Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Elusive Golden Oriole

Heard but not seen
male Golden Oriole

The Eurasian Golden Oriole, (Oriolus oriolus) or rigogolo in Italian, winters in Africa and passes through Europe in the summer.
A few years ago a birdwatching visitor reported a fleeting sighting of a yellow and black bird he imagined to be a Golden Oriole in the fields below Le Ripe. 

dowdier female

The news excited us since it the bird is rarely seen these days although friends near Panzano have been lucky enough to glimpse yellow flashes in their woods.

This photo demonstrates how tricky it is to distinguish the bird from surrounding vegetation

Some days ago I heard a distinctive birdsong in the woods above the house. I have no idea why it occurred to me that this might be the Golden Oriole. Perhaps it was because the song was so particular. It might have been a melodious parrot call, for someone brought up in Australia like me.
Or perhaps it was just wishful thinking.

I tried to stalk the singer but it moved further off as I approached and since I did not want to frighten it away and it was fairly unlikely that I would see it without binoculars, I desisted.

Instead I memorized the song by imitating it with my rather feeble whistle. It was a sweet-sounding warble, or, in the words of Wikipedia: a beautiful fluting weela-wee-ooo ...unmistakable once heard. I headed for the internet where birdsongs have been lovingly recorded for the common good. There I discovered to my great satisfaction that the mystery song was indeed produced by this striking bird.

We have heard the Golden Oriole on subsequent occasions at Le Ripe. We hope it stays with us for a while. This year there have been no jays and few magpies, which must be encouraging for more timid birds. They may be enjoying our cherries which I do not regret: rather a Golden Oriole in the garden than a basket of cherries in the hand.

For scientific information the Wikipedia link is here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Markets and Festivals in Chianti

Some of the best local festivals and markets...

Greve's attractive triangular, porticoed square provides the perfect setting for a variety of markets and festivals during the year

Apart from three weekend markets selling fruit and veg, cheese, barbecued meats etc in Greve in Chianti and Castellina in Chianti on Saturday mornings and Panzano on Sunday mornings, there
are several antique/flea/craft and specialist markets as well as a selection of festivals on offer throughout the year in the Chianti area.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A Night Visitor at Le Ripe

Giant Peacock Moth

Great peacock moth, giant emperor moth, Viennese emperor, the Saturnia pyri, native to Europe: this Saturniid moth is the largest European moth. Its wingspan can reach 20cm.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Walking around Villa Vignamaggio

Past, present and future revealed in a Chianti valley
- part one -

Anyone who has seen the 1993 film version of Much Ado about Nothing by Kenneth Branagh, may recall the opening scenes where the male protagonists gallop home across a verdant valley towards the villa in Messina where the play's action takes place. The villa featured splendidly in the film is not in Sicily but in the Comune of Greve in Chianti, a 15 minute drive from Le Ripe: Villa Vignamaggio.

Although the Vignamaggio website includes a cursory (and not entirely accurate) summary of the Villa's interesting history, it excludes its context: the broad, sun-filled valley it dominates. 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Machiavelli's Oak

A frustrating yet fruitful exile

Florence seen from just outside the village of Sant'Andrea in Percussina where the Machiavelli family had their estate.
In 1513, when the historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, author and playwright Niccolo' Machiavelli (1469-1527) was banished from Florence to his family estate by the reinstated Medici, it must have been poignant, if not painful, to see the towers and cupolas of his native city, so near and yet so far.

The Machiavelli seat, essentially a grand farmhouse, on the road winding between Florence and San Casciano: on the opposite side of the road stands the Albergaccio inn which Machiavelli frequented. Note the height and security of the lowest windows: the road would have been a busy and at times dangerous thoroughfare.

the entrance to L'Albergaccio

Sunday, March 4, 2018

When a tree is cut down


A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.
Hermann Hesse, from Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte, collected by Volker Michels, 1984 

The two executioners stalk along over the knolls,
Bearing two axes with heavy heads shining and wide,
And a long limp two-handled saw toothed for cutting great boles,
And so they approach the proud tree that bears the death-mark on its side.

Jackets doffed they swing axes and chop away just above ground,
And the chips fly about and lie white on the moss and fallen leaves;
Till a broad deep gash in the bark is hewn all the way round,
And one of them tries to hook upward a rope, which at last he achieves.

The saw then begins, till the top of the tall giant shivers:
The shivers are seen to grow greater with each cut than before:
They edge out the saw, tug the rope; but the tree only quivers,
And kneeling and sawing again, they step back to try pulling once more.

