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Day 3 – Vetralla to Bolsena

Italian poppies

Day 3 – Flying along on the bike this morning. Legs pump away the back pain, but the saddle, oooh the saddle. I try to be stoic. My bum blisters have ballooned. One on each cheek. I haven’t seen them yet, but they feel like incorporated gel cushions.

At the coffee bar in Vetralla, a jolly well-dressed “Signore” orders a ‘whiskey corretto’. Normally people ask for a cafè coretto, which is a dash of alcohol in a shot of espresso. There are a myriad ways Italians prefer their dose of caffeine. We order cappuccino – hot – no sugar.

There are long queues of traffic waiting to get passed the road works. Trucks blast us with acrid black fumes as we weave our bikes between them. Gasping through his neck scarf, Simon shouts his slogan: “FOLLOW ME”. He is not afraid of traffic and holds the road. This is something seasoned cyclists know how to do – hold the road. It means to ride your bike in the middle of it, so that vehicles cannot overtake. Italian drivers are patient and road rage towards cyclists is quite rare. It goes against everything I’ve learnt about survival.

We stick to the pilgrim route as much as we can, preferring the white gravel farm roads.

Recent spring storms have washed gullies into the surface. My bike has rather narrow tires and I do my best not to get stuck in a rut. But ruts are inevitable on these roads, as in life itself. The thing is to not panic, be dexterous and hold on tight. Gravel roads are better than tar, not only are there fewer potholes, but I’m happier knowing that insects and animals have a better chance of crossing over to continue their livelihood activities on the opposite side.

We shout ‘Buon Camino’ to oncoming pilgrims tramping along under their hot backpacks. Poppies dot the verges and turn the fields red.

Signage, what there is of it, faces the opposite direction. We must rely on the cell phone and google maps. Simon is navigating, which leaves me free to learn how to operate my bike properly. I am beginning to like my trekking bike very much, particularly the boosting battery. It’s still cumbersome, and staying onboard while skidding on rolling pebbles is becoming my speciality.

With a lot of help from my booster I keep up with Simon as we cruise into the ancient city of Viterbo. Her grandiose architecture and rich history are as enticing as her boiling thermal baths. It is too warm to think of submerging ourselves in hot water, so we go directly to the bike shop for a spare tube in case of a puncture. Can’t believe I didn’t think of bringing one. Fixing a puncture features low on my skills list. The thought of a puncture gives me the shudders, especially if it happens in the countryside where large white maremmano-abruzzese sheepdogs find cyclists threatening. You don’t want to be hunching down with a tire when a dog shows up.

The town of Montefiascone is located high on the rim of a volcano with a fantastic view over the crater lake of Bolsena. Getting up this small back-road is so steep I worry about flipping over backwards! I am leaning forward, chest on the cross bar and zigzagging desperately trying to lesson the gradient. All I can say is ‘thank you’ to turbo battery power. Simon pushes his bike slowly up the near vertical slope.

There is absolutely no way I could do this ride without my e-bike assistant. We eventually reach the sweaty summit in time for a 3pm panino at Milioni il Caffè. Quaffing icy cold pineapple juice for the anti-inflammatory effects before flying downhill through the old oak forest into the crater. My speedometer records a top speed of 59,8 kph. My knees shake as I disembark in front of the convent in Bolsena.

The ancient town of Bolsena is on the shore of a huge round lake. Mother Superior makes us sit down in her reception room and tells us she is 90 years old, followed by a long story about the history of the Church in Bolsena. I’m not sure if her sense of smell still functions well, after a day of sweaty riding we must smell rather pungent. However, in perfect prose she explains the story of “Il miracolo” (the miracle).

“A priest from Bohemia, named Peter, passed by this place on his return from Rome to Prague in 1200, but he was having doubts about the bread and wine, what we call the Eucharist.

“Is it truly the body of Christ?” he wanted to know.

The following day as a visiting priest, he celebrated Mass in the Church. When he broke the Host (consecrated bread) blood fell from the bread onto his hands, on the cloth, and dripped down the altar to the marble floor below.

That expelled all doubt and Catholics have performed the Corpus Christie ever since”.

Our Mother Superior graciously showed us to our immaculate bedroom with a vaulted ceiling and windows overlooking the Church and piazza. We embalm our sunburned faces with scented moisturizer and sleep deeply, wrapped in crispy clean sheets. In the morning Mother stamps our credenziali before we fetch our bikes from the little shed at the end of a purple flowering pergola.

A statue of Madonna stands praying for us under an arch of blood red roses.

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Day 2 – Formello to Vetralla

Day 2 -Campagnano on Francigena pilgrimage

Doris from Bremen introduces herself to us outside the Chapel of the Madonna del Sorba. She is walking the pilgrimage with an Italian guide, north to south like you’re supposed to. We are going contro-signage, so taking the backward facing arrows when we see them. She kindly offered me accommodation when I reach Bremen. I’m not sure where Bremen is exactly.

The story of the Madonna del Sorba

One of the stories of this hilltop chapel, is this… a young swineherd noticed that one of his pigs went off alone every day for a couple of hours, so he decided to follow it and found it sitting on its haunches praying to an icon of the Madonna in the branches of a large Sorbus tree. An apparition of the Madonna appeared to the swineherd and told him to run and tell the villagers in Formello to build a chapel on this high spot.

“If the villagers don’t believe you” she said “I will do a miracle to convince them”.

 He ran to tell the villagers but, as expected, they did not believe him. So he put his mutilated hand into his pocket and pulled it out completely whole. (Early 1400’s). It was a convent for nuns after that.

The priest stamps our credenziali passports for us. Flowers rampage all over the garden, and the Madonna statue stands quietly praying under her rosy arch.

“She is praying for YOU” says the inner voice.

We ride on through a vortex of white butterfly wings, up and down the farm roads. The terrain is steeply forested.

Campagnano di Roma

A little boy of about six years old holds up his small serious hand to stop me in the village piazza of Campagnano. He looks up at me with his clear-brown Italian eyes and asks: “is this a brand new bicicletta?” I nod and he touches it reverently with his small fingers until his mom drags him away.

I feel a pang of nostalgia thinking of my own boy celebrating his thirtieth birthday today so far away in Australia. He also loves bicycles.

The old Borgo of Campagnano was not well signposted. It is perched on a high spur above the valley and we can’t find a way down the northern cliffs. A man sits on a barrel and watches us pouring over the map. A woman comes out of the house with a broom and points to a gap in the walls and a track that vanishes over a ledge.

The inner voice screams “impossible” but my miraculous disk-brakes let me down the cliff track, only to be challenged by sinking sand at the bottom. The sandy road changes to gravel then to cracked tarmac. It takes a lot of concentration to dodge the potholes.

I’m having difficulty with the saddle but remember Rumi who said – If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished? A short rest stop at the dreamy Cascata di Monte Gelato (cascades) is worthwhile. The we’re off again at full speed onto a busy road towards Monterosi.


A man on the side of the road sends us to Trattoria da Angelica in Monterosi for lunch. Delicious wormlike “bighetti” pasta on the menu at a table set with starched white cloth and pink serviettes. We’re comfortably sitting on a lovely veranda drinking a glass of cold wine with sweaty hair pressed into a helmet shape. That’s something special in Italy, they almost always set the table properly with wine glasses and clean tablecloths.


Long curly-haired, vibrantly charming Giacomo welcomes us with open arms to his pilgrim hostel in Vetralla. He is one of the top organisers of the Francigena pilgrimage.

He shows us up steep wooden steps to a little attic space squeezed under a simmering hot roof. The mattresses are bare but for a strip of tissue paper down the center. We have left our sleeping bags at home. But it’s clean and there is a big shower off the lobby downstairs. Showering after a day on the dusty road is both necessary and therapeutic.

Giacomo sends us to a pilgrim friendly restaurant nearby where we eat from a special pilgrim menu. Simple food but it tastes divine washed down with a cup of wine. 58 kilometers today not without pain.

