Friday, 20 January 2017

Hermits Ahoy

 I lived in Stirling, Scotland, when I was six. Right on the university campus next to a deep, tangled forest patched with bluebells and snowdrops and magical twisting trails. There was even an old pet cemetery with lovingly tended graves and thick in the forest was an abandoned hermit's cave. I remember going to the cave to eat strawberry jam sandwiches, and sitting on the mossy stone seats outside the hermit's home. I particularly enjoyed those sandwiches which is interesting because I don't like strawberry jam sandwiches at all now. Perhaps those sandwiches were the pinnacle of my life jam experience.

     At university I was called a hermit once. By a boy I actually had a crush on too. On reflection I think it was his way of saying ' hey why don't you come out' but at the time I was mortified and retracted my wings in even further. Now I feel like I truly am a hermit living in a hermit village. I am not sure it suits me. I think I hermit best when surrounded by light, noise and sea. Invisible but still there. Part of a city but on my own too. Not that I want to be on my own either, it is just when put in the situation such as the one I find myself in now the hermit in me really takes hold.

The Woodlander is also a hermit so last week we made a pact that on Sundays we should try and crawl out of our caves and go exploring somewhere. No Pressure, no fuss, just get in the car with the hounds and see what we can find.

So then last Saturday night I was tucked up in bed ( my house is freezing) and I thought 'ooh I do not want to adventure on the morrow.' Funnily enough the Woodlander was having similar thoughts but then Sunday came and we decided we ought to walk, we ought to at least try.

We ended up in Alica which is in the hills between San Miniato and the sea. The Woodlander had heard there was a loop we could walk there ( My father would approve. He likes his walks to loop.) At first we couldn't find it and we even asked a few locals who nodded enthusiastically that yes ' fare la passeggiata' but couldn't tell us where to start. There was even a town map proudly explaining there was a walk but no starting point. We didn't give up though, we were hermits with a plan, so we decided that after our recent discovery of il purgatorio perhaps we should start at the cemetery and see what could be found.

The walking path of course!

The first part was uphill so after about 600 metres we decided it was tea break time and the Woodlander brought out her thermos and we discussed Princess Diana ( as one ought when drinking tea.)

We then pondered whether perhaps we had ambled far enough before deciding that probably at the top of the hill was an amazing sweep of the land that simply had to be seen. I am glad we continued up because we then passed some ancient-looking olive trees with haunting tree bones.

It seemed like the kind of place to do some wild dog interpretative dance.

Beyond the trees there was indeed a sweeping plain with views over to the ice-capped mountains. To me it looked like Patagonia and to the Woodlander  -Wales, and we both agreed how wonderful it felt to be somewhere different for a moment.

The walk took longer than we had thought. Probably due to the rather early tea stop so by the time we found the path back around to the village  it was turning to dusk. There were some hunters about looking for wild boar whom I waved at to be friendly ( and hopefully to frighten off any poor piggies.)

Wednesday, 11 January 2017


The sea, I do declare, can cure many an ill and so with this in mind I decided to take myself on a day trip to visit her. I chose to go to Livorno because it is the closest point but I think next time I will go further to somewhere a little more ambient.
Last time I visited Livorno I had a bike so I remembered the trip from the train station to the sea being an exuberant ride of wild pedaling, windswept hair and  ecstatic 'wheeeeeees'!!
Without a bike, not so much.
It took me an hour and a half before I even located the ocean front, ending up right outside the shipping port. I actually love watching the big container ships ploughing across the sea.  Secretly praising Archimedes Principle for keeping them afloat. When I was in Istanbul I often used to sit on the rocks of Kadikoy and watch the great beasts pass by on their way to the Black Sea.
Sitting port side  in Livorno was definitely less fun so I walked further down the coast  searching for a scenic spot which seemed constantly out of reach. Eventually I settled for some rocks where I could at least sit and watch the boats in the distance, quietly dreaming of being on one.
It wasn't the soul-satisfying adventure I had hoped it would be but I was glad that I had gone, that I had tried just the same.
I ended up taking a bus back to the train station sans ticket - scandaloso! There simply wasn't anywhere to buy one and I didn't fancy another bleak stroll through the grey, dampish streets.  As I sat on the bus it made me think back to Basel and one night when I went up to the Bruderholz with a friend. It was late spring  and my sandal had suddenly snapped so I was walking along the streets in bare feet which didn't bother me ( I am Australian) but worried my friend ( You'll get sick!) I remember leaping on a tram without a ticket ( a high risk venture in Switzerland) and my friend's eyes filled with panic. I don't know if that was his first Schwarz Fahrt (  Swiss for illegal ride - ha ha!) ever but he was on edge until we got off.  Ah such criminal days.
I also remember towering over his head at one stage and he asked me what I was looking for. I said, hair. And we really laughed so our stomachs hurt, and it didn't matter that I  was a barefooted vagabond or that we had ridden trams without fare.

