Saturday, August 19, 2017

Routine

So, Annamaria has very kindly offered to help me rototill the entire Big Dry Patch. I'm going to do it in beds around the trees so they're like pools of green. In between the plan is to lay down some wood chip mulch or maybe use some of the broken bits of tile around to make paths between the big round beds. In the beds the plan is for mostly aromatics and flowers but for some part of it to be a dedicated orto. (She said she's going to be renting the bit I used this year to her daughter for some for-profit project, so we're making my patch into a proper orto.)

A funny thing today when I found an old rental ad on the internet for my apartment, and got the actual dimensions. It said that the garden is 200 sq/m! Which is certainly the biggest bit of land I've ever had to play with. I can hardly wait to get going. Nothing can really be done until the weather eases off and the rain starts softening things up. Anna said that rototilling the ground as it is would be like trying to break through concrete. But it should be fine in the autumn, which is when you plant things anyway.

I just had a late dinner. Chopped up a bunch of stuff that needed finishing in the fridge and threw in some strips of turkey breast I had thawed for dinner on Thursday but turned out to be too big a package for one meal. All the veg was from the orto, either mine or stuff that Anna has given me: pumpkin, zucchini, tomatoes, a yellow peach, an onion, sweet red and green bell pepper and a little bit of minced hot peppers (which I didn't know until I started picking them were actually Scotch Bonnets!!!... the kind you have to be very careful with when you're cutting them not to get any juice under your fingernails or absent-mindedly brush your face with your fingers). I just sort of stewed everything together cooked in some butter and a bit of sesame oil, with a handful of basil (from the pot on the terrace) garlic, sesame, coriander and cumin seeds ground up, and all cooked together for about 20 minutes and then the sauce thickened with a handful of almond flour.

It occurred to me that very nearly everything in it except the meat and the mushrooms came from 20 yards away. Some of it came from plants I started from seeds I saved. I bought the pumpkin's parent in the produce shop in Norcia.

I've got a routine now. I get up just after dawn and feed the kitties, put on a pot of coffee and sit on the terrace under the sunshade umbrellas while I do a bit of reading ("Lectio," I'm working on a book about Benedictine liturgical spirituality by Cecile Bruyere) and drink my coffee and iced tea chaser. Then when it's too hot to stay on the east-facing terrace, I usually go inside to sing the Office along with the Le Barroux chant mp3 (which makes me homesick). (I'm thinking of maybe splashing out on an Antiphonale from Solesmes. Our friend Peter K said that it's the only way to go after you've got the general gist of the Monastic Office from the Diurnal. I figure listening to the chants, getting used to the Latin phrasing and pronunciation, the next logical step would be to have the book to follow along with the Little Squares so that starts sinking into the brain too.)

After that's done, it's work of various kinds; housework, writing, digging... Today I needed to do some internet things and didn't really want to stay in the house and felt the need for a bit of exercise, so I rode the bike to the village and just sat in the Why Not Cafe, the nice little bar in the centre of town that has air conditioning and wifi, and a barman/owner who speaks pretty good English and is very friendly. On the way home about 90 minutes later, I stopped to pick some blackberries that are really coming just perfect now (the survivors that is; there are a lot that were just fried by the heat). It's the second half of August and there just aren't many people around; those who are around aren't doing anything but snoozing and barbequing. The kids in the house next door spend a lot of time in their raised pool.

Obligatory photo of Pippy and Bertie curled up snoozing together. At precisely 8pm every day, they all wake up and start demanding their dinner. After that it's outside all night to chase small creatures. 
In the late afternoon the sun comes blasting around the other side of the house so I go around closing all the windows and shutters. Lately I've been hanging opaque cloth covers on the metal shutters that the afternoon sun turns into barbeque grills. The walls are 20 inch thick stone, so no heat gets through at all, but the windows, even with the shutters closed, can actually get hot to the touch. So the second half of the days in late summer are spent in a cool dark room, which is good for writing, with the kitties draped all over, sound asleep stretched out their full length. The humming fan and the dead quiet, the heat and the cave-like gloom can make it hard to stay awake. I'm still in the Mad Dogs and Englishmen school and don't usually take an afternoon riposo, but I might be cracking soon.

Once the sun has definitively gone behind the mountain and the evening breeze picks up, you have to open all the windows and shutters again to get the air flowing. It actually gets cool enough to need a little cover for sleeping, and the sound of owls can be heard in the woodsy bits behind the house. When you go out on the terrace in the evenings, before it gets full dark, you can see dozens of bats flittering silently around. Catching mosquitoes and moths.

