Our apartment here in Torri is built to a pattern that is common all over the Mediterranean, the walls massively constructed in stone and rooms with high ceilings formed as a curved arch without wooden supporting beams. The interior is painted white, the windows are curtain-less with exterior shutters and the floors are laid with rich brown quarry tiles with the occasional rug to soften the echoes. It is a pattern that suits the summer climate better than it does the winter as the apartment interior remains relatively cool throughout the day regardless of the temperature outside. We are grateful, therefore, for the large wood-burning ‘stufa’ built into our living room wall which forces heat into the surrounding stonework so that it can seep out again all through the night and into the next day.
In a village like Torri, a compressed village environment set in a deep valley, it is only the very favoured inhabitants who can expect to see the sun shining through their windows all day long, especially in winter when the hills send long shadows across the land. Our apartment is more blessed than many as we live high up on the third floor, higher still if you count the cellar which itself is some distance above the road. The apartment has a roof terrace – not the place for vertigo sufferers – and this is probably the highest point in the entire village. All this height comes at a cost, of course, as there are 61 steps between the road and the front door of the apartment, a challenge on a good day, quite painful on a bad one.
All of which brings me to the explanation for my aching legs and to the reason my arms are longer now than when we first arrived. It is well known folklore that a wood burning fire will warm you twice, once when you chop up the wood and once again when it burns in the grate. Here in Torri, however, they say that wood warms you seven times! It goes like this: First it is cut it from the tree, then it is sawn into logs before the wood is transported down the hillside to be stored for drying. When ready, the logs are split apart, then carried home for storage. Finally the wood is taken from the cellar up to the house and then at last it is burnt on the fire.
Thanks to the kindness and energy of Guy, a Frenchman who has family connections in Torri and who sweeps in from France every so often to look after his various plots of land hereabouts, and thanks to a massive expenditure of muscular effort by Guy, myself and from my long-suffering brother, after two days of log splitting and transportation, we now have a sumptuous woodpile in our cellar. This is mostly olive wood cut three years ago and now nicely dried and ready to burn; for kindling we will use pine cones collected on our mountain walks, these being melon-sized and completely dried out, easily stuffed into a large sack which is then slung over the shoulders as we descend. And as a quid pro quo for his wood, Guy is having English lessons from us, in addition to which, when he needs other help, someone to climb a ladder or push about one of his many wheelbarrows, he endearingly calls for my assistance (‘Caan yu ‘elp me plees?’). His energy and enthusiasm is boundless but outside of the English lessons, we communicate entirely in French, a challenge for both Kate and I as we to try to recall words learnt at school over 40 years ago. After a day with Guy our brains are buzzing with his language, hyperactive with words and phrases we should have used, things we could have said. Fortunately he is a patient man as well as being excellent company, providing us with a completely new insight into the world that is Torri.