Posts Tagged With: Batfink

Discovering the local volcano and other things…

Buongiorno a tutti,

How is everyone? Apologies for being a bit quiet for a while! I’ve been having issues with WordPress who host my blog. Anyway, it’s all sorted now (at least for the time being!) and I’ve got quite a bit of updating to do from the last month or two. I’ll try and summarise!

The first update is that my poor Batfink lost his fight a day or two after the last blog post. It’s been horrible. We were a good little team. It’s always heart wrenching losing a pet; they’re like members of your family aren’t they? But I think we had quite a special bond, us two in particular given everything that we’d been through together in the last year or so. I miss him.

A few days after Batfink passed away, I heard meowing coming from a hedge by the gym. I eventually located it to a tiny black kitten. To cut a long story short, I ended up adopting her, despite my better judgement. She’s not got a name yet – I’m a bit nervous to give her one lest I get too attached and something happens to her. In fact, she went missing for 4 days a week or two back and I was convinced she’d died too but I was thrilled to be proven wrong.  Anyway, I’m pleased to report that her and Rusty Carrot (he’s gained a name) have finally bonded after an initial settling in period which involved a great deal of hissing (Kitten isn’t much attuned of social cues and so didn’t let it upset her).

So that’s the cat update. I’m very much hoping further cat updates will be less traumatic, at least for a bit!

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Rusty Carrot and Kitten

Meanwhile I’ve been out and about as ever. There’s a continuous string of festas here during the summer and it’s difficult to justify being at home when I could be seeing jazz, or blues, or dancing or seeing medieval games, or going on walking excursions or painting excursions or eating cheap pizzas etc. I used to think London was hectic with things going on all the time but I don’t think it’s a patch on Le Marche in the summer months.

The weather has been absolutely roasting too and the countryside has been spectacular with sunflowers and hay bales stretching across landscapes as far as the eye can see.

 

In other news…

  • I had a lovely evening with the Dezi family who are a big name locally in the wine industry. They are only a couple of minutes up the road from me. It was lovely to meet some of the locals, and their wine was great! If anyone is interested trying the wine, they run some good value tasting events.

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  • I went on a long walk in the mountains with a friend that’s not from the area. I’d been meaning to do this walk for a long time and I was quite chuffed I managed to get us where we were supposed to be going within the timescales I was supposed to! There’s lots of scope for error and there are hardly any sign posts but I’m beginning to know the local mountains quite well so it’s not the daunting prospect it once was!
  • There’s an organic farm, Indaco Foods in a town very close to me called Monsampietro Morico. They run what they call a “Dining club / Social Event Organisation” offshoot called La Bibioteca. Some friends of mine have been keen to go for a long time, as have I. I thought the food was great with some very original recipes. They run a variety of courses too in things like Sourdough breadmaking and I’m determined to do their beekeeping course.
  • I’ve been on a few painting excursions to Torre di Palme (Towers of Palms),  Lago di Gerosa (Lake Gerosa), Lago di San Ruffino (San Ruffino Lake) and Montefalcone Appenino. All are worthy trips with or without painting equipment! I’d certainly recommend Torre di Palma, a hill top town overlooking the coast. It’s very quaint with lots of little restaurants and nooks and crannies to explore.
  • I saw the Frecce Tricolori, the Italian equivalent of the Red Arrows. I was really pleased as I seem to always miss airshows so I’m glad I didn’t miss this one.
  • I went to a concert to see Paola Turci in the  mountains organised by RisorgiMarche, a set of concerts dotted around the Sibillini’s to show solidarity to the people of the area and help breathe life into some of the villages hit by the recent earthquakes. There’s a lovely vibe at the concerts. Paola Turci is a big name in Italy and is often in the charts. It was just her and her guitar, singing a few meters in front of us with us sitting on our picnic blankets and singing along to all the songs. It really had a great atmosphere and it felt quite special to be a part of it.
  • I went to see one of my favourite festa’s of the year, “Artistrada” at Colmurano. It was sad to see some of the town blocked off presumably after the earthquakes but we still had a great time.
  • Then there was the Opera ‘Turandot‘ at the Sferisterio in Macerata. The Sferisterio is a spectacular building so it’s always special seeing something there. It was the first time I’d seen Turandot. I wasn’t bored stiff like in my first attempt at opera last year. I think what helped was just how very odd it was – the princess was writhing around in a glass box filled with ‘blood’ after getting off her polar bear (I told you it was weird!!)  It did have the song Nessun Dorma in too which helped.  Alas, now I understand the context,  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to that song again without getting annoyed at how pathetic the character who sung it was.

I finally went to see the Roman Theater in Piane di Falerone. It’s just 10 minutes down the road from me so it’s been on my list a while. It’s difficult to get to see it – it’s open Sunday’s between 4pm and 6pm (sometimes) and costs 3.50 euros.  You can organise a private appointment to see it by asking a woman in the local newsagents who knows a man who knows how to get someone there to open it. There are events there occasionally and so I’d recommend trying to tie in your visit with that so you get more out of it and there’s slightly more chance it’ll be open!

