Sue’s Wonderous Whistlestop Tour of 2019: The Early Months

Buongiorno a tutti,

Remember me?! I know, I know, it’s been months since I’ve written. I’ve somehow got out of the blogging habit and the longer I’ve left it, the more that’s happened and the more dauntingly huge the update feels like it needs to be. In order to try and get myself back on track and without giving you all a novel sized blog to read, I shall hereby attempt to give you a whistle-stop tour of my last few months and then with a clean slate I’ll be able to get back to more regular updates.

Back in February, I finished my ski-escursionismo course. I loved it. It was telemark skiing though I think one would find it difficult to describe my particular style/technique as such (for those that don’t know – telemark skiing is a bit like dancing down a slope with bended knees).

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I’m hoping to do the course again this winter and who knows, I might be able to get down a whole slope without my instructor telling me I’m doing it all wrong.

I moved back to Sarnano in February, which has been lovely. My local commune offered free accommodation to those who were displaced following the 2016 earthquakes, including me. Previously I was given monthly ‘autonomo sistemazione’ money which roughly translates as monthly ‘sort yourself out’ funding but there were concerns that would be discontinued so I took up the offer of a 3rd floor brand new apartment overlooking the Sibillinis. It’s a handy couple of minutes walk from the town centre and if I don’t think about earthquakes then I really like that I’m high up as it makes a great spying post to observe the comings and goings of my fellow Sarnanesi (as the people of my town are called). Thanks again to the Italian Government, I’ve got lots of nice new furniture as they gave us money to refurnish our houses, mine now looks like an Ikea showroom! For the first time in 6 years I’ve had central heating that doesn’t break the bank and the apartment is insulated! Woohoo!

Having said all that, I still dream of getting my house rebuilt. Unfortunately nothing’s moving on that front. The powers that be insist that the house has to be rebuilt 5 meters away from the road but that would take us down a steep hill and into someone else’s garden. Hopefully the standoff situation will come to an end soon so we can get out of this limbo situation.

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The view from my apartment; a good spot for people and mountain watching.

The cats get stir-crazy in the flat. I can only imagine the downstairs neighbour thinks I have a herd of elephants that enjoy playing football between 10pm to 6am. Thankfully the lovely owners of the house we lived in back in Curetta have said they’re happy for me to stay there (thank you A&R!), and I pop back to check on things and the cats can let off steam. We had a new edition to the family earlier in the year…

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This is Bubba. She appeared one day at the house in Curetta and never left. After giving a very convincing impression of a cute cuddly cat, she managed to get a ticket to the UK to live with my brother and his family before turning into a bitey terrorist! For a month or two though she happily joined in with the elephant herd.

In other news I’ve been jetting around the world a bit this year. After Sicily in January, I went to Israel to visit some good friends and had a fabulous time. My only prior knowledge of Israel was based on news coverage of constant conflict, refugees, rockets and general unrest but actually as a tourist at least, it was far from that. The coastline is absolutely spectacular with long sandy beaches and crystal clear water as far as the eye can see. The landscape is a lot greener than I imagined it would be and varies quite significantly from place to place. We went to Jerusalem and spent some time around the Arab and Jewish markets which are so full of interesting food, clothes and bits and bobs that they both rate as some of my all-time favourite markets. March was a good time to go as it was perfectly pleasant weather whereas now I get the impression being outside is like being in a sauna. I loved the food; the humus is unworldly and it made a nice change from pasta and pizza and I was very impressed by the different breads and pastries. Israel do bread very well!

The Israelis make best use of the land with large high-rise apartments everywhere which don’t sound attractive but many of them are new or recently refurbished to make them earthquake proof and as a result many of them are architectural works of art.

Up until the last evening, I didn’t feel any sense of danger but we stayed far away from Gaza and the West Bank and it seems that if you’re away from the borders then life in Israel goes on as normal for everyone. Having said that, on the night before I left, 9 rockets were fired at Tel Aviv from Gaza which were subsequently shot down (Israel have this rather sophisticated protection mechanism called the Iron Dome) which was somewhat unsettling.

I was in Sarnano for Easter this year. It’s my second time experiencing Easter here in Italy. It’s certainly interesting. Sarnano have a parade of people that to the uninitiated, look a bit like they’re going off to lynch someone because of their pointy fabric hats that cover their faces. A number of them walk bare foot wearing a sack outfit chanting through the town following a statue of Jesus which is carried from one church to another. All the town’s people walk behind chanting.  Another event in a local town, Tolentino, recounted the final days of Jesus’ life in the form of a series of scenes enacted at intermittent points along a candlelit path to where he was crucified. Italians don’t like to be cold but the guy playing Jesus was pretty much nude on his cross for quite a few minutes. I felt for him.

