REMINISCING IN WEEK SIX

April 6, 2020

Taken by my friend Tony Brown – the wonderful fortezza opposite that is now lit up each night in the colours of the Italian Flag.

Finally it seems as if spring is in the air with the sudden growth of the – not grass really – weeds…and I long for my Toty to sneak up the hill with his mower before I disappear into it whilst hanging out the washing.

I can hear the noises I so associate with this place: tractors and chain saws and I realise that I have not heard them since last summer, and that warms me up. Whilst I can’t yet buy seedlings or seeds even, I did plant some sunflowers I bought in Australia and their tiny green leaves are popping up from the red pots on my kitchen window sill. From last week’s freeze, the sun now shines and although the air is still cool, it is warming up and with that my spirits are lifting.  The other spirits, those found in bottles, are diminishing as I long to finish each bottle just so I can do the 30 paces there and 30 paces back to the garbage bin. 

Toty – my lifesaver and friend

I did have a walk the other day, just 200 metres, but no one smiled as I passed by and to be honest I wasn’t sure if it was allowed or not.  Now we, in Tuscany, are not allowed out without a mask…that probably means going to the rubbish bin with one too. Or maybe not.

I’ve been looking at getting a cat.  I know. It’s a bit after the horse has bolted, isn’t it? I thought about getting one, or preferably two at the beginning of the year when I got back from Australia. Then I thought that they would get in the way of my travel plans.  Well how’s that for a joke, Joyce???  Anyway I have been spurred on (purred on no less) by Monty, my friend Anita’s gorgeous bundle in Sicily whom she won’t let me catnap and have found that the breeder has these little numbers on offer. Not quite now but in a few weeks and I wonder whether I dare at a thousand euros a pop. Or how I’d get them from Sicily when I’m not even allowed to go for a walk. Or how many I’d get. Or whether the foxes would get them. Or the wild boar. Hmmmm…time will tell and maybe sense will prevail. Chissá? Who knows?

One of these little beauties….born in Sicily and headed for Tuscany….maybe. Or two.

Meanwhile my highlight of the week is our Brits in Italy pub quiz every Sunday night.  Yesterday my son called from Melbourne and we compared questions as he was creating one for his mates, and I thought, even in these dire times, how special some things can be. In teams of four, we battle it out around mostly Italy but also the UK and Spain, and last night my friend Judy Tenzing joined in from Sydney, at Zero Dark Thirty her time. Last week we came equal second and last night with a new name, La Triviattas, we were victorious with 50 out of the 60 questions right. Usually we drink lots as we go but yesterday I had an excruciating tooth ache and dived into the antibiotics and thought better of it.

As I can now sit on my little terrace in the sunshine and look at the wonderful view, I’ve been thinking back to the time we first found this house. It’s like half a lifetime ago – more even, and yet there are parts of it I remember as if yesterday.

It was a sunny warm day as we headed up the valley with Nino, the leather hatted Italian who was guiding up to the offerings in his little book in a part of Italy we’d never heard of. As we criss-crossed the valley a number of times we wondered how on earth he’d found these properties, or, if we ever bought one, how we’d ever find it again. It’s a question every guest I’ve ever had has asked on their first time up in these glorious hills.

We saw five houses that day.  The first was an old mill where we had to cross the stream on a plank of wood to get to. Still full of milling equipment, we thought we’d never be able to get those huge stones removed. Anyway the scary barking hunting dogs that we had to pass on the way down were enough for me to say a resounding no.

The next offering was a charming stone house with a lovely floorplan that could have been made into something of our style, except that it was stuck between two huge mounds of rock and felt very hemmed in.  My final answer hinged on the walk up around one of the rocks where I was hissed at by a very large black snake, and left standing there whilst Nino and my partner fled downhill at the rate of knots.  That was a resounding no as well.

The third house was called Il Due Pini..the two pines, because it stood between them. Nice house, not a huge view but, oh dear, situated right under high tension wires. Nothing would have let me say yes, even if the owner had welcomed us which indeed he didn’t, instead chasing us out with a big stick. Later we met the English couple who purchased it: sadly both died too young and we supposed it was the location under those wires.

Number four was a crumbling ruin on the side of a hill and we were let in by a statuesque lady who came down the hill with a bunch of keys. Room to room we went, each seemed to have a different lock, and none flowed into the other. Full of old wire beds and cobwebs, and not much of a floor or roof, it seemed way too big for what we wanted. We saw a little white-haired old lady in a purple cardigan shuffling along the walls outside and were told it was another neighbour who kept chickens and angora bunnies and quail and pheasant in the old stables – all for the table of course. Climbing the crumbling steps to the broken down terrace, we were stopped short with the view. It was our one non-negotiable, a view, and here we had it, in spades. 

The last offering was a lovely villa in a small square in a tiny village just a stone’s throw away. Lovely house and yes, it had a view, but we didn’t want to be in a village, we wanted land and freedom to grow veggies and fruit trees. And by that time we’d seen The View we wanted.

This morning I found some photos of how we saw the house on that day. Looking at them I wonder what on earth possessed us to undertake a project of this kind from the other side of the world. And I ask myself would I ever have thought, all those years ago, that one day I would be holed up here, on my own, now into six weeks, sheltering from the worst catastrophe in my lifetime? Funny how life turns out, isn’t it?

The beautiful Chestnut beams, were, in some rooms, painted baby blue and were very water marked
There was a rudimentary electrical system, wires hanging out of the walls. We ripped it out without ever turning it on
This was the loo….on a tiny balcony, now my most favoured space called the Linda Balcony
This is the window I spend most of my time at: the kitchen. When I lived in Australia it was from this window I said my farewells when we returned home, to the bells of A Venetian Coronation, whilst wiping away my tears.

Soon I might continue with the story of Mrs. Mouse….but not today, I want to lie in the sun with my book whilst I can. For tomorrow I must don gloves and mask and sterilise surfaces and carry hand gel and a heavy heart as I make my way into the town for my fortnightly shop. Today I feel safe, and content and hopeful that we will once more enjoy socialising and travel and art and opera and family.

Stay safe everyone. The figures in Italy are going down and we will overcome.

Buzz

#iostoacasa #splendid isolation

MRS. MOUSE – MY CORONA COMPANION

April 3, 2020

Beautifully drawn by my friend Rozi Clarke in Melbourne

MRS MOUSE: MY CORONA COMPANION

Its month number two and day thirty-three

Locked in my house with no company

But no, that’s not true: In the kitchen I see

A plump Mrs Mouse staring straight back at me.

When I creep in the morning and open that door

That plump little mouse is around no more

Wily and cunning she’s found her own house

Just as she should, that plump Mrs Mouse.

