February Bounty

Picture this: Valentine’s Day. Early morning. A pregnant goat in my parents’ bedroom. My sister’s hand inside said goat.

“It keeps pulling its legs back,” she said. And I could see it even as she spoke, gooey hooves kicking away from her. But Vicky has done this many, many times with sheep and one squirming, slippery ruminant is about the same as another. At least at that point.

The mother, Lady, grunted and pushed and slowly a pale pink nose appeared. The rest followed. A female.

My sister apologized to Lady and stuck her hand back inside to see if there was another kid as I wiped the fluids from the nose and mouth of the newly born. Sure enough, there was a sibling waiting in the wings.

“And it’s backwards,” my sister said. “Great.”

Not just backwards, either, but tucked into a ball that had no chance of making it out as it was. Carefully, Vicky tried to maneuver the baby around, but it was at such an angle that made that impossible.

“It’ll have to come out feet first.”

She found the legs, unwound them from their tucked position, and began to pull as Lady pushed. It felt like an age, for the mother as well, I imagine, but slowly the back hooves appeared, the torso, and the head. A male. A bit stunned from his rough passage, but breathing.

World, meet Birgitte and Aeneas.

Prepare yourself for an assault of cuteness.

In half an hour, Birgitte was on her feet, wobbly but determined. Aeneas, however, refused to so much as consider the vulgarity of walking. Vicky and I had to check his legs one by one to make sure that there wasn’t anything physically wrong with him. We propped him up over and over again until he finally kept a semblance of balance.

But once he figured it out…ooh boy.

Everything is a springboard for him. Birgitte has now caught up with him, but she is the more cautious of the two. And yes, they are still sleeping inside with their mom, who occasionally decides to hop on my parents’ bed herself. You know, when the mountain of hay in the room is just not comfortable ENOUGH.

Now almost two weeks after their birth, there’s no stopping them. They’ve been outside, in the orchard and they’ve even met their father, Edur. Who, I must say, was not what I’d call enthusiastic. He sniffed at Aeneas, stuck his tongue out in typical goat fashion, and deemed it all a waste of his time.

Of the two, we’ll be keeping Aeneas and our friend Mauro will be taking Birgitte. Yes, I know, two male goats living together could be a disaster, but we’re getting them both castrated to avoid bloodbaths. At least Edur will have someone of his size to play with in a few months.

You’ve twisted my arm. Here are some more pictures.

In house news, we have a gate and it’s up! Faust no longer rushes off to chase after every little noise…through the front. Because there’s no way of fencing off the entire mountain and he is nothing if not adept at being problematic.

Dad took a paint brush to it, to hide the rust, and it looks as beautiful as Mom and I imagined it when we first saw it online. Just Gothic enough.

There was a bit of a struggle with the wooden post where we decided to place the stunning monastery bell I wrote about a few months ago. That struggle came in the shape of a large, grumbling, black creature named Madame.

The moment she saw Dad set the post in place, she got up from the mound of hay where she slumbered, waddled calmly over, and knocked it down with a shove. For no apparent reason other than making life for the humans difficult. It seems to be her hobby.

So Dad tried again. He covered the hole she had widened with her evil deed and made another one. He left to go get the cement he needed, making the uphill trek with Paquito the rooster crowing and chasing after him for daring to step into his territory (a.k.a our front yard, orchard, terrace, kitchen…) and returned as quickly as the size and incline of the property allowed him.

To find that Madame had covered the hole he’d just made by pushing dirt onto it with her snout. She looked rather pleased with herself. Dad, less so.

But despite her machinations, the post and the bell are up.

Indoors, there have been some upgrades, too. The kitchen has received a bit of color, with a deep salmon that goes really well with the old tiles and with the mosaic design Mom is designing.

Vicky took charge of the work while I watched from where I was working on novel revisions, my eyes widening every time she stretched out on the ladder to reach the ceiling beams.

A bit of sprucing up with paintings and prints and it’s looking peachy, pun very much intended.

And the music room got a facelift. Dad covered the walls with drywall and set up the two antique lights we have always envisioned in that room, as well as doing a number of other electrical tweakings. Some, less applause-worthy than others. For example, the lamp we have on the piano now turns off when you turn on the bathroom light. And that’s not on purpose. I guess it’s energy efficient unless you’re playing the piano, and we can scare any guests who stay over and don’t know about that quirk.

After a few false starts, we also found the color we wanted for the room. A deep gray with just a hint of blue. Mom found a frame for the antique print she and I bought in Acqui Terme two years ago, also envisioning it for this room when we first saw it.

The next task on Dad’s agenda is building the bookcase for this room.

And I, despite what you may have read above, have not been idle. It’s just that my work involves a lot of typing and staring at the computer screen, frowning. The biggest news is that I decided to call it quits with my literary agent and signed with another. That’s a very casual way of saying I spent months doing a good imitation of this:

But that’s over and my new agent is a force of nature, so I’m in good hands.

I’m gearing up for a new novel, too, so I’m gorging on research and making an outline that will probably be as long as the book itself. So if three or four months go without hearing a peep from me here, know that I’m tearing my hair out because I can’t get that one line just right.

Christmas Eve’s Eve

The landslide fiasco, continued. Because why would this have been resolved after just a year?

About a month ago, Dad received a phone call from the mayor who in turn had received a letter from officials in the region telling him that he had to sign a letter of evacuation for our mill. Thankfully, this is not “Let’s follow the rules without deviating for an instant or for any reason” America, because that letter would have been signed seconds after the mayor opened it. Instead, he told Dad to give him a few hours to find a solution.

You can imagine the fright and worry that filled those hours. We would have to leave our animals, our belongings, everything, for who knew how long. The unfairness of it, for the church above us to have done nothing to fix this issue for a year, while holding fundraisers and gathering money for some ethereal project that never materialized. And, too, the thought that this was bureaucratic nonsense, because our mill is in no danger at all. Even the firefighters and our friend, Mauro, the expert geologist who’s worked his whole life deciding exactly these kinds of things, agree that the mill is safe.

To give you an idea of the panic I, personally, felt, I didn’t think I’d be able to write about this at all because the mere thought of it makes my hands shake so much it’s difficult to type.

Dad prepared a list of the things that the city would have to provide for us if they did force us to evacuate: by law, a place to stay that is comparable in size to where we are now, transportation for the animals, and a police officer to guard the mill while it sat empty. All of this at the city’s expense, of course.

The mayor said to call back at five in the afternoon, so Dad did, these demands already on his lips.

But the mayor had found a solution. He would sign an order of evacuation only on the “garage”, where we keep the goats, and which is closest to the river. This would satisfy the region and keep us in the mill. We wouldn’t even have to move the animals because the evacuation was for people, so “il caprone” (meaning Edur) would stay in his home, too.

