Naples Part 1: Seeing Naples and Dying

Buongiorno!

I’ve been to Naples! I had 3 days or so there this week and I can confirm, the city has my seal of approval ūüôā ¬†Its chaotic, vibrant, dirty, spectacular and fun all at the same time.¬† What it lacks in cleanliness it makes up for in atmosphere. It has hills, coast, amazing¬†architecture and great food. I’ve written up my little trip in three parts. This, Part 1, is a general summary. Part 2 covers things to do in the city if you visit yourself. In Part 3 I’ll tell you about my visit to Pompeii and Herculaneum.

There is a really nice vibe about Naples. It has the most depressing apartment blocks I’ve ever seen (so ugly and unkempt they’re picturesque), just seconds away from swish hotels with doormen outside. Almost all of the apartment blocks look worse for wear sporting a ‘never been painted’ look with clumps of building missing. Rubbish litters the confetti sprinkled streets (confetti is used here for lots of celebrations, not just weddings so it’s literally everywhere!).

 

That said the Neapolitans, making the best of a bad job, do what they can to make their space as nice as they can by putting the occasional plant out on the balconies. And despite graffiti stretching up to head-height, it’s¬†generally soppy rather than offensive; ‚ÄúI only want you‚ÄĚ, ‚ÄúYou are in my dreams‚ÄĚ etc. (also ‚Äúdon‚Äôt park here on pain of death‚ÄĚ but let‚Äôs gloss over that one!). There’s even a Banksy!

The city very clearly has a past and its character is etched into the fabric of every building. Washing is hung up and sprawled across cobbled streets (I can’t help but think that it’ll end up dirtier than when it started).

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The bottom part of each palazzo often seems to have been turned into a shop of some sort, particularly around ‘Spaccanapoli’ – a road running through the centre of Naples’ old town. Neapolitans are a very holy lot; there are churches everywhere and where there isn‚Äôt a church there‚Äôs a shrine embedded into the wall.

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One of the many, many shrines.

I can see why there’s such a¬†need to feel like there’s some higher being looking down on you. Aside from the constant threat of volcanoes, to get anywhere by foot, one must step into speeding traffic and blindly hope you won’t be run over. I don’t think this is what is meant by the “see Naples and die” phrase though! However, you can manage to get around to see the main sites on foot. I wouldn’t recommend driving (car or vespa – it’s manic and once you park, someone will block you in) but other options are the metro which only costs a euro, trams and buses. Sightseeing buses are 22 euros but they can’t access many of the the narrow streets that make up much¬†of Naples.

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I couldn’t get the hang of crossing the road at all. I often waited at the side of the road and then sidled across with someone that looked like they knew what they were doing. If I could have held their hands, I’d have felt better still. This photo is not representative of the sheer amount of traffic but I quite liked it anyway for some reason!

 

So yes, it‚Äôs certainly chaotic but charmingly so. ¬†I found the people to be generally quite friendly. ¬†There were people that seemed quite obviously fed up with tourists but nobody was rude, just direct. Even the grumpy ones seemed to warm up ‚Äď one guy let me off paying extra to ‚Äúeat in‚ÄĚ because I was nice (he said this without once breaking out of his grimace). A guy at the train station gave me a cheap ticket because I only had a credit card and they didn‚Äôt take them (can you imagine someone in the UK doing that?!) A waiter at a fish restaurant gave me a note to give to the manager of the pizzeria up the road to give me a good service, despite me having complained to¬†him for implying vegetarians eat fish (THEY DON‚ÄôT! You can‚Äôt arbitrarily decide what animal is OK to eat. That just makes¬†you a fussy meat-eater).

There’s none of this anonymity like you get in other cities where eye-contact is something that is avoided like the plague. People yell across at balconies to their mates, old ladies walk arm in arm, men fist-bump each other on their scooters, they beep at their friends and even the school kids seem to greet each other by hugging and kissing.

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You’re not held to dress-code rules here either Рyou can chose what you wear based on temperature rather than the month like you are in other parts of Italy.

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They‚Äôre so unlike ‘normal’ Italians –¬†some guys actually stripped off and jumped into the water. I mean, it was a nice day but it’s February and the water is surely a little chilly?! An Italian in Le Marche wouldn‚Äôt be able to compute that at all assuming they were committing suicide!

Eavesdropping is difficult. Neapolitans speak in an accent and dialect so strong and odd that it could be a foreign language. They do speak ‚ÄúItalian‚ÄĚ though too when needs must and lots speak English.

As with many cities, there are a lot of beggars and homeless folk (mostly all with fancier smart phones than I have curiously). Naples also has a terrible reputation for thieves. I almost didn‚Äôt bring my camera just in case it got stolen.¬† However, I think it‚Äôs pretty much like London. You just need to be careful ‚Äď don‚Äôt leave your stuff unattended, maybe use a backpack rather than a handbag…¬† I didn‚Äôt feel too unsafe anywhere. I‚Äôm not sure whether it‚Äôs comforting or the opposite but there seem to be police riot vans and army vehicles around every corner.

If you’re a man coming to Naples and you want to fit in, you must leer at women as they walk past and tell them they’re beautiful. If you’re a woman, you must ignore them. How the men escape these daily interactions with their self-esteem intact, I’ll never know.

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This is a terrible photo (but one that makes me laugh) of a handsome chappy that has absolutely nailed his “leer”. He can be found in the Certosa di San Martino.

 

Staying in Naples

I stayed in a nice hotel called Hotel Rex. It’s on the seafront and therefore marginally out of the hustle and bustle of the main town, particularly at this time of year. However,¬†after 5 minutes walking, you’re in Piazza Plebiscito which is a very grand open space surrounded by majestic buildings and then after a further few minutes walk and you’re in the ‘old town’. I really enjoyed escaping the chaos and coming back to the hotel at the end of the day. The staff were all very friendly and the breakfast offered a good range of food.

I think that about sums up Part 1 of the trilogy! Tune in for Part 2 to see what sights Naples has to offer…

I hope you’re all having a great weekend!

x

 

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Snow shoes, navigating the Italian health system and kitties

Buongiorno!

How is everyone? Well what a few weeks!

2017 hasn’t got off to the glowing start I had hoped! We have had unbelievable amounts of snow blocking people in their houses for up to two weeks, often without electricity. If that wasn’t bad enough, there were four strong quakes and where can you go when the roads are all closed and your car is buried under a couple of meters of snow?! And then the heartbreaking avalanche that buried Hotel Rigopiano killing 29 people, and¬†a¬†helicopter that was attempting to rescue a mountain climber crashed killing everyone on board. Central Italy just can’t get a break at the moment.

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My neighbour took his photo of our poor abandoned house in Sarnano when she eventually managed to get through the snow to reach it!

