Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Being Eaten by a Polar Bear

Oh look another story

This one has been published by a journal called Bone Parade which I rather like the title of. They got the title of my story slightly wrong. It should read On Being Eaten By a Polar Bear but it doesn't really matter.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

The Imp and the Bones

Unbelievable I know, but I actually have another short story out now as well.
Here it is.

It is called The Imp and the Bones and is about a village with no thumbs..among other things.  I have had so many rejections over these past months, it is nice to see something out there. I just wish it could pay the bills. 

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Swinging bears

So I have been here and not been here. I promise to write more soon but in the meantime, defibrillators at the ready, I had a short story published and it was paid.

It is about a man who builds a swing over the edge of the world and I have to confess that even as I wrote it, I loved it.

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


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.

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...


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.