Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The house in the Wetering neighbourhood

Summer, my friend Jean always tells me, is Amsterdam at its best.
Has been delightful this past week (the rain was in Limburg!). Here some pix of the wonderfully repainted front of my house -- note the many reflections from the sunlight.
Tomorrow I'll be leaving for four weeks on the boat, and of course many expeditions to remarkable sites/sights.
So keep reading, lots more to come...
Here is the house and a corner where I am right now sitting.

And here are the birthday flowers beside the window.

And me in my favourite armchair. Note the Persian rug brought back from Iran.

Mon plat pays...

After the rain, sunlight glints on the hanging leaves and blades of grass outside in the back garden. Have that "getting packed again and ready to go" feeling.
Clothes, washed and rolled for the rucksack (to eliminate creases), lie patiently on the bedroom table.
In the living room I have tried to tidy the piles of books (far too many, must find a grateful hospital...) and throw away superfluous papers.
A large vase of elegant autumn flowers stands by the window -- brought by friends in honour of my birthday last week.
I am phoning Dutch friends while here -- cheap arrangement to call within the Netherlands. After all, not everyone has, or uses, a laptop -- yet!
Kate has just come for tea (and I've just made a bowl of hummus).

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Rain in Limburg

Grandson Isaak and I tried to think of an adequate word to imitate the sound of the rain pelting down. Certainly not pitter-patter or plash... After weeks of sun in Greece, Italy (and even Amsterdam) the heavens opened and sluiced the land.
Just spent a wonderful weekend amid the green hills of Limburg, close to the Dutch-Belgian border. Enjoyed seeing the three grandchildren together and both my "children" under one roof for a short time.
Drove back from Maastricht to Dordrecht and left half my progeny (!) and then caught the train back to Amsterdam.
Gradually the flatlands conquer, the horizon stretches further away, the fields grow geometrical, with bands of green and coloured stripes of flowers -- gladioli, chrysanthemums, roses...
Back to the messy city with its many languages and its narrow streets. Caught some evening views of the light on the canal waters, always lovely. The ubiquitous bicycles leaning against a canal bridge...

City where I have lived now almost 43 years. Does that make it home?
And here it the view from just round the corner, which I pass almost every day when I'm here...
Prinsengracht, corner Vijzelgracht.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Sempre il sole... (sun still shining...)

Chatted to the beautiful young Italian couple sitting beside me in the plane (Elena and Massimo!) and in my head the voices of my grandchildren echoing like clear bells. So back to an empty house, but the sun here too (though the air not so balmy) and quickly unpacked, restoring objects to their appropriate places.
About midnight heard voices, noise, outside my front window (curtains by now drawn) and when I peeped outside, saw police van and two stalwart agents with client, face and body being pressed against van, handcuffs being attached, one policeman fouillering (does this word really exist in English??) The guy was very tall, dressed completely in black, young, longish dark hair, but had his face against the police van so I couldn't really see him. He appeared not to protest or struggle -- but maybe I had missed the dramatic prologue... The police asked him a few things and he replied briefly. Then he was bundled into the rear seat of the van, which backed smoothly down the street (ours is one-way and has small posts at the far end to prevent traffic from hurtling through -- much approved by the parents who live here. (I mean the posts, not the traffic!!)) In front of my house a bike lay twisted on the ground. I picked it up next morning. It was a woman's bike, padlocked. Altogether a curious scene with the police outside but not really scary -- like watching a film when you know everything will turn out OK. But I would like to know what it was all about.

Back in Amsterdam now, remembering the mountains and the bright air. Sunset over Tuscany.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Music in Lucca

Boccherini's home, and many another composer; this country is so rich in culture, I think I could happily stay here for the rest of my life, browsing round churches and palaces, attending lectures (think of those fascinating talks we used to go to in Torino, given in Massimo's Cinema just round the corner from the Mole film museum, on the history of film. I learnt an enormous amount, a new visual language, how to look at films, the cinematographic art...).
And here in Lucca I hear piano music by the great nineteenth-century composers, Brahms, Liszt, Prokofiev ... whom I had often thought less palatable than, for instance, Mozart -- and now discover how exciting and absorbing it can be. All helped by the Lucchese setting, the warm evening air, the violet light slowly fading.
On Sunday evening David and I attended a (I search for le mot juste!) hilarious concert, a farewell to musician/composer Federico Favali who is off to study in London at King's College. Musician friends of his from Lucca, under the energetic encouragement of Mattia Campetti, arranged a splendid programme comprising works written by Favali, performed by young musicians who know him. The energy abounded and the quality was first rate. A special word for the stunning performance of soprano Michelle Buscemi, truly riveting and an unforgettable voice. We hope all these young musicians will never lose the warmth and passion with which they filled this evening.
And, for me a most moving touch: after the concert they welcomed me to the grand piano and struck up Happy Birthday, in English. Wonderful unforgettable birth-day!

