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Our Italian Life – potatoes & celebrations

So much has been happening here in Val Pellice these last few weeks, our Italian Life has been interesting to say the least.

Of course we’ve had the big Fair in the village held to celebrate the animals going up to the high pasture for summer. We ate fairy floss, watched as the road transformed into a bustling hub with friends and neighbors showing off their herds of cows, sheep, goats and horses.

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One young man stole the show high above the crowd, as if this was quite normal even going into the bar for a drink.

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It was at the fair that Sam realized his Dad Carlo was much sicker than we thought. It turned out that he has pneumonia, he is now very cranky in hospital for the last week, nobody does hospital stays quite like Carlo.

He was released a few days ago and came straight home from hospital and had a big bowl of pasta.

Both Connie and Carlo have been sick on and off since arriving two months ago. We are on a mission to get them well before the cruise they are due to take in June. Connie has been dreaming of going on a cruise since I first met her over 20 years ago.

Tonight we are going out to help them celebrate 50 Years of Marriage.

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Sam is busy with his new venture [ Renovating Italy – Property ] helping a number of clients wanting to buy property in Italy. Now that the locals are aware of his service he’s been busy documenting various places for sale.

Almost everyone has us saying ‘we’d buy that if we had the spare cash’ so many bargains that with just a little TLC would transform to swans.

I’ve had a lovely break from all the tech side of the online world, instead I’ve been out weeding the trails through Borgata Malpertus, picking wildflowers, meeting friends for catch ups and soaking up the spring sunshine.

The people in the Valley are busy literally ‘making hay while the sun shines’ and newborn lambs attract a crowd of tourists up from Turin with cameras clicking.

Today we planted our potatoes with some friends and then had an al fresco lunch before heading home. These are the friends who found us through the blog and then bought the house we shared on our facebook page, they are Aussies so it’s been fun watching them go through similar things that we went through when we first experienced our Italian Life.

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I’ve found homes for two of our five new kittens, they are so gorgeous I could watch them all day. They tumble and fight, doze with full tummy, and even are so brave they have befriended Fiume our dog.

We’ve found a vet that will de-sex the girls for 50 euro (if we bring in three at a time) each so when we are a bit financial we’ll get them done.

Carina and Luca are growing right before our eyes with Luca going on an excursion to the Egyptian Museum in Turin and Carina and her girlfriend spending time together without Mummy supervising at the shopping centre arghhhh!

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Our Italian Life is good right now!

I’d love to hear what’s been going on with you….?

element signature 2and the gang x

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Completly Clueless – living like a local in Piedmont

 

It starts with the locals, with their quality of life, their ability to be happy and their respect for the land they live in. Then the tourists will find a way!” Carlo Petrini ~ Slow Food

Since moving to our Valley in Piedmont we’ve been up close and personal to the local livestock. Flocks of goats come past our door daily, the cows graze just above our house and we’ve even been diverted by a huge white sheep dog guarding his flock when we were out walking. I now dodge various types of pooh on the road, know it’s lunch time by the passing of tractors and returning of the locals for lunch.

I have to admit to initially being scared of the cows roaming the meadows here. Completely clueless I grew up in the suburbs of Australia and apart from the occasional visit to a dairy farm run by friends of my first boyfriend way back in my 20’s I’ve had nothing to do with rural animals apart from taking the kids to the petting zoo at the school fete.

Now I live in a community immersed in the rhythms of nature,  in touch with where their food comes from, a lifestyle less reliant upon the latest device for entertainment. I actually still know very little about this lifestyle, about the role of livestock, the shepherds and their flocks and how it all fits into the Valley I have come to love.

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My view of the Fiera is still one of a tourist, although I now know many of the faces and even get to go behind the scenes (this year we saw them putting the mammoth bells on the cows before leaving to join the parade)  I still have a limited understanding of the significance of the celebrations held in May and October when the animals are paraded through our village of Bobbio Pellice.

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Tradition is alive and well here in the Valley, I see it in the face of a grandfather carrying a young child on his shoulders, a tiny boy with curly hair and traditional shepherds hook (and yes he knows how to use it), the boys strapping on huge cow bells whilst finishing off their second bottle of vino, they happily pour some for us into plastic cups.

Although this way of life is one I may never truly understand it’s one I deeply admire, this community has a right to be proud and to celebrate the seasons. I am as always honored to be a small part of this community and to have been welcomed so beautifully.

 

at the fair 2015

fair 2015

Living in a medieval Borgata in the Alps means we have goats, sheep, and cows passing our front door, I can literally reach out and touch them. I love watching our neighbors two white dogs round up the straggling cows that feed on the long grass along the road. With a little nip they soon have the herd together and on the move.

