ARRIVEDERCI SUMMER 2016

September 3, 2016

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It is always in my last few days at I Cinghiali that I wake naturally around 5am to witness, through windows flung wide open, the exquisite dawn – first just a pale light then a ribbon of orange or pink lightly kissing the mountain tops across my valley as the late summer sun begins to light up the sky.

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But before then I get up in the middle of the night to stand on the tiny balcony off the hallway to witness a sky full of shining stars reminiscent of the suburban Melbourne of my childhood. Sadly pollution now obscures this vision in cities but here it is magnificent and a reminder to me at least, that life comes in all forms and happiness is a constant choice.

My days here are simple and easy. Summer is a pair of flip-flops (my Aussie heritage still calls them thongs but not everyone understands that!), shorts or a floaty dress and rarely any make-up other than a smudge of lipstick when I go out. It’s completely different to my more sophisticated London life and I love it just as much.

Food comes from my garden or a local market and is fresh, fragrant and probably the best on the planet. Certainly the tastes are like no other and the age of the people in my valley and elsewhere in Italy are testament to the quality of the produce. Wine is plentiful and cheap. I can buy the best Sangiovese from further south for around €2 a litre and good bottles are only a few Euros more. It has taken me years to find a good prosecco but now that I have there is always one in my fridge – for lunch or for no reason at all.

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It’s been a wonderful and full summer with lots of guests, some here for the second, third or fourth time and some whom I had renewed pleasure in introducing my Garfagnana to for the first time.

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Back in our 20’s I lived in Astwood Mews SW7 with my sister and a few girlfriends and much jolity was had in early July when Hilma, Geraldine and Lynne came for a week before three of us headed south to visit Umbria and southern Tuscany.

After my 10 days working at a Tony Robbins event in Spain I was joined by my dear friend Connie from LA via the Netherlands, and Cynthia from LA for some lovely and relaxed times; also with Craigh who had stayed with his partner Tim in the barn for a fortnight and then remained because he too has fallen in love with the Garfagnana.

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My dear friend Linda then arrived and we had a wonderful time as we always do, visiting the Versillian Coast on market day at Forte dei Marmi and the local market at Castlenovo between languid days by the pool and lovely siestas.

Two London friends Corin and Laila arrived for their first visit and we had such a week of laghter and fun together – seamlessly sharing meal preparation and pouring of the gin and tonics at sundown.  Together we had a marvellous day on the Italian Riviera and an exquisite lunch at Boca di Magra at my friend Mario’s wonderful restaurant set on the bank of the Magra river and surrounded by wonderful statues chosen by Wendy, his Sydney-born wife. And we spent much time relaxing, reading and chatting beside my wonderful pool.

Such fun did we have with the shopping that resulted in a FB competition amongst our friends to ascertain who bought what.  All those black dresses and 10 pairs of shoes and they were totally confused! Only one suggested which purchases were mine and it was a girl I’ve never met!!

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And there were wonderful occasions with my local friends, as always. Dinners in a winery, dancing in the village square, food fests at la casa mia, the annual street dinner party in my village. And one more somber occasion.

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Two weeks ago some beautiful villages in Le Marche and Lazio, far south of me, crumbled under the weight of a massive earthquake, just as my old village did on the morning of 7 September 1920 when many lives were lost also. So tonight there is a village dinner to support the earthquake relief fund and I shall be there with an envelope full of contributions from some wonderful friends around the world who have enjoyed time at I Cinghiali and who admire and respect the resiliance and spirit of the Italian village people throughout this wonderful country.

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On Monday I shall depart. I have suspended my car insurance, given two jolly good bottles of red to Claudio who looks after my car wonderfully and packed away some precious things downstairs. I never know when I will be back. In bygone days on my final morning I would stand at the kitchen window, the Venetian coronation playing in the sitting room, and weep silent tears of joy and sadness. Now they are just joy for I am no longer a 24 hour flight away.

For 28 years I have loved everything about my simple life at I Cinghiali. And now it is time again to ramp it up and rejoin the other world I love in London. Arrivederci la bella Italia…mi piace tanto, per sempre.

Ci vediamo presto. E io grido il lunedi.

Until next time

Buzz

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My valley with my villa high on the hill below the church tower.

BREAD AND SUNSHINE IN THE TUSCAN HILLS

August 15, 2016

A week ago late last Friday night I returned to my hills with a vow that never would I leave them again in the summer to go anywhere else.

When you have perfection somewhere in your life it is absolute folly to seek elsewhere for everywhere will be less than. A disappointment, a failure, a travesty.

