Friday, August 27, 2010

Blazing Summer

This is fire season in Italy as well as in the States. Serving in the US Forest Service for over 30 years means that fire season evokes memories. The sights, the smells…

There are plenty of smokers here to pitch butts onto the roadsides.  We awoke Sunday at 2 AM to the sound of crackling flames that in our grogginess at first looked like fireworks.  It was a fire just 50 meters from the house.  It turned out OK due the local fire guys, but whilst we watched, hot embers blew into the house through the open windows and doors…next time maybe we should close the windows? Later that same day the first large fire nearby broke out and the Protezione Civile brought in 2 of their Canadair air tankers. These Canadair planes flown by the government are very efficient little air tankers that the Italians use efficiently (being surrounded on three sides by seas). Americans are losing their large air tankers because they are old and being grounded. You  can read more about that here.

English friend Clive captured the tankers dipping into the sea just off the Scalea beach to refill the water tanks in about 20 seconds, and was kind to share the images (You can read more about Clive and Kathryn at their nicely done website. They operate a very nice B&B in the historic sector of Scalea).
On Thursday morning, there was heavy smoke all around us and even some ash floating in the windows at 6 AM…clues that a fire must be burning nearby. I left for Scalea around 8 and saw a hand crew of 6 guys working a 5-acre fire just ¼ mile from the village. They were dressed in bright orange clothing and were chasing the grass and brush fire with swatters like they use in the southeast US. They were just pulling up to a bar near the car park when I returned from town at 10. They were able to get their morning beer nearly on time!
A larger fire between here and Papasidero actually caused most of the smoke in the valley. One of the Canadairs was back and working the fire when I returned home.

From our terrazzo, I watched him scoop water in the sea 8 km away. Once tho’, he rose then started to circle. I thought there was trouble – looking down I saw he had spotted a new little fire on the edge of the town of Marcellina. He dove and nailed that fire perfectly and went for more seawater! After its final trip to the fire Thursday, the air tanker lined up on the paved runway at Scalea, then he buzzed the airport at 200 feet, wagged his wings to the guys below, pulled up and headed to the airport at Lamezia Terme. 
I have seen Sikorsky sky crane helicopters in Italy, but none rigged for fire fighting. I guess the Canadairs are so fast and efficient that heavy helicopters don’t make sense especially for Italy that has ocean water within reach of most areas. Here’s a skycrane working a fire in Oregon in 2006.  They suck water into a tank thru the dangling snorkel and bomb fires with water like the air tankers.

After all this excitement, I think I’ll join our neighborhood cat for a little sun therapy…at least until I see the next tanker cross the sky!
Ciao, Guido

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Halcyon Days

My favorite word in English is Halcyon. I love the sound of it and what it evokes.  I first heard it in the quote "Halcyon days of summer" usually referring to childhood summers.  The festas and the beach scene here are crazy with fireworks, crowds, and general activity. I am proud of us for reaching out to join in some of these things for we are generally tranquil types. We need the silence and solace of woods, streams, and the countryside. We are so lucky that we picked just the right place to have both. Childhood summers, Halcyon Days, are what these quiet interludes conjure in my mind. Time to notice the cloud formations from the terrace, go on a long hike in the heat (OK, that was dumb), leave the city and head for the woods, or visit a lonely museum in the mountains.  Just wanted you to know that it's not all about festas this time of year.  It's also about enjoying going barefooted and catching falling stars:

Hollow Chestnut Tree--A Halcyon Days icon

A little resting place on our noon-time 3K death march in the sun
Santa Domenica Talao from across our local unnamed stream

An A3 Bridge on the way to the Grotta del Romito
A reminder from the Grotta del Romito that you need to live before you "thin out"

Friday, August 13, 2010


As I write this, 3 girls about 12 years old are playing in the street under our window--simply bouncing a ball forth and back and laughing. The kids here are delightful and, hopefully the right word, innocent. I’ve watched the neighbor’s grandkids spend hours playing with a paper airplane or a water pistol. I guess play – outdoor play is the operative word. I came from a place where kids their age would be on a Game Boy, in front of a computer or texting on the mobile phone. Perhaps it’s just the small Calabrian hilltown and elsewhere in Italy kids are different? Regardless, they are sweet in our village. Even the sulky teenagers will say hello to you as you pass. Growing up in tight Italian families certainly produces some nice kids. Innocence doesn’t pay the bills I know, so most will have to move away to make a living. But this week, there are many more Mercedes and Audis in town driven by successful people who come back home for holidays and stay linked to their families and hometowns.

Cars lining up to park for the Festa of the Wild Boar--Santa Domenica Talo

In August, there are more concerts, festas and events that are just beginning at 9:30-10 PM.  Afternoon naps help, but it’s still a challenge to the internal clocks even after 7 months. We can’t play the “age card” because there are plenty of 70-80 year olds roaming around at midnight and later. One night we returned from dinner in Scalea at midnight and a rock concert was just ending in the piazza. We were ambushed by Irish friends, went to their house and got home at 3AM. Mama mia...

It’s festa time again this week in Santa Domenica Talao--Sagra di Cinghiale (Festa of the Wild Boar).
We admire how people here have a great time just meeting in the square for a little entertainment. How both the very old and the very young enjoy the same thing—being a part of the community. Remember that song Carbaret? What good is sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play. Life is a Cabaret, old chum, Come to the Cabaret. That seems to sum up life here in Agosto--Then, in the AM, it’s off to the beach.  Sorry, too busy to write more.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Restoration Fun Update 3 (by the Martian)

Where we hide out from the construction, feel sorry for us?
Yes, I notice how the male/female roles work in this small Calabrian town. Some things appear to be 30 years "behind", but from my Martian point of view, it’s all pretty harmless.

The village is now used to me shopping for groceries instead of Di. I did shock one woman when I replied that I was taking the food home to cook dinner.

Although the boys continue to look at me for direction, they have also learned not to dismiss Diana – the architetto. Di changed around the design for the upstairs gas stove after the plumber had shifted the copper pipes and she told the builder about it. Angelo pulls me aside to see if I agree with this change. My Italian may be weak, but I smiled, nodded and gave him my best Calabrese “eh” and the shrug.

Things are moving along.  Remember some of you voted on the shutters we need? After a lot of running around, we are now going to use alumino powder coated dark green. The first carpenter that looked at doing wooden shutters said no when he saw the high bedroom windows involved. The next firm in Santa Maria del Cedro gave us a bid of €6000 for 5 pairs of shutters.  Whether trying to gouge the foreigners or scare us away, we went away to the local shop for alumino at half the cost. We still need Angelo to set up two stories of scaffolding to install the bedroom shutters.

Here are some sneak preview photos. The master tile setter, Pasquale, is a paesano who did the tile upstairs . You get a sense of how it will look against the marble trim around the staircase.

Ange     Angelino staining the ceiling 

Although most of the restoration is taking place downstairs, you may remember that we are replacing our poor choice in heating appliance--a horrible ventless stove that added humidity and sucked out the air in the house to the point that we had to leave windows open to "heat" the place. Di was not happy about having work done where we are living and we thought that maybe it would take place after the downstairs was done (to provide refuge) but that was not to be.  She however, took advantage of my displeasure with the old stove to get a nicer look: 
This stove will heat the place nicely with DRY heat instead of adding moisture like the first one.  The pipe and stove will be surrounded by fire-proof walling made from a material similar to sheetrock. One downside is it is controlled by another remote device. Grab the wrong one and you turn up the heat or start the ceiling fans instead of switching the TV to CNN.

Auguri, Guido


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