Home through the soft warm night. The cicadas in the pine trees scratch tempestuously without ever pausing. The cat (who is fat but not pregnant as first suspected) slips through the shadows, waits on the doorstep when David and I return at midnight.

Prokofiev in Lucca

Rolling Tuscan hills, curving narrow roads, ramparts around the city, inside the walls are white marble and red brick. We gaze enraptured at the paintings, gleaming Fra Lippo Lippi, oil on panel, four saints (Helena, Jeremy, Rocco and Sebastian) standing in graceful attitudes, a moment captured forever. I tried to take a pic, not very successfully... there was a young French couple equipped with most professional camera, we had a pleasant chat about the saints (!). Above my picture attempt. It does offer an impression of the glorious rich colours.
Spied another Madonna Lactans in fresco here too. She was higher up the wall than her colleague in Scarlino, but here you go:

I don't have the Green Guide to hand, and can't recall the name of this church (perhaps San Giovanni ?) (It wasn't the duomo, where we admired the sculpted figure lying in eternal peace of the young wife (died aged 27) of count Paolo of Lucca, later known as the Tyrant.) She is beautiful. Gracious white marble, total serenity, small dog lying at her feet -- note, her feet not actually on the dog, which is a kind of pug. Her pet, perhaps?
Then a tour of the Palazzo Mansi, now a museum, fine collection of paintings (several Fiamminghi) and a few stunning four-poster beds. But whether really comfortable the whole night long...?
With the assistance of several most helpful Luccanese we uncovered the small restaurant Gigi, where much home-made cooking takes place. And very fine it was. The venue for the proposed concert was in the Oratorio degli Angeli Custodi (Oratory of the Guardian Angels) and thither we sped after our meal. The concert was a piano recital, nineteenth-century composers -- Brahms, Liszt, Debussy, Scriabin and Prokofiev. Young pianist aged twenty, a delicate-looking blonde Italian... THEN: amazing powerful arpeggios, up and down the keyboard she raced, flawless technique, stunning virtuosity. A delight. The audience cheered. We wish her a flourishing future; here she is, Chantal Balestri, born in Massa, Tuscany.

Most enjoyable. We walked back to the car, parked outside the city walls of Lucca, through the warm night air. Home through the silent hills.

The next day, Saturday, is the weekly change-over at the fattoria. We all packed our cases, rucksacks and bagged the food in the kitchen, then transported everything to our new abode, larger and cooler than where we'd lodged during the first week. Today Machteld and Shula fly back to Amsterdam, and the six of us (four adults and the two grandsons) spend another four days here before we too fly away over the hills...
Still very hot outside but thick walls protect us from the sun's rays.
David made a wonderful risotto a couple of days ago, some of which we turn into a salad, and eat outside in the shade. (Must get some more food pix!)
From time to time we nibble delicately at snippets of Turkish Delight brought by David (from Istanbul of course...) And we sample local Tuscan wines. Preferably white, which we can drink chilled...

Isaak's fifth birthday

How happy a birthday can you have??! We are in glorious Tuscany, in a sixteenth-century house on a hill, campaniles on surrounding hillsides, the city of Lucca with its medieval streets, many churches and splendid city wall only a quarter-of-an-hour's drive away. I seem to have (temporarily, I hope) lost a blog about the concert we attended in Lucca with young pianist Chantal Balestri giving a masterly performance of music by Brahms, Liszt, Scriabin and Prokofiev.

Above a picture of her at the piano in the Oratorio degli Angeli Custodi, and part of the wonderful baroque painted ceiling in the Oratory.
Two days later we had a party for Isaak's fifth birthday, with orange pennants flying and a truly superb cake (chocolate of course) decorated with Italian artistry to become a joy for the eye before a total joy for the palate!
Will try to post this as a control on my blogging ...

Monday, 13 August 2012

Reunited with the grandsons...

