Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Omitted yesterdays

Just for the record, while I am hanging around enjoying the cool weather, and watching all the people walk past to find their fireworks-watching space, I thought I might as well describe my Christmas.

Last Sunday I drove to Canberra to look after my daughter's children, so that on Monday she could go on a full day's work trip interstate. This was between all her Christmas preparations and packing as much as possible for her move. She never stops. There is so much to be done.

The house was full of boxes, both empty and full.

My grandson gave me a big fright, as in the morning his sugars were exceedingly high. They stayed high all day. Fortunately my daughter keeps her ear and eye on her telephone, so she was able to advise on insulin dosages throughout the day. She and my son suspected he had been raiding sweet things. He said not, but  I think he yielded to temptation.

It had been a very hot night, and so I went out and bought cotton sheets for the children, to replace the very hot flannelette sheets on the beds. I also did vast amounts of washing. The washing machine is a front loader, and each load took forever. In between all the washing I did some weeding, pruned the roses and raked up lots of garden rubbish. Rose pruning is not one of my skills, but these plants did need a bit of a hack.

My daughter arrived back late that evening, and next day we did lots of sorting, packing, putting odd socks together (how do so many socks come to be lost? I even found one of my own purple socks at the bottom of the washing pile), more washing, and made a few inroads into sorting and selecting toys, etc. My son and daughter, all the children and I went out and did lots of food shopping, and then ventured into the perils of Christmas shopping for the children. And I bought some new sheets for my daughter. I found another cheap book, on the young Henry VIII. (I have just finished reading it. He was not a nice man.) Suitably laden, and having chosen some wine, we all went to his house, and ate there.

Father Christmas did come during the night, and left lots of nice things for the children. Mostly complicated things like Lego, electronic devices, and mechanical things. (A lot of technological ability has evolved in the last century, in my children's generation, but it totally skipped me. It does mean your children can explain devices to you, more or less patiently and kindly.) We all returned to my son's place, and had a long Christmas lunch. Turkey, ham, baked vegetables, wine and cream sauce, the lot. But no pudding. We are not pudding people. And this year I did not make a Christmas cake. Nobody eats it except me. The children all enjoyed their new things. I am delighted with the Wollemi pine which my daughter gave me, at my request, and with the fetching purple kitchen aids from my son.

After Christmas, I kept on washing, and caught up with it all. I cleaned the kitchen and the bathroom,  and helped fill boxes.  We discussed getting new beds for the children, and after I had returned home my daughter went out and bought them. The awful old ones will go to the tip, with lots of other furniture company. We got through a lot, and there remains much more to be done. I hope that once the move is over, and they have settled in, they can relax a bit before school starts. And I might be able to go and see them all in their new home. I offered to go back, and do some more, but she thinks she can manage.  So I will stay put.

New Year Resolutions coming up: raise own spirits. Think beautiful thoughts, and so on and so forth. Read more books, listen to more music. Work through the large number of CDs sitting there begging to be played. Crochet new cot blanket for nephew and wife, who expect a baby in a few months. Already there are trial squares laid out on the carpet.

I went up to the corner and watched the 9 pm fireworks. It is going to be a long night. People are still streaming past in large numbers, and they are already extremely noisy. Lots of swearing, and a young man urinated in the gutter across the road. Nice.

Happy New Year, to all, even to the noisy revellers. May they not get totally smashed. And may I get some sleep.

What the Morrow brings

The End of the Year is upon us. Tonight there will be many fireworks to welcome the New Year.  From the roundabout on the main street there is a view of the Harbour Bridge, and so at 9 pm I will wander up there - two minutes away - and watch, along with the young people at the local pub and lots of families, who will carry their children on the shoulders, all the better to see the fireworks from. Cameras will be flashing, competing with the fireworks. I have tried in previous years to take photos, on the special setting, but they are never any good. Except to look at occasionally and contemplate past New Years. I may wander down to a local viewing spot to see the fireworks at midnight. No point staying home and trying to sleep. So many people walk past after midnight that sleep is not possible. Cars. other than those of residents, are not permitted entry to this peninsula, and there are barriers set up to block entry, and lots of officials to check permits. Shanks pony and buses rule.  It takes quite a long time for all the people to walk past, so it will be well into the early hours before they are all on their way home.

Newspapers and numerous pundits ponderously pontificate on the future and the past. And I suppose we all review what we have done, what was not done, and what might happen next. I do a lot of this sort of musing, not that it leads, as yet, to any conclusions, resolutions or decisions. Just a lot of pondering. Where will I be, what will I do, and how might the future work out? None of us knows for sure.

My middle child, my second daughter, and her children are moving. For them it is a good move, the right thing, better for her and the children: better to remove from the difficult situation and a bad relationship, better for her work.  She, and they, will do well, and I applaud her fortitude, her ability
 to make such decisions and to set about making a better life for herself, her career, and for her children.

Yet I feel bereft. I will see much less of them and they are the ones I have been closest to. Much thought will be needed about my own future.  I have felt very alone - indeed, I am alone - isolated and irrelevant to much of the family, and cheerfulness and fortitude evade me.  It is all a struggle. I hope I can come to a more resolute, cheerful and optimistic frame of mind.

In the meantime and for the future, I wish all and sundry, those near and far, those of you I know only through the ether, a happy New Year, and may you all feel the sunlight on your back.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Perpetuating stereotypes

Those who brainwashed me as a child did a pretty good job of it. Brainwashers were legion. Parents, grandparents, extended family, older sister, teachers, the nuns and the Church. All were very good at inculcating a strong sense of right and wrong., sin and evil, overall morality, and overpowering sense of guilt, shame and blame. It lingers to this day, and I feel overwhelmed and isolated in the modern world.

But I can disapprove with the best of them. The treatment of women, in particular,  and the sexualisation of little girls.

There was an article in the paper last weekend a bout a woman who makes and sells tutus for little girls. she explained it all by saying that her four year old daughter  (her FOUR YEAR OLD!!) refused to wear ordinary clothes, let alone shorts or jeans. So her mother, instead of not putting up with this nonsense, and applying common sense, not to mention parental authority, let the child wear tutus, and, what's more, she started designing and manufacturing a range of tutus (probably all pink, because , as everyone knows, little females who don't wear pink will not mature and become real women).
What sort of mother gives in to this sort of spoilt and tantrummy preschool behaviour? she must have rocks in her head, or maybe fairy floss.

I do remember my little girls at some stage carrying on a bit, saying girls did not  wear pants. I pointed out that I was a girl, and that I wore pants, and somehow they grew to accept that wearing or not wearing pants need not be an issue, and the world did not come to an end because of it, and indeed they grew up to be strong, able and sensible women.

But when you venture into clothing shops, you find all these tizzy, frilly, frothy, beribboned and lurid pink clothes for little girls. Talk about being typecast, and dragooned into a mindless kind of 'femininity'.

It makes me sad, and also angry and outraged. How to combat this sort of thing, and to bring up our daughters and sons as independent and strong people, and to be able to resist this sort of brainwashing?

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Stamps, cards, teeth and confessions

I have been doing Christmas cards. It is quite hard work. What I do now is write a letter, rather than just send a card. I like to get such letters from friends, as it keeps me in touch with those of whom I see very little, and with whom I want to keep in contact.

It took ages to get the letter done. Little changes here and there, and then some radical re-arrangement, were made. There were times when I drifted away from the computer , to let my mind float free and sort things out. Naturally the printer ran out of ink. It always does.

Anyway, it is all done. All have been posted, unless there are some people omitted through insufficient vigilance.

Dr P had a lot of old stamps, and envelopes, which I inherited. The envelopes have lost their stickiness, and so have the stamps. They are old, the stamps - 27, 30, 33 cent stamps. A lot of glue sticking was needed. Some addresses needed to be double checked. The stamps are in sheets and had to be carefully separated. Two stamps per card were needed. It takes some time to re-glue stamps and envelopes.

Christmas cards tend to have a kind of serenditipity to them. As I ticked off the names of old friends, and then collected the day's postal deliveries, some arrived in time for me to acknowledge them. I have spent two days doing the cards. Now I feel very virtuous, not to mention efficient.

In between all this I had a dental appointment. I was lucky, the tooth was fixable and it did not hurt. But it cost a lot. It must be very satisfying to be able to do such precision work as dentistry.

In the olden days, when I was a little girl, we were naughty and ate too many sweets. Sugar is extremely addictive. My parents did not send us to the dentist frequently enough to prevent all the decay that so much consumption was causing. The teeth in my family were not good. Dentistry was relatively primitive, and teeth tended to be extracted rather than repaired. My remaining teeth are in a very parlous condition. I hope I took better care of my children's teeth. I did my best. I hope it was good enough. I am very embarrassed about my teeth and how it came about that they were so bad. It is easier to pretend that such things did not happen.

Dentistry has made great advances since I was young. Thank goodness.

