The effects of travel…

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on one can be a wee bit disorientating.  One evening you may find yourself wandering along a track across a field in Northern France…less than a few hours since racing through the Alps (excepting the queue for the San Gotthard/Gottardo tunnel).

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In his Anatomy of Melancholy Robert Burton writes that travel is one cure of it “for peregrination charmes our senses with such unspeakable and sweet variety, that some count him unhappy that never traveled, a kinde of prisoner”.  Whether or not one subscribes to that rather extreme view it is undeniable that different perspectives emerge from moving about a bit.  For example setting off from a small village in Pas De Calais this morning (the first round of the French Presidential Election) I was struck by the relative calm of it all.  My straw poll of one elicited a response that it was “tres important” but it would have been easy to miss that fact of it at all.  There was a single billboard in the town centre with a single poster for each of the eleven candidates and only one location in town where someone had fly posted three posters for Francois Asselineau (a hard line Frexiteer).  Even those newspapers that I saw were treating the event with restraint, and though most TV channels at one point or another on Saturday night had coverage it certainly didn’t dominate the schedules as it does here. Indeed there isn’t a sense of hysteria but a sober responsible process at work.  For what its worth though my sense of it is that Le Pen may well do better than expected in Round One and might just do enough overall to cause an upset.

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She’ll certainly pick up Asselineau’s supporters with their very direct secondary slogan (above in yellow…’Frexit – Protection des Salaries’).  And I guess that may well be a significant part of the reason that the Tories will romp home here with a stonking majority.  I was going to follow up this observation with something incredibly rude and partisan about my fellow countrymen and women but I’ll let it be…I try not to do politics here! So instead some nice pictures of locations on our holidays instead!

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Avenue de Lacs, Ardres, France
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View towards Barisello, Lunigiana, Italy
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Vines above Verpiana, Lunigiana, Italy
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Champagne Country, France is a big open landscape!

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A time to ponder…

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over times long past.  Many eons ago I was party to an explosion of public art across the United Kingdom…aiding and abetting a variety of schemes that, for better or worse, were intended to ‘beautify’ and ‘edify’ public enjoyment of the environment.  It seems it wasn’t confined to the UK as here in the Lunigiana (wedged in the borderlands between Tuscany and Liguria in Italy) there’s a fair amount of it too.  Including this rather splendid piece in Piazza Cavour in Aulla.  It seems we are witness to a lively game of geometric footie…or calcio as its known here.  Or perhaps, given the garb sported, a game of volleyball or  some such.  Whatever the occasion and the exercise there’s a deal to admire – I’m especially taken with the knees myself.  It got me to thinking about who gets to make these works and who selects them…and that’s a topic on which I’ve quite a few stories from my involvement back in the UK (don’t get me started on the Shoe Last in the pedestrian precinct in Northampton…).  Anyway I rather like this one though I doubt many people give it so much as a glance nowadays.

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And a good holiday is an excuse to have a play about (as well as sit pondering) on projects that as yet maybe don’t make a deal of sense.  I’m cutting out canvas letters to join my sewn canvas shapes using odd snippets of text that I wrote down from poems into a sketch book almost thirty years back.  They are so obscure I cannot begin to recall what the texts were or why I chose them.  But I did it here in Italy and I’m here again (courtesy of my chum Sue) where I’ve been shaping and sowing the canvas pieces over the past few years so there is a connection though what it is and why its significant to me I have no way of articulating as yet.

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But of course time away from your usual haunts is mostly for the simple pleasures of experiencing other cultures and environments.  This part of Italy is framed by the Appenines to the back of us and the Apuan Alps away to the south east, its quite rugged and hilly, and at this time of year looking its best, the blossoming of the vegetation in springtime before the more arid days of summer…though we’ve been blessed on this occasion by warm and sunny weather.

Out & about…

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we were.  My pal Simon and myself at the terrific Yorkshire Sculpture Park.  Back on form and showing one of the UK’s finest cultural exports, Tony Cragg after a year or two of rather desperate material.  I cannot recommend this show highly enough – it demonstrates that there is still a place for work that, in addition to being physically substantial , is also intellectually and – yes – spiritually strong enough to dominate both the cavernous galleries and the landscape in which they are located.  I will review the show over on my Cloughie’s Eyes site after a second visit but go see for yourself it will be worth it.

And now I’m off…to spend some time in Northern Tuscany over Easter…and work on yet another of my various projects – Lavanderia – that has been entirely conceived and (so far at least) executed over there. So sadly I shall miss the opening of Colour: A Kind Of Bliss, showing now in the Crypt of St. Marylebone Parish Church.  But if you can go and take  a look!  And if you cannot…here’s a sneak peek of it with one of my works far left…

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photo credit: Jermaigne Sadie

 

Italian Food!

