Monthly Archives: February 2014

Carnevale, Pebble Fish and Driftwood Sculptures!

Ciao all,

This week’s blog post will be short as I’ve not been up to much other than the usual. It’s the “Carnevale” period in Italy at the moment which means quite a few street parades etc. though I’ve not seen any yet. Hoping to go and see the Carnevale in Fano tomorrow and I’ll of course report back next week, I’m quite excited about it! Meanwhile, I’ve been having fun with the art stuff. I’m really into this beach recycling business at the moment and making things out of driftwood, sea glass and pebbles. I should do more paintings – I think it might be more lucrative but it’s not quite as amusing as my other projects so I’ve been slacking. Here’s some of my efforts in the last week or so…


My house, in the middle of my street…. (is that how the Madness song goes?!)


Sea glass and pebble tree (this has a glass front – it kept getting my reflection so I took it from a distance but then the quality as a result is poor! Does anyone have an ideas on how to do that?! I want the frame in the photo but I can’t take the glass out on this frame to take it without)


Phone holder – it’s got a handy hole in the bottom for the phone charger and everything…


Driftwood and sea glass mobile


Driftwood and shell Incense holder


Driftwood fish

On the portrait drawing front, I’ve hit a brick wall (which I’m intending to bulldoze soon). I don’t seem to be able to do a reasonable looking portrait in less than an hour and twenty minutes. The problem is in the shading, it seems to take me ages. HOWEVER, I have found a new technique which looks very promising called “Dry brush” and it’s a lot quicker. It’s basically using oil paint but a tiny, tiny bit of it. However, it’s really poorly documented. If you “Youtube” it, you’ll see some artists that have posted speeded up videos of them doing the portraits but it’s really not at all helpful! It’s not really the drawing bit that I have the problem with (though these are incredibly talented artists – it’s very clever!) – it’s the bits that don’t happen on the canvas which you can’t see that I’m confused about. The pioneer of this technique seems to be Igor Kazarin and he goes to great lengths to explain the technique but it makes absolutely no sense at all so I’m no clearer. My first attempt was blotchy and horrid. Anyway, I’ll experiment more with it this week. 


I’ve been doing a few inspiration stones… this one of Stephen King’s is my favourite!


Some mussel shell hearts and my bowl of inspiration stones and random fish


Pebble Fish!

Finally, on a non artistic front, I’m seeing a couple of houses tomorrow to maybe buy so I’m really pleased about that – it’ll be interesting to see what I can get for my money here.

Anyway, that about sums up my week. Hope you’re all well!

Buona notte!


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Bologna, Scandalous Proportions and Muddy Water-flumes


I hope you’ve all had excellent weeks. I’ve been out and about a fair bit this week but I shall dedicate this blog post mainly to Bologna…


I’ve just had a lovely weekend in Bologna. I’ve been meaning to go there for months so I’m pleased I finally got around to it. I went with the same friend I went to Rome with. I wasn’t on accommodation booking duty this time which meant we had a nice hotel (I advise anyone going on holiday with me to be responsible for the hotel booking). We even had coffee and tea making facilities in the room, a rarity in Italy.


Unfortunately, the kettle didn’t plug into any of the sockets in the room (Italy has the most frustratingly random plug/socket situation involving a variety of different sockets catering for different plugs which, even more frustratingly to all intents and purposes, look exactly the same. If you buy anything electronic, it is a gamble whether you’ll be able to power it without having to buy an adapter) so the bulk of tea making proceedings actually took place in the corridor where we located the only socket that would work.

I really like Bologna – it’s lively and young and there are places to go and things to do. It’s a University town so I suspect that’s why it feels quite vibrant and there was a fantastic selection of bookshops everywhere. Bologna is the perfect place to go if it’s raining because most of the pavements are covered over. In fact, it has apparently the longest “portico” (covered walkway basically) in the world. All towns and cities should have porticos: It’s cooler when it’s hot, it’s dryer when it rains and it’s a great space-saving idea because accommodation and offices are built over the pavements.


The start of the “longest portico in the world”…

There were big open tree lined spaces…


This is the Giardini Margherita. Look at the guy balancing on the rope! It felt like London here…


And this was taken from a park called “San Michele in Bosco”

Neptune’s statue: My “Guide to Italy” book said that Neptune’s naked lower half had to be concealed by bronze trousers to protect his scandalous proportions. How on earth do you create bronze trousers to go over a bronze lower half and then remove the bronze trousers later?! I think I’ve underestimated the flexibility of bronze as a sculpting material. That or my book has been telling porkies.


