Sagra dei Pomi… prep

Ahhh, yes… the quiet of our little community of Codiponte is currently interrupted with the constant sounds of hammers, drills, shouting in dialect, tractors running to & fro’ and other disturbances. Often the fracas persists until well after Midnight some evenings. This bites into The Dog’s Sleep Time. Can only mean the villagers are well on their to setting up what-all for the Sagra dei Pomi 2015… September 4 – 5 – 6.

Not an inspiring assemblage so far as seen on this morning’s W-a-l-k with The Dogs. They could not understand why we were doing Our Afternoon Trek in the morning. Here are some rather desultory photos of tent-central… the middle one is the start of the announcer’s stand…

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Not to worry though. String-lights, coloured mini-flags, and the country decor of the sagra traditionally revolving around hay stuffed into hand-me-down clothes for the pupacci and the accoutrements of the local agriculture industry… disks from the olive presses, antique pitch-forks, baskets made of chestnut slats… plastered with bright flowers, and yet to be pulled out of storage or created ad hoc for placement nearer the dates. The main motive may be to distract from the generic tents destined for food-prep and as dining halls for the famished.

The sagra is an amazing magnet. The August vacations draw all sorts of UP’s… Unidentified Persons… to Codiponte. Well, they are UP’s to me. Children & teenagers in tow. What a joy it must be for the nonni. This Next Generation is immediately enslaved with building, painting and fine-tuning the famous sagra floats, the highlight of the sagra’s Sunday afternoon festivities. I can do without il Ballo dei Bambini which follows. But then, doing away with that act would kill the make-work scheme to sew the little one’s dance costumes. I can already hear the exclamations of the genitori e nonni… Come sono carini i nostri bambini. Instead, the floats bring out all the village’s prosciusto’s to ham it up with the crowd at Parade Time. Much more fun and worth a good laugh at their antics. About every male in the town falls into this yearly category. Most adults… and they are ENTIRELY male!!!… sacrifice their holidays, as their kids do, sweating in the sun or shivering by cool night stringing, hammering, building, cutting, cleaning, mowing and spiffying up the sagra infrastructure and environs. This predominantly male population is quite competent with those manly pursuits of electricity, plumbing and construction. Welding is surely the most popular. Give a Codiponti-guy a soldering torch and there is no stopping what can be melted together to outlast the sagra for years to come, if the acrid smoke is any indication. Everyone seems happy though… again, guys at work… and with n’er a complaint. They collaborate well with each. Odd for Italy perhaps, knowing how Italians can be.

So, here are a few attractions from last year’s Sagra dei Pomi in anticipation of this year’s fun… to be posted in September. Oh! And I’ll put in the gads now…

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Vacation rentals at il Poggiolo a Codiponte…

All 3 houses of il Poggiolo a Codiponte in the Lunigiana are available for vacation rentals… La  Casa Padronale is the summer residence and is available until the 31st of October. Its season re-opens on the 1st of April 2016. L’Appartamento Azzurro is the spring, summer and fall residence and is available until Epiphany on the 6th of January and it re-opens on the 1st of March 2016. No chilly New Year’s, thanks to a wood-burning fireplace. La Casetta is available through-out the year!!! Steam heat + a wood-burning fireplace. Please contact us at either… forrest@forrestspears.com… or through the custom travel and event planning service, Your Italian Concierge, at… advice@youritalianconcierge.comHope to see you soon!

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Vacation rentals at il Poggiolo…

All 3 houses of il Poggiolo a Codiponte in the Lunigiana are available for vacation rentals…

La  Casa Padronale is the summer residence and is available until the 31st of October. Its season re-opens on the 1st of April 2016.

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L’Appartamento Azzurro is the spring, fall and summer residence and is available until the 30th of November and its season re-opens on the 1st of March 2016, thanks to the wood burning fireplace.

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La Casetta is available all year-round!!! Steam heat AND a wood-burning fireplace too.

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Please contact us at… forrest@forrestspears.com… or through our travel & event planning site of Your Italian Concierge at… advice@youritalianconcierge.com

Hope to see you soon!

