Rome-ing : sometimes in the gloaming.

Such a lovely word – gloaming; it reminds me of my Scottish ancestry and not just because of its insertion in the song of the same name. I am nowhere near the “bonny banks of Clyde” though I will be in September! Meantime in recent times I have been enjoying that special gloaming time of day (you can look it up !!) here near Orvieto in Umbria.

But first la bella Roma.
I spent just a day or two there – getting spectacularly lost every day. I feel sure my telephone was reversing or turning the map around every time I switched it on.  As a result, I walked many more km  than I intended. In fact I can tell you that I walked exactly 11 km that day (12,106) steps. To my surprise, my iPhone has an App that has been monitoring me all this time but only yesterday did a clued up youngster alert me!! Anyway, I did a bloody lot of walking. If I never see the Presiential Palace again that’s fine by me.

I could not resist a quick look at at St Peter’s Square – and was surprised it wasn’t as crowded as past visits indicated. Despite being July and the height of tourist season, it allowed me a few minutes in the shade. Now don’t ask why but – as a memento – I bought a small set of rosary beads in a nearby air-conditioned store.  Not out of any religiosity on my part – solely because they seemed to have beads coloured in the shades of the rainbow and that gave me an ironic laugh. I also bought a little booklet which explained how they worked (you could call that a refresher as I have not “done” a rosary bead for 50+ years but me being me, I needed to know). Price ? A grand total of 6 Euros.  A bargain. Or so it seemed.

As I left the area and retraced a path through countless souvenir and snack stands, my eye was taken with a notice repeated everywhere: Rosaries 12 for 10 Euros!!  Ten whole sets – and bigger than mine by far – for only twice what I had paid for One! My Scottish blood surged as I contemplated adding  dozen to my shopping (and my over-full luggage) but divine intervention intervened, reminding me that NO-ONE I know would thank for for a set of rosary beads. Some might even try to strangle me with them … so I moved on.  With a quick pic or two.

That is a very smartly attired young Swiss Guard in his everyday clothes on the right, by the way.

My brief Roman holiday at an end, I returned – once again overloaded with luggage – to my travels. Having now mastered the Rome Metro system and with train tickets already downloaded onto my computer for presentation at Roma Termini (as the main station is called), I left my friend Rosie’s suburban apartment by taxi to metro to Termini, all in perfect time. Indeed, early enough for a short pit-stop overlooking some of Mussolini’s vanity station building, though I was more interested in some water and a snack. Treating myself to a 1st class rail ticket (as prices as surprisingly cheap here) I sat back and relaxed for my hour’s run to Orvieto. Only to realise as we were at the point of departure that somewhere between Rosie’s and the railway I had lost a little wallet and note book. So what, you might say, and fair enough. But the wallet also held my driving licences – both Australian and UK.

It’s a sinking feeling is it not, when something goes amiss? First thoughts, of course: pickpockets! But since my wallet was adjacent to the little notebok in a particular section of my “man-bag” I was pretty sure I had simply let it drop out in the taxi, on the metro, at the cafe, wherever. I gritted my teeth and resisted the temptation to retrace my steps since the lovely Dutch couple I was headed to stay with would already been en route to pick me up at Orvieto and I did not want our first meeting to start with me being an hour late!
To be honest I was actually more miffed with the fact that the notebook and its pen are from Mont Blanc – and therefore not cheap and, more importantly, a souvenir and happy reminder of the Butler course I did some years back. I could sort out the licences. Which I did – and you’ll be delighted to hear I won’t bore you with the online and telephonic ramifications that followed. Suffice to say I have a printed out Interim Licence from Australia and a form awaits me in the UK which will restore that licence in a week or so!

As for the Mont Blacn wallet and pen, my birthday is October 13th, thanks.