The other day I got a nice note by email from some SSPX nuns who have a monastery near here, down in Narni, about an hour's drive at the other end of the Tiber Valley. There's a little train that goes straight there several times a day. They said that of course they don't cancel the Mass in the summer and I was welcome to come down to stay over night on Saturday to attend the Sunday Mass there. (Of course, they have Mass there every day but it's at seven am.) She said there are some Americans in the community so there would be someone there to chat with. I've got aaaaalmost enough money socked away to buy the Ah-pay, so transport will be less of a problem. I'll see if I can do that next week and give a report.

On the whole, I think things are working out, settling down. Or at least, so I fervently hope. I do hope my brain calms down. I know I'm not the only terremotata who has experienced some long-term effects. We had 50+ earthquakes a day, 24/7 for three months. I guess that's going to have an effect, though at the time I didn't really think much about it. I find I am still having strange, unexpected bursts of anxiety. But things are settling down now externally, and that can't help but help. We'll see what comes next. Maybe it'll be peace. Wouldn't it be funny if I found peace just as the world was losing its collective mind.


~

Monday, August 14, 2017

A great and glorious cantaloupe

I got exactly one cantaloupe this year, but it's a good 'un. Next year I'll know to stick the plant at the very end of the row where it will get the most sun.

July 16th

This afternoon. And look how little green there is. That's the difference it makes to pick it ripe. 


So, to do appropriate honour to the only canteloupe I was able to grow this summer, the following:

Peel and scoop out the seeds and chop up a couple of segments into biggish bits. Dress with the following:

In a bowl, mix

generous blob of tahini
dab or so of green thai curry paste
juice of a whole lime
handful of crushed dried mint
couple of tablespoons of almond flour
half a cup of plain yogurt
splash of pineapple juice

chop some cucumber and sweet red pepper very fine and mix it all in. Pour over the canteloupe.

Eat.



Lunch




Saturday, August 12, 2017

That's rain again. I vaguely remember what it looks like...

Rome facing water rationing as Italy heatwave drags on

Important Garden n' Kitty report

We've had a terrible drought in Italy (and other places) through the entire length of the summer. I've read that the Italian farmers have collectively lost over a billion Euros. I was told they had quite a dry winter, which is crucial, and of course since I moved here in mid-April, we saw that we've had very little rain. It was mostly normal until about mid-May, and the temperature shot up to the mid-30s, then crept up to the low 40s(!!!) and just stayed there. Even the heat-loving kitties have been miserable. They run around all night happily enough, but spend their days stretched out full length in the coolest spots they can find in the house. Pippin hides under the bed on the marble floor, Bertie in the little space behind the table in the workroom and Henry in the shower stall. (They're all much happier now that we've moved though, and they obviously LOVE being back in the country. We're none of us town-creatures anymore.)

The last couple of days has been our first break in nearly a month. It's been so dry we've started to worry about the well, and I've been careful to save all the dish and washing water for the balcony giardino (flowers don't mind a little dish liquid or soap). The post under this one was dated June 28, and we had a couple of days of cooler temps and rain, and that was it until very early this morning. It started about 4:30 and is still gently falling now at eleven am. But the forecast is for today and a little bit more tomorrow, then the creep back up to the low 30s.

Henry in hunting mode
Annamaria has doggedly come every morning, earlier and earlier as it's been getting blisteringly hot by nine am, to water our orto, and often in the late afternoons. The rows are laid out so that you take a big hose, much thicker than an ordinary garden hose, that pumps water in a big flood that forms a river down to the very end of the row. You plant your plants along the edge of this channel so all the roots get a drink twice a day. It's the old contadini way. But the terrible heat has really retarded the growth of everything.


The tomatoes did OK, but some of them are quite mis-shapen. Annamaria's aubergines all came out well, but all very small. None more than the length of your palm. The cukes and squash haven't produced much fruit.


My pumpkins are lovely, but also very small. The peppers did alright, and I got quite a few of them, including some very hot ones! I think I'm going to try pickling them.

We're nearly to the end of the summer season now, and I've got a freezer full of tomatoes. I didn't weigh them but it's at least 60 pounds. The full sun all day has made them wonderfully sweet. The flowers on the terrace in the pots have had a more difficult time, and I've really learned a lot about which kinds of things do better in pots in full sun and which like a bit of a break part of the day. My sweet potatoes love the full sun, and after I put them in the biggest pots I had have turned into a beautiful sort of green waterfall, spreading their leafy vines in every direction.