Thankfully the snow on the particular ridge and valley where I am temporarily living was only a foot deep and the snowplow came and dug us out that night even up the drive – but the ridges and valleys on either side of us had over a meter of snow and lots of power issues. The damage from the earthquakes this time seems to be minimal (surprising given the additional stress on the houses that the snow added) but the damage from the snow itself has been quite widespread mainly in terms of damaging barns and there doesn’t seem to be a tree in Le Marche that has been left unscathed!

Meanwhile, I’ve been suffering with¬†awful headaches every night (any of my readers suffer from¬†cluster headaches?) so it’s been an interesting week testing out the Italian health system.

Unfortunately if you don’t have a ‘proper’ job and you’re not registered as unemployed, you have to pay about 380 euros for a “tessera sanitaria” (a health card) to be able to access Italy’s national health service. Although if it’s an emergency they’ll see you anyway. You pay for a calendar year, running¬†from January to December, regardless if you’ve paid the full amount in November the previous year. I had a very exasperating visit to ASUR (Azienda Sanitaria Unica Regionale), the administration side the health service to try and get my card renewed. Frustratingly the office workers didn’t seem to know they were responsible for providing this service. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I can confirm if you burst into tears of frustration, stuff gets done! When it seemed I would leave with nothing, I¬†left with a health card, free drugs and an appointment with the neurologist 5 days later.

On a slightly related note,¬†purchasing medicine in Italy is odd: prescription-only drugs in the UK can be purchased over the counter in Italy (albeit at an eye-watering price, unless they’re antibiotics in which case they’re really cheap and freely available!), and basic painkillers which cost a pittance in the UK cost a lot here. If the UK and Italy teamed up, I think we’d have quite a good health service and drug provision.

Meanwhile, it hasn’t all been bad. I went ¬†for an organised ‘Ciaspolata’ (snow shoe walk) with a group called Con in faccia un po’ di Sole¬†at the weekend in Bolognola (in the Sibillini’s). It was an absolutely stunning day for the walk and though I’ve walked in those mountains quite a bit now, it’s totally different when everything is so snowy! The guide was excellent too and was able to identify¬†which animals had made the various tracks in the snow.

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This photo taken by our guides was our Ciaspolata group Рa colourful lot!

In other good news, I have two kittens staying with me at the moment! Batfink has been distinctly unimpressed but yesterday marked a breakthrough – I came in to find them all in a tangled cuddly heap. Those who have followed this blog know that I don’t have much luck with kittens and cats – they pretty much all get run over, poisoned or die of flu. So in order to keep my expectations in check, I’ve dubbed the kittens Doomed and Fated. In fact, to illustrate my point, they did have a sweet little sister. I’ve retrospectively called her Mauled. You’ll never guess what happened to her ūüė¶

This year, I decided I was going to try and become a ‘professional’ artist. I thought the easiest and most pleasant way to do this would be to get portrait commissions as I really like painting them. I have about 4 commissions and each one is driving me insane! I think a less stressful strategy ¬†is to just paint stuff, and then if people like it they can buy it. So that shall be the plan going forward! Still, I bought some mounts in nice cellophane wrapping – it’s amazing how that kind of things gives everything a much more professional feel.¬†Check out the latest pics here.

I think that’s about it from me. I hope you’re all having a good week.

A presto,

x

 

 

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Happy New Year!

Buonasera a tutti!

Happy New Year!¬†How is everyone?! Well it’s been AGES since I’ve written. There’s not been a lot to update on to be honest!

At the end of November I went back to the UK to sort out a few bits and pieces and only came back to Italy a week ago.

I must say, I was thrilled to wave goodbye to 2016 which saw a pretty relentless stream of, let’s say ‘challenges’. ¬†My usual ‘end of year summary’ (you can take the girl out of project management but not the project manager out of the girl!) wasn’t as life affirming as it usually is. The comparison of¬†‘What went well’ (e.g. June was quite sunny) against, ‘What could have gone better’ (e.g. earthquakes, deaths, illnesses, taxes, ‘Brexits’ and things broken &¬†stolen) wasn’t too favourable if I’m being totally honest. So I would just like to take this opportunity to welcome 2017 and may it be less depressing than last year!

It’s been lovely to be back in Italy. My new temporary home in Ripatransone looked very pretty this week with a dusting of snow.

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One of the vineyards near the house

I had some (good?) news about my home in Sarnano. Although we’re still awaiting a second lot of engineers to come and assess the damage following the earthquakes it appears it is not likely to be knocked down and rebuilt but fixed up instead. Whether that’s ultimately good or not from a strategic or logical point of view, I don’t know. I suspect a shiny new anti-seismic block of concrete would have been the more sensible option if there was a choice in the matter. However, from an emotional perspective I miss my little pile of rubble with its odd quirks. Either way, I imagine it’ll be years until I can move back there so I’ve started looking at alternative options so¬†watch this space!

I popped up to Jesi to see some friends at the weekend. We went to see a great exhibition in¬†Palazzo Bisaccioni which was an ex-bank building. It’s well worth a visit – it’s free to get in. At the moment there’s an exhibition called “IL SOGNO LIQUIDO” by Andrea Crostelli which runs until the 29 January¬†2017. Crostelli¬†works in oils and has a very diverse range of art but this exhibition had a very dream like feel to it – in fact, in English the exhibition is called “The Liquid Dream”. It was great talking to the artist too; he’s a really nice guy and very encouraging when I said how I’d love to have my own exhibition one day.

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Thanks to ‘Il Polemico’ for photo provision! Mine didn’t save!

On another floor there’s an exhibition dedicated to art from the 1500’s to the 1700’s – it’s nice to wander around and marvel at how bulgy eyed and horrible everyone looked (see my theory about this here). ¬†On the ground floor there’s another exhibition dedicated to art from the first part of the 1900’s and a small exhibition dedicated to the lira. I’m glad they don’t have the lira here these days; I don’t think I could work with such high numbers! On the ground floor there’s still the safe for the bank which was fascinating to see. You’re free to wander around the building on your own but there are a couple of curators that are available to provide information and are really very knowledgeable.

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Italian’s always call each other “Tesoro” (Treasure) as an affectionate term. It made me double take seeing it above this vault!

Meanwhile, I’ve been busy doing some painting over the Christmas period. My objective for this year is to be able to call myself an artist without cringing ¬†with embarrassment at¬†having the audacity to declare myself so! For that, I think I need to sell artwork. With that in mind, I offered portraits for ¬£15 (or 15 euro such is the current exchange rate – thanks a lot Brexit) on my Facebook account. I have had three commissions so far and let me tell you, painting a commission is an entirely different ball game! There’s a lot more pressure. Anyway, we’ll see how that develops. If you want to see the latest check out my other blog¬†and/or follow me on Instagram (@apaintingocassionally).