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But I had committed to my sister and another friend from Sydney to travel for a few days in southern Tuscany and Umbria so we set out on the appointed date for Todi, a walled city in the province of Perugia. I’d been before; a number of times years ago when we used it as a stop-off to Rome airport. Then it was lively and interesting. Now it was full of shops covered in ‘affitarsi’ signs – empty and waiting, probably in vain for a new tenant. Our apartment – when we found it – had all aspects of loveliness but on further inspection, not quite. The wi-fi did not work, there was no fan in the bedroom, there were only 2 chairs for the three of us and it was a long way all uphill to town. Nevertheless a wonderful lunch awaited us in the restaurant opposite and we vowed not to complain – me especially. I just wanted to be in my paradiso.

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We explored lots of small towns in the area over the next few days, loving Spello and Spoletto where our visit corresponded with the last night of their annual cultural festival so our time was well spent observing the glam (and no so) of the local glitterati as they wobbled off on their high heels down the cobblestones (well the women anyway) to the final concert.

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Arezzo was our final stop and it too was lovely if not stifflingly hot but we had a pool which, once we had read the myriad instructions necessary before entering, was indeed lovely and refreshing.

An early start on our final day to deposit me at Pisa airport where I took a plane to London to change and fly off to the opening night of Graeme Murphy’s rendition of Swan Lake with  the Australian Ballet. It was utterly brilliant: the best I’d ever seen, poignant and emotionally draining and typical Murphy.

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Hugo’s Graduation with a First Class Honours Degree followed the next day and it was a wonderful celebration for his father and I and some of his friends. Afterwards we sipped champagne in the magnificent gardens of Regent’s University London before cocktails at Simpsons in the Strand and a gorgeous dinner at Rules in Covent Garden. Later we all went separate ways and I was happy to be heading to my lovely flat in South Kensington, alone, single and fancy free and proud both of my son’s achievements and my courage to leave a difficult marriage almost a decade ago.

Some frenetic days later I found myself surrounded by oranges and oleanders in sunny, arid Valencia and on my way to the Melia resort in Benidorm to support a 9-day Life and Wealth Mastery event of some 200 participants from around the globe.

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Always fun. Dancing. Singing. Coaching. Laughter. Listening. And at the end of the day some fun meals in the best restaurants in town after fighting our way through ‘the great unwashed’ – hundreds of sometimes drunk and always noisy tourists in town. Not my idea of a holiday. Ever.

Back to my peace and tranquility with Connie and to a meal in my barn lovingly prepared by Craigh on his second visit to my piece of heaven. And fresh figs from my laden tree.

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To sleep in my own bed and wake up to the pink ribbon of dawn over my hills and the chirping of the swallows darting outside my window was indeed heaven. And I firmed my resolve never again to leave in the summer to go anywhere but the markets or the odd restaurant because I even prefer to eat at home –  the simple fare from the best quality produce available in this magnificent country.

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A week later and joined by Cynthia we have (separately and individually) acquired some 13 pairs of shoes from my friend Roberta in Castlenuovo, enjoyed several market days, shared drinks on my terrace for the barn guests, entertained friends for a wonderful dinner, spent many hours poolside, read a book or two and enjoyed a wonderful lunch at my favourite La Baita, high in the hills and run by 3 generations now for 43 years.

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Today is is stormy and I am very happy for my growing veggie garden. Later I will go and inspect and smell the powerful fragrance of my herbs hiding amongst the aubergines and zucchini, capsicums and artichokes, beetroot, carrots, lettuces and radicchio.

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Right now the church bells are telling me it’s noon. Down the valley they will ring in a few minutes from one town, and a few minutes later from another – a reminder that even in these magical hills nothing is perfect.

Until next time

Buzz.

SWAPING BREXIT RAVAGED LONDON FOR TUSCAN TRANQUILITY

July 2, 2016

My summer exit date was planned to follow the AGM of the Australian Women’s Club London where I completed Year 1 of a two year term but in fact it couldn’t have come at a better time after the devasting result of the Brexit/Remain referendum two days earlier.

Growing up in a politically aware and active household, a couple of years as PA to the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party in Australia and having worked on a great number of election campaigns with results I either did or did not like but learned to live with, I thought I was immune to results. But on my first time as a UK voter, this proved not to be the case.

I woke at 3am to check an early result – not happy that the Remain voters were only a million more than the Leave. By 6am I had to literally prise my eyes open and with utter dismay and disbelief  learned that my age group throughout the country but not London or Scotland or Gibralta had voted their kids and grandkids out of living and working in 27 countries. With my son’s Indefinite Leave to Remain Visa Application to complete the following day in the expectation that he too would have this opportunity, I was beyond gutted.

Two days later I left soggy, unsure and somewhat angry London to head for the hills – my hills – reclaiming the space where 28 years and 5 days earlier I had stood on the crumbling terrace and said ‘if you can’t catch a dream once in a lifetime then why are we here?’

Arriving at Pisa airport I produced my Australian passport to get in; something I have never done before – in the hope of retaining some dignity amongst the Italians, some of whom had already emailed me of ‘il catastrofo’.

