A Small Place in Italy
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In 1967 Eric and Wanda Newby fulfilled a long-cherished dream when they bought a run-down farmhouse in northern Tuscany, in the foothills of the Italian Alps. They were the first foreigners to live in the region. A Small Place in Italy describes how the house was restored with the help of their neighbors, a colorful east of characters who quickly befriended the Newbys.
With his characteristic wry humor and sharp eye for the quirks of human nature, Eric Newby paints an unforgettable picture of rural Italy and its people. The rhythms and rituals of country life - harvesting grapes, making wine, hunting for wild mushrooms - are lovingly evoked, along with the storybook landscapes and changing seasons. At the center of his memoir is the farmhouse itself, which from unpromising beginnings - tileless roof, long-abandoned septic tank and mice the size of small cats - was gradually restored.
extraordinarily rapid change and transition. One moment Tellaro was a fishing village with a few artists hidden away in it; the next it had been ‘discovered’ by senior people in Fiat and Olivetti and suchlike organizations, who saw it as an ideal place in which to immure their wives and families during the long Italian summer, less boring than Forte dei Marmi. A place to which they could drive down from Turin or Ivrea, or wherever it was, on Friday evenings in a couple of hours or so, driving
space shaded by magnificent plane trees below the ramparts at the lower end of the town. It took hours for these market people to unload all the merchandise from their vehicles and set it up on the stalls. It was difficult to imagine anyone unpacking, for example, several hundred pairs of shoes, setting them out on a stall and then, a few hours later, packing the whole lot up again; but this is what the market people did, six or even seven days a week. For them every day was a festa. Normally
wired-on metal caps to foil the dreaded mice. This was the moment, when the wine came gushing out of the barrel, when we each took a glass of the new wine and drank it, still foaming, and this was the moment when Signor Giuseppe always said, ‘Questo vino è una cannonata! Un vino genuino!’ And both Signora Angiolina and Signora Fernanda, and Wanda and myself would all concur. ‘What do you really think of it?’ I asked Wanda the first time. ‘I think it’s pretty awful; but then I don’t like new
sun, and the pickers, both male and female, also. As we stripped vine after vine rather like locusts, we began to identify things that we would remember the next year and in the following years; but this first vendemmia was a journey of discovery: a hollow tree with vines and wild roses climbing up it, only the roses reachable, even with a ladder, the grapes blooming mockingly overhead; a secretive-looking barn without a single window in it; a grass-grown crater made by one of the enormous
at the pass we got water from a spring called the Fontana del Vescovo, the Bishop’s Spring. The next part, after the Passo di Badignana, was the most exciting of the entire walk. From now on, for a considerable distance, the crinale was a real knife-edge. Here, one mis-step to the left and you would fall without a single bounce into the head of some Tuscan valley that had chestnuts, vines and olives growing in it. On the other side, facing the Adriatic, there were beech forests, oaks, some