These words are the property of clever people. I'm just trying to put them in order.

Month: October, 2015

Toothpaste terror.

Thursday was wet so we stayed inside. I helped Ruth to translate the website for the restaurant where Andrea works. Whoever wrote it in Italian didn’t do a very good job so in some parts I had to embellish the language (to make it make sense). I realised the effect sitting all day had on my body as I felt very lazy and wanted to stretch a lot. I hoped for a sunny Friday.

The day was not at a total loss however, I found out how horseradish got its name. (I won’t ruin the joy of research for you).

Friday was sunny. In the morning Ruth, Annabella and I finished attaching the guide wires for the fence and then got to work attaching the fence. We were learning the best way to do it as we went. We weren’t aided by the hill which we were working on but laughter, team spirit and silly jokes certainly helped. By the end of the day we’d made a good start and it was good to be moving around outside again.

As we finished up, I looked through the trees we had been working under and saw the sun setting and lighting up brown, green and purple leaves as it did. A picture speaks a thousand words but I didn’t take one and I don’t like long descriptions so you’re going to have to use your imagination on this one.

Today I thought a lot about my next move, due to restricted internet in the mountains I hadn’t really had a chance to look at transport, work opportunities or anything. In a way, this made it a difficult task, but in another it made it easier to think about where I really wanted to be.

In the evening, Gina and I went on an emergency mushroom and rice run for the evening’s curry. When we got to the supermarket I remembered that I needed toothpaste so I found one called the Captain’s paste which had a nautical man on it. If anything is going to sell me a toothpaste it’s a sailor. That evening when I went to brush my teeth I realised that all a toothpaste needs to do is taste like mint and clean my teeth but all the captain wants is clean teeth.


Wednesday with the Oracle.

Wednesday 28th.

Ruth, Annabella and I continued with the fencing. We finally got the last poles in before we started wiring everything together. Eventually we got the bottom wire attached to all the poles (and some trees on the way and got about halfway around with the top wire. The bottom was much harder to hammer as it was awkwardly close to the ground. I tried for a while and Ruth laughed a lot at my attempts, hitting my fingers, nails falling out and just generally being almost useless after lunch. Luckily Ruth told me she also suffers from after lunch floppy-brain.

In the afternoon I started talking about different dishes I could cook which would be vegan. I made a long list and made everyone hungry. In the end I settled for making a romesco sauce with crunchy broccoli, green beans, and a troop of happy little mushrooms. Last minute I realised we needed spaghetti so I threw it in and it ended up going well. I’ve never cooked for chefs before let alone two. There was no food left after the meal and everyone was happy, so was I.

Wine followed and flowed from carafes and for a long time. While I was making dinner, Denny had been reading everyone’s hands. I was to have no career, not to flit from love to love but wait for a very important one and I had very honest hands. After we finished, I decided to finish restringing my guitar so Andrea and I could play again. As I was, Jasmine was getting very sleepy and Andrea asked if I knew any lullabies. I played a few tunes including Here come the sun which I later taught to Andrea.

As we were playing and chatting into the night, I brought up the fact that I would never have a career and Andrea quoted a line from the Matrix. ‘It doesn’t matter what the oracle said, she just said what you needed to hear’. I turned to Denny and said, ‘you’re the Oracle, then’, he subsequently stuck out his tongue and said ‘Blubulubulunullu!!!’

Howling at the moon.

Tuesday back in the mountains.

I woke up early to the sound of Jasmine padding around and generally being a cheeky monkey. I swiftly fell back to sleep.

I woke up again, went down for brekkers then we had to put the posts in the ground. Annabella and I walked to the top and found more brambles, sticks and other things to clear. So we did just that. A while later Annabella went to make bread with Andrea and so I went to find Ruth and Denny. I clambered down through the woods; rocks, mud and branches until I found them. We looked at the wee derelict house that they wanted to turn into Denny’s new pad. We started to clear away the sticks that lead from the house to the road.