A medley of events this August afternoon…

IMG_5377IMG_5383The Italian festa on the 15th for the August summer holidays has come & gone. You & I ate for three days solid… pranzi, cocktails & cene… except for our hiatus to shop the Soffitta In Strada street flea-market in Sarzana. We bought these bunny wabbits. Then, an Italian House reader informed me that they are, in fact, hares!!! Gosh. Well, the black lacquered hare is mine. The hare vaaaase is You’s. The world still turns and we are happy about it.

CimiteroCodiponte is populated with folk I have never seen before. This typically happens in August. What does not normally occur is a group of Australians are gallavanting about the town. They’re from Perth. Only Aussies can pronounce the city’s name like they like. The noise is as if you have pursed your lips to let it out, but actually, it’s squeezed out from the palate. How the Perthians??? Sandgropers??? Mates??? can purse their palates is probably just another mystery to add to their far off land. How did these Aussies choose Codiponte? Well, Mr. Perth’s dad died. The fellow was born in Codiponte. He had brought the gentleman’s ashes to be placed in the local cemetery here. I ran into Mr. Perth while walking The Dogs. He was biking. He had a Billy-bongo outback hat on. Goes with the accent. After I had heard his explanation of why he & his family were tramping around the village, I replied that, in the future, it sure will be a long way to come to pay one’s respects and how come the ol’ dad had stipulated Codiponte for his final resting place? Mr. Perth replied he hadn’t. Part of him is buried in a cemetery in Perth and the other half is now here. Gosh. He wished me G’daeyee and off he peddled. Did he bring his bike from Perth too? Very fancy. Would’ve been better to have rented a car instead. They are car-less.

Ford Taurus Station-wagonMeanwhile, many villagers are working on the preparations for La Sagra dei Pomi, the oldest sagra around, and is scheduled for the first weekend in September… from Friday, the 4th to Sunday, the 6th. Three days of eating just like every other weekend it seems here. Che sara’ sara’. Yesterday, while out walking The Dogs… again and this is not the ONLY THING I DO!!!…  a group of men-folk were standing around a Navy-blue Ford Taurus stationwagon parked under the blighted trees below the Medieval bridge and right next door to the eventual fry-house for the sagra. Yum-yum… sgabei. Apparently, the men needed the car to be somewhere else to put a just delivered portable building down on the ground the car was occupying. The Dogs I went about our business only to find the same group standing around the car under the trees upon our return. Suddenly, before I could open my mouth, and bounding down the concrete ramp came a super-deluxe SUV cum truck tottin’ a orange jack on its flat-bed. And that is what they did… they jacked the car up and dragged it to another spot. Evviva!!! Minutes later, down was plopped the portable building. The men dispersed to purse their prep-programs. As you can tell, Life is really, really exciting here in Codiponte.

codiponte-old-village-tuscany-massa-e-carrara-italy-lunigiana-medieval-church-saints-cornelio-cipriano-built-th-44249801Codiponte has a priest. He came after the one before went mad. Yep, he went mad. The new one went and bought a dog. It’s a Pincher. Nice colour too. Kind of matches the priest’s outfit… dark, dull, brown-grey. The Dogs & I sometimes come across the pair on the dirt track to the Acqua Paradiso, the village’s local natural spring. The dog darts and bounces and leaps around. Scares the shit out Nina. If off her leash, she bolts for home. Moses ignores it, him with the collar, me with the leashes to sniff the environs. The priest’s dog has a defect… it howls with every toll of the priest’s church’s campanile. AYYYROOOOO!!! on the hour, the half-hour and the three times the bells rings like mad… sorry, not the best word to use here… rings and rings and rings in the 7AM Time-to-get-up, the Noon Time-to-go-home-to-eat and, finally, the 9PM Time-to-get-yourself-in-the-bed chimes. Whew. Amazing vocal cords has this priest’s dog!!! Kind of sad though. Doesn’t the priest KNOW his dog is lonesome? No surprise. The priest is clueless. One time at a Confirmation ceremony, he forgot the names of the nine Confirmation candidates. Noticing my shock, a local standing next to me bent towards me and said the priest has had zilch practice in human affairs. All he did before he was posted to Codiponte was to bless dead folk in a morgue of a hospital in some other Italian hinterland. Gosh. And he drives a new Peugeot too! Gads.