  • Then there was the Sibillini Swing Festival a week or so back. Riccardo Foresi and his band were playing the night that I was there. They were great and played for two or three hours solid! Sadly none of the Italians are big on dancing to swing so the dancefloor was taken over by about 15 English people. I suspect they thought we were nuts!
  • I’ve been to 3 plays in the last month or so in various places. A couple were in dialect resulting in a rather challenging hour or two trying to understand exactly what’s going on! Thankfully my previous neighbour has given me a good grounding in dialect words so I wasn’t as lost as I could have been!
  • In other news, near the house there is a volcano. I’ve been meaning to go and see it for ages and finally a couple of weeks ago I went with a friend. I warned him it might be a bit of a walk – I’d seen the trail outlined in a tourist map at the parking area. So we put on our walking shoes and were done about two minutes later! The volcano is less of a volcano and more of a muddy patch and there were no trails! If you would like to attempt to find a trail yourself and learn more about the patches of mud, visit this site for more information.
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The Volcano (admittedly I’ve since discovered it’s called Vulcanelli di Fango – little volcanoes of mud, but still I think even that’s a bit of an overstatement)

So that sums up the last couple of months. Sorry it’s been such a long update, hopefully the blog issues have now been resolved and I shall be able to write a bit more frequently!

x

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The Good, The Bad and The Stressful

Buongiorno a tutti,

How is everyone? Well, I’ve written this blog about 5 times now. I start and then I don’t quite finish, and then more stuff happens and then I have to re-write it all! I’ll start with the good stuff.

I’ve moved in to my new temporary home fully now (I say fully, my bits and pieces still litter the globe in various places…One day I shall consolidate them!).

This is my new view…

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Ignore the telephone wire. I did take a lovely one from the valley but it’s disappeared (the photo, not the valley!)

It’s gone well and for the first time in a long time, I feel settled. I’ve actually joined the local gym and swimming pool. It even has a spa!

It’s such a lovely time of the year here – the flowers are all out in the mountains (I have another blog to write up following a trip up Monte Sibilla a couple of weeks ago) and the fields are all golden with hay that waves with the wind.

Batfink settled in really well. He’s never been in a house so big. The first day I let him out he kept circling the house, meowing through each window and door as if to say “and this… this is STILL our house?”. I also acquired the couple of kittens that I was looking after back in Ripatransone for a while after my friend went on holiday. I even bought a little house for them outside (they’d run havoc if let them loose inside I fear!). Batfink and the kittens greeted each other like long lost friends which was sweet and they really helped Batfink settle in too.

When I came back to Italy I was able to tag onto the end of a life drawing course in Porto San Giorgio, a coastal town not too far from me. It was a joint course with Italian college students and me and a few other English ex-pats. We even made the local news paper!

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This is Porto San Giorgio…

And the wildlife is exciting here! A couple of Redstarts had nested in the woodpile and were very upset about the snake that had slithered into it. The next day they stopped taking food in and I discovered their empty nest the following day. I feel bad for Mr & Mrs Redstart – even I had empty nest syndrome. I’d gotten used to them knocking on the windows (who knows why? Trying to catch bugs on the inside?) But they’ve gone now. Anyway, poor Snakey has to eat too I guess. He’s not a dangerous snake (for humans at least!) but I might be on my guard a bit more next time I get wood!

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Spot Snakey!

Fireflies

And there’s been fireflies…

My brother, sister -in-law and little nephew came out to visit for a few days too which was lovely. It’s always a good opportunity to see some new places and check out some festas. One of the highlights was Servigliano and their Corpus Domini ‘infioratura’ (‘in flower’) festival. I was really impressed by the amount of work and effort that goes into a number of similar festas around Le Marche. Intricate designs and patterns are laid out with the most vibrant petals and in Servigliano they’d laid out a carpet of flowers extending about 1km only to have everyone from the morning mass walk over them. I can’t get over how badly they’re all publicised – there was nothing on the internet at all!

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Servigliano is a really interesting town – it’s unlike any other I’ve come across. It’s in the valley and is formed as a square (well, not quite, it’s 144 x 137 meters). The entire town centre was built within the space of 6 years starting in 1773 in response to the ever-increasing risk of landslide on the original hill-top town (which is apparently very close to where I’m now staying). It was actually called Castel Clementino before, named after the pope at the time (Clemente XIV), and only changed the name to Servigliano in 1863. They have a market every Monday morning. One of the things that’s quite quaint is the curtains hanging over most of their doors – I get the feeling that they want a bit of a breeze in their house but without losing their privacy! Anyway, here’s some more pics…

So all in all, I feel settled here in a way I haven’t felt settled since pre-earthquake. I’ve struck it lucky to have such a lovely house to stay in with such magnificent views and I’m gradually getting to know a few locals who seems lovely. There are lots of festas, events and walks on at the moment. I could be out every night if I wanted.

However, life has also thrown a few curveballs my way since I’ve been back.

Batfink has been horribly ill for weeks now with bladder stones/crystals and subsequent complications. He flips between acute kidney failure because he can’t wee or he’s incontinent with a catheter (who knew that cat catheters don’t come with bags). It turns out that cats die very, very quickly if they can’t go to the toilet. It goes from “hmm, he seems like he’s struggling a bit” to “oh my god, he’s dying” in a matter of hours. He had another relapse last week resulting in a 2am emergency vet visit after which he was kept in for a few days to see if they could get him functioning again. In the end we’ve had to resort to what is basically a sex change op which has altered his male parts into female parts which will widen his urethra and help him go to the loo. So it should be a totally fixable issue but alas, so far, so bad. He’s having a horrible time of it, as am I, and I’m not sure what to do. I’ve never seen such a sad looking cat; he doesn’t eat, he’s stopped drinking, he stumbles around aimlessly and then collapses facing a wall. Anyway, hopefully it’s just a matter of time before he gets back to his old self. I really hope so. I can hardly remember that, it feels such a long time ago 😦

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My very ill Batfink after his first ‘procedure’. Poor poor Puss.