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This is one of my paintings from last week’s local watercolour class. I wish I could take all the credit but it was a copy from my very talented teacher, Terry Banks!

On another note, my parents had my decent camera repaired¬†as a Christmas present. It broke during the Walk of Doom last year. I like taking pictures for the blog and it’s been difficult to get enthused about my phone camera photos so I’m thrilled about my fixed camera. Here’s a “got my camera back” blackbird photo that I took in the back garden…

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Anyway, that’s about it from me. I hope you’re all well!

A presto,

x

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Mantova and the Mystery of the Monstrous Muses

Buongiorno a tutti,

How is everyone? I‚Äôve had a good few days. I’ll start with an earthquake update, as is the tradition of late!

Earthquake update

We‚Äôre still waiting for engineers to come around to ‚Äėofficially officially‚Äô declare the house uninhabitable. It‚Äôs already been ‚Äėofficially‚Äô declared uninhabitable but well, I guess they want to be thorough about it. After that, apparently the more expert structural engineers will be around, which could still be weeks away, to tell us what they think needs to be done to the house: knocked down or renovated somehow.

It’s very odd being without a plan. From about the age of 5 I probably had cunning plans of some sort, whether it was to be a chiropodist (I was an odd child) or tattoo artist or whatever. I’ve always had a pretty clear idea of where I’d be living and what I’d be doing. It’s odd suddenly being thrown into a life of uncertainty for a planning sort like me. However, friends have told me that I should be more spontaneous (I do schedule time into be spontaneous but apparently that’s missing the point), so perhaps this is a good, albeit enforced, opportunity!

So, in an effort to improve my spontaneity, my friend and I planned decided impromptu to go to Mantova last weekend. My friend used to live in the area and has fond memories of it. It’s in the region of Lombardia, about 4 or 5 hours drive up north from where I live.

In the past, running towns in Italy was very much a family business and in Mantova it was no different, run by the very influential Gonzaga family for many years. The town centre is a World Heritage Site. Mantova was one of Italy‚Äôs hubs for the Renaissance. Artists and musicians from all over Europe were invited here to entertain the ‘powers that be’ and to design and decorate the lavish palaces there. The fictional Romeo, of Romeo & Juliet fame, was supposedly extradited here. Virgil, the great Italian poet, was born here and¬†Monteverdi premiered his great Opera L‚ÄôOrfeo here.

Travelling¬†to Mantova¬†is very atmospheric as the city seems to rise out of nowhere as you cross a bridge over the artificial lakes that surround it. It has lots of porticoes (covered walkways) supported by columns that usually have apartments above. These porticoes seem quite an ‚ÄėItalian‚Äô feature to me, though in my patch I don‚Äôt think we have any to my knowledge. There are lots of shops ‚Äď some chain stores but mostly little boutiques. People have their own style here. My friend calls it ‚Äúbonbon‚ÄĚ whatever that is. I think it basically means simple but chic.

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These are porticoes, under the arches…

We also went to visit the Basilica Concattedrale di S. Andrea¬†which is absolutely spectacular inside. It’s all been expertly painted to seem completely ¬†3D, with the walls that are entirely flat seeming to be great looming intricate marble columns.

We also went to see the theatre, Teatro Bibiena¬†which is one of the nicest theatres I’ve ever been¬†to. ¬†You have to pay 2 euros to visit and it was well worth it because a group of musicians were practicing for a performance there later that evening. I recommend that strategy – you can get front row seats for something that would usually cost lots more!

It’s also nice to have a wander around the lake which had a very atmospheric layer of mist covering it when we visited…

On our last day we spent a few hours inside the¬†Palazzo Ducale where the Duke and his family lived. The palace is interesting in itself ‚Äď the ceilings are all either wooden, or painted with frescoes and my personal favourite, a maze (bottom left hand corner below).

The Duke had a reproduction of a palace that is in Rome (alas I can’t remember which one!) built inside his own palace but to fit it in everything was done in miniature. Unfortunately we weren’t able to go in during our visit. A legend developed about it being an apartment for dwarfs and in fact in one of the palace‚Äôs frescoes there is a picture of a dwarf.

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This is the Gonzaga family.

And this is my favourite fresco in the palace, it was actually on the ceiling of a very impressive room.

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The Palace is also the home to lots of portraits among other treasures. At the risk of sounding like a terrible art aficionado and angering those passionate about art, I would like to pose a question that I have been pondering for months.

Portraits of Italians (and maybe other nations for all I know ‚Äď this question has only really arisen for me in Italy during my attempts to be more cultured) that lived a few dozen / hundred years ago look like:

 

I challenge anyone to go into any Italian gallery where old paintings are shown and find anyone that doesn‚Äôt look utterly horrendous. If anyone had painted me like this….

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…I would have had them put to death (I say this in jest of course because as an aspiring portrait artist myself, I have an unfortunate knack of making everyone look terrible. If I was any good at oils, I probably would have done quite nicely back in the day.) My other personal favourites….

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Creepy cherub on steroids (apologies to the artist – please don’t roll in your grave – I really do like the painting)

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World’s first Renaissance Drag Queen?

I find it all very puzzling. I’ve come up with 4 theories for this anomaly:

  1. Italians in those days had bulgy, un-expressive eyes, chubby cheeks, bulbous lips and a completely missing jaw line. The artist’s representation was accurate. I‚Äôm not at all convinced of this theory because I have never seen an Italian or indeed anyone else (that doesn‚Äôt have an illness), look like this. I think it would take a while for genetics to change to the point where Italians look like they do today, particularly given the evidence seems to point to them all looking equally horrific at that time, leading to presumably similar offspring.
  2. The artists were terrible portraitists. I don‚Äôt believe this for one minute. All of the paintings are technically brilliant: the way the light is reflected off clothes, the luminescence of the skin, the detail… Some of the paintings we saw were painted by the renaissance‚Äôs greats. It feels almost blasphemous to suggest they weren‚Äôt any good at capturing a likeness (apologies Greats, I take this theory back).
  3. The artists have basically edited their portraits to make the subject more ‚Äėattractive‚Äô (where attractive in this instance, is ‘nightmarishly’ ugly). In the same way that in these days with the marvels of photo editing software, one can make jaw lines and cheekbones more pronounced, give people healthy glowing tans, make them skinnier, smooth their skin, perhaps back in those days, they ‚Äėedited‚Äô their paintings to make everyone‚Äôs eyes bulge. It‚Äôs already widely established that in the past being on the pale chubby side was considered beautiful (because it showed you were rich enough that you didn‚Äôt have to go out to work in the field and you had enough money to eat lots of lovely food) so perhaps that extended to their faces too. I just find it difficult to believe.
  4. Keeping on the editing theme, the artists were instructed to deliberate paint their subjects to be a bit scary and odd looking for the purposes of intimidating the peasants. Personally, I can’t imagine that. If it were me and this had been my goal, I’d still insist the artist make me look attractive but maybe add in an evil cape, trident and/or some rabid dogs.
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This is Montefeltro. His painting is displayed at the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino. Who knows whether he looked like this in reality but I think as the artist, I might have left the country immediately after the unveiling just to be on the safe side.