I’m sighing with relief even now.

Still, after a year of living under the proverbial ax, enough was enough. Our friend Mauro (who, really, is an honorary family member by now), my mom, and I asked for a meeting with the mayor, the engineer in charge of the project, and anyone else who was working on it.

It was a good conversation. Since Mauro is the expert, we let him ask the technical questions, which he did. And then some. Overall, the project seemed reasonable and though the region is dragging its feet approving the second stage of the undertaking, which includes adding blocks of cement to the river bed on the side of the church, we were promised that by the end of the year the first phase would be done.

So far, they have the basic structure in place with micropali (micropiles) and they’ve begun to add the net that will keep more earth from falling.

The workers, who make a point every day of asking how Edur is as they dangle from the ropes that keep them from smashing their heads onto river rocks, have not been able to do anything else for the past week or so because of the snow.

Speaking of which.

I’ve been whining about wanting snow for a few months already. As someone who spent early childhood in Uruguay, where it does get cold but doesn’t snow, and then went on to live twenty-three years in Miami, where the only chill you’ll get all year is from over-zealous air conditioning, being in Northern Italy, where snow happens practically every year, is too much for my inner child. And outer child, because I make no claims on adulthood when there’s snow involved.

My whining was rewarded.

Everything glistened. Edur and the other goats were not amused, peeking out from their warm, hay-swollen pen for a moment before declaring it the perfect day to stay inside. Drusilla was game, however.

Since the snow started, we’ve had to keep the chickens and ducks indoors. Not just for the cold. For a couple of weeks, we’ve heard reports of wolves in the area, and a few Fridays ago, Mom and I saw two of them, frolicking in a field. Beautiful animals with huge coats and bushy tails, almost twice the size of a dog. I squealed like a child. The following night, we received reports that they were roaming right around the mill.

Despite the glee of knowing there are wolves in the vicinity (especially wolves that up to a few years ago had been almost eradicated from the area), worry did set in for the animals. The chickens and ducks are fine during the night because they’re locked in against the many Fantastic Mr. and Ms. Foxes that run around the property, but the goats sleep with their door open. Okay, they have wire fencing all around them that is too tall for a wolf to jump, but still. Mom rigged an alarm system for them with bells danging from the outer gate, which the wolves would have to pass if they were interested in goat haunches.

Which is why we were up a few nights ago, at 3:30 in the morning, throwing jackets on and trying not to end up skiing rump first down the slope to the goats.

Mom had heard the bells.

Sure enough, one of the gates had been knocked over and the goats were all outside, blinking sleepily. We’re pretty sure it was a deer, though, one of the big males that have a habit of flinging the gate behind the mill open during the night, too. At least we know the bell system works.

And it continued to snow. The power went out in the region for half a morning, knocking our radiators unconscious, and I had to wrangle my birds into their cages to bring them closer to Mrs. Fairfax in the living room. The metal roof that protrudes from the mill started piling whiteness, which was yet another concern as the hours went by.

When we bought the mill, there were four wooden poles attached to it to help sustain some of the weight of the snow if too much of it fell. The previous owner, Dino, told us he’d added them one year when there had been days and days of blizzard conditions and he’d been concerned about the joints cracking off the wall. We removed those poles because Edur kept using them for punching bags.

With a lot of cursing directed at my beautiful and INNOCENT goat, Vicky got the mill windows open (not an easy feat, itself) and began to remove what she could of the snow. I helped by laughing.

Oh, don’t fret. She’s fine.

Trees bent and cracked under the weight of it, including one of the branches of our lovely cherry tree. It is still attached to the trunk, though, so we left it for now. To cheer its spirits a bit, we decked it out in style.

It’s not the only thing decked with boughs of holly.

I can’t say Madame exactly enjoyed her crown, but she certainly allowed us to put it on her without biting fingers, so…

Despite our worries, Drusilla, who is very much an “inside” sheep, has not attacked the Christmas tree. She’s pretty much ignored it, preferring to snooze near enough to one of us so that she can demand petting as needed. It’s tough to resist.

The one little creature that has discovered the tree and taken a liking to the tinkling ornaments is Strega, Molly’s new daughter.

She was born on November 12th, the only kitten Molly had. As such, she’s gotten the benefit of all of her milk and attention, as well as all of the cooing and awe-ing that the human element can offer. Meaning, she is already a little self-centered monster with no concept of boundaries.

At a month and a half, she runs around the entire house, pouncing on anything and everything, mis-gauging jumps and sinking teeth into the animate and inanimate, while her poor mother meows at her to knock it off and take a nap.

And don’t we all want to take Molly’s advice? Don’t we all just want to take a long, long nap after this year?

Just me?

Heavy Lifting

Cast your mind back almost a year ago, to November 2019. It feels decades ago, I know, but you may recall that we had some powerful rains that month which caused a small landslide opposite the mill. A wall came down, along with trees and mounds of wet earth, dropping to the Amione river below.

Remember?

After promises and promises that the landslide (or frana) damage would be fixed, with the Molare mayor fighting with the church to pry funds from their greedy fists, work began slowly on October 12th. Not without some issues, with workers that the church hired wanting to traipse all over our property and chop down the fencing we had made for Edur so that they could gain access to the river more easily. An idea we laughed at and refused. It was the church’s problem, not ours, and they had already done this kind of work last year, coming to the river from another side and not requiring access to our property.

So the mayor got involved and he brought the machine needed to clean up the river, just as they had done a year ago, and left it ready to build the embankment wall.

And then we had some rain.

Not a lot of it. Not like last year, at least not yet, but a continuous shower for a few hours.

I was sitting on the living room couch, embroidering, when I heard a crash and raced to the window…where I saw that another part of the church’s outbuildings had collapsed in a cloud of plaster. But that wasn’t the part that made my blood start a low but steady boil. The old wall that was left after last year’s debacle, the one from the 1800s, had cracked open, the lightning bolt of damage reaching right down to its foundations. Why? Because the people who had been hired to fix the old damage had not secured it and had been drilling on the mountainside for days without worrying about what they were doing to the old wall.

You had to hear me curse as I stood staring at the damage. The memories from last year, the forced evacuation, the worry, rushed back. The first thing we did was reach out to Mauro Molinari, one of our good friends who is a retired geologist, top of his field, and who had been keeping an eye on the damage for the past year. As always, he came to our rescue.

He rushed to the church, where the mayor, the police, and the firefighters were already congregated and let them know, in no uncertain terms, that this new damage was all the fault of the workers and that they had done “un lavoro di merda” (a shitty job). The engineer at the site sheepishly had to agree. Mauro also told them that we would not be evacuating unless the city paid for our stay somewhere, along with all of our animals. This was their fault, after all. Not only should they have had this resolved before the rainy season started yet again, but they should have done some serious study into what they would actually be doing so that this didn’t happen.