To add to my disgrace, when I went to the library yesterday to borrow a couple of books, I was barred. I had failed to return a book. It got stuck in my shelves with lots of other second hand books. I had changed my email in the meantime, and so the overdue notice did not reach me. I had to pay a $10 fine today, but I have been restored to grace.

I only went to the library yesterday, which is not my local one, because I was meeting a dear blogging friend for lunch. She has finished her PhD since we last met. I do so admire her and her achievements, and take great pleasure in her company. We had a very good time together.

And I have been watching the cricket. And Australia won. I don't watch a lot of sport, not having had control of the airwaves for most of the time. I don't understand the finer points of the game, let alone the less fine aspects. But this week I had a good time watching, as I crocheted away, or addressed cards. and we won. The Ashes are ours again. Yay!

In between all this excitement, I have enjoying a frenzy of Margaret Drabble books.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

When the passengers cheer the pilot...

Here I am, back home after four days away, seeing family, and attending the pre-Christmas family gathering. This time we did not have a group photograph taken. Instead each family elder and their descendants had separate group photographs taken. I am told there will be a composite photograph created. Not good enough, in my view.

It was good to see them all, and to talk to as many of them as can be fitted into three hours or so. I stayed a night with my daughter and family, which was lovely. My grandsons are growing up, and are fine boys. It is a happy and harmonious home. My daughter has her end of year concerts next weekend, so was and is very busy getting it all organised, and the the performances polished. I managed to see an old friend and colleague. The weather was pleasantly cool. My sisters and I saw a film together. And I found a bargain book on the architecture of Venice. The time just flashed past.

It is lovely to see them all, but I do not really feel a part of it all.  Which all makes me ponder my future.
They all seem to think they know better than I do how I should live my life and what decisions I should make. But they don't know me as well as I do.

This morning my sister took me to the station, and I caught the train to the city, and then took the bus to the airport. As I checked in, a seat on an earlier flight was offered, and so I chose to change the booking.  Good, I thought, less hanging around waiting, and I will get home earlier.

I had heard the weather forecast for Sydney - hot with strong winds.

I was in a middle seat, with men on either side of me. Naturally they spilled over into my space, so there I sat, reading, as their arms invaded my space. It is a bit irritating. I bet they would have been cross if my arms had spilled over into their space.The man on the window seat was enthusiastically taking photos, whenever there was land unobscured by clouds.

As the plane descended, the wind became very strong and gusty, and we were bucketed about quite a lot. Then, as we came in towards the runway, from the sea, the plane rocked and lurched even more. We seemed very close to the water - indeed, we were very close, and for a moment it was scary. We had almost landed and then the plane lifted. Obviously it was not safe to land. The pilot explained that there were very strong southerly winds, and thus we were just going to fly around for a while until the winds eased. So we made a leisurely flight all around Sydney and finally came in to land from the general direction past my house. If I had had the window seat I would have been able to spot my house.

The man in the window seat was most excited.  He turned out to be a German tourist, and he took heaps of photos of everything we flew over - the sea, the harbour, the Bridge, the Anzac Bridge. He must have thought it was his lucky day.

When we landed safely, the passengers broke into loud applause. This took me a little by surprise, as after all I did expect the pilot to land us safely. But it was all rather exciting!

Catching the train and bus back home seemed rather an anti-climax, but all the same I am glad to be home. Even if there is no food in the house, and the weather is uncomfortably hot.

I am keeping calm and carrying on.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Ave atque vale

Nelson Mandela.

This morning I awoke to the news of his death, and I have spent some hours watching and listening to accounts of his life. One can only marvel at the strength and fortitude of a man who survived and overcame harassment, and 27 years cruel and severe imprisonment, who was finally released and who became President of South Africa, and who was largely responsible for the overthrow of the inhumane and savagely unjust system of apartheid. It is incredible and marvellous that a person can overcome injustices, imprisonment and persecution, and the attendant deprivations of family life and freedom, and retain such nobility and generosity of spirit.

Hail and farewell, indeed.

South Africa has always been of interest to me, because my father was born there, and lived there until his family returned in 1924, when he was when he was 13 years old. He wrote some memoirs fairly late in his life, and recently I  have been re-reading them. He wrote that at that time Apartheid had not taken the rigid form it later assumed, although there were separate train carriages for whites and blacks, and blacks were required to carry passes signed by their employers. all this was evidently taken for granted. Whites were superior, blacks inferior. There were many more blacks than whites, and therefore it was essential to deny them a political voice, and the ordinary, taken for granted, civil rights.

When I returned to work after my first two children were born, the head of the section was a South African woman, who talked at length about Apartheid. She and her husband were relatively liberal. But I found her accounts of the system chilling and incredibly unjust. On small example sticks in my mind. Her husband came to Australia before his wife and children, and shortly after he arrived he became ill and was diagnosed as having tuberculosis.  He was in a sanitorium for months.

I was amazed. How did he get TB? I asked. Was he not vaccinated? It seems he, and most whites were not vaccinated. Perhaps their servants were. But her husband was around the port area for a short time before his ship sailed for Australia, and he must have been in contact with black, and unvaccinated Africans. This was at a time when vaccination against TB was administered to everyone in Australia. South Africa has no such programmes. How did it come about that in such a rich country there were no mass vaccination programmes? Not to mention education and the vote.

In those years the apartheid and sport issue was very prominent, and we all debated the matter extensively. It was in the aftermath of the fight for civil rights for blacks in the USA, and it seemed incredible that segregation and denial of civil and political rights were so entrenched in South Africa.It is probably too early to say whether South Africa can be transformed to democratic and economic ideals: injustice and discrimination frequently endure indefinitely.

But we have been witnesses, albeit distantly, to the life and achievement of a truly remarkable man, who achieved in his lifetime, after years of struggle, imprisonment and suffering (which would have destroyed and embittered most of us) political success and transformation of a country, and who was able to take the long view, to forgive, and not to seek revenge. For him, his life and his achievements, we should all of us, surely, give thanks.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Sorting Hat needed, not to mention reincarnation

Restoring order from chaos must be daunting and unpleasant, unless there are people you can get to help you. This is seldom the case. The time has come to get my tax done, and therefore I have had to sort out lots of paperwork. Alas, age does not mean you get better at this sort of task. Piles of documents abound, multiply, and then mysteriously vanish. Precious time is consumed sorting out the chaos.

Thus has been my day. It would be wonderful to be a perfectly organised person, knowing exactly where you put what, and never having to sort through miscellaneous piles of this and that. I tend to be quite good at creating miscellaneous piles, but sooner, rather that later, they catch up with me, and demand that lots of time be spent of sorting and reorganising. And I can always think of something else to do which is much more fun and infinitely less frustrating.

I got into bad habits when I was young and newly married. My first husband was no better at this sort of thing than I was. ( I wonder what he is like now?) And there was no family training in being organised. Whatever happened in my parents home never became shared knowledge. My father had to pay provisional tax, so it was a very different system. And he had a clerk. And my mother, with husband and seven children, did not do any paid work. So doing one's tax return came as a rude shock to me, but then it was considered the man's responsibility - eventually.

Years passed, and it got done, but it is never something to be enjoyed, nor did it give any sense of accomplishment. Eventually I resorted to my brother in law, which took a lot of the pain out of the process. But of course I have to keep track of all the documentation, get it all sorted out, and send it all off,  get it done and then try to do better next year, and make fervent intentions to be better organised in future.

The system of having various piles around the house is my usual modus operandi. Eventually these have to be sorted and organised. Today was the day. The knitting group is coming here for lunch on Friday, and I need clear benches, and a tidy house. So having sorted and reorganised, and being on a rather lethargic sort of roll, with, alas, nothing better to do (except crochet intermittently) I thought, Well I must get organised with the tax. My tax agent sent me a reminder email, and as I will be in Melbourne for a few days, it behoves me to get it all organised and to take it all down with me.

The pharmacist has promised to give me a printout of deductible expenses. Except he has only recently taken over the business and is still grappling with the computer system. Tomorrow, he promises.

I think it will all be sufficiently organised to get it done while I am in Melbourne. It does seem that I am on some sort of a roll, as, inspired by the book and CD fair at my local Town Hall, I am going through the books as well. Having  made several visits to the sale, and having come away with even more books, I have been going through the books on the shelves with something approaching decision and resolution, and have succeeded in weeding quite a few from the shelves. Quite a few were Dr P's books, but more are mine. I decided I will never have the fortitude to read any Patrick White, or various other authors such as Bernard Shaw and HG Wells, so some of those are on their way to better homes.

Weeding books is not a rapid process. One must dip into them, taste, browse, and ponder. Then one must balance the recent purchases (mostly second-hand, I add defensively) with the old. Then the contents of the shelves must be moved around and reorganised. It all takes time.

I am reading much more, and much more quickly than I used to. There are few interruptions. I am having a very good time, getting at least partly along the way of reading the many many books  keep picking up at the markets. My appetite exceeds my capacity and available time, and I keep thinking that I must get more of these books read before I cark it.

