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I awoke with a start when Paul burst in to say that the Vet would be here in 5 minutes. It was time for the dogs to have their annual check-ups and vaccinations. Maurizio, who we have come to consider as a good friend, is very sympathetic to our cause and very kindly only charges for the medication and not for his time.
As we walked around to the front of the house I noticed the patio was littered with black specks of ash, and as I looked up it became clear that a fire was close-by. Columns of grey / brown smoke were billowing from behind the hill in the Valle Staura area. We immediately phoned 115 to alert the Fire Brigade.
Maurizio then arrived and we tried to concentrate on the job in hand, of getting the dogs inoculated.
Meanwhile the smoke continued to rise into the sky, swirling in the light breeze. Before long we could hear the crackling as the bush fire neared the summit. The Polizia Forestale and the Vigili arrived and I directed them to drive up the rough track on our neighbour’s land, that leads to the top of the hill.
One of our guests, Andrew White began to video the scene ……. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vbf-2EPMKUg
The bright orange flames soon became visible as they continued to ferociously devour all in their path. The firemen began dousing the edge of the inferno which was by now descending our flank of the rocky limestone slope, and scrubland. This is composed of densely growing vegetation such as broom, heather, juniper, myrtle, rock roses, wild asparagus and stramma grass. The fire also took hold of many Cork Oak trees along the way. The terrain was parched as we have in the last month or so, been regularly experiencing temperatures in the mid 30’s centigrade.
I and all the members of the White family speedily ran down to the edge of the wood, which borders our olive grove. Andrew and Paul lugged down the petrol driven pump, to where we had previously had the forethought to install a water stand pipe. Here we were able to fill up a large tub with water, to act as a reservoir, and hence deliver water through the long yellow hose that we would normally use for spraying the olive trees.
Paul and Andrew intrepidly took this hose into the woods spraying the edges of the fire that was steadily creeping through the undergrowth, while the rest of us frantically filled buckets and any containers we could find with water in an effort to dampen down the boundary of the wood to prevent the fire from reaching our olive trees.
At last a fire fighting helicopter arrived with its first bucket of water to release over the fire, dowsing an area of the flames.
It then returned in the direction of Fondi Lake to refill and repeat the procedure. Indeed the helicopter to and froed many times and then a second helicopter joined in the fire-fighting effort.
In between the skillful helicopter manoeuvres and drops Paul and Andrew continued to work on the edge of the fire. Yet as one area seemed to come under control another section would flare up necessitating taking up new positions along the creeping front.
Eventually the Vigili thought we had all managed to get the fire under control, and we continued to douse down stubborn little pockets.
I chatted to the head of the Volunteer Fire-Fighting team, who informed me that the fire had started the evening before in Valle Staura, but because it was dark the helicopters were unable to fly. I asked what he considered to be the cause to the fire, and he replied that he was pretty sure it had been started intentionally and that the suspected culprits were local herdsmen or hunters, who try to clear troublesome undergrowth to enrich pasture-land and stimulate regrowth. There had been a spate of local fires during the last few days and weeks, far too many to have been all started naturally. Indeed, in Italy, it is said that 98% of forest fires are caused by people while only 2% by natural phenomena. One night recently, during the Feast of the Madonna della Cività, a large fire had raged on one of the hills that encircle the town. The problem, the fireman said, is that it is difficult to catch the arsonist with such malicious intentions in the actual act.
Around mid afternoon, seemingly the job was done, the helicopters having returned to base.
We adjourned to the upstairs balcony for a most welcome cup of tea. However, from this vantage point, and only a couple of mouthfuls of tea later, it became very obvious that under the tree canopy, in the most dense patches of parched undergrowth the fire had rekindled and ominous columns of smoke began to rise once again like the proverbial phoenix.
So once again Paul and Andrew dashed back down, refilled the pump’s motor with petrol and set to work tackling the re-energised flames within the woods.
After another hour or so, Paul was suffering badly from heat and exhaustion, and was forced to sit down, before Andrew drove him back to the house in our car, where Paul had to retire and take to his bed for a while.