Watching the old ladies here hand rake the pasture above our house ready for grazing, I am reminded of all we seem to have lost with large scale farming. They have an understanding of the seasons, the mountains and they can usually tell me what the weather is going to be like with a great degree of certainty. They continue to fascinate me.

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We have a guest staying with us from California, her name is Marina and she is doing workaway which means she helps us with five hours of work and we provide meals and a place to sleep. We took her to see the Fair and she was a big hit with the locals as you can see.

She and Sam have redone the fencing, planted the ‘orto’ and we all spent a day in Turin eating gelato and wandering the city.

She is leaving on Sunday for Florence and I’ll be sorry to see her continue on her journey. As our neighbor Antonio told us, she has a gift from God and a beautiful heart (she is an artist and he asked her to do a painting of his house). She and Carina made apple cakes today, they have been walking the mountains, gathering wildflowers and she has done many sketches and paintings around the Borgata.

I can’t wait to hear how she falls in love with Florence, I spent a week visiting as a young backpacker myself many years ago.

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cow at fair 2015

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Life here in the Valley is full of surprises, as an outsider looking in everything is new, the ancient traditions passed down through generations are a complete mystery to me, one I hope will remain within the Valley for many years to come.

Now I know the names of the men and women moving the animals from pasture to pasture and to be milked. I can even say I have had a try at milking, but only for a few minutes with no resulting milk.! Our friend made it look easy, he’s been doing it all his life. He invites us to sit down to a simple meal of pasta, cheese and home made vino, an absolutely incredible meal and one I’ll never forget.

A day at the Fair now means so much more to me, it’s a celebration of all the reasons we moved to Italy…..oh and don’t get me started on the local Piedmont food!

If you ever get to Piedmont come for a visit, we’ll show you a side of Italy even I didn’t know existed.

and the gang xcomment

 

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Courtyard Work – removing the original bread oven

original bread oven

Entering the large double wooden gates to the the lower courtyard the first thing you see is the original bread oven. Dating to 1916 (the date carved in the rock oven door) and with a large area underneath used for the pigs we are told. Sadly the interior of the oven was beyond repair and crumbling away with huge cracks throughout.

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I try to imagine the borgata and valley back in 1916, during the first world war, we are walking in the footsteps of hundreds of years here each day. This oven would have provided the entire borgata with bread, I’d love to learn more about the history of our Borgata.

Anita who is now in her eighties was born here and has never left the Borgata, she lived through the second world war and saw both the Nazi’s and the Partisans walking through these very streets and past our big double doors.

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After discussing the idea with the local men here in the borgata Sam decided to take the oven out. I regret seeing it go but sometimes history has to move with the times and be practical as well as safe. We are slowly removing all the added touches in the house that would not have been original like the ugly metal railing. As much as possible we want to restore the house to it’s original state.

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The upper porch area will now run right to the exterior wall and the railing eventually replaced with timber. Originally a door was in the rock section leading to the house next door. We also found a doorway down in the back of the original bread oven that must have gone though to Casa Bianca. The two homes were once owned by the one family and now they are again owned by one family who want to protect and restore them.

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We have saved as many of the original terracotta bricks from the vaulted section as possible, most are just crumbling away in our hands. I know we’ll find a special place for them to be re used in the house. It’s fascinating to see how the vaulted original bread oven was built, a work of art. We had an original bread oven in our first home here in Italy at Borga Nari and even fired it up a few times.

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Our lower courtyard has been a bit of a mess for the past two weeks and is just now coming back to order. Once  the original bread oven  is totally removed  we can move the wood down from the upper level Sam will begin to work up in the back rooms. He has some good ideas for this area now after talking with our neighbor and seeing what is possible.

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Even though it has been cold and raining now for the past two weeks Sam has continued working to get this area finished. Then we will move the wood down to this area and have the entire back section of the upper floor for another project we are working on. More to come about that as the work progresses. The original bread oven is now gone and all that remains are the photos and the rock door dated 1916.

It’s a fine line between preserving the past and creating the future…….have you ever been torn between the two?

Signatureand the gang x

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Living Italy – a day at the fair

living italy

What a difference a year can make, now the faces smiling out of the crowd are friends, people I am slowly coming to know. We came to the fair in our village last year and I felt like a tourist, with no real understanding of the lifestyle, heritage and traditions around me.