Everything just felt light.

Memories really are like little gifts to our souls.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Salute and boots

Today I went to try and register for a health card at San Miniato hospital. A grim kind of establishment where I suspect polio still lingers in the crevices of the water pipes. When I lived in Istanbul I went to Sisli Eftal a few times and that was similarly grim (cats running out of operating theaters etc) but they had a system there at least, and super friendly staff.  Here there seemed to be no plan and eventually, after waiting for three hours, I was told I was ineligible for a card as my contract was not indeterminato.  They aren't even right. I am eligible, they are just being lazy.
No illness for me then!!

Anyway determined not to ruin my day, I decided to take my new boots out for another walk. This time along the Viccolo Carbonaio (the way of the coal.) This nature path runs below the spine of my town (even past the bottom of my garden) and it allows one (and one's boots)  to take into the surroundings vineyards, olive groves and general Tuscan undulations.

Boots were well pleased too. Having previously lived such a sheltered existence, they were agog at the topographical variations and delighted by the vegetative diversity they were able to attract: mud, sticks, gravel, scree, wet grass, stinging nettles, squashed fruit.  

It appeared that the villagers have been busy too for all the way along I discovered little nativity scenes.

I love that they can sit there with out being vandalized or stolen.

The best one I discovered though was after my walk. The official one in town where this year they decided to give the manger to a cat with Mary and Jesus watching from the sidelines.  It endeared me to the town on a day when I had been feeling less so.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Il purgatorio

Come on laydee wiv da new boots
So a colleague at work bought her fifteen year old daughter some winter walking boots. After wearing them once, the teenager decided they weren't for her. Lucky me :-) They are slightly too big but with thick socks they are a comfy fit for woodland ambling. I am so delighted and grateful for being their recipient as I haven't bought myself shoes in over two years and most of my others have holes. 2017 is already looking up.

Anyway to celebrate the shoes another colleague of mine, whom I shall call the woodlander, decided to take her dogs (and me) for a gallivant out at an area called Balconevesi.  It was rainy, misty, and miserable but all of us had our tongues to the wind in no time, running and laughing, and making all sort of discoveries.

Like a first-aid kit in the middle of a field with 4 syringes and some anti-inflammatories in case we should encounter a viper. Unlikely in winter but I felt impressed by the forethought.

We also discovered a place called Il Purgatorio which had a bunch of picnic benches next to what looked like an electrical grid. Two of the benches had an unappetizing view over the local cemetery. Why anyone would picnic there was beyond me.

The Woodlander capturing the essence of the spot
Nearby was a magnificent tree on top of a dome of land  that gazed out over all the tumbling hills.

And at the edge of the dome you could see San Miniato in the distance. If you squint really hard in the below picture you can see it.

After we had finished, we ate chocolate-stuffed pastries and cappuccino.

It was good to get out, and amble, and be alive.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

2017 : Happy New year, Mutlu Yillar, Buon Anno, Guten Rutsch

This morning I got up and decided I wanted to have Turkish Kahvalti to see the new year in. No one does breakfast like the Turks and after my poor effort this morning I realised I am far from making the perfect replica.  No stringy white cheese, no kaymak ( clotted cream), no pulbiber ( chilli pepper) and my menemen looked more like scrambled eggs.

Then I opened my newspaper and read about the ghastly attack in Istanbul, In Ortakoy no less - beautiful, wonderful Ortakoy. Whenever I visit there I always feel my heart fill up. 

I used to teach a student in a high rise overlooking this area and we used to marvel at the view, and the bridge and the Bos.  I cannot bear to think of the carnage there today.  A lot of the young Turks  never seemed to grasp the difference between Christmas and New year. I can just imagine them bopping along, shouting Merry Christmas to each other, when this tragedy occurred. 

I have started the year with hope in my heart but also great sorrow.