Danger: Chestnuts and Chasseurs!

Back from a crazy, noisy and frenetic Rome holiday (of which more below) to find Autumn has arrived with the dropping of the chestnuts. The spiky casings carpet the floor of the chestnut groves and the roads they overhang. Even though Delia doesn’t like them much I find myself compelled to gather them. There is something about their dark brown shininess and the fact that there always might be a bigger one in the next casing… When I was a kid collecting horsechestnuts it was the same. There were only so many you could use to play conkers with (put string through a hole in it and then hit someone else’s, taking turns until it breaks). In French a horsechestnut is “marron d’inde” and a sweet (edible) chestnut is a “châtaigne” – except when a “marron glacé” which are candied sweet chestnuts (apparently the larger, higher quality and more easily peeled ones are the “marrons”). Usually the chestnuts form triplets within a single spiky casing. Use your feet either side of casing to prise them open (they REALLY are spiky!). Commonly the middle one is underdeveloped and sometimes just a sliver, to the advantage of the other two. Sometimes it is the central one theat has grown to the disadvantage of its outer siblings. In either of these cases, especially the latter, the nuts can be significantly larger. Each step I take and it seems I see ever larger and irrestible ones bursting out of their casing. The table top photo below show the chestnuts from “our” grove and the much smaller ones from a “wild” chestnut.

The danger? They can fall on your head and I can say from personal experience (as could Siena) that the bunches of, sometimes tennis ball-sized, spikily encased chestnuts pack quite a punch.

As well as Autumn, now is the time of “la chasse” and “les chasseurs” – the hunt! Deer of various sizes, wild boar, rabbits and the occasional rambler seem to be fair game for the “les chasseurs” during hunting season. Apparently they are supposed to wear hi-viz jackets to prevent them shooting each other (by accident at least). However those I have encountered seem to just wear camouflage jackets. Yesterday morning, Siena arrowed straight towards a group of four or five heavily armed (well each carrying long barrelled shotguns anyway, couldn’t see any RPGs or bazookas at least) with two dogs exiting a copse. Their dogs not being particularly interested in her, she soon decided to return, which she can do with remarkable speed, indeed I could see hunters pointing at Siena and clearly doing just that… remarking, that is. Saw another hunter this morning criss-crossing the field Siena usually bounds around in but this time I was prepared and she was kept on the lead.

As for Rome, Delia has already given her diary version so let me give you my highlights… We surprised Scott (whose 40th birthday treat it was to visit Rome and allegedly with us being a further surprise and “treat”). It is difficult to encapsulate all the experiences of Rome. Staying in the heart of a lively restaurant district was fab. A bar in a nearby square had a view of a lovely church St Maria which became a preferred place for an evening drink to enjoy the musicians and ignore the selfie stick hawkers. One more general highlight for me was the surprise at just how extensive the archaeological remains were and how the layer cake of two millennia was preserved for us to gawk at. Classic and clichéd sights like the Colisseum, the Pantheon and St Peters in the Vatican were must sees of course and highlights of our visit but it was often the smaller churches that surprised and amazed me. I’ve walked Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland (UK), Silchester in Berks, Stonehenge and many other sites but none had the depth of history that could be felt here. Yes there were a a lot of “series of small stone walls” as Scott quoted a definition of archaeology (all I can find is a website) but there was a lot of impressively well preserved gigantic monuments too.


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