26 dicembre 2013

This year's Christmas tree

This year's Christmas tree is an in-memoriam branch from the fallen oak. Pretty much as soon as we brought it in, leaves started falling off it en masse, so that the living-room floor now looks like autumn. By Christmas Day itself the tree was nearly naked, apart of course from the tasteful decorations, some of which go back to when Alessio was an infant and we made decorations out of paper and swirls of glitter. Looking at them, we decided these are actually a whole lot prettier than much of the crap you buy in the shops. And we have no angel on the top, but we do have a slightly sinister hanging corn dolly that Alessio once made on a school trip to somewhere. Happy Christmas, faithful readers. 

22 dicembre 2013

Jupiter and the moon

Jupiter and the moon staged a gorgeous extravaganza in the eastern sky the other night. With my astro-binocs I saw two of Jupiter's moons very brightly and got my usual thrill from that; and swinging round to the west, with much peering about I managed to see comet Lovejoy again. Low in the sky, smaller and smudgier in the orangey haze over town, but still enthralling as it beats its lonely path through the universe (sigh).

Jupiter a tiny dot at the top.

 In other news: we have a temporary road again so are now mobile, though it's not easily transitable in the ordinary car and as soon as it rains we're going to have to use the 4WD as a shuttle, but at least we don't have to walk through the mud to the top of the road any more. Thank you Mario. The downside is that there won't be any of the promised big diggers, or not for a while anyway, as Mario is shunning the book-learning of geologists and reckons he can fix the whole thing all by himself come next spring once it's dried out. He doesn't want to hear the idea that putting in drainage channels right now would help it dry out. Some discussions ahead, methinks.

The original road went straight on where now the new road veers right
(coming from the house).

11 dicembre 2013

Not much to say

Not much to say about the landslides at the moment, apart from that there is no progress (but also they're not getting worse) (unless you count the new cracks in the road above the collapsed section). The Comune has refused to help us, though we're submitting another request to the Regione for disaster aid. A geologist has come round and given us some advice on how to deal with remaking the road and filling in the sinkhole (as I now think of it) outside the house, but nothing can really be done until the land dries out (so we're talking next summer). Still, as we have beautiful weather at the moment and the forecast is good, we're going to try to get drainage channels installed to carry off water from under the road landslide to help it dry out. This is major work and will involve a very large digger, so rest assured I'll bring you photos of that. 

In the meantime, here's a video of a chicken.

8 dicembre 2013

Yesterday it was the most

Yesterday it was the most fantastic clear night with what we astronomers call "good seeing". A sort of clear darkness. I took my astronomy binoculars out just before midnight and spotted with incredible clarity: two moons of Jupiter, the Orion nebula, and the Andromeda galaxy, as well as a few other interesting space objects. There's a comet around at the moment, Comet Lovejoy, visible in the early morning near the handle of the Plough. Putting my habitual early-hours insomnia to good use I got up at 5.00am and went outside to see what I could find. As well as all the above-mentioned items again (but in different places), I eventually managed to see Comet Lovejoy. It's a beautiful comet with a classic tail. Thrilling to see and worth getting up for. I love to think of it up there speeding across the sky. I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to photograph it (requires some kit and a certain amount of know-how, patience and dedication that I probably don't have) but I might try one day.

Other than that it's been a quiet weekend. I finished knitting my wrap, shown in the picture — a gorgeous thick merino wool shawl to keep me warm on winter evenings.

4 dicembre 2013

In the midst of events

In the midst of events that are truly calamitous, you'd have thought that the tiny irritations of everyday life might be somehow less irritating. But it doesn't work like that. Let's talk about socks, for instance. That way they have of slipping down inside your wellies and bunching up under the soles of your feet? Really irritating. 

So this year I bought some special welly socks, and I tried them out today on what was our first really frosty morning of the year. And they were everything cold-weather socks should be: warm, soft, thick and a litle bit scrunchy-feeling. Stomping round the yard at 7.30 in the ice I could practically feel my toes smiling to their little selves. But — and it's a serious but — the socks slipped down. The socks slipped down! The single defining characteristic of welly socks, surely, must be that they don't slip down. I pulled them up, I tried them over my trousers and under my trousers, I rolled them and unrolled them, and nothing helped. I even tried them folded over the tops of my wellies, which stopped them slipping down, obviously, but let in cold air and felt weird. And even when I was standing staring at the broken land with my heart racing in horror, a little part of me was being seriously irritated by the falling-downness of my welly socks.