 

 

Vacation renting business…

IMG_1057The first year You & I decided to rent out parts of il Poggiolo… L’Appartamento Azzurro and La Casa Padronale… we thought 5 to 6 reservations would be a nice start. We had 9. Great. For our 2nd year, we set the bar at 8 to 9 and we got just 5. Not the best of trends. This year I had still hoped for 8 to 9 reservations and to date we have had only 4. Worst still. Well, 5 really but, I don’t count the 2 night stay of an American family with too many XXL suitcases and tablets to book everything beforehand so as not to actually touch Italy. All the others who came were quite wonderful as guests… interesting, engaging and very considerate. We want them all to come back.

The odd thing though about this 3rd year is we have received lots of inquiries, something like 25 to 30. The previous two years we had maybe 10% more to our bookings. And yet, a dearth of paying & staying for 2015.

What’s wrong with my renting Kharma?

What’s wrong with the Kharma of la gente in vacanza?

Many of the emails sent through the various vacation rental websites we belong to are so complimentary… We love your house, it’s so charming and intimate, we wondered if it would be possible for us to stay in La Casa Padronale from July…? I quickly reply with equally friendly terms to any request and, especially to those complimenting me on my house. And, I am often alerted by a squealing cellphone message, since all these websites keep accurate records of how quickly you respond. They also feel so obliged to menace further with monthly statements of how you did. But then… NOTHING.

A friend who rents her house in the village above Codiponte complained to me of the same lack of solid bookings this year too. She went on to hypothesize about a world rife with too much competition and/or the growing nightmare of house trading… someone comes to say in your house while you go to theirs. Ever see the movie The Holiday? Cute, very feel-good and highly romantic about switching abodes. Superb cast of Cameron Diaz… quite a comedienne, Jude Law… sexy, sexy, sexy, Kate Winslet, Jack Black, who I do not understand why he even exists much less stars in movies and, Eli Wallach, Bless his now gone heart, what a great actor. The novelty often does not entail lucking out with a beautifully manicure home in Beverly Hills with abundant Staffing, as in the movie. And the new found custom bodes ill for us who want to earn enough money to pay the ever rising taxes on a 2nd home in Italy.

What I think is many vacation-folk rummaging around on the Internet pick & place several inquiries to see what pops ups best with respect to price and location. Ah yes, the old adage of location, location, location. Doubles the intrigue when price, price, price is added on too.  Ignorance does not help either. The Lunigiana, Codiponte, il Poggiolo are better situated to see Pisa, Parma, Genoa, Florence, Lerici, Versilia, Forte dei Marmi AND the le darn Cinque Terre than any old place down near the heartland of people’s conception of Tuscany, San Gimigniano. Yeah, right. Every 50 yards there are signs for B&B’s, agriturismi, country frigging hotels and their ilk amongst the Disneyland of tall cypresses along a climbing dusty track to a lone chapel. But so… HOT.

Yesterday, a straw arrived which broke my camel’s back. And I will name names… Francois sent me a message through House Trip which arrived at my email’s proverbial door-step at 11:40 AM. He requested an arrival for that same afternoon… yesterday!!! Caspita. I was on my laptop so, I immediately replied and hit SEND at 11:44 AM. I kindly asked if he could let me know ASAP to have time to put to the ready & perfect L’Appartamento Azzurro… wine, cheese & bread included… which he expressly asked for. I HEARD ABSOLUTELY NOTHING FROM FRANCOIS!!! Thanks to his inconsiderate behaviour… besides asking the same day, would it be so hard to reply with… Merci beaucoup mais nous avons trovee un’autre maison? I HOPE HE BURNS IN VACATION HELL!!! Thank you. Now, I can let go… ahhhhh! Big gads.

Bean Patch in August…

20150811_120511_resized20150811_120329_resizedLong over-do post on the Bean Patch. T’was busy travelling to ‘n fro in Italy. No surprises though in my absense. Walls and walls and walls of leafy green vines. Helps that the plants are watered daily by the Little Man’s earthworks of canals. A lovely cool. Vines recall the antenna to the new NYC World Trade Center. Can’t eat it though. Gads.

