Posts Tagged With: earthquake

The start of the beginning…

Buongiorno a tutti,

How is everyone? I can’t believe it’s mid February already! I started this post at the beginning of January and never got around to posting it so I’ve had to keep re-writing it with the latest several times! I’ve got quite a mixed bag of good and bad news in this post. I’ll get the bad out of the way with…

I had sad news at the start of the year with my nan, my only remaining grandparent passing away. It was expected but of course it was still very sad and particularly difficult given I was back in Italy at the time. However, I’m pleased I spent quite a bit of time with her over Christmas and have lots of good memories to look back on. She has always been quite a feature of my visits when I’m back in the UK so it’ll be a bit odd without her.

One of my neighbours in Sarnano also died last month. He and his wife made me feel really welcome when I moved there. I used to have coffee with them. He would greet me with a call of “Amore mio” (“My love!”) if he was outside and I passed the house. Their house was heavily damaged in the earthquake too. It’s been difficult for all of us with damaged houses but particularly for them – moving from their lovely country house with their extensive veggie patch, fruit trees and animals, to a second floor flat in the centre of town was not how they envisaged spending their last few years. My heart goes out to his wife.

A day or so after I came back from the UK, the Italian army arrived to knock my house down. It’s technically great news, despite it feeling like bad news! The army knocked it down for free meaning the money we get from the State should go 100% towards the rebuild rather than having to include demolition costs too. So really, it’s the start of the beginning rather than the end of the end! I hardly got any notice of the demolition so I had a somewhat stressful week or two beforehand trying to clear the house which was still full to the brim with furniture. I had lots of offers of help though and managed to get an empty garage to put things in.

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And then half an hour later there was nothing still standing! It was horribly sad of course but I was there with the neighbours and there was something nice about being sad together – stuff like that brings people closer doesn’t it?!

On a less depressing note, I did manage to get out for a couple of trips:

Sentina Nature Reserve                                                                                                                 

This is a nature reserve near San Benedetto del Tronto. I get the feeling it was supposed to have been wetlands but they weren’t very wet. I think there should have been a few lakes/ponds but I wasn’t able to see any evidence of them! However, it’s on the coast so you can do a circuit with the first and last bits through the ‘wetlands’ and the middle bit on the coast. It’s really nice to see some wild coastline in Italy. So much of the Marche coast has a road right next to it and bars. This stretch of coast was excellent for seaglass and had some very atmospheric falling down buildings on the shoreline!

Carnevale

Carnevale is the day before lent starts, though events usually take place the weekend before as well. It’s a time for celebration, fun and for eating “frappe” (fried things that they cover with some kind of syrup usually – here’s a recipe).  In many towns, they have a procession and floats with children and adults dancing or playing music and generally having a good time. Each region has their own style of costume: Harlequin’s are from Bergamo, Pulcinella (horrible black masks with long beaky noses) are from Naples to name just a couple.  It’s a celebration full of history and tradition.

A friend and I went to Ascoli Piceno this year to see Carnevale there. It was great fun. Rather than the typical procession, you wander around the main piazzas seeing little ‘scenes’ – often with some political message behind them but sometimes just absolutely silly.  I think it’s fair to say that all regions of Italy are proud of their local dialects and Ascoli Piceno is no different. It was quite amusing trying to work out what their signs said and I was pleased to note that even my Italian friend struggled to understand some of it!

So, after a fairly unsettled month or two with one thing or another, I’m really looking forward to getting back to a routine. I’ve got a swimming gala to train for towards the end of March and I’ve just given some paintings to be exhibited in the gym – the manager wasn’t there when I left them so who knows whether he’ll actually accept them… Fingers crossed! I’ve got a number of arty projects to be getting on with now so I’ll keep you posted on those. In other good news, despite seeing the snow creeping down on the mountains, the weather has been absolutely stunning this week so I feel like Spring is almost in the air (I even have a daffodil in the garden to prove it!).

I hope you have all had a good start to the year so far. A presto,

x

 

 

 

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Exhibitions, physical exertion and singing…

Buongiorno a tutti,

Apologies it’s been such a long time between posts again! I hope you’ve all been well.

