Casa La Pace Blog

Life in Real Italy

Casa La Pace Blog - Life in Real Italy

Early Spring?

Ghivizzano didn’t really have a winter this year. The last week of November and beginning of December were cold. Night-time temperatures were below freezing and the days were chilly but not bitterly cold. Then around mid-December, the cold disappeared.  The daily highs were usually around 11 degrees and the night-time lows never reaching zero.  It rained regularly, and sometimes intensely. But there were stretches of wonderful sunshine, too, a terrific relief from last winter’s dreary weeks and months.  This pattern continued through January (and heavy rains resulted in many landslides throughout the country, very unusual for January).

Pepper and I traveled in the United States for the month of February, so I don’t have first-had experience of Italian weather. But we exchanged emails and messages with our friends, so were regularly updated with the general weather conditions.  Our Italian friends told us of the rains and of the sunny days, never mentioning cold.

Meanwhile, in January and February, parts of the U.S. experienced wave after Little Rock in Marchwave of snow, ice and record-breaking low temperatures.  Pepper and I were incredibly fortunate that the great majority of our American vacation was filled with sunshine. The last Sunday of our visit to Little Rock saw the arrival of  a fast-moving hail and snowstorm, which shut down the city for a couple of days.  Otherwise, our travels were not negatively impacted by bad weather.

Gloucester in MarchOur journey ended in the Northeast, where show lay on the ground.   The maximum temperatures each day were barely above freezing.  But the sun accompanied us, creating beautiful canvases of bare trees, snow banks, and granite outcroppings.

 

As soon as we landed in Italy in early March, we peeled off our jackets.  It seems thForsythia, Quinceat spring has already arrived in the Serchio Valley – almost a month earlier than years past. On our ride home from the airport, explosions of yellow captured my attention, forsythias in full bloom in the gardens along the road.  On the hillsides, white blossoms revealed pear and almond trees popping out from the austere browns of the still-naked chestnuts, acacia, and oak.

The next morning, I walked down to the Ghivizzano market, the first time in more than a month that I had done so.  What a beautiful, warm day it was and Magnoliait highlighted the striking contrast of the same walk a month before.  Chinese magnolias are already dropping their petals. Early spring is their moment and this year, the creamy white blooms and deep purple cups seem fuller and more elegant that years past.  Daffodils are still in bloom, but already dying. As the earliest arrivals, I had missed their sunny-yellow dance.

The camelias are in full bloom, their rich drinkable-red flowers popping out Cameliasagainst the glossy-green foliage. They must be in bloom for a while now, as the bed of fallen flowers beneath each bush attests.

 

 

 

The entire week in Ghivizzano has been beautiful, with one warm day followed Panseysby another.  During lunch, Pepper and I eat in the courtyard, the sun warming our backs and a cool north breeze chilling our fronts.  I notice that the sun is high in the sky again, and now manages to sail over the mountain to the west in its evening descent.  This means that sunset is now at 6 p.m. and it’s light outside until almost 7 (and Europe doesn’t change its clocks until the end of March.)

We’ve survived another winter and each morning I awake to the promise of spring. All around us are the sights and sounds that I associate with mid-April.  Windows are flung open to air out the house. Wild Snapdragon

Fruit Tree in loomChainsaws roar, removing dead limbs and cutting down dead trees.  Birdsong flies through our open windows from every tree and bush. And the impossible greens of spring, from olive to lemon-lime to forest, bombard the eye wherever I turn.

The weeds and grasses have gotten their usual head start, taking advantage of Wild violetsthe bare trees to take in as much sunlight as possible.  The calendar says that spring is still a few days away, but the world around me says that the season is already here.

 

2013 in Review

Has another year flown by already?  It seems like only last week I was writing about 2012.

As we hoped, each year has been better than the year before. Casa La Pace in 2013 welcomed more guests, there were more nights with all rooms booked, and more nights with at least one room occupied.  As ever, we are thrilled to welcome new people from around the globe.

2013 for Casa La Pace could be subtitled ‘The Year of the Australians.” Until this year, we’d seen mostly Americans and a smattering of Europeans. In Our 1st AustraliansMarch, our first Australian guests arrived, two wonderful couples from Queensland. They were kind, funny, and all-around great guests.  We felt so lucky that they found Casa La Pace. We never imagined that they would be the first of a wave of Aussies we hosted this year.  Our final count for 2013 is 17 Aussies – each and every one delightful.

