The Cardarelli farmed a parcel of land which was mostly on the lower side of the house, and ran down to the river. The total area was about fifty-five acres, but this included patches of rough woodland which predominated as one got closer to the river; nevertheless these woods were valuable as the only source of fuel. The fields were small and some of them so steep that parts of them could not be ploughed, but were cultivated by hand with the hoe; and hoeing was to be one of our first jobs that autumn. The farm was self-sufficient in most basic foods and, even after the landlord had taken his half share, there was a little surplus of some things that could be sold. The shortages – to our English tastes – were in meat, milk and butter.
The house itself was typical of the area, built of stone with a roof of curved red tiles. An outside staircase led to the living quarters; the ground floor was for the oxen and for storage, including the wine cellar. The yard was cobbled, and around it were out-buildings for the pigs, poultry and sheep, a cart-shed, and on the lower side, two large muck heaps. There were stacks of hay and straw: these were circular with conical tops and were built around a central pole. A footpath led to a well which was shared with the Di Luca and was about mid-way between the two houses.
The outside staircase went up to a covered porch with a small sink, next to which were the large narrow-necked water jugs. A door then led directly into the kitchen, which also served a dining and living room. The floor was roughly tiled, the walls plastered but grimed with smoke, and in one wall was a large open hearth for the wood fire. Furniture was of the simplest: a table, elementary rush-seated chairs and a cupboard. There were no floor coverings and nothing decorative of any kind save an oleograph of the Madonna pinned on the wall. Several doors opened from the kitchen and one of these led to a store where there was a side of bacon hanging from the beams with some sausages, cheeses on a shelf and a pile of grain on the floor. The other doors led to bedrooms, where the beds were mostly of planks with a deep palliasse of maize straw. There was a linen chest and a chair but no other furniture. Riccardo and Maria however, who had been married just before the war, had the luxury of an actual bedstead of what looked like figured walnut but in reality was painted tin.
In general, life was a good deal more primitive than even the most backward areas of pre-war England, although I expect it was not unlike the remoter parts of Scotland or Ireland. There was no sanitation of any sort, not even an earth privy, and everyone used the fields or – in bad weather – the stable. They were extremely discreet and private about this – one never saw a man urinate in public for instance, as one might in France, and squatting figures of either sex were never seen, even in the distance. In one respect, however, they had moved more quickly into the twentieth century: like all other houses in Picacchi, they had mains electricity, something that was certainly not so in country districts of England.
The house and land all belonged to the landlord and was held on an annual basis with the rent being paid in kind: half the produce of the main crops, plus fixed quantities of such things as poultry and eggs. There was also an obligation to provide a number of man-days of labour for such jobs as repairing the communal road. Not quite a feudal system, as the tenant was not legally bound and was free to leave – but on the other hand he had no security of tenure either.
This, then, was the farm over which Vivenzio presided as head of the household, and he played his part with an easy confidence. He was a kind and gentle man, with a large moustache which gave him a slightly melancholy expression. He was rarely seen to be angry or raising his voice, but his authority was never questioned either by himself or by the members of his family. He had invited us into his house and his courtesy and thoughtful treatment of us set the tone for the others. I cannot now remember exactly how long we slept in the stable, but it was probably no more than a fortnight before a trestle bed was set up for us in what had been another store room. We had joined the family. For our part we tried to make it clear that, in spite of our hopeless lack of competence, we would do what we could to earn our keep
Chapter 3 Supplement – November 1990
In addition to the picture of the Madonna on the kitchen wall there was also a hanging almanack with all the important feast-days, of which there were many, printed in red. In the store-room there was a stock of tomato puree in the form of little parcels of dried paste, each one wrapped in a maize leaf.