Monthly Archives: June 2014

Morning Glory

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You have to be up early to beat the crowds on the feast of Corpus Christi. The population of the small town of Spello is around 8,000, but on this day it swells to around 80,000. Droves of people arrive in coaches and cars or on foot to see the spectacular displays of pictures created with flowers. Spello’s biggest festival, the Infiorata, is underway.

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Around 2 kilometres of floral carpets cover Spello’s winding streets, alleyways and squares. Those in the tiny alleys are long and narrow….

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They follow the contours of the streets….

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This one was clearly inspired by Matisse….

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In the squares, the pictures were spread over a larger area….

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It is hard to believe that these detailed flower carpets are created using only leaves, flower petals, herbs and seeds. But they are; last year we were fortunate enough to be involved with the production of one of these masterpieces, picking flowers out in the fields and on the mountainside.

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When you look closely you can see how the layers of colour are built up.

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Here ballet dancers pirouette across the street, under a scroll of musical notes….

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Saint Francis of Assisi was a popular subject this year; Assisi is just a few miles away and, in addition, the Pope adopted the name of Francis in remembrance of this Saint who was dedicated to the poor. See how Saint Francis’ beard has been created, texture added with tiny twigs….

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Most of the pictures have a religious theme. One of my favourites showed the Archangel Michael smiting the devil. Look at the devil’s face – the detail is incredible.

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Pictures are created by teams of people, largely from Spello. For weeks before the event, they pick flowers, grind dried petals and collect seeds and herbs. In the final hours, fresh flower petals are gathered. The designs are kept secret until the last possible moment as there is a competitive element. There are several different categories, including one for the under 14 age group. Just look at what they produced….

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Designs are either drawn in chalk on the road surface or sketched on a paper sheet which is then stuck to the ground. Other than that, no glue is allowed – all of the flowers and seeds are placed directly onto the surface. The way in which faces are portrayed is particularly fascinating. See how this eye seems to look straight at you….

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This entwined couple had eyes only for each other….

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A colourful tree had three dimensional leaves and butterflies….

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In this depiction of the Garden of Gethsemane, the leaves of the olive tree were placed right side up and then inverted to look like leaves rippling in the breeze….

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The work on the pictures starts on Saturday afternoon. People work all night under arc lamps swung across the streets. By 8 o’clock the following morning, everything is completed. Crowds had already started to arrive as the final touches were added.

A limited colour palette did not impede the finished design…

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This peacock was pleased as punch with his colourful feathers….

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….whilst these sleeping beauties were oblivious to the noise of the crowds!

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There were three-dimensional towers….

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….and towers bathed in moonlight….

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Tiny people gathered under arches….

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Even the local digger was decorated for the celebrations!

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At around 11 o’clock on Sunday morning there was a procession through the streets.

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By Sunday evening, all of the flowers have been washed from the streets. The transient nature of the wonderful floral creations only adds to their interest. Spello’s Infiorata is a truly unique experience.

For more details of the preparations for the festival and photos of last year’s creations, click on the link below.

Daisy Petal Picking

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Nothing But Flowers

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Spello’s biggest festival – the Infiorata – takes place this weekend. It marks the celebration of the Catholic feast of Corpus Christi which this year falls on June 22. The link below will take you to my post a year ago which described the preparations for the festival and had lots of photos of last year’s event.

Daisy Petal Picking

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I will write about this year’s Infiorata after the weekend. But now every window box, every alleyway and every corner is bright with flowers in preparation for the celebration.

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Walk with me around the streets and enjoy some of the beautiful flowers, rainbow bright….

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….shades of green….

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….stylish window boxes….

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….huge cacti flowers bursting into bloom, reaching for the sunlight….

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….bowls of tiny blossoms, a mass of colours….

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….and vibrant purple against a green palm….

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Let’s hope the sun keeps shining as the beautiful carpets of flowers are laid in Spello’s streets, squares and alleyways. Prepare yourself to be amazed by these exquisite creations in my next post.

Soul Food

Aperol Spritzer

Aperol Spritzer, Vinosofia Wine Bar

The little Umbrian town of Spello is fortunate to have many restaurants. Some are more upmarket than others but they all have one thing in common; regional, seasonal dishes and local wines. Lunch today was in Il Trombone, a rustic local trattoria with a stunning view from its terrace….

Spello, view from the terrace of Il Trombone

Spello, view from the terrace of Il Trombone

Muddled eggs with spinach and Parmesan to start….

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….washed down with the usual suspects: red wine, vino rosso della casa, and water, a necessary coolant!

“Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” Galileo Galilei

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 “Everything you see, I owe to pasta“. Sophia Loren

What better menu choice is there when in Italy? This ravioli with ricotta, spinach and sage was a feast for the eye as well as the stomach….

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….whilst this dish was stuffed with ricotta and walnuts: utterly delicious….

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Leaving just enough room for passito e biscotti, a dark, sweet wine with nutty biscuits, grappa and coffee….

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At the risk of sounding like lounge lizards, yesterday we ate at the Osteria de Dada. Here there is no terrace, no view and no menu. At least, there was a rather untidily hand-written menu outside, before you entered through the macrame curtain but, once inside, the food on offer bore little resemblance to that advertised. But that didn’t matter as the food was great.

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We started with salad, as a nod towards healthy eating. Deliciously crisp with olive oil and salt, it whetted our appetite for the next course of sliced, tender duck and fried veal….

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Crisp courgette….

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….and, best of all, fried zucchini flowers….

