Morning / Breakfast
Most mornings we have a gentle fight about the shutters. They’re proper continental European ones: wooden, bespoke, heavy with intent. When they’re closed you really cannot tell if it is day or night. Jason likes this. I do not. I like daylight when it’s day. So most nights I try and connive a way of keeping at least one shutter open. At about 6am the sun or some approximation of it, starts to appear and there is often the most beautiful stupendous awe-inspiring sunrise which isn’t even off put by the fog. In fact sometimes fog will enhance it, providing a blanket for all that hot colour to soak into. When the morning arrives like this I think that the world can’t be all bad even if we have no-one to help us harvest and no internet connection and we’re missing our friends. I whisper to J ‘Have you seen the beautiful sunrise, it’s just amazing today?’ and, eyes still tight shut, he grunts a false affirmative. I wallow in the rays for a few minutes then get up and close the shutters for a bit more sleep.
Such is the compromise of relationships.
When we wake up for the second time, the first word we often hear is ‘Milk’ and the first word we usually utter is ‘Coffee’. On an ‘Approdo morning’, we leave our Weetabix in the cupboard and head off for an Italian breakfast. Approdo is our local cafe, just round the corner from Rosie’s nursery. Nine times out of ten Patrizia is making the cappuccino and ten times out of ten her cappuccino is perfect. The milk has been spritzed into a thick, tiny-bubbled confection sitting demurely on the intoxicating slick of espresso beneath. We drink this and eat a warm croissant thing – I say that slightly disparagingly because where the Italians have clearly conquered the coffee, the French are still streets ahead in the patisserie marathon. Rosie has ‘warmer milk’ with a cobweb of Patrizia-etched liquid cocoa and a slice of ‘torta’ which is a kind of apricot flan of which she typically manages about two mouthfuls. Life is sweet.
We drop Rosie at Titti, the nursery and head home. We both often feel, though neither of us would dare say it, that the best, simplest, happiest part of our day is already over.
More clothes are usually called for when we get back home. Our office is a converted shed stuck on the side of the house and perhaps we didn’t convert it quite enough. It is freezing. There is something psychologically bad about ‘going to work’ looking like hell, but there is no way round it – it is almost impossible to be smart and warm and warmth wins.
Habit dictates that we sit down in front of our computers and check e-mails. Or rather check for e-mails. This process often involves a call to Alice, our internet provider, to Telecom Italia, the BT equivalent or to the TIM centre in Piediripa who provide us with the funny little card that goes into the computer to make everything work. It is quite an affront to the soul to have to lose one’s temper as an anonymous foreigner to facilitate a service that, once actualised, will voicelessly convey that you have received no e-mails. But what can one do?
Some time around now, one or other of us will usually say ‘Coffee?’
The reason outdoor work becomes so hugely appealing in this context is that you can really, actually, vividly, get something done. Make progress. Move forward. Get closer to a point where things will be so good that we are as envious of our own lives as others already, foolishly, declare themselves to be. And it really warms you up too.
So after coffee number two (and that’s the limit – there’s enough neurosis in our lives) we often head down to the grove, saws and radio in hand. We often don’t speak at all for a few hours as we hack at brambles, tug at bindweed and roll piles of bonfire fodder into position. The radio playlist circulates reassuringly frequently so that by the time we are hearing a tune for the third time we reckon it’s time for lunch. With a nod to one another, we’ll head back up to the house.
There’s a fun hour or so conjuring something up in the kitchen. Invariably it is ‘pasta’ though already we are Italianised enough not to feel that implies any kind of repetition. Penne and tagliatelle, fresh ravioli and sheets of lasagne all come from very different worlds in our minds now. We take it in turns to be chef and sous chef, a rotation that lends pleasure to the roles of both master and servant. Jason is undoubtedly better at freestyle and at cooking from a fridge which holds no apparent promise; I usually win if the recipe demands obedience. But whoever is in charge, lunch is generally pretty delicious.
Unless its pruning time, harvest time or we’re doing a major grove sort out, the afternoon is usually spent back in the office or out and about on errands. Sourcing organic fertiliser, finding new tins for our oil, researching transport options that are greener, writing press releases, approaching shops back in the UK, responding to customers, visiting local suppliers, working on new designs, revamping the website, researching fulfilment companies, setting up postal systems, fixing computers, hassling telecom companies, doing accounts, all the little bits that go into running any small business when there’s no-one else to delegate to.
At 5ish we pick up Rosie and all have tea together at home. We first realised Rosie was a tea fan when a cupful mysteriously disappeared from a cafe in London when she was too young to be considered a suspect. Once again it is around food that we are simply happy. And there’s still dinner to look forward to.
Evening / dinner
We’d always imagined that, with so much time and so little social life, we’d be thrilling ourselves with a million personal improvement projects. You’ve probably had similar conversations: if you lived in the middle of nowhere freed from obligations, you’d get round to reading the works of Proust, or doing fine point needlework or perfecting your keepy-uppy skills. My mum’s quite often wondering what crime she could commit that would get her into a nice comfy prison for a while (not too long, not like murder or anything) – just enough to get through the pile of books by her bed. She says things like this partly to provoke my liberal talk cells into a lecture on the misery of incarceration so I keep quiet.
We try to get around to all those ambitious projects we really do. But there’s something about the quiet of the countryside compared to the fervour of the city, which seems to depress this sort of ambition. And in fact I have become aware of a paradox which is that the best environment from which to pursue new projects is one with not enough time rather than too much. Busy-ness breeds busy-ness and an over-occupied mind is more of a sponge for new occupation than an under-occupied one. Or maybe we are just depressed. At the very least though, we’ll force ourselves to do an hour or more of Italian study, while the ambitious art restoration or opera master class plans might have to wait a while.
Dinner is another point of joy in the day and we console ourselves that whatever else we might have messed up in our lives, the idea of having the hob on an ‘island’ in the kitchen was a really good one. After dinner we sometimes watch a bit of TV. Two dropped jaws is usually the result as we marvel at how a Western European country has managed to stay so utterly immune to developing social norms – so utterly unreconstructed, particularly in terms of gender politics. There is literally no show, the news included, in which the bikini is considered out of place.
With thoughts of tanned fulsome cleavages, we’re ready to head off to bed to rekindle the shutter debate.