Friday, 20 October 2017

Oil is well (sorry)

The harvest has started, our little road is covered in the nets used to collect the olives as they are combed off the trees and conversation is all about the oil. We took our regular early evening walk to the village recently and were chatting to a friend. He revealed to us the three Ss essential to produce the best oil. SOLE - sunshine, we have that in abundance and this year has been exceptional with daytime temperatures still in the mid 20s. SASSI - rocks, we live in the side of a mountain and since the wildfires the limestone outcrops are even more evident, our land is poor and stoney, apparently that's perfect. SILENCIO - silence, apart from birdsong, sometimes the mew of the buzzards soaring on the thermals above us and the chatter of people working in the fields, we are very quiet. So we have the ingredients for the best oil and though we mentioned that apparently the harvest in Puglia is good this year, our friend says their oil doesn't match the quality of ours. We haven't started picking yet but I'm as excited as ever about the harvest and interested to see what difference all this extra sunshine has made. We are waiting patiently and quietly, don't want to disturb our developing crop.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Enjoying the season

How unusual for me, Mrs FlipFlops, to be relishing the changing season which hasn't yet involved a change of footwear. It continues to be warm in the day, we still haven't lit the wood burner as the house is warm enough and we are still sleeping under a summer weight duvet. Most nights I look down the valley to see if there is smoke from any of the houses but there never is, strange as the Italians are now layering up their clothes and into socks and jackets while we still walk round in t shirts. We are hopeful of a small olive harvest and our neighbour says we can put ours with his if we are short of a mill run. Our kitties are becoming more independent, they sometimes go off for the day and don't return starving hungry, or even pleased to see us. Some nights they sleep outside, sometimes inside, sometimes they come upstairs and wake us in the middle of the night to be let out. Gentle days spent outside starting with breakfast in the terrace, of course always a project for Mr FF, quiet evenings with maybe a film and lots and lots of sleep, it's all so relaxing. We still open the shutters each morning to bright blue sky and sunshine, it certainly doesn't feel like summer is over and even though we've dismantled our plastic pool Mr FF is still using the outside solar shower. We ve been here five months, often it feels like five minutes and oddly I haven't felt at all homesick or had a longing for UK winter food. I still have a stock of Yorkshire tea, knitting wool and books, what more could I ask. We will return to the penthouse within a month but already I'm thinking about comkng back to Lazio next year and desperately hoping that Crema, Grigio and Theo will stay around, we are doing our best to make provision for them.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Give me credit

I'm going to stop posting that all is calm it just tempts fate. This week Mr FF tried to renew our car insurance but his credit card was declined, I offered him mine and that was declined too. Our cards were due to expire in August while we we'd be in Italy so we contacted Barclaycard before we left, explained the situation and in April we each received new Visa and American Express cards that ran until 2020, great. However when we spoke to Barclaycard after the cards failed they happily explained that they'd ceased their association with American Express, issued new Visa cards in August and stopped all the cards we have with us. Mr FF asked if the existing Visa cards could be reactivated till we came home, no chance, computer says no. Cue several lengthy and expensive phone calls with lots of holding, repeating the same information, passport number etc, spelling out our Italian address to three different people, receiving texts and emails demanding we phone America to progress our request. Eventually after a few days they approved the issue of an emergency card. Meantime I remembered that I had a Marks and Spencer credit card that I hardly use, fished it out and tried a small on line purchase to see if it worked, card declined. I phoned M&S bank, explained our dilemma but they said I should have told them I was abroad, it's in the terms and conditions, who knew. I asked them if I could have the card working but they said they wrote to me in August asking if I wanted to keep the card, that expires in 2018, and since I didn't reply within 14 days they'd stopped it. I explained that we were in Italy for the summer so not receiving post and questioned why they couldn't just let my card run to expiry, they said its in the terms and conditions that I have to keep using my card. I asked if they could reactive it, no but they could send a new one to my home address, I said that wasn't helpful and finished the call before I lost my temper. By now I was furious with frustration and though I hadn't spoken to Barclaycard thinking that just one emergency card would be enough, I decided to call them to ask just why they'd decided to issue new cards within four months and stop the existing ones. We knew that the American Express cards were defunct but didn't understand why the Visa had to be replaced. The lady was lovely, she said she'd try to get the card I have reactivated, I explained my husband had tried that and she'd be wasting our time, hers and mine, but she insisted. I only held a couple of minutes and she came back saying that's your card back functioning until the end of the year. Unbelievable, it's infuriating that one operator tells you no while another solves your problem, just the luck of the draw. Mr FFs emergency card was being couriered out at this stage but he was cross and phoned to ask for his existing card to be reactivated, they said no and when he told them that was wrong they offered to do so until the end of October, you can imagine his response and eventually he got his card live until the end of the year too. What a shambles, we are exhausted with fighting and worrying about booking our journey home without credit cards, goodness knows what would have happened if we'd been in a hotel having to pay for accommodation and meals or travelling from place to place with no means of paying. All Visa had to do was reactivate our cards but they took us down a lengthy expensive and stressful route they means we'll be leaving them and applying for cards with different providers when we get home. It's a pity for that lovely lady who actually helped, she probably gets no recognition for her dedication and is treated the same as the jobs worths who bang on about terms and conditions or just tell you no and don't give a toss about customer service.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Autumn thoughts

