orWine Tastings in the Comfort of you own villa or B&B while on holiday in Tuscany or Liguria

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Saturday, 22 December 2007

Olive wood, Christmas and Tandarandan

The forecast was for 3 days rain in a row, starting from today. Looking out of the window we saw it threatening over the sea, but that gave us a few hours to gather a bit of wood that we would be needing if the weather would keep us indoors. Whilst there is piles of wood over at George’s in Villa, it’s not of the highest quality and not quite dry enough. So we went over to our plot, where a few overgrown olive trees were waiting to be reduced significantly in size.

In the last few years we have been doing this by hand, but whoever has ever tried cutting olive wood will know: it’s a job and a half! A trunk of say 12 inches in diameter will take the best part of a week to saw and hack through and will blunt your saw and axe into the bargain and leave you with blisters on your hands. Now, thanks to George, we have a chainsaw. We bought it on the opening sale of the new hyper-market at the bottom of our hill. It copes with clearing the weed trees off George’s land no problem, but olive wood… Every few minutes the chain needed re-tightening and the job was still a bit of a struggle. However, it was way better than by hand and we managed to fill a couple of baskets before the rains arrived. Olive wood is the best wood for burning even when slightly green. It burns slowly and gives off a lot of heat. And there is a lovely smell coming off the smoke. It should be enough to keep us warm over the holidays.

Last night we saw our neighbour Mauro with his band at Pegaso in Arcola. It was a great evening. They play traditional music of the Lunigiana region. Now this might not sound too exciting, especially if you have attended the odd village dance in the region, where the ‘duck song’ seems to be an eternal favourite. They officially launched their new album ‘Adalgisiana’ yesterday (although I’ve had a copy since my birthday last month). It is all instrumental, the instruments being a guitar, an accordion, 2 violins (or 1 violin and 2 bagpipes) and, my favourite, a hurdy-gurdy. Now until a few weeks ago you could have hit me over the head with one and I wouldn’t have known what a hurdy-gurdy is. You sort of turn a handle on the bulbous looking instrument on your lap and press some keys down. The result is a sort off rhythmic sawing sound.

The music they play is really, after much research, a revival of an ancient, almost extinct, music tradition, which has Celtic influences as well as some almost gypsy-like leanings, but is essentially dance music: polka, mazurka, waltz etc. And like all good folk music, you can’t help but tap your feet, fingers and all to it. Shame Pegaso is too small a venue to have started a dance in the middle of the hall.

One final word comparing Italian Christmas to Christmas in England. Whereas of course you get the inevitable commercial spin, supermarkets with flashing decorations, Jingle Bells out of tinny speakers etc, it’s not nearly as bad as the UK. Today, I know from experience, is the most important shopping day of the year in the UK, Saturday before Christmas, and you’ll come across multitudes of very stressed looking people and queue endlessly at the checkouts. Here on the other hand, we needed just a few bits for the weekend and tried a medium-sized supermarket in Arcola, hoping on the last Saturday before Christmas they would for once not shut for lunch. How wrong we were, lunch is sacred! So we went to another supermarket, which we knew normally opened over lunch in the centre of Sarzana. To our amazement it was almost empty (of customers not merchandise), no queues. Now I can’t think of a shop in England, which wouldn’t be pandemonium pretty much all day today and extending their opening hours.

The photos above are of Tandarandan at Pegaso last night and the Christmas decorations at the entrance to Ponzano Superiore. After such a long contribution today, I think this will be me off air until Christmas. So Happy Christmas to all of you out there in Cyber-land and hopefully hear from you soon.

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