Monday, May 15, 2017


Well, the kitties are really loving the outdoor life. For the first week or so they refused to leave the terrace, and would look through the rails very dubiously at the wide vista of farms and fields. But now there's no stopping them.

Pippy and Farm Cat: So, you wanna fight? Nah. 

I was a little worried they would just be terrified of the farm cats but so far there really haven't been any conflicts that I've noticed. I was also vaguely concerned about all the dogs that mostly roam around, but they seem to not be bothered by cats much.

All the time we were in Norcia I was worried about them on that scary road that went right in front of the house. It wasn't very busy, but people really drove way too fast on it, and in the two years I was there I saw three dead cats on it, one of which was a feral that was almost friendly and whom I was quite sad to lose. I put bamboo screens over the fences and gates because when he was still a kitten, Pippy used to like to just shoot right through them onto the road without pausing.

Here we also have a road but it's half a kilometer away on the far end of the wheat field, and the Crew tends to like the back 40 better, where there are lots of bushes and things to climb around in and little creatures to kill. One of the first things Pippin did after he got here was come dashing in with a shrieking starling in his mouth! One night I woke up about one am and realized Bertie hadn't come in for his dinner, which he usually wants very promptly at nine; you can set your watch by his unfailing sense of dinnertime. So, being a crazy cat lady, I got up and put a cardie and slippers on and went out with a flashlight to see if he was around, and the glow of the flashlight caught him looking very wild indeed, running along with a mouse in his jaws.

So we have finally left off our kittenhood discipline of being kept indoors at night. They're grownup cats now, and have to get on with their important cat-work.

Enricus Rex, Chieftain of the Tribe of the Gattini-Doofii, killer of snakes, catcher of mice and other foul vermine, protector of the people... known to be fond of his mum. 

Henry started this early - being by nature the Alpha-King and a hunter - he really couldn't be kept in by the time he was a year old.

But the twins always seemed to like being in their room at night, and would even trot in there on their own at ten pm or so if I stayed up a bit later. They would have a bit of a romp around the room and then just cuddle up and go to sleep. We have a kitty room here, and I kept it up for the first week, but it was soon clear that they had reached the point of no return on their outdoor activities, so now they all just come and go as they please through the kitchen window that I leave ajar for them.

New rule: fold up a corner of the kitchen tablecloth at night. 

Henry has taken to sleeping way up on the top of the wardrobe in my room on top of a pile of spare bedding after his night patrol. Bertie still likes his spot on the sofa, and they're both usually around early in the morning when I get up. Pippin, however, has consistently not shown up in the mornings for his breakfast in the last few days, and of course he was the first one to vanish for a day and a half. They've all turned into wanderers and adventurers and this is a good thing, because this is cat-life. It's what they're designed to do, and it's more or less how I hoped we'd end up living in Norcia.

It's a different sort of life here, for all of us, and though I'm inclined always to think Change is Bad, maybe for all of us this life here is going to end up being more of a fulfillment of our respective natures.

Hope so. But I do wish Pippy would come in and have his breakfast and stop worrying mummy.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Strength and virtue - a good place to start again


I knew I sort of liked this guy. (And no, not for the obvious reasons.)

He's actually a lot like many of the people I grew up around. In the 70s, the hippie movement on the West Coast hadn't morphed into the solipsistic leftist political stuff it is today, and there was room in it for genuine masculinity, and the general gist of rejecting the Modernian lies about how we are supposed to live was still there.

I wish we could do something to make these kinds of people Catholic. We could do with some of this. It's not entirely gone, that old virile, pagan, filial piety, virtue. The kind that was Christianized in the early centuries and went on to build an entire civilization.

Yesterday Annamaria was telling me what sort of fertilizers to put on the tomatoes, and we were in the big garage under my flat where they keep all their contadini stuff. She pointed to a big round basket-y kind of thing hanging on the wall and asked if I knew what it was. In fact, there were two, hanging up together, one made of a big round wooden frame with one side closed in with metal mesh, about 5 feet in diameter; the other smaller made of wicker, looking like giant flour sieves. I said no, and she said, "My father the contadino used it when I was growing up." Then I realized.

I'd seen it on television and in the movies; it was for winnowing grain by hand, a winnowing fan.

