major water damage to its ceiling. The large hole in the roof had allowed water to run down into the bedroom soaking the floors and weighing heavy on the vaulted ceiling below. This had caused a large crack and a flattening of the curve. Our geometra  said that this could be saved and repaired.

This would be the test which builder would be able to save our ceiling.  We certainly could not justify the cost of creating  new vaults.

The majority of these characters shook their heads waving their hands in negativity and saying” no no it needs to come down far too dangerous”

others said “it would be cheaper to demolish”

We were getting nowhere fast and the builders just kept arriving.

A few days later the geometra came back he wanted to submit the plans to the commune but could not do this without a builder’s name.  On seeing our plight he said

“why not use my builder?”

well we had met him, he had actually been one of the first in the group but had been very quiet and uninspiring. I have later learnt that he was very apprehensive and self conscious about the language barrier. When I voiced these concerns to the geometra he said ” he has renovated my house come and see.”

So we did, it is an old property across from the cantina in Mombercelli the inside is ultra modern and quite stunning. Maybe not our style but very impressive never the less. The one thing that completely bowled us over was the brickwork. It was quite perfect and precise.

We said ” send him back we will try again”. In fact he beat us to our front door and this time we could not shut him up even though we could’nt understand a word he said.

What we did establish was that he would willingly work with us and that he was happy to tell OH what jobs he could reasonable do cutting the costs and using the professionals time to the most benefit.

The biggest deciding factor was that ceiling and as we all looked up I said in my pigeon Italian

“Renew or repair”., I held my breath

he repiled

” no problem it will be a bit of hard work for you but it can be done. ( I didn’t realise what he meant at that time!!!!!)

I guess the decision was made at last we had our builder. ‘ Nicola ‘

The CrewThe Crew

Nicola the boss, Salvatori the brother, Marco the son – in -law, Pani the Macedonian and his side kick Javid the Moroccan who is the general dogs body.

There are also other members of the family that come and go.

Did I mention that they are Sicilian , well they are and in fact they are all small, dark and speak fast with great hand gestures. Nothing is too much bother and everything can be usually sorted without costing us too much money. The boss is a mine of information and Whenever we need something he knows how to source it, With a shrug of the shoulders he says all is possible it just depends on what you are prepared to pay. I think our house has been built from the salvage yard as we have rarely bought new. It always arrives on the back of the pickup from where   – I don’t ask,!

The standard of their workmanship is excellent and their honesty is beyond reproach.

Pani is from the eastern block and has that dogmatic temperament, he is a real artisan his work is always  perfect he likes to horde things as if they are a treasured possession you can always here him saying ” that will be useful some day” and in fairness they nearly always are.

Salvatori is always in a hurry busying about and needs Nicola’s beady eyes watching, just in case his haste misses a point.

Javid the Moroccan he is slower and steady very serious, a Jack of all trades and always wanting everything to be correct.

Marco he is a jolly soul, always has a big smile and something to witter on about. His job  I am not sure about apparently he had a very bad motorcycle accident and has been pieced back together so is somewhat limited but he certainly has some good ideas.

In spring 2014 they moved in, they stayed and they are still with us. That is when we really started to see things happen.

They are all quite passionate about this old house and pride themselves in their work. There are numerous debates about each project and often things change from the plan whilst the work is in progress.

They have become part of the furniture and happily help OH when something out of their job specification is required. I often see them all disappearing off around a corner to help Oh move something. On another occasion they helped us rebuild new purchases from the antique market. They have even happily concreted my paths in the veg plot with leftover cement. It is hard at times when they are around as work starts exactly at 8.00 and there is not a minute of peace from that moment. Sundays are our sanctuary but incredibly we often find ourselves wishing for Monday so we can all push on again.

My DEAR FRIEND ERNESTINA

Ernestina is the wife of Gianni Barbero whose family owned our house before us. They have been good friends and in fact have helped so much without any expectations in return. Right from the beginning we were welcomed into their home and treated to numerous family feasts. I do believe they feel that by making us part of the family they have not given away the house to strangers. All the Barbero family want to give their own opinion on the way we should go forward with the house but they are all in agreement that it should not cost us infinite amounts of money.

Ernestina is the kindest soul always helping people and is very generous in her own way. I really could not have managed to get this far without her patience for my inadequate Italian, her help and encouragement.

my dear freind .

my dear friend

Over the last few years there have been so many reasons to celebrate with a meal, Christmas, festivals, birthdays, in fact just get togethers.

