Category Archives: inspiration

the gentle work of nest building…

Have some long, solitary hours ahead for a little while as I do the edit on the next book… so it was lovely to sit at my desk this morning and look out into the tree to see a honeyeater building a nest right by my window. I may even get some baby birds for company come spring!

A while back I read in a book (Nest: The Art of Birds by Janine Burke) that as well as using their beaks to build their nests, birds also press their breasts against the inner wall to make it round, imprinting their shape on their home and forming it with their beating hearts. As I sit here I can see the bird doing just that! (Apologies the picture isn’t better but didn’t want to move too much and scare her off.)

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From Monte Circolo…

My grandfather, Annibale, on the eastern edge of Monte Circolo near Castle Ocre looking over the Aterno Valley (with Fossa just below) in 1975. It was the first time he was able to return to the village and was so happy to revisit all the places of where he’d grown up.

Exactly 30 years later, I took the other photo from almost the same spot. I didn’t know about this photograph of Nonno Anni at the time but I think one day I’ll have to attempt to replicate it by standing on the same rock. He was about 52 in that photo, perhaps when the time comes I should try getting the similar shot at the same age!

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Connecting through old cookbooks…

I love cooking from old cookbooks for their connection to the past and family recipes.

This 1934 Goulburn Cookery Book belonged to my grandmother-in-law whom I didn’t get to meet but I know and much admire that she cared for her eight children in their country town through prudent circumstance and for many years independently after she was widowed.

I love that her middle name was Philadelphia and that in this cookbook she pasted cut-out recipes and wrote some in as well. (Roger has made the grapefruit jam like his grandmother’s handwritten recipe.)

There’s even a recipe for Eggs in Purgatory, albeit a bit different to the version likely cooked in 1930s Italy or the ‘eggs in tomato’ my great-granny Maddalena cooked!

Interestingly, recent studies have revealed that despite the use of ingredients like butter and eggs, most recipes in 1930s cookbooks have a third less calories than current ones, often due to their smaller portion sizes.

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Old photographs and family stories…

Even though Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar is completed, it is a pleasure to keep hearing more stories from my older relatives who always seem to have a little more to reveal about this era of their lives.

Talking to my great uncle Vincenzo recently I found out the varieties of produce they grew on the family’s Applethorpe farm included Granny Smith and Delicious apples, Santa Rosa and Wilson plums, Packham pears and green beans, also known as French or string beans. And the beans were the easiest to pick come harvest time.

(My great-grandmother – back left – was in her 50s when this was taken and though having recently lost her husband was working hard to keep the farm going.)

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a stone house among the lavender…

Swiss Italian, Aquilino Tinetti originally built this stone farmhouse at Shepherds Flat in central Victoria circa 1860. He and his wife Maria had thirteen children and the 100 acres were run as a dairy farm for the next 120 years.

In the 1980s, Carol White purchased the property, restored the historic stone buildings and planted lavender and it is now called Lavandula.

It is a beautiful place to visit and as part of research for the next book especially interesting for me to see the original 19th century farmhouse set up including a great cellar below a very steep, internal staircase, and also some friends in the kitchen garden…

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Late winter rain bringing the lemon tree back to life…

lemon leavesChatting over the fence my Sicilian neighbour, who is in her eighties, recommended to put a lemon leaf under polpette (those Italian slightly egg-shaped meatballs) when frying them in olive oil in the pan – not necessarily to eat the leaf but for it to impart flavour during cooking. I haven’t tried that yet however seeing these fresh young leaves I might need to give it a go.

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From 6th June, 1946…

Annibale, Francesca and Remo outside shopToday it is 70 years since my Italian grandparents, Nonno Anni and Nanna Francesca signed the lease on premises to start up their fruit shop and milk bar in Australia.

And so began many years when they opened the shop from 7am until 11pm, only the two of them working there (with a baby in tow) and closing just two days a year at Christmas and Easter.

Thinking of them with much gratitude for all their hard work and sacrifice to make it such a success.

 

 

 

 

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last day of autumn Australis…

Tree of Life by Diana SudykaDiana Sudyka

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Ethel’s Chooks…

Ethel's chooks webPerhaps it’s old-fashioned but I still have a wall calendar where I write up all that’s happening. This year it features paintings by William T. Cooper (1934-2015) an Australian artist who painted mostly natural subjects, especially birds. He painted with extreme precision so if there were a certain number of a certain colour feathers then that is exactly what he depicted.

