The academic year has started with anticipated hiccups and, in fact, the courses that we intended to open in October had to be cancelled (apart from two small groups) before they even started. As I’m writing these lines the general mood is that a second lockdown is imminent. After a summer devoted to bee keeping, chickens and brewing we are now winding down and restarting to concentrate on developing our online presence. As the pandemic lingers on world-wide we thought of trying to see the positives (ha ha) and focus on things we could do online with our teaching as well as going back to some of our original ideas when we first came here . This means that it’s back to weaving projects, home improvements and music. So, here is yet again a scattered overlook of our past-summer and autumn planning dotted between garden, animals, local politics (Elena is finally out of the administration!), building, using the bicycle, gearing up for online teaching and some very exciting personal news.
Animals, cats – lost and found
I’m starting with cats, so you can immediately enjoy some cute cat pictures but actually there is a nice story to it too, hopefully a suggestion on how things will develop this coming year.
We had a few losses of cats since our first adoption as we moved in. After our first cat was found dead hiding in the old pizza oven (could have been some poison he had eaten) we adopted two more kittens: Curiosaky and Mascherina.
A few months later, the female cat (Mascherina) climbed under the car of one of our evening course students and was found dead on the road the next morning. She left Curiosaky alone (who truly seemed depressed when Mascherina left) so we soon got another male kitten to let him take care of.
Nero, the black kitten arrived to us ill, fragile and with a cold, not a great start for the winter season. In effect, I think Nero owes his life to Curiosaky who adopted him immediately, we think that for Curiosaky it was a present to get a new friend after Mascherina’s departure.
Since then we added Tibs, a female kitten to the family, but Curiosaky and Nero always remained best friends.
We were afraid that as they grow up they’ll start behaving aggressive to each other and got Curiosaky sterilized when he was about nine months old.
Then late last June, Curiosaky just disappeared, with no idea of to where he could be going or how. We hardly had anyone coming with a car and since Mascherina had gone we’ve been taking extra care when people drive in or out. We knew cats can go for a period of up to a few weeks to search for adventures (though Curiosaky was sterilized so there was less chance fot it to be that long). We were pretty desperate he’ll never be found. The kids had dreams of seeing him and it was difficult to have these talks where you lay down the facts and the reasonable probability of him coming back alive.
At a certain point, we even contacted a family that had claimed to have had seen a similar cat in Nonantola, which they adopted for a short time, but then somehow they claimed it had escaped (and we just thought that they changed their mind on handing him over to us). After four months of hoping for the best, we all got to grips (even the kids) with the fact that either he got runover by a car, hunted by a fox or dog or was adopted, somehow, by a new family.
Then one day, just out of the blue, a couple of weeks ago, on an early evening when the sun had just started setting, Elena hears a recognisable meowing from the bushes behind the chicken coop. Curiosaky had returned, slightly frightened, skinny (so probably not adopted by a family) but the same Curiosaky. He was accepted immediately by Nero and Tibs but let to settle in a corner. Maybe they also couldn’t believe their eyes and felt a bit doubtful it was really him.
So he is back now, and hasn’t left since. Got back to his habits of climbing on the front door and peeking through the windows, meowing more than the others for attention and food.
I do hope this a sign for things to come. It’s been a period for everyone where it seems that good things are being lost. Maybe even for ever. But somehow I hope this story is a sign that somethings will come back. Let us hope!
Autumn is here, the leaves are falling and leave an orange, red and yellow carpet in the garden. The chickens love pecking under it to find some juicy insects. Our flock has grown to 17 heads, 3 of which are roosters and I dread the time I’ll have to keep the male number lower… we intend to do it in time for the coming Christmas dinner. I know I can do it like I did it the first time. But, honestly I started getting emotionally attached to those creatures, and it’ll be tough. They are the best animal one can have: they eat all your scrap food, provide you with lots of eggs and quality compost for the vegetable plot, they do not require that much work and economically speaking I’d say they are the most profitable. Don’t forget that the crowing sounds remind you that you live in the countryside and, just that alone, makes me wake up with a smile. If you ever think of starting with live stock, get chickens and you won’t regret it. We might be getting, as a present, five more chickens next week!
Elena’s political adventures, from my point of view
One of the reasons I haven’t been writing much lately is that Elena had embarked on a roller coaster experience in the local politics from June last year, and it seemed that everything I would write in public or would say might be scrutinised by someone with a political agenda. In fact, I was pretty much asked to keep a low profile. Unfortunately, all I really wanted to write about was those political adventures and how they affected our family project – it was too much of a big impact to let it slip away. It felt false to write about something else and ignore the burning part inside me… so I just left it alone and focused on blog posts that promoted our teaching activity. Now, however, Elena has quit the administration work and although there is some sense of bitterness from frustrating experience, we are all relieved, I feel I can write about it. Obviously, from my anti-politician point of view. I hope Elena doesn’t mind.. being so careful not to push political buttons.
Just to make it clear, I never got a trust worthy impression from any politician, they’re ambition to be part of the governing administration is always doubtful to me (is it the love of power? the crave for ‘respect’? or just the fact that they don’t have any expertise and couldn’t do anything else that made them go into administration?). Yes, surely there are people that come to politics because they really want to make a change or push a certain agenda until it is passed (this obviously is why Elena wanted to have a go at it). But seeing the dirty tricks and the sometimes impossible compromises they have to make in order to advance on their agenda seems to make them become untrustworthy .. they claim it is because they have to play their cards well. When it comes to being vague on certain issues or aligning or being silent when there are decisions made against their own beliefs – In my opinion, that sounds the alarm bell and calls for dumping them in the political recycling bin when the first red line is crossed. Take it for example when the 5SM aligned with Salvini and stayed silent on his anti-immigration advances, that burnt their credibility, in my eyes, immediately (though I already suspected they’ll be up for a coalition with the devil before election day). These politicians have no excuses.
