Posts Tagged With: marche

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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Making paper, earthquake update and flower power…

Buongiorno,

How is everyone? I’m thrilled to report that in this blog post there are no deaths to report or indeed bad news of any kind 🙂 I knew this day would come!

There’s not too much to report on since the last post. It’s been glorious weather so I’ve been out and about in the sun. The flowers are out and it’s lovely to see.

The cats are enjoying the sunshine too and bringing in the world’s supply of ticks (thankfully they’re not biting them but hitching lifts – neither me or the cats are enjoying the tick eradication sessions when they come in of an evening).

The main thing of interest this week has been a workshop with the lovely Natan and Catharina of Nightcloud Studio in the hills around Amandola for an all-day paper-making workshop. Like many of us, they were unfortunately hit quite badly by the earthquake in 2016 but their studio has remained in full working order!

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Natan and Catharina make paper out of almost everything – it’s a great way of recycling and when things don’t get made into paper, they get used in other ways! This was their blue bottle fence surrounding the veggie patch.

It was a great day out – they started off giving us an overview of the history of paper and showing us some examples of papers made from different materials. It turns out you can make paper from almost anything: nettles, grass, jeans, t-shirts, wheat. I’d always had in mind, probably like most people, that paper is something that you write, draw or paint on but the papers we were leafing through there were pieces of art in their own right.

Since the workshop I’ve been seeing the world in a different way – everything I come across I’ve been wondering whether I could turn into paper! It’s a wonderful way of recycling things. Natan and Catharina have clearly experimented loads with lots of different techniques and their workshop is full to the brim with artwork and papers. They have an exhibition in Amandola in May.

In other exciting news I saw the apartment in Sarnano that I will be moving into at some point courtesy of the government following the earthquake. It’s not finished yet – there aren’t any doors and the electrical points and plumbing all need to be finished but it’s good to finally see it. It’s a reasonable size with a couple of good-sized bedrooms, a terrace and an open plan living room and kitchen. In Sarnano we’re lucky that we’ve been offered the possibility of these apartments – other areas aren’t quite so lucky.

That’s about it from me. Until next time!

x

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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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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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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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Life after earthquakes…

Buonasera……..

Well I don’t know where to begin.

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

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

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

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

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

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My poor house…

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

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

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

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

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

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

x

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The Malocchio (Evil Eye)!

Buongiorno a tutti!

How is everyone? I have (as have many of the locals) had a challenging few weeks! The aftermath of the quake has been terrible. There are so many people without homes and who have lost love ones. The last count was 295 people dead. The damage here in Sarnano was obviously on a completely different scale but still substantial. There are 250 people here alone who have had to move out of their homes as they’ve been classed as “inagibile”, basically unsafe to live in.

Alas this list includes my neighbour. I don’t live in a sort of abode that any English person has probably ever come across! It’s a very odd set up. Perhaps the nearest description would be a “terrace”. Basically it’s a large house divided into 4 separate abodes, one of them being mine. My house covers 3 floors and is over and under other bits of the other people’s houses. It’s certainly not a neat divide. In fact, to give you an example, one of my bedrooms was acquired years ago by a previous owner who bought it from my neighbour. Any of you thought of selling your bedroom to your neighbour?!! Anyway, a dividing wall between my upstairs bedroom and my neighbour’s is now in danger of collapse – and no matter which way it falls, it makes it too dangerous for her to live there so she’s moved out. Apparently to fix the damage it isn’t enough to rebuild the wall and the neighbour’s ceiling which has always been rather weak. The amendments will need to be made in an anti-seismic fashion. Alas, it turns out this is actually a lot of work and is likely to take months and cost thousands – during which time I won’t be able to live here. Hopefully the government will pay for the repairs but it could take years for that money to come through.

After a week of aftershocks and not really sleeping very well, I decided to get away from it all and spend a couple of days at the beach up north in Rimini with a friend. Alas whilst there, someone stole my bag with my wallet, telephone and everything else in it so it wasn’t as relaxing as I would have liked! The hotel, Hotel Luigi deserves a medal – they were so kind, helpful and generous. If anyone goes to Rimini, I would highly recommend them, not only for their lovely rooms and excellent location but for their sheer niceness! I would also recommend that you never leave your things unattended anywhere in Rimini not even for a second. It seems dozens of bags are stolen every day.