It’s behind the stove, sometimes the fridge

Despite the red pellets, determined to live.

Red pellets adorned sometimes with cheese

Or peanut butter but don’t make her wheeze

Or die or do whatever they’re bloody well for

And she hides as soon as I open the door.

Its month number two and day thirty-three

And new laws just started allow us some lag

Beyond one’s door one almost feels free

Without dog or kid or one’s shopping bag.

Two hundred metres it hardly makes sense

Fantastic to venture beyond one’s fence

Perhaps when I go I’ll open the door

And invite Mrs Mouse to come and explore.

But maybe I won’t invite her at all

I don’t want to stop her having a ball

If out she did go to find a new home

Then oh dear I’d be so awfully alone.

Its month number two and day thirty-three

And today I’ll feel just a little bit free

A walk up the hill and a different view

Hoping the 6 o’clock toll will lessen a few.

Buzz…..#iostoacasa #splendidisolation #daythirtythree

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GOOD MORNING FROM DAY 24

March 28, 2020

As I turned out my light on Wednesday, or was it Tuesday, I never know these days, the 10th Century fortress opposite was lit up in the colours of the flag. Its not a good photo but you get the message…this is soliarity at a time of crisis.

I knew that this week I would have to go out for groceries and thought I’d go on Tuesday, 14 days since the last expedition but when Tuesday dawned it was with howling winds and plummeting temperatures, and, when I dragged myself out from under the duvet I bought in London and never used because it was too hot, I saw snow on the ground. So I said to myself, it can wait: my fridge is still full even if I am sick of the repertoire.

Later in the day, around 5.15 I learned that petrol stations were going to be closed because they carried too much of a risk of spreading this dreadful virus, so I clamoured into my boots, threw a coat and scarf on, donned the only mask I have (thank you Corin) and grabbed a pile of latex gloves and my shopping bags.

Oh, and my Self Declarazione. This is a MUST. I cannot go anywhere outside my property without it or I run the risk of being heavily fined. Trouble is the government issues a new one practically every day and I can’t keep up. I’m low on printer’s ink so not bothered to print each one out to see where they differ…I read they add a raft of new questions each day. Pretty soon they’ll want to know when we last had sex. And I couldn’t answer that one.

I head to the town 3 kilometres down the hill from my hideaway and I feel the freedom of being out. It’s like wagging school, only better because there will be new goodies to eat at the end of it.  But there are also new concerns as two people in this town have been tested positive.  I am glad there are no polizia on the bridge to stop me as I want to be there and home as quickly as I can. I slow down through the deserted town. The only sign of life is the green flashing cross at the pharmacy. There is no one at the petrol pump. I don my first pair of latex gloves, grab fifty Euros from my wallet and say a silent prayer. I am hopeless at self-serve petrol. I always screw it up and today is no exception. I put the money in the slot, indicate pump No 1 and put the nozzle into my almost empty tank, now gasping to be refilled. Nothing happens. A car draws up behind me and I ask the man to help but he says no, and stays away. Eventually after invoking the diesel gods in good language and in bad I hear a splutter and slowly the dial on the pump turns and the magic elixir spurts forth.  That done, I throw the gloves into the bin and head for the supermarket.

Safely 3 -4 mtres apart, we wait to stock up

Not usually good at rules, I am delighted my fellow Garfagnanians are adhering to the 2-meter rule…except they are actually at least three metres away from one another. I open my purse to find no coins for the trolley and curse at the state of being that money is needed to access one.  One person comes out and another goes in. I wait. I am number 3 and a woman comes out to her car parked where I am waiting. I tell her I have no coin and ask her for her trolley and she says no. It’s a fucking euro I think, you lousy sod. Later, when I borrow a coin from the check-out lady, I discover that a fifty cent coin is sufficient and I wonder about that karma of that woman.

I’d written up my list like a virtual tour of the supermarket so I didn’t have to backtrack and, waiting in that extended queue, I realised I had left it at home. I cursed under my breath and remembered a funny outing I’d had to the supermarket in London with Hugo where, when we got to the till, he laid out everything in alphabetical order: Apples, Bread, Carrots and so on, and I had a laugh to myself.  Fewer full shelves than last time, and again, not a carrot or celery stick to be had. I’ve never liked carrots but it’s hard to make a good minestrone without them. The Nonnas must have got in first again.

Then I think of the Nonnas and the Nonnos who have died. Thousands of them. The backbone of the traditional Italian family; the kitchen and the hearth will never be the same. The storytelling and the cuddling of new-born babies. And I stop myself brushing a tear from my eye because I do not want to touch my face.

I get what I can and am delighted there is smoked salmon and tonic water. My predilection with gin is possibly mine alone. I buy loo paper and tissues and find they are not in short supply here. Finally, I hand over my card, thank the woman very much for all she is doing, possibly not clearly through my mask but I hope she got my gratitude, and I flee, removing my tainted gloves and putting them in a special bag in my boot. 

I think everyone I know has baked Banana bread this week

It’s interesting. Years of learning and years of being a therapist, I am convinced that how we do one thing is how we do everything.  I remember in the late 60’s when I was travelling (oops that’s almost a NEW word) in Afghanistan and we found ourselves enjoying a night or three with Afghani Gold, the best hash in the world. For those of us who were on a natural high we laughed and hooted and had a great time. For those miserable or anxious it heightened that state and they were even more miserable or tearful than they had been.  So now we are seeing things as if through a puff of Afghani Gold again…. If we’re anxious, we’ll become paranoid. If we are unconsciously driven by scarcity, that will manifest itself big time. And if we are naturally kind and caring, we will be more so.

I’ve seen friends do amazing things in this time. My dearest young things Emily and Adam, instead of cancelling their long-planned cross-continent wedding, stood in a windy paddock in NSW two days ago with a minister, under a metal canopy that Adam had welded together the day before, with their parents watching from afar. As I said to her a couple of days before when she was uncertain what to do, Em, that’s a truly wonderful story and example to set for your kids in the future. I wish I could be there with you, and I’m definitely coming to the party in Wales when it happens.

What I’m also experiencing is an amazing amount of caring. Remember that round of Facebook posts, ‘only 25% of my friends are seeing my posts so if I do this more of you will see’?  What codswallop. Everyone sees our posts; it’s just that most people don’t comment or don’t like/dislike or whatever.

Knowing I’m alone in Italy, the worst affected country (well until yesterday when the USA took over) I have had hundreds of people in some way acknowledging my posts, some of whom I haven’t heard from in a decade. It’s been marvellous and I feel so touched by the generosity and care they have shown. Thank you one and all. In my #splendidisolation that is not always so splendid I have been touched by your concern. And I’ve laughed day and night at the silly, clever stuff that has been posted. How I/we could have managed without the technology we have with free calls and round the clock and round the world connection I have no idea. Not well, I suspect and I am grateful that we don’t have to.

