Thursday, December 08, 2016

Bad news and good news

I got an email from my realtor in Norcia who says my house has been declared "inagibile" by the civil engineers. There's structural damage that wasn't immediately evident when I was running about throwing the kitties in their carry-box.

This means it's going to be a lot longer to go home than I had first anticipated. The good news is that the municipality has suspended all taxes and utilities and is footing the bill for rents and compensation for people stuck without a home. I only rent, but it means I won't have to keep the rent up for the time I'm away (if I got the Italian right.) I have to go and fill out a form.

The realtor could have sent me the form by email, but we're going up tomorrow in a rented car anyway, so it'll be easier to do it in person, and then we can get additional information. I can go into the house no problem, but can't live in it. He says it will be fixed "before a year" but of course, there's no way to know exactly. So, new plans must be made.

(Something that's pretty awesome about Italy is the relationship you have with your realtor. The guy who finds your home - whether rented or bought - becomes like your manager for all matters pertaining to your domestic life after that. He helps you hook up to utilities, finds you the guy who sells firewood, gets you the right forms and things from the government and walks you through all bureaucracy (often just does it for you) and becomes your trouble-shooter for every conceivable thing, from noisy neighbours to permits.

He's also the guy who knows everyone in town, so if you need a plumber or vet or doctor or bike repair he'll be the guy to talk to. And in a situation like this, having an advocate who is a native speaker and knows all the ropes and all the local officials is indispensable. This is the way things are done in Italy; no one is a lone wolf. It's ALL about the community. Sandro and Luca Amici, father and son team, have been great from the first day, and I'd recommend them to anyone who wants a place in Norcia or the vicinity. They kept working and helping people sort things out, even after they were themselves living in tents in their front garden after the August quakes.)

At least this news and info clears up ambiguities. I was all muddled not knowing what I could expect or what was happening withe house, so not really knowing exactly what plans to make. I rented a nice little holiday flat for cheap (off season) in Santa Marinella, the town on the coast north of Rome where I lived for several years before moving up to Norcia. But it's not possible for it to be a long-term thing. Good for a few months, but not for six months or a year. So will have to start making some serious plans.

Also, because the lease will be suspended, and because the house isn't so damaged that my things are exposed, I can just leave all my furniture and things and come home to them when it's all taken care of. I can also make visits and even probably stay over night now and then when necessary. So, for the moment, though the kitties and I aren't really settled anywhere we're not homeless and at least I don't have to lug my furniture and 40 boxes of books into storage. And I won't lose the house.

But I'm finding that after the initial shock, I'm actually feeling more relieved than I expected. This means I am finally able to get out of the uncertainty zone and start making concrete and realistic plans for the longer term, which is a huge relief in itself.

At least I can hold my head up in Norcia. I was feeling pretty badly for all my friends whose homes are either destroyed or inagibile and who have been shipped off to live in hotels and resorts on the coast and Lake Trasimeno, or who have gone to camp with parents and friends. I had been thinking that I could just saunter back to my house whenever I wanted, and it was all up to me. Now we're really all in the same boat, all together. Now I'm a real terremotata, and I feel less bad about having left. I'm part of the Norcia Disaspora now, and feel all the more solidarity with my fellows.

We're going up tomorrow with a load of plug-in heaters I bought for donating to the people stuck in tents and little portable houses. Going to stop by the supermarket on the way and get some groceries as well to give to the volunteer distribution centre. I'll fill in the forms, and we'll take a drive around and see if we can find my friends whom I've been a bit worried about. Some of the older people are still there and I want to know they're OK. I'll take the camera up and dig my voice recorder out of the house and do some interviews and see if I can write it up so the world can also get a better idea of what things are really like up there.

And I'll be able to pack up the house and get it ready. The studio will come back down with me, since I think this should be taken as an opportunity to get painting. All the books should go in boxes and I've got a bunch of bubble -wrap for the pictures. The spare bedroom is more or less a storage room, so we'll just shove everything in there. Pack up Great Grandma's china, the glass wear and breakable bits and pieces, all in boxes and in the little room. At least this way when the workmen have to come and fix things, this stuff won't be in their way.

After that, I'll just pack up all the clothes and coats and boots and art supplies and things, do whatever I can to winterize the garden, and come back down.

Then what?

I've got a few ideas, but nothing confirmed.

More later.



Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Before the quake - Norcia the blessed

I've been meaning to post some pics of Norcia, the garden and our hike up Monte Patino just before the quakes.

Pumpkin ("zucca") flower and friend, in the garden.
I am particularly proud of my squash. I germinated six plants from seeds I saved from a bit of squash I bought at the market.

Mullein and morning glories
Variety of common verbascum. Not Verbascum thapsus, but similar and you can still make a good bronchial remedy out of the flowers and leaves.

Most of the garden is nearly vertical, so wildflowers are the way.
Vertical gardening with kitty.

