Now we actually own the house we live in we can start doing things without the nagging fear that everything might go wrong and leave us homeless. Admittedly it wasn’t very likely, but however small the probability it nevertheless acted as a brake on getting stuck in.
I started by trimming the olive tree outside our front door, that was casting altogether too much shade for this time of year. My guide in matters of this kind is the series of books by Annie Hawes, who moved some 20 years ago to a Ligurian village about 40 miles from here and wrote three entertaining volumes about her experiences. According to Annie, the current wisdom – in these days of limited and expensive manpower – is to cut the trees drastically, keeping them to a height that can easily be reached for harvesting. From another source I had the advice that the tree should be pruned such that “a bird may fly through it”. Olives only grow in any number on the downward-growing outer shoots so so the ideal shape is an umbrella with an empty centre and no sticky-up bits. The result in this case looks a little odd, like a rather enthusiastic amateur haircut, but it will grow out and hopefully form an attractive shape during next spring, and it did meet with approval from the men who came to cut some of our neighbours’ olives the other day. Actually, it’s almost impossible to kill an olive, which isn’t really a tree at all, just a large bush; older Ligurians refer to them as plants (pianti) rather than trees (alberi), to emphasise the point. Many of ours are quite large, with trunks a couple of feet across, so a side benefit of drastic pruning will be a good supply of firewood next year. Oh, and the camera wan’t set at an angle; the land really does slope that way.
The next job was to deal with the space behind the wardrobe in the bedroom. For reasons that are fairly obvious when you see the room we set the wardrobe about three feet away from the wall, next to one of the four concrete pillars that support the upper flat. The space behind the wardrobe is useful but difficult to reach, so I’ve built a trolley; a jumbo skateboard comprising a long piece of thick plywood on six fixed wheels allowing it to be rolled out sideways from beind the wardrobe. Mounted on this is a structure using grown-up Meccano; perforated angle steel supplied by the local wood yard (as an aside, the shop in question is an Aladdin’s cave of useful bits and pieces from which you could build almost any item of furniture). Attentive readers will already know we don’t have either an attic or a garage, so once shelves have been added the trolley will hold all the miscellaneous clutter that we only need from time to time.
And we’ve now unpacked all of our boxes. The last ones were pictures and mirrors, so we had a day of deciding which ones to put where. Every wall now has at least one picture, a mirror or a plate, and there were some left over for the guest flat. Several of them have been in storage for over a year; it felt odd rediscovering them and giving them homes.
Last Monday we picked up some copies of the house contract to present to the police in Ventimiglia as part of our applications for “Permesso di Soggiorno” – permission to stay in Italy. The actual contract won’t be available for a few weeks so this was just copies of the papers we signed the week before. By the time we’d got them it was after 10am but we tooled down to the police station and joined the queue in a dusty corridor with no seating. At a little after 11am an official appeared and closed the queue at the people just ahead of us; the rest of us should come back tomorrow. Pazienza, pazienza. So we did some shopping and returned home. On Tuesday we started early and were back in the corridor soon after 9am, rewarded by only two people ahead of us. Ten minutes later we were presenting our papers to the official inside.
Italy is renowned for its bureacracy and most people warn you about official rudeness, but this official was the most pleasant and helpful I’ve ever encountered anywhere. He spoke to us entirely in English and I mostly managed to say what I needed in Italian, but when I had problems he appeared to have all the time in the world to wait for me to unmangle my sentences. He even had time to explain the complex rules regarding car ownership and tell me where to find the appropriate office when the time comes to re-register the scooter here. All our documents were in order and we can hope to see our permissions in about two months. After leaving the office we took a stroll around Ventimiglia, taking in the sea front, part of the Old Town and some shops. The picture shows the view from a road bridge near the town centre, looking out towards the sea across the river that drains the mountains above the town.
The weather is now definitely heading towards winter. For the past several days it’s been mostly cloudy, though somewhat milder than before with night temperatures holding above 10°C up here in the hills. Down on the coast it’s 16° every night, but how much of that is due to traffic and street lighting is hard to say. You only have to move a mile inland and it’s already down to 13°. Daytime temperatures now rarely reach 20° and the trees have noticed the change, starting to give us the autumn colours England had two months ago. Chestnuts give the best displays and make a vivid contrast to the perennial grey-green of the olives on the hills opposite. I think the best is yet to come so I’ll save a photo for a future diary page.
I’m taking my new chainsaw (pictured) to the olive trees to improve them for next year’s crop and to provide winter firewood for next year and beyond. Do admire my new saw table too if you please – hand-built to my own design to hold the olive logs for sawing. You’ll also be pleased to see my attention to safety; this is in contrast to the locals who use neither gloves or face guard.
Yesterday we took up an invitation for lunch at the house of one of our neighbours, a Belgian and his Italian fianceé, who live a couple of miles to the north of us up the road to Bajardo. Set in a splendid, dominant location with a 180° panoramic view and sunshine from dawn to dusk, the house was constructed about 20 years ago by Jean himself and is as full of character as you could expect to meet. Jean works in marketing for large German companies and spends much time in Africa. The house is full of ethnic carvings and other artefacts and has a opulent but quirky style. Unfortunately, with houses also in Monaco and San Remo, this one is getting too much for him and is up for sale.
Although the day had started cloudy, by lunchtime the sun was out and it was pleasantly warm on the stunning terrace, with views over the Alps and to the sea when the visibility allows. Our own house can just be seen in the centre of the picture, below the road, with a long shadow of trees just this side of it. “Lunch” was a euphemism; we started outside with antipasti them moved inside for several more courses. Jean and Rita are gourmets and only the best wine and food were served, at a quality way beyond our simple tastes but none the less enjoyable for all that. I lost count of the quantity of wine consumed by the seven of us, most of it rare vintages from 1996 to 1999 and making our modest offering of a couple of bottles of sparkling Pinot Chardonnay almost an embarassment. By the time we returned home four hours later we were both the worse for wear and Frances collapsed into bed muttering “oh no, not the whirling pit”. But the effect was fairly temporary and by later in the evening she was feeling well enough to watch a film on TV. Today she was back to normal.