Friday, 16 March 2018

A bird in the hand

Oh Switzerland
Two lives ago when I was back in Switzerland, I rescued a bird one stifling summer afternoon. I thought it had no chance when I found it passed out on the bitumen but I picked it up just the same and made it a home in a little green box. Later that same day I took it to Elisabethenanlage Park, thinking it was dead, then when I opened the box it flew straight into the trees. I remember that moment vividly. Such an unexpected joy. The rest of the day was pretty miserable from what I recall but you try to remember the good stuff more than the bad.

Today I got to rescue another bird, and just like the last time I wasn't alone. This time, however, I had three feline spectators who were more than eager to offer advice, paws or jaws - whatever they thought best. Once again I thought it was dead, lying on its back in my corridor with Pirate in charge of triage. But when I collected it in my grey cap I could feel its heart beating although it lay perfectly still. I decided to lock my three 'helpers' inside the house while I went out to the garden to see if it could fly. Which is did beautifully, up up and away.

I often wonder what my life would have been like if I had stayed in Switzerland.
Better, I am sure.

But what then of Three Paw?
What then of Pirate?

Saturday, 10 March 2018


Last summer my parents and I went to Viareggio for a day trip. It was during the peak of Lucifero (the heatwave) so I remember the day being oppressively hot but pleasant, thanks to the sea breeze. We had lunch at one of the cute little beach bars that line the main promenade, had a paddle, and then in the afternoon wandered the Mercato searching for hats. Viareggio looks a bit like I imagine New Orleans to be. Streets on a grid, lined with colourful houses and latticed balconies. I have fond memories of everyone approving of the outing and mother, in particular, being taken by the market.

Now as winter draws to an end, I felt it was time to visit the sea again. I had been feeling low of late so I thought Viareggio might be the perfect tonic.

Yes and no.

It was an odd sort of day. I started with a walk on the beach accompanied by a slice of Margherita pizza ( happy face.) Then I did an enormous faceplant outside a clothing shop (ouch face.) It even withered the jeans around one of my knees. Nobody helped me but a few minutes later a softly spoken shop guard from Nigeria asked me if I was ok ( grateful face.)  After, I went to have a cappuccino which turned out to be even cheaper than the ones in San Miniato ( score face) but then I could not work out how to shut the toilet door in the bar. It was a sliding door that sort of disappeared into the wall and the only way to open it was to stick your finger into this tiny hole. Anyway, the barista got very cranky with me when I couldn't work it out and stomped over and said in English 'OPEN IT HERE' and yanked the door open with his finger. I don't even know why he felt the need to revert to English since I had been very politely speaking Italian earlier. For some reason, his moody demeanour set me off in the toilet and I had a big cry - the type that makes your eyes soggy and your nose red  (embarrassed face.) Fortunately, after I left I had a very lovely encounter with a lady in a dress shop (thankful face.) She was selling these gorgeous, vibrant dresses in the Positano style. Things I would have loved if I didn't feel so (a) frumpy and ( b) had some leftover imaginary money.

Finally, I made my way back to the train station and as I was buying my ticket this stern looking policeman came up to me and asked for my documents ( panic face.) I kind of looked at him blankly at first because I couldn't understand why he wanted to see them and then I realised I didn't have them with me anyway. I don't like to carry my passport around with me here. I mean seriously after 'football' I suspect 'theft' is the national sport. So I explained to him that I lived in San Miniato and for some reason this made him relax and he left me alone. I am not sure why he stopped me. perhaps I was channeling too much vagabondo and he thought I was planning to stay in Viareggio and let the place down.  Feeling bothered I went and sat on my platform and read a book until an elderly, toothless woman in a shawl came up to ask me about the book I was reading. She noticed the author was Polish so she wanted to know if it was a Polish book. I explained the story was written in English but by a  writer with a foreign name but this did not seem to satisfy her. Then she asked what the title meant. Now the book is by Marina Lewycka and is called' Various Pets Alive and Dead.'  She knew what pets were but she suddenly became very sad when she learned the word dead. I tried to explain it wasn't actually about dead animals ( well, not in the main) but I don't think this comforted her much. Anyway, my train rolled in on time ( miracle face) and I escaped ahy further interrogation.

I have to say I was glad to get home but I wished...there was someone waiting to give me a cuddle and decompress the day with.  Of course, I mean a person but Three paw would have worked too.

Pirate is still learning. She hasn't quite mastered the gravitas and empathy of Three Paw yet. But late in the night when I was crying ( Three paw and day-related) she came up to me, wrapped both paws around my neck,  rested her head in the hollow of my throat and purred.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018


Every fortnight I go to Lucca to teach Film English to two classes. We have our classes in the library of the Giglio theatre right near one of the gates of the old town wall. It is a bit of a journey to get there (one bus, two trains) so one might question its worth but it is work and from its investment, other work may spring. That's the theory anyway.
I like the classes too because they are higher level students so we actually hold conversations. So far we have studied The Godfather, Stoker, and The Blues Brothers. The students enjoy learning the vocabulary from the films like 'piece of ass' so I feel it is time well spent.