Meanwhile, one of the kittens died which has been just awful. I found him on my driveway this morning – I’m afraid I ran over him but I can’t believe I’d have done that and not noticed – particularly given I check they’re ok before bed. I was preoccupied with Batfink so perhaps I didn’t but it just seems so unlikely. Potentially something else might have got him and this afternoon there were a couple of massive dogs chasing the remaining kitten, ‘Carrot’ (renamed from ‘Doomed’ – the other was renamed Pumpkin from his original ‘Fated’ rather ironically) today.  So I don’t know. Poor Carrot doesn’t know quite what to do with himself now. He’s got pent up cuddles which he’s giving to me which are somewhat bittersweet.

In marginally less traumatic news, the downstairs toilet got blocked. I can’t even begin to describe the horror of that! Of course this all happened with my family staying – typical! Suffice to say, not only the toilet was a no-go area but also the floor, bidet and shower. The sewage cleaning guys had already been out to clear the cesspit a couple of weeks ago as the plumbing was being a bit slow. They came out again to resolve the block. They solemnly promised it wouldn’t block again. Two days later in was blocked again – luckily nowhere near to the same terrifying proportions. We managed to resolve it ourselves that time and again on a subsequent occasion but I am nervous about what the future holds! The owners have been so lovely to let me stay in their home whilst mine gets sorted (and I’m aware you’re probably reading this A&R!), I feel somewhat racked with guilt that these issues seem to have arisen just now! Still, I’ll keep my fingers (and legs?) crossed.

The car has needed a new injector. It took 4 visits to my old mechanic back in Sarnano to get that changed finally and I think all the faffing around during the visits (none of which was my fault!) has resulted in a somewhat inflated price. At least it fixed the problem or so I thought. The car was fine for a week or two but now has stopped being able to accelerate again leading to some stuck-in-the-middle-of-roundabouts-with-oncoming-traffic fun.

People often ask me what I do all day. Month’s back I started preparing a ‘day in the life of’ post – but I can safely say at the moment it’s just flitting between various crises’!

Anyway, that’s it for now. Hopefully my spell of the ‘malocchio‘ has finished for this year but one never knows!

x

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Sunbathing in Senigallia, Entertaining and Photography!

Buongiorno a tutti!!!

How is everyone? Well, I have a daunting amount of updating to do! It covers a bit before the Puglia trip at the beginning of the month and thereafter.  I shall aim to keep it short and sweet (I realise I’m not particularly adept at that!). On a separate note, if you’ve signed up to these posts by email (thank you!), I’m told it’s worth clicking on the link to read on the website as the layout is better. Anyway, between doing a bit of teaching, I have been…

Sunbathing in Senigallia

I spent a weekend with some good friends in their apartment in Senigallia at the end of June. The weather was amazingly hot and it was nice to have some time at the beach. We had an aperitivo at a lovely bar called Chalet Beach at Marina di Montemarciano and then finished up near the apartment in a great restaurant with candlelit tables on the beach. It was already busy back in June but later this week it’ll be even busier because they hold a Summer Jamboree – an international rock festival which I went to a couple of years ago and loved. We had some good sunsets whilst I was there, in particular one sunset that looked remarkably like the sky just before the aliens came down in the film ‘Independence Day’.

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Photographic Excursion

I also had a little photography excursion around the mountains near where I live with the friend who came to Puglia with me…

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Then a few days later some other friends with their 17 month old came out to stay for the weekend. I was slightly nervous because I wasn’t sure how ‘toddler-safe’ the house is. My stairs to get to the second floor, for example, are really something to behold – I’m considering attaching a mountaineering fixed line for people to attach themselves to as they go up and down. Anyway, I’m pleased to say that despite my concerns, the 17 month old left intact and happy and I think the parents did too!

Lounging in Lago di Bracciano

Then the a couple of days later I drove down to Lago di Bracciano with a friend. That was a bit of a long day – 9 hours of driving in one day. I think that’s about twice my personal record!

It was a good day though and it was nice to explore a new area. The lake has a swimming area and the sand is actually black (and really, REALLY hot!). It was a nice lake and I also visited Anguillara Sabazia, a little town jutting out into the lake which had a lovely ‘old town’ to wander around.

Watercolours!

I organised a little watercolour painting excursion too at Lago di Fiastra which I think went really well although there were only 4 of us. I think we were the talk of the beach! Everyone kept coming up to have a look. I felt like it could have been a comedy sketch – us four reasonably professional looking painters and then my painting at least, looked like a 2yr old could have done it. I can only imagine what people were thinking! Anyway, I’ve definitely got the bug, I’m hoping to organise another excursion in a couple of weeks, though to be honest, I haven’t entirely worked out the advantage of painting “live” as opposed from a photo! Our tutor said the other day that we should be ready to start painting something that we might want to put on our wall. I think I have vaguely managed that, or at least, my friend from the class wants one of my paintings to put on his wall! I’ll put some photos up of some paintings on the next update.

Colmurano “Artistrada” Festival

I’ve heard good things about the Colmurano “Artistrada” Festival for months. Colmurano is a little town in Le Marche, about half an hour from my house. The festa is one that celebrates all kinds of art forms – whether that’s painting, portrait drawing, music or street performances. I have to say, it was one of my favourite events that I’ve been to in Italy so far. Colmurano itself is pretty to just have a wander around but the events were all really good too. I even bought a CD by a guy called Geordie Little, a percussion guitarist (have a look at his videos on the link if you don’t know what percussion guitar is).

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Percussion Guitar is where you use all of the guitar – you might hit the sides to get effectively a drum beat and you might press the strings down on the neck like you’re playing a piano… it’s very interesting to watch!

