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Andiamo

Andiamo Appia Antica by Leanne Talbot Nowell

Andiamo

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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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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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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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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Cul-de-sac

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 https://www.centrobotanicomoutan.it/en/visiting-the-garden#

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 paperbrush.com

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Hoodie

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.