Similarly with the CD collection. So much to do, so little time.

I do have about five smallish boxes of books to be given to better homes. Thus the world turns.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

How time slips away

Sometimes there is nothing to say that you would want anyone to hear. Thus it has been with me since my last post. Negative, depressed and sad thoughts have oppressed me, like heavy mists which settle and will not lift. How to tell whether such moods are to be with me permanently?

Today is the 25th anniversary of my father's death, and, of course, yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F Kennedy, a man so admired, so charismatic, of such promise, and whose senseless murder so many of us grieved. It was the time when black Americans were finally achieving their civil rights, and also when the Cuban Missile Crisis seemed about to bring the world to nuclear war. I was a student then, as it happened studying American history, and the course included the Civil War and the Post War Reconstruction, and the legal and social means devised to ensure that black Americans did not have full civil and political rights. Now there is a black President of the USA, so many things have come to pass which seemed impossible in my youth - or at least very difficult to achieve.

My father was a lawyer and he became a judge. He was a man of great ability, intellect, integrity and goodness, who made a very great contribution to society. He could be very stern and the domestic discipline was strict. I was the second child and there was a considerable domestic load on me, and when I tried for more independence, it was not easy to achieve. Still, this was so many years ago, and now, in my life alone,  it seems important to review my life, my character, my achievements, my failures and my future. Such as it may be.

And what should I do with the rest of my life? Continue in this city, living alone, but with regular and enjoyable things to do, which do, however, contrast sharply with the solitary times and the loneliness of having no partner to love and no one to whom I am essential and special?

And ten days ago it was the 21st anniversary of my second marriage. All these anniversaries impelled m to look at the photograph albums. They sit up there in the cupboard, looked at seldom, because looking at them takes time. I wanted to write a piece for my Italian class on the changes in photography over the years, and got about half way through it, hit the space bar, and the whole text vanished and could not be retrieved. It felt a bit like the way life, as a whole, happens. Then it took me a while to find a particular album, which contains copies of the family - parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins. Most, of course, are dead now.

The album was compiled as a gift for my older daughter's 21st birthday. My father asked me what he should give her, and this album was my idea. I think my stepmother must have done the actual compilation. I asked to have a copy made for me. I am so glad I did. Photographs and negatives and their organisation is very time-consuming and thus, it tends to be a job imperfectly and incompletely done. This afternoon I have been perusing these albums. It gives great pleasure, many memories, some loss of memories - who is that, you ask sometimes, but also quite a lot of pain.

When my father was dying I took photographs of him and the family. I looked at them again this afternoon, remembering. Possibly, because I lived far away from my family, the sisters, brothers, and most of the progeny, and my opportunities for visiting were relatively infrequent and all too short, these photos matter to me. I spoke to one of my sisters this afternoon, and I referred to the photos. She said she did not like them, and I felt frissons of disapproval of me for having taken them. But I don't resile. They matter to me, and form a significant part of my memories - given that I lived, and continue to live, far away.

And then they ask, why not move back to the city of my youth? I don't know. It is daunting to be faced with the possibility or the necessity of yet another move, and reinventing my life yet again. Reinserting oneself into a social and familial life after so many years. The loneliness could be even greater. I don't want to wallow in such gloomy thoughts - that is neither positive nor enjoyable, but there are times when the nice, quick, sudden, hear attack, or whatever, has its appeal.

But not yet. No, no, not yet. There are still things to do, and people to see.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Winds, power cords, thingies and photos

Home after caring for my grandchildren, there are many things to be done. Some food shopping, going to the market this morning for flowers, bread and fruit and vegetables. Watering the plants. Wondering why a long thin electrical looking cord, which yesterday was attached to the side of the house, has fallen down. It must have been the wind. What is this cord for, and does it matter that it has fallen down? Will I have to find a handyman, one who can explain to me how the air conditioner in this room works? It used to. Sigh.

The Knitting and Crochet group has decided it would be good to have a photo album made of our many and varied works, accomplishments, festivities, the exhibition, and displays of expertise and accomplishment. Generally I have been the person who has brought along the camera, and so most of the photos are on my memory cards and the computer. A couple of the girls are coming around here on Wednesday to work through the photos and to organise how to get them all into an album, multiple copies thereof.

My very talented and efficient younger daughter, a professional photographer (mostly of racehorses) whipped through these photos a while back, improving them as much as possible. This was due to family love, and to pay back for my looking after her children at regular intervals. All I have had to do is select them and copy the photos on to a thingy.

I used to be able to do this. It is not (I fervently hope and believe) age and inevitable decline that has given me problems, oh no, it is the fact that the Apple software updates have somehow or other (and they probably did this deliberately) have made it much more complicated, puzzling and difficult to copy them on to anything. They really do not want you to copy stuff and go elsewhere for an Album, No,  they want you to do it all through Apple. And therefore their Help does not encompass the sort of directions I needed, although I am sure that it used to. This sort of capitalist plot can make the hapless user feel very badly done by.

My collection of things I am not quite sure of how to use includes CD-Roms and DVDs, so I assumed it would not be beyond the ken of the inexpert user to do this without too much carry-on. Alas, No.

However someone thought or uttered the magic word, describing the little gadget you stick into the computer to move things onto. It took a while for the collective wisdom nearby to remember, but it, of course, turned out to have several names, such as flash drive, memory stick and USB. With luck I won't forget these terms in a hurry.

So here I sit, gloating away and feeling as smug as a haplessly ignorant user is entitled to be. I think that perhaps, maybe, we are about to count down and lift off.

In the meantime there are squares to be crocheted...

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Home after childminding

It is a bit too early to go to bed, and there are lots of things to do before I get around to sleeping.  I drove back home today, and have been checking the mail, the washing, the cupboards, and where everything goes and rediscovering where I put things. Necessary but rather tedious, and then having to go to the shops to buy something for dinner.

I am feeling rather distressed. When I collected my grandchildren from after school care yesterday afternoon, my grandson, who is a Type 1 diabetic, was not well, and was upset, having performed some misdemeanour, (which sounded fairly trivial to me). He had been disciplined, but had then fallen asleep. When I got him home - and thank goodness I stuck to my routine of picking the children up at 5 pm rather than 6 pm - I did a test, and discovered that his sugars were 2.1, almost comatose levels. Contacting his mother, and also my son, I quickly administered fruit juice and then some sweets and watched him carefully while he recovered. His father arrived to pick the children up at 6 pm, so I had to explain what had happened to my little grandson, so that his father could monitor him carefully. When the sugars are very low, it affects the reasoning capability of the diabetic. They cannot think clearly, and he is only a little boy.

I should have gone over to see my son and his boys yesterday evening, but I stayed home with the cat, feeling very sad about my poor little grandson. Dealing with diabetes is an hour by hour, day by day, week by week thing, and is not easy for anyone, especially the young child with the condition. I was in Canberra when he was diagnosed, very ill, and in emergency care for two days, and have watched his condition, his progress and the fluctuations and effects of the illness for nearly ten years now. Children, of course, cannot understand why they are thus affected, whereas the rest of the world leads a normal sort of life. And there is no explanation: it is just the way it is, it is bad luck, unfortunate, but it could be much worse and there are many things which would be worse. Except that this condition never goes away. Until the hoped-for medical cure....

So here I sit, typing away, and wiping the tears from my eyes as I type, thinking about my darling grandchild. He is by no means perfect, of course: he is a volatile child, but he is lovely, interesting (even though he is absorbed by cars, weapons and other technical things in which I have absolutely no interest whatsoever) and we have a very special bond. I hope he is all right tonight.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

My aching back and other quibbles with what really happens.

It has been a long day. We have been unable to see my son and his boys, as they have all had gastric germs. We do NOT need those, so have not seen each other yet. Instead we went to the school fete. The children enjoyed it reasonably well, but this fete concentrated on rides and sausage sizzles and there was little to  attract me, although there was a very extensive book stall snd I managed to buy a new novel by my son's childhood friend Louis's  famous mother. For $2.00. Bargain. I have started reading it, but so far it seems to lack the truth in fiction quality  I think essential. This is the first book of a projected four.

It is interesting. Somehow, no matter how competent, how extensive the research, some books ring true and others just don't. For me, this one doesn't.  Truth in fiction is an elusive quality. The research can be well done, the writing competent to good, but somehow or other, when I read some books, I just don't believe what I read. I can be very picky, I know, but I do not set out to disbelieve. I find myself analysing the prose, watching how characters are introduced, and how historical events are introduced, and I just do not believe it all. Not this one, anyway.

It is not that I dislike historical fiction. I have read quite a lot of it, probably starting with Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time, and I have my own historical biases. However, wanting that something or other had happened cannot ever be equivalent to being satisfied that in fact the preferred version was so. I have just picked up again Hilary Mantel's book Bring up the Bodies,  and while I can already disagree with some aspects of her historical re construction, her version is indeed plausible and quite compelling.  At times I can get quite crabby and aggravated about books which postulate events in a way that satisfies the writer's desire that this is the way it should have happened. Not that this was in fact what happened .