I had to buy a new mobile phone to replace the one that was stolen. I use the term ‘phone’ loosely as it turned out that once I got home it couldn’t receive or make calls or messages apart from within the bounds of the shop where I bought it from. The shop owner was incredulous and thinks I’m insane. Anyway, we agreed he’d send it off to be repaired and he gave me a totally different replacement phone. Such was my luck, it had exactly the same problem!!!

……And the bad things continued: The car passenger window has broken, the car steering wheel freezes randomly, the spark plugs have been a problem even though I’ve just replaced them, and the tax man (well I don’t know where to begin with that but suffice to say it’s a good job I’m not a suicidal sort of person) health issues (that are all resolved but I can confirm that the Italian Health Service seems to be about a million times more efficient than the English health system on the face of it) etc etc etc…

It was also a horrible few weeks on the cat front. Two of Pelosina’s kittens went mysteriously missing. Pelosina died during the local ‘Slug Pellet Cat Massacre of Spring 2016’. She left behind 3 adorable little kittens. Two of them went mysteriously missing and a few days later I discovered a cat shaped body floating in a water butt. I put two and two together and decided they must have fallen in. Meanwhile, the remaining kitten, Pepper, wouldn’t leave my side. I missed her brothers and I think she did too and we snuggled up each night watching TV with her kneading my stomach and giving contented little meows. Then a week or two back, I woke up and found her dead outside where she’d been hit by a car. I shouldn’t get attached to these cats, bad things always happens but she was such a character and was so affectionate that she really wheedled her way into my heart. I do miss her.

So all in all, there has been an unwieldy amount of misfortune. I’m not remotely superstitious but in the event that it was due to the mirror I broke a month or so back, I set about researching methods of how to resolve a curse, just to cover my bases! And there is nowhere better to resolve a curse! The Italians, it turns out, are quite a superstitious nation. I bought a keyring with a four leaf clover and a red squiggley horn thing which they call a “cornetto rosso” which fends off bad things (although not that well in my case unfortunately). And the other week my friend doused me in oily water to fend off the “malocchio” (the evil eye!) and muttered something under her breathe. Apparently she can’t tell me of her mutterings until Christmas Day which is the only day where the tradition can be passed on. I can’t wait!

Anyway, perhaps because my friend actually managed to lift the “Malocchio” (!) or simply because life has temporarily run out of ways to be spiteful, things are on the up again now and I don’t feel quite as blighted with bad fortune!!! In fact, the turning point was when I discovered that our two missing kittens were alive and not in the water butt after all, albeit 3km away having found another English couple to take care of them. Alas, my neighbour didn’t want them back so they’ve been relocated to another home which is sad for me but great news for them, so I’m really pleased about that.

So good things have started trickling through again 🙂

  • I went away for a couple of days to Passo Corese. Nobody will have heard of this place but it’s not that far from Rome. I went with a friend who was studying for an exam and whilst she prepared for it, I painted. It was a lovely couple of days really and I feel I’m gradually developing my own “watercolour” style. And to say thank you for keeping her company, as if she needed to thank me, my friend gave me a lovely replacement purse to replace the one that was stolen (I think she got fed up of me fishing around in the bottom of my backpack for loose coins!). However it wasn’t all good – I’ve just received a massive speeding fine and three points taken off my license (I don’t know quite how that works in conjunction with the English system where you gain points if you’re bad rather than the Italian system where you start off with points and they take them away. Perhaps I’ll end up in a better situation!!!).
  • I’ve bought a digital piano which is just excellent – I’m trying to learn the song from The Piano which is a bit tricky but very absorbing!
  • My parents have been here which has been nice so we’ve been doing some sight seeing. We have been to, Civita Bagnoregio which is a very attractive little town, perilously perched on a large hilltop and can only be reached by a footbridge.img_20160917_150728096_hdr-effects And Assisi

 

And then, given that Dad is very interested in photography, we did some photography sessions around Sarnano. These are my attempts but my father’s will be significantly better!

  • And my painting is going alright! I’m just on the cusp of starting a new blog called “A Painting Occasionally”. When it’s ready / I build up the courage, I’ll add the link! I’m still procrastinating at the moment 🙂

Next week I’m on a Blog Tour “Buonvivere 2016” to the wonderful town of Forli so stay tuned for that. Meanwhile, here’s a picture of a cinghiale – a wild boar, my first ever close up and I thought he was rather sweet!

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x

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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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Sunbathing in Senigallia, Entertaining and Photography!

Buongiorno a tutti!!!

