It’s hot, already very hot down on the plains. But up here in the Hamlet at 800 meters there is a gentle breeze with the laves gently waving in the sunlight and all around the noises of summer – the crickets, the happily chirruping birds and the miaows of the farm cats as they vie for position in the shade.
The smells are incredible too, great wafts of the most delicious-smelling perfume drift in through the open windows, the lime blossom and the acacias adding an olfactory boost to the already warm morning.
It’s almost time to bring the bedroom fan out of the cupboard, but I hesitate because I know it’s going to get hotter, much hotter! The inside of my long low house is dark and cool, for which I give thanks. I’ve already installed the fly curtain over the front door and to my amusements the farm cats peer in, wondering when I’m going to feed them (again!).
We have a morning ritual – as I head for the bathroom I see them through the little round window looking out into the courtyard, waiting patiently but, as breakfast time gets closer they start miaowing outside the door and even, I swear, battering on the door with their paws! There are 11 of them and most days I have them all waiting.
I feed them huge tins of dog food (cheaper and heartier than cat food) in several bowls so they don’t fight. It’s fascinating watching them as they put their paws in the bowl, avoiding the noses of the others, and scoop out a chunk of meat which they then take delicately to one side and eat before repeating the process.
I have christened them The Posse because they follow me everywhere, tails waving with excitement and miaowing at me – though whether they’re talking to me in Italian, English or the local dialect I have yet to decide!
One, who is nursing four kittens, has adopted me and sits outside my door looking at me with her beautiful eyes and occasionally allowing me to stroke her – very rare for a semi feral cat. The other day I even managed to brush her – she’d be rolling in cobwebs and her beautiful long silky fur was in a state!
At this time of year, I love watching the local farmers trundling up and down the road to the fields. We have arable land here and it is so fecund and productive that we have several harvests each summer.
There are three tractors, red green and blue and each has their own patch. The land is leased to them by my landlord, Signore S, as are the two fishing lakes. It is a lovely walk to sit by the lake and watch the fish (some of which are huge) sunbathing. There is even a legendary huge Silure (not sure what that is English!) which lies on the bottom, feeding on unaware smaller fish and unfortunate small creatures that find themselves in the lake. In fact, we had to warn a friend about letting his small Terrier swim in the lake. But it is a beautiful tranquil place and I love sitting there in the sunshine, just watching the sun on the water, the reflections dancing in random patterns and watching the swifts darting down to drink.
Most weekend in the summer there is some sort of activity at the fishing club. A couple of Sundays ago, Signore S and I went to watch the fishing competition.
I must say that apart from the spectacle of dozens of men in lycra with enormous amounts of fishing paraphernalia, it is a very boring sport – apart from the moment when they change sides (so as to give them all an equal opportunity at catching the Silure) – when they march in solemn procession round the lake carrying their gear with them. I have to resist the impulse not to giggle – they look so serious!
Their catch is judged according to weight – and at the end of the day they all go home with bulging bags full of trout. Apparently it is illegal to throw the fish back once they have been caught.
I love it up here in the hills – the countryside is beautiful and tranquil – apart from when some old farmer in his battered Fiat Panda 4×4 comes hurtling around the corner, nearly pushing me off the road!
When I’m feeling stressed (yes it does happen at times, even in this magical part of the world) I go and sit in a little local grove of trees which, to my eye, seems very magical. It is a cool and tranquil spot and I’m not the only one who seeks solace there – for, on several occasions, I have seen various old men just standing there, drinking in the green energy and, no doubt, communing with the Spirit of Place.
Since I have knee problems and have been told not to walk too far, I take a foldable stool with me as well as my trusty walking staff, hat and bottle of water. I must look ridiculous, but I don’t care for once I get there, I can sit in the shade of the trees, sip my water, lean on my staff and mull over life, the universe and everything.
On days when I’m feeling slightly more energetic I head into Carpineti the local small town – which has a bewildering assortment of shops, banks, hairdressers and supermarkets as well as a beautiful ancient little town square and, of course, the castle perched on the top of the hill.
I park the car in the larger piazza and wander around, visiting the greengrocer and fruiterer, the organic butcher, the organic baker and the organic cheese shop. The people here take their food very seriously and pride themselves on it being “zero kilometre” – meaning that everything is produced locally. They have the most wonderful food fairs every summer – with the themes ranging from salami to gnocchi to chestnuts to porcini mushrooms to berries (apparently we have a famous type of wild berry here).
The town is on a wine and food-tasting route (Strada di Vini e Sapori) and the food is top-quality and very reasonably priced. Sadly the supermarket goods are expensive – but, interestingly, the things that cost a fortune in my local supermarket in the UK, such as wine, parmesan and olive oil, cost very little here. When I return in the Autumn I intend to load the car with all sorts of goodies!
I’m already well known by the locals who smile and call “Ciao” to me as I pass. Paola the owner of my favourite cafe come snd chats to me while I sip my delicious coffee and nibble on a delicious home-made pastry. She’s a “Gattara” cat-lady too, so we swap stories about our feline friends.
Feeling fortified I head off to see Luca, the local Ironmonger , who lights up when I walk in and who flirts outrageously with me, a naughty twinkle in his beautiful brown eyes. He blushes when I gently flirt back and smiles shyly. I order some mosquito netting for my kind neighbour to put up on my windows and he tries to sell me some very smart and eye-wateringly expensive doors with integral netting, just so he can come and install them he says!!
I laugh and say I will have to do the Lottery to be able to afford them. He looks downcast but knows that I will be back when I need something. Which will be soon – as I love the way he smiles at me!!
Yesterday I decided to work outside in the open-air. We have just put up the sunshades in the garden which offer wonderful cool spots to sit in and chat. I am working with a local Surveyor as a sort of estate agency and we are just starting to put together a portfolio of properties that we have for sale. I used to be an estate agent, decades ago in London and it is interesting to note how much I remember about how to produce attractive and informative details for prospective purchasers.
The little cat comes and sits bedside my chair as I wrestle with the Pages programme on my iPad amidst cursing at it – for it simply won’t let me do what I want to do!! From time to time I reach down and stroke her and her quiet trusting presence calms me.
It is gorgeous sitting in the shade at a massive wooden table with enough space for me to spread out as I sort through piles of maps, plans and cadastral (land registry) extracts. Then there’s the particular torture that is looking through the photographs trying to remember which property is which – but I’m getting there!!
I’m currently trying to justice to one that we’re selling… a beautifully restored house, dating from the 1500’s and reconstructed using the local stone from an old dilapidated church. It comes with land, with incredible views and, most importantly central heating!!! For despite being hot right now, it is absolutely freezing in the winter.
That’s what I love about this area – hot in summer and cold in the winter – it’s what makes it’s people so resilient, it’s houses so characterful and the landscape so stunning. I am indeed a lucky girl!
© Cassandra Campbell-Kemp 2018