Saturday, 12 May 2018

Hello there!

This morning I woke up early to the sound of a whipper-snipper munching its way through my jungle of a garden. To be fair I had asked the gardener to come some weeks ago and then figured he had forgotten ( and then had been relieved he had forgotten because I  was low on cash). So, of course, he comes on a Saturday morning in a week when every single student has failed to pay me. Never mind I couldn't turn him away. The weeds had completely obliterated the stairs so I couldn't even walk down them now and the olive trees were so tall they had blocked the entire view from my terrace. He asked me what I wanted doing and I waved my hands at all the armpit-high stinging nettles and said they should probably go. I told him not to worry about the very bottom which has become completely wild and probably has lions in it. Then he asked me about the olive trees. For as long as I have been here they have been untamed and pretty much blocked the hills and vineyards which undulate behind my home. I suppose in the way they have given me an illusion of privacy even though no one except the birds can see me. Anyway, he said it was a shame to have them so high so I agreed to have them cut. The results have been breathtaking.

I do kind of feel vulnerable outside now.  It's like the whole landscape is my backyard now and I feel as if  I  could almost fall into the hills. It's beautiful but I feel exposed. Like I can't hide. Maybe this is a good thing. Only time will tell.

In the meantime, I suppose  I should do some gardening. This pot seems to be coming along nicely.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Interesting factoid

Did you know that the Italian word for wasp is vespa! Probably yes. It makes sense, doesn't it?  I mean a leading brand of  Italian motorino is called the Vespa and it certainly makes an annoying buzzy sound as it zips down the stone streets.

Don't get me wrong. I am not pulling the cranky, old lady card -  I love vespas. I love the freedom of them, their design, their convenience,their colours. I once had an amazing midnight ride around Rome on the back of one. I am at one with the vespa...


unfortunately, my bedroom is right beside the road ( not even a footpath length distance away) which means once the weather warms up, out they all come in droves. Swarming down my road in the middle of the night, sounding as if they are going to bore straight through my bed.

It has been a long winter though and I suppose spring had to come eventually. I am not sure I want it but I think my frozen bones will be grateful.

This year we were even lucky enough to have snow in the village. A rare occurrence these days. It didn't last long but it was abundant and meant all of the children came out to toboggan down the streets. I feel I should share this beautiful day here before spring really settles in. 

Let's start with the village. It really looked quite ethereal. And silent too. Not a vespa in sight.

Up near the cathedral

One of the few roads into the village

cherry blossom.... I think

snow patrol

In particular though, I really loved my garden. It felt like a magic kingdom.

heh heh capturing the essence!

And finally a contrast of winter and now spring.

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.