Our bags were the first off the carousel and we grabbed them and ran for a taxi, having only 13 minutes to get to the station and leap on the train home. Sadly the self propelled train is still not working …. perhaps another 2 years. Perhaps more. This is Italy. To love it one has to love all of it. Or maybe not?

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The train journey up the valley between the Apennines and the Apuan Alps that contain enough marble for millenia of Middle Eastern bathrooms and hotel lobbies is wonderful. The energy of the lush green and beautiful Garfagnana beckons me again as it did all those years ago, and indeed every year especially the last three after every ‘sodding stone’ of I Cinghiali finally became mine.

My dear friend Toty was at the station with my car and an invitation to his house where his wife Caterina had prepared a refreshing drink which I’d taught her to make last year and then up the hill to home sweet home.

Arriving at the barn I looked out of the window and in my mind’s eye I saw the two pictures, one just 2 years ago, and the other, beckoning to me for a long hot summer: I was in paradiso and brexit had already assumed a lower case b.

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Later that evening standing on my terrace, no longer crumbling, with glass in hand, a visitor in my own home, guest of His Excellency the Australian High Commissioner to the UK and his wife who were enjoying two weeks in the villa with their family having their own Tuscan dream. A wonderful dinner ensued as we watched the magical sky over the 10th Century Fortress on the hill opposite enchanted by the appearance of some fireflies and I felt utterly blessed that I had a couple of months of the simple life to look forward to.

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Six days later my first guest has gone and I have moved into the villa awaiting the arrival of my sister and two friends this evening: friends who lived together in a mews house, a stone’s throw from my London flat, when we were all in our early 20’s. It is utterly peaceful, the whipper-snippers or whatever the English call them having been put down in favour of a Saturday afternoon siesta, but I guess that will not last when the four of us get together.

It has been a lovely 6 days with my friend Kerry staying and to see again friends I have made over the years. I feel privileged to have this place and I love sharing it and its charming village life with friends who come to visit. We enjoyed the local market and drinks with friends on Tuesday followed by a late afternoon drive to lovely Barga with its 17th century church of St Christopher perched on the top of the hill in all its marbled glory. And gelati.

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Wednesday we drove to Lucca…still and always a favourite with its 76 churches and its fabulous Roman amphitheatre. Lunching at a favourite, we struck up a conversation with two Melbourne guys who had just purchased an apartment in a town near mine, home to great friends and a strong artistic community and I immediately invited them to lunch and a swim when they return from the south and Venezia.

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Thursday took us to Castelnuovo, the principal town of the region and its weekly market. Off to my bank where I learned my account had been frozen – (Brexit already I wondered) but no, only some security issue which required 5 unintelligible pages of printing, in duplicate, to be signed in a dozen places. I love this town and hope the scaffolding on its ancient tower will not take as long as the driverless train from Pisa airport. There was Nadia to visit for shoes (not me this time) and the elegant Sandra for her upmarket dress shop (ditto) and then off on a half hour drive through the hills towards the Versillian Coast for an extraordinary lunch at Ceragetta …  about 25 taste sensations including 3 different dishes of pasta, 3 types of meat, an inordinate number of antipasti and numerous other things that, with wine, coffee, water and desserts came to 20 Euros per head. Exhausted we went home to sleep and I to swim.IMG_5165

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Friday, Kerry’s last day we entertained my diplomatic friends from the villa and two wonderful artist friends, Shona and Michael, Australians I met 13 years ago when I organised a 3 day Festa around Lucca for the 80th birthday of the matriarch of one of Australia’s First Families. Shona mainly works in bronze, Michael in marble and they both paint.  We had a wonderful afternoon of great food and conversation learning of the spring under Australia House in London and other very interesting bits of its history, and inevitably on the eve of an Australian election, politics that seem a million miles away from the tranquility of these hills.

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xx

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Finally time for a last look out my window and my last night in the barn – 0h now I love that place! And now, another adventure awaits as I pop down to the station at 9.03pm tonight but not before the siesta that has become an absolute must each afternoon.

Until next time

Buzz

www.TuscanVillaRental.com

 

A WINTRY WEEK IN TUSCANY

February 10, 2016

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I’d forgotten just how enticing my huge fireplace, roaring with logs from trees that once stood on my ground, is on a cold winter’s day. Or how wonderful it was to know there was a pot of soup on the stove waiting for me to be hungry. And to add to it a slice or two of that foccacia from Piazza al Serchio that seems to stay fresh for a week and a dollop of extra virgin oil. Not to mention the dozens of bottles of red cooling their heels in my cellar which need to be warmed up by the fire before you can pop some into your glass. And I’d forgotten just how good Italian coffee is.

