Tuesday, 30 October 2012

One for the road

Red is my colour and so is purple. In a few minutes we will be off to Spain, first to Madrid to meet our friends and tomorrow with them to the Rioja wine region. Our agenda will include admiring the views (lots of that!), visiting a couple of Monasterios and sipping some great wines at a bogeda or two.

What would life be without friends and travelling. A much more toneless place. A few more drops of the red or purple for me, please!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Handmade treasures

This is my 100th post and it feels like I am finally coming to the point. You see, Ive been thinking about what would be the ‘thing’ that is most precious to me, the tangible something outside the realm of the incomparable and irreplaceable, such as family, human relationships, nature and this planet itself, for these surely are the only issues that truly matter in the end. But if the larger-than-life things are set aside, what would be the one category of possessions I would find the hardest to part with if need be?

I love books and have quite a lot of them but most books could be borrowed from a library. I enjoy music but you could continue enjoying it without owning a single CD. The same is true about movies (I’m so lucky our home cinema system is my husband’s so it doesn’t count here). My jewellery is more of the pretty than precious kind; according to Colour Me Beautiful Im a Summer meaning that silver compliments my skin tone so I only have a few golden pieces. (Im starting to see a pattern here: all the valuables first coming to my mind seem to be somehow related to the arts. Shame on those who think art is a waste of time and money!) Most of the other things I own could be replaced or given away without too much distress. But there is something...

For quite some time now, it’s been clear to me that what brings me joy the most are (old) handmade items, especially anything from the past decades that has been handcrafted with care out of yarn or fabric. My mother was very skillful at many kinds of handicrafts. When we were young she earned a living through them for years. You might have started to hate the sewings and weavings and all kinds of needlework that were always present at your home when you were a child but I learned to try some of them, to appreciate them and finally to love them. So did both my sisters, the younger one to such an extent she chose an artisan occupation; she is an entrepreneur in dressmaking.

I do have a soft spot also for many other sorts of handmade objects, such as hand-painted porcelain probably thanks to my great-aunt who was very clever at that kind of work, but I adore handcrafted textiles, particularly those kinds that have been the tradition here. I can’t get enough of them, of admiring them, of fingering them.

But what is the use of owning gorgeous uplifting things if you keep them hidden piled up in your cupboards and closets? I’ve only just recognized there will never come a time when I would have all my little handmade treasures organized and at display, at least if I’m treating them the way I’ve done so far.

Starting from today, I’m sharing this love of mine with you. The kick-off item is a topical one but very modest: a simple canvas work anyone with a little bit of patience could do. This kind of needlework was popular a few decades ago. So although the pattern is not local – our elks are more robust and our deer have less stately antlers – the item most probably is of domestic doing. I hope it finds its way to please the eyes of a few fellow handicraft lovers. If there is anyone out there who would like to copy the pattern please feel free to do so. And if you do I’d love to hear about it. (So much loving in this post; isn’t life great!)

I found this piece at a thrift shop some years ago. I keep it hanging on the wall of our glassed-in veranda by the main door from the time of the first autumn leaves until spring. Its wonderful bright colours cheer me up every time I step out of the door. If only I could stand the cold and step that way more often. Yes, it is our first snow you can see gleaming through the window here.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

A few rays of sunshine

The sun has been such a rare visitor these past few weeks that we seldom have managed to catch a glimpse in any other way than through the window. But yesterday afternoon I was agile enough to grab the nearest boots and jacket (both his) and rush out with the camera to witness a few bright moments before the sun started to disappear behind the horizon.

The purple-flowered raspberry shrubs (Rudus odoratus) (tuoksuvadelma) have only just started dropping their leaves. I’m keeping the shrubs rather large as they are good dust catchers in the dry season – the delivery guys tend to drive rather wildly on the dirt road leading through our lot – but they have grown so high this summer that there’s no way I can skip pruning next spring.

One of our apple trees is a late variety. The dark red fruit are still sticking tightly to the branches dragging them heavily towards the ground. These apples are so hard in texture even the birds leave them alone.

The maples are all leafless now and so are the birches. I find it funny that the cherry plum that is among the first ones to revive in the spring would be the last one to hold its leaves in the autumn. It is almost November now and they are still for the most part green.

Despite the little amount of sunshine, this has been another mild autumn and just like last year some of the plants are confused. The shrub roses (Bonica 82 var. Meidomonac) I planted only this year are still blooming. The rhododendron (Hybrid Cosmopolitan), also a newcomer in my garden, is producing new leaves and buds. And one of the two hydrangeas or hortensias I have had in pots on the porch since May still has a flower.

There will come and end to the confusion soon. According to the forecast we should have frost and perhaps even some snow towards the end of the week. I don’t like it but I suppose I’ll manage a few days. Our trip to Spain couldn’t be happening at a better time!

