I saw this article by Nick Squires on The Telegraph website and I just had to share it!
It’s so funny, probably because it’s just so true! Well done Nick, beautifully put!
Why your true Tuscan villa is a pebble-dashed eyesore with a TV dish
Italians think: why live in an old house that is damp, draughty and dark, especially if you grew up in such conditions?
The foreigner’s dreamy vision of a villa in the Italian countryside goes something like this – terracotta tiles on the roof, walls made of biscuit-coloured sandstone, shutters painted pale green or duck egg blue and ivy growing over the front door.
That’s not how Italians see their rural idyll. I spent a couple of weeks over the summer in the Sabina Hills north of Rome , a bucolic region of forested mountains, ravines and award-winning olive oil.
It’s the place that gave us the legend of the Rape of the Sabine Women, when the neighbouring Romans carted off the local womenfolk.
Notwithstanding the superb olive oil, it is not a wealthy area and the locals here tend to opt for no-nonsense modern homes – pebble-dash exteriors, aluminium door frames, satellite dishes, chain-link fences and crazy paving verandas that would not look out of place in Surbiton.
They are, frankly, a bit of an eyesore and far from the stock image pedalled by books like Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. But I understand why they are so popular. Why live in an old house that is damp, draughty and dark, especially if you grew up in such conditions?
The result, however, is that the countryside is dotted with abandoned but still sturdy stone barns and houses that can be snapped up for the cost of a bedsit in one of the grungier parts of London .
“The only houses round here that look ‘traditional’ are the ones that have been bought by foreigners,” an English friend who has a home in the area told me. She’s right. It’s only wealthy British, Dutch and German second-home owners who can afford the cost of doing them up, at great expense, using traditional materials. Such an undertaking is way beyond the means of most locals.
Go for a walk in the woods in Italy and it’s not long before you see evidence of wild boars. They grub up the forest floor, using their great hairy snouts to push mounds of dirt aside as they forage for succulent tubers and roots, and create muddy holes in which to wallow.
But these days, boars are damaging more than just the countryside. In the last few weeks three people have been killed, directly or indirectly, in boar-related incidents. The first victim was a 77-year-old man who was gored to death after encountering a herd of boar in the woods near the seaside town of Cefalu in Sicily. Then two Italians were killed in separate road collisions with the wild pigs.
The deaths have caused alarm and prompted calls for a nationwide cull. The population has exploded in recent years – from 600,000 in 2005 to more than a million now – and among the regions most affected are Tuscany and Umbria. So next time you rent a villa in the area and decide to go for a stroll in the cool of the forest, keep an eye out for the growing porcine peril.
With their swords, sandals and plumed helmets they give a colourful flavour of ancient Rome as they hang around the Colosseum, posing with tourists for photographs in exchange for money.
But the touts dressed up as ancient Roman gladiators, centurions and legionaries have been busted for a very modern vice – snorting cocaine. Two of the centurions were recently caught red-handed, in all their finery, buying coke from dealers in an apartment in Rome. The flat had been placed under surveillance by the Carabinieri after neighbours complained of strangers coming and going at all hours of the day and night.
When arrested, they told the police they needed the drug to get through the long days of standing around in the blazing sun, weighed down by their steel helmets, scarlet cloaks and leather breast plates.
But the saga has only confirmed to Romans what a motley crew the fake centurions are. They often demand extortionate sums from tourists and turn nasty if they are refused.
They have been known to fight among themselves over their turf, and three years ago a group of them got into a punch-up with police after the authorities launched a crackdown on unauthorised touts.
To the bemusement of groups of tourists, scuffles broke out between plain-clothes officers and the would-be gladiators and Roman soldiers.
The absurdity of the whole thing was worthy of Frankie Howerd in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
Source: Nick Squires at The Telegraph
Photo source: Frances Mayes’ house, Bramasole, in the Tuscan town of Cortona
Photo: Frances Mayes’ collection