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.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017


Woke up this morning to a thin overcast and about ten degrees cooler. While I was out staking up the tomatoes the clouds thickened and there was a bit of rumbling and a crack, and a good little shower. Not enough, but better than nowt, and a huge relief.

It's been a really bad heatwave, highest June temps in Italy for 150 years. And no rain at all since early May. Annamaria told me the local farmers are worried. They will either lose crops or lose the value of them paying for irrigation. But the forecast says we've had the worst of it, and it should rain some today and tomorrow.

Here's some pics of my little orto. Annamaria has the key to the irrigation well, so she comes every morning and afternoon to water it all. It's set up with the plants in a long row down a slight incline so all you have to do is turn on the hose at the top and it makes a little river. She's been coaching me in contadini methods. I was out staking up my tomatoes when it started to rain; felt great!

Behind this pepper plant you can see my row of beans. I was out there collecting them this morning, but none of them made it as far as the house. It reminds me of when I was a kid and I would sit on my grandma's veranda with my book, and eat the beans that were trained up the veranda railing. When she was making lunch one time, she said, "Hilary dear, go out and get me some beans for lunch." I had to tell her I couldn't.

These pumpkins are much larger now, and looking much more pumpkiny.



Monday, June 05, 2017

Sweet potatoes

The three sweet potatoes I stuck in jars on the kitchen windowsill are growing slips.

"Patate Americane" are not always easy to get in this country, but they're incredibly good for you, and a great substitute for regular potatoes if you want to have more nutrient (and flavour) dense foods. But I discovered that they are not botanically related to potatoes at all. Tatties are a nightshade family thing, and sweets are... get this... related to morning glory, of all things. So you have to do them completely differently.

One of the rather charmingly rustico features of the garden is an old bathtub sitting near the fence. (What self respecting aspiring hillbilly doesn't have a bathtub in the garden, I ask you!) The first thing I thought to do with it was potatoes, but then I saw the sweets in the supermarket and had a brainstorm.

Why wait for them to appear in the shops?

But where growing potatoes is easy - you just cut a chunk off and stick it in a pile of dirt - sweets is complicated. You can't just bury a sweet and have it grow more of itself. You have to do this thing of growing "slips." Which means you have to stick a sweet in a jar of water on the window sill and wait for it to start sprouting - roots in the watery end, and green baby plants at the top end. Then once the baby plants are well developed, and have a full root system, then you stick them in the dirt.

What I didn't count on was that it takes so long! Potatoes go so fast that you can have them growing roots and shoots in the fridge. (Naturally this never happens to me! Much too organized...But I've heard it happens to other people. People who are terrible housekeepers... Ahem... Please ignore the pile of seed packets and the tipped over empty water bottle in the photo above...) So of course, not knowing the difference, I stuck my sweets on the sill, thinking it would be a few weeks at most.

When nothing was happening, I looked it up. TWO MONTHS!!! just to get the slips going. Urgh! But, like starting a new TV show that starts going south, it's too late for me to turn back now. I've got to see it through to the end. I'm going to have a rustico bathtub full of sweet potatoes, maybe by the end of the winter.


Sunday, June 04, 2017

Happy Holy Ghost Day!

This is the Pentecost I'm going to learn the Veni Creator Spiritus.

I'm gonna do it!


(A friend, who is also a lousy Catholic with aspirations to being better, said, cheerfully, "Well, I know the first line!")


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"They know in their bones that something has gone terribly wrong..."

Blessed fellowship of likemindedness.

John, a longtime reader, sent me a link to a blog by a guy who is doing what I'm doing, and apparently for much the same reason. Brian Kaller is apparently trying to raise a daughter in a way that is not in keeping with the mainstream. It seems like a pretty good idea to me. I don't have a daughter, but I have got latent maternal instincts. I feel the urge to teach people the things I was taught. I'm more glad than I can say that I'm not the only one.

Let’s say we've lost most of the self-reliant skills and classical education that our forbears posessed. Let's say we have replaced them with a culture of buying and discarding things we don't value, and staring at glowing screens. Let's say you want to try to rediscover an older way of life, believing we will need such things again. And let’s say you have a daughter.

