Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas and her inspirations…

Christmas is innately a period of reflection and either as a result of this or just by habit, I have noticed that as a society we gradually slow down ….. developing a softness that is so comforting…..People tend to offer a politeness, a gesture a smile a “buon natale, buona festa, happy Christmas..etc” ….and this will come from either a dear friend or a complete stranger.  This is the way on either side of the world…offered on a scorching sweltering – humid as hell- Australian December day …or on a bitterly cold day in Italy.  Regardless of our stressors and busy lifestyle we take that simple extra moment of well wishing that can have such a profound effect and make a person smile.  
What Christmas actually means for any of us is completely and entirely variable BUT I love that fact that Christmas has this softening capability on our souls….I am well aware that Christmas can also bring sadness to some/many but I like to think that this general softening  and compassion that is evoked in many  us, comes with a capacity to absorb and caress and ease some of this sadness.
My head is like a cascade of emotion absorbing so much around me, reflections on my time here in Italy and reflections on the journeys that each of the children have experienced.  But for now, I feel so privileged that I have had this opportunity to be filled with thoughts and contemplation …..
Enough of the soggy stuff….what’s been happening….?
We have had been privileged once again with a visit from the beautiful Emma Williams….Emma was a visitor from heaven….cleaning, cooking, babysitting and most of all a truly good friend J We managed to sneak out for dinner to my favourite restaurant Da Pasquale’s for a seven course – champagne matched dinner…..I truly felt like I could have exploded with food and joy all at the same time.  Pasquale and chef Carlo are a truly perfect fusion of food and wine. In Brisbane this kind of culinary delight is hard to find and IF you could find it you would possibly need a second mortgage to pay for it…BUT here.. 35 euro – 45 aussie dollars per head (all the wine you could drink – which wasn’t much after all the food)….. I mean, truly….it is AMAZING!!!!!
Emma and I were also privileged to spend a morning doing a cooking class with Carlo and Pasquale. First thing Pasquale took us shopping for vegies at the orto frutta and then for the wines at the best and most ancient enoteca in Lucca….Wow!!!!!
Then with our fresh local ricotta and other produce we headed back to the restaurant for some cooking with Carlo. We were truly spoilt,  making fresh pasta, sugo, ricotta mouse, sampling local olive oils and wines.  We even picked up the kids from school halfway through and at the end we all dined together. What a great way to spend a day (which also fortunately coincided with my birthday!)!!
Gala Dinner
My wonderful friends Giulia and Andrea had invited me to their very first gala dinner to aide the contribution the Stella Maris Foundation. This is a very worthy cause looking into a variety of Paediatric Neurological disorders, treatments, rehabilitations etc…. This was the first of its kind and was all inspired from G & A’s visit to Australia and their attendance to the Butterfly Ball in Brisbane…. Regardless of this being the first event, they pulled it off with pure pizzazz!!!
There is so much happening around Christmas…Mostly I have been indulged with the brave and courageous participation of my beautiful children in their school concerts….Gabby and Spencie have both had their concerts and Malachy will have his this Friday (where ironically he is playing an angel dressed in pure white …hahaha!!).  We have been blest with the welcoming of an assortment of new (all Italian) Christmas carols resonating through the house. We were also given a beautiful Christmas gift from Paola (our landlady) that include all the ancient Christmas songs of the world, the lyrics, music scores, and a cd. It has been a hit and has also encouraged me to have a long awaited return to twinkling the ivory J Very rusty I have to say but I (never thought I would say this) but am seriously contemplating a piano on our return home …
We have Janie, will and Finlay all arriving today from Rome which will be great to have some family around for Christmas day…
Shortly after Christmas we are heading to the Dolimiti for skiing holiday with good friends J…..This will be interesting. I am putting all my faith and hope into the ski kindy for me to have an opportunity to carve it up once more…..It’s been almost 7 years since I was last on the slopes with Nicko, Bez and Andy….one of the best ski trips ever J But no doubt I will be rusty!!!
Not long after the Dolomiti we head to Austria again to see Gertraud and Andreas for some more skiing this time in Innsbruck Austria where it will also coincide with the Junior winter Olympics!
Much to do little time and none for blog editing purposes sorry J
Although I am far, my thoughts are near…… to my family and friends who have been such wonderful examples and inspirations in my life …..
Buon Natale, buona festa and Happy Christmas!!!!!!!
Somebody have an icy cold fresh prawn for me on Christmas day and wash it down with an even colder XXXX beer J
Lots of love to you all from Bron, Gabby, Spencer and Malachy

 checking out the wines with pasquale's
 cooking class with emma

 Gabby having a go at cooking sugo...

 Eating the profits...

 Emma and Malachy hooning round town!!

