One of our biggest and most satisfying achievements, particularly for Andrew, this year on our new Piemonte farm was mowing the meadow. A fan of hay bales, stacks, rolls and the like, I love looking at the different shapes and sizes on show in hay fields, whenever I pass by any field in Summer. I used to dream that one day I would have my own hay bale, or roll, to play with on the farm. It hasn't quite worked out like that, yet.
Our infamous 'vini culture' land, that had been cleaned many years ago of any vines, sat naked in Spring, with just a few green patches of weeds and herbs, naturally growing on it (no herbicides here thank you), to hide it's modesty. But, within the space of four months, it had transformed itself into waist high, (well on my 5ft 4inch frame anyway) dense grass and wild flowers, a pretty sight to behold. Walking slowly through the tall grassed land, advance parties of butterflies, bees and crickets would float and jump their way ahead of me, as if guiding my way, accompanied by a low level hum of happy, pollinating, insects. It was truly delightful to see all this nature at one with itself. Until, that is, I read a book written by two ladies who had moved to nearby Liguria, and it all changed for me. They spoke of how their locals liked everything neatly shorn to prevent fires, particularly in the hot summer weather and how it was frowned upon to let your land grow unruly and, indeed, they had been witness to such fires threatening to burn down the local's olive trees and houses. Startled, and on alert for unwanted smoke signals coming from our distant land, we decided to mow the meadow, as fast as possible.
Curiously, Italians seemed to have been given the label as somewhat 'slow in action', certainly 'piano, piano', meaning 'slowly, slowly' is a common enough phrase, that I hear directed at me, more often when I am attempting to speak in Italian, as fast as possible, in a lame attempt to show off my near non-existent linguistic talent. Quite difficult it is too, with all the 'rrrrr' rolling through nearly every other word. So I take the 'piano, piano', as a kindly meant line to mean, 'Clare I have no idea what you just said, were you speaking in Russian?' Sometimes things here move quickly, sometimes they move slowly, there is no pattern. It depends, I think, on the whim of the person acting out the request. So we asked Giovanni, would he kindly lend us one of his multitude of machines from his massive farm to mow the meadow, expecting that he would helpfully lend us a machine some time in the future. Now, you have to understand with Giovanni, he absolutely loves teaching us 'stranieri' new tricks of the farming trade and his eyes lit up on this one and he seemed overjoyed that we would want to mow the meadow. I think he had been using this 'meadow mowing' failing of ours, over the past months, to amuse his many friends with. Maybe he was relieved that we weren't as dumb as we appeared and that his, and the neighbour's farms, wouldn't be burning down, after all, from our meadow growing experiment. Anyway, quick smart, the next day he had Andrew under instruction, getting him to push a very large lawnmower up and down the meadow. Though, I had a sneaky suspicion that Giovanni could have laid his hands on a sit on mower but he liked the idea of whipping Andrew, the city gent, into shape. Andrew grimaced, grunted and sweated his way over the 2000sqm of meadow, most of it on an awkward tilt, perfect for growing vines on but not so easy with a manual pushing mower! And after a big effort it was finally well groomed, rather like Elvis getting his first buzz cut in the army.
The best part of asking favours in Italy is that you often get asked a favour in return, like the old barter system, you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours, so of course Giovanni, wonderful as he is, had a favour to ask us and that was for him to keep the hay for his four donkeys. See, told you I haven't, yet, got the chance to claim a haystack for myself. The problem, for me, was that I wanted some of the hay for my up coming hay layering experiment in the vegetable garden (idea courtesy of Prairie Homestead). Not a lot, and certainly not the contents of the meadow, but some was required. But after all my strenuous activity that morning, raking up hay, I was fit for bed, so took myself off for an early siesta and left Andrew and Giovanni admiring the new meadow. What I hadn't realised was that the newly shorn grass was being sucked up into a hay baler by another friendly neighbour, Armando, while I had my little power nap, how quick was that!!! Armando owns the biggest farm around, in our part of the Langhe in Piedmont, and is an absolute gentleman. Giovanni had arranged for him to drive the 2 miles down the road, in his big tractor, with hay bale attachment, to hoover the lot up, in return, again the barter system, Armando got to keep a bale of hay for himself. I was dreaming my exhausted dreams in bed while the most exciting thing to date on the farm, that I had been looking forward to seeing, was carried out. I woke a couple of hours later, to the news that the baling had been done. Gutted, is a word I would use on this occasion. Later we went to look at the big round bales, two of them left standing there in the drying sun. I felt a bit bereaved, knowing that really though they sat on our land, they weren't really ours, they were now Giovanni's and the donkeys. Still, we had kept our honour and hadn't set fire to anything. Andrew had, though, arranged for us to have the scraps from around the edges to be collected by our own hands, not baled, for my gardening experiment. I looked at the scraps, looked longingly at the bales, back at the scraps, and gave up. I hope the donkey's appreciate the hay.
Read more - how to kiss the neighbours! Saucy!
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