Posts Tagged With: sarnano

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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Happy 2019!

Buon anno nuovo a tutti / Happy new year everyone!

I hope you’ve all had a good few weeks.

I’m back in Italy after spending a week over Christmas with my family and friends back in the UK. Last year was a bit of a mixed bag with good things and bad things so I’ve had a few days taking stock and now I’m busy planning this year’s activities!

My last post was back in September (time flies!) so to get you up to date on the remainder of last year….

…I had a couple of days at the natural hot springs in Saturnia in Tuscany….

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I loved these springs – it’s like walking into a warm bath! The best thing is that it’s completely free. My only slight concern being that the water was full of tiny little red worm things which it turns out are the larvae of a mosquito type insect. I suspect that’s not the case all year around but I’d recommend not looking too closely at the water. 

…followed by a visit to Pitigliano (Tuscany) …

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Pitigliano is a spectacular little town built straight out of some rock. It’s difficult to see where the rock finishes and the buildings begin.

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It’s known as “Little Jerusalem” due to its historical presence of Jews there – its got a very interesting past and it’s well worth a visit.

…Then a girls weekend away in Venice where we experienced the flooding first hand (Venice had the highest flooding in 20 years the week before we arrived) and got a private demonstration of how to make a glass horse (alas we didn’t get to have a go!) over on the beautiful island of Murano….

And finally a day trip with my pottery class to see Castelli, a beautiful little town in Abruzzo famous for its maiolica ceramics.

On the subject of art, I’ve had a few commissions in the last few weeks which has been good and I was reasonably productive in my ceramics class.

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These are some of attempts (I’ve recently got interested in succulent plants, mainly because they’re slightly harder to kill off) so there’s a distinct theme to my work this year!

I’ve just got some alcohol inks for Christmas so I’ve been having fun with those too…

Who knows, maybe this year I’ll try and exhibit again…

I’ll be going to Sicily for a week later in the month which I’m thrilled about. It’s been on my list of places to go to for ages. Then really hoping to get to Israel and I’ve booked a trip to Copenhagen in April and possibly Thailand or Bali later in the year. This year will be the year of travel! I tend to just go back and forth to the UK which doesn’t feel quite so adventurous.

I’ve got plans for the new house (for those new to the blog, my house was badly damaged in the earthquakes in 2016 so it’s been knocked down and I’m waiting for it to be rebuild) which is a step in the right direction. Hopefully things can start moving along but I don’t imagine any work will be starting within the next year or two at the very earliest. I was told I would be getting an apartment in Sarnano instead of the money the government pay out monthly which goes towards rent, however, there’s alas no movement on that at all.

In other news I’ve signed up for a sort of cross-country skiing course. I can ski, I just can’t stop, so I’m looking forward to that. The local pistes were open just before I came back for Christmas so I went snowboarding for the first time in a couple of years and had a great time! There should be more snow this week so hopefully it bodes well for the skiing course. I shall report back (hopefully in more of a timely manner this time!).

Meanwhile, have a fabulous start to 2019!

x

 

 

 

 

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Artwork, weeds and travels…

Buongiorno a tutti,

How is everyone? It’s been a busy month or so here and yet another mixed bag.

To get the bad news over and done with first, there’s been yet another loss in my family, another Uncle. He used to read all my blog posts and keep tabs on me from afar and I shall miss him greatly. I think one of the biggest challenges to being an ex-pat is when things like this happen. Living in another country away from your family is difficult – grieving is better done together so I’ve been back over in the UK for a bit.

On a positive note, the weather has really started to pick up in Italy and it’s been lovely to spend a bit of time in the garden again. I’ve even been attempting to hone my (entirely non-existent) gardening skills. I’ve discovered that weeding is surprisingly relaxing (even though my current level of expertise leaves me unsure of what is and isn’t a weed). Somewhat linked to that, I went to a fabulous event in Urbisaglia hosted by Il Salto which showed us how to identify wild plants primarily for the purposes of eating or even medicinal use. It was one of the first nice days of the year and it was a really good group so we had a lot of fun and learnt a lot. They run a few similar events and I’d thoroughly recommend it for anyone in the area interested in that kind of thing.

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We collected our wild plants, then had a lovely buffet lunch which everyone had contributed to and then went to the local library to identify our plants and learn more about them. Alas, at that point, they were a little dead looking.