Monday, 22 October 2012

More on Elba

Now that most of the photos are safe after all, I thought I might as well post a few lines and some more shots on the island of Elba. I’ve been suffering from flu and seem to be out of ideas other than relief over the recovered files.

Following four photos from Portoferraio:

For sure, any Mediterranean country all the way from Spain to Turkey possesses loads of wonderful places to recommend for a memorable holiday. However, if you are an outdoor person or a family looking for a compact-sized resort with plenty of things to do Elba is a perfect choice. I dare say, even if you aren’t the sporty type you will be so charmed with the many alternatives the hills and seaside offer that you will vow to return one day to spend a very active holiday there. I know what I’m talking about: it happened to me, of all people!

Elba is situated 9 km from the mainland town of Piombino off the Italian coast in the Tuscan province of Livorno.  The island is less than 30 km x 20 km in size, yet its highest peak exceeds 1000 metres. It has eight municipalities with a total population of some 30,000 and a coastline of about 120 km with numerous beaches and coves many of which are simply spectacular. The island is part of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park, with very good reason. We visited Elba in the spring and found the landscapes and nature a real pleasure to your senses. 

Naturally, the island is ideal for all kinds of water sports from canoeing to scuba diving. What’s more, there are lots of paths and gravelled roads winding up and down the hillsides with aromatic shrubbery and magnificent sea views. These trails seem to be whispering in your ear: come take a walk, how about hiking, ever tried mountain biking? We were lured to venture on a couple of paths and were thrilled with the scenery, regretting we only had a simple compact camera and couldn’t stay but a few days on Elba.

Even though we explored the island and its lovely old towns moving around by car our time was far too short to experience everything we would have wanted to. So we made a solemn promise to return one spring or autumn – Elba will be too crowded and too hot for us in the summertime – to take some longer walks, perhaps even do some proper hiking. You never know, in an inviting environment like that miracles might happen.

If you do not care about historical details, now is the time to start scrolling down to have a look at the rest of the photos because I’m getting carried away. (Who would have guessed 20 or even 10 years ago...)

As is the case with so many Mediterranean places, domination of Elba has been moving violently from hand to hand over the centuries. Plenty of remains from ancient cultures have been found on the island, some dating back to 2000 BC.

Following three photos from Capoliveri:

Elba is said to have been originally inhabited by a Ligurian tribe. When the island’s iron resources became widely known, it started to attract invaders such as Etruscans, Greeks and Carthaginians and of course Romans, who also began to exploit the granite abundant on the island. Then came the ‘Barbarians’ and Saracens. Later it belonged at least to Pisa, Genoa, the Appiani family of Piombino, Milan, the Appianis again and Spain.

Following four photos from Porto Azurro:

In the middle of the 16th century, part of Elba was handed over to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I de’ Medici, who needed to protect his state from the sea and built two new fortresses in the destroyed Ferraia or Cosmopoli as he renamed it (the present Portoferraio). By the way, this was the same Florentine Grand Duke who built, among others, the ‘Uffizi’ that now houses one of the world’s most important art collections in Florence and whose equestrian statue still stands on the Piazza della Signoria in Florence.

Rest of the photos from Portoferraio:

But Elba’s invasions didn’t stop there. The Spanish, French and English came. At one point the island was divided between Spain, Tuscany and the Piombino Appianis. In 1802, Elba went to France, then again to Tuscany and finally to Italy when the nation was united in 1861.

Despite all the masters that ruled Elba over the centuries, it was only Napoléon Bonaparte’s exile that truly brought the island onto the world map. Napoleon arrived at Portoferraio in May 1814 as the Governor of Elba – with a personal guard of 600 men. In less than 10 months he would escape with his troops to wage his final 100-day war until the defeat in Waterloo.

Nevertheless, during those few months on Elba Napoleon carried out an impressive number of important infrastructural and social improvements: built roads, improved the sanitary system, restructured the mining industry and agriculture, etc. No wonder Elba’s flag still contains the three Napoleonic bees. No wonder they still hold a mass for his soul in Portoferraio every May. If there ever was a man who couldn’t stay without an occupation for a moment it must have been Napoleon. You cant imagine a more tormenting final punishment for him than to stay idle on the secluded island of St Helena.

Villa dei Mulini

Napoleon's native island Corsica can be seen in the distance.

Napoleon had a lovely residence Villa dei Mulini by the sea between the two strongholds in Portoferraio and a private house Villa di San Martino 5 km inland with a magnificent view down to the town. Both of these buildings are now open to public as museums. The latter was being renovated when we visited Elba. It’s been three years now. I must remind him about our promise to return. We would certainly be in need of some physical exercise. Well, let’s face it: I am.

Villa di San Martino

Portoferraio seen from the hill across the bay.