The Hills are alive…….

…….With the sound of me sleeping deeply, despite the chorus of Frogs that starts up nightly – around the time I plan to retire to my little cabin down by the ecological pool.

hut.jpgview

Some of you will have seen these pics before on Facebook! Sorry for the repetition! Since I last posted here – is it really a month ago? – I have been in London,  been to a lovely two-day wedding in the glorious Berks/Wilts countryside and had a short but sweet meeting with a few of my ex-inmates from drama school. Some 40 years ago (how is that possible?).
This ecological pool – pure water – has a filtration system (just about visible at right) with reeds, gravel and other stuff that filters the water – and feeds the frogs!! Lying in the water against the rubberised and very slippery sides, I imagine I’m resting against a large whale.

But enough of such treats; for the last couple of weeks I have been back in Umbria – this time not as a “workaway” labourer, simply as a house-sitter. Not that I lack for things to do.  Edith & Willem (the owners) are back in Holland for a visit and meantime, I am overseeing the place – and being there for a delightful Belgian family who are occupying the two little apartments that lie down the hill,  behind and below my little hut as pictured above.  I see them at the pool most days, but otherwise, we maintain separate existences and I hope not to hear from them unless there are any problems.  So far, so good.

My other duties consist of opening up and closing various parts of the property : the laundry room / shower area and the storage caves. The recycling & rubbish bins area.  I walk UP the hill and tap on the large (drinking) water tank. As long as it sounds at least half full,  it’s OK.  Go DOWN the hill. Halfway to the gate lies another tank (non-drinking water). There is a large pole you could vault with – marked off in depths and the water   needs to reach at least 1.5 metres on it, or more will have to be bought in!

Amazingly, you can order water by the tanker and (as happened last week) Luciano and his elderly father will arrive and deposit 8000 litres for (I presume) a fair price!  Then DOWN again, by the main gate, is a pump house – the one that sends the drinking water from the mains on the track outside all the way up to the top tank!  The pump here must be checked for regular and auto operations!

Water the plants – that takes at least an hour at sun-down. Plant some new ones when it’s not so hot. Top up the water in the pool (evaporation in this heat takes its toll) and even put the little cleaning machine into the pool to hoover away to its heart’s content. Not that the end result seems any different to my amateur eyes.

As I check everything over, before bed, I don’t expect to hear rustling in the bushes behind the house – neither do I expect this :

porcupine

Not my picture ! I surely wouldn’t be feeding this Italian porcupine. Who knew they were so big – this is the size of a large cat. And yes, they do shake their bristles at you when surprised. As surprised as I was when it appeared in the light of my iPhone’s torch!

Happily, it wanted just to go away and I was happy to follow. its lead.  At a safe distance – with a large swimming pool squeegee thing in hand – to make sure it headed south down the hill and not into the pool area and towards my hut.  Remembering that I won’t be sleeping with the door open any more ! ( a quick Google also reveals that these quills can kill humans!).

***

In between such duties, I know not how I find time to wander, but I do.  Every which way you look, there is another little town on a hill – rather, a little village ( though I love the word citta – the c is a ‘ch’ by the way). Few things make me happier than following my nose around the Tuscan and Umbrian hillsides seeking out new views and new places. Here’s a few of the local sights as I drive about :

Ficulle1

This place – Ficulle – has an enormous street light just for the one tower in the centre!

FCellar

Here : a typically ancient and yet magical passage leading down the the basement below a town-house in Ficulle. If it didn’t have a gate I’d be snooping down there!

Parrano

Almost hard to spot, but looking across the valley  from the “white” road that leads home to Alsietto Cielo (7th Heaven) : you can just see Parrano – a little village I had lunch in some 10 years ago, as chance would have it.  Of all the cittas in all of Umbria…………..

The lawyer handling a property my then boss was buying locally was based in Rome but had a country house in Parrano – and invited us to lunch. He did NOT mention that his family (and the family of the Prince of Parrano) owned most of this little citta! – with Palazzos to match.

