I had worked as a criminal solicitor and my husband had his own consultancy business in Glasgow. My maternal grandparents (nonni) were originally from the small town of `Picinisco' in the Abruzzi Mountains - now in the Lazio region of Italy. They had moved to the UK for economic reasons and had built a successful cafe business in Glasgow.
I had lived in Morrovalle in Le Marche region of Italy for two and half years when I was a youngster; I attended the local village school and spoke fluent Italian. I absolutely loved the place with its open countryside but unfortunately my father could not settle so my mother and I, to my disgust, were forced to return to Glasgow. My husband, David, always says how I have been desperately trying to return ever since; it has only taken me 30 years!
Sunday 6 Feb 2011
On an otherwise nothing ever happens Sunday, an 'ape' (pronounced api) (a 3 wheeler contraption, I wouldn't like to describe it as a 'vehicle', that would imply it's somehow a car, it mostly has motorbike handle bars, which are only ever found on the country roads of the continent) arrived at our house. Although these apes are fantastic for carrying heavy loads of different materials, they are frustrating slow on the roads, much to the despair of the faster Italian car. This ape was full of 'acquired' wood and the loan of a petrol chainsaw. We were so excited, running about like headless chickens. There will be no trees left in the forest! Grazie mille Nello (Leonello to give him his full title) e Giorgio.
The following Sunday, equipped with borrowed chainsaw, we drove down and stopped at a clearing in the forest, and before anyone cries 'save our forests!' we couldn't believe how much wood there was for the taking just lying about, there was actually no need for the chainsaw at all! Nearly four years we have been here now and this was the first time we had the confidence to visit the forest, a bit embarrassing considering it is literally on our doorstep. We just collect what's there causing no harm to the environment only to our backs! We often feel that we are contestants in an endurance test on 'it's a knockout' (those of you of a certain age may recall this BBC programme), leaping from one new skill or challenge to the next never quite knowing whether we have successfully acquired this new skill or not.
Our next challenge was a 'pre-arranged on the spot visit' (I know it's a contradiction in terms) from 'The Vigili del Fuoco' (fire fighters for those who don't know). They occasionally carry out spot inspections and guess who they decided to perform this on next? but as with everything that is Italy, they let you know beforehand. These inspections are for properties that are not connected to the mains gas supply which is pretty much everybody outside of the town. Like most, we have a gas tank which is buried underground, this must have warning signs noting where it is located and two fire extinguishers need to be located nearby. We were also informed to put back a fence and gate that we had previously painstakingly taken down which we duly did that weekend. They phoned to say they would visit at 8.30am the following morning which they did. They were very nice and their inspection took all of 5 minutes-checking our house plans and so on. They were satisfied and appeared more interested in us being from Scotland and living here than any safety concerns they may have had, we were very relieved, they could have issued a notice or a fine, so it begs the question, does that mean we have to take down the bxxxxx fence again?
We had a lovely couple come all the way down from Torino at the end of January for a weekend when of course it decided to snow. I was worried that while they were making their way down, our main road would be closed and we would effectively be snowed in, (just like last March when this happened and we had no electricity for 3 days)! It was bad enough when it was just us last year but the thought we would be trapped with guests with no heating and no food to give them, didn't bear thinking about, but luckily this didn't happen and although the snow was heavy it didn't prevent the roads from remaining open. Unlike of course if I was back in the UK when that would probably result in 'chaos Britain' a major weather event where schools and transport come to a complete standstill. (Ok rant over!).
They said they couldn't believe the weather and how cold it was (not in their room, I hasten to add!) eh, hello, it's January and as far as I am aware, unless Berlusconi has deemed it to his advantage and therefore changed the law, it is January throughout Italy! They come from Torino who are no strangers to very cold weather. Anyway they managed to enjoy themselves and went to Assisi and Trasimeno Lake, so not bad all things considered. They also built us a snowman on our terrace, when I went to open the breakfast room, to my surprise I saw a very nicely built snowman (finocchio di neve) literally meaning puppets of snow! complete with banana arms and biscotti nose!
In this special edition I have attached a short article titled 'Strained Loyalties' This is about my grandfather's experience of internment on the Isle of Man during the Second World War and how this event still has relevance today. Please feel free to make any comments you think of interest. Thank you.
Friday 7 Jan 2011
A happy and good new year to all you blog readers out there over the last year and here's to a more fruitful and prosperous 2011 for everyone! Made it! We have managed to get to 2011 and we are still in business, which is going from strength to strength although our debt is increasing at the same time but hey ho!
In between everything else we have updated our website www.campograndeitalia.com with additional information for guests which can be downloaded as a pdf file in both English and Italian. We have also included, we are happy to say, testimonials from 2010 which are all very positive about their Umbrian experience, indeed their David and Tanya treatment. Long may it continue! We now definitely know our bed and breakfast is heading in the right direction and the forthcoming summer is going to be fully booked, now we just have to convince the bank ????..