How is everyone? Well, I have a daunting amount of updating to do! It covers a bit before the Puglia trip at the beginning of the month and thereafter.  I shall aim to keep it short and sweet (I realise I’m not particularly adept at that!). On a separate note, if you’ve signed up to these posts by email (thank you!), I’m told it’s worth clicking on the link to read on the website as the layout is better. Anyway, between doing a bit of teaching, I have been…

Sunbathing in Senigallia

I spent a weekend with some good friends in their apartment in Senigallia at the end of June. The weather was amazingly hot and it was nice to have some time at the beach. We had an aperitivo at a lovely bar called Chalet Beach at Marina di Montemarciano and then finished up near the apartment in a great restaurant with candlelit tables on the beach. It was already busy back in June but later this week it’ll be even busier because they hold a Summer Jamboree – an international rock festival which I went to a couple of years ago and loved. We had some good sunsets whilst I was there, in particular one sunset that looked remarkably like the sky just before the aliens came down in the film ‘Independence Day’.

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Photographic Excursion

I also had a little photography excursion around the mountains near where I live with the friend who came to Puglia with me…

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Then a few days later some other friends with their 17 month old came out to stay for the weekend. I was slightly nervous because I wasn’t sure how ‘toddler-safe’ the house is. My stairs to get to the second floor, for example, are really something to behold – I’m considering attaching a mountaineering fixed line for people to attach themselves to as they go up and down. Anyway, I’m pleased to say that despite my concerns, the 17 month old left intact and happy and I think the parents did too!

Lounging in Lago di Bracciano

Then the a couple of days later I drove down to Lago di Bracciano with a friend. That was a bit of a long day – 9 hours of driving in one day. I think that’s about twice my personal record!

It was a good day though and it was nice to explore a new area. The lake has a swimming area and the sand is actually black (and really, REALLY hot!). It was a nice lake and I also visited Anguillara Sabazia, a little town jutting out into the lake which had a lovely ‘old town’ to wander around.

Watercolours!

I organised a little watercolour painting excursion too at Lago di Fiastra which I think went really well although there were only 4 of us. I think we were the talk of the beach! Everyone kept coming up to have a look. I felt like it could have been a comedy sketch – us four reasonably professional looking painters and then my painting at least, looked like a 2yr old could have done it. I can only imagine what people were thinking! Anyway, I’ve definitely got the bug, I’m hoping to organise another excursion in a couple of weeks, though to be honest, I haven’t entirely worked out the advantage of painting “live” as opposed from a photo! Our tutor said the other day that we should be ready to start painting something that we might want to put on our wall. I think I have vaguely managed that, or at least, my friend from the class wants one of my paintings to put on his wall! I’ll put some photos up of some paintings on the next update.

Colmurano “Artistrada” Festival

I’ve heard good things about the Colmurano “Artistrada” Festival for months. Colmurano is a little town in Le Marche, about half an hour from my house. The festa is one that celebrates all kinds of art forms – whether that’s painting, portrait drawing, music or street performances. I have to say, it was one of my favourite events that I’ve been to in Italy so far. Colmurano itself is pretty to just have a wander around but the events were all really good too. I even bought a CD by a guy called Geordie Little, a percussion guitarist (have a look at his videos on the link if you don’t know what percussion guitar is).

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Percussion Guitar is where you use all of the guitar – you might hit the sides to get effectively a drum beat and you might press the strings down on the neck like you’re playing a piano… it’s very interesting to watch!

Then we saw an excellent dance group who I unfortunately only saw through the phone of someone videoing it (thankfully,  otherwise I wouldn’t have seen a thing as it was so busy!) and then a brilliant fire-dancing group called Pyrodanza. I took some photos and they are going to put them in their online photo gallery 🙂

Party!

I am always being told by the Italian’s how many English people there are in Le Marche and up until a week or two back, I’d met only about 5,  which doesn’t seem to tie up with the high numbers I’d been told about. Anyway, I was invited to a party (I was the ‘plus one’) and there were dozens of us! DOZENS! When I moved out I was quite wary of not mixing only with ex-pats as that seems like it’s cheating a bit, but then that seemed an impossibility anyway because I couldn’t find any! However, it was great having a chat about other people’s experiences here, particularly with the language learning and I met a lot of like minded people so I’m pleased about that. The party itself, a celebration of a recent marriage, was fabulous too. We were even treated to a couple of celebrity singers!

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Ricardo Foresi and Monica Trapaga. Apologies for the blurry photo – I blame the phone camera (and not the wine)

Macerata Language Exchange Group Outing!