Now, the lovely Dutch couple, Edith & Willem have lived near Orvieto for over 10 years. They are retired judges from The Netherlands and I know they are lovely because we have “Skyped”. Even though he is some years older than I am, and she is about the same age as me, modern technology has left none of us behind. We can Skype, Spotify, WhatsApp and Google with the best!  I am undertaking what is called a Workaway project. I provide a few hours labour a day (tasks to be negotiated) in return for B&B and other meals. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Indeed, I could not possibly be roaming around Europe in this cavalier fashion if hotel bills were on the agenda. My first workday (so to speak) was Friday but – since there is a fellow Workawayer here (Robert is also Dutch, but virtually a grandchild to us) – it has been decided that he has been working too hard and therefore we are having Saturday and Sunday doing touristy things! A delightful drive followed on Saturday thorugh various Umbrian / Tuscan villages with a lunch stop in one of the innumerable hilltop towns – today is was Citta della Pieve.

It’s claim to fame being the painter they called Perugino (after the Umbrian capital city – Perugia).  They have most of his works, but Citta has two things : a church with his work on the walls that cannot be moved, and a self portrait of the man himself. Which could be moved, but there would be a great bit Italian fight I suspect.

Perugino

I feel sure he will appear again before this weekend is over. But onwards to Sunday and to Orvieto.

Which is an Etruscan city set – as most of their cities are – on an outcrop of the local, quite soft stone called Tufa or tufo. A volcanic limestone that remains when other stone is washed away over the centuries, leaving a readily-defendable outcrop.  The Etruscans preceded both the Greeks and the Romans and were resident in the areas we now called Tuscany, Umbria and art of Lazio, around the 8th to 3rd centuries BC. They have left art and their use of the tufa landscape for building their homes and excavating caves. Here at Edith & Willem’s they have at least two Etruscan caves dug into the hill behind the house, the front parts of which have been modernised, but the back – cool and dark as you would expect a cave – is unchnaged and still bears the tools marks of the arched carved ceilings. Too dark for my camera pictures, but you’ll see some cave pics from Orvieto instead.

A Cave! Plus on the right, the smallest street (in the world, it says!!). Called – my translation – Kiss Alley – since if you meet a lady coming the other way, both must squeeze by each other and grab a quck kiss as you go! Allegedly. I would not fancy trying it on a 21st century Orvietana! Good old sexism still alive here, I fear. My request for what you did if you met a man in the Alley was not helpfully answered!

Moving on – it is a wonderful city – once an ally of Sienna, and of Florence and favoured by Popes (etc etc – as is Everywhere!). But we visited on a special fair day:  that of Corpus Christi when the whole town it seems turns out in medieval gear to parade around the old city. Divided into various contrada – quarters/areas – each has a special flag, colours and they are fiercely supported. Each contrada marches with a drum band, and dignatories through the ages follow, as do all the town trades (something like the Merchant Guilds seen in the UK). Followed by today’s Mayors, Councillors, local Fire, Police etc and and more or less the world and his wife,

The Festa starts allegedly at 10 am – but actually nearer 11.30. Mercifully, after an early start, my hosts parked us near a convenient Funicular (since cars are banned from the upper town) and by 10.30 we were neatly stowed in a pavement cafe on the parade route and enjoying the endless passing by of locals, visitors and the sundry nutter (see below).

In case you’re thinking otherwise, the ‘nutter” is not me ! I happened upon an ancient and beautifully restored Moto Guzzi motorbike. The Italians will tell you these far surpass Harley Davison or Enfield bikes – it certainly was very stylish.  Here’s the nutter:

nutter

Dressed as one would wish a Franciscan barefoot brother, with a goat, a sheep, some chickens, three geese and a dog.  I could not resist a pic, but fled when I thought that (a) he was going to ask me for money or (b) entice me along with the group!

We had a very lovely lunch – thoughtfully pre-booked by Willem – since we would have been hard-pushed to find a place anywhere. But we were in Locanda del Lupo – in a shaded spot in the back garden with special attention from several bright and breezy waiters. Edith & Willem not only visit in the summer, but as residents they also support the place in the colder, darker months and clearly that support is appreciated, if the open-hearted hospitality was the result. There’s a local dish of what is basically roast pork complete with crackling which set me up for ther afternoon’s jaunting……..

