Just another few days in paradise
Early, Thursday morning March 5th (like 3 AM early) I woke up in our smoke filled bedroom to all this clanging. Pretty fast I realized that the wind had arrived. Because we do not have a clothes dryer, (unbelievably expensive to run) I watch the weather forecasts closely. A sunny day is good. A windy, dry day is good. A sunny, windy day is the best. Laundry dries so fast on a sunny, windy day. I had seen that The Weather Channel was predicting windy but who knew it would be that bad. It was a weather bomb.
What is a weather bomb? Well, this is how it was explained in the UK in a publication called The Week in December, 2014.
What is a weather bomb?
Known scientifically as an explosive cyclogenesis, the phenomenon occurs when cold and warm air meet and the pressure at the centre of the storm drops dramatically, usually by at least 24 millibars in 24 hours. The lower the pressure, the stronger the winds become.
Are weather bombs common?
Weather bombs are more ubiquitous than you might think. The term was first coined by meteorologists in the 1940s. The phrase was popularised in 1980 by Fred Sanders, an MIT professor who wrote an article in the Monthly Weather Review. He said "bomb" was appropriate because these systems develop "with a ferocity we rarely, if ever, see over land". The UK has experienced several weather bombs in recent years.
Where do they occur most?
These storms are known to occur in the eastern Pacific off the coast of Asia and the western Pacific. The North Atlantic is particularly prone to weather bombs thanks to the Gulf Stream, which pits a reliable source of warm air against cold. They often lead to severe blizzards in the north-east United States, called Nor’easters’.
I didn’t know all that at the time. I just knew that the wind was howling and had blown out the flame in our stuffa hence all the smoke. And something was going on with the damper in the fireplace. It was being sucked up and then dropped back with a loud clang. I cut off the stuffa. Turned on our other source of heat (also incredibly expensive to run), aired out the smoke, worried about our car parked under a tree but decided to climb back in bed anyway. Ben and Nerone, the dog, slept through all of this. Sometime later, Nerone only woke up when one of the cats that lives on the property cruised past the house running his mouth and complaining about the wind. So Nerone felt compelled at that point to wake up and run through the house barking to warn of us an impending cat attack. Which caused Ben to wake up so he could offer Nerone a bone which I had to get up and get for Ben to hand to the barking dog who then joined us in bed. (I mean, if there is an impending cat attack it is best to protect the folks who give you bones) All this was followed a few hours later at 7 AM by the electricity going off. The banging and clanging of the chimney damper is still going on but now it is accompanied by the beeping of the battery/surge protectors that are all over the house hooked up to protect various expensive appliances. Again, I stagger around the house, now in the dark, crawling under furniture turning off the annoying beeps so that only the timpani of the chimney damper can be heard. (Really, those annoying beeps were so distracting from the pleasure of listening to metal clanging against metal at odd intervals.) And folks wonder why I sometimes look so tired.
So now with no electricity, no chance of getting any laundry done to take advantage of this wind, we get up to start the day, in our cold, dark house. We have no power, no heat, no way to use the fireplace since gusts of wind are coming down the chimney, no running water and only 3 bottles of water. I get Ben up and dressed and seated. Nerone is petitioning to go out. He is sure there are cats waiting outside the door. He is ready to get them. We start out on our walk, first picking up all that has blown and blocked the door. The wind is still steadily blowing 30 to 40 miles a hour with these very forceful gusts that are making the tall, tall cypress trees bend alarmingly. We round the curve and there are trees down in the drive. With much difficulty I convince Nerone that maybe we should find a different way to walk. It is even more difficult at the end of the walk to convince him that he has to come in the house rather than sitting outside as he usually does.
Over the sound of the wind I can hear the chickens complaining and demanding to be let out of their house. I’m really afraid to let them out because they are so light weight. One gust and these chickens could end up in Florence. Finally, it occurs to me that they are fairly low to the ground and their pen is protected by the house so it might be okay to let them out. Of course they have to be fed. Nerone wants to eat. Ben is hungry. I produce breakfast for everyone and finally get to have a nice cup of tea myself.
Even though I have only seen 1 tree down I am sure there are probably others. I am also sure we will be without power for a while. So I go over to the garage to scratch around for the kerosene heaters. The wind is still howling. It comes through the broken windows of the garage. The wind is full of pollen so my nose is running non-stop. The boxes that the heaters are in have warped from moisture so it is not just pull them out of the box. Nooooo, they have to be coaxed out. I am able to open a new jug of kerosene and fill the tanks. Haul both heaters over. Install the tanks. Get them lit and watch as they burn merrily. But that joy is short lived. Only one burns. In one of them, the valve of the tank has corroded allowing the kerosene to flow in non-stop. Not a good thing. Shut that one off, remove the tank to the outside hall and hope that the other one isn’t that way too. Fortunately it is not. The heater is able to get the room temperature back up to a big 64 degrees. But that is only 2 degrees lower than what the house normally is so it doesn’t feel that bad.