The room is a furnace under the eaves. Simon lay down on the bare mattress and covered himself with the tissue paper and is already snoring loudly. Eventually I give up on sleep and climb down to the foyer area where I plop a couple of chair cushions on the cool floor. Gingerly lay down my aching body, arms crossed over my chest and meditate until morning.

see the route here


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Day 1 – Marino to Formello – via Rome.

Leanne Talbot Nowell - Formello

Rome the Eternal city – “Aaah bella Roma” once you are caught in her seductive “La Dolce Vita” embrace, you will become an overly emotional lover who can never leave. At approximately 2800 years old everything from the damp decay of frescoed tombs to her high-flying arches and golden orbs on moonlit domes, from baroque pink skies to the polished marble of palace floors, Roma is glorious. And a bit shabby.

We have done about 35 kms since Marino this morning, to reach Ponte Milvio bridge. The search is on for lunch. A veranda table at a restaurant VOY is available. Soon we are digging into a tasty bowl of paccheri pasta with a rich melanzane (aubergine) sauce topped with fresh mint and sun-dried tomatoes. The restaurateur runs off to the supermarket to fetch us some fruit juice after we declined his wine. Groggy cycling in Rome could prove fatal.

The hot Lazio sun burns our backs all afternoon as we ride out of Rome on zigzag roads into the northern countryside. It is quite challenging to find a bridge over/under the highway. A truck comes speeding around a sharp corner behind us and screeches to a bumpy halt inches from my rear reflector. I feel the heat of the engine surge over my shoulder in a smelly cloud of burning rubber.

I try to pedal standing up on account of the bum pain.

Via Francigena

A well timed SPRITZ dulls the pain in Formello. Simon has booked us in at a nice B&B.

Nonna Loretta shows us to our room and sells us two “pilgrim passports” for five euro each. They’re called “credenziale”, very much like the one you get for the Camino di Santiago. A folded card for pilgrims on their way from Canterbury to Rome. We are going in the opposite direction but we can still collect stamps from holy places along our inverted route. The passport also allows you special access to sleep in certain Convents and Monasteries. There are discounts on pilgrim meals at restaurants too. Make sure you get that when you do the camino di Francigena.

We eat salad at Osteria degli Angeli, the only guests in the dimly lit piazza in Formello. A drag queen unexpectedly appears from the great door of the municipal palace dressed in black lace and a massive wig. She looks down on us from the top of a flight of stairs and proclaims her existence with a gutsy howl “HAAAEEEOOW!!!” The sound echoes around the stone walls and into the dark streets. Frightening off the ghosts of Veii and us.

Back in our room at Nonna Loretta’s the soft bed absorbs the day’s agony like a sponge. Every part of my body is hurting except my feet.

Day 1. Sixty kilometers.

Click this to see the route we took today

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Andiamo Appia Antica by Leanne Talbot Nowell


Departure day is here with an early start. The sky is a sharp blue. I put on my padded tights trying to “be like water” as Bruce Lee, the karate guru, once advised. He is known to have said “water can flow, but it can also crash”.

Crashing is my biggest concern. Nevertheless, I hoist up my panniers (saddle bags) onto the big black bike. They seem surprisingly heavy, after whittling down my list to the absolute bare minimum.

“Have you checked the tires?” Simon asks.

“Umm, no, I forgot to buy a pump!”

He checks them for me and suggests we go for a cappuccino at the coffee bar just fifty meters from our house. I feel quite annoyed at the thought of stopping for coffee so soon, but he insists. I’m flowing with adrenaline and stopping now would feel like crashing.

The bike is dreadfully heavy to push up our steep cobbled street. According to the guidebook specs it weighs 23 kilograms, and my panniers weigh at least 18 kilograms, possibly more. Added together that is almost as much as my total body weight.

It’s a glum struggle to the caffè. Simon zooms up the hill on his ‘normal’ bike, his panniers gleaming yellow like boosters.

“SURPRISE!” A bunch of friends have come to see us off! All gathered around a table at the far corner of the Wunderkaffe. So good to see their positive smiles. They give me sweet going-away gifts of energy bars and homemade Limoncello, which I squeeze into my panniers.

With a churning tummy full of cappuccino I do my best to set off properly. No crashing to the ground in front of the send-off crowd.

As soon as we get around the corner my body starts to shut down. Teetering terribly I disembark and stand holding up the heavy bicycle at a dangerous angle, feet frozen to the ground like a rabbit. Is this an adrenaline override, or a lack of courage?

Simon circles back to see what has happened and says with exasperation “Come on Sweetie, at least let us get to Rome!”

Sometimes my husband can be quite ruthless.

Appia Antica

We have ridden this route many times, downhill all the way to the Colosseum, along the dead straight Roman road. The ancient Appia Antica or Appian way in English. I should be feeling quite content that my dream is coming true.

This good old road is paved with enormous blue-black basalt flagstones. Many of them have been carried away to build other structures and some have been haphazardly re-implanted which makes the bike buck. “How will you ever reach Oslo on a bike? Silly girl” says an inner voice. The sky glitters on a sorry little tear of self pity.

We melt into a classical landscape, pedalling between the low crumbling stone walls and tombs. Pieces of sculptured marble lie on the verge. The beauty of the campagna around Rome is wholly poetic if you look past the litter and broken fences. Cicada’s trill in the high dark foliage of the Roman Pines. Cyprus trees stand stiffly bottle-green, bushy pink oleanders and swathes of poppies flop over in the heat. The raw smell of wet sheep wafts over us. A shepherd sits with his crook propped against a broken block of marble tomb.

I’m began to feel carried away with the romance of it all. It would be hard to find a more auspicious start to a bike ride. I’m thawing out and beginning to flow like water.

Spring turned to summer in a matter of hours as we ride through the lovely Appia Antica Regional Park. Flowers have gone berserk. Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, St. Peter and St. Paul are just a few of the famous characters who used this road. Which has not needed much maintenance since 312 BC.

Suddenly I’m flying through the air, something has catapulted me sideways. I dive, do my best shoulder roll, jump up onto my feet instantly and look nonchalantly around to see if anyone noticed. Nettles sting me through the lycra. There is a rock in the path, hidden under the stooping grass. My pedal obviously hit down on it and caused the crash. The panniers have fallen off, and it takes me a few minutes of fumbling with shaky hands to clip them back onto the carrier. I do a mad little hop to get back up on the bike and race after Simon. He didn’t notice.

We pass through the catacomb gardens, along a lovely avenue of old Cyprus trees, laurel hedges and the heavy fragrance of grape hyacinths. Gnarled olive trees shimmer a vibrant silvery green.

Roman gelato

Entering Rome via the gate of Saint Sebastian, we go cobbling smack into the overcrowded streets, negotiating right-of-way with bus drivers by giving them a meaningful glance of intention as we weave between them. This is how the city moves – by domination.

Passing a long queue of tourists outside the Bocca della Verità  – Mouth of Truth – which is said to bite off the hands of liars. The story is told in the film ‘A Roman Holiday’ with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.

Something we cannot avoid in the city center is a visit to the old Gelateria Giolitti, the world famous ice-cream parlour. Sour cherry ‘viscole’ is Simon’s absolute favourite, never to be deviated from, whereas I deviate between the nut flavours – two balls of Nocciola (hazelnut) or mandorla (almond) with a scoop of café.

There is an art to ordering gelato in Italy, one must pay your money first, then queue, all the while straining your neck over eager shoulders to glimpse the enormous array of choices. When the server claps his eyes on you, hand him your receipt and quickly shout your preferred cup or cone size and flavours. He’ll give you a generous scoop of each and ask if you desire ‘panna’ (cream) on top. Today the answer is yes.

No sitting down at the elegant round tables in the 50’s style salon. That incurs an extra fee, and anyway we can’t leave our fully loaded bikes standing outside. We shuffle out to join the crowd of fellow gelato lickers. We all stand together concentrating on the ambrosial experience.

Then, with a mad little hop, back into the torturous Brooks saddle.

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Ready steady

Ready steady - Madonna de 'u Sassu

Ready steady….Good news! Simon has changed his plans so he can ride with me for the first week of the tour. At great cost to his reputation. Usually at this time he goes bike riding for a week with his ‘men only’ group (every year for 20 years). They are all horribly cross that he’s chosen to ride with his wife instead. Proof of marital love if there was ever one!

