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Adapting to life in a medieval village in central Italy!
Since starting my love affair with Rome years ago and more recently having the unique experience of living in a medieval 'borgo', or hamlet, in the ancient countryside beyond Rome, I have put together a few insights for tackling the living practicalities imposed by climate and culture for anyone else who might be doing the same - especially anyone like me, coming from a colder climate.
First a bit of background of a medieval borgo. The word borgo can be best described as a hamlet within a larger town or village. You will often see those brown street signs indicating where the 'Borgo Medievale' is, and it will usually be the oldest (and most charming) part of a town, divided into 'Rioni' or districts. Locals from these 'Rioni' (also sometimes called 'Contrade' compete with each other in various age-old traditions throughout the year, which is amazing to experience since many traditions from my part of the world have fizzled out. There is a lot of pride, camaraderie and friendly rivalry among the townsfolk.
NUMBER ONE - ANTS!
This is my Number 1 because ants freak me out more than anything and I never had to deal with them back home. First of all Roman ants seem more active and determined than the laid back British ants of northern England!
My humble advice is - on no account leave any food out on any worktops overnight and if you spill anything on the floor make sure you get every last bit. I discovered that ants will climb up 3 floors (maybe even higher) to get to (of all things) .... tea leaves!!! I spilled some dry tea leaves on the floor one day but didn't quite get the all the ones from under the sink - the next morning my kitchen was hosting a tea party!
They also, apparently, have a penchant for raw meat and rotting insects (we found a squashed insect on the underside of a rug once - urgh! and a hoard of ants making a b-line for it across the living room to it). Something I learned about ant behaviour is that if you kill them they give off a scent which attracts other ants who come to try to retrieve their little corpses, so the best way is to find out where they're climbing through and seal it up! An an old trick (not had chance to try this yet - thankfully) is to put a dish of jam at their point of entry - the idea being that once they have eaten all the jam thry will go look elsewhere for food. Alternatively have a super-sterile house!
I'm not an unhygienic person, but living in "hot & humid" certainly prods you into superhero-cleaner-maniac mode and all that nagging from your Italian M.I.L. (Mother-in-Law) begrudgingly makes sense.
A bonus? The house is always guest-ready!
NUMBER TWO - COFFEE GROUNDS
Never .... and I mean NEVER put coffee grounds down the sink!
This is valid pretty much wherever you live in the world but is especially important if you're in an older building. Coffee grounds are the worst culprits for clogging older narrow Italian tubes - sometimes even strong de-cloggers aren't enough and you'll end up needing a plumber. Also, when you clean out the coffee container make sure you scrape out every last bit of coffee so that literally none goes down the drain.
The same goes for cooked pasta - if it gets down there it mixes with the grounds to make an unshiftable gloop. For regular de-clogging I prefer the liquid ones rather than the gels as they seem to pass through the tubes and dissolve the gunk more efficiently.
NUMBER THREE - ENDELSS SUMMER FESTIVALS.
Less noticable in Rome but prepare for wonderful chaos in medieval hamlets in outlying towns and villages and prepare yourself for no sleep during August. Since temperatures can touch 38°c the townsfolk who haven't all gone to the seaside turn into a species of vampire - barely out in the day and up all night until 2/3am. So if you're holidaying in a town or village, do as the locals do: get up and out early, back before you start to smoulder (11am), have a nap after lunch, then plan something to do at night (from 6pm onwards). I made the mistake of not changing my body clock and was at odds with local rhythms and habits all summer and ended up grumpy and tired.
Another thing to note is that there will be days (and nights) when you won't be able to drive up to (or park) near your medieval accommodation because the streets are lined with flower petals...or stalls...or street parties (or horses)...or inter-district re-enactments and driving diversions - although this can happen throughout the year not just in August - and when festivals draw to a close there are nearly always tons of fireworks. I really enjoy these historical festivities and I'm glad that traditions are being maintained and nurtured, but there were a few nights when a bit of P&Q would have been nice.
NUMBER FOUR - MOTHS!
Like the ants, moths are more active in this part of the world. Back home I never used any methods to keep moths at bay and never had a problem with them - but here, again, listen to M.I.L. because she knows best. Don't stuff too many things into a wardrobe - best to allow air to circulate - and pack silk, wool, cashmere etc... into special bags with anti-moth infused oils (I like a brand called Orphea, in the lavender scent).
NUMBER FIVE - PIGEONS
Becoming a pigeon-whisperer!
If you're going to live or spend time in a medieval hamlet you will learn a bit about pigeon habits (whether you want to or not) and how to try to keep them at bay. I have even learned why Jackdaws live near the pigeons and that Jackdaws always live in pairs - apparently they eat newly hatched pigeon babies or eggs, among other things, so we must conclude that there is at least one nest on our roof! This is a bit sad for me as a vegetarian and animal lover but on the other hand we'd be seriously overrun with pigeons if jackdaws were vegetarians too!
Ways to deter your feathery nuisance: they don't like sparkly things or pointed things or loud noises. However, some get used to these and after a while ignore them. I'll let you know how I get on.
THANK YOU FOR STOPPING BY TO SAY HELLO!
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