The mayor did not ask us to evacuate.

The news of the damage has been in all of the newspapers in the area. The Santuario Madonna delle Rocche is a church dating back to the 1500s, and it’s a pilgrimage site, so it is of regional importance. Though apparently not important enough for the Church, since there have been no funds coming to help fix it.

As of a few days ago, all work has stopped and no one but curious people wanting a look at the damage have stopped by. When will this be resolved? Will we have to wait another year before workers show up again? Stay tuned.

To move on to other topics because I feel my blood pressure rocketing up: we have a sheep.

Her name is Drusilla, a Bergamasca sheep native to Italy, and she is everything you imagine and more. She has been as dramatic as she looks, pretending to faint from fright throughout the first few hours after arriving at the mill. She grew out of that fast.

She baahs when she doesn’t see one of us nearby and she has been known to sleep on beds and sofas. She is a fluff ball of sweetness who will be providing me with my very own wool.

Edur also has a new companion, and although she is not ours, she is fitting right in. Mauro, the same one from the frana mess, brought her over to see if we could get Edur to mate with her. No such luck yet but keep fingers and toes crossed that there will be little goats running around next year.

Wouldn’t they just make the most gorgeous kids?

She is so kind and sweet we’ve taken to calling her Lady. Mom keeps giving me side-eye at how she behaves when compared with Edur, pointing at the very real evidence that having picked a male goat when I was given the choice between him and a female baby made things much more difficult. And I take high, gasping offense at that. My baby boy is a treasure and I wouldn’t exchange him for anything. What’s a thump from his horns every now and then?

He owns me and he knows it well.

In other outdoor news, the construction of the fencing has begun. Once again, Mauro brought in the cavalry, mainly himself and his friend Antonio. And even as I’m writing this, they are out there digging holes and placing cement. We may have our gorgeous gate up soon!

Mauro

***

Halloween arrived in style this year since we found one of the boxes we missed last year. Jack-o-lantern season kind of exploded in our house.

On Halloween, Mom and I watched The Nightmare Before Christmas, as wide-eyed as if we’d never seen it before (because we’re practically children) and then we had a seance.

We have a Quija board somewhere, but we went old-school and used paper cutouts and an antique liqueur cup. Mom wrote the letters because not even ghosts would have been able to decipher my scribbles.

Alas, no luck. Not a peep from anyone. Not so much as a candle flicker, because of course we turned off the lights and used candles while Drusilla watched us like our minds had finally slipped off their tracks. Mom keeps saying that she wanted at least a little ghost.

And Mrs. Fairfax is back to work, puffing up heat in her loyal belly. Madame is appreciative.

And we have put her to even more use this year.

Chestnuts from our own forest.

The forest has been generous with its fruits, giving us enough chestnuts to roast, to feed as treats to all of the animals, and to use in a new recipe: a chestnut and hazelnut cake.

It was heaven on a plate.

If you’re wondering what the decorations are, they’re medlars from one of our trees up in the orchard. They’re not ready to eat yet, because they have to be soft, in essence “rotting”, before you can dig in. Edur and I both love ourselves some medlars.

Perhaps the biggest development of the past couple of months is the completion of one of the many upstairs bedrooms. Well, not quite completion, because it still needs to be painted and since it’s my sister’s room, just the decision on which color to choose could take close to a millennia. We could be 90 years old and she could still be staring at paint samples.

When we bought the mill, the room was not in great shape, like the rest of the upstairs. Mold had spread everywhere, covering the walls, the ceiling, making it feel like getting it in some kind of livable shape would never happen. Brace yourself for the pictures of the room, which used to be the second-story kitchen, when we bought the mill.

Ghastly, no?

But my sister needs a room now that she’s returning from London so, in typical Cano-Repetto fashion, despite a piecemeal budget, we *somehow* made it happen.

After removing the majority of the kitchen items, the cabinets, the sink, and the vintage stove (which we are keeping), we hired a local handyman, the same man who did our bathroom. Though wincing at the cost, we gave him the go-ahead to to install the drywall panels on the walls and on the ceiling.

And then Dad got to work on the floors. He and his power-saw spent a day and a half laying down the wooden floors and doing the electrical setup.

Then came the bed, the vintage one we found here at the mill.

A beauty, but one that needed a frame for the new mattress, and that is where the infamous Mattress Frame Fiasco of 2020 began.

We bought the frame online, the perfect measurement for the bed, and it arrived promptly, looking sturdy and dependable.

Just a teensy-weensy problem: it wouldn’t fit up the stairs. No matter how we turned it or positioned it, how much we begged it to cooperate, it wouldn’t budge. Dad measured the upstairs window and the frame again and yes, it would fit if we tried to lift it up that way. In theory.

He just didn’t account for how heavy it was and that not a single one of us is a professional weightlifter. We tried using a rope and lifting it directly from the window and it went up quite a ways before we ran out of steam and couldn’t pull it further. If anyone passed the mill at that moment we would have been quite a sight, the three of us practically dangling from the window. We almost gave up. Then Mom spotted a protrusion on the window frame, a leftover of the old mechanism that held the rolling curtain. We could make a pulley system with that.

Which is what we did.

The bed frame made it through the window without anyone toppling to their death!

The mattress came next and we thought, this will be easy, right? TECHNICALLY, it was the same size as the bed frame and so it would have the same trouble fitting up the stairs, but it was squishy. We could maneuver it as we wanted.

Dear reader, it was not easy.

It was an unwieldy beast that refused to be bullied into squeezing past. Mom and Dad held the ends and I had to crawl to fit myself between the marble that makes up the stairs and the mattress, pushing it up with my entire body so that it would clear each step. Every turn was a cataclysmic event that made you want to laugh and cry at the same time and that had me cursing my sister with the little breath I had to spare.

But we made it. The damn mattress was in place.

I won’t bore you with the other furniture we had to lug up, none of them made of balsa wood or wicker. You want to see the results? How we transformed the room that was the headquarters of perhaps the entire population of black mold in the world?

Well worth the effort, I’d say. Pretty much everything is either vintage or antique. The skull in the last picture we found in the forest and I sewed the curtains and we hung them with a smooth branch we found in the forest, as well.

I fully expect my sister to shoulder dressers for my room, when it’s time for me to move from the temporary downstairs bedroom to my real one. I will be at the stairs cackling and sipping wine as she fights with the mattress.

PS: Buy my book!

Fall…ish

I know, I know. It’s been a few months.

When we last chatted it was still spring and now we’re starting to feel the first tendrils of fall here at the mill. I’ve not been idle, though, with novel revisions that took up a few weeks of my time, as well as edits for my other novel that will be released on September 25th from JournalStone’s imprint, Trepidatio Publishing: ALEISTER BLAKE.