While he painted many exotic species too, I love this painting, Ethel’s Chooks, which Cooper painted of his neighbour’s chooks that free ranged around the farm. When I sit down to my desk each day, seeing the work and precision Cooper put into his art is inspiring. His career as an artist spanned more than 50 years and he continued to paint into his 80s.

williamtcooper.com.au
paperparrot.com.au

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Grandmother memories ~ memorie nonna…

Francesca at parkToday, my Italian grandmother, Francesca, would have been 90 years old. This is one of my favourite photographs of her, taken with friends in the Botanic Gardens circa 1950s.

Although it has been some years now that Nanna Francesca has been gone, for me she lives on in memories of our cooking, shopping and going to the ‘picture theatre’ together, and every time I put one of her tablecloths on the table or there is simmering ‘pasta gravy’, made just like hers, on the stove.

Con amore, molte grazie e auguri, cara Nonna Francesca. xxx

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Hand-bound books…

bookbindingIn Bendigo not long ago, I came across a bookbinding shop that is the most similar I’ve found in Australia to the one I came across in Florence (p.212 Mezza Italiana). I couldn’t resist these handmade books and the owner kindly offered to emboss my name on them.
I wrote the first draft of Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar longhand in foolscap exercise books. The pens I used were cheap, plastic biros. The ink ran out in close to a dozen by the end. Mezza Italiana also began in longhand, at the kitchen table in my family’s house in Italy. That time I wrote in several diary planners that were out of date, with similar plastic biros.
These hand-bound books are so beautiful I feel almost afraid to write in them!

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The path toward a fresh year…

Verso FossaA new year stretches ahead and there is something thrilling and also sobering in not knowing where our paths may meander as the months unfold. Hope this year is a wonderful one for you that brings much happiness! I couldn’t go past this beautiful painting by L’Aquila artist, Juan Alfredo Parisse to begin the year. He painted it on the road below my family’s village of Fossa in the Aterno Valley of Abruzzo and it is called, Verso Fossa.

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19th century Italy in regional Australia…

20151104_121733Recently, while in Victoria I visited the Bendigo Art Gallery and it was wonderful to see their collection of 19th century Australian art (inspiration for the next book!)

It seems Italy is never too far away however as I couldn’t help noticing this circa 1879 painting of women carrying their copper conche to collect water, such a common sight in Abruzzo especially.

Titled, ‘Peasant Water Carriers’, it was painted by Pietro Barucci {1845-1917} who was mainly known for his paintings of landscapes in the rural areas surrounding Rome.

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keeping the past present…

Hotel TrenthamI have been in central Victoria doing research for part of the next book and am completely taken by all the beautiful, historic buildings still being utilised and looked after in so many towns. This hotel in Trentham was badly damaged by fire a decade ago and yet rather than being given up on, it is great to see it brought back to its former self. Seeing the new corrugated iron roof you can almost imagine it when first built back in the 1860s…

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Tower of Palazzo Vecchio and the Galleria degli Uffizi in Firenze…

Firenze…taken in 2005 when I was about to join the queue to the gallery. At the time, it was 240 years since the Uffizi Gallery officially opened to the public in 1765 and I love the thought that perhaps standing in this spot a couple of centuries ago with everyone wearing the clothing of the time, we could still look up and see almost the same view…

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pizzette fritte…

pizzette fritteA decadent version of little pizzas with the fluffy dough fried then oven-baked – pizzette fritte. {Apparently, considered the way pizzas were first made.} They are very light and if made well in the traditional way, should not absorb the olive oil.
On the left, pesto, prosciutto e parmigiano. And to the right, tomato, basil and bocconcini. Buon appetito!

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the Astoria Café…

Astoria cafe Astoria cafe buildingThe Astoria Café in Brisbane, where my grandparents worked in the 1940s, had long been demolished by the time I wrote about it. I relied on my grandparents’ stories and old pictures and wished it had still been around for me to see.

Recently, I was in Sydney to talk about Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar at a conference and author, Estelle Pinney, who’d been in the audience, approached me afterwards. Estelle told me she’d enjoyed reading Joe’s very much and that she had frequented the Astoria Café many times in the forties. (I don’t think Estelle will mind me saying that she is now in her eighties and extremely sprightly!) It was wonderful to hear her recollections of the café and as always, I’m so grateful for the insights into the past that writing this book has opened to me.

Thank you to all of you who have shared how Joe’s has connected with your own lives, past and present.

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Inside the milk bar…

Annibale behind counter in the shopNonno Anni behind the counter of the milk bar – one of very few photographs taken inside. Great to see the milkshake machines to the right. It is difficult to decipher some of the brands of sweets, cigarettes and biscuits around the counter though I can see Mars chocolates {first made in 1932}, Violet Crumbles {since 1913} and a sign for Peters ice-cream {since 1907}.