In the meantime I joined the White family went back on the balcony to keep an eye on things. Before long a new large plume of brown smoke appeared on the hillside ……. http://youtu.be/QBickbHENdE
I phoned 115 once again, and before long we once again heard fire trucks in the vicinity, and shortly afterward the familiar and welcome hum of the helicopter making its way in our direction.
The helicopter tackled the new region of fire.
The rest of us had to start again working on small persistent pockets of fire which stubbornly held on.
At this point our Italian guests returned from the beach, and rushed down to find us. Valter asked me to find some spades. It turned out that he had had experience as a Volunteer Fire Fighter in the Torino area – what a wonderful choice of guest to have at this critical moment !!!
Paul was by now feeling a little better and he helped locate the required tools. Valter, using his invaluable experience, began moving burning chunks of debris away from the fresh and untouched vegetation, to areas that had already been consumed by the fire, where they could burn out harmlessly. Meanwhile Paul and Andrew continued dousing down along the front edge.
By the end of light, we were exhausted, and had done all we could physically do, so we retired back to the house to shower off the soot and ash of the day’s toil.
Andrew and Jenny and family had very kindly prepared a meal for us to share with them all. As we dined on the balcony we watched the glowing embers of tree trunks that had succumbed to the flames.
The next day, in the heat of the day small areas of our charred woodland began to smoke ominously, and we spotted flames in an area close to the edge of the wood. Once again we all sped into action, getting the pump working and handing out buckets of water. Thankfully it did not take long to get these odd glowing patches extinguished.
We took a drive around to the far side of the hill to survey the damage in Valle Staura, where despite the fact that the fire had been largely extinguished, we could clearly see that some large sections of olive groves had been consumed, and there were several olive trees still burning.
We cannot thank the White family enough for their sterling fire-fighting efforts. We don’t know how we would have managed without you. Many thanks to Valter and family also.
The fire-fighting team ………..
Andrew, Ricky, Shannon, Caitlin, Niamh, Jenny, Bethan, Laura, Valter, Andrea, Matteo
Thank you all !!!
An Italian Newspaper report of the fire:
Photos of last year’s fire that came close to Tre Cancelle:
Our first fire at Tre Cancelle in 2008:
Also during June we were to welcome some very special guests
Joan and Tony from Cornwall.
Dear Joan has been incredibly kind to us over the last few years, sending regular donations towards the “Woof-Gang” fund.
In fact we and the “Woof-Gang” can’t thank Joan enough for her continual moral and financial support.
Having been able to find a suitable dog-sitter for their own dog Maisie, this year Tony and Joan decided to come and pay us a visit at “Tre Cancelle” and meet the members of the “Woof-Gang” for the first time, face to face.
One day we decided to pool our energy and give all the pooches a bath, before administering their Frontline treatment. We filled up a large plastic vat with water and one by one the dogs were “processed”, some of the dogs accepted their fate more calmly than others !!!
Flossie whose long coat of hair was badly matted also had to undergo a rather undignified haircut, however I am sure she felt much better for it afterwards.
We would also like to take the opportunity to express special thanks to Diana in Queensland, Australia for so kindly sending gifts and goodies for the dogs. Diana, we very much look forward to seeing you again this coming September.
Joan is a very green fingered and enjoyed helping us out in the garden. She and works as volunteer gardener at Mount Edgcumbe House and Country park near Torpoint in Cornwall.
In the heat of the day Tony much enjoyed the benefits of the refreshing pool.
One day we took Tony and Joan on a trip to Cassino, first to see the Commonwealth War Cemetery and then on to Montecassino Abbey and its interesting Museum.
Here you can see some of my Flickr photos of Montecassino / Cassino :
You can find out more about Montecassino at our South Lazio website:
During Tony and Joan’s stay, Paul set about making some homemade liqueurs. Nocino is made from green walnuts, which traditionally are gathered on the 24th June, on the Feast of St. John The Baptist.
