Steinbock stalking in the Gran Paradiso…

I was driving along in the glorious, summer sunshine when a glimpse of light bouncing off something caused me to suddenly swerve onto the verge of the road and come to a spine jolting halt. The Writer craned his whip lashed neck in all directions looking for whatever it was that had caused this aberration in my usually impeccable ability to get us from A to B without running off the road.I waved my hand in the general direction of a pile of boulders excitedly yelling “horns- I’m sure I saw horns”.

We were  heading up the Valsavarenche, one of three valleys that make up the Gran Paradiso National Park in Northern Italy, and we were steinbock hunting!

Grabbing the cameras we stealthily sidled out of the car – I’m no sure why ,since any animal in the vicinity had surely heard the gravel flying as I skidded to a stop. Anyway , sidle we did, pointing and whispering as we tried to catch a glimpse of anything moving on the rocks above us. It wasn’t long before  The Writer began to mutter in a rather scathing manner something along the lines of  ” wishful thinking…”

Just as the muttering started to gain momentum I shouted “over there!” and pointed ( in what I hoped was a “I told you so” sort of way) at a lone steinbock leaping over the rocks just metres away. His long, curled horns quickly vanished from sight as we started clicking away. I back tracked down the road following the line of the rocks and as I rounded the corner so did the steinbock. He politely posed , nibbling first on a patch of grass , then on the low branches of a pine tree, twisting and turning his handsome head as if to show off his sweeping, serrated horns.

Steinbock. Gran Paradiso
Steinbock – heading off over the rocks.
Steinbock lunching. Italy
Head down – munching lunch. Steinbock.
Steinbock. Gran Paradiso.
Just a little lunch. Steinbock.

The Writer was still hanging round the car hoping for a return of the steinbock so I headed back and nudged him in the general direction of the photo worthy horns. We spent a happy 20 minutes tracking  and shooting stills and video and came across a couple of other young bucks frolicking over the rocks and alpine meadows.

Feeling very blessed to have had such luck we happily mooched on back to the car and decided we still had time for a quick walk  in this beautiful valley.

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Waterfall. Valsavarenche
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Gran Paradiso. Valsavarenche
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Valsavarenche. Rain coming.

 

There were a few cars in the carpark and as we hoofed it up the track we met a couple heading back with cameras and tripods slung across their shoulders. The Writer, deciding they were kindred spirits, regaled them with tales of our successful steinbocks potting advising them to head on back down the road where, if they were lucky, they might find a one with enormous horns posing on the rocks. They thanked us politely but not with what you would call effusiveness. I did think I caught “30 something” in amongst their rapid fire Italian and assumed they where asking how far to the big horns. “No,no – it’s only 5 minutes from the carpark ” I assured them.

We felt a little silly a few minutes later as we rounded the corner to find a herd of 30 something big horned steinbock grazing in the meadows!! They obligingly munched away as we clicked away. They waited while The Writer set up his tripod, they arranged themselves in picturesque groupings, draped themselves on the nearby rocks and generally behaved as any well educated model might. They knew the moves, they could hold the pose and they were politely disinterested in the photographers.

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Steinbock herd
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Posing Steinbock

On the way home, we passed the rocky slope where we’d seen our first steinbock earlier in the day. In unison we turned to each other and said “ours was better!”

Looking back at our photos from the comfort of our living room several weeks later we’re still in agreement. It was a thrill to catch a glimpse of horns , see them disappear and then track silently until we came across a proud and majestic wild animal , alone on the rocks. The herd seemed altogether a more domesticated group!

What do you think?

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The elastic band of time……

Time is such an elastic concept. Long , lazy hours by the pool napping in the sun and the afternoon stretches on in a slow, golden haze. Add an un-put-downable book and the time flys, I look up as the light fades to find the Formula 1 Novel Effect has kicked in and 4 hours have raced by in a blur of gripping plot twists and scintillating dialogue.

Then there’s the Simultaneous Paradox .Caught in a traffic jam on the motorway to the Charles de Gaulle airport with 2 hours till our flight departs and the flashing red signs screaming that there’s a 1 hour expected delay! The traffic crawls along at a speed barely faster than a stationary object ( at one point I’m sure the holm oak forest overtook our car!). The minutes drag on and on as our car becomes mired down in the morass of bumper to bumper cars, trucks and buses. At the same time every second  whirls past faster and faster exponentially increasing momentum as the time to departure grows closer and closer.

The Slow Motion Seconds that feel like a life time as the car I’m driving hits black ice and turns 360 degrees before running off the road and coming to rest against a tree just metres from a swift running river. The euphoric moment of realisation that we’re safe is instantaneous yet stays with me all day.