So here’s what’s been happening at the mill.

In June, we also added two members to the household, Marcella and Claudio.

They are feathered loves that seem to grow cuter by the day, if not the hour. My mom just decided one day to get them and that’s exactly what she did, little fluff balls that are not so little anymore.

They make all manner of noises, though, so, with Paquito the Rooster, the five chickens, Dublin’s howling, and Edur’s panicked bleating whenever he is alone, this is a loud house. Since our only neighbors are a cemetery and a church, which has bells that peal every half hour and that are out of tune just enough to set teeth on edge, we’re not too worried.

Speaking of Paquito…

Despite all of my efforts and all of the pampering I gave him when he was a baby, he has made the executive decision to consider us archenemies. Think Harry and Voldemort, Batman and the Joker, Holmes and Moriarty, Indiana Jones and snakes. He wants to end my supposed reign of terror. My mom gets a free pass, but for me…oh he has plans for me.

He chases me everywhere I go, yet he tries to be subtle about it, or as subtle as a fat, pumpkin-orange rooster can be. Like any villain, he waits until my back is turned to charge. The moment I look at him, he stops and starts pecking at the dirt, like that will be enough to convince me he just happened to be there. Like I didn’t hear him flapping after me at full speed.

I’ve threatened him with tossing him in a stew pot a few times, but he (wisely) doesn’t believe me.

I begrudgingly have admit he is good at his job, though, keeping his females together and safe from foxes and, apparently, from me.

We’ve made some other purchases for the mill, including a stunning antique gate that we had delivered by truck from halfway across Northern Italy just today. You know us, once we see something we love, what’s a bit of distance? It’s somewhat banged up, but it’s huge and made of cast iron and just creepy enough. We couldn’t pass it up, so we didn’t.

Of course, the delivery was not a smooth one. The truck driver had no idea where the mill was so Mom and Mauro, one of our friends, went to get him at the usual parking lot where delivery men seem to give up all hope of ever finding the property (think the Swamp of Sadness in The Neverending Story). And that was when the driver realized there was no way the truck was making it through the narrow dirt road to the house. He could go only as far as the cemetery.

Enter one of our distant neighbors and his red pickup truck. His son is the one who brings us our hay, so we have their numbers and Mom gave them a call. One section at a time, he loaded the gate into his truck-bed and brought it home. So now we have a gate waiting to be installed and one more confused delivery man to add to our tally.

To go with that gate, I bought two antique brass outdoor lamps from France, with etched glass and with the minor detail of not having been fitted for electricity yet. A job that Dad can manage.

And, to complete the look, an antique brass bell from a monastery. It has an inscription in Latin that reads “Qui me tangit vocem meam audit” and which means “who touches me hears my voice”. Her sound is so clear and melodious it’s a bit like someone gave a water-spring a voice. It’s refreshing just to hear it.

In Edur news, we’re getting ready to bring him a female goat that he can mate with before he gets castrated. If it were up to me, I’d have an entire herd of goats, but I’ve been outvoted and that means poor Edur has a date with a vet. He’ll then get a companion goat, whom I’ve already met, and perhaps, in the future, a donkey friend, as well.

What we are getting, for certain, is a sheep. She’ll be here in a few weeks and that, my friends, means I’ll have my own wool to process! Along with the nettle fiber that I’m managing to get every year, the silk from the Bombyx mori that my mulberry tree feeds, and the plants of flax that I’m looking to set up for linen, I’ll have my own mini-textile production. The question will be if I have enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do with all of it.

My mom will disown me if I don’t mention her princess, Madame Bovary. She is as fat as ever and spoiled to the point where she will tip chairs over if she wants something that you do not want to give her. She’s already giving side-eye at the cooler weather and I imagine she’ll spend the next few months in front of Mrs. Fairfax, toasting her substantial belly.

The loveliest time of the year is approaching and we are getting ready for it here at the mill. The first batch of firewood has arrived, as has some of the hay the animals will need during the winter.

Soon, we’ll be fetching chestnuts from our woods and marveling at the mushrooms that will appear practically from one day to the next. On Monday, the man who did our bathroom will begin with the first upstairs room, the one that will be my sister’s. The next stage is beginning in the renovation, one that will take even more time, but which promises to be rewarding as we see all of those moldy rooms come to life once more.

Here be dragons

Spring Brightness

I’m not entirely sure how it’s already almost June. How are we in elderflower-champagne-making season?

I must have lost track somewhere in the middle of hammering my manuscript into shape and never really caught up with time. But yes, a bright spring has descended on the mill, flowers and herbs threatening to cover us every day a bit more.

I’ve started gathering mint, of which there are endless varieties on the property, if my nose is not faulty, lemon balm, bugleherb, mugwort, yarrow, and red dead nettle. We also have an abundance of marjoram, here, which I’ve begun to harvest. One of the things that we all remember most clearly about the first time we came to the see the mill two years ago was the overpowering scent of marjoram. It followed us everywhere.

The harvesting of stinging nettle is about to commence, as well. All of the fiber I obtained from last year’s retting and spinning of the nettles has gone into making a spring shawl, which is almost finished. It’s a glorious fiber, sturdy, and, like linen, it gets softer every time you wash it. And no, it doesn’t sting. It also has a subtle scent, earthy, slightly sweet, that I can’t get enough of. I find myself pausing mid-stitch to press my face into the shawl.

It’s impossible to be drawn inside when the days are eye-wateringly bright, so Mom and I have been finding reasons to be outdoors.

Picking cherries from our tree for jam and pies.

Gathering black locust flowers for syrup.

Making elderflower champagne, which no one in my family seems to enjoy except for me.

And in my case, working on a curtain for the living room window.

I’m crocheting it with thread that we found in the mill. The previous owners used it for tying up bags of grain, so it feels exactly right to add it to the decor. It’ll be fitted over the window below.

But all right. I won’t keep you in suspense anymore.

WE HAVE A WORKING SHOWER. Send up all of your hallelujahs. The plumber, Paolo, did a proper job of installing the whole thing, though he did beckon my mom into the room a few times to point out, blinking in confusion, the absolute Devil-crookedness of our bathroom walls. It’s a bit of a rule in the house not to try to match up the floors with the walls because you will get vertigo and it’s no different in the bathroom. But it feels like paradise to be able to take a shower without having to go to the apartment in Molare. And the well water is what my curls hadn’t known they needed.

In other dramatic news, we have chickens. Five females and one male. Their names, for of course they have them, are properly grand. Are you ready? The male is Paquito el Relojero, though we, as his friends, have the privilege of calling him simply Paquito. Then we have Contessina, Apollonia, Luciana, Fortunata, and Jacinta.

They are already spoiled beyond all repair, spending the evenings on the couch with us as we watch TV and just doing as they please at all times of the day.