Still warm bread baked by my neighbour and precious Sicilian oranges my neighbour Anna had waited weeks for

I am grateful, truly grateful for a bunch of other stuff too. I am grateful for my Sunday bread, baked next door and delivered by Anna, last week with 5 delicious Sicilian oranges she’d waited weeks to be delivered.  I’m grateful to live in a house with lots of rooms so I can have variety if I need to. For all my books, my DVD’s, my plentiful cellar, the absolutely delicious aroma from my first coffee of the day and for my view.

When we looked for a house 34 years ago the one non-negotiable was a view and boy, am I grateful for that now. For when I look out, at the snow-capped hills and myriad villages scattered down the valley I see new life and I feel hope. Italy has been at the pinnacle of this terrible virus yet I continue to be amazed at its spirit. I have grown to love its National Anthem, it stirs me more than any other I have known and it has brought me to tears often in these challenging days.

My beautiful mountains and villages isolated in their splendour

I’ve watched as the world has made its own decisions. I’ve been horrified at the beach scenes in Australia and at the PM not acting anywhere near as quickly as Jacinda across the pond. His name has gone from SCOMO to SLOMO. I hope, now that Boris has been tested positive, he might get serious and the ‘I’m ok mate’ Aussies learn to stay at home. My son and my family and friends are in Oz and I want them to get through this safely. Even though I live in an isolated community and in otherwise pristine hills, the only place I feel really safe is at home. And I’ll stay there for as long as it takes.

More soon my friends. Stay home and stay safe. And never lose your SOH.

Buzz

#splendidisolation #iostoacasa

Everything will be ok

DAY #16 IN LOCKDOWN

March 19, 2020

I am halfway through Day 16 in #CoronaCentral.  I have #iostoacasa – not left home now for 8 days and since I have plenty of food that will probably extend another 5 until Tuesday.

There are things that have changed.  This morning when I reached for my phone it would not recognise my face…..  it was my hair, all wonky after a week of not caring much; not making those sorts of things matter.  I put my head under the tap to ruffle up those curls again and still it will not recognise me. Yes, things have certainly changed.

Lots of other things have changed.  The world is a different place since my last blog only a few days ago. Britain has shut down. Australia has shut down, but not its schools. America; I can’t bear to watch that idiot so I’m not authoritative on their news except that my beloved Italy has sent them half a million ventilators overnight.  New Zealand has closed its borders.

In Italy I saw a picture of a street last night in the northern town of Bergamo filled with Army trucks removing dead bodies. Two priests have been charged under the new Decreto because they conducted funeral services.  I have seen video footage of a hospital in Cremona; the IC unit with a dozen or more bodies lying motionless, face down on beds, attached to ventilators. It’s clearly warm in there because they are only covered by a towel around their middle bits. Let me say, they are not old bodies. I couldn’t see a single one that looked like a Nonna or a Nonno. And over 2600 Italian medics are infected – far worse than it was in China.

Last night in Bergamo, Northern Italy

I read that the European Central Bank has launched a surprise Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme of EUR 750 billion until the Covid-19 emergency has receded.  As well they are considering a Covid-19 bond to support European countries: an unprecedented and significant measure to help sustain European economies in this crisis. And I think of the smug Brexiteers who will miss out on the strength and collaboration of a greater Europe.   

I’m mostly in fine fettle.  My days don’t have a great deal of variety but I try to do something different to change the routine.  Today I moved my computer from the sitting room beside the fireplace to the dining room.  Big deal you say.  Yes, it is a big deal. It gives me a different horizon and a bigger glimmer of hope as I look outside to the world and see the sunshine on the villages below me where people are stuck at home, many way more fearful or compromised than me.

Yesterday I felt a bit crappy to be honest and probably not surprising after 15 days at home and with news that this thing might keep me here in isolation for another month. Maybe more. I long to go downtown to the bar and hang out with friends over a vino. And to enjoy paying my €1 for the pleasure, just to keep money flowing in my own community.

Until then there is humour. Oh my god now I laughed at that guy flooding the internet with his wine glass saying ‘cin chi, thank you for coming’, to himself in a bathroom full of mirrors. I screeched out loud at that genius. Today I find out he is the son of one of my British in Italy mates who banded together to face Brexit and who are now organising on line quiz nights and book clubs and who support each other to the max, sometimes with a couple of hundred messages each day.  This guy works for Oxfam and is based in Kurdistan, and he had the humour to make that video?  I’m proud to know his dad.  What resilience! Kurdistan I ask you…where the fuck? Iraq. He probably hasn’t been safe for ever out there.

25 years ago I was in the front row of a week-long seminar in Maui, Hawaii. It was day one and the presenter, Tony Robbins, the world’s leading peak performance coach, came on stage with the words ‘the quality of your life is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably live with’.

As a variety junkie, those words changed my life and gave me freedom to be whom I needed to be without societal judgement. Today they are even more relevant.  None of us know how, or when this is going to end.  Yesterday I was down because I heard that we may remain in lockdown for another month when I thought it would be lifted by March 25 or, at the latest, April 3.  Today my son sends me a message that I should get some chickens as he’s read research from eminent scientists that we may be in social isolation for another year.  Chickens I think? I couldn’t kill a chicken. But I definitely need a couple of Burmese puss cats … and I start searching the internet.

Cleopatra and Polyester…how I wish you were here with me

The world is not as it was when I left London 16 days ago. London is not the same: 40 tube stations have closed and 200,000 troops are assembling to enforce lockdown when it occurs. BoJo seems to change his mind every day about what needs to happen and I’m jolly glad I’m here in Italy where the government took harsh measures from Day 1 and is focussed on protecting its people more than its economy, which itself is in dire straits. That can happen later. If people die, they cannot be brought back to life after it’s over. Bad enough that funerals are banned.  I find it depressing every day to get another raft of emails saying they are closed – all my favourite joints, the Royal Academy, the National Gallery, Colbert and so on, then I realise what a rich life I’ve had being a regular at these fabulous places. And I will again.

So how does one stay afloat?  Certainly with resilience. And resourcefulness. And with humour.

The amount of brilliant memes going around on the internet is fantastic. I’m gobsmacked at the creativity of some people. Laughing is so good for us, even if there is no one to hear you (lol). I’m amused by a friend buying pasta in Antigua on her way back to the UK and appalled at the selfishness and repulsive behaviour firstly in Australia, and now in the UK, at supermarkets. But I’m not going there today…either in this blog or literally as I don’t feel like a run-in with the Polizia who are checking ID and the Declarazione that we must carry to leave home.