Deadline Time is like no other! I well remember my swot vac before matric exams.Time spiralled in on itself as the exam date loomed ever closer and the revision schedule blew out due to ice cream overload and a complete inability to concentrate on anything other than trashy novels!

My Time of Discontent is fixed and immovable as I rail against whatever it is I’m railing against at the moment. Perhaps it’s the thought of yet another year of stress inducing working life. Maybe I want my cake and eat it too – and then hate the scales for reflecting the sad reality that results from having my cake and eating it in such large amounts! It could simply be the grey day that makes time seem so stagnant. Give me sunshine and the hours find wings.

My LIFE clock is not like the mantle clock that tics and tocs away the minutes and hours to a regular beat. I remember watching my boys sleeping as babies. Their perfect, peaceful breathing, the miracle of their being, the just fed , milky smiles and time just stood still in those moments of wonder. Then  somehow as they grew time sped up and their little lives just flew past in a whirl of toddler activity , school drop offs and pick ups, playdates, sleepovers, holidays , birthdays , Christmas excitement and  teenage angst. Their twenties saw a slowing down as they embarked on longer term projects and we’ll see what happens as they set off on new paths in the future.

There are never enough hours for the joys and pleasures of life yet endless days and months and years for the sorrows. I need to take control of that elastic band of time. I need to stretch it out to encompass all that is beautiful, rich , rewarding and full of hope. I will let it slacken off so that some of the disappointments , losses, hurts and plain old boredoms just drop right out the bottom of time!

 

 

 

A day in the studio.

I had a rostered day off work today after a horror couple of weeks with equipment breakdowns that have played havoc with our work schedule. I love a RDO ! Unlike a weekend it’s all MY time! I can share it with The Writer if I choose but he never takes it for granted that I’ll go for a walk or sit down for a long conversation over lunch, which is a good thing, since I always have a long list of stuff I want to do on my precious day off.

Today I got up early and put on some washing , showered,had a quick breakfast and checked my email. Then I had a fun morning making some little felt phone pouches. They’re quick and easy but I did have to change the cotton colour quite a lot! I’ll be popping them into my Etsy shop later on tonight. Then I hung out the washing ,which I have to admit I forgot about!

 

Then I started a large pastel painting for an upcoming charity exhibition and made a good start. I’m happy with the water and sky. The rocks are coming along well- although I may knock the colour back a little in some places. There’s going to be a lone seagull in flight when it’s finished but I haven’t got that far yet. The photo’s not the sharpest as the cat was purring round my legs when I took it with the tablet and there’s a bit of camera shake going on but I was just too darned busy to break the schedule and get out the camera on the tripod.

 

pastel painitng - rocks
Bay of Fires rocks – pastel painting

Around one thirty my stomach reminded me to take a minute out for lunch so I made a sandwiched and then headed back to the studio. I kept working on those rocks for the next couple of hours until the chill reminded me to get the washing in. A few domestic chores, a quick flit to the shop for some butter and a foray into the bush for the greenery that I need for tomorrow nights decorations for a mid winter feast and it was time to put dinner on.

While dinner cooked I cut out snowflake templates stuck them to empty jars and then spray painted  the jars  white . Once the template came off  I dropped in a tea light and voila! a safe and pretty candle for the table centers.

 

So by the time I would usually  be heading in the door from work I’d managed to tick off a fair bit from my “to do” list!

 

 

 

The Italian Paintings

I’ve unpacked the suitcase, done the laundry and distributed the gifts. I’ve settled back into work reacquainting myself with the myriad small disasters of the working day. I’ve rearranged the studio and tidied up a bit. So now there’s so more excuses for putting off starting on the post holiday paintings.

It might surprise you to know that as much as I love painting there’s something a bit daunting about sorting through my memories, masses of photos and all those small sketches I did and trying to distill the essence of the holiday that I now want to capture in larger pastel paintings.

Sometimes I absolutely know what I’m interested in. One holiday it was patterns- roof tiles, fields of different crops, rows of lavender, five metal jugs on a wall, bicycle wheels- stone fences-the list went on. Other times it takes a while for a them to emerge and this last Italian holiday was one of those.

When that happens sometimes I just decide to jump in and start painting whatever and see what develops. So here are my first three paintings and I think what might be developing is a visual essay on the varied landscapes of Italy.

