Venice Biennale

I’m always reluctant to pay the €30 entry fee to see cutting edge or politically correct art at the two sites of the Biennale, so I try to find interesting free venues which are often better. This year is no exception. There are two quirky shows, both with a West Indian theme, which have fascinating stories.

The Stephen Chambers exhibition at Ca’ Dandolo next to the San Toma Vaporetto stop has the added advantage of admitting you to a palazzo on the Grand Canal not normally open to the public. It tells the story through portraits in a faux naïf style of the uninhabited tiny island of Redonda and its imaginary court.

The Frank Walter show is the work of an artist and self taught eccentric who lived on Antigua, the first black man to manage a sugar plantation. He came to Europe to study the latest technology but met such racism that he returned and ended up living as a recluse in a ramshackle hut without access to roads, running water or electricity.

Both shows are fascinating, lively and life enhancing.

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All’s Well that Ends Well (Apart from Chaos at a Bavarian Market)

My car was a write off after the autostrada accident, and I had to wait anxiously for the verdict as to who was responsible for the crash. (Knowing Italians, I suspected that the easy explanation would be that I’m foreign, not used to the roads, and with a steering wheel on the wrong side, so it must have been my fault.)

However, the Albanian lorry driver was found guilty and now has a whopping fine and 6 points. Meanwhile, I’ve bought a new car.

To my surprise, Bill decided to do the whole long drive again in his car, probably wise rather than dreading the drive next year. In June, we reasoned, the weather would be gorgeous (it was) and the driving on motorways in Italy quieter on a Sunday.(True).

We stayed at a favourite hotel in Bavaria, but couldn’t park there because we saw a notice about a market in the main square the next morning. Leaving the car in the next street, we didn’t return to it until after breakfast, only to find that the market was there too, and the car was surrounded with boxes of vegetables and racks of clothes. Luckily I remembered the German for “I’m sorry”.

How to escape? We wheeled away the clothes and heaved crates about, helped grudgingly by the market traders, and finally set off again to reach Battaglia without further incidents that evening.

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“Incidente” in Italy. Lucky to be Alive.

Our Grand Tour across Europe was later this year because of finding a care home for my mother, so we eventually arrived at the end of April. We expected the weather to be glorious, but it was the worst we have ever experienced. Throughout France, Germany and Austria we had sleet and snow, and on top of the Brenner Pass we followed a snow plough for about 25 miles.

People were in a hurry after the delay, but we drove steadily down towards Verona and changed drivers. The Venice-Milan motorway is always busy but this was exceptional. After once attempting to overtake a lorry, and being flashed and tooted at, I decided to stick to the slow lane, surrounded by huge lorries but just doing a steady 50mph. Naturally, I was concentrating very hard.

Out of nowhere the car was hit on the rear corner which sent us spinning left, to be hit squarely in the side by a huge lorry. The impact sent us through another 90 degrees to end up facing oncoming traffic roaring past on either side. Terrifying. An absolute miracle we were not hurt.

The lorry driver wanted me to sign an agreement, claiming that I had a lapse of concentration, but I insisted on calling the carabinieri who took photos and notes, then insisted I had to pay a ‘ caution’ of €312.50 because I couldn’t find my driving licence. (It turned up later, of course). It will be refunded, but I confidently expect endless form- filling to get the money back again.

My car was towed away and we went with the breakdown truck. Sandra and Riccardo, ever helpful and supportive friends, came to collect us and carry the contents of the car (lots of boxes of ‘Cose Inglesi’) back to Battaglia. The car is awaiting an insurance assessor, parked there at a cost of €7 per day. They think the repair bill will be more than the value of the car so it will have to be scrapped.

After that nightmare we count ouselves lucky to be alive, and the Canale Fiorito Market was a great success. Continue reading

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Dementia: Caring for Mother, 92

My usual frequent trips to Italy have been cancelled because of my mother’s increasing frailty, physically and mentally. I realised that she could not longer live independently, mainly because she was forgetting to eat, and found what I thought was the ideal place, with lovely views and meals provided. She went there for a week’s respite to see whether it would work, but away from her own environment she became confused and upset, so after 4 days she returned and we were back to square one.

At last the solution has presented itself with a care home in Hexham, not ideally placed for me, but it will mean she can have friends visit, and keep her own doctor. She moves there in 2 weeks. Meanwhile, there are the headaches of managing her time left in her flat. On Monday she took 3 days’ worth of medication so I had to stay with her to monitor the effects for 8 hours. I have now hidden her tablets! I had arranged for carers to come in each day but she didn’t like them and became angry, so they were cancelled. There have been many other confusions, but I am making her lunch every day, and my son takes her an evening meal, so in the short term it will be OK.

I hope my experience could help anyone with similar problems. Please get in touch if so.

