Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Solstice

Just six days and the light returns.
This is the time of Year when my energy flows slowly and I have to push myself and don't feel pulled by life. Doesn't help that it's snowing like crazy outside and far too cold so suddenly. Our woodstove is eating up our winter's supply and it's a battle to keep the house suitably warm.
But there are good things too.
The sun being at its furthest south, we are getting sunsets lighting up the sky at Mt Vettore.

Then there is the fact that we have joined C.A.I. (Club Alpini Italian) which makes me laugh no end, firstly because most of the other members here are amazingly fit and sportive and secondly because their membership card and badge are left-overs from the Fascist era (Mice's guess!)

and then, and then,...on a 20K walk on Sunday (don't ask) we walked past this house on the way to Monte San Martino.
And look what it says splashed right across the front of the building 'Duce a noi' which more or less 'We're with you all the way, Duce' (you need to screw your eyes up to see it mind)

It's all bubbling still, under the surface here in Italy. Communism, Fascism; like old ghosts lost in time forever, And all this couples in my mind with the attack on Berlusconi on the weekend where he was coshed with a model of the Milan Duomo. It's the circus of Italian politics which have never matured out of the ruins of the second World War.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

six women

This weekend in the house six women.
Now I know why man became carnivore

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It was Mexico

Well, it seemed like it at the time.
I was walking up Bernie's garden to take a look at the sea and I heard shouting and laughter; looked up and saw UFO's whizzing across the sky. Then I walked into a bunch of Mexican cotton pickers, but they weren't.
Does that ever happen to you though? You suddenly think you're in another country?
Anyway, a voice shouted 'Michael!' and I was brought back to the here and now.
Guess who it was?
You're dead right, it was Mari, Jo, Vittorio, Quinto, Pepino and Lorenzo. Not pickin' cotton but sweetcorn (UFO shaped)It's 25C in the sunshine and they're complaining of the heat...

Here they are, look, it's them it is.

Next day temperature drops by 20C and we are plunged into winter and the Sibillinis have their first dash of snow. John pops in, carves a huge hole in our laundry room wall and walks off shaking his head. It's like that when the seasons suddenly change.
No wonder the British went mad in India (A thought that briefly sails though my mind)

a mountain view from the garden, the first snows

Friday, September 11, 2009

Our summer of trekking

I know what you're thinking! You think I'm going to write about my fantastic tomato crop, or our splendid figs or the to die for potatoes.
But I'm not.... and who would die for a potato anyway? (don't answer that one, please!)

Instead this little story is about last weekend's trek/mountain climb up to the source of the river Ambro which is a hike and a half above the Sanctuary of La Madonna dal Ambro (who is really the Sybil as well we all know)
Our trusted guide and leader, Giorgio Tassi, had persuaded us that this one was a doddle; tough first ten minutes, then flat all the way. We know him well enough to translate this as (a confidence booster which really means) 'life threatening experience, stay in bed, it's safer'

The river had to crossed at least a dozen times; our Mexican friend, Sofia took the first dive and one by one we succumbed, each of us wet from the knees down, but it was OK.

The scariest part was climbing up (and then down) a sheer precipice, our only way of circumventing a blocked part of the river bed.

Here you got to wonder at the way water had eroded the gorge over millions of years and here it took some time to get the twenty of us to the top of the rope where our wondrous leaders were perched (we had four guides)
When we reached the 'Throne' itself, after more or less another hour of climbing, I know we were all in complete awe of this majestic place. My God! We've lived here for seven years and didn't have an inkling of such splendour.

So we celebrated this feeling (a sort of benevolent dreamy state) by eating a gorgeous lunch consisting of bacon and tomato rolls, Sheep cheese and a bottle of coke. Then chocolate to double up on the caffeine intake.

The journey back down was easier, except for having to re-negotiate the precipice and by this stage most of the group had given up on trying to navigate the stepping stones to cross the river, and just waded in. I think. for me at least, one of the most beautiful parts of the trek was walking besides the sound of rushing water through the sunny glades which stretched the length of the river. It's a lovely experience because eventually the mind empties itself of everything except to sounds and sights around.

So we've got the bug and we are going to join the trekking group. And this coming weekend? a trek up the Fiastrone. What a wonder that will be.

