Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Suddenly it's more than 20 degrees - so various noises - melting snow; the thump as it lands on the terrace at the back; the gradual exposure of the grass; the dogs luxuriating in the earth and sun. A new calf born yesterday at Viciu's.....
Earlier blogs complained about the backbreaking work involved in having wood as the main heating - but my flabby and fattening body was grateful for the physical toil involved in having a rural retreat.
There must have been a vicarious strand in me since amongst the books I have collected in the past couple of years are quite a few which celebrate nature and isolation. I started with Robert McFarlane's amazing "Mountains of the Mind", then found Roger Deakin's "Wildwood - a journey through trees" and then Richard Mabey's "Beechcombings - the narratives of trees". The latest were McFarlane's "The Wild Places";"Song of the Rolling Earth: A Highland Odyssey" by John Lister-Kay; and Deakin's Notes from Walnut Tree farm.
We all enjoy books about the joys and frustrations of rural living. Peter Mayle made it all fashionable - but there are so many accounts I have in my great library here - Harry Clifton's poetic "On the Spine of Italy - a year in the Abruzzi" (1999); Peter Graham's superb "Mourjou - the life and food of an auvergne village" (1998); Michael Viney's "A Year's Turning" (1996) about life in a remote Irish location to which they moved in the late 1970s. And I've just found Tahir Shah - whose "Caliph's House" and "In Arabian Nights" take us further afield to Morocco. I reamain pretty impractical - just noticing that the toilet is leaking from a crack it has sustained from the cold (I drain it when I'm not here in the winter so I don't understand how that could happen) - and now dreading the repair. But I have a marvellous new axe as a back up in case I bury the head of the one I have irretrievably in a log!
The combination of economic crises, urban pressures and crazy management systems have made "simple living" a more attractive option. Ghazi and Jones's "Downshifting - the guide to happier, simpler living" appeared 12 years ago (1997) - and it was in 1998 that the sociologist Richard Sennett published "The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism" in which he saw soul-destroying consequences in our new work habits,endless hours spent at flexible jobs, performing abstract tasks on computer screens. Last year, in "The Craftsman" Sennett suggested that skilled labour could be a way to resist corporate mediocrity. The environmentalist writer Bill McKibben proposed something similar in "Deep Economy" which condemned the ruinous effects of endless economic expansion and urged readers to live smaller, simpler, more local lives. This artisanal revival has been particularly pronounced among foodies, thanks in part to the writer Michael Pollan, who helped popularize an American variant of the Italian culinary-agrarian movement known as Slow Food. In "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defence of Food" Pollan surveys and explains the excesses of the industrial food chain and praises small farms and local produce.
These ideas have crept farther toward the mainstream in the wake of the economic collapse, which inspired calls for a return to "real work", a return, in other words, to activities more tangible (and, it was hoped, less perilous) than complex swaps of abstract financial products.
Of course, it's easy for me to talk - I'm comfortable financially (as long as the banks don't go bust) - and can always jump into my car and do the odd bit of consultancy in Bulgaria or Macedonia; or take in a concert at Brasov or Bucharest. And, if I had only the village gossip for social contact (rather than the internet) I might be driven up the wall! But for the moment, let me indulge my fancy and be one more small voice arguing for a return to more natural living.
Just in case you haven't noticed, I've cheated - and reproduced my blog of exactly a year ago!