PMap

This useless pic ! shows all of Parrano; the De Sanctis residences at the far right : 3 red markers!

sanctis

One of the streets that bear the family’s name and part of the Palazzo : I couldn’t get the front and was too shy to ring the bell and try to explain who I was :

“Scuse. Io non parlo Italiano bene…”  is my usual opening gambit. You should hear me with Vodaphone Italy trying to sort a problem, or sharing chats with Lucio the water deliverer or simply shopping for bread or provisions.  To say my language skills are shaky would be generous. But that always leaves room for improvement. I can usually understand what they are telling me even though what I say in response rarely elicits more than a blank stare of incomprehension…..
I was looking into the name De Sanctis – derived from an early ancestor considered a holy or sacred man (Latin for holy = sanctus). Another early ancestor waged war against Inghilterra in the 10th century. Must have lost…..

P1

And so, to Cortona.  Maybe you are familiar with the film “Under the Tuscan Sun” ?  A very romanticised version of a novel by Frances Mayes. Set in the country near this lovely Etruscan city. When I was last here (4 years ago?) the streets seemed to be full of US ladies of a certain age, following in the footsteps of Frances!  That time seems to have passed somewhat; Cortona is still quite a tourist spot – but not when compared with Florence or Pisa and it is small enough to be walked in a couple of hours. It is also VERY hilly, so the moment you leave the (one) main street, you also leave the tourists behind.

I could wander the paths and alleyways all day, barely seeing a soul, but there are so many little galleries, churches and a great Etruscan museum to see. Not to mention cafes and places just to sit , eat and people-watch.  My favourite occupations.

cortoviewFrom Cortona : no-one approaches without being seen…..

 

cortotownhall

The wonderful Town Hall – and its steps – meeting point for so many modern-day Romeos & Juliets ! And look at that beautiful sky.

And across the square, my favoured loggia and its restaurant,  from where I can watch the watchers…….

cortodiner

Not that I need an excuse but the only AA meeting (in English) between Rome and Florence takes place here on Mondays, so I shall be returning for another trip next week.

***

Last week – as I climbed the steep and long drive up to the house (in my loaned Suzuki Jeep) I chased a badger along the track. He flashed out almost under my front wheels. Who knew they could scoot so fast? I don’t think he/she did! Then last night, the spiky visitor.

Did I mention the feral cat who visits daily?  Who silently meows at me, dancing on his front paws – and warily approaches the bowl I put out. So far he seems to prefer egg and cooked pasta. NOT interested in the premium dry food I bought for him. Indeed, the biggest success so far – for him – was to shoot into the kitchen (whilst I was putting something out back)  and make off with an entire pack of 6 (six!) croissants I was planning for several breakfasts.  As my sister said, he must have been hungry!

I just hope he disposed of the plastic bag thoughtfully; the Italians, in common with many other countries, are keen to stop us using such things.  I didn’t see him then for two days.  I keep trying with the ‘proper” food – he just eats round it……..

So……….it’s back to that pool lounger before the sun goes down.  Can’t recall the last time I actually “sun-bathed”. I don’t do it in Australia at all. But it’s a tough life in the tropics.

Love & Light folks.

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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.

 

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.

 

 

2011 in review for my loyal readers (of minimal interest really!!)

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,000 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 17 trips to carry that many people.

This has all been generated by WordPress themselves (not me, JC!).

Click here to see the complete report.

Post Haste – I don’t think so!

Well, what can I say? This Blogging lark didn’t really keep up the speed it started with!

Off like a Guy Fawkes Rocket – soaring and fizzing and now? – more of a whimper than a bang. With only a couple of blogs in recent weeks, I’m winning no prizes.

Though quality is what counts of course. So – talking of quality, let me start you with the Two Ronnies (Google them if you don’t know!):

A row developed today at Sussex County Council when Library listings were announced and Southern Rail’s new Timetables were listed under Fiction.

A woman complained to Police that a squad of cavalrymen from the Light Brigade had crept up to her house and seduced her. When asked if she would prefer charges she replied ” yes I would. It would be noisy but I wouldn’t be kept waiting so long….”

Boom Boom (as they say). I won’t trouble you with any more.  Sometimes even I am surprised by the funny books Brenda has amassed. I am back in Sydney now – and no pun intended.

After a lively few weeks with Peter & Christine, their four young girls and mother Joan up In Queensland,  the peace of suburban Sydney is quite noticeable. I have been reacquainting myself with Brenda’s very neurotic dog Rimsky (as in…..) taking him for such unusually long walks he’s been flaked out by 7pm. Which Brenda usually is too – after days of trying to teach English to a range of immigrants from all over.  Though I don’ take her for walks!!

