I returned to Basel in a rejuvenated Galahad on the last weekend of the month exhausted but enriched by the experience of writing and communicating about development, hunger, and food aid issues every day in a working environment that was varied and unpredictable. Hosts for most of my Roman stay, Andrew, Fionnuala, Evelyn and Marie spared me from most of the difficulties that living alone in Rome might have created. This was despite they having had more than their fair share of these, including needing to move house because their landlord (in common with the majority of Roman landlords) does not perform any maintenance or repairs in a house where much had broken down and stopped working properly, including some of the plumbing, the air conditioning, the wireless network, the main gate, alarm system, the oven and several other appliances. Long-running problems with car sales, registrations and purchases, general repairs, educational arrangements and much more besides was also conspiring to make their lives difficult. Italy can be a frustrating place in which to live and work, but I had a far easier time than I deserved. Admittedly, the difficulties are well compensated by the glorious food and wine available everywhere. We had, for example, an excellent last dinner together at the Cecchini, an old-established restaurant facing the old slaughterhouse in the Testaccio quarter.
Galahad, my trusty 1997 Ford Galaxy, has been stalwart, bringing me to and from Rome as well as to and from work half way around Rome’s notorious ring road almost every day. It often also managed to lend a hand (a wheel?) to my hosts for airport pickups and other errands, although the car’s alternator unexpectedly failed in the last week. Characteristically this occurred only having set Andrew down early doors at the airport and taken me safely to work. I still had to arrange quickly for its repair locally by the voluble Vincenzo, who grew up in Bedford, talked like a Cockney, and was Anthony Hopkins’s double.
Alli came over to visit me in Rome following her birthday. I organized our weekend to take place largely in Orvieto, a beautiful city in Umbria, about two hours’ drive north from Rome’s Fiumicino airport. Her plane was delayed by nearly four hours, but we still managed to arrive for a late dinner at our chosen hotel near the city, which could easily be seen from the terrace the next morning as we breakfasted in the sunshine. The old (two and a half millennia) part of Orvieto, a major centre of the Etruscan civilization, is dramatically perched on the flat summit of a large butte of volcanic stone. The perimeter is a soaring thousand-foot vertical and circular cliff face, carved from the same soft stone of volcanic ash, known in Italian as tufa. Access to it is limited: a winding narrow road, a lift, escalator and a funicular. Having spent some of the morning shopping, we visited the cathedral and the Brizio chapel, and saw its extraordinary frescoes by Signorelli. We also walked all around the centre, visited several churches, and explored the Pozzo de la Cava, a small museum with overtones of Cheddar Gorge, where we also had lunch. We came back in the afternoon to swim in the hotel pool and do some sunbathing under some gathering clouds.
The next morning we drove to Civita di Bagnoregio. Known as “the village that died”, it caps the top of a crumbling hill between valleys created by volcanic movements and the erosion that is steadily destroying them (see photo). Once attached to the rest of the town, the village is now accessible only by a narrow walkway leading from the rest of Bagnoregio across a surreal landscape of muddy gullies, shadows and golden volcanic stone. We drove on to Capodimonte, home of the famous porcelain, and went for a walk by Lake Bolsena until it became clear that a major storm was brewing. We dipped quickly into one of the lakeside restaurants as the heavy first droplets fell and had a lunch with what appeared to be half the town’s population while the sky was torn apart by thunder, lightning and torrential rain. It was even worse a couple of hours later as we drove slowly back to Fiumicino on a motorway looking like a river and in rain that fell in sheets, pillowcases and duvet covers.
Jessie has been busy in Bangladesh, travelling on business and for pleasure to venues throughout the South East Asia region. She also successfully planned, organized and managed a major international conference for the German Development Agency on restorative justice (the subject of her Masters’ Paper) with 450 attendees, Bangladeshi government ministers and international academics, including John Braithwaite, reputedly the “father of modern criminology”, who told her it was one of the best conferences he had ever attended. The recent random murder of an Italian aid worker in the diplomatic area of Dhaka and the even more recent murder of a Japanese farmer north of Dakar, both claimed by IS, has been extremely worrying for all of us, but Jessie seems less concerned and is already on her next business trip to the Philippines.
Ella has won her first competitive pitch at work, after writing much of the proposal and coordinating the presentation. It’s a good early milestone in her career as public affairs professional. She has also become a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development after completing the course she started at her previous job. She has moved with Sam into a flat near Clapham Common, so she and Sam have longer journeys to work, but nothing too onerous or long. Ten months ago she gave Gwen a very thoughtful birthday present of tickets to see the comedian Michael McIntyre live in London, and they went together to see the show just a couple of days ago. The visit included a visit the next day to London’s Cake and Bake show, where they saw Gregg Wallace from Masterchef.
Gwen is already getting used to living, working and moving around in Brighton, having now started at her new school, Varndean College, which she gets to and from each day by public transport. She is enjoying the completely new experience of being a resident of Brighton (and, indeed, of England). She is volunteering for the RSPCA at weekends and has joined the local branch of Compassion in World Farming. She also writes a vegan cookery blog which has been getting a lot of followers http://www.jesssinthekitchen.com/ and on instagram @veganjesss and is also writing for other similar web sites. She celebrated her graduation from the National Citizens Service course with Ella who came down to Brighton for the day to accompany her.
Ella and Gwen, Sept 2015
On my return from Rome to Leymen I stopped overnight in in Liguria to see Claudia, my niece, and her daughter Elina in a house being gradually completed and perfected on the side of a steep hillside in Camogli, near Portofino. My nephew Ivor, an architect, was unfortunately away on business, but it was a welcome and relaxing pause in my long journey back from Rome. I opened the window of my bedroom early in the morning just before dawn to a sight and sound of the wooded valley, the hilltop village of San Rocco, lights twinkling in the receding darkness, and the encircling morning murmur of farm animals. Elina, the latest in a long line of new generation Stanbrook females, was shy at first but started talking fast and furiously to me just as I was leaving. I had to interrupt her just to say goodbye.
Claudia and Elina, Camogli, September 2015
The weather in Alsace was about ten degrees colder than in Rome, as I found out during the first week back on early morning dog-walking detail. On the day of my arrival Alli succumbed almost immediately to a bad cold (managing to blame me for passing it on to her before I even arrived) and hurt her leg after getting knocked over by a large dog anxious to fight Bonnie.
It was great to welcome Monty for a Saturday afternoon visit, and in return for a bowl of soup, shared also with the visiting Annet, he helped me to take three car loads of old and unwanted items from the garage and consign them to the local dechetterie, now only accessible by a special card recognition system for locals. It hardly seemed a fitting celebration for one we hadn’t seen for three years, but he was remembered fondly by Bonnie and rapidly welcomed by Max (who had forgotten that he wasn’t keen on male strangers). We have had to keep Bonnie strictly on a lead when we walk the dogs now, since a forester told Alli that the two dogs have been notorious throughout the summer for their woodland wanderings. He even showed Alli pictures that he had taken when he had been trying to catch them. The dogs have certainly been lucky. In the Hagenthal woods nearby, the foresters there are known simply to shoot dogs seen off the lead and without a nearby owner.
Such are the tails from the frontier,