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Monday, 25 October 2010

A Day in the Slow Life

I've been memed. Or rather should I say I've been invited to meme, or write a meme, or whichever way you are meant to say that. It's the first time I've heard this particular term and I'm wondering if I'd find it in a dictionary. Well apparently it's when a load of bloggers write about the same thing and then pass it on, if that makes any sense to you.

Anyway, this one was given to me by my long lost twin brother, from whom I've been separated at birth: Mr H. over at Subsistence Pattern all the way from Northern Idaho. He would like me to describe a typical day in our 'Slow Life'. I like that expression, 'Slow Life'. We've come to live in the land where they have come up with the 'Slow Food' (pronounced slo foot in Italian) movement to live the slow life.

Having read a couple of these meme thingies now, it appears customary to give a brief outline how we arrived at the particular date chosen to represent all the other days. First of all the date I chose was yesterday, Sunday the 24th October 2010. I must say it was a challenge keeping track of it in detail. On a really typical day, we rarely know what time it is at any given point. In the middle of a job Susan will call over to me wondering what time it might be. "Four, I guess.." I'll answer. "No," says Susan, "it couldn't be later than three." I rummage around my pockets to see if I remembered taking my mobile phone along, our only time piece. It turns out to be five or two.

“Time, said Austerlitz in the observation room in Greenwich, was by far the most artificial of all our inventions, and in being bound to the planet turning on its own axis was no less arbitrary than would be, say, a calculation based on the growth of trees or the duration required for a piece of limestone to disintegrate.”

From Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald



Anyway, I digress. How did we arrive at this point in time? Many years ago Susan and I met when 'working' together in Belfast (n.b.: the inverted commas around the word working are deliberate. Our official title was historical researchers and the we concentrated out research efforts on the historical pubs of Belfast...) after I had just completed a year's stint as a volunteer on an organic small holding / alternative living centre on the north coast of Northern Ireland.

For various reasons Susan wanted to leave Belfast again. For a start it didn't seem the right place and time to bring up her then 3 year old daughter. So after both completing our one-year contracts we moved lock, stock and barrel to England, Surrey to be precise, just outside London, where Susan had an offer of work.

To me England was always going to be temporary, until we could move on somewhere, where I could realise my dream of self-sufficiency, but having now a little girl to take care of, I had to live in what most people consider 'the real world' and earn some money. It soon became clear that due to brain damage and a therefore very unreliable memory resulting from a bad car accident long before I met Susan, she could not hold down any jobs for longer than 3 months. She was offered positions on the strength of a Masters degree, fluent French language skills and a pleasant personality, but she was unable to pick up any new skills required for the job, so she was always sacked after her probation period. To this day she finds it impossible to operate a computer even at the most basic level.

So I became the bread winner as I started a sort of career in the wine trade. Money wasn't great and hours were long, but we got by and even managed the first step onto the property ladder when house prices were down in the mid-90s. So temporary became 15 years, Susan's daughter became a beautiful young woman and went off to university. She now works as a successful model and still lives in London. This left us free to go our way.

To cut the rest of it short, just over 6 years ago we sold our house at a vast profit, enabling us to pay off our debts, buy a camper van and set off to find our piece of heaven. We finally found it in Italy, on the border between Liguria and Tuscany. For budget reasons we could only find a piece of land separate from our house (separated by over 10km!) and it was a jungle when we bought it, but slowly but surely we are getting to a point where we have 18 productive terraces with all manner of fruit trees as well as space for some vegetable beds.

Fast forwarding to the days before yesterday: to save money and petrol we usually walk or cycle to our land, involving a steep climb on the last stretch in either direction. As you can imagine, walking or cycling 12 km, followed by say 4 hours of physical work on the land and a return journey of the same length, tends to take it out of you, so we usually alternate days on the land with days at home. This depends of course very much on the weather as well. The past week the weather has been particularly good, so we've been particularly busy on the land for the final autumn clean-up, sowing the broad beans for spring harvesting and sowing some brassica in the cold frame (cavolo nero, pak choi and broccoli). On Saturday Susan walked across to the land whilst I cycled the 25 km to the olive grove that we look after to see how far the olives were. In my opinion they'll need at least another 3 weeks before ripening, but I also found a whole bunch of apples going to waste. I packed as many as I could onto the back of my bike, 10 kg or so.