When you live as far “down under” as we do, in southern Tasmania, it’s a long way to Europe and our usual approach is to whittle away at our wish list across 2 or 3 countries each trip. This holiday we spent 5 weeks in Italy instead of our usual 1-2 weeks and it really made a difference. We were able to stay a week each in four very different  regions and explore a bit more in depth than we usually have time for and I think the vastly different landscapes, architecture and traditional work is what captured our interest. Of course this variety shouldn’t be a surprise given that the Italy we know today is a very recent entity .

A gentle morning landscape with mist rising over the Tuscan wheatfields, the emerald waters of Sardinia and snowcapped mountains reflected in Lake Arpy in the northern Italian alps – the start of a series celebrating the diverse landscapes of Italy.

Tuscan wheatfields
Morning wheatfields. Tuscany

 

Capo di Cavello. Sardinia
Capo di Cavello. Sardinia

 

Lake Arpy. Italy
Lake Arpy reflections. Italy

A working theory on holiday disasters.

For quite some time The Writer and I have been testing the theory that a little bit of disaster punctuating a holiday just makes the good bits better. You might have read about the border incident which showcased a classic example where stress and imminent starvation resulted in a bog standard schnitzel consumed an hour later tasting like something a team of Michelin starred chefs had dreamed up for the culmination of the final dinner at a gourmet retreat.

You might be surprised to learn  we’ve amassed a fairly hefty set of data to support our working theory over the years. Indeed, The Writer has already published some early data based on a single holiday with five subjects participating in the field experiment-me ,The Writer, MIL and the two offspring.He has a perky little writing style and many a reader has commented along the lines of : “I bust a gut laughing at the antics of the Whitton family on holiday”. If you think you might enjoy a bust gut you can join the gang down at the hospital after reading Bon Voyage.

Sometimes the geek in me wins out so I decided to create an equation to express the working theory and here it is:

(Within the confines of H) D  followed by  NPE = HSH

where

H= a holiday from the usual place of residence ( preferably overseas with limited local language skills)

D= any event that precipitates pain, stress, financial loss, misery, tears, shouting or actual bodily harm

NHP= any normal happy event such as a dinner that is edible, a car that gets you from A to B without breaking down, a mobile phone that has signal when you want to use it or a swimming pool that is full of water on a hot day.

and

HSH = a heightened state of happiness.

I plan to post a few examples of D followed by NPE = HSH over the next little while so get your inner geek on, set up a journal club and join in the evaluation of the working theory.

A funny thing happened on the way to the border.

I was reading the daily prompt tonight and it reminded me of a funny little episode one holiday several years ago ( that’s code for- my mind is going and I  can’t remember when).

Anyway we’d spent a pretty good day nipping over the border from Germany into the Czech Republic and planned to stay the night in a wonderful little hotel in Cesky Krumlov that we’d come across 2 years earlier on another trip. Another thing I can’t remember is why we hadn’t actually booked it – The Writer is a very avid booker- so maybe it was just a spur of the moment decision to slip into the CR. I do remember it was a sublime holiday with no children ( sorry kids!) to consider so we did a bit of ad libbing along the way. You can obviously tell where this is going- we turned up around 5pm and the hotel was fully booked. The Writer did the rounds of the town but there was no room at the inn for us!

After a bit of grumpiness and pouting we consulted the map and found a border crossing fairly near in a bit of a hole and corner area with nothing else much around. Over the border was a very picturesque and desirable bit of Germany so we took a vote and headed south!

We’d cheered up quite a bit by the time we reached the “Border” which turned out to be a lake! Did we give up? Not on your life! Spurred on by the lack of comfy beds and the looming evening we dived into the nearby cafe to ask a few searching questions in our non existent Czech. Result! The cook happened to have a little side business in ferrying people and their cars across the lake to the actual border. We followed  a German family in their 4WD onto the ferry. This helped to silence the tiny voice suggesting we where mugs and the cook’s ferry was just a scam – if the local Germans were using the ferry it must be a legit border crossing.

The ride across was beautiful, a calm lake in the early evening light with a few well disposed fishing boats and the ferry quietly chugging through the still waters. We were a bit subdued by the German’s asking us if this was the way to the border- we’d kind of been relying on them knowing it was the way.

We drove off the other side waving goodbye to the cook/ferry master and on down a bumpy dirt track past the rickety wooden sign with a mobile number for calling the ferry if you wanted to cross the other way. I reassured The Writer it was just for those wanting to cross from Germany to Czech but secretly I thought back to the cafe in the middle of nowhere and wondered if it might have been funded by duped tourists crossing and then having to pay to cross back again when no border was found.

