Sunday, 30 April 2017

Festa Degli Aquiloni

So last weekend was the Festa Degli Aquiloni which largely involves the entire village struggling up to Di Torre di Frederico (the highest point in the village) to fly kites.
Mostly the kite flyers are rotund, bald, middle-aged Italian men, and children, with the former knocking down the latter in their quest to get enough wind behind their sails for lift off.

There is also the obligatory medieval cortege through the middle town complete with town banners,

bangy drummers

and flag-throwers!

It was good to get out and muster a few nods of approvals from the locals. Ah there goes the American girl with the beautiful back who walks a lot. Apparently that is my unofficial name (which I learned from a student at my school). Not a particularly accurate summary (apart from the walking) but it amused me no end when my student told me, especially since she lives in a  village fifteen minutes further on and that is where she first heard it!! 

These be quiet streets, my friend.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Virgin Mary...

So last Monday I  took Three Paw for her third round of chemotherapy. To get her to hospital we have to take a bus, a train and a tram. We also have to walk the length of my village which means that every second person I pass says 'gatto' to me and points at my carrier.
     This time, however, I was stopped by an elegantly-attired woman in a bold, red blazer and smart black skirt. Her hair was pulled back into a tight bun and she must have been around seventy, a wiry seventy at that. First, she insisted on greeting Three Paw and then she began telling me about a kitten she had found in her garden with....wait for it...the image of the Virgin Mary on her forehead.  Only in Italy! She was very adamant about this image and said that people had not believed her, even her dentist ( which seemed to trouble her the most.) Anyway, then she told me how she had taken a picture of the kitten and brought it to the dentist so he could see the image for himself. Apparently he had taken one look at the picture before exclaiming 'vero' and doing the sign of the cross.
        I thought about searching Three Paw for some sign of Mary while on the train but then I realised since she is Turkish, it would probably be Mohammed. And given depictions of Mohammed are considered blasphemous, I have decided not to inspect her in too much detail.

Some people have said in the past that she she has a hint of a Hitler about her. I think it might be the solemn little mouth.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Monte Forato

Over the Easter break I climbed  Monte Forato in the Tuscan Garfagnana region. The Woodlander had lured me on the walk with the promise of a stupendous natural arch at the top which enables you to look through the mountain and over to the sea. She also mentioned there would be some hiking involved in an upward fashion but nothing too difficult. She was right about the arch and about the upward but not about the difficult.

Official Pointer
It was hard, especially for a lady who has not hiked for a while. But the nice thing was that neither the Woodlander nor her two dogs put me under any pressure to go any faster than I could which made the whole experience very enjoyable. Much more so than previous hiking experiences I have had in my life where people who are faster than me put pressure on me to keep up. I am a slow hiker.

I have always been a slow hiker. I don't mind going at my own pace but I hate it when people wait ahead for me, tapping their toes impatiently, and taking breaks just to wait for me only to decide we should continue when I finally reach them again. Just because I am slow doesn't mean i don't still need breaks. But none of this happened today. We just ambled in our own ways up through the forest and the scree. I was designated official pointer of things because of my hiking stick and there was plenty to point at for sure.

Woodlander ambling ahead
Catching my breath

When we reached the top there was indeed a stupendous natural arch which all four of us did our best not to tumble through.

Arch stupendissimo

Waiting for the slow coach

Gleeful Woodlander
We then lay on the ground and cracked walnuts with rocks.

Celebrated our triumph!

Reminisced about the tough parts with the dog!

Did some general pointing!

It really was so beautiful and peaceful to be up in the mountains. I had forgotten how lovely it is to hear mountains breathe.

"At , the serenity."

Thursday, 20 April 2017


When Three Paw lived in Istanbul and had moved into the apartment with me, she used to love standing with her head out the window sniffing the air. She would point her nose to the sun and I could hear her taking long snifts that went deep into her lungs. I saw her doing it in the garden the other day. I wonder if she was trying to catch a sea breeze.
What I hope is that she didn't catch the smell of open drain! Yes, my friends, the rain of life muck continues to fall on me with relentless abandon. You see all Easter weekend I had no functioning toilet and then finally when  the plumber came to fix it he promptly broke the tiles around  the drain outside so now I have a fly-infested hole on my terrace. It will be fixed - Italian time, I suppose - but it just seems never ending. The worst part is that I have to pay the plumber now. My landlord has agreed to cover half the costs but she said to take it out of my next rent. I appreciate her offer to go halves but when you are on a serious cash-flow problem it is hard to do things this way. Now the budget I had to last for three weeks has been reduced by two thirds to an almost negligible amount. It is official, I cannot afford to live here. I don't mean in my particular house, it is actually a good deal. I just mean in general. I need to buy a tent and set up in a field somewhere until I stop hemorrhaging money I don't even have. Of course, this is not going to happen while Three Paw and I are on her journey but even that aside, living here is a disaster that has no visible end. Not that anywhere else would probably be much better. Not as an ESL teacher anyway. Is it time to consider Saudi Arabia? Surely not yet. I would like to change careers but what could I do? I would like to publish my novel but that is in no man's land right now. I would like to go to bed just one night without feeling panic-stricken and worried about everything.

