Saturday, August 19, 2017


So, Annamaria has very kindly offered to help me rototill the entire Big Dry Patch. I'm going to do it in beds around the trees so they're like pools of green. In between the plan is to lay down some wood chip mulch or maybe use some of the broken bits of tile around to make paths between the big round beds. In the beds the plan is for mostly aromatics and flowers but for some part of it to be a dedicated orto. (She said she's going to be renting the bit I used this year to her daughter for some for-profit project, so we're making my patch into a proper orto.)

A funny thing today when I found an old rental ad on the internet for my apartment, and got the actual dimensions. It said that the garden is 200 sq/m! Which is certainly the biggest bit of land I've ever had to play with. I can hardly wait to get going. Nothing can really be done until the weather eases off and the rain starts softening things up. Anna said that rototilling the ground as it is would be like trying to break through concrete. But it should be fine in the autumn, which is when you plant things anyway.

I just had a late dinner. Chopped up a bunch of stuff that needed finishing in the fridge and threw in some strips of turkey breast I had thawed for dinner on Thursday but turned out to be too big a package for one meal. All the veg was from the orto, either mine or stuff that Anna has given me: pumpkin, zucchini, tomatoes, a yellow peach, an onion, sweet red and green bell pepper and a little bit of minced hot peppers (which I didn't know until I started picking them were actually Scotch Bonnets!!!... the kind you have to be very careful with when you're cutting them not to get any juice under your fingernails or absent-mindedly brush your face with your fingers). I just sort of stewed everything together cooked in some butter and a bit of sesame oil, with a handful of basil (from the pot on the terrace) garlic, sesame, coriander and cumin seeds ground up, and all cooked together for about 20 minutes and then the sauce thickened with a handful of almond flour.

It occurred to me that very nearly everything in it except the meat and the mushrooms came from 20 yards away. Some of it came from plants I started from seeds I saved. I bought the pumpkin's parent in the produce shop in Norcia.

I've got a routine now. I get up just after dawn and feed the kitties, put on a pot of coffee and sit on the terrace under the sunshade umbrellas while I do a bit of reading ("Lectio," I'm working on a book about Benedictine liturgical spirituality by Cecile Bruyere) and drink my coffee and iced tea chaser. Then when it's too hot to stay on the east-facing terrace, I usually go inside to sing the Office along with the Le Barroux chant mp3 (which makes me homesick). (I'm thinking of maybe splashing out on an Antiphonale from Solesmes. Our friend Peter K said that it's the only way to go after you've got the general gist of the Monastic Office from the Diurnal. I figure listening to the chants, getting used to the Latin phrasing and pronunciation, the next logical step would be to have the book to follow along with the Little Squares so that starts sinking into the brain too.)

After that's done, it's work of various kinds; housework, writing, digging... Today I needed to do some internet things and didn't really want to stay in the house and felt the need for a bit of exercise, so I rode the bike to the village and just sat in the Why Not Cafe, the nice little bar in the centre of town that has air conditioning and wifi, and a barman/owner who speaks pretty good English and is very friendly. On the way home about 90 minutes later, I stopped to pick some blackberries that are really coming just perfect now (the survivors that is; there are a lot that were just fried by the heat). It's the second half of August and there just aren't many people around; those who are around aren't doing anything but snoozing and barbequing. The kids in the house next door spend a lot of time in their raised pool.

Obligatory photo of Pippy and Bertie curled up snoozing together. At precisely 8pm every day, they all wake up and start demanding their dinner. After that it's outside all night to chase small creatures. 
In the late afternoon the sun comes blasting around the other side of the house so I go around closing all the windows and shutters. Lately I've been hanging opaque cloth covers on the metal shutters that the afternoon sun turns into barbeque grills. The walls are 20 inch thick stone, so no heat gets through at all, but the windows, even with the shutters closed, can actually get hot to the touch. So the second half of the days in late summer are spent in a cool dark room, which is good for writing, with the kitties draped all over, sound asleep stretched out their full length. The humming fan and the dead quiet, the heat and the cave-like gloom can make it hard to stay awake. I'm still in the Mad Dogs and Englishmen school and don't usually take an afternoon riposo, but I might be cracking soon.