We have decided to leave on Saturday 26th May 2018. Simon will ride with me as far as Florence. From there I will go on towards Oslo by myself. The route begins to show up on the map with a smudge of magic marker. We spend hours at the dinner table discussing plans and options. Tyrone sends me a google-suggested route that measures about 2500 kms. I baulk at the thought!

But it looks super easy doesn’t it – simply follow the compass directly north all the way to Norway.

Panniers are side bags

I wander down the giant aisles of a huge sports equipment store gaping at all the bicycle paraphernalia. Shelves are loaded with confusing metallic and rubbery things that make up a bicycle. Compounded by a variation of each piece according to brand name. I need panniers (side bags) and tools. The sporty young male shop assistants take no notice of me. I guess they are thinking this woman must have wandered out of the pilates area into the bike zone by mistake.

According to the lists from the cycling-gurus websites, clothing needs to be light and durable. Italian cycling sportswear is not at all modest. The racks are filled with flashy lycra tops and tights that look tiny until you stretch them onto your body. These padded tights feel like you’re wearing a big nappy. Strappy push-up brassieres come in luminous green, pink or orange, which gives the impression of paradisal fruits hanging off your chest. For the bust-conscious Italian woman this is exactly the look she wants.

My fruits are more subtropical than paradisal, even so wearing a bright colour could attract the attention of robbers and rapists along the roadside. One should look like a paradox on wheels – blend into the scenery but be visible to drivers. Noticeably unattractive.


The packing pile grows steadily bigger on the spare-room bed. A watercolour paint box and brushes, camera and lenses, a laptop computer on which to write a blog and edit photographs (under the kind instruction of Sian Owen), a leather-bound journal of hand-made paper to fill with paintings, an old smartphone with charging cable, waterproofs, energy snacks and a mysterious multi-tool gadget.

Two large e-bicycle manuals full of technically instructive information lie on my bedside table unopened. Some of you cyclists will pick on me for riding an electric bike. In defense all I can say is a glad YAY. Simon will be riding his ‘normal’ bike….let’s see how that compares.

Finally all the goodies are neatly packed into zip-lock bags and carefully inserted into the two panniers. A squirt of adrenaline sends my heart flipping like a fish. To calm it down, I go for a tentative practice ride around Marino. At the caffè near the central piazza our friend Roberto who sells porchetta at street-food stand waves me over to ask why I’m riding a bicycle. I tell him and the other characters sitting around under the umbrellas they all laugh and say “che follia” (what craziness).

At the corner next to the post office, is a stone bust of the “Madonna de’u Sassu“. Painted all around in a lovely tropical melon colour. She has been there since 1596 blessing travellers in transit between Rome and Naples.

She gives me a stoney look and asks – “What are you doing Leanne?”

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Leanne Talbot Nowell . the bike

This is about a 4200 km ‘solo’ bike ride, from Marino to Oslo in Norway, in the summer of 2018. It will be quoted from my daily diary kept during the trip. It was quite difficult to find enough time to paint along the way, so photographs had to suffice. I did some paintings of course, but now is a good time to go back on that track and fill in the gaps. Many of you have asked to come along for the trip and you’re most welcome. So hop on your virtual bikes and let our bicycle story begin!

Getting the bike…

“È cosi!” – it’s like that! – He throws up his hands, fingers splayed wide in supplication.

We are inside a swish bicycle shop in Rome, the athletic-looking manager shakes his smooth head “You most certainly will NOT be able to have an electric-bike delivered for at least three months Signora! There is a backlog of orders and a grand shortage of electric bikes, so if you want one then you must wait until mid-June… ”.

It’s April already, and to wait two more months for a bike will be way too late in the year to begin a long trip. It will be too hot to cycle through Italy in July and by the time I reach Norway, it will be freezing.

We leave the shop feeling bitterly disappointed. But soon a surge of relief neutralizes that uncomfortable feeling. Our couch is quite comfortable after all. I flop down into my usual position and tell myself “Never mind, there’ll be another opportunity in the future”.

But my intrepid husband Simon won’t accept such an easy defeat. He searches online and after some setbacks and phone calls, finds a CUBE trekking bike. Apparently just the bike for me. Correct frame size, electric, with all the necessary components. I don’t know exactly what components are, but if they are necessary then I had better have them. He immediately orders the bike and has it shipped home.

One week later…

It has arrived in a huge box, and I think Simon is more excited about it than I am. The ‘bicicletta’ (bike) now stands waiting calmly for departure day, glinting with red reflectors in the dark grotto below our apartment. Tall and elegant, her machined proportions as perfectly balanced as a race horse.

1 . THE BIKE RIDE - Leanne Talbot Nowell

But the sight of her makes me quake. After months of dreaming about the ride to Oslo to see my children, enthusiasm seems to be evaporating and my imagination is running wild with dreadful scenarios. I lie awake at night thinking of things that could go wrong, convinced something unimaginable will happen.


My parents are absolutely horrified: “How silly to risk your life like that, when you can fly to Oslo in a few short hours… what for? Now that you have grandchildren to enjoy?” In contrast, my adult children who are all adventurous themselves – but not reckless mind you – cheer me on with a resounding “Go for it Aunty Mom!” (that’s what they call me to get my attention when I’m being deaf).

My friends roll their eyes and ask “Are you nuts, why do you want to ride all the way to Oslo?” I defensively mention the story of Anne Mustoe, a retired headmistress of a posh English school, who rode a bicycle around the world a couple of times. Her stories of solitary adventures were proof that a woman of my age could journey alone, and so she inspired me to make a pilgrimage of my own. People say “why go alone, why not ride with a friend or a group – go on an organised tour for heaven’s sake!?”

I ask around if someone would like to come with me, but nobody has the time for a two month joyride. Some have offered to join me for a day or two when they can. Life is short at my age and delaying an opportunity for fear of loneliness may lead to regrets later. I want to be outside, feeling the wind, the sun, the joy and amazement of going somewhere new.

The reason for going is certainly not about finding myself. I already have enough of myself in my painting studio, actually too much. I need to escape my ego, get ahead of it and leave myself behind. You will find out the real reason later.

Picking the destination was easy, our daughter and son are living in Oslo, and two of our exquisite grandchildren. To make it sound like a work trip, I will take my art materials and camera along and paint the scenery along the way.

Up here in Marino perched on the edge of a steep volcano, bicycles are rare. According to the locals either you are too poor to afford a car or you are a very sporty type who joins a club and rides out with a fleet of cyclists wearing yellow jerseys. An older woman like me, riding a trekking bike into the far distant northern realms is “no woman of ours”. They probably think this is a disguised attempt to escape my marriage.

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Geraniums by Leanne Talbot Nowell

The gift-pot of geraniums is a sunny pink this morning, shining under a clean blue sky. My painting table is speckled with food dye. I sometimes use it to paint intense colour. Unfortunately it fades after a short time, but fading away is a release from the museum life. It gives one a sense of daring and freedom to create.

Creativity has been passed down the line in our family. When I was a teenager, at home on holiday from boarding school, my Mom (who is an artist) would ask me to make tea when her friends came over to visit (multiple times per day). If the tea tray was shoddily done, I was told to take it back to the kitchen and “do it again – with love!”.

In Italy we have a range of exceptional creativity from the kitchiest of kitch all the way beyond chic. One such example is our park. Yesterday Simon and I went for a clandestine wander down to the tower and bridge. The greens are recovering in a jungle of creativity after the rains. Fig trees have sprouted the most tender leaves and new fig-flowers. Exuberant bushes, blossoming trees, grasses, mosses and ferns are festooning the valley. We waded through them to reach the stream and checked under the bridge for trolls.

After 50 days in the nest, I feel some new ideas beginning to hatch. One of them looks like it could be a creative change to this post. I’m thinking of illustrating my big bike ride book instead. That would signify departing from Marino but taking you along for the ride by posting illustrations as we go. Don’t worry, it will be more fun. And I promise to “do it with love!”.

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The good – the bad and the ugly.

Front door - Leanne Talbot Nowell

We have two entrances, one front and one back. You may think it normal, but in this neighbourhood people usually manage with just one. The flip side of an extra door is a bigger portion of any condominium bill.