Before we knew it, it was lunch time. After lunch I was stacking wood freshly cut from the branches I’d brought down from the woods. When I was done I went to help Annabella and Taylor hitting stakes into the ground for the chicken enclosure. Once we were done for the day, we hit the road to go to buy wine. Gina, Taylor, Denny and I stopped for tofu, wine, chocolate and sim cards. Some stops took longer than others so Denny and I got talking about all sorts while we waited in car parks; unpredictability, life, where we belong in the world and many other things. We also made a surprise stop for the moon; one of the fullest moons I’ve ever seen. It was big, bright and yellow. Then we howled and drove on.

On the way back to the house, I saw a self-service dog wash (a concept previously unknown to me). Dinner was homemade ravioli with tofu and broccoli. Annabella and I helped make a few, as did Jasmine who did a very interesting job. Ruth thanked me for my hard work and said she was happy that I’d come up here to the mountains. I told her that I was too.

If you look to your left…

If you look to your left, you will see a huge body of water. I arrived in Venice about 12.30, a little hungry and very curious. Huge bustles of people appeared like moss trailing off the ticket machine. I was eager to explore so I headed for the nearest bridge. A girl with two huge suitcases was trying to cross the bridge five steps at a time. I empathised with her plight and gave her some help crossing. She was grazie-ful, I was prego-ful.

I got to work on my plan and got a focaccia from a nearby supermarket and watched the gondolas go by (not a sentence I get to say often). I next decided to locate San Marco square as I’d heard from several people that it’s the centre of many points of interest. I got intentionally lost on the way and followed my nose through the city’s waterscape and backstreets sometimes leading nowhere and at other times leading to piazzas with guitarists sitting in the sun creating music for passers-by.

I walked a while then sat on a step in front of the gran canal. I did nothing else for a while.

I looked around and ice cream seemed like a good idea so I got tiramisu and mint ice cream. Not a bad choice even if I say so myself.

Shortly after I realised I wasn’t where I wanted to be and set out for San Marco square. I found many squares on the way; round-squares, square-squares and rectangular-squares too; this place had it all! As I kept walking, the diversity of languages spoken grew and. I knew I was getting closer. When I finally arrived it was full of crazy people. People with selfie sticks more important than their children, children more important than manners and completely flooded a city in danger of flooding. I was glad I’d come off-season.

A place made so beautiful by humans had turned people ugly. I swiftly made my escape and came across a classical musical instruments hall of fame. I imagined my guitar behind the glass with its ‘ants have sex in your beer’ sticker and wondered what had happened to the world. In the calm and dark of the museum. I realised the place I had wanted to be wasn’t the place. I wanted to be but the place I thought I wanted to be.

I walked and walked and walked some more. I was still feeling disheartened and a little rattled by the crowds. In less than five minutes, my rule of following quiet streets led me out to the water and lost and happy once more. I came across an art exhibition of graffiti artists from across Europe and the USA and I was truly happy. The world was no longer against me. The curators were kind, friendly and incredibly knowledgable. In the peace between the warehouse walls, I found peace between my ears.

As I looked at more human-made beauty, I realised the lesson I had just learned. My trip is not about seeing all the things that I’m told to see. It’s about being lost, to be open to the road, the paths, the canals and new destinations where I’ll find the things that interest me. So many people go on holiday with a checklist and defeat the point of being on holiday. It’s hard work being in a crowd, queueing all day to not take photos of things you don’t really care about and not relaxing.

I am at peace when I do the things I am interested in and be myself. One of the artists painted the words, ‘you are what you write’. Tired, happy, forever learning.

Early days and a trip to Venice.

The next day I woke up after a heavy sleep and was ready to work. I spent all day chopping, sawing and moving wood up and down the hill. As I did so, my mind was at peace it only occasionally flickered like a fluorescent light only buzzing to kill a fly. Luckily there were no flies to be killed. In the evening I was given the grappa taste session and a sample of a liquorice liquor that tastes amazing.

