Around Lake Como, a Pleasant Awakening.

I was pleasantly surprised by Lake Como, in particular by the many small and more remote villages that are dotted around the Lake. You could say it was an awakening of sorts. My misconception about the area may have been based on all the hype one reads about villas, palazzi, gardens, tourists, film stars and wedding events. Most tourists head to busy traps such as Bellagio ( happily mispronouncing it every time), Varenna, Menaggio or Como, paying scant attention to the other 15 or so small villages of Lake Como.

Painted Laglio

A stay in Laglio in late October proved so refreshingly devoid of tourists, I wondered if we had found Italian nirvana. The small village of 600 residents included two tiny alimentari with totally random opening hours, one osteria specialising in local lake fish and a small enoteca which opened after 4 pm. There are more businesses open in the high season. I could happily head back there tomorrow, especially in October, spending a month or so jumping on and off the small ferry that leaves from Carate Urio, a two kilometre walk down the road from Laglio. I am sure that every village would have one local trattoria or osteria open for lunch. The few that I did manage to visit provided me with exquisite food memories.

Lane ways in the older part near Laglio

One week in Laglio was simply not long enough. Below are some colourful images taken on walks around the village. The collage photos can be clicked on and opened separately.

Grazie mille Stuart and Linda for your lovely home in Laglio.

Pasticceria, old painted sign, Laglio

Of Ships and Sunsets

For those who have gone the distance and have continued to camp alongside the great lagoon- like bay of Port Phillip until mid Autumn, the rewards are great. The summer crowds, the sun seekers, bathers and holiday makers have long left: a more mellow mood remains. Some old patterns and rituals continue as the season winds to a close. From 5 o’clock, the beach calls and it’s time for a Shirley. Folding chairs, chilled wine, cameras real and cloned are carted down to the shoreline just in time for the sunset show. The children run or cartwheel across the sand, dressed for an endless summer, too busy to ever get cold, while their elders swaddle in layers against the descending chill.

Tangerine dream, Port Phillip Bay looking towards Blairgowrie.

The sunsets of mid Autumn are incandescent and more evocative than their summer counterparts. No more lipstick sunsets, loud, adolescent and brash. The season brings out subtle colours, as softer tangerine mellows to russet, bronze and antique gold, like the waning of time and life. My mind wanders out to sea as ships come and go, with cargoes of cars and clutter. Melbourne’s shipping lane is busy in the evening. Ghost ships pass, container-less, skeletons of their former selves, story book ships, pirate fortune hunters in search of another raid.

Ghost ships and pirates leave the Bay

Or human cargo ships pass by, cruise ships full of expectation, lit up like floating apartment blocks, as they ostentatiously glide into the setting sun and head towards their next fleeting appointment with another land.

Save me.

As a Champagne stopper popped, landing a good distance away in the sand, a song came to mind, piercing my mental meanderings on ships and sunsets. An earworm of the evening, I firmly planted it in the minds and souls of my fellow drinkers. And now dear reader, I’m planting it in yours. Lyrics below seem more pertinent than ever.

Ship of Fools

We’re setting sail to the place on the map
from which no one has ever returned
Drawn by the promise of the joker and the fool
by the light of the crosses that burned.
Drawn by the promise of the women and the lace
and the gold and the cotton and pearls
It’s the place where they keep all the darkness you need.
You sail away from the light of the world on this trip, baby.
You will pay tomorrow
You’re gonna pay tomorrow
You will pay tomorrow
Save me. Save me from tomorrow
I don’t want to sail with this ship of fools. No, no
Oh, save me. Save me from tomorrow
I don’t want to sail with this ship of fools
I want to run and hide ……..right now

Avarice and greed are gonna drive you over the endless sea
They will leave you drifting in the shallows
or drowning in the oceans of history
Traveling the world, you’re in search of no good
but I’m sure you’ll build your Sodom like you knew you would
Using all the good people for your galley slaves
as you’re little boat struggles through the warning waves, but you don’t pay
You will pay tomorrow
You’re gonna pay tomorrow
You’re gonna pay tomorrow
Save me. Save me from tomorrow
I don’t want to sail with this ship of fools
Save me. Save me from tomorrow
I don’t want to sail with this ship of fools
Where’s it comin’ from?
Where’s it goin’ to now?
It’s just a It’s just a ship of fools
Songwriters: Karl Edmond De Vere Wallinger