Then we saw an excellent dance group who I unfortunately only saw through the phone of someone videoing it (thankfully,  otherwise I wouldn’t have seen a thing as it was so busy!) and then a brilliant fire-dancing group called Pyrodanza. I took some photos and they are going to put them in their online photo gallery 🙂

Party!

I am always being told by the Italian’s how many English people there are in Le Marche and up until a week or two back, I’d met only about 5,  which doesn’t seem to tie up with the high numbers I’d been told about. Anyway, I was invited to a party (I was the ‘plus one’) and there were dozens of us! DOZENS! When I moved out I was quite wary of not mixing only with ex-pats as that seems like it’s cheating a bit, but then that seemed an impossibility anyway because I couldn’t find any! However, it was great having a chat about other people’s experiences here, particularly with the language learning and I met a lot of like minded people so I’m pleased about that. The party itself, a celebration of a recent marriage, was fabulous too. We were even treated to a couple of celebrity singers!

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Ricardo Foresi and Monica Trapaga. Apologies for the blurry photo – I blame the phone camera (and not the wine)

Macerata Language Exchange Group Outing!

I recently discovered a lovely group of people, part of the Macerata Language Exchange group, wanting to improve their English (and sometimes their Italian, as many of them come from all over the world!). We met for a special “Games / Chatting” night at Civitanova organised by a professional facilitator, Adriano. It worked out very well in fact as we were prompted to talk about things that probably wouldn’t come up in normal conversation – goals, life history, stories… Good for my Italian! And I can’t tell you how amazing the place was where we had the event, Casablanca – it was absolutely stunning, complete with swimming pool and restaurant. I’ll definitely be going back there again.

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Trekking & The Walking Boots of Hell

I also went on a fab trek a couple of weeks ago in the Sibillini Mountains with some new fellow ex-pat friends. It was a gorgeous day and we walked up along the ridge of the mountains. It was difficult walking – through long damp grass and on uneven slopes, but satisfying and definitely worth it when we got up to the ridge which had amazing views. Alas, I slipped onto a rock and still have quite a painful leg as a result! However, it made me think. I spend a good potion of my time in the mountains slipping down them. I had previously been blaming my general ineptness at maintaining any kind of balance but it suddenly occurred to me it might be my old, cheapish walking boots. It was also a revelation when I spoke to the others about the state of their feet / boots that apparently, it’s not normal to feel like you’re tottering on bloodied painful stumps towards the end of a walk. WHO KNEW?!?! So, I’ve invested in expensive new walking boots and walking sticks (sporty ones rather than the old people ones), and they’re amazing! I hardly slip at all now (touch wood, or touch iron as the Italian’s say!) and my feet are still entirely operational after a long walk. This weekend there’s a long trek with my walking group in Gran Sasso, an area of the highest of the Apennine mountains. I had worried about being able to keep up but after a local walk this Sunday, I got approval to go by our walking group president who said I was very “tosta” (tough)!

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This is the lovely Milly – she must have gone 20 times further than everyone else that day, bounding between the members of the group!

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Smerillo 

There’s been a festival in Smerillo, another very pretty little hill-top town with amazing panoramas of the area. It’s a yearly event called “Le Parole della Montagna” (the words of the mountain) and had some good mountain focused films and talks organised. Last Friday I saw Kurt Diemberger, one of only two survivors from the K2 Disaster in 1986, who gave a talk about his climbing experiences which was interesting. Nice chap. A bit short with people perhaps but in an amusing way!  I’ve since become obsessed with mountain disaster films. I will never feel daunted by a steep slope again.

Amandola Gelato Festival

This was one of those festa’s that was a bit of a let down. It started at 3pm apparently. Knowing that the Italian’s are somewhat of a ‘late’ nation,  my friend and I went at 5pm and they were still only just setting up. We had been expecting lots of different stalls selling unusual flavoured ice-creams but there was nothing. So we got a couple of drinks and watched them set up. By the time we left at about 6.30 all there was, was a guy explaining how to make ice-cream. So we had ice-cream from a normal gelataria (ice-cream shop) and left. There was a good band on later apparently and I wanted to go to the “Silent Disco” they had planned but it would have been a bit of a wait around for several hours so we headed back to check out the nightlife in Sarnano instead…

Checking out the old Italian classics

I haven’t really explored Sarnano at night – in fact, I could count on one hand the number of times I’d stayed in town after 10pm. It was actually busy with people milling around. We stopped at a bar called Decantautore to watch a band called Souvenir D’Italia play old Italian hits. It was great! It was very amusing, particularly when the singer got out a sort of manual loud-speaker.

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Almost at the end of the update.. well done if you’ve got this far…

Tessera Sanitaria (Health Card)

I’ve finally got health cover – the same as I would if I was an Italian citizen. I’ve so far been relying on being healthy and having no issues but I decided that approach was probably too optimistic long term. So I had to pay a very specific 387.34 euros in what was quite a faff going between “ASL” (the office where you get your Tessera) and the post office. I’ll still not believe I’ve actually managed to get one until I have it in my hand.

Sterilizing the cat!

I finally took the plunge and got Batfink neutered this week. He looks so sore, I’m feeling horribly guilty. But it was for the best. I think his raging hormones are responsible for a couple of missing kittens 😦  Here he is in all his pre-neutered glory when he still loved me.

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Poor little adorable Batfink

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And this is his “I can’t believe you’d do this to me, you traitor” look 😦

And finally!!!! MY OLIVE TREE HAS GROWN AN OLIVE! Three in fact. Isn’t it impressive?! Good little olive tree.

