Last night whilst watching the BBC program, Second Chance Summer, where a group of English people experience living in Tuscany: The objective of the show is to discover if any of them will choose to remain in Italy. Two did choose to stay but it was a comment one of the women made that struck a chord with me. She said that although she liked being in Italy it was like travelling back in time. At first I agreed, but then I thought saying that could actually be quite insulting, as it could infer that the country hadn’t progressed. (But I’m sure she meant it in a nice way).
Rural Italy is very different from the urban sprawl of Milan, Turin and the other major cities; in fact the difference between southern and northern Italy is blatantly tangible. Things here in rural communities go on as they have done for decades. Today Mario is in his olive grove pruning his trees as he and his family have done for years. The centre of the tree is opened up to allow air to circulate through the branches giving it the familiar vase shape. You could be forgiven for thinking it’s like travelling back in time but it’s a very different situation. Today Mario is using an electric saw connected to a generator whereas if we went back in time it’d be a hand saw. Today the cut branches will be loaded onto a motorised trailer and taken to his wood store rather than in the past a donkey.
I think the charm of Italy is that much has remained unchanged, towns are still mostly made up of original old buildings giving it that ancient feel. Take Rome for instance, everywhere you look there’s an old palazzo and terracotta tiled roof. This gives an impression of travelling back in time, however look closer and you’ll spot the satellite dishes and solar panels.
Here in Abruzzo we’re reminded of the region’s history, the coastline is dotted with trabocchi; ancient fishing stations that are still used today. You’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s a romantic notion to continue with tradition, but you couldn’t be further from the truth. The reason why people still fish from a trabocco is that they’re effective. Olives are maintained as they have always been because it’s a fool proof method of cultivation. Backs ache after plots of land are planted up with tomato and pepper plants as they’ve been for years. At times it’s a hard life but rewarding one, but it’s not like going back in time because as time moves on it’s the tried and tested methods that survive through becoming adaptable.
Yesterday the council came and trimmed, (for trimmed, read massacred) the hedges in the lane. This is a great thing for me as it exposes the dead branches and wood that’s been hidden under the greenery all year. So as I wait for some good quality Gorgonzola to melt onto my 6 inch shop bought pizza that’s also topped with some excellent prosciutto I unloaded today’s scavenged wood from the 4×4. Last year I wrote a piece about the cost of keeping warm in winter and how scavenging for wood can save you a fortune and as we have no mains gas in the lane it makes sense for me to collect as much free fuel as possible.
It’s not time consuming scavenging, I don’t make a special effort and today’s haul took just a couple of minutes to stop and collect and although it doesn’t look like much it’s enough kindling for this evening if it gets cold enough to merit lighting the wood burner and using one or two of the stored logs.
You see November is an odd month here in Abruzzo; one day it can warm and sunny and the next as cold as a snowman’s – you get the idea. This week so far we’ve had a crisp morning with a cloudless sky and mist over the valley that heralded a bitterly cold day. The following day was so warm that the washing line was full of drying clothes. Another day we saw fog hanging over the Adriatic making the coast look a scene from John Carpenter’s film, The Fog and today is bright and sunny with enough cloud cover to mean I’m sat outside in shirtsleeves.
However the November evenings can go cold quickly as soon as the sun has descended so I always make sure the burner is ready to be lit, however thus far it’s not been cold enough to light a fire before 6:00 pm and once lit I only need to have it burning for a couple of hours and that’s enough to heat the house for the evening.
Autumn can be quite magical and today the air is still and the sky the colour of cornflowers and the sun is doing a good job of warming the land. The leaves around are turning from green to ochre to gold and the sound of tractors can be heard as farmer’s plough their fields. So I’ll make the most of this day and take the dogs for a long walk along the lane. Because you never know with November in Abruzzo, tomorrow could be grey and wet. But first I’ll eat my pizza.