Restoring Mayberry

When I ask most modern people to remember a particular decade, they usually remember the television shows and video games that took up much of their young life, or the clothes and hairstyles that were fashionable. They remember what Hollywood celebrities were doing at the time more than their own lives. They don’t typically remember what my elderly neighbours do, like the wildflowers that grew in a particular meadow, or peeking as children into the nests of herons and listening to the eggs. They don’t remember playing children’s games, or exploring the woods, or swimming to an island in the middle of the pond, or declaring themselves kings and princesses of their newfound lands. Most of them never had the friendships to even have such adventures – people moved around too much, or were always playing video games - even if they had been allowed to roam, and even if there were any woods to explore.

Most people my age spent 20,000 hours of their best years warehoused in a school that looked like a prison, but few remember anything they learned. Most remember spending many more hours in the backseats of cars, but never rode a horse or sailed a boat as children, or did anything that depended on skill and subtlety. Most modern people grew up with enough toys to fill an orphanage, but remember few of them, no more than their own children can remember the fifteenth toy they received last Christmas.

Perhaps most importantly, most people my age don’t remember ever having done anything useful. As children they might have been indulged or ignored, but when I ask if they ever contributed to the family, most are confused even by the question. A few cleaned their room or raked leaves outside. But few people my age grew up feeling necessary, or learning any skills, or feeling alive.

As working adults, most people I know spend their waking hours moving electrons around a screen, but they are still not necessary, and they feel it. Most depend entirely on electricity, but have no idea where my electricity comes from. They depend on pressing a button to keep warm, but don’t know what the button does. They need purified water from the tap, but have no idea where it comes from, or how pure it really is, or how it could be cleaned.

They know the president, but not their mayor or councilman, and know more about their favourite movie star than the old lady down the road. Most, I expect, have spent far more time watching others make love than they have making love themselves, and have spent thousands of hours watching actors feign death but have never bathed a body for burial.

Many Americans these days see family only on uncomfortable holidays, have no traditions to pass down, and little knowledge of songs or stories older than their parents. Most have spent their lives drifting across an ocean of strangers, committed to nothing and no one. No wonder suicide, which was once rare, has become a common cause of death. Most people don’t kill themselves in any identifiable way, of course – but when I return to my native country, I see many people who have ballooned in size, or require drugs of one kind or another to get through another day.

Even those who are nominally successful – who live in houses the size of barns, drive trucks the size of school-buses and have enough toys to stuff an orphanage – remain deeply unhappy. One way or another, they grow angrier every year; they know in their bones that something has gone terribly wrong.

Glad I'm not the only one to have noticed.

The more I think about the Beguine idea, the more I think if it is going to be useful, it has to encompass some kind of educational and hospitality aspect. The idea keeps coming back of having people to stay, receiving guests, according to the Holy Rule, is receiving Christ:

All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35). 2 Proper honour must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith (Gal 6:10) and to pilgrims. 3 Once a guest has been announced, the superior and the brothers are to meet him with all the courtesy of love. 4 First of all, they are to pray together and thus be united in peace...15 Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received...

And helping them reconnect with a more authentic way of life.

As this gentleman has pointed out, even the very materially wealthy people of Modernia are culturally impoverished to the point of absolute penury. As he says above, children are given toys and told to go away and stop bothering their parents. Anaesthetised by video games and screens, they are raised by machines who can teach them nothing useful, nor teach them how to be useful themselves. And I know young people feel this lack. I have friends younger than I who can't sew on a button or make a pot of tea.

There simply must be way not only to preserve this kind of life, but to help others discover and grow in it as well.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Nuns in the Umbrian hills

These are the nuns I'm going to go and spend a weekend visiting week after next. June 10-12.

They're a new thing, and normally I don't approve of new things, but they're trying to revive an old thing, and have done so quite successfully. The Sisters of Bethlehem were founded in 1950. They ran into a rough patch - as you do - a few years ago, but as far as I can tell they've got it sorted. They have a house in the middle of nowhere near Gubbio, which is a short train ride from here. They're having a group visit this coming weekend, so I'm in for the weekend after.