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basil pesto orecchiette with crispy prosciutto…

Basil pesto orecchiette with crispy prosciuttoSo many traditional Italian dishes were created by combining leftovers, which I love as I can’t stand wasting good food by tossing it out. And while I know I would definitely not be the first to try this, it was a happy discovery when faced with some leftover prosciutto to fry it, sprinkle it and taste for the first time – basil pesto orecchiette with crispy prosciutto.
Several different Italian regions from north and south getting together cheerfully on a plate…

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Mercers Lane Mosaic…

Ingham mosaic 2Ingham mosaicA beautiful, mosaic artwork is emerging along Mercers Lane in Ingham, Queensland to commemorate the history of the local sugarcane industry. Really inspiring to discover around 2000 local volunteers and tourists so far have taken part in creating the mosaic and it’s wonderful to see local history recorded in art like this, particularly all the different cultures that have been a part. Ingham mosaic 3

more on Mercers Lane Mosaic…

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New life between beautiful old walls…

Laidley old bakeryRecently, I have been travelling in southwest Queensland for research for the next book. In the main street of Laidley, I happened across this beautiful old building that was originally a bakery when it was built back in 1905. It is currently empty and seemed to be being renovated inside. Lovely how so many country towns value and utilise their historic buildings. Seeing the words ‘Soft Drinks’ in faded paint across the glass over the front entrance, I could not help imagining turning it into an old-style, 1950s milk bar…

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one-pot cooking…

Meatballs… ‘meat and veg Italian-style’ – polpette, melanzane e piselli in passata con due formaggi – meatballs, eggplant and peas in passata with two cheeses.

{Yes, there are vegies in there – under the cheese…}

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Queen Street, Brisbane in 1939…

Queen St 1939….as it looked when my grandfather, Annibale arrived alone in Australia at the age of 15. Met by his father, Vitale, who took him straight from the ship dock to this street to buy some new work boots. The very next day, they left Brisbane for Annibale to commence work at a farm 200km away. After seven years apart, father and son got to spend just 24 hours together.

{image courtesy State Library, Qld}

 Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar

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Chiacchiere… chitter-chatter ~ carnival sweets

crostoliMy Italian grandmother made these all the time so I thought it fitting to serve them on one of her Florentine, painted wooden serving trays on the terrazzo table that sat on my grandparents’ patio for decades.

These crispy ribbons of pastry dusted with sugar are a sweet popular for centuries throughout Italy and across Europe and Asia. In Italy, they are traditionally eaten at the time of Carnevale, when cities, towns and villages celebrate their historical connections. The ‘chitter-chatter’ pop up under the guise of different names in different regions – chiacchiere, crostole, bugie, cenci, sfogliatelle, nodi, ali d’angelo, frappe, cioffe, galani, sfrappole…

Beware, for chiacchiere or ‘rumours’ can be addictive. They are best if light and flaky but still crunchy with some substance.

Ingredients:

  • 450g plain flour {plus extra for kneading}
  • 3 free range eggs
  • 50g butter
  • 100g caster sugar {raw, unbleached if available}
  • 50ml Marsala {grappa or brandy may be substituted}
  • 1tsp vanilla bean extract
  • oil for frying
  • extra caster sugar or icing sugar to sprinkle

Method:

  • Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle and add the eggs, butter, sugar, Marsala and vanilla, mixing thoroughly to create a dough.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth {dusting extra flour across surface to prevent sticking as needed}.
  • Use a rolling pin or a pasta machine to roll the dough to lasagna sheet thinness.
  • Cut into strips roughly 4-5 cm wide, or to your liking {an alternative is using a fluted, pastry/ pasta wheel cutter to give a crinkled edge}.
  • Heat the oil in a deep frying pan and fry several strips at a time until they are golden.
  • Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent kitchen paper.
  • Sprinkle with caster sugar while still hot, or allow to cool completely then cover with sifted icing sugar.

Serves a good gathering chatting over coffee or sweet fortified wine.

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the Book House…

book house malenyHappened across this gorgeous Little Free Library in Maple Street, Maleny where you can leave a book and swap it for another. Such a lovely idea. I’m definitely going to take a couple of books to leave there next time…

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un piccolo pezzo di paradiso…

Hermitage Foreshore Track SydneyAlong the Hermitage Foreshore track in Sydney Harbour National Park a couple of Sunday mornings ago…. absolute magic!