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Italian Bills: paid or unpaid?

Back in Newcastle I’ve been wondering about the yearly bills for the Italian apartment, and whether some minor member of the mafia has run off with our money.

Asking around, it seems that the woman (shall we call her the embezzler) is quite well known as the administrator of other apartment blocks in the town. As far as I can gather, she has been shifting payment from one building to pay for another, so we’re on a kind of merry-go-round where, I suppose, as long as my money has been paid to the gardener, the electricity and water companies, I can feel reassured.

The embezzler meanwhile has got herself a lawyer to answer the carabinieri’s questions, and we have to find ourselves a new administrator.

Living so far away is quite a relief. I think it will all be sorted out by the time I return in 3 weeks.

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Here we are, back in Italy where it is extremely cold but with clear blue skies and lovely views over frosty hills.

The main reason for going was to check on how the flat is surviving in the grip of a severe winter. Several friends had stayed there since we left in early November, and I needed to deal with the laundry, as well as any bills which had arrived. And of course there was a problem. As I was carrying a basket of washing to the washing machine in the garage, I was stopped by a neighbour.

“Have you had any mail from the administrators?” ( Every block of flats in Italy must have an administrator and have an annual meeting to arrange gardening, electricity, stair cleaning etc.)

It seems that the gardeners have not been paid and our administrator has run off with our money from last year! (Well, this is Italy, after all.) It is now in the hands of the carabinieri.

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Surprise trip to New York!

My birthday, as readers and friends know, was something of a disaster, but then all was not lost when Bill spotted a “shopping trip” to New York for 4 days flying from Newcastle.

It was a whirlwind visit, not helped by being wide awake at 3 am and too tired to eat in the evenings. I had forgotten some of the annoying things, like the marked price not being the one you end up paying when all the taxes are added on, and the subway which is certainly not designed to help anyone who isn’t a native of New York.

But…we went to fantastic places (Morgan Library, Neue Gallery, The High Line,The Met…) and enjoyed wandering around, picking up the great Christmas atmosphere (though you’re not supposed to mention Christmas. It’s all politically correct Happy Holidays) The interiors of Art Deco buildings were impressive, and if the over-rated Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station was a disappointment, the diner across the road was a delight.

The shopping was fun, not buying anything expensive, but unlikely things as strange Christmas presents. It didn’t really matter that the return flight was delayed as it was overnight anyway. All in all, a great little adventure!

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Market enables bills to be paid for another year!

After the previous weather disasters when I couldn’t have my Cose Inglesi stall either because it was pouring down (May) or too hot(July), finally I managed to clear the garage of most of my boxes with a wonderful day at the Apple Festival in San Pietro. Friends lent a gazebo, tables and other useful display items, and the stall was as usual decorated with flags, to make, they said, the best and most unusual display at the market. There was lots of interest, including a man who grumbled that my prices were cheaper than he had paid at a similar antiques stall in Padua that morning, and another man who insisted on buying me a coffee to tell me that he was one of Italy’s best photographers and would like to be in partnership with me for future articles. (Later, people said to avoid him: he’s an odd character.)

There was one of those curious mobile wood fired ovens (built of stone, but with hidden wheels underneath) making bread for hot panini which we enjoyed for lunch, and we were charmingly entertained by a choir of folk singers and dancers, but at about 6 o’clock the mood changed and an elderly Peter Pan figure arrived with pounding “music” which caused me to begin packing up. This caused a last-minute rush on my goods, but I was very glad to sell the last china tea set, and a few more bits of cutlery. Kind friends came to the rescue to help with urgent packing before I was driven mad, and we enjoyed a lovely dinner together at their house across the road.

I’m so lucky to have so many amazing friends here!(Thanks especially to Paola.)

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October Birthday Celebrations

October is almost a whole month of celebrating my birthday, but it got off to a very bad start when our train to King’s Cross was delayed by 3/4 hour, with a knock-on effect. To make matters worse, the Gatwick Express had no driver so we had to get off, and on the next train. We caught the flight to Olbia by the skin of our teeth. (Do teeth have skins?)

All much better once in sunny Sardinia with walks along deserted beaches and reading books on balcony. The drive into the interior was amazingly easy despite looming mountains and warnings about bandits. Nuoro is fascinating, but I can’t imagine why it’s such a large town. What do they all do for a living?

Celebrations will continue next week in Battaglia with a grand fancy dress feast for all my conversation group then the following week in London with all the family, sailing down the Thames to Greenwich.


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Vendemmia: harvesting the grapes

There’s a row of wheelbarrows and baskets waiting when we arrive at 8am, together with boxes of disposable gloves and secateurs. We march out past the Friularo grapes, which will be picked later, to the yellow moscato grapes hanging in … Continue reading

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