Once the sun has definitively gone behind the mountain and the evening breeze picks up, you have to open all the windows and shutters again to get the air flowing. It actually gets cool enough to need a little cover for sleeping, and the sound of owls can be heard in the woodsy bits behind the house. When you go out on the terrace in the evenings, before it gets full dark, you can see dozens of bats flittering silently around. Catching mosquitoes and moths.

The other day I got a nice note by email from some SSPX nuns who have a monastery near here, down in Narni, about an hour's drive at the other end of the Tiber Valley. There's a little train that goes straight there several times a day. They said that of course they don't cancel the Mass in the summer and I was welcome to come down to stay over night on Saturday to attend the Sunday Mass there. (Of course, they have Mass there every day but it's at seven am.) She said there are some Americans in the community so there would be someone there to chat with. I've got aaaaalmost enough money socked away to buy the Ah-pay, so transport will be less of a problem. I'll see if I can do that next week and give a report.

On the whole, I think things are working out, settling down. Or at least, so I fervently hope. I do hope my brain calms down. I know I'm not the only terremotata who has experienced some long-term effects. We had 50+ earthquakes a day, 24/7 for three months. I guess that's going to have an effect, though at the time I didn't really think much about it. I find I am still having strange, unexpected bursts of anxiety. But things are settling down now externally, and that can't help but help. We'll see what comes next. Maybe it'll be peace. Wouldn't it be funny if I found peace just as the world was losing its collective mind.


Monday, August 14, 2017

A great and glorious cantaloupe

I got exactly one cantaloupe this year, but it's a good 'un. Next year I'll know to stick the plant at the very end of the row where it will get the most sun.

July 16th

This afternoon. And look how little green there is. That's the difference it makes to pick it ripe. 

So, to do appropriate honour to the only canteloupe I was able to grow this summer, the following:

Peel and scoop out the seeds and chop up a couple of segments into biggish bits. Dress with the following:

In a bowl, mix

generous blob of tahini
dab or so of green thai curry paste
juice of a whole lime
handful of crushed dried mint
couple of tablespoons of almond flour
half a cup of plain yogurt
splash of pineapple juice

chop some cucumber and sweet red pepper very fine and mix it all in. Pour over the canteloupe.



Saturday, August 12, 2017

That's rain again. I vaguely remember what it looks like...

Rome facing water rationing as Italy heatwave drags on

Important Garden n' Kitty report

We've had a terrible drought in Italy (and other places) through the entire length of the summer. I've read that the Italian farmers have collectively lost over a billion Euros. I was told they had quite a dry winter, which is crucial, and of course since I moved here in mid-April, we saw that we've had very little rain. It was mostly normal until about mid-May, and the temperature shot up to the mid-30s, then crept up to the low 40s(!!!) and just stayed there. Even the heat-loving kitties have been miserable. They run around all night happily enough, but spend their days stretched out full length in the coolest spots they can find in the house. Pippin hides under the bed on the marble floor, Bertie in the little space behind the table in the workroom and Henry in the shower stall. (They're all much happier now that we've moved though, and they obviously LOVE being back in the country. We're none of us town-creatures anymore.)

The last couple of days has been our first break in nearly a month. It's been so dry we've started to worry about the well, and I've been careful to save all the dish and washing water for the balcony giardino (flowers don't mind a little dish liquid or soap). The post under this one was dated June 28, and we had a couple of days of cooler temps and rain, and that was it until very early this morning. It started about 4:30 and is still gently falling now at eleven am. But the forecast is for today and a little bit more tomorrow, then the creep back up to the low 30s.