I will not necessarily be persuaded, but her interpretation is arguable. I am not at all sure that one can recreate the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine in a way that can fit in with modern conditions and heavily adjusted reality. So far it is not working, for me.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Being away

It is a bit strange being away. At home I fill my days with my usual pursuits andregular
activities, such as Italian, choir, lecures and seeing friends, In between, I  organise my life, tidying, organising, shopping and seeing friends. It is as though these things convince me that I am in control of my life, and that I can pursue a  well-ordered existence. This is, of course, a nonsense. Life cannot be thus ordered.

But being in your own home with your own things, does give the illusion of choice. You can potter around, organising the books, the correspondence, the kitchen, the pantry, you can make jam if the fruit of choice is in season. This is a bit of a nonsense, as when you live by yourself,you cannot possibly consume all the jam that you make. So you give it away, and you can also hoard in case the  cumquat supply is  destroyed (it has been) or there is a sudden surge in consumption). But how much home made jam can you eat in a week?

Yes, living alone can be pretty pathetic. But when there is a family call on your help and your time, it can be difficult to respond effectively. So here I am in my daughter' home, minding her two children for five days, and filling my time can be perplexing. I am not into electronic gadgets or toys, nor into extensive TV. So I tend to tidy them up. And I go into the garden and pull out weeds, and prune the roses. Now there is a contradiction. I have never grown roses successfully, but here I am pruning. These weeds tend to be the type that have runners and very strong survival habits. Single parents don't have the time to worry about the garden in rented houses. So a bit of weed eradication seems a smallish contribution to making life easier. But I am not able to mow the grass.

I have been tidying up my granddaughter's bedroom, which is quite a a large task. Perhaps I will move on to my grandson's room next. He will be thrilled.  His mother will be thrilled too. Tomorrow I hope to see my son and his boys, but he has been stricken by a dreaded lurgy. While the children are at school I hope to see some friends, and keep the warmth of old friendships  well noursished.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Back in the real world

For the next five days I will be looking after two of my grandchildren, while my daughter works in Melbourne. They go back to their father's care next Wednesday evening, my daughter left over an hour ago, and the children are yet to settle for the night. My granddaughter cried very hard when her mother left. I hope she copes during her mother's absence. They will go to their father's care on Wednesday. The transitions are not easy - for anyone, it seems. I hope that in the morning the children and I will have adjusted to the situation. We have done it before and it has always worked out. One wonders whether children find it more difficult as they grow older.

As for me, while I enjoy looking after them, I do miss my own space, and means of entertaining myself. I will pull out some weeds, and do a bit of housework. And I hope to see my son and other grandchildren, but he has been smitten by a gastric upset, which I have no desire to catch. While the children are at school I hope to see some friends. And I have brought some crochet with me. This morning, before setting off for the journey, I spent sn hour with the Knitting and Crochet group, which meets fortnightly at the local library.

This group is enormous fun. Our productivity has increased quite dramatically, and our numbers have grown. And the wraps we are making for the Wrap with Love organisation are becoming quite remarkable creations. We document all the wraps we make, and have a good relationship with our local Spotlight shop. In a couple of weeks we will have an end of year lunch at my house.

But right now I am tired and feel flat and uninspired. The prose is certainly not deathless. I still feel jetlagged.   The cat, a Burmese, of independent and  and occasionally wayward temperament, is doing  mad dashes around the house, and is disposed to pounce on any moving object, such as wiggling toes, or teasingly yanked strands of wool. The children are both still awake, and may yet need to be sternly addressed. But for now, transmission for the night is about to end.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Thump! Real life hits!

After past trips I have generally bounced back fairly quickly. Not this time. The first two days home I have had jet lag quite badly. Yesterday I went to bed at 5 pm and slept until 9 am today, apart from the occasional toilet break. Today is the first day I have really done anything. But what?

Read on....

Firstly, my home telephone was on the blink. This is the third or 4th time this has happened in the last few months, and the nuisance value does nothing to lift the spirits. I rang my telecom firm and they promised to have it all fixed by the end of today, advising me to unplug all phones except one. Late this afternoon I rang to check progress, using my very unsatisfactory mobile, and they said it would all be fixed by 7 pm, that they realised it was an ongoing fault (too true!) and I would be given credits (?). So far the telephone is still not working.  I am not happy.

I rang to check the insurance on my damaged glasses. Naturally the telephone service is located somewhere far, far away, ie in a foreign clime, and there is no actual bodily person, upon whose kind and possibly generous bosom you could fling yourself on and weep, and be told 'There, there.'They promised, from the far, foreign clime, to email me forthwith a claim form. It has not arrived! Oh well, I thought, I will drive over to the optometrist and get a replacement organised.

The car would not start. Flat battery. Not merely flat, but completely dead. This after a month's inactivity, sitting in the garage. I rang the car insurance organisation (using the mobile). Now I have to confess that I bought a very cheap mobile this year, and it is awful to use, so I feel I do penance for all my faults whenever I use it. The organisation forthwith sent around a man in his van, who agreed that the battery was very kaput, and so I chose to get a new one. So he left, having called the battery replacement man. He turned up, and replaced the battery, and told me all about his time in the army (didn't sound at all nice).

They hold your keys while they do the replacement, I suppose, just in case you get any funny ideas, and yes, the battery having been replaced, he drove off with my car keys in his pocket. Fortunately I had his telephone number on my mobile, as he had sent a message to announce his imminent arrival, so, having agreed that 'Oops, yes, so I did,' he drove back and returned the car keys.

This fortified, I drove off to the optometrist. Who took my spectacles to her machines, did this and that, changed the nose pads, and made it all better. So at least something went right today. Then I bought something for dinner, and came back home, and waited for the phone repair to be completed.

Eventually I phoned them, and they said all sorts of reassuring things, and said it would definitely be fixed by 7 pm and that they would ring me. But nothing so far, at 7.45, and thus I feel aggrieved. Added to which the doorbell keeps going off. I think it is tuned to the same frequency as next door's, and vice versa) so I keep peering over the balcony to see if there is anyone actually there. There isn't.

Nor has there been any further information and result about my home telephone.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Jiggedy jig

What a long way home it is. Kind Jenny and Graham walked with me to the station, Graham pulling my bag. I had managed to buy the train ticket the previous day, so did not had to use a Machine. Going by train is easy and pleasant.

My airline is not all that comfortable. Hard seats, and by no means flat. Even though the flight departed in the early afternoon, food was served as soon as possible, and then shortly after, the crew  pulled down all the blinds, turned of the lights and left us all to it, and who knows what they all did in the meantime.  At 4 pm I did not want to sleep, especially not in daylight, so had to turn on my inadequate little light in order to finish my novel.

The transfer in Bangkok went smoothly, unlike on the journey to Rome, where we all had to run as fast as possible and then go through transit and security, even though you would not have had time to do a single thing which might possible and conceivably have affected security or otherwise endangered and person, aircraft of thing. However it was better than the trip across, as fewer passengers were about.

Once in the lounge, I sat near another woman, who looked distressed and had a problem. She had dropped her wallet, containing her passport, somewhere, probably in the security area and did not notice it straight away. The Thai staff were good: they notified everyone possible, and a man came and took her away to do more checking. When I had boarded the plane, and was settling into my seat, she passed me. Someone had found the wallet, and handed it in, and they were able to get it back to her. With 15 minutes to spare, and of course, her luggage already loaded. They said to her to run, get there as fast as you can. Whew! Happy endings are good!

Home. Sweet home. Late last night. I managed to get into my house, to unpack at a basic level, fell into bed, and slept. Today I have done more unpacking, loaded my photos onto the computer and looked cursorily through them. (Some are very bad. Others, quite good. They all tell a story. In fact, lots of stories.)

Memories are rather like volume by displacement. Having been away from the usual environment, I have trouble finding the previous memories of what I did, where things are kept, where I put things. It is all most disconcerting.

There is something about travelling for about 24 hours, exhaustion perhaps, which makes you exceedingly glad to reach the destination, and to replace the realities of the past month with the everyday ones.  Even tedious things like recalling the passwords of the stay at home life, and collecting the mail, all of which was stuffed into my letter box, along with some mail for three other people whose addresses are not anywhere near my house.

An Italian class started again this morning, but I did not wake in time to even think about trying to get there. I had trouble remembering what day it was, or how much time had elapsed since my arrival home. Then there was checking the email. And discovering that the home phone was completely dead.

Aargh! That meant ringing Telstra. How tedious a process this is. They want to know how many telephones I have. Then they say to unplug all but one. They ask about line splitters or other such ilk. Finally they tell you that Yes, they have detected a fault in the outside line. This fault appears to occur at regular intervals, but having to deal with such nitty-gritty the day after arriving home feels like being slapped in the face with a wet and spiky fish.  I had to do all of this using my exceedingly basic mobile phone, which was only half charged. Look, I have no intention of trying to fill my ageing and not very technically competent brain with this sort of stuff. What I want is for someone to come to the house, come inside and tell me how the phones should be plugged in, and fix it all up, leaving clear printed instructions for any future catastrophes, all as part of the service, but No, it seems that you would have to pay extra for this.