The heat has been so ferocious and relentless that the fruit has all come in early, but a lot of it isn't very nice because of how little water they've had. The apples are small and hard, the plums all died on the branches and there were very few peaches. The figs seem to do well, and Annamaria told me I can have all of them if I like, since she can't eat them because of her diabetes. She showed me a jolly clever trick to bring them down without a ladder, using a stick and a pop bottle to make a picker, and I'll post a picture soon. The big fig tree on my bit has been extremely productive and though most of them are still green there are quite a few big, soft purple fruits waiting to be eaten. I love fresh figs, and I figure it's better me than the ants and wasps. I had a few this morning with breakfast and one or two had just barely started to ferment, and it crossed my mind that they might make a pretty good wine. I'm learning that you can make pretty much anything into booze with a packet of fresh yeast from the supermarket and a little creativity. The local garden centre/ferramenta guy has been helpful.

I've also seen to my surprise that the blackberries did pretty well. I've biked around a few times - like riding your bike through a furnace! yes, it makes a breeze but it's like sticking your face into an oven with the fan running - and seen loads of them by the sides of the roads and along the farm tracks. I'll have to go down to the river bank to see if there are any far enough away from the cultivated fields to avoid getting any pesticides or anything, but I do think it's worth while. Especially in the next day or so when the weather has decided to cooperate. There is also an abundance of sloes, and I think this is the year I do it!

~

All the rest of that boring stuff...

As for me, things are OK. Many thanks to everyone who has emailed and messaged me. I've really just been sort of busy and rather overwhelmed by the weather. Irish girls aren't really built for 40 degree heat, and it's especially draining the longer it goes on... and on... But I've been doing a lot of work-writing too. I've finished work on a large project (all for money, and for someone else, so no, you won't see it) and now the people I normally write for are bugging me to get back to their stuff. It's nice to be in demand, but it's pretty time-consuming too.

A piece I did for the Remnant explains more or less why I shut down the WUWTS blog, and Skodge has talked a bit about it too. We've been talking rather a lot lately about things, and how we should be writing about them, and he pretty much gives our conclusions here. When Mike posts the thing I did yesterday there'll be more. But for my part, I'm going to be changing focus a bit. I just think we've said as much as needs to be said. Steve especially has done extremely effective work (I was mostly fooling around and making jokes and being the class clown, which was fun for me, but not as useful.)

We know that there are a lot of people who have come to a greater understanding of what has been going on in the Church - certainly these miscreants have not felt the need to hold anything back so it's  been sort of hard to miss. So, now a much more pressing need is to try to help people figure out the answer to the question, "What now?" What do we do? And that is what I will be focusing on in the coming months. But not at my own blog, which I'm kind of tired of. Blogging isn't really writing and one only has so much energy; spend it blogging and there's not much left for real writing. I'm still compulsively posting on Twitter, but here at good old O'sP I think we're just going to carry on focusing on more homey, domestic and happy things. (Sorry if that's boring.)

A friend is coming to stay for a bit in about a month, and we are both thinking things along the same general lines. She wants to find out what she should do, and I am also going to be working out how to proceed. For a while I had thought we should move up north, where there is a little cluster of traditional Catholics in Italy up in the mountains. That's still a possibility, but I can't ignore the current facts either, and part of those are that this is the place God found for me - at the last possible moment. And to try to live in the current reality, with all its limits and struggles, in the place you find yourself hic et nunc is a big part of what St. Philip teaches.

So, I've set up the oratory in the house, have got to know the local people a little, including the curate, am settling in and trying to do the will of God for this moment in this place. We'll see how it goes.

And of course, that includes resolving the immediate problems that arise. A major one of which is transport. As I wrote in my piece yesterday, it was very difficult to find a place for a lot of reasons - 22,000 Umbrians looking for home after the quakes was a big one - part of which is that I can neither afford nor do I want to live in a city. But of course, cities are where you find the traditional liturgy, in our morbidly urbanized culture. I had to find a cheap enough place in the country, but one that was on a bus route that led to a Mass centre. I came very close to failing that task, and its one of the reasons I feel I should stay here that it is clear that, having exhausted all other possibilities, this is the place Divine Providence had in mind for me. (While I was looking, I was conscious of an idea that I was following a trail of supernatural breadcrumbs, rather than just casting randomly about.)