 Gran gala dinner with Andrea

 San Martino illuminated with stars

 streets of lucca

 Gabby's christmas concert

 Spencers christmas light

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas is coming…

Well the weeks are flying by now….and added pressure from work/studies in Australia is certainly not slowing time down….
Where I left off from last time…

San Martino…..
Well as I said I was not going to be attending but from all accounts of the children, mum and other families….it was a magical experience for all….I am sure you can see from the photos that this was a pretty special event…. The children were even privileged to a surprise visit from San Martino himself who came to pay the children gratitude for their consideration and celebration of his deeds ….. He came in on his horse, wearing his infamous red cape that sliced off with his sword all that time ago to help a poor beggar in the freezing cold….. ultimately providing us all the warmth and comfort we desire when we are cold and alone…..

Boys and bikes….
Recently the boys have learnt  to ride a bike – without training wheels!!! We have been practising a bit lately and sure enough, Spencie took off – independent and free. He was so proud, head high, shoulder’s back and so proud of himself!! The older wiser brother….. at least  until the next day younger brother butted in and learnt too!!!  You could imagine Malachy’s joy to have caught up to his big brother so quickly!!!!

Puccini concert
Recently Puccini’s “La Boheme” came to town. I knew this was going to be a good production…..Lucca is Puccini’s hometown…Nobody would dare bring a secondary performace to a  Lucca stage.  So I treated myself to a visit to the local Teatro del Giglio (a very grand and regal performing centre in the heart of Lucca).  I have been to other chamber music performances at the theatre before, but hadn’t been into the main theatre……Wow what an experience!!!! Everything you would imagine of a grand old theatre of the 16th C to behold.  A chandelier the size of a small car hanging over the centre of the audience, enough box seats to cater for all the local noble men, red velvet seats, gold trimming etc.
Then their was the performance!!! This was kicked off with the orchestra performing the Italian national anthem- which traditionally prompts the audience to stand and sing the anthem with the orchestra!!! I wished so much to know the words – it was magical – everyone sung with passion pride and strength… In hindsight it was a fragile time for the country….and still is (the whole parliamentary fragilitiy – another blog should be dedicated to this).  So it was a magnificent introduction to Italian opera and the following performance did not disappoint…. La Boheme is such an enticing story to begin with  - but the music….the singing…..completely captivating…!!!! I was so excited because for the first time in my life I could actually understand quite a big of what was being sung! Fortunatley for me I had a lovely family from Firenze next to me and the Dad was passionately describing to his two adolescent sons the story and historical and musical significance of the various acts and scenes. This was so lovely to see, such passion of detail being passed down from father to his children……I could not help but think how fortunate these children were!!!!

Spencie’s birthday…
The long anticipated birthday boy finally turned 5!!!!! Spencie began anticipating this since his 4th birthday!! It’s what he has been telling everybody he meets….It’s my birthday in Italy! (Because he knew he would be the only child in the family to have a birthday party in Italy). Spencie even had a special visit from friends from Rome to help celebrate with some Gluten Free tiramisu early in the day. Later that afternoon, Spencie was treated to another set of visitors….his grandparents – Tidge and John (Nicks mum and partner).  This was such a special day for Spencie, it was so lovely to see his little face light up with every delight of his day!

Christmas wreath
We have busy getting prepared Christmas. Tidge and John fortunately gifted us a Christmas tree and decorations for Christmas! This was an exciting adventure with such satisfaction to all at completion of decoration!
Christmas does inevitably have such a different feel here…there is something so special about a cold Christmas period …. Glistening Christmas lights are even more “glisteny” in the misty late afternoons….Old doors decorated in real foliage from holly and pine tree all tied together with silky red ribbons.
Malachy’s kindy had a special night for the parents to participate in making our own Christmas wreath. We were also required to add 4 red candles to the wreath to represent the 4 weeks of Christmas. Each Sunday we light one more  candle and with each week comes a new story of the different Christmas angels (these stories are all a bit Hans Christen Anderson like and I just love sharing such wonderment with them!!!).

Christmas in Lucca…..
Well as if the town wasn’t already alive for us….Lucca just keeps getting better!!! This last week we have seen the erection and tested out the outdoor ice skating ring in the Piazza Napoleone.  Gabby has improved out of sight and the boys are surprisingly hesitant… give it a few more days I say!!!!
Last Wednesday night we attended a free Disney music concert in a 500 year old chapel that has been converted into an auditorium – fantastic in my opinion but the kids were a bit restless…..and with that much marble around it could only end in tears….Just at the grande finale Malachy pushed it a bit too far and I can tell you the marble was fine. It was still dark so I attempted to kiss his head better – felt and unusal taste on my lips and sure enough blood everywhere. Thankfully my professional experience was able to calm the hordes of concerned Italians begging me to call an ambulance and please take this poor bambino to ospedale!!!! He was fine and we continued straight on to the pizza restaurant blood stained head and all!!