You put the grain in the baskety thing, and on a breezy day, you toss it up in the air, and allow the wind to carry away the chaff while you catch the grain again, to throw it all up again, and again. People had been using them since the agricultural revolution began.

One generation away. Annamaria is probably old enough to be my mother, maybe in her early 70s. She dug out five rows of ground, three for her and two for me, to plant our tomatoes, zucchini, beans, peppers and melanzane. The rows are about ten meters long, and she did it by hand with a long handled iron mattock, a job I could not possibly have done myself.

They've given me a huge patch of land to do whatever I want with, and I'm a little overwhelmed. Frankly, I haven't been terribly strong, physically, since chemo, and after 15 years of sitting down to work, but I remember when I was 19 or so, redoing an entire garden alone one spring. A little house I'd rented with some friends hadn't been seen to in a couple of decades, and I took to it like a duck who'd never seen water before.

I rented an electric trimmer, and cut and pruned, and trimmed and dug and turned over beds that hadn't been dug in a long time. I found the old compost bed that someone had dumped an entire sack of potatoes into some time in the past and that had therefore become the potato bed, and produced the best potatoes I'd ever eaten before or since. I did carrots and beets and broccoli. I cut back the wilderness of Himalayan blackberries that had grown to fifteen feet deep, and of course - being roses - they loved the pruning so much they produced an enormous summer crop of berries. Someone had planted climbing white roses right next to the hedge and they had grown right into it, so when I trimmed the hedge I also pruned the roses, which then sprouted huge white blossoms all along its length. The pink clematis had turned into a huge tangled wall and I cut it down into an arch that became a mass of flowers in the summer.

That spring and summer in that little garden - that we lost again the following winter when the landlady sold the property to developers - will stand in my mind as one of the happiest periods of my life. I remember it in a kind of pink and green and golden glow. I'm not 19 anymore, but maybe we can do something like it again.

I've been here three weeks and it's been busybusybusy, so it only occurred to me the other day that there's a good chance here, perhaps even better than in Norcia (where flat land is hard to come by). Unlike the city, where rotting, corrupt Modernia is still reigning supreme in the last days of its wicked glory, here, only a few miles away, a much older kind of life is still lived, and remembered. I think Annamaria likes me because I so obviously value it, and so clearly want to live it myself (I think her daughter wasn't that interested). Even though our ability co communicate the details is still a bit limited, we've become friends because we both discovered a similar kind of soul, the same sort of priorities.

I've mostly finished organising the house. The books are all out of their boxes and arranged in the cases, and the oratory is set up. I sang Compline in it on Sunday night. The only thing that's missing now is someone to share it all with.

A bit of what will be the flower garden, with the oldest fig tree I've yet seen.

But I'm also happily anticipating the arrival of a friend from the US. (Note to self; order sofa-bed from Ikea.) She's a young lady who found that her ordinary life - with good, morally praiseworthy work, good, believing friends, a large and loving Catholic family - wasn't enough. She is thinking thoughts of bigger things, as you do, and her spiritual director suggested she come to Europe.

Annamaria's doves. In the big shed behind it are chickens and rabbits.

So I invited her to come to think them here, to stay and use my place as a home base to look for answers to her vocational yearnings, (there's no more centrally located place in Italy than Perugia.) and meanwhile, eat a lot of good Umbrian food and drink a lot of tea. There are monasteries on the continent where the Faith is preserved, though not many. And there are plenty of other things going on. She says it's a funny sort of urge, to leave where she is and come to Europe to look for something. How well I know that urge! Say a prayer that we can help her find what she's looking for. She will come in September.

San Fortunato, the church on the hill behind the house. 

Annamaria's chair in the orto, where she has a rest and a smoke and can just sit and look at the view.
Last night I went down to the bottom of the garden with a pair of kitchen scissors and cut the remaining wild chamomile to start drying. It grows very abundantly all over the place here, usually twined up together with the brilliant scarlet poppies that are just coming into bloom now in the fields and along the edges of the roads.

Her patch, and mine on the top right, which we planted the other night. 

The other night I took a bit of a stroll around as the sun was going down and the opening chords of our next stormfront was starting to really blow, and stood watching three kestrels wheeling and spinning and riding the wind like acrobats.