In addition to Australia and the U.S., we had guests from Great Britain, Poland, Hungary, Denmark, Singapore, and Dubai.  (I have probably forgotten a few).  Meeting people from other countries is one of the most interesting aspects of running a B&B.  We’re ‘tied down’ and can’t travel most of the year. But as we hear the stories of the lives of our guests, I can travel to their home in my mind.

This year we welcomed our first visitor from my hometown. Rita and her Rita and Jim Pruettehusband Jim, along with their nephew, came to stay with us early in 2013.  I left Blountstown in 1983 and have returned for only a couple of brief visits. During her time at Casa La Pace, Rita and I reminisced about high school and she updated me on significant events in her life in the past 30 years.  I was glad to learn that she and Jim are happy and healthy and active in their community.

In 2013, we had several returning guests. We love the good reviews on Trip Advisor. But a guest who wants to return to Casa La Pace says much more to us than words of praise.  It confirms that Casa La Pace is a welcoming place and that our efforts are appreciated.  We have promises from several people of their return to Casa La Pace in 2014.

Our final guest of this year was also our very first guest. In 2010, Becca brought along her friend Kate; they arrived about 10 days after Pepper and I moved Becca and Andrasfrom the U.S. to Ghivizzano.  The renovations to the house were (mostly) complete. But the walls were unpainted, we had almost no furniture, and we had no heating system.  Shortly before their arrival, I rushed to Lucca and bought two twin mattress.  Becca and Kate slept in the Nelida room on the mattresses on the floor.  Fortunately, it was a hot week in mid-summer, so they didn’t complain too much about the cold showers.

This December, Becca brought her husband Andras.  They slept in comfort in the Victoria room. They stayed with us for 4 days. And though it was cold outside, the happy couple took hot showers and were toasty and warm.  It was exciting for Becca to see how far we’ve come in 4 years.

We continue to make improvements to the house, as time and our budget allows.  Solar panels went onto the roof in April; they were finally approved and linked to the power grid in July (thank you, Italian bureaucracy).  We also installed air conditioning /heating units in each guest bedroom. The summer of 2013 was mild and the air conditioning was hardly needed.  But we’re ready now for future heat waves.

Though we had more guests and fewer free days, we still managed to travel a couple of times this year.  In February, we celebrated my 50th birthday in the Canary IslandsCanary Islands.  And during August, we escaped the heat by journeying to the Isle of Wight, off the southern coast of England.  In both cases, we stayed at B&Bs when possible.  We got to know the owners at a couple of them and wish we could return every year to see them.

During our free time, we tried to spend time with our friends, old and new, here in Ghivizzano.  We remain close with Ramona, Grazia, Rossano, and Ester. We Alessandro and Rebeccavisit Alessandro and Marinella and Samanta and Albano often.  We’ve added to our circle of friends Antonella and her husband Dean, who was born in the U.S. and is a perfect English speaker – and bakes wonderful bread in his pizza oven.  We met Andrea and Elisabetta at Alessandro and Marinella’s and we hope to see them much more in 2014.  We are grateful that our friends welcome us into Albano and Micheletheir homes and seem to enjoy meeting guests of Casa La Pace when we bring them along.  Alessandro and Dean speak English, but language seems to be no problem over a glass of wine or limoncello.

 

Pepper and I are grateful to everyone who came to stay at Casa La Pace in 2013. We already have many reservations for 2014 and we couldn’t be happier.

Sun Powered

I am reposting this, as the spam comments overwhelmed the previous post.

Pepper and I have always supported environmental organizations with monetary contributions and, when possible, by volunteering. (One memorable outing with the Nature Conservancy to southwest Arkansas was on one of the coldest days of winter to gather wildflower seeds.) We’ve also tried to live in a way that reduces, as much as possible, our negative impact on the environment.  So it made sense to ensure that Casa La Pace is as ‘green’ as we can make it.

When Pepper and I shopped for a refrigerator, washer, dryer, and dishwasher for the B&B, we bought only ‘A+’ or ‘A++’, even if they cost a little more. In Italy, the appliances have big, colorful stickers explaining how much each model consumes.  Each one is also assigned a letter, ‘A’ being the best model (lowest power consumption) and ‘D’ being the worst. (I assume that ‘F’ models are not offered for sale).  Europe has been very progressive in promoting energy efficiency, so many models these day are ‘A+’ or ‘A++’.