We covered most of the city in an hour or two – including the caves you saw earlier which extend through the under-tufa of several adjacent buildings. Probably down 60 20 meteres (60 feet or more).
The Duomo (Cathedral) is a magnificent riot of pink, white and black stone on the front, cascading with statues and carvings, whilst the side are plain black and white stone / marble stripes. We can see this building from the garden at Willem & Ediths – some 25 miles away!

cat!cat 2

A typical gate entry to a city like Orvieto  – and a lovely balcony that Juliet herself would have been proud of. Had she been real!   Though who knows what is real : I had the strangest moment inanother church today – in front of a painting caled Our Lady of the Rosary (I kid you not) there stood a life-size figure of another Madonna. In grey, carved in wood and probably 700 / 800 years old. She had such a lifelike exression of gentle sadness on her face, I could not resist standing and looking at her. I wanted to touch her hand, since I became convnced she would breathe or even speak if I did so. I could not resist bringing my fellow tourists back later to look at her. A strangely wonderful moment.
This same church has inscribed on the memorial tablet of a long-deceased Bishop:
“I leave my heart to my diocese; The poor have nothing to leave”.  Not sure I understand quite what he means, but it seems like a noble sentiment!

And so, dear reader I will leave you!  I realise I haven’t yet started on what I am actually doing for my supper etc. Certainly not singing, though Willem has a huge collection of CDs from all over. His favourite is Blues / Jazz.  But we also get what he says is Australian outback folk music, south american salsa, blue grass, Credence Clearwater Revival and a host of others. They also have almost every vinyl record from the 60s and 70s – just as I once did. Every sleeve I pulled out from the shelves was an album I knew. By chance they are all stored in the little cabin (beside the pool) where I sleep. But more of that next time.

I can’t finish without saying that my home city – London – doesn’t need reciprocating attacks as seems to have happened in Finsbury Park against Muslims at or near a community mosque. That cannot be a way to go forward, otherwise how are we any different?

As it happens – it is now 8.30pm and by coincidence, the time of the gloaming. Goodnight.

Love and Light.

 

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What’s that rumbling noise, dear?

According to St Augustine:                                                                                                             “the world is a book and those that do not travel read only one page”.

If you’d been living in Herculaneum (Ercolano) or its sister city (Pompeii) in AD 79,  you would have been a very lucky traveller indeed to be away from home. Home would not be there when you got back….. look at this (I think, terrifying) interpretation from 1822 by John Martin (who ?) – ‘The Destruction of Herculaneum and Pompeii.

Martin, John, 1789-1854; The Destruction of Herculaneum and Pompeii

If you stand across the bay in Naples even today, it’s not hard to imagine the scenario. Frankly, I find it quite baffling the people have re-built all of it and have even built mre houses on top of the lava/ash remains (some 6m or more deep) that covered the whole area and drove the shoreline half a mile west!  There she looms:

To the left, Mount Vesuvius. Right picture, I am looking down at what was the beach at the edge of Ercolano – the wall to the right is solid lava,  which shows the depth of coverage and the excavation involved. It probably also explains why 1/2 the town is still uncovered! What remains is in part delightful, and in others sadly neglected. See :

The painted plaster wall is too fragile to remove, though the Museum in Naples has many such treasures, testament to the wealth and status of the inhabitants who perished in the apocalyptic events of that day. Some made it to the shore and were safe inside houses – they thought. Though not buried under ash and lava (as we have seen over the years in Pompeii pictures) these doomed souls were simply and instantly killed with the poisonous gases that preceded both the pyroclastic flow and the ash and lava torrent that followed in turn. You can just see their skeletons where they were found in the archways below:

skeletons

Good to know though, that before their total destruction the Ercolanii would have enjoyed a life as rich and varied even as our own. Complete, to my surprise, with the earliest pizza I ever heard of – take aways made to order. Quick!

pizza

 