As for the local experience, as I see it post mortem, since Elena is not the type that would compromise with such terms.. I couldn’t see her survive for more than a few months when she just started. She did much better than I expected but the cost to her sanity, as well as the price on us as a family was quite dear, when troubles started coming out, she was asked to keep silent and to see if there is scope for improvement or dialogue (no there wasn’t!). Hearing the inside stories of how the administration is run, how decisions are being made and how information is deliberately hidden from members within the administration and from the public made our blood boil. On some of these issues, it even seemed at some point, that not making these issues go out to the public is actually like being part of the crime. From letting the police making urban planning decisions, not listening to experts on urbanisation issues (oh, yes, I know that listening to experts these days isn’t very popular), actively trying to shut out local societies and organisations from receiving information or being allowed to participate in dialogue to voicing racist and misogynist views within the administrational meetings. I really think that the public should know exactly who they have voted for and make these politicians liable.
Elena had lots of ideas to promote and worked hard on planning a bicycle path that would connect Modena and Nonantola, as well as for plans for post-covid emergency cycle lanes, soil preservation for the general urbanisation plan that is due to be submitted this year. That was a lot of work and contacts with urban planners and strategists. Nothing of this got materialized, there was just too much inner resistance from the Mayor and her co-workers. It looked like, even though this has been clearly stated in the coalition’s electoral programme, that everyone within the administration was in effect against any idea to promote cyclability and they had never even surfaced that back to their political parties. In general, the strategy seems to be hiding vital information from everyone and settling things within the group of counsellors.. obviously, within closed doors and with only another counselor from her political list, Elena was outnumbered. Elena was kept being attacked on the fact that we are unschoolers, as if she was undermining the political programme by this, she was silenced on her published book, anything really that came from her was hushed and marginalised. She got insults during meetings and I’ve learnt a great deal of Italian machoistic attitudes which I just couldn’t believe still exist and that are still accepted. I don’t even think the people who acted this way even realise how ugly it is or how ridiculous they are. Bottom line, none of the people in the administration seem to have expertise and/or ability to take decisions in their field of responsibility, they don’t even listen to the hired experts. Anyhow, this all ended mid October this year when both Elena and the vice Mayor had resigned together just because it was really impossible to work under these conditions anymore. I doubt Elena will ever tell the details of this adventure, probably wanting to let the civil list have a fresh new try with creating a future coalition. But for me this is all to show that no change is possible in the local arena if the very basics of dialogue are not changed fundamentally.
Plans for home improvements – the 110% energy governmental incentive
Since our inner insulation work to make up the teaching room and guest rooms was completed nearly two years ago, we haven’t done much in terms of building. The barn still remains the day-dream go-to place. It needs so much work that we can probably do anything with it: that pub, cultural centre, textile workshop and what not. However, our own home and stable suffers from the lack of proper windows (all single glazing) and with hardly any insulation. Anything that would improve on this could cost us a fortune. News is that, fortunately, as part of a European push to cut down on emissions, lower urbanization expansion and to help the building sector in these troubled times, there is a national incentive to fund 110% of home improvements that upgrade the energy efficiency in two levels – practically paying home owners to upgrade. Our farm house is currently on the upper limit of the G grade, which is very low but not too low that basic improvements won’t be significant. After we consulted a energy technician, it seems that with just external insulation and changing the window fittings, we could jump the two required levels for a 110% lending scheme. Obviously, the banks that absorb the long term refund want a fair share and thus, in reality, the 110% funding schemes turns out to be more like 90% funding for the homeowner directly. It’s still a great deal of help, and knowing that you pay 10% while the state provides the rest is a great feeling. Honestly, I think it’s a great way of providing work for builders, and really making home owners take that big step in making their houses more energy efficient. After three winters of struggling to maintain 17 C indoors as well as having leaking windows when it rains… I can tell you that we can hardly wait to see if we can go ahead with the project. I’m still warry of it not happening at all, there must be some small detail we haven’t understtod or taken in account. So far we have a team of a builder and energy consultant that are taking care of the small details, planning and legal part. We’ve got the details from the bank and quotes for new windows and doors. But I won’t party before it’s all done.
Meanwhile, we inherited Elena’s mother in law’s old kitchen that is planned to be replaced by a new one. So we were delighted to fit it in our old space. It feels like having a totally new kitchen.
Rounding up – cycling, online teaching and some personal news
We’ve turned 10,000 km on our cargo bike since it was bought in 2016. In reality we’ve done most of it (round 8,800 km) from the end of 2017. So that is nearly 3000 km per year, not including the errands we do with our ‘normal’ bicycles. 4 years without a car!
I’ve been saying for ages that we should add online materials for our students… this becomes a necessity during the pandemic. We’ve been rediscovering the potential of online teaching as we revert to individual Skype/Zoom lessons. But also the long forgotten video materials that can be used effectively as a support for our students in general. So it’s less talking from now on and starting to produce these videos we have been thinking about so long. Keep tuned!
Turned out to be a long post, so here is some personal news if you got all the way through to the bottom. Here it is: We are expecting a new baby girl next March and we are all very happy! The Old Stable project is expanding its membership. So far Elena and baby are doing well, we could just recently start feeling her kicks.
Hoping the new year brings lots of excitement and satisfaction. In the Jewish tradition on new year’s day it’s custom to dip an apple in honey to wish for a new year full of blessings and honey.
Jewish New year, falls after the end of summer after honey is collected so it nicely reflects nature’s gifts of the previous year.