Finally a photo of some of the group taken in front of the Sanctuary

Friday, August 07, 2009


Now I'm not a great lover of shopping. In fact I lose a year of my life when I'm trapped into the horrors of it. Yesterday was a prime example (or so I thought at the outset). The objective was simply to buy a pair of trekking shoes for my kindred soul. You know the story.... 5 hours later with bags full of bargains (but you have to buy this because it's half price and will last you forever!), we by chance, looking for the beach at Porto Sant Elpidio, drive into yet another Shopping Mall. By this time I've lost two and a half years and seven days--- but this Commercial Centre is new and I swear it's the first one ever that has been designed with the mind of man in mind (oh, I like that!).
It's got whole areas for tools and tents and camping beds. And what'smore shops for hikers with 50% reductions. Computer and telephone sections with huge screen TVs and and thoroughly modern Sainsbury type Trustbuy scheme where you just use your credit card as you you zoom through and avoid checkout. On top of this there's a pub in the corner with a vast selection of beers and pizzas and there, as you walk out, is a multi screen (12) new Cinema.
I'm not making it up, honest.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

La Sibilla

Last Saturday I joined a brave set of souls on a hike up to the cave of La Sibilla, who, as you know, is the local goddess, and ex-prophetess to the Roman Emperors. It was great and something I've always been meaning to do. The day was organised by Giorgio Tassi, a local photographer and nearly new Mayor of Amandola (he missed out by just a handful of votes)...

Jo is an experienced mountaineer and a great direction giver for those in need of advice.

It was a day of swiftly changing weather conditions, hot sun, then sudden drifting fog with chilled us but which had its own beauty as sheep, climbers, mountain shepherd dogs drifted in and out of focus.

We reached the Sibilla cave after two hours and ate our sandwiches and drank our energy drinks. I missed Bessie and sort of wished I'd brought her along but she would have casued mayhem; bashed up Holly, attacked the sheep dogs and pestered me for a slice of sausage. Then guess what? We were given a lecture on the history of the Sibilla by a historian, the upshot of which was that it was generally agreed that the Sibilla was still present as witnessed by many a sober soul during nights spent alone up there. This spot is, according to those who know this stuff, a portal to the Cosmos.
Told Lili about this and she wants to go up there too (she was in Naples that weekend). Not sure whether she means to Cosmos or Mount Sibilla...I'll ask before I make any plans

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I've had better days.
I've had worse also.
I want firstly to say sorry to this snake

I'm sorry snake, I didn't want to kill you, please forgive me!

It happened like this..
It's been unusually hot this last week, temps hitting 34C, and if you know anything about snakes, you know they love it hot. Baby snakes hatch in these conditions: baby vipers are born live, up to a hundred at a time.
leela has already marched into the garden with a snake in her mouth and this morning it was the turn of Socksie who (as a present to Lili) dragged in the chap above into the house and placed it, still alive, under our bed.
It was a metre long.
Shrieks in the house!
I managed to clunk a glass cake cover over it and slide a piece of cardboard under its body (all this under the gaze of the feline sharks); to then slip it into a large glass jar which I sealed with a fitting glass top.
You're so brave!
Yes I know, but to continue...
I take the jar down to our neighbours thinking that they might at least tell me if it was a viper or not and they say yes kill it. I get this feeling that they call every snake a viper and kill it whether it is or not so I walk back home with snake in the jar looking at me with quite a sweet expression on its face and back home leave it on the garden table with the plan of taking it to a chap we know in town who really does know a snake from a cake.
Then...shrieks, even louder than before.
'It's escaping' Lili cries.
I rush downstairs and find she has taken the lid off to give it some fresh air!!
By then it is zooming in every direction and decides to bury itself in the dead leaves under the wisteria bush.
We are already getting late for appointments and the domestic sharks are waiting to go in for the kill. And I can't risk that it might indeed be a viper and the death of one our pets.
So I had to kill you poor creature.
I'm sorry and Lili is sorry too
Particularly because when we took you poor remains in to show snake expert he tells us that you were just an harmless grass snake.
We have decided to take a course on snake recognition

Thursday, June 04, 2009


They're back!
How do they know it's the 4th of June? They're amazing, that's what they are. It was the first time Tikka had experienced them. and what with them and a couple of Dinos (Bambi-like deer) at the bottom of the garden making their cooing noises, she was astounded, in awe, hopping around from shrub to shrub. And all this after two days of torrential rain. Just look!

Twenty centimetres of rain! Mudslides everywhere!