Which brings me, rather obliquely, to the little hotel – to give it an unwarranted title! – which accommodated me for a night before I left the area to head up to Rome – where I am writing this! At it happened, the only food available near to “Hotel Dormus2” was the local pizzeria. I took no pictures; I wouldn’t want you thinking I ever eat in places so quaint. If you think of a secondary school canteen just before the kids arrive you’ll get the rough idea. Not much in the way of linen napkins, can we say. BUT  they had an oven – in the room – that closely resembled the picture above and the pizza itself – completely and rapidly home-made – was delicious. It was pizza in a team. One guy (who was short) took the lump of dough, rolled it briefly and waved it about until it was fairly wide and flat. He then laid and stretched it out on a giant circular wooden paddle. He did this standing on a typical wooden pallet placed to give him height to reach the work- surface. However, the height would not allow him to reach up and into the oven itself, so a second youth arrive to do the insertion, fiddle around with the pizza whilst inside and withdraw the finished pizza on an identical, but this time, metal paddle. I timed the whole thing from the ball of dough to table at exactly 7 minutes. There was also a waitress who brought the food and an old guy (the owner?) who just sat over the back, drank and watched UK soccer on TV.

Earlier in the day – as I wandered a little of Naples, I found myself sitting and having a coffee in the Piazza Dante, Now I know – as I’m sure you do – that he was from Florence and you can visit his home there, but there was a nice enough statue and the sun was quite hot, so a rest was welcome. Had I but known how near I was to Pizzeria Port’Alba, as it’s believed to be the first pizzeria in the world. In 1738 this pizzeria served pizzas to people on the street, but in 1830 it decided to move the pizza eating inside, establishing a pizza tradition we still follow and love today. I followed a sign after my coffee that took me down Via Port’Alba, so I must have passed its door and did not know! You see, you GOT to do research.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans”, as John Lennon wrote.

But next time I am in Naples, eager to eat pizza, you can guess where I’ll be going. If you get there before me, let me know how it turns out.

*****

Meantime, on THIS visit to Naples I ate some salad on the Corso along the Bay – which magnificent views across to the Vesuvian side, plus several enormous cruising ships and hordes of sun-bathers making use of the rocks along the shore. Weighing my food, the condiments and my hat down against the periodic gale-force winds. As I wandered through the city, admiring the ancient archways and stonework etc, I was musing to myself how, nevertheless it was a working city with shops and pavement cafes and all sorts of small businesses. Little local fishing enterprises with a decent range of indeterminate fishes and sea creatures. Oh, but look, this one has a little shallow tank with a little octopus in it – with a little aerating machine to keep it alive. Until someone takes it home to cook and eat it.  I had just seen a remarkable YouTube video of an octopus interacting super-intelligently with a group of school children and here was such a baser use of such a lovely creature. I have never been tempted by octopus or squid – oh, OK in all honestly, the occasional fried squid ring. But I don’t make a habit of that and never again.    Moving on.
the bay

The Bay, the Back Streets and the Bathing……..


One of these days I will learn to read a map. And I have a question : is it me or do smart-phones turn maps round depending on which way you are holding them? I swear by Almighty G that I spend most of today (I’m in Rome now) crossing and re-crossing my routes. Always about 8-10 minutes walk from my planned destination, but the journey actually took about an hour!  Irrespective of how often I tried to get it right. It can’t just be me……..

However, it happened in Naples too (and as I recall, in Florence and Cortona in past visits) so I am coming to accept the facts. In my search for parking on Sunday I was lucky, I thought, to be nearby  the Archaeological Museum for a brief visit and walking round the corner, was surprised to find myself beside the cafe I had lunched at earlier. Which I thought was some distance away.  That surprise pales into nothing when I managed somehow to completely lose direction, the car and this restaurant after I visited the Museum. In fact, it was after I finally gave up and decided to return to the Museum and start again that I walked along another random street only to become aware by degrees that this is the street where I parked the car!! Something mysterious must have followed me from the Museum.