This year at the fair I felt relaxed, smiling and waving, nodding to the locals and getting a ‘Salve’ in return. We are slowly becoming part of the Valley, Living Italy, Australiani yes but welcomed wholeheartedly.

While Sam and his friend were off photographing the fair together, the kids (well just Luca as Carina took off with her girlfriends) and I were free to just wander.

I even sat and had a coffee with two lovely German men at the bar, they were on a ‘boys weekend’ and they couldn’t believe they found an Australian here in the midst of the celebrations.

The faces in these photos are no longer strangers, they are the ones who come over to ask after Carina, the ones who smile and nod at me, the ones who listen to my halting attempts at Italian, the ones who stop for a chat and a joke with Sam.

These are the people that our children go to school with, the ones who have invited us to their homes, to birthday parties, to become a part of the community and celebrate all that is so special and unique about our Valley.

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 Sam has found his mojo and is back behind the camera, we actually met whilst studying photography. He was taking the commercial stream and I was happy in the fine art department. Not a single one of our friends thought we’d last, yet here we are almost 20 years later and still together.

These ‘Live Italy’ posts will be a way to give you an up close and personal view of our life here in the mountains of Northern Italy.

Looking through the photos Sam took at the fair had me laughing at how different our style of photography is. With him being the chef in the family he tends towards the food, and I love the people. I hope you like this little glimpse into Sam’s view of the valley, it’s nice to get a bit of male perspective from time to time.

 

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I’d love to say a huge thank you to our dear friend from Australia who helped Sam find his mojo again. We have big things planned for 2015 and will be filling you in as we progress.

As always I hope you are chasing your own dreams, and if you come to Italy you know where to find us.

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Thinking of visiting Italy next year?

and the gang x

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Italian Journey – circles of connection

italian journey

Italian Journey

We care about the journey, the stories and the meaning they can create in our lives.

I’m sitting in a stunning spot at Forterocca with a view of the alps , church and village trying to write ‘the book’, when two trucks a  minivan and multiple people arrive all chatting loudly in Italian. Maybe I should change position, move to the café, but then there are the folk from the square and the locals staring trying to decide what I’m doing.

Will I always feel like an outsider here in our Italian journey, overdressed or under dressed, in the wrong spot, saying the wrong thing? Feeling obvious, uncertain, like an idiot. A shaggy haired  idiot with smelly clothes and no makeup. How do they make jeans and a t-shirt look so good?

The alps tower over us all, visible one day hidden by thick fog the next. Lines of ancient houses hug the mountains. Our house is in the deepest part of the valley, you will get no light for three months Antonio tells me with delight, e molto freddo and senza sole. The valley is too tight to allow the sunlight, it will make its way in a low arc and be gone by the early afternoon.

I no longer wear a watch, I tell the time by the comings and goings of our neighbors, and the ringing of the cowbells as they head in for milking late in the day. I know when its lunch time by the total absence of any sound apart from the newest stray dog howling on her chain. She cries to be released or fed or just loved, maybe all three. Her oddly colored eyes are always sad and she shivers constantly, a good breeze might blow her all the way back to the village and her past owners.

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Sunlight creates deep shadows which hide the detail. The valley is still awaiting the tolling of the lunch time bell then everything will stop. A scruffy brown dog sits sunning itself in a doorway one floor up over the street. It’s front paws dangle over the edge of a partly finished concrete ledge. I hear the owner hammering away inside, the dog yawns.

A soft haze of white smoke rises from the chimneys giving away the fortitude of the occupants, comments are made about lighting the fire this early, how much wood will be needed to see us through the winter, and who are we buying it from. How much is a quintale of wood, and how many will we need, then where will we store this mountain of wood that will keep us alive though the oncoming winter.

A white paper lantern swings gently in the breeze like a glowing summer moon, as out of place here as I am. It casts no shadow at all, makes no impression other than its own oddity.

Threads of spider web catch the sunlight, stretching as far as the spider was able to float on the breeze. When the light hits a certain way I can see groups of them dancing in the wind. The sky is a perfect blue, not a cloud just this soft Italian haze that makes me feel as if I am in a movie.

To just sit in the warmth of an Italian sun, to remove the many layers of clothing added in the chill early hours of the morning when it was crisp and fresh the mountain wind biting at my face is a treat. Silence, no kids no husband. I’ll even forgive the owner of the scruffy dog for starting up his chainsaw, the dogs barking and two trucks deciding on just this moment to pull up under the balcony of the scruffy dog which has now disappeared.