From the start, we hoped to install solar panels, as well.  Water heating panels are very popular here.  But our hot-water usage is not too high, and so decided to make our first priority photovoltaic panels.  (I also have some experience with photovoltaic, having installed it on the house in Arizona several years ago.)

After requesting several estimates, we located a great guy who offered an excellent product at a reasonable cost.  We signed the contract in March and the panels were installed on the roof in April. Solar Panel 1

End or story?  Of course not.  It took ENEL, the electric company, two more months to issue the permits and change our electric box.  And so, finally, Casa La Pace is now producing ‘green energy’.  Coincidentally, the clouds of spring dissipated about the time the panels began producing electricity.  (Perhaps the only ‘good side’ to the terrible spring weather is that I wasn’t fretting about ‘losing’ sunny days to produce electricy, since there was little sun.)

The panels have been functional for  about 3 weeks.  So far, we’re producing between 20 and 25 kilowatts of electricity each day, even on partly-cloudy days.

As an aside, I am irritated when people make ‘payback’ their top priority.   Why is the discussion about solar panels so focused on ‘return on investment’? Yes,  energy production efficiency should be considered, as well as cost of the panels, installation costs, and the like. But no one expects an air conditioner, garage door-opener, or refrigerator to ‘pay for itself’ in X years.  To me, we should treat home alternative energy sources in the same way.

This isn’t a great view of the panels, but I think I’d need a tall crane or helicopter for a “bird’s eye view”.  And very soon, the solar panels will show up on Google maps.

solar panels

December Weekend in Florence

Anyone who knows me for very long has heard me say at least once “Firenze, la Tornabuonicitta’ piu’ bella del mondo.”  My first visit to Italy, in 1984, was via the Florence program of Florida State University.  It shouldn’t be surprising that Firenze remains my favorite city. I take any opportunity to visit Firenze, especially now that I can take the train to Firenze in the morning and be back in Ghivizzano for dinner.

 

Casa La Pace has few guests in the colder months, so Pepper and I recently went to Firenze for the weekend.  In December the crowds are few and the rewards are many.  chrismas tree before lighting

 

In fact,I’m etIl Bargello sunseternally surprised that savvy travelers haven’t “discovered” Italy in December. To me, this is the perfect time to visit Firenze, especially if you have Michelangelo’s David or Botticelli’s Primavera on your list. There is no line at the entrance and, even better, few people in the museum galleries, so you can bask in the beauty of Italy’s treasures to your heart’s content.

 

Piazza del Duomo

Firenze is as beautiful as ever. This winter has been marvelously sunny (a welcome antidote to last year’s wet Del Corsoand dreary months). Yes, it’s cold, but not Siberian cold. Pepper and I spent most of the time with friends. We strolled the streets until fingers and ears began to numb. Then we’d pop into a bar for a hot tea or caffe latte.

It never ceases to amaze me how many bars there are in every Italian city, practically one on every corner – and often two or more almost side by side. How do they survive?  I try not to think like an accountant, instead counting all of the expressos that Italians drink all day – thank heaven that they do.

dina gaia rusty

In the evening – Palazzo Vecchiowhich arrives at 4 p.m. these days – we wandered the major thoroughfares and piazze, gazing at the street decorations and at the people. There were many others strolling the streets of Firenze. Even though American consumerism has increasingly infected Italy, there isn’t yet the manic atmosphere best described by the phrase “shop til you drop.”  Most of the people we encountered were, like us, marveling at how Firenze is even more beautiful when decorated for Christmas.

 

We had no real itinerary. Our major objective was to spend time with our friendsDuomo . In that we succeeded. I am tremendously lucky to have in Firenze a few Italian friends, companions I first met at 21. I am fortunate that we’ve managed to remain in touch and that we still delight in seeing each other. They’ve embraced Pepper too, and indeed shower him with affection. (And who wouldn’t?)