Talking of mysterious, the statue left: long held to be an ancient lady – and known as the Dame of Naples –  has now been fully researched and turns out it’s a man. Who seems good with the curling tongs. The mosaics on right are just a little example of what Ercolano would have looked like – the columns, the wall panels etc are all covered with tiny squares of coloured stone to make the mosaics. Each maybe 3cm square. Extraordinary and beautiful – and an indication of the number of people employed by the wealthy to indulge their homes.

 

bull

And while we talk of extraordinary – behold the Bull of Naples (Il Toro di Napoli).        This is a Roman copy of a Greek original – so made maybe 1800 years ago with the orginal maybe 400 years earlier in Rhodes. Which wasn’t called the Bull of Naples of course – who knows.  I post it simply because the original – which seems have to got lost – was carved – as is this copy – from ONE solid piece of marble. Even though it has been quite a bit restored, it’s almost impossible to imagine the scale of the task. Just for a marker, this work is about 12 feet square and in height ! Say 3.5 metres. Amazing.

And finally, a treat for my theatre buddies – fellow thespians! A very early wall of masks (from Pompeiii) you will recognise them for what they are – and it’s not Theresa May and Donald Trump! I think it was Karl Marx who said that “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce”.

masks

Camera skills deserted me here – so, apologies for the electrical sockets and part-painting above! No time to edit today.

My final sortie in Naples takes me underground. I decided NOT to do the lengthy tour of San Gennaro aka St Januarius.  He was an early-Christian,  martyred one day in September, nearly 2000 years ago and this church is built on top of the catacombs occupied by those early Christ-followers. They are enormous, multi level and allowed for masses as well as burials and so on – technically against the law, but allowable since they were well outside the city.   The tour groups and guides are almost as large as those early catacomb-dwellers!  For some reason Gennaro’s head and blood have been preserved. On the first Sunday in May – if all goes as planned, lengthy masses and rituals are undertaken and – for those lucky enough to witness it – the blood in its two ancient phials, turns liquid again from it’s hard and cold state! But, as I say, I missed thatas it’s now June.  So, though I had swanned in by car and cheekily persuaded the attendant to let me park right at the gates, the thought of 50 minutes underground in a group was too much for this explorer, so I had a coffee, a cornetto marmelata (think of a jam-filled croissant)  and then left.

But fear not – I did not miss the chance to venture alone on another underground mission.  In the ‘centro antico’ of the city lies San Lorenzo – with a Basilica that suits atop the structures underneath.  It is part of the original Greek settlement here before the Romans came. This was their Agora – to the Romans their Forum – and several streets down below are still preserved, with paving, kerbs, shop fronts etc.
romanroad

It’s a little dim but you get the idea. The best thing was that – whilst there were a few small tours groups around, the complex is so large that I wandered off to a dead end and found myself able to sit quietly on a 2000 year old window ledge. I sat there quiety thinking and dreaming antique dreams.  Moving only when,  after many minutes, voices could be heard coming towards my hiding spot. A magical moment – so please forgive the terrible selfie.

windowledge

If you like the sound of it – there’s a great website here :

http://www.laneapolissotterrata.it/en/home-en/

This was to be a short-ish Blog as my visit to Naples was similarly short-ish but I have rabbited on as usual. I will bring this to a close by saying that if your time in Italy is limited I would probably say by-pass Naples itself and visit Pompeii or Ercolano. There’s so much to see in Rome, Florence etc . Choose wisely for in the summer months all will be crowded, Pompeii far the worst. The little sister is easier to manage. Save your energy for fighting the crowds in Rome! I took a picture there today at the famous Trevi Fountain. Which is magical and magnificent but – all you could see were crowds of tourists and barely a fountain in sight. No fun at all. And who said that selfie-sticks could make a come-back? I have not seen so many in years.

As we say down here,  Hail and Farewell – till the next time.

Love & Light.

 

 

Peaks & Troughs – live like a meringue!

