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The warmth returns

We like to remind ourselves, regularly, of where we might have been living and what we would have been doing had we not decided to spend the winter months here in Italy, the big ‘What if…..’ question.

On the TV set in our apartment we receive a limited selection of news broadcasts and despite being in Italy our satellite dish captures UK news, that is news targeted at people living on the British mainland. So we have been subjected to the bad weather, the snow, the frost and the ice all in a vicarious sort of way through the medium of the TV set. As a result we know something of what we would have been going through weather-wise if we had chosen to stay in the UK. We can see clearly that we would have had to suffer extremes of cold but we also recognise that we would have had the advantage so far as coping with the snow because we could have chosen when to go out, when to travel and when to stay in hibernation. Retirement does, after all, have its compensations.

The UK news media (or those we have access to) are finally, after weeks of single-track weather reporting, looking outside the UK for headlines. As it happens these are not difficult to find – when a large city in an impoverished country gets demolished by an earthquake the headlines tend to make themselves – but even without this tragic event, I doubt that news of the substantial thaw would have generated enough weather-related interest to get into the headlines.

In the village of Torri the focus seems different. Since just before Christmas the temperature has hovered just above or slightly below freezing point and the humidity rising from the river has imparted a bone-deep chill to anything exposed to it. The villagers who normally gather in the piazza had scuttled away into their homes, hiding away from the weather as much as they could – there is no pleasure in talking about cold weather. Now, just as in the UK, there is a sudden change and as the sun peeps over the mountains earlier each day we are reminded of where our warmth comes from. There is a sense of excitement in the air as the days lengthen. Leaning on the wall to gaze at the river once again becomes popular and even working up on mountain terraces among the olives now becomes pleasurable. Walking about we observe how the well-watered grass has covered any bare ground with a long green carpet. Soon, other signs of spring will be with us and just as we watched nature prepare for autumn and then winter we now look forward to the experience of a blooming re-birth. Winter is a short season here.

Some hardy specimens here never gave up at all, their battered flower heads evidence of their battle with the worst that nature could throw at them. Quite why they choose to expend so much precious energy in a winter-long display I cannot say but more than one species has stayed boldly in bloom all through December and now into January. Rosemary, the commonest of the wild-growing shrubs here, retains a battered flower array but there are others too, like a bright pink one, which Kate calls the ‘rubber glove plant’ as the petals resemble tiny surgical gloves.

There are berries too, which come in a variety of colours. The black ones here are produced by one of the least endearing plants we have found here. An invasive creeper, it is tough and well armed, both the stem and the leaf edges being lined with tiny sharp hooks which grab and tear at clothing and which will seize passing legs in an instant.

Then there are ‘fluff’ plants which have bunches of seeds each equipped with a strand of a white whispery material just waiting for a passing animal or a gust of wind to carry it away.

Very soon now we will be treated to a fantastic visual spectacle when the Mimosa flowers open. Today we caught the first glimpse of what is to come on a roadside tree in Torri. These trees are grown commercially here and the flowers sold for use in decorating festival floats and floral displays. There are orchards full of them, whole valleys covered with their fine green leaves and yellow flower sprays just about to burst into vibrant bloom for January is their month. They can wait no longer than this.

One final natural oddity is shown in this picture.
Our mountain vegetation is usually thorny or spiky and there is one shrub, a sort of broom, that grows long, sharp, spears with needle-like points.
This one grows beneath an olive tree and a ripe olive has fallen and skewered itself on one of the spikes.
Of course I could have set up this shot myself just for fun…. but I didn’t.

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