My posts of late have been about as frequent as the rain we've received here in Lazio. We had an overnight storm and turned off the irrigation thinking it was redundant for the rest of the year, now we are thinking of turning it on again. There's not a lot to report, time is whizzing by, days are quiet and calm, it's lovely. We are sleeping well now we can actually lie under a light duvet instead of tangling ourselves on top of an unwanted sheet. Of course we've had another water leak up above the house, four leaks in four months must be a record. The latest is fixed and Mr FF had taken it upon himself to clear the track of the pipes down the hillside of undergrowth and self seeded trees as roots were distorting the plastic pipes and cracking them. He's up there now with a brush cutter, he'll come home scratched snd bleeding expecting a heros welcome. A porcupine has been digging in my garden, made a large hole and eaten the tubers of some iris, it's also chewed through the irrigation pipe. The hunting season has started, we hear the shots early morning and late afternoon, some times the pellets shower down onto our terrace and we shout out that they should respect the distance they are supposed to be from property. Mostly round here they are after wild boar but the casual hunters accompanied by dogs wearing bells will shoot anything. I hate them killing the songbirds, but at present if anyone took a shot at that porcupine I wouldn't object. The cats are eating on demand, I tell myself they can put on a bit of weight for winter and I wonder if they'll survive with the automatic feeder. I worry about other cats taking all their food, a large grey male keeps coming round and terrorising the,, we call him the nasty party and chase him away. However we were away for an overnight and Crema and Grigio survived and didn't bear a grudge at being abandoned. I can only be hopeful and tell myself they are healthy and strong, their lives have been happy and stress free, unlike many of the cat population here. Let's not dwell on that, we left them as kittens last year for six months, we've promised next time it won't be so long. We've got weeks left before we think of leaving, plenty of time for more water leaks and garden predators, besides I haven't had any polenta yet.

Friday, 8 September 2017


Suddenly we had rain, not as much as we need but everything is freshened. The temperature has dropped by about ten degrees to the manageable mid 20s so we can work and sleep easily. Even the cats have taken on a new lease of life, spending much more time outside instead of finding a dark room and Theo the shy one has been seen chasing the girls up trees and rolling around playfully with them. The water in the pool is a bit cooler now, it doesn't stop Mr FF getting in and since all the neighbours have moved back to Rome leaving is alone in our little road he's not so bothered about wearing his swimming trunks. We are finding the energy to walk down to the village early evening and were thrilled to see that some of the olive trees we thought killed by the fire have started to shoot again from the bottom. Not all of them of course and it will be many years before they become trees again, but it gives is hope. All that heat and they still come back, a bit like us, I am cooking and ironing again, Mr FF continues with his new damp proofing. The garden is happier too, my terrace pots are overflowing with flowers and maybe the lawn will soon be green again. It does feel a bit autumnal in the evenings but I'm still in shorts and t shirts, flip flops too of course and I'm not missing those sweaty days of intense heat at all, this is just right.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Same old same old

