A True Winter
I can’t get my neighbour's voice out of my head. It was about four months ago when we were sat down to a lovely lunch in their beautiful Langhe stone house, on a warm day in late Autumn. They were hosting their end of season leaving lunch before heading to their winter home in sunny Menton, just over the border in France, we had been discussing seasons in Piemonte with them and their 8 close friends around the table, while eating some of Ines’s amazing bell pepper dish, coated in breadcrumbs with hidden anchovies, we were talking about how excited we were about another winter with some snow and brisk winter walks, because truly we had had enough of the heat and, after all, that was our fond experience of our first Piemonte winter last year. “But Clare”, said Ines, “That was not winter in Piemonte, that was a blip, you have yet to experience a real winter, you will see what I mean soon.” I laughed it off, while eating some more peppers, but it niggled at me in my thoughts, as we went through November. What on earth is a real winter in Piemonte? After all, last year we had plenty of snow and it was freezing for a few weeks…
We have now found out what a real Piemonte winter is.
It started in December, a cold that descended barely a few weeks into the dark days and the temperature dropped to -10, on a night when a dear friend was visiting us, from his home in South of France. He was heading up our steep driveway late at night, with his summer tyres on (why would you need anything else in the South of France after all) and he couldn’t get traction on the, unknown to us, invisible black ice that had taken over our driveway and half way up the drive his car slowly started to swerve backwards and slide off the side of the drive until he was balanced on the side of the hill between 2 big fir trees. Fortunately, he got out unscathed and left the car, also unscathed, to dangle; there are not many alternatives at midnight in Piemonte. The next day our trusty neighbour, Giovanni, aka 'Superman', came to the rescue with his digger and towed him out to much hand clapping and back patting and sounds of ‘Oi yoi yois’ from Giovanni, I am sure we are his sole source of comedy here. Needless to say, we took him out for his favourite Pizza Margherita as a big thank you. The barter system is wonderful.
Then the snow came. One snow fall after another, as soon as we thought that would be the last of the snow and things started thawing another snow dump arrived stealthily in the middle of the night, until it was up to my knees. Then the freezing fogs came in, turning droplets into swords of death hanging off the big fir trees, everywhere looked like ‘Narnia’ and the White Witch’s palace. Every time we went outside we would practically run from under the roof eaves where icicles dangled waiting to spear our skulls opened. We soon got used to the sound of thwacking icicles breaking off and landing on the concrete veranda, shattering like chandeliers everywhere, as another thaw came and went. The summer sounds of crickets strumming their legs has been replaced with the sounds of waterfalls, like in the corny Enya ‘Orinoco flows’, Piemonte truly flowed this winter with every gutter and drainpipe letting out its notes of water music relentlessly, not great when it keeps making you want to go to the loo. I honestly don’t know how people put up with water features in earshot of the house.
But there was a moment to surpass these natural winter wonders and one that I humbly share with you, though somewhat wishing I didn’t have to, we had a ‘city slicker’ moment of mass proportions.
We had arranged an early morning appointment for a routine test in the local hospital an hour away in Asti and we cheerfully got up at 6.30am to hit the road. We had learnt our lessons last year about parking at the bottom of our driveway so we hadn’t gotten snowed in once this time, nor did we have to dig out the long driveway, while breaking our backs and hearts in the process like last year. The car started up, registering -7 on the thermometer in the car, brrr! We poodled off down the winding road to Cortemilia, it was so enchanting with the snow blanketing the fields and everywhere bathed in the violet haze of a winter dawn and then we came to an undignified, puttering, stop, at Giovanni’s corner; well where else would we break down! The car was conked out fully. Andrew masterfully turned the engine over and over and nothing but the 3 second ‘chh chh chh chh’ sound coming from the engine. Surmising, that somehow, we had run out of diesel, Andrew took that big sigh I am becoming used to and left his DIY manhood at the car door and trudged down the very long driveway, in the half metre snow to Giovanni’s house. I do feel for Andrew in these moments, and all men, to have to admit defeat to another man and deliver further proof of ones lack of skills is no boon to the masculine ego. I sat in the freezing car awaiting results of the trudge.
Twenty minutes later and there they were stepping high, up the lane, through the snow. I at this stage am wrapped like a mummy in the car blanket, watching my breath come out of my mouth like a fog fuelled dry ice machine and listening to Giovanni making his ‘oi yoi yoi’ sounds yet again, as he arrives and sets to expertly looking under the hood. Fortunately, he had been a mechanic before retirement. We truly landed in the right spot in Piemonte with this neighbour! He then sets to pushing the car back and forth from its side so I feel like I am being thrown around in a blender and he gamely reports that we have not run out of fuel but in fact our diesel tank has frozen. What the!!! Apparently it had gotten below -10 that previous night and diesel can freeze in the tank from -7/-8, who knew? Well not us city slickers. Then he trudged back to his house and returned 20 minutes later with a blow torch, and with me sat in the passenger seat he sets the torch alight and starts running it over the lines in the engine – ahhhhhh! I really think I am going to be a gonner and the car will explode any moment! Health and safety hasn’t been taught here. But that doesn't work, so with two bruised ego’s outside the car and one frozen ego inside the car, we give up and decide to call the local mechanic. Fortunately, our local mechanic had seen this many times before and kindly fixed the tank with some additive and more fuel and hey presto it started.
So there you go folks, if you have a diesel car in a cold winter make sure you have additive in the tank with each fill up you do. Another mortifying lesson learnt in our Piemonte adventure. I wonder what the next lesson will be…
Please arrive soon Spring!
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