I read that type A blood people have a greater chance of getting infected and I rush to my wallet to extract my card. O Positive. Phew. Small mercies, yet I believe I am pretty safe in my hills anyway. The night I was diagnosed with breast cancer 21 years ago I lay awake planning my funeral because every single person I knew who’d had it was dead. But I survived that too.

There are signs of spring in my paradiso and this is the second day of 18 degrees although a friend in Sydney who’d been looking at my weather pointed out that snow was predicted next Wednesday! Although the air is still cool, the sun is wonderfully restorative of the spirits and I’ve enjoyed the noise from two of my neighbours who have been heard on their tractors this morning. Thinking ahead to the wonderful vegetables grown up here, I hope to see some ploughed fields soon. I’m soon going to work on preparing my little orto for its veggies, when I can go out to buy some seedlings. Planting may be later than usual this year. But it will happen.

Nature is bringing new life

But mostly how I’ve kept ‘up’ in my solitude is you.  You, out there, my friends who have been unbelievably diligent and caring in checking in on me, seeing if I’m ok, asking how I am, sending me funny shit to make the metre-thick walls of my prigione move as if an earthquake is coming. But I mustn’t mention that. In a few months it will be 100 years since my entire village was razed to the ground, on 7 September 1920.  Life for them then was far worse than it is now, in my opinion. Everything is ‘compared to what?’

This thing will pass. No-one knows when. And we must soldier on in the unknown. Be kind and considerate to everyone. This is a time when connection is the most important thing that will get us through these challenging times.

Until next time from my beautiful sunshine and pristine hills. Stay safe. Laugh a lot. Care a lot. Embrace the unknown and the unknowable. It’s all we really have.

Baci e un abbraccio

Cin cin

Buzz

PS...there is a new ‘SUBSCRIBE’ button up the top if you’d like to…….

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#SPLENDID ISOLATION

March 15, 2020

Taken at 0619 this morning from my bedroom

Its day 13 for me in #SplendidIsolation and to say the least, it’s been an interesting time.

An enormous shout out to the hundreds of people who have enquired after my wellbeing. If anyone tells you social media doesn’t work, or that your posts are limited to 25 people, don’t believe them. It’s simply not the truth. I’ve been inundated with wonderful messages of support from the four corners of the globe. Grazie mille my friends. I so appreciate you.

Only twice have I been past my driveway in these past 13 days – driving out of my village to a supermarket in the next town to buy food; fresh lovely Sicilian oranges to juice in the mornings, vegetables to bake and grill, salads to enjoy with almost every meal, firelighters for my fire which I light when it starts to get chilly, cheese, pancetta and prosciutto and a solitary bottle of vino. Not a single roll of loo paper. Niente. Nulla. Nada.  My Italian plumbers made much sense in installing 3 bidets many years ago.

I’ve been shocked by the crazy and selfish gobbling up of supermarket shelves in Australia and now some parts of the UK. Especially in Australia. My countrymen and women so wonderfully pulled together for the greater good in January when such terrible fires ravaged the country and now they couldn’t give a toss for their neighbour who might be too old or too frail or too busy getting their kids off to school so they can earn a living to get to the supermarkets at dawn.

On the other hand, I’ve been in tears a dozen times watching the amazing spirit of the Italians. Whoever thought up the notion of the 6pm, and then the 12 noon ‘get out on your balcony and make music’ ought to get the highest honour this country issues.  This is the stuff of heroes in a time of complete lock down. Whether it’s been kids banging pots and pans, or amazing opera singers who we’d pay hundreds of Euros to see at La Scala, or just mum and dad waving the Italian flag, it’s been extraordinary.  Tonight, #Flashmob has urged Italians up and down the country to light up their windows at 9pm so we can be seen in space.  To hell with the electricity bill, I have a dozen windows facing down my valley and every one of them will be lit up tonight.

I am allowed out to go to the supermarket. To the pharmacy. To the doctor. But if I go out of my Comune (town hall area) then I have to have a Self-Authorised Declaration to show to the polizia or else I could end up with a criminal record. As my Comune has no supermarket, this paper stays in my bag when I venture out. Probably, because I am in a remote village, I can go for a walk as my neighbour does, in the woods but I have so far desisted. If I go in a car, there can only be two people, one front and one back. And in the supermarkets there are lines drawn with tape on the floors marking how far you must be away from the next person.

Duct tape on the floor at the supermarkets

My daily routine is pretty similar. Sometimes I wake up to a beautiful dawn, as I did today, sometimes not, as it is still spring and some days are cold and misty.

I am immensely thankful for my brand new boiler, King George, which stands proudly beside the luscious red Queen Mary in my cellar, good for 32 years but who retired from, at least the hot water stakes, at the end of last year. I have a long hot shower, put on something comfortable and oil my face with the magic elixir from the Istanbul Spice Market. I can hear my skin applauding a month of no make-up. Or maybe longer, who knows?

Breakfast is my yummiest treat of the day: freshly squeezed Sicilian oranges, crunchy pancetta, sometimes a rich yellow egg, sometimes mushrooms although they are in short supply at my supermarket, and sometimes fried up veggies from the night before.  Toast, from wonderful bread made by my neighbour, with my long black …. if its sunny, on the little Linda Balcony, named after my darling girl Linda Blair who contracted lung cancer and left us almost 2 years ago. I think of her often; her damaged lungs would be a worry at this time, and I feel her sending me love and strength, saying, ‘you’ll be fine darling, I’m glad I didn’t have to go through this.’

Breakfast this morning in wonderful sunshine

The day goes on. I read; I potter in the garden if it’s a nice day, digging up a few weeds and envisioning my planting when spring really comes and I can actually shop for baby vegetables; I’ve done the ironing, and I set the fire to be lit about 4.30 each day.

I’ve spent a large amount of time on social media – too much probably – but there are so many caring people out there and I’ve loved the humour in the face of this crisis. Posts on Tinder of a goofy looking guy surrounded by piles of loo paper as his pull to a bird! Its pure gold! And with my Brits in Italy group who formed to support each other during the Brexit crisis (as indeed it has been for many) and who now connect hour by hour to share experience and wisdom and humour and their personal fears about businesses going under and family illness at home in the UK which they can do nothing about.

I’ve spent time connecting with my generous step daughter in Oz who, with a heart of gold, is arranging a movement to support her street and has already put loo paper in the ‘library’ she set up on her fence ages ago.  This is a time when resourcefulness becomes one’s greatest resource.