They grow like cabbages... that's a small joke lifted from the Amsterdam Museum (formerly the Amsterdam Historical Museum) which has a short rhyme painted above one of its gates; the museum was once the city orphanage, home to children whose parents had been special citizens of Amsterdam. In a plea for charity, the rhyme explains how the orphan boys grow like cabbage and require more and more food and clothing... Seeing my grandsons I am reminded of this. They are now aged (almost) five, and two-and-eight-months. The elder, Isaak, is tall for his age, very bright, and interested in all kinds of things, keeping a little home-made diary in which he writes up the science experiments that loving grandpas conduct with him, and where he draws illustrations of the things he has seen that caught his interest -- like the leaning Tower of Pisa.
We have most interesting conversations: I tell him the moon is faintly visible in the afternoon sky, a white ghostly shape. And explain about waxing and waning. "Wax," observes Isaak, "is a material like plastic." "Well, " I agree, "you're right about that, it's the same word and you write it the same way, but it means something different." Isaak is starting to read and write, so he's very aware of how you write/spell words. I find it fascinating to listen to him, telling a story about his self-created country named "Babyland" which has its own words, alphabet (he wrote some words for me in what looked faintly like Thai) and a curious social structure -- I believe Babyland is peopled by humans of a very young age! It sounds slightly like a Topsy-Turvy land -- but I need to acquire more info from Isaak...
The two boys do quite a lot together and the relationship seems fairly harmonious... Nathan now discovers words, and pronounces them with wonderful distinctness: especially things like "fire engine", "helicopter". One afternoon David built a fire for the barb-a-q and the two boys helped pile charcoal in a small pyramid. Nathan rejoiced in the new colour of his hands, declaring delightedly and repeatedly, "Black!!"

Here he concentrates on his transformed skin colour ...
He is very young still, only two and two-thirds!, and I realize how his world is bounded, is filled with the immediate. When he watches a video of Winnie the Pooh, I wonder what images are forming in his wind -- different from those I created through reading the book, with the delicate intricate black-and-white illustrations of E.H. Shepard.
Absolutely fascinating, the workings of the mind, the recordings of memories.

Isaak and Nathan have a wonderful example in Shula (aged 11) who spends a great deal of time curled up comfortably, buried in a thick book. So far she is reading only Dutch, but her spoken English is impressive, so we'll soon persuade her to venture further... Since arriving in Pisa airport has now read three Harry Potters in Dutch... But she also spends time with the boys, which is delightful for them -- a big sister!

A Tuscan villa

We found the fattoria after a few false turns... helped by two friendly Tuscans driving a tractor. And arrived for early supper, naturally enjoyed outside, sitting beneath a straw roof which provides the essential shade. We had easily found David at Pisa airport and, seated on the small terrace provided by the airport, enjoyed the necessary coffee and David and Walter talked about boats, marinas and told nautical adventure stories. After a couple of hours, Machteld and Shula appeared and David went off to pick up our reserved car from Avis. Then we drove to delightful unpretentious restaurant near Arnovecchio, where we were received by the owner -- a small, round beautiful lady with a face full of warmth and welcome. Delicious food, needless to say. I finished with a lemon sorbet, perfect for a sunny afternoon. After the coffee came the parting; I do not like such moments -- who knows when we will meet again? But I try increasingly to live deep in the present, carrying the memories lightly ...

Friday, 10 August 2012

Tuscan hilltops

We visited the little village of Scarlino and discovered a lovely Madonna Lactans calmly adorning the church wall there.
Here she is, a triptych effect with St Sebastian and a bishop-like saint whom I have as yet not identified... Any suggestions?

From above in Scarlino the Tuscan countryside is a patchwork of cornfields and olive groves. And beyond is the sea, stretching towards Elba. Or if you look northwards, towards Livorno.
So quiet in these noonday streets, very few tourists here -- though we did spot both Dutch and French number plates on visiting cars...

Today we are going out in Roberta and Walter's shared sailboat -- hopefully can swim off the side...
Needless to say, the weather continues to be a delight. The waves glint gently, the air really does caress the bare skin. Tomorrow I travel northwards via Pisa (airport) where David will arrive from Istanbul -- and then we join the family at an agriturismo north of Lucca.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Basking in the bay...

From here, you can see the isle of Elba, once Napoleon's home. He had a very pleasant house there, atop a hill; can't think why he ever wanted to leave... We visited Elba a couple of years ago, dropping anchor off its rocky coast. Lovely small island. I am now staying with our Italian friends, Roberta and Walter, whom we met three years ago in Marina Arnovecchio, and with whom we have now sailed quite a bit. They live on the 20th floor of the highest building in Follonica, whence an utterly stunning view. See earlier blogs; they also came for a sail when we were in Ostia.
Here a summertime view from the balcony of their apartment. The sea is full of shapes and patterns. The wind gets up in the afternoon and then grows quiet towards evening.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Hotel Fortuna, Perugia

On the sugar packets placed in a small box at the centre of our breakfast table, the name of Hotel Fortuna dances in gothic script -- plus the information that the building dates back to the 1300s ... I can believe it! If I thought my 17th-century house in Amsterdam was full of nooks and crannies, unexpected changes of floor level and winding staircases -- this hotel beats it into a cocked hat. (Hm, is that really the right expression? So many years out of England and I start to lose the idioms...).
Today I climbed the staircases up to the fifth floor and out onto the sun-stroked balcony, to admire the view. Heat haze in the distance, but close up honeysuckle twisting and scenting the air. It has the beautiful name camperfoelie in Dutch and similar sounds in French and Italian. Happy plant!
There is a Sunday serenity about the city at present (or is it caused by the noonday sun?) Or is everyone sleeping still, after the revelries of Saturday night -- the Corso Vannucci was packed at eleven p.m...