Anyway, this all led to Sunday, 24th October 2010.

8 am: I don't have an alarm clock, nor an inner alarm. In fact I'm not good with mornings at all. Which is one of the reasons we got Eddie, the Beagle. On a sunny summer morning is soft nose will sniffle around my face at 7 or earlier, but on a semi-dark autumn morning he likes a lie-in too. On the other side of my head the soft purr of Mickey, the cat tells me that it's definitely time to get up.

Mickey wants her breakfast first. She gets it in the middle of our messy dining room table, so the dog can't get to it. Mickey is the only left of a whole battalion of cats that at one time seemed to invade our house. She is tidy and clean and well behaved. All the other ones didn't fancy playing with Eddie.


As Eddie and I step outside the door for our morning walk, it hasn't really got properly bright yet and dark clouds loom. It has been raining, but for the moment it's ok.


On our way we meet Pelé, one of the cats that was born in our bedroom.


With rain constantly threatening we go on a relatively short walk skirting the village, so we can dash for shelter if the heaven's open.

Over the sea it looks a bit brighter, but unfortunately the wind is coming the other way.


8.45 am: Just before we arrive home Eddie dashes ahead. When I arrive at home I just find Stella and Rooney saying good morning to each other in front of the neighbour's door, but no sign of Eddie. He's probably gone off to one of the many cat feeding stations around the narrow alleyways around our village to see if he can't get his share.


Now I make the first half of breakfast for us. Today it consists of some muesli with milk and some pure, freshly pressed apple juice from the apples I picked yesterday. Susan eats her's in bed, whilst I get the computer going, which takes a while (it's possibly as old as Mr.H's).

9.15: I eat my breakfast in front of the computer, while checking my e-mails, news on Facebook, latest blogs and have a nose through the newspapers (on-line). Eddie finally returns looking rather shame-faced. I tell him off for disappearing and give him his breakfast. Susan makes the second part of breakfast consisting of 2 slices of homemade bread with homemade jam, a small cup of mocca coffee and today, because it's Sunday and our next-door neighbour Piero has given us half a dozen of fresh eggs yesterday, a soft-boiled egg.

10 am: After having had her shower, Susan comes up with a mug of tea and tells me the shower is now free for me. We don't shower every day during the colder time of year. Our hot water comes from a 50l electrical boiler. Keeping it on constantly increases our electricity bill by 50%, so we only warm up water when needed and have relatively short showers, so we both have warm water. Today is also Susan's hair wash day and my haircut day. As Susan will proudly tell anyone who'll listen to her (even some who won't!) ever she has changed from her favourite brand shampoo and conditioner to using bicarbonate of soda, she has only needed to wash her hair every 2-3 weeks and it has never felt or looked better.

This is me before my shower and haircut...



...and this after Susan has cut my hair. Not a bad job, for someone who has only had a few goes at this, is it?


11 am: The rain outside really has set in now. I close the 2 gates leading into our inner courtyard, so the dog can run around freely as and when he wants, without being able to escape again. All clean, refreshed and dressed I'm looking at what needs doing. Indoor jobs get rather neglected if we are out on the land a lot, getting home knackered. I've been meaning to sort my seeds out. I have been saving some, gathering some from the wild and also have very kindly been given some by Stefani of Sicilian Sisters, who visited last week. I sort them by month in which they should be sown. Some need to be put into sachets and labelling, if I still remember what they are. While I do that I listen to some music, an MP3 I downloaded this morning from Rare World and Folklore Music, a collection of Celtic Music from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany.


12.30 pm: Gosh is it that time already? Susan had been tidying up in the kitchen and now comes up with some lunch: 2 sandwiches each with a chestnut and cottage cheese spread topped with slices of cucumber (every time I think the cucumbers are finally finished for the season, I find another one somewhere). We wash it down with a glass of homemade cider as a Sunday treat.