 Still, just so as not to lose track of the calamities, here's a picture of the view from my bedroom window now.

And two landslides visible across the valley in the other direction. The one to the far right is directly under our friends' house, the other (the big one) is on the edge of a private road like ours, but doesn't seem to have attacked the road.

2 dicembre 2013

I've been trying to think

I've been trying to think of something else to post about, because if this were a film everyone would probably have left the cinema by now. Not another landslide, pleeeze; how many landslides can a plot decently deal with? So today the photos of the tree. 

The tree came down in the night, the heaviness of the snow weighing down on it past bearing. A huge, century-old, beautiful oak that framed the lane going down to the fields and partially shielded Mario's monstruous corrugated-iron and breeze-block barn from our delicate vision. It did all the things oaks are meant to do — gave shade, gave acorns, gave shelter to small creatures, gave us kindling for the fire, and gave a touch of majesty to the setting. The tangled filigree of its branches in winter was a work of art. Of course it was only a tree, but seeing it lying sprawled across the lane and field (I'm not going to write 'like a felled giant', but you know I want to) is breathtakingly sad. 

It's been raining torrentially for 24 hours and I do have some more news about landslides, actually, but that can wait till tomorrow.

26 novembre 2013

Because sometimes life is just not hard enough

Because sometimes life is just not hard enough, what you really need in the middle of an ongoing emergency situation where your access road has been crumpled up and tipped into a field and your garden is being eaten away chunk by chunk before your eyes, is a really heavy snowfall. The kind of too-early-in-the-year wet snow that bows down the trees with its weight, adheres to fences and walls with its stickiness and gives a unique and lethal slipperiness to the roads. That white snow-light coming through the curtain when I woke up nearly made me cry.

Mid-morning, soon after the Internet went down (that was a given, right?), the electricity also cut out. I went to check the fusebox and then looked outside. My eye was caught by a flash of orange. At the top of a pole. It was the Man From ENEL. I bundled up and went out to talk to him — or rather shout to him, up his pole. He waved at me. "Tira aria!" he shouted. Yes, it sure was windy.

So the dangerous wires across the road are now gone, and at least we can cross mains electrocution off our list of safety in the home issues — though the pole's still leaning, so I'm not ruling out some kind of one-in-a-thousand accident involving that.

Meanwhile the landslip near the house seems to be coming closer, or rather getting wider, but it's hard to tell in the snow as everything looks altered.Tomorrow the schools are closed because of the conditions, so the Boy, at least, is happy.

24 novembre 2013

Yesterday the loss adjuster

Misty valley, muddy fields
Yesterday the loss adjuster from the house insurance came round to look at the so-called damage caused by the leaking roof and windows. When he phoned to make the appointment I had to think hard to remember what he was talking about, as that rain-leaking event has now been so comprehensively superseded by the landslides and the damage has paled into insignificance. It's funny to think that two weeks ago today none of this had happened, the rain was just beginning, and the worst that I thought could happen in my life was to have to strew a few buckets around the living room to catch the drips. No, not so funny, really.

This is the view of the top of the landslide shown in my previous post.
The hole is about 5m deep. The edge of the road
is just on the other side of the red-and-white tape.
The gaping chasm near the house is still creeping towards the road. I think of those houses built on clifftops that are eroding and one by one the houses fall into the sea. It's a horrible feeling, watching this kind of damage occurring in slow motion and being utterly powerless to stop it. I'm living with a constant sense of fear, the kind where you lie awake at night with your heart pounding and your head spinning and nothing makes sense. My dreams are filled with tiny events of everyday anxiety: a huge spider in the bathroom, my glasses getting broken, my wellies developing leaks as I walk through puddles.

The first landslide, the one that took away our road, is sinking further every day. Filippo's crew made us a bypass by cutting back the bank, but the edge of the new road is on the unstable ground and itself is sinking, so we still can't drive the car up to the house. At least we have a fairly firm path to walk on though, rather than having to wade through mud. (My god, that's a feat of brightside-looking-on.) The roadside electricity pole is careening at an alarming angle and ENEL assure me they have a cunning plan to fix it, but meanwhile above the path are stretched the wires that take the current up to Mario's house — stretched very close to breaking point. If they break they'll fall across the path. When that happens, the ENEL guy told me, don't even attempt to step over them or go round them: call the emergency number and wait and someone will be round in half an hour to sort it out. I wanted to know why they couldn't move the wires pre-emptively — you know, so that actually they don't fall on top of our path and potentially electrocute me and my family — but obviously that's a cunning plan too far.