It’s been a bit of a sparse year on the blog post front, I know. I struggled at the beginning of the year. It was all a bit of an upheaval after the earthquakes which were still going on and then with headaches and my cats dying, I lost the will to write! Things have certainly picked up again now and I’m back into a routine. In fact there are so many bits and pieces to update on it’s difficult to know where to start which is the other reason for the delay! I do miss writing though and I  particularly miss the photography side as it’s become apparent that the blog is the main reason why I’m motivated to try and take good photos. So this post will be a relatively brief one to catch you up with the latest and then I hope to get back to being a bit more frequent after Christmas.

So here goes…

The House

There’s good news and bad news on this front. The bad news is that nothing at all is happening in the reconstruction of my house. The good news is that I shall be getting a flat in Sarnano courtesy of the government until my house is rebuilt (in 2089?).  It’s a new-build and won’t be ready until Spring 2018 (but this is Italy so add on a few months/years/millennia). I’ve had a lovely summer staying in the house of my friends near Servigliano and they’ve very kindly said that they’re happy for me to stay on there for a bit longer (thank you A&R!). From going from no house to two house possibilities is an excellent dilemma to have. I do miss Sarnano – it still feels like going back “home” when I visit. However, the flat there is on the 3rd floor in a block surrounded by lots of other blocks which isn’t really an ideal living situation for me or the cats! I’ll see how things go in the new year. However, it’s such a big relief that I’ll at least have somewhere I can  put furniture and things that are still in my old/falling down house and somewhere that’s “mine” again on a more permanent-temporary basis!

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The view from the house isn’t too bad!

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And now there’s quite a bit of snow…

In other news I’ve been….

Swimming

I’ve joined a swimming club at my local gym/swimming pool. My fellow swimming buddies are a lovely bunch and we had a good time at my first swimming meet (why are they called ‘meets’ when it’s a race? It was so chaotic, I barely met my own team, let alone anyone else!). I was initially very nervous about racing. I swim fast compared to the average swimmer in the pool but I certainly don’t ‘race’. Physical exertion has never particularly appealed to me and all of the sports I’ve done to date I’ve always been able to do at my own pace really.  I imagined my races (50m and 100m backstroke) would be quite humiliating not even really knowing what time I could do them in, let alone what a respectable time is.  However, I held my own and came 3rd in both of my races (out of 4 but who’s counting!) and actually nobody was watching (even my instructor!) so there wasn’t the slightest bit of pressure.

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Osimo, the location of my first swimming meet!

The only time anyone pays any attention is for the really speedy swimmers so really, I’m quite happy with my distinctly average speed. It’s nice to have a personal best to beat. The next race is in February. I’ve been practicing the physical exertion thing and I can almost do 100m without needing to be resuscitated. Almost.

And then….

Choir

I’ve joined a choir! I saw this particular choir in the summer and I thought they were great.

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This is them!

A couple of my aunties and friends are in choirs and they’ve inspired me to give it a go. I didn’t think they’d want me – my Italian accent is poor (it sounds authentic to another English person but the Italian’s take the micky out of me saying I sound like Laurel and Hardy. It turns out the Laurel  and Hardy films are quite popular here. They’ve dubbed them into Italian but given them ridiculous English accents. That’s apparently what I sound like). However, they were pleased to have me as they’ve been singing English Christmas songs. It’s nice to get back at the Italians by constantly correcting their pronunciation of “the” (it’s not “duh”) and “virgin” (it’s not “veergin”) and “thou” (it’s not “dow”)! We had our first concert this week at a church and apparently we sounded alright! The next one is on Saturday.

The only downside with the choir (and it seems all choirs everywhere in Italy) is that rehearsals start at 9.30pm and by the time we’ve finished singing and I’ve got home, I’m completely wired and unable to get any of the songs out of my head! I find myself having to turn the radio on at 3am just to listen to something that’s not about ‘duh veergin Mary’.

And then perhaps in my most exciting news…

Exhibitions!

I’m thrilled to say I think I can legitimately call myself at “artist”. My self-imposed definition for artist is to have sold paintings to random people and I have! There was no coercion, nobody was obligated to buy my paintings or say they were good so I’m chuffed to bits really.  It’s been very satisfying. The first exhibition was earlier in the year which was in conjunction with a few other local artists, mainly Italian. My art group booked the same space for a couple of weeks this December. We’ve had quite a few visitors and we’ve sold some paintings. I’ve also agreed with my gym that after the exhibition I can put up some paintings there too which will be a great opportunity to show some of my paintings. I’ve been focusing more on pet portraits lately and I’ve been trying to get a website together with a view to selling things on a wider scale. If you’re in the area, then we’re still open until the 17th December 2017 so come and see us.

