October 8, 2006
Another week, another problem or two, and a strange and exotic evening out. But first the saga of buying the house. In the good old days, property details were held as paper files at the Cataster – the Land Registry. (It’s oddly appropriate that Cataster is so similar to Catastrophe). Anyway, the system was recently computerised, and as is the way of computer projects not everything went according to plan, with the result that the plans for our house were lost. Anna still has the paper originals but the Cataster are making a dog’s breakfast of the whole affair; we don’t really follow what’s happening but we understand that we’re waiting for someone to admit fault and rectify it. This may already have happened or it may take weeks more – who can tell?
Today (Monday) Anna’s removals men arrived. The place has resembled Steptoe’s yard for the past week but is now empty apart from the things we take over. Her furniture and stuff are all going to Germany but she won’t be following it just yet. Her daughter in Berlin has a good-sized house with an outbuilding her husband uses as an office, and the plan is to rebuild this as a granny flat for Anna and to move the office into the main house. However, because of the delays here and the long hard Berlin winters they can’t start the building work until April; nobody wants doors and windows missing in sub-zero temperatures. Anna has arranged to over-winter here, in the next house down the valley that’s owned by a friend and conveniently empty. Unfortunately she can’t move in until Thursday, so she’ll be camping downstairs for a few days with the remains of her stuff that’s either to be left for us or moved down the hill for the winter. However, the good news is that we can now instruct our removal company to deliver our stuff with all speed.
The weather – that favourite subject of English conversation – has got warmer again after a few days of quite cool nights and breezy days. On Saturday morning we spent a couple of hours on the beach at Ventimiglia, starting by the side of the freshwater lake that was formed by damming the River Nervia as it meets the sea.
After a while it got too hot to sit by the lake so we went for a stroll along the promenade, stopping on one of the frequent benches
from time to time to gaze at the sea. Out of season it’s pretty quiet here, but just behind us on the other side of the road are blocks of flats for visitors in summer, when I expect it gets rather busy.
This guy on the horse was chatting on his mobile phone the whole time. We didn’t see where he came from or where he went.
In the background is the “flower” motorway – the Autoroute dei Fiori – as it heads into France.
We made it into the sea for a quick dip; it’s still warm though the breeze made it just short of comfortable, rather like – say – Brighton in mid-summer. The last couple of nights have been noticeably milder, though. We still have breakfast every morning on the terrace in shorts and tee-shirts and get in two or three of hours of sunbathing in the afternoon. Sunrise is currently 8.30 and sunset about 5pm.
On Thursday we tried the market along the sea front at Bordighera. Much the same as Ventimiglia but a little smaller, it’s still too much to take in at one try. We spent a good part of our weekly budget on clothes and other things, including a superb pair of lightweight stretch trousers for Frances, which looked great but were unfortunately about four inches too long in the leg. On Saturday we had an afternoon of utter misery trying to take them up; the material stretches all ways and really needs an expert. The results were just about wearable but at one point we were ready to throw them in the bin. We hear there’s someone nearby who can repair the damage we caused – hopefully without laughing too loud at our attempts to cut the material in a straight line.
Lastly the evening events. First there was a do at the house of a neighbour on Friday evening. Mauro and Carla are an elderly couple, he with a wicked sense of humour and a taste for single malt Scotch whisky of which he has a modest collection. There were eight of us in total, including another pair of neighbours, Jean and Rita, who are Belgian and live mainly in Monaco but have a large house up the road from here and a flat in Sanremo, making them probably the wealthiest people we’ve met so far. By far. But very nice with it; class-consciousness isn’t a factor round here. They would like to sell their house here but as I understand it’s something of a whimsy, with no expense spared, and maybe priced too high for this general area. I’ve put them in touch with a British estate agency that has properties in this area with asking prices over a million euros.
Up a steep alley on the edge of the village lives a German lady who we’ve met a couple of times as we passed, toiling our way back up the hillside to our house. On one such encounter the other day she invited us to a soiree on Saturday night. Gloria, the lady in question, lives by herself and is a practising mystic. She counts among her friends a well-known English flautist who has a holiday home in Apricale, and together they produce CDs of strange accompanied chanting. Another friend is a bearded Italian who claims to be a re-incarnation of Noah; Gloria herself was conveniently Noah’s wife and together they receive spirit messages from great Red Indian chiefs. Our initial judgement was that she’s borderline barking – a view shared by Anna – but harmless and very pleasant with it. We declined the initial hour and a half of meditation, and like most of the other guests arrived at around 8pm, everyone carrying something to eat and/or drink.
The house is fascinating; a traditional stone building up a steep alleyway from the middle of Apricale. Forget getting old and needing a wheelchair; a ski-lift would be more appropriate. Inside is on several levels, and imaginatively reconstructed using the thick stone walls and probably a lot of rendered breeze blocks. It’s impossible to tell one from the other under the whitewash. There’s a kitchen-dining-living room on one level, then up to a bathroom with tiled steps to a walk-in bath, and a bedroom, all with traditionally tiny windows. In one corner of the bedroom is a hole down which you climb a steep wooden staircase – almost a ladder really – to a large windowless room whose original purpose can only be guessed at, the size of a small chapel with a high ceiling and a floor on two levels. The lower end is ringed with upholstered built-in benches to form a U-shaped seating area, and the upper part is mainly open. But more of this later.
This was to be a New Age evening, as near as we could tell, not being experts. The introductions consisted of standing in turn with each of the others, one palm on the other’s chest and staring into each other’s eyes for a couple of minutes to the strains of one of Gloria’s CDs. We didn’t notice anything magical happening so we probably failed the test right there and then. After the introductions we all piled into the food and wine. The guests were mainly Germans and only Noah was unable to speak English (but after all it hadn’t been invented in his time) so we ate, drank and chatted, carefully avoiding the subject of batty ceremonies.
After the meal the dozen or so of us trooped down the ladder to the dungeon and stood in a circle holding hands, swaying back and forth to Vangelis’ “Conquest of Paradise”. The overall theme for the next hour was holding hands in twos or fours, writhing back to back with a stranger or leaping about in pairs in the middle of the circle while everybody else shook rattles, banged tambourines or generally whooped a bit. Altogether one of the oddest evenings either of us can remember. However, I suppose such daft behaviour is to be expected given that Apricale is a renowned artists village. I suppose the strain of sitting in the sun painting and drinking wine every day must be too much for some folks; those of us with conventional nine-to-five lives have it easy by comparison.
On Sunday evening at about 5pm we suddenly had a phone call from Mauro and Carla, our hosts two evenings earlier, with an invitation to join them at the castle for the opening of an art exhibition and to meet the mayor. Not something to refuse so we duly accepted. This was our first visit to the castle, which sits atop the town square. In its grounds is a grid of pergolas with climbing plants growing up and over; a tranquil oasis high above the village. Inside the castle everybody had gathered to open the art exhibition and we were introduced to the mayor and his wife before touring the various exhibits housed in every room including the dungeon. In the grounds was a buffet with wine so we sampled the food and chatted with some of the locals. It was a beautiful mild evening with the full moon rising. I discovered from the mayor that they are expecting to see a high-speed wireless internet service in a month or so, using the radio mast on Monte Bignone, about three miles away across the valley opposite our house. This is good news if it actually happens; all we can do is keep our ears to the ground and wait and see. We finished the evening at the house of some more new friends, an Anglo-Italian couple, getting all sorts of information about the way the Italian house purchase system works. This kind of social networking is essential to integrate fully; most things round here work by mutual exchange of favours so I may well soon be setting up computer networks and satellite dishes in exchange for olive oil or lorryloads of timber.