White scabious and wild garlic, blossoming all over the vertical part of the garden in late summer.

The wildflowers go in a cycle, and one of the great joys is watching it run through its annual pattern.

With the wild garlic, you can just pull up the bulbs, but they're tiny and have only a few cloves. Pick the globe-shaped flowers instead when they are still a nice dark purple. Tie them up in bunches and dry them, then when you want a nice sweet and subtle garlicky flavour, pick off only a few of the florets at a time.

Wild morning glories on the upper slope.
They don't like the really hot weather, so die off in late August, but come back again with the rain a few weeks later.

Masses of these beauties all summer.

A welcome visitor on the broccoli.

I watched as he caught a hoverfly. Like lighting!

About a week or ten days before the August pre-quake, I took a hike with two friends up Monte Patino, that's the peak that overlooks Norcia with the cross on top. We started at six am. No fun hiking in the afternoon in August! Even this high in the mountains it gets REAlly hot!

Piano Santa Scolastica at dawn.

Little town in the cool morning.

The Cross above all.

I can see my house!

Not as close as it looks.

Alpine beechwood 

A wild variety of digitalis, foxglove. Pretty, but don't eat it!
These wild pinks can be found at the highest elevations. They are humble little fellows and can be hard to spot, but the fragrance is heavenly!

A nice place for a rest. Half way.

A ways to go yet.
Last stretch. Can you spot the sheep fountain? Good for humans too.

Good morning little town!


Look who's talking!

The way back down. 

Little town, we miss you so!

Santa Maria Addolorata, the Oratory Church of St. Philip Neri, the day before it fell to rubble.

October 29th, taking the cross down from the roof after the Wednesday pre-quake. 
Savino and Elisabetta, my friends, after the August quake closed their bakery.

Just before the quake that brought it all down.

Last day.

Consulting. The next day it fell. 


Rose window.

Tympanum and saints.

The novusordo tent from the diocese. Cheery, eh? 


Tuesday, December 06, 2016

We did it!

The other day I posted a note from a friend in Norcia who runs a business that gives internet and other kinds of computer-related services to most of the town. His shop was in the centro right next to the Basilica and he has been unable to get it going again since the whole town has been red-zoned.

He was raising funds to buy a portable and today announced that the shop, ABC-Online is back up and running, and soon will get started with the work of getting Norcia back online.

I know that many of my readers contributed very generously to this campaign, and I wanted to thank you all personally. Having internet and communications won't just make it possible for me to go home sooner than expected, it will help bring the whole town back to life.


Friday, December 02, 2016

Christmas cats

This is why I didn't do christmas decorations last year. The kitties were still only six months old by then. Imagine this, only times three.

Not that they've calmed down all that much even now. Cute little dickenses, but they can be pretty rambunctious.

But the year before last was Winnie's last christmas, and she was pretty quiet. Her christmas tree climbing days were over.

I figure at least I will buy some lights and a few bits and pieces. The Chinese stores have their decorations in and they're not expensive. And maybe we can even do a bird. But it's never quite the same having Christmas at the beach-o, when it can be as much as 18 degrees in December. It doesn't really start getting cold at all in S. Mar until February, and then its blink and you'll miss it. Winter is much more northern in Norcia.

I suppose this is why there are a lot more people who do christmas trees in Norcia. It's really not a thing in Lazio/Rome, so it's not only very difficult to find a live tree, but they are exceedingly expensive. I got a very nice one a few years ago for my last Christmas in the flat in Santa Marinella, but it was over a hundred Euros! This nice little one above, with the root ball attached so you could put it in a pot and it lasts for ages, was only about 30 I think.

I hope we can go up to Norcia next weekend, to bring up some supplies we've collected for distribution - including 20 plug-in heaters that are sitting in my front hall. We're going for a festa that the Nursini have been doing on December 9th since the 13th century and a group of people have decided to go ahead. It involves house-size bonfires, grilled meat, mulled wine and staying outside late and is huge fun. It's sort of the Christmas season kickoff in Norcia and the people really want to do it, and I hate to miss it. So we're going to rent or borrow a car and go up. It will give me a chance to get the house sorted and clean out the fridge and put my address on the list for the engineers to inspect, so I can start thinking about when to go home.

The earthquakes haven't stopped, so we're still sort of in limbo, but lots of people are still there and they're not waiting for the quakes to stop before doing a bunch of the work to get things up and running again. I don't feel quite right sitting down here on the coast not helping. Or at least, not being there.


Monday, November 28, 2016

Working out when to go home.

It's not quite this...

But it is this.

As you might have guessed, I'm OK. But I am spending every waking moment of every day thinking about when I can go home and start doing my life again.

I admit that for about five seconds I contemplated the idea of not going back. Maybe just staying down in the lowlands and being a Vatican reporter again.



(I was probably thinking this while I was in the City eating Japanese food with a friend of mine - neither of whom I see very often.)