In amongst the dread and stress it's hard to find pleasure in normal life. Everything feels slightly deadened because of the constant backbeat of worry and the awareness that this is not going to end anytime soon. I've never known anything like this before. Early in the morning the mist over the valley was pretty, yet in the photo I see more the ocean of mud than the beauty of the view.

20 novembre 2013

The land just keeps falling

The land just keeps falling away. This is the new landslip around dawn today. This landslide started on Sunday morning (happy birthday to me!) and has been encroaching back towards the road by about 2 metres a day — huge chunks of land just breaking off and crashing into the field. The field itself has taken on an entirely different shape. There's no means of stopping the landslide, so we just have to wait for it to come to a natural halt, whenever and wherever that might be. Not much more to say right now.

16 novembre 2013

At 7.30 on Wednesday

At 7.30 on Wednesday morning I walked up from feeding the animals and noticed that the road looked strange. It looked as if someone had piled gravel over it in a line in the middle of the night. As I walked closer, I realized that nothing so simple or wacky had happened but that, in fact, the entire road had collapsed over about a 15-metre length. A sense of slow shock set in as I got nearer and went to look. The field below the road had suffered a huge landslip and just dragged the road down with it. The photos say it better than words really.
Water pipe rescued. Note tilting electricity pole.

Miraculously our water pipe, which was in the bit of land that shifted, was undamaged. Our Digger Man and all-round saviour, Filippo, and his crew have now dug it out and re-routed it above ground, so at least we now can stop worrying that our water will be cut off as the land slips more. 

Things always improve when the men in orange reflective vests take over.
Four days after the initial landslip, the area of damage is deeper, wider and longer. We have been told the road can't be repaired till the ground has dried out and settled, which pretty much means next summer. Unthinkable that our house be inaccessible by car for nine months, so Filippo has hatched a plan to cut us a new, temporary road bypassing the landslip on its top edge. Meantime we don wellies and trudge over the mud of the ex-road and slog up the hill to reach the car parked at the top, where we change back into normal clothes and try to re-enter the rest of the world, where people just walk out of their front doors, get in their cars, and go.

Herbie tests the metal duckboards.

12 novembre 2013

After a balmy weekend

After a balmy weekend, Sunday night it started to rain. And it hasn't really stopped since. This is the heaviest rain I've known since living here. Not the most prolonged, but the absolute hugest quantity in so short a time. There are floods everywhere, the fields have streams running across them and there are pools in the bottom of the valley. We have leaks all over the house, water coming in through the roof and through the windows (useless window fittings). Yesterday was spent in damage limitation, lugging buckets and pots around to catch the drips, and then emptying them every few hours, they filled up so fast. 
No way out...

This morning I drove Alessio to school and a 10-minute trip took 45 minutes. Our way into town was (and still is) blocked by a large landslide across the road, so I had to go round the long way, which was also blocked by a landslide, so I had to go round the even longer way — which was just having its landslides cleared by a digger... The countryside is awash in water, landslips and mud everywhere, it's crazy. And still it rains.

... and no way home

8 novembre 2013

So here I am

So here I am after a year of not getting round to writing about anything that happens. Not that much happens, but, you know, some things do, sometimes. This is probably the last-chance saloon for my blog though. Little and often is my latest mantra. And, hell, I'll reformat it — let's run with a bigger photo. We'll see how it goes.

We got our winter log supply delivered the other day and stacked it on the apartment veranda, where it now sits looking pretty in the sun. A lot of sun. Right now it's insanely hot for November — it was 30 degrees on the sunny side of the house yesterday. I'm writing this at 8.30am and it's already nearly 20 degrees on the shady side. Walking the dog earlier the air felt balmy and soft, not at all autumnal. I like warm weather and I dread the winter, but at this time of year this kind of heat feels profoundly wrong, like something is badly off-kilter. Luckily the weather forecast is terrible, the temperature's meant to drop with big storms sweeping in, and although I can't say I'm looking forward to that, at least it will be more normal.

And that's the end of the weather report.