I recently discovered a lovely group of people, part of the Macerata Language Exchange group, wanting to improve their English (and sometimes their Italian, as many of them come from all over the world!). We met for a special “Games / Chatting” night at Civitanova organised by a professional facilitator, Adriano. It worked out very well in fact as we were prompted to talk about things that probably wouldn’t come up in normal conversation – goals, life history, stories… Good for my Italian! And I can’t tell you how amazing the place was where we had the event, Casablanca – it was absolutely stunning, complete with swimming pool and restaurant. I’ll definitely be going back there again.

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Trekking & The Walking Boots of Hell

I also went on a fab trek a couple of weeks ago in the Sibillini Mountains with some new fellow ex-pat friends. It was a gorgeous day and we walked up along the ridge of the mountains. It was difficult walking – through long damp grass and on uneven slopes, but satisfying and definitely worth it when we got up to the ridge which had amazing views. Alas, I slipped onto a rock and still have quite a painful leg as a result! However, it made me think. I spend a good potion of my time in the mountains slipping down them. I had previously been blaming my general ineptness at maintaining any kind of balance but it suddenly occurred to me it might be my old, cheapish walking boots. It was also a revelation when I spoke to the others about the state of their feet / boots that apparently, it’s not normal to feel like you’re tottering on bloodied painful stumps towards the end of a walk. WHO KNEW?!?! So, I’ve invested in expensive new walking boots and walking sticks (sporty ones rather than the old people ones), and they’re amazing! I hardly slip at all now (touch wood, or touch iron as the Italian’s say!) and my feet are still entirely operational after a long walk. This weekend there’s a long trek with my walking group in Gran Sasso, an area of the highest of the Apennine mountains. I had worried about being able to keep up but after a local walk this Sunday, I got approval to go by our walking group president who said I was very “tosta” (tough)!

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This is the lovely Milly – she must have gone 20 times further than everyone else that day, bounding between the members of the group!

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Smerillo 

There’s been a festival in Smerillo, another very pretty little hill-top town with amazing panoramas of the area. It’s a yearly event called “Le Parole della Montagna” (the words of the mountain) and had some good mountain focused films and talks organised. Last Friday I saw Kurt Diemberger, one of only two survivors from the K2 Disaster in 1986, who gave a talk about his climbing experiences which was interesting. Nice chap. A bit short with people perhaps but in an amusing way!  I’ve since become obsessed with mountain disaster films. I will never feel daunted by a steep slope again.

Amandola Gelato Festival

This was one of those festa’s that was a bit of a let down. It started at 3pm apparently. Knowing that the Italian’s are somewhat of a ‘late’ nation,  my friend and I went at 5pm and they were still only just setting up. We had been expecting lots of different stalls selling unusual flavoured ice-creams but there was nothing. So we got a couple of drinks and watched them set up. By the time we left at about 6.30 all there was, was a guy explaining how to make ice-cream. So we had ice-cream from a normal gelataria (ice-cream shop) and left. There was a good band on later apparently and I wanted to go to the “Silent Disco” they had planned but it would have been a bit of a wait around for several hours so we headed back to check out the nightlife in Sarnano instead…

Checking out the old Italian classics

I haven’t really explored Sarnano at night – in fact, I could count on one hand the number of times I’d stayed in town after 10pm. It was actually busy with people milling around. We stopped at a bar called Decantautore to watch a band called Souvenir D’Italia play old Italian hits. It was great! It was very amusing, particularly when the singer got out a sort of manual loud-speaker.

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Almost at the end of the update.. well done if you’ve got this far…

Tessera Sanitaria (Health Card)

I’ve finally got health cover – the same as I would if I was an Italian citizen. I’ve so far been relying on being healthy and having no issues but I decided that approach was probably too optimistic long term. So I had to pay a very specific 387.34 euros in what was quite a faff going between “ASL” (the office where you get your Tessera) and the post office. I’ll still not believe I’ve actually managed to get one until I have it in my hand.

Sterilizing the cat!

I finally took the plunge and got Batfink neutered this week. He looks so sore, I’m feeling horribly guilty. But it was for the best. I think his raging hormones are responsible for a couple of missing kittens 😦  Here he is in all his pre-neutered glory when he still loved me.

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Poor little adorable Batfink

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And this is his “I can’t believe you’d do this to me, you traitor” look 😦

And finally!!!! MY OLIVE TREE HAS GROWN AN OLIVE! Three in fact. Isn’t it impressive?! Good little olive tree.