This weekend, I'm going to start building my flower beds, and I've got a bucket of seed packets and jars of wild seeds I'd collected from Norcia. We're a bit late in the season to start seeds but I don't mind.

The growing season here is very long. Who knows what we can grow here, given enough time.


Monday, May 08, 2017

Coming back to life

First day of classes today. All classes in the mornings, and it's rather gruelling. Ten to two, with a ten minute break at the end of each hour. By the middle of the fourth hour I had had enough. But apart from that, it's pretty doable. Perhaps the weirdest thing is being a student again, even if only in a small way.

Pretty good for the first day. Woke up at ten to six this morning: fed kitties, sang Laudes, made and drank coffee, got to the bus in the village bang on time. Was up to the centro 25 minutes later. Popped into the Duomo on the way to make a visit. Classes were fun and not scary, and I more or less understood everything the instructor said.

Mostly finished setting things up in the house this weekend, except for the big pile of stuff on the work bench, which is mostly sewing projects. The art supply cupboard is organized and ready. Got all the books done on Sunday afternoon, and the oratory is as set up as it's going to be. I'll be on the lookout for a few things for it, but it's usable. Finished the day with Compieta last night.

Here are a few pics I took the other night, Saturday I think. I've never lived on such a flat surface before - though of course the Tiber Valley isn't exactly Saskatchewan-flat - and I am sort of enjoying the storms. We get these HUUUUge storm fronts rolling down on top of us from the Appenines. Dramatic skies!

Another big one this afternoon, complete with brilliant forks of lightning against the charcoal grey sky!

(Photo quality from my tricorder camera not as good as I'd hoped. I'll switch back to the normal Canon, as soon as I find the battery charger.)

The village of Torgiano, glowing in the evening light as the setting sun peeks under the big black clouds. 

A little further off is the village of Deruta, famous for its ceramics. 

A bit of the little orchard on my patch. 

The country road leading to the house. Not paved, and very pot-holey. 

Pippin on the patch that will be a flower garden. I'm planning to do round raised beds around the trees, and lay down a clover ground cover in between. 

The road between the village and the house. And the beginning of the storm front. 

The old well. The house is quite old, but has been renovated into three flats, two of which are occupied. But the well still works and it is the main irrigation source for the gardens.

Henry, sizing things up. He's doing better than I expected, and I found Bertie out late one night with a mouse in his jaws! Good job Bertram!

Our nearest neighbours on the north side: the church of San Andrea, whose bells I hear throughout the day. 

Dramatic skies!


Saturday, May 06, 2017

Shaping up...

Pics are coming. For now, Bertie and Pippy cuddling during their nap time the other day. 

Well, life in the tiny Umbrian farm village is coming together. The minute I find the camera's computer cable, I'll be able to post some pics. Had a lovely long bike ride - first since the quake - the other day, and found a spot near the Tiber where elder and robinia are blooming, and wild mint is all over. Every morning the smell of the blossoms wafts through my window, along with the birds that start around five in the morning these days, including at least one pheasant I can hear making its weird croak from the trees. 

Internet is being a pain, and I've finally resigned myself to getting the guy to the house to fix me up with full time fixed wifi. I hate having it in the house, but since the paying work has been piling up all this time it's going to have to be done. For now, I've just found the bar in the village that makes quite a good pot of tea (in an actual pot!) and has wifi. Also found the bike shop and made friends with the bike-fixing lady. Got all the little things that needed doing to the bike done, everything tightened that needed tightening, and one part replaced that was developing an alarming rattle. The house is about a five minute bike ride from the village, which makes it nice. Quiet around home, but close enough not to be isolated. 

My nice landlady took me to the garden centre today and I got some tomatoes, cukes, hot peppers, and rhubarb (!). The other garden centre, closer to home, has some very lovely roses that have quite a good fragrance. (Can't understand the point of roses without fragrance... just another Modernian horror.) Going to put it all in the ground and in the pots on the terrace tomorrow after Mass. I've got a whole raft of seeds to start, a bit late, but better than never. Tomorrow after Mass the afternoon will be dedicated to the garden. 

