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