I’ve also been out and about on a few trips…

Rome

I do love Rome. It’s one of my favourite cities. There’s just so much to see and there’s such an eclectic mix between old, really really old and new. It’s an artist’s paradise – one could never be bored and certainly I wasn’t when I was there and managed to squeeze in a few sketches. I’ve discovered it has my favourite shop in the world too – an art shop near the Pantheon. I could probably have spent the entire 3 days just in there! Here are a few of my quick sketches to make a change from showing you photos…

Venice

I also went to Venice to meet up with a friend. It was just a short trip – less than a day really but I got to see a new part of Venice for me (near the Biennale Gardens). It feels like we uncovered the “real” Venice rather than just the tourist area. Venice is such a stunning city that it sort of overwhelms the senses. We stayed in a gorgeous hotel called Liassidi Palace in the centre overlooking one of the canals so it really was a special trip all in all.

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View from our hotel window!

Art Update

I have some paintings up at the gym on display – I’m feeling quite famous every time I head to the changing rooms. I might put some portraits up there too in the next month if they’ll let me to see if I can get any commissions. I’m quite keen to do pet portraits but I’ve lost a bit of momentum on that in the last few months with one thing or the other. I have entered a couple of painting competitions but haven’t had a great deal of success so far but fingers crossed for a future one.  I painted this one below for the SAA Alive & Kicking competition (here’s a link if you want to browse my competition!)…

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A life drawing class has just started as well which I’m enjoying. It’s a combined class with younger Italian students and English ex-pats. This was a quick watercolour sketch done in the last class.

Life Drawing

I had some success this month on the photography front and won a prize for being one of the winners in a Touring Club Italia photographic competition – have a look here to see my photo. I’ve won a weekend away for two somewhere yet to be confirmed! I’ll keep you posted.

Finally, I’m thrilled to announce I’m a gold medalist swimmer! GOLD! (Yes, admittedly there were only two people in my category for that particular race but still, that’s just  a petty detail). I did quite badly really – my nose clip came off after the first length and I spent the following three lengths drowning. I did manage to beat my personal best in a competitive race though (it being my second gala ever that wasn’t particularly difficult either). Technically, all I need to do is not drown quite so much in the next race and I should beat my latest personal best too.

I think that’s it from my side. I wish you all a good week or two.

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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Exhibitions, physical exertion and singing…

Buongiorno a tutti,

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

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

So here goes…

The House

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

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The view from the house isn’t too bad!

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And now there’s quite a bit of snow…

In other news I’ve been….

Swimming

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

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Osimo, the location of my first swimming meet!

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

And then….

Choir

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

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This is them!

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

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

And then perhaps in my most exciting news…

Exhibitions!

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

 

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

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

x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ode to my old life…

Buongiorno,

How is everyone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Fated and Doomed enjoying some tree time!

A presto,

x

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Snow shoes, navigating the Italian health system and kitties

Buongiorno!

How is everyone? Well what a few weeks!

2017 hasn’t got off to the glowing start I had hoped! We have had unbelievable amounts of snow blocking people in their houses for up to two weeks, often without electricity. If that wasn’t bad enough, there were four strong quakes and where can you go when the roads are all closed and your car is buried under a couple of meters of snow?! And then the heartbreaking avalanche that buried Hotel Rigopiano killing 29 people, and a helicopter that was attempting to rescue a mountain climber crashed killing everyone on board. Central Italy just can’t get a break at the moment.

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My neighbour took his photo of our poor abandoned house in Sarnano when she eventually managed to get through the snow to reach it!

Thankfully the snow on the particular ridge and valley where I am temporarily living was only a foot deep and the snowplow came and dug us out that night even up the drive – but the ridges and valleys on either side of us had over a meter of snow and lots of power issues. The damage from the earthquakes this time seems to be minimal (surprising given the additional stress on the houses that the snow added) but the damage from the snow itself has been quite widespread mainly in terms of damaging barns and there doesn’t seem to be a tree in Le Marche that has been left unscathed!

Meanwhile, I’ve been suffering with awful headaches every night (any of my readers suffer from cluster headaches?) so it’s been an interesting week testing out the Italian health system.