Anyway , onward to the border! There were no signs pointing the way but there was only one road so we figured it should be easy to find the border. I hit the accelerator and powered after the dust trail of the  4WD as dusk descended. A hundred meters up the road there was a fork and no sign! Which way to go? We followed the Germans! Fifteen minutes later with the road narrowing we came upon the Germans backing out, so we too reversed. Well – it must be the other road – we all agreed ,and the Germans followed us this time.

It was getting a bit tense in the Whitton’s car at this point as we’d just taken an inventory of food supplies and realised we had half a bar of Lindt for dinner. If we didn’t make it out they’d surely find our corpses in the car clutching the silver foil wrapper. It was only 7pm and you might ask why we were bothered still plenty of time to find the border I hear you say. Ah, but this was a tiny rural crossing and the border closed at 8pm according to the cook. We weren’t the only ones worried , the German’s had made some telling comments about bratwurst and sauerkraut earlier.

Of course we came across another fork, made an arbitrary decision that Germany looked like it was “that way” on the map and barreled down another tiny laneway . Ten minutes on we came across some hikers who said it was just a dead-end . Go on- ask them where the border is – I hear you say. So we did and they didn’t ( know,  that is). Blimey it must be tiny , or a long way off, or non-existent, we thought – but there was the map with an official border crossing marked.

Off we went again with the clock ticking and third time lucky! We could see the border boom gate just round the corner. We stopped , the Germans stopped and we all got out to examine the padlocked boomgate, the empty guard box and the battered sign informing as that this border was officially closed. The German male and The Writer formed a “let’s just jemmy the padlock and drive through” lobby group while me and the German female formed the”how do you know there isn’t a video feed and we’ll all be nabbed in no man’s land” opposition. The paranoid party won the day and we all piled into the cars and cursing in varied languages rally drove down winding woody lanes with 10 minutes left on the clock.

With his head in the map The Writer missed the deer leaping across the road and fortunately the deer just missed the car ! We turned left and right and left again , rounding the last corner on 2 wheels and with seconds to spare screamed to a halt beside the  border crossing booth closely followed by the Germans. The border guard didn’t even glance up as he lazily waved us through.

I was perversely annoyed that he didn’t bother to come out of his booth and check my passport and the boot- what if I’d smuggled out that deer I nearly hit? I guess what I really wanted was some sort of acknowledgement for finding the border, for talking down the border ramming party and avoiding the ignonimity of having to use the return ferry crossing mobile number.

My chagrin didn’t last long as we rolled through the manicured German countryside and within an hour we were well fed on schnitzel and tucked up under a feather doona in an unassuming but cosy little gasthaus.

Sometimes I miss the old days before the EU when border crossings were always a bit of an adventure!

End of holiday blues.

It’s always hard coming back after a holiday. Holidays mean the freedom of unscheduled days, hours of sunshine when I don’t have to be cooped up inside, an unspoken agreement that it’s OK to eat all those forbidden foods I usually ration out and a winding down from months of stressful work. It’s no surprise that I’m  grumpy and out of sorts when it all ends!

Heading off I feel it will all be worth the 26 hours of  airports and flights . I pack and repack happily, weighing suitcases to calculate how much I’ve left for the all important holiday buys. Do I really need those black sandals? Surely it won’t be cold enough for a jumper? I carefully choose a lightweight read and  even look forward to watching a few movies on the longhaul flight. I stock up on chocolate and nuts at the airport and look forward to 5 weeks of blissful sun, sea, culture and good food.

It’s a different story on the way home! I curse the extra sandals as I try to crush in the last of the gifts. I decide I’ll have to carry the thick and weighty jacket I had to buy because it did get cold enough for the jumper I didn’t pack – and it annoys me all the way home as I haul it in and out of overhead lockers. The movies are rubbish and I the books I chose is dull. I don’t have any chocolate because I couldn’t face the queue to buy it but that’s OK since I feel sick as a dog.

I can’t wait to be back in my own home but once I am there’s all that unpacking and washing and sorting of clothes . The piles of gifts sit and look at me accusingly as I try and work out when I’m going to get to see all the people I want to visit now that I’m not on holidays anymore. The rain pours down and my nose streams as I hack and splutter with a welcome home cold. Jet lag kicks in and I can’t sleep for nights on end – the days at work are a blur as I try and act professional through gritty eyes and gritted teeth. I almost resign on the first day back but manage to keep my mouth shut and get on with it.

A week later and sleep returns and the very next day I find myself planning next years holiday. After all there’s only 11 months to go!

 

Trulli interesting.