 

Lost in the Garden

I lose all sense of time in the garden, and then I lose myself. It’s a common enough experience among gardeners. After the first flurry of harvesting, tying back overgrown tomatoes and moving hoses about, observing life’s cycle from seed to flower to fruit then back to seed, and all the while conscious of my own aging body as it bends and complains within this bounteous space, another state emerges. My pragmatic self surrenders to a semi- conscious meditation on the essence of being. Through silent awareness and invisibility, the sounds and signals of earth- primordial, spiritual, supreme- reinforce the idea of Anattā, that Buddhist concept of non-being.

It begins with a chive flower waving in the gentle breeze, now taller than the blanketing pumpkin leaves, insisting on more light. The delicate white coriander flowers belie the true pungency of their leaves, roots and seeds. Things are not what they seem. Then a strange bird call punctures the silence. High pitched like a creaking table, the sound is urgent but not bleak. I look up and see a flash of yellow underneath a broad wing span of black. It’s the yellow -tailed black cockatoo, an infrequent visitor to these lightly wooded lands. Now one, now two more, followed by a train of rasping sound, they are on their way to a distant pine tree. Word is out that the nuts are ready to strip. The guard cocky stands alert, signalling from the highest branch, a two-dimensional black stencil, a wayang puppet, an inked picture outlined in the early morning sky.

The bluest of blue of the radicchio flower is a call to the bees. I can never find the word for this blue: constructs such as Cobalt or Persian or Cornflower might have to do. And the little gem of a beetle, friend or foe, travels across a furry field that is an eggplant leaf. The mauve and white bean flowers peep from the darkness of their leafy canopy, an arrangement, a posy, a boutoniere. The beans can wait.

 

A Lombardian Christmas Card

As Christmas Day moves closer, a stressful count down for some, I’m finding peace in doing simple domestic tasks. Ironing old linen, making bread, shaping and rolling more batches of Sicilian almond balls to share with others, moving furniture around to create dining space for the day, and draping silvery bling around the Christmas tree. Mindless tasks allow thoughts to wander: the devil makes work for busy hands too. I’m back in the towns and villages of Lombardy. I don’t feel that I’ve really left: I have unfinished business there. I miss the sound of village bells, the simple risotti on every menu, the low-lying rice fields of the Po valley dotted with 17th century cascine, enclosed farm buildings and villas set midst stubbled rice fields, river flats edged with pioppi, poplar trees, remnants of Visconti castles, red bricked medieval fortresses, the wine growing hills above Pavia, and the gentle Lombardi people, my new friends and old. I will return to these stories in January: there are many waiting to be aired.

In the meantime, I’m sending out these Lombardi Christmas Cards. They depict a different kind of Christmas bell, the orange kaki or persimmons that caught my eye as we wandered about a small village in the Oltrepò, near Pavia. Nearby, an old shed housing some antique building materials attracted Mr T. This Christmas card is for shed lovers. Another renovation? A little house in the Lombardian hills? Wishing you, dear readers, many fine things this Christmas: good food, friends and family and a warm embrace. Who could want for more.

Rome, Glorious Rome.

Rome, my favourite city, is often visited at the beginning or end of our travels. There’s a problem with this and it’s taken me 32 years to work it out. Visiting Rome before heading off on a long journey allows you to see her wonders with fresh eyes, vigour and enthusiasm but often the visit is cut short by an eagerness to travel to the proposed, more anticipated, Italian or European destination. Visiting Rome at the other end of the holiday often means that you are less eager to wake early and are suffering from church and museum overload. Your legs will hurt as you wander along kilometres of Rome’s cobblestoned ways, but at least your muscles have been in training.