We have had to start keeping an eye out for a hawk, however, that has been making the rounds each day, casing the joint, searching for a chance to snatch one of the feathered lovelies away. Thankfully, we have a wild hooded crow who has deemed the property as his and who makes it his business to chase after the hawk. Mom feeds him all manner of morsels to stay on his good side.

Madame Bovary, for her part, doesn’t seem to care too much about the new additions to the family. As long as there are belly rubs and treats, not necessarily in that order, she’s on board with whatever’s happening.

Another big update is that my looms are in place in the mill. The relief at knowing that they are safe and that they are once again in working order is substantial. It was dreadful to have to take them apart in Miami, not knowing when I’d be able to fit them back together, but now that order is over. One less thing to stress about. It’s hard to explain to people who have never done these kinds of international transplants just how much relief you can get from seeing your “things” again, fresh out of boxes after months of sea travel, almost waving at you. Some, perhaps, slightly annoyed that you’ve left them in there for so long.

In any case, annoyed or not, both my tapestry loom and my floor loom are in the mill and in perfect shape.

So it seems that despite the world and all of its problems, it’s been a productive spring here at our mill.

And, people, *whispers* we have a working shower.

Onward

*The casket creaks open and a woman with a mass of brown on her head that perhaps is hair, perhaps twigs and hay, crawls out, blinking.*

Yeah, I’m a bit on the side of the undead. No, I don’t have the coronavirus, though our mill is currently in the red zone. What I do have is lingering mental exhaustion. You see, I have recently finished writing a new novel. I say recently, but I really mean about a month ago, and I’m still recuperating so I beg you to bear with me as I relearn to organize my thoughts.

Writing a novel is like having a series of leeches sucking merrily on your brain. They lap up every bit of free time, swallow every leftover word, make putting coherent sentences that do not fit into world of the manuscript almost impossible. Even the recharging takes time and I know that soon I’ll get edits back from Agent Extraordinaire and I’ll have to start hacking away at the novel once more. Still, I wanted to start telling you all a bit about what’s been happening at the mill since I face-planted into my novel.

I should probably begin with what happened last November: the landslide.

Autumn is the rainy season here, and this past year it took that shit seriously. I was sitting with Edur, writing (as I did through the entire fall and winter), when a booming crash resounded throughout the property. Sounds are very strange in the valley, as I think I’ve mentioned, and for an instant I thought something had come downriver, crashing against the rocks that edge on the mill. I hurried outside and saw that an entire outer wall of the church, of the Santuario Nostra Signora delle Rocche, above us had tumbled down, taking a slice of mountainside with it. Chunks continued to fall as the rain went on and on.

The next morning, we had the police at our home, telling us we had to leave the mill because of the danger of the landslide. It wasn’t the landslide itself that was the problem, but all of that dirt falling into the river could block it, make it rise, and according to them, put us in danger.

It…was not a pleasant day, although everyone here, including the mayor, was extremely kind and thoughtful. We did spend the night back in the apartment we still rent in Molare, but the rains stopped and the river stopped its seething with it, so we were able to return. To help prevent further damage, the church and the city arranged for tarps to be laid down the side of the mountain for the rest of the rainy season, since it was impossible to get anyone up there to do any kind of work until the spring.

It wasn’t a perfect solution, but the engineers that came to inspect approved it, as did the city officials.

It has since fallen, battered by the wind, but soon the work will begin to reconstruct the wall that collapsed, as well as to create some kind of bolster to the mountain so that it does not happen again during the next rainy season. It was interesting to have firefighters in full gear climbing up and down the mountainside. Sent Edur bleating in bright panic a few times.

And so we come to the next EVENT in our household.

In December, Mom and Dad went out to purchase a two month old pig whom we’ve named Madame Bovary. Madame, to her friends.

She was meant to be a companion for Edur, to see if we, his human companions, could step away from him for longer than two minutes without hearing his screams trying to bring the rest of the mountainside crashing down.

The outcome was predictably pathetic.

No, Madame does not hang out with Edur but instead spends the entire day in the house, waddling about like a lady of the manor. She sleeps on the couch, enjoys lounging by Mrs. Fairfax, belly to the fire, is *mostly* litter trained, and eats pasta, polenta, and a wide assortment of fruits and vegetables. Oh, and she likes Earl Grey tea.

She’s got more attitude than rolls of fat and makes us laugh with practically everything she does. Edur, for his part, thinks she is the most gorgeous creature he’s ever laid eyes on. By which I mean he tries to mate with her every chance he gets. It’s not pretty. But he is, so it’s not difficult to forgive his uncouth ways.

Other than those two major events, there have been small, quiet changes to the mill that I’ve grabbed on to even in my fog of working through plot snags and word fogs. Additions to the walls have appeared:

Christmas cheer shoved its way into the house and demanded copious imbibing of Bombardino (if you do not remember from last year, Bombardino is a drink similar to eggnog.)

Mom also fixed up an old wooden cabinet that we found in the mill when we bought it and Dad installed it on one of the kitchen walls. With a bit of lace I knitted from thread we also found in the mill, it provides the perfect touch of whimsy and Gothic creepiness that is my family’s sweet-spot.

On Monday, Covid-19 willing, we have a plumber coming to finish the bathroom so that we can take actual showers in the house and don’t have to go to the apartment in Molare for it. It will be a great relief to have that done. It will bring us one step closer to being able to leave the apartment completely and save ourselves the rent each month.

As for the corona virus, yes, it’s a pain to deal with closed shops, but the quarantine that the whole of Italy is under is exactly the right step to help deal with the disease. I see people already getting the first twinges of cabin fever after a handful of days, which, to me, is absolutely ridiculous. Pick up a book, people! Watch a movie, binge a show. Then again, most of my family is made up of introverts, so to us, nothing much has changed. Go out to a crowded restaurant for the fun of it instead of staying home to watch a movie? Madness even on the best of days.

We’ve hunkered down and gone about other small tasks that needed doing.

Some of the antiques we brought from Uruguay to the US and now to Italy have found their places on the walls.

My piano, from the 1930s, had to be dragged up with a tractor to its official spot because everything in this property is on an upward tilt.

A very old, very damaged chair has found new life with Mom’s wicker weaving as well as with her sewing of a cushion for its seat. My hand knitted lace edging dyed in tea provides the finishing touch for a chair that was old when not a one of us was yet born.

And so the months have swept away from me in a flurry of consonants and vowels (and deaths. Did I mention my novel is a horror one, and it takes place in a watermill?)

Spring is almost here and despite the “wash-your-hands-don’t-touch-your-face” chants that are making the rounds in every language these days, the beauty of the mill and of the countryside on which it rests remains as comforting as ever.

Onward.

Would You Like a Chestnut?