Another treat in town this weekend was a traditional medieval market. A plethora ancient handcrafts and traditions were on display. We tried out cross bow shooting, sword fighting….tasted ancient cookie recipe’s….watched the candle maker…..terracotta cooking pots being made…..and so many glorious food and drinks to sample!!!
The piazza outside San Michelle, one of the main chapels of the town, is now home to an detailed and natural nativity scene include grand old olive trees (some would have to be at least 100 years old) citrus trees, rows of grape vines, sculptures…its incredible the level of effort that has gone into the display. The figure of Mary is in the stable at the moment with a big belly and we are eagerly anticipating the change in her tummy around Christmas….:-)

These are all merely snippet of life, its so hard to keep up you up to date with everything but I try….merry Christmas to all of our family and friends. Wishing you all safe, happy, warm wonderful festive seasons!! 

 Christmas decoration's

 San Martino celebrations

Testing out the lanterns...

 Walking through the forrest with the lanterns

Birthday boy :-) With his favourite Italian girl :-)))

Making our christmas wreath's

testing out our skating legs

Medieval Madness!!! 

Disney concert

Malachy's claret head!

Nut cracking competition - missed this one...

Cross bow competition... the kids loved this one!!!

Monday, November 14, 2011

food, friends, festa's and fleeting visits...