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Spot the olive! I did have high hopes for those other little balls but they don’t appear to be getting any more olive-like. Nevermind. Three is plenty to be getting on with. Perhaps I’ll make oil.

Ok, that’s enough excitement for this blog post. Apologies it’s been so long but you can rest assured that I’m up to date now!

Have good weeks!

x

 

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Snowboarding, Gazelles and Dog-led tours…

Ciao a tutti!

How is everyone? It’s been fairly quiet and sedate here in the last couple of weeks. Here’s an update…

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snooooow!

We have snow! The weather has been so dull and dreary for ages but on Monday it finally snowed and whilst we were here (the last time was at Christmas when we weren’t) and it was an experience!

It turns out there’s a whole bunch of things you have to do when it properly snows: Leave your gate open lest you can’t open it the following day, get your snow shovel out and somewhere accessible, don’t put the handbrake on the car lest it freeze over and leave your car unlocked in case the lock freezes over (I assure you the last two pieces of advice did not come from a car thief, though it does seem like they could have). Then there’s a whole technique to snow shoveling. And then did you know icicles are quite nice to eat? We had an baptism of fire with the immediate neighbour giving us heaps of advice about what to do and not to do before we went off in force up the road in order to clear it with the other neighbour. It had quite a nice little community feel and if it had been feasibly possible for 4 people to snowshovel the same bit of road without getting in each others way and being told off, I would have quite enjoyed it! We had a mistra (lethal aniceed drink) laden espresso at the end to finish off – all’s well that ends well.

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This is our terrace – we should probably put the table and chairs away :-s

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And this is Sarnano at the moment taken from the front garden

Snowboarding

Then, because it was an absolutely stunning day and it had been snowing, we thought it might be an ideal time to go snowboarding, so up the mountain we went. Perhaps only in Italy would the ski-lifts be closed because of, well, snow. There was one horrible lift open though – not those nice chair lifts that you can sit on and admire the scenery as you go up, but button lifts where the lift guy shoves a bit of plastic between your legs and you’re dragged up one by one by your bottom (they should be called bottom lifts perhaps).  The next day was much more productive and all the lifts were open again so that made for a much more entertaining day. The slopes are fairly short and there’s a very limited number of them but it’s just brilliant having them only a twenty minute drive away. We got a cheap hire deal on snowboarding stuff – 10 euros a day and it was 11 euros for a day ski pass. What an absolutely bargain!

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The piste. As you can see, it’s absolutely packed. Full of people.

Woofer Guided Tours

I’m on a mission to track my walks and write up guides for tourists so on a day where it wasn’t so grim we went for a long walk around Sarnano. We were met by a random collarless dog (they all are to be honest) who led us for most of the walk. We decided he might make a reasonable tour guide – he could pick up tourists at 11am on Sundays. Alas, he was easily distracted and ran off after an hour so we didn’t get an opportunity to discuss the details.

Woofer the Tour Guide meeting us at the start of the walk

Woofer the Tour Guide meeting us at the start of the walk. We did worry a bit that perhaps he was trying to lead us to little Timmy who’d fallen down a well.

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We found some unstable looking hunting shacks during the walk

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Italy is dotted with old houses that have fallen into ruin. I want to rescue them all! It’s very sad. On the plus side, they do make for good photos.

Batfink the teenager

Batfink is going through a teenage phase. He’s not washing (well he does, but he still smells), eats all the time, sleeps all day and when he isn’t, he just acts up. He was quite funny in the snow the other day though so that made up for it. He doesn’t like people throwing snowballs at him.

 

The cat didn't walk through the snow but leapt like a gazelle.  Very elegant.

The cat didn’t walk through the snow but leapt like a gazelle. He was very elegant.

Bread experimentations

I’m still making bread though I’ve calmed down a little. I think I’ve nailed regular loaves of bread that taste ok and have a good texture and look so I’m focusing my efforts on sourdough bread.

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Latest sourdough bread attempt – I think it looks quite pretty. I can’t stop marvelling at bread – it’s just flour and water and salt. Amazing!

Sewing machine inventions

I bought a new sewing machine a week or so back so I’ve been experimenting with that. So far so good though I’ve recalled why I get fed up with sewing. It’s not the sewing per se, it’s the ironing which seems to be an integral part. The iron is surely the most futile invention known to mankind. However, it seems to be essential for trying to sew straight seams so I’ve managed to locate an iron for the purpose of that and my sewing project has thus been delayed by several days due to my lack of ironing motivation!

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I don’t really have much of a clue about sewing but I’m steadily learning! The prototype didn’t go too badly – hopefully I’ll finish another three in the next week.

I think that about sums up the last couple of weeks. Have good weeks the rest of you…

x

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Blasted beams, feng shui and sucking Italy dry…

Ciao a tutti,

I’ve just realised this is my 100th post! It feels like I must have written loads more than that! It’s like when parents can’t remember their lives before their children, I feel a bit like that with the blog. Without it, and a way of sharing my experiences, photos and rants there’s a good chance I’d be a gibbering wreck by now. But more than that, it means so much more that there are people out there reading it! Thank you all so much for following my little journey and taking the time out to write comments. It’s always appreciated.

Anyway, enough of that! How is everyone? For me, these last couple of weeks have been of mixed success…

Beams, beams, beams

The main focus of last week was beam sanding. I can’t put into words how much dust the sander makes so it was all hands on deck to try and get the house clean, tidy and dust free before the sofa was to arrive last Wednesday.