 

So all in all, it’s been a busy few months but they’re the main things to report back on!

I’ll write more in the new year but meanwhile, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all! 🙂

x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Discovering the local volcano and other things…

Buongiorno a tutti,

How is everyone? Apologies for being a bit quiet for a while! I’ve been having issues with WordPress who host my blog. Anyway, it’s all sorted now (at least for the time being!) and I’ve got quite a bit of updating to do from the last month or two. I’ll try and summarise!

The first update is that my poor Batfink lost his fight a day or two after the last blog post. It’s been horrible. We were a good little team. It’s always heart wrenching losing a pet; they’re like members of your family aren’t they? But I think we had quite a special bond, us two in particular given everything that we’d been through together in the last year or so. I miss him.

A few days after Batfink passed away, I heard meowing coming from a hedge by the gym. I eventually located it to a tiny black kitten. To cut a long story short, I ended up adopting her, despite my better judgement. She’s not got a name yet – I’m a bit nervous to give her one lest I get too attached and something happens to her. In fact, she went missing for 4 days a week or two back and I was convinced she’d died too but I was thrilled to be proven wrong.  Anyway, I’m pleased to report that her and Rusty Carrot (he’s gained a name) have finally bonded after an initial settling in period which involved a great deal of hissing (Kitten isn’t much attuned of social cues and so didn’t let it upset her).

So that’s the cat update. I’m very much hoping further cat updates will be less traumatic, at least for a bit!

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Rusty Carrot and Kitten

Meanwhile I’ve been out and about as ever. There’s a continuous string of festas here during the summer and it’s difficult to justify being at home when I could be seeing jazz, or blues, or dancing or seeing medieval games, or going on walking excursions or painting excursions or eating cheap pizzas etc. I used to think London was hectic with things going on all the time but I don’t think it’s a patch on Le Marche in the summer months.

The weather has been absolutely roasting too and the countryside has been spectacular with sunflowers and hay bales stretching across landscapes as far as the eye can see.

 

In other news…

  • I had a lovely evening with the Dezi family who are a big name locally in the wine industry. They are only a couple of minutes up the road from me. It was lovely to meet some of the locals, and their wine was great! If anyone is interested trying the wine, they run some good value tasting events.

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  • I went on a long walk in the mountains with a friend that’s not from the area. I’d been meaning to do this walk for a long time and I was quite chuffed I managed to get us where we were supposed to be going within the timescales I was supposed to! There’s lots of scope for error and there are hardly any sign posts but I’m beginning to know the local mountains quite well so it’s not the daunting prospect it once was!
  • There’s an organic farm, Indaco Foods in a town very close to me called Monsampietro Morico. They run what they call a “Dining club / Social Event Organisation” offshoot called La Bibioteca. Some friends of mine have been keen to go for a long time, as have I. I thought the food was great with some very original recipes. They run a variety of courses too in things like Sourdough breadmaking and I’m determined to do their beekeeping course.
  • I’ve been on a few painting excursions to Torre di Palme (Towers of Palms),  Lago di Gerosa (Lake Gerosa), Lago di San Ruffino (San Ruffino Lake) and Montefalcone Appenino. All are worthy trips with or without painting equipment! I’d certainly recommend Torre di Palma, a hill top town overlooking the coast. It’s very quaint with lots of little restaurants and nooks and crannies to explore.
  • I saw the Frecce Tricolori, the Italian equivalent of the Red Arrows. I was really pleased as I seem to always miss airshows so I’m glad I didn’t miss this one.
  • I went to a concert to see Paola Turci in the  mountains organised by RisorgiMarche, a set of concerts dotted around the Sibillini’s to show solidarity to the people of the area and help breathe life into some of the villages hit by the recent earthquakes. There’s a lovely vibe at the concerts. Paola Turci is a big name in Italy and is often in the charts. It was just her and her guitar, singing a few meters in front of us with us sitting on our picnic blankets and singing along to all the songs. It really had a great atmosphere and it felt quite special to be a part of it.
  • I went to see one of my favourite festa’s of the year, “Artistrada” at Colmurano. It was sad to see some of the town blocked off presumably after the earthquakes but we still had a great time.
  • Then there was the Opera ‘Turandot‘ at the Sferisterio in Macerata. The Sferisterio is a spectacular building so it’s always special seeing something there. It was the first time I’d seen Turandot. I wasn’t bored stiff like in my first attempt at opera last year. I think what helped was just how very odd it was – the princess was writhing around in a glass box filled with ‘blood’ after getting off her polar bear (I told you it was weird!!)  It did have the song Nessun Dorma in too which helped.  Alas, now I understand the context,  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to that song again without getting annoyed at how pathetic the character who sung it was.