Frankly, even with Norcia being described as being like a war zone, I'm this close to just going home. I'm so bored. I need my house. If this experience has taught me nothing else it's that I am to my core a domestic country mouse. I don't do cities, and I really shouldn't be away from my house for more than very short periods.

This camping out is OK. I finally settled in a little holiday flat in Santa Marinella. It's decent, clean and close to the train station. It's got every domestic thing you might need to survive and it's cheap because it's the off season. So I'm not suffering anything worse than homesickness (which is actually amazingly acute!) and boredom. But the fact is, we're physical beings and, to put it simply, your life happens where your stuff is.

the studio work bench

I've been thinking about what physical elements go to make up life. My art studio is in my house. My kitchen and all my culinary and garden experiments are in my house. My garden, my sewing, books, bike, projects... life.

How do you know you're not a mendicant? How do you figure out that you've got a more stability-oriented vocation in life? Try an earthquake or some other natural disaster and see how it suits you. If you feel relieved that you're free to move around and do lots of stuff out in the world, that's a pretty good sign you should look into the Franciscans. If you keep trying unconsciously to go to your book case and find a book or absent-mindedly think, "Oh, I should turn over the compost tomorrow," or "I really do need to bottle the last batch of beer," ... if you wake up every morning wondering where the heck you are...

I've got nothing to do here and it's driving me up the wall. Up there, especially since my house is OK, I could be of some help. I could go down to the zona industriale and help serve meals and sort donations and whatnot. There must be a volunteer signup sheet, right?

And of course, it's becoming clear that outside an extremely small number of places in this country (five, I think) the Faith isn't practiced. You can go it alone only for so long. Mass on Sundays in Rome is fine, but it's an hour long train ride. All the reasons I left Santa Marinella to live in Norcia in the first place are still out here.

So, I've been working on a list of basic things I need to start thinking about going home:

- electricity and running water - which I'm told we have at my house. No gas, but I've bought a cannister-run heater that is incredibly efficient and just before the quakes I got in a three month load of firewood, so heat isn't an issue. Cold showers don't scare me;

- a place to buy food, even a little shop where I can get the basics: meat and veg, rice, oil, milk, tea coffee and kitty food. I don't mind simple fare and short rations, but I really don't want to be another mouth that the volunteers and military have to feed. And there's always the kitties to think about. They're pretty good hunters, but they like their meals regular. I could prolly benefit from a little fasting but they can't. But, I'm told the shops are open in Cascia and a friend with a car has stayed in town. Also, the bus is apparently running daily down to Spoleto - not much further away from Norcia than Rome is from S. Mar - so if it comes to that, I can make a weekly shopping run. Also, the Umbria Journal says that the Coop (big supermarket chain that is the main food thing in Norcia) is planning to open a smaller version in a new building in the zona industriale by Christmas.

- (this is a big one) for a place to go to Mass. I actually left England because there were so few choices. I moved to Norcia in the first place to be closer to the Mass. Even if I suck about going to daily Mass, I need it to be close enough.

This latest update from the monks has given me hope that we could be closer than I had first anticipated:

"Starting next Sunday, the chapel will make it possible for us to offer Mass on the monastery grounds (San Benedetto in Monte) for the few brave souls still remaining in Norcia, providing immediate benefits to locals and to allow us to start getting back, if only a little, to normal."

kind of up there

Now, that's up on their mountain property, which is physically too much for me to get to every day. It's about 3 miles from my house and up the side of a mountain.

I have walked it, but the simple truth is that I'm not as physically strong as I once was (chemo... middle age... etc) and whenever I've done the hike, I've generally been good for nothing the next day.

Same road in winter. Pretty but kind of hard to walk on

I'd need to find some form of transport.

- some kind of internet access that is at least regular if not constant so I can make a living. I've got my mobile internet stick, however, and can recharge it in Spoleto or Cascia. Not sure if it would get a signal there. On Quake Day, we were only getting sporadic cell phone signal, so I don't know. But my friend Emanuele is up there and seems to have daily access from somewhere. He's the expert and if anyone can get me enough internet to keep working it's him.

- and, last, but far from least...





Latest earthquake news isn't very encouraging:

We had a 3.9 yesterday at 9:41 pm with the epicentre a few miles north of Norcia.

But the day's list is a lot longer and includes quite a lot more over 3.0:

3.1 just after midnight,

3.5 at 3:57 am,

3.1 at 3:41pm,

3.3 at 4:16 pm,

3.5 at 7:09 pm,

3.6 at 7:34 pm,

3.2 at 7:51 pm,

3.4 at 8:40 pm,

November 27 total: 88 above 2.0

And at least a few smaller shakes for every hour of the day.

That's a pretty big jump.

Up from November 26: 44 above 2.0 and only  2 over 3.0

So yeah, it looks like it's getting lively again.


But even with the quakes continuing, I'm wavering.

Dulce Domum

Home, for me, is what life is for.