On every occasion I feel as if I am in the middle of a Federico Fellini film.

There is a big long table in the dining room covered in a pure white tablecloth.

Dinner italian style

Dinner Italian style

Papa Piero sits at the top end, Mama Rina to his left, she is the boss and everybody tends to treat her with kid gloves. Her word is law and my poor friend Ernestina runs around endlessly to the beck and call of her mother – in law.

The rest of the family sit along the centre and the other end is always reserved for the guests. There could be up to ten of us.

Ernestina loves animals and there are always at least three small dogs running around our feet, playing and chasing each other around the room.

The food is endless with numerous dishes of antipasti, pasta, meats, risottos, vegetables and salads followed by fruit , icecream or special torta.

On one occasion we had zabaglione made by our host Gianni he added at least half a bottle of Marsala which nearly blew our heads off  and sent the old ones to sleep.

My small offering is always a home made cake. Something they rarely have here.

The problem is there is too much food, there are at least ten courses, every course is a delight and if I chose it in a restaurant I would be thrilled by the quality and flavour. However when it is followed by another and another it makes my stomach scream,

“stop,    enough!!!”.

All this food is washed down by copious amounts of wine specially selected for each dish some made by themselves and numerous bottles from surrounding cantinas which they feel the need to supply just in case theirs does not come up to standard.

Gianni seems to have great delight in opening these various bottles taking a few sips and shaking his head in disgust and moving on to eventually supping a glass of his own..

To me nothing beats his Barbera  especially as I have slaved up on their vineyard harvesting those grapes with my very own hands ( but that is another story.)

These meals can last for hours during which everyone talks loudly to each other and over each other vying to be heard. Every possible conceivable subject is discussed including dare I say politics. It is one of their favourite subjects on which you can usually hear Gianni ‘s final conclusion echoing loudly around the room

” Bastardi.”

There is always a moment of silence when Mama decides to shout “Senti” ( listen) and we do just that to hear the words of wisdom that she has decided to entrust on us all.

The meal is completed with dark sweet coffee and a tipple of each liqueur he keeps proudly on his sideboard .

We retire gracefully and slightly inebriated returning home to nurse our stomachs and to enter in a two day fast.

What do we do next?

Following  the unfortunate experience of the roof and to prevent any further mistakes Ernestina once again came to the rescue for which I will be eternally grateful. She found me a local geometra Signor Musso he has a loud deep voice.  When we first met I thought that he was shouting at me because he was of the opinion that the louder he spoke the more Italian I would understand. Later I realised my mistake when on visiting the bank located across the road from his office, I heard his booming voice coming from within obviously deafening the poor soul on the receiving end.

This guy was a god send he listened to my somewhat poor Italian aided by Ernestina. He looked at our A4 scribbled design which was not too ambitious. We did not want to change any of the structure just to sympathetically work within the house’s perimeters.

The previous architects had wanted to change positions of the staircases and to build huge extensions.

Why do this ? when the house is already enormous and full of character. The staircases are important to us as they are typical of a Piemontese farmhouse, beautiful stone steps leading to the upper floors.

stone staircase

stone staircase

His brief was to split the renovation into phases the first being to create us some living accommodation. We wanted spacious rooms with lots of light.’

He soon set about measuring and translating our ideas into a working plan. We decided to  remove the wall between the old kitchen and the stable to create a large kitchen with a small lounge adjoining. This we felt should be the heart of the house. The rear barn was to be changed into a bathroom, a service area , and a garden room. Upstairs we were to have two bedrooms one en -suite.

our new living accommadation

Phase one

He listed the work necessary and dealt with the local commune. He also advised us on what work we could feasibly undertake ourselves. Within a couple of weeks or so we had a preventivo (a list of work)  and all we needed was the builders.

How hard could that be!!!

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF ITALIAN WHEN BUILDING A ROOF

After a few years of living, here I have to say that I consider being able to communicate in Italian exceedingly important. Prior to our move I attended classes for over three years but when I arrived on  a permanent basis  I found myself no further forward than good morning , good night and how are you. As the years pass the Lingua becomes easier and many doors have now opened for us.

At the beginning the language barrier caused us a huge problem. The house was in a terrible state and we had wanted to do our own planning, project managing and some labouring. Somewhat crazy but we felt this would cut down our costs as funds were exceedingly low,  We would be living here and thus able to put all our time into the build. We needed advice from the experts,  builders ,architects  in fact anyone who could help us .  Our estate agent introduced us to a few contractors and said she would be willing to translate for us. Although she was helpful this was limited as I felt she seemed to misunderstand our intentions.