I finally went to see the Roman Theater in Piane di Falerone. It’s just 10 minutes down the road from me so it’s been on my list a while. It’s difficult to get to see it – it’s open Sunday’s between 4pm and 6pm (sometimes) and costs 3.50 euros.  You can organise a private appointment to see it by asking a woman in the local newsagents who knows a man who knows how to get someone there to open it. There are events there occasionally and so I’d recommend trying to tie in your visit with that so you get more out of it and there’s slightly more chance it’ll be open!

  • Then there was the Sibillini Swing Festival a week or so back. Riccardo Foresi and his band were playing the night that I was there. They were great and played for two or three hours solid! Sadly none of the Italians are big on dancing to swing so the dancefloor was taken over by about 15 English people. I suspect they thought we were nuts!
  • I’ve been to 3 plays in the last month or so in various places. A couple were in dialect resulting in a rather challenging hour or two trying to understand exactly what’s going on! Thankfully my previous neighbour has given me a good grounding in dialect words so I wasn’t as lost as I could have been!
  • In other news, near the house there is a volcano. I’ve been meaning to go and see it for ages and finally a couple of weeks ago I went with a friend. I warned him it might be a bit of a walk – I’d seen the trail outlined in a tourist map at the parking area. So we put on our walking shoes and were done about two minutes later! The volcano is less of a volcano and more of a muddy patch and there were no trails! If you would like to attempt to find a trail yourself and learn more about the patches of mud, visit this site for more information.
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The Volcano (admittedly I’ve since discovered it’s called Vulcanelli di Fango – little volcanoes of mud, but still I think even that’s a bit of an overstatement)

So that sums up the last couple of months. Sorry it’s been such a long update, hopefully the blog issues have now been resolved and I shall be able to write a bit more frequently!

x

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Let the Games Begin…

Buongiorno,

Hello there! How have you been? I think this has been my longest blog holiday ever so apologies for that. I’ve been taking it easy the last couple of months and trying to recoup a little bit. It’s worked and I feel recharged and ready to restart ‘the dream’! 🙂

After the earthquake last year, I was fortunate enough to be offered a lovely apartment with space for my stuff and perfect for the cat (thank you H!).  However, that apartment becomes a B&B for the summer months and some other friends have now offered me the use of their beautiful holiday home for a while (thank you A&R!). It’ll be somewhere to settle for a bit and so with any luck, life can slowly recommence! It’s a whole new area to investigate (it’s near a couple of quaint little villages called Santa Vittoria and Servigliano) and it’s slightly closer to my home in Sarnano than where I have been staying so that’s good too.

The engineer has been working on plans for my house, both in terms of its current state to assess the damage and a future plan. I’m thrilled to say that it’s hopefully going to look similar to what I have now (there was talk of me losing the basement and terrace) so hopefully I’ll just have a new and improved but still quirky house. Once we have firm plans in place, we’ll submit them to the government. They’ll have 90 days to respond with their approval or otherwise. If they approve, technically we should receive a chunk of the money and be able to start work straight away. The work has to be completed within 2 years. These timescales seem too good to be true! It would mean I could be home within 3 years. Shall I start taking bets?!

So the new cunning plan is to just enjoy Italy for a bit, get to know the new area and continue on the quest to become a world famous and rich artist! I’m also hoping to finish a book I started a couple of years ago (and indeed wrote – it ‘just’ needs to be edited!).

I’ll keep this short and sweet as I’m writing this at the airport on my way back to Italy and want to post it whilst I still have wifi but stay tuned for a blog post on my recent holiday adventure to Crete!

Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with some photos I took of the very beautiful Rocca Calascio that I trekked to with this lovely group just before I came back to the UK.

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Castle (7 of 14)Castle (10 of 14)

Castle (13 of 14)May the Dream recommence!

x

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Ode to my old life…

Buongiorno,

How is everyone?

Well it’s been a while since I’ve given an earthquake update. For those new to the blog, my house was badly damaged by the series of earthquakes that hit Central Italy, the first of which struck in August 31st 2016 and killed 299 people.

From a practical point of view things are moving – but very slowly. Our little collective (that makes up the larger building of which my house is a part) has agreed on a Structural Engineer to complete the necessary forms and evaluate the damage. Depending upon that evaluation and Government legislation which we’re still awaiting, we’ll have an idea of how much money we’ll get for repairs/rebuild and our Engineer will devise a plan for the house accordingly. The upshot is that it will take years before I can move back to my home and who knows what form that will take – a patched up house or new one entirely.

From an emotional point of view, things are moving even more slowly. When things go wrong, I usually pick myself up, dust myself off and come up with a new plan. That’s not happened this time, something I’ve been immensely annoyed at myself for. A house is just a “thing” after all and I and my neighbours are all very lucky to be alive.  I know that of course.  I’m also very fortunate that I was offered somewhere to stay temporarily, an hour away from Sarnano. There’s room to put my things and it’s safe for the cat too.

I can easily list the reasons why I’m lucky and what I have to be grateful for which makes me feel even more guilty for not embracing this new lease of life I should now have!  I feel like I don’t have the right to feel sad at all. I only bought the house 3 and a half years ago. I haven’t lost a family home like my neighbours that had been passed down through generations and I was really fortunate to have had the opportunity to get some of my things out rather than losing everything like many others.

This feeling sad but guiltily so, has got me thinking that it’s probably quite a unique experience being an ex-pat earthquake victim. We may not have lost our family homes where we grew up but we’ve lost “the dream”. Moving to Italy was my plan for years before I finally achieved it. I didn’t buy a ‘house’, I bought an ‘experience’; knocking down walls, putting in the kitchen and bathroom, painting a massive blackboard in my kitchen and a mountain range on the wall in my bedroom. My house was not some lovely villa in the middle of nowhere; it was a cheap and oddly constructed somewhat ugly part of a larger ‘house’. But…it was the first place I’ve ever felt was ‘home’. It was like the house version of me – a bit peculiar and untidy but quirky with character.

I miss painting in my little studio upstairs. I miss trying to spot deer and wild boar on the hill that my terrace overlooked. I miss having a bath with a glass of wine and candles, watching a documentary from my laptop propped up on the Bidet/Laptop-and-Cosmetics-Shelf. I miss my neighbour yelling at me from the road to see if I wanted to go for a walk around the block, and I miss my other neighbour yelling… well, just yelling (the Italians are more boisterous and loud than we English are!).

Making myself a little ‘home from home’ was one thing but there’s so, so much else that’s part of the ex-pat experience. You have to build an entire new life for yourself when you move abroad. I threw myself into the community. I joined clubs and classes, I went to festas. Not a local hilltop town was left unvisited and I know Sarnano like the back of my hand. The Italians were so very welcoming to me and really made me feel part of the community. I was affectionately called ‘La Inglesina’ – The English Girl (admittedly not that imaginative as nicknames go but better than ‘Fatty’). When I went into town I recognised lots of people and I loved that. I loved chatting to the Nice Supermarket Checkout woman and trying to get the Unfriendly One to at least say hello. I miss that I can’t actually fulfill my long-standing promise to go swimming with Petrol Man. I miss asking the Stationary Dude for things that he never has in stock and having a laugh with him about it. I miss Fruit & Veg man wishing me a Happy Christmas regardless of the time of year. I miss beeping at my neighbours and saying hello as I go past them whilst they’re doing their gardening. Not only am I not there anymore but neither are they.