They don't do the Novus Ordo or Gregorian monastic chant as far as I've heard, but apparently do some kind of Byzantine thing. I'm game. I just am finding it nearly impossible to get my head to accept living disconnected from monastic life. I'm the worst Oblate in the world, but there was an interior connection with the monastery that everything in my life was founded on. Now that it's gone, no matter how well things go, I have a weird sense of being unmoored. Like a hot air balloon in danger of just drifting on the winds.

But I hope I can talk to them. Of all people, followers of St. Bruno (who use the Rule of St. Benedict, I've just learned) will perhaps be best able to tell me what I can do to learn to discipline myself to a regular life while staying at home.


Nettle beer and boozy cherries

Just sent the following email to Fr. Prior in Norcia:

It all came to about 25 litres, in all sizes of bottle. Need more bottles!
A bit disappointed by the colour. I was hoping for a nice dark green. 

"Dear brewmonks,

I couldn't have done it without y'all. If he's off the innernets, please tell Br. Augustine that I took all the advice I could remember, and that I used the hops I collected and dried last summer in Norcia. They are still very fragrant, and nice. (And that a walk along the ferrovia will reveal that the stuff just grows like wild-crazy all over the area, so go get some!) About a pound and a half of fresh nettles came from the big patch in the garden.

I couldn't find any beer yeast in the village shops, so I used this thing, "lieveto madre" that I think is the equivalent of our sourdough starter, but it said on the packet that it was made from beer yeast, so I figured what the heck. It smelled a bit like pizza at first, but soon smelled nice and beery. It sat in the big bucket for a week, until, as per instructions, it had mostly stopped its mighty fizzing, but I could see it was still active. Tasted like beer too. Into each bottle I put a few little pieces of this super-strong fresh organic ginger we've got around here, and I mixed up a little more yeast with some honey and spooned it into each bottle.

Bottled it up last night, about 25 litres worth, I think. (All the bottles were different sizes, so I don't really know.)

Also, the rosehip wine that I made last May with the last bits of the monk-beer yeast has turned out beautifully. It's quite tart because rosehips are incredibly acidic, but its really refreshing and got quite fizzy, and rather alcoholic. No more than two glasses for me! But the work involved in picking, boiling, mashing, straining (3 times) through cheesecloth made the 7 litres I got not really a good investment. I'll stick to making them into jelly."


Boozy cherries, stewing away. 

Pity I missed elderflower season. Last year's elderflower champagne (using yeast the brewmonks gave me left over from their operation) turned out gloriously, and I did up about ten litres of non-alcoholic elderflower cordial and kept it in the freezer all summer. But the nettle beer took every bottle I had.

But we'll have elderberries by mid-July, and I can make some more elderberry cordial. The last batch I did was ages ago in England, and I followed a medieval recipe that called for cloves (it was a medicinal thing - medieval cough and cold remedy) but I didn't care for the cloves and I think I'll leave them out this time.

Clearly need more bottles.

The recipe for the boozy cherries is kind of complex and tricky, but I encourage everyone to give it a go. Nothing like lovely cherry cocktails, warmed up with about a half teaspoon of honey, in the cold weather.


a kilo of fresh, ripe local cherries
two litres of el-cheapo vodka
two large preferably hinge-top jars

Wash the jars. Rinse the cherries under a cold tap. Put them in the jar.

Now, here's the tricky bit: pour the vodka into the jars over the cherries. Stick on the lids.

You may be tempted to experiment and stick on the lids before you pour the vodka, but I'd recommend against it.

Put the jars somewhere out of the way for six months.

Share and enjoy.

(I've tried it both with and without a little simple sugar syrup, and I find I prefer it without. If you want it sweet, the honey can be added in when you drink the cherry juice.)