The trip home was not too bad and I did get a small amount of sleep. I also felt faint at one stage, and the crew gave me some oxygen. But once we had landed, Customs and immigration were very efficient and pleasant, they come around and ask the relevant questions as you wait for your luggage, tick you off, and out you go. A taxi was readily available, on the journey I heard about the fires, and then arrived home.

It seemed too soon to go out and do a proper food shop, so I ventured out locally to buy milk and a couple of things, then decided to have coffee and a sandwich at a local cafe. All I wanted was a sandwich in brown bread with cheese and salmon, nice, plain and not large. what arrived was a large toasted bun with too much in it. I could not bring myself to complain and send it back, but I asked why they had given me it toasted when I had not asked. Oh, said the waiter, it is because we use frozen bread. Oh, I said, blankly.

Never mind. It is good to be home.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Last day in Rome

As this is my last full day in Italy, there was much to do. Firstly to talk to my son on Facetime.It is almost time to go out for dinner. Yesterday at breakfast I unexpectedly encountered on of my friends from the Italian classes, here with her husband. She recommended this hotel, and also the apartments in Reggio Emilia, where we stayed. We had not known each other's travel dates, and we just happened to arrive at breakfast at the same time. So we spent yesterday together, and today met for dinner. In the morning we went to Testaccio, to look over the food market, and to note how much more common it must be to eat offal. (I avoid it, myself.)

Quite often I do not make specific plans for the day, but set off, and see where I go. Today I went to the Doria Pamphilj gallery. This is still privately owned. I have been there before, but cannot miss the opportunity to see Velasquez's portrait of Pope Innocent X, and the Bernini bust of him, as well as many other famous paintings, including several by Caravaggio.  I hired an audio guide, but this covered only a small number of the paintings. Although the artist of each painting is on each frame, there are no titles, and nothing sbout the artists. I spoke to one of the staff afterwards. His explanation was that the family has maintained the building/gallery as it was and there was no room to displsy any other information. This does not seem to me to be good enough. Surely people who visit should be treated with respect, and given information.

After the Doria Pamphilj I visited Palazzo Venezia, from the balcony of which Mussolini used to appear and wave to the crowds.  I did not visit the main collection, but instead went to a large exhibition of an Italian sculptor, Venanzo Crocetti, who worked mostly in bronze. He made the sculptures decorating the doors of Saint Peter's. I liked his work very much, and there was a very interesting film about him.

I headed off to the Vatican, to revisit Piazza San Pietro, not all that crowded, but with lenghty queues wanting to enter St Peter's. I crossed the Tiber via Castel Sant'Angelo, such a grim, vast and impressive building. The bridge was almost impassable because of pedlars and their wares, none of which appesred to be made in Italy.

There are heaps of pedlars  selling what I can only describe as splat toys, soft plastic clumps which when hurled on the ground go Splat. Really weird!

The bus trip back was totally packed, just like yesterday's, with the strike. Impossible to move, or validate the ticket, stuffy and rather claustrophobic..  I have done most of my packing, had a very pleasant dinner with Jenny and Graham, who insist on escorting me to the station tomorrow, to catch the train to the airport. Then the wait for the flight, snd the long long way back home, to arrive late at night, and hoping to find that all is well.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Transport strike

Yesterday on the train an announcement was made at regular intervals that there would be a transport strike the next day. I did not get the full gist as there was a certain amount of crackling combined with various large gaps  in my vocabulary. In due course the train arrived in Rome and I walked to the hotel and settled into a room which is slightly larger and more comfortable than the one they gave me when I was here the first time.

Today when I set out I came across a very large gathering of striking unionists, handing out leaflets, with lots of banners, but I have not managed to find out more except that they are protesting against government cuts to services. I tend to be on their side, especially after having endured an incredible crush of bodies on a bus on the way back to the hotel. The world needs good public transport. I had a free ride as it was impossible to validate the ticket. But at least I paid for it. Lots of other occupations were not striking. The police, the carabinieri, the guards and all such occupations were hanging around in large numbers, looking terribly smart and well groomed in their beautifully cut and elegant uniforms, their elegant hairstyles and general personification of la bella figura.

I wish my Italian was much much better, as I am not understanding much of the political news. There has been a lot reported on the death, at the age of 100, of the Nazi soldier, named Priebke, who was in command of the reprisal executions of three times the number of German casualties from the attack on them in Via Rasella  in October 1943 - 70 years ago. Those executed were shot in the Ardeatine Caves, the entrance to which was concreted over, but some time after the war the caves were reopened and the victims properly buried. There had been a dispute about the burial of Priebke 's body.

Wars and atrocities followed me around today, as when I visited Palazzo Braschi,  there was an exhibition of photographs by Robert Capa, a Hungarian war photographer who  became an American citizen. He followed the American forces after the US  invaded firstly Sicily and then mainland Italy, and he also wrote about his life and experiences. He died years later, I think in Vietnam, after treading on a land mine.

Apparently there will be further strike action tomorrow and thus I must work out addresses and directions tomorrow. I went out for dinner tonight, at a very pleasant restaursnt down the road, which was recommended by the hotel. It is obviously recommended by many nearby hotels. At the adjacent table there was an English couple, pleasant and interesting, so we enjoyed our conversation. We may see each other again tomorrow night.

Having eaten very little all week because of this  little germ, or whatever, tonight's meal was too large a serve. This lovely restaurant charged me only half price. How kind! I hope I am on the way to recovery. There is a lot to do tomorrow,  and I hope to investigate whether there is a little boat trip on the Tiber.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Killing time

Tomorrow I leave Udine, and will travel all day to return to Rome and from there will fly home.
Most places are closed now, for the long Italian middle of the day break. Cafes are open, but not much else. The city is very quiet.

I am sitting on a bench outside the cathedral, waiting for a bookshop to open, and then will return to the hotel. There is probablynot much more I can fit in.  This morning was spent sdmiring Tieoplo paintings, wondering all the while how they managed topaint such wonderful ceilings and walls so high up from the floor. Is there a study of working conditions for builders and  painters?

Mostly Udine is quite flat but in the middle it hasa very steep hill, upon which  an impressive castle was built. The other day I walked up there from Pazza della Liberta, and today I approachedit froom the other side. Access was just as steep and difficult, leaving me quite puffed out. Many of the roads and footpaths aremade of small blocks of stone, placed in appealing fanned out patterns. Sometimes stones fall out or break and repairs can be good, bad or indifferent. Pedestrian  crossings use large white blocks of stone, which seem an improvement on white painted strips.

But back to the Castello. There is an art Gallery, and archaeological museum, and anotherone, seemingly still being created, on the history of Udine, concentrating on from Napoeon onwards. After Napoleon!s eventual defeat, the territory was given to the Austrians, until such time as Italian unification. The art gallery was interesting but not wonderful. The archaeological museum is terrific. You cannot do anything around here without digging up things from the very dim dark past,
It seems knee deep in objects. There do seem to be vast numbers of tombs, bones, cswords, knives, bits and pieces, glass, intricate jewellery and pottery. I wonder what future archaeologists will make of all our vast and numerous rubbish dumps?

Wednesday, 16 October 2013


Yesterday I travelled by train from Venice to Udine. The hotel, which is just down the road from the station, is pleasant, the room is large and comfortable, the staff incredibly helpful, and it is so much better than the hotel in Venice. I must try to put up a critical review, to discourage others.

I quickly realised I was not in a tourist heaven. The resturant did not accept credit cards, only cash, and the total for the enjoyable food was half  that would have been charged in Venice. After settling in I went for a walk, but still got lost. Still, I did get there and back.  With some help. In Udine you pass supermrkets all the time: in tourist heaven they are difficult to find.

This city is closer to the mountains, and I was told that the Friuli is lke being in a different country. I wonder how true that is. There are a lot of Germans around , but there were plenty in Venice.
Last night at the restaurant i was sitting next to a couple from Argentina, whose family had originally come from the Friuli. They had very little Italian or English, and I have forgotten most of what little Spanish I knew, but we tried, and talked quite a lot. Then the food arrived and silence fell.

This moring I had intended to visit both Castelmonte and Cividale, but did not set off in time due to a  tricky tummy. So I travelled by trin to Cividale, a small town which appears pleasant and prosperous, and found my way to the Duomo, the archaeological museum, an old convent,  somewhere ehlse, and a cafe where I sat down and drank tea.
There are regular regional trains to and from both cities, only two carriages long, and it took only about 20 minutes for the trip. Lots of young people, presumably students. Goodness me, they all smoke such a lot. They chuck the butts all over the place, just like in Australia. At one time it was not done to smoke while walking along the streets, but things have changed. I felt that I had to get inside somewhere in order not to inhale smoke.  