Does anyone else have any better ideas because I really am absolutely flummoxed!

On that note, have a good ‘rest of week’.

x

 

 

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Earthquakes, prisons for cats & explorations…

Buonasera,

I hope you’re all well.

Things are moving along here. On the earthquake front, we’re still getting quite a lot of tremors, still magnitudes 3 and 4 which aren’t insignificant. I guess it will take a while for the earth to settle down. I had never realised before just quite how long it takes for the aftershocks to stop after a big quake. It could be a year or more.

Storms and high winds (Sirocco winds from North Africa that can get to 100km an hour) have not aided progress. On my first day back from my UK visit I’d set up a tent in my neighbour’s garden as a place to hang out when I was ‘back home’, and hypothetically speaking, to store stuff rescued from my house (not that I would ever, of course, consider entering it as once it’s been declared dangerous, it’s illegal to ¬†enter and you can be fined heavily). Anyway, imagine my frustration when I discovered the following day that the tent had been ripped up and destroyed by the wind in the night¬†with all of the stuff I had managed to rescue from my house.

Just down my little road of a kilometer or less there were about five trees ripped up, blocking the road and lots more on the way back to ‘Home Two’ in Ripatransone.

They call our emergency centre in Sarnano ‘Base Camp’ – it makes me feel like I’m ¬†about to climb Everest each time I go in!¬†It’s a lot quieter there now with people having been moved out to hotels and apartments closer to the sea. The town centre is still closed and will remain that way for a while – there are very precarious tiles and chimneys that have come down that are balancing on ¬†roofs and that will all need to be sorted before people will be allowed back.

Next week the structural engineers will start doing property checks around the area. I really don’t know what they’ll say with regard to my place – whether it will need to be knocked down and rebuilt or whether there’s a chance it can be restored somehow. I’ve had promising chats with a Structural Engineer who says that perhaps my main concern – ‘the Bulgy Wall’ can be replaced and other measures put in place to make it more structurally sound. However, it’s never going to be great – basically in the event of another earthquake the amendments would just give me more time to get out before it crumbles! On the other hand if they do knock it down, I should be entitled to a new home, but¬†what if I don’t like it?! I don’t imagine I get much of a choice of design and with the building being shared by three others it will be difficult to agree a solution we’re all happy with. On the plus side, hopefully it wouldn’t crumble around me in my sleep so there are swings and roundabouts!

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The Bulgy Wall

Meanwhile, single displaced residents like I am get 300 euros towards accommodation and there’s talk of container houses being available before Christmas and wooden huts in the Spring. It’s difficult to piece together what’s rumour and what’s reality at the moment and I suspect the powers that be don’t have all the answers yet either.

Meanwhile, I’ve been enjoying my new home in the hills surrounding a little town called Ripatransone. The cat has settled in really well, I think he’s probably happier here away from ‘Evil Cat’ who used to attack him every time he left our old house. Now he has a very naughty little puppy to contend with, a 3yr old ‘mouse catching champion’ dog and two other cats.

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This is Batfink¬†relaxed in his new home – he likes his head being stroked! I’m not throttling him, honest.

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Despite looking innocent, this is a very naughty puppy. We¬†aren’t¬†talking at the moment. He pooed on my carpet and then I unwittingly trod in it with bare feet (just after I’d done my nails which further rubbed¬†salt into the wound).

The apartment is lovely and even has central heating – a complete novelty to me – so much so that I just can’t work out how it works!

The countryside around the house is really interesting and different from further north in Le Marche where my house is. I don’t have my decent camera at the moment but you get the idea…

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Those sort of protrusions of oddly shaped rock are called Calanchi. There’s lots of them in this area. I was quite pleased to capture this lovely rainbow!

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And the vineyards are spectacular at the moment.

I’ve finally done some exploring of some of the local towns¬†which has been great. I’ve been to…

Offida

Offida is known for its yearly carnival¬†which is apparently something to behold. Maybe this year I’ll have the opportunity to go. It’s also known for its tradition of bobbin lace making. My friend and I saw one woman who was demonstrating¬†‘lace’ jewellery in action – I thought I might get an idea of how it was done but she was impossibly fast! Even Offida has been impacted by the earthquake. The main square was full of firemen and vehicles and many of the buildings are cordoned off.

The people of Offida are very strict though; imprisoning cats for¬†their wrong doings. Who knows how long this¬†one has yet to serve…

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Cossignano

Cossignano is in an even worse state than Offida with a lot of the streets cordoned off. The damage to the buildings was perhaps a bit more obvious in parts too. From the bits we could see,¬†it looks very quaint. It’s a lot smaller than Offida. We found a lovely, empty restaurant called Elvira serving really nice cremini (bread-crumbed deep fried squares of custard… mmmm), giant portions of delicious pasta and some absolutely foul home-made alcoholic distillation of something (old socks?).

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Cupra Marittima

Cupra is a seaside town. I’m not endeared by many of the Italian seaside towns and this was no exception! They’re just a bit plain and uniform and well, I prefer quaint! HOWEVER, there IS Cupra Marittima Alta (‘alta’ means high) which is on the overlooking hill and that is absolutely lovely. It’s a very cute little village where it feels like all you do is walk upwards.¬†We didn’t see anyone else wandering around. We did find the only bar / restaurant though,¬†Pensione Castello,¬†and had a nice meal there. It’s rated number one in the area on Trip Advisor and specialises in fish. They did a good job at providing something for me though as a vegetarian. I would definitely go back in the summer, if only for the views which are spectacular and overlook the sea.

Grottammare

Grottammare is similar to¬†Cupra. It’s a seaside town which is pretty plain as far as I can establish but again has an absolutely lovely ‘alta’ part which I’ve¬†been to earlier in the year and thought was great.¬†I did take photos then though I can’t track them down for the moment. They had a food festa on last week where the streets were lined with stalls selling everything from chocolate to all manner of repulsive looking meats (there was one man stirring some stomachs and intestines around in a saucepan – deeeelicious).

Petritoli

Petritoli is another cute hill top town that’s worth a visit. I got lost on the way to the supermarket and ended up here so it was a rather quick visit but I’ll certainly go back.

Ripatransone

And lastly Ripatransone which¬†is now my nearest town – it has the smallest street in Italy (the world? Universe?). I can confirm it’s very small. Next time I’ll take a picture. I almost had to shimmy down it. It’s also got an amphitheatre where they have operas in the summer. We had a chat with an old lady for about half an hour whilst she gave us a bit of history of the town. I like it when that happens – it really is nice when people are so friendly and I think she liked sharing her knowledge too.¬†The photo’s below are from the old wash-house where women used to wash their clothes with water that was piped down from a spring on the local hill. There were some tops hanging up – perhaps the tradition is still on-going!