(I'll spare you the ten-hour version)

I'm also digging like a dwarf in the garden. The big patch that's exclusively mine to play with is really just a huge patch of bare earth. A complete blank slate. It's got about ten small fruit and ornamental trees in it, but needs to have the soil improved and get some ground cover plants in there. The soil here is river silt, which means it's pretty dense clay and sticky, but extremely fertile. But if it's left bare it gets very dry and packed down. I have yet to figure out why the extremely lush grass in the orchard just stops abruptly at that line.

I'm digging big round raised beds around each tree, using the length of my big spade to measure the diameter, with the tree as the centre point. These I'm ringing with some big, weathered and mossy squared masonry stones that are piled up along the fence. I'd also like to try my hand at making some wattled fences. There are bundles of cut twigs from trimming the fruit trees just lying about, and apparently not being used for anything. They belong to my neighbour, but I'm sure he won't mind me taking them off his hands. Like any farm, there is loads of unused spare stuff lying around.

I know it's way too late in the season, but I'm working like mad on this book and if I don't have something physical to do my brain will melt. And really I don't think I've found anything that gets the cobwebs out of your brain quicker than taking huge, round overhead swings at the earth with a big iron mattock! (And I'm losing all that podge I put on by sitting around on the sofa in Santa Marinella, sulking for six months.) I'm just levering up the big clods, hacking them into smaller clods, and then watering the soil to soften it up. Then I loaded a big thick layer of cut grass over it to keep the moisture in. It seems to be working. Next, when the whole ring is finished, a layer of soil goes on top of the grass cuttings, and I keep it covered and keep watering it.

I'm just going to seed it, I think. I've got a load of wildflower seeds I collected in Norcia, and a bunch more in packets. We have a sort of second spring in September when the temperature drops and the rain comes back, so a lot of the wildflowers and plants that can't take the heat and dry weather spring back up, so maybe we'll see a blooming. If not, we can wait. Gardening is really all about patience and long-term planning.

Country life. It's the only life worth living.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

All I want for Christmas is a 3.5x-90x Trinocular Stereo Microscope with USB Digital Camera and 54 LED Ring Light

I don't know if I've mentioned it, but I recently got a book contract. It's not a huge deal; my name won't be on it and it's not the whole book - just three chapters and some editing - but it's a good start in the book world. And when I've actually managed to produce something, I'm going to be paid a nice little chunk of money. Again, not a huge fortune, but it will keep us in kitty-kibble and tea n' biscuits for a while. And if I do it right, promote myself right, I might be able to grow this little shoot into more work as a ghost writer. I like researching and can put decent English sentences together, and am starting to be very wary of the urge to be "known". When I'm done and the book is sailing along the publishing process I might look into the many websites about "how to start a business as a ghost writer," and see what they say. I'm sure there's a Wikihow about it.

Meanwhile, life here in the Perugia lowlands continues to be a consolation. The weather has warmed up considerably, but we get lots of nice breezes and fairly regular thunderstorms to keep things cool, and not boring. The kitties are becoming real outdoor cats, only showing up for meals and nap time.

Pippin's new favourite nap spot. It's my collecting basket, but I put a padded placemat in it to keep the fur out and to be nice and cozy. 

I've been to the village festa and it was charming; a Mass that was not too bad and a very lovely procession through town with a glorious gilded 18th century baldacchino, many antique banners and lots of local hymns and songs to Our Lady and St. Martin, the town's patron. So far I have managed to go to Mass in the village parishes three times and not even once started yelling or stormed out, or even made faces at the gladhand o' peace. I met the curate and he speaks adequate English to get my confession heard. Friendly chap. I think if he gets to know me better, he'll be rather shocked at how old fashioned I am (they always are), so we'll have to see how friendly he remains. I've even found my antique lace mantilla and recovered it from its box, though I don't want to shock anyone just yet. Let em get used to seeing the straniera every week first.

I've started about 30 litres of nettle and ginger beer, and the cherry trees in the garden are heavy and bright with fruit, so the two large bottles of vodka are just waiting for two extra large hinge-topped jars and we'll have boozy cherries and warm cherry cocktails at Christmas again!

Meanwhile, I've started sketching a little. The landlady, Annamaria, gave me a beautiful slab of white marble in an arch shape, about 3/4 of an inch thick, and very smooth.