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I’d forgotten too how the mist swirls around sometimes hiding the fortress on the next hill completely and at other times so close to the windows I can’t see anything. I was hoping for snow but not too much and that is just what happened on my third night in residence last week….a sprinkling of crunchy white stuff on the ground and covering the windscreen of my car the next morning. It makes everything looks magical and mysterious and I was sorry I had only asked for a little. I wanted more. I wanted the place to be covered as it was a couple of years ago when my neighbour Anna sent me this picture below.

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We arrived on Monday after a slight delay at Heathrow, then into a hire car and off to Lucca for a late lunch, or at least a glass of red and a walk around my favourite Italian city. Always elegant, somehow in winter it seems more so; maybe for lack of tourists, and I like it even better if that is possible. The sun was out and the blue sky between the trees in the Piazza Napoleone where we sat was just lovely.

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My local town market the following morning was minimal as it always is in winter time but the bar was busy and we caught up with good friends for a white wine and a nice overdue chat. At home we bedded the rhizomes for the ginger lilies whose fragrance I hope will fill the air in the summer, made a big log fire, poured a red and enjoyed one of my favourite films, Bread and Tulips.

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On Wednesday we drove up the valley, in the mist and a little rain, around some of the lovely villages north of my villa, stopping at Pieve San Lorenzo to photograph the church which has the most exquisite bells, and for Linda to purchase her very own Bialetti coffee machine in a local shop. Playing around the shores of the lake at Gramolazzo and pretending to fall off the little jetty into the icy cold, we were stunned at the beautiful colour of the water: the greenest we had ever seen…full of minerals and delicious to taste. Lunch was a sensation: no written menu but exquisite home-made pasta and local wine and coffee and a bill of €27 crossed out to €25 for the two of us.

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Castlenuovo di Garfagnana, the major town of the area, hosts a Thursday morning market and it is something I go to rain, hail or shine. It’s a tribal affair: men standing and chatting politics, sport and probably women, and women ferreting in the stalls for something for their kitchens or their backs. We did both, then met up with a new friend over a couple of Hugo’s…my normal Thursday noon drink after the market.

Up through the hills on the way to the coast we went to an amazing restaurant, Ceragetta, for lunch. It looks out over the mountains and was humming with activity; almost every table was full when we arrived and we were lucky to get a nice spot for two in the corner. I love this place and the people who own it. We were offered 10 antipasti, 3 different pastas, 3 main courses with salad and chips, a bottle of wine, some sweet wine with dessert and coffee for the amazing cost of €23 each.

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On the way home we stopped to walk around the lake at Pontecosi and take pictures of the two bridges – one ancient, one new, at the far end of the lake. A group of young people headed for the tiny old bridge with their guitars for a photo shoot as we watched and the ducks swam by.

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Friday and Saturday were spent in Florence – away from the madding crowds of the summer and oh! so much nicer. Whilst we had booked for the Uffizi and the Academia, we didn’t really need to as there were no queues and there was only one other person when we visited the beautiful Brancacci chapel in Oltrano over the Arno. We loved the David, the amazing paintings now over 600 years old in the Uffizi and the modernised food market near San Lorenzo. It was wonderful to see all buildings of the Duomo without scaffolding: something I don’t think I have ever seen before, and it was marvellous to walk down the wonderful roads and alleyways and not be cheek by jowl with a bunch of foreign tourists. Such is the pleasure of visiting in winter!

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We ate a beautiful dinner with an exquisite bottle of Sangiovese at another of my favourites, La Fonticine and we stayed in my 3 star find: the clean, with a nice breakfast, 5 minutes off the motorway, 5 minutes from the Duomo, Hotel Palazzo Vecchio at only €66 a double, plus €19 parking. Amazing in this day and age. But this is Italy and its winter.

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We meandered home via Ikea for some cushion covers for my new sofas in the barn and some candles for the candelabra, thinking we were going to a dinner party. Sadly the hostess was ill so we lit a roaring fire, opened a bottle of red and had a much earlier dinner which was probably just as nice after our busy tourist time in beautiful Florence.

On our last full day we went down the valley to Il Pozzo, a wonderful member of the Slow Food family of restaurants in Italy and again feasted with more food that is respectable and beautiful wine and paid poco….or little! On the way out past the local soccer field we shuddered at the muddy quagmire and the soaked players in their red and green hopefully enjoying their Sunday afternoon game despite the rain.

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And so to our last night. My last night in my bed. My own bed. My house. My home. My Italian dream. I could stare out the window any season for hours on end at the changing weather and vista and feel overjoyed. I have, as have others before and after me. And taken countless pictures of that view. I used to stand at the kitchen window every time I left to weep, if just for a moment. But I don’t do that now. I live in London so its a few hours, not 24 and I can come back whenever I want. How that pleases me!