Henry in hunting mode
Annamaria has doggedly come every morning, earlier and earlier as it's been getting blisteringly hot by nine am, to water our orto, and often in the late afternoons. The rows are laid out so that you take a big hose, much thicker than an ordinary garden hose, that pumps water in a big flood that forms a river down to the very end of the row. You plant your plants along the edge of this channel so all the roots get a drink twice a day. It's the old contadini way. But the terrible heat has really retarded the growth of everything.

The tomatoes did OK, but some of them are quite mis-shapen. Annamaria's aubergines all came out well, but all very small. None more than the length of your palm. The cukes and squash haven't produced much fruit.

My pumpkins are lovely, but also very small. The peppers did alright, and I got quite a few of them, including some very hot ones! I think I'm going to try pickling them.

We're nearly to the end of the summer season now, and I've got a freezer full of tomatoes. I didn't weigh them but it's at least 60 pounds. The full sun all day has made them wonderfully sweet. The flowers on the terrace in the pots have had a more difficult time, and I've really learned a lot about which kinds of things do better in pots in full sun and which like a bit of a break part of the day. My sweet potatoes love the full sun, and after I put them in the biggest pots I had have turned into a beautiful sort of green waterfall, spreading their leafy vines in every direction.

The heat has been so ferocious and relentless that the fruit has all come in early, but a lot of it isn't very nice because of how little water they've had. The apples are small and hard, the plums all died on the branches and there were very few peaches. The figs seem to do well, and Annamaria told me I can have all of them if I like, since she can't eat them because of her diabetes. She showed me a jolly clever trick to bring them down without a ladder, using a stick and a pop bottle to make a picker, and I'll post a picture soon. The big fig tree on my bit has been extremely productive and though most of them are still green there are quite a few big, soft purple fruits waiting to be eaten. I love fresh figs, and I figure it's better me than the ants and wasps. I had a few this morning with breakfast and one or two had just barely started to ferment, and it crossed my mind that they might make a pretty good wine. I'm learning that you can make pretty much anything into booze with a packet of fresh yeast from the supermarket and a little creativity. The local garden centre/ferramenta guy has been helpful.

I've also seen to my surprise that the blackberries did pretty well. I've biked around a few times - like riding your bike through a furnace! yes, it makes a breeze but it's like sticking your face into an oven with the fan running - and seen loads of them by the sides of the roads and along the farm tracks. I'll have to go down to the river bank to see if there are any far enough away from the cultivated fields to avoid getting any pesticides or anything, but I do think it's worth while. Especially in the next day or so when the weather has decided to cooperate. There is also an abundance of sloes, and I think this is the year I do it!


All the rest of that boring stuff...

As for me, things are OK. Many thanks to everyone who has emailed and messaged me. I've really just been sort of busy and rather overwhelmed by the weather. Irish girls aren't really built for 40 degree heat, and it's especially draining the longer it goes on... and on... But I've been doing a lot of work-writing too. I've finished work on a large project (all for money, and for someone else, so no, you won't see it) and now the people I normally write for are bugging me to get back to their stuff. It's nice to be in demand, but it's pretty time-consuming too.

A piece I did for the Remnant explains more or less why I shut down the WUWTS blog, and Skodge has talked a bit about it too. We've been talking rather a lot lately about things, and how we should be writing about them, and he pretty much gives our conclusions here. When Mike posts the thing I did yesterday there'll be more. But for my part, I'm going to be changing focus a bit. I just think we've said as much as needs to be said. Steve especially has done extremely effective work (I was mostly fooling around and making jokes and being the class clown, which was fun for me, but not as useful.)

We know that there are a lot of people who have come to a greater understanding of what has been going on in the Church - certainly these miscreants have not felt the need to hold anything back so it's  been sort of hard to miss. So, now a much more pressing need is to try to help people figure out the answer to the question, "What now?" What do we do? And that is what I will be focusing on in the coming months. But not at my own blog, which I'm kind of tired of. Blogging isn't really writing and one only has so much energy; spend it blogging and there's not much left for real writing. I'm still compulsively posting on Twitter, but here at good old O'sP I think we're just going to carry on focusing on more homey, domestic and happy things. (Sorry if that's boring.)