Hunting season has begun. The crack of gunshots ricochet all over the valley, the strange acoustics of il Bosco del Cavallo making it seem sometimes like the bullets will fly right past your ears.

And sometimes, that might actually be the case.

A couple of Mondays ago, Mom, Edur, and I were walking up our piece of the forest, through the Chestnut Area (three guesses on why we call it that), when we came upon a truck, parked on our land. This had my hackles up at once, because we do have a chain and a sign on it that states it is private property. But that wasn’t the only problem. Easing out of the woods, we spotted the hateful orange vest of a hunter, standing by his truck, rifle pointed at the street.

A bit about the hunting laws in this part of the world: a hunter cannot be within 100 meters of a house with his weapon loaded and has to have the weapon at his shoulder, pointing up at all times when not actually being ready to shoot. I won’t mince words, here. I think all hunters (unless you are hunting because you are lost in the woods and starving) are scum. Killing animals for sport should, in my view, place you firmly in the “Psychopath” column. I mean, it is a sign of it in children, right?

In any case, there the hunter was with his truck on our land, and our land, all of it, is on a territory where hunting is forbidden. There are signs and I have the actual map with the demarcation of the law in bright red. That hunter was in the wrong place. He knew it and I knew it.

I tugged on Edur’s leash and took a deep breath, flipping the switch from English to Italian for the confrontation I was sure was coming.

I wasn’t wrong.

The first thing I told him was that he was on private property and to please leave. He told me to go away, that he was hunting. Pretty much to mind my own business except not in such pretty words.

Now, some of you have met me but for those who have not, I’m five feet tall, 100 pounds soaking wet. This man was at least twice my weight and, of course, he had a rifle. Did that stop me from going into Valkyrie mode? No. I dug up my soprano, which is much larger than I am, coupled it with my flaming temper, and began to scream at him.

Another hunter, one of his buddies who was parked a bit farther down the street, beat a swift retreat into his truck as soon as my shouts started, but the man in front of me kept insisting that I leave because the animal was going to come running out into the street. Apparently, he and his genius friends were flushing the poor beast out onto a PEDESTRIAN street, where countless people walk and cycle each day. The man kept mocking me, my mother, insulting us, swinging the rifle in all directions in his agitated state. So I threatened him with the police. And if you have to know one thing about me is that I don’t bluff. Ever. In any language.

The moment I got back to the mill, I summoned my dad’s help in contacting the carabinieri, the police, from Ovada…who ended up getting lost.

Remember all of those delivery people who ended up in the nearby parking long? Yeah, the cops ended up there, too, and Dad had to go fetch them. It was hilarious even then.

The two of them were lovely, though, very kind and patient. They took my statement and then went up the path to find the hunter and his friends who had by then driven farther up the street, because, as I said, they knew well enough they were in the wrong place.

I was sure that they wouldn’t find them, but they did. They verified what I’d told them, and though the hunter did lie (he said that the rifle he’d been swinging around hadn’t been loaded, but why would he be pointing it in the direction the animal was coming from if it wasn’t?) they still took all of this information down. I call that a win.

It was neither fun nor pleasant but it needed to be done. I haven’t heard gunshots nearby for days. And hopefully I managed to save at least that one poor animal’s life with my Valkyrie screams.

Although it is not winter yet, not even technically fall, we’ve already had to coax Mrs. Fairfax into work. Though “coax” is not, perhaps, the right word, since our own iron lady seems to revel in being put to use. Now that Dad got new tubes and made the hole in the wall for her at just the right height, we can get her flaming hot. And we do. She is a powerhouse, a furnace that crackles and roars almost in satisfaction, the way a cat purrs.

We’ve also continued to find spots for all of our paintings and antique trinkets, always actively ignoring that the walls need to be plastered and painted. We lived for two years with such a sense of impermanence, ever since we started the renovations in Miami, of knowing we were not home YET, that it feels vital to finally have our things around us. A cocoon of things that we dragged to two different continents already.

Pretty much everything you see is an antique, or at the very least, vintage. We try to keep new things to a minimum, mostly the electronics. We like knowing our things had lives before us.

It seems like fall has arrived abruptly, with some trees shaking their leaves off like a dog shakes off water. They fling chestnut husks which echo all over the forest and send Faust into a frenzy of “WHAT WAS THAT NOISE?” every time. If I’m honest, the amount of them is overwhelming me. Even the deer, squirrels, and whatever else runs around our woods, find it all a bit too much. They gnaw them and yes, some husks are empty, but we would need armies of rodents to clear the carpet of chestnuts. Mom and I are doing what we can gathering them so that they don’t go to waste.

We roasted those, see below, and are planning on gathering more for cakes, pies, and truffles, as well as grinding them into flour. But there really are just so many chestnuts you can eat.

Roasted chestnuts with limoncello.

Edur, on the other hand, would gladly snarf up every single one of them off the forest floor. He is a white, hoofed vacuum cleaner who races to find the golden brown kernels that have spilled out of their spiked shells. I limit his intake because I’m afraid of him getting colic and he lets me know that he does not approve of my caution.

Have I mentioned how large he’s gotten?

He has graduated into sleeping on his own (mainly because I don’t want to be shish kabobed if he decides he feels like playing in the middle of the night, which he often does) and, as you can imagine, I had a series of mini freakouts the first couple of nights of our separation. He cried and cried, banging on the metal door of what will be my sister’s house in the future. One of the nights, he managed a great escape and ended up crying outside my window. I felt like a monster. A bona-fide, cackling villain from any Disney movie. What you have to understand, though, is that Edur and I are both big drama queens, because it’s not like he’s sleeping on cold concrete. Mom put a bed for him, an actual bed, with two comforters, straw, hay, a pillow, and a quartz heater up high where he can’t reach it. So, as I have to repeat to myself every night before I put him in there, he’s fine. I miss him and he misses me for those few hours, but he’s fine.

And I won’t end up skewered by a playful horn.

Summertime and the Living is…

We’ve been enjoying the fruits of summer lately. Literally.

Blackberry bushes flank the mill on all sides and they nod with ripening fruit, so we have gone a-pickin’.

Mom made a tart filled with pastry cream and topped with the berries which we devoured in a couple of days. Edur even had a bit, though he wasn’t too fond of the cream, preferring to stick with the known and staining his lips red with the berries.

There’s a lot more of them to gather, too, and before Michaelmas (September 29th). According to legend, blackberries belong to Satan after that day and he spits or sometimes urinates on them to mark his territory. And no one wants Devil pee on their berries.

We’ll be making jam next, if we can nab the rest of the berries before Edur. It’s always a race with his snout. Speaking of Edur: he just turned 7 months on the 23rd and yes, ladies and gentlemen, he still sleeps on my bed. I’ll refer you to exhibit A:

I’m not even entirely sure goats are supposed to sleep flat like that. At night, he snuggles up to me and complains if I move because God forbid I twitch a toe in my own bed. I’m assuming this is not in the “Goat Raising” manual.