 

Well I think that about sums up the last couple of weeks. I’ve been busy sketching and painting this week which has been a nice change from packing and unpacking! If you want to receive painting updates as and when they happen, follow me on A Painting Occasionally ¬†(click the three lines on the right hand side for the “Follow” option!

A presto,

xxx

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A Painting Occasionally…

Buonasera,

I hope you’re all well! I’m utterly terrified to announce I have created a new blog called ‘A Painting Occasionally‘. I’ve spent a lifetime wanting to be an ‘artist’ and yet, I’ve been too much of a wimp to show anyone my work. To ¬†be honest, the website still needs some fine tuning but if I delay anymore it just wont ever happen!

Due to the earthquake, I’ve had to move to a new apartment. It’s going well and I’ll update in the next few days but one of the positives to come out of it all is having a new artist buddy / landlord¬†on hand to go on field trips with and having a lovely new area to explore.

So the blog is really just a way of charting my progress and hopefully motivating me to improve. I’m still trying to find my style and getting used to new mediums. At the moment I’m in a watercolour phase which is surprisingly tricky!

Anyway, this is just a quick update to point you to the new blog¬†and if you want to receive painting updates, please ‘follow me‘ on that blog.

x

 

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Life after earthquakes…

Buonasera……..

Well I don’t know where to begin.

Two more earthquakes struck central Italy last week, the last one on the 30th October was much stronger than the first one that struck in August. ¬†Thankfully nobody died directly as a result of that earthquake, but hundreds if not thousands of homes were shaken so much they’re ‘inagibile’ – uninhabitable, leaving thousands without homes. The majority are in the zone of Macerata where I live. The epicentres were only 13 and 20 miles away from Sarnano (my town). The last estimate I read was 30,000 people homeless. Hundreds of those are in Sarnano, sleeping in the sports centre and in their cars surrounding it, away from any buildings that could topple.

I’m very proud of how Sarnano is coping. Despite everything, they’re a strong and resilient lot.¬†We have a massive sports complex just outside of the town centre which is now full of beds and where people can get food. It’s our emergency area now – the base for the fire brigade and the Red Cross and even our ‘comune’ (local government) who are coordinating the salvage efforts. Check out this¬†article and video¬†to see for yourselves (scroll down for pictures).

If I think of the number of people without homes, then it really is quite¬†overwhelming but in fact, if you don’t look too closely, outside of the emergency area everything could seem like it was before. In the town centre, bars are open, the market still ran, the shops are open and life continues, though the conversations are somewhat different (“Is your house still standing then?” “Did you hear about x’s place?”). The ‘old town’ has been evacuated not because buildings have collapsed but¬†because¬†the chimneys were falling down¬†and tiles were falling off, bouncing on the guttering and falling onto the streets below.

So to be honest, from an outsider’s perspective it might not seem the disaster that it actually is for our little town. It’s not really until you look closer that you see the extent of the damage and you become aware of other impacts. Driving along the streets, yes, houses are still upright but one in every 5 will have a wall leaning perilously towards the street, no longer attached to the other ones, or a corner of the building which is coming away, or a roof that’s caved in.

My home is one of those. Although still standing the walls are cracked all the way through so it looks like a road map. Walls are bulging and in one place, just sort of bent out of shape entirely. All the ceilings and walls seem to be coming apart from everything else. On a more superficial level, glass and ceramic tiles cover the floors and there’s barely a thing still on the walls. A lot of my art projects completed over the years have smashed. I don’t think the house is¬†in danger of imminent collapse however, as long as there’s not another large tremor. But alas, there are tremors all day everyday and it seems like there will need to be at least one other large quake in order to reduce the stress built up on the fault line from what I understand from the people that know about these things.

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My poor house…

The rest of my hamlet is badly damaged too. The roof caved in on the house opposite and it’s covered in serious cracks. Hopefully it can be reinforced but meanwhile, the owner is devastated – her granddad was born in that house. The house next to it has a corner that is balancing in place, no longer attached to the rest of the house. The other three houses in my building are uninhabitable too. Although my next door neighbours place is fine he doesn’t feel comfortable coming to visit his house (a holiday home) given that mine will fall onto his¬†if it goes down. Another neighbour’s place is also uninhabitable with serious cracks running through it. There are 9 houses in my hamlet in total and six¬†are currently uninhabitable.

I was in England when the last two quakes struck so in one sense, I’m thankful I didn’t have to go through the terror of the quake but equally sad that everyone else did. ¬†The tremors never really stopped after the first quake in August, though they did calm down a lot. I always slept with shoes by my bed and a torch, just in case, with my usual cluttered house messy apart from a clear exit route. Even in the UK, my heart would miss a beat when large lorries would go past, rattling the house a bit. In fact, this ‘earthquake readiness’ is considered one of the factors that saved people’s lives – at the first sign of danger, you’re ready to get out but the constant ‘readiness’ takes its toll. Not wishing to sound too dramatic but people are literally broken-hearted; one Sarnanese woman died of a heart attack¬†after enduring a night of constant tremors in her car outside the sports centre and that sadly wasn’t a one off.

But it’s not just people’s homes that have been impacted, or their spirits, there’s lots of other hidden issues that you’d never even think about. For instance, Italian’s often keep their elderly parents in their homes looked after by a carer. The carers are almost entirely foreign. Dozens of carers in Sarnano have gone back to their own country understandably but it’s left the town’s elderly high and dry. Homes for the elderly are all full to the brim.

The next step is for the structural engineers to come around and officially declare houses habitable or uninhabitable. Mine will be uninhabitable. Who knows whether it can be fixed or rather whether it’s worth spending the money to fix it? Some say that¬†it’ll need to be knocked down; others think that it could be reinforced. Whatever the case, as it’s my primary residence the government should pay for the work but it’ll undoubtedly take years.

Meanwhile, I’ve been overwhelmed by the support of friends and family through all this and even people I barely know who have offered to help. The cat and I are now staying in a friend’s apartment in Ripatransone, a town not too far from the coast, still in Le Marche but further away from the danger zone. I’ve landed on my feet. The apartment is lovely and in a very pretty part of Le Marche that I’ve not really explored yet. I might be able to stay here for a while, though everything is still so up in the air. But¬†it’s not my home and it’s heart-breaking to think I may never chill out on my terrace trying to spot wild boar or deer again or¬†spend my evenings experimenting with what I can cook on my stufa.

So, in summary, it’s been horrible for everyone and continues to be a struggle but “ce la faremmo”, we’ll make it.

x

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The Good Life in Emilia-Romagna: Ravenna and Cesena

Buongiorno a tutti!