1 pm: It's time for some wood chopping. Our wood to heat our kitchen comes from some and diseased plum and cherry trees I've cut down on our land, some olive prunings from last year and a lot of scrap wood given to us by various neighbours who can't be bothered carrying any old bits of furniture, support beams or other bits down several flights of stairs. So they end up in our fireplace instead.


I like to keep the pile on bottom of our stairs to at least my height.


2.15 pm: No point overdoing it, this is a rest day after all. Many of the apples I brought back yesterday had been bashed about a bit on the back of my bike and want using up, so I decide to make stewed apples. Susan meanwhile is starting to crack a pile of walnuts that we foraged recently in preparation for dinner.

The stewed apple (appelmoes in Dutch or Apfelmus in German) is very simple to make. Core and roughly chop the apples and cook slowly with a little water, sugar to taste and some cinnamon until soft.


Then I run it through my tomato press to get rid of the tough skins and a perfect elk comes out... caribou... no... moose! mousse!! comes out.

Like that it keeps well for a week or two in the fridge. You can eat it mixed with other fruit, cream cheese, icecream, or just on it's own as a dessert.

3.30 pm: It's Sunday, it's a rest day, it's time for some quality time. Some of us here have recently set up an Irish music session group and I am woefully bad, so I should get a bit of guitar and tin whistle playing time in. I try out a few new songs and tunes and Susan joins in. One of the new songs is Lannigan's Ball. I must practice it a bit more so that I don't keep tripping over the words of this fast jig.

5.45 pm: I use a break in the rain for another brief walk with the dog, but after just half an hour we run for the shelter of home as rain descends again.

6.15 pm:
Susan and Eddie are complaining they are hungry, so Eddie gets his bowl-full. For dinner I had been wanting to try a recipe from Anna atBeautiful Liguria: Pansoti with Salsa di Noci. Pansoti is a simple egg-less pasta, stuffed with borage (foraged the day before), which is served with a walnut sauce. Pasta making is always a bit time consuming, but since I have found a pasta machine on a skip recently it has become a lot easier.

6.45 pm: Susan's programme on Italian TV starts: Chi Vuol Essere Millionario or Who Wants to a Millionaire. It helps her Italian she says as contestants take so long to answer the multiple choice questions that she can look up any unknown words in the question or answers in the dictionary and often still knows the answer before the contestants.

7.30 pm: Dinner is finally ready. Susan eats it while watching the rest of her programme, while I check on any e-mails again or other news. After the pasta we have a simple cucumber salald followed by some of the stewed apple I made earlier. Everything is washed down by another glass of cider or 3.

8 pm: After Milionario we watch some English language news on BBC World and a different version on Al Jazeera. Channel flicking I come across an old Sidney Poitier film in original language (I hate dubbed films, no matter what the original language), which finishes at 10.30 pm

11 pm: Susan goes to sleep, while I sit up for half and hour longer to read. Currently I'm reading A Year in Green Tea and Tuk-Tuks by Rory Spowers. It's about the author setting up an organic tea farm in Sri Lanka.

Today, Monday, it's raining again, so I have time to write all this for you. I would like to pass this meme on to two blogger friends I have been following if you feel so inclined:

Laura at French Country Challenge

and

Pat and Rick at Living the Dream in Portugal

14 comments:

Mr. H. said...

Wow, where to start?

I liked your thoughts on time and the quote from Austerlitz...time in this manner certainly does detract from the "slow life".:)

I enjoyed learning more of your and Susan's history.

Hey, my wife and your cat have the same name...well almost...Micki and Mickey.:)

I love that you use the neighbors furniture for firewood.

Your Pansoti with Salsa di Noci sounds delicious. I have got to start making more stuffed pasta dishes.

Also, with that sense of humour of yours, love of food, and the fact that you like my favorite actor, Sidney Poitier, it must be true...we are long lost brothers.:)

Good job on the meme...I truly enjoyed hearing about your "day in the slow life" and seeing all of your pictures. Thank you so much for sharing it with all of us.