Often a mysterious melancholy descends when you realise that Rome needs more time. It always does. It doesn’t matter how often you visit, Rome will continue to unfold and excite, tripping you up along the way with unexpected finds, more exciting lanes and suburbs, new bridges and villas. I use the word ‘unexpected’ as this is what Rome does. Once away from the usual Roman icons, you discover lesser known classical ruins, just lying about, some rarely visited, and suburbs with real markets, Roman lifestyle and ‘local’ osterie, views never imagined from yet more hills, and more of that exciting Roman night-time brio. And just when you think you know Rome, you realise that you know nothing at all.

Memories are reinterpreted and revised as favourite districts and churches are revisited, a rainy day enlivens Bernini’s sculpture, all that masculine flesh glows with new vigour. Wet marble and muscle, pink and black veined. Sant’Agnese provides shelter from the storm and a rest for weary feet. Another Baroque church beckons, Sant’Andrea delle Valle, or maybe a visit to Feltrinelli’s bookshop, or is it time for a Prosecco? 

Although winter is nigh, Rome glows pink. I want to keep wandering all day and night, but my legs can’t keep up with my desires. And that thing that I finally discovered so late in life? Rome is a destination in itself. One day I’ll just go there and nowhere else.

More on Rome next post.

Speed Bonny Boat

I’ve thought long and hard about how to write about Skye, and about that young girl, Marion, who left here during the clearances 180 years ago, and the voices that I hear down by the stream of Maelrubha, the Irish red-headed bald monk who came to preach to the Picts in 671 and the healing water of his well. And about the Norwegian Viking princess who was buried, along with her servants, on top of a stark mull in the Cuillins, and of the warrior queen, Scáthach the Shadow, who lived in the Dunscaith castle on the edge of wild sea at Toravaig in Sleat. Legendary figures surround me, they seem to live and breathe.

Dunscaith Castle, Toravaig, Skye

I am struggling in my search for superlatives: none will do. My English language doesn’t fit this place: it’s too modern and limited and fails to describe what I see. Older words portray these land forms and features, some of them still in use today and if we say them aloud, we might hear our ancestors speak. This is a land of heather and bracken, of cairns, crags and tors, forges, braes, straths and burns. The colours of tartan are spread across rock cuttings and moors, colours mixed by rain and light: heather with burnt orange bracken and oat, scree with mustard seaweed drying at low tide, lichen on birch, black slate and rowan berry. Sometimes the heather is dun, sometimes purple and pink. These are the colours of hand dyed wool woven into the plaid of old.

Cuillins and colours
In need of Gaelic words. Skye
The colours of plaid, Breakish, Skye

When it rains, which is often, the Isle of Skye weeps from every cranny. In the mountains it floods with tears as waterfalls rip and carve great channels through these bald hills. The roadside verges gently seep. Black rock faces flash wet glint, the burns and creeks darkly rush. Tread lightly on the sodden machair, that deceptive verdant sponge by the sea, now solid grass, now  quagmire, now submerged. The sun appears in the late afternoon, a watery limpid glow that seeks out new colours of the evening. Rocky crags, hidden by morning mist, appear as if a new day. And then in late summer, that mystic light returns as the gloaming beckons, inviting exploration before the tide and the night come rushing in.

Dark burns rush after rain
Skye weeping
8 pm. Sky on Skye
Over the sea to Skye
A craggy mound near St Maelrubha’s well

From Breakish on Skye. Skye fills me with yearning. More words will come.

Mr Tranquillo’s post on Skye is here. His great grandmother, Marion Grant, left Breakish on Skye as a young child during the Clearances, travelling to Australia and eventually marrying Alexander McKenzie from Ullapool in the Highlands. Their children never returned to Skye, but all their grandchildren and some of their great-grandchildren have. Speed Bonny Boat.