Unfortunately if you don’t have a ‘proper’ job and you’re not registered as unemployed, you have to pay about 380 euros for a “tessera sanitaria” (a health card) to be able to access Italy’s national health service. Although if it’s an emergency they’ll see you anyway. You pay for a calendar year, running from January to December, regardless if you’ve paid the full amount in November the previous year. I had a very exasperating visit to ASUR (Azienda Sanitaria Unica Regionale), the administration side the health service to try and get my card renewed. Frustratingly the office workers didn’t seem to know they were responsible for providing this service. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I can confirm if you burst into tears of frustration, stuff gets done! When it seemed I would leave with nothing, I left with a health card, free drugs and an appointment with the neurologist 5 days later.

On a slightly related note, purchasing medicine in Italy is odd: prescription-only drugs in the UK can be purchased over the counter in Italy (albeit at an eye-watering price, unless they’re antibiotics in which case they’re really cheap and freely available!), and basic painkillers which cost a pittance in the UK cost a lot here. If the UK and Italy teamed up, I think we’d have quite a good health service and drug provision.

Meanwhile, it hasn’t all been bad. I went  for an organised ‘Ciaspolata’ (snow shoe walk) with a group called Con in faccia un po’ di Sole at the weekend in Bolognola (in the Sibillini’s). It was an absolutely stunning day for the walk and though I’ve walked in those mountains quite a bit now, it’s totally different when everything is so snowy! The guide was excellent too and was able to identify which animals had made the various tracks in the snow.

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This photo taken by our guides was our Ciaspolata group – a colourful lot!

In other good news, I have two kittens staying with me at the moment! Batfink has been distinctly unimpressed but yesterday marked a breakthrough – I came in to find them all in a tangled cuddly heap. Those who have followed this blog know that I don’t have much luck with kittens and cats – they pretty much all get run over, poisoned or die of flu. So in order to keep my expectations in check, I’ve dubbed the kittens Doomed and Fated. In fact, to illustrate my point, they did have a sweet little sister. I’ve retrospectively called her Mauled. You’ll never guess what happened to her 😦

This year, I decided I was going to try and become a ‘professional’ artist. I thought the easiest and most pleasant way to do this would be to get portrait commissions as I really like painting them. I have about 4 commissions and each one is driving me insane! I think a less stressful strategy  is to just paint stuff, and then if people like it they can buy it. So that shall be the plan going forward! Still, I bought some mounts in nice cellophane wrapping – it’s amazing how that kind of things gives everything a much more professional feel. Check out the latest pics here.

I think that’s about it from me. I hope you’re all having a good week.

A presto,

x

 

 

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Happy New Year!

Buonasera a tutti!

Happy New Year! How is everyone?! Well it’s been AGES since I’ve written. There’s not been a lot to update on to be honest!

At the end of November I went back to the UK to sort out a few bits and pieces and only came back to Italy a week ago.

I must say, I was thrilled to wave goodbye to 2016 which saw a pretty relentless stream of, let’s say ‘challenges’.  My usual ‘end of year summary’ (you can take the girl out of project management but not the project manager out of the girl!) wasn’t as life affirming as it usually is. The comparison of ‘What went well’ (e.g. June was quite sunny) against, ‘What could have gone better’ (e.g. earthquakes, deaths, illnesses, taxes, ‘Brexits’ and things broken & stolen) wasn’t too favourable if I’m being totally honest. So I would just like to take this opportunity to welcome 2017 and may it be less depressing than last year!

It’s been lovely to be back in Italy. My new temporary home in Ripatransone looked very pretty this week with a dusting of snow.

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One of the vineyards near the house

I had some (good?) news about my home in Sarnano. Although we’re still awaiting a second lot of engineers to come and assess the damage following the earthquakes it appears it is not likely to be knocked down and rebuilt but fixed up instead. Whether that’s ultimately good or not from a strategic or logical point of view, I don’t know. I suspect a shiny new anti-seismic block of concrete would have been the more sensible option if there was a choice in the matter. However, from an emotional perspective I miss my little pile of rubble with its odd quirks. Either way, I imagine it’ll be years until I can move back there so I’ve started looking at alternative options so watch this space!

I popped up to Jesi to see some friends at the weekend. We went to see a great exhibition in Palazzo Bisaccioni which was an ex-bank building. It’s well worth a visit – it’s free to get in. At the moment there’s an exhibition called “IL SOGNO LIQUIDO” by Andrea Crostelli which runs until the 29 January 2017. Crostelli works in oils and has a very diverse range of art but this exhibition had a very dream like feel to it – in fact, in English the exhibition is called “The Liquid Dream”. It was great talking to the artist too; he’s a really nice guy and very encouraging when I said how I’d love to have my own exhibition one day.