Jan said...

Your firewood reminded me of a repossessed house we bought in the UK and which we now rent out. No woodburner then... but our friend had one and so all the wood went onto the back garden, beds, cupboards, railway sleepers, the lot, for him to take away. It took him two years to burn it all!

Angela said...

Wow, that was really an entertaining post! That book there, does it say Backvergnügen? Do you use German books? Shall I send you one? I like your curls, actually, so don`t let Susan cut your hair too short. I admire you for your 10 km walks! I`m pretty sure I`d take the bike. You really stuff in a lot of actions into one day! I am quite impressed, but I also think it is a very good life. Viele liebe Grüße von Angela (dagegen war meine Post ja doch kurz!!)

Heiko said...

Thanks Mr. H. for the kind comments.

Angela, that says indeed Backvergnuegen wie noch nie, well spotted. As far as baking is concerned it's the only book I use. The pictures alone are worth it and make your mouth water. But I'm always open to new suggestions if you have a book spare. We'd prefer to cycle as well, but that's not that easy... wir ham hier so hohe Deiche im Weech stehn... and also a fat dog who doesn't fit into the pet box any more.

contadina said...

Thanks Heiko, a great read and lovely insight into your lives.

I feel you pain on the hot water front. We ditched the electric boiler when we first got here, so hot water is supplied by a solar panel or wood burner. This is great most of the time but as we haven't had a lot of sun for a couple of weeks and haven't yet lit the woodburner, we're beginning to hum a little ;-)

Milionario should be advertised as a language aid. I know so many people who watch it for that reason :-)

Heiko said...

Contadina, unfortunately solar water heating is not an option for us as we don't own our roof. I want to install water heated from a wood burner some time in the future... when I have a few Euros to rub together.

As far as Millionario is concerned, it just drives me to distraction the way they deliberately drag on the answers as long as possible, so the programme makers have to pay out as little as possible.

contadina said...

Shame about the roof. A friend made his own budget terracotta wood burner, which he uses to heat water in the winter. It's the first picture in the arredamento gallery http://www.hermannmejer.com/site/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=63&Itemid=63 It has a cold water feed at the bottom, which spirals inside through sand and the smoke feeds the water. Simple yet effective.

Angela said...

Dat is jümmers so to`n Lachen wenn Du mi in Plattdütsch schrievst! Ut Itolien! Wat fö`n Koken mögt ji denn am leevsten? Appelkoken oder Stollen oder wat? Ich kan di jo mine Leevlingsrezepte schicken! Tschüss ok! Angela

Heiko said...

Leevlingsrezepte sall man good sin. Ik mook Whinachten juemmer 'n Bremer Klaben.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Hello Heiko! What a great day! Sorry about all the rain - but its nice to get 'inside' stuff done too. And I love all the cats and your holy dog! Great work with the meme - I hope our stories inspire other people to follow this path, or at least see that its possible.

THANKS for the post on making cider!
:-)
your new pal,
OFG
ps say.. if you and Mr. H are long lost brothers, does that mean I'm the little sister?

Heiko said...

Welcome OFG and do join the family! Looking forward to hearing more from you and your motley crew in the future!

jann said...

It's fun to read how other expats are putting together their lives in Italy. You're an entertaining writer and I'm impressed with your energy! Wish I had just half of it!

Laura said...

I like the hair! Susan did a great job. I cut Henry's hair once, and though we both agreed the end result was rather good, the process threatened to ruin our marriage, so we haven't dared to repeat the procedure! I also tried switching to just sodium bicarbonate, but the transition period was a little rocky. I have switched to an all-natural shampoo, however, and also don't shower every day, and my hair is definitely the better for it!

Heiko said...

Laura, I'm particularly unfussy about my hair and I didn't even notice a difference when I changed to bicarb. Susan had no trouble with the transition either.

I have always hated going to the hairdressers, making polite conversation about your holidays whilst looking at yourself in an oversized mirror. Not my thing.