You won’t believe me but when we first moved in fourteen years ago there was an open drain carrying the neighbourhood black water down the street. There was a grid over it, but you could see the floaters making their way to who knows where! However, after a plumbing leakage under the communal steps at our back entrance a new pipe was installed. It mercifully extended to the street and put an end to that rat infested drain.

To settle the blame equally and fairly on all contributors, Simon and our Plumber made an investigative tour of the adjoining apartments. A dose of blue dye was flushed down each loo, while someone watched to see if it appeared in the broken pipe at the other end – signifying a connection. Eleven apartments were thus accounted for. We have a loo, like everyone else, but because we have two doors we had to pay half of the total bill. The other ten apartment owners divided the remainder between them.

Simon is referred to as “il Tedesco” and considered good at billing. Nobody keeps track of numbers like he does. People discuss, argue, blame but he writes everything down and makes them sign it before we begin a communal project.

Going up the front steps now – to the door (on the right, in case you come to visit). There are four types of people sharing our walls. Anna who always does the right thing no matter what. Then there are some who do the right thing so long as everyone else is doing it. There are of course, the egoists who don’t feel they must comply because they know better. When Simon says pay up, they generally do but only after threats, fines and long delays. The fourth type are the operette – the dramatic women who make it their business to stir up trouble. Having a punishment complex so severe they are willing to get themselves into trouble rather than let someone else get away breaking the rules.

Actually, there is also the fifth type, the unreasonable person who just realised her chimney doesn’t exist anymore, after the roof was redone about thirty years ago. She doesn’t actually have a fireplace, but now she is demanding to have the chimney reopened at Simon’s expense. She often sends her husband to argue for it.

Our neighbours are probably similar to yours. The four types, plus that special one, have the same attitude towards the quarantine regulations. Going up those steps now – to Government level (they’re also neighbours of someone) – which of the five types is yours?

The painting is boring – like our entrance. Megan said I should paint it anyway, to complete the picture.

Marino covid-19 numbers are 87 positive, one more than yesterday, and 13 deaths altogether. Italian numbers are worse again! 3370 new infections and 437 deaths according to Worldometer. We are trekking down a mountain range, not skiing down a peak.

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Entrance to the secret garden

I realise this painting turned out overly colourful. I walked down to the secret garden to paint the greenness of the greens and pinky-purpleness of this magical tree. I think it’s called a redbud tree? A black dog ran and jumped up at me, so I patted his head. Then tried not to pat my own head until I got home and washed that hand. The sad effects of covid.

There is a secret tunnel in Marino. It is mind blowingly awesome. Ugo Onerati took us to see it a couple of years ago. We were lucky as it has been locked ever since. My friend Marina, the artist who owns an art shop on the main street, played in there with her cousins when she was a kid. Her uncle used it as a ‘cantina’ for storing his wine and olive oil. It was built in the early Roman times as a big water cistern.

A man went to buy wine from Marina’s uncle in the 60’s and found it interesting. It was half-full of mud and debris so they excavated and to their astonishment uncovered an extraordinary treasure. Ugo took us down into the ancient, dimly lit tunnel. We walked slowly for about 50m with torches. Shadowy paintings of figures loomed on the side walls. At the very end, subtly lit from below, was the most incredible scene. An exquisite painting covering the entire end wall, a fresco of the MITHRAS cult.

Profound awe made my knees go weak. I almost went down on them. We gazed at the colourful scene in stunned silence. There is more to it than meets the eye. Nobody knows what it means, the cult was so secret there is no record of their philosophy. Although sacred sites with sculptures and paintings of the same symbolic scene are found all over the Roman Empire. However, this one in Marino is the most beautiful.

To describe it in a sentence…”A man wearing a pink layered tunic is stabbing a bull in the neck. His celestial blue cape is a full of stars, a snake and a dog are lapping up the blood and a scorpion is biting the bulls testicles”. The religion, thought to have originated in Iran, was practiced by Roman soldiers until about the 5th century. Men only.

Mitreo Marino Laziale

Simon and I cin-cinned our glasses of red and white wine, to Rome on the auspicious occasion of her 2773rd birthday this evening. It all began when twin boys inherited the title of leader. Rome would have been called Remo, if Romulus hadn’t killed his brother Remus for merely jumping over the wall. The story repeats itself, kaleidoscoping into the future. Here we are now in the European Union with our imaginary walls. Covid-19 shining a subtle light on the scenario.

Today’s painting depicts a stone wall with an excavated doorway. I like to think my studio walls were built from the stones of that doorway. Doorway walls.

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Rainy day

A rainy day - watercolour painting by Leanne Talbot Nowell

If I swivel my chair to the left, this is the view across the valley. Nine Roman pines stand like soldiers in the rain. I see there are only eight trees in the painting…oops! Simon is a bit restless because he can’t sunbathe on his deckchair at lunch time. For lunch we had homemade ravioli filled with radicchio and speck. They were made at the farmer’s home, not ours, but I made zucchini to go with it. Since Simon is working so much these days we don’t drink wine.

Marino Laziale sits on top of a crusty old lava flow. It slopes toward Rome with valleys full of vineyards on either side. We live on the edge. There is plenty of naturally bubbly mineral water springing from a crack in the volcano. Our friends always comment on the fizz and sweetish taste of the tap water. Washing hands with carbonated water works up a lovely lather. Some years ago, Tyrone was taking a shower when the water changed to wine. He came out of the bathroom looking bewildered – “Mom, something weird just happened!”. Then we heard shouts from our neighbours “è un miracolo..un MIRACOLO!!!”. Apparently the village plumber had pulled the wrong lever, and instead of the wine flowing into the fountain on the piazza (as it does once a year), it went domestic and filled a hundred toilet cisterns instead.

The Sagra dell’Uva – festival of grapes – is the pride and joy event of Marino. The town goes all out for the first weekend in October. About 30 000 wine enthusiasts fill their cups from the fountain. So if you’re planning a trip to visit us please try to fit that in. The locals open their wine cellars and you can drink plonk for four days. They also perform a magnificent procession of flag throwering, marching bands, and at least one hundred townsfolk dressed in elaborate historical costume. A white horse brings the handsome Marcantonio Colonna trotting to the piazza, to declare his victory over the Turks at the battle of Lepanto. Simon tells me it was the 7th October 1571.

At night Marino transforms itself, softly illuminated by yellow lamps, into a quaint medieval Borgo. Nobody is out, but you can hear many voices floating from the windows. There is talk of the festival being cancelled this year. My phone pings with a message from the Mayor on the municipal app. 86 positive cases, 12 sick at home, 11 deaths and 7 recovered.

As we know from the Spanish flu pandemic 1918-19 (which originated in America actually), that it came in three waves, and the second wave was the most deadly. So let us proceed with great caution.

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Graffiti on the Wind

Tower in Marino

Swifts are swooping around us – like graffiti on the wind. From high up here on the terrace we watch them flash by, feeding on gnats that swarm up from the ravine in the late afternoons. As evening deepens, those inky black exclamation points go silent and turn to bats. I call it the changing of the guard.

Every day after siesta Simon and I make a quick dash down the road into the parco dell’Acquasanta to unkink our veins. Some meters beyond the washhouse the footpath diverges and if you keep to the right fork it soon ends at a grotesque medieval watchtower. Torre d’Ammonte. Sadly “reduced by atmospheric conditions” it stands teetering and lonely as a gravestone. Flapping pigeons build their nests in holes in the rocky walls. There are some major cracks that grow every year, slowly opening up like a black tulip, and brambles have woven a thick basket around the base. Speckled lizards lie around seemingly frozen, perhaps they’re footmen waiting for sleeping beauty in the tower to wake up.

Hidden nearby is a most intriguing old archway. A low round gateway cut through the “tuff” (volcanic-rock) wall. It leads to a secret garden. The entrance is shaded by a pink flowering tree, and a fig has grown over the wall to disguise it. One must wade through the weeds to see more. Inside is a grassy, roofless space about the size of a tennis court. At the far end are some very high but shallow caves cut into the cliff that forms the base of Marino. The caves look strange, as if a giant wielded his sword and carved out two tall rooms, one for himself and the other for his wife. This was one of the many stone mines in the valley. Our house must have been built from this stone, the same stuff as the colosseum! All of it seeping radon.