The following day was similar work. I found the good wood from the forest and took it down the hill. I got a chance to talk to Ruth’s Dad, Denny a bit more. He is responsible for the first climbing equipment that was ever produced, an incredibly nice man and has a brilliant mind. The first night I arrived he told me about his interest to have an idea or a dream and then following through to make that concept into reality until it is perfectly as you had imagined. On this particular day, he told me more about his businesses and the importance of innovation in order to succeed.

In those first few days I was also shown Ruth’s scrapbook that she made as she was turning her house from a shell inherited from an animal charity into a home and a B&B. I could see that she had inherited her Dad’s quality of having a vision and bringing it to life. Details, minute details, big details and no squirrel tails were obvious to see from the collected pictures scattered around the house.

On Sunday night, Denny kindly took us to Andrea’s restaurant and he could really cook up a treat or two! Dinner was another wine-fuelled affair and when we got back to the house, Andrea and I stayed up playing guitars and talking music again. Monday was my day-off and Ruth had advised me to take a trip to Venice. It was so close I could hardly say no.

So in the morning I went with Gina, Taylor and Annabella to check out the market in nearby Vittorio Veneto whilst I awaited my train. When I got onto my train I started to look at the map in a guidebook I’d been given; I knew immediately. I would be lost for most of the day. My plan upon arrival was to find some cheap food and then work out the best way to get around.

Friday 23rd of October – arriving in Vittorio.

This morning I left the hostel at 10am in order to catch the 10.30 train. Upon using the ticket machine which screamed at me to beware of pickpockets in the least discreet way possible I found out that there were only first class. So I waited an hour for the next one. In the meantime I’d have a snack and read. Everything in the station was at least 2euros so. I found a supermarket and sorted a snack and water for €1.30 (I told you I’m not first class). I wanted to escape the crowds so I made a seat out of my backpack and guitar on a platform and watched all the people come and go.

After 45 minutes I went to check the departures board to see where I should really be waiting. An outburst of Americans knocked me off my calm cloud as they waved tickets and argued frantically where they needed to be. Unable to distinguish departures and arrivals, unable to match the time on their ticket to the one on the board and unable to not bump into people as they lived their life as if acting on a very large stage. Large, loud and in a rush so luckily they soon left.

I hopped on a train and was sat opposite a mother and son who sounded American but the son had exceedingly good Italian when he spoke on the phone. After a while, a daughter also joined the table in Bologna. They all had names I can’t remember but it was a pleasure to meet them. The mother was from New York but they had all moved to Tuscany a long time ago (Italian skills explained). They were all off for a trip to Venice. When I left we all wished each other well. All smiles and happiness.

I got off the train and found the adjoining platform was where my next train went from. I was a happy chappy. I asked someone where I could find the ticket machine (you have to stamp your ticket before you ride). It was downstairs, In stamped my ticket and was safe in the knowledge I wouldn’t get fined, found, founded or dumbfounded (a particular risk for me). My train came and on the front it said ‘AIDS! AIDS! In large graffiti, and to think I could have gone first class.

Before I knew it I was on the way; rattling, rolling, writing, belly grumbling and butterflies tumbling excited to see the mountains. We wound, winded but wounded no one through small Italian towns before dismounting, disembarking and disem-meowing at Conegliano to catch the final train. The landscape all day had been flat as a pancake with a very low altitude. As we drew into Conegliano I could see some mountains in the distance and I got all excited.

The train soon whinged into action which was lacklustre and difficult by the feel of things. It also made it hard to know when we were moving and when we were stopping. i arrived in Vittorio Veneto and boy was it pretty! The mountains hung over the train like stumbling giants. I would be living in one of those drunks very shortly.

Upon my arrival, again, I was unable to communicate with my phone. It rang but I could hear no answer. So, I went to the nearest café in search of wifi. Still overwhelmed by the sight of the mountains, I snailed down to the street which took me through a beautiful park filled with flowers, colours and a fountain at the centre. It was a lot to take in.

