Saturday, 30 June 2018

Fare una passeggiata

I have started walking recently. I mean obviously I have been walking since I was two years old. (Apparently I was a late bloomer. Too busy chatting!) No. What I am talking about is purposeful striding into the countryside for the sheer pleasure and exhaustion of it.
I always wear my hat which means I get many odd glances from the villagers ( What be that thing atop her head. A spaceship per chance) and a lot of thumbs up from the contadini ( farmers) for my efforts.

The best thing, by far though, is that every time I go out, a new adventure awaits me.

Sometimes I discover a new view of San Miniato.


Which is always reassuring because it means I can never get truly lost. 



Or I pass flowers and butterflies doing their pretty things.





I have met a goat farmer called Maria who makes delicious goat cheese and will let you come meet her menagerie of animals if you pass by her gates. I have also walked passed verdant vineyards and whispered thank you to the grapes.




Likewise with the olive groves.


And a field full of wild chamomile which I harvested for my night tea. 



One time I was even  tailed by a swarm of giggling, wild piglets; trotting behind me in full oink and squeal. I eventually encouraged them down a hillside out of the eye of any hunters who might fancy cinghiale for lunch.



Sometimes I happen upon  memorials to war. Always tragic, and at odds with the peaceful countryside I find myself passing through now .  One of some children massacred by the Nazis. 



Another commemorating the great battle which happened on the hills outside of San Miniato in the last months of German occupation.


When I pass ruined farmhouses, I imagine the partisans who may have hidden there. How many lives were saved and lost in the bones of these old buildings.


Often I come across one of the many first-aid boxes littered across the landscape. I always check their contents to see if they have the requisite items: bandages, syringes, tourniquets, antiseptic, medicine for sever allergies. Sometimes I leave a note if I find the box wanting.



Some days i walk so far I feel I will need to carry my legs home in my arms.


But when I get home, I always feel enriched by my stroll and I often find pirate expressing how tired I feel.




Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Menemen

Today I made my first menemen complete with pul biber. Culinary goddess or what?

Menemen is a Turkish breakfast dish made with tomatoes and peppers and onion and oil and eggs. You can then jazz it up with your own additional flavours. I added some feta cheese (Greek ..sacrilege I know) and some ginger.

Feeling Harika!

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Tiny Tuscan Tale


I won a local short story competition created by the Sigh Press here in Florence. No money, only glory and publication in a  future anthology. I am not complaining though. I have had A LOT of rejections lately for my short stories so this little accolade is just the shot in the arm I needed before I threw my pen away for good. I actually wrote it more as a writing exercise to make myself feel better so I am glad that I did.

I am not sure why the rejections have been so many of late. A combination of things I guess. I mean perhaps the stories are just not good enough or maybe I am sending them to the wrong sort of journals. It is probably a mix of both to be honest.

Small sigh.  

Friday, 1 June 2018

Vale The Pigeon

Vale Sergio ( the pigeon) Brunelli

I seem to be losing my old-man friends in the village this year. First Franco and now adorable Sergio.
Sergio lived in San Miniato his entire life, even surviving the war and the horrific atrocities that happened all around him. He owned a butcher’s shop ( macelleria) just up the road from me in which he sold chicken – probably where he got his village nickname ‘the pigeon’ from! I don’t think Sergio held the soybean in much esteem. In fact, he owned this shop for so many years, even the newspapers announcing his untimely passing referred to him as an historic trader. 

The shop closed a few years ago but Sergio still sat in his shop every day to greet passersby with a hearty Buongiorno. If you were lucky enough to pass him twice in the one morning you would get a wonderful rrrre-Buongiorno resplendent with a well-rolled ‘r’. Sometimes he was joined in the afternoon by his adorable wife, Rina, and together they would smile at the world as it passed them by.
Now Sergio sat in his shop whatever the weather – through sweltering Sicilian winds, icy Alpi Apuane squalls, rain with drops the size of elephants tears. He loved his city and the rolling hills that embraced it. In fact, when rare snow came to the village earlier this year, Sergio sat up late into the night watching the wolves frolic in the powdered fields below.
I remember one morning just this past winter when the wind was blowing bitterly through the serpentine streets, and I had been greeted as always with an exuberant Buongiorno. In fact, by then, we had graduated into chitchat as well which had pleased me no end. I went to have a cappuccino and decided I would bring him back one because it was so bleak. I remember giving it to him; his face riddled with astonishment. Later I learned through his daughter ( who has recently become my friend) that on the evening of the cappuccino he had come home and told his family about the foreigner who gave him a cappuccino. “Perhaps she thinks I am a peasant, “ he speculated. His daughter and I often laughed about this over the months which followed.
Today the town buried our pigeon. A funeral was held in San Domenico; a beautiful, melancholic service awash with golden afternoon sun, and organ music which soared all the way to its frescoed vaults. When I went to hug his daughter at the end of the ceremony she sobbed ‘O my sweet friend, no more cappuccino.’ And I took her face in my hands and said ‘ Oh no my darling,. cappuccino forever, because every time I have one now he will be resting in my heart.”
Sergio brought joy to my morning day and a welcome smile at its close. He was old school Italy for me: tiny, effervescent, every word he spoke had his whole body behind it.
I will miss him. As will all my town.
http://www.gonews.it/2018/06/01/oggi-i-funerali-di-sergio-brunelli-detto-piccione-storico-commerciante-di-san-miniato

Monday, 28 May 2018

Franco the barber


This photo was taken by my friend - Angeliki Coconi
Earlier this year San Miniato lost one of its most colorful characters - Franco the Barber. And by lost, I don't mean he disappeared into the sea never to be seen again (a la Harold Holt) or he got caught up in a magic trick gone awry :-( if only this were the case.

I remember noticing at the time his barber shop was closed, which was unusual, but I had figured it was cold and an 85-year-old man had surely earned the right to a sleep in from time to time. Then I saw the local voluntary ambulance folk ferreting amongst the clutter in his shop and I began to wonder.
I had also noticed a sign on the walls of the village announcing the passing of a Franco Oliva but I hadn't connected the dots because I never knew his surname. Anyway by the time I put it all together, genius that I am, I had missed the funeral  - by only one day. I felt really disappointed.

This photo was taken by my friend - Angeliki Coconi
This photo was taken by my friend - Angeliki Coconi


I liked Franco. He always wore a bright red jumper, was slightly pervy, and gave me pens with lamps on them. We had always waved every time I passed his shop - well, when he wasn't cutting the hair off bald men's heads that was. We had a running banter about him loving summer and me loving winter and now as the heat has begun to suffocate the days I find myself thinking of him often.



It took me a while to find his final resting place. First, I visited the wrong cemetrery. Then I visited the correct one but had been misinformed he was at the back when actually he was at the front. Finally this week I found him so I told him all about the heat and how sorry I was I never got to say goodbye. I feel particuarly sad about this because in the weeks leading to his death I had hardly spoken to him. It was early January and I was still much consumed by Three Paw I could barely look up. I wish I had just once, if only to say goodbye.







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...

EXCEPT

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?