View from Breakish on Skye. Dreaming of Marion

Lists of English words with Scottish Gaelic origin.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_words_of_Scottish_Gaelic_origin

The list of all lists: Gaelic words for hills:

https://cuhwc.org.uk/page/meanings-gaelic-words-commonly-seen-hill-names

Sunday Walking Street Market, Chiang Mai

A visit to Chiang Mai, Thailand, never seems complete without attending the famous Sunday Walking Street Market. The market takes over four streets in the centre of the old city, beginning at the Tha Pae Gate at one end and running down the one kilometer length of Ratchadamnoen Road and spilling into nearby side streets. The area is closed to traffic from 4 pm until midnight. The market is popular with locals and tourists and is packed, especially round dinner time.

Fresh fruit shakes ready to be blended. 30 Bhat.

On one side, just after sunset, a lone singer appears dressed in a policeman’s uniform. This year he is a serious looking young man: he sings a mournful ballad in Thai. In previous years, that same spot was occupied by an older policeman with an Elvis slick back hairstyle and dark sunglasses, who only sang Elvis Presley songs. Sometimes his 8-year-old daughter performed alongside him. Bring back the Elvis cop. But are they really policemen? I’ll never know. I’m not sure who to ask in this crowded, stall filled corner.

Sunday walking market, Chiang Mai, ’17

Nearby stands the Thai musical instrument stall. Late at night, a troupe of elderly musicians will sit gracefully on a tiny platform and play traditional Lan Na music that is so haunting, it usually makes me cry. The instruments look and sound foreign to the untrained ear.

Ancient Thai instruments.

Midst this crowd, a troupe of blind singers suddenly appears. They move slowly holding a lamp: the crowds step aside as they make their way courageously through the throng, singing melodic Thai tunes in harmony.

Stalls with paper lanterns, stalls with far too much colour, handmade items are a feature of this market. The kitsch nestles side by side with the tasteful. Soft leather wallets and hand-made shoes, artistic etched calico shopping bags, carved psychedelic soaps and interesting fish patterned ceramics, hand printed t-shirts and indigo dyed clothing, home-made cakes, biscuits and sweets, and an abundance of street food stalls, the latter nestled into the front courtyards of temples, it’s a big night out for Thai families. Junk food abounds: there are deep-fried insects and grilled air- dried squid, Thai sausages and pad thai, mango sticky rice, and kôw soy, sweet tropical fruit drinks and some based on tinned Carnation milk. Dotted throughout are small areas offering massage for foot and leg or shoulder and neck. After walking slowly and hesitantly for two or three kilometers in a crowd, you may need one.

The annual Chiang Mai T-shirt purchase. One with a guitar please.

Feeling exhausted and slightly deranged, we wander back to our hotel near Wat Phra Singh and down a large bottle of Chang beer. The market’s sensory overload takes its toll but I wouldn’t miss it for Bhat.

In a Balinese Garden. Ubud

At the end of a busy day in Bali, often involving far more walking in the heat than one initially intended, returning to a peaceful, quiet and well maintained garden is a godsend. A beautiful garden has become a prerequisite when choosing accommodation in Bali, especially when visiting Ubud.

Entrance to the pool in Honeymoon Two.

Unfortunately, Ubud has been loved to death. A private courtyard garden blocks out the pandemonium, the snarl of traffic, the fumes of motor bikes and the endless stream of slow walking tourists hunting for gewgaws, monkeys and food. This is my farewell tribute to one of Ubud’s most delightful gardens. Aging and velvet mossed Buddhist and Hindu statues, inviting seating platforms, beautifully carved and painted doors, screening plants and tropical flowers, archways and entrances and stands of bamboo, evoke a traditional Bali midst a heavily urbanised town. The daily noiseless tending of tropical plants by gardeners and the morning placement of fresh hibiscus flowers and canang sari on all the statues and family temple have called me back to the charming Honeymoon Guesthouse year after year. Situated in Jalan Bisma, development and congested traffic has finally overwhelmed this once tranquil street. I cannot return. My love of Ubud now dwells in the past. I can revisit her there.

Things become old very quickly in Ubud’s tropical environment.

A big suksma ( Balinese for thankyou, best said with hands in prayer position) to all the gardeners of Bali. Without these steady, quiet and humble workers, Bali would not be so inviting.

