To every season…

We are often asked why we spend our winters in England and not in Italy. ‘Haven’t you got it the wrong way around?’ people comment.
Where we live in summer, at 600 metres asl in the Tuscan Apennines, the winters can be harsh. Temperatures can plummet to as low as -15 degrees centigrade. The local farmers are used to clearing roads and preparing for this eventuality. Their way of life is governed by the seasons.
In my second novel, “Now and Then in Tuscany”, I describe how shepherds and herdsmen travelled each winter down to the coast with their livestock. It was an annual trek that continued until the late 1950’s.
“Life followed the pattern that mountain folk from the Apennines had kept to since Etruscan times. Each year our men, boys and sometimes whole families continued to leave for the Tuscan coast, as autumn deepened its hold on the peaks.
“Old sayings are founded on truth and experience and the elderly would mutter as they cast their gaze to the mountains: ‘Quando l’Alpe mette il cappello, vendi la capra e compra il mantello.’ And indeed, when the Alp of the Moon donned its hat of snow, peasants who knew they were bound for the coast would sell a goat to buy a cloak and prepare for their journey.”
(From Chapter 27 of “Now and Then in Tuscany”).
I have a well-thumbed edition of a book written by a local author, Marta Bonaccini “A Veglia dalla Bice”. I love to dip into it to read of traditions followed by the mountain folk. As I mentioned in my last blog, veglia means a gathering by the fireside with neighbours and friends. Whilst stories and sayings were exchanged, hands were never idle. Boots would be repaired, trousers darned, a basket patched up or corncobs stripped of their outer husks to use for stuffing mattresses. Most of the young menfolk were away on the plains, so women, children and elderly kept each other company. Prayers were often recited by the fire, the villagers worried for the safety of their men working in an area rife with malaria.
‘Fatto il pane, ‘mazzato la troia, lascia che bufi, lasci che piova” – In winter, if the peasants had been able to slaughter a pig, and bake their bread, they were fine. There could be snowstorms aplenty, but they didn’t care if they had food for their bellies. I love the word for a snowstorm in Italian – “tormenta”, depicting a flurry of snow teasing and playing with the landscape.
The above is one tiny example of the proverbs, guessing games, songs and stories in this little book. Bice was an old lady who, sadly, died just before the book was published. It is crammed with her memories of how country people lived in the upper valley of the Marecchia. It is a fascinating record of a rhythm of life that risked being forgotten.
And that is why I wanted to write my second book, to record a significant era that is now over.  The transumanza does not happen anymore but it was a huge influence on the lives of my local friends. If you want to find out more, here is the link for Now and Then in Tuscany
Transhumance is a type of nomadism or pastoralism, a seasonal movement of people with their livestock between fixed summer and winter pastures. … (Wikipedia)



About Angela Petch

Bit of a story dreamer, written two novels - a third in progress. I love my little family and in no particular order afterwards: Italian culture, food, wine, walking everywhere I can and especially in the Apennines, East Africa, tennis when I can, reading, reading and more reading. So much to discover still before I die.
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7 Responses to To every season…

  1. Pat Sutor says:

    Well done. Real snow!
    But you should have a warm woolly hat on.
    Patrick xx


    • Angela Petch says:

      Yes – real snow indeed! About two metres, but the farmers still managed to clear the roads. I wonder why we panic in UK over a sprinkling.


  2. Anne Williams says:

    Fascinating, Angela! I’m originally from Snowdonia in North Wales, and they still practice transhumance in some areas – moving sheep to the “hafod” (summer pasture), then closer to the farmhouse (the “hendre” ) for the worst of the winter.


    • Angela Petch says:

      And in North Yorkshire too, I believe. I’ve seen photos of the sheep cramming through narrow village streets. Sadly, in the Apennines where we are,the wolves are threatening the livelihood of sheep farmers now and many are giving up. Not the fault of the wolves,I hasten to add, but city bureaucrats who make laws about re-introduction of wolves to the area, without thinking through the consequences. They are protected and as they don’t have predators, they are increasing in numbers. They are seen during the daytime and have attacked the Chianina calves of our farmer nieghbour in broad daylight. It’s a controversial issue, I realise…


    • Angela Petch says:

      Thanks for reading my post, by the way.


  3. Angela Petch says:

    Thanks Jessie. The area is so inspiring and rich in history.


  4. jessiecahalin says:

    Fascinating insight into your writing. I adore the word ‘tormenta’ and may be able to remember it. Your writing is so rich and vivid, I feel as if I have been to your corner of Tuscany.

    Liked by 1 person

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