Although it is still August, the weather has already begun to change a bit at the mill. The nights have bite to them and even at midday you can feel a cool breeze, which…hallelujah, because the heat is not for us. We’ve taken advantage of the slightly cooler days to do a bit of decorating in the kitchen, since it’s the space that is most put together.

The challenging thing, the Mount Everest of the kitchen setup, was getting the kneading table we found in the mill’s attic down. From the first day we came to see the property almost exactly a year ago, we spotted that table and knew exactly where it should go. The problem was its weight and that we had to somehow maneuver it down a steep set of steps.

These steps. They are much narrower than they appear.

My sister, Vicky, figured that the best way of getting the table down was by turning it on its side and wrapping it in one of our comforters, so that we could ease it down one step at a time. I say “we”, but I was tasked with babysitting all of the animals so that no one got underfoot and ended a dog or goat crepe. I wasn’t even able to watch and giggle while my parents and sister struggled. According to Vicky, it was a spectacle.

I kept waiting for the yelp of a curse and the crash that would follow it as the table toppled down those steps to end in a pile of splintered and cracked wood. It never came.

Our kneading table is in place in the kitchen.

We don’t actually know what it was originally used for, but it is the perfect height for rolling pie crusts and kneading bread dough. At least for Mom and for me.

We also started adding decorations to the stone and brick kitchen wall. It may be a bit premature, since we still have to remove the plaster from the ceiling, but we were just dying to see some of our things in their new spots.

Everything you see, except for the lamp and the sword above it, is antique. My sister looks at the high ceilings and hyperventilates because WE HAVE SO MUCH WALL SPACE. As a family, we adhere to the Victorian school of “fill every available corner with something pretty.” Minimalists, we are not. I think Marie Kondo would have an apoplexy if she met us.


Living in the countryside in a place that has all four seasons, including white winters, it is difficult to ignore that we are inching closer to the cold. Winter is coming. *rolls eyes at herself* We’ve been seeing trucks making their way into the forest and leaving piled with wood. They have stayed out of our acres, so far, which is good because I don’t allow the cutting of a single tree and I will take issue with anyone who so much as glances at my oaks and chestnuts with greedy interest. I can’t help what other people do in their land, but in mine, we stick to picking up branches and trees that have fallen over in storms. There are a good amount of those and we are filling up carts of them on a daily basis. We also have the wood that came out of the old roof and which Dad has begun to cut into logs.

Slowly, we are building up a pile to feed Mrs. Fairfax. The rest of our stoves will be pellet ones, for now, so we don’t have to depend too much on wood.

I’ve begun knitting sweaters at warp speed and once I get my sewing machines out of storage, I can do some more quilting before the winter gets here. No weaving yet, because I don’t have the space set up for the looms, but that’ll come soon enough.

Current sweater, a Guernsey.

My silk moth caterpillars have also been doing their part, constructing their cocoons and being ridiculously and surprisingly adorable while they do so.

Because all of the information out there about how to extract the silk from the cocoons focuses only on doing it after boiling the dormant caterpillars alive which, I can’t emphasize enough, I’m NOT doing, I’m going to have to develop my own technique once the moths break out of their cocoons. Wish me luck.

I’m also thinking of growing a bit of cotton so that I can make my own blends of cotton, silk, and nettle fibers. Perhaps, in the future, I might even add flax to all of that.

A couple of days ago and with winter very much in mind, our friend Mauro brought Edur a gift of straw. In a bit, we are planning on getting a female goat to be Edur’s companion (her name will be Proserpina) and we will be building them a cozy stable-like space in one of the many large garages that the mill has so we do need straw for bedding. This is the first bunch of it.

Which Edur decided he needed to play with first because he is a big baby.

He seems to be enjoying his very first summer.

Fai Da Te

People, we have working sinks in the kitchen and bathroom! Three cheers for indoor plumbing!

Remember how I mentioned the issues we had with getting a plumber to do the work? There’s another chapter to add to that saga, because we received the news that the one plumber we were planning on hiring couldn’t begin the work until September. And that would be if we somehow managed to get a hold of him on the phone again. It took us about three weeks just to get him to come and see the job. Are plumbers mythical creatures? Do we need to perform blood sacrifices to summon them?

With our patience frayed and threadbare (it has been more than two years of home renovations, beginning with our old house in Miami) Dad asked for recommendations for a handyman from the lady who owns the tobacco shop in Molare and who seems to have a Mary Poppins’ style address book from which she can pull out endless names and numbers. She told him to call Roberto.

Roberto is an older man who knows a bit about everything. An artist who makes metal sculptures, he is willing to try his hand at most “fai da te” (do it yourself) projects, including plumbing.

Roberto and Dad got to work.

It took a bit less than a week of drilling into walls, changing pipes, Dad calling out measurements from the outside of the house as this or that pipe needed to be longer or shorter and Roberto calling right back with a verbal thumbs up or down.

And that’s how we now have a working bathroom sink resting on the table we customized for it and adorned with one of the antique mirrors we found at the mill when we bought it.

You’ll have to imagine gleaming rows of mosaics covering those raw walls, but that’s what happens when you live in the property you are restoring. It becomes a half-done creature that offers glimpses of the beauty it will become if looked at from the right angle and with generous eyes.

The kitchen, too, has a working sink. Made out of the credenza and the ceramic sink we also found here in the house, this one you’ll have to picture with the wood painted a dark blue to go with the gray walls and light blue window frames.

As you can see in the picture above, our dining table is in place. I call it our medieval table because it has the massive, slab-of-wood feel of one of that time, though it is one of the few new pieces of furniture we own. It can be opened up to accommodate an obscenity of people, but for us, closed works perfectly.

The chairs, though, are antique. They belonged to a Polish bar in Victorian times and somehow made it across the Atlantic to a Canadian bar. From there, we found them and bought them and shipped them to Miami. And then, the poor things were stuffed in a container and brought back to Europe. Can chairs get sea-sick?

Our dining room is looking more and more like the picture we’ve had in our heads since before we bought the mill. I have vivid memories of conversations I had with Mom in Miami, when we’d only seen a few images of what the inside of the house looked like, about how perfectly our furniture would fit in those rooms. And it really does.

So, we have hot and cold water and working sinks. Next up: the shower. Hopefully in a couple of weeks we can stop having to travel to the apartment in Molare for showers. I mean, it’s not REALLY a hardship, it’s five minutes away from the house, but my sister and I still drag our feet to the car like little kids told to come in from playing outside.

