We got back from London on Wednesday evening, to the appalling discovery that in our absence a gang of chainsaw-wielding thugs had laid waste to everything growing in the lane, and along the south boundary between our entrance pergola and the adjoining field. And I do mean everything! Poplars, tulip trees, catalpas - all varying in height between thirty and sixty feet - as well as an entire row of enormous and venerably-aged bay trees, which had formed the backdrop to the view from the house and barn, across the water garden. And, just to make the point that this had been done with a generous dose of focused malice, they had also destroyed all of the climbing plants which have made the walls of the lane look so pretty over the past few years: clematis, roses, wisteria, hardinbergia, solanum, campsis, trailing capers....the lot. And, they've ripped down the creeper that we had painstakingly trained across the lane, to form a beautiful archway, green in spring and summer, and a glorious red in the autumn. All that now remains is bare electricity wires, and bleak, stripped walls. And the view from the house looking south is no longer of an idyllic, giardino secreto, with the water garden enclosed within dense greenery, but of an urban landscape of houses, with a forest of windows and balconies all looking straight back at us. They've always been there, of course, hidden behind the dense foliage - but we've never actually seen them before; or been seen by them. Suddenly, from living in what seemed to be the middle of woodland, we find we're living in the middle of a city.
All this is the work of Monsignor G, who used to be Rettore of the seminary, until he retired fifteen years ago, but who just won't go away, and in fact now lives in a building on the Piazza, the rear of which overlooks the lane. He has caused us nothing but trouble since we arrived at Santa Caterina - it was he who sent in a bloke with a tractor, to plough up what we subsequently turned into the North Garden, in order to indicate his displeasure when we first arrived, and he again who was responsible for two oafs with chainsaws who vandalised a huge cypress tree behind the church - within our garden - about three years ago. He gets away with a lot on the basis that he is elderly, and infirm, and apparently well-intentioned, and that if he occasionally gets things wrong, it should be understood in the context that he's basically a harmless, sometimes confused old soul. Whereas, in fact, he's a deeply unpleasant old man with an agenda. And we now know what it is. He was born in this house, when his father was manager of the farm attached to Santa Caterina, and whilst Monsignor G climbed the ecclesiastical ladder to the dizzy height of becoming Rettore, his family continued to live in the old house. Until the last of them of his generation - a brother - died, about eight years ago. At which point, Monsignor G, we now understand, suggested to the seminary that the house should be passed to other members of his family for them to use rent-free for as long as they liked. Monsignor F, the current Rettore, thought this idea less than optimal, and decided otherwise, and after some years of faffing and general incompetent management by the seminary, we got our hands on the place, four years ago. Unbeknown to us, with Monsignor G still fulminating to himself in the background. Hence the various acts of destruction over the years, which have culminated in this most recent orgy of vandalism.
I doubt he'll do it, or anything like it, again - after the event, it seems that the seminary generally takes whatever steps are appropriate to rein him in. It's only a shame they don't act on occasion with foresight rather than merely vaguely-apologetic hindsight (anything too overtly apologetic might be interpreted as them accepting responsibility for what had happened.......and culpability isn't something they readily do).
We're going to re-plant. We had somebody come this afternoon to agree what should go where in order to achieve the best effect most quickly, and they will be coming to plant shortly after the New Year. A whole collection of poplars and catalpas, and quite a few golden bamboos. Being in this part of the world is very useful for large-scale giardino pronto, and it's quite straightforward to get trees that are already five metres in height, without anybody thinking it unusual. It might take a couple of summers for us to get back exactly to where we were before, but at least it will be only a couple of summers...
In the meantime, if there are any sword-wielding knights within earshot looking to keep their hand-in with regard to turbulent priests, then they should try the brown door on the Piazza with the horse's head knocker. He's home most days. Fulminating.
Fennel Sformatini, with gorgonzola sauce.
Involtini, stuffed with lemon cous-cous; salsify, in cream.