After signing the contract in February 2008 we took our 3 teenage children to Italy in the summer and rented a villa called Villa la Contea for a month that was 10 minutes down the road from our new Tuscan farmhouse.
It was there that we met our new Italian friends, Alessandro and Franca who took us under their wing and made us feel so welcome in our soon to be adopted new country.
They guided us with regards to choosing the stonemason for the three new fireplaces that needed to be commissioned, and leaned gently on the blacksmith to give us a good price for our new internal staircase in the tower.
One fine summer's night they not only invited us into their lovely home to have a meal with them, but they also invited us as their guests to an annual street party held in the old part of Rassina, in the Casentino valley. And what a wonderful experience that turned out to be!
Trestle tables lined the old street bedecked with white table cloths, and inhabitants of all ages brought their dishes and came to share the meal.
Everyone had been instructed to bring something to share, including myself. Not having my recipe books with me I flew into a bit of a tiz racking my brains as to what a South African with an Australian passport who had lived in Papua New Guinea for 5 years and the United Arab Emirates for 10 years could possibly make for an Italian appetite.
In the end I winged it, whipping up a fruits of the forest/apple crumble and a chocolate pear upside-down cake that was, in the end, very well received. With probably 100 people at that street party I knew I hadn't made nearly enough, but with all the dishes that had gone before, only small spoonfuls were required. The tradition of the party was that whatever you had made you had to go down the line of tables and serve it to those who wanted it.
We ate the most amazing rustic Tuscan dishes that night and although we begged several times for a reprieve, the dishes just kept on coming. I just wished that my Italian had been better than it was in order to fully participate in the lively conversation that surrounded us on all sides, and sat late into the evening listening to the strains of a pure, young voice singing to a strumming guitar at a table further down.
However, I digress; the clearing of land. The children had only seen the house via photographs and I have to say that comments when we arrived at the house were less than impressive.
My children didn't hold back and it was obvious that they were wondering if their parents were finally having that mid-life crisis that they had been suspicious of for some time. In all fairness, however, I didn't blame them. In February when we had last visited it was still winter. There was ice in the stream, bare trees and grass that was only ankle deep. By the time the summer came the grass had grown to gargantuan proportions ideal for Indian tigers and the trees had sprung up around the house like something out of the Day of the Triffids. So, it wasn't surprising that they weren't overly impressed. However, it didn't stop them from getting stuck in with the clearing of land and attacking the invasive brambles and acacias with gusto over the next 4 weeks, and whose help proved invaluable as we realized how much clearing of land we needed to do.
Everyone pitched in except for father-in-law who made a brief appearance from England. On arrival he beat a hasty retreat to the loggia and for the rest of his sojourn either had his head safely stuck in his sudoku book or slept away the torpid afternoons on the seller's old, metal garden swing that was kindly left in the lounge!
Slowly, but surely, armed with axes, saws and a petrol-driven slasher we cleared mountains of growth and were finally able to see the house, which the children grudgingly admitted that "from far away it doesn't look too bad", and "perhaps it has some potential after all".
But it was amazing what we did uncover and discover in our clearing of land. We found several snake skins, including a snake itself curled up on the boiler in the service room, thankfully having departed its mortal coil some time back, probably in the winter. We also found ladybirds hastily moving house after being rudely disturbed, forgotten grape vines choking the ancient well, an apple tree that was laden with apples that weren't ripe but we had to eat them anyway, because they were now our apples and wild plums and damsons that helped quench the thirst while working in the scorching sun.
More disturbingly, during the clearing of land, we found about 8 - 10 empty shotgun casings littering the garden. We hoped that they had been aimed at boar in our forest, opposite the house, rather than at intruders. Already since purchasing the property the house had been broken into. The kitchen door had been smashed and broken and the door to the tower, which was thankfully very sturdy, had resisted several break-in attempts - even while we were visiting the property on a daily basis during the summer.
Several of our Italian neighbors passed the house on the way to their farms and looked on curiously as we continued the land clearing. Friendly greetings were exchanged from afar, but no doubt they had been drawn by the continuous drone of the slasher and to see for themselves what we were doing after hearing that the house, that had once been of some significance in the past and held some historical value, had been bought by stranieri, (foreigners).
From the photos below you can see some progress of the clearing of land and just how much word had been done during the summer. The first picture was taken during the winter, so you have to imagine just how much growth had occurred between February and late July.
Here is what the Tuscan farmhouse looked like after the clearing of land during 3 weeks of hard work. Tamed for one summer, but for how long?
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