Last week it felt as if winter had properly arrived in Tuscany - we had some overnight freezes and even some flakes of snow and we were very glad to have our wood burner kicking out enough heat to warm the house up every evening.
Monday was our appointment at the olive mill to have the olives we had picked at Paul and Kathy's at the weekend pressed. On top of very generously giving us their remaining olives, Paul and Kathy also very kindly transported said olives from their house to the mill (the 13 crates wouldn't have fitted in our little Panda in one go!), so we met them there for the pressing.
The final weigh-in of olives was 251kg. We waited while the machines washed and churned and spun and watched the stream of people in front of us each go and collect their liquid gold as it came flowing out of the tap at the end of the process. Finally we got the nod and it was our turn to put our container under the tap and wait for the oil to flow in. Stuart had bought a new container that morning - he had weighed up the pros and cons of a 30 litre versus 50 litre, and in the end had gone for the 50 litre, but only expecting to fill a little over half of it. We were a little perplexed to see the guy who runs the mill keep lifting the funnel out of the top of our container to peer inside - almost as if he was checking to make sure it wasn't going to overflow, but we thought that couldn't possibly be the reason. Only when the flow slowed to a dribble and we went over to take the container away at the end of our collection did we realise that the container really was almost full - 48 litres to be precise! The "resa" (the weight of oil out as a percentage of the weight of olives in) was 17.3%, which is high (our previous harvest in conjunction with David & Sarah had given us a resa of 12.9%). The high yield was likely because of the slightly later time frame of picking - lots of the olives had been wrinkly, showing that they had started losing water, giving a higher oil-to-weight ratio.
Certainly a bumper yield for us - so we have even more reason to be grateful to Paul & Kathy!
Another reason to be grateful to Paul & Kathy is that they have already gone through the process of switching their UK driving licences to Italian ones - so, armed with the knowledge of the process that they went through, and all the different steps and forms that need to be completed, we were in a much better place to get the ball rolling on changing our own licences than if we had been going in blind.
We had already had the required medical forms signed off by our respective doctors, and on Wednesday we went to the office of an agency in the nearby town of Borgo a Buggiano that deals with all types of vehicle-related paperwork (driving licences, registration plates, etc.). We knew that the next part of the process was to have an eye test, which would be at the agency. We'd miscalculated our visit though, because we turned up on Wednesday morning only to find out that the doctor who does the eye tests comes in on Wednesday afternoon. So, we took the opportunity to have a cup of coffee in Borgo, to buy some chicken feed from the agricultural shop there, and then headed back home to get on with some work for a few hours before trying again in the afternoon.
The afternoon's visit was more successful - the doctor was in, and although there was a flurry of activity in the agency (which had been completely empty when we'd gone there in the morning), which meant we had to sit and wait for a good while, I did manage to fill in my paperwork and get to see the doctor. The eye test turned out to be more of a "let's check to make sure you aren't blind" test than an actual test of eyesight, and thankfully I passed that bit and got all my paperwork stamped and verified by the doctor.
Stuart's was a bit less successful - he had naturally filled out his medical form honestly, listing his thyroid condition and related medication, and his doctor had signed it. But when the doctor at the agency saw it he said there was a problem and strongly encouraged him to go back to his own doctor and ask him to sign a new form but this time without the condition being listed! Apparently having these things on the form would mean he would have to be seen by 3 separate doctors before being able to progress his application, and he would have to renew his licence every 2 years...
So, on Thursday, Stuart returned to his own doctor, who rolled his eyes, muttered something about bureaucracy and nobody even looking at the forms anyway, and signed a new form straight away. So back we went to the agency on Thursday afternoon - we already knew that the doctor didn't visit on a Thursday so Stuart wouldn't be able to have his eye test, but I had been told to come back on Thursday in order to sign some forms - and indeed there was a very Italian rigmarole of having to sign my name on about 7 different pieces of paper. As far as we knew, though, that was as much as needed to be done and it would now be a matter of waiting for the application to be processed. We will have to wait and see.
