Sunday 26 July 2015

Long hot summer

Finally we had a thunderstorm last night. We were eagerly waiting for the rain after weeks of sweltering temperatures in the high 30s. I felt like I was back in India! Except that in India we were used to have ceiling fans to keep cool. So to cope with the heat we bought a portable pedestal fan which ran constantly day and night. We then decided it would be good to have a second fan, one for upstairs and one for downstairs, and headed back to the same shop in Pazin where we had bought the first one. But they were already sold out! So were all the other shops.

On Thursday there were hints of a storm approaching, announced by the rumbling sound of thunder coming from a distance. Again, I felt like I was back in India waiting for the first anticipated drops of the monsoon rains to arrive and bring relief from the heat. A few big drops fell, but not enough to completely soak the ground. Then a few hours later, the distinct smell of something burning was in the air. We quickly found out that there were forest fires burning nearby in Kršan and Plomin, where the lightning from the aborted storm had set trees on fire. This was devastating news because there were already fires burning in other parts of Croatia which had decimated hectares and hectares of forests and agricultural land, and just the week before there had been other fires in Istria.

From the village, the view east towards Kršan and Plomin was very hazy because of the smoke in the air and the wind even carried ashes from the fires all the way to our courtyard. By nightfall the fires were still burning in Plomin and we could see the glow of the flames on the hillside.

Then when things finally seemed to be under control, the fire in Kršan suddenly reignited and another fire was announced near Tinjan in central Istria. We heard the Canadair planes whizzing overhead on their way to drop seawater onto the flames.

Forest fires are very common during very hot and dry summers like the one we’re experiencing. And unfortunately they are not always started by natural phenomena like lightning but also purposely by arsonists.

So the thunderstorm last night and the intermittent showers we’ve been having all morning have been very welcome. The forecast for the next few days is a more comfortable 30/31 degrees and hopefully all the fires have been extinguished and the risk of fire is diminished. The fire-fighters can finally take a rest and so can our trusty fan!

Wednesday 8 July 2015

Rocks and stones

Here in the village I’m surrounded by old stones. Our house is made of stone just like the others here in the ‘old town’, as well as in other towns and villages all over Istria.

In the countryside, old walls made of stacked and interlocked stones separate fields and enclose properties. Many of these stones have been sitting one on top of the other for decades, maybe even centuries. Very often these are dry stone walls built without mortar. The typical cylinder-shaped kažuns which dot the countryside here and there and date back to Roman times were built with the same ‘dry stone technique’.

It’s not surprising that Istria’s houses and walls were traditionally built with the materials available locally: mostly stone. Istria has a lot of it. Its landscape is a rocky one made of marlstone and sandstone, while its many hilltop villages sit on beds of hard limestone.

Our village was built on top of a hill on a rocky outcrop, the evidence of which is easily visible. Pieces of the big rock can be seen at several spots around the village, peeking out from underneath houses, buildings and churches, and even occupying cellars. While we were renovating the house, workers spent two months battling it out with the rock, painstakingly breaking it up into pieces and hauling away 15 truckloads. 

Battling it out with the rock!

We have a few remnants of some of the hardest and most stubborn pieces which are now permanent fixtures in our house: a big chunk of rock protrudes from the wall under our staircase. And another remnant is visible in our hallway. I like these centuries-old relics of stone which connect our little house firmly to the earth.

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