The only real problem is that though there is transport here it is extremely limited and unreliable, and dries up almost completely in the summers. Buses are oriented to getting the country kids to school; the "scolastica" routes are what we've got in the country and they all cease completely at the end of the school year. This leaves the little trenino - a little three -car diesel job that runs up and down the Tiber Valley from Terni up to Sansepolcro. The stop in our village is only one stop away from the next town that has a normal bus connection up to the city, (Perugia), about an 8 minute ride and only a buck for a ticket. All good, but on Sundays it only runs twice a day and its weekly schedule is... well... erratic, let's say.

I've come up with a solution and the job I took this spring will cover the expense: I'm going to buy a Piaggio Ape 50 (pronounced "Ah-pay," and it means "bee" in Italian.)


This is Italy's brilliant solution to low-cost local transport. It's a 50 cc, two-stroke engine, so the same as a Vespa, but the cab keeps the weather out and fits two people (at a bit of a squeeze) and best of all it is like a donkey in the amazing amount of stuff it can carry. They're not fast, but they get you where you're going. The license ("patenta") is very easy to get, requiring no test of any sort. You just go sign up at the local autoscuola for the little course, pay the 50 bucks and that's it. They're cheap to buy and dirt-cheap to run, and are a lot safer and more practical than a motorino. There's even an Ape 50 enthusiasts' club, and they have a rally every year where they race them!

They are actually becoming quite popular throughout Europe that is becoming very conscious of how much damage car are doing to our societies, and how terribly expensive they are now to run, what with governments weighing them down with excessive tax. There are a lot of them around Italy, because the Italians buy them for their teenagers. I know a guy in Marche who refurbishes old ones and he said he could get me a good reliable model for about 11 or 12 hundred, which I can do. People do all sorts of things with them. Of course they're mostly used by farmers and market gardeners, but also for deliveries in cities where they can fit down the tiny medieval streets. These days people are converting them into mobile coffee bars,


and even tricking them out as camper-vans.


And really, just look at that adorable thing; what's not to love! Skodge took one look and said, "Now that's a Hilarymobile if ever I saw one!"

I'm going to call it Broomhilda, of course.

~

So, that's pretty much where we are. I'm getting a new painting ready, but I don't think it would be very practical to sell. I'm doing it on a large slab of marble, so it's going to be extremely heavy, which means it would cost the earth to ship anywhere. As I go along I'll post some pics. If it turns out well enough, I might give it to the monks.



~












Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Rain!



Woke up this morning to a thin overcast and about ten degrees cooler. While I was out staking up the tomatoes the clouds thickened and there was a bit of rumbling and a crack, and a good little shower. Not enough, but better than nowt, and a huge relief.

It's been a really bad heatwave, highest June temps in Italy for 150 years. And no rain at all since early May. Annamaria told me the local farmers are worried. They will either lose crops or lose the value of them paying for irrigation. But the forecast says we've had the worst of it, and it should rain some today and tomorrow.


Here's some pics of my little orto. Annamaria has the key to the irrigation well, so she comes every morning and afternoon to water it all. It's set up with the plants in a long row down a slight incline so all you have to do is turn on the hose at the top and it makes a little river. She's been coaching me in contadini methods. I was out staking up my tomatoes when it started to rain; felt great!



Behind this pepper plant you can see my row of beans. I was out there collecting them this morning, but none of them made it as far as the house. It reminds me of when I was a kid and I would sit on my grandma's veranda with my book, and eat the beans that were trained up the veranda railing. When she was making lunch one time, she said, "Hilary dear, go out and get me some beans for lunch." I had to tell her I couldn't.



These pumpkins are much larger now, and looking much more pumpkiny.



Poms!



~




Monday, June 05, 2017

Sweet potatoes




The three sweet potatoes I stuck in jars on the kitchen windowsill are growing slips.

"Patate Americane" are not always easy to get in this country, but they're incredibly good for you, and a great substitute for regular potatoes if you want to have more nutrient (and flavour) dense foods. But I discovered that they are not botanically related to potatoes at all. Tatties are a nightshade family thing, and sweets are... get this... related to morning glory, of all things. So you have to do them completely differently.

One of the rather charmingly rustico features of the garden is an old bathtub sitting near the fence. (What self respecting aspiring hillbilly doesn't have a bathtub in the garden, I ask you!) The first thing I thought to do with it was potatoes, but then I saw the sweets in the supermarket and had a brainstorm.

Why wait for them to appear in the shops?

But where growing potatoes is easy - you just cut a chunk off and stick it in a pile of dirt - sweets is complicated. You can't just bury a sweet and have it grow more of itself. You have to do this thing of growing "slips." Which means you have to stick a sweet in a jar of water on the window sill and wait for it to start sprouting - roots in the watery end, and green baby plants at the top end. Then once the baby plants are well developed, and have a full root system, then you stick them in the dirt.