How are you all? It feels like ages since the blog tour- I feel like I should go back for a refresher! So, I’ve talked about places to stay, places to eat and food/wine production, and the city of Forl√¨, but we also managed to add in a few other activities and cities to our agenda that were totally ‘up my alley’: art, exhibitions, sculptures, nature and a million and one photography and drawing opportunities!

See flamingos at the Parco del Delta del Po

Did you know there were wild flamingos living in Italy?! I didn’t! I wouldn’t have believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes. They fly up from Africa and ‘hang out’ in the Parco del Delta del Po as a stop-over to other climes but they have been known to stay for much of the year. We had¬†a¬†lovely boat trip ¬†up the river for a¬†spot of bird watching. As soon as we started off in the boat a massive¬†heron swooped over the river in front of us above¬†a¬†cormorant who was demonstrating¬†his wing drying technique to us.

Our very knowledgeable English-speaking guide, Andrea, provided us with binoculars, pointed us in the direction of the local wildlife and gave us a commentary of the birds and plants that can be found there as well as the history of the park.

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FLAMINGOS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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I could just spend all day on this river. If I lived in the area, I’d be permanently out there on a canoe with my camera. What makes it so interesting to photograph were these weird little houses on stilts with fishing nets. They’re called “casoni” in the park, but elsewhere in Italy they’re known as trabucchi. It’s the lazy mans way of catching fish. You basically sit on the deck with a beer looking at flamingos, lower the net into the water and wait for a few minutes, raise the net and voila, you have fish (sometimes).

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I’m trying to get as much sketching done as possible at the moment – my theory is that if I’m painting or drawing something every day, I’m going to improve quickly… we’ll see! Anyway, this was my very quick 10 minute watercolour sketch of the casoni.

The park office itself is very geared towards education, particularly children, where you¬†can learn about how ox-bows are created and how the local water pumps work (the water pumps are essential to the area as a lot of the land in the area is actually lower than sea level). They also¬†have ‘The Magic Box’ – a sort of virtual reality room which makes you feel like you’re in a lift and where you can navigate through the different strata of the Earth’s crust and learn about them as you go. It’s very clever; it really does make you feel like you’re in a lift!

Ravenna Street Art by bike

One of my other favourite activities of our blog tour was a bike trip to see Ravenna’s Street Art led by our guide Marco Miccoli who organises a Street Art Festival¬†which takes place every¬†September. I’ve never seen such an array of impressive murals before. There are a lot to see and you can find guides and hire bikes at the tourist information office in Piazza San Francesco. The locals have a healthy respect for the art and we didn‚Äôt see any of them painted over. It‚Äôs a beautiful way of giving a new lease of¬†life to¬†boring old buildings though I think there’s been some mixed reviews from the residents! This was one of¬†my favourites…

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There is such an array of styles and techniques – not just the more typical ‘spray paint’ variety. It’s certainly worth a look at ¬†and it’s all free!

Learn how to make a mosaic 

Ravenna is famous for its mosaics. It has an incredibly high percentage of the world’s mosaics and they are everywhere. Have a look at one of my previous posts on Ravenna to check some of them out.¬†Our bike tour took us past Koko Mosaico¬†¬†where we saw some mosaic artists in action. I really fancy doing some mosaics ‚Äď they run courses one a month for a week. I’d love to give it a go! These are some of the mosaics that were on show at Koko Mosaico…

 

Visit the ID Dante exhibition

There’s not much time left to see this exhibition – it’s in the Biblioteca di Storia Contemporanea ‚ÄúAlfredo¬†Oriani‚ÄĚ and¬†it closes on the 23rd October so if you’re in the area, get a move on! The exhibition shows the works of 33 artists all with a common theme: Dante, the author of the Divine Comedy. The classic¬†image of Dante (check out the Wiki link¬†above to see it) is one where he seems to be wearing a¬†red night shirt with matching nightcap adorned with a sort of leafy halo (as you may be able to tell, I haven’t studied Dante or the Divine Comedy but from a novice perspective, that’s his image and it’s a well known one across Italy!). This exhibition¬†had artists interpreting¬†Dante’s portrait in their own style and using their own techniques. What a great idea – providing a¬†common theme and seeing how different people interpret it. Seeing and hearing about the artwork was fascinating. I quite fancy having a go at Dante’s portrait myself now!

And why Dante? Dante is more associated with Florence but in fact, he had¬†a big presence in Ravenna. Ravenna is where he died, his tomb is there (though I think there’s some question mark as to whether his body is?!). This project was designed to bring his presence in Ravenna more to the forefront. Here are my favourites from the exhibition. Guess which one of them gives me the creeps and makes my eyes hurt?

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Cesena

Our final destination for the Blog Tour was Cesena. It¬†was the first time I’d been to Cesena and I have to say, it’s¬†my favourite of the cities we visited, mainly because it seems to be able to combine a ‘hip and happening’ vibe with quaint cobble-stoned streets! Cesena is characterised by the imposing ‘Rocca Malatestiana’ a fortress built by the Malatesta family (the governing family of the region between 1295 and 1500).

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This is the Rocca Malatestiana. I still laugh when I think of the name of this family. “Malatesta”, the name of the family, sounds a lot like “mal di testa” when said quickly. “Mal di testa” means headache. During one tour of a castle years ago in Gradara, also inhabited by this family, I was struggling for ages to understand how headaches had such a prominent part to play in the history of the castle…

The city was surrounded by a wall, much of which still exists today and was designed by Leonardo Da Vinci. I was struck by how unimpressive the wall was – I mean, even I could have scaled it I think! However, it emerged that it was once surrounded by a moat and it rose further in my esteem when I learnt it was in the shape of a scorpion.¬†Cesena is also the home to the Biblioteca Malatestiana which was the first municipal library in Italy and has been granted “Memory of the World” status by UNESCO for the building itself and for the books it contains. The old part of the library hasn’t changed from when it was built almost 600 hundred years ago and it’s still possible to visit. To best explore¬†Cesena, it’s a good idea¬†to do it by bike. Everything is flat so it’s a good way to discover the city. There is an amazing free online audio guide that you can listen do on your way around.

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Our first stop on our bike tour was the¬†studio of¬†¬†Leonardo Lucchi¬†in Piazza del Popolo where there is also a permanent exhibition of his sculptures.¬†His sculptures are brilliant – the work is mainly females in¬†bronze with a sort of characteristic ‘balancing’ component which makes you wonder how on earth the sculpture is staying upright. All of them have a real delicacy about them. ¬†Here are some of¬†my favourites. The exhibition is free so pop in if you’re in Cesena…

Then we went outside of the city walls to follow the river

But my favourite part of the Cesena tour was inside the city walls. Cesena has all these quaint pretty painted houses and cobbled walkways. It really is a lovely city.