What an utter failure! By Tuesday night and after countless er, debates, about the best method of sanding beams, they were still nowhere near paint free. Pane Caldo treats the beams as though he’s restoring a Da Vinci. His approach is to caress the beam with the finest possible sandpaper. To give him his dues, it does work (eventually).  My preferred tools consists of the coursest sandpaper on the electric sander and a mallet and chisel. Admittedly, if left to my own devices the beams would probably resemble dowels right now. Anyway, the crux of the matter is that the beams are still not done. They’ll need another couple of days of work but neither of us can face it so we’re having a break from it.

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Beam close up – those annoying little paint-y divots are a nightmare.

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Beams from a distance. They need to be finished, tidied up where the plaster meets them and then waxed.

Stupid sofa colour? 

The sofa arrived as planned on Wednesday after organising to meet the delivery folk in the town centre to bring them here (does anyone else have this issue to get their post or anything delivered?). I’m generally really pleased with the sofa. The best thing about it, is that it fit through our hobbit-sized front door (albeit with the door taken off). The shop make it up in whatever fabric and colour you want so it was quite exciting to see the finished article, not least because we bought the thing well over a month ago.

We selected a sensible dark colour. Or that’s what I thought. Dark colours are not remotely sensible in this house it turns out. The dust is still settling from the sanding and so I think the sofa is already several shades lighter than it was and now has dusty highlights. I should have gone with a patchy off white colour.

The new sofa

The new sofa.

Feng shui-ing the house

Meanwhile we’ve been playing around with the sofa and the vast expanse of furniture we now have (the previous owner left us quite a bit). It’s gone well and I think the biggest success has been “writers corner”. We stuck the two (disgusting) old armchairs by the fire under the stair nook and the unused space is now lovely and cosy and used all the time.

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Please excuse the odd angle (the panoramic setting on my camera isn’t great for close-ups!), and the mess, the revolting chairs, the ladder, the duvet cover hanging up over the stairs (see below!)…The thing I wanted to show you was Writer’s Corner, below the painting. You have to imagine it in the evenings with the lights off and the glow of the fire. Cosy, cosy, cosy.

Heat retention and free cooking!

I’ve put up some temporary curtains to block off the stairway as otherwise all the heat just goes upstairs. The experiment has proved successful so I might see about making the curtains more permanent rather than stringing up old duvet covers.

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Duvet Door number two between the kitchen and living room. Number one was by the stairs in the above picture. We need to tidy up the wall where it was knocked down! That’s going to be a weekend task.

The stufa (woodburner), has been used in earnest and let me tell you, what a success! For a little thing, it does knock out a bit of heat. Our fire lighting techniques have improved. From an average of about 80 matches and several firelighters to get it going, we’re down to 2 or 3 matches and no firelighters. This week’s goal will be to get down to one match.

And then….

AND there's more!

AND there’s more!

It's now filling up a good chunk of our cantina! And I only came across 2 scorpions :-s

It’s now filling up a good chunk of our cantina! And I only came across 2 scorpions :-s

Look at all my wood!!!!! And it was only 70 euros. 70 EUROS! Bargain (I think anyway!). That amount of wood will surely see us through for the next century. There’s something nice about being able to see and control how much you’re spending on your heating. No nasty “quarterly” bill surprises. But it’s a bit disturbing to be burning so much wood – I know it’s not quite like single-handedly chopping down the Amazon but it does feel morally questionable. I’ll have to get over that of course otherwise we’ll freeze to death.

I was a bit worried that we wouldn’t cope for any extended length of time if the power went out (as it sounds like it’s likely to do during storms) as the oven and hob are both electric. However, as long as we can get the stufa going then we’re good to go.  So far, we’ve made soup, heated up curry, made eggy bread (mmm), stewed plums and made custard. Jacket potatoes will be tonight’s experiment.

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Stewing plums and making custard…

Using the stufa has worked out quite well because we can only have 3kw of power to the house at any one time and the hob uses pretty much all of that. If you want to turn the cooker hood on, then you have to compensate by turning off all the lights. I did phone the electricity company about it but the conversation was odd. It went a bit like:

Sue: My electricity meter keeps putting up threatening messages on it about disconnecting my electricity. It says we’re always x% over our allotted amount and it’s going to disconnect us.

Electric Company (EC): Yeah. Don’t worry about it.

Sue:  Really? You’re not going to charge me extra for going over my limit? You’re not going to disconnect me?

EC: Nah. Your electricity might trip but then just turn it back on again eh?

Sue: Uh huh. Could I just legitimately have more electricity please?

EC: Yeah, you could do that. You’d have to pay £££’s to upgrade and then an extra ££ for every unit of power you use on top of that every month.

Sue: Huh. That sounds expensive.

EC: Yeah. Up to you.

Sue: Well I might just continue to use more than my allotted amount and just turn the electricity back on when you disconnect me then?

EC: Yeah, good call.

Magical Water Removal Device

We’ve been sucking out all of the water from Italy with our recent dehumidifier purchase. I know the house is damp, but I can’t believe it’s as damp as the dehumidifier is making out. We have been putting it on every night for the whole night for a couple of weeks and every night it sucks out 3 litres of water. Pane Caldo believes that it’s sucking water out of the walls. I, however, believe it’s sucking water out from the surrounding countryside and through the walls. Does anyone else have a dehumidifier? Any thoughts on acceptable amounts appreciated!