On Friday afternoon we went round to our neighbours' for a coffee and to exchange Christmas gifts, and for them to give us a beautiful bunch of holly from their spectacular tree. It was, as usual, very difficult to communicate with them at times (their local dialect and tendency to speak very quickly without making any allowances for slow foreigners sometimes makes it seem as if they are speaking another language that isn't even Italian), but they are very warm and very lovely people. Their friends turned up while we were there (we'd met them once before as well), and with all four of them jabbering at the same time it was totally impossible to follow a thing. I wonder whether we will EVER get to the stage of being able to understand everything. (It was a relief for me to find out that Stuart had also found it hard going yesterday, so not just me!)
On a very chilly Saturday morning (so cold that the water in the pipes was frozen when we first got up), we made another pilgrimage to the state archive in Lucca in the hopes of finding something of interest about the history of our house.
Rather embarrassingly, we almost didn't even get to the archive because, despite having visited it not once but twice last year, neither of us could remember quite how to get there and we hadn't brought the address with us. We had a vague idea of the general area it was in, but wandered fruitlessly down countless back streets getting more and more lost and frustrated (and very cold). Just as we were at the point of giving up (or trying to find a cafe with Wi-Fi so that we could look up the address on the internet), we turned a corner and found ourselves right in front of it!
Once in the relative warmth of the reading room of the archive, we saw the same archivist as we'd seen last week when we had visited the secondary branch of the archive (and been told to come back here). She was able to help us a little, and found us one tome dating from 1835 in which we did actually find the name of the 1830 owner of our house - information which we already knew, but we hadn't managed to find reference to her when we visited the archives the last time. Unfortunately it didn't give us any further information (other than confirm what we already knew).
We did look through a tome from 1740 that lists property owners in our area and their respective property, but clearly the same lady wouldn't have been the owner at that point so we had no idea of what name to look for (if indeed the house was even built in 1740 - we know it existed in the 1780s as we have found it on old maps, and we are pretty certain it existed in 1774 as a note we found in the window lintel was dated 1774, but of course we don't know how much earlier than that it goes back). The index for the names of the property owners listed in the 1740 tome was listed alphabetically by first name so it was hard even to look and see if there had been a previous owner in the same family - we did our best but didn't spot anything.
In the end, as it seemed we had hit a brick wall, the archivists who were on duty suggested we go home and write an email explaining what we want to know and everything that we already know and everywhere we have already looked - it seems there is a senior archivist who is more knowledgeable/experienced, and they thought that he might have some suggestions as to where we might be able to look next, if anywhere - possibly even in Florence.
It seems very frustrating to have hit such a dead end - we really only want to know how old our house is (of course we'd like to know more but that's the most important question we want answering), so we hope that sending an email will bear fruit.
We were home from Lucca in time for lunch and we managed to get outside for a couple of hours after lunch to make a little more progress on our fencing project. Unfortunately with all the rain we've had in the last few weeks a lot of soil had washed back into the channel dug by our friends Steve and Kathryn - although it was a much easier job re-clearing it than digging it in the first place. We only managed to complete about another 9m, but we were pleased to have made some progress at least.
Sunday was once again cold and was also forecast to turn wet, so we wrote off the day in terms of doing any outdoor work. After a coffee in Pescia we decided to go in hunt of a Christmas tree. We ended up at a garden shop near to the Ipercoop complex in Montecatini, where they didn't have any cut trees but there was a large selection of trees in pots. We wandered round the trees in the perishing cold trying to find the right compromise between shape/size and price, before choosing one that we thought would actually fit in the car (and we were right - albeit with me having to sit in the back seat behind Stuart on the way home so that the tree could have the front passenger seat!).
After lunch we went up to Vellano to see David & Sarah in the afternoon as they wanted some of our eggs from us. We ended up staying for a lovely couple of hours and a mug of mulled cider, before coming home to decorate the Christmas tree.
We found that, during the last 12 months, the box of Christmas decorations had suffered a rodent infestation. Thankfully, by some amazing twist of good fortune, they seemed to have restricted their chewing to the things with less sentimental value, and my boxes of 'precious', sentimental decorations were untouched. The lights needed a bit of attention in places though, where the wire had been nibbled on.
And so we find ourselves within spitting distance of Christmas - not quite sure how that happened. Our great friends Paul and Marie will arrive this coming week to spend the festive period with us, so for the week ahead we will be on countdown to their arrival.