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Rome is mellowing out.

Quite soggy after days and days of rain. The last of the orange leaves have collapsed onto the streets. We will go into the old city tomorrow for a culture pop-up experience although all museums are shut. But that’s not off-putting because Rome has a street-charm like no other place in the world.

It’s the way the paint peels.

Which brings me to presenting a couple of designs. Every hour or two another one manifests. I’ve taken a moment to write this while the enthusiasm is still bubbling.

That’s another point, living in a bubble can be good for interior design. I was thinking about interiority, the rooms we live in and how we arrange them. A cushion here and vase of flowers there, a mat at the door…it’s a selfscape! Clearly demonstrating your values – (what’s in your bookshelf by the way?) your colours (emotions) – mixed up, matchy-patchy, or plain khaki flannel?

Imagine walking into Caesars Palace and find it coarsely rendered in a sludgy beige crimplene.

Pompeii red garland by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Consider the thoughtful parts of your home – how do you place things for maximum meaning? Is there only one way to display a stained glass window or many ways to arrange a cushion. Home is a 3D catalogue of your life. You can be rich or poor, it doesn’t matter at all. Have you seen what can be done with peeling paint?

Think about your interiorscape, including that special room in your heart. Is there a Voltaire’s garden in there? Or is it a train station?

Before I get carried away in a bubble of glee, here is a glimpse of my work today… you can see more designs on my HOME page.

2021 design natural by Leanne Talbot Nowell

“Living in Rome certainly offers artists an inspiring kick in the pants. One of my favourite things to do is walk around the ancient ‘vincoli’ in search of old walls to photograph.

Especially antique walls that have been painted with ochre clays. Cracks and scratches, patches of crumbling stone and bits of ancient marble create a deep, rich patina.

Combined with dramatic skies and perfect domes, the sight of old Rome is enchanting enough to rock your foundations.

The narrow streets are protected from extreme weather and so the walls have endured longer than those in exposed areas. Unfortunately the patina is fast disappearing under layers of fresh plaster and plastic acrylic paint. 

This collection of “Rome old walls” photographs is a precious source of images which I lovingly use as backgrounds for my hand painted designs. Something between street art and fresco merged with hand painted emblems, made to share as a digital print. 

Leanne’s MEDITERRANEAN… design series explores the decor styles of local empires over the millennia. 

So, with a touch of nostalgia I present  these honest, non-toxic, sustainable decor products. Printed designs on recycled fabrics and papers. Now you can surround yourself with guilt-free decor!”

Roman pine patina fresco by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Wishing you a fabulous Christmas holiday.

Leanne Talbot Nowell
stone chequered print
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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.

blog by Leanne Talbot Nowell

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.

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Leanne Talbot Nowell

There was a big black cloud in the sky yesterday. A cold wind whipped the back of my neck and blew my painting off the terrace. The paper fluttered off in the direction of the subject. That being Renata on her balcony in her scarlet gown. The light was fading fast so there was no time to go running down to look for it. I grabbed another piece of paper and painted it again. The second try was slightly more confident. Like most things in life, letting go and starting again can be a good thing.

Luckily my jacket had a hoodie. While this virus blows around, we all need to put on our hoodies and focus on doing something good for the soul. No running down to look for stuff and delaying the call to non-action.

Those who must go to work to ensure the survival of the rest of us, depend on the fact that the families of their colleagues are also staying at home. So the group stays safely closed.

I made this painting for Marilina who lives in the apartment downstairs. She’s a nurse. More than 8000 medical staff are sick with covid-19. Two ICU nurses have committed suicide because they couldn’t cope emotionally.

63 doctors have died so far. That should be enough to make us …stay… at… home!!

Simon cooked spaghetti with his secret ‘garum’ sauce. It’s something the Roman soldiers were given (as payment) to flavour their food when on assignment. Not much I can tell you about it, but it’s deliciously fishy.

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Wishful walking

Roman pathway

The next time I see a path, I’m going to walk and walk and walk!

Even if the cinghiali (wild boars) are running amok while the hunters sit in quarantine.