The Curse of the Festas

Last weekend it was the Festa dei Morti (`Celebration of the dead`. I think festa literally means party but I think celebration is a better translation in this instance!). The Italian’s have this every year at the beginning of November to remember and celebrate the lives of their loved ones who have passed away. Last year in Camerano I  had taken my parents to the cemetery for a visit (as you do), and was overwhelmed by the number of people there not realising why at the time. Later that week there was a candle-lit procession around the town. This year, I resolved to pay a bit more attention and so planned to go on the procession. I was thrilled my fellow expat friend from Israel wanted to come with me (let’s face it, it’s an odd thing to want to do on a Saturday evening), and so we arranged to meet up early that evening and try and find out where it was and when (as usual, there was nothing online or in the paper about it – Italians appear to be born with an innate ability to sense upcoming festas). I had warned her about my curse – the fact that any festa that I want to go to is non-existent or not at the time or place I think it is (or where or when it was advertised as being I should say!). As anticipated, we were an hour late for it and had just missed it! Maybe next year…

We did have a wander around the cemetery though... I'm always really impressed with them here. They 'bury' their dead above ground as opposed to under ground like we English people do.

We did have a wander around the cemetery though… I’m always really impressed with them here. They ‘bury’ their dead above ground as opposed to under ground like we English people do.

Writing

I’m still managing to keep up with the novel writing. The goal is to do 10,000 words a week. I’m hoping to finish the first draft by mid December. Getting all the intricacies of a plot that’s big enough to carry a whole novel is a challenge. I can’t believe there are so many people out there who have managed it!

Batfink

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Batfink struggling to get comfy…

Batfink remains a cutie. You may be able to hear his meows from wherever you are in the world every morning when it’s breakfast time here. It sounds like he’s being beaten with a stick rather than him being hungry. When there’s a dog nearby, he scrambles up on my shoulders and sits there like a parrot staring the dog out and refusing to come down. But bad news, I have discovered he has worms (ugh!). Batfink doesn’t really seem entirely like my cat. For instance, he shares illicit nights with the neighbour occasionally and spends most of his time in her barn. And there was never a “here, he’s yours” conversation, only a “aw, he loves you, in the winter he’ll want to stay over night”.  I think he’s basically of shared ownership as much as anyone can own a cat. So, I’m perfectly happy to go to the vet and speak to them about his worms. But if I have a conversation with her I fear that she’ll be stunned that I would consider worms were a problem (all the cats must have them) and I don’t want her to feel under pressure to do something about it. Yet, if I just go to the vets with him without discussing it with her first, then I’ll feel like I’ve kidnapped her cat. Difficult!

Walks

I’ve been going on lots of nice long walks from the house. We’re lucky enough to live in an area that has lots of signed designated walks around wooded areas and hills. Unluckily though, it’s impossible to follow any of the designated walks. If they exist at all, many of the signs have fallen over, are confusing or point in opposing directions. I’m going to complain and offer my services to put up some decent signs.

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A picture from one of my recent walks…

Ok, I think that about does me for now. I hope everyone has splendid rest of weeks!

x

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Non essential DIY, chestnuts and Batfink the adorable kitten!

Buongiorno!

How is everyone?

Busy here again (no surprise there then!)! I fear my updates lately will become a jigsaw of pictures soon, a sort of “guess what I’ve been doing from these snaps” puzzle. The DIY bits haven’t reduced much but have been getting slightly more interesting. Batfink the kitten is a massive distraction from anything remotely productive. I’ve also been attempting to write a novel – I feel a bit guilty writing for the blog when I’ve got a daily novel target to meet! Having said that, I imagine I shall get bored of it shortly (though I hope not – I’m sure I have a book in me somewhere!). Here’s a more specific run down of current events here in Sarnano.

Fai da te (Do it yourself!

We SHOULD be doing beams. The sofa is coming in a week and I can’t even begin to describe the amount of dust that the house is covered in. Ideally it would be nice if the house didn’t look like it was in the midst of a dust storm when it arrives so finishing the beams is top priority now. And with that in mind, we have:

1. Created a chalk board in the kitchen

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For someone that hated teaching, it’s odd how much I like this chalkboard! One can never have too many plans.

2. Renovated the kitchen table and chairs.

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Before… Not an excellent picture of the tables and chairs as they were before – this was mid-scraping off the wax/varnish.

After... the table now matches the chairs which match the kitchen units. Just need to get / make some nice cushions now :-)

After… the table now matches the chairs which match the kitchen units. Just need to get / make some nice cushions now 🙂 Ignore the recycling bin.

 

3. Created a coat/bag hanging device out of my treasured driftwood collection before Pane Caldo burns it in the stufa.

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Works alright! One can never find too many uses for driftwood.

4. Made a note board which everybody, but one person, thinks is horrid. I’m still on the fence!

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Ok….. fine, perhaps one can find too many uses for driftwood. But it has an attached DRIFTWOOD PEN HOLDER! Who wouldn’t love a driftwood pen holder?!?!

5. Put “seasonal double glazing” on the windows. We have only single glazed windows and well….it gets cold and condensation-y here in the winter! It’s like an elaborate sort of clingfilm that you stick on to the window frame forming a gap between it and the glass and then you use a hairdryer to get it taut. It’s a genius solution – cheap, easy to do and we’ve not had any condensation on the windows we’ve done already but lots on the ones we’ve still got to do. Today, I’m writing on a particularly nasty, blustery, rainy day and the house feels warm (compared to usual at least!).