Santa Croce Christmas Market

Of course, I couldn’t help but wander down “memory lane” a little, too.  The pensione I lived in is no longer. But we walked down Via dei Servi, the street that led from the pensione to the duomo. I recalled looking at that imposing dei Servidome each morning on my way to school and having it at my back as I returned home after dinner. We strolled down Borgo degli Albizi, little changed from 30 years ago.  The wedding dress atelier is still there, as is the wonderful pastry shop/caffe. And FSU still has its ‘campus’ there, though down a few doors from its old location.

We are fortunate to also count among our friends a delightful family, originally from the UK, who now live near Montecatini.  The family includes 4 young boys, ages 14 to 3.  Because they live so close to Firenze, they come there often. We met them this weekend, lunching in an Egyptian diner and spending the afternoon being entertained by the boys.

gaia and rusty - chocolate!This weekend was a reminder that the most important part of my life is friends and family. And once again I got to spend some time in “the most beautiful city in the world.”

 

 

Family

This summer, we welcomed a guest with an interesting story.

It begins with Susan’s grandfather, an Italian who immigrated to Baltimore, Maryland.  Family lore has it that her great-grandfather arrived in America in the 1850′s, long before the mass immigrations through Ellis Island. (Also before the strict immigration laws of the late 1800s). The family is now thoroughly Americanised and no one from her family has returned to Italy.  And until now, no one else was particularly interested in drawing the family tree. Now Susan had decided to learn more about her family in Italy. She did some beginning research, but couldn’t locate many documents.  Fortunately for Susan, her great-grandfather left a clue on his gravestone: his birthplace of Coreglia-Antelminelli.

As Susan planned her trip, she found Casa La Pace on the Internet. She contacted us and made a reservation for 3 days, hoping to find out as much as possible in that short time. (The rest of her vacation in Italy would be with a group of hikers in the Cinque Terre.)

Susan speaks no Italian and made no appointments in advance with anyone in Coreglia. Before she arrived, Pepper made a few telephone calls to the commune (city hall).  He arranged for Susan to go there on her first day and see if there were any documents that might be helpful.  Pepper also agreed to accompany her, translating and providing introductions to the mayor and other friends who work in the commune.

I was pessimistic about Susan’s chances of finding out anything useful in such a short time. We have friends who research genealogy. When we were trying to track down Pepper’s mother’s family in the Canary Islands, they gave us helpful advice. But they warned us that older documents are harder to track down.  Most often, they are not computerized and often not even in a central location. Research can takes days and weeks, going from church to church and government office to government office, often with no results.

Was I wrong!  By an amazing stroke of good fortune, Pepper and Susan bumped into a woman at the commune who documents the history of Coreglia.  She doesn’t work in the commune, but happened to be there on an errand.  Eliza has already researched many of the families of the town. Incredibly, one of these is the “Mulinari” family.  Instead of digging through musty books, Susan was handed a book that contained her family tree, including her grandfather, his brothers and sisters.

Susan learned much more about her great-grandfather’s generation. A brother accompanied her great-grandfather to America. Another brother ventured to Russia, returning to Coreglia later. All of these brothers were figurinai, carvers and plaster-cast makers.  This craft was much prized in the 1800s and the Serchio Valley provided the four corners of the world with these craftsmen/artists.

Susan provided Eliza with new branches of the Mulinari family tree, i.e. the American descendants of her great-grandfather.  As often happens here, Susan’s great-grandfather departed for the New World and was never heard from again.

Eliza was as excited as Susan, telephoning us almost hourly with updates and corrections.  In Coreglia, there are no longer any “Mulinari”, but there are “Molinari” and Eliza was unsure if they were related to Susan’s great-grandfather.  Before day’s end, Eliza had untangled the branches.  She realized that a distant cousin of Susan’s now lives in Lucca.  So the next day, Susan travelled to Lucca for dinner with relatives the day before she didn’t even know existed.

Elisa & Susan in Coreglia

 

 

 

 

 

Susan left us with great memories and much more information than she dared hope.  She was enthusiastic to share with her American family what she learned in those 3 days here at Casa La Pace.

October weather

As October glides gently to its conclusion, I think back over the month with grape leaves 1puzzlement (and a smile). It hasn’t been typical weather, but not dramatically unusual either. We had a fairly short summer; the heat didn’t arrive until mid-June and lasted only until mid-August.  September was gorgeous, never too hot nor too cold.