The BBC TV keeps us informed about the financial struggle between the President abd the Congress, and I cannot believe that the right wing ratbags are willing to bring their country to the brink of financial disaster. Incredible!

After.returning from Cividale I set out to explore Udine a little, so as to make my whole day of visiting churches and galleries easier, and not to waste so much time trying to find out both where I am and where I want to be. I walked up to Piazza Liberta, very impressive with colonnades and lovely stone, and broad open spaces, with many plaques commemorating who did which great things and when. Then I walked up to the Castello, high above the rest of the city, with commanding views, and a very defensible position, but it was a little too late to tackle the museums. Instead I sent to the Duomo and then to the Baptistery, where I talked at length to the woman who was providing information, and we talked at length. In such places one feels that all these events have only just happened.

This city is very good for my Italian, as when I speak it, no one breaks into English, and I am inordinately delighted to receive many compliments. My teachers will be pleased too.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Last day in Venice

Here I sit on the bed watching BBC news, which occasionally giveis a snippet of Australian news, so that I lnow Bill Shorten is the new ALP leader. There has been much coverage of the refugee boats sinking in the. Mediterranean, and thrre seems to be more sympathy for.their plight than is often  given in Australia.

 Owing to the thin walls in this hotel, I slept intermittently  and badly then the milk I poured on the muesli had soured, and thus so did I.

 This morning I went to the sung Mass in San Marco again. Had I stayed longer I would have heard singing by an Austria choir. I lnow this only because late this afternoon I went to S Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, to see the church itself, Titian's huge painting of The Assumption. I also wanted to see Monteverdi's tomb, the bust, and the open score of his Vespers. There is always a flower placed on the tombstone. I love Monteverdi's music very deeply. At the tomb a man joined me. He is a singer, singing teacher and conductor from Austria. It was good to share our love of this wonderful music.

I speny a few hours at the Correr museum - it is a long time since I have been there, and there is plenty to see and learn. Lots of statues of Canova, many many portraits of the numerous Doges, plenty of religious art. What. Has been striking me is the absence of women in much of the art. Unless you count Mary, the mother of Jesus, and various other saints in crowd scenes you see the women on balconies or in reserved spaces. As I have been watching a documentary on the Pakistaini victim, Malala, who was shot by the Taliban because of her outspoken support for the education of females, it often seems that in the struggle for women's rights there is a long way to go. Imagine commiting murders in order to deprive women of basic human rights and to keep them oppressed.

Tomorrow i. Go by train to Udine  which people say is very pleasant. Nora and John will help get me and my suitcase to the train. They have been very kind, snd it has been a lot of fun, despite the rather awful hotel, and I wonder how it will feel to be on my own.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

How infrequent sunshine can cause feet to ache

Deispite having had a veiry wakeful night, I have been out and about inthe sunlight. It is warm, the raincoat is back st the hotel and I am sitting on a stone  bench on the edge of Dorsoduro, opposite Giudecca, almost back at the hotel. Not that I am in a great hurry to returnto that stuffy and uncomfortable shoebox.

The schoolchildren are coming home from school and there is a lot of excited chatter, along with the yapping and barking of far too many dogs. I don't know what has happened to all the cats, but Venice is teeming with dogs of all sizes and shapes, and one of them sat on my feet yesterday on the ferry.
Yesterday we went to the Giardini, at the end, so to speak, of Venice. We tried to find the statue ofVerdi, with the nose hammered off by some loutish vandal, but could not find it. It was a very pleasant day, wandering around open pace with large trees and parks, and although there were plenty of us tourists, there were lots of people who live there. It was washing day, so clothes and sheets were drying on lines suspended between windows. We noted a very leaning church bell tower, and found a little restaurant where we had lunch.

Getting around Venice is not cheap, although obviously the city feels that havibg 20 million tourists a year ought to render them some profit, as well as helping to pay for the continous costs of infrastructure. After the Giardini, we took a ferry to Murano, where I bought a little decorative bottle. And we visited the Duomo, a building splendid in its simplicity and ferviur, and with am amazing floor made from matbles and semiprecious stones. It was taken up some years ago, the foundations fixeud up and strenghtened, and the floor relaid. It is wonderfully decorated and very harmonious.

Venice is visited by huge cruise ships, and I gather that the waterways have had to be dredged to allow the ships to grt in and out. Opinions vary as to whether allowing these ships to come in and out is a good thing. One person atgued that an aircraft crash over the industrail area of Marghere would have far more devastating consequences, but of course the big ships have effects each day.

Nora and John are returning their hired car to Milan, so I have been left to my own resources today. I went to the Guggenheim, which is very close to my hotel, and while I enjoyed a lot of it, Itdid seem to me that  much modern art is junk. There was another exhibition on, which included works by Odilon Redon, and I do love his art.

After all that I went to San Marco where I soaked up some more sun and beauty, then wandered around and got lost. That meant I did not get to where I had planned to be, too many wrong turns, map print size much too tiny, not to mention my poor navigational skills. But I did find a hole in the wall, to replenish my cash, and they are remarkably difficult to find. The holes, that is.

Many of the shops for both leather and glass are now owned by Chinese and  the shops at Murano have a lot to say about the imitation Venetian glass and other Italian products.

The number of pigeons is less  and the government had prohibited feeding these birds - not thst this stops a lot of idiots from doing so. Apparently the government paid large sums in compensation to those who sold pigeon food.

I am sitting here wondering at what time the huge cruise ship down at the edge of the fondament might begin its departure, as it would be auite pleasant to gawk at it and take photos. Yesterdat our ferry and a ship passed each other, and there they all eere, on the decks, and the skies were full of the flhes of cameras

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Vicissitudes of vaporetti

 I am sitting in Campo san Vio, surrounded by pigeons which have just been illegally fed by women disposing of their dry bread, and while I wait for myfriends (having escped from the dim light in my room, i amstartingonrecounting yesterday's events. We travelledbyvaporetto. Nora and John have special tickets. Alltickets must be validated before embarking. Mine was,so was John's, but Nora's got an incomprehrnsible message and allaroundus shrugged in either ignorance or indifference.the worst happened:ticket inspectorsgot on and  Nora was adjudged tobe guiltyof filing tovalidte her ticket.the animated discussion that ensued between the three of us and the two inspectors (from a Modena firm) wasvicariouslyenjoyed by all the other passengers, and ofcourseno one else'stickets werechecked. Nora had to pay afine, on the spot, of E59' which we allfeel was a bit stiff, as absolutely no  one could explain what it all meant or what she should have done.

Resolutely we pressed on. At thestation, like the myriad other passengers, we queued for our train tickets,bought them, crossed theCalatravabridge, a most disappointing and visually disturbing structure, and  headed off for the Gesuiti church, far, far away. Westoppedforlunch,T arestaurant John knew about, and proceeded to drink and dine well, and entertain the  restaurant staff and other diners with our experiences on the vaporetto.  The chef came out to listen and give his opinion (only speak English, and other diners all offered their opinions. We all had a very good time, and one of them gave me his email address for when I am in Udine.

Having yarrived at the gesuiti while it was het to reopen, we filled in the time by helping a newly wed couple from Taiwan tofind their honeymoon B and B.they wereexceedingly confused by house numbering system in Venice, which takes chaoticleaps  with nospparent sense of sequence. John took their phone and rang the B and B so that the owner came around and fetched them. We hope they have a wonderful stay.
 In our turn ee enjoyed the gloriesof the Gesuiti church.
It istime to meet nora and jogn and embark on who knows what i cannot see what I am typing. So. Tanti auguri a tutti voi.

A hint of blue

Everything looks better in sunlight, especially Venice. This morning when I peeked out of the window of my shoebox, there were blue spots in the sky, so I took a photograph of it. Having breakfasted, and back in my room, I looked out again, and lo! there is no blue sky to be seen.
I was prepared to stay in the miniature breakfast, room, but another couple came in and there were no tables free, so I gave them mine, and am now perched on the bed near the window, and while composing this, another essay is running in my head, which is a detailed catalogue of the manifold deficiencies of this hotel, along with a scathing analysis of my feeble character in not doing anything about it - either the room or the character. My excuse is that typing on the iPad gives me more than enough problems to be solved, such as removing the full stops which appear despite my finger having been nowhere near the fullstop key.

Yesterday we went to the Querini Stampalia museum, which was quite fascinating. The entry has been refurbished, the staff were very helpful, and even gave us stickrrs permitting us to take photographs of the artworks. However the very modern entry area, replete with lockers, bookshop (excellent) and cafe,  cleverly obscured the how to get into the museum question. On our way we were confronted by a video of an Australian artist discussing aboriginal art.
The last member of the Querini Stampalia family bequeathed everything to Venice, and there are many portraits and paintings of  Venice, including a whole room with floor to ceiling paintings placed right next to each other. The original furniture and furnishings are still there, all roped off so as not to allow anyone to rest their weary limbs and indulge in beautiful thoughts and artistic apprecistion, so that after a few rooms I was desperate to sit down.
After our visit we tried to find the hotel where my sister and I stayed many years ago, but to no avail. My map reading skills and lack of a sense of direction did not help.