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The twelve o’clock bell tolls, I can’t stop myself from counting the swinging bell as it rings out through the valley. Incredibly loud sitting here right underneath, perhaps that’s why the dog chose just this moment to disappear inside. For how many years has this bell tower rung the people to lunch and home to dinner? A bright blue tractor chugs up the road and the bell fades, its echo bouncing off rough stone walls. Another Italian Journey….

A bright shooting star in the blue sky to my left leaves two straight vapor trails as it disappears behind the ridge. A modern orange plastic chair against the bright yellow wall, imitation terracotta tubs with sad faded hydrangeas and doors that need a new coat of varnish to protect them through the winter.

Time is tough here, it leaves a mark on all things.

We are yet to be touched by the winter, I wonder how she will leave her mark on us.


 

 

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Our Italian Life – minus the internet

‘I am lost and found over and over’….

Our Italian Life: It’s still raining here in Valle Pellice, and we are seeing first hand the effect on the community. It’s as if an entire season has been missed and Spring just didn’t arrive. The days are long with no lack of sunshine, it gets dark around 10pm. This morning I was woken by Mario’s herd of cows literally passing right by my window. What is it with men and the size of their ‘cowbells’…. Sam is out working with a friend of ours clearing wood for Winter and the kids are out in the borgata playing. The school year finishes next week and then the holidays start, our road will be filled with ‘city folk’ up for a day in the countryside.

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Yesterday I walked down to Bobbio with Aldina to pick up her niece and nephew and meet the teachers (one speaks English phew) and was pleasantly surprised to see how well Luca will fit in here. We still don’t know which school Carina will attend and have a meeting on Monday to discuss it. She is picking up the language so quickly and the old people now look to her to translate to me LOL! I try to say everything in both Italian and English so Luca picks up some words.

Sam’s orto is growing nicely and we are bucking the system by not planting potatoes like everyone else. Reason being why grow such a cheap crop? Answer it’s always been that way! So we will swap our cherry tomatoes, cauliflower, aubergines, and beans for some potatoes hopefully if we can continue to outfox the snails!

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Tomorrow morning our neighbors are coming for pancakes…they’ve never had them so we had to go and hunt down some maple syrup. They have been so generous and Sam has found a best friend to muck about with. He is in happy land, out in the ‘orto’, pottering about with Claudio or here at the house fixing the plumbing.

I have found a lady in Bobbio Pellice who is Canadian and we are meeting up for coffee with a friend of hers also from Australia. She and her husband are retired and here volunteering for two years. Having a social network of some kind makes all the difference when in a new country, especially one that speaks the same language. I must admit to being a bit down since not having the internet, I realize how much I relied on it for my socializing and connection to friends.

The Italian version of ‘facebook’ can be seen every day before or after meal times. Soaking up the sun in the town square. The elderly men on the comfortable park benches in the prime spot opposite the square where they can see the comings and goings.  The women gather outside the Comune chatting face to face, people at the cafe, parents watching the children playing in the park, or tourists eating gelato.

It’s the Italian version of the Social Network and it’s scary that we have lost this in only a few generations. The people here are always ‘doing’ something, I can’t imagine them on computers or in front of the TV, from first light till dark (about 9pm) we can hear daily life going on about us.

The cows come home with bells ringing loudly ready for milking, the cars beep at the sharp curve on the road just above our house, Carina wants to go and help with the cows and it’s still light outside at 9pm with the kids all out playing. And I seem to have found the prime time for trying our internet connection….lunchtime of course when everyone is home eating a meal together!

Life has certainly changed….I am slowly shifting my focus and learning to enjoy each moment as it comes…yes even minus facebook. x

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Bobbio Pellice ~ hidden treasures

“A box without hinges, key, or lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid”

J.R.R Tolkien

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Our home in Bobbio Pellice has a tiny circular window high up on the crest of the roof line. Although I searched I couldn’t find it inside. My husband being a little more inventive worked out that it must be over the second bedroom. Pushing the ceiling panels he soon found the hidden opening and a whole treasure trove of history. Using on old handmade wooden ladder Sam and Carina braved the loft and were soon passing down ancient baskets, round green bottles, an old stirrup, a partially made boot, a leather suitcase, old magazines from the 50’s, a hand drawn map with a child’s writing…..each one a window into the lives led here.

Bobbio Pellice ladder

Bobbio Pellice scoop

Running water inside the house straight from the sorgente is priceless we are told. Freezing cold and crystal clear it runs throughout the house and means we won’t need town water. The trough is deep and worn in places, a new generation to splash with icy delight.

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Bobbio Pellice water trough

We continue to discover glimpses of past lives, the house holds many secrets yet to unfold. x