Lockdown day 20 in Southern Italy. Simon is reading a colossal German bible illustrated by Salvador Dalì. Apparently he has time to read it now. The Old Testament is quite challenging for a space man like him. I tried to paint a watercolour of Renata’s house down the street. She paces up and down her balcony in a scarlet dressing-gown. Perhaps she’ll notice me and wave in my direction. Below her house is a window where an old man sits and looks out all day. A portrait in a frame. There is no street activity for him to watch, except the two brown birds who hop among the peach blossoms.

The numbers are subsiding slowly. Our Prime Minister says we’re not out of the woods yet. Mind boggling statistics here in Italy, with almost 98 000 cases and a brutal 11 000 deaths. Yesterday we lost another 756 people. Waning new infections point to the peak. We are having trouble understanding our high percentage of mortalities compared to other countries.

You have all been so generous with your comments and good wishes, thank you sending so much love. I know you’re all out there facing similar challenges, some worse than others. This feeling of the impending tsunami of doom makes me think of walking along the beach at Umhlanga. Those frightfully big waves that crash onto the sand don’t usually wash you away, they just fizz and retreat. Sometimes they touch your feet.

The painting is now owned by my friend Francesco Sarti and his little daughter Mathilda.

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19+ days in a flat.

Castelli Romani painting

Things are looking up. The sun is shining between the clouds today, and what a difference that makes to one’s mood. Especially when you live in a flat. Climbing up the little staircase to the loft which is flooded with light, is akin to ascending into heaven. Living in heaven…eternal…never ending. The lonely tulip opens and closes each day. The daisy bush flowers. The tap drips.

Meanwhile the world is full of angst. The local Carabinieri sent a bunch of red heart balloons into the sky. Simon went to the shop yesterday and came home with a tray of huge red strawberries. A man outside the shop hands out numbers and everyone waits in the parking lot until they’re called inside. The farmer from the veggie market phoned us and asked if we would like to place an order for Wednesday. He’ll deliver to our doorstep. Such blessings and kindness!

The doorbell rang. A frightful thing!

It was Immaculata, looking pale and wrapped up in coat and scarf. She wanted to say thank you in person for the envelope! She doesn’t have a cell phone. I leapt back from the doorstep and chatted from an unnatural distance.

The virus infection rate went down slightly in Italy yesterday. Very heartening news. But we’ve sadly lost over 10 000 people in a few weeks. However there are a huge number of recoveries, including a 102 year old woman in Genova who recovered after twenty days in hospital.

Simon is digging in the cupboards looking for a skipping rope. His achilles tendon is still bandaged up. This could lead to some in-house angst today.

The painting is owned by Andy, it features the garden at Castelli International School in Marino, where our kids went elementary school once upon a time. The Monte Cavo (volcano peak) in the background. I can see it from our terrace.

A kid on the next terrace is calling to his Nonna. “Nonnaaa mi senti” and her voice comes back with a yes.

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Fountains of tears

Ariccia fountain Leanne Talbot Nowell

This is a painting of the BAR in Ariccia. Simon and I had been for a long bike ride around lake Nemi and got caught in a storm. A variety of chatty women squeezed in with us to escape the hail. It’s a small place and we merrily drank very thick hot chocolate together and talked about the virus. One lady said she would go to Rome now that there were no tourists. She hadn’t been for about twenty years.

That was 18 days ago. She didn’t know the following day would be the start of the lockdown.

There are two matching fountains in the lovely piazza. They are full of tears.

You have probably seen the news. Over 900 Italians died yesterday. Pope Francis came out alone and prayed in vast rainy piazza. A tiny white figure in the dark echoing space. I think that image will stay in my memory for the rest of my life. As I type this letter to you, the screen blurs through my tears. (Good thing I can touch type).

The fountain painting belongs to Libby in Boston now. I hope those fountains will soon flow with tears of joy.

I painted a watercolour for you, but it’s quite boring. I may post it later when I feel braver.

Happy birthday Lucy Liu. (A friend in Modena)

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The painted lake

Lago Albano watercolour

If our house flew up vertically and hovered at 50m this would be our view. Castel Gandolfo with the Pope’s summer palace on the opposite rim. Rome and the Mediterranean sea beyond.

I know you’re going to say this painting was not made yesterday. It was raining yesterday, and the view from our house is the backside of this crater lake, Lago Albano. However, knowing that the lake is so close gives me artist-license to share it as part of my surrounds here in quarantine. When it was being painted ‘plein air’ a Syrian man came over and sat on the stone wall nearby, and told me his sad story. The painting belongs to Andrew Zmuda, a friend in Marino.

