With renewed determination (following quite a serious loss of heart and plummeting of self-assurance pre-Christmas), I have done three things since the start of January to attempt to build confidence and fluency in my language ability, as well as develop a sense of independence that I have missed for quite some time. First (a happy coincidence for which I cannot claim any responsibility - the opportunity quite simply fell into my lap and I realised I couldn't possibly turn it down), I have taken up Nordic walking with a small group (of Italians). Our lovely friend Mara asked if I would be interested in going along with her, so of course (in a fit of grasping the nettle with both hands) I said yes. The group meets twice a week, the conversation is entirely in Italian, the people are lovely and very easy to be with, and the activity is enjoyable, already having taken me to 4 different and interesting locations in the valley. Lots of ticks! Second, I have re-instigated a weekly lesson - or at least conversation hour - with our friend (and our former teacher) Samantha in the hopes that a weekly dose of speaking (even if work/other interruptions take me out of circulation in the outside world) and some revision of some of the grammar will help build confidence/familiarity. Third, I am trying to keep on top of seeing some Italian friends socially on a (semi)regular basis, for a coffee or for a drink. All time and effort-intensive, but if they help build my self-confidence and independence and help me to feel more rooted in life here (outside of our 12 acres), it will be worth every iota of effort and every second of time.
On the working on the land front, we have felled, cut and processed around 15 trees on the uppermost terraces - trees that were shading the olives and that would have caused serious damage had they fallen in the wind.
|With all the trees we've felled we are in pretty good shape for the winter after next.|
|There's still quite a lot of bonfire burning to be done though!|
We've also increased our stock of pimps (fire-lighting bundles) to around 100 (after having started the process over Christmas). Fingers crossed that by next winter, when the bundles will have dried out fully, we should have a much reduced need to buy any commercially produced fire lighters.
|The pimps make a rather lovely winter light display in the house (where they are currently drying).|
We also experimented with a new labour-saving (more precisely back-saving) purchase that Stuart had spotted on the internet and used some of his Christmas money to buy us - log tongs - designed to make the moving and carrying of logs easier and with less need to bend down all the time:
We've had a plumber out to fix a leak on the heat pump, and Stuart has spent a day insulating the shed in which the heat pump lives - hopefully meaning it will have to work a little less hard in the depths of winter. Indeed this morning, while just 4C outside, the temperature inside the shed was registering 12C, which is hopefully a good sign.
We've also finally filed our paperwork for permits for permanent residency. We had a farcical morning in which we went to the first comune office, to be told we needed to go to another office. The second office was the correct office in which to file the paperwork but couldn't give us the form we needed, so we had to go to a third office (the main registry office) to get the forms. Once the forms were filled in we had to go and buy stamps for them (a form of payment) from the tobacconist. We then took the forms and the paperwork to the second office to file them, but were told they weren't qualified to check the paperwork we had submitted (invoices, tax records, etc.) and that we needed to go back to the main registry office to have it checked. Once there, the woman behind the counter rolled her eyes in desperation and sent us away again saying that the second office could call them if there were any problems. So then it was back to the tobacconist to get a couple of copies of some of the paperwork, and then finally back to the second office to have it filed. The lady took the paperwork from us and started entering details into the computer. She looked up and asked if we needed a copy of it all and when we said no, she told us we could leave. Naturally, having gone to all the effort and having handed over all our paperwork, we wanted to know what would happen next - the lady simply shrugged her shoulders and said "I don't know"! So, we wait to see if something arrives in the post... keep your fingers crossed and watch this space!
We also finally solved a mystery that has been bugging us for a while and answered a question raised by Kerys's boyfriend, Nick, last summer: we regularly drive past the post office in the Santa Lucia area just outside the main town of Pescia and see this monument - a bomb:
On spotting this when we drove past it back in the summer, eagle-eyed and inquisitive Nick asked what the story was behind it, and we had to confess to not knowing. For months we have been intending to stop and have a look at the inscription but always seem to have driven past it before remembering to stop. This time, however, was different!
As expected, the monument is an old bomb, the inscription explains that it was a 1000 pound bomb which came from an American aircraft. It was discovered in September 1990 when builders were doing the excavations necessary to lay foundations for the (then new)post office outside which it now stands. The bomb was deactivated in situ by military engineer personnel based in Florence. One assumes that the bomb dates from the second world war... but the inscription fails to mention anything about its age.
As we head towards the end of January, nature is already beginning to wake up (which seems rather soon - even in our brief time here we have noticed milder winters). There are already mimosa trees in flower around the valley, there are young leaves appearing on the elderflower, and we've heard of hellibores and even a poppy already in bloom. We're not quite ready for spring to, er, spring yet - we have more work to do! - but with some milder days forecast in the coming week perhaps we are already coming towards the end of the winter.