Juve its personal

Juventus is the nearly always dominant football club which because of its success,omniprescence,arrogance,scandal and history reminds this fan of Utd,Rangers and Chelsea. Utd because its scuccess means that all other fans hate it,Rangers because its shame(in match fixing) meant it was demoted,Chelsea because its success is bankrolled by one family(Fiat).

But somehow Juve has wormed its way onto my radar.  Our favourte walk takes us along a ridge between the  rolling hills,vineyards,olive trees and sunflowers.One of the few grand houses on the way flies a Juve flag.Here deep in the Umbrian country side the passion of urban Italy rules,OK?

Back in dear old Putney I have become friendly with Mario who runs the superb Sardinian restaurant Isola di Sole. Our friendship is based on our support of Arsenal. Why does he,because years ago in some Euro cup Arsenal avenged his team Cagliari and beat Juventus. The logic of football fans is that the enemy of your enemy is your lover!

Now the world’s most extravagent player Ronaldo has moved from palatial Real Madrid to star studded Juventus. The other day we were is a cafe when he scored his first two goals for his new club. It makes Brexit seem small news.

And so it was little surprise when in Spello(Assissi’s next door little sister) that I did not buy thre normal tourist trinket but a Juventus fridge magnet complete with zebra head. Why that animal? Because in 1903 the powerhouse fromTurin adopted Notts County’s black and white stripped shirts.

Need I go on?


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Another Great Beauty

One of the great films. The Great Beauty.Italian style,beauty,cynicism, brio,operatic overload. To be watched many times. In  five years of coming I have a few moments I could spice together.

Driving from Todi to Orvieto is a winding and beautiful experience.Mountains,river and lake. And every five miles a woman of the afternoon. Usually black, hot pants and hotter lipstick often with a camper van. She stands waiting for one of the many lorry drivers who thunder through. Her eyes search the passing cars for possible trade.

The other night at Ripaoili a large fluffy cloud appeared with a dark foreground. Suddenly lightening erupted within the cloud. The cloud shook and we watched. It  happened several times. A natural firework display.

Parking the car in the shadow of Assissi. By a large school. As we get out music comes out of an open window. They are rehearsing Verdi opera,the joy rolls across the dusty car park,it is Fellini moment. Unexpected,tangental,immaculate,

A drink in the square at Todi.  There is a commotion at the cathedral.The huge iron doors open and a procession appears.The great banners and statues are carried with due respect down the long  wide stairs into the piazza. But nature is not kind.The wind blows and blows harder,the banners shake and are stopped. The procession halts and flees in some disaray back into the cathedral.

It is a hot day at the Hotel Bramante pool,Todi. It is before lunch and I am the only one swimming. I do a few lengths. I am pushing off and gliding. As I do that I can see my own reflection at the bottom of the pool. I am in my own movie.


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Perugia Airport

While waiting at Perugia airport, a dinky place which takes only a few planes aday,I spotted a waiting monk. Easy to identify with his rough cassock,knotted belt,open sandals and slightly overweight build. It turned out his was waiting for a brother monk and they left arm in arm chatting with the enthusiasm of saints.

But given all the bad publicity concerning the church and especially those in the orders dedicated to teaching ,I started to wonder who  in this day and age becomes a monk?

Where once the power,prestige and social position of the church made taking vows a desirable career choice now the  declining role,shame and disgrace of the church make it rather different. I remember going to Dublin in the 1960s and so many were the priests and nuns the city felt like a theological college. Almost none are seen today.

Forgetting those who have a secret sexual ambition to fulfill.Faith must come into it. Wanting to do good must be part of it. Not wanting to do bad,to be blameless could be part. Wanting to give up one’s individual personality and choice and literally accept orders is a major ingredient. Oft quoted vocation we all know can be self induced.

Whatever, in a world where few believe,less are judgemental, and the choices in life are so abundant that many have to marry several times,the choice of becoming a monk or nun becomes even more of a retreat from everyday society. After all we all know people who are and do good. In fact the certaintity of those with faith is for most not comforting but troubling.

It is one thing to think of the monk bustling around helping the poor,administering to the sick, teaching the young. But what of when old,broken and alone as the doubts come in, and there is no family, do they thinkof lives well lived,was this what they were born for,is this the plan?

The two at Perugia airport didnt stay to answer my questions. When I have asked before, the man of the cloth usually smiles and  looks down.

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To Be Or Not

Our Dutch friends Tillie and Wim are thinking of upping their six months a year in Umbria to full time. They love so much about the place and enjoy the anonymity which living in a foreign country gives. I have a cousin who emigrated from Canada to the Uk to escape a doting mum,I have a half  sister who ended up in Florida to escape her dad,I have a brother in law who lives in France to escape his business shame, I had a dear Japanese friend who preferred SW London, my daughter lives in Sydney. Opportunity,anonymity,reinvention they all figure.There is a debate about whether its the best(bravest) or the worst(unemployed) who emigrate.