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Thanks to ‘Il Polemico’ for photo provision! Mine didn’t save!

On another floor there’s an exhibition dedicated to art from the 1500’s to the 1700’s – it’s nice to wander around and marvel at how bulgy eyed and horrible everyone looked (see my theory about this here).  On the ground floor there’s another exhibition dedicated to art from the first part of the 1900’s and a small exhibition dedicated to the lira. I’m glad they don’t have the lira here these days; I don’t think I could work with such high numbers! On the ground floor there’s still the safe for the bank which was fascinating to see. You’re free to wander around the building on your own but there are a couple of curators that are available to provide information and are really very knowledgeable.

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Italian’s always call each other “Tesoro” (Treasure) as an affectionate term. It made me double take seeing it above this vault!

Meanwhile, I’ve been busy doing some painting over the Christmas period. My objective for this year is to be able to call myself an artist without cringing  with embarrassment at having the audacity to declare myself so! For that, I think I need to sell artwork. With that in mind, I offered portraits for £15 (or 15 euro such is the current exchange rate – thanks a lot Brexit) on my Facebook account. I have had three commissions so far and let me tell you, painting a commission is an entirely different ball game! There’s a lot more pressure. Anyway, we’ll see how that develops. If you want to see the latest check out my other blog and/or follow me on Instagram (@apaintingocassionally).

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This is one of my paintings from last week’s local watercolour class. I wish I could take all the credit but it was a copy from my very talented teacher, Terry Banks!

On another note, my parents had my decent camera repaired as a Christmas present. It broke during the Walk of Doom last year. I like taking pictures for the blog and it’s been difficult to get enthused about my phone camera photos so I’m thrilled about my fixed camera. Here’s a “got my camera back” blackbird photo that I took in the back garden…

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Anyway, that’s about it from me. I hope you’re all well!

A presto,

x

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Earthquakes, prisons for cats & explorations…

Buonasera,

I hope you’re all well.

Things are moving along here. On the earthquake front, we’re still getting quite a lot of tremors, still magnitudes 3 and 4 which aren’t insignificant. I guess it will take a while for the earth to settle down. I had never realised before just quite how long it takes for the aftershocks to stop after a big quake. It could be a year or more.

Storms and high winds (Sirocco winds from North Africa that can get to 100km an hour) have not aided progress. On my first day back from my UK visit I’d set up a tent in my neighbour’s garden as a place to hang out when I was ‘back home’, and hypothetically speaking, to store stuff rescued from my house (not that I would ever, of course, consider entering it as once it’s been declared dangerous, it’s illegal to  enter and you can be fined heavily). Anyway, imagine my frustration when I discovered the following day that the tent had been ripped up and destroyed by the wind in the night with all of the stuff I had managed to rescue from my house.

Just down my little road of a kilometer or less there were about five trees ripped up, blocking the road and lots more on the way back to ‘Home Two’ in Ripatransone.

They call our emergency centre in Sarnano ‘Base Camp’ – it makes me feel like I’m  about to climb Everest each time I go in! It’s a lot quieter there now with people having been moved out to hotels and apartments closer to the sea. The town centre is still closed and will remain that way for a while – there are very precarious tiles and chimneys that have come down that are balancing on  roofs and that will all need to be sorted before people will be allowed back.

Next week the structural engineers will start doing property checks around the area. I really don’t know what they’ll say with regard to my place – whether it will need to be knocked down and rebuilt or whether there’s a chance it can be restored somehow. I’ve had promising chats with a Structural Engineer who says that perhaps my main concern – ‘the Bulgy Wall’ can be replaced and other measures put in place to make it more structurally sound. However, it’s never going to be great – basically in the event of another earthquake the amendments would just give me more time to get out before it crumbles! On the other hand if they do knock it down, I should be entitled to a new home, but what if I don’t like it?! I don’t imagine I get much of a choice of design and with the building being shared by three others it will be difficult to agree a solution we’re all happy with. On the plus side, hopefully it wouldn’t crumble around me in my sleep so there are swings and roundabouts!

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The Bulgy Wall

Meanwhile, single displaced residents like I am get 300 euros towards accommodation and there’s talk of container houses being available before Christmas and wooden huts in the Spring. It’s difficult to piece together what’s rumour and what’s reality at the moment and I suspect the powers that be don’t have all the answers yet either.