By Australian law, if you want to be Naturalised, you must reach a certain standard of spoken English. Some of her students are elderly women who have been coming to classes for years and still speak only Chinese or Iranian!

Meantime, out walking today , I found I may have been in the Bush way north of Sydney before…… spooky, I was only 14 then!

I went walking with one of the women who arranged my first trip out of Sydney when I arrived – remember Tom Groggin Station – the very up-market log cabin in an earlier Blog?  Penny and I hiked, scrambled and walked 12 or so Km through virtually virgin bush (yes there are markers – though I wore a screaming orange hat in case we needed to be spotted by helicopter for a rescue). It doesn’t seem far, but it took several hours. Quite oddly,  you do get a feeling for what the early explorers settlers must have encountered. Such thick and lush vegetation;  incredible trees – I called this one Busty Bertha!!

It is a gum tree of sorts, with the most amazing boles studded all over the trunk – which itself has no bark as we would know it,  just a smooth dark skin, like an elephant. You cannot resist touching it.

And who needs art in galleries, when this naturally eroded rock offers such stunning visuals!!

or this………

The landscape is almost completely sandstone – varying in hue from bright yellow, through orange to deep dark purply red. Sometimes the sand on the tracks is deeper  (and wetter) than an English beach (for want of a better word). Other times the bedrock rises underfoot and we slip and slide from the frequent small watercourses than criss-cross the land. Old oyster shells litter the riverside parts of the track – evidence of the eating habits of the original inhabitants here. Before what my thoughtful friends describe as The Invasion!  That would be Captain Cook and onwards……

Meantime, Brenda (and Penny’s partner Liz) were lazing about at their home overlooking the nearby Hawkesbury River a mile or three away. This vast inland estuary could easily have been the first main outpost rather than Sydney. Fate decreed it is now a very pretty backwater with several villages accessible by boat only, and a very popular spot for commuting and/or weekending from Sydney. Penny & Liz live here full time – high on the hill above the bay, but with vertiginous steps and gardens right down to the water. I didn’t venture down to the bottom; after our walk I rather feared that I might get down there, but my legs would refuse to come up again.

I was very ready, however,  for the barbecued lamb and veg followed by Cherry Mud Pie! (imagine that…. yum).

Barbecues, by the way,  are NOT just a summer occupation here – both Liz and Brenda have large gas barbecues in the back gardens and use them almost daily.

As I sit here now – watching Motor Racing from Belgium on the TV and writing this, I know I’ll be dragging myself up from the seat soon – legs and glutes aching!  and the bike ride I half-planned for tomorrow will NOT be happening!!

This is Penny below as we clambered up another boulder-strewn hillside.

It is just coming into Spring here and plants starting to bud and shoot. Some strange and wonderful sights : this tiny (1 inch wide) bud opening like a tiny, perfect coat button.

There are at least 500 varieties of eucalyptus trees & bushes, dozens of Banksias and even more that look like these previous two but aren’t. I could never be a Botanist.

In fact I discovered the other day that I am a “Scanner”  as a descriptor of how I approach life, work etc. This was a new word to me – but a welcome piece of information, counteracting the guilt I have felt all my life for not “applying myself” to a career. According to my “research”  the behaviour of a Scanner is to dip into everything – the world is fascinating, there isn’t enough time to check everything out etc – and after a period of brief intensity, to move on. Be it acting, exhibitions, poetry, cycling, praying, keeping fit, learning to sketch, writing Blogs (!) singing, looking for work, whatever,  etc etc etc

(The opposite pole, by the way is a “Diver” – the person who needs to microscopically investigate one special subject or topic – down to its atoms etc . Way too much information for me).

Anyway, it seems it’s OK to use my talents this way – and it explains why I have been an office worker, actor, tour director, administrator, Butler, Hotel worker, – and that’s just a few I can remember at the moment.  Armed with such information I shall be planning even more fancy flights of fancy!!