Whatever,its something i could never do. Being a foreigner has never appealed. Being hopeless at languages reduces my choice. But the belonging that comes from knowing where several generations of mine and Vivien’s families fit in to the tapestry of every day ,is real. Only this year I put down in my street a memorial stone to the four who died in the 14-18 War. That is I know whether we like it or not we are part of a story. Emigrating can make you a fringe player in another story.

Most of ones deepest friendships come from your first twenty years. Emigrating isnt just saying good bye to bad weather and worse food.

In your mother culture you know where things are kept. Many despair and find moving elsewhere salves their angst. But I know how my street has evolved from tradesmens’ dwellings to bankers’ villas. I can see where the bombs fell. I can see where the Victorians put down their tiles. I know why we wear poppies,play trick or treat,put out bird feeds and have stopped wearing ties. I along with everyone else have laughed at Spike,Ernie, Tommy,Cleese and undestrand why we have May and Corbyn. Its not better or worse its me and like me its changing.

So while others can shed their old skin, put down shallower roots,I can only totally be in one place. So here I stay. In Umbria this week,Sydney in a month!

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These are the Days

These are the days my friends,we hoped they would never end.

Our dearest friends Nina and David have joined us at the Ripaioli villa. The day starts misty soon the heavy heat will fall. Somewhere in the valley the shooters are popping off their sport,a chorus of dogs yaps. We breakfast al fresco. Here is the drama of villa dreams.the view,the quiet, the difference.

We find a new walk just below next door Collazzone, a long dusty track winds  its way through woods and vineyards. Above the old town perches indifferent to the centuries,sleeping perchance to dream of past glories. Whose woods these are we do not know,But  trattorias to eat we must go.

Hotel Bramante,Todi. Here is four star understated luxury. A wide terrace,an eternal view of the Tiber valley. the hills,their towns, a landscape easy in its own history. A pasta and salad lunch follows. Then onto its large pool.A few are lolling but we are the only swimmers. We rest awhile.

Home for a  shower,change and nap and then its off to nearby Ilci for the main meal of the day. We are not  brave enough for the whole five courses,three will  do and even then one is shared(dividere). Francesco serves us beautifully. We talk and talk some more. The stars are bright,the coffee strong,the day grand. Tomorrow would be another day.

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Death in Umbria

In Putney our street gardening has produced a bumper crop of burgandy coloured sunflowers. They are coming to an end and we have beheaded a few for next year’s seeds.

On our walk along the ridge behind Rapaioli we see the real industrial scene. Here the sunflowers are counted not by name but by the ton. But here the season, on the flower which the Greeks said celebrated Clyte’s doomed love for Apollo, is over.The leaves have been shed,the stalks have gone black. But worse the proud flower heads are stooped in despair. For Clyte the game is up. The sunflowers which at their peak do more than any other to celebrate the Southern sun ,are finished. Like prisoners waiting to be shot they hang miserably to a life condemned.

Elsewhere the olive groves are beginning to bear fruit. Not yet big enough  for a self respecting martini but in abundance. The only vines we see are obviously not good enough to harvest and bear hardly convicing grapes.

Elsewhere the country roads are in terrible shape but on the fields state of the art tractors plough thick clods. Virgil would have been proud of this latest generation of sons of the soil. Like  their forefathers these Umbrian mechanics know all about the Romans who own so many nearby second homes.

Our first lunch in Todi made us feel that Saga has discovered  the town, folks older and fatter than us wandered around wearing odd baseball caps,soft shoes and calling each other Margaret dear. Maybe thats what we look like,oh dear.

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Creatures of Habit

Our first day in the villa in Rapaioli,south of Perugia north of Todi. Silence ,the rolling hills of Umbria,the hill top towns. Ubi bene,ibi patria.

But what creatures of habit we are. Married to the same person for forty years.The same children for nearly as long. Lived in Putney for all that time.So it is when the birds fly in the summer.

Arthog on the Barmouth estuary,North Wales. For ten years we went to this charming cottage in the shadow of Snowdonia. Sweet neat seaside towns,great walks along the estuary, arts and crafts everywhere, massive empty beaches, hikes up Cader Idris,  what was not to like. As Ruskin said “the only view better than the one from Dollegau to Barmouth is the one from Barmouth to Dollgau.

Penne d’ Agenais near Villeneuve sur Lot. Here for ten years we were guests of Chris and Zosh.  A villa complete with pool, views and long villa lunches in the shade.As the years rolled by we did less and less site seeing and more and more cycling and walking through the hillside vines. How we loved market days and drinking coffee in the square,how loved the local restuarant run by the elegant Dutch lady.

Rapioli we rent from Viv’s cousin Cathy and Gaetano who built this very stylish home. We have a choioce of ten darling little hill top towns,rich in history, their Gothic churches dark with faith, looking out over the Tiber and other valleys,with restaurants and bars to match. The tourists may go to Tuscany but the travellers come to Umbria. More follows.

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