As for October, I heard on the radio yesterday that there have been six weather ghivizzano moon‘disturbances’ that passed over Italy. I don’t recall all of them, and assume that not all of them affected Ghivizzano – at least I hope not  But we have had our fair share of rain.  Fortunately, it seems that October will end on a high note.

 

For Casa La Pace, October has been one of our all-time best months. We had grape leavesguests with us every night, and often all 4 rooms were occupied. I still can’t believe how popular Casa La Pace has become in a relatively short time.  (Thanks again to everyone who has posted their great reviews on TripAdvisor.)

Some of our guests in October have enjoyed glorious days of sunshine. Others arrived in great downpours or visited Lucca or Barga under the umbrella. It really has been a month of unpredictability.  In the 30 years I’ve been coming to Italy, October really is the “wild-card” month.

 

Gioviano Clouds

Last week, Toscana had its annual “bomba d’acqua”. Thunder rattled the house all night, but we arose to a tranquil morning – or so it seemed. One immediate difference was the roar of the Segone, the stream between us and Ghivizzano Alto. Instead of its usual sweet trill, the Segone was pounding and ferocious, overflowing its banks in many places.

As the day progressed, we realized how terrific the storm had been. Most immediately,Serchio October the Aulla-Pisa rail line was shut down. Two sets of guests were departing, one couple headed to Pisa airport for an afternoon flight.  Fortunately, Ghivizzano has good bus service, so both sets of guests were able to catch the bus to Lucca (though they boarded the buses thoroughly soaked by the intermittent downpours). Throughout the day, we learned that more and more roads were closing due to fallen walls, small mudslides, and flooding. By days end, travel within the valley was very difficult.Serchio October Evening

The good news is that we heard of no loss of life.  Tuesday morning, thanks to the tremendous efforst of the road crews, the civil protection corp, and others, the roads began to clear. Trains were often delayed that day, but that also worked itself out with time.

Appenines

The one consistent factor in October has been the temperature. It doesn’t feel Mountain colorlike autumn, although the sun is hanging low over the mountains in the afternoon. But the trees are dropping their leaves and the olives turning black on the branches.  And the evening shadows are longer, the amber light filtering through the threadbare branches.

 

By now, I should have turned on the heater.  We did have one or two nights of cooler weather earlier in the month; I said to myself, “the heat must come on next weeValley Octoberk!”  Instead, the daytime temperatures quickly returned to unusually-high levels, usually in the low-20s C. and the nighttime temperatures are hovering around 15 C. I write this at the end of October with the sun streaming in through the open windows – and I am wearing short pants!

 

bike 9

Most of the images in this post are from my bicycle ride at the end of October. It was a perfect afternoon and I was thrilled to ride my still-new bicycle.  I only went about 20 km; I would have ridden further, but I stopped often to take photos.

 

September weather

My favorite season is spring, with the flowers are in bloom and every plant and tree is  different shade of green. But September in the Serchio Valley lovely. And the weather is definitely better, with more sunshine and less rain.  A spring day may be wonderfully warm – or bitterly cold and windy. The temperature in September is ideal, not too hot and never too cold.

This year, the heat ended early, around August 20th. Since then, we’ve had only one or two days with highs approaching 30 degrees. More often, the early afternoon sunshine will make me seek the shade. But the mornings are beautifully cool and the evenings are mild and breezy.

The rain is also less wearying. Perhaps because we’ve had a nice long stretch of sunshine (though never enough to make up for the winter’s dreariness), a day of clouds is a welcome change.  Each storm blows through, perhaps even lingering for a full day. But the sun appears soon after and lights the valley for days at a time. The hillsides are bathed a the diffuse golden sunlight of early autumn.

The sun is my friend again, too. In full summer, I’m lathered in sun protection cream and I dart from shade to shade – when I venture out during the heat of the day. In September, I begin to seek out the warmth in the library where the sun’s rays heat the tile floor.  I want to lunch in the courtyard. And a late afternoon is to read (or nap) as the sun makes its evening journey towards the western skyline.

Yes, autumn is here. The valley already has fall in the air. The leaves of the chestnut trees that blanket the hillsides are slowly changing from green to ocher. And the acacias are shedding their leaves in great masses of brittle straw-colored masses.  The swallows have left and the evening skies are less interesting without their diving and swooping.