Forthcoming “Scanner” activities will include:

investigating House Sitting / Caretaker (so don’t be surprised if I end up somewhere in Europe when I finish here; come and visit me)

finalising some “consultancy” work  (cough, cough) with my old event pals from the UK who are doing cloned shows here like Better Homes & Gardens / MasterChef Live and the Baby & Toddler Show. Yikes!

More Poetry : a historical/biographical/whimsical poem for every year I have been on the Plant – at least 1949-2009 anyway!  60 for 60.

And on that optimistic note I will close.  Stating only the obvious : this is not a dress rehearsal and what’s the worst that could happen?  (Most of it already happened, anyway!).

Take care. Love to all.

JC

No Worries?

My main worry is that I am having such a chilled time that I have become very idle in the Blog department! Since my last blog (May 21 I think), a month has flown by and I have been in and out from Sydney a few times, latterly a few hours south to my ex’s (that’s Steven) near Canberra – where his partner Tony has a sheep farm.

Seriously. At the moment there are only 450 sheep on the 3300 acres – their part of the country is only just recovering from an 8-year drought, when animal stocks were almost zero and many farms and holdings were sold off.  Tony’s family has been on this farm since the 1890s – and in Australia since the 1830s, so it’s great that he survived.  Especially since I can now add Sheep Wrangler / Drover to my CV. I think the proper term could also be Jackeroo – but I feel a bit Senior for that.

(Talking of which, I quite blatantly request a Senior Concession Fare on the bus from Brenda’s into the City – tho I am not entitled (being non-Aussie) and also not old enough, as their age for Concessions is 65. So far it has worked and I get full use of trains buses and ferries for $2.50 a day!)

I digress.  Here’s a typical view of the land in the southern tablelands where Tony’s farm is situated.

A very nice young Aussie called Mike came to the farm for half a day, to scan the sheep. As in scan for pregnancy. As I recall, 390 or so were with lamb! They had to be rounded up, passed through a paddock or two and finally funneled into Mike’s machine. He had the worst job – shoving the hand-held scanner between their rear legs to get a reading. This caused lots of them to wee themselves. What a day job, eh?

I was (at first) charged with feeding the ewes up the last little ramp into his machine, but didn’t have the strength to really shove those who lowered their heads and refused to budge. Plus their wool has lots of sharp burrs which – despite my gloves – were really working into my “townie” hands.  Tony had a trick of grasping them somewhere “down below” which I didn’t fancy even trying to learn, so I moved down the line and found I had a good knack for funnel duties – aided by a useful wooden staff I picked up in the meadow, which I used to prod them rather effectively in the left buttock! We soon had them running through pretty neatly.

I shan’t be taking up a career as a sheep farmer anytime soon, however.

Moving on……

This is the Deep Space Station in the hills outside Canberra. There are 3 in the World (all owned/run by NASA):  this one, one in Spain and one in California. They spend their days communicating with satellites / spacecraft / stations we have up there (so to speak) and also listening into Deep Space for any signals that might be coming To Us. ET phone home – that sort of thing.

It opened in time for the moon landing in 1969 and has some stunning equipment, films and footage from those days as well as many other space excursions. At the moment they continue to monitor two spacecraft now at the very edge of our Galaxy and have been tracking for 10 years or more. They are watching Mars, Pluto, probes and meteor showers.  Is their work about looking at the past (light years etc) or the future – who knows what they will find?

As luck would have it, the very time we were there,  this huge disc (300 feet across) tilted and turned till it was lying flat and facing straight up. Like a scene from a James Bond movie!  Though we are actually sitting on the back terrace having tea and cake.

We were out for the day to visit some of Tony’s family history. His surname in De Salis – note the De – not de! And the family dates from ad the 9th century in a Swiss province close to the Italian border called Soglio.   This happens to be the name of the property he currently farms and where I’ve been staying.  Say “solio” not sog – and you realise how Italian it is.  Until about 1930 all the males of the family held a courtesy title of Count – and indeed there is a current Count and Countess Charles De Salis – they run a very upmarket B&B in a stately home in Somerset!

Back in the 1830s,  sons of the then Count came to Australia and over the following generations bought, farmed, sold or lost a number of very large estates – one of which now forms an entire suburb of Canberra itself. Our trip that day took us to one earlier property which even includes a beautiful small walled family cemetery – part of the national heritage trail these days.