A friend is coming to stay for a bit in about a month, and we are both thinking things along the same general lines. She wants to find out what she should do, and I am also going to be working out how to proceed. For a while I had thought we should move up north, where there is a little cluster of traditional Catholics in Italy up in the mountains. That's still a possibility, but I can't ignore the current facts either, and part of those are that this is the place God found for me - at the last possible moment. And to try to live in the current reality, with all its limits and struggles, in the place you find yourself hic et nunc is a big part of what St. Philip teaches.

So, I've set up the oratory in the house, have got to know the local people a little, including the curate, am settling in and trying to do the will of God for this moment in this place. We'll see how it goes.

And of course, that includes resolving the immediate problems that arise. A major one of which is transport. As I wrote in my piece yesterday, it was very difficult to find a place for a lot of reasons - 22,000 Umbrians looking for home after the quakes was a big one - part of which is that I can neither afford nor do I want to live in a city. But of course, cities are where you find the traditional liturgy, in our morbidly urbanized culture. I had to find a cheap enough place in the country, but one that was on a bus route that led to a Mass centre. I came very close to failing that task, and its one of the reasons I feel I should stay here that it is clear that, having exhausted all other possibilities, this is the place Divine Providence had in mind for me. (While I was looking, I was conscious of an idea that I was following a trail of supernatural breadcrumbs, rather than just casting randomly about.)

The only real problem is that though there is transport here it is extremely limited and unreliable, and dries up almost completely in the summers. Buses are oriented to getting the country kids to school; the "scolastica" routes are what we've got in the country and they all cease completely at the end of the school year. This leaves the little trenino - a little three -car diesel job that runs up and down the Tiber Valley from Terni up to Sansepolcro. The stop in our village is only one stop away from the next town that has a normal bus connection up to the city, (Perugia), about an 8 minute ride and only a buck for a ticket. All good, but on Sundays it only runs twice a day and its weekly schedule is... well... erratic, let's say.

I've come up with a solution and the job I took this spring will cover the expense: I'm going to buy a Piaggio Ape 50 (pronounced "Ah-pay," and it means "bee" in Italian.)

This is Italy's brilliant solution to low-cost local transport. It's a 50 cc, two-stroke engine, so the same as a Vespa, but the cab keeps the weather out and fits two people (at a bit of a squeeze) and best of all it is like a donkey in the amazing amount of stuff it can carry. They're not fast, but they get you where you're going. The license ("patenta") is very easy to get, requiring no test of any sort. You just go sign up at the local autoscuola for the little course, pay the 50 bucks and that's it. They're cheap to buy and dirt-cheap to run, and are a lot safer and more practical than a motorino. There's even an Ape 50 enthusiasts' club, and they have a rally every year where they race them!

They are actually becoming quite popular throughout Europe that is becoming very conscious of how much damage car are doing to our societies, and how terribly expensive they are now to run, what with governments weighing them down with excessive tax. There are a lot of them around Italy, because the Italians buy them for their teenagers. I know a guy in Marche who refurbishes old ones and he said he could get me a good reliable model for about 11 or 12 hundred, which I can do. People do all sorts of things with them. Of course they're mostly used by farmers and market gardeners, but also for deliveries in cities where they can fit down the tiny medieval streets. These days people are converting them into mobile coffee bars,

and even tricking them out as camper-vans.

And really, just look at that adorable thing; what's not to love! Skodge took one look and said, "Now that's a Hilarymobile if ever I saw one!"

I'm going to call it Broomhilda, of course.


So, that's pretty much where we are. I'm getting a new painting ready, but I don't think it would be very practical to sell. I'm doing it on a large slab of marble, so it's going to be extremely heavy, which means it would cost the earth to ship anywhere. As I go along I'll post some pics. If it turns out well enough, I might give it to the monks.