Category Archives: Travel

Heaven is a Place on Earth

Blue Nun, Spello

Blue Nun, Spello

Italy remains a Catholic country and there are many Italians for whom religion remains part of the daily ritual, whether they live a cloistered life, such as in Spello’s ancient Vallegloria Convent, or by making their own personal spiritual journey. We stepped out of a doorway and found ourselves caught up in a procession, a microphone and loud-hailer leading the chanted prayers, the street brimming with people.

Nuns in the Sun, Spello

Nuns in the Sun, Spello

The nearby town of Assisi, birthplace of Saint Francis, is an important stop on the ancient pilgrim’s route from Tuscany to Rome. Spello is one of the many hill towns visited along the way. Not everybody walks the entire route, but this section with its rolling green hills and proximity to Assisi is particularly popular.

Did I hear something?

Did I hear something?

The Spellani watch the procession in the narrow streets, leaning out of high windows or peeping between the balcony railings. Everybody loves a spectacle.

Well Hidden, Spello

Well Hidden Flower Girls, Spello

It’s time for us to bid farewell once again to Spello. Like lovers we make promises about returning soon. We greet friends for the final time and say arrivederci – until we meet again. We linger in our favourite wine bar, Vinosofia, listening to the legendary Miles Davis, one more Martini for the road, stirred not shaken. If ever heaven was a place on earth, it’s Spello. Taxi’s here. I wipe away a tear….

Lost in Contemplation

Lost in Contemplation

“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place: we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”― Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon

Thanks for coming along for the ride. Did you enjoy it?

Street Life

Baby You Can Drive My Car

Baby You Can Drive My Car

In the warm autumn sunshine, Spello attracts few tourists and can often be quiet and still. The restaurants with their delicious dishes celebrating local food and wines remain open, the scent of herbs wafting from their busy kitchens. The cafes still spill out onto the pavements where the afternoons drift lazily by, fuelled by strong coffee and Aperol spritz.

Paws for Thought

Paws for Thought, Spello

On the street, life continues on. The children are back at school now, and in the early mornings and afternoons their excited chatter echoes in the narrow passageways. Workers continue to improve the road surface, vehicles squeezed into the narrow streets, blocking any traffic.

Parking Problems?

Parking Problems? Spello

In the town square, old men sit chatting whilst old women fill their baskets with ingredients for dinner. A Fiat 500 (cinquecento) – ideal for the narrow roads – screeches past, its distinctive engine stutter and rattle a regular sound here on the street.

For Ishita, as promised!

For Ishita, as promised!

During the afternoon pausa, shutters are closed and the sound of clattering plates and talking can be heard from the cool interiors. Now and then people stroll by, keeping to the shade of the buildings.

Strolling, Spello

Strolling, Spello

In nearby Montefalco, even the statues have sunglasses to protect them in the heat of the day…

Blues Brothers Chef, Montefalco

Blues Brothers Chef, Montefalco

….and these young girls look cool as they whizz around the medieval villages with a scooter tutor….

Scooting, Montefalco

Scooting with a Scooter Tutor, Montefalco

But even on the warmest day there is often a hint of rain in the air, as the clouds gather over nearby Mount Subasio. Armed for any weather, this wonderful friend is all smiles….

One of my Crew, Spello

One of my Crew, Spello

How can a day be so perfect? Perhaps you have a perfect day too?

Blue,

Blue Remembered Hills, Spello

Scene Through the Eye of a Lens

Spello Staircase

Spello Staircase

One of the things I love about Italians is that they love a festival. Any opportunity to celebrate local food, wines, traditions and culture is seized upon with enthusiasm. One such cultural event which we were privileged to attend this week was the Spello Photo Fest.

Fabrizio Corvi's Studio, Spello

Fabrizio Corvi’s Studio, Spello

Organised largely by Fabrizio Corvi, who has a studio in Spello, and Barbera Pinci, it was a celebration of the work of fifteen talented photographers. Local people opened up their garages, storage spaces and unrestored buildings to host the exhibitions in the ancient Via Giulia. This meant that as well as the art on show, we were allowed a secret peek into the wonderful old buildings which are usually hidden behind large wooden doors. This particular space was enhanced by the view across the fields and hills: a framed picture in itself….

Framed View, Spello

Framed View, Spello

Interiors offered glimpses into crumbling rooms, waiting to be brought back into use….

Ripe for Renovation, Spello

Ripe for Renovation, Spello

The exhibits themselves were extremely varied. There were haunting black and white photos by Deigo Good that drew you into his mystical world….