Next is the worry about water. It is almost time for lunch and the dishes from dinner last night have not been washed. I can not believe that I only have 3 bottles of water. I used to live in an area effected by hurricanes. I should be better prepared. Of course it might have helped if The Weather Channel forecast had mentioned strong winds instead of ‘windy’. Fortunately one of the other houses on the property is served by a different electric supply. She still has power and running water. So I gather buckets and pans and go to her hose bib and fill up, carting water through the wind storm back to my house. Heat the water, wash dishes, make lunch, soup and meat loaf sandwiches, wash dishes again because I have no paper plates!!!!! And then start to worry about candles. And it is time to walk the dog again, feed the chickens again, tuck the chicks in for the night and get more water. So I am in and out and in and out in the wind all day long. And it has not stopped or let up at all. Good grief, time for dinner, Chicken thighs with mushroom rice. No way I can wash dishes by candle light. But I do have a nice glass of wine and think about all the times I had to do this same sort of thing in North Carolina.
Ben produces a Margaret Maron audio book that we listen to while snuggled in bed, with the dog, of course. Did I mention that on Wednesday night while I was making dinner Nerone threw up on our bed? I didn’t see it for a few hours. It was very watery, smelly vomit. It went through the sheet on top of the duvet, the duvet, the blanket, both sheets and my pajamas. So I had to change all of that before we went to bed on Wednesday night. We were using make shift blankets because of that and now here we were with no heat (I was afraid of carbon monoxide so I had cut the kerosene heater off once I stopped going in and out) with minimal blankets, in the dark trying to stay warm with the dog hogging the bed listening to a North Carolina murder mystery. It was actually one of the bright points of the day.
Friday dawned, still steady 30 to 40 mph winds with strong gusts, still no power, just a repeat of yesterday’s struggle to keep us warm, fed and entertained. But of course, power or no power I had other responsibilities. For several sets of friends I have ended up being the alternate local contact when they are out of town. Late Thursday night, the security company that protects one of their houses called me. The guy spoke very fast and all I got was ‘current’. Thinking it was the power company I ran upstairs to my neighbor and let her chat with them. We were both real disappointed when we figured out that noooo, they were not coming to turn us on, instead they wanted me to know that the power had just gone off at my friends’ house and what was I going to do about it. Of course my neighbor just lit into the poor guy. “The power just went off! Well ours has been off since 7 this morning! My child who is sick is cold! NO, No one is going to drive 20 kilometers in the dark because the power just went off there! Do you not know that there is a big storm going on here? She will go tomorrow". Well it was settled, on Friday, I was going over to see what was going on at our friends’ house. Ben doesn’t want me to go alone. So we go through the whole bit of getting everyone up and walked and fed. The chickens are complaining that they don’t like mushrooms in their rice and it tastes funny. Finally we are on the way a little after 11. But already my neighbor has called. “Have you been yet? Is their house okay?” Then the security company calls. “Have you been yet? Is the power on? Has the cable been cut?” Give me a chance!!!!!
Well, we arrive, after being stopped on the way by a fallen tree which was removed by a cement mixer pushing it out of the way. At our friends’ house the power is still off, so of course the electric gate does not open. I have to find a way to get on to the property. The path I decide to take is not in Ben’s sight line so he insists that I take one of his canes with me. I forget to take the bag of cat food that I am supposed to be dishing up, but I have my cane. So I scramble up through the brambles only to find trees down blocking the path. Finally I make it to the house and am immediately confronted by hungry cats. They were about to miss a meal! Horrors! And the food is in the car, on the other side of the locked gate. No way I am going back down the way I just came so I scratch around and find some food for them. I walk all around the outside of the house and it looks undisturbed. I decide that it is probably fine to go in so I use my key and go in. Immediately the alarm goes off. I am stumbling around in the dark, pressing the alarm button to turn it off and my phone is ringing. It is Ben. “The alarm is going off” ‘”Yes, I am trying to stop it.” Ben and I finish our chat. I am in the house looking for the key that I need to get into the room where the electric panel is. No key. My phone is buzzing with a message. Back up the dark steps, back out into the wind, now the cats are curling around my legs vying for attention and the alarm company is calling. “Yes, I’m at the house. Yes, I set the alarm off. Yes, the electricity is still off. Yes, the wind is still blowing.” Then the alarm guy spouts off a fast sentence at me. I think he has said ‘parle veloce’, that he is speaking too fast for me and yes he is. So then he repeats himself and in Italian says “Seriously, lady I need the parole veloce” the fast word, the code word that proves I am supposed to be on the property. It is a popular song so I am singing the song and we both have a laugh. Since I have proven that I can be there, the alarm guy says he won’t send out a car and we finish our chat.