I have put off painting this old tower due to its ugliness. It comes from a scary time in the 14th century when the town was in danger of being attacked by bandits. It is useless now. I suppose for the past hundreds of years young men had the duty of sitting up there to watch for the enemy. They must have wondered where the swifts came from every spring, and wished they could fly like them. Now the young men of the town have been given the duty to stay at home to avoid the enemy, and probably wish to swiftly fly away.

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40 orbital loops

Leanne Talbot Nowell - Three kids on a rock

Zooming way out to get a forty day overview.

Something that all astronauts talk about when they see Earth from space for the first time, is an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. They see this beautiful blue ball floating in deep space, lonely, delicate and miraculous. Three astronauts landed on Earth on Friday after more than 200 days on the ISS. The Russian team who pulled them out of the descent module had to undergo quarantine prior to the landing to ensure the virus was not passed to the crew. For the astronauts, instead of going home to welcoming crowds and family hugs, are on their way into quarantine to protect themselves.

Simon wants me to remind any non-latino’s that QUARANTA means 40, so a quarantine is supposed to last about forty days.

He very kindly rode his bike with me for the first week of my 60 day journey from Rome to Oslo. An excerpt taken from the dairy:

“A thrilling downhill ride brings us to the dark dining hall of La Dogana (Customs) on the border between Lazio and Tuscany. We dig into a bowl of delicious black olives, crusty salt-less bread and peppery olive oil, while waiting for the green stinging-nettle risotto being stirred in a copper pot by a chef in a tall white hat. A log fire burns under a russet brick arch. Galileo Galilei was once miserably quarantined here on his way to Rome. There was an outbreak of the plague. He had been commanded to present himself to the Papal Inquisition. Having been accused of imposing on God, the extra burden of a moving planet and judged to be “vehemently suspect of heresy”. However, he escaped corporal punishment and was put under house arrest for the remainder of his days.”

The numbers of covid-19 infections in Italy decreased a little yesterday, but there is something weird about the worldometer stats. We’ve given up trying to figure them out. I spoke to my parents who are not complaining yet, but it might be necessary for them to stay in strict lockdown (no space walks) until September!? Like astronauts on the International Space Station.

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Pops of joy

Pink Dalea by Leanne Talbot Nowell

“Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful!’ and sitting in the shade.”
― Rudyard Kipling,

I have spend many years, a small fortune and vast amount of energy on not-quite mastering the art of keeping plants alive in pots on my terrace. Often I feel more like an undertaker than a gardener – so many plants had to be carried down the stairs in a black bag. In the enthusiastic spring I usually spend a glorious day at the garden shop and come home loaded with demanding plants who are entirely at my mercy. Then we bugger off somewhere for the summer holidays and Immaculata takes over as Angel of God.

There is very little help from God when you live in a pot. The Angel who owns you has all the power. With power comes responsibility. Something the leaders in the world are being tested for at the moment. On the last day before lockdown I bought a bottle of number one. It’s plant food that smells like garum. It seems to do miracles and the plants are bursting their pots. Weeds are proliferating too, and I’ve changed my regulations and have allowed them to take root and grow. We must admire their tenacity, as that of all migrants. They cover the barren soil with lushesnous.

Immaculata brought me this Dalia in a small tight pot. The flowers are a buzzy whorl of petals which attract a white butterfly called Melanargia arge. I painted it (suggestively) for Kevin and Stella Cockburn. They are doing good work for their people in South Africa. In fact many of you are doing good work and being so generous.

As are our children and their partners (who we consider our children too). They are the flowers – pops of joy – in our soul gardens. Precious, shining, hope. This painting began as a portrait of them, and over the day of penciling then rubbing out, this is the result. A bouquet. Obviously my brain is in need of a dose of number one before attempting a proper family portrait.

Painting is like making a garden, it’s not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful!’ and sitting in the shade.

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Simon Jutz, watercolour by Leanne Talbot Nowell

For thirty seven days now, Simon has taken a lunchtime sunbath. Except for two rainy days. This is a portrait of a sailor on his deck. The shorts are imaginary. Another option would be ‘the diplomat’ at the dining-room table, leaning on his elbows, a precarious library of books as backdrop. The hanging shelves loaded with dusty collections of stones (he’s a geologist) and objects d’art. He could also be portrayed as a ‘chef’ bending into the fridge, or sitting feet up in the kitchen wicker chair writing emails. Or a romantic propped up in bed with his hot laptop, watching german films. Or slumped in his big yellow chair gazing at the “tagesschau” on tv. An icy glass of red Aperol Spritz in one hand and piece of mouldy biltong in the other.

Simon has been the perfect quarantine partner. He allows me to paint all day without interruption, and never judges my paintings good or bad. We set the table for lunch and supper. Even if it’s simply a matter of bread and cheese with a glass of our best wine. He prefers watching series on tv that feature beautiful women. No sport and no violence. He does the shopping once every 10 days. I do the cleaning once every 10 days.

We can’t understand why the number of new infections went up again yesterday. With this level of lockdown, we should be home free. Anyway, our PM says we can look forward to phase 2 from the 3rd of May. That’s another 16 days to go before we obey the next set of regulations. The short dash down to the tower and back is becoming quite hazardous. People unleash their pitbulls down there.

I can feel what’s left of my brain morphing in my head.

How would you portray your days?

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Where are we going?

Watercolour shrine

In the stairway is a small shrine where a candle burns at times of crisis. Coming upstairs now to write this, I plucked the postcard of the Madonna & child, that was stuck in this little shrine some years ago. Top right hand corner in small print reads: Santa Maria “ad Transitum” fresco from the school of Giotto, Church of Domine Quo Vadis.

We must have picked it up on one of our many Sunday bike rides down the Appian Way to Rome. It’s a fascinating place, dedicated to the Roman God of Return called Rediculus. Travellers would stop at the sanctuary for a blessing before embarking on a long and dangerous journey. The Appian way leads to Greece, Egypt and the East. If the traveller returned they would stop and gives thanks to the God for protecting them. Later a Christian Church was built on the spot. According to the legend, when Saint Peter attempted to escape Rome before he was crucified, on his way out of town he came across Jesus walking in the opposite direction. He asked Jesus, “Lord, where are you going? “Domine, quo vadis?“. Jesus answered, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again ” Eo Romam iterum crucifigi“.

I woke up this morning with no idea what to write about this strange hybrid painting. Then this spontaneous discovery of the connection to quo vadis! Where are we going as people? Nowhere for now. But the question is a deeper one for the whole of humanity….QUO VADIS?

Marino is 20 kms from the Church of Domine Quo Vadis. We have 96 covid-cases now. Only one person has recovered so far. Recovery seems to take a long time. Our good friend who is working in the Netherlands, contracted the disease a month ago is now off oxygen. His oxygen saturation is almost back to normal. The doctors cannot tell him if he is ‘clinically’ healed. The test came back as a false negative. During the illness he suffered from confusion ‘unable to follow my own thoughts and felt at the end’…

578 deaths in Italy yesterday, and fewer infections than usual.

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Lofty perch

studio sink

I know you prefer a bit of fantasy but today I have painted a corner of my studio. A suggestion from Brigitta, and I thought it a good idea to make a few more loft paintings before finishing. I’m thinking of ending this painting diary on day 40 ? That’s if I don’t catch the virus and pop off before then. Anyway, today is day 34 …more than a month in quarantine, which led me to look up day 34 in my bike-ride-diary 2018. Here is an excerpt – on the Rhine river in Germany…

— “Simon is arriving on Saturday to keep me company for the weekend. I’m very pleased, but no doubt he will be shocked at my vagabond appearance.

After a month of sun and wind on my bike all day, my face has darkened to a motley brown (nose in particular), but my glasses have protected my eye skin, so that’s all white, with pink piggy eyes (allergies). Arms are brown sticks with pronounced muscles, legs are tanned only on the back of the calves, and I still have tan stripes on the white feet. Back of the ankles are a mess from pedal bites. The hand bones seem very pronounced, and I have a vice grip!

