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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Civic Vandalism

The way they run things in Italy is often infuriating. As I write I can hear chainsaws at work cutting down the beautiful umbrella pines on one of the main streets in Battaglia. Apparently some inhabitants have complained through social media about the roots coming up through the road surface, the nuisance of their needles, and the danger of weak branches falling with the weight of snow in winter. (This has never happened here.) It is a one way street so cars could easily avoid any bumps, which are at the sides of the road and generally covered by parked cars in any case.

Without consultation they are now cutting down all these fine old trees. Apparently if we wanted to do something about it we should have checked the Council minutes last year when the decision was made. It’s too late to object. The only consolation is that the trees will be replaced -they say- with lime trees.

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Another discovery in the hills

I thought, having lived in this part of Italy on and off for 8 years that I knew all the local interesting places, but this afternoon I discovered another. The Santuario at Monteortone, only about five miles away, is half hidden in the hills near Abano. It has a very tall campanile and a lovely former convent with Venetian Gothic windows, a cloister and frescoes.

We parked near the church and went in: a lovely cool building after 30 degrees outside. Then we followed the path to the convent next door and were rather surprised to hear a jazzed up version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons coming from inside. There was a wedding reception in the cloister, with lots of tables and people eating and drinking, children running about, and the head waiter wearing a captain’s cap which he changed for each course, next a red sequinned trilby and finally a top hat. We chatted to the guests for a while, then strolled into the gardens following a home made sign that said to the ‘ mostra presepe’.

Round the back of the convent, up some crumbling stone steps, was a strange sight. Six guinea pigs on a triangle of lawn were nibbling away against a miniature backdrop of mountains and chalets with tiny people and animals going about their lives. As we stopped to look more closely, an old man approached and started to explain that it represented life in the Dolomites. But there was more to come.

He produced a key and unlocked a door into the hillside. He let us into an air raid shelter used in the last war when the convent was turned into a military hospital. But this long tunnel was full of nativity scenes made by local people. They were all lit up, many with moving parts, and it was quite magical.

Italy never fails to surprise and delight!

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The Saving of a Crumbling Castle

On the fringes of my Italian village is the enormous Catajo castle which has almost sleeping beauty status, having been neglected for 100 years. It went up for auction recently but there were no takers, presumably because however cheap it was, the repair bill would be 10 times more.

And then along came the prince in the form of Sergio Cervellin, a multi-millionaire and the Italian equivalent of Sir James Dyson. He was driving past in his Rolls Royce and was struck by the castle, coming back later for another look. Reader, he bought it.

I went to meet him last week to talk about his plans to restore it and open many more of its 365 rooms to the public. The gardens have been cleared and fountains are working again, the inner courtyard has stone masons at work, and two blocks of toilets are being installed inside large raised boxes so that they don’t damage floors, walls or ceilings. He reckons that the full restoration will take 10 years, and it will surely attract masses of tourists with its important frescoes, only half an hour from Venice.

Mr Cervellin doesn’t intend to live there. When I asked why he bought it, he simply replied,” To return it to its former beauty.”

It is a wonderful act of philanthropy: in England he’d surely get a knighthood.

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Loreto and the Flying Holy House

The strange – ridiculous – story of Loreto intrigued me so much that I had to go to see it. The home of the Virgin Mary miraculously found its way to Loreto carried by angels, and landed in an olive grove. 200 years later a fantastically sculpted white marble cube was created to house the little building, and then over it the great architects of the following centuries -Bramante, Sansovino et al – vied with each other in the construction of a glorious domed basilica. Loreto was set to become an important pilgrim site.

We were there in time to witness one of the outdoor blessings in the Piazza della Madonna. First came a long procession of wheelchairs, each invalid carrying a bouquet. Then came all the nurses dressed in white, about 50 or 60 of them. Boy Scouts and girl guides preceded the bishop under a golden canopy.

With such a story of a flying house, there’s no wonder that Lindbergh took an image of the Madonna of Loreto with him when he flew across the Atlantic in 1927. She had become the patron saint of aviators.

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A Midsummer’s Night in Padua

A Shakespeare festival in Padua? Someone had the brilliant idea of imitating Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park and allowing anyone who wished to recite Shakespeare for 400 seconds to mark the 400th anniversary of his death.

I asked naively whether they had any speakers in Shakespeare’s native tongue. After a few minutes’ thought, the reply was,”We do now!”

Bill and I agreed to do a bit from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and the next problem was how to turn him into a donkey. The joke shop on Percy Street provided the answer, although I suspect that the enormous ears were really for bunny girls at a hen party.

The outdoor theatre at Palazzo Zuckermann was perfect, with bats zipping about, and spotlights highlighting ancient terracotta walls. The evening was great fun, with all sorts of speakers, some even attempting (heavily accented) English. There was a curious graveyard scene from Hamlet where Yorick’s skull was inexplicably represented by a pair of white baby shoes. Othello sounded as if he might have spent a few months in London’s east end. But of course the piece de resistance was Bottom and Titania’s scene. We were commended by the director as the best act, and posted on Facebook.

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Quintessential England

This weekend, staying with friends in a tiny village in Swaledale, Yorkshire, we drove to Easby, a hidden corner near Richmond where there is a large ruined abbey ( courtesy of course of Henry VIII) and the little church of St Agnes.

In the best tradition of English culture and concern for those in need, this little church had opened its doors for a day of baroque music (viola da gamba and lute) with refreshments provided by the parish -home made cakes and scones, and tea. This ancient church has frescoes ( though not strictly speaking, as they were painted on dry, not wet, plaster) which amazingly predate Giotto. They are not as colourful as Giotto’s, but certainly portray the stories and emotions of participants in Christ’s life very movingly. The musicians, Pellingman’s Saraband, played beautifully, telling us that the occasion was informal. We could eat and drink, come and go, knit, read the Sunday papers, and enjoy the music.

Nobody instructed us to put money in the buckets by the door in aid of Macmillan’s Cancer Charity, but of course we all did. I imagine the day must have raised hundreds of pounds for a very worthy cause. Well done, everybody.

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The Genius of Fortuny

I knew Fortuny was a talented man: an inventor, artist, photographer, designer…but I didn’t realise until this week that he was a genius.

We had an appointment to see the Fortuny showrooms and private gardens on Giudecca in Venice. When we rang the bell, the door clicked and we stepped into an art nouveau world of shimmering material and floor-to-ceiling bolts of cloth. Beyond was an enclosed garden, the workshop walls covered with jasmine and an avenue of box hedges led to the private pool with views of the amazing architecture of the Stucky, a former gigantic flour mill and now the Hilton Hotel.

I love the fact that the machinery for weaving and printing Fortuny’s sumptuous fabrics is secret, only known to a dozen or so people. He used designs from Morocco, Portugal, Egypt and created patterns based on geographical features like islands. One design was copied from the Gesuiti Church in Venice, so that’s where we went next, to see what inspired him.

The interior of the baroque Jesuiti Church is a sea of blue and white designs, on the walls, the pillars, the pulpit, and the altar steps. At first glance it looks like painted marble, (or even expensive wallpaper!) but on closer inspection you can see that it’s all made from millions of tiny tesserae, even imitating folds of material draped round the pulpit, or a folded carpet on the floor.

This will become yet another article for Italy Magazine. Venice never fails to delight and surprise!

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