Later in April, I met up with some other good friends in Copenhagen. We stayed in a fabulous hostel not far from the main train station. It was very cool, clean and quirky with little pod bunk beds and entertainment every night and a little paper bag of breakfast. The weather wasn’t great the first day but we got to see quite a lot of the centre and even checked out the amusement park in the middle of town. Everything in Copenhagen is pristine! My top piece of advice for Copenhagen is to have a bubble waffle – a delicious freshly made bumpy waffle used as an ice-cream cone.

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This was taken from inside Tivoli gardens, the amusement park in the centre of town. It’s definitely worth a visit.

In May, I finally ‘cashed in’ my prize for winning a photography competition with a photo I’d taken of Sarnano a couple of years ago. The prize was a dinner and a night in Sabbioneta, near the city of Mantova in Lombardia. I went with my friend and her little boy. We were treated like royalty; even the major wanted to speak to us!  Sabbionetta is a very cute little town that was created by the Duke Vespasiano I Gonzaga  as a sort of perfect town. I think he did a good job.

One of the highlights in July was seeing Marco Mengoni sing as part of the free RisorgiMarche concerts which came about to promote the Le Marche area following the earthquakes in 2016 and to give the locals a much needed boost of morale. All of the concerts took place nestled in the mountains and required a walk to get there. The Marco Mengoni concert was a particularly good walk from Sarnano and in a lovely natural amphitheatre.

In August I went camping to Puglia . It’s the second time I’ve been to the campsite, Baia dei Campi and I think it has to be one of my favourites. It has its own private beach and we managed to find a spot overlooking the sea which was a great view to wake up to. It has a couple of bars and lots of entertainment.

My budding art career has taken a slight tangent and I’ve accidentally become a teacher. I went to an evening art group so I could meet new people and to dedicate a couple of hours every week to painting where I wouldn’t get distracted by cats or housework. However, after my first week I managed to commit to running a six week watercolour course for my fellow students and by popular demand, that’s been extended for another six weeks. I don’t  like teaching English but I do quite like teaching watercolour – I think it helps me paint better too and it’s nice when someone seems pleased with what they’ve done.  I’ve been trying to paint or draw something every day as part of a 100 day sketchbook challenge and now I’m taking part with Inktober so I’m definitely getting practice in.

In early September I went to the second largest camper festival in Europe in Parma in Emilia-Romagna. Earlier in the year I was enthusiastic about buying a panel van and renovating it into a camper so I went there for ideas. There’s not a Youtube video or book about it I haven’t read on the subject. I like the idea of ‘stealth camping’; having a sort of hidden sanctuary inside a normal van so as not to feel too conspicuous and therefore vulnerable. I did a lot of research and saw a lot of vans. However, that unfortunately doesn’t seem possible anymore because of Italy’s rules and regulations. I’m used to what feels like relentless and pointless bureaucracy here but this particular quirk of not being able to use a van for anything other than ‘normal’ van things takes the biscuit. I can’t remember ever having been quite so disillusioned. I’ll have to look at alternatives to my Van Plan. Parma was absolutely lovely though: full of life with lots going on, markets and it had a brilliant free natural history museum.

The cathedral was spectacular and covered wall to wall in murals.

The park in Parma, complete with pond with giant fish and turtles.

In late September, I went to the Biennale art exhibition in Venice. For those that haven’t heard of it, it’s a vast modern art exhibition that takes place every 2 years with buildings (or pavilions) dedicated to it all over Venice but principally in the Giardini to the south of St Marks’ Square and the Arsenale.  I’ve spent a lifetime avoiding galleries and museums. Don’t get me wrong, I’m interested in the contents of them but I prefer to be drip-fed the knowledge in the form of a documentary or Wikipedia page from the comfort of my own sofa. My visit to Venice was like being thrown in the gallery deep-end. We spent 3 days looking around at various art installations from a massive robot digger trying to stop ‘blood’ from creeping out of range, a placenta in a jar, a motorbike chopped in half…  It was an interesting confrontation of what I consider art to be. I struggled to understand / appreciate a good 50% of it, but the other 50% was interesting and thought-provoking. Of the work below, can anyone guess my favourite?

Option 1.

Option 2.

Suffice to say, it was an enlightening trip and I can acknowledge that, despite there being a lot of people, seeing the blood robot on the TV wouldn’t have been as captivating as watching it a couple of meters away. Perhaps I might even go to another gallery one day.

I had several visitors come to visit me at various points throughout the year including some that hadn’t been before which is always nice as I get to do ‘tourist’ things and it’s nice to see my favourite places through other people’s eyes.

I think that about sums up the last few months. In the interests of trying to keep this post succinct, I haven’t done any of the places justice and I’ve got a backlog of photos so if anyone would like me to expand on any of the towns, you’ll have to send me a message and I’ll send some tips!

Meanwhile I hope you’ve all had a good few months and apologies again for abandoning you all 🙂 I’ll be with you in more prompt fashion in the next month or so with another update.

x

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