As for my evening clothes, I wear the same stretch pants after my shower every night. It gets a bit cool at dinner, which is mostly on a terrace restaurant (and there are mosquitoes). The nice little frock I brought with me for the evenings is far too short for the leg tan, I look ridiculous in it.

My hair…oh dear! In Italian – “Un casino”

This morning after the church bells gonged and gonged until I woke up at 6 am, then painted a new sign for my handlebar bag. It has a transparent pocket for a map. The other sign was dull and never triggered interest or conversation from anyone. So I made a very cheerful watercolour, with the Italian flag in one corner and the Norwegian in the other, and wrote Roma – Oslo.” —

Two years later and I’m in the extreme opposite situation! After a month of being indoors…my face is motley pink…arms flabby stumps…and so on. Only similarity is the “cheerful watercolour” activity, but I wish I could say Rome to Oslo!

Instead you have a picture of a tap. Simon and I bought the marble basin (ex church blessing basin) at the Porta Portese Sunday market in Rome. We also found this relief sculpture of the angels there. It was painted with thick orange paint, and Megan and I spent hours cleaning and picking it all off. Underneath we found this marvellously detailed clay artwork. On the little table is a mosaic we found in Tunisia. The rest of the studio is a mess, a bit like my hair – un casino!

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The Faraway tree

forest kids by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Every morning I climb up the steps to the loft with high intentions. But I must admit choosing a subject to paint within visual reach of my perch is becoming a real challenge. After an intensive month of quarantine, my enthusiasm for the neighbours walls and/or pot plants, is beginning to wane. That’s why I have let my imagination run away with me, into an old natural forest to play with my grandchildren. They called to me like they always do “NONNA LEE-LEE !” – “watch out those baby dinosaurs have nasty biting teeth, quickly climb the faraway tree with us!” As I hobbled over the roots, tears of joy blurred the painting.

Immaculata, our sadly missed ironing-lady, knocked at the back door and gave me two flowering pot plants as a sweet Easter gift. A while back she tearfully told me the story of her life. She fell in love with a petrol attendant at a local garage. Her father, a stern man, caught them in the act of having a conversation and furiously dragged her home by the hair. She was forbidden to visit anybody. However, the quarantine measures failed and the love affair blossomed. Finally, at the age of sixteen, she ran away to live with her lover in his mother’s house.

Her parents disowned her, and she became a servant (her own words) to her new husband’s family. She said it was the biggest mistake she ever made. Her parents never spoke to her again, and she has never travelled. She’ll be 70 years old in May.

Marino has 79 casi positivi of covid-19. We received a notice on our municipal app last night – a new regulation regarding permission to go to the supermarket. Only one person from the family unit can go and shop, according to the first letter of your name of course. We must show our identity cards and a printed paper with proof of residency. Name and address. Our ID cards are not the nice pink Italian one (Simon and I have diplomatic status in Italy). However, we do have a certificate of residency somewhere in the files. A second notice of the new regulations declared all parks, villas and children’s playgrounds to remain closed to the public until the 3 May 2020. I noticed yesterday on my 100 m walk to the tower and back, that someone has mowed down all the greens. The park looks much smarter, but we won’t be able to harvest any hare-ears, borage and dandelions if they don’t let Simon into the supermarket.

Talking about Simon, he listened to podcasts about sailing all day, and now he’s watching a documentary about yachts. He made a very delicious browned roast for lunch, with brown gravy and potatoes. We held off the wine for later. A black bird with an orange beak visits our terrace to eat the ripe olives that fall from the potted tree.

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The tree of hope

Mother under her tree, watercolour painting by Leanne Talbot Nowell

My mother says she’s happy to sit on her green garden chair these quarantine days. Sheltered under the tree she planted in front of her home in South Africa. She is crocheting a blanket for her Great-grandchildren. A sunbird is feeding its baby in a little nest in the branches above. Butterflies flit passed while zebras and warthogs munch the lawn at her feet. There is a clear pecking order amongst the water birds on the pond. A lonely cormorant perches on the broken fountain spout. It dives under water and submarines around until it pops up unexpectedly between the lilies. The Egyptian geese couple for life, and make their fluffy nest amongst the bullrushes. My mother is an artist who lives alone with more than a thousand people in a spacious retirement village. Nobody is allowed to nip out for a walk. Although she sometimes finds a slice of cake or a packet of rusks pushed in through her kitchen window.

My Dad (82) and step-Mom live in a another retirement village. They are not allowed to walk either. They moved into their new home just days before the lockdown. They’ve dreamed of decorating their comfortable nest and had great plans for the garden. But without the help of a gardener my Dad can’t do much because of his bad knees. The curtains are too short for the window – amongst other things. So their dreams are on hold while they make the best of purgatory.

We are all stressing about why, what and when. Waking up in the night with trepidation. And why we eat too many Easter eggs? I can’t understand what all the fuss is about being fat. Now that I am fat, I feel quite well. A little more wobbly, that’s all.

Simon spent the entire day lying in the sun on the deck chair listening to travel podcasts. He went all over the world hearing about wonderful places, but the most interesting was the southern region of Germany, called Allgäu, where we would be right now had the virus not spread itself everywhere. Allgäu, in particular “Altusried” is the town where he now owns a holiday house. He inherited it from his mother last year. We lost both his parents within weeks of one another. It was a hard year. Their dying wish was that we keep the door open for the whole family. That applies to our friends too.

Our door remains closed in Marino. Today the mayor reported 79 cases of covid-19 infections in town. Yesterday there were 72, so the numbers are going up. All of the new infections are in a rehabilitation center. 6 people have died. We noticed a lot more traffic and movement today. People have had enough. Most of them live very intense and dramatic lives in small apartments.

In Italy we have lost almost twenty thousand people. 4092 new infections (that we know of) and 431 deaths today. The curve model looks more like a forest of trees, each day another tree – tall – shorter – taller – tall – short – tall.

I have branched out and painted from my imagination today. This picture features my Mom, but it’s also about all of us. Sitting with nature, doing something useful, being aware of our roots.

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Yellow primroses watercolour by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Happy Easter everyone! Here is a cheery painting as an Easter offering for you. Thought you might like some yellow primroses, even if most of you are on the autumn side of the Earth. New life and rebirth is the theme wherever you are.

I’m back from a surprising Easter egg hunt. Simon hid a gold bunny in the kitchen and it took me a while to find it in the bread box.

Greetings and love from us in Marino. Day 32 and counting!

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Yellow house

yellow house

Three hermits first lived in that yellow house across the road in 1682. It adds a splash of colour to the view from our breakfast nook. Now Ivan and his brother live there. They are migrant builders from Albania. It’s really nice to have them in the neighbourhood to do jobs that involve ladders and cement.

There is an ancient church “Sanctuary of the Madonna dell’Acqua Santa” in a grotto beneath the yellow house. Riccardo Tuccimei, the highly annoyed and hated nobleman who once lived in the house, demolished the bell tower. It was lovely with lots of small bells. Now we have one medium-sized bell that wakes us up on Sunday mornings.

But the story of the Church still rings with ancient mystery, and one such story is – a long time ago a man on his way to Naples lost control of his horse. It went galloping down the steep road and around the awkward corner. A beautiful apparition suddenly appeared. Actually it was the Madonna herself, holding out a bowl of water.

The horse immediately stopped to drink and the man was saved from an unfortunate accident. He gratefully proceeded with his journey but that night, in a dream, the saintly lady appeared to him again and told him to go back and look in the bushes there. He went and rummaged around at that exact spot. Ho hey! Lying in the bush was a beautiful fesco painting of the Madonna and Child! The experts have dated it to 4 AD. Although it has been touched up a few times, it is still mesmerizing on the high Altar of this grotto church.

If you get down on your knees in front of the Altar, you will find a trapdoor in the floor. Open it and you’ll find a well full of miraculous water. You can scoop it up into a cup with a long spoon. We sometimes join the nuns for the Procession of the “Madonna dell’Acqua Santa”. Everyone gets a tiny bottle of water to take home.