The arch is not even. I thought of taking it to the local funerary stonemasons who specialise in this sort of thing, but then thought it seemed rather charming lopsided. I'm thinking instead of trying to hide it, I'll incorporate it into the painting somehow. Maybe have the extended corner at the bottom right as a little side chapel containing some monks or acolytes peeking through the curtain at the great folk. Maybe with a cat. 

It was supposed to be the top of a bit of the kitchen counter, but its been sitting outside getting green and aged. I asked if I could have it to paint on, and a few days later, Bruno came struggling in with it and put it in my workroom. So I have to start planning seriously what to put on it.

If I do a decent job of it, I might be able to sell it for at least a few thousand, (though how I could safely ship such a large and heavy thing might be a bit tricky, I can only just lift it!) and it would keep us going for a good long while. It's such a lovely thing it deserves to have a Sacred Conversation, in the late Gothic, early Renaissance style that is so prominent around here. Last weekend I had a wonderful chance to visit Spello, a nearby medieval town with loads of churches, and their most famous son is the great painter Pinturicchio (Benetto di Biagio). We saw the absolutely mindbogglingly beautiful frescoes of the Baglioni Chapel (not allowed to take pics), in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore that was damaged in the quakes and remains partly closed. I fell instantly madly in love with Signore Biagio, and bought the only English language Pinturicchio book they had and several post cards.

One of the things I love about these late Gothic painters is the incredible attention to detail. I once saw an exhibition of Filippino Lippi (the much nicer son of the profligate and unpleasant Fra Filippo Lippi) student of Botticelli, and I was amazed to see that in the background of these paintings of saints and miracles, he had gone to scrupulous care to depict the flowers and insects and birds with absolute and minute botanical perfection. You could recognise every species. This is something I will be doing my best to emulate.

Today I saw that a friend of mine in the US is taking a college course in botany, just for the fun of it, and she posted some of the screen shots of the USB-compatible dissecting microscope she's using in class, and it awakened again my longing for one. Lots of work to get through in the next few months, and of course loads of financial priorities, but if things keep looking up, I might think about it again.

Here's a few pics of beautiful Spello. It's right next door to Assisi on the same train line from Rome, but having no first-rank saints to attract the zillions of tourists, is a much nicer place to visit.

Beautiful wooden loggia in the Spello municipal building. Very typically Umbrian

Trying to coax out a beautiful blue-eyed white kitty to come be petted. 

Philip, always keeping an eye on me. In San Lorenzo church. We went on a Sunday and arrived just as the Mass was ending, and it was packed to standing room, with everyone dressed to the nines. I would say that Umbria is a place of the Faith. 

What everyone comes to Spello for is the flowers. Some time ago, the town fathers knew they had to increase tourist interest, nearly all of whom would just zoom past on to Assisi and the big museums in Perugia. They hit upon the idea of flowers. They provided pots and hooks and gardening advice, and now the whole town blooms. There are contests for the locals to produce the most beautiful displays. 

Right at the very top of this very Franciscan town is the 12th century church of San Severino, well out of the tourist zone and  very peaceful. It is the church of the Capuchin Provincial house. Just down the lane is a Poor Clare monastery (which we came to too late in the day to visit.) 

The view from the table where we had lunch. 

Agnese Bocci, a third order Franciscan whose house is more or less right next door. Under this portrait there was a marble plaque that said she died in the odore suavitatis on the 8th of October, 1793. A mystic, she is one of Umbria's many stay-at-home saints.

Where we stopped for a glass of wine, at the very topmost summit of town, looking down into the valley behind it, away from the train tracks. Dead ahead is the Sibiline mountains, and Norcia is about 100 km away. 


The eucharistic chapel of San Lorenzo church. 

You can see the little plaques they give you for "best balcony", five years in a row!

Back in the village in the late afternoon, all hung with the flags of the four "rione," the neighbourhoods, who have a week long sports tournament. Volleyball and calcio, and music and beer and sausages all week. The festa is the Madonna della Scala, in honour of Our Lady's icon that was found in the remains of the medieval church when they were building a new one. 

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!