More and more I am appreciating the importance of ‘buongiorno’ (which becomes ‘buonasera’ after lunch). From the moment I set foot in the street, I share this greeting with others. And it feels like stepping into life. Continue reading Buongiorno
This is going to be a short blog, about an ordinary everyday encounter. One morning last week I went down to the pharmacy to buy some band aids. I’d cut my thumb the night before in an absent-minded moment. With great care, the pharmacist, in a white jacket, took me around to a seat behind the counter and asked me to put my thumb on a bed of cottonwool so that she could look it. When I was going on about how stupid I’d been, she said, with understanding, ‘it happens’. We laughed about the state of ‘being in a hurry’. Continue reading The Pharmacist in Anghiari
Santo Stefano, the day after Christmas day, is a big day for visiting presepi. If there is a lot in these blogs about presepi, it’s because they are a very important part of Christmas festivities here. This will be my last blog on presepi, I promise! But, I do find myself drawn to them.
Simona, from the tutto shop, arrives punctually at 9.40 to take us to Il Carmine for Christmas mass. In the car with her are her mother-in-law, and her daughter, Irene, who tells me that she is attending the music secondary school at the top of the old town of Anghiari. She is learning the flute, the piano, and also conducting, for the school has an orchestra.
There is still mist in the valleys but everyone hopes it will be a sunny day. Continue reading Christmas mass at Il Carmine
It is Vigilia, Christmas eve, and, in every shop and bar, people are exchanging ‘tanti auguri’. At the panificio, there is a plate of pastries on offer for customers waiting for the next batch of bread to come out of the oven, and for cakes to be wrapped. The butcher prepares a capon for me – a Christmas day speciality around here. The Christmas eve meal, on the other hand, is ‘di magro’, without meat, and with sweets consisting of dried fruit and nuts. For this meal, he has a vegetarian lasagna on offer. Continue reading Christmas in Anghiari
My Italian blogs tend to focus on meetings with other people. This makes sense given the wonder of communicating in another language. But, in fact, my daily routines here typically involve walking in these hills, the foothills of the Apennines. And so here is a blog on my first walk on this visit. Continue reading A walk in the Sovara valley
The piazza, like the bar, is ubiquitous in Italy. It is a space where people pause and meet, a punctuation in the logic of linearity. And, perhaps the most familiar sight associated with the piazza is that of a group (un piccolo drappello) of what is, usually, but not exclusively, men just standing around. The expression for this phenomenon is ‘stare in piedi’ – to be in a state of being on one’s feet. It is not simply the ‘stare’ (being in a state of …) that is resonant in this phrase, but the in piedi, which suggests something quite different from, for example, ‘andare a piedi’ which means walking, going by foot. The preposition makes the difference. Continue reading The piazza
Arriving in Anghiari, December 2016
It was a beautiful clear winter’s day yesterday, when I arrived in Italy. On the train from Rome to Arezzo, I thought again about the quality of this winter light, and how different it is from any light-and-landscape in Australia. I find it achingly beautiful, if perhaps melancholy: the hills with that mix of olive, cypress, and late autumnal deciduous tones in a low deep sunlight. I can’t take my eyes off it.
Arriving in Arezzo, I am thrown into a busy Saturday lunchtime, and the slightly chaotic practicalities of the Avis office and manoeuvring a car into Italian city traffic. But it is in the Avis office that I again encounter the sense of welcome that I experience here. Paolo, the Avis man, who lives in San Sepolcro, and who is said to have the eyes of Piero Della Francesca’s San Giuliano, always remembers me. He greets me warmly and, this time, gives me contacts in Anghiari. First, a cousin who is a butcher, and, I note, a woman. (I haven’t been to this butcher’s shop before because it is at some distance, at the bottom of the hill, in the Tiber valley, but I have heard that it is very good. There are at least three excellent butchers in this town of some 7,000 people.) Second, a friend, an artist who has a shop in the mediaeval part of town. This prompts a conversation about young people, and whether they stay or leave small towns around here. Stay, he says, insistently. This isn’t the common Italian pattern. I want to learn more about what happens in this place.
