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Sunday, 28 December 2008

I started out with nothing and I still got most of it left

Well the end of 2008 is nearing and it’s time to reflect on the past 12 months. First of all an update on the events of the last couple of weeks. The weather up to Christmas eve was glorious. We went for some walks and carried on pruning trees, something we started over a month ago but was interrupted by the bad weather. On the 23rd we had an earthquake, 5.1 on the Richter scale, with the epicentre about 50 km Northwest of here (as the mole digs) on the other side of the Appenines. We noticed a slight tremor and I don’t think anything serious actually happened. The link for more details is http://cnt.rm.ingv.it/~earthquake/data_id/2205007630/event.php.

Christmas Day turned cloudy and we had our usual quiet day, eating and drinking lots. We are now drinking our own wine, which strictly speaking isn’t ready yet, but as it was sitting in our cold cantina at Villa, fermentation had simply stopped and wasn’t likely to restart again until late spring if at all. So it’s now a semi-sweet rosé, but still at a hefty 13% alcohol or thereabouts. The highlight of the Christmas dinner was the guinea fowl stuffed with a chestnut stuffing which I made and froze when the chestnuts were in abundance. Santa brought me a the new CD by Seasick Steve, “I Started Out With Nothing and I still Got Most Of It Left”. Seasick Steve is an excellent Blues musician who seemed to have suddenly shot to fame a year ago when he made an appearance at Jools Holland’s New Year Hootenany on British TV. He plays mostly his own music in the Delta Blues fashion and he has an inimitable story telling style. Not only tell his songs stories, but he quite literally tells stories on his CDs mostly about his former life as a hoboing tramp, travelling America by jumping onto trains or hitchhiking and generally living it rough. His great sense of humour always shows through, which is something I always appreciate in any art form, whether it’s music, painting, sculpture or conceptual art. Life’s too short to take everything serious. Check him out on http://www.seasicksteve.com/

Boxing Day the weather turned seriously cold with an icy wind going. Yesterday we appear to have mislaid our kitten. She somehow escaped, but was with her mummy at the time, so we weren’t too worried, but to date she has not returned (the mother has) and with temperature around freezing outside now, and with the amount of unused cellars and hidyholes in the village a search being almost impossible, we don’t hold out much hope of her returning. Shame as we just managed to get her confidence and she was very sweet.

Anyway, to return to Seasick Steve, the title of his album: “I started out with nothing and I still got most of it left” pretty much sums up our year and my life in general (not that I’m complaining, mind). It’s not entirely true of course either. We may have been broke at the beginning of the year and still are now, possibly even more so, but we have gained experience, friends, memories and a cat. We are still here against all the odds and we are healthy.

Let’s start our review of 2008 with this blog. I started it just over a year ago and find it useful in many ways. It disciplines me into actually doing things worth mentioning in the blog, it reminds me at what we have been up to at any particular time, when we planted, pruned, harvested what and I get the occasional contact and even tip from interested people all over the world, such as what to do with kaki from someone in China. I am amazed at how many people from so many different places reach my site. On the 29th of March I installed that little world visitor map at the top right of this page. From this I gather that 2,247 visits have been registered since, that’s just over 8 hits a day, from 75 different countries. Almost exactly one third came from the UK, which does not surprise me. Number two was the USA with 23%, which does surprise me, given that I don’t know many people there. Italy is at number 3 with 15% and Germany at number 4 with 6.5%. Amongst the also rans I’m surprised to have had more hits from India than from the Netherlands (I am Dutch), and even places like Vietnam, Madagascar and the Palestinian Territories featured. How do you people find me? I’d love to know and would appreciate some comments. People who have given me feedback to this site have been all positive, so I shall carry on for the time being.

On our agricultural activities, this is the first year we have more or less dedicated ourselves full-time to them (having pretty much given up the business with the deteriorating economic conditions) with encouraging results. We keep learning new things by the tried and trusted trial and error system. Amongst the new things learned this year was that it’s generally best to plant a particular crop, such as peas or broad beans just the once, rather than staggered to increase the length of time to harvest. There tends to be a window of time which will give the best crop, whilst early or late crops won’t do so well. If you have too much produce at that time we have discovered many new ways of preserving crops, which will then come in handy when you haven’ got much else. Circumstantial evidence recently also seems to indicate that moon phases do make a difference to crop success. We sowed to beds with peas within 10 days of each other, the first during the waxing moon in ground not previously enriched and the second during waning moon a terrace down in a bed that has had compost added the previous season. The latter had over half failing to shoot whilst the former is looking a lot healthier. We have had a similar experience with onions, which are supposed to be planted during the waning moon phase, and they did do better than those planted shortly before during the waxing moon. The trouble of course is, no matter how carefully you plan your farming year, something always crops up which puts you behind schedule, the weather most notably, or equipment failure slowing the rate of ploughing or pruning and other unforeseen events.

As far as our finances are concerned nothing much has improved. My endeavours in finding a job haven’t really got anywhere. I’m registered with most job agencies in the province, but if anything at all they come with jobs I am not qualified to do such as accountant for metal company or such like. I’ve tried to get a job grape picking with some of the larger vineyards in the area but also to no avail as they already have a plentiful supply of cheap and willing Eastern-Europeans on their books. One wanted a qualified oenolgist, but whilst I have an idea of the theory, I can’t lay claim to this title. Susan in the meantime will get some teaching work again in the new year. She is going to teach a couple of classes in Borghetto Vara, a small town in the Vara valley and is likely to get her job in Sarzana back, where she worked earlier this year.

All in all it’s been a good year, if it wasn’t for the constant lack of cash. But we’re getting there and looking with some confidence into 2009. Oh and the photo on top, I have no idea what these berries are either, we saw them on a walk recently. Maybe they are the ‘fruits of our labours’… Oh and I just noticed this is the 100th entry of this blog!

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