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I posted before on the subject of Italian food…and had more ‘hits’ than the artwork ever gets!  But it is one of the joys of a trip over to the Lunigiana.  I quoted too, from Marcella Hazan’s book and that went down well so…

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“When Aristotle said that a work of art should imitate the motions of the mind and not an external arrangement of facts, he was anticipating a definition of the art of the Italian home cook.  In Italy the source of the very best Italian food is the home kitchen.”

Marcella Hazan, The Classic Italian Cookbook, Macmillan London, 1980

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Food glorious food…

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“Nothing significant exists under Italy’s sun that is not touched by art…Not everyone in Italy may know how to cook, but everyone knows how to eat…Eating in Italy is one more manifestation of the Italian’s age old gift of making art out of life.”

The Classic Italian Cookbook. Marcella Hazan. 1980  Macmillan London

And eat we did for the weather never really improved.  Only twice did we manage to enjoy that simple delight of sitting on the terrace gazing onto the hillsides all around us.  So much time spent indoors has its compensations.  And chief amongst them is the discussion of and preparations for eating.  It is true that nowadays you can eat great food in the UK…but it comes at a colossal economic cost whether you eat out or source ingredients to cook at home.  In some cases it simply isn’t possible (certainly in an area such as ours) to find raw materials of the right quality.  In Italy I consume quite large quantities of tomatoes – something it never occurs to me to do at home. The reason being taste…if its possible to source the small sweet and juicy, exceptionally tasty tomatoes I’ve been eating for the past ten days in the Shires of England please let  me know.  I’ll happily travel quite a distance for them, or for the courgettes, the artichokes and oranges for that matter.  And whilst I’m at it I also want chicken that tastes of chicken and that lays eggs that are properly yellow…   I marvel at the pasta – the nearest shop, the size of our local coop (i.e. small), stocks three brands and over thirty varieties of each!  So we have eaten often and well.  A recompense for the poor weather indeed.

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Though as this picture shows there is a certain grandeur in the view of the hills and mountains from the terrace even when the weather is dark and gloomy…

I ought to have known better!

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than to have posted a view of Sue’s terrace in the rain…as this was the predominant view that has greeted us most mornings we were away!  For the first three days it rained incessantly (something I have never experienced before) and other than two reasonably decent days it then drizzled or rain steadily or at best provided grey muggy skies!

We had spent the Easter period in a small village in the foothills of the Northern Appenines on the Tuscany/Liguria border. Lunigiana is the region nestling in the Magra river valley surrounded by mountains…the Appenines behind us, the Apuane Alps to the south east and over smaller ridges, due south is the Magra estuary and the Mediterranean coast, just north of Carrara/Massa and a little further down the coast from the Cinqueterra and the Italian Riviera.  Just below the village in the next hamlet, Serriciollo, the Auletta flows towards the Magra.  The ‘torrente’ (rather than being called a river) is aptly named…over the winter it ran so fast it took the bridge away and now there is a five kilometer diversion off of the main road that runs between Aulla and Fivvizano.  We are, unfortunately, the wrong side of the bridge and so have to run the risk of one of the two diversions that will take us to the town and the motorway system. Sadly our favorite Pizzeria is a few hundred metres the wrong side of the bridge too.

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Being Italy the solution to the problem is laborious and tortuous…I like to think that in the UK we would have drafted the army in a few hours after the bridge collapsed and built a pontoon within a couple days or so.  Not so here.  It will be July before the new bridge is built (and thats an Italian forecast so…) so for now there are convoys of forty foot trailers and the like being diverted around the villages of Quercia, Olivola and, our very own Verpiana. They are herded together at either end of the alternative route and brought through in groups with a police car at front and back..the first of them blasting out a tannoy warning for anyone foolish enough to argue with it as it snakes its way across the narrow mountain roads with alarming hairpins and crumbling edges…often with very steep drops.

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And of course these roads were never well maintained in the first instance and the pounding they are getting is seeing them begin to fall apart disastrously.    It all rather beggars belief and one can only hazard a guess at the colossal costs of all kinds involved.  Not unnaturally it has somewhat curtailed our enthusiasm for trips out!  On Easter Sunday (our only day of any decent weather) We drove over the mountains to the beautiful Medieval town of Fostinovo and as pretty much every Italian was having an extended family lunch, had the road more or less to ourselves until late afternoon.  But the journey back once we hit the diversion was toe curling as it seems never to have occurred to the vast majority of Italian drivers that a vehicle just might be coming in the opposite direction!