Friday, May 22, 2009


OK, I know, you're right....I'm lazy!
I could, and I should, write a blog everyday and....well, what I usually do is wait until something completely absurd strikes me, (usually about the trials and tribulations of living in Italy), and then I pounce! (for all that the world cares)
But recently there's been so much, so much, that my critical mind has been swamped and overwhelmed.

Oh! You're wondering what the photo is all about? No connection really but..
It's me eight years old. I was so sweet! My sister was down in Le Marche and she brought me a DVD of old family photos. I remember this one quite clearly. It was taken in Kent, in the hop fields. My mum and dad were Battersea Cockneys and hop-picking was what you did if you were poor by way of a holiday. So where was I last weekend? In Kent, in the same area where this photo was taken. Oh, this time with friends Tony and Sheila in a posh pub with a refined menu and a polite Polish waiter and a rude English waiter too. I remember also a family of foxes playing in the garden of the cottage where we stayed and the owner bawling me our for hobbling around in his wellington boots. But I was a happy little chap and told this story to a group in London that same weekend; I'd gone on a workshop weekend and we were asked to remember a happy time in our lives.

So, here I go again with a simple tale of yesterday. And you can take this as a metaphor for all the thousand and one tales I'd like to relate to you but haven't the time. (for example the one about the traffic cop with dark shades).. or last weekends riotous Pizza party at Bernie's...Wow!!

Now you're going to wonder what all this has got to do with the following tale of yesterday. Not quite sure myself but I think it's as J.P.Sartre said, hell is other people. Of course he was referring to the French so he was spot on there but sometimes, sometimes, Italians are a pretty close match.
So back to yesterday, we reach the end of our little road and there, wonder of wonders is a team of workmen laying tarmac. First of all, let me explain that a year back all of us in our little community of Sant'Ippolito signed a petition appealing to the Mayor for a tarmac road because our sand road is a perpetual disaster. And yesterday there they were! Sealing the road. And as we gleefully drove on to the fresh tar, the workmen started to yell at us and the boss came hurtling over to the car shouting 'Get off, get off!!'

The conversation

I said what do you mean get off? where to?
He says 'Didn't you see the sign?'
What sign? where? I ask.
The one at the other end of the road, he says.
The end of which road?
The one two K along this road
Why did you put it there, nobody uses that road? All of us (some 50 people) use this one. So how would we know?
Well the sign is there he says and you should have seen it and now you're ruining this fresh tar.
You're not listening to me and why are you doing this part of the road? It's been fine, it's the rest that needs attention.
He shrugs his shoulders..
We've only been told to do this bit.
But it's a waste of time and money.
What do you expect, this is Italy?!

Now if there is one phrase which guarantees a complete meltdown in my brain it's this one.
But Lili touches my arm and says 'Go!'
So I take a deep breath and drive off.
I spend the next half hour repeating 'This is Italy, this is Italy, this is Italy!'
Calm down, she says, let's go for a swim in the lake. So we do, and it's gorgeous. Deep clear blue water and not a breath of wind.
This is Italy too, she says.

Like our new road?
It ends 100 metres along from here. just look.

Oh, and guess what? The local elections are next week.
Got the connection? As voters drive past they will think 'Hey, that Mayor is good, he's fixed that road at last'

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Benjamin Button

Last evening we went to see the film Benjamin Button at the Multicomplex Cinema in Piedripa. If you've seen the film, you'll know the narrative was set during the hurricane Katrina. What we took as sound effects however, was in fact a thunder storm which was passing overhead. When we got out of the cinema the whole parking lot was flooded and as we drove home and got nearer our mountains, the rain was snow and at home we were under another foot of the stuff.
Just look!

But I've given up on snow...too tiring. We're exhausted after so much of it; best that it stays on the mountain.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Railway Man

This is a book written by Eric Lomax about his experience in Japanese prisoner of war camp in Burmah and then in Singapore. Happened to pick up the book in a new s/h bookshop here in Sarnano opened by a friend who is selling up having been broken by the Italian system. This... and yesterday....yesterday.
One of the principle points of the book is how Lomax describes closing down; cutting off his feelings and emotions because this was the only way he could protect his fellow inmates when under interrogation. So he learned how to stay mute and govern his natural reactions...and he did so successfully for three years, suffering finally of course when he tried to settle back into normal life and couldn't undo the damage.
Not that I'm suggesting that a visit to a Comune tecnico's office is in any way similar to the experience of being tortured in Japanese prisoner of war camp, this would be insulting to all those brave abandoned men, but here is one similarity; a desire to kill. Lomax even after 50 years had nightmares about his torture and harboured a desire for revenge. You're losing the thread of this one aren't you?
Two events in one day might link a thread or two. Ok, of course I'm exaggerating, as is my wont, but the knowledge that you are powerless in the face of ignorance can do internal damage whereas a swift punch on the nose would feel so good.