We planned our trip to Cesena perfectly in time for their International Street Food Festival¬†which has been going for 9 years or so. I was so thrilled! In Italy, you get a choice of Italian restaurants or Italian restaurants, or sometimes Italian restaurants! ¬†I mean, I love Italian food so it’s not a problem, but sometimes I just hanker after food that’s not Italian. So I was ecstatic to be able to eat a burrito (Mexican food for the Italian’s reading this!). I haven’t had one for over 3 years! And there was curry… mmmm curry! It’s definitely worth coming to Cesena just for this festival to be honest. The chefs are from all around the world and cook their own traditional food. Brilliant!

I could sit and have a drink in Piazza del Popolo, the main square in Cesena, for hours. In fact, we did. I managed to fit a drawing in too!

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So that about sums up my Blog Tour week. I had the best time with some lovely fellow bloggers who were incredibly patient with my Italian (I become monosyllabic after about 9pm) and I’m so pleased I had¬†this opportunity to explore the area¬†“off the beaten track” and meet some wonderful characters in the process.

Have a look at what my fellow bloggers had to say too:

Meanwhile, as ever, I am always available to be wined and dined on a blog tour in any hot, sunny country, perhaps by a beach (Maldives: You need me!). For any questions about what we did or for any corrections, drop me a line in the comments ūüôā

A presto,

x

 

 

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The Good Life in Emilia-Romagna: Forl√¨

Buongiorno a tutti!

I hope you’re all well and have been waiting with baited breath for the fourth part in the Settimana del Buon Vivere Pentalogy! We went far and wide during our week away¬†in the search¬†to discover why the region of Emilia-Romagna has come to be known as the region of “good-living”. We went on bike rides, boat trips, art tours and explored¬†Forli, Ravenna and Cesena¬†so all in all, it was a packed schedule! In this post I’ll write¬†about¬†some of the hidden gems we discovered in¬†Forl√¨.

Waterworks of Forli

Forli is a comune¬†and city in¬†Emilia-Romagna¬†and is the capital of the¬†province of Forl√¨-Cesena. It comes from the Latin name for the town ‚ÄúForum Livii‚ÄĚ. I suspect in the UK, not many of you will have heard of Forl√¨ but it played an important role in Italy‚Äôs history and has been the home to some of their more famous and forward-thinking people. In fact, the squares and roads are dedicated to one of the citizens they‚Äôre most proud of, Aurelio Saffi, a Politian active during the unification of Italy in the 19th century. More on him later…

The theme of the Settimana del Buon Vivere¬†this year was ‘Water’ so with that in mind we¬†had an ‘urban trek’ organised in partnership with the Municipality of Forl√¨ to discover ‘Forl√¨, the city of water`.¬†Now to be honest, when you walk around Forl√¨ the first thing you think is not ‚Äúwow, look at all this water‚ÄĚ so I was intrigued.¬†However, it really is a city of water; it’s just that you can hardly¬†see any of it!

We started off at the Rocca di Ravaldino (also known as Rocca di Caterina Sforza) where our excellent tour guide, Gabriele Zelli, gave us an insight into how important water was for Forlì in the past.

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Rocca means ‘stronghold’. Here’s the Rocca…

Gabriele told us about the past lives of the castle which was a defensive home of Caterina Sforza (the Countess of Forlì Рhave a look at her Wiki page, she was quite a character!) and its subsequent takeover by Ravaldino and then eventually its use as a prison. A moat ran around the castle which is now filled in and canals ran very close to it, and in fact still do, underneath roads and houses.

The canals were essential for farming and industry. A number of mills and tanning factories were set up along¬†the canals. ¬†Forl√¨ also has¬†a long history¬†of making sugar from a type of¬†beetroot (sugar beet) which¬†needs a lot of water which was why the canals were so important to the city. Along the canals there were also public wash-houses (lavatoio) where people¬†washed their¬†clothes. However¬†it wasn’t always an easy relationship Forl√¨ had with water; poor quality drinking water led to thousands falling¬†ill each year from typhoid and dysentery etc.

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Today, after further development of the city the canals are almost totally covered, apart from this part in the main city. They are still in use though by the farming industry.

Forl√¨ has a diverse range of architecture, demonstrated perfectly in Piazza Saffi, the main piazza. Here you can see buildings from both the renaissance period, the fascist period and the 1960’s (what were those architects thinking?!)

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A romantic scene snapped under the arches of the Post Office, in Piazza Saffi, constructed during the Fascist era!

This is Piazza Saffi with its eclectic architecture…

And these were some snaps taken during our tour. I loved this beautiful image painted on the side of a building near the San Giacomo church.

 

The Risorgimento at Villa Saffi

Villa Saffi is on the outskirts of the main town of Forl√¨ and was the home of Aurelio Saffi, the¬†Italian Politician that the Forlivese (residents of Forl√¨) are very¬†proud of. He was an active protagonist in Forl√¨’s ‘Risorgimento’ (the¬†fight for the¬†liberation and unification of Italy between¬†1750‚Äď1870)¬†and was¬†a good friend of Giuseppe Mazzini. Mazzini¬†led¬†the movement. The Risorgimento was unsuccessful¬†and they were exiled¬†to¬†the UK where Aurelio¬†met his wife, Giorgina Craufurd (the least sounding English name ever – I assume she got fed up of Italian’s¬†trying to pronounce Georgina Crawford and changed it!) ¬†Years later they moved back to Forl√¨ and lived there¬†until their deaths. It is possible to¬†take a tour around their house and see where secret political meetings were conducted, the ice-house, a lovely wall mural in the “table tennis room” and some of the niftiest furniture I’ve ever seen. In fact, there’s barely an item of furniture in the house it seems that doesn’t have some secret compartment, trick to using it or can turn into something else entirely.

Look at these signatures below. My photos are¬†a bit blurred unfortunately but aren’t they beautiful?! There is a remembrance book full of them for those that came to the funeral of Giorgina. It’s made me realise just how awful my signature and general handwriting is. Even the recipe below, an original from the kitchen,¬†looks elegant!

 

Restoring books at the Laboratorio del Restauro Libri

We also went to the Laboratorio del restauro libri in Forli to see how books are restored. This isn‚Äôt a tour open to the general public but for those interested in how the process works, tours can be arranged (see contacts in the link above). This was definitely one of the most fascinating parts of our week.¬†I am just absolutely gobsmacked by the work they do here. If¬†you saw the state of the books they restore, it‚Äôs amazing the team aren’t rocking back and forth in the corner of the room having gone completely mad! I don‚Äôt know of any other job where you would need as much patience.