 

A new theory of Global Warming…

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The surrounding mountains echoed with the sound of thunder all through last night. Just noise, little lightning, absolutely no rain. Nina slept with me in full alert. I woke, saw people were burning so, I did the same. Some rain then began to fall. I still hosed the wood shack next to Il Poggiolo’s back entrance and the nearby crepe myrtles and box-woods. Good that I did: the cut limbs, branches & leaves from my last Big Garden Clean were so tinder-dry, spiralling tendrils of flames & ash leapt up from the pyre. In a jiffy all was burnt. Then, the rain stopped. 15 minutes of fire & spray. What a combo. While standing watch and getting damp too, I thought…

why’s there so little rain with these periodic thunderstorms? What’s keeping them from making rain? H2O is such a basic chemical concoction. Where’s the problem? And the mental air-waves responded…

there’s so much electricity ricocheting in the air… from what we can’t seem to live without but, mostly cellphones & other forms of tele-communications…  all the atmosphere can do is produce a Noise & Light Show and little else. Or, in a few extraordinary instances, the electrical charges build to such a crescendo, particularly over Italy’s conurbations… Florence was the last to be devastated. Milan & Venice have had their episodes too. Malpensa Airport terminal was flooded. Water spouts galore over the Venetian lagoon… until the collected electricity can’t stand it any longer and it lets loose with a chaotic Wind, Rain, Lightning Armageddon. And this is what the civil defence authorities expect with each & every forecast for thunderstorms now. In fact, yesterday, as You & I dined with the great folk down at Codiponte’s volunteer ambulance service’s Mid-Summer Eat Fest… sea-food was the entire menu plus some terrifically delicious desserts at the end… the director at our table told us an alert had just been issued by La Protezione Civile at Noon until Monday evening for flash floods, high winds… end-of-the-world disasters. Meant he had to be at the ready for more than 24 hours. While out walking The Dogs later this morning… post-fire… I sounded out the local Codiponte Populace with My New Global Warming Theory. 80% Approval Rating. Not bad. I may be onto something. So, I am trying to use as little electricity as possible. Just my lap-top to tap this post. No sense testing the Electricity Gods. We need the water!!! Gads.

 

More heat-wave recipes…

IMG_5366Heat or cold on a Saturday and Sunday, You & I tootle up in the FIAT convertible to the bar in Casola for an Italian breakfast of a cappuccino e una brioche. While sipping our mutually tepid & weak caffes assisted with long-life milk… yep, more than ick and for Euro 130 too!!!… and today, as You hogged La Nazione newspaper… I only read it for Barbanera’s horoscope… I found by a happy coincidence to yesterday’s post a delicious article in La Repubblica’s D Magazine with 4 recipes without cooking a thing. Eviva!!! Just chop, slice, or Cusine-art the heck out of fruits or vegetables, and serve as the perfect digestible piatto del giorno in a heat wave. Here below are two of the four to try out…

IMG_5370SPINACH, AVOCADO & MINT SMOOTHIE… enough for 4 able-bodied persons seeking sustenance in the heat…

Ingredients: 120 grams (4 ounces) of washed spinach leaves… 1 small avocado (Hass is the best type)… 1 small cucumber… 10 mint leaves… the juice of a juicy lime… 200 millilitres (3/4 cup) of cool water… sesame seeds… extra-vergine olive oil (evo, for short)… and a touch of salt.

Preparation: crudely cut the spinach leaves… peel the cucumber and slice it… dig out the pulp of the avocado (I save and plant all avocado seeds thinking I have such a green thumb when days later they sprout)… dump all this in a food processor along with the lime juice, mint leaves and salt, flip the ON switch as you gently pour in the water towards a milk-shake like consistency… top the concoction with toasted sesame seeds and a light draping of olive oil… serve immediately.

IMG_5372And for a dolceNUT & FRESH FRUIT COMPOTE (the article’s word did not translate at Google Translate so, I stuck in “compote”)… for 4 persons with a sweet-touth…

Ingredients: 80 grams (3 ounces) of walnuts… 80 grams (3 ounces) of almonds… 20 grams (1 ounce) of pine nuts… 6 dates without seeds… grated lemon peel… 30 millilitres (2 tbsp.) of water… honey… mint leaves… and an assortment of sliced seasonal fresh fruits, Oh, Boy!!!