The following collage is a media file. Tour the garden by opening the first photo and following the arrows.

 

Balinese Memukur. Water Purification Ceremony by the Sea

The sound of gamelan moves closer, an exotic percussion that is repetitive and hypnotic, as we wake from our afternoon slumber and follow the procession down to the sea. Another Balinese ceremony is about to take place.

White dressing for the last funeral stage, Memukur. Sanur, Bali.

The Balinese will often tell you that they won’t be around for a few days as they have a ceremony to attend. Religious and family ceremonies are an important part of the fabric of Balinese life. Hindu ritual and observance is strictly upheld, despite the massive level of tourism in southern Bali. Balinese often return to their family village in the country for these events: they are always in touch with the ever shifting Hindu calendar. I’m forever asking questions, trying to fathom the significance of each new ceremony that I come across.

Gamelan orchestra, Sanur.

Memukur is a traditional Balinese ceremony for the passed away spirit. The purpose of this ceremony is to purify the spirit to send it off into reincarnation. It must be purified by water so it may return to heaven to begin the process of reincarnation. According to tradition, the deceased returns to human life in the form of the next born family member after these rituals. White is the colour worn during Memukur, with bright sashes and golden sarongs for the women, and white shirts and traditional dark sarongs for the men. The carefully tied udeng is worn as a hat on these occasions.

Ceremonial dress, men wearing the udeng.

The assembled group wait patiently for the priest to arrive, who performs the water purification ceremony. This is not a sad occasion yet the gathered are quiet and respectful. Some of the younger boys in the gamelan band joke quietly together: young women occasionally glance at their mobile phones.

Waiting, waiting.

A collective sigh can be heard as the elderly priest arrives in a black car and slowly moves to the raised platform to perform the purification rites.

The purification ritual begins. Sanur beach, Bali

The gamelan orchestra begins again, with increasing percussion from gongs and hammered xylophones and background wind instruments.

Gamelan orchestra, Bali
Gamelan, sanur beach, memukur ceremony

The Balinese don’t mind foreigners witnessing these ceremonies. Some points of etiquette need to be observed.

  • Do not walk in front of people when they are praying.
  • Do not use flash or point your camera at the priest’s face.
  • Never sit higher than the priest, the offerings and/or people praying.
  • During cremation ceremonies, never get in the way of attendees. Stand at a respectable distance, somewhere along the sides or in the background.
  • The bikini clad and shirtless should stay well away.

    It’s not unusual for the assembled to be happy at this final stage of a funeral process.

On a Winter’s Day a Traveller in Melbourne

Sometimes when I visit Melbourne in winter, I see her as if for the first time. Perhaps it’s the light. Or maybe it’s the new energy that charges the centre with brio. Gone are the days of visiting Melbourne with an agenda, striding her university precinct to study Mandarin, travelling with trepidation to the top of Collins street to visit overpaid dentists, or trawling her centre to shop in her famous emporia.

A fleeting glimpse along Princes Bridge, Melbourne. Capturing a 1940s feel midst all that colour and modernity.

These days, I attempt to visit the city without a particular plan. When trundling along by tram, I am often awed by the highly ornate Victorian facades along the southern end of Elizabeth Street, which only become visible from the height of a tram. Winter evokes Melbourne’s past, highlighting the beauty of granite, sandstone, marble and blue stone. While surrounded by modern colour and plenty of action, my lens fleetingly lands on her historic elements.

Under Princes Bridge, Melbourne.

From Federation Square, where a group of visiting Chinese have set up a colourful display of large pandas to promote tourism to Chengdu, I wander to a quiet spot and find a lone seagull bathing in mystic sunlight, with gothic St Paul’s in the background.

Seagull in mystic light.

The familiar Flinder’s Street station, an ochre- coloured Victorian fantasy, takes on a new look as its northern facade is under restoration. Christo comes to town.

The fanciful Flinders street station turns part Christo.
Curves, bridges and station. On a winter’s day a traveller.

Included in this week’s WP Daily Post theme, showcasing photos of transition and change.