A recent visit to the Val D’Itrea in Puglia, Italy was inspired by a promotional ad for holiday accommodation in a Trullo. It looked so unique that The Writer was hooked so we built it into our 5 week Italy holiday. I have to say that The Writer is a consistently great travel planner and does a lot of destination research before presenting me with options and possible itineraries. If I had to pay for his time I wouldn’t be able to afford the holiday!! Well I suppose he would just put it  in the holiday fund and we would be able to afford it anyway… back to the Trulli ( plural of a Trullo in Italian)

What’s a Trulli?

A Trullo is a traditional round dry-stone house with a conical stone roof built by the early peasants of the area now known as Puglia in Italy. We saw thousands of them on our stay, concentrated in the town of Alberobello ,dotted around the countryside in fields and huddling together in farm complexes. There were ancient tumbling down Trulli, rustic but functional Trulli, faithfully renovated Trulli, renovated and extended Trulli and brand new built Trulli. Traditional Trulli were made with large grey rocks from the field set together without any joining material. A conical stone roof was added and then flat stones were layered over the top to allow the water to run off into collecting channels built like steps into the roof – a bit like the modern tiled roof. The roof is then capped off with a little spire holding a round stone ball ( sometimes other shapes were used). The cap is often whitewashed and provides a great contrast to the grey stone. Some are just a single room, others are grouped together with connecting doors through the very thick walls, and some big farming complexes will have a main house with many conical roofs and smaller dwellings for animals and storage nearby..

Rustic Trulli in Puglia
Rural Trulli

 

Rustic Trullo
Abandoned Trullo
Trulli complex
New Trulli renovation 

Why build Trulli from stone?

Well if you ever visit Puglia you’ll notice an abundance of stone fences. And when I use the word abundance I really mean it! Seeing metre wide stone walls running each side of the narrow lane way to our accommodation just emphasised the amount of stone that must have been in the fields. If you want to plant crops you need to cultivate the land so down come the trees and out come the rocks. You can use trees for buildings, furniture, storage, fencing and fuel and but once the trees are all gone you need to find another building supply. There’s only so many fences you can make so what better way to use up those pesky stones than to build with them. There’s also a popular theory that by pulling out the conical capstone on the roof the local peasant could dismantle his house almost instantaneously thus avoiding the  tax on permanent dwellings. Sounds a bit dodgy to me – I bet they took a long time to build and I certainly wouldn’t be demolishing mine every time the taxman came around! I might make a portable painted panel to disguise it though. You know the sort of thing I mean – a bucolic little number with an olive tree and a couple of goats grazing underneath with a sow and her litter foraging for windfall. I reckon that would do the trick and save a heap of work.

 

Alberobello World Heritage Site

Whilst Trulli date from the prehistoric age the oldest intact examples are from the 14th century and can be found in the town of Alberobello where there are over 1000 Trulli! Many of the Alberobello Trulli have whitewashed walls with a stone roof and a whitewashed capping cone. Some have whitewashed symbols painted on the roof.

This area is now a World Heritage listed site and we visited it during peak tourist time, then again early one morning and later for a sunset . It’s impressiveness lies  in the simple, functional beauty  of the buildings and the sheer number in such a small area. The downside was all the tourist trinket shops set up in the Trulli. I love arts and crafts but they’re scarce on the ground in Alberobello. Puglia has been one of the poorer areas of Italy so  while it’s pretty easy for me to be annoyed at the tacky souvenir shops spoiling the atmosphere the locals are just doing their best to make a living and I tried to remember that.

Alberobello traditional Trulli
Alberobello traditional Trulli
Alberobello Trulli town
Alberobello World Heritage Site
Trulli accommodation Alberobello
Alberobello – renovated Trulli accommodation
Renovated Trulli Alberobello
Scrubbed -up Trulli Alberobello

Is the Trulli a dying art form?

There doesn’t seem to be any reason to think the Trulli won’t be around for another few millenia. We saw a lot of modern Trulli which are often made from a lighter, creamy coloured stone using square-cut blocks from local quarries which were mortar set. They incorporated multiple conical roofs with other larger areas using different angled roofs and there are some stunning properties around. Our accommodation for the week was part of a renovated Trulli with very sympathetic extensions set in beautiful grounds with a stunning paved pool area, fruit trees and olive groves.

 

Would I want to live in a Trulli permanently?

Not really – great for a holiday but the design means there’s not much space in each little circular room. The up side is the conical roof means there’s plenty of height to hang your favourite rustic chandelier, the downside is once you’ve got in the table and chairs there’s no room for anything else. Still, in Puglia’s summer heat those 3 foot thick walls really keep you cool and once it’s winter you can just stay tucked up in bed when you’re not eating at the table!

Trulli roofs
Trulli roof
Trullo fireplace
Trulli fireplace
Trulli roof symbols
Traditional roof symbols