I hadn’t been in winter since 2001 and I wondered how I would feel about it. It’s fabulous. Wonderful, any time of the year. And I think the heartiness of the food makes winter even more special. The house was warm as toast, the fire roared, the rebollito on the stove was warming to the cockles of your heart and the cold cellar was full of wine just waiting to be opened, warmed a little and drunk in an armchair by the fire.

Until next time: Primavera and planting the veggie garden! And if you’d like to spend some time here in the coming summer please let me know now.

Ciao, Buzz

BUON NATALE A TE

December 23, 2015

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As I sit here in my London flat after the shortest day and gaze out at the intense blue skies I wonder if this is really Christmas.

But I know it must be: my tree is decorated, gifts awaiting wrapping are stacked on my dining room table and the fridge is already groaning.

In Australia my friends and family are suffering from temperatures in the 40’s and for me, lovely London is amazingly warm around 15.

The world is a crazy place and I have had a crazy year – joyful, full, exciting and utterly peaceful over my summer in Tuscany.

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I will be delving into La Toscana for a bit of winter in February and I may just send you a missive from a very different kind of place than you got used to in the summer months.

Thank you for being my faithful audience during the year and I wish you and your loved ones the best of a Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, prosperous and fun 2016.

Tanti auguri e buon anno.

Buzz

buzz villa snow             buzz village snow

 

GUNS AND MONEY:: AUTUMN IN MY HILLS

October 6, 2015

I wrote this description of my Tuscany in autumn three years ago today….and thought I would repost with a few photos. Nothing much has changed…

‘My bikini-clad body had not yet left the most private terrace of my villa when the sound of guns started. Have they no respect for a body catching the last rays of what has been an absolutely beautiful summer? But no, the Italians have been intent on stocking up on their military fatigues (or replicas thereof) in the local village street markets to head into the hills for their all time favourite activity, hunting!

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Every year there are reports of dead hunters in spite of the half-hearted attempts to get them to wear orange baseball caps so they may at least be partially visible in the thickly wooded forests which hide the wild boar that are their prey in this season, now that Licenses have been issued for their demise. But I guess they think it is part of the game, which involves very nasty looking dogs which are heard howling in the wee small hours of the morning and late at night, disrupting the otherwise tranquil nature of life in the hills.

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Normally the only sounds one hears are the church bells and the farm machinery. Now there are also the sounds of chain saws as the seasons change and their unbelievably neat piles of firewood for the winter take shape. Not a log out of place; all cut to the same length and stacked as if there is a prize for the best. It is part of their bella figura mentality I think: everything has to look good, even if it’s not. It’s why they polish their brass doorknobs daily and sweep the front steps: it’s why the girls buy a new pair of jeans every three months and it is why there are no second hand clothing stores around. But I lie. I have seen two in recent years. One recycled clothing store in a tiny town called Montefegatesi, where the inhabitants went to New York after the war. No doubt they brought the custom back. And last year I discovered a very up-market shop in Sarzana where the offerings were mink coats and designer evening dresses!

So autunno is here. The heat of summer is over, but not entirely. There is plenty of time to sit on the terrace and read and work on the tan just a little bit. But the evenings are getting cool and the activities in the hills are changing.

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One of the things I so love about being here is the seasonality of life in rural Tuscany. I think, in Australia, we have lost the ability to live in the seasons. We want mangoes all the year, we want strawberries and pineapples and summer stuff in winter….even when it tastes like cardboard because it is out of season. Here you live in the season you are in. If its summer you eat the delicious stone fruit freshly off the trees without its stick-on label and you are happy to eat apples that are not perfect looking but are also not coated with wax and have not lived for months ripening in a cool store. You eat out of the next field or the next village.

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So now there are different offerings in the shops and we see huge pumpkins lying among cracked leaves in veggie gardens up and down the valley. The last of the zucchini flowers are coming off the vines, and the zucchini are left for sale, flowerless in the markets and shops. And my staple diet has changed from summer salads to heart warming thick vegetable soups and my home-made bread.

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My neighbour Vittorio, who was one of the 17 owners of my property (and that’s another story!) has the largest veggie garden around. Around 70, he is out there beavering away morning, noon and night and I am constantly in awe of the variety and quality of beautiful produce that sometimes comes my way via a wooden box kindly left on my doorstep. Vittorio also owns the local cows. Like all Italian cows, they used to live in his barn but over the years he saw such comings and goings of visitors to my villa that he turned his cows out to pasture at the top of the village and turned his cowshed into an agritourismo, attracting guests for a few days at a time. I don’t think it’s been hugely lucrative, but he is the “capo” of the village, with the local store, his veggie garden and the license to sell bottled gas for our stoves, so methinks he lives a pretty good life!