I sat down in the café and ordered something small to eat and a drink. Before I knew, a woman was running through the down shouting, ‘I found you!’ She was not mad but my new host, Ruth. Shortly after she was joined by vegan chef, Regina, from New York. We arrived at the house and waiting for us was a delicious mushroom soup and salad with a magic dressing.

Then it was time to get to work. My first job was tidying the woods. Dragging lots of sticks through the woods and then wheeling them down the hill in a wheelbarrow. I felt my calves working hard and burning into life. When I got back to the house after getting them all down, there were guests, Italian guests and I tried to string together a few words but after the day I’d had, my brain was fried and useless. Luckily, no one seemed to mind.

We ate dinner and after followed a flood of wine. People drifted off to bed and as they did, curiosity about my guitar grew and before we knew it, Andrea and I were playing the blues long into the night. It was just what I needed after a long day travelling and an afternoon of work. When I finally got to bed, no thoughts had a chance to cross my mind before I slept, but if they had, they would have been of the view from the bottom of the mountain, the top of the garden and how everything in between was just dust in a dream.

A day with Florence.

I was up at the crack of dawn. Farming habits woke me up. Daniel and. I got coffee then went to La Accademia, he was worried about my tired eyes. I told him to give me half an hour and they’d look fine, I explained I’m a werewolf and sometimes it takes some time to readjust. He didn’t mention them again.

Daniel had a Firenze queue jump card so he went straight in while I hung out with Charles again. Eventually I got in. David was spectacular, the detail on the hands, toes and eyes were particularly impressive. Borderline magic. There was loads of other stuff to see, David’s stoney friends were also nice. I played part of a piano forte and saw how it worked which was pretty cool. The gallery on the whole was a tribute to human endeavour and a pretty good reminder of how much we should be busying ourselves in television and social media when I reckon more people would like something you’ve made, created, or dreamed into life than another selfie in front of the mirror.

Next up on the tour was the cathedral and it’s accompanying bits and bobs. The battistero was cool and had a Legend of Zelda vibe about it. On the roof they had the bible in pictures for those who couldn’t read. Then, the cathedral. It has a really nice clock another impressive roof and I went and lit a candle and was grateful for a lot of things. We walked up some stairs to get a closer look at the roof and we ended up on the roof. It was a bit windy and very beautiful. You could see for miles and miles and miles. I wondered where on earth I would end up then figured I’d find out soon enough.

We stopped for a slice of pizza then went to the Uffizi. The Firenze card meant that Mr Bukowski and I were hanging out again. I entered to find another place filled with wonders, treats for your eyes and as it was nearly lunchtime, other people were starting to disappear. By the time I’d reached the end, I was cultured-out, tired-out and nearly Florenced-out. I rested, looked at my plans for the following day then walked to every corner until I found a nice bar to take some notes and relax. The beer was strong and the music good.

A decent proposal.

I was still quite tired from waking up so early so after lunch I headed to the river, it looked wet and it was moving. It was a good river. All around Florence there are things of great beauty, significance and importance. The mind boggles, there were things, people, art that are more significant than facebook; really.

I wanted to go and see the park so I made my way to Bombini, bambino, bimboni or something. It was HUGE. There were statues of gargoyles which, for some reason made me think about my brothers. The huge hedges made parts feel like a huge maze with statues at every turn. I found myself at a look-out point where people were taking photos and I did the same. Then right beside me, with no warning or anything a guy got down on one knee and proposed. I’ve not seen a proposal before but I reckon he’d done a good job so i congratulated them once they’d calmed down a bit.

Then I took more photos and was on my way. I wondering, lost and happy. I showered and then went for dinner. Daniel, another guest, almost didn’t recognise me so. I must have been looking pretty terrible before my shower. I went for a pizza with Charles Bukowski then on my way back I stopped to watch a couple of guys busking. The drum kit was pulled by a bicycle and they looked like brothers. They played some nice blues and played acoustic covers. One of the best was Born to be Wild. I gave them some money and asked where. I might find some guitar strings tomorrow as I probably wouldn’t find them in the mountains. I thanked them and stayed to watch them play a couple more.