Very scary numbers coming out of the USA, the infection rate has overtaken Italy. South Africa in lockdown will be another story altogether. Rule nr. 3…no alcohol or smoking permitted!

In Italy we had 6203 new cases yesterday. We can’t understand it, with the lockdown as strict as this. 712 deaths again a terrible number but it is hovering and not doubling at least. 80589 cases in total.

Simon and I are fans of Yuval Noah Harari, and read all his books. 21 lessons for the 21st century is appropriate for now. We had to strap up the achilles tendon with a bandage.

Immaculata, an elderly lady who lives two balconies away, had been coming over to do the ironing for me for years. She has had a difficult time understanding the quarantine thing. When I told her the day before lockdown not to come over anymore, she desperately assured me that she wasn’t infectious with the ‘batteria’ … now after 17 days she is glad to have three cats to keep her company. She called to chat and said she has a bit of fruit to eat. Turns out that she is supporting her son and his family with her meagre state pension. Once a week I dash over and drop a little envelope into her postbox to keep her going. I make sure not to alert her to the delivery until the following day, so any possible virus attached to the envelope have since passed away.

Another beautiful, blue peaceful day here. The lonely tulip is opening in the morning sun.

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Light and shade

daisy shadows

Still bubbling in the quarantine cauldron. Seems that blame is going around as fast as the virus. It’s just as bad for human wellbeing.

Especially when your view of the world is limited to a couple of square meters. The small things become intensely interesting. To paint something brighter than bright, you need shadows darker than dark.

New infections are slightly lower again, at 5210. Maybe we’ve peaked and the very strict lockdown will ensure a downward curve? 683 people died yesterday, which is way too many. We sit in front of the TV, staring at the dramatic news from around the world, and feeling dreadful and almost numb. The borders are now properly closed.

Simon and I enjoyed our short separate jogs yesterday. Although he hurt his achilles tendon. He says what better time to hurt a tendon than now. Today it’s raining, thank the heavens! The plants were so dry. I attempted to make a chicken curry with very limited ingredients, and we sat at the table eating it with sticky rice and a side of green ‘verza’ which is a very frilly cabbage. How blessed we are to have food.

Talking about food, here is Simon’s french recipe for crepe: 250g flour, pinch of salt, a glugga of oil (tblsp), 250 ml of milk. Mix that up. Whisk 3 eggs and add them to the mixture. Stir until smooth, then add another 250 ml milk. It must be liquid enough to pour into a large pan. Use it immediately. You all know how to do it.

I think today is Thursday. Our 16th day in quarantine.

Not a great painting today, but will try harder tomorrow.

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15 days in quarantine

Italian balcony

This is the view from my painting table. I’m much more a petal painter, but sometimes it’s good to broaden the horizon and tackle a scene. Anyway, the tulip and the daisy bush are included. I’ll need to repaint the olive tree to give it justice.

The numbers are 33 paces and 16 steps from the studio down to the kitchen and back. I try to make the steps count as exercise but it’s becoming obvious that I’ll need to put on shoes and go out for jog. Really lucky to have another gracious blue day of health, and the peach trees are blossoming in celebration.

Yesterday evening we had a very nice aperitivo with Robert in Cape Town. He was supposed to start a new life here in Rome this month. Sold up everything, learnt fluent Italian, and is now stuck in purgatory…alone!

Simon made us paper thin crepes last night for supper. We had them with jam and caciocavallo cheese. As you can tell from this diary, our lives are becoming focused on eating and drinking. So make sure you have some of your favorite things in the larder before you go into lockdown!

When I saw the statistics for the day my heart bottomed out, but there is a glimmer of light. The new infections are slightly down. They have been for a couple of days now. We lost 743 people which is a lot more than the day before. Altogether in a month we’ve lost 6820 lives to covid-19. The number of infected people is almost 70 000 here in Italy. In Marino we have 11 new cases, according to our app. Each town has a municipal app. I have been getting this info from the worldometer website if any of you want check that for your country.