My internet based TV is overloaded because of #iostoacasa (I’m staying at home) which is the official hashtag, and I can’t watch anything. But hey, I have a thousand books and 400 DVD’s and I can always stare into the fire and contemplate my good fortune to have chosen this country, which has taken such a strong stance, in the face of economic disarray for a long time, to protect its citizens: mandatory with the second oldest population in the world.

So Day 13, and another 10, at least to go.  I’ve got 6 flights booked over the next 2 months and wonder if I will take any of them or whether I’ll get my money back. Che sará sará…whatever will be, will be.  I worry about the Italian tourist industry in particular. There is nothing I can do but spend, once we can get out again. Perhaps I’ll cancel all those flights and stay at home, here, in my adopted paradiso, spending my Euros where the people I have come to love will benefit most.

It’s a challenging time globally. I read of the situation in Britain and in Australia especially, where my dearest friends and family are and wonder how their various policies will work. Or not. It’s a time of fear for many and we must understand that fear breaks down the immune system and when, combined with selfishness, becomes the second virus.

Stay well, my friends. This is a game changer. Be sensible and be positive and connect. Connect with people, ask them how they are, give what you can and enjoy the peace of being alone. Listen to the birds singing and the church bells chiming. This too will pass.

From #CoronaCentral  #SplendidIsolation  #IoStoACasa

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SELF ISOLATION IN PARADISO

March 13, 2020

A New Day Dawns

The new WWW:  the World Wide Wakeup                             

Looking out through my dirty winter-windows at the snow covered peak on the horizon and green grassy fields beyond my pencil pines, it is hard to believe that this beautiful country, in which I have chosen to live, is in lockdown.

Normally at this time of the year my immediate vicinity is pretty silent, save for the church bells a couple of times a day and maybe my next door neighbour’s tractor starting up perhaps to start ploughing for the spring sowing.

So in fact it doesn’t feel much different. Until I realise that by law I am only allowed to leave home to go food shopping or to the doctor. And that I am not allowed out of my Comune without a declaration to the polizia, if they stop me.

Driving out of my village for the first time in a week

I haven’t been shopping for a week so this morning, early, just before 8.30 I took off into the nearest town to hopefully be one of the first customers at the supermarket. With few cars on the road it felt quite eerie and I was greeted with shuttered windows instead of clusters of the locals enjoying the early morning sun with a coffee in their hands.

Notices on shop windows which, even though I could not read at a distance, I knew were conveying the hurriedly enforced law that people must be one metre apart, on official looking paper with a crest or two on the top, and a scrawled but illegible signature on the bottom.

At my supermarket, there were signs of life as masked workers scurried about trying to fill empty shelves, and huge wooden pallets of water in blue bottles outside in the sunshine.  I’ve never understood why they sell water at all in my part of Italy.  What comes out of the tap is delicious, cool and straight from the source; good enough to flow freely through countless village taps around the valley where locals gather with crates of empty bottles to fill.

The church tower in my village

Two large notices on the ‘in’ doors declared that you must stay out until someone had left, so I stood there, numero uno, in the sunshine wondering how long I would have to wait.  Several people stood behind me, keeping their distance from one another, some chatting, some silent. No one wore a mask.

Eventually a customer left and the door was opened for me by two workers dressed in the chain’s green jackets, offering me hand gel. I pulled mine from my pocket, telling them I’d just put it on, and wheeled my trolley inside.

Never one for adopting the Italian protocol of wearing gloves to select one’s fruit and veg, today I headed straight for the pile and put them on.  My problem has never been wearing them as good practice, but I am hopeless with them, as I was today, not being able to prise open the plastic bags to put in my produce for starters, and inevitably sticking the price sticker onto said gloves instead of onto the bag.

I said good morning to the staff and hurriedly went about my business.  Oranges for juicing, lemons for the gin and tonics, potatoes for the sake of potatoes in case all else failed, tomatoes as a necessity, onions, a lettuce and a packet of ruccola and a bunch of green bananas.  No sign of any celery or carrots and I assumed the Nonnas were busy at home making soup, just as I had wished to do. Blast.

Eggs. Yes.  Goodness there are only 6 packets left. I felt guilty taking two but took them nevertheless. Butter. Fresh Pasta. Coffee – two double packs and flour, but alas the wrong one so hope my neighbour continues to supply me with fresh bread as what I took was for cakes which, to the chagrin of my son, is never my strong point.

At the deli counter I chose a few local cheeses to keep me going and a runny Gorgonzola, my all-time favourite, as I asked the girl, hidden under her hat and mask, for pancetta and bread and focaccia and, of course, more pesto. I turned round and looked at their wine offerings, gabbing a bottle of delicious looking Vernaccia from Sardinia, as if I haven’t got enough booze in my cellar.

By this time, I counted 4 people in the supermarket. Me, a man still at the fruit and veg and two women at the meat counter.  I had intended to get a kilo of minced beef to vary my pasta offerings, but I forgot in my hurry to get past them and head for the tonic water. Probably much more important.

Glancing for a final time at my list, I headed for the detergents, none of which I needed but I did need a stack of firelighters to help combust my most necessary winter fires. Then to the register where I chucked everything willy-nilly into my French carry bags, left by a friend some years ago, and headed into the sunlight and the line of shoppers waiting their turn.

Once the shopping was in my car I returned the trolley, extracted my one Euro coin and fumbled in my pocket for my bottle of hand gel, lavishly applying it to my hands until there was so much on I could barely hold my car keys. Oh well, they probably need a wash too.

A scattering of snow on the mountains

Driving home through the town along the empty high street with closed shops I felt sad. Sad for these people for whom life has been tough for a long time. Small village and town folk, many elderly, who have long suffered with the woes of the Italian economy.  And now this.

I didn’t meet a single car as I drove home, passing the butcher on the corner by the bridge, who was standing outside chatting on his cellulare. Normally there is a queue of people outside his shop purveying some of the best meat I have ever had. The pasticceria next door was open, but empty and there had been no sign of life in the main square, with bars and coffee shops likely to be open but empty.

Back to my paradise. I have been here already for 8 days self-isolating after London for two weeks. Not because I had to, but because it’s winter and my life is quiet here over the cooler months.

I’ve loved those 8 days, and whether I like it or not, I am in for another 21 before the ban is lifted.  Maybe by then I’ll be stir crazy or maybe not. Over those 8 days I’ve enjoyed a lot of reading and my stack of unread books still looms high, offering me constant respite from the outside world possibly for a year or two, if you add all the offerings left by my Hugo when he returned to Australia 15 months ago. I’ve been writing; stories from my past, stories that one day I hope he will read, and his children, and get some inspiration from. ‘So Grandma wasn’t such a boring old fart?’ I can hear them say, reading about guns in my ribs and mountains I’d climbed and inspiration I had received from my father.