See a short film here.

Home is where we will be until the end of April, although next week certain shops will reopen. Bookshops and childrens clothes. After 31 days in quarantine the kids have grown out of their clothes already! Simon went to the shop yesterday according to the roster (first letter of the surname) and the lamb was sold out. No baking powder either. He came home with a shopping bag full of spinach.

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Leanne Talbot Nowell watercolour sea

If you feel trapped in lockdown – remember that we are traveling at 1.4 million kilometers per hour through hostile space on a miniscule, wobbling and watery rock. The planet is spinning in a spiral around a massive ball of blasting nuclear fusion. Our sun is also traveling by the way, and making a turn once every 28 Earth days. We don’t know where we’re going but we are going there very fast.

When worrying things happen, I sometimes beam myself up to the Hubble Space Telescope to get another perspective on the issue. Out there in deep space everything looks terrifyingly peaceful. Turn the lens towards lonely Earth, our beloved blue gem, and it’s difficult to see where the suffering is. Zoom in to about 800 km above the surface and you’ll see a lot of soul-satisfying awesomeness. Check out Simon’s images. Even the deserts are patterns. Zoom zoom zoom to micro and you will find a new coronavirus doing what it does. One needs to be incredibly brave to look with scope-eyes at the universal petri dish.

I beamed myself down to our park and had a look through the brambles at the wash-house. Immaculata (she’s fine by the way) said she used to wash their clothes and her son’s cloth nappies down there. It’s a long stone building with a fallen roof, lots of columns and two great vasche…what’s that in English? The stone vasche have sloping sides or wash-boards. She said “it was lovely to be in the open air and wash the clothes in the moving water, birds singing all around in the trees”. All the women in the community would go there to discuss and wash. No need for shrinks.

Simon says – ‘Jeder Zustand, ja jeder Augenblick ist von unendlichem Wert, denn er ist der Repräsentant einer ganzen Ewigkeit’ Goethe in a letter to Eckermann, 1823 (‘Every state, yes every moment is of infinite value, because it is the representative of an entire eternity’).

Unfortunately the numbers in Italy went UP again yesterday. 4204 new infections, and 610 deaths. Actually, the model looks more like a mountain range than a curve. We need to lift up our arms bravely to the sky, unclench our fearful fists and spread our fingers to the wind. Then zoom in to see what we can wash.

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Italian neighbours


Our neighbour, Rita, wears sundried undies. I couldn’t resist painting them (for you Mandy). When I went down there to paint this watercolour, she cackled and vanished behind the curtain into her den. Poor Rita has a complaining tic, and a voice to go with it. She throws water on our stairs at night so the street cats don’t sleep on the doorsteps. It’s hazardous to take the rubbish-bin out. Marble is very slippery when wet.

The gardener came with his weed-eater. He and Gian-Luca sat on the steps drinking espresso together. The distance between them was about 30 cm.

Marino now has 36 covid-19 cases and 4 have died in total. The Mayor is begging people to unite against the virus by keeping the rules. “Non vanifichiamo gli sforzi” – let’s not frustrate efforts. Yesterday in Italy, the infection rate went up to 3836 with 542 deaths. A message has just arrived on the village app. to say they have an expert who will be taking emails from local businesses to discuss finances. Things were bad already, now they really are in the dwang.

Thanks for all your amazing, positive and thoughtful comments. So good to have friends at a time like this, and I hope we will meet again. In the meantime we keep our spirits up with sharing. As an Easter gift activity I made you a short video – paint an egg. I made it on paper but you could also do it on a real egg if you like.

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Bridge over troubled waters

Green walk Marino Cesare Battisti

The Italians love to forage for wild greens. You see their bodies bent over on the lush roadsides and fields with a large packet in one hand. Down at the end of our cobbled road is a very interesting but neglected park. A stream of murky water – much less so since the lockdown – carves its way down the narrow valley through the volcanic rock. At siesta time I usually take a brisk walk down the steep road to the broken bridge and back. There is a lot of herb-harvesting going on there now. Many locals are feeling the pinch.

Mustard greens, crespigni, dandelion, hares ears, stinging nettle, thistle, borage…all grow in abundance. Others call them weeds. They are delicious in omelettes, as ravioli fillings or as a side dish fried in olive oil and garlic.

There is also a crumbling medieval tower, an abandoned wash-house, and some really weird grottos. Our three boys used to walk this route everyday to catch the train to school in Rome. Returning home through the dark-dank ravine on winter evenings wasn’t fun. Not to mention the pitbull terrier at Roberto’s house.

Roberto is a sculptor. His house is at the end of the ravine in the shade. It is decorated with his fascinating Greek style sculptures, behind which lurks a passion for secret archeological digs. The ravine is entirely man-made. Rome was built with the volcanic rock called PEPERINO which was mined here. It is now a protected Italian heritage site. You can do a guided tour of the enormous caves.

On my way back, two civil policemen were admonishing a couple and their two kids. Only one parent is allowed out with one child at a time. I dashed unseen around the corner.

I would like to sit and paint the scene, but it’s severely prohibited. This watercolour was painted from memory when I got home. The greens are not quite wild enough.

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Twenty seven days.

Lecce castle oil painting

If you’ve been under the hammer lockdown for about two weeks now, you are probably feeling pretty kak about the whole idea. It’s the point where the novelty wears off. It has been a bit like going into a tunnel with dark glasses on. But now your eyes are beginning to adapt to the dark, enough to see the gloomy mess of crashed plans. But you still can’t see the light at the end.

Here is an excerpt from my 2018 BIKE RIDE diary…

“The tunnel was unexpected, a frightful 88 meters of velvet darkness and glaring headlights.

Suddenly I was in it, together with the enormous noise of unseen motor vehicles.

My dark glasses rendered me instantly blind, I squealed like a bat out of hell as my feet flipped off the pedals and floundered around. The echoing boom of truck engines roared ever closer, louder and louder until my bones rattled!

A pinpoint of solid light appeared ahead. The bright spot steadily grew and grew, until I shot out into the peaceful green and blue of a sunny spacious heaven. Laughing with relief and promises to never ride into a tunnel like that again”.

To tell you the truth, I did ride into tunnels again. With terrible trepidation and anxiety. I also rode over very beautiful high mountain passes to avoid tunnels. My bike trip, a 4200 kilometer journey in two months, was quite similar to being in lockdown. That sounds strange, but the principles are the same. One is forced to organize your days with brutal determination and you learn to put up with your very own glum personality.

After 27 days in strict lockdown, we have settled into simple routine. Simon has meetings with his colleagues online. We make a miraculous lunch on the terrace, with no shortage of bread and wine. The neighbourhood gardener did not pitch up to clean the weeds yesterday. At 18:00 every evening the speakers blast us with the National Anthem. We wait for the daily press at 18:30 where the coronavirus stats are presented. Our Marino numbers are now at 27 sick and 3 dead. We watch all the news channels, and see all the drama going on around the world. All the shocking strumpf.

Good news is Italy seems to have peaked. But where there are peaks, there are also dark tunnels.

(oil painting owned by Hilde – Lecce Castello)

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What goes around – comes around.

house in Marino

Gian-Luca, our only male neighbour, leaned out of his window for a chat.

Nurse Marilena, lives with him. She works seven days a week at a private hospital in Rome. He said she is afraid of catching the virus, even if she’s working in the general wards not yet on the front line. The patients are NOT tested before they are admitted. I think Gian-Lu is more afraid that she will bring the virus home to him. Then his friend Nerto will be forced to stop visiting. He lives with his elderly mother. We’ve known Nerto for years as the local tattoo-covered waiter, doing the rounds working at the 40 different restaurants in Marino.

Our house shares it’s walls with eleven other apartments. Most of them occupied by old ladies who live alone. Simon wonders why they are all widowed. I could write a couple of books about the amazing things they tell me. Not sure how they are all doing at the moment. The corona cases are going up every day in Marino. The municipal app keeps us informed of that. Yesterday the Palm Sunday church service was broadcast on the lamp-post speakers.