They carefully number the pages which is a challenge in itself because often the pages are all stuck together. Then they wash each page in a large sink and carefully dab away any mould in the corner and then they reassemble it using traditional bookbinding techniques. When parts of the pages become separated and they don’t know where they’re from, they collect the pieces together and it becomes like a sort of mammoth jigsaw puzzle to work out which one of the hundreds of pages the missing part came from!

The amount of work and dedication involved is enough to make your eyes water. The restoration work for one book can take weeks, if not months. Books come in from private collectors or libraries around Italy and the team provide a quote for the clean-up operation. (Forl√¨ is lucky that I’m not managing this team – I like books and I think it‚Äôs great to preserve our history but my patience is such that¬†I would have written back to the library or private collector to¬†suggest they just preserve it in its current state as a hunk of mould!) So, in summary, I’m full of admiration for this team and if you fancy doing something a bit ‘off the beaten track’, an organised tour here is absolutely fascinating.

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Check out the Biblioteca Saffi

Continuing¬†with the book theme, Biblioteca Saffi is also definitely worth a visit (visits should be¬†organised in advance – contact details in the link). Biblioteca means library (confusingly¬†“Libreria” means bookshop!) and this one is located a short walk from¬†Piazza Saffi. It houses the most amazing collection of books, paintings and other objects donated by¬†Carlo Piancastelli,¬†a collector with a passion for……..well, everything! The collection includes¬†old letters, books, score music, maps, portraits¬†and sculptures and spreads across a number of rooms. To me a “collector” implies someone that collects for a hobby but I think it was akin to a full-time job for Carlo. It’s certainly an impressive legacy to leave.

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If you want to read more about Forli, have a look at my previous blog post Touring Forlì and tune in for the next blog post about other things you can do in the area!

A presto,

x

 

 

 

 

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The Good Life in Emilia-Romagna: Part 3 – Cantinas and Ciambellas!

Buongiorno a tutti!

Part 3 of the Settimana del Buon Vivere Pentalogy covers¬†the preparation¬†side of food and wine in Emilia-Romagna. The thing that struck me most about our tour around the region’s¬†cities and countryside is just how passionate everybody we met was¬†about their area of expertise. Italians love good food and they love their wine. There’s a growing trend for eating locally sourced, organic foods that have been farmed using traditional methods where possible to produce top¬†quality ingredients. The Settimana del Buon Vivere really focused on that during their programme of activities for the week and we saw it in practice out in the field…

San Biagio Vecchio Cantina

Lucia, our host for one morning and early afternoon, owns the San Biagio Vecchio Cantina with her husband Andrea. The cantina is in the most perfect of perfect settings: resting on a hill, surrounded by miles of vineyards in all directions and across the next valley is an old church and tower perched on a neighbouring hill. There’s a restaurant on the property where you sit overlooking the vineyard and ponder just how many vines they have. They even have a couple of geese!

We sat down at a table at about 11.00 and started sipping wine with a delicious array of accompanying nibbles from the restaurant. Very decadent!

I won’t describe¬†the wine too much.¬†My level of expertise only enables me to answer the following questions: What colour is it? Do I like it? All I can tell you is that we had two wines (SabbiaGialla and MammaMia) which were both white and I liked them both. I was endeared by the story of their Mamma Mia wine which has a cute picture that their young daughter had drawn of Lucia on the label. The wine is made from¬†the Albana grapes.

In addition to grapes¬†they also harvest grain and I do love a good discussion about bread, particularly sourdough bread which is made using a sort of “home-made” yeast ¬†– not these little sachets of dried yeast like I used in the UK! Sourdough bread is a bit more of an art form in my opinion and requires a bit more love and attention. I started making bread almost two years¬†ago and never buy it¬†now. I learnt on my own so it¬†was really lovely to have a discussion with Lucia, a fellow bread maker about¬†how she maintains her “starter” (that’s the name for the sourdough yeast mix which can sometimes be years old – in fact hers was originally given to her and is about 28 years old! It’s much less disgusting than it sounds, I promise!). Not only is it satisfying to make a loaf of light spongy bread out of just flour and water but what an amazing thing to be able to use your own grain in the production too. The grain they cultivate at San Biagio Vecchio is an old variety of grain, little used these days, called “Gentilrosso” which grows to well over a meter high.

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Here’s the bread with the flour, sourdough “starter” and grains…

Lucia and Andrea have not selected the¬†easy route to success.¬†Lucia described how they harvest their grapes- this particular type is¬†harvested up to 3 times a year as opposed to many others. (I had the good fortune to be involved in a grape harvest this year -I’ll write about that in a future¬†blog post – but it’s exhausting work). Their wine is also biological – the vines aren’t treated and they don’t use weed killer. It’s basically very hard work!¬†And it took them a few¬†trial attempts to get the old grain right too.¬† These people are not out to ‘make a quick buck’. They have a passion for what they do and they want to do it properly. ¬†It really is very inspiring!

Il Piccolo Forno Marziali

Later that day we went to see how some of the traditional Romagnolo baked goods are made at the quaint “Piccolo Forno Marziali”. ¬†Daniele, the owner, is a well known ‚ÄúFornaio‚ÄĚ ‚Äď he makes sweet things using the oven – a baker (not to be confused with a Pasticcere, someone that makes sweet things in more of a general sense). Daniele is easy to like – he‚Äôs a passionate whirlwind of creativity ‚Äď flitting from one end of the kitchen to the other, gesturing wildly whilst talking about how making a cake is like making love to a beautiful woman. He makes a couple of traditional ‚Äúromagnolo‚ÄĚ (Romagna) recipes from the region but everything else is basically of his own creation. His passion for the local Sangiovese wine which features in some of his “wine dipper biscuits” (as I’ve dubbed them ¬†– they’re not like our tea-dipping biscuits!) results in some interesting tastes!

Daniele showed us how to make a ciambella in the traditional Romagnolo way (a bit too Romagnolo in my opinion as traditionally it is made with lard! I’m determined to make a ciambella with a lard substitute instead!). I was disappointed to note how he mixed up the ingredients on the table rather than in a bowl, and then scraped it all onto metal trays for cooking… where’s the fun in that?! This technique means there’s no bowl¬†to lick!¬†Far too efficient for my liking!!!

He told us how in the past when mothers wanted to check the suitability of a woman for their sons, they’d watch¬†them make a ciambella or something similar so they could check their movement from behind, and from that apparently you can tell whether they’d make a good wife or not. One’s bottom must sway apparently.

bakery-cantina-16-of-21

One’s bottom should move like this…

Once they were cooked, we tried our efforts with some pre-prepared ‘Wine Dippers’ (I hope this name catches on!) which certainly hit the spot: light, crispy and flavour-some!

All in all, it was a lovely day and I was absolutely stuffed by the end of it.

Watch this space for Part 4 where I’ll talk about some of the things you can do in Emilia-Romagna….

A presto,

x

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