I know you are feeling the dread. Separate your inner worry voice from your normal voice… have a conversation with it, and then tell it to shut up for a while and leave you in peace. Listen to music, or do this…I made a demo Easter card for you. Chat to friends online, write your own book with illustrations. Put your hands up in the air and laugh!

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Go home beloved country

South Africa woman

We are feeling EXTREMELY RELIEVED here in Italy to see the numbers going down over the past two days. If that becomes a downward trend we will be coming out of this lockdown soon. 601 deaths and 4789 new cases, which is still terrible but it’s significantly less than Saturday’s cases.

Three are ways to handle a pandemic – Ignore, Mitigation and THE HAMMER. South Africa has chosen the hammer and will go into total lockdown on Thursday night. I’m happy to know all my parents, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, and friends will be safely at home.

President Ramaphosa made a riveting speech last night. More or less the same speech that our Prime Minister Conte made. Extreme measures for a country where so many live in poverty, where the ensuing domestic violence could have worse effects on the population than the plague itself. The world will be watching you… particularly the young men of South Africa.

Simon went for a run down the ravine in front of our house. There is a overgrown path that takes you down to the railway station. It would be a garden if it wasn’t mucked up with litter. He was stopped by the police there. They interrogated him. He argued that the government decree allows ‘running’ up to 400 m from your home. They were not convinced, but in good Italian spirit they drew an imaginary line on the road and said ‘not beyond this line’. So Simon ran up and down that short path for an hour.

It was announced yesterday evening, that the municipalities will now be using drones to monitor people walking around in the streets. Big fines or jail sentences for the naughty ones.

At our evening aperitivo meetings with friends online, we celebrated the ‘calo’ (downward trend), touching our glasses to the phone screen! We talked of hugging and parties when all this is over.

This painting now belongs to my friend Debra who is living in Hong Kong. It’s called the RAIN QUEEN, but I thought it appropriate. Mysterious and magical Majoji. It’s another beautiful sunny spring day and there is hope in the air.

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Lockdown loneliness

peony pastel painting white

The trending social activity is online aperitivo! We poured goblets of red wine and chatted to friends all evening. Until the wifi collapsed and we had to go and cook sausages for supper. Earlier in the day I had soaked the market veggies in a large basin of bleach. As an extra precaution I cleaned the kitchen counter and cast-iron griddle with bleach. Then forgot to rinse the grid, upon which I later cooked our sausages. Not the best flavour enhancer!

Italy had 651 deaths yesterday, which is 100 less than the day before, and 5560 new cases. Let’s hope that is the crest, and the worst is over.

This may sound melodramatic but when lying in bed in the dark my mind wanders very near to the edge of a worry precipice. I have forbidden myself to look over the edge into that deep ravine. After many days of quarantine, feelings begin to intensify. With very little distraction, one becomes mindful. I know it’s the same for many of us. Not only are we enduring our own thoughtful wandering and fearful wondering, but also share those of our loved ones. We must hold each other back from that edge!

Simon is much more practical. He went to the local ATM to get a bit of cash for market food. Always keep a little bit of cash under your mattress!

Our bose sound speaker thing broke down, which is annoying because we use it for the tv sound. The hot water boiler machine sprung a leak, and water ran all the way down the back steps. A young man came to fix it, just in time! Those businesses are now closed by law.

I’m perched in my loft thinking too much, listening to music and painting. Oh, and writing up my cycling journal…which hopes to become a book.

This painting is a pastel on paper. Peony flowers.

PS For those who asked about kids… we have five beautiful children and their special partners ;), and three exquisite little grandchildren ;). None of them live in Italy. It has been hard to letting them go, flying the nest to universities in far off countries. All of them have graduated and enjoy good jobs. We are lucky that we are able to visit them often, and they like coming to Italy for holidays. I hope the future is good for them all.