I feel lost without my house and my old life. When I moved to Sarnano, I did it with all the enthusiasm of building a new and exciting life for myself. I know I can do all that again of course somewhere new in a new house, but… I just don’t want to. There’s no alternative however and herein lies the problem! Having been plunged into this new situation, doing all this; moving into a new house and/or community, takes levels of enthusiasm that I just don’t have at the minute because well, I think losing your house is a grief of sorts. So, I’m going to let myself off the hook. I’m back in the UK for a bit. I’ll see friends and family and do some painting, travel around and try to replenish the enthusiasm reserves. So this update, though seeming to be a depressing one, isn’t at all – I think I’ve turned a corner and I can see a light at the end of the tunnel, albeit the tunnel is long and the light is a bit faint at the moment. I’ll meander towards it though and I’ll come up with a cunning plan along the way. So please bear with me and I’ll keep you updated as I go.

Meanwhile here’s a picture of the kittens back in Italy to offset the gloomy blog post…

 

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Fated and Doomed enjoying some tree time!

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’ve had a good few days. I’ll start with an earthquake update, as is the tradition of late!

Earthquake update

We’re still waiting for engineers to come around to ‘officially officially’ declare the house uninhabitable. It’s already been ‘officially’ 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’s 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’Orfeo 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 ‘Italian’ feature to me, though in my patch I don’t think we have any to my knowledge. There are lots of shops – some chain stores but mostly little boutiques. People have their own style here. My friend calls it “bonbon” 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 – 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’s 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 – 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’t 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’m not at all convinced of this theory because I have never seen an Italian or indeed anyone else (that doesn’t 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’t 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’s greats. It feels almost blasphemous to suggest they weren’t 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 ‘attractive’ (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 ‘edited’ their paintings to make everyone’s eyes bulge. It’s 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’t 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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Earthquakes, Traumatic Treks, Castrum Sarnani and Opera…

Buongiorno,

I wrote the blog below before the terrible earthquake struck central Italy yesterday morning.  I’ve experienced two or three earthquakes now in Italy and I thought the others were quite strong but nothing like this. The epicenter, where the most damage was done was only 24 miles away as the crow flies. I woke up at 3.36, like I think almost everyone else did in central Italy and it felt like I was in a washing machine. It’s very difficult to orientate yourself, or even get out of bed when everything is shaking so violently and things are falling from the walls and smashing around you. There wasn’t any warning – it doesn’t slowly warm up, it just hits. And it went on for such a long time, well over 2 minutes. Myself and the neighbours all convened outside. Each year in August, families from Rome come to stay in their holiday homes in the hamlet so there were about 10 of us outside in our night clothes on the road for 3 or 4 hours too scared to go back inside. We gradually began to get dribs and drabs of information about those that weren’t so lucky. Watching the terrible scenes unfolding from the worst hit places has just been heartbreaking. Over 240 people are dead and there are still lots missing.  Obviously terrible things like this happen all the time but rather unjustly, when it’s so close to home, it really puts things into perspective. My neighbours and I have all been very lucky.

There have been dozens of aftershocks, lots quite strong and each time everyone rushes outside again. The families from Rome have all gone back to their main homes and so there’s just the core of my little hamlet here now. It’s a lovely community spirit and everyone watches over everyone else though so I don’t ever feel too alone in that regard.

The house is full of cracks, a couple I’m a bit worried about but apart from a few glasses and a mirror broken, all is pretty much as it was. Someone will come today to check that all is ok and I hope it will be. There are 30 families in Sarnano who are not so lucky and have had to move out of their homes as they’ve been classed as too dangerous to stay in. AirBnB have a disaster relief scheme and I’ve offered my spare rooms on that, even though I’m a bit nervous to sleep in the house myself until the aftershocks calm down a bit. Last night I slept in my tent. Of course, life goes on and you can’t not sleep at home for fear of something that will probably (fingers crossed!) never happen, but at the moment it’s just not a very relaxing thought sleeping under concrete whilst there are still aftershocks (even one as I write!). In fact, there were at least another couple of tremors last night, one fairly large but under canvas (and putting aside the concerns about everyone else), it’s less scary and more awe-inducing!

Lots of friends and family have been in touch worried about me so thank you for your concerns and well wishes, it’s much appreciated 🙂

So that’s the earthquake. My thoughts (and hopefully more practical things like blood and clothes in the not too distant future!) are with the people of the towns worst hit. On a lighter note (though admittedly not much the first part of the update!) here’s everything else I’ve been up to!

Last time I wrote was a month or so ago so there’s another mass of things to update on. Summer here in Le Marche just seems to be very busy with things to do and people to see which is nice of course. Anyway, first things first.

