Thursday, April 15, 2010

Best Laid Plans (of Mice and Bees)

Yesterday, I pulled back the black plastic tarp covering the patch of "no-till" garden where I intended to plant potatoes. After one month it had done it's job. The weeds and grass were pale and dead, last year's weeds were crumbly and semi-composted, ants had built an antropolis in the twilight zone at one edge, and the soil surface was littered with the nutritious casings of earthworms happily plowing, aerating, and fertilizing this patch of artificial night 24/7.

There was a strange low mound in the middle of it all, created by some burrowing creature I hoped I hadn't fenced in.

As I was forming a shallow furrow in which to insert the seed spuds, a tiny nose and two beady eyes popped out of the mound directly in front of me -- the scared little field mouse whose roof I'd just ripped from its home. We regarded each other a moment, then went back to what concerned us.

As I finished planting my potatoes, I gave the now impressively large mound (for a mouse) a wide berth because I suspected there was a nest of blind, hairless and pink baby mice somewhere inside. Wishing the mouse luck in finding a new home elsewhere before I returned, I set about moving more building debris into attractive consolidated mounds in preparation for the arrival of my mate. To do this required the use of a bee.
I'm referring to the motorized wheelbarrow seen hugging the roadsides all over Italy. Known as an Ape (pronounced Ah-peh), Pioggia's cousin of the Vespa (Wasp) is a vehicle of choice for the rural elderly, the illiterate, the under-aged and the mentally impared because it doesn't require a driver's license to drive. It is a favored delivery vehicle for light loads. Not even the tuk-tuks of Thailand are this small.
The Ape is the littlest enclosed passenger vehicle in the world and with the tiniest engine of any motorcycle (50 cc), making it the greenest, gas-sipping passenger "vehicle" there is. They are ubiquitous and comic to see trundling along emitting their nee-nee-nee drones. And they are notorious for tipping over. A search of You Tube will quickly reveal how an Ape is unloaded.

Leaving the mouse to sort out it's housing issue among the potatoes, I loaded my nearly mint, previously-owned-by-a-fastidious-old-lady-from-Petroio (the other next village over), just-purchased-two-hours-earlier, Ape with a couple hundred pounds of field stone and firewood. I cranked it up and gave it the gas. Immediately the throttle cable snapped.

Piano piano (slowly, slowly), I walked back up to the hill to get the other wheelbarrow.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Shipwreck Syndrome

I feel like a castaway madly tidying his island hideaway as he waits for the rising tide to lift the ship of mail order brides recently grounded on the reef too far out to reach.

Sally arrives at the end of the week and ...

Rather than neatly sorting coconuts and shells into tidy piles, and raking the beach and sweeping out my hut, I’ve spent the last month arranging stones and scrap wood and other construction detritus and sweeping the cement dust out of our new garage. I’m pruning the trees in a widening gyre around the house. I’m fencing the garden against porcupines and badgers. I am putting like things with like things, making bigger neater piles from the many messy mounds around the property. I’m painting the bedroom. I’m building a rustic table of scrap wood for the many meals we will eat out of doors. I’m picking bits of plastic and wire and metal and glass from the soil around the worksite. I’m building stone retainer walls and dumping wheelbarrows of earth behind them from the mounds and piles that need to be flattened. I’m raking and shoveling and hoeing and flattening all the terrain left rumpled by the Brandinis and the plumbers and electricians. I’m scything the weeds that have grown a foot and a half since I got here. I’m burning prunings and rubbish.

Yesterday, I washed the dishes and my laundry.

Today I install a bathroom mirror.

On reflection, this isn't exactly what I came all the way to Tuscany to do.