Week 14 – The Castle in the Valley

by H D Thompson

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My castle has a dungeon which is used as a storage hole and, if I had any, it would be where I would throw my belligerents. It has a viewing window on the lower floor which is where I would watch them beg for mercy while I waited for my spin cycle to finish.

I went into Perugia when Toby and Tom left, to check it out and also to get supplies a tiny village just doesn’t stock. Like power adapters and dentists. At the two tourist information posts I went to, they barely spoke English and offered little to no help whatsoever. I begrudged them very little though, I was on their turf and if they didn’t feel like it they shouldn’t have to do a damn thing. The bus system is incomprehensible here and getting back to my village was an impossible task. The woman who sold bus tickets hadn’t even heard of my town and was shocked to find it in her ancient binder. She seemed to just guess the price of the ticket, and in our broken languages, she pointed to where the bus would arrive. The bus didn’t arrive at the time the schedule said, but this is Italy, so I gave it a bit. After a bit turned into two hours, I got a taxi home, making it easily the most expensive trip I have done so far. The hardest part of not speaking a language is that I can research what to say exactly, but when someone responds I’m at the end of my game. No one in Perugia seemed to speak a word of English, which as a University city with a lot of young foreign people, I found hard to believe, but there is just something terribly romantic about being shunned.

While in Perugia I came across a very distressed woman yelling at me in Italian and waving her hands about. She was perfectly done up and wore a fur-trimmed coat with pristine nails and hair and was basically the perfect image of dramatic Italian senora, so obviously I was into whatever this was. After a lot of gesturing, I figured out that she was bogged on the side of the road and she needed me to push. I couldn’t push drugs onto an addict, but it’s impossible not to help a damsel in distress. I mean, I was living in a castle. After a pathetic effort on my part (I have the upper body strength of the Pillsbury Doughboy and cars are really heavy you guys), she managed to recruit a few other young men as they passed by and we got her out eventually. She thanked us with cheek kisses and Italian exasperations I didn’t understand. She was like a creature from a movie, written by the gods.

The first week of castle-dwelling was wrought with problems. The washing machine was faulty and needed repair, and the hot water wasn’t working. I couldn’t shower or clean my clothes, so in my hermit-like state, I became unkempt and wild. I would look at my raggedy reflection and see the glamorous life of living alone I had basically always imagined. Once everything was fixed, I had to get back to the laborious practice of showering and wearing clean clothes. Which really, was for the best, but I’m not going to lie and say that squalor felt wrong.

One night in my first few days here I woke up really early and heard the pawing and meowing of a cat that wanted to be let in. It was scary hearing something claw at the door in the dark so I refused to budge but now live in deep regret and loneliness. I vowed to let a cat in the next time it came rapping at my chamber door. It hasn’t happened yet, but I hear them getting closer and more desperate with every passing evening.

I’m getting really good at making fire. I was pretty ok before, thanks to my Boy Scout training, but having it as a necessity for heat and living really ups the skill level.

They say it’s good to have a routine in place, so every morning I make a cup of coffee, drape myself in the biggest blanket I can find, roll a cigarette, perch myself in the tower window and inspect the town below. There was the man who would empty his fireplace ashes in his backyard as if he were scattering the remains of a loved one. There was the woman in the green building who would beat rugs off her balcony. There was the gaggle of the local geese, bitching about the world. There was the lady making her morning stroll to the store, who I would wave to but who would never see me.

Only having about three pieces of clothing is great, I’m the neatest I’ve ever been in my life, and putting things away feels like such an accomplishment. I fold my three things and drawer them up and I’m like, chores done I am amazing. I am adult.

It’s fun to see different ads come up online now. The best one was for a British product that sprays a sheen over the toilet water so that your shit literally does not stink, which is the most English thing I have ever heard of.

Fucked a dude who’s a close family friend of Monica Bellucci. As in, I ate of the very same butthole that has shared a toilet seat with Monica Bellucci. Fucking fantastic.

This week the evenings have been incredibly windy. The one weakness in my fortress tower is the arrow slit window in the bedroom, which the router sits outside of, propping open the window slightly with the thin cord. The wind does not hold back. It was so noisy and cold I made a nest out of cushions down in front of the fire and slept there, beginning my decent into a little cinder boy.

There aren’t any people that speak English here because this village is so small, but when people ask what I’m doing I tell them I’m on a book tour, taking a break. They always seem impressed which is excellent because it could easily have been lost in translation, I am never going to see them again and I desperately need the praise.

The bells of the village church go off at very strange times and play varying tunes. I recognise them but I have no idea what they are, and I suppress my instinct to use my phone to find the melody because shazamming 14th Century church bells just feels so wrong.

The nearest grocery store is about an hour walk away. There are no paths so I had to walk on the side of the road. Cars sometimes honk and almost always give an obnoxiously unnecessarily wide berth when passing. On the way back it started to rain because if there was the one point of the day where it would rain it would be when I’m out walking in the middle of nowhere. A car stopped and a man offered me a ride. He spoke no English and I threw at him all the Italian I knew (toddler level is being generous), and he offered me some taffy he had in his centre console. As I got out and thanked him I realised that I had just gotten into a car with a stranger and he fed me candy and he didn’t even try to murder me. What a rip off.

So that I am not cooped up in my tower all the time, I got for at least one daily walk around the valley. Sometimes I come across fruit I eat for lunch, which always tastes sweeter not only because it is fresh but because it is free. When I find somewhere that looks nice and sunny, I prop myself down and read. I greet passers-by who scowl at me, confused as to what the hell a stranger is doing there. I tried exploring an abandoned looking shed I came across in a field but got yelled at by a farmer and left hastily. I had previously seen a farmer with a rifle and not known why he had one, and didn’t stick around to find out if it were for curious adventure spirits.

One night, as I sat in my rocking chair by the crackling fireplace reading, the wind was so intense it was battering the windows and squealing through the cracks. Rain thundered on the windows in what I am assuming was a more horizontal fashion than usual. I could hear cats meowing in the streets to be let in, the village dogs were barking loudly. Even the Italian winter evenings have a flair for the dramatic, which I obviously have nothing but time for.

In the local store, as I was buying some bread, the woman who I assumed to be the wife of the local wood man came in. She smiled and pointed at me and said, “Legna!”(wood). I tried to tell her my name was Harry, not Legna, but she laughed at my pathetic attempt to slay her new nickname for me. I guess I am now Legna. Legna is the creepy Australian who somehow made his way to a tiny village in a valley in Umbria in winter who spends his mornings leering out his tower window on the townsfolk below. Which I’m pretty ok with.

#H