Here some pix of the Hotel Fortuna, recommended not least for its wonderful personnel -- the reception desk was peopled with charming and extremely helpful (I assume) students. Many thanks to Nicola, Neomi, Daniele and the two Federicas.

True to Italian sense of interior design, the rooms inside were also a delight to behold.

The ceiling in the dining room has similar painted plaster traces. The chairs are both elegant and comfortable (unlike Rietveld's -- in-joke for Dutch designers).

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Across and through the mountains...

Never able to decline the prospect of alliteration: here I am in perfect Perugia... A fairly lengthy journey from Tolentino by bus (Italian pullman) and then a train from Fabriano (where I had a two-hour wait, made pleasanter by meeting Sharon, a fellow Canadian and enterprising lady, on the way back from the States to join her husband and eight-year-old daughter and almost at the end of husband's sabbatical in Italy; so we crossed the road to a welcoming Pasticceria, and I had one of my Italian delights -- spremuta d'arancia ((fresh-squeezed orange juice)) while Sharon had a tub of gelato, obviously she'd been missing that...).
From Fabriano to Foligno and after another train change, onto the final lap -- to Perugia. We passed Assisi, seen from the southeast -- wonderful sight in the afternoon sunlight, a kind of Jerusalem, with its pinnacle and many towers.
Reached Perugia and followed my instructions to the minimetro, helped by voluble students, and even given a m-metro ticket by young woman who said it was still valid for an hour. Thank you, unknown friend!
The mini-metro climbs steeply uphill to reach the historic centre of Perugia. It is a tiny car, on a tiny track, quite scary. Happily there was someone else travelling up too. At the top I found more helpful people, who told me about a short cut to Corso Vannucci. I learned that this was the name of the painter I knew as Perugino (Pietro Vannucci, detto...)
Easy to find Hotel Fortuna. Lovely very old building, and as ever in Italy, beautifully appointed! They have given me a double room, bit more space -- though it is beside one of the tiny lifts, or ascensore, which creaks and bangs when used...But I don't complain. It's only on the second floor so I walk up and down the stairs! Daily exercise, part of...
Perugia is a total delight. Here some pix, showing the ancientness and the terracotta tiles I love so much.

The above stairs also formed part of my daily exercise. Did I mention that I have decided to become vegetarian? More of this later. So far have attained three-months in the non-meat-eating mode... So far so good.
And more soon about Perugino and his incomparable murals... No pix of those, cameras not allowed. But a visit much to be encouraged!
Here a pic from iside the Perugia duomo; I like the scaffolding, adds quite a modernist touch.

Beethoven in Tolentino

We drove, first along the narrow gravelly white roads between high banks grassy and brambly, and then on a dual-carriageway, into the small city of Tolentino. To admire its ancientness.  A basilica with superb murals, some of which I managed to photograph. In the distance we heard piano playing, realized it was the couple rehearsing for the evening's concert, four hands on the grand... The musicians were installed in the cloisters. Perfect setting, though possible Monteverdi more appropriate than Beethoven. But we sat and listened, shaded from the too-bright sun.

Then one last look at the murals before the drive home.

I love this group of medieval women, each face different from the next. And they are listening to a sermon...?

Ancora Italia, eviva!

For the first week, deep in the countryside of the Italian Marche, all etherized contact was absolved (nice word choice there!). Outside the crickets blasted away the silence and the heat pressed down. We siesta-ed in the afternoons, after visiting fresco-rich chapels and abbeys. Supper outside on the terrace overlooking the rolling fields, sunflower-gold and greens, and watching the shadows lengthen to culminate in a watercolour sunset, different each day.
The moon waxed to become full on my last night near Urbisaglia. Quiet in my bedroom I watched the night, the fields silvered and the trees now still, no longer wind-tossed as they had been. Shadows curling over the terracotta roof tiles.
Each day seemed long and full and harvesting peace. One day I wrote:

Does this wind howl? Or maybe moan?
Clearly does not whistle...
All else so quiet.
The kestrel glides triumphantly, slides
over unseen banks of air, tips and turns.
In the valley the poplar leaves vibrate.
A pair of white butterflies appear
We rest in the noonday heat.
The moon glides into place
out of her background haze
a faint form against the white-blue
shuddering, inimical sky
We wait for dusk...

We would sit silent, gazing out as the light faded. No words. No music.
Maybe a glass of wine.
 This is actually a view looking from a city wall of Perugia. I need to upload the pix taken in Urbisaglia and Tolentino.