Meanwhile, I’ve been enjoying my new home in the hills surrounding a little town called Ripatransone. The cat has settled in really well, I think he’s probably happier here away from ‘Evil Cat’ who used to attack him every time he left our old house. Now he has a very naughty little puppy to contend with, a 3yr old ‘mouse catching champion’ dog and two other cats.

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This is Batfink relaxed in his new home – he likes his head being stroked! I’m not throttling him, honest.

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Despite looking innocent, this is a very naughty puppy. We aren’t talking at the moment. He pooed on my carpet and then I unwittingly trod in it with bare feet (just after I’d done my nails which further rubbed salt into the wound).

The apartment is lovely and even has central heating – a complete novelty to me – so much so that I just can’t work out how it works!

The countryside around the house is really interesting and different from further north in Le Marche where my house is. I don’t have my decent camera at the moment but you get the idea…

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Those sort of protrusions of oddly shaped rock are called Calanchi. There’s lots of them in this area. I was quite pleased to capture this lovely rainbow!

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And the vineyards are spectacular at the moment.

I’ve finally done some exploring of some of the local towns which has been great. I’ve been to…

Offida

Offida is known for its yearly carnival which is apparently something to behold. Maybe this year I’ll have the opportunity to go. It’s also known for its tradition of bobbin lace making. My friend and I saw one woman who was demonstrating ‘lace’ jewellery in action – I thought I might get an idea of how it was done but she was impossibly fast! Even Offida has been impacted by the earthquake. The main square was full of firemen and vehicles and many of the buildings are cordoned off.

The people of Offida are very strict though; imprisoning cats for their wrong doings. Who knows how long this one has yet to serve…

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Cossignano

Cossignano is in an even worse state than Offida with a lot of the streets cordoned off. The damage to the buildings was perhaps a bit more obvious in parts too. From the bits we could see, it looks very quaint. It’s a lot smaller than Offida. We found a lovely, empty restaurant called Elvira serving really nice cremini (bread-crumbed deep fried squares of custard… mmmm), giant portions of delicious pasta and some absolutely foul home-made alcoholic distillation of something (old socks?).

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Cupra Marittima

Cupra is a seaside town. I’m not endeared by many of the Italian seaside towns and this was no exception! They’re just a bit plain and uniform and well, I prefer quaint! HOWEVER, there IS Cupra Marittima Alta (‘alta’ means high) which is on the overlooking hill and that is absolutely lovely. It’s a very cute little village where it feels like all you do is walk upwards. We didn’t see anyone else wandering around. We did find the only bar / restaurant though, Pensione Castello, and had a nice meal there. It’s rated number one in the area on Trip Advisor and specialises in fish. They did a good job at providing something for me though as a vegetarian. I would definitely go back in the summer, if only for the views which are spectacular and overlook the sea.

Grottammare

Grottammare is similar to Cupra. It’s a seaside town which is pretty plain as far as I can establish but again has an absolutely lovely ‘alta’ part which I’ve been to earlier in the year and thought was great. I did take photos then though I can’t track them down for the moment. They had a food festa on last week where the streets were lined with stalls selling everything from chocolate to all manner of repulsive looking meats (there was one man stirring some stomachs and intestines around in a saucepan – deeeelicious).

Petritoli

Petritoli is another cute hill top town that’s worth a visit. I got lost on the way to the supermarket and ended up here so it was a rather quick visit but I’ll certainly go back.

Ripatransone

And lastly Ripatransone which is now my nearest town – it has the smallest street in Italy (the world? Universe?). I can confirm it’s very small. Next time I’ll take a picture. I almost had to shimmy down it. It’s also got an amphitheatre where they have operas in the summer. We had a chat with an old lady for about half an hour whilst she gave us a bit of history of the town. I like it when that happens – it really is nice when people are so friendly and I think she liked sharing her knowledge too. The photo’s below are from the old wash-house where women used to wash their clothes with water that was piped down from a spring on the local hill. There were some tops hanging up – perhaps the tradition is still on-going!

 

Well I think that about sums up the last couple of weeks. I’ve been busy sketching and painting this week which has been a nice change from packing and unpacking! If you want to receive painting updates as and when they happen, follow me on A Painting Occasionally  (click the three lines on the right hand side for the “Follow” option!

A presto,

xxx

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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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