18 December 2015

'Tis the Season! ... and a Poncho

Veneto in autumn

Autumn has come again to my corner of Northern Italy, the Veneto region, but it hasn’t brought the mellow qualities which invited Keats’ praise for Autumn in England. Here, it’s a season not of mist, but of fog as thick as polenta and a fruitfulness so abundant it forces the ”rush hour” traffic to crawl behind chugging tractors as they haul trailers spilling grapes. From what I know of it, Italy doesn’t "do" mellow much at all. The weather in this area, without the proximity of the Mediterranean to temper it, certainly isn’t mellow.  Summer can suffocate; it’s hot and close, and it’s punctuated by spectacular thunderstorms which (may) throw lashings of rain at the land – or else hail stones of devastating proportions.

 Bags I get the egg on me 'ead!

Winter is the extreme opposite -  bitterly cold with an occasional wind which blows so strongly down the river Adige valley it's been known to ring the bells on local church towers.
Spring and Autumn too require special handling. In the mornings you’ll need to dress onion style, layering clothes under a coat, with possibly a hat, scarf and gloves too; But by mid-day you can be sitting in a T-shirt having lunch at a sunny outdoor restaurant, cursing the encumbrance of all the clothes you’ve now shed and are having to carry around with you. Careful though - as soon as the sun goes down you'll be only too grateful to revert to the Onion State.

I decided this was the perfect post in which to show you 
"My (im)Perfect Autumn Poncho"

This started life as a blanket knitted by a lovely old lady. As with many rural Italian women of her generation a state of inactivity was inconceivable to her, and the fact that she now lived in a home for the elderly couldn't halt the habits of a lifetime. I knew it had to become a poncho, but there was a load of procrastination before I finally lighted upon the perfect solution for creating it.

I'm always astounded by the downright loving reactions it elicits in strangers. True, I love wearing it. I love how it drapes around me like a cosy cocoon,

and I love the rust and grey melange with its grey crocheted border,

Watch out for the country pancake Sal!

but that doesn't explain the admirers who stop me, and slowly turn me around as they take mental note of amounts of stitches and rows,

or people who break into a slow smile at the mixture of buttons running down the front (or the side, or the back!).

I've tried to recreate it with other blankets but they haven't worked. Dimensions are key, as is the wool/synthetic blend of the yarn which lends weight and fluidity to the drape. I think knit as opposed to crochet counts too, as crochet lacks the stretch essential for wearing comfort.

If you'd like to make one, this is the rudimentary procedure (presented here in true Neanderthal style!) It's very simple.

Mine is made of a rectangular blanket 100cm x 160cm  (I am about 5'7"/167cm tall, so if you're shorter you may need to proportionally modify this)

Your knitted blanket must be 100cm x 160cm, as shown above
I used my poncho only as a background for the diagram

Mark points A and B on your rectangular blanket.
Then bring point  A down and overlap it on point B. Overlap point C on point D
Sew the 70cm edges together between A/B and C/D

Measure 70cm in from the right, on one short side to get point (A)
Measure 70cm up from the bottom on the long side to the left, to get point (B)

Bring point (A) to OVERLAP  point (B); and bring point (C) to overlap point (D) in the same way. Sew the 70cm overlapped edge closed, leaving the angle between (B) and (A) open to form the collar.

Leave the angle between A and B open for the collar

I secured the overlap with my mixture of big buttons which I matched up with smaller ones on the underside for strength.

And that's it.

Let me know if you try this. 
We all need clothes that love us.

So, back in Italy in Autumn ......

You’ll find yourself yawning most unbecomingly too! “I’m just so tired all the time” you’ll confide in your Italian friends. They’re unsurprised. “OF COURSE you’re fatigued”, they respond consolingly  “It’s the season”,  and  they’ll sagely recommend the herbal “tonic” they’ve been taking for years during Spring and Autumn to help them to face the “cambio di stagione” – the change of season!

The tonic you're recommended will look worryingly similar to this

They’ll also tell you “It’s the season!” for burglars, and I think they’re probably right. There’s a reason for this. The grape harvest attracts lots of pickers from neighbouring countries,

Vineyards in Bardolino
...and Bardolino grapes

and once the work is finished it seems that before returning “home”, some of the, now unemployed, workers are prepared to risk Italy’s paltry penalties should they be caught, and try their luck at breaking and entering.

Almost a year ago to the day, we had such visitors.

My lovely friend and neighbour, Marina, has a bit of “a thing” going with extra-terrestrials (scoff if you will, but she’s been interviewed about it on Italian television more than once, so it must be true!!!).
When at 4.30am a brilliant light shone into my daughter’s bedroom through the keyhole, the door silently opening, she jumped to the obvious conclusion that an alien abduction was being initiated. (she'd been paying attention to Marina's stories you see!)