What I didn't count on was that it takes so long! Potatoes go so fast that you can have them growing roots and shoots in the fridge. (Naturally this never happens to me! Much too organized...But I've heard it happens to other people. People who are terrible housekeepers... Ahem... Please ignore the pile of seed packets and the tipped over empty water bottle in the photo above...) So of course, not knowing the difference, I stuck my sweets on the sill, thinking it would be a few weeks at most.

When nothing was happening, I looked it up. TWO MONTHS!!! just to get the slips going. Urgh! But, like starting a new TV show that starts going south, it's too late for me to turn back now. I've got to see it through to the end. I'm going to have a rustico bathtub full of sweet potatoes, maybe by the end of the winter.



~

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Happy Holy Ghost Day!



This is the Pentecost I'm going to learn the Veni Creator Spiritus.

I'm gonna do it!

Yes!



(A friend, who is also a lousy Catholic with aspirations to being better, said, cheerfully, "Well, I know the first line!")



~

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"They know in their bones that something has gone terribly wrong..."

Blessed fellowship of likemindedness.

John, a longtime reader, sent me a link to a blog by a guy who is doing what I'm doing, and apparently for much the same reason. Brian Kaller is apparently trying to raise a daughter in a way that is not in keeping with the mainstream. It seems like a pretty good idea to me. I don't have a daughter, but I have got latent maternal instincts. I feel the urge to teach people the things I was taught. I'm more glad than I can say that I'm not the only one.

Let’s say we've lost most of the self-reliant skills and classical education that our forbears posessed. Let's say we have replaced them with a culture of buying and discarding things we don't value, and staring at glowing screens. Let's say you want to try to rediscover an older way of life, believing we will need such things again. And let’s say you have a daughter.

Restoring Mayberry

When I ask most modern people to remember a particular decade, they usually remember the television shows and video games that took up much of their young life, or the clothes and hairstyles that were fashionable. They remember what Hollywood celebrities were doing at the time more than their own lives. They don’t typically remember what my elderly neighbours do, like the wildflowers that grew in a particular meadow, or peeking as children into the nests of herons and listening to the eggs. They don’t remember playing children’s games, or exploring the woods, or swimming to an island in the middle of the pond, or declaring themselves kings and princesses of their newfound lands. Most of them never had the friendships to even have such adventures – people moved around too much, or were always playing video games - even if they had been allowed to roam, and even if there were any woods to explore.

Most people my age spent 20,000 hours of their best years warehoused in a school that looked like a prison, but few remember anything they learned. Most remember spending many more hours in the backseats of cars, but never rode a horse or sailed a boat as children, or did anything that depended on skill and subtlety. Most modern people grew up with enough toys to fill an orphanage, but remember few of them, no more than their own children can remember the fifteenth toy they received last Christmas.

Perhaps most importantly, most people my age don’t remember ever having done anything useful. As children they might have been indulged or ignored, but when I ask if they ever contributed to the family, most are confused even by the question. A few cleaned their room or raked leaves outside. But few people my age grew up feeling necessary, or learning any skills, or feeling alive.

As working adults, most people I know spend their waking hours moving electrons around a screen, but they are still not necessary, and they feel it. Most depend entirely on electricity, but have no idea where my electricity comes from. They depend on pressing a button to keep warm, but don’t know what the button does. They need purified water from the tap, but have no idea where it comes from, or how pure it really is, or how it could be cleaned.

They know the president, but not their mayor or councilman, and know more about their favourite movie star than the old lady down the road. Most, I expect, have spent far more time watching others make love than they have making love themselves, and have spent thousands of hours watching actors feign death but have never bathed a body for burial.

Many Americans these days see family only on uncomfortable holidays, have no traditions to pass down, and little knowledge of songs or stories older than their parents. Most have spent their lives drifting across an ocean of strangers, committed to nothing and no one. No wonder suicide, which was once rare, has become a common cause of death. Most people don’t kill themselves in any identifiable way, of course – but when I return to my native country, I see many people who have ballooned in size, or require drugs of one kind or another to get through another day.

Even those who are nominally successful – who live in houses the size of barns, drive trucks the size of school-buses and have enough toys to stuff an orphanage – remain deeply unhappy. One way or another, they grow angrier every year; they know in their bones that something has gone terribly wrong.
~

Glad I'm not the only one to have noticed.