I'm well aware that weeks have passed since I last blogged but then the weeks are all much the same. Still no rain, we are desperate, water is rationed in many places. Here on the mountainside we are not restricted but we do try to be considerate, watering late at night when there is less evaporation and not splashing the precious stuff about in the daytime. Wild fires continue to destroy the landscape, some days we can see huge flames licking up hillsides that must be 10 or 15 miles away and I am a bit edgy when I see ash in the air or smell smoke. We are all so vulnerable until the rains comes and then worried the water will bring down rocks dislodged during the fire. Our lovely walk to the village is now depressing and every time we see the poor olive groves they look worse. I cannot imagine they will ever be restored, younger generations are generally not interested, we often chat to a man from the village who comes up to tend his fortunately saved olives, he is 86 and always works alone. On a happier note we have far too many tomatoes, I give bags away to neighbours and we eat an excessive amount ourselves. The rest of the veg is suffering, far too dry. Likewise the lawn is brown,it will come back. We had quests here for Mr FFs 69 birthday, 8 of us out on the terrace till late, we are going to an 80th birthday lunch soon and out for dinner on Friday. We have friends from Scotland coming next week for an overnight, so plenty to occupy us but not too much, that's the way I like it. I had an email from a friend asking how we unwind, do we watch tv, read etc. We start the day sitting out for breakfast looking st the view, we end the day sitting out looking at the stars and in between its home maintenance, gardening and relaxing, nothing too much to stress about.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Wild fire

Yesterday we had our first close and dangerous fire experience. I noticed in the afternoon there was small fire below and to the side of us. Gradually the smoke got darker, a sure sign of trouble, and ash started drifting around us. We took down our terrace umbrella and sunshades in case sparks ignited them and dampened down our hedges and tree for the same reason. It got worse, Mr FF suggested we pack bags in case we needed to leave, I threw in pants, a change of clothes and my toothbrush. Strangely I didn't immediately think of my jewellery or my knitting, I took the former but not the latter. Mr FF was a bit concerned our only road out might be impassable and also worried for Mario so he took a walk out. By now the helicopter was dropping water, albeit it only one and obviously having to travel some way for water. Marios house had been completely surrounded by fire but saved, he and Lina were in shock. Mr FF said he'd spotted as he walked back fire coming at our level which he thought he could stop, he took a large plastic barrel of water in the car and did a good job of stopped the flames. But above us the fire was raging, huge old trees sending flames high into the air and the noise of cracking and burning dreadful. Around 9 when the helicopter had stopped flying the vigili, the civil protection, came and told us we had to leave as it was too dangerous. I alerted the neighbours lower down who were practically hysterical by now. Stella asked me where they should go. The road out of the village was blocked as the cemetery was still burning. I had no idea where we would go so I gave her a hug and said we were all together, we'd be ok. I checked several times the cats weren't in the house, I knew they'd be safe outside, we closed all the doors windows and shutters in the hope that would curb any flames. Such an awful sensation to leave knowing we could lose everything but strangely nothing seemed that important. The situation didn't improve when our single track road, the one with the drop to the side, was blocked by fire vehicles and four cars had to reserve in the dark with the flames raging around us. We parked in the village and eventually the boys got pizza and water as we hadn't eaten all day, we sat in the square. The vigil said they were on stand by to defend our houses, later that the situation was critical and we must wait, finally around 12.30 that in about 40 minutes we could return home. Some neighbours were too afraid to come back and went to the village hotel, we set off to drive to where our road turns up so we'd see the fire fighters come down and get the all clear. Passing Marios he and some of our neighbours and friends were sitting out, we joined them and Mario served Mr FF a beer and me a prosecco, drinks never tasted so good. Eventually the brave workers came down and said we were able to go back, we thanked them all. Around 1.30 we were home everywhere deep in ash, a terrible smell of smoke and rather worryingly a small fire smouldering not far above us. I got up regularly to check this. About 3.30 the fire brigade were here again applying water. This morning the helicopter returned, there is still smoke and we wait to see if the fire will start again as often happens. I have nothing but admiration for those people who protect us, no property was lost apart from the cemetery which to my mind doesn't count, no one was injured. I always compliment the fire fighters who work with limited resources in impossible terrain, they are brilliant, we are all safe if still a little stressed and exhausted. The olives around is are singed but not totally destroyed, life will go on thank heavens, these resilient country people will just get on with it.