This is day three of six months of living in our Italian home in Torri. Easy words to write but not quite so easy to grasp. Almost without exception, visitors to this apartment would be holiday-makers, here for two or three weeks at a time at most, maybe a month if they were lucky. Working people can call this a holiday but for us retired folk we struggle to give a name to what we are now doing here. The atmosphere, our foreign surroundings, the weather, it is all here just as it would be had we come here for a holiday but then we say to ourselves, “We will still be here in six months time.” Maybe the reality is that all we have done is to move to another home, one that doesn’t float.
All this introspection does me no good at all and does little to ease the throbbing thighs or the calf muscles shouting at me somewhere below. For yes, Kate and I have been out walking. And walking in Torri simply means going up, then sometime later going down. Even if we fancy a little walking on the level the choice just doesn’t come into it because the moment we set foot outside our door we are going up or down. Our apartment is at the top of four floors worth of rough stone steps; the roof terrace is higher still up more giant steps. Popping over to my brother Graham’s place, just across the village and up another four stone floors, I arrive panting at his door as if finishing a 3-mile jog.
From our walk yesterday I have chosen two pictures to illustrate what we are dealing with. The first is taken from above Torri, looking towards the terraced slopes which loom over our village to the west. The terraces are man-made, earth held back by dry stone walling, constructed to retain the roots of olive trees. Today it is mainly the trees in the lower, more productive terraces, that are maintained, these being managed by pollarding which produces ancient, thickened trunks and slender branches spreading from about head height. Close to the top of the slope in the photo, the faint line is a rough track, just passable with a lot of nerve and a four-wheel drive vehicle. Once you leave the valley bottom, this is what passes for a road, carved out of pure rock and clinging precariously to the hillside.
This next photo was taken from that same track, the camera pointing downwards at an unbelievable angle towards the church in the centre of Torri. Our apartment is just in beneath the shadow to the right – the mountain shades us in the mid afternoon at this time of year, before most of the rest of the village.
In the course of a little over six hours on a magically sunny day, Kate and I ascended the 800 or so metres up to something called Monte Cogorda following vague footpaths created to give access to the higher olive terraces. From here we could look north across the French border towards snow-topped Maritime Alps and in the other direction the Mediterranean Sea glinted at us with Ventimiglia tucked down at its shore.
As we walk, large brown crickets take to the air from under our feet, revealing their ruby-red wings for a few seconds before landing and disappearing into their camouflage again. Bright yellow butterflies dodge before our eyes milking the tiny yellow and blue flowers which hang on in defiance of the approaching winter. In general the vegetation is tough and spiky but the smells of wild thyme, rosemary and lavender assault our noses, the plants themselves sticky with scented liqueur.
As ever, my eyes are often pointed downwards (I like to watch where I put my feet) and once again a wild animal chooses to cross my path. This slow-worm eyeing me up for a meal, decided I wasn’t worth bothering with if it meant giving up the last rays of the day’s sunshine.
A direct descent down to the valley is an impossibility so our return is long and arduous, traversing the mountainside on a bluff high above our apartment’s roof before leading us down into Calvo, a village further down our home valley. We have met no one all day and even here as we peer into gardens cultivated with plants and shrubs we fail to recognise, we have the place to ourselves. It takes a peel of bells from the brightly painted church to wake us to reality as we finally arrive at the main road so we can march our creaking legs back up the valley to our home.