Making plans for the big patch in front of the house. The soil has not been worked for a long time, so it's not to do a lot right away. But there are lots of bricks and bits and pieces lying around, so I'm going to build flower beds around the base of the ten fruit trees, build up the soil a bit, and lay down some soil-recovering, nitrogen-fixing, moisture-retaining clover as a ground cover in between. It's been raining on and off quite a bit so the soil has lost its brick-like texture and should be easier to dig into. On the whole, it's good soil though, and everything around about is very green. There's a large patch of wild chamomile at the bottom of the garden too. I've got half a dozen bunches hanging up drying in the kitchen already.

In the house I've got the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom finished completely (except for hanging pictures) and a little oasis of civilisation in the workroom/sitting room that you can sit in and read or have a tea, and gaze out at the beautiful countryside. The work area itself is still a box-heap, but it's getting to be an organized box-heap. After that, I've only got to get the books on the shelves, and set up the oratory, and the house is done. Probably by the end of next week.

The big news is that I'll be starting the Italian course on Monday. It felt a bit strange to have a student card again after all this time. The last time, Madonna was still hot, my hair looked like Cyndi Lauper's and they hadn't invented the internet, so everyone still believed everything the news told us! The classes run from 8 or 9 am to noon, five days a week, so I'll have the afternoons. And a good thing since a bunch of paid work has just fallen into my lap, so I'm going to need the structure to the days as well as the time.

San Martino in Campo is a charming little place. It's not fancy. It's not very ancient (and all its medieval stuff is more or less unrecognizable as such) but it's quiet, family-oriented, friendly, and full of the kind of people who I got used to being around in Norcia - country people who aren't in a hurry. The other day I needed to find the other supermarket, the big one. I asked an older gent who was also on a bike, and he just said "Follow me" so we pedaled through the village together. It's like that here.

By contrast Perugia is... busy. Not my sort of place at all anymore. I guess I'm officially old.

Internet time is limited for a few more days, so just this little update for now. 

More next week after I finally cave and get full time internet at home. Work... (Urgh!) 


Monday, May 01, 2017

New stomping ground

Well, little Pippin had an adventure this weekend. Since he seemed to be the one most adjusting to our new life, I let him out for a run-around on Saturday afternoon, and he got lost. Stayed out all night while I was beside myself and sleepless with worry. I had gone out looking for him until midnight, and again as soon as it was light. Spent the day alternately staking out the kitchen in hopes he would show up, and wandering the countryside whistling his special whistle and calling his name. He finally came home at about 8:45 last night, and a joyous reunion - lessons learned all round - was had by all.

In the meantime, one of the positive results of the Pippin crisis was that I have now got to know, at least to be introduced to, most of my neighbours. And with all the walking around I did, I've learned where the principle blackberry, nettle, rose, robinia and elder patches are, and discovered that my own garden is currently blooming mightily with wild chamomile and mint, with a whole patch of very healthy looking nettles down by the irrigation canal.

I shall be out with my collecting bag very soon, I can assure you. The robinia is at its height and the elder is just coming to it, and I don't think another season should go by without at least one batch of liqueur. We'll see what we can do about elderflower champagne, and perhaps some non-alcoholic cordials for our abstaining friends - that turned out surprisingly well last year.

I went for a long bike ride the other day and discovered the elder starting to bloom along the banks of the Tiber, which is not far away and a very beautiful place to spend an afternoon.

Elder is a little harder to find here than in Norcia, (where it is a veritable forest of elder) but I've just found this recipe for Robinia liqueur.

The Robinia pseudoacacia, that we call Black Locust, is in full flower right now, and there is acres of it right outside the windows. It's leaves and roots are toxic, but the flowers are edible and are now heavily fragranced. Apparently the tradition in France in the pubs is to dip them in a light tempura-like batter and deep fry them. But I have learned to love flower-scented liqueurs and cordials.

So I think I'm going to give it a go.

Robinia liqueur

200 g acacia flowers
500 g granulated sugar
1 litre pure alcohol
2 tbsp acacia honey
1 litre water

Clean the flowers with a dry cloth, or soft brush. Put alternate layers of the flowers and sugar in a large glass bowl. Cover and leave to infuse for 48 hours. Then add the alcohol and honey. Leave the infusion until you can see that the sugar has totally dissolved. (Approximately one month.) Add the water and stir gently. Strain the liquid well and bottle.