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One of the great hazards to the hunters is the porcini gatherer. These people, of whom my neighbour and dear friend Anna is very much one, turn into secretive, mysterious, tight-lipped avoidance freaks when the weather is right. A heavy downpour or two followed by some good strong sunshine and they are out; specially designed wicker baskets on their backs and a sharp knife, they head for the hills, avoiding conversation, avoiding others and either trying to hide their car or parking some distance from where they have been watching for signs of fungi life for some days. They know the hills backwards, and they are fiercely secretive. What is theirs is theirs! Their secretiveness however provides in itself a great hazard: what with them and the hunters in the hills, they have to be incredibly vigilant or else they will end up, not with a wicker basket of prized porcini, but inside a salami of wild boar and local herbs.

The only other non-Italian in my vicinity is a girl from the UK with a Jamaican mother and a father who hailed from this area or vice versa who has one of the very few cottages left in the old village that preceded mine, which was razed to the ground by an earthquake in 1920. Her warnings to me about the dangers of the porcini have fallen on deaf ears. She reckons they are susceptible to the fallout from Chernobyl but I don’t think so. When I question Anna, my expert foodie, she says well it would also affect our apples and pears, our lettuces, tomatoes and zucchini and everything else we grow. And I agree, reminding her of the death of our neighbour last year on her way to 107 good long healthy years.

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I’ve hosted my 10 day Women of Wisdom event which was a huge success and then spent some time in two lovely local towns Montecarlo (for wine) and Montecatini (for the spa), then to Parma and Fidenza arriving just as the first shop we saw full of beautiful clothes was closing when my friend remarked “if they’d known we were coming, the shops would have stayed open”. It is STILL annoying that shops shut for several hours at lunchtime, and mostly all of them do.

No wonder the Italian economy is in such a diabolical situation. My bank, the Monte dei Paschi di Siena, supposedly the oldest bank in the world, recently needed to be propped up to the tune of $1 billion. Press reports laughed at the smallness of the amount, how trivial they said, and how ridiculous when in fact the deficit was due to the enormous amount of money that the Monte dei Paschi had lent the government! Robbing Peter to pay Paul methinks! The Italians have a pathological hatred of the banking system. In all the years I have been here (now 25) I cannot get a cheque book that contains more than 12 cheques! They don’t exist. Furthermore, when I used to pay my manager with cheques, it would cost her about 40 Euros a cheque to go into her account. Now, I do what most Italians do, pay with cash. And so add to the economic woes of the country.

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When Italy changed over to Euros on 1 January 2002 there were fears that all the Lire in trunks under beds and in garden sheds would hit the banks and they would not have enough Euros to pay for them. But I think they eked them out, bunch after bunch of crumpled old notes, not wanting too many questions to be asked. Even today they grumble when you want more than a couple of thousand Euros from the bank and I have been told not to pay people in cash. Sorry, Mr Bank, none of your business! And in my local supermarket, they have a machine that puts even a 10 euro note through it to make sure it is legal tender before they accept it to pay for your groceries.
Their debt situation is critical and probably a no-win. The bodies that are trying to fix the problem suggest they go after all the high flying industrialists and tax them properly. These guys are mega billionaires who have enormous yachts, properties all over Europe and the ability to hide their money just as well as some notable Australians who paid or pay little tax. I think they should tax the Church: the wealthiest landholders in the country, and receiving the most benefit from the taxpayers and contributing little. Some would say nothing. I am not so unkind as to agree but I similarly do not endorse the greed and fear of the churches that is endemic in this country. But that is for another time.

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Meanwhile, I sit in the sun in my new office in the villa and write, and sit in what’s left of the sun in my new outdoor furniture and read. Now that I have claimed this place as my official residence (and finally been given resident status again) I have done a huge cleanup in the villa, the shed, the stables, the cantina…you name it. Stuff that has not seen the light of day for a long time has been removed to the little roadside deposit where the Comune collects it once a fortnight, and dust that has accumulated for a decade has been swept away. I have a list of jobs for next season including new barbecues and new gardens and I have ordered two beautiful sofas for the sitting room in the villa. Having tidied up everything I can, I am preparing to leave this haven for the winter.

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But not before the vendemmia; the annual grape harvesting, which happens this weekend at the vineyard of Toty, my yard man who makes delicious wine. This is a first for me and I understand that the men are the pickers of the grapes and the women are in charge of the food and wine. So it all sounds good and I shall report on it next time.
Until next time, with heart

Buzz

www.TuscanVillaRental.com

ARRIVEDERCI MAGNIFICENT GARFAGNANA

September 2, 2015

Every last morning here I have stood at the kitchen window, played the first couple of tracks of Venetian Coronation – magnificent and haunting bells, and silently wept.

For most of the last 27 years that last morning preempted a 24 hour flight to winter in Australia and signaled a gap of probably 11 months until I returned to this magnificent place.