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café Katoomba…

Paragon CafeI cannot visit Katoomba in the Blue Mountains without going to the Paragon Café. Said to be the oldest café in Australia – trading since 1916 – it has retained its art deco, Greek café form since 1926 and still has its milk bar!

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Rosen in Deutschland…

Beutelsbach flowersSpring in Australia starts today {although the equinox is a few weeks off yet}. I wish I’d grown these myself but I took this picture during the northern hemisphere’s spring – in Beutelsbach, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, where I was doing research for a future book. It seemed every window box and garden were growing beautiful red flowers.

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Piano accordion orchestra

Piano accordion orchestraFor the first time, we recently saw a piano accordion orchestra concert. It was great, some of the music taking me back to attending those big Italian weddings when I was a child and also our family gatherings when my uncle sometimes played the piano accordion. Of course, there were a couple of classics played, including Volare and Funiculi Funicula.

{Photograph courtesy of Germaine Arnold: http://deptford.tumblr.com/}

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Twilight over Scanno, Abruzzo – 1928 by Estella Canziani

Twilight Scanno Abruzzi

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July 26, 2014 · 11:59 am

Beautiful old buildings…

Wiss Brothers General Store, Kalbar, Queensland, 1921Wiss Emporium 2014One Sunday morning, we came across the Wiss Emporium in the town of Kalbar and came away with a number of vintage finds including an unusual wooden picture frame circa 1920. It was really wonderful to see this one hundred and five year old building with its original long counter and pressed metal ceilings being utilised and looked after so beautifully, its history and character much valued by its current owner.

Original Wiss Brothers store on the same site circa 1890

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Restoration…

Glengallan ScOn a bleak, wintry day, the caretakers gave us the opportunity to explore this abandoned, sandstone house in south west Queensland. As we walked through the high ceilinged rooms, the wind whistled through cracks in the walls and I longed to find out all the stories it held. After many decades of dereliction it is now being restored. http://www.glengallan.org.au/Glengallan today

 

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Katoomba magic…

waterfallI can’t take credit for the cockatoo in flight, it just happened to appear as I clicked the camera.

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art in nature…

View from the Tweed Regional Gallery in Murwillumbah, New South Wales, Australia where we recently went to see the new Margaret Olley Art Centre housing rooms from her Sydney terrace house, her artworks, and exhibitions by other artists. This view from the café was like an artwork in itself.

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solvitur ambulando….

Solvitur Ambulando

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March 12, 2014 · 2:20 pm

Italian paper dolls…

I couldn’t resist this Italian paper doll book with regional costumes from all over Italy. Sofia and Ernesto are the names of the two paper dolls that come with it. I admit I haven’t come across paper dolls since playing with a 1960s set owned by one of my relatives a very long time ago in childhood. I think it was American and being from the sixties, the paper clothes it in were very groovy.

Italian paper dolls

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‘alla fontana’ ~ to the fountain…

Civita d'Antino AbruzzoThe woman in the foreground carries two conche, the copper vessels traditionally used in Abruzzo to collect water from the village fountain for the household. Perhaps she was teaching the young girl to carry it back on her head (depicted by the women in the background). The village women used to do so to transport all manner of heavy things with evidence of this including iron bedheads and, on occasion in very steep areas, even coffins.

The artwork pictured here was painted in Civita d’Antino in Abruzzo by Danish painter, Kristian Zahrtmann (1843-1917) who first travelled to the mountain town of Civita d’Antino in June 1883. Zahrtmann came to consider it his second home as he was fascinated by “the life there, the strong Italian sun, the brightness of colours, and the exoticness of Catholic Church rites”.

He spent every summer from 1890 to 1911 in Civita d’Antino where he stayed with the Cerroni family, and was named an honorary citizen of the town in 1902. In Civita d’Antino, a memorial plaque to Zahrtmann is set into the wall of the Cerroni house near the town gate.

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Flight of the angel… il Volo dell’Angelo

Il Volo dell’Angelo… {the flight of the angel} – something a little different to do in Italy – ‘flying’ between the villages of Pietrapertosa and Castelmezzano in the Dolomites of Lucania, Basilicata.

  Apparently, you start 1020m above the ground with the flight covering 1415m and reaching speeds of up to 120 km/h. Not sure if I’m game!

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Late afternoon walks…

a beautiful end to a Sunday, walking along Obi Obi Creek, Maleny…

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The Dome…

The Dome 1977 Jeffrey SmartJeffrey Smart, 1921 – 2013.

 

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freshly, baked bread…

“…whenever the loaf is put on the table, few foods will produce such joy and delight in others as when freshly baked bread appears, the aroma of fresh memories rising with every slice, and all things – poetry and miracles, friends and family, food and love – for a short time are as they ought be: one.”