In other news, Mom’s orchard has produced its first ripe tomatoes, monster-sized ones which we ate tonight. Mom stuffed them with tuna and rice and her own oregano, and they were gorgeous.

***

Last week, my sister and I went to learn a bit about beekeeping because I am dead set on getting an apiary of my own someday. There’s plenty of room up where Mom has her orchard for a few of them, but I’ll start with one.

It’s a fascinating process. We got to see a few queens and I even managed to prevent one from making a run for it, an attempted daring escape that puzzled Antonio, the beekeeper.

He told us about the process of extracting honey, of checking that there is enough honey for the bees to feed their babies and themselves through the winter before removing so much as a drop, and many other techniques for checking that the hives are working the way they should be.

This farm, which a friend of us owns and runs and where my sister is doing some weeks of placements before beginning her third year of veterinary medicine, also has donkeys and goats.

In fact, Edur was born on this farm. That’s his mom right there in the picture below, hiding behind the twirly (technical term, obviously) horned male, as white and beautiful as my baby is. Though much better behaved and not nearly as spoiled as he is.

Case in point.

Yes, that’s Edur drinking water from a water bottle, my sister narrating. That’s his preferred method of quenching his thirst and this time, I’m not to blame. Cross my heart and hope to die. My mom got him to start doing that and, of course, he finds it marvelously convenient. Dip his head all the way to a bowl on the ground every time he wants a sip? Ain’t nobody got time for that. So now we have to carry a water bottle everywhere we go in case His Majesty’s throat gets a little dry. I mean…

By the way, he baaahs at the end because he’s hearing me warming up in the mill to do some singing. You can hear high notes in the background and he either had criticisms to communicate or had had enough of having his aunt goat-sit because god forbid he be alone for one millisecond.

Our family really should not be allowed to have animals. We turn them all into Percy.

Remnants

Two Sundays ago, Mom and I went to a concern in Acqui Terme. It was a celebration of the city’s patron saint, San Guido, who apparently did quite a bit for the city, including overseeing the build of the main cathedral. Although many of its parts, like the campanile, were added in the 15th century, the cathedral itself was consecrated in 1067, under his guidance.

That’s where Mom and I saw the concert and where we learned that San Guido was a tiny, tiny man. Now, you may ask yourself how we could possibly know that.

Well.

Because San Guido was there in person. *squeamish people, close your eyes and scroll down*

I apologize for the blurriness, but I was attempting my best 007-style-camera-in-my-purse trick. Pointlessly, as it turned out, because other audience members swung recording equipment in his direction and took the kind of up-close shots that poor Guido would have considered a breach in his personal space if he hadn’t been a well-dressed mummy.

They cart this man and his gorgeous bronze, wood, and crystal sarcophagus out every year on his feast day. And while there were people taking pictures, there was none of the shock and awe you’d think a mummified, alleged saint who died in 1070 (1070!) would get. Italian Catholics are unflappable.

OKAY SQUEAMISH PEOPLE, YOU CAN START READING AGAIN

The concert itself, which included selections from Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, Handel’s Alleluia chorus, and Mascagni’s Regina Coeli, was beautifully sung by the Corale Santa Cecilia. A group I am a member of as of this week! I’ve been searching for a chorus in which to gain my singing-legs in Italy and after seeing and hearing their work, I contacted the director to begin the process of joining them. On Friday, I went to the first rehearsal with my black folder, printed music, sharpened pencil, and a stomach full of bubbling nerves and joined the soprano section in preparing a concert for October 6th in Pavia. (In case you’re like me and were wondering how you say “measure” in Italian, it’s “battuta.”)

In house news, we’ve had more experiences with delivery men not making it to the house. One of them, whom Dad fetched at the nearby parking lot, turned around before arriving at the house and said he wouldn’t go into the woods. He called for someone else to make the delivery. I’ve begun to write notes for the courier every time I purchase something online, but I can’t really add “Oh, and you’ll have to drive close to the woods, so if you’re afraid of getting jumped or of coming across the Big Bad Wolf, send someone else.”

Even with all of these issues, I’ve managed to get my bathroom sink delivered. The upstairs bathroom will take a long time to put together, but I saw this antique on eBay and couldn’t let it pass.

It’s a barber’s sink, complete with working pedals that open and close the pincers at the top and which were used to hold the barber’s tools. It was made in Paris but it was shipped from here in Italy.

Because a few weeks ago I realized we have a white mulberry tree behind the house, I’ve also made another purchase, one I’m excited about: silkmoths.

The Bombyx mori moth feeds exclusively on white mulberry leaves, growing from larvae to caterpillar, to moth, this last stage taking place behind the veil of a silk cocoon. The traditional manner of extracting the silk floss is to take those cocoons, with the caterpillar inside, and boil them. Which, if you know anything about me, you know I’d rather chop my hands off than do. I’m not boiling animals alive. So, to extract the silk, I’ll wait until the moths emerge. This makes the process longer and more complicated since the moths will chew some of the fiber up, making the strands shorter, but that’s fine. I can deal with time-consuming work. I can’t, however, deal with animal cruelty.

A lot of the Bombyx hatched already and they’ve already been munching through the mulberry, leaving the leaves as thin and soft as the silk they’ll help to create. The caterpillars will get much larger in the next couple of weeks and then they’ll begin the task of weaving their cocoons up.

Another recent development is that we have finally installed the iron doorknocker we purchased at our very first antique market in Ovada last year. Even before we’d bought the house, we’d bought this as a gift for the property. Now it’s where it belongs.

It’s just for show, really, because there’s no chance anyone can make it up to the doorway and manage to knock on it without having alerted Faust and Edur to their presence.

Maybe just Faust.

***

Last Saturday, we headed to a medieval festival in Toleto, about twenty minutes away from the mill. Although it was a small event, with a few booths and some jousting, falconry, sword-fighting, and archery demonstrations, it benefited enormously from the backdrop of an actual medieval church. With the commercialization that we are so used to in the US, where Renaissance fairs are about as authentic as Disney parks, it is striking to be somewhere where the Middle Ages ACTUALLY happened and left traces of itself in stone and brick.

The outfits may be reproductions and there may be a man wearing jarringly modern glasses, but that church is real. It remembers the Middle Ages. It has all of the smells and sounds lodged between its stones.

Music that might have sounded somewhat like the musicians that played before the grand sword-fight.

We saw a bit of everything, from archery to horses radiantly racing in their finery in jousting matches. There were demonstrations about cooking methods and the spices people used, and even a chirurgical case that displaying what a surgeon of the time would have needed.

One of the most beautiful stalls, however, was one in which an artist was painting illiuminated images taken from antique texts and making her colors using the ancient recipes.

We ended up buying one of her works, of course, and it now hangs in our kitchen, on our own stone wall. Not quite medieval, but entirely authentic and old enough for us.