However the first thing I did yesterday morning was to visit the Accademia. Nora had advised me to go early, before the crowds hit, and so I did, and managed to wander around for a couple of hours before being swamped by Other Tourists. I did ask the staff/watchdogs a couple of questions, but they were really very little help, quite inlike the staff at the Pitti Palace, who really knew their stuff and much more besides, and had great enthusiasm and courtesy.
The previous evening we went to a meeting of the Circolo, which seems to be a group of mostly British aficionados of Venice, and the UK ambassador gave a talk on EU, British and Italian issues, all very interesting despite the long walk there and back.

This morning  we. Are going up tothe station to organise train tickets.

Monday, 7 October 2013

More of Venice

This morning, being Sunday, I went to the sung Mass at San Marco. When i got to Piazza san Marco, there was water all over it, more than enough to soak both shoes and socks. Although there were planks placed strategically to get people to San Marco, it was not possible to aboid getting feet thoroughly soaked. It was raining steadily, and the hotel provided me with an umbrella. Modt prople had opted for plastic raincoats and plastic covers for their shoes, but I strode gamely on.

San Marco is an extraordinary experience. What an amazing building. How did the Venetians manage to build this superlative masterpiece? Although I have been there before, its spendour is absolutely stunning. The church was crowded, with those who wanted to go to the sung Mass and those who wanted to look. I managed to get a seat, right on an aisle, with a direct view of the altar.  The choir was excellent, but I could not see where they were. After Mass had finished, like many others I took photos of the interior. Once outside, getting from the planks above the water level was a bit tricky. I asked a young man to give me a hand. We stretched out our hands to each other: they did not reach and so I jumped and we managed to reach each other's hand. However it did not seem possible to get across Piazza San Marco and so I wended my way around and found myself headed for   the Rialto, and hoped to get back to the Accademia. This did not work out and it took a long long time to get back to my hovel room. Naturally I got lost. Still, not as lost as the previous night when it took five pleas for help, before a kind man escorted me to the door of the hotel.  oh dear, I do wish  hadp a better sense of direction, and memory for instructions. Never mind, tonight I got back to the hotel wthout any problems.

I met my friends and we went to a lovely concert, but despite their being very familar with Venice, they too got lost and we were late for the concert. This cheered me up somewhat. Venice is not easy to find your way around.

After the concert we went back to the apartment they rent and had a pasta dinner and a good talk. Tomorrow promises to be easier, and with a due measure of concentration, studying the maps, and lucks, perhaps I might not get so lost.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Not lost, but there? But where? And back.

This morning I went out for an extensive walk to try to get my bearings. Happily, I got there and back, and did not get lost at all. At all! But i did get smitten by a migraine. Not impressed. I have not had one for quite some time, and cannot say I needed one.  Having ventured cautiously to sit up, here  I sit, posting.

When  I got ready to go to bed last night I discovered that there was no blanket on the bed, so had to go down the two flights of steep stairs to ask for one. This hotel did not give out such information aas what number to dial for reception. Sigh.

I contemplated  trying to find another hotel but it is probably too hard.  I still cannot work out the TV. Somehow nothing happens when I press the buttons. Sigh.

However I have been talking to the woman in charge, who offered tea and pills. But I had my own.

During my walk I came across an elderly man who was fishing and he showed me his catch of three tiny orate. I had orata for dinner last night, and it is  a nice fish, but mine was considerably larger than the ones he had caught.  Talking to people I encountered is very pleasant and good for my Italian, and here I preen and note that I have received many compliments. Most gratifying! It gets one out of total tourist mode.

 The weather is worse than in Cannero. It is raining softly and is quite a lot colder.  Sunshine would be lovely. There are absolutely hordes of tourists. On the Allilaguna ferry yesterday I translated. Between an American man, and an Italian woman. She told us she had been laid off from her job in a department store, owing to the fact that following its takeoveir by an Austrian firm, the manager had embezzled the money and fled the country and so far had not been found. She says inemployment here is very high, particularly amongst the young. If things are bad in tourist dominated Venice, I wonder howthe rest of the country is faring.

It s probably my civic duty to go out and stimulate the economy, possibly by starting with a respberry gelato.

At the end of the day

It is late and I have just returned to the hotel after dinner. What a long day it has been, driving for most of it, from Cannero to Venice. The car has benn parked on the long term parking near Venice airport, and we took the Allilaguna ferry into  Venice. This took quite some time andj ours was the last ferry stop.
 I am back in my hotel room. It is tiny and none of the remote control buttons for the TV did anything at all. Nor was there anywhere to put my suicase, and all the lights were dim. Such things teach one to be more assertive, so I returned to the hotel desk and asked for stronger light globes and for something to place my suitcase on. On my return from dinner the man at the desk told me he had changed on of the light globes and he has also put a small table in the room upon which to place the suitcase. If you do not ask, you do not receive, and I now unabashedly plead age, decrepitude, bad eyesight, etc.

We had a good dinner and my friends collected me and returned me to the hotel. Tomorrow  I need to see it all in daylight and to memorise the way, and generally get my bearings. I do have some vague memories but have not stayed inthis part of Venice before, so it may take me a little longer than it should.

Driving across Italy is interesting (just as well) and the contrast between the plains and the mountains is dramatic. In Australia the mountains are low in comparison.  The mountains seem to appear quite suddenly. The vegetation seems very uniform, and to my mind the Australian Bush is far more interesting, but we do not have such dramatic waterfalls cascading so copiously and dramaticaaly down precipitous mountains. Nor do we have buildings and bridges of such antiquity. The country is so beautiful, with such great contrasts.  The buildings have fewer storeys, and there tend not to be
roofs with eaves, as though you do not need to design with regatd to the orientation of the sun, or to protect from the heat of summer.

It is very cool here and still not a hint of the sun. This dull weather must surely cramp the photographic style.

The extent and excellence of the road system is most impreesive and the traffic moves swiftly. Every so often a toll point will say Arrivederci, and we reciprocate. And so say I: arriverderci.

One of the many good things about the iPad is the Facetime and this morning I held up our departure by talking to my daughters and grandchi,dren. How fortunate we are so be able to use such marvels of technology, albeit, in my case, somewhat timidly and hesitatingly.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Islands and gardens

My friends and I are staying at Cannero, on Lake Maggiore. It is a very beautiful area. Very steep, with the road edging the lake hewn out of the mountain and very busy. It is an area where the tourists all seem to be very well-heeled, and the hotels far from basic or ordinary. It is close to Switzerland, and tomorrow we might drive across the border and take a peek. Lots of German spoken around here, and road signs are in German as well as Italian.

The weather has been very cool, misty, and still. The mist has not lifted at all, and it is not possible to see the far shore of the lake clearly. Not a leaf stirs all day. I want to see the sun, to see the water sparkle, to feel some breeze on my face.

We spent the days visiting the Isole Borromeo,  walking around gorgeous gardens on Isola Madre. The climate is so mild that a great many exotic and tropical plants flourish. Huge numbers of camellias,  and banks of azaleas, taxodium trees, magnolias, and a huge Kashmir cypress. Most of the soil had to be brought to the islands and plants cannot put down deep roots. The Kashnir cypress was felled some years ago by a tornado - and tornados would be rare events in this part of the world - but immense efforts were made to replant and save the tree, and it gas been saved, although itremains attached to huge cables.

We encountered an Australian goup, from Sydney, which was doing a garden tour of Italy.  We visted the sumptous villas and palaces, and visited a room where Napoleon slept during his Italian campaign. Then we chatted to one of the attendants, and caught up on the latest in Italian politics,Berlusconi  having tried to force his party to topple the coalition government. as some of his party refused to vote with him and thus it turned into a vote of confidence in the government.

So what with that drama, the Repblicans in the US  in effect refusing supply, and the Senate vote in the Australian election being almost completed with some pretty weird and anomalous results, there does seem to be a certain amount of pazzia spluttrring and fizzing around the wirld. And here I am, just having fun, eating lots of prosciutto crudo,  and the world is still turning on its axis.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

After many hours

 After many hours on the road we reached the small town of Cannero, on Lake Maggiore. We left Reggio Emilia early, and drove past Milan, then to Como, where we had coffee and visited the remarkable cathedral, and then searched for toilets. Maps indicated various locations, but none of them were to be found until we reached the railway station. There ensued severalmore hours of driving. I am fine. I sit in the back seat and take absolutely no responsibilty at all.

The italian road system is something to be marvelled at. In Australia the distances are far greater and the population smaller, and it takes years, it seems, for roads to be built. In Italy there are remarkable autostradas, with many lanes, high speed limits, and trucks must stay in the one lane except when overtaking. The toll stations are numerous with many lanes to get cars through.

