Monday, August 26, 2013

Unsung Local Heroes II

Enrico the Carpenter, Armchair Historian and Lover of Animals

The 'Evening Shadow' Etruscan sculpture from Volterra circa 300 BCE; Enrico has a reproduction of the sculpture in his house

We are very fond of Enrico and his family. They live in the village of Lucarelli, at the bottom of our hill, beside the river Pesa. A close-knit family of four, they have all been involved in our lives and work at Le Ripe since we first arrived. The son is an electrician and it was through him that we first encountered the rest of the family. Such was his involvement in the electrification of Le Ripe that one evening, when we turned off the outside lights the better to observe the stars, we received a call from him asking if everything was alright: from the valley he had seen the lights go out at Le Ripe and was concerned. Eventually his mother, highly recommended by our neighbours, came to help in the house, and her daughter, who sells her wares at local fairs and markets in her spare time, is a mistress of the cross-stitch and made our lavender bags. I trust I can say that we have become friends rather than just neighbours and beneficiaries of their skills and know-how.

little Lucarelli, beside the Pesa: the church was built in the 20th century, replacing the ancient San Pietro on the other side of the valley

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Every Bed of Roses has its Thorns

The Other Side of the Idyll

Writing this blog I sometimes worry that we only ever talk about the Good Things of life in Chianti. Although the intention is to describe the best of what's available, be it food, culture, craftsmanship or festivals, or the most interesting aspects of our garden, the seasonal changes etc., we run the risk of giving the wrong impression. Although I doubt anyone truly believes we are living in some sort of enchanted bubble.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sharecropping in Tuscany

Slavery, Serfdom and Mezzadri

view from Lamole towards Panzano

It is all very well for us to wax romantic over the Tuscan countryside, its rows of smoky olives, the lines of vines, its ancient drystone terracing, handsome stone farmhouses and grand villas. These elements are indeed harmonious and pleasing to the eye. But their beauty may be incidental. Sadly, this marriage of natural materials and the painstaking husbandry of the land are also testimony to an ancient institution which at best discouraged innovation  and at worst was downright exploitative and extremely harsh, at least for many.              

detail of Calendar from Le Rustican ou livre des prouffitz champestres et ruraulx by Pietro de' Crescenzi, (trans from Liber Ruralium Commodorum written about 1305), ed. circa 1470-1475, musée Condé, ms.340, Illuminations by Maître du Boccace de Genève

Thursday, August 22, 2013


 Made to Last

At Lamole there is a series of beautiful steps set into the ancient drystone walls lining the road. They stand out for their simple, practical designs, masterly execution and durability.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Hazelnut Harvest

Getting in before the wild boar and squirrels

this year's hazlenuts from the cossetted hedge
 I used to be surprised when our elderly neighbour, Signor Bonechi, would come up our drive in mid August to shake the hazelnuts out of the trees. It seemed to early: surely hazelnuts are an autumn crop? Over time I have come to realize that Signor Bonechi was simply canny. 

impossible to photograph, our squirrels resemble this black squirrel but are tinier, more feathery-looking and with a deep burgundy tinge to the black

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Conversation with an Historian of Tuscan Architecture

Scattered Notes on the Past

View of Florence, Raffaello Arcangelo Salimbeni (1914-1991)
Just the other day we had a visit from an architectural historian, a retired professor from Florence University who specialises in Tuscan architecture, from the grand to the humble. Obviously we hoped to glean something more about the history of Le Ripe, but although he could give us no greater indications than the name of the archives (in Florence) where we should carry out further research, his conversation was full of fascinating snippets which I thought to compile in a post for those who might be interested. (If I repeat things already written in other posts I apologise to our most attentive readers!)

the epitome of Tuscan grand architecture: the renaissance Ponte Santa Trinità in Florence, with its elliptic arches, considered one of the most elegant bridges in the world

Friday, August 16, 2013

Red Harvest


Our pride and joy - and pleasure - this morning's harvest of cuore di bue (beefsteak-type), fiorentini (local, grooved tomatoes) and cherry-type picadilly tomatoes. Some we leave to ripen on the sill, others we store in the fridge, most we eat as soon as possible, see below

Tomato Toasts
nice simple recipe for quick summer lunch
make toast with your favourite bread;
fatly slice beefsteak tomatoes;
generously drizzle good olive oil on toast;
  add tomatoes, salt 
and lots of freshly-ground pepper. 

Summer Sights

A Perfect Summer's Day

a delightful new angle on Panzano from the vineyards above Querceto, accessed on unsealed road from the 222 towards Castellina

Often around mid-August the weather begins to change. There may be big, cathartic storms or simply a gradual change in temperature. This year it is the latter: the great heat appears to be subsiding; we are now enjoying hot but not unbearable days,clear skies and blissfully cool nights.  

this year we have been regaled with a second Birth of Venus

The Italian national holiday of Ferragosto (August 15th), which hails back to Emperor Augustus who proclaimed a holiday in his own name, has been and gone. The ferie, or vacations (explicitly from work), have passed their peak. We took advantage of the peace and quiet of the holiday to explore directly around Le Ripe. Here are some photos from the day.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Argiope bruennichi

 A Spider in Waiting

at the centre of her web; size indicates that this is a female

On the aia, the former threshing floor, I recently spied what looked like a wasp captured in a spider's web. The web was at head height as it had been woven between the foliage of a phlomis plant which is growing above the aia, so I was able to observe it easily. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Field Work

Clearing Track and Field

 The other day a man and his tractor came to clear our lower fields and the access track for the second time (or third if you count the hunters who offered to clear the field some years ago).

this track was cleared by Paolo and my husband about two years ago, following indications of the former cart track

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Road Works

Road Improvements Phase I

two cement mixers were used

the cement had to be coloured, to conform with regulations