Lake Trasimeno. Copyright Diego Good

Lake Trasimeno. Copyright Diego Good

Artists such as Andrea Cianca documented the struggle of Italians who came out onto the streets as a last resort to defend things that were dear to them, such as their land and their jobs. These were harsh realities, tenderly portrayed.

Copyright Andrea Cianca

Italian Streets. Copyright Andrea Cianca

A laughing bride was presented in a distressed frame against a rustic wall….

image

As well as the more traditional works, there were contemporary exhibits such as this mix of familiar objects. Who wore these shoes? Who watched this TV? Whose lives are we part of for a few fleeting minutes?

image

Fabio Galioti recreated a 16th century painting by Caravaggio – The Calling of Saint Matthew – in a 9 minute film entitled “In the Light”. The characters were positioned exactly as in the painting, and as we watched they moved really slowly. It was an unusual and moving piece.

Was this doll’s head meant to remind us of childhood, or to give us nightmares?

image

In a local cafe there was a display of old photographs of Spello and the people of Spello – the Spellani. This picture was really evocative – taken in Via Guilia which has hardly changed.

Family Collection, Spello

Family Collection, Spello

In Spello’s tiny museum there was another celebration of photography, this time by the American photographer Steve McCurry containing photos of Umbria. Steve McCurry is perhaps best known for his beautiful colour photos in the documentary tradition, including his striking portrait “Afghan Girl” which first appeared in National Geographic magazine. (We saw this recently at an exhibition “Drawn by Light” in London’s Science Museum).

Steve McCurry Exhibition, Spello

Steve McCurry Exhibition, Spello

“Even in the most forgotten and hidden areas of the country you will come across massive amounts of elegance and poetry, architecture and art. In Italy I like to explore the old and new and see how they intersect. And…if I had to recommend a place to visit in the world I would not hesitate: it’s Italy.” Steve McCurry

Family Lunch, Perugia. Copyright Steve McCurry

Family Lunch, Perugia. Copyright Steve McCurry

Steve McCurry’s photographs were beautifully presented, lit from behind in a darkened room. They are full of life, full of colour and display a real empathy for the people he portrays. This photo of a horse rider taken near Castellucio di Norcia – an area known as the Tibet of Italy – could almost be a painting….

Castellucio Di Norcia. Copyright Steve McCurry

Castellucio Di Norcia. Copyright Steve McCurry

In Bevagna at the medieval market of the Gaite held each June, he captured this recreation of an ancient craft, lit like a Vermeer painting….

Bevagna Medieval Market of the Gaite. Copyright Steve McCurry

Bevagna Medieval Market of the Gaite. Copyright Steve McCurry

His photos are inspirational; it is easy to see why he is considered to be a master of his craft.

“If you wait, people will forget your camera and the soul will drift up into view.” Steve McCurry

Monk, Spello. Copyright Steve McCurry

Monk, Spello. Copyright Steve McCurry

 

My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You

image

Set amongst picturesque mountains and surrounded by some of Umbria’s most stunning scenery, the ancient Roman town of Spello is a place where you come to visit, leave and then long to return to.

Rooftops Spello

Rooftops Spello

And so it was that we arrived in Rome after a perfect flight, ready to connect with the fast train to Roma Termini, the main railway station, then onwards to Spello. Unfortunately the luggage for our entire flight went missing and it was an hour and a half later before we finally had our cases. By the time we tumbled onto the final train, night had fallen so we arrived in darkness, hungry and tired. Next morning, refreshed and bright-eyed, we were delighted to see the views from our terrace.

image

The bells of the ancient church of Santa Maria Maggiore welcomed the day and we strolled around the streets, reacquainting ourselves with old familiar places and familiar faces.

Spello street

Spello street

And yet there is always something new to see, like this pair of angels on the wall of a house. Were they always there?

Angelic Wall, Spello

Angelic Wall, Spello

Even though summer is over, bright flowers can still be seen, their colours contrasting starkly with the mellow Spello stone….

Spello Street

Spello Street

An unexpected development was the long-promised work to improve the streets. This sunlit church watched over diverted traffic….

Sunlit Church, Spello

Sunlit Church, Spello

It is a huge project but progress is good and the end result will surely be worth the disruption. Here and there we had to squeeze past large trenches cut into the ancient foundations….

Work in Progress, Spello

Work in Progress, Spello

Familiar places, familiar faces, blue skies and Italian food; it’s good to be back in Magic Spello.