This was also the first Christmas that we actually had presents under the tree since 2006! We received a gift basket of food goodies from our neighbours Sergio and Gabri of wine, panetone and spumanti and then we got lovely gifts from our very good friends the Glasgow Italians who I have mentioned in earlier blogs. David and I decided that if it wasn't for them we would have given up this so arduous journey a very long time ago!
We had a full house of paying guests, all Italian, at New Year which was 100% better than last year. Of course this was when our two year old temperamental boiler (yes, I do realize I seem to have an unusually high number of items that are temperamental!) decided to take a holiday. At 10 o'clock at night (these things always happen outside of office hours either at the weekend, night or when you have a full house of guests) our landline rang and I didn't understand what she was saying but it was from one of our female guests upstairs! A mere 10 feet away complaining about the noise of the boiler. She was phoning from her bed! We had actually put the heating on a couple of days beforehand to make sure it was functioning properly which of course it was until the guests arrived. For safety reasons I decided to turn off the boiler so my guests had no hot water or heating for the rest of the night. The following morning at 8am yours truly was arguing and trying to justify to the female gatekeeper at boiler headquarters why an engineer should come out on New Years Eve (all in Italian of course!).
We have two boilers, one for our private use downstairs and one solely for the guests which just so happens to be situated upstairs in the loft above one of our guest rooms with the only access, you've guessed it through said guest bedroom. I had to knock on their door at 8.30am to let me and the engineer in while they were still asleep! Absolutely mortifying! But as I have said previously, shyness is not an option in this business especially in Italy!
It was a bonding moment between all our Italian guests wandering about the place in plus four pyjamas (no, I don't know why either!) comparing each room and who had the most heating! And obviously every male is an expert in gas central heating and informing you in Italian what they think is wrong.
That night, as we were about to leave, my mobile rang and it was from one of the young female guests who said she didn't understand our heating, i.e. she switched it off by mistake, and this was when the heating was actually working! Again a mere 10 feet away, apparently this is something Italians do quite alot I have talked to others in this business and they have experienced the same. I don't know why they can't just knock on the door! Anyway young Italians seem to want a positively tropical balmy 22 degrees in their rooms while it's 1 outside, my glasses actually steamed up when I went in to clean their rooms. I mean they will go out in a miniskirt with no coat on, oh my god! I am certainly sounding like someone who will reach a momentous age in 2011 and more and more like my mother everyday!
Heating fixed, several discounts, free oil and complimentary glass of Prosecco at new years day breakfast later, and they all seemed to go home happy even with some of our publicity leaflets.
We were invited to celebrate new years with our dear friends and had our own personal fireworks display as well as witnessing other larger more expensive displays from other large private estates. We didn't stay long as we knew we had to get up early to make guests breakfasts (it turns out only one couple took breakfast and that was at 11am!)
Thought it would be a good idea to take photos of our new year guests for the blog but unfortunately along with the temperamental boiler we now seem to have a very ?moody' camera, suffice to say, there are no photos.
I also received some gifts from my students which gave me a nice feeling of appreciation. One of the mothers of one of my students said her sons English has improved since he began with me which is fantastic! They are now learning the age of enlightenment in English-thank god I studied this period of history at university or else I would be lost. Tuesday it's Hogarth, my personal favourite and Daniel Defoe. Bring it on! Think as I am writing this on New Year's Day, a tad too much caff? this morning!
A surprising and indeed refreshing observation is that for a catholic country there is no commercial build up to Christmas. Offices work up till Christmas Eve and many bars, shops are actually opened on Christmas day. Although I fear this is changing with the gradual onslaught of commercialization of Christmas, decorations being displayed earlier and earlier every year and TV adverts for games and toys. Alas it will eventually become like the UK where Christmas begins on October! Office Christmas parties seem to be non existent in this area. My 17 year old students who finished school on the 22nd of December and return on the 7th January are not overly excited about Christmas and comment that it is only about eating so much so that during their holidays they are still continuing to come for their English lessons.
Traditionally ?Befana' visits all the children of Italy on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany (5th of January with an official holiday on the 6th) to fill their socks with sweets and gifts if they are good and a lump of coal if they are bad. She is usually portrayed as an old woman or Witch riding a broomstick through the air wearing a black shawl and is covered in soot because she enters the children's houses through the chimney just like Santa. This has certainly changed since I celebrated Christmas here 30 years ago. Now the children mostly get all their presents on Christmas day and a token gift from the good witch Befana.
Hopefully for next month's blog my camera will be fixed and I can then show you our ongoing work in progress on the land. The Christmas tree will be put outside for another year and brought in for next years, or should I say this years Christmas.
Please note-No images were harmed in this blog!
Late Autumn Diary 2010: Wednesday 3 Nov 2010
August/September Blog: Friday 17 Sep 2010
July at Campogrande: Monday 2 Aug 2010
Cherry Picking Time: Sunday 4 Jul 2010
Colin Firth, the Giro and the Tramp!: Saturday 29 May 2010
OLIVE PRUNING: Thursday 22 Apr 2010
Second installment: Tuesday 23 Mar 2010
Umbria calling: Tuesday 23 Mar 2010[ RSS .91 RSS 2 ]