The more I think about the Beguine idea, the more I think if it is going to be useful, it has to encompass some kind of educational and hospitality aspect. The idea keeps coming back of having people to stay, receiving guests, according to the Holy Rule, is receiving Christ:

All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35). 2 Proper honour must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith (Gal 6:10) and to pilgrims. 3 Once a guest has been announced, the superior and the brothers are to meet him with all the courtesy of love. 4 First of all, they are to pray together and thus be united in peace...15 Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received...

And helping them reconnect with a more authentic way of life.

As this gentleman has pointed out, even the very materially wealthy people of Modernia are culturally impoverished to the point of absolute penury. As he says above, children are given toys and told to go away and stop bothering their parents. Anaesthetised by video games and screens, they are raised by machines who can teach them nothing useful, nor teach them how to be useful themselves. And I know young people feel this lack. I have friends younger than I who can't sew on a button or make a pot of tea.

There simply must be way not only to preserve this kind of life, but to help others discover and grow in it as well.



~

Monday, May 29, 2017

Nuns in the Umbrian hills


These are the nuns I'm going to go and spend a weekend visiting week after next. June 10-12.

They're a new thing, and normally I don't approve of new things, but they're trying to revive an old thing, and have done so quite successfully. The Sisters of Bethlehem were founded in 1950. They ran into a rough patch - as you do - a few years ago, but as far as I can tell they've got it sorted. They have a house in the middle of nowhere near Gubbio, which is a short train ride from here. They're having a group visit this coming weekend, so I'm in for the weekend after.

They don't do the Novus Ordo or Gregorian monastic chant as far as I've heard, but apparently do some kind of Byzantine thing. I'm game. I just am finding it nearly impossible to get my head to accept living disconnected from monastic life. I'm the worst Oblate in the world, but there was an interior connection with the monastery that everything in my life was founded on. Now that it's gone, no matter how well things go, I have a weird sense of being unmoored. Like a hot air balloon in danger of just drifting on the winds.

But I hope I can talk to them. Of all people, followers of St. Bruno (who use the Rule of St. Benedict, I've just learned) will perhaps be best able to tell me what I can do to learn to discipline myself to a regular life while staying at home.



~

Nettle beer and boozy cherries



Just sent the following email to Fr. Prior in Norcia:

It all came to about 25 litres, in all sizes of bottle. Need more bottles!
A bit disappointed by the colour. I was hoping for a nice dark green. 

"Dear brewmonks,

I couldn't have done it without y'all. If he's off the innernets, please tell Br. Augustine that I took all the advice I could remember, and that I used the hops I collected and dried last summer in Norcia. They are still very fragrant, and nice. (And that a walk along the ferrovia will reveal that the stuff just grows like wild-crazy all over the area, so go get some!) About a pound and a half of fresh nettles came from the big patch in the garden.

I couldn't find any beer yeast in the village shops, so I used this thing, "lieveto madre" that I think is the equivalent of our sourdough starter, but it said on the packet that it was made from beer yeast, so I figured what the heck. It smelled a bit like pizza at first, but soon smelled nice and beery. It sat in the big bucket for a week, until, as per instructions, it had mostly stopped its mighty fizzing, but I could see it was still active. Tasted like beer too. Into each bottle I put a few little pieces of this super-strong fresh organic ginger we've got around here, and I mixed up a little more yeast with some honey and spooned it into each bottle.

Bottled it up last night, about 25 litres worth, I think. (All the bottles were different sizes, so I don't really know.)

Also, the rosehip wine that I made last May with the last bits of the monk-beer yeast has turned out beautifully. It's quite tart because rosehips are incredibly acidic, but its really refreshing and got quite fizzy, and rather alcoholic. No more than two glasses for me! But the work involved in picking, boiling, mashing, straining (3 times) through cheesecloth made the 7 litres I got not really a good investment. I'll stick to making them into jelly."

~


Boozy cherries, stewing away. 

Pity I missed elderflower season. Last year's elderflower champagne (using yeast the brewmonks gave me left over from their operation) turned out gloriously, and I did up about ten litres of non-alcoholic elderflower cordial and kept it in the freezer all summer. But the nettle beer took every bottle I had.

But we'll have elderberries by mid-July, and I can make some more elderberry cordial. The last batch I did was ages ago in England, and I followed a medieval recipe that called for cloves (it was a medicinal thing - medieval cough and cold remedy) but I didn't care for the cloves and I think I'll leave them out this time.

Clearly need more bottles.

The recipe for the boozy cherries is kind of complex and tricky, but I encourage everyone to give it a go. Nothing like lovely cherry cocktails, warmed up with about a half teaspoon of honey, in the cold weather.