These so called experts clambered around our house and produced amazing plans some were works of art. Their estimation of their own costs were even more amazing  and that was only for their services not for the construction.

We kept hitting brick walls,  they said ” Italian legislation says you must have a geometra or an architect, a builder and most importantly it prevents you from participating in anyway with the build.

Frustrated by this and concerned that this would slow the renovations we eventually enlisted the aid of architects who could speak some English. However we quickly realised that we had made a mistake, they were certainly good at extracting money but slow at coming up with the goods.

They did manage to get the project on its way with the construction of the new roof. This was however done with some bullying from my friend Ernestina who was panicking as winter was rapidly approaching. Quite honestly I don’t think the roof could have taken another winter. They also found us a builder who gave a fairly low estimate for the roof but I guess this did not come without problems.

We all parted company somewhat amicably six months later when we refused to continue with their very modern unsympathetic plans for our farmhouse.

THE NEW ROOF

The 12,000 euros originally suggested would not look at it. It might have bought us a couple of  years of respite but the beams were rotten, there were many tiles broken, there were large gaping holes and the supporting walls were buckling. It was obvious to all that this needed a demolition job.

New earthquake legislation also required us to have a ring of cement (cordola) placed on top of the walls to support the new roof beams. It was a huge job and cost well over 45000 euros which did not include guttering, down pipes or chimney stacks.

The house was completely clad with scaffold that took three Egyptians ten days to erect.house renovations 004

On the first morning of the build I was shocked to see a very large crane arriving up the drive. house renovations 002 It was sited to the front of the house, we slept each night with this huge monstrosity hanging above us. We had one evening of absolute panic when I noticed that it started to move by itself. AS it twisted and turned  we could hear it creak, I was terrified was it about to flatten us in our bed ?. I rang the builder who came post haste,  he viewed the scene and  bemusedly informed us that it moves freely in the wind which just happened to be quite strong that evening.010

They constructed the roof in two stages dividing the house in half, it took three months in late summer 2013 and thankfully we only had two days of rain during the build.

Unfortunately the first was a really nasty thunderstorm that happened one evening after the builders had left leaving the beams uncovered. The heavy rain poured in between the rafters permeating all the ceilings below which included the room were we had stored all our furniture. once again there was a frantic call to the builder who arrived to find us inside the room knee deep in buckets , plastic covering and standing with umbrellas.lucy's holes 025

The head builder was hilarious he was a chain smoker, he was able to speak with a cigarette in his mouth. It would stick to his top lip going up and down as he spoke. I marveled at how he could toss a cigarette in the air, catch it with his lower lip and light it all in one move, quite ingenious. My brother in law Ugo who was living out front in his camper ( but that’s another story) nick named him Clint as he wore a cowboy stetson and was always puffing away.house renovations 033

They worked away dismantling the roof collecting the old cotto tiles one by one and stacking them on pallets for later use. They cleared away years of straw and rubble from inside the barn, they cut out the big old beams and dismantled the gable ends. Mounding the bricks and rubble in huge piles in our garden.

lucy's holes 046

We were not allowed near the build and were enclosed in our apartment with that dreadful orange plastic fence like prisoners behind bars.  We would kneel on our balcony and peer through the holes in the plastic to catch a glimpse of the goings on.house renovations 037 When the builders left the site in the evening we would guiltily climb onto the scaffold like two naughty children and peruse the work done. We had many an evening sitting on our open roof enjoying a glass of red wine and admiring the views around us.

To be honest, we were thinking to ourselves how the hell did we get into this one. !!!!house renovations 036

We learned from this build, there was no interaction with us and we were completely cut out from any of the decisions made.

This was certainly not the way we had planned our new life in Italy to be.g

They did however advise us to keep all our old bricks so with time on our hands we spent each day cleaning and storing over 3000 bricks. (They cost one euro a brick to buy here.)020

When our roof was complete the builder finally knocked on the door to ask where we wanted the chimney stacks to be placed I was thrilled to at last be involved and replied

“obviously over the chimey breasts in the house”.

Whoops the roof had been designed without any consideration to that trivial fact. One of the main beams was directly in line with the chimney. So much for the expensive architect. OH had mentioned it to all on many occasions but was always ignored.

End of the road for Clint.