A figure appeared walking towards me. She stopped and said something.
‘Sorry?’ I replied.
Because of my book she’d mistaken me for a fellow Italian. She spoke quite good English and I explained I couldn’t recommend anywhere good for food as both of my eating encounters had been reasonably bad. Her friends joined her and I said ‘sorry’ again. She told me I was welcome and just like that she was gone.

I went back to the hostel and chatted with the three other guys there. One working, two staying. Daniel and I planned to hit some sights the following day starting with Michelangelo’s David which was just down the street.

Lost on the Hogwarts express

After all that thinking, I just missed my train so I waited for the next whilst having a bit of breakfast.

It’s amazing how when you go to another country or you step out of your comfort zone, you notice things you wouldn’t normally. The details. Characters. As I sat eating a very sticky croissant and drinking a very small coffee I watched the grey men in front of me. The man who lived to fit his chair perfectly, just easing past the armrests to slot into place, his shorter friend who looked like an Italian Chuckle Brother. Toni, oh Toni, he was bold as ice, and willing to sacrifice. Thinning on top but letting his grey waterfall cascade to his shoulders. As I sat there I wondered what these guys do with their days. Where they would be when I arrived in Florence? I wondered if Toni had always been so cool, or if he’d grown into it. What was he like at school? What were they talking about?

Then I read my book.

The train came (as they often do) and I found my seat located in a booth. I like a good change of system so I pretended I was off to Hogwarts and dozed off a while.

The train sped along the coast through seaside towns with names I don’t know and not a stick of rock in sight. It was sunny and the terracotta pots on their yellow balconies shone bright like burning earth. As I drifted in and out of my delicate slumber, I almost felt like I was in Catalonia. Maybe they use the same cleaning chemicals on the train, maybe it was the coast, either way, I remembered where I was then closed my eyes again.

I travelled the rest of the way, time passed, I grew hungry. I finally got to Florence. Having studied my instructions to the hostel I felt confident about arriving quickly. This confidence was put in doubt after one minute’s walking I found I was walking the wrong direction. After being corrected, the rest of the walk was thoroughly pleasant and I arrived at my hostel to find a tiny lady shouting my name. She checked me in whilst saying ‘Uncle Sam’ and then laughing like Roz from Monsters. Inc. this lady was a real character and I forgot all about Toni.

She showed me her map of Florence, talked me through her notes and showed me pictures from postcards of what each place should look like. I wondered where was good to eat and didn’t listen to everything but I was very grateful. I left and found the first food I could. It was expensive and small. But I felt ready to explore.

As night turns into day.

So there I was, flying back down the hill to Porto San Giorgio where I had left less than 48hours ago. This time alone, very much a snail again and bound for Florence. The towns on distant hills, beacons in the darkness leading the way. It was sad to say goodbye to Sophie and everyone else for that matter, it was a wonderful experience and hopefully not the last on my trip.

As the world was waking up around me; I was swaying, rattling, rolling along in what felt like a coach driven by a roller-coaster. I too, started to wake up. The deep dark bottom-of-the-ocean blue paper clouds started to tear and let through the first glimpses of the day. Crimson sat waiting on the horizon reaching up to smear satsuma but not touching the eager mix of blue and yellow looking out like a pair of eyes.

Later a toddler had been let loose and started tearing at the clouds. All sorts of things started peeping through the gaps, the sun, vapour trails, the clouds turned into a dry grey and the light much softer. The bus filled with teenagers on their way to school. Some on seats, some standing in the aisle. The towns no longer remained in the shadow but made the shadows as the sun bounced down on them. The greens and browns of the fields glowed like a muddy dancefloor.

By eight o’clock the sun was bouncing off everything sending light in all directions. Night’s reign is over and the majesty of the day stared me in the face.

Then I realised this happens every day and if I’d been at home. I probably would have thought, ‘it’s a bit cold today’.