The walk in Gran Sasso I was about to embark on the last time I wrote…

It was absolute stunning. I need to go back there again under my own steam to take more photos. However, I feel like our “day out” could be made into a disaster film without using much imagination. It was not a 10 hour trek as planned; it was 16 hours and consisted of more climbing than hiking (a particular challenge given I’ve never climbed before!). The fixed ropes that should have already been in place were not there, ladders fixed to the side of the mountain were missing the majority of their screws and rocks the size of footballs fell on our heads (thankfully  only on the ones that had helmets). We got down to the bottom of the mountain on our return just before nightfall and then had to try and find our way in pitch black to the cars. Nobody had phone reception to call for help, nobody had enough water (mine fell out of my bag), angry horses chased us and the angry wolf-killing dogs protecting them chased us too for good measure. And to cap it all I broke my very expensive camera…. On the whole it wasn’t an enjoyable experience and I eventually got into bed 24 hours later; an exhausted, sunburnt, aching mess. I haven’t quite worked up the courage to go out for any more group excursions since!

The views were stunning though…

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Valle dei Tre Santi

However, I have been on more successful walks and Valle dei Tre Santi was one of them: to discover the Valley of the Three Saints. It was a local walk, about 12km long and included some lovely little waterfalls and a “gola” (basically where two large rocks/mountains meet and leave a gap).

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Monte Vettore

I also finally made it up to Monte Vettore, the highest mountain in the Sibillini range at 2,476 meters. It’s the highest place I’ve ever walked up to so I’m pleased about that! It’s been on my list of things to do for months 🙂 Here are some photos…

Around Sarnano

I also had some visitors here so did some of my usual “tourist” route activities with them!

Montemonaco

We also went to Il Tiglio, a very plush Michelin starred restaurant in Montemonaco. We went for the “degustazione” menu – a tasting menu where you try a bit of everything on the menu. I had a vegetarian version which was very tasty. I think the best bit was just the sheer creativity… as a starter a branch came out with “berries” stuck on made of parmesan etc. Pudding was a sort of custard poured on the table with fruit and granola type stuff which sounds pretty normal but then the waiter poured liquid nitrogen over it to freeze it! It was a very interesting dining experience all around.  On the way back we stopped off in the town and took some photos…

Rocca Varano

We also made it to Rocca Varano, a castle on the outskirts of Camerino. I’ve often driven past and wanted to investigate. It looks particularly elegant at night, all lit up. So we headed there and predictably it was shut! We still had a wander around though. I’ll have to go back and explore the inside at some point.

Pescara

Pescara is another place that’s been on my list of things to do for months. It’s a city about 2 hours drive from here on the coast. I met a friend for lunch and a quick walk around the town so didn’t do too much exploring but it looks quite a nice town on first impressions.

Opera at the Sferisterio

I’ve also been to see the opera at the Sferisterio, a sort of ancient semi-circular Colosseum in Macerata. It was quite an experience. I was pleased to note that most of the Italians don’t understand what on earth is going on either. Even with the subtitles which were flashed up at the sides, it’s difficult to understand what’s happening because it’s all in ancient Italian that often doesn’t bare any resemblance to Italian nowadays. I think they could have been a little clearer as well in terms of the scenes and costumes (it took me a while to work out that there were two separate main women as they both looked the same, dressed the same and sounded the same…. note: I am reliably informed by my opera singing expert friend that they didn’t in fact sound the same).

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Castrum Sarnani and the Serafino

Finally, last week, we had Castrum Sarnani, a big medieval festival in Sarnano that happens every August. It’s a great event with things going on every day for a week or so. It kicks off with the Serafino, a competition between the four zones in Sarnano where they compete to win things like tug-of-war, tree-trunk cutting, tree climbing and a race with a jug of water on your head!

During the taking of these photos above, I got stung by a wasp. Over a week on, my finger has only just gone back down to normal size!

Once the Serafino has finished, the real party starts. Sarnano is filled with medieval demonstrations – candle making, flour milling, juggling, singing and falconry. There are 4 or 5 different “taverns” to eat at within town and you can pay for everything using special coins made by the resident blacksmith! It’s just a really lovely event – I highly recommend it!

I think that sums up the last few weeks. I hope you’re all having an excellent August 🙂

x

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