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Sunday PEP – day 13

Daisy bush by leanne Talbot Nowell

Because it’s Sunday (we had to look that up on the calendar) Simon is going to make us a celebratory PEPOSO. He has written out his recipe for us all…

Today Simon prepares a peposo notturno, a Tuscan meat stew stemming from the town of Impruneta – close to Florence. The legend tells, that the workers of Filippo Brunelleschi building the Cathedral of Florence in the 1400, used the brick ovens overnight in Impruneta for cooking their meat stews – therefore called “notturno”.  There are many new and old recipes around, which very often are far from the simple traditional one: 2 beef shanks (Muscles) cut in big quadratic blocks, 4 spoons of pepper, 1 spoon of salt, garlic, 1 ltr. of Chianti to be cooked for 8 hours – first at great heat for 10 min. then reduced to 100 deg. C for the remaining time. Important: Do not open the lid! In Tuscany you eat the stew with bread accompanied of course by a full-bodied Tuscan Chianti. Some funny stories about the peposo you find in Bill Bufford’s book “Heat”, who had as teacher for this meal the famous ‘crazy’ tuscan butcher Dario Cecchini in Panzano in Chianti – not far from our dear in-laws Malo and Guido.

Simon Jutz

That idea of a two week lockdown has gone out the window. We probably need a few months in quarantine to get this thing under control? In just four weeks 5000 people have died from the coronavirus here in Italy. Yesterday was a blacker than black day with 793 deaths.

Our Prime Minister said at a press announcement late last night that stricter measures will be enforced from today. All business must close except the absolute essential services. A lot of young people are also suffering from the virus, so nobody should be complacent. It’s going to be very quiet spring without the blacksmith whacking his metal gates below our apartment.

A call went out yesterday for more medics willing to serve in the ‘danger zone’. Seven thousand volunteered! That’s so heartening.

Interesting to see who is walking around outside. Italian dogs and cats never had it so good. Their owners are walking them in record numbers. Many are walking their cats on leashes? A couple of times per day! One cannot go to prison for that.

My daisy bush has been flowering for months in it’s pot on the terrace. It has been a joy to see all the bees and butterflies working on it. You should get one for yourself before lockdown. Great for making daisy crowns, or simply tuck one behind your beloveds ear. Daisies symbolize purity, spirituality and innocence.

ps. Simon is an Italianized Bavarian.

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Lunch on the balcony

Marino park

I’m writing to you early today, the first sunbeams are just touching the top of the Roman pines on the rim of the volcano. This little watercolour painting was done in the park just a few steps from our apartment. I took my folding chair and sat there under the trees and painted…this time last year.

Last night our mayor announced new restrictions. We’re not allowed in the parks, gardens or villas anymore, not even with dogs. We can go for a run apparently, so today Simon and I will jog down to the old tower and back. Separately.

Everyday we have lunch on the balcony in the spring sunshine and talk about our friends and family all over the world. I’m particularly touched by all the loving comments you write on my facebook post. Yesterday Simon opened a bottle of cold white “Grillo”. The sky was full of birds. Ambulances passed by regularly with sirens blaring. Neighbours chatted from balcony to balcony. Not sure what today will bring…but most likely the same.

Simon spends his days in tele meetings, satellites don’t have flight restrictions! I tiptoe through the lounge where he sits, to the kitchen to make coffee or tea, trying not to make a sound with the cups. Up in my loft, it’s like heaven. My art materials are at arms reach, lots of light coming in through the glass sliding doors. Plants flowering on the balcony. Music. Especially ‘perhaps love’ by Placido Domingo.

Can’t say I slept well after hearing that 627 people died yesterday from the virus. After all these strict quarantine rules, things still seem to be getting worse by the day. 6000 new infections! Just before lockdown there was a holiday when many from the north travelled to visit relatives in the south. Here in Rome and Grottaferrata, two convents have announced 56 positive infections amongst their nuns. We are bracing ourselves.

ps. stock up on chocolate.

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Vespa lockdown

Leanne Talbot -vespa painting

Simon walked to the local grocery shop yesterday afternoon. We can’t go there together as they only allow one person into the shop at a time. He gets that privilege, at the cost of carrying the heavy shopping bags home. He said there was a short queue, very disciplined, and the shop was abundantly stocked.

His Vespa is in lockdown because there is no reason to use it. You cannot take a passenger. If you take the car, only two people are allowed, so one of you must sit in the back furthest from the driver. Not that we need the car for anything, so the weeds are growing up around the tires.

We have an app, run by the municipality, where they publish regular announcements. This one just arrived : Before 12:00 of the 30.04.2020 interested persons can send a manifesto of their intention to buy agricultural terrain in Marino… more or less translated. Don’t ask me what that means.