Near Reggio Emilia there are three remarkable bridges/overpasses, and unfortunstely I was unable to grt good photos of them, as the car's GPS tended to get very confused when getting us into and out of Reggio. What with the trillion roundabouts and exits, it was not possible to ask for the car to be stopped in order to take a photo.

However I thought i recognised the srchitect, and googled it, and I was right. The bridges were the work of Santiago Calatrava, an amazing and original architect and engineer.I did get some bad photos as we whizzed by this morning and  they will have to do.

We drove to Verbania where we took a car ferry across the lake, then went to Stresa, and finally arrived at Cannero. The hotel is rather more posh than I am used to. We had an enjoyable dinner and then went to a Bar where there was a pianist and a kind of sing song.

 It bas been a long day, through parts of Italy I have not been to previously. The countryside is fascinating, with thick woods and forests, lots of brambles, and so many trees do not appear to have loser branches. I am not surprised Hansel and Gretel could not find their way home. After being on the pianura for a week, with unrelenting flatness, and with low skies for the past few days, to travel through the hills and mountains has been fascinating. Such steepness, sheer rocks, and such incredible engineering. Sometimes we have driven along winding roads, and on other routes, if there is a mountain in the way, why then, just excavate snd put a tunnel right through. I look  at the roads and think of the ancient Romans.
 I am not sure what we will be doing for the next few days. Not eating too much, I hope.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Modena and more: Verdi country.

The visit to Modena was lovely.  When we arrived we parked near the old ducal gardens where lots of ducks and other birds fished for dinner, in a very grotty pond which needeid a good clean. In particular I wanted to see the Duomo. On my previous visit, when I arrived at the piazza adjacent, there was a philosophy conference there in the open air, with proceedings broadcast by loudspeakers. It was not possible to enter the Duomo as a wedding was in progress, but I did manage to find the art gallery.

This is the area where red marble lions sit outside cathedrals. I love them.

Yesterday, when we arrived in Modena, another wedding had just taken place, and the happy couple and their family and friends were outside cheering and blowing horns and shaking rattles.

The Duomo is superb. Superlative. Absolutely beautiful in its architecture, art, complexity, my Blue Guide describes it as a splendid Romanesque building, combining red brick with red marble, and there is so much in its art, architecture, sculpture to see that I cannot begin to describe it today, and can only say it made my heart bound with joy. We were not able to see the art gallery as restorations following the earthquake are still being done.

This afternoon we visited Cremona, where we had a long lunch, waiting for the Duomo to reopen, during which we talked to a pianist, here with her pianist/composer husband for musical gatherings and concerts. Afterwards the Duomo opened and during our visit there was an ordination ceremony of deacons, with choir, organ and trumpets, all glorious, and the duomo is absolutely spectacular.  A different kind of beauty and splendour from those of the more famous cathedrals.

As well as all these wonders we have spent time in Verdi country. We visited the house and estate, Sant'Agata, which was most interesting and very moving. Verdi could be a difficult person, but from the tours, the talks given by the guides, the house, the furnishings, the grounds and the land, and from the theatre and museum in Busseto, I feel I have a greater understanding of, and sympathy for this remarkable man whose music has given so much pleasure, joy and emotion to the world. To see his death mask, to read the newspaper reports of his death and to undersatnd how greatly he was - and is- revered, has been a great and emotional experiece for us.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

The day is cloudy. So was yesterday morning but the sun did come out, and it was a pleasant warm day. We drove to Modena. John drives more often than Nora, and she navigatios. The car has a GPS called Lucy, but the directions are not always clear, and there is a lot of answeing back from both driver and navigator. In my back seat, I spurn the traditional role, and keep quiet, offering no opinions. At all. The autostrade are daunting enough, and the roundabouts terrifying. But then, I am a sook about driving in unfamiliar territory, not the least bit intrepid.

We found Modena. The only map we had was in my guide book and it was rather small. However we found our way, through various streets where there were a lot of works of various  sorts going on, some extremely deep. And there were some rather unpleasant odours.  We parked the car outside the military academy, from which later, by dint of peering through the bars atop the severe walls, soldiers in training running round and round while doing the military sing song chant. 

The leaves are changing colour, and the trees are all large and beautiful. Some I cannot identify, but future research will help. I find that many other travellers do not share my interest in the vegeation.

On my previous trip to Modena, there was an outdoors philosophy conference taking place  - have to finish this later, Nora has knocked on door, departure is imminent. We are off to Verdi's home at Sant'Agata,

Thursday, 26 September 2013

It is lovely sunny morning, and I am sitting here enjoying the weather, having done the handwashing and put it out to dry.

It bodes to be a quiet day as all three of us have been smitten by a bug - not very severe or painful, but it is clearly inadvisable to gad around for the day.

Yesterday we went by car to Busseto,  which was very pleasant, and as all three of us love opera, it was  very special. We spent some time in a bar, having not realised it did not serve coffee, only wine, and bread and prosciutto. So we sat and talked, enjoying the music of Verdi, and watched the nearby men sit  and talk. We had a quick whizz around the house of Antonio Barezzi, Verdi's benefactor and father in law,  and admired the piazza and the Teatro Verdi.

When we first drove into Busseto, looking to see what was where, and drove mback out so as to drive back in again to have another tr, we were fmollowed by a man in a red car, who must have helped many other appassionati, and he gave us nice clear directions. To be where Verdi's talent was fostered was very special to all three of us.

We then drove to Fidenza but could not manage to find the duomo, so abandoned the attempt, we drjove to Salsomag,giore instead, which looksg very prosperous. I have stayed there when on a group tour, but could not remember much about it, other than it is a good place to have a sporting holiday, and has a most grandiose art deco building which houses thermal springs. After that we returned  to base, where we developed our various afflictions. It will be a quiet day. We seem to be a long way from the station.

Reggio is not a touristy town, it is very flat, like the adjoining terrain, and many people of all ages travel around by bicycle. John and I set off to find a shop where we could buy insecticide, but the supermarkets are quite some distance away . We tried a petrol station, but to no avail.

The three of us have been smitten by a gastric  bug and we cannot work out just what we did to allow said bug entry to our systems, so today will be quiet, with little venturing out. So apart from reading and admiring and evaluating the photos, and avoiding the mozzies, little will be achieved.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

With friends

Arezzo. Off the train, looking for my friends. I wait. Am I waiting in the wrong place? What. Did we agree? After a while we find each other. There had been an accident on the road.  We squeeze my suitcase into their car, and set off for an all day jaunt. It is so good to see them. We talk and talk, and never run out of things to say.

First we stopped at Poppi, a lovely small town, where we found an open air cafe and had coffee and panini. I'd had to get to the station before breakfast. We next visited Anghiari, and after that it seemed a good idea to head for San Leo,  quite a distance away, through winding roads that go through the mountains. The weather is warm and sunny, and the scenery beautiful. Traffic was very light. We stopped to take photos often. We overlooked a dam, which seemed to have, at each end, a road atop of high pylons which ended in the dam. We'll probably never know the how or the why.

Suddenly, after driving for a long way with scarcely another car to be seen, many more cars were on the road, and then we came across car after car parked on the roadside. The explanation was that in the middle of nowhere, there was a sale/demonstration of agricultural machinery. With stalls selling onions, garlic, figs. It was absolutely crowded.

We pressed on, and after tantalising views of San Leo, perched high on a precipitous rocky peak, which seemed still to be a long way off, we went around a few more exciting bends in the road, and we were there. It seems that every hill or mountain peak had to have a fortified castle on the top. Thinking about the lugging of all the materials needed for construction, these fortications and castles seem incredible. But San Leo even had quite a large car park.

After a gelato apiece and a wander around, except that the ascent to the castello was too daunting,we commenced the drive to Reggio Emilia, where we are spending a week, using it as a base to visit other cities nearby. We got onto the autostrada, but were delayed quite some time by an accident far ahead. Once past that, getting off the autostrada and finding the way to our destination proved rather tricky. The GPS instructions are not really clear and it was dark by this time. But here we are,settled into our apartments, and today we walked into thecity centre, where we had awonderful lunch, to celebrate the 37th anniversary of John and Nora's wedding. 

 I am a great believer in asking people for help, and so asked a young woman to direct us to asupermarket where we could buy food, and also asked could she tell us of a good rkestaurant where we could celebrate the wedding anniversary. She did both, we found the restaurant and despite having bo booking, wewere given a table. I told them of the anniversary, and we had a wonderful meal, which finished with specially decorated desserts for my friends, inscribed in chocolate with "auguri".

Staggering off to the supermarket to buy groceries could have seemed an anticlimax, but we had agood time talking to the young woman in the delicatessen section. We staggered back to the apartments and will soon reassemble for pasta with pesto.

 It is good to have more room and a couch, as well as a small balcony where we could put our washing out to dry. The exigencies of life ! Now to plan the next day.