Now I am but a short flight away and a journey down a valley I have grown to know and love and I am no longer a replica of the Weeping Madonna one sees frequently around this valley.

Now I stand at that window and give blessings to the land, to the mountains upon which I gaze, to the men and women who fought to keep this place safe and sound and who sacrificed so much and to my neighbours and friends who are so welcoming and gracious even though they have oft asked why would I choose to walk down someone else’s ancestral roads.

I know that answer and yet every time I am here I am amazed that I am here; that it is mine and that it was a dream since I was 22 years old. When I am lying by the pool I look up at the huge building that is my villa, my barn, my stables, my outhouses and my sheds and I say, sometimes aloud, I own every sodding stone in this building, and it is so only with considerable blood, sweat, tears and years.

But now, as I look at my indescribable view of the ancient fortress on the next hill and too many to count small villages scattered down the valley, I am immensely grateful.

I shall miss the sounds of silence; utter silence that is full of grace and beauty. I shall miss the church bells ringing at 6.58 and 7.02 but never at 7am, and I love it even more for its imperfections. I shall miss the summer haze, the brilliant blue skies, the purple mountains, the thin ribbon of pink over the dawn mountains and the wonderful displays of thunder and lightening that inevitably accompany every summer.

I shall miss the markets and the bars, the €1.50 prosecco and the €1 vino; my baker’s fresh foccacia and the ripe tomatoes on the market stall. I shall miss the Gorgonzola, the prosciutto,  the wild boar salami, the odd sightings of said wild boar, deer, the odd mink or badger, sometimes even a grass snake or a tiny scorpion, the baby foxes playing in the road at night, the skinks running around my dry stone walls, my wisteria, my orchard and my vegetable garden. I shall miss the smell of the country and the fresh air and the incredible taste of the water which spurts forth from the mountain side.

And I shall miss the views: the villages, the sunrise and the sunset and my ability to be perfectly happy here doing nothing, on my own, seeing and talking to no one sometimes for days on end. I shall miss not living in my own home, but I think I am getting used to that now.

Just as I want to engage you in the beauty of this place, I want to have these special pictures to remind me of this home and give me solace in the long London winter.

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2015-08-13 08.44.51 blue moon

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buzz in pool  boars

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5 via del cerreto  caprignana entrance

I have said goodbye to friends and neighbours, had my final dinner party, eaten the one aubergine that appeared in my veggie garden this year and farewelled my Olive tree: named for my mother Olive and planted on what would have been her 90th birthday. I have not yet told you that story – but I shall.  And when I return there will be 18 more olive trees planted…. at each end of my pool, with their lovely silvery sage green grey leaves to shimmer in the sun.

There are of course, thousands more wonderful buildings and scenes and food and architectural pieces of beauty that I could show you but not yet.  there is plenty of time to give you more of the beauty of the area of Tuscany I am privileged to call home.

Until then, arrivederci Italy….and to my readers, mille grazie for your enjoyment of my summer blogs and the many emails I have received…and I will be posting occasionally from London. If you’d like more pix, please check out my website www.ItalianExperience.com.au. And if you want to visit and become padrone of this wonderful piece of Tuscany for a week or longer, you know where to find me.

A presto

Buzz.

And one final look up the valley: my villa is the big building under the whitish church tower at the very top of the picture. You can see the outline of the 10th century fort on the hill in front of it. And the village in view is San Romano, my Comune – where I pay my taxes, get my Carta d’Identita and have been known to pay a bribe. Ah this is indeed la bella Italia!

the view to my house

 

FOOD

September 1, 2015

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All from my garden: figs, medlar, apples, grapes

I am writing this on my last morning in this Paradiso. By the time you get it in your email boxes I will be waking for my last morn, and off to the stazione for the brand new train that traverses my valley for an 8.24 departure for Pisa airport.

But I have promised two more….and they will be mainly pictorial if you don’t mind, for I have a thousand things to do to pack up my villa for the winter.

So, food. One of the things one comes here for. One of the things that keeps the villagers busy in spring and summer, planting and tending and harvesting, and that keep them alive for long and healthy lives: fresh, home grown, delicious food.

In recent years I have tended my own orto and even this morning, my freshly made juice had three components I have grown this summer: carrots, beetroot and gorgeous little green apples, just going red as I leave.

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Beetroot and pears from my garden

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Plums and Zucchini from my garden

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Luscious tomatoes and a little snack on arrival in April

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Two of my locals: Il Vecchio Mulino at Castlenuovo and Marovelli Cheese factory in Vibbiana

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At my table

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At my table

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Delicious local cheese with Garfagnana honey and rabbit with olives at La Baita, Corfino

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Men do meat:  My local village dinner, and my neighbour Carlo preparing a baby pig for my stone oven

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Nando serving the pig and men preparing a local village meal

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All this lot for €22 and the simplicity of shopping by bike

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My attempts at bread making

And now…..yes, there could be far more….the food is indescribably good and there is so much more I could tempt you with. Anyone who has been here knows that. If you haven’t yet been here, you can come. My villa which sleeps 10 is available for rental year round. The barn which sleeps 4 is available during the summer months. If you haven’t you must. There are no ‘shoulds’ in life.