And all the while I sit here at peace in these beautiful hills. Green grass. Towering mountains. A fort dating from the 10th century before me. Neighbours beside and behind me, each in their houses isolating themselves from this thing that has the world in its grips.

Its time, I think, to slow down. For us all. To enjoy nature. To enjoy the simple things again. To be kinder to ourselves and to the earth. And to be grateful for what we have right now in this moment.

The sun sets over the fortezza opposite after a glorious day in self-isolation

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ARRIVEDERCI SUMMER 2016

September 3, 2016

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It is always in my last few days at I Cinghiali that I wake naturally around 5am to witness, through windows flung wide open, the exquisite dawn – first just a pale light then a ribbon of orange or pink lightly kissing the mountain tops across my valley as the late summer sun begins to light up the sky.

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But before then I get up in the middle of the night to stand on the tiny balcony off the hallway to witness a sky full of shining stars reminiscent of the suburban Melbourne of my childhood. Sadly pollution now obscures this vision in cities but here it is magnificent and a reminder to me at least, that life comes in all forms and happiness is a constant choice.

My days here are simple and easy. Summer is a pair of flip-flops (my Aussie heritage still calls them thongs but not everyone understands that!), shorts or a floaty dress and rarely any make-up other than a smudge of lipstick when I go out. It’s completely different to my more sophisticated London life and I love it just as much.

Food comes from my garden or a local market and is fresh, fragrant and probably the best on the planet. Certainly the tastes are like no other and the age of the people in my valley and elsewhere in Italy are testament to the quality of the produce. Wine is plentiful and cheap. I can buy the best Sangiovese from further south for around €2 a litre and good bottles are only a few Euros more. It has taken me years to find a good prosecco but now that I have there is always one in my fridge – for lunch or for no reason at all.

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It’s been a wonderful and full summer with lots of guests, some here for the second, third or fourth time and some whom I had renewed pleasure in introducing my Garfagnana to for the first time.

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Back in our 20’s I lived in Astwood Mews SW7 with my sister and a few girlfriends and much jolity was had in early July when Hilma, Geraldine and Lynne came for a week before three of us headed south to visit Umbria and southern Tuscany.

After my 10 days working at a Tony Robbins event in Spain I was joined by my dear friend Connie from LA via the Netherlands, and Cynthia from LA for some lovely and relaxed times; also with Craigh who had stayed with his partner Tim in the barn for a fortnight and then remained because he too has fallen in love with the Garfagnana.

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My dear friend Linda then arrived and we had a wonderful time as we always do, visiting the Versillian Coast on market day at Forte dei Marmi and the local market at Castlenovo between languid days by the pool and lovely siestas.

Two London friends Corin and Laila arrived for their first visit and we had such a week of laghter and fun together – seamlessly sharing meal preparation and pouring of the gin and tonics at sundown. Together we had a marvellous day on the Italian Riviera and an exquisite lunch at Boca di Magra at my friend Mario’s wonderful restaurant set on the bank of the Magra river and surrounded by wonderful statues chosen by Wendy, his Sydney-born wife. And we spent much time relaxing, reading and chatting beside my wonderful pool.

Such fun did we have with the shopping that resulted in a FB competition amongst our friends to ascertain who bought what. All those black dresses and 10 pairs of shoes and they were totally confused! Only one suggested which purchases were mine and it was a girl I’ve never met!!

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And there were wonderful occasions with my local friends, as always. Dinners in a winery, dancing in the village square, food fests at la casa mia, the annual street dinner party in my village. And one more somber occasion.

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Two weeks ago some beautiful villages in Le Marche and Lazio, far south of me, crumbled under the weight of a massive earthquake, just as my old village did on the morning of 7 September 1920 when many lives were lost also. So tonight there is a village dinner to support the earthquake relief fund and I shall be there with an envelope full of contributions from some wonderful friends around the world who have enjoyed time at I Cinghiali and who admire and respect the resiliance and spirit of the Italian village people throughout this wonderful country.

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On Monday I shall depart. I have suspended my car insurance, given two jolly good bottles of red to Claudio who looks after my car wonderfully and packed away some precious things downstairs. I never know when I will be back. In bygone days on my final morning I would stand at the kitchen window, the Venetian coronation playing in the sitting room, and weep silent tears of joy and sadness. Now they are just joy for I am no longer a 24 hour flight away.

For 28 years I have loved everything about my simple life at I Cinghiali. And now it is time again to ramp it up and rejoin the other world I love in London. Arrivederci la bella Italia…mi piace tanto, per sempre.

Ci vediamo presto. E io grido il lunedi.

Until next time

Buzz

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My valley with my villa high on the hill below the church tower.

BREAD AND SUNSHINE IN THE TUSCAN HILLS

August 15, 2016

A week ago late last Friday night I returned to my hills with a vow that never would I leave them again in the summer to go anywhere else.

When you have perfection somewhere in your life it is absolute folly to seek elsewhere for everywhere will be less than. A disappointment, a failure, a travesty.

aaa

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But I had committed to my sister and another friend from Sydney to travel for a few days in southern Tuscany and Umbria so we set out on the appointed date for Todi, a walled city in the province of Perugia. I’d been before; a number of times years ago when we used it as a stop-off to Rome airport. Then it was lively and interesting. Now it was full of shops covered in ‘affitarsi’ signs – empty and waiting, probably in vain for a new tenant. Our apartment – when we found it – had all aspects of loveliness but on further inspection, not quite. The wi-fi did not work, there was no fan in the bedroom, there were only 2 chairs for the three of us and it was a long way all uphill to town. Nevertheless a wonderful lunch awaited us in the restaurant opposite and we vowed not to complain – me especially. I just wanted to be in my paradiso.

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We explored lots of small towns in the area over the next few days, loving Spello and Spoletto where our visit corresponded with the last night of their annual cultural festival so our time was well spent observing the glam (and no so) of the local glitterati as they wobbled off on their high heels down the cobblestones (well the women anyway) to the final concert.

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Arezzo was our final stop and it too was lovely if not stifflingly hot but we had a pool which, once we had read the myriad instructions necessary before entering, was indeed lovely and refreshing.

An early start on our final day to deposit me at Pisa airport where I took a plane to London to change and fly off to the opening night of Graeme Murphy’s rendition of Swan Lake with  the Australian Ballet. It was utterly brilliant: the best I’d ever seen, poignant and emotionally draining and typical Murphy.

