Posts Tagged With: lombardy

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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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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