6. Bought a dehumidifier. Previously we had bought a damp meter. The rationale was that our cantina seems to be a bit damp (in fact, it’s entirely off the damp meter scale). The bedroom and bathroom need regular de-mouldifying (for the Italians reading this – please don’t make note of any of these “new” words) and the bed covers often feel damp to touch. We also have a flat roof terrace above this bedroom which has a pool of water on it all the time from the rain water – a little water feature/reservoir if you will, so it was interesting to note that the bedroom ceiling was officially “damp” too. I’ve since been measuring the dampness of everything in the house but it seems elsewhere it’s not such an issue. The Damp Reduction Plan included the purchase of a dehumidifier and  also an extractor fan to install in the bathroom. We have yet to do the latter but the dehumidifier is quite the success – I think it’s already extracted a bath’s worth of water from various rooms and we haven’t even tried it in the cantina yet!  The electrician hasn’t come yet to fix the extractor fan because, despite organising a day for him to come, I didn’t phone him every day to nag him. It’s all so efficient here.

7. Acquired/bought some wood from the next door neighbour.

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Apparently we shall need another two lots of these “larger” bits of wood. But we have a wardrobe of small branches and…

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Now all these smaller branches too (our stufa is quite small so we can’t have anything massive anyway)

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This is the stufa. That pot had water in it bubbling away yesterday – I think we’ll be able to make some soups and stews on it. Or at least, that’s my cunning plan.

8. Done almost nothing on the beams. When I say done almost nothing – we have actually put hours and hours into it with absolutely little, to no visible sign of change. There’s definitely been no change in the last few days as Pane Caldo has been hit with a severe case of ‘man flu’ and well, I have no patience for the beams. For anyone else out there taking off paint from their beams, here are some tips: 1. Chipping with scrapers can work OK to a point. Do that first. 2. Manual sanding will make you want to hang yourself from the very beam you’re sanding. 3. Electric sanding? You’ll go through a sheet every two inches. 4. Wire brush? Seems to have only compacted the paint on our beams. 5. Wire spin-ny brush on drill – speeds up the paint compaction process. 6. Paint/varnish removal goo – works alright up to a point, combined with the scrapers it seems to have been the best at getting the top layers of paint off. 7. Heat gun serves only to lose feeling in your arm.

Other Miscellaneous Items

I’ve also been on various chestnut hunting missions which have been fairly successful although I was caught out by the Italian signage system that led me into the middle of the local forest following the `number 4` trail. It pointed me up what I can only think will be a waterfall when in rains and then the signs stopped. In fact, the only signs that I did see were “don’t come in here, we’re hunting”. By that point, I’d gone reasonably far into the unknown, with no mobile phone reception and a dwindling phone battery. Even then I couldn’t stop picking up chestnuts. I think it’s an addiction.

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Mmm…… chestnuts

Also, on a cooking note, it’s been excellent having a decent kitchen. I don’t think I’ve ever had a decent kitchen myself before – it’s much nicer cooking now and we’ve since expanded our repertoire considerably from pizza and pesto pasta.

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Some very nice chocolate goo-ey cakes

One of our lovely neighbours gave us a new leaf vegetable to try. It’s a bit like spinach. They call is rape – you pronounce it rap-ay. I cooked it with some potatoes and other bits and pieces the other day and thought it was nice.  I don’t know what it is in English but it’s meant I’ve had to change my recipe naming strategy which is usually on the lines of “cheesy potatoes”.

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This is the vegetable in question.

Remember my mushroom fascination? I found an organised bunch of people that go out on nature trails and mushroom hunts. There doesn’t seem to be anything coming up now until next year unfortunately but I’ll write and try and join them.

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They had a display of lots of different types of mushrooms, all labeled with “edible”, “poisonous”. My favourite label was “suspicious”. I made a note not to eat any suspicious mushrooms.

 

Festivals

We’ve been to a couple of autumn festivals – one somewhere near Smerillo and one in Sarnano. The one near Smerillo (I say near Smerillo because that’s where we were heading to until we ended up going to another villages’ festival because I’d got the date wrong. It was seamless though, I hadn’t even realised we weren’t going to the right festival). It was absolutely heaving with people and full of food. I’ve concluded from this, and all the other Italian festivals I’ve been to, the crux of what is considered a good festival in Italy is food. There’s stall after stall of food – either of the ‘hot off the shelf wild boar kebab’ variety or different cheeses, honeys and  breads. And people queue for hours and hours and hours to get their lunch. If you go to any of these festivals, I suggest you take a packed lunch with you while you queue (alas, I think then you’d be missing the point of the festival).

Wherever we were, it had good views!

Wherever we were, it had good views!

 

And insanely long queues.

And insanely long queues…

And a great little band...

And a great little band…

And creepy stuffed people...

And creepy stuffed people attached to trees…

Batfink

I’ll give Batfink (named after Batfink the animated cartoon character who has rather large pointy ears) his own section this week because he’s so cute. When he sees me he runs up to me for a cuddle (and food, but I’m positive it’s mainly for a cuddle). We’ve come clean to the next door neighbour and have admitted he comes in sometimes, and far from minding she seemed happy that he had someone to look after him. So given he and all his fleas like to come in and sit on us in the evening, we decided to deflea him using Frontline and I must say, it’s a miracle! I’d never seen so many fleas on a cat before. Batfink was the itchiest cat ever, and you could see why – the nasty fleas were crawling all over him, his eyes, mouth, ears… ugh. Poor puss. Anyway, no more. We managed to get 20 fleas off him (all the fleas seem to come to the surface) and I imagine there were dozens more. And then….now that we’ve made him all cuddly, cute and de-fleaified – the next door neighbour seems to have claimed him for her own in the evenings!

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Batfink in a box

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Batfink on a lap

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Batfink on another lap

 

Right, that’s enough from me this week. Hope you all have lovely weeks!

xxx

 

 

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