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Hugo’s Graduation with a First Class Honours Degree followed the next day and it was a wonderful celebration for his father and I and some of his friends. Afterwards we sipped champagne in the magnificent gardens of Regent’s University London before cocktails at Simpsons in the Strand and a gorgeous dinner at Rules in Covent Garden. Later we all went separate ways and I was happy to be heading to my lovely flat in South Kensington, alone, single and fancy free and proud both of my son’s achievements and my courage to leave a difficult marriage almost a decade ago.

Some frenetic days later I found myself surrounded by oranges and oleanders in sunny, arid Valencia and on my way to the Melia resort in Benidorm to support a 9-day Life and Wealth Mastery event of some 200 participants from around the globe.

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Always fun. Dancing. Singing. Coaching. Laughter. Listening. And at the end of the day some fun meals in the best restaurants in town after fighting our way through ‘the great unwashed’ – hundreds of sometimes drunk and always noisy tourists in town. Not my idea of a holiday. Ever.

Back to my peace and tranquility with Connie and to a meal in my barn lovingly prepared by Craigh on his second visit to my piece of heaven. And fresh figs from my laden tree.

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To sleep in my own bed and wake up to the pink ribbon of dawn over my hills and the chirping of the swallows darting outside my window was indeed heaven. And I firmed my resolve never again to leave in the summer to go anywhere but the markets or the odd restaurant because I even prefer to eat at home –  the simple fare from the best quality produce available in this magnificent country.

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A week later and joined by Cynthia we have (separately and individually) acquired some 13 pairs of shoes from my friend Roberta in Castlenuovo, enjoyed several market days, shared drinks on my terrace for the barn guests, entertained friends for a wonderful dinner, spent many hours poolside, read a book or two and enjoyed a wonderful lunch at my favourite La Baita, high in the hills and run by 3 generations now for 43 years.

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Today is is stormy and I am very happy for my growing veggie garden. Later I will go and inspect and smell the powerful fragrance of my herbs hiding amongst the aubergines and zucchini, capsicums and artichokes, beetroot, carrots, lettuces and radicchio.

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Right now the church bells are telling me it’s noon. Down the valley they will ring in a few minutes from one town, and a few minutes later from another – a reminder that even in these magical hills nothing is perfect.

Until next time

Buzz.

SWAPPING BREXIT RAVAGED LONDON FOR TUSCAN TRANQUILITY

July 2, 2016

My summer exit date was planned to follow the AGM of the Australian Women’s Club London where I completed Year 1 of a two year term but in fact it couldn’t have come at a better time after the devasting result of the Brexit/Remain referendum two days earlier.

Growing up in a politically aware and active household, a couple of years as PA to the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party in Australia and having worked on a great number of election campaigns with results I either did or did not like but learned to live with, I thought I was immune to results. But on my first time as a UK voter, this proved not to be the case.

I woke at 3am to check an early result – not happy that the Remain voters were only a million more than the Leave. By 6am I had to literally prise my eyes open and with utter dismay and disbelief  learned that my age group throughout the country but not London or Scotland or Gibralta had voted their kids and grandkids out of living and working in 27 countries. With my son’s Indefinite Leave to Remain Visa Application to complete the following day in the expectation that he too would have this opportunity, I was beyond gutted.

Two days later I left soggy, unsure and somewhat angry London to head for the hills – my hills – reclaiming the space where 28 years and 5 days earlier I had stood on the crumbling terrace and said ‘if you can’t catch a dream once in a lifetime then why are we here?’

Arriving at Pisa airport I produced my Australian passport to get in; something I have never done before – in the hope of retaining some dignity amongst the Italians, some of whom had already emailed me of ‘il catastrofo’.

Our bags were the first off the carousel and we grabbed them and ran for a taxi, having only 13 minutes to get to the station and leap on the train home. Sadly the self propelled train is still not working …. perhaps another 2 years. Perhaps more. This is Italy. To love it one has to love all of it. Or maybe not?

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The train journey up the valley between the Apennines and the Apuan Alps that contain enough marble for millenia of Middle Eastern bathrooms and hotel lobbies is wonderful. The energy of the lush green and beautiful Garfagnana beckons me again as it did all those years ago, and indeed every year especially the last three after every ‘sodding stone’ of I Cinghiali finally became mine.

My dear friend Toty was at the station with my car and an invitation to his house where his wife Caterina had prepared a refreshing drink which I’d taught her to make last year and then up the hill to home sweet home.

Arriving at the barn I looked out of the window and in my mind’s eye I saw the two pictures, one just 2 years ago, and the other, beckoning to me for a long hot summer: I was in paradiso and brexit had already assumed a lower case b.

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Later that evening standing on my terrace, no longer crumbling, with glass in hand, a visitor in my own home, guest of His Excellency the Australian High Commissioner to the UK and his wife who were enjoying two weeks in the villa with their family having their own Tuscan dream. A wonderful dinner ensued as we watched the magical sky over the 10th Century Fortress on the hill opposite enchanted by the appearance of some fireflies and I felt utterly blessed that I had a couple of months of the simple life to look forward to.

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Six days later my first guest has gone and I have moved into the villa awaiting the arrival of my sister and two friends this evening: friends who lived together in a mews house, a stone’s throw from my London flat, when we were all in our early 20’s. It is utterly peaceful, the whipper-snippers or whatever the English call them having been put down in favour of a Saturday afternoon siesta, but I guess that will not last when the four of us get together.

It has been a lovely 6 days with my friend Kerry staying and to see again friends I have made over the years. I feel privileged to have this place and I love sharing it and its charming village life with friends who come to visit. We enjoyed the local market and drinks with friends on Tuesday followed by a late afternoon drive to lovely Barga with its 17th century church of St Christopher perched on the top of the hill in all its marbled glory. And gelati.

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Wednesday we drove to Lucca…still and always a favourite with its 76 churches and its fabulous Roman amphitheatre. Lunching at a favourite, we struck up a conversation with two Melbourne guys who had just purchased an apartment in a town near mine, home to great friends and a strong artistic community and I immediately invited them to lunch and a swim when they return from the south and Venezia.

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Thursday took us to Castelnuovo, the principal town of the region and its weekly market. Off to my bank where I learned my account had been frozen – (Brexit already I wondered) but no, only some security issue which required 5 unintelligible pages of printing, in duplicate, to be signed in a dozen places. I love this town and hope the scaffolding on its ancient tower will not take as long as the driverless train from Pisa airport. There was Nadia to visit for shoes (not me this time) and the elegant Sandra for her upmarket dress shop (ditto) and then off on a half hour drive through the hills towards the Versillian Coast for an extraordinary lunch at Ceragetta …  about 25 taste sensations including 3 different dishes of pasta, 3 types of meat, an inordinate number of antipasti and numerous other things that, with wine, coffee, water and desserts came to 20 Euros per head. Exhausted we went home to sleep and I to swim.IMG_5165

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Friday, Kerry’s last day we entertained my diplomatic friends from the villa and two wonderful artist friends, Shona and Michael, Australians I met 13 years ago when I organised a 3 day Festa around Lucca for the 80th birthday of the matriarch of one of Australia’s First Families. Shona mainly works in bronze, Michael in marble and they both paint.  We had a wonderful afternoon of great food and conversation learning of the spring under Australia House in London and other very interesting bits of its history, and inevitably on the eve of an Australian election, politics that seem a million miles away from the tranquility of these hills.