Neptune and his scandalous proportions (you may need to zoom in!)

And there were other sculptures…


I like the naturalness of the tail…

And there were leaning towers…


This is a horrible photo. I meant to get a better photo but I forgot so I’m afraid you’re stuck with this one… However, they lean and they’re quite a symbol of Bologna and you can go up one (well, presumably both of them) for a good view. Not that we did.

And they had a market that reminded me of Camden Market in London…


It even came complete with dreadlocked hippies and full finger skull rings…

Food wise there were lots of options but alas, nothing I could see that wasn’t Italian. I’d hoped it would be a bit more diverse (I WANT CURRY!!!!!!). I found what I think is one of my favourite all time restaurants: Cinque50. It had good reviews on Tripadvisor (I’d recommend downloading the app – it’s great for finding places to eat and things to do nearby). Alas it was Valentines Day so it was fully booked. We managed to negotiate a table all the same and had a lovely meal there and the waiter was really nice. I might be slightly biased – he seemed to think I was genuinely Italian after two sentences in. That’s never happened before. One day I hope to make it to three sentences without them cottoning on.

We also went to a new exhibition in Bologna to see Vermeer’s “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” painting. If you follow the blog you’ll know I like art so you may be surprised to discover that I really, really dislike big exhibitions. However, it’s good form to check every now and then to see if the things we dislike are still dislikeable, so in we went. We waited almost an hour to get in and then we were crammed like sardines into 5 or 6 rooms, unable to move whilst everyone listened to audioguides telling them how the long brush strokes in x painting represented the artist’s internal struggle against their childhood (hmm). Then everyone congregated in a room to “appreciate” the main painting. It’s a very good painting and an interesting portrait. I’m never sure if I can use pictures from other websites on this blog or not so here’s my interpretation of it drawn in the queue for memory jogging purposes. Obviously you’ll instantly know which painting I’m talking about now…(yup)


Admittedly in this, her evocative mouth looks a little bit like she’s having a stroke.

In my opinion, it’s no better than any of the other paintings in there which were also beautifully painted, with interesting compositions and also by equally talented artists. If you eradicated the “fame” surrounding that painting and conducted a survey of the “art-lovers” that went to the exhibition about their favourite painting there – the Girl with the Pearl Earring would not have necessarily been a clear winner. And that’s how it should be! And if you removed the audioguide and the painting blurb telling people what they should like or dislike and how they should interpret and react to each of the paintings and instead encouraged them to think for themselves, then maybe more of them would have even noticed the fabulous trompe l’oeil cherubs holding the ceiling up! In summary, I still dislike big art exhibitions.

My Art progress

I’ve made some progress – I’ll post another blog update on this next week but in honour of San Valentino last week, here’s a sneak preview of a driftwood work…


I hope you all had a good valentines day…

In other news, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on the beach this week collecting stuff… I think I have enough now to build a lifelike replica of a beach. One of the trips involved a rather perilous journey to Mezzavalle beach which was I imagine exactly what walking down a muddy water flume would be like.


Mezzavalle. Don’t go when it’s been raining for months. I screamed the entire way down (it’s only reachable by boat and a 25 minute steep path / slide).

I’ve done a couple of language swaps this week (I speak Italian, they speak English and we correct each other as we go) which have been really good – at the moment I suspect I could go weeks without speaking Italian apart from barking orders at school so it’s been useful. I’ve been getting the kids at lunchtime to teach me Italian as well so that’s been quite entertaining. I’m also trying to read George R R Martin’s “Game of Thrones” in Italian. It has a LOT of pages. It’ll take me decades. But I’m reading it on Kindle which means I can tap words I don’t know and it brings up the dictionary so that’s handy.

Right, I think that’s about it for this week. I hope you all have good weeks!


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Guide to Rome, glue guns and what not to say to children…


How is everyone? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a wetter week! Even when I was living in England!!! Though I can see from the news it’s been pretty dismal back there too. Anyway, this week I bring you: Getting rained on in Rome, the frustrating case of the broken glue gun and what not to say to children…

Raining in Rome

I went to Rome last weekend with a friend. I love Rome, it’s my favourite city. There’s such a lot to see; lots of historical monuments, beautiful architecture and the city always has a buzz about it. However, I can confirm that when you go during a relentless, torrential downpour, then it’s not got quite the same vibe about it. It didn’t help that I booked a particularly nasty hotel and in fact, didn’t even book a room with a bathroom (I had wondered why it was so cheap, all became clear!). We ended up spending a ridiculous amount on an upgrade so we could have a bathroom and still it wasn’t great – you had to plan bathroom visits 5 minutes in advance so the light could eventually flicker on.