“Is that actually you or am I dreaming again?” Phil Klay

Spello Sky

Spello Sky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rainbow Valley

DSC_0401

 “And sometimes you realise the value of the rain by knowing how unreliable and vanishing the rainbow is.” NUR BE DEIR

DSC_0386

 “Where does the rainbow end, in your soul or on the horizon?” PABLO NERUDA

DSC_0396

 “I’d rather see the world as a rainbow than endless shades of grey.” AMANI ABBAS

DSC_0382

There’s a land that I’ve dreamed of, and dream of still. A place that lets me go, yet doesn’t. A town that constantly tugs my mind back, back to its rosy stones. Spello, magic Spello, I am even now conjuring up my reappearance!

“You’ll never find a rainbow if you’re looking down.” CHARLIE CHAPLIN

If You Ever Come Back.

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

I’ve no idea how we missed the bus stop. Almost all of our fellow passengers got off, but for some reason we stayed on. As the bus took a sharp, uphill turn we saw a fleeting glimpse of the Basilica of Saint Francis; we pulled away. Several hairpin bends and delicious views later, we reached the end of the road, literally. There was a sign opposite the bus stop pointing out the pedestrian route to the centre of the town via a Roman tunnel. Into the depths we descended through the Roman remains of Assisi. Suddenly, daylight, big skies, church towers and domes!

Assisi

Assisi Cathedral: Saint Rufino

The Duomo of Saint Rufino is thought to date from the 8th century, although it was rebuilt in the 11th century when it was consecrated as the cathedral of Assisi. It is an enormous structure with a beautiful green dome and evidence of repairs due to age and earthquakes.

Assisi: Church of Saint Clare

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Clare

Although Saint Francis of Assisi is the town’s most celebrated former resident, his contemporary, Saint Clare, is also honoured here. The Basilica of Saint Clare was constructed in the 13th century. It has a pretty, striped facade, using pink stone from Mount Subasio, on whose lower slopes Assisi lies. The church has a large, square bell tower and, from above, wonderful views of the Umbrian countryside.

Assisi

Assisi

Still we descended the steep streets, with picturesque views to right and left.

Assisi

Assisi

Through arches and bridges we saw changing vistas of mountains and trees, crops and clouds.

Assisi

Assisi

Tall medieval buildings seemed to dwarf their Lilliputian residents.

Assisi: Torre del Popolo

Assisi: Torre del Popolo

Approaching the town centre, the 13th century Torre del Popolo towered above the ancient square, the Piazza del Comune. The beautifully situated 16th century fountain in the same square is guarded by 3 rather tame looking lions.

AssisiAssisi: Three Lions Fountain

Assisi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. UNESCO describes the town as “an outstanding example of a type of architectural ensemble that has significantly influenced the development of art and architecture.” That is quite an accolade, but one that is well deserved, not least because of the Basilica of Saint Francis.

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

In front of the Basilica there is a striking bronze statue by the sculpture and artist Proietti Norberto, a native of nearby Spello. The statue is known as the Return of Saint Francis or the Pilgrim of Peace. The Franciscan movement preaches a universal message of peace and tolerance, a message sadly lacking in our troubled times.

"Return of Saint Francis" by Norberto

“Return of Saint Francis” by Norberto

Looking down into the lower plaza, the panoramic views extend across the Umbrian plain. You might just make out the blue dome of the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli: I have written about this unusual church, containing the cell in which Saint Francis was said to have died and his first chapel, in an earlier post.

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

The plain facade of the Basilica of Saint Francis does not prepare the visitor for its remarkable decorative interior with frescoes by Giotto, Cimabue and Pietro Lorenzetti amongst others. Both the lower and upper churches are crammed with remarkable art.

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

This unique treasure house, somewhat ironically built in honour of a man who cast aside riches and dedicated himself to the poor, is surely worth a visit.

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

On our previous visit we had concentrated largely on the Basilica and found it rather overwhelming and a little distasteful. But we were glad we had returned; through missing our bus stop we had seen a whole new side to Assisi with its winding streets and quiet squares. We also had a chance to enjoy once again the mesmerising religious art of this historic town.

Assisi

Assisi

 

Morning Glory

image

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.

image

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

image

They follow the contours of the streets….

image

This one was clearly inspired by Matisse….

image

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

image

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.

image

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

image

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

image

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….

image

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.

image

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….

image

image

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….

image

This entwined couple had eyes only for each other….

image

A colourful tree had three dimensional leaves and butterflies….

image

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….

image

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…

image

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

image

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

image

There were three-dimensional towers….

image

….and towers bathed in moonlight….

image

Tiny people gathered under arches….

image

image

Even the local digger was decorated for the celebrations!

image

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

image

image

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