I must admit, this quarantine is feeling less like a vacation these days. I haven’t been out of the house all week. Getting dressed in the morning is a simple task, usually a matter of throwing on what you wore the day before, which is what you wore the day before that. Although, yesterday after a good long shower, I felt the need to put on something pretty. My underwear drawer hasn’t been opened for a long time. Why bother to strap up?

The statistics are unfortunately unavoidable. I had considered not mentioning the numbers, but this is a pandemic, it affects the whole world, and being alarmed is the new normal. My opinion on the matter is best not expressed as things change every day. Tomorrow we might feel differently.

Yesterday 427 people died and we had 5322 new cases. We have overtaken China. The army are transporting the coffins from Bergamo to other cremation sites in the country as they cannot cope with the numbers.

As I write this the Mayor is shouting over the town loudspeakers. We are just far enough away to not be able to make out what he’s saying. Apparently they are having difficulty locking down those who think going to buy cigarettes every day is a valid reason to leave the house. A siren is blaring, which is strange since the streets are almost empty.

The picture is an oil painting I made a couple of years ago in Ostuni, Southern Italy.

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The tulips

watercolour painting by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Lockdown day 10 – a beautiful spring day here on my balcony. The tulip I promised to paint for you is a vibrant blazing orange, open now in the early sunshine. We need bold and bright to distract us from the dark news.

The tulip plant shares a pot with the olive tree just meters from my desk. The little olive tree is dripping with black olives. Usually a thrush visits my balcony and gobbles them up. No sign of him this year.

Last night there was loud music and singing from the Carabinieri building. They have balloons and flags flying.

Simon and I are in shock after hearing that a record 475 people died of the coronavirus yesterday. Almost doubled the number from the day before. Long lines of military are taking supplies to the worst hit areas in Lombardy.

Here in Rome we are still ok…. ‘contained’ which actually means there is no collapse of the system. However, the lockdown which is supposed to end on the 3 April, is likely to be extended.

Berlusconi, bless him, has donated 10 million euros to a hospital in Milan. The European Central Bank will donate a massive 750 billion euros to the EU countries to keep the economy going.

I will make some painting videos for my three precious grandchildren today. They are all at home in lockdown Norway and Australia. There is not much more I can do to help.

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Looking out from my perch

Leanne Talbot Nowell watercolour terrace railing

Looking out from the perch in my loft this morning, through this 130 year old wrought iron railing. We live on the edge of a crater. That’s faith for you, building houses on the edge of a precarious volcano! Which brings me to thinking about faith in general, and faith in our neighbours most of all.

The newspapers this morning all say there are way too many people wandering around. You are to %&”* STAY AT HOME! Now in Lombardi the government have access to your cell phone data, and they are tracking your movements. If you’re found to be visiting your neighbour, you will go to jail for 12 years!

By visiting friends you could be killing them. So basically it’s a murder charge.

345 died in the past 24 hours, 3500 were infected. Infection numbers are only those who need treatment.
The curve is still going up sharply, but NOT accelerating thanks to the lockdown. I wish the whole world would go into lockdown this very minute. Like in the fairytale Sleeping Beauty, we could just stop everything until the virus dies off. I’m so worried about all my family and friends and people scattered all over the world. Worrying doesn’t help any of them of course.

Thanks to you all for your nice comments and messages. Your love is returned. I am so grateful to have this loft studio where I can get some air and sunshine. My first tulip has opened this morning! So I will be painting that for you today!

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1 week in lockdown

watercolour illustration - cyclamens

Tuesday today, so we’ve been in lockdown for only 1 week. It feels like a month! But we do have plenty of food and supplies thanks to Simon’s hunting skills. I would recommend all husbands bring home your meat and pack the freezer. Because the wives don’t want to stand in a miserable queue for meat.

The situation in Lombardy is not good. Anyone over the age of 60 will not get a respirator.
The morgues are overflowing and no funerals are allowed. Nobody can go into the old age homes to say goodbye to their dying parents, aunties and uncles. This makes me cry so hard.
Be it a warning to you to make every effort to be loving right now before the covid-19 does it’s gruesome damage. And to our precious oldies, be brave and know you are loved, whether the virus comes or not.
Who knows, maybe miracles will happen and it will all be gone soon. HOPE.

Cyclamen painting for you – winter flower fairies.