As it was in fact the 25th June Paul took 25 immature walnuts, still in their shells, and cut them into quarters.
These were added to a demi-john into which was poured a litre of neat alcoholic spirit.
Paul then added a cinnamon stick and 5 cloves, and put it aside for 40 days. The resulting liquor is then drained and filtered. Then between 300 and 500gms of sugar is dissolved in approximately 750ml to 1 litre of water to make a syrup, according to how sweet you wish the resulting liqueur to be. This is then added to the walnut flavoured alcohol. Nocino has an interesting taste, slightly herby and medicinal.
We also made liqueurs using more of our home grown fruit, one with sour amarena cherries.
Once again we have had a glut of plums so we have tried our hand at making some Plum liqueur and Plum Gin, as well ask making 32 jars of Plum Jam and another 32 jars of Plum Chutney !!!
We are extremely happy with the new swimming pool at Tre Cancelle. We are confident that it has been a good investment.
Paul has constructed a little white picket fence and we have planted tubs with colourful geraniums. We have also purchased new sunbeds, deck chairs and patio furniture to finish it off.
During the European Football championships we decided to get into the spirit of things and decorated the house with Italian flags.
Italy did well to get to the final, however was eventually beaten by Spain. Well done Italia !!!
It was around this time that we welcomed a lovely young family from Ireland.
The two young lads really enjoyed splashing about in the pool.
One day we invited our friends, Nandi and Davide and their 3 children, to also come and try out the pool – and it seems a splendid time was had by all.
In the evening, to round things off we had a barbeque and enjoyed a lovely serata together.
We recently took a short drive to the nearby picturesque seaside resort of Gaeta, during the Yacht Med Festival which was being held between 20th and 29th April.
Gaeta has ancient maritime traditions as it has long been an important port of trade, a key export being “Itrana” Olives, which are more commonly known as “Gaeta Olives” . The Gulf of Gaeta has a spectacular backdrop as the Aurunci Mountains tumble down to meet the sea.
This Mediterranean festival was to focus on the economy of the sea, sailing, fishing, the environment, culture and tourism. Along the long seafront boulevard there were numerous exhibition stands promoting an array of products and services related to these themes.
On show were of course many boats of all shapes, sizes and prices.
The Guardia di Finanza had opened one of their training ships to the public.
For the first time we were also to enter the premises of the Guardia di Finanza’s Scuola Nautica at the end of the peninsular known as Punta Stendardo. It was most interesting to see the beautiful old town and its cathedral from new vantage points, which gave the vistas an entirely new perspective.
Here on show were martime exhibits including a model of the John Cabot’s (or Giovanni Cabot0′s) ship the “Matthew”. It is believed that he was born in Gaeta, although other sources give his birthplace as Genoa. He became an English navigator and explorer, having settled in Bristol in the 1490′s. He set sail from Bristol in May 1497, and landed in June on what is now called Cape Breton Island. Then he sailed along the coasts of Labrador, Newfoundland, and New England, believing that he had reached north-western Asia.
Across the bay echoed the sound of strong rhythmical drumming. As we wandered back through the old town it became apparent that the reverberations were emanating from a troop of drummers and flag throwers, dressed in colourful medieval costumes.
We looked on as the sbandieratori seemingly effortlessly waved, twirled and tossed their heraldic standards into the air.
Traditionally, in times gone by, such bands of brave men would have lead their troops into battle.
Returning to matters nautical – Gaeta is the home port of the 6th Fleet Flagship USS Mount Whitney.
On the 20th May Gaeta will be in the forefront of the sailing news, as it is to be the starting point of the 2012 Rolex Volcano Race. From Gaeta the crews will race past the Pontine Islands and reach Capri to complete the first leg of the event. After the stop-over on the Isola Azzurra, the boats then race across the Tyrrhenian Sea and towards the Aeolian Islands which include Stromboli, Vulcano and Alicudi, a volcanic archipelago just north of Sicily. The long distance race of more than 400 nautical miles will finish at the beautiful Island of Capri.
