Spending Time with an Elephant

I’ve been spending time with an elephant today; actually a rather intelligent elephant that’s pretty clued up about the periodic table. If you think that I’m making a rather outlandish claim, then you are forgiven, despite being in the wrong. What I’m saying is quite true.

Okay, I’ll explain myself…

Last night around 21.00, we heard an odd rumbling noise, we thought nothing of it until this morning when a friend from the nearby town informed me we’d had a tremor: Possibly a throwback from the 4.1 mini-quake 135 km south in Campobasso yesterday. Along with the rumble we had the onset of snowfall. So this morning began with our Italian hill covered in a blanket of white; the forecast of snow had arrived.

After turning on the iPod for the first shuffle of the day, Over the Sea, by Jesse Rae; the blatantly patriotic song about Scotland, that in 1985 only reached number 65 in the charts despite lots of TV coverage on pop music shows plays as I make breakfast.  I decide that a walk up the hill to look over the valley would be a good idea. We wrap up and trudge upwards, the snow is deep making it hard going but we reach the top just as it starts snowing once again. So our descent was amid flurries of white and a biting wind.

Back home with the log burner giving off a generous amount of heat I decide it’s time to become acquainted with Dot the elephant. Dot is the logo for a company based in Cheltenham (UK) called, Stitch Dotcom. The company which took out some advertising space in our previous property brochure is run by two beautiful young ladies; Annie and Alison. They specialise in mail order cross stitch kits; but not your run of the mill kittens and country cottages. Their designs are more contemporary with one of their products being the keys on a standard UK typewriter, which can be framed to spell out your name – or any word you fancy to be honest.

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A few weeks ago the company advertised for people to test stitch some of their patterns to evaluate time taken and the level of experience required to complete the finished product. So with no experience of cross stitch I volunteered.

 

This weekend the post lady delivered me a box which contained everything I need to make my own coaster. I’ve been sent two elements to create, just 2 colours, which I think is ample for a novice. So today I read the instructions several times, checked out what is required of me as a cross stitch tester and chose between molybdenum and niobium for my initial foray into the world of tiny x’s.

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So after choosing niobium, I set to with thread and needle and the stopwatch recorded the time it took to stitch the pattern. After a couple of false starts, I was soon into my stride and after 21:10 minutes I had used all of the first thread I had selected and completed 11.5 rows of the top half of the right-hand side of the letter N.

 

Laura Pausini started to sing Benvenuto and with a self-satisfied smile I packed away my test kit until another day when I look forward to my second date with Dot.

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There’ll be further progress reports in the future to keep me focussed on the task in hand.

For more info about Stitch Dotcom click the link in the text above to reach their website.

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Hanging Baskets and Ancient Cat-Flaps

Last week I took a trip over to Fara San Martino to visit my friends Vivienne and Seppe. Fara is a town renowned for its exceptional pasta and being the only place that produce the pasta destined for the Vatican. I wrote an article for Italy magazine sometime back about this: LINK HERE But I wasn’t in Fara to talk about pasta,

Vivienne, teaches English and had a lesson booked so Seppe took me to see the mountain town of Civitella Messer Raimondo. His fiat panda climbed higher and higher up the mountain past empty bars and vacant shops, “It’s a shame,” he said, “so many people have now left.” For many years, with dwindling work prospects many of the people from this hilltop town have boarded up their homes and moved away to the cities. We park the car and walk through streets that are silent, no footfalls can be heard but ours. “Years ago,” Seppe points to an empty house, “People were selling these houses to foreigners. Many made a healthy profit, but those times have gone, and the foreigners don’t come as often as they once did.” This of course has a knock on effect, with no tourism the shops close as do the bars.

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We walk through a narrow vincolo (alley) and are treated to a view down to Fara, the late evening sun is cutting through the mountains, spilling over the red rooftops creating a magical effect. We wander along streets with empty narrow properties, three storey high, I peer into an empty cantina and it’s almost like looking back in time. It’s unchanged, a piece of living history. Seppe points out the ancient feeding trough, telling me this would have been for the family’s donkey, over in the corner is an old cage, possibly where rabbits or chickens were kept. We continue along and see where water over the years has caused damage. Looking into one house we see the upper floors, having fallen years before, lying derelict upon the lower one. It’s a haunting image, knowing that years ago the walls would have contained the clatter of family life. We pass a door with a plaque upon it, “It’s where the old Alpini would meet and talk about the old days,” Seppe tells me, “I’m not sure if the old mountain soldiers remain or still use their club.” 

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The visit to the town is tinged with a little sadness but when I look up and see flowers growing in the cracks in the brickwork above my head. I feel hopeful as life will always find a way. Seppe points to a neat little square in the bottom of a cantina door, I look at the cut and it’s definitely man made, the house next door has one as does the one next to that. “Do you know what that’s for?” asks Seppe, I shake my head, I’ve not a clue. “For the cat,” he tells me. I laugh, an ancient Italian cat-flap. Of course it makes sense, if you keep animals and feed in the cantina beneath your house you’re bound to get rats and mice, so a cat is a necessary part of the family and therefore must have its own door.

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Our visit over and we return to Fara in Seppe’s Fiat, and I’m treated to a trip along streets as narrow as the car and with almost impossible right angle junctions, as he’s an experienced Italian native this is normal for him, but to me it’s an amazing feat of navigation. Back at the piazza opposite his house, like all Italians he squeezes the car into what looks like an impossibly small space and we go back to his house for a cup of tea. Vivienne’s lessons have finished and we all sit chatting as the light begins to fade. I leave with a portion of Seppe’s local history embedded into my consciousness and with one of the amazing olive wood hanging baskets that he makes. Below is a photo of the hanging baskets he makes and his amazing handmade olive wood strawberry planter.

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