This branch of the family is actually called Fane De Salis – but that’s too confusing to try and explain here! Suffice to say, a visit to this historic place – where the cemetery gets the best spot – on a little hill adjoining the two rivers which run through the property – was a really special occasion.

Of these two rivers, one – the Murrumbidgee – runs along the border of Tony’s current property – though Soglio is about 30 miles away!

As a suburban London boy – and never a country dweller really, I find it fascinating and enthralling to explore a family that can trace it’s occupancy of the same land for 150 years and the family itself back over 1000. I feel sure I shall steal some of their story for future writings.

Meantime, their life – that’s Tony and Steven’s – carries on in a gentle and natural way. Steven is an artist (some of you will know that) and now continues to make his art in some of the rooms in the farmhouse, as well as lending hands – when the need arises – to farm stuff. Suffice to say that he prefers making art to sheep wrangling! He is currently teaching art at the Australian National University in Canberra, as well as working on his own PhD with a project concentrating on Bronze Serpents and their appearance and meaning in cultures worldwide

See http://www.stevenmarkholland.com. for some examples of his talent.

I leave you with a dinner scene from Soglio. Jane and Greg (the neighbourly tenants next door), me (serving the roast mutton), Mike De Salis (Tony’s cousin) and Tony  himself. Steven on camera.

Don’t be fooled by the jollity of the occasion. We are having fun of course, rugged up (as we say here) with several layers and the wood stove on which we rely for cooking and hot water. Head beyond this room to the bedroom wing or outside areas and you risk a severe chilling, in a not-so-fun way!!

Canberra is over 3000 feet and I had forgotten till I arrived that we are still in winter here. Frost and not a heater to be found in the shower! Yikes ; high speed washing – if at all – was the order of the day. I began to wonder why I was in the habit of showering daily – I decided I would rather not impersonate a brass monkey.

Tipu Sultan – the Tiger of Mysore!

It must have been a life of untold luxury in the 1780s and 1790s – if you were the Chief!
I suspect the harshness of life here today – for most people – would seem luxurious to the pesants of the late 18th century!
Just returned from Srirangapatnam (good luck with pronouncing that!) – the island city / fortress and HQ of said Tipu Sultan – ruler hereabouts who so harried (and hated) the Brits that they tried 4 times to oust him from ower. Finally suceeded in 1799 – the troops led by (wouldny ya know it!) the Duke of Wellington…………
some of Tipu’s belongings now in the Queens cllection at Windsor (the gold and diamond bits, natch) and there’s a working “toy” showing a Tiger mauling a British soldier to death – clockwork and now in the V&A in London!! which he had made after the first 3 winning battles.

Srir etc etc (see above) is a magnificent walled city set on a p[roontory where the river Cauvery divides. It sits at one end – so can be better defending on the landward side as the rive rproects the back. The island itself is diamond shape, which provided fuher defence. It loks almost like a Mayan or Aztec ruin – where the walls are huge blocks of stone, so neatly fitted together, but in many places now overgrown. The complex ccontains two ancient (8th/9th) century temples – left unharmed by the conquering Brits! And further down the ‘diamond’ are Tipus summer palace and the Mausoleum where he, his father and mother all all interred.
The summer retreat- so cleverly designed, is superbly cool on the hottest day -a combination of location above the river, and ingenious use of windows, blinds etc.

I bathed in the river – well up to my knees anyway. Since the Temple guide leaflet – in wonderfully eccentric English – tells me that all my sins will be forgiven.
That’s a great relief after all these years…

My favourite bit was where I spotted a old gate by the road – not part of the tour stuff at all – and it turned out to be the ‘River Gate’ from the city – some of it’s old walls still there – other parts laid alongide the river for ladies who were doing there washing there. I had another paddle there to be safe and even noted some carvings lost lost from the walls on the stones as I clambered in and out of the water.
Photos etc will have to wait till I can download them in Australia.

For now – I am off to re-arrange a chnage of hotel tomorrow. Chnage for the heck of it – different part of town etc.
Dusk settling in – it is dark by 6.30/7.00 alll year round.

I wrote a poem for Tipu Sultan but didn’t expect to see an internet access today so that will have to wait. Dripping with jewels or not, I’d quite fancy the role!

Tipu Charles, Raconteur of Mysore.
xx