The final point of the long journey from Australia is the turn into Corso Matteotti, the street where I stay. This is the main Renaissance street of Anghiari, which becomes the straight road down the hill, across the Tiber valley, to San Sepolcro. Suddenly, there is a breathtaking view. And, on arrival, yesterday, the bells were ringing as I turned the corner. Late in the afternoon, the time when the town comes to life again, I headed out to do a food shop. This has become, over the years, my arrival ritual. But, the welcome I received this time was particularly pronounced, perhaps because I have returned after only a year. It did feel like a homecoming.
I went into three shops and, in each, I had a similar experience. It is interesting that this happens particularly when food shopping. The first shop that I went to is the unassuming ‘supermarket’ that I described in my first Anghiari blog last year. This time as I enter, the elderly couple who own the shop not only greet me with big smiles, but they come from behind the counter to hug me. I am shocked to hear that this is the last evening that they will be open. They are getting on, and their daughter doesn’t want to keep the shop going, so they are selling. Now I see that the shelves are empty. Nevertheless, there is still some local pecorino and prosciutto to be had, as well as their own delicious olive oil. They press upon me crostini with this oil, and offer me a coffee. I am again struck by their generosity. I am glad to have been able to see them again, even if sad to see the shop empty. Somehow you don’t expect things to change here: I had just assumed that shop would always be there!
Then, off to the butcher’s. Again, the husband and wife who own this shop immediately come around the counter to welcome me with hugs (note that here is another woman butcher). When their son enters a little later, he greets me warmly, but is more formal. I am definitely ‘signora’ to him, which I presume is a matter of respect for age. (This shop doesn’t seem to be in any danger of closing as the next generation is very much involved in the family business.) I learn that the date of the annual pork festival has been changed, and that this year there will be two pigs. I buy some of their homemade ravioli for dinner, taking instructions on how to reheat it, and am encouraged to return at 11 in the morning when they will have roasted quails. As it turns out, it’s not only quails, but duck, pigeon, chicken, pheasant. This is a Sunday ritual. Yes, I return.
And, my final destination is Letizia’s fruit and vegetable shop. It is interesting to note that I don’t even know the names of the people in the other shops, and yet there is a sense of warm connection. This is not unusual in Italy; knowing people’s names is not the priority it is in our culture. In the case of Letizia, we have established the use of the informal ‘you’ between us. She is always very happy to see me (and is also very encouraging of my Italian). This time she can’t stop hugging me. During my stays, I buy her vegetables on an almost daily basis, as people do here. The vegetables are local and extraordinarily fresh, boxes of purple artichokes, cavalo nero, spinach coming in every day. Food is so important in this culture. And, in all sorts of ways, it connects people. It connects me with this community.
Letizia advises me to buy only what I need for dinner, as I am clearly tired. Afterall, she will see me tomorrow.
If you type ‘Australia’ and ‘spider’ into Google, the first pages of results are dominated by accounts of danger. Australia has 2400 species of spider, but pest control companies and tourist guides only want to talk about ‘the ten most dangerous Australian spiders’. They show mugshots and profiles and advise people what to do if they’re bitten. Since I’ve been in Newtown, however, I have seen no spider more dangerous than a huntsman.
This arachnophobic culture has supported the spread of the factoid that, no matter where you are, you are never more than 3 feet from a spider. While this claim is too simplistic, it is truer than you might imagine. Spiders are among the most common terrestrial animal, found in all environments. In a review of spider ecology, AL Turnbull reported spider population densities as high as 842 spiders per square metre, for an English meadow. The average density in the 22 studies he reviewed was 130.8 spiders per square metre.
I do not know the density in my Newtown garden, but on any day I will see many spiders, and over a couple of weeks I will see many types of spider. I’ve seen leaf-curling spiders, long jawed spiders, tent spiders, jumping spiders, garden orbweavers, golden orbweavers, and many that I cannot identify. Some have bodies that are two centimetres across, some are so small I have trouble photographing them, and there must be many that I have not seen because of their size or inaccessible habitat.
In our area of Newtown, the basic house block is only about 5 metres across. Neighbouring yards are separated by high wooden fences, and the gardens, traditionally, have been small and rough. The local council warns against growing vegetables because of concern about lead and arsenic in the soil. And there is a large dog and cat population.
This might not seem a promising environment for frogs, but even before we put in our first fish pond, sixteen years ago, we had striped marsh frogs passing through our garden, sometimes even coming indoors. I don’t know where they came from or where they were going, but, since we built the ponds, many seem to have stayed.