An alien abduction

There are those who crave the thrill of an alien abduction!

She proffered a friendly “Hello!?” (she must have felt intuitively that they’d favour English over Italian ), and waited. But the door soundlessly closed again, and finding herself still in bed instead of being whooshed to some distant planet she wandered through, disappointed but by no means traumatised,  to wake me and fill me in on these goings on.

Our thieves had broken in through the kitchen door (the lock  was already knackered), and had found my bag, computer and phone that I’d kindly left for them on the kitchen table – an offering on a silver platter (CLEVER Sal!!) Then, the pickings having been so easy, they’d decided to test their luck upstairs. You hear all the time of burglars who completely wreck homes, as well as stealing what they can (last week, in the absence of richer pickings, thieves even stole the urn containing a local householder’s, wife’s ashes!).

But our burglars were not vandals. They were light-footed, light-fingered Gentlemen (whom I imagine were also more needy than I). With relatively little inconvenience to myself, (yes, I had to call a locksmith to fix the door and replace an ancient pc; and YES, I replaced my adored Samsung with a poxy nokia - no, nokia does not merit a capital N!) they taught me important lessons too.

Together with our close neighbours we've now formed a "vigilanti" Whatsapp group. 

Civic solidarity is very uncommon in Italy for many reasons. Italians have historically had to hone their adaptability in order to survive and flourish under numerous invaders So they tend to take care of their nearest and dearest, at the exclusion of realising the potential power of a collective force for a common aim. Although it's a really tiny gesture,  a Whatsapp group which promotes the good of everyone in the community is still a move in the right direction.

I've also learnt to be less naïve and now though I don’t stash my valuables in a safe before I retire to bed (I haven't got a safe) I do remove them from their usual daytime spot. It's true that I can't absolutely stop burglars getting in if they want to, but I can impede their finding anything worth stealing – cunning eh?

And I shut the outer doors too,  huge iron bolts and all.

The state of "lock-down"

Mostly I can shift this bolt with two hands, but sometimes I have to take a hammer to it if I want to get out.

There's a vital point I haven't changed though - and that is to live in my home in a state of serenity

For years I’ve had some favorite mantras which I repeat to myself at specific times (I’ve been known to enthusiastically involve everyone within earshot in harmonious repetitions of some mantra or other; my  popularity with my children on such occasions soars).

If I’m leaving for a holiday for example, but also randomly, the mantra is:

“Only those who wish me well enter my home”,

and this is repeated with unshakeable conviction, together with "I always travel safely". 

“Attitude of gratitude” is another Oldy but Goody. 

So I choose to be grateful to our uninvited visitors of last year for all that I’ve learnt, (yep, that’s me “reclaiming my power”).

“Thank you” for that boys.  Just don’t hurry back!

A painting by Josie

This is an (almost) entirely gratuitous photograph of a picture painted as a surprise gift for me by my lovely niece.
It shows part of the facade of my house and you can just about see the outer wooden doors and the shutters which were constructed to keep out some of the marauders who have invaded this area of Italy over the centuries. That I didn't bother to shut them too beggars belief.

Josie is the Education Editor at the Telegraph online http://www.telegraph.co.uk/journalists/josie-gurney-read/

This Blog is pro-autism.
Thank you, Sallyxx


  1. This is fun to read. What a brilliant initiative Sally.

    1. What a compliment, coming as it does from you! Thanks so much Suella

  2. It's lovely to find such a comprehensive blog covering all aspect of your life. Well done x
    Anna's Island Style

    1. Thanks Anna, I'm especially glad you like it as your life interests me a lot, and I find myself drawing parallels between your island existence and what mine might be (when I finally move to Favignana).
      I'm sorry it's taken me a while to answer but I had to nip back to the UK on short notice with no time to think about my blog.
      So now it's Christmas day...... "Happy Christmas"

  3. I love your poncho - I could happily live in there! :-) What gorgeous photography too, you live in a beautiful country - I travelled around Tuscany, Florence and Venice on my honeymoon and totally fell in love with Italy too! It's lovely to see parts of it in your blog and your house looks beautiful too!

    1. HaHa, it's wierd how many people want to live in my poncho :)
      Yes, Italy is very beautiful. Having chosen to live here I find it frustrating to see how foreigners seem to value its beauty more than the Italians themselves. Here in the north they seem hell-bent on ruining it for everyone. In the name of "progress", they build; covering swathes of stunning rural landscape with asphalt, concrete and industrial buildings which for the most part stand there blighting the view - unfinished and unoccupied. Honestly, it pains my soul to witness such short-sightedness clumsyness from so dynamic a nation.


I'm so glad you visited today - please stop and say a quick "Hello". Sx