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But this meal had quite a funny ending, which I am rather embarrassed to relate. One of the two lovely ladies who runs the restaurant is habitually to be heard singing “O Sole Mio”. I really have no idea what came over me (I had drunk very little wine!), but I joined in! As I didn’t know the words to the song, I spliced in a rousing chorus of “It’s Now or Never” in my most theatrical manner. (Have you ever noticed just how similar the tunes are?) Well, we got a huge round of applause from our fellow diners. But worse was to come! The chef pointed out that one of the diners was a Professor of Music. As I slunk back into my normal position of hiding in the background, he came over and congratulated me. It may have just been pity, but it was very much appreciated! We laughed all the way home….

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Ferrari Lifestyle

 

Ferrari Badge

Ferrari Badge

I drive a mini. In the advertising blurb it is (laughingly) described as an “entry level BMW”. Perhaps it is a sign of my lack of competitiveness that I don’t aspire to go beyond entry level; I am very content with what I drive.

Here in Italy, I have seen very little of the caricature of an Italian driver with his designer sunglasses, tight jeans, slicked back hair and flashy car, driven at speed. In fact, in Spello the average form of transport is a battered old fiat or a lambretta scooter. Or at least that was the case until a rather more eye-catching car roared into town.

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When it drove by, the ground beneath my feet shook and my ears rang. This Ferrari was meant to be noticed and admired….

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The bodywork reflected everything – just look at how it captures the surrounding buildings in its mirrored finish.

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I can’t make up my mind whether I love it or hate it. It certainly turns heads. What do you think? Do you think it is garish and ostentatious or could you see yourself behind the wheel?

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Walking on Sunshine

Spello, Umbria

Spello, Umbria

Just outside the walls of Spello is the start of a trail along the remains of the ancient Roman aqueduct that delivered mountain spring water from the tiny hilltop village of Colepino to Spello. We had walked this trail on our previous visit, but we wanted to experience once again its panoramic views across undulating Umbrian valleys towards the distant Apennines.

Spello: Aqueduct, Lizard

Spello: Aqueduct, Lizard

The aqueduct had fallen out of use after the Second World War, and the trail had been buried for many hundreds of years. In around 2008 a wonderful restoration project was undertaken, reopening the pathway along which asses carried people and produce between Colepino and Spello in Roman times. As part of the restoration, embedded in the walls at intervals are bricks engraved with quotations from luminaries such as Oscar Wilde, Gandhi, Einstein and Chaplin. Good translation practice for those of us with limited Italian!

Bright berries catch the midday sun….

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On either side of the path, olive groves stretch into the distance on terraced slopes, sometimes incorporating sections of the aqueduct….

Spello: Acqueduct and Olive Trees

Spello: Acqueduct and Olive Trees

Olive trees burst into blossom, a taste of things to come….

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Wild flowers are everywhere, bright colours reflecting the strong sunlight….

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Wild herbs cling to crevices in the walls and asparagus and fennel grow in abundance. Locals come here to gather nature’s bounty to enhance their cooking.

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Grasses bleached by the hot summer sun are entwined together in complimentary hues….

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Huge dandelion ‘clocks’ disperse their seeds like tiny autogiros….

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In the distance the church bells of Spello ring out the hours, whilst these beautiful bells are silent….

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The entire walk is a delight. Birds circle overhead, tiny finches hop across the path. Lizards speed through undergrowth and up walls. Crickets chirp, appearing here and there on a grass stalk or tree branch, always well camouflaged.

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But it is the smells that linger long afterwards: herbs warmed by the sun, the scent of flowers on the breeze, newly strimmed grass under the olive trees and always, always woodsmoke.

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Since You’ve Been Gone.

Spello, Umbria

Spello, Umbria

It is almost a year since we left Spello in Umbria, Italy, after a wonderful 3 month stay. Previous posts have detailed the people we were fortunate to befriend and the places we visited. We hoped we would return someday, and here we are in summer 2014 making that hope a reality. Three weeks this time rather than 3 months, but still lots of time to catch up with old friends and revisit special places.

Approaching Spello by train from Rome was a new experience. Rome’s main railway station is a huge travel hub – 29 platforms radiating trains in all directions. Train travel in Italy is fast, efficient and cheap, so the train was thronged with commuters, students and the odd tourist.

The plains on the outskirts of Rome gave way to deeply wooded hills and valleys, wide rivers and arable fields. We plunged into dark tunnels, emerging into bright sunlight. High on a hill were the crumbling ruins of an ancient castellated tower, greened with ivy. Along the tracks were industrial units feeding the giant metropolis with power, cement and wood.

At Orte, 60 kilometres north of Rome, there was a sudden surge of departing passengers. Orte was an important railway junction in the 19th century as almost all of the trains leaving Rome stopped here on their way to Florence or Ancona and all points in between. The sprawling buildings around the railway station folded the people inwards like welcoming arms.

And so to Narni, ribbon developments along the tracks and distant views of rugged mountains, their jagged peaks now blue, now green, framing the moving scenery. Neat houses with tidy yards, balconies festooned with bright summer flowers and even brighter washing, and the inevitable supermarkets and DIY outlets. At Terni the olive trees cast long shadows across the orchards and rocky peaks rise as we enter a deep gorge where the sun only reaches the tops of the trees on the upper slopes. Through Giuncano and Baiano without slowing down, and sun baked slopes of green and gold emerge, with swathes of wild flowers, poppy red, brilliant yellow and royal purple.

Familiar territory as we approach Spoleto, with its huge castle high on the hill, the town clinging to the slopes below. Happy memories of a day spent here before the train rushes on to Trevi, a classic hill town on the flanks of Mount Serano and Foligno, known for its manufacturing industries and its beautiful cathedral, churches and museums. I held my breath as we rounded a bend in the track – and there was Spello, its ancient walls of stone from Mount Subasio glowing pink in the sun. I felt a surge of happiness, just like coming home. It was so good to be back.

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