Monday, 25 June 2012

"The defeat of the Spanish Armada changed the course of history. It induced a rush of patriotism in England ... it gave England the confidence and power to command the seas and build a global empire." ("Shakespeare" Bill Bryson)

Le Marche is enjoying the hottest June in over 200 years.  What is it with the weather this year?

Pete and I have been choosing bathroom fittings this week.  Three long, hot sessions of three hours each choosing loos and taps!  What is wrong with us!  Our saleslady, now friend and confidant, is patient and knowledgable.  She flicks through the glossy brochures with the hermetic zeal of an ancient archivist.  This is a family run business.   Her brother sits at a desk at the far end of the shop, seemingly busy, staring at his computer screen.  Every now and then she shouts across to ask further about some product.  Every now and then he shouts over, unprompted, with further information about yet another product.

There is no one else in the shop, though the telephone rings often and she breaks from us to have  a detailed discussion and archive ruffle for some other demanding customer.  At one point she takes a break to collect her two year old from nursery, at another to lead us through back-room labyrinths to look at some product that is actually in stock - this is rare.  Other frequent breaks to shoo away her ten year old who, with precious entrepreneurial skill is trying to sell us his own home made lemonade at 50 centesimi a plastic beakerful.

During one session another customer walks in, sits behind us.  After an hour or so Pete turns to her to apologise for keeping her waiting.  "No problem" she replies genially, "I've spent weeks choosing a tap for my kitchen sink and I'm no closer."  If she'd told us that last week we wouldn't have believed her.

By 7pm Friday evening we are satisfied (as far as one can be) that we've chosen almost everything to fit out two bathrooms, but we have been known to change our minds.  We make an appointment to come back next Tuesday.

Outside, entrepreneurial son has set up  a lemonade stall in the car park.  There isn't another soul about. I feel for the lad and stop to buy, "One lemonade please, but 50 cents is too much, I think".
"OK, 25..."
"A deal!"  I can't decide whether the boy's not such an shark after all, or whether I should have bargained harder.  The tepid water with a squeeze of lemon and a sachet of sugar with the local bar's logo on it tasted quite good really - I tell him so.  His smile is inscrutable.

I am writing this as Italy is playing England in the quarter finals of the World Cup.  When you read this you will know the result.  Pete has gone for a boys' night at Paolo's agriturismo to watch the game on a big-screen TV.  He'll be the sole Brit there.  I felt a bit like Sir Walter Raleigh (playing ... bowls was it?), when the approaching Armada was sighted.  Goodness me, look what happened when England won on that occasion, but that was Spain, wasn't it?

In the garden here, one lone flower on the prickly pear has bloomed.  It blooms for one day and then it dies.  But what a day!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

"A child said, What is grass? fetching it to me with full hands; How could I answer the child? I do not know any more than he." (from "Song of Myself" Walt Whitman)>

Summer has finally arrived in Le Marche.  The balers are making hay and creating fever pitched frustration amongst the drivers on the narrow roads.  Vineyards are being weeded, sprayed (for bugs?), and prayed over.  One way or another the countryside is a-buzz.
And then there are the odd, few fields where, it seems, time has stood still.  Here men drive their womenfolk in the early morning and leave them to their day's work, harvesting the crop.  The women wear long, flowered dresses, with dark scarves tied over their heads and as they work they chat to each other loudly and unceasingly.  The crop (for what it is I do not know) is gathered into little stacks around a wigwam-like,wooden frame.  When the frame has been covered with the dried grassy/hay-like crop, a little canvas "sail" or "hat" is tied on top and each corner fastened with string which is staked to the ground.  These little stacks have something medieval (almost primeval) about them.  Something one of the Breughels might have painted.  We have gleaned that the stacks are called "cavalli" (horses) because of those little hats tied on top like saddles (?).  The idea is, apparently, that from the stack, seeds, or perhaps beans? (or perhaps magic beans?) will fall - this is the harvest.  It looks as though this method of harvesting has not changed for centuries.  I don't really want to know what the crop is;  that would break the spell.

At sunset the "luciole" (fireflies) work their own magic as they ignite, flicker and frolic in their unchoreographed dance across the parched lawns.  The chemistry which makes them glow is the stuff of science - thank goodness no one's told them that.

Yesterday we went inland to Acqualagnia, the land of the "marmisti" (literally - marble-mason). We finally found an artisan who will make my little wall mounted fountain to my own design.  It's not an essential part of the house , we shouldn't really be bothering with it right now, given all the other things that have to be sourced and chosen, but right now this is my little bit of magic and mystery.

Today, at il Gelso there were two groundbreaking events. 

Firstly, the kitchen walls have been finished, the wooden beams have been fitted and this morning the "pianelle" (the ceiling tiles) are being put in place.  They are old tiles, I don't know from where they were sourced, but they are the last set of ceiling tiles to go in the house and they are the most beautiful; all shades of rust and ochre.  The kitchen is beginning to look like a habitable room at last. 

Secondly, this morning, Paolo became a grandfather!  A girl!  More magic and mystery.  He'll be in a good mood for a while; I must make some of the important, impending choices on the house before the euphoria wears off.  Suspect there's no rush though.