The events
Our last winter's gas bill did away with any hope of a holiday and we have switched to our wood burner for most of the winter. But I've been trying to call our gas supplier for ages but no one ever answers the phone. I wanted to know the current price of GPL. This is derived from oil so my guess was that the price must have come down somewhat in line with oil, maybe not 75% but perhaps half?
I get through eventually to on of the managers of Liquigas

The conversation

Hi, just wanted an update on the current price of gas,

I can't tell you right now because I'm not in the office, can you call me tomorrow at 8.30 am?

But it's only the cost of gas I'm asking, surely you know that?

Not off hand, call me in the morning

Next morning

Boungiorno, It's me again..about the price of gas.

Oh yes, give me your a/c number and I'll tell you

What's my a/c number got to do with it, I just want the price of gas.

Ah, yes, here you are, the current price is E4.04 a litre

But that's the same as a year ago!

Well, you'll see when your February bill arrives that there will be a reduction.

How much?

Eight cents

But the price of oil has come down by almost 75% in the last year.

Has it?

What do you mean 'has it?' Everybody knows that.. and your product is derived from oil and it's the same price as a year ago.

Well sir, would do you suggest? What price do you think our gas should be?

At this stage, I give up , he is taking the piss, and post it all into my anger box along with my experience in a comune later that day (which you wouldn't believe unless you'd been brought up on a diet of Kafka novels). Internalised anger= damage.

So I concentrate on a fresh wave of snow and Bessie who simply adores it, and hasn't to deal with crooks and idiots and has fresh bones delivered to her kennel door every morning by a devoted friend

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

It's Tuesday 10th Feb and it's Jahli's birthday and a full moon is up and guess what?
I went outside to check my bonfire as a fantastic scirocco is blowing, looked up and saw a moonbow. A moonbow? a rainbow caused by the moon's light passing through an approaching shower blowing in from the mountain. A first. Never imagined such a thing!
Went to grab my camera (doubting all the while the moonbow could possibly register), someone calls from New York and in those few seconds the moonbow disappears. But it was there, honest. A magic moonbow for Jahli.
Moral of story: Never let a phone call get in the way of a moonbow.
This morning I checked on Google and look...well this link won't come up, but it's
I feel privileged I do.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The month of January

I know what your thinking...another story about cats (what is it with this guy?)

Well this is a picture of..what? A bonfire? Yes, it's a bonfire but also a ritual. It's what I do on the 31st of January every year to destroy the dark God of winter and to clear the way for the changing of the light.
And I won't even go into the fact that I was ordered to stay next to the fire throughout to make sure Tikka didn't jump in it.
I mean, as if she would ?

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Looks innocent doesn't he?
But not only is he a type of domestic shark who spends most of his time up one tree or other in the garden waiting for birds to pop into his mouth, but he disappeared the other day; didn't come home for a day, which he hasn't ever done in his life before

I did the usual 5K search (a family ritual when any one of the animals goes missing). This Bessie enjoys immensely, it being an extra walk on top of her evening stone chasing event, all the time thinking he'll be back later and not worrying too much about it. But then, but then.... I come across this pile of, well I don't know what it was..excrement, vomit? in the grass in the upper garden. And oh my, it looked like bits of Socksie, black and white fur, mixed in with whatever it was. I didn't dare say anything to Lili and went back two or three times to check again, even much later in the night with a torch.. rifling through it with plastic gloves on and finding bits of bone and gristle.
At that stage, I began to lose it, convinced as I was, that he's probably been eaten by a crafty old fox: not unknown during these dark January nights when the animals are starving. Thought I'd collect his bits together and take them to the local vet in the morning for analysis, (yet again to suffer her annoying habit of always replying to my bad Italian in bad English).
All these things running through my head as I prepared to give Lili the tragic news.
I take a deep breath, and ..and......
At that very moment he walks into the kitchen!
The prodigal Socks.
Hugged and squeezed and triple fed, bounced around and cosseted.
With a 'What is all the fuss about' look on his face