Ghivizzano Alto in fog

Each rain brings cooler nighttime temperatures. We still sleep with the windows open. But occasionally a particularly cool night forces me to get up in the early morning and close the windows.

The difference between day and nighttime temperatures means the return of fogs and mists. At this time of year, mysterious forms rise from the distant hills, vanishing as the air warms. The mountaintops are often obscured in low gray clouds or thick fogs.

September in the Valley

Those ‘in the know’ have been counting the days since the first soaking rains of September.  They say that the porcini mushrooms will appear about 15 days from that day, good weather permitting.  And this year it seems we will have a great crop. There hasn’t been a lot of wind and the temperatures have been deliciously moderate.  In Castelnuovo last week, I spotted a ‘fresh porcini’ sign in the window of a small alimentare (grocery store).  Dried porcini are great, but fresh porcini are heavenly.

l’orto – the harvest

The heat of August is in the past. For my orto, it means that most of the growing and fruiting is also in the past.  Yes, there are green tomatoes on the vine. A few peppers show streaks of color, so they may ripen, too. The leeks continue to fatten and the cucumbers may have a plump one or two hidden among the vines.  But the garden has become calm and quiet as summer ends.

I’m happy with the results of this year’s gardening.  While we won’t feed ourselves, we gathered vegetables from almost every type of plant in the garden. And this was in spite of our novice status.

Albano and I never staked the beans properly, so instead of 3 neat rows, we ended up with a big green mass.  It looked like a bean-covered monster from a 1950′s horror movie.  As a result, the bean harvest was meager, with perhaps 8 bowls full.  The beans were colorful and hearty, if a little small compared to those we buy at Loretta’s fruit and vegetable shop.

beans

The kale and broccoli are doing surprising well still.  I’m steaming a head of broccoli for dinner now.   But I don’t have any good ideas for how to use all of the kale leaves.  Locals says to add a leaf or two to the soup broth. Which is fine except a) it’s too hot to eat soup and b) the plants produce more leaves than I could possibly consume soups.

The lettuce continue to make new foliage, so I occasionally pluck a few leaves for Pepper’s salad.  He says the red lettuce is especially tasty. (And I say that salad is a waste of good space in my stomach for better-tasting food.)

The cucumber vines flowered and spread wonderfully, but for the longest time there was no fruit. I finally found a couple of ripe cucumbers recently.  Once was almost a perfect sphere.  They are deliciously watery and crisp.

The peppers and eggplants were almost too beautiful to harvest.  The pepperswere long and slender, some golden and others carrot-orange. The eggplants (fruit) are eggplant (color). But I’m never sure when the fruit is ripe, so generally bring home beautiful orbs that are tough.

peppers and eggplants

The tomatoes really came through. Pepper and I have been eating tomatoes and fresh mozzarella atlunch for a while now.  The fruit looks like a tomato (thankfully). Even more important, it tastes like one, too: sweet and delicious.

Tomatoes

Goodbye Friend

In an earlier essay, I listed our closest friends in Ghivizzano. I realize now that I omitted a special friend from from that list. Unfortunately, he is no longer here. His name was Pippo. He was Ramona and Grazia’s dog, a black giant schauzer mix. Beginning in the winter of 2010/2011 he became our ‘time share’ dog, a loving companion and trusted friend.

Pippo

Pippo was a gentle giant: I have never seen such a docile, obedient dog. When we first came to know and love him, he was indoors most of the time. I knew that Grazia and Ramona walk little (the former because of age, the latter because of back pain). This was during the few weeks of winter when the days in Ghivizzano are bitterly cold and it is even colder after the weak sun sets. I offered to walk Pippo as a favor to Ramona and Grazia, so that they could remain in their warm house. I also wanted this huge dog, with his massive legs and sleek body, to have a chance to use his muscles.  Ramona and Grazia gratefully accepted my offer.  I would arrive after dinner and take Pippo around the neighborhood. He was delighted to get outdoors and he was bursting with energy so we sometimes ran at the start of our walk.  After a week or so, Pippo understood that my arrival usually meant going out. As soon as he heard my voice or saw me standing in the doorway, he came bounding to the door. If I delayed (as I often did, talking to Ramona and Grazia about the day’s events), Pippo impatiently paced to and from the door.  When I finally picked up the leash, he bounced up and down with joy and panted in anticipation.

