I thought I’d try something a little different over the weekend of our annual Open Studios. So I dug out some things I worked on the summer before last in Verpiana and re-jigged them. Resulting in LAVANDERIA DI ITALIA, Oil on Canvas, 2013/4. That’s about all I can manage this weekend what with one thing and another going on at the moment…tomorrow morning it’s back in the van collecting work and returning to the studios…
“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.
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…
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.
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.
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!