Hi all

You know that bit in the cooking recipe where the instructions are to beat the egg whites till they form soft peaks – into which you will fold whatever you’re folding? Well that’s been my life, more or less,  since my last post. Not that I have any complaints : rather the opposite. My life – which took an adventurous turn early in 2011 – continues to surprise and delight some 6  years later. I actually started THIS blog 3 years ago and have only now managed to get to finish the draft, update my readers (!who?) and head into the travels and adventures of 2017.

Now I don’t want to go all Polyanna on ya, but I am in severe danger of becoming one of those people who are happy with their lot, and grateful to boot! Oh dear.  But just to get that stuff out of the way, I became a Citizen of Australia on 26 January 2017 (Awe-straya Day) so now I am a Dual Citizen with passports to match. Actually, truth to tell,  I am a Triple Citizen since (God bless my dear late Mother) I am also a citizen and passport holder of the Emerald Isle. Hence my gift of the gab. So why would I not be happy and somewhat satisfied?   Oh, I should of course point out that none of the above would have been possible if I had not been sober now for a little over 22 years.  I claim no credit, I simply thank my Higher Power, whoever and whatever that may be……..

But, as usual,  I digress. Since I last posted here, I have been on several trips, the most memorable being visits to India and the USA – both in 2016. No posts about those trips here, since I fell into the Facebook trap and downloaded info and pics there – which will in time get posted here. Perhaps. But from now on, I return to this blog and the easier freedoms it allows for drafting, editing and picture posting etc.  Bear with me and – if you are Facebook friend – be grateful you now can see a brief note of my travels, and need only come and see the full Blog here if you so choose!

The Highlights of my Indian and USA trips last year were, incidentally,  and in date order:

being in Jaipur, Rajasthan for the Holi festival (of coloured powder paints & deities) in March and at the other end of the year, travelling by train from San Francisco to Chicago – across the continent including the day of the election (November 8th) – and with nary a mention of such mundanities in the quiet confines of the Dining Car!

arriveincolour2

Holi Holi Holi  – very messy messy messy. My white plastic watch strap 15 months later is still stained – mostly in pink!  And to follow this wonderful experience, another honour of a lifetime during my American sojourn, which included San Francisco, New York and – of course – LA (Hollywood). What can I say but Thank You to all my fans……………..
MeOscar
Now – as I write – June 13th – I am in la bella Roma. I arrived last Friday evening, picked up a hire car and hurtled (you would not have wanted to be a passenger!) down the Autostrada to Napoli.  Three hours later andI was pet-sitting for a weekend as cover for my real plan – to visit a concert by the 3 young Italian tenors known as “Il Volo”.  If you don’t know them but like the sound of tenor harmony, as I very much do, then I urge you to hop onto YouTube where you will find many of their concerts over the last several years. I have followed their career since they won the equivalent of Britain’s Got Talent (in Italy) at the ages of perhaps 15-17 ? They are now in their early 20s and getting better and better. Even more importantly, they seem good-natured, happy guys – unfazed by their success and modest in their many interviews and relaxed in the face of a no doubt daunting schedule and their fans’ devoted – and noisy – attention.

Here’s an example. Like me, you may think that Nessun Dorma is a little overdonner, but this live version from Florence (with their hero Placido Domingo conducting) seems magical to me: their obvious desire to do it well and their joy/relief when they do.  I find it real and rather moving. here’s a  link (double click for YouTube):

Il Volo in Florence

Suffice to say that my visit to the Arena Fleagrea in Naples was worth the madcap drive, the very strange Hotel with mostly invisible reception, and rooms accessed upstairs from the street, through communal hallways and senior matrons sitting out playing cards at 11pm.  My meagre duties allowed me time also for a visit to Pompeii’s smaller but equally impressive sister town – Herculaneum. Though the Italian version – Ercolano – trips more lightly off the tongue.
I have some thoughts, some pics and some stories to tell of my briefest of visits to Naples and Ercolano.  I shall whip them into shape and enfold you into the mix in the post that will follow soon………..

Erco1

Love & Light.