Richard Flanagan, from The Food of Love.

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Hotel open for bees…

Bee hotels… and also ladybirds, lacewings and other garden friends.

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a beautiful place to sit and read, or lie and daydream…

Painted by Estella Canziani (1887-1964) who wrote {as well as drew and painted the illustrations for} one of my favourite books on the Abruzzo about her 1913 travels – Through the Apennines & Lands of Abruzzi.

She painted this picture {oil on paper} from inside her house in London at 3 Palace Green in 1922. The white bird in the painting one of the many birds she rescued and cared for.

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Maremma sheepdogs and penguins…

Abruzzo postcard picturing Maremma SheepdogThe Maremma Sheepdog is indigenous to central Italy, particularly Abruzzo and the Maremma area in Tuscany and Lazio, and has been used for centuries by Italian shepherds to guard sheep from wolves.

Recently I discovered a project in Australia where Maremma Sheepdogs are protecting a penguin colony almost decimated by foxes, and under their protection the penguins are increasing in numbers. {The dogs also guard free-range chickens.} A little mezza italiana/ australiana perhaps.

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little free libraries…

Love this concept of the ‘Little Free Library’ – “take a book, leave a book” structures built with recycled materials and popping up beside footpaths, coffee shops, houses and parks around the world….

http://www.littlefreelibrary.org/

little free libraries

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un amour des livres… a love of books

Miniature book art by French artist: Marc Giai-Miniet

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The beauty of walking in Italy…

…a fleeting glimpse down a narrow, side alley often reveals the unexpected and the beautiful. 

{Taken in Orvieto, Umbria.}

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the stillness of time…

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Lightly, lightly….

Life Behind by Maki Horanai

“It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them. I was so preposterously serious in those days…Lightly, lightly—it’s the best advice ever given me. So throw away your baggage and go forward. There are quicksands all about you, sucking at your feet, trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair. That’s why you must walk so lightly. Lightly, my darling.”

Aldous Huxley

From ‘Island’, 1962

 

Related articles: Watching Over

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Neve in Roccacaramanico…

I grew up with stories of villages in the Abruzzo being snowed in, sometimes the snow so high people couldn’t open the doors and had to climb out their windows. Hearing this in the heat of a subtropical summer in Australia, I could only try to imagine….


{Neve in Roccacaramanico. Photographer: Andrea Basciano.}  

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una passeggiata in italia…

Passeggiando Santo Stefano Sessanio by Juan Alfredo Parisse

~ a walk in Italy…

Costa Masciarelli, L’Aquila by Juan Alfredo Parisse

 

 

‘…success
unexpected in common hours.

Henry David Thoreau

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The need for a lie down…

…about seven hours into an Italian wedding. 

{Photographer: Giuseppe Leone, Sicily.}

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the copper chocolate pot…

Among the Spanish paintings of royalty, religion, death and destruction at the Masterpieces from the Prado exhibition is a small portrait of a copper chocolate pot with its wooden whisk, pieces of cacao, bread, and biscuits shaped like churros.

Still life with chocolate service {Bodegón: servicio de chocolate}, 1770 was painted by Luis Meléndez {1715-1780} who was born in Naples and died in Madrid, a pauper, his paintings unappreciated, and owning only his pencils.

242 years later, among all the other talented artworks, it was his that stopped me still the longest.

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Italia at night…

….taken from the International Space Station above the Mediterranean Sea on 18 August 2012.
{The lights of Rome and Naples are clearly visible on the coast near the centre.}

 {Courtesy Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium, Australia.}

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Watching over…

Maki Horanai is an artist whose beautiful paintings we discovered by chance when we came across her first exhibition in 2005, and have been following her exhibitions since. Maki’s main influences are the works of Italian artists Giotto (14th century) and Fra Angelico (15th century), and Japanese artist, Kano Eitoku (16th century). This painting is called, ‘Watching Over’.

Related articles: Lightly, lightly…

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Cherry wood and Estella…

Piedmontese peasant wood-pipe carved from cherry wood that writer, artist and folklorist, Estella Canziani presented to The Folklore Society of London in 1911. She donated it along with other items from her travels in northern Italy when she wrote and illustrated her first  book, Costumes, Traditions and Songs of Savoy (before she ventured to the Abruzzo in 1913 to pen Through the Apennines and Lands of Abruzzi).

I saw a similar pipe sitting on a stall table at the antique market in Arezzo and am still regetting not having bought it…

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