Uff, sorry, rant over.  I know that by having a roof over my head and pasta in my cupboard I really am in the fortunate percentage of the world. I really do understand this. One look at the television and the plight of Syrian children is more than enough to give me perspective.

But it is still hard. Am I allowed to admit that, despite the world's problems? I think I need to acknowledge this struggle instead of sweeping it under the carpet or trivializing it somehow.

But let's end this cathartic outpouring with an amusing picture of my snooping neighbour!!

I don't actually think that he is interested in me. I think it is Three Paw's yoga poses that enthrall him more.

Or her games of peek-a-boo!!

See, I feel better already.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Trifecta of Awful

I feel like the trifecta of awful is now complete: Brexit, Trump and now the Turkish Referendum. It was such a ride yesterday too. Watching it all unfold, chatting with friends in Turkey and Germany as the tide seem to be changing towards the NO vote. Hoping with each count it would push us over the edge. And then the silence as we all fell away to deal with the result in our own private ways. A friend posted a video of people banging pots in Kurtulus  where I used to live.  I love this Turkish practice of banging pots in peaceful protest. I remember back during Gezi Park, every night the sloping streets would fill with the sound of clanging metal; Three Paw lounging on the street while the police jack-boot marched around her.

This is a terrible result. I am growing tired of fundamental change being thrust onto citizens with margins of 1-3%. It is an insanity. In real terms one can honestly say about half the voters said YES and half said NO and this does not a mandate make. Especially one as sweeping as this. When Governments want to enforce radical change on their people, the bar should be higher, 60 % even 70%. It should be convincing, it should show a clear will of the people. Not a limp over the finish line with not a single major metropolis voting in favour of it either. I feel devastated for Turkey and for all my Turkish friends who have watched their country being dismantled by the blind ambition of one man.

Yes, the people spoke yesterday but what they said was they were divided, that there was no overwhelming desire for change. That they were uncertain, they are polarised, they are not unified.


Tuesday, 11 April 2017


In case you are wondering that is a 'NO' from me and this wonderful lady regarding the Turkish referendum.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Survivor no matter what

Three Paw had her second round of chemo this week. This time she was lavished with attention by Alberto and another lovely vet trainee. I overheard Alberto explaining to this trainee in Italian how Three Paw was a seven year survivor of cancer and you should have seen the look of respect in the man's face. It was a timely reminder to me that she is a survivor no matter what. She has already beaten the disease by having this amazing, colourful life; for toughing it on the streets before retiring among olive trees. I need to tell myself this whenever I feel sad.

Unfortunately she has not tolerated this round as well as the last. Her spirits are fine, she still explores and ambles and cuddles up to me in bed, which are crucial indicators of life quality for me, but she has lost her appetite which I find incredibly vexing. Actually she is always interested when I bring her food but she takes one look at it and pulls a face of disgust. I suspect she has nausea ( which is a common side effect for cats)  but it has been five days now and I find it hard to watch. She is at least eating little offerings and drinking lots of water. I am feeding her with a syringe though to keep her liver healthy. She doesn't struggle too much actually because I think she likes the feeling of food in her stomach, She just cannot face the smell, the taste or the chewing. She will see Alberto again next Wednesday but I hope before then she will have begun to improve.

Other than this she seems very content.

On another even more distressing note, I find myself without words regarding what is happening in Syria. I feel like the whole world is complicit somehow. All of us sitting back and watching it unfold from our collective armchairs. The solution though? Certainly not the Orange One sending out some of his war toys. The situation is simply too sad and simply cannot be sustained. Assad has to go but how is the greater problem. 

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Fallen Star

This is my favourite door in the village. I wonder who lives behind it - a Tuscan imp, a mermaid who spawned land-legs, a fallen star. One day I will knock on its door and see what mythical creature appears.

In the meantime I shall continue smiling at it every time I walk to work. It takes me about 50 minutes to walk to the train station from home so I am always very grateful for little distractions such as this on the way.

My other favourite spot is along the goat path down the hill. The fireflies will be out soon and I do so love walking among them.

We go for our second round of chemotherapy tomorrow. I say 'we' because even though she has the therapy I am the one with all the anxiety. She takes it all in her stride...and she gets to see Alberto,  Me..I pace and fret and make deals with God.

We passed a quiet weekend in the garden, lying amongst daisies. You never know how the day will end.