I decide to call another friend who lives nearby to get the scoop about the power since I can’t find the key to the mechanical room. That friend tells me about all the damage that has happened in Tuscany. I tell him “Yes, our friends’ power is off. Yes, there is a tree down. Yes, the cats are fine.” His power is off and he thinks it will be a long time before it comes back. Well, okay. I lock up the house and set off towards the car. This time I find a wild boar path and more or less slide down it on my butt. At the car at last and out of the wind. In the car, Ben has spread out a tangle of cords to rival a basket of writhing snakes and is charging electronics using the cigarette lighter of the car. I report what our friend has said about the damage all over Tuscany. My phone rings. It is the owners of the house from 6 time zones away. The alarm company has called them. “Yes, I’m at your house. No, there is no power. How did the alarm go off? Oh, it has a battery”…. should have clued me in. “Don’t know when power will come back. There is a tree down. Cats are fine.” Did I reset the alarm? Oh no, I guess I didn’t. “Okay, I’ll go back up.”
So I am out of the car, standing, trying to think of what it is I need to take back up there with me when the phone rings again. It is the owners again, the secret location of the key for the room where the electrical panel is. Up the embankment on all fours, back in the house, the house phone rings. (they don’t have power but the land line phone is working?) I answer, ‘who’s this?’ the gravelly Italian female voice asks. “This is Martha, who’s this” I respond. Oh ho ho ho this is … another mutual friend. She thought the traveling friends would be back by now. How is their house? “Yes, the power is off. Yes, there are trees down. Yes, the cats are fine”. By now I feel that I should just arrange for a skywriter to appear and broadcast all this news that everyone seems to need to know! Stumble back down the dark stairs and find the key, check the breaker box, 1 breaker is tripped, reset that, lock the room up, lock the house up, turn the alarm on, slide back down the wild boar track and realize that I didn’t take up more cat food. But at this point I can’t make the climb again and decide that we will just come back tomorrow. So we go off for lunch.
Finally after lunch, back at our house I start with the water hauling, dish washing, candle lighting, getting the heater fueled and lit, dog walking, chicken care process again. Shortly after nightfall we have a lovely dinner. Observing Lent, we share a grilled lobster, an assortment of frozen tater tots (or what passes for them in Italy) and curly fries, bleu cheese slaw and strawberries. Earlier in the day, when I went into the freezer to search for the lobster I was delighted to see that it was still frozen solid. We enjoy our Margaret Maron audio book with extra blankets (that I finally managed to air out) in bed. The wind is still howling and has not let up all day.
My kitchen in paradise by candle light
Friday dinner, grilled lobster, tater tots and curly fries
Saturday, still no power. But those chickens are not letting us down so I cook up 4 eggs, some bacon and fried bread. Then we are off to check on the friends’ property again. This time I am determined to get the bag of cat food up there. When we arrive there is still no power so I leave the remote for the gate in the car. Climb on all fours up the wild boar track, throwing the bag of cat food ahead of me. Met by cats so delighted to see me and more food! Or is that, more food and that woman we know….
This time I turn off the alarm, go in the house, use my flashlight to get down the stairs, I have picked up some mail, picked some welcome home flowers and am going to scribble a note to the owners. Standing there writing, the power comes on. Immediately the alarm goes off. 30 seconds later my phone rings, by now I recognize the alarm company’s phone number and just answer by singing the song. And then explain that the power just came back on. We laugh and hang up. I lock up and go off to slide down the wild boar track to get to the car, because I have left the gate remote control in the car. Of course! But before I can get to the car, the owners call. “Yes, the alarm went off. Yes, you have power. No, we don’t have power. We might come back and stay with you. Yes, the cats are fine. Have a good flight. See you tomorrow.”
Well it has been two whole days since Ben has seen the internet so he is having serious withdrawal. We have to stop at a bar that has wi-fi so that he can at least check email. We do that, but I can see how late it is getting. I hurry him along because we still have to stop at the store and buy ice. But of course there is no ice for sale. I manage to persuade the fish department lady to let me have some ice which she gives me for free. Back home finally, but still not out of the wind, for it is time to haul in more water, heat it up, wash dishes before I lose the light in the kitchen, walk the dog and feed the chickens. And then it is time for dinner, Fortunately our power comes back on as I start to cook dinner, lobster pasta, fresh strawberries and brighelle (the little cream puffs that only appear at this time of year).
Our power was off for about 60 hours. When I open the freezer I expect to find everything defrosted. To my delight, nothing was defrosted. We still had ice cubes. The milk in the fridge had not even gone sour. It is a very well insulated piece of equipment.
The wind is still blowing on Sunday but now I have power and can manage to get 4 loads of laundry done and dry on a sunny, windy day.
Nerone making fun of me.
Usually my posts are more rosy and fun, ‘we went here’ ‘we ate this’ types. And this was probably a bit whiny but every now and then I think folks need to realize that living in Italy can be just as difficult and tedious as living in the US. A few days of no power makes you realize how much we rely on it and how stressful and difficult life can be without it. And I’m sure I wouldn’t last long as a refugee if there wasn’t any wine.