We wish all the contestants fair winds and God speed.
By the way – I have recently updated my webpages about the beautiful and interesting town of Gaeta – Please do take a minute or two to take a look:
This year at Christmas-time we thought it would be good to take our friends, who were visiting us from Wales, to see an Italian “Presepio Vivo” – a “Live Nativity”.
The little medieval town of Maranola, near Formia, has become well known for this popular event, and this Christmas of 2011 was to be the town’s 37th edition, with presentations being held on several evenings: 26 December; the 1st and the 6th of January (the Epiphany).
This is a wonderful event where the locals work closely together as a community to put on a re-enactment of the Nativity story.
As “this is Italy” the event was a little late in getting underway, so as the queue of people waited patiently, some Ciociaria zampogna players (wearing their typical form of footware – le ciocie) began to pipe their traditional folk music and carols.
Finally as we began to make forward progress and at last we entered the old Medieval part of town though an ancient gateway.
It seemed as if we were taking a step back in time. Throughout the labyrinth of narrow winding streets and alleys of Maranola, scenes of typical village life of years gone by was being portrayed by the townspeople.
In old store-rooms and cellars along the way, costumed locals, both young and old, depicted characters carrying out their various trades, every day chores and typical handicrafts.
There were groups singing and dancing to traditional music.
There were also stalls handing out tasters of local produce to sample enroute.
As we meandered our way onwards and upwards through the old town there seemed to be something of interest around every corner.
As we neared the highest point of the town we came to the square by the old Caetani tower, which dates back to the 1300′s. Here there was a charming live tableau depicting the nativity scene, farm animals, a stable with Mary and Jesus and a real little baby lying in the manger.
The trail next lead us into the nearby church, the Chiesa di San Luca Evangelista, who is Maranola’s patron saint. The church has some ancient frescoes.
Next we entered the beautiful church dedicated to Santa Maria dei Martiri which is ornately decorated. Here there was a beautiful crib with hand-made terracotta figurines which are said to date back to the 16th century.
Thank you to the people of Maranola and the Associazione Culturale for their hard work in putting on such a wonderful Presepe Vivo. Well done to each and every one who took part.
For more information about the town of Maranola see my website: http://maranola.shapcott-family.com
Sadly this event was severely marred by some very inclement wet and windy weather, but I did manage to take a couple of pictures. It was such a shame as the villagers had worked so hard to organise this event.
I love their wooly hats – but it really was freezing cold !!!
I hope the villagers of Campodimele will try to hold this event again next year, if so we will be there for sure !!!
For more information about the town of Campodimele see my website: http://campodimele.shapcott-family.com
When Elsie, and two of her belly-dancing friends, Karen and Sylvia, volunteered to come and help us with the olive harvest, I begged them to bring their costumes, so that perhaps we could put on a little show.
They have been attending belly-dancing classes for several years, perfecting the necessary muscle control and complex choreographed manoeuvres of this dance form. They belong to a dance troupe who perform locally in South Wales.
I organised for the “Belly-Dancing Extravaganza” to take place one evening at the Bellavista Restaurant, which is run by our good friends – la famiglia Riccardi.
We had invited several of our Italian friends from Itri, some of whom have known Kay and Elsie for many years now, but in true Italian fashion, up until the last minute we had no firm idea of how many people would be able to attend.
We arrived in good time, so that the girls had time to dress and prepare themselves.
Then, one by one our invited friends started to come through the door and it soon became apparent that there was going to be a good turnout for the evening’s entertainment. This resulted in augmenting the girls’ pre-performance nerves, which were already running somewhat high.
The girls looked absolutely stunning as they elegantly swished their way onto the dance floor.
Their glamorous costumes were richly bejewelled with sequins, glass beads and jingling coins.
Each had taken great care in putting together their exotic, eye-catching ensembles.
Sylvia dressed in rich purple …..
Karen dressed in vivid scarlet …..
and Elsie in opulent black and gold …..