Preparation: food-process the dried dates & nuts, adding too the grated lemon and water, triggering the ON/OFF button for a compact consistency and without worrying if some pieces are bigger than others (better architecture that way for the resulting compote)… divide this into 4 equal parts, putting each into a single-portion ramichen lined with kitchen-film and pressing each down with the bottom of a wet glass… put them into the refrigerator for about 2 hours… take them out of the refrigerator and right before serving, place the fresh fruit on the compote and then covering them with the fresh fruit, a light draping on top of honey and some mint leaves for a bit of green.

Hope these two work out for you. It’s got to be HOT where you are. And what a luxury not to cook. The heat can be liberating!!! Gads.

 

Italian tips for eating in a heat-wave…

I had dinner last night with My Codiponte English Friends. Come Fall, Winter, Spring or Summer, they rigorously serve a meat and two vegetables. I thought to die later. I am already stressed to the max, what with this heat-wave going on here: I get to sleep only when a half-assed breeze decides to waft down from the Garfagnana… the Switzerland of Tuscany… at about 2AM in the morning. I tossed & turned trying to digest the evening’s meal. Meat was The Culprit.

The Italians resort to a simple recommendation for eating in the Summer. It’s has lately taken on much greater importance, thanks to our six-week long heat-wave:

AAAAAAEat fresh fruits & vegetables, drink a ton of water.

The last element is terrible news to one who daily resorts to drinking an IKEA beaker-sized glass of white wine in the evening. I do drink a ton of water during daylight hours. After 5PM though, I hit the wine bottle. Then, when the opportunity presents itself, I go to the nearest Catholic church and pray to God that He may save my kidneys & liver from going bust. Hey! I live in Italy. Seeking forgiveness for one’s sins is part & parcel here. But, let’s get back to the food & drink…

I may have bad news for many but, I guarantee it will be a boon to your summer-time energy bills… those fresh fruits & vegetables are better eaten crude. Yep, as little cooking as possible. E’ quasi proibito. Reasons of digestion, which slows radically when the thermometer climbs past 25C.

You is a lot better at slicing & dicing crude things than I am. Near religious dedication. Precision too. He’s a surgeon. Keeps him in practice, I suppose. You is pretty indifferent to eating so, I doubt he enters the kitchen to chop because he is famished. I am always thinking of my stomach and it shows with every passing year towards my 65th year. It is dangerously close too. Odd though. I should be thin, thin, thin. I hardly eat a thing, crude or otherwise, and I sweat profusely just sitting in a chair, inside, in the dark, these days.

I do believe it is permitted to boil water for pasta. Here’s typical il Poggiolo recipe:

AAAA Spaghetti-with-Fresh-Tomato-Basil-Sauce-Kitchen-Confidante-8-of-9boil salted water for the pasta… spaghetti is our favourite but, the ones that look long & curled are good too… then, in a large serving bowl, cover the bottom ma non troppo with tangy Tuscan extra-vergine olive oil… peel and smash a garlic clove and toss it in… chop rather crudely a small red onion, slithers of onion not pieces, and throw it in with the garlic… spill in a spoonful or so of red wine or, if preferred, white wine… slice fresh pomodori, either the ones that are shaped like bells or large cherry tomatoes, and in they go… followed by lightly tearing & tossing in fresh basil leaves so there’s balance between red of the pomodori and the green of the basilico… and, as a culinary touch, grate some slightly aged but non troppo pecorino cheese… then, let the thing stew for a couple of minutes before finding and extracting the garlic, ’cause You HATES garlic!!!… and when the pasta is al dente and one can tell by either seeing how the pasta bubbles around in the boiling water, looks & feels cooked with a fork or, the American method of throwing a strand on a wall which is utterly silly when you can just taste a darn spaghetto… drain the pasta and toss it into the serving bowl, mix well but quickly and serve on a plate, for cryin’ out loud, and not in one of those boorish soup bowl dishes for eating oatmeal. Enjoy!!!

Oh, and the water needs to be at room temp. May be a struggle to forsake ice or chilling the H2O in the frig, like my dear paternal grandmother did. Also, the frig was called an ice-box. This meant that the pitcher of water was nearly an Arctic glacier, it was so co-co-cold. Any chilly drink is dreadful for you tummy, according the Italians. Please, make note.