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Spot the olive! I did have high hopes for those other little balls but they don’t appear to be getting any more olive-like. Nevermind. Three is plenty to be getting on with. Perhaps I’ll make oil.

Ok, that’s enough excitement for this blog post. Apologies it’s been so long but you can rest assured that I’m up to date now!

Have good weeks!

x

 

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Painting attempts, Lost Temples and Cat Sagas

Buongiorno a tutti!

Well it’s been another busy week or so. On my way back from the blog tour a couple of weeks ago, I finally stopped at a few places that have been on my list to see for ages. Firstly there was….

Urbania

I’ve heard good things about Urbania. It’s near Urbino, in north  Le Marche, which is a beautiful town well worth a visit. Urbania is less quaint than Urbino. Still, I was glad I had the opportunity to go there and have a wander around. Here are some photos…

Gola di Furlo

Now, you’re probably reading this and pronouncing Furlo like, well, an English person would pronounce it. You’re wrong. There is no way of pronouncing this word that an Italian person will understand. You actually have to spell it out (and even that’s traumatic because I must have told you before how the Italian’s spell? They just say the word very slowly and consider that spelt! It clears up absolutely nothing.) Anyway, the Gola di Fuuuuurloooo, is a beautiful gorge between the mountains where a river runs through. It’s difficult to get a good photo – the gorge also has a road but that’s closed to cars so you need to either walk or cycle through. However the road is lined with trees making it impossible to get a good view of the river. In the end I had to jump over a fence to take a picture and even then it didn’t do it justice!

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Tempio del Valadier

The next stop was Tempio del Valadier in Genga, built in 1826. I’ve been seeing photo’s on the various tourism websites for this temple for ages and was curious to see it in real life. It was just as impressive as it seemed from the photos and I’m just awed that we have it in Le Marche. In fact, Le Marche really is in my opinion one of the best regions in Italy (the world?!?!?!) – it has such a mix of different things to see in terms of the landscape, towns and history. Really I don’t think you could ask for anything more!

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It looks like a model here but I assure you it’s not! It’s absolutely massive.

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Here it is from the other side.

But, beware the snakes…

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Genga

Then I popped over to the town of Genga. Genga is a pretty little hilltop town but seemed quite deserted when I was there. They do have a museum which looked like it might be quite interesting, talking about the history of the local area but I didn’t have time to go in. The buildings are interesting – they seem to be half carved out of rock strata. It’s very pretty. There was also a room open in what seemed like an old church that had a very impressive picture made of various seeds and grains. It seemed so much like a painting that I had to touch it to check  – I thought the seeds must be glued down. They weren’t. I made a big hole which I hastily tried to cover up.  If any of the artists are reading this – sorry guys!

The weather this year has been generally rubbish on the whole – we have a couple of days of glorious sunshine and then it’s followed by thunderstorms. I took this rather daunting looking picture on the way back from Genga. I did manage to miss the rain though so was pleased about that!

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Walking Group!

I had my third trip out with the CAI (Clup Alpino Italiano) walking group of Sarnano. We were supposed to be going to Monte Bove (still in the Sibillini’s but more central than where I live). It would have been an impressive walk but we had to cancel that because of the storm due that afternoon. Instead, we went out locally, walking from a part of Sarnano called Bisio and then up to a refuge called Citta di Amandola and then on a bit further to the lookout point over Santuario dell’Ambro, a church set in one of the valleys. Our little offshoot of CAI isn’t very well supported (a lot of areas have their own CAI that appear to have more active members). In fact this week, there were only 4 of us. The group don’t appear to have embraced technology to publicise the walks, so I might look into that on their behalf! The Club President is one of the more interesting characters I’ve met here – a sort of hairy naked dude that eats all the plants as he’s walking along but he’s a lovely guy and knows every single path in the area. One of our group was wearing head to toe expensive specialist walking gear…whereas the President was (periodically) wearing a holey vest and shorts and the sort of shoes used for protecting your feet when you’re doing DIY.

I was a bit taken aback hearing a story of some poor paraglider that made a simple mistake and ended up killing himself on that rock face in the pictures below (right hand side). Poor man, I think that was years ago but as an ex-paraglider pilot myself it put the wind up me a bit!

