Piles, the wooden variety

With daily temperatures in the thirties you’d expect the thought of cold winter nights to be furthest from anyone’s mind. But as the farmer’s around us continue to cut the grass for hay, the local population are preparing for winter by rebuilding their wood piles.

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Branches are being collected and stored beside houses, small pieces of wood are being chopped to make kindling and logs are being collected in readiness for the log store to be built.

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In town as in the countryside logs are being stored under cover in readiness for the forthcoming change in the seasons. Some of the log stores are so well constructed, they’re almost works of art.

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I’d like to say mine in previous years has been as tidy and organised as some of my neighbours, but sadly they’ve always been rather scruffy affairs. So dedicated to the art of log pile stacking are some people, that their wood stores are vast in comparison to their needs.

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Last week my friend Mario was chopping logs in the heat and told me it was time I started my wood collection. “Remember last year,” he says. “Many people ran out because the snow lasted longer than normal.”

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“I won’t be collecting wood this year.” I tell him. His brow furrows, he shakes his head and asks,  “Are you going to be away?”

“No,” I reply and tell him I’m having gas central heating fitted. Once again he shakes his head and his brow furrows before telling me that wood is free, so why would anyone want to pay for gas? I tell him it’s just easier.

“Sei pazzo straniero.” (You crazy foreigner). we laugh and I go to sit in the shade leaving him to his toil.

Driving Barefoot

I’m lucky. Yes, really lucky. I haven’t won a lottery or found a pot of gold under a rainbow. I haven’t received some prestigious award or managed to fix myself up with a date with Tiziano Ferro: more’s the pity. So why am I lucky?

I was driving to the small fruit and veg shop that I prefer to use, as most of the produce is local, the sun was shining and the iPod was playing, Duchess, by the Stranglers, the drag of cool air through the open window kept the afternoon heat at bay as the countryside passed in a blur. Unlike other shops that close at 13.00 for an extended lunch, this one stays open all day. I’m greeted with a cheery “Salve’” from the assistant at the counter cutting open a watermelon. I mooch around, filling my basket with fresh produce, when she says, “Melone?” She’s offering me a slice of red melon, which is a refreshing on such a warm afternoon. We chat and she picks some celery, carrots and onion and drops them into a carrier bag. “Soffrito, per te, gratis.”  Soffrito is the Italian version of a mirepoix, or the holy trinity. The assistant enquires how the house restoration is going and after relieving me of €4,00 she packs the sofrito ingredients into my carrier bag and wishes me a good afternoon. (Where else can you get free produce as a thank you for your custom?)

I’m driving home with Kate Bush singing, Don’t Push Your Foot on the Heartbreak, recorded live at the Hammersmith from her only live tour which took place in 1979, (2 April – 13 May.) Contadini are out working their land, the buzz of strimmers and the chugging of tractors drift into the car as i drive past. The landscape at this time of year is a mix of green and ochre, as dried grass is rolled up for feed during the winter, and regimented sweet corn reaches for the sky.

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I’m passing a field where two workers sleep in the shade of their trailer, a half empty bottle of wine nestles in the undergrowth at the side of one of the men, when I realise that my life here is so different than it was in the UK. For instance, I don’t buy everything I need in a huge faceless supermarket, I get served with petrol by the pump attendant, rather than having to fill, queue and pay and on days like this I drive barefoot.

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I’m lucky, because I can work from home and to live comfortably here I only have to produce half of what I’d need to write in England: This said I have more work piling up on my desk than I’ve ever had before.

I’m lucky, because I live in a beautiful part of Italy and have some wonderful friends out here and so far being here has eclipsed my expectations.

I’m lucky, because I can drive a mere eighteen minutes in one direction and can be swimming in the sea and twenty-five minutes in another direction and I can be in the mountains.

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I know I’m fortunate to have this lifestyle at just 51, but its not because of luck, it’s the result of hard work and sacrifice over the years and holding on to the dream.

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