Wednesday, 7 December 2011

“But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time when it has come around - apart from the veneration due to its origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that - as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” (Scrooge’s nephew from “A Christmas Carol” Dickens).

I was reading some Dickens with my english pupil (more of that another time).  Dickens is good, sometimes he’s better, but never does he dodge an issue.
We have a roof!  Well, sort of.  A start has been made on putting up the massive oak beams that will support all the ceilings of the house .  They hope to finish the whole of the roof by Christmas - anything’s possible.  Alessandro hops, skips and jumps across the narrow cross beams.  His only tools an electric chainsaw, his hands, and his eyes.  One fellow props up a beam, Alessandro puts it in place, then saws off the ends to fit - all done by eye.  I have to say, looking at them, they all seem accurately placed and of equal length, I think. (Oh, ye of little faith). 

Paulo arranged an appointment for us with the owner of a builder’s yard where we were to choose the colour of the wood stain for the beams.  After having spent half a day trying to find the place, we were cordially greeted and proudly presented with a special display from which to make our choice.  First, there was the well worn colour chart, but only 4 of those colours were displayed on actual wood samples and, of those 4, two were no longer available (since when, I wondered pointlessly).  This chap was making good use of the knowledge that less choice helps the customer choose.  We took our time, looking at the samples in different lights and from different angles, extolling the virtues of each colour: its depth and shade and suitability for our type of house and our particular taste (we didn’t want the chap to feel we didn’t appreciate the effort he had gone to on our account).  We chose no. 15.  How do I describe it?  It’s kind of - brown.   A roof by Christmas, our present wrapped: a hop, skip and jump of faith.
One day last week we were walking the dogs along our usual stretch of road (“strada bianca”, as they call the unmade roads here), when we came across two farmers loading sacks of seed into a hopper at the back of their tractor.  The older of the two men took the opportunity to stop work and chat, allowing the younger to continue lifting and emptying the heavy sacks.  Pete and the farmer chatted (I nodded and smiled at what I hoped were appropriate moments) about the weather - 2 days of rain in the last 3 months, no rain at all by the coast since June; the benefits of sowing corn (as opposed to ?) this season; the price of tractor fuel.  The older man complained about the quality of the soil, the difficulty of farming this hilly terrain, the lack of rain, the scanty yield, the market price for the crop; farmer’s talk the world over, time for a nod and a smile.  Pete said, “We like it here”, the farmer replied with a smile, “This is land cursed by God”.  There was a harvest of innuendo in that smile, I can imagine Dickens’ Jack Hawkins (the artful dodger) smiling just like that, except the farmer’s hat sat firmly on his head.
That same evening we had one of those sunsets that says “Italy” to me.  A bank of cloud formed over Monte Catria on the distant horizon; a promise of rain that never came. Shards of light broke through intermittent breaks in the cloud;  beatific.  Someone else was smiling.

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