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xx

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Finally time for a last look out my window and my last night in the barn – 0h now I love that place! And now, another adventure awaits as I pop down to the station at 9.03pm tonight but not before the siesta that has become an absolute must each afternoon.

Until next time

Buzz

www.TuscanVillaRental.com

 

A WINTRY WEEK IN TUSCANY

February 10, 2016

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I’d forgotten just how enticing my huge fireplace, roaring with logs from trees that once stood on my ground, is on a cold winter’s day. Or how wonderful it was to know there was a pot of soup on the stove waiting for me to be hungry. And to add to it a slice or two of that foccacia from Piazza al Serchio that seems to stay fresh for a week and a dollop of extra virgin oil. Not to mention the dozens of bottles of red cooling their heels in my cellar which need to be warmed up by the fire before you can pop some into your glass. And I’d forgotten just how good Italian coffee is.

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I’d forgotten too how the mist swirls around sometimes hiding the fortress on the next hill completely and at other times so close to the windows I can’t see anything. I was hoping for snow but not too much and that is just what happened on my third night in residence last week….a sprinkling of crunchy white stuff on the ground and covering the windscreen of my car the next morning. It makes everything looks magical and mysterious and I was sorry I had only asked for a little. I wanted more. I wanted the place to be covered as it was a couple of years ago when my neighbour Anna sent me this picture below.

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We arrived on Monday after a slight delay at Heathrow, then into a hire car and off to Lucca for a late lunch, or at least a glass of red and a walk around my favourite Italian city. Always elegant, somehow in winter it seems more so; maybe for lack of tourists, and I like it even better if that is possible. The sun was out and the blue sky between the trees in the Piazza Napoleone where we sat was just lovely.

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My local town market the following morning was minimal as it always is in winter time but the bar was busy and we caught up with good friends for a white wine and a nice overdue chat. At home we bedded the rhizomes for the ginger lilies whose fragrance I hope will fill the air in the summer, made a big log fire, poured a red and enjoyed one of my favourite films, Bread and Tulips.

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On Wednesday we drove up the valley, in the mist and a little rain, around some of the lovely villages north of my villa, stopping at Pieve San Lorenzo to photograph the church which has the most exquisite bells, and for Linda to purchase her very own Bialetti coffee machine in a local shop. Playing around the shores of the lake at Gramolazzo and pretending to fall off the little jetty into the icy cold, we were stunned at the beautiful colour of the water: the greenest we had ever seen…full of minerals and delicious to taste. Lunch was a sensation: no written menu but exquisite home-made pasta and local wine and coffee and a bill of €27 crossed out to €25 for the two of us.

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Castlenuovo di Garfagnana, the major town of the area, hosts a Thursday morning market and it is something I go to rain, hail or shine. It’s a tribal affair: men standing and chatting politics, sport and probably women, and women ferreting in the stalls for something for their kitchens or their backs. We did both, then met up with a new friend over a couple of Hugo’s…my normal Thursday noon drink after the market.

Up through the hills on the way to the coast we went to an amazing restaurant, Ceragetta, for lunch. It looks out over the mountains and was humming with activity; almost every table was full when we arrived and we were lucky to get a nice spot for two in the corner. I love this place and the people who own it. We were offered 10 antipasti, 3 different pastas, 3 main courses with salad and chips, a bottle of wine, some sweet wine with dessert and coffee for the amazing cost of €23 each.

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On the way home we stopped to walk around the lake at Pontecosi and take pictures of the two bridges – one ancient, one new, at the far end of the lake. A group of young people headed for the tiny old bridge with their guitars for a photo shoot as we watched and the ducks swam by.

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Friday and Saturday were spent in Florence – away from the madding crowds of the summer and oh! so much nicer. Whilst we had booked for the Uffizi and the Academia, we didn’t really need to as there were no queues and there was only one other person when we visited the beautiful Brancacci chapel in Oltrano over the Arno. We loved the David, the amazing paintings now over 600 years old in the Uffizi and the modernised food market near San Lorenzo. It was wonderful to see all buildings of the Duomo without scaffolding: something I don’t think I have ever seen before, and it was marvellous to walk down the wonderful roads and alleyways and not be cheek by jowl with a bunch of foreign tourists. Such is the pleasure of visiting in winter!

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We ate a beautiful dinner with an exquisite bottle of Sangiovese at another of my favourites, La Fonticine and we stayed in my 3 star find: the clean, with a nice breakfast, 5 minutes off the motorway, 5 minutes from the Duomo, Hotel Palazzo Vecchio at only €66 a double, plus €19 parking. Amazing in this day and age. But this is Italy and its winter.

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We meandered home via Ikea for some cushion covers for my new sofas in the barn and some candles for the candelabra, thinking we were going to a dinner party. Sadly the hostess was ill so we lit a roaring fire, opened a bottle of red and had a much earlier dinner which was probably just as nice after our busy tourist time in beautiful Florence.

On our last full day we went down the valley to Il Pozzo, a wonderful member of the Slow Food family of restaurants in Italy and again feasted with more food that is respectable and beautiful wine and paid poco….or little! On the way out past the local soccer field we shuddered at the muddy quagmire and the soaked players in their red and green hopefully enjoying their Sunday afternoon game despite the rain.

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And so to our last night. My last night in my bed. My own bed. My house. My home. My Italian dream. I could stare out the window any season for hours on end at the changing weather and vista and feel overjoyed. I have, as have others before and after me. And taken countless pictures of that view. I used to stand at the kitchen window every time I left to weep, if just for a moment. But I don’t do that now. I live in London so its a few hours, not 24 and I can come back whenever I want. How that pleases me!

I hadn’t been in winter since 2001 and I wondered how I would feel about it. It’s fabulous. Wonderful, any time of the year. And I think the heartiness of the food makes winter even more special. The house was warm as toast, the fire roared, the rebollito on the stove was warming to the cockles of your heart and the cold cellar was full of wine just waiting to be opened, warmed a little and drunk in an armchair by the fire.

Until next time: Primavera and planting the veggie garden! And if you’d like to spend some time here in the coming summer please let me know now.

Ciao, Buzz