Until tomorrow….the village market and the sun call me….the packing can be done at mezzonotte.

Ciao amici

Buzz

 

 

 

 

 

TO MARKET, TO MARKET

August 31, 2015

One of the absolute joys of simple country life in this beautiful part of Tuscany is the markets that bring towns alive and humming one morning every week.

Whether you want a new insert for your Bialetti coffee maker, a giant saucepan for pasta or a vast selection of knives all of which you can buy at the amazing hardware shop on wheels; whether you want the runniest most delicious Gorgonzola cheese, a rotisserie chicken, a warm vest for the winter, a new pair of jeans, the latest fashion in shorts or any vegetable that is currently in season, you can get it anywhere round the valley on market day.market

My Hugo has always wanted me to look like the Italian stay-at-home-ladies who wear these to do their housework….but so far so good. They have remained in the stalls but are clearly a good buy for €15.

I love the hardware stall….it has thousands of things on it and they take an absolute age to set up and pack up each day, and yet they, like many of the others go from village to village, town to town, taking maybe Sunday and Monday off.

market stall kitchen gear

Whether you want a new t-shirt or a linen shirt, a €3 top or a pair of undies, you can find it all here.

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2015-08-08 08.46.24I particularly like the scrimmage that occurs on the One Euro stall selling anything and everything that you could possibly either want or not want. But whatever is going, the ladies adore it and then men hang out in the square and talk politics and sport. And drink either an espresso or a vino or one of the many disgusting digestivos they love.

men at market

I personally love the beautiful fresh fruit and veg

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This lot cost me €22 last April…

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At Castlenuovo there is a beautiful shop L’Aia di Piero that looks and smells so utterly delicious you want to buy everything….from the best olive oil to local jam and preserves, pesto, salami, mouthwatering prosciutto and a million other delights.2015-08-30 09.13.43

 

And now, after all the rain one finds a sprinkling of beautiful Porcini mushrooms waiting for that risotto or pasta dish.

But whatever you go for, its the journey, it’s the people watching, it’s savouring the delights of the tribal life: the men chatting, the women shopping, the kids showing off their best clothes and eyeing off the opposite sex. It’s a wonderful pastime, particularly on Thursday at Castlenuovo di Garfagnana, the leading town in a area and a short drive down the valley from I Cinghiali, my home.

And, when you are done, you absolutely must sit in the square and drink: a vino for €1, a prosecco for €1.50, or something more exotic like a Hugo (clearly my favourite) or an Aperol spritz.

2013-04-17 16.37.09Sadly no more markets for me for the moment….but I know that not much except the colour in fashion will have changed by the time I return.

Ciao for now…until tomorrow

Buzz

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Wonderful Castlenuovo

www.ItalianExperience.com.au

CASTIGLIONE DI GARFAGNANA

August 29, 2015

My hills are scattered with beautiful towns, each unique in its way, some larger than others and all filled with age old stone buildings and baskets overflowing with red geraniums.

Some have ancient walls and were fortifications, like Castiglione which I re-visited a couple of days ago. It is situated on a sunny hill outside Castlenuovo with beautiful walls circling the old town and it has been called one of the most exquisite villages in Italy.

I’m going to give you a visual feast with some of its buildings, particularly the Church of St Peter and St Michael’s Church.

My days in Tuscany are numbered…down to four more…so it is not my intention to sit behind my laptop when there are grown vegetables that require my presence in the orto, and sunshine which demands me by the pool, and nor do I wish to deprive you of my Tuscan jottings.

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One of the lovely towers in the ancient and thick walls

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The chapel and the old well in front of the town hall

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St Peter’s church and tower first mentioned in the 8th century

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Beautiful doorways – the right one from 1708

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St Michael’s church from the 13th century

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In a niche in the old walls is the 15th century wooden Madonna

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So, a glimpse of Castiglione…the earliest mention of which dates back to the year 723. The origins of the walls date back to the late Middle Ages but the present day walls and cylindrical towers are typical of military architecture at the beginning of the 15th century.

It is, as I said earlier Castiglione di Garfagnana is but one of the beautiful and ancient places in my special valley. I invite you to come and explore sometime.

Until next time…carrots, beetroot, lettuces, radicchio, fennel and even an aubergine call me to my veggie patch.

Ciao amici

Buzz

WWW.ITALIANEXPERIENCE.COM.AU for your own sojourn in my Paradiso.