As the rhythmic music began the girls began to gracefully undulate and gyrate, whirling and twirling, with a shimmy or two of the hips. Their elegant flowing movements were seemingly effortless.
The audience was totally captivated by their magnificent performance.
Especially Massimo !!!
Later members of the audience were invited onto the dance floor to try their hand at some of the typical moves. Some individuals turned out to be somewhat more competent than others, which resulted in much hilarity !!!
The evening proved to be a great success, and was enjoyed by all.
A big Thank You to the Belly-Dancing Girls from South Wales !!!
The next day the “Welsh Girls” were keen to get back to work.
We threw down the gauntlet saying that the most olives ever gathered to take down to the mill in a single drop was 400 kilos. The girls were determined to beat this record over the next two days.
We all got into the swing of things, and worked really hard and efficiently as a team.
Yet there was also time for a great deal of joviality, general larking about and of course cups of tea.
That afternoon Moustapha, our 7 ft Senegalese friend from the market, also volunteered to lend a helping hand … he was ideal for reaching the loftier branches with the olive clapper !!!
The next morning the girls were up early and worked all day like crazy to fill more cases with olives.
By the end of that day we had gathered 408 kilos of olives, beating the previous record by 8 kilos.
Well done everyone !!!
We then loaded up the car with the 21 cases of olives.
Sincere thanks to Kay, Elsie, Karen and Sylvia, and not forgetting kind Moustapha for their hard graft and sterling efforts over the past week. We couldn‘t have done it without you. Well done !!!
You may have thought that the “Welsh Girls” would have been exhausted after their laborious day …..
But No !!! They went on to perform a Belly Dancing Extravaganza at the Bellavista Restaurant in Itri that evening !!!
See next post !!!
The Belly Dancing Extravaganza !!!
The following day the “Welsh Girls” deserved a well earned day off.
We thought that they could benefit from some retail therapy, so with it being a Wednesday, we took them to the colourful Gaeta market. Here there is an array of stalls selling almost everything under the sun.
The girls made some new friends.
This included the 7ft tall Moustapha from Senegal who runs an stall selling handbags.
We then proceeded along the coast road to Sant’ Agostino beach, midway between Gaeta and Sperlonga. and had a snack lunch at one of our favourite little haunts, the Miramare. Outside tables look directly onto the beach. It was a beautifully day and we all enjoyed the warm rays of the sun.
We then drove on to Sperlonga, where we showed them delights of this magical little town.
All in all … a very beautiful day !!!
For some time we have had the idea of a Front Gateway on our wish list, but sadly our funds had never quite managed to stretch to this. However recently Paul discovered he had been left a modest sum by his late uncle.
We really felt that, regarding security and privacy, a gate would give us added peace of mind, especially for the Woof-Gang, having sadly lost our dear old Deefer to a car accident earlier this year.
Thus, we enlisted the help of our friendly builder Stefano, who has worked on many of our building projects here at “Tre Cancelle”.
Stefano had in mind to create some stone gateposts, with a steel beam at their core to support whatever gates we later selected. He and his loyal team, arrived early on the Tuesday morning to commence work and wasted no time in getting stuck in.
To provide added strength the two pillars were to be connected by a steel reinforced trench.
Whilst for the time being, it was intended to be a simple gate Stefano, as always, thought ahead making sure to install cable conduit for the provision of possible additional features such as motors for electronic gates, lights and intercom system.
Our land is liberally scattered with limestone outcrops, and beautiful pieces of rock appear when you are working the land. Over the years we have been carefully conserving these, knowing that eventually the time would come when they would be put to good use.
The builders spent much time on selecting and shaping individual rocks by hand for the construction.
Little by little the stone pillars took shape.
Along the top, at appropriate distances he cemented in some water-filled plastic bottles, which once everything was set, could be removed to provide mounting holes for fence posts to be installed. We had seen this nifty trick in construction many times before, but for years did not realise why it was done.
Finally a wire mesh fence was fitted along the top of the wall.
We now await the steel gate frames to be made and delivered by the blacksmith.
Stefano, Pasquale and Cipriano