Well the two weeks of language school certainly put my life into more of a spin.... Fortunately I was lucky to score a great teacher... Molto importante!!! The language school rules are that you only speak Italian while at the school... Harder than I thought, one day I really had to fight back the tears when a) I couldn't comprehend the question and b) even when I did get around to understanding the question I then could not comprehend the rule that was meant to be applied!!!!! My head was constantly aching for the two weeks, but I feel it did improve my language but still by no means fluent!!!!
It was a great experience and I met such a lovely diverse bunch of people, all studying for such different reasons. The school was really well organized with extra activities in the afternoon. Most of these I couldn't participate in because I am aware of the children's limits and pushing them into an excursion after a long day at Italian school is not a goer right now! However on the weekend we did take part in the schools excursion to yet another sagre (festival)!! This one was big and popular!!! It was a festival of the chestnut, this is a very important and symbolic festa here representing the harvest of vital autumn and winter sustenance. The colours and smells that this generous little morsel offers has never endowed itself to me. But now, the chestnut and I have made a strong connection ..... some good and some bad..... The chestnut roasting pots magically arrived in Lucca the week the weather turned down what felt like a sharp 10 degC. I couldn't resist the tempting warmth and smell that was seeping out of these pots and into the streets.... The other fantastic thing about chestnuts is that they are naturally gluten free! With this in mind the excursion to the chestnut festival was a no-brainer, we were in! The little town hosting the festa was placed extremely high a top one of the many grand mountains surrounding Lucca. The village was tiny thefore vehicles had to be left 3 km down the mountain to avoid blockage at the top... So we caught the shuttle up the mountain and eventually meandered through the narrow little streets (barely wide enough to walk two astride) filled with ancient craft demonstrations and cooking all related to the chestnut... It was a bit of a battle for me to be honest .....big crowds....small spaces...3 kids...2 eyes...2 arms...not enough. So, I went for the easy! I found a stall that was selling these beautiful fried chestnut flour "dumpling type"  things and after fighting my way through the crowd I managed to ask the stall holder if they were gluten free...."of course, made only with chestnut flour".... Says the stall keeper.... Well 10 mins later I managed to catch up with some friends at a bar while the kids were munching on there "dumplings" when....bang... The "not so gluten free" dumplings hit poor Gabby's tummy with a vengeance....rolling around in cramps! We both knew what was coming so I skulled the remainder of my vino and rallied the kids together for a "quick" exit... Not knowing if the shuttle was still in function we stumbled down the 3km downhill to our car and took off for home...knowing that I had to get all three kids and our bikes back into the city walls (about 1km), gabby was brave and pedalled her little pushbike home as fast as she could. As soon as we got home, she bolted down the hallway to the loo and commenced her post gluten ingestion period of vomiting :-(... Fortunately she was able to spend the following day at Malachy's kindy instead of the intensity of Italian public always she recovers and gabby is just a little more disbelieving in people who serve "of course it's gluten free" food!
On a brighter note, mum arrived from Australia two weeks ago. It has been a whirlwind trip, mum arrived on what happens to be the biggest weekend in Lucca -the comics and games festival - the third biggest festival in Europe! I had no idea how big this actually was.... Our relatively peacful little city was transformed into a stage/ freakshow of people literally packed into the streets and temporary marquees around Lucca. This was fun but not so much for mum ( struggling with jet lag) and I ( early stages of a nasty cold). We felt a bit claustrophobic to be honest and thought it best to get out of town one of the days so we headed out for our first official bush walk - up the apuian alps ....not a bad spot for your first bush walk! The combination of autumn colours fresh autumn air, wild horses and happy kids was ecstasy! Gabby was in her element and bounded along the path like an explorer with a strong sense of discovery... And the boys were happy spotting different nuts , plants, seeds, logs, animals etc....Gabby was still driven and did an additional walk with Anno (mum) to the summit..... Wow....she was on such a high, she was so super excited you could hear it pouring out of her voice...shinning out of her eyes and feel it on her skin!!! 
Unfortunately mum sprained her ankle the next day which was a bit of a worry but she made a quick recovery.....along with her jetlag!
During the previous weeks I had organized to visit friends in Austria, actually they are old friends of mums, whom she used to aupair for in 1970! It was a six hour drive from Lucca... Not bad really, quite the adventure in our current vehicle:-) she is reliable but by no means a luxury vehicle, this big girl requires full concentration to drive...but we made it.... And to such a spectacular location ....Gertraud and Andreaus welcomed us with open arms and an open kitchen:-) They have 8 grandchildren now and are so used to having a house full of children that I could immediately palpate their sense of ease with children. Another nice aspect of our visit was that nick and I had shared christmas and NYE with this family back in 2002/3. It was just as I remembered, and I remembered conversations nick and I had while we were there all that time ago.... Our time there with such a profound impact on us both and one that we both held very dear.
The house is so big but full of rooms for beloved family and friends to stay, Inc a sauna (yes I tried this time in the traditional Austrian style;-)), bathrooms and lots of kids toys and clothes which Gertraud kept loading us with to take home:-), many pieces of precious historic and inherited art pieces and furniture from centuries ago....the atmosphere in this house is such a fusion between history/family/culture/music/warmth/inclusion, no matter what their possessions or who they are this family will welcome anyone into there home...such a special gift... I could go on and on... Gertraud only ever bakes her own bread (on spelt flour), she had just finished bottling 120 jars of quince jam when we arrived, mixing and toasting her own museli etc!!!! And then there is the outside view...scroll down to the pictures, where we sat for breakfast each morning... I am not sure there could be a better view you would want to wake up to every morning.... Unfortunatley poor little Gabby had a nasty neck muscle injury on our first morning, we eventually had to take her to hospital for some strong pain relief to get her out of a very distressing period of a crook neck. The hospital was like a five star hotel... Everything pristinely white with dashes of classic colour (mustard coloured leather lined matresses) even the doctor had a pristinely white outfit on. Everybody was very friendly and all made a fine effort to speak to us in english.... In the end it was quite a lovely trip to the hospital and one we will have very fond memories of. Fortunately we have been invited back in winter to go skiing when the children can do ski school.... I was a bit concerned about this because it will be in another language, but soon into my visit in Austria I realized that austrians in general have a much better standard of English... The kids will be fine. We have locked it in and will most definitely return. In fact I was so impressed by our stay I can feel another extended European stay coming on.....maybe Austria????? Maybe the 10 year plan :-)
This week is the celebration of San martino in Lucca, he is both a vital role model for the city and for malachy's Steiner school. I will unfortunately will miss it because I decided to take a few nights off (making the most of mums visit). I was meant to be Vienna but to cut a long story short I ended up spending a few days in Rome staying with my friend Giovanni, who despite his position and the period in parliament, was vey hospitable! I indulged myself by exploring exhibitions in calm silence, with no great plans just stumbling from one ancient ruin to the next, soaking up the most beautiful autumn weather and testing out my new camera....Now on the train back to Lucca where the children are anticipating my arrival but mostly the presents I will bring home :-) 

 Apuian Alps..

 From the "summit"

 at Gertraud and Andreas' in Austria

 Lots of new toys to play with

 Gabby obviously tortured by the Austrian health system!

 Our view at the breakfast table every morning :-)

 Enjoying Gertrauds home made bread and jam

 More bush walking..

 Gabby at the summit

 These house's are at the centre of most treks in the area and they include accommodation, restaurant, bar ....fantastic facilities!

 My dash to Rome...

 I just love these ancient sculptures..

 I just love the definition... this piece was taller than me yet the proportions are so precise...

 Love the panthenon!

 I sat in this spot for about 1 hour by myself at night just watching the light, shapes, sculptures...bliss

 On top of Giovanni's roof in Rome, fantastic location right in the centre!

 Lucca comics and games - spencie is not so sure...

 More lucca comics and games

 more bush walking...
 loving the autumn colours on the hike