Saturday, July 30, 2011


I'm almost finished with Tim Parks' "Italian Neighbors or A Lapsed Anglo-Saxon in Verona," which describes, among other fascinating things, the way things work in Italian cemeteries. "After 30 years, a coffin can, if more space is required, be lifted up, the bones removed, and a new coffin with a fresh corpse introduced in its place." 

There are even more disturbing details about how people are typically buried on top of each other in trenches. "When all the coffins have been down there for ten years or more, they are then dug up together and the bones removed, and the space is once again available for the freshly dead."  Rest in peace? Not so much! 

I guess I had these morbid thoughts on the brain because a favorite aunt just died last week, and yesterday we stopped to look at the local cemetery, which has a beautiful view of the city.

We did notice the mixture of very old graves amid the new, so having just read about the Italian modus operandi, it started to make a certain Italian-style sense. The bottom line:better to stay alive as long as possible!

So today, in my favorite way to affirm life, I spent hours working in the garden with a new-to-me tool, la falce, which translates as “scythe.”


I see that I am following up on a June post, ON GETTING WHACKED: A GOOD OR A BAD THING? I find moto-zappas (weed whackers) and mechanical lawn mowers scary and non-ecological. Or is that just an excuse?

In any case, I am excited to try my new falce, the one that needs frequent re-sharpening with a special stone. I hope to be able to do my own “manual” whacking, instead of waiting for Farmer G to come over, don his protective mask, pour in the benzina, fire up the zappa, and start zapping the tough weeds that prevent our patio from looking like the perfect English tapestry of grass-edged stones.

Here is our "tapestry" of stones, grass, and weeds that are quaking at the news that I have my own "falce."

I was skeptical about the local idea of weed control in the first place—the magical Italian thinking that says that if you mow regularly from the get-go, eventually the bad weeds with the long roots that go straight down to China will lose the battle. HA!

The Italian way seems to be to whack ‘em, rather than dig them out. When I went to the local hard-core supply store to see if I could buy a Cape Cod Weeder, they just laughed and said, “maybe in some other weird country, like England.” They probably would have been in stiches if I had asked for a manual mower.

Anyway, now that I have my own falce, I am armed and dangerous, according to Farmer G and Eduardo, who sold it to me. The irony is that if I had wanted to buy a deadly moto-zappa or a gas-eating lawn mower, nobody would have raised an eyebrow.

Falce ready for action, but sans feet.

Falce with my "signature" feet. 

I couldn't decide which photo to use, so I decided that two of this exciting tool might be even better than one. According to the label, my falce is made of acciaio finissimo. Sounds pretty impressive, no?

When I wrote a gardening friend about this tool, he reminded me that one of the skills that my son had to demonstrate in order to prove himself worthy of taking his bride from her village involved a scythe.

Subject:skill with a scythe:like mother, like son?

R wrote, “If I remember correctly, N has proven his skill with scythe and sharpening stone. I recall having a photo of him from the wedding doing just that.”

Thanks for reminding me of this. You are SO right! I had not made the association, perhaps because of the differences in style and size between his equipment and mine. Farmer G gave me a lesson yesterday, and I am going to take mine out on its maiden voyage tomorrow. It turns out that when working around a bush, one has to swing it towards oneself, so as to avoid hurting the plant. Never mind the danger to human life and limb. Maybe that's why it's the favorite tool of the Grim Reaper? Everyone is very skeptical that I will emerge unscathed, but this is going to be my risk-for-the-week.

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