Take:

a kilo of fresh, ripe local cherries
two litres of el-cheapo vodka
two large preferably hinge-top jars

Wash the jars. Rinse the cherries under a cold tap. Put them in the jar.

Now, here's the tricky bit: pour the vodka into the jars over the cherries. Stick on the lids.

You may be tempted to experiment and stick on the lids before you pour the vodka, but I'd recommend against it.

Put the jars somewhere out of the way for six months.

Share and enjoy.

(I've tried it both with and without a little simple sugar syrup, and I find I prefer it without. If you want it sweet, the honey can be added in when you drink the cherry juice.)



(I'll spare you the ten-hour version)

I'm also digging like a dwarf in the garden. The big patch that's exclusively mine to play with is really just a huge patch of bare earth. A complete blank slate. It's got about ten small fruit and ornamental trees in it, but needs to have the soil improved and get some ground cover plants in there. The soil here is river silt, which means it's pretty dense clay and sticky, but extremely fertile. But if it's left bare it gets very dry and packed down. I have yet to figure out why the extremely lush grass in the orchard just stops abruptly at that line.

I'm digging big round raised beds around each tree, using the length of my big spade to measure the diameter, with the tree as the centre point. These I'm ringing with some big, weathered and mossy squared masonry stones that are piled up along the fence. I'd also like to try my hand at making some wattled fences. There are bundles of cut twigs from trimming the fruit trees just lying about, and apparently not being used for anything. They belong to my neighbour, but I'm sure he won't mind me taking them off his hands. Like any farm, there is loads of unused spare stuff lying around.

I know it's way too late in the season, but I'm working like mad on this book and if I don't have something physical to do my brain will melt. And really I don't think I've found anything that gets the cobwebs out of your brain quicker than taking huge, round overhead swings at the earth with a big iron mattock! (And I'm losing all that podge I put on by sitting around on the sofa in Santa Marinella, sulking for six months.) I'm just levering up the big clods, hacking them into smaller clods, and then watering the soil to soften it up. Then I loaded a big thick layer of cut grass over it to keep the moisture in. It seems to be working. Next, when the whole ring is finished, a layer of soil goes on top of the grass cuttings, and I keep it covered and keep watering it.

I'm just going to seed it, I think. I've got a load of wildflower seeds I collected in Norcia, and a bunch more in packets. We have a sort of second spring in September when the temperature drops and the rain comes back, so a lot of the wildflowers and plants that can't take the heat and dry weather spring back up, so maybe we'll see a blooming. If not, we can wait. Gardening is really all about patience and long-term planning.


Country life. It's the only life worth living.



~


Thursday, May 25, 2017

All I want for Christmas is a 3.5x-90x Trinocular Stereo Microscope with USB Digital Camera and 54 LED Ring Light

I don't know if I've mentioned it, but I recently got a book contract. It's not a huge deal; my name won't be on it and it's not the whole book - just three chapters and some editing - but it's a good start in the book world. And when I've actually managed to produce something, I'm going to be paid a nice little chunk of money. Again, not a huge fortune, but it will keep us in kitty-kibble and tea n' biscuits for a while. And if I do it right, promote myself right, I might be able to grow this little shoot into more work as a ghost writer. I like researching and can put decent English sentences together, and am starting to be very wary of the urge to be "known". When I'm done and the book is sailing along the publishing process I might look into the many websites about "how to start a business as a ghost writer," and see what they say. I'm sure there's a Wikihow about it.

Meanwhile, life here in the Perugia lowlands continues to be a consolation. The weather has warmed up considerably, but we get lots of nice breezes and fairly regular thunderstorms to keep things cool, and not boring. The kitties are becoming real outdoor cats, only showing up for meals and nap time.

Pippin's new favourite nap spot. It's my collecting basket, but I put a padded placemat in it to keep the fur out and to be nice and cozy. 

I've been to the village festa and it was charming; a Mass that was not too bad and a very lovely procession through town with a glorious gilded 18th century baldacchino, many antique banners and lots of local hymns and songs to Our Lady and St. Martin, the town's patron. So far I have managed to go to Mass in the village parishes three times and not even once started yelling or stormed out, or even made faces at the gladhand o' peace. I met the curate and he speaks adequate English to get my confession heard. Friendly chap. I think if he gets to know me better, he'll be rather shocked at how old fashioned I am (they always are), so we'll have to see how friendly he remains. I've even found my antique lace mantilla and recovered it from its box, though I don't want to shock anyone just yet. Let em get used to seeing the straniera every week first.