This painting was done before our 130 year old home facade was renovated. After a very bewildering experience of building a relationship with the renovation team, we now have bright new yellow facade. I need a face renovation too. The lockdown facial expression doesn’t keep the muscles toned. Although yesterday, after the picnic, we had a little water fight on the terrace which was a laugh.

26 Days….and still ticking.

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peonies white pastel

Happy Sunday everyone. Post me a pic of your picnic please?

Near Viterbo, about a one hour drive from us, there is a astonishingly beautiful and flourishing peony garden. Apparently the largest collection of peony plants in the world, it covers 15 hectares. Flowering now in Centro Botanico Moutan – take a spectacular wander around the website

4805 new cases of covid-19 in Italy yesterday. The Istituto Superiore di Sanità have estimated 30 000 lives were saved by the lockdown measures. At the moment for every person with the virus, 1 other person is infected. It was 3 at the beginning, so that’s encouraging. We’re bumping along the top of the statistics curve…I hope. Thinking of all the families and friends, more than 15000 here in Italy who have lost someone special in this pandemic.

On my short jog down to the end of the road and back, I garnered some attention. Renata called from her balcony to say her phone is broken. She’s very sad because the phone company only responds with a digital voice and she can’t get anywhere with it. Rita, the woman with a loud broken voice, cackled and complained from her balcony about the weeds growing up around our common stairway. She was hanging a string of large off-white panties on the line. When I agreed that we should clean up, she instantly shouted to the gardener in the pink house and told him to come over. He agreed to clean the weeds for us on Monday. So it’s business as usual in our cul-de-sac.

This painting is part of the pastel series. You can see others in my portfolio on

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Red ochre wall

red wall in Marino, watercolour painting by Leanne Talbot Nowell

The westerly view from our terrace is dominated by the windowless side of a tall red palazzo. To counterbalance and feng shui the scene, we have a beautiful terracotta Madonna and Child from Impruneta near Florence. A long story for later.

Usually the swallows/swifts/house martins arrive from South Africa by the 4 th April (today). I notice them because it is the anniversary day of our own migration to Italy as a family. Twenty two years ago. Looking out over my first cup of coffee, there are no swooping black dots in the morning sky. Ramaphosa’s ‘hammer’ lockdown is working beyond expectations.

Simon’s cooking is always brown. Last night we had his famous PEPOSO, a delicious dark brown stew. Chicken the day before, a rather dark roast. The week has seen perfectly browned crepe, spaghetti with brown gaurum sauce. Strong coffee and tea, bread etc. He makes a killer chocolate mousse which is forbidden for now. Something you’ll notice after 24 days is your digestive tract will go into lockdown too. Unless you are lucky enough to have walks.

Renata had some friends over to visit! I wondered what all the noise was about and looked out of my spy window. There were two other oldies sitting on the balcony with her. She was obviously overjoyed. Which reminds me of the nurse who lives downstairs. She wrote me a whatsapp note saying she really liked the ‘pensiero’ (thought) painting – “mi sono emozionata”. I felt quite emotional just reading it. To be honest I made a print of the painting for her, on watercolour paper. I suspect she’s not really interested in hanging up a picture of the street so will paint her some flowers next time.

Simon is going by Vespa to the market to fetch the vegetables from the Farmer. It’s quite a procedure to sterilize everything when they come in the door. The bleach is almost finished and there is none in the shops. A bit of UV sunshine should help. Sunshine certainly keeps us happy, especially during lunch hour on the terrace. Simon is still reading that huge bible instead of taking a siesta, and has found a discrepancy between the first verses of Genesis and John. Genesis declares that in the beginning, first there was ‘light’, whereas John said in the beginning was the ‘word’. He wants to know what you think?

Our municipal app sends notifications in continuum. One can call them for free psychological counselling. Much to the chagrin of Simon, being our principal shopper, a notice IMPORTANTO arrived – an order for disciplined access to the supermarket over the Easter holidays. The first letter of your surname will determine when you can go to the shop. Will be interesting to see how many other surnames go with “Jutz” in Marino. Luckily for our locals, they can get free food and medicine vouchers from the Mayor. Each nuclear family can apply.

New infection rate was 4585 yesterday. But with Renata and others beginning to socialize again, we could be sitting on the peak for a while.

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Sailing away

sailing away

Are you beginning to think “now what should I do today that is worth writing home about”? Since most of us are at home, the question is simply doing something “worth writing about” ….on our home page of course. That’s where the challenge lies. After 24 days of putting words to paintings I’m beginning to wonder. (Even though I’m totally blown away by your encouraging response to my doodling). The homepage challenge has buoyed me up with good friends, and new connections to old friends, all of whom keep me afloat.

Looking out of my loft spy window I can see Renata making her bed, dressed in a grey nighty. The daisy bush is looking especially magnificent in the slanted morning sunshine. Unlike her gardener who hasn’t brushed her teeth or hair this morning. So the challenge is this – paint & write OR clean the house? The answer is as clear as day.

The Sailing Away painting, which hangs in Simon’s office at work, is today’s offering in honour of a friend who likes it very much, and is now in hospital with covid-19. I’m pretty certain he would prefer to be on that yacht.

In Marino there are 22 sick people, and we’ve sadly lost one. The number has doubled since last week, although we still feel it’s manageable.

Today our family is (remotely) celebrating Ste’s birthday. As a gift he received a 2 ply toilet roll. Megan (his wife my daughter) says Norway is completely sold out of yeast and flour. Everyone is making their own bread.

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Lizard brain.

kitchen view watercolour by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Splendid weather in Rome today nr. 22, there is a bracing mix of wind, wispy cloud and sunshine. Thinking with my lizard-brain these days. Getting up in the morning, making coffee, going up to the loft, writing, painting, sunning myself while watching bees work the daisy bush. Staring at the latest painting lying there on my messy painting table. Wondering whether it’s good enough to inflict on my friends.

Our Mayor makes announcements and broadcasts the Italian National Anthem on the lampost speakers at regular intervals. The Church bells often ring, which is more concerning than comforting. A neighbour yelled rather nastily at the noisy kids in the apartment across the street. Renata, Immaculata, Rita, and the old man sit and look out of their separate windows all day. It has been ages since there was any sign from Immaculata. I must call her now.

Last night our Prime Minister, Conte, announced an extension of PHASE 1 to the middling-end of April. PHASE 2 will be announced when the time is right. Then we’ll go to PHASE 3 which is the part when we must go out and kick start the economy.

Simon limped up the street to his favorite butcher and now the freezer is jam packed. We decorated our dinner plates with primrose flowers and mint leaves from the terrace. We’re doing a family food presentation competition to keep the standards up. The farmer was supposed to deliver veggies but he didn’t arrive as planned. Hope he’s ok.

I’m unhappy to say Italy’s infection rate went up again yesterday to 4782. We’re apparently teetering on the peak with 727 deaths. There is no doubt the virus had ample time to float around in Northern Italy before anyone realised it was there. Thinking of all the medical staff who are on the front lines, we must find of a way to help them.

Today’s painting is the scene from my kitchen window. I stood at the kitchen sink and splashed on the paint. The building is a bit redder than it should be.

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The Cage

Marino steps by Leanne Talbot Nowell

I was going to post an APRIL FOOL blog for you today, but maybe it’s best to skip it this year. It would have featured something like “A big breakthrough in tele-transportation” – you can now pick a destination and be there instantly! A visit to all my family would be so good right now. It would mean popping up in Australia, Norway, South Africa, London, Munich.

Simon is limping around the house with his hurt achilles tendon. During working hours he is having intensive tele-meetings with other big-wigs in the EU space world…(oxymoron?). They’re watching our Earth from satellites, things like ice melt, sea levels, wind, etc. Those images you see on the news, of pollutants vanishing since the corona crisis began, are thanks to Simon and his colleagues. These days it’s all about watching traffic at the borders and large gatherings of people. You can see more on the ESA website. After the health crisis will come the economic crisis, so they are preparing for that.

As for the numbers, the death rate is still shockingly high at 837 yesterday.

The painting is a bit cagey, but hey, there are gloomy days even in my tiny speck of an art world. I made this one yesterday of our back entrance. The red door at the top of the stairs is ours.