We did have a walk around the Colosseum and The Forum though during the few minutes reprieve we had from the rain. I’ve got a good tip for this one: Get a joint Colosseum and Forum ticket from the Forum itself. You pay the same amount as you do at the Colosseum but there’s no queue and then when you get to the Colosseum you can go straight past what seems to be a 4 hour queue. My next tip is to remember that you’ve got that ticket and don’t queue in that queue anyway (we realised after half an hour).


A very moody looking Forum…



The Secret Forbidden Parking Lot in Ancona 

I have located a Secret Forbidden Parking Lot in Ancona. It’s behind the train station and only for people that work for Trenitalia and other organisations in the immediate vicinity. It is handily located for The Secret Forbidden Subway that you can walk through to get to the train station. There are downsides parking there – there’s no guarantee you wont get pulled up for trespassing and/or have your car towed away. However, needs must and I was stuck for a parking spot when I headed to Rome at the weekend (it’s all very well parking in the official parking lots but they’re all closed on Sundays so you can’t actually get out again) but it all worked out well in the end so I might do that again.


Ancona’s Secret Forbidden Parking Lot


The Secret Forbidden Subway – I couldn’t stop for the photo, hence the blur but I thought it gave a good representation of the rising panic about being, well, told to presumably go back the other way. Tense!

Operation Art Production continues…

I’m up to speed on the drawing practice which is good – this week I’ve been drawing more portraits from life though I still need to improve so I’m working on that! It should take about 20 minutes I think whereas it’s taking me over an hour!!!


My friend’s baby…

However, all my other plans have gone sadly awry.  I should be on my third painting now but I’m only half way through my second – hope to finish that this weekend… I did not take into account the Rome jaunt into my self-imposed timescales.


Boats in Porto Recanati. I might still amend it a bit. Looks maybe a bit washed out here – I need to work out how best to take photos of the paintings…

And well, my driftwood sculpting has been a disaster. I bought a glue gun last week but now, part way through a fish sculpture, the glue got stuck in the gun and wont melt down or come out from whence it came. Mother suggested sticking a hot metal thing in the glue, waiting until it was cold and then yanking it out (“like a popsical” she said).


Hmm. It did not come out “like a popsical”. It’s there for good. I don’t know how I’m going to tell Customer Services that the glue gun I bought last week has broken and I’ve had nothing to do with it.

And THEN I’ve been collecting sea-glass and nice rocks to write inspirational messages on. I am pleased to report I’ve found two other odd people on the beach in the last week or so – one who was also collecting sea glass (ergo, an arch rival) and one woman collecting bottle tops. Anyway, that branch of Operation Art has been going ok. Tune in next week for inspirational stone messages :-).

What not to say to young students

Teaching has been bad this week. I think I’ll start my inspirational message stones off with “don’t thwack the children around the head”.

This week in the Class of Horror, one of the bad “behaviourally challenged” children, did what I asked them. It’s NEVER happened. I was gobsmacked! And like many surprised people – I said “Oh my god!” under my breath.  To which, the children in the Class of Horror, who up until this point have never listened to anything I say, know absolutely no English whatsoever and have never repeated anything I ask them to repeat, by the end of the lesson were all chanting “oh my god”.

I did have a couple of private lessons with older children this week, which was a lot less traumatic and a lot more lucrative. And a private lesson with a new younger child who seems to be to all intents and purposes, completely mute.

Sanitaria Success!

I have a Tessera Sanitaria (it’s the Italian equivalent of the European Health Insurance Card). I have a doctor now and everything. It’s only taken a few months to sort out! In the end it was fairly easy – you need proof of residency (which is traumatic to get) and a copy of your work contract (otherwise there’s other complicated means of acquiring the Tessera) and then it was done in 5 minutes. Next thing: Trying to get the car registered in Italy.

What’s a bit odd?

There are trams in Ancona! Who knew?! I’ve been here 9 months and have never seen one but on the way to the station the other day I noticed the overhead electric cables and a tram for the first time! Huh!

Right, onwards and upwards. Have fabulous weekends all…


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