Monday, 31 October 2011

Wild Mood Swings

Grapes at Falciano Vineyard
It's quarter to seven. The sun is sinking and an amber halo silhouettes the forested hills around Tenuta Savorgnano. An oily blue jay hectors from the stand of elms between the house and the pool. It's cool; very cool. The mercury struggles to reach fifteen degrees and cold blasts of tramontana – literally, 'among mountains' – wind, have the hanging geraniums on the first floor window ledges tugging at their roots.

Lately, the Savora – the river that cuts around the promontory on which the houses are perched – is beginning to sing again. Somewhere, deeper into this wilderness they call the Casentino it must be bucketing down. Clouds cluster and cling to the tips of pines atop the looming Alpe di Catenaia way above the tenuta. The winter is tuning up.
It seems indecently early, but the garden lights flicker on all along the boundary fence, past the pool -now dressed for winter - and curl around the edge of the car park to a huge pile of branches and twigs. We've cut a swathe through the foliage that obscures the long valley views to the north east towards Anghiari. Now we can see the serried ranks of mountains recede, one behind the other in ever paler shades of grey, beyond Umbria and into the milky twilight. By the light of the iron lanterns at each corner of the main house bats perform their crepuscular acrobatics.
Old Rugged Cross at La Verna
A couple of weeks ago it seemed like summer wouldn't end. Vendemmia – the grape harvest - was in full swing and we even witnessed grapes being pressed just across the road from a local vineyard. Not quite as one might imagine - underfoot in a wooden barrel - but in gleaming aseptic stainless steel machines. Now, crops are safely gathered in, fields are fallow, garden furniture has been snatched indoors, foreign registered cars have vanished, caf├ęs have retreated from the pavements and half the population have battened down the hatches and the other half have returned to their real lives. Forty quintale – 4,000 kilos – of winter wood was delivered yesterday which is definitely a signifier of impending cold weather.  In a few days time the clocks change. Melancholy - my default position - is unmasked as the distractions of the summer fade. The internal weather is as turbulent as the sky today.

Recession, unemployment, repossession, social unrest. News of England comes courtesy of Radio 4 podcasts. Millionaire George Osborne is tightening everyone's belt and letting out his own. This fixation with Euro-turmoil neatly elides the crisis of Sterling. How ironic that the great hope of the Europhobes (not Eurosceptics – that would be a rational position!) find themselves thrashing about to make sure the Euro currency holds, while ardent Europhiles, the Lib Dems, are toning down the federalist rhetoric! I can hear great chunks of masonry crashing off the edifice of the coalition from here. Meanwhile, the huddled masses amass on the doorstep of the square mile and clerics resign in solidarity. The Friday Night Comedy, Front Row, Saturday Live and Thinking Allowed lift the spirits – thank you BBC! A tenner a month for the licence fee is excellent value – a Sky or a Virgin subscription costs about five times as much.

Unfathomably, my last post received more feedback than any other. Even snail mail from England! It seems most were hoping for a more personal and less statistical annual report. Some were congratulatory, but I think it's a little premature for a pat on the back. We simply can't tell how it it will pan out yet. We've got by this year, but there's no room in the budget for improvement and that's a disappointment.

That's probably offended those who wrote to caution giving out commercially sensitive information. I can live with the schadenfreude of those who've done a bit better and wish them even greater success. It's not like I published the profit and loss account! Actually, there's a courageous bloke at Organic Heaven in Chesterfield who publishes his results – warts 'n' all – on his website. It's a different view of business I suppose – about co-operation and stake-holding. Here in Italy Slow Food convivia refer to “co-producers” rather than consumers and has a similar impetus. Tell the truth and shame the Devil about the difficulties facing small business. The customer doesn't really always know best. Informed choice – a mantra we hear so much these days.

What's your strangest request? That's an easy one to answer. “Where is the nearest water park?” “I think you may be on the wrong holiday”, I replied. What do I miss most from England? Punctuality and reliability – of people and services! Oh the foot stomping frustration of dealing with Telecom Italia!! Most difficult guest? I couldn't possibly be so indiscreet! However, we did have an enquiry in person (after several email exchanges) quite early in the season from someone who had been in Italy for a couple of months on a “spiritual journey” and who needed somewhere to stay for her final three weeks here. No space was big enough for Yoga; the pool isn't heated?; we'd never cope with her food intolerances. However, it turned out in the end that her biggest spiritual need was an hyper-fast broadband connection. Not possible when you're 22 kilometres from the telephone exchange and reliant on dodgy copper cables. The rest she could've put up with. It was a narrow escape.
It's a public holiday here at the moment for Ogni Santi or All Saints. The B&B and the apartments are full for the weekend. We've just had a week without guests and had fallen into maintenance mode, when we forget what it is we do. We managed to wing breakfast this morning for the largest number we've ever catered for – eighteen! Now pulling that off deserves a pat on the back. Most of the Italians eschewed the stereotype (archetype?) and exchanged cappuccino for tea. That was a turn up for the books. Yorkshire Tea to boot! One of our American guests has inexplicably been to Selby on holiday. “Selby, East Yorkshire?” I clarified.

Basilica allo Santuario - La Verna
The pictures on this blog are from the Sanctuary at La Verna, close to here. St Francis knew a good spot for a monastery. It's a great place for quiet contemplation and wistful meanderings - perfectly suited to golden autumn afternoons.

Melancholy is sadness that has taken  on lightness - Italo Calvino

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jon, a strange blog...lots of atmospheric scene setting about Tenuta Savorgnano and then a paragraph of bile about the Tories?....a blog of love, happiness, friends and socialism!! The view about Italy and the Euro over here is one of general smugness that we are all detached from it with token political one wants to be part of it now.

    I enjoyed your last blog about the sales summary and frankly you have both done brilliantly. In all businesses that you personally run then you are always thinking ahead and so I am sure 2012 and how you generate interest again is on your mind. You will no doubt be working 24/7 on the promotion of the hotel and you are a energetic and creative pair who will sort it. Mungo bumps along the bottom. Tesco regularly give £4 off £40 worth of sales vouchers and 5p off a litre of fuel is their other driver. This sets the scene on the 'High Street'. Christmas is going to be a very flat one has money and those that do are not getting any interest on their savings! I take some comfort that the distributors are feeling the pinch with increasing 'out of stocks', reduced headcount and lower minimum order values. I think it is going to be a tough time until late 2013.

    I noted your 'most ununusual requests' item. I must add along these lines that when we recently did a sightseeing tour of Berlin the Guide commented that he had been asked by Americans "why did Hitler build his bunker so near to the Wall"!!