Sometimes Pepper would talk Pippo out too, especially on pretty days. The walks were beneficial to us all. I think maybe Pippo enjoyed them the most, because we took him far from home, to new smells and new dogs. But I returned to Ramona and Grazia’s house refreshed and calm.  I was happy to help Pippo, but the walks with him benefited me, too. When Pepper and I were troubled or tired and we took Pippo for a walk, his wagging tail and happy gait made the day brighter and our worries less important.

Rusty and Pippo in garden

Pippo was already old when we met him. But recently his health declined quickly. He stopped eating and became lethargic. He was almost deaf by now and my arrival didn’t have the same affect it once had. Sometimes, he wouldn’t even get out of his bed until I came to scratch his sides.  Eventually, Grazia moved him downstairs to the cantina, as he couldn’t climb the stairs any longer.

Grazia postponed the fateful decision as long as possible. The veterinarian prescribed steroids, which allowed Pippo to recover his appetite and some of his energy. But we all knew that this was a temporary reprieve. Pippo was officially Barbara’s dog. But as with many pets brought into the home by a child, Grazia soon assumed his caretaking.  She took him for a short walk in the morning and at night for his ‘bisogni’ and filled his water and food dishes. Grazia kept up a good front, treating Pippo as a responsibility and a duty to maintain. But in those final weeks, the facade cracked. She admitted that many nights she was sleeping little, thinking about ‘povero Pippo’.

The day before the vet’s final visit, Grazia told Pepper and me about it, so we came to say ‘goodbye’. Pippo barely raised his head, but did reward our visit with a couple of thumps of his tail. That evening, I brought back from a restaurant a few bones.  I wasn’t sure he could eat them, but Pippo always loved well-cooked bones. (He was a greedy eater, and more than once he scarfed down an entire bone, only to retch it up later because it was too big).

The next evening, I passed by Ramona’s and Grazia’s house. I dared not go near the cantina. Grazia’s face said everything. Without a word, she shook her head slowly. After a few moments of silence, we talked about Pippo. I was glad to find out that during the last night he did eat all of the bones. So he died with a good meal in his stomach.

It has been a month since Pippo was put to sleep. But Pepper and I still miss him very much. Yesterday as we drove past Ramona and Grazia’s house, I turned my head without thinking. Pepper noticed and asked me if I was looking for Pippo to be stretched out in the shade. And it was true.  He will be in our hearts forever.

 

l’orto – planting

With great enthusiam, Pepper and I went to the local garden center and selected various plants and seeds.  It was springtime according to the calendar, but the rains and cool temperatures were not very spring-like. More than one neighbor complained that his plants were drowned and rotting.

I interpreted this as a sign that my late start was actually beneficial (hooray for procrastination!).

Lettuce

For the next few evenings, I walked down to the orto and worked in the garden.  I hoed a row, then planted the plants or the seeds, then hoed the fresh dirt back over.  I didn’t need to water much, as the soil was soggy.  In fact, evening rains prevented me from working in the garden a few times.  So it took at least a week to get everything in the ground.

My garden plot

I included several plants that did well last year: tomatoes, peppers, beets, and kale. This larger plot, which Albano and I are cultivating together, provided the opportunity to try new types: rucola (arrugula), watermelon, borlotto (a delicious brown bean), and artichoke.  Albano was very busy and, though I reminded him several times to select some plants, all of the plants in the garden were my choices.

Tomatoes and broccoli

Speaking of artichoke, until I came to Italy in 1984, I had never eaten one. I was hooked from the first mouthful.  They are delicious and the plant is beautiful as well. In several ornamental gardens, I’ve spotted artichoke tucked in among the roses and hedges.

Since the climate of Toscana and northern Florida are similiar, I am curious why farmers didn’t cultivate artichoke when I was growing up.  Is it because the farmers are not familiar with it? Are the plants too large to be profitable – they can grow to a meter wide and almost as high, but produce few blossoms.  Or is the different soil and moisture to blame?

I planted my artichokes in April, in the smaller plot I used last year.  On one of his free mornings, Albano used the weed-wacker to clear his land- and lopped the tops off my poor artichokes.  Fortunately, these are hardy plants (being a member of the thistle family, they are really weeds), the plants soon put out new leaves.  I’ve transferred them to the larger plot and they seem to have survived their beheading.