Cycling

On Saturday I decided I would try and make it up to Sassotetto on my bike. Sassotetto is one of my nearest mountains. I packed a sandwich and lots of water and set off at about early morning. Wanting to do a circular route, I went via San Liberato first, a beautiful monastery set in the woods about half way up the mountain. I mistakenly thought that it might be the easiest route. In fact, it was exhausting. I had to get out and push on a number of occasions. The road was empty other than every time I got off my bike, within seconds you could guarantee a troupe of cyclists would come along (all sporty looking men in sporty looking outfits – in fact, there are simply no cyclists that wear normal get fit stuff here, they all seem to have proper racing gear like they’re all doing the Tour de France – they take their cycling very seriously! I don’t think they were particularly impressed by me with my general keep fit gear, a big backpack and a cheap bike!). Anyway, 6 hours and 40 kilometers later and with legs that refused to work anymore, I was back home again. Guess how quickly one of my CAI walking companions does that same route? An hour and a half. I don’t think I shall ever ‘cut the mustard’ as a cyclist!

Cat update

It’s just been an awful year for our little community of cats. A few posts back I mentioned how one of them was at the vets apparently suffering from the same slug pellet poisoning as before. Unfortunately he didn’t make it which was terribly sad. He was less than a year old and had a lovely character, always wanting a chat, albeit the conversation was a bit ‘samey’ after a while: “Meow?” “Meow”, “Meow!”, “Meow?”. Then last week, the lovely Pellosina died. Pellosina was just the sweetest little cat and was about 4 years old. She was really quite shy and didn’t like to be stroked but had such a gentle character and she was a fabulous climber – always high up on some post or other. She had three kittens a couple of months ago and though she didn’t like to be stroked, she was so content with motherhood that if you approached her with her kittens she would roll over onto her back with the kittens still suckling as if to say “look at my little family” and she’d let you stroke her and the kittens. She was the girlfriend of Neve the Evil Cat (he’s constantly attacking my cat Batfink) and it was him that led us, Lassie style, to Pellosina when she was convulsing behind a shed. Slug pellet poisoning is absolutely awful; it’s an agonising way to go and poor little Pellosina died in my arms outside the vets office. That’s 3 cats that have died now and it feels like I’m on a countdown until Batfink is struck down again (he’s already survived one bout). So, I would like to urge everyone – please don’t put slug pellets down. Have a look here for alternatives. Here’s my little photographic tribute to them 😦

And Sole, one of the survivors from the last batch of kittens has an awfully sore nose from something or other. Here he is having a cuddle from Batfink. It’s never a dull moment with the cats at the moment unfortunately!!!!!!

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Poor little nose!

Lion King!

On a less depressing note, Sarnano had a theatrical production of the Lion King the other week! It was an amateur production but still a lot more impressive than the amateur productions I used to be a part of. I was rather amazed to see that some of the costumes were akin to the ones used on the London stage!  The only problem was, it seemed to go on for a lifetime. The trouble in Italy is that everything is just too late. The show started at gone 10pm and there were little children in it! Why they don’t begin their entertainment events in the late afternoon or early evening, I will never understand. And yet, the Italians don’t appear to be perpetually tired so who knows, perhaps the country just doesn’t need to sleep?

Painting

I’ve been having fun with the watercolour class and painting. There’s a real technique to it. Watercolour is completely different to painting with any other medium. I can’t say as I’ve ever been particularly enamoured with watercolours as I have traditionally veered towards bolder paintings with quite a lot of texture: I discredited watercolours as “painting-lite” for those who just want to paint quaint, dreamy village scenes and flowers. That was until I started my watercolour course a couple of months back and in fact, I really like it. Far from it being a “quaint” form of painting there are some really amazing techniques and it needs a lot of practice even to do what seems to be the simplest of things. The course focuses on landscapes but I’m absolutely inept at those, though perhaps getting marginally better. Portraits seem a bit easier. There was talk about us students having an exhibition. I quite like the idea of that – something to work towards. I think I’ll dedicate July to producing a couple of reasonable landscape pictures. Anyway, specifically for my Uncle Richard who has pointed out on a few occasions that I never post photos up of my paintings, here are some of my least embarrassing efforts to date.  I’ve specifically embedded these pictures in small so don’t look too closely and don’t judge me, I’m still learning!!!!

And to help with the inspiration, I decided to create a little ‘studio’ where a bookcase used to be. I like being up there and it’s good for watercolours because I can pop them out to dry on the terrace. All in all, I’m quite pleased with it.

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I’m looking forward to the weekend – I’m going to be staying in Senigallia (coastal town) with my friends this weekend and then I’m straight off to Puglia (southern Italy) with another friend visiting from the UK. I can’t wait!!!!!!!!!

I shall leave you with my tagliatelle making efforts from yesterday. I hope you’re all having good weeks!

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x

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