Happy to know we had a place to come and go to in Piemonte, Italy, without having to make bookings, bar flights and car hire, is extremely liberating. The first trip I planned back to this wonderful place in the Langhe Hills, was with my Mother, an equal lover of Italy, as myself, and like a mother can only be, a tirelessly enthusiastic champion of the Italian project. You see, she had been more than depressed at the idea of our prior French blip and though, admirably, had marched round viewing all the French houses, she couldn't bring herself to tell us that she really rather hoped that we wouldn't move to France and would by some twist of fate return to our default Italian position. Well, all I can say is she was damned lucky! In fact, the number of people who breathed sighs of relief at our Italian decision was staggering, why are people not brave enough to speak up before such a doomed experiment, such as moving to France (thank goodness we didn't), they are all lucky, as am I, that we somehow managed, without any prodding, to return to our original idea of Italy.
Mum and I booked to come out to Piemonte in March 2016 for 5 days. Our expectation for this trip was to see a lovely early spring awakening of the land with the early bulbs popping up in shy explosions of colour in this verdant land. In fact, the day we arrived sitting outside the house sipping our first glass of wine, was a balmy 35 degrees in the sun! This is the thing about being 450 metres above sea level, the sun is very hot when it is out, regardless of the time of year, the thermometer would sprint up and down it's mercury line faster than Usain Bolt, the sun in was 3 degrees, sun out 35 degrees, and all within minutes - bizarre! We had brought, fortunately, a medley of clothes for the occasion, having myself experienced this change in temperatures in February. So heavy blankets were at the ready to toast our boney knee caps outside and inside the fire was on and the radiators full on in the evening. Whilst, during the day, our tops were rolled up our arms and we basked like lizards in the early spring.
Our first night, passed relatively easily, for me; I like to wear ear plugs, a hangover from living in a terrace in the city, Mum goes without. I woke to the usual peace and quiet and pitch darkness, as we had closed the wooden shutters to keep the heat in, and Mum was quicker than she usually is, to start talking, as normally a cup of coffee is required first, "Did you hear all that thunder and lightning in the night?" "No" said I, curious, but then thunderstorms are common in the Langhe hills. She said it had woken her and she had slept little, as it had been so very loud and extremely scary, while her eldest child, me, had deeply slept through the whole display of lightning and cannon booms across the sky. Wow, these ear plugs are the bees knees, I thought. Poor Mum, she hadn't wanted to wake me, even though she had been terrified! I thought I would get up first and make her a nice cup of coffee. Padding out of the bedroom we had shared, we only have one bedroom at the moment, but room for two more to be converted soon, in the attic, I thought it a nice idea to open the front door, en route to the kitchen, and take in the view, a sight I don't think I will ever get bored of. Unlocking the door, I pulled it open, and nearly shrieked, I couldn't see a thing! There had been a snow storm, and not one of those drizzly, feeble, Irish efforts of one inch but a good 10 inches had fallen and it was still falling. I couldn't see far with the snow haze before me. I got Mum to get up and see and she too was horrified. We hadn't seen this on the weather forecast! Our dreams of day trips to Barolo and Alba vanished before our staggered, blinking eyes.
Along with this rather rude awakening, we quickly realised the electricity was down. I immediately turned into the best of my brownie guide days and Duke of Edinburgh training persona and went into automatic 'Bear Gryllis' survival mode. First stop, as the electricity was required for the water pump to work, we collected as much water as needed for a few days, in case the pipe from the well in the garden froze. Using all the 'Giovanni' inherited pots and pans I ran out to the side yard and filled these from the garden tap, placing them, with blessed relief, on our wonderful gas oven, thanking God and Giovanni for the good fortune of having a gas hob! Next, we brought the log boxes in from under the veranda, to keep them dry and close to the wood fire burner. Trying to use the loo was a revelation, again because of the out of action water pump we couldn't flush it and the top wouldn't come off the cistern, buckets primed next to the loo were ready to manually flush. A food inventory was done, we had by sheer luck gone to the supermarket the day we had arrived and indulged ourselves with all sort of goodies, enough to last us the weekend, with rationing! Though we had enough wine to last a few weeks, naturally.
Peeking, with a grimace, outside the snow was still relentlessly falling and was at about 13 inches high, then my thoughts turned to our hire car, I had to dig it out to get the snow chains on, if we had any chance of getting out of this mess. I waded through the snow to the garage and looking, really for the first time, at all the legacy gardening instruments to avail of, fortunately noticed a proper 'official' snow shovel, bit of a clue that one, and a couple of other metal spades. Dragging all three along the veranda I arrived at the snowed in car - up to the alloys in snow. I began digging. 1 hour later and still digging, it was like 2 steps forward one step back, with the relentless snow, I was sweating from every cell of my skin and mildly panicking, my mother, meanwhile, highly amused at her 'city' daughter in full on survival action, took as many pictures of me 'heave hoing' at the snow, while not really containing her amusement, love you Mum!
Breaking for a quick hot chocolate we sat on the veranda, sheltered from the snow, and took it all in, in a kind of hypnotic, glazed eye, state. So much for the relaxing, wine tasting, pottering about weekend. Then, out of nowhere, we could here a whirring, crunching sound coming our way on the snow bedecked road below. And out of the foggy snow, a figure clothed in head to toe black, pushing what looked like a large lawn mower, was trudging with athletic enthusiasm up the road on the hill. Then turned off and up our steep driveway. Closer now, we could see this contraption was collecting the snow and spurting it out the sides, like a real ski slope snow machine. it made its way through the gates and towards us, it was Giovanni! 75 years of age, and as fit as a fiddle, he whirred his way towards us leaving a metre wide clearing of ground behind him. Never had we been so grateful to see him, we hugged and kissed him and with shouts of 'nieve' from him, a new word for me, aka 'snow', we bundled him inside and made him have some of our precious bottled water. He explained the snow was indeed unexpected, in fact there hadn't been snow for 5 years here. We showed him the electricity was off but he just shrugged his Sardinian shoulders and said it would be fixed soon enough for sure. We pointed at the shortage of wood and he said he would fix that and be back later in his tractor with some, oh the joys of self sufficiency, note to self - must buy in a lot of firewood for future winters and a snow machine. Then he was off in a snow flourish. What a man.
Two days later, and with many electricity on/off moments, we had finally dug our way out of the lane, all 150 metres of it and down to the main road. We took off on our last day to see the sights of the village and have a very necessary drink of Prosecco in the local bar. What a welcome to Piemonte for my mother, and many a good lesson was learnt in being prepared; roll on the next snow, I'm ready for you this time!
Warm up with our first Summer in Piemonte post here.
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