Lucca is a pretty town too with a rare, fully intact Rennasissance wall circling around it. I always arrive there a few hours early to factor in train delays etc. The first few times I wandered around the labyrinthine alleys but now I have started passing my time on imaginary 100 euro spending sprees. What would I buy if...this week I got a cook book called Facilissimo in which all the recipes require 6 or less ingrediaents, a new bra ( it has been 8 years), a cardigan and a green jug---AND I still had money to spare! So much fun.

Thursday, 1 March 2018


Italians are not the quietest of folk. Probably in the same way Londoners regard Australians as somewhat noisy as they yakityak on the tube despite the surrounding ( glaring) silence. Italians are noisy on the bus, on the train, in the street; even their shoes clip the pavement in a more sonorous manner. I don't even know if there is an Italian word for 'whisper'. Actually, probably sotto voce but that undermines my point. Italian are loud. Period.

Ah, but not last night. Last night the streets were silent. Quietened by the snow. Not a car whizzed past nor voice sang out ALL night. I know this because I was awake for a lot of it. Finally, I got out of bed and looked out onto the street and saw how beautiful it was. So I went out and it was just me and the street and the night all whispering together.

I wasn't actually the only person who was up as it turned out. Sergio, the retired butcher, who lives down the road was up from watching the deer and the wolves running through the valley below. The reason I know this is because I have recently started teaching his daughter and we ran into each other later the same day; not because I am spying on the butcher in the after hours. 

I did not know there are wolves in the valley. 
I am glad the artichokes are up high with me.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

San Miniato unmasked

Today I decided to treat myself to a cappuccino at my local patisserie. "Such extravagance!" you cry. Well, one of my students finally paid me a month late and I felt I should celebrate my sudden wealth.  Anyway, while I was sipping my treasure in the cafe, I overheard some people speaking in English. You have to understand that in my village the speaking of English is a rare and sweet thing; like wild dolphins in the Bosphorus; James Blunt hitting number one; Pirate NOT coming in from the garden just to use her toilet tray. The gregarious part of me ( usually on hiatus) decided to ask them what their caper was and it turns out they are on a mask-making course for three months. They are working in an old bar that closed down last summer. I walk past it most days and have often looked in and seen people working but I had presumed they were locals doing a short course. But no..these are people from all over the world, even Australia. They were super nice too and invited me to come see their work one afternoon when they are there. I will definitely visit. Not straight away mind; don't want to look like a stray dog in frantic search for a pack. Even though I kind of am. The funniest thing is when they told me what they were doing I thought to myself ' wow look at these people living and creating  in a small town, what an adventure!" Then I had to stop myself and say 'hang on Joanna, isn't that what you are doing?'

Sometimes I need to get more out of my head, I think.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Inner circle

You know you have made it into the inner circle of the village when Gino, the bus driver, stops the bus outside your door to drop you off.

It's like the key to the city.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Forte Dei Marmi

It is mid-afternoon here now and the outside temperature is -2 degrees. I know there are far colder places in Europe right now but for here this is considerably brisk. I have the heating on ( extravagant, I know) but it never really does a great job of warming the place up. I have worked out why only recently. It is because on one side I have a garage and the other a stairwell so there is no communal heat for me to take advantage of. I am my own little icicle, shivering on my own.

Days like today make me grateful that Three Paw has gone to the artichokes. She would never be able to get warm enough I think. Better to be lounging amongst greeny foliage, basking in the warmth of the eternal Tuscan sun.

I know I am going to sound a little mad but on Saturday I took her to the beach for the day. She always loved the smell of the sea and I wanted to mark the year anniversary since I found that awful tumor on her leg in some way. For me, that day is as painful as the day she died. I remember it so vividly. Finding the swelling and knowing deep within my own bones, even before the vets confirmed, that we were on notice, our journey's end.
Now don't worry. I didn't make a procession out of the day. No tiny hearse and marching band, flowery sprigs or wordy speeches. I simply popped her in my Highland Cow backpack, along with a book and a packet of biscuits.
We went to Forte dei Marmi which neither of us had ever been to before. Students often talk about it as being a playground for the rich so it was an obvious choice for us. I have to say though that the train station gave no impression of gold-paved streets: tumbleweed, graffiti, the smell of damp toilets. When I stepped out of the station we were even more disappointed as were not even able to glimpse the sea. 'Nevermind,' said Three Paw's bones - optimistic as always. 'Let's go see it anyway.'

One hour later, after walking along a pretty miserable stretch of industrialized road, we finally reached the shore. I felt a little frustrated because by the time we sat down and took a few sniffs of the air we had to start heading back for our train.

I have to say that the town was very nice. In the end. Pretty, paved, boulevards flanked with Gucci and Prada. - all my usual shopping haunts. Behind it was a backdrop of snow-ladened mountains so it really was a far more idyllic place than the trains station had led on. Perhaps this was part of its plan all along -  deter all the plebs except for those with determined sneakers and bones in their bags.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018