Tuscan Tales Chapter 15 – Sausage Thief

There’s a little fat pig local to our area, and it’s delicious. Its name is ‘Cinta Senese’.  TheSenese’ part of the name stands for Siena, and you can see the first painting of it in the Palazzo Comunale in Siena, dating back to 1338. There it is, sporting a beautiful black coat and a white belt, or ‘cinta’. Hardy little thing, it clung on through the centuries, through thick and thin, and was in real danger of extinction just after World War Two. But above all it is tasty, and so farmers are breeding it again, and it is on the way up.


Cinta Senese pigs near Castellina
Cinta Senese pigs near Castellina

It is not as plentifully available to buy as the salsiccia toscana, but our butcher has it, and we have bought some as a special treat. Fabiana and her friend are coming over for supper and we want to thank her for all her help when we moved in.

It’s a lovely evening … warm on the terrace, and we tell Fabiana of our water problems. It seems we are sharing a dysfunctional borehole and the future looks bleak and unfriendly. ‘We are having an important meeting here tomorrow morning,’ I say. ‘Our neighbour Marciano is coming, and the new person who has just bought Stefan’s family’s little house above us. It is the three of us that will share this problem, and we simply have to sort it out.’

Fabiana tells us of the water diviner from Lamole. He is an old man, about 85, and so skilled at his job that French television did a documentary on him. ‘He will come to you,’ she says, ‘He won’t charge – it’s the love of his life.’

While we are chatting we hear a noise. ‘Don’t worry, it’s Cosimo’s cat!’ I say.

Later we hear it again … and turning around to the barbecue I see the most extra-ordinary looking dog. He’s light brindle, with Jack Russell legs and the low-slung body of a Bassett Hound. His face is the size of a soup plate and it is too large for his body.

The Sausage Thief
The Sausage Thief

He has a string of our precious ‘cinta senese’ sausages in his mouth and he shoots off through the old wooden gate with Liam in pursuit.  ‘Ahhhhhh!!’ shouts Liam, and the dog drops the sausages. But instead of running off, he turns in mid-flight, and, teeth bared, he goes for Liam. Liam stands his ground. ‘Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr!’ Liam yells at the dog, baring his teeth. With that the dog, with his teeth still bared, slinks off.

There’s a bite or two in a sausage, which we avoid, and Liam eats …

I must learn to make coffee. The whole group has arrived for todays ‘water crises meeting’  … Marciano, Susanna, who will help us translate, us and our new neighbour, Sebastiano. They have all asked for coffee. Sebastiano beams when introduced to me. He is in love with South Africa. ‘Ah … Stellenbosch,’ he says, ‘and Pinotage’. He speaks a smattering of English, very very little, but he tells Liam we are to come and dine in his restaurant. ‘Just for you, I will close my restaurant,’ he says, ‘I will cook you a wonderful meal, my speciality, myself, for free, and you will bring the wine from South Africa.’

The meeting starts well, and finally everyone is sitting around drinking my instant coffee – except for Marciano who shakes his head mournfully and says ‘Non, mi recordo!’ (No, I remember!) This is from the last time. I try to concoct an espresso in a small cup. It looks black and dubious but I put it in front of him anyway.

I hear a noise and get up and go out onto the terrace. The strange dog is back sniffing around the barbecue. I go to the door thinking what can I lob at him so that he never returns? I see the heavy rubberised door mat and I pick it up and lob it. As it sails through the air I feel some-one at my shoulder. It’s Sebastiano! It’s his dog!

‘Oops. Scusi,’ I say, ‘I thought it was a wild dog.’ ‘Didi Didi’ he yells. Didi stops in his tracks. Strange, slanty eyes look at me. I’m with Sebastiano now, I’m brave. ‘Didi Didi’ I say, moving closer. And Didi promptly rolls on his back to be tickled. Sebastiano is devastated by the tale of the three sausages. ‘I will buy you more’ he says.

But Sebastiano’s misery doesn’t end there. As they walk up the hill past Cosimo he gets short shrift from the old man … for Didi, on the way down to his master, has bitten old Cosimo on the arm.

I try and introduce them, pointing out that Sebastiano has bought Stefan’s family’s house and so is now part of our small commune. But the old boy is clearly put out, and is barely civil to Sebastiano. He shows us the Didi’s teeth marks, shaking his head and pointing at the dog. Didi is going to be penned in …

Will Didi be penned in? With old Cosimo and Sebastiano getting off on such a bad footing will there be more bad blood? And what about me? After lobbing a very heavy mat at the precious Didi … will we ever get a restaurant closed, just for us, while the owner cooks? Clearly living in commune is far more complicated than I thought.


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Tuscan Tales Chapter 14 – Country Cacophony

Nights in the countryside take on a rhythm of their own.  In our valley, in the evening time when the long shadows start to fall, and the heat begins to wane a little, doors begin to open and our neighbours appear.  Manuela, on the west side, will call to Pasquale still working in the fields, and on the eastern side Leila will take the two dogs, Lily and Beethoven, for a walk.  At the moment Lily is on a long piece of rag so that she cannot stray far.  She is wearing socks on her back paws and is a sorry sight.  Some hunter has put poison down in our woods and Lily has trodden in it.

Beethoven and Lily are tied up at night, each to their own tree, below our bedroom window. They have to be. For in the middle of the night both the deer and a large herd of wild pigs, or ‘cinghiali’, come through, foraging along the hillside and down towards the stream. The dogs would be after them like a shot, and the enormous tusks of a cinghiale would do more damage than even the hunter’s poison. Once Leila has tied up the dogs, and we’ve had a little chat in my experimental Italian, she disappears back inside. Then old Enzio locks up his beloved fowls and follows Leila indoors. All around the old house you can hear doors closing and shutters being secured, for there is a nasty little Tiger mosquito around at the moment.