Then, lastly, the living mast sways, further sways: with a shout
Job and Ike rush aside. Readied the end of its long staying powers
The tree crashes downward: it shakes all its neighbours throughout,
And two hundred years' steady growth has been ended in less than two hours.

Thomas Hardy, Throwing a Tree, New Forest

Monday, February 5, 2018

A New Friend at Le Ripe

Argo the Pup

Argo on arrival, looking, listening and smelling
Ten days ago Le Ripe joyfully welcomed a new resident. His name is Argo (after the dog which faithfully waited for Ulysses to return from Troy and his Odyssey). 

displaying his sniffer-hound genes

Saturday, January 27, 2018

A Wood in Winter

A wood which has become the extension 
of a 
Chianti garden

Once the woods around here were cultivated for their various uses: brush for fires and ovens, wood for fuel, tools and farmwork and to make charcoal.

 Friends of ours near Panzano in Chianti have spent endless hours clearing the brush, brambles, stunted trees and bushes from the wood above their house.

Monday, January 15, 2018

A 19th century vision of 15th century Florence

George Eliot and the Passage of Time in Florence

"...a world-famous city, which has hardly changed its outline since the days of Columbus, ...seeming to stand as an almost unviolated remind us that we still resemble the men of the past more than we differ from them..."

Florence in 1490: bird's eye view from the west
In her novel Romola (1862-63) George Eliot (or Mary Anne Evans) offers a vision of Florence which, besides displaying her deep grasp of the history, language and culture of the city during the Renaissance, regales the modern reader with a vivid portrait of the town at the height of its glory.
1914 edition of Romola
But it is her Proem which interests me here. Eliot begins her preamble to Romola by underlining how little many world-famous cities have changed over the centuries, at least at their historical hearts. Her assertion held truer in the 19th century than it does in the 21st, but in the case of historical Florence, it is arguably still - miraculously - the case.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Fallen Cypress

Resuscitating a Tree

The day the builders came and, manoeuvring their digger in a tight space, crashed into one of three cypresses we planted over ten years ago, setting the tree at a 45 degree angle, we were not sure whether it could be salvaged.
After we watered it thoroughly, presumably to ease its shock (it happened at the height of a very hot summer), the cypress rapidly sank to the ground, where it lay for over two months.
The experts told us it was better to wait for cooler weather but when they came to visit the patient they were concerned that many roots had been broken in the fall; perhaps the tree was compromised. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

How to Build a Farmhouse: an 18th Century Architectural Treatise

Delle Case de' Contadini
Ferdinando Morozzi

...farmhouses can be improved, not for the sake of it, but in order to remove many fatal mistakes, as much for the Farmers' lives as for the damage incurred for the owner who cannot derive profit from his Possessions...therefore I will try to discuss this, setting out rules for building anew, modifying and enlarging pre-existing homes based on experience, and the Authorities of the most serious Writers...

...non poco si possono migliorare di piu' le Case de' Contadini, non per il affine di togliere ...tanti errori..funesti...alla vita de' medesimi Contadini, quanto ancora di pregiudizio notabile all'interesse di chi possiede, che non ricava dalle Possessioni quel frutto compensativo...percio' procurero' di discorrere sopra le medesime...esponendo le regole per...edificare di nuovo, e correggere, ed aumentare le gia' fatte le quali cose tutte saranno appoggiate all'esperienza e corredate colle Autorita' de' piu' gravi Scrittori... 
Delle case dei contadini, link to book

On Peasants' Houses is the title of this slim volume published in late 18th century Florence by one Ferdinando Morozzi (mentioned in the post on Le Ripe History). The Tuscan case coloniche or farmhouses inhabited by  sharecroppers, but not owned by them, (see the post on Sharecropping in Tuscany) are the typical clusters of rural buildings for which this part of the world is famous. They are often misnamed villas, but villas were the homes of the gentry and nobility, are grander and often surrounded by formal gardens. 
restored casa colonica not dissimilar to the one in Morozzi's drawing below: some might erroneously call it a villa but it is really just a wonderful old farmhouse beautified

Case coloniche are the solid, square stone structures where the farmers, the 'peasants' of the past, lived and worked. Arches, dovecotes, external staircases, towers, terracotta grills on the barns for aeration, are regular features; locations vary but tend to be central to the farmland and on an elevation, if available.