I've started about 30 litres of nettle and ginger beer, and the cherry trees in the garden are heavy and bright with fruit, so the two large bottles of vodka are just waiting for two extra large hinge-topped jars and we'll have boozy cherries and warm cherry cocktails at Christmas again!

Meanwhile, I've started sketching a little. The landlady, Annamaria, gave me a beautiful slab of white marble in an arch shape, about 3/4 of an inch thick, and very smooth.

The arch is not even. I thought of taking it to the local funerary stonemasons who specialise in this sort of thing, but then thought it seemed rather charming lopsided. I'm thinking instead of trying to hide it, I'll incorporate it into the painting somehow. Maybe have the extended corner at the bottom right as a little side chapel containing some monks or acolytes peeking through the curtain at the great folk. Maybe with a cat. 

It was supposed to be the top of a bit of the kitchen counter, but its been sitting outside getting green and aged. I asked if I could have it to paint on, and a few days later, Bruno came struggling in with it and put it in my workroom. So I have to start planning seriously what to put on it.

If I do a decent job of it, I might be able to sell it for at least a few thousand, (though how I could safely ship such a large and heavy thing might be a bit tricky, I can only just lift it!) and it would keep us going for a good long while. It's such a lovely thing it deserves to have a Sacred Conversation, in the late Gothic, early Renaissance style that is so prominent around here. Last weekend I had a wonderful chance to visit Spello, a nearby medieval town with loads of churches, and their most famous son is the great painter Pinturicchio (Benetto di Biagio). We saw the absolutely mindbogglingly beautiful frescoes of the Baglioni Chapel (not allowed to take pics), in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore that was damaged in the quakes and remains partly closed. I fell instantly madly in love with Signore Biagio, and bought the only English language Pinturicchio book they had and several post cards.

One of the things I love about these late Gothic painters is the incredible attention to detail. I once saw an exhibition of Filippino Lippi (the much nicer son of the profligate and unpleasant Fra Filippo Lippi) student of Botticelli, and I was amazed to see that in the background of these paintings of saints and miracles, he had gone to scrupulous care to depict the flowers and insects and birds with absolute and minute botanical perfection. You could recognise every species. This is something I will be doing my best to emulate.

Today I saw that a friend of mine in the US is taking a college course in botany, just for the fun of it, and she posted some of the screen shots of the USB-compatible dissecting microscope she's using in class, and it awakened again my longing for one. Lots of work to get through in the next few months, and of course loads of financial priorities, but if things keep looking up, I might think about it again.

Here's a few pics of beautiful Spello. It's right next door to Assisi on the same train line from Rome, but having no first-rank saints to attract the zillions of tourists, is a much nicer place to visit.


Beautiful wooden loggia in the Spello municipal building. Very typically Umbrian

Trying to coax out a beautiful blue-eyed white kitty to come be petted. 

Philip, always keeping an eye on me. In San Lorenzo church. We went on a Sunday and arrived just as the Mass was ending, and it was packed to standing room, with everyone dressed to the nines. I would say that Umbria is a place of the Faith. 

What everyone comes to Spello for is the flowers. Some time ago, the town fathers knew they had to increase tourist interest, nearly all of whom would just zoom past on to Assisi and the big museums in Perugia. They hit upon the idea of flowers. They provided pots and hooks and gardening advice, and now the whole town blooms. There are contests for the locals to produce the most beautiful displays. 

Right at the very top of this very Franciscan town is the 12th century church of San Severino, well out of the tourist zone and  very peaceful. It is the church of the Capuchin Provincial house. Just down the lane is a Poor Clare monastery (which we came to too late in the day to visit.) 

The view from the table where we had lunch. 




Agnese Bocci, a third order Franciscan whose house is more or less right next door. Under this portrait there was a marble plaque that said she died in the odore suavitatis on the 8th of October, 1793. A mystic, she is one of Umbria's many stay-at-home saints.



Where we stopped for a glass of wine, at the very topmost summit of town, looking down into the valley behind it, away from the train tracks. Dead ahead is the Sibiline mountains, and Norcia is about 100 km away. 

Spello

The eucharistic chapel of San Lorenzo church. 

You can see the little plaques they give you for "best balcony", five years in a row!


Back in the village in the late afternoon, all hung with the flags of the four "rione," the neighbourhoods, who have a week long sports tournament. Volleyball and calcio, and music and beer and sausages all week. The festa is the Madonna della Scala, in honour of Our Lady's icon that was found in the remains of the medieval church when they were building a new one.