"She is wearing socks on her back paws ..."
“She is wearing socks on her back paws …”

So, as the darkness settles around the valley, you might think a blessed peacefulness would too. But right now the nights are not peaceful. In the early hours of the morning, as the cinghiali move through, Beethoven sets up a steady bark. Lily accompanies him with an incessant whine, no doubt a lament on dogs compelled to wear bootie-socks. Last night a cat joined the chorus – to such a pitch that for the first time ever, old Enzio, who is as deaf as a post, suddenly appeared at the dogs’ tree using some Italian words that have not been in my weekly Italian vocabulary lessons. And then there’s the cock.

It was one of our visitors, earlier on in the summer, who came down to the kitchen one morning in a state of apoplectic shock.

‘Morning Marion, sleep well?’ I asked.

‘Not at all’ she replied. ‘It’s that b—– cock. I think I’m going to wring its b—– neck.’

I was mildly surprised. We’ve sort of got used to Enzio’s cock – a tiny, colourful Chianti cock who struts around his hens with the air of an Italian gigolo surrounded by pretty girls in a small piazza. Sure, Enzio’s cock crows every morning at about sunrise, but it’s all part of the Tuscan country dream, or so we thought. Not so Marion.

"... a tiny, colourful Chianti cock ..."
“… a tiny, colourful Chianti cock …”

‘We all know our nursery rhymes,’ she said ‘and we all know our animal sounds. That’s elementary. Now this b—– cock doesn’t. It’s left off the ‘doo!’

‘What on earth are you on about?’ I asked.

‘Well it does,’ she said. ‘It’s supposed to say Cock – a – doo – dle – DO. Five syllables. And it only says Cock – a – doo – dle. Four syllables. It leaves off the DO every time, and I’ve had no sleep at all, waiting for the wretched DO and I’m fed up with it.

So right now in the heart of a peaceful Tuscan valley the nights are not for sleeping. Once the deer, the cinghiali, the cats and the foxes have done their bit to keep us awake, we have to listen carefully. And my Italian vocabulary lessons are at stake. For I have learnt that Italian cocks say ‘chicchirichi’.

Chi – cchi – ri – chi?  It seems like four syllables to me.

Does this mean that Italian cocks are different from English cocks … four syllables and not five syllables? And for that matter, between cocks, does a syllable matter?


gallo nero


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Tuscan Tales Chapter 13 – The Birth of Beethoven

Old Enzio’s dog followed him everywhere. He was one of those dogs made up from every other dog on earth … four long legs supported a stocky body from which various coloured hair sprouted … like old bits of coir that had escaped from a worn mattress.

"His name was Ringo ..."
“His name was Ringo …”

His head was elongated and faded old eyes peered out from bushy eyebrows. From underneath his jaw he sported a grey flecked goatee. His name was Ringo, why I never knew, and if you ever wanted to know where Enzio was, well – you just had to look for Ringo. ‘He adores that dog,’ said Leila, ‘I don’t know what he’ll do when Ringo goes.’

And so we watched Ringo’s failing health with trepidation, for as summer declined, so did he. His legs were shaky and many’s the time he would sit on the gravel road watching Enzio work in the field below. He was just too tired to get down there.

By Christmastime Enzio and Leila had decided that Ringo could not last the year out and that it would be best to get a new dog straight away. And what better Christmas present than a little puppy for their grand-daughter Rosanna? Rosanna would be thrilled, Ringo could teach the puppy good habits, and it would lessen the pain for everyone when Ringo did go. It seemed a neat solution all round.

The morning after Christmas there was a knock at our front door, and we heard a small voice calling ‘permesso?’ .. may I come in? And there stood Rosanna with a tiny bundle of spots in her arms. It seemed sort of like a Dalmatian turned into a plump little milk bottle, sporting legs. ‘She’s called Lily,’ Rosanna told us, ‘and she’ll be Ringo and my friend.’

"Lily ... lovely, but wild ..."
“Lily … lovely, but wild …”

Over the next few months Lily grew into a lovely, but wild dog. Ringo’s innate good manners seemed to pass her by as she happily dug up our bulbs, tipped over boxes of grass seed and sat on small plants. More Dalmatian and less brain seemed to be the order of the day.

Then, even though she was still only a puppy, Lily suddenly lost her exuberance. She seemed lethargic, content to lie under the shade of a tree and let the garden be. And even though we are surrounded by solid country folk, who know all about the birds and the bees, we all missed it. Lily was pregnant.

But how? Our big house has no other dogs and our small valley is isolated. No-one even thought of Ringo, who by this time was virtually at death’s door, and could barely stand for more than a couple of minutes.

Then Lily’s puppies were born … all nine of them. Eight tiny little girls with soft white fur and little black spots, and the ninth, oh yes, Ringo’s son. There the little chap stood. A true chip off the old bloc. Patchy coir hair, bushy eyebrows, and even a moustache under the chin. There was no mistaking it.

"Ringo's son ... Beethoven"
“Ringo’s son … Beethoven”

Once again Rosanna stood with a small puppy in her arms, and once again she had the honour of naming him. ‘I am going to call him Beethoven,’ she said, and like his father Ringo, no-one quite knew why that particular name was chosen.

Everyone came to admire the little miracle, but there was none prouder than the ancient father. For Ringo had lived to see his son, and as if his mission in life had finally been accomplished, shortly after this he simply rolled over and died.

"... none prouder than the ancient father ..."
“… none prouder than the ancient father …”


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