I am bit amazed that no one in America or the UK, both countries crazed for Italian food, has not picked up on the true Italian summertime modus operandi for mangiando nel caldo et al and written an Italian heat-wave cook-book. Might not be a big success though. How many new & different ways can you deal with a cetriolo? Gads.

A burnt & crispy July to August…

IMG_5362A roasty beige colour is lovely for a cashmere sweater or coat. It’s ghastly for grass. There is so much dried grass, the few green patches look like a disease. Oh, well… the heat wave of late June and July is still raging on now in August.

How to deal with it?

Some early mornings I drive up to Casola for a costly caffe’ latte before attempting any chore in the 95F degree heat at 8:30 in the morning. May I say? Of course, Euro 150 is not an appropriate price for anything at a bar in a back-of-beyond village in the mountains, and I don’t care if they are Tuscan. The bar has the standard wide-screen TV. And naturally, during the morning hours, it is tuned to the Sky Channel. Sky’s dippy weather presenters…

frankly, they may be touted as weather-persons yet, what do they do but just point & repeat the stupid simplicity of their weather maps? What really says meteorologist though might be their kinky fashion sense begging for improvement: the men bother not to button their grey jackets with the lapels glued to stay put by some art of Made in China manufacturing, burgundy narrow-issime ties and clunky black laced-shoes; for the women, it is apparently de rigueur to stuff their flanks into short, tight-fitting skirts, the material holding firm the flesh like multiple clamps and above mini-blouses for ample bosoms to distract the viewer-ship and/or camera-men, while testing their squished equilibrium teetering on high-heels pumps…

smilingly explain the climatic situation with only one symbol blazoned on their enormous video maps… A for alta pressione, a High, in English. The B for bassa pressione of a Low has disappeared for Summer 2015. Projecting off the one lone A are these wonderfully air-brushed arches in red & orange circulating above Italy & France. I suppose, to tell us it’s going to fare molto caldo ancora. What a thrill. Caffe once consumed and paid for painfully, I might add, I stumble out of the bar to my FIAT and all I can half do is to focus on hurrying back home ASAP to get inside and o-u-t of the h-e-a-t.

The only cure for this wave of caldo and with no AC on the premises is to close up il Poggiolo… entirely… from Noon to 5PM. Shutters shut, windows & doors closed, so n’er a sun’s ray can infiltrate. Neither can air. This is tough for a fellow coming from Colorado. The wide open spaces of the West call for everything to be open unto it. This would mean a terrible existence in Italy these days. So, shutter I do with a minor amount of cheating by cracking open two opposing windows for a modicum of a breeze… ahhhhh! I don’t care if it is rovente.

The Dogs hate being enclosed. Nothing is more fun for them but to exit the House & Home and amble out onto the aia to fry their Weimaraner bods on the sizzling stones for about 5 minutes, and right before risking total apoplexy, only to amble back inside to sort of chill out on the cool terracotta tiles. This day-long commute is very aerobic for them…. su, giu’… su, giu’… su, giu’, etc. They each have their special spots inside: Nina goes to La Casa Grande’s yellow-green kitchen to splay herself out on the terracotta from one counter to another, while Moses paws off his Sardinian wool rug from his mattress-covered wing-back chair… the Arabs wear wool in their desert heat and in layers too for isolation, why can’t a Weimaraner?… and then, plops down with his head dangling off one arm rest to catch any passing waft of air. What a sight.

Nothing much happening in the garden. I don’t even have to mow. I miss that. But what’s to cut when the grass is a crunchy mat? A few Spring plantings of crawling bushes on that rocky facing above L’Appartamento Azzurro have suffered a burnt-to-death RIP and no matter how much water I have given them. I knew it was too much to ask for God’s intervention to help them along in their stony location. I watered and they died anyway. Diddle-squat rain from February on. Mother Earth is not holding any H2O either. Nothing came when it was supposed too…. damn-it. Thank Heavens, the potted plants have not taken to doing the same. They get watered daily, plus the few essential hydrangea borders on alternate days. Those guys with big flowers wilt so quickly from thirst in our heat.

That is pretty much the run-down, spliced with periods of heat-stroke, bouts of reading dull books from amazon.co.uk in the near-dark and walks with The Dogs before 8AM and after 8PM. Is Fall ever to arrive? Gads.