Oasis (not the band)

I’ve only been living in the new place for 76 days and so I’m still not very savvy about the local area and amenities: The corona virus and lockdown hasn’t helped exploration either, but today while on dog-walking duty I found a real gem, an oasis of calm just a few minutes from my back door, and so after the dog decided he wanted to go home I returned to explore.

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It’s a patch of woodland with a path that meanders through clouds of cow parsley and the sound of the nearby houses is diffused by the trees until as you walk further it becomes almost like white noise.

Today the sun is prising its way through the canopy, sending shadows and shapes racing across the ground as I stroll off the path and into a small clearing, where it’s obvious, that while the world is locked in a battle with a microscopic enemy, nature continues unabated.

Like most cities, ours has a proud industrial heritage. Before the 1980’s, when cheap imports of dinnerware from Asia began to flood the market, chance was the plate you’d be having your lunch on or your teacup would have come from Stoke on Trent – there’s a reason we’re called, The Potteries. (Don’t get me started on how greedy management/owners destroyed the industry in their quest for fast profits.)

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An internet search will bring up archival photos of bottle ovens belching smoke and dust into the air, but things change and those historical clouds of smog are gone; along with the skills of the city’s people. But enough of that, let’s get back to today.

Despite our industrial past our city has lots of green spaces, in fact as Misha Herwin said in her blog, we have a green city.

Stepping back onto the path I find some bluebells standing proud among the grasses and the sky coloured flowers remind of my childhood before the plants were protected, when, with my sister we’d pick armfuls of them, breathing in their delicate perfume.

Just a few feet away from the bluebells is a patch of buttercups, their happy yellow heads held high in the stillness of the morning. IMG_0272

There’s no breeze but there’s a definite aroma of garlic in the air, I take a few more paces and the smell is stronger, and there nestling in a shady spot I find a strip of wild garlic growing, it’s white flowers standing out in bright defiance against the broad dark green leaves.

Further down the path is a patch of forget-me-nots, forgotten among the undergrowth, their leggy stems holding the pale blue flowers aloft. I look at these tiny flowers and not for the first time, I wonder why they’re also known as scorpion grass.

It’s amazing how just a few minutes disconnected from modern living can top you up with a feeling of well-being. Simple things can often be the antidote to stress and anxiety, and nothing is more soothing than the tranquillity of a woodland walk.

My favourite discovery of the walk is four dandelion clocks standing proud, waiting for a breeze to tell the time. I like them so much I that I can’t decide which of my photographs I like best, so I’ll post both of them.

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Sunny Saturday Stroll

It’s 29 October and the sun is shining, there’s not even a whisper of a breeze. I’m in the town of Bomba; pronounced Bom-ba and not as I heard one Englishman once call it Bomber. So what can I do on such a lovely morning but take a stroll through the town.

The town of Bomba dates back to 1115 AD with documented proof being housed in the local council offices. It’s a small town, just 18 km2 (7 sq mi) and enjoys an elevated position over the river Sangro valley meaning from almost every part of the town you can enjoy amazing panoramic views .

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The town is divided by a main street, at the top end it is called Via Roma, and my stroll starts here. I stop and look down over the tiled roofs of houses that have a view of the lake, it’s around 11.20 and the streets are already filled with people going about their daily business. Looking down I watch as a small Piaggio: a 3-wheel Ape (a-pay) chugs up the winding hill with several crates of freshly picked olives. I turn and walk as slowly as the ginger cat that’s taking it’s time to cross the road. Local people wish me good morning as they pass me; some possibly wondering who the stranger with a camera is. I stop and pass the time of day with a man who has arrived in a small reddish-orange pick-up filled with wood.

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He’s unloading the wood and stacking it neatly inside his cantina, he tells me he’s done this every year since he was a small boy over 70 years ago helping his father replenish the family’s wood pile. I tell him my own wood pile is growing in preparation for the winter ahead and we both agree that there’s nothing better than the smell of a wood fire on a crisp winter’s evening.

I continue along Via Roma past the water fountain where locals buy their sparkling or still spring water for just 5 cents a litre – just bring your own bottle. I see a lady I’ve met previously and we pass the time of day, she comments on my lack of a jacket and I tell her the temperature this morning is quite similar to an English morning in May, to which she responds with, “Those poor English people having to live in the cold.”

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Via Roma changes to become Cso S. Spaventa and it’s flanked on both sides by tall buildings. Three storey houses and apartments keep this portion of the street in shade and there’s a sudden dip in temperature out of the sun. Entrances with steep steps lead to front doors and it again it amazes me how the aging Italian population take all of these steps in their stride. (no pun intended).

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To my right are streets with sharp inclines that make their way upwards away from the corso while on my left narrow streets become entwined with vici (alleys) in the historic part of town; here in this labyrinthine part of town small dogs bark at strangers who pass by and disturb their sunbathing.

 

One of the town’s churches sits in an elevated position and the road leading up to it is as slender as a wasps waist, yet still cars have managed to make their way up here; some with their wing mirrors pulled in so as not to damage them in these narrowest of streets.

 

I’m again amazed at the skill of these people to navigate these streets and their parking may look like a nightmare for some, but I’m certain there’s some pecking order / unwritten parking system here.

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I continue my walk, stopping occasionally to admire wood piles that are constructed with great precision, one house has what looks like an unused door to its cantina and here are stacked olive branches, each one cut to the same length so as to fit into the space exactly.

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My journey brings me along an alleyway where a scooter stands outside a house with an open front door where the aroma of cooking spills out infusing the air with a the rich tang of tomato sauce and basil. This scene is as Italian as it can get and again reminds me how the Italian way of life is so close to its perceived stereotype.

The alley opens up to the main piazza and here is an image of Italian life as it has been for centuries. Men fill the benches and sit around gossiping while the women see to the chores. One woman hands her husband a couple of euro to buy his coffee with as she steps inside the baker’s to buy their daily bread. There’s no expectation of change here, it’s not a misogynistic society, it’s just the traditional way of life here in central Italy that remains unchanged.

In truth if you asked most of the women if they’d like their menfolk to help with the daily shopping and cooking, you get a resounding, no. “Why let the men make a mess of things,” one lady once told me, “The wife would have to clear up her husband’s mistakes while making sure not to hurt his feelings.”

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I turn back towards Via Roma and make my way back to my friend’s house where again the aroma of cooking is carried upon the air, however this kitchen smell is very alien to this ancient town, as it’s chicken curry. I look across as a neighbour uses an electric winch to lift her shopping from the street up two storeys to her apartment and think to myself what a perfect way to spend a sunny Saturday morning.

Qualcosa Semplice

Happiness is a thing that cannot be measured. It cannot be given and it cannot be stolen. It’s a fundamental part of life. Many people strive for ultimate happiness while many people have none. Wealth and power do not necessarily facilitate happiness and the acquisition of those things we desire only delivers a quasi-happiness. Sometimes real happiness comes from something simple.

Take last week for instance, I popped into the post office to post a letter. Like post offices the world over it was filled with people waiting until it was their turn to be served. I took my position in the queue and after several minutes one of the ladies behind the glass called out to me asking if I was just there to purchase a stamp. I told her I was and she beckoned me to the front of the line of people, who had bills and savings books in their hands. I told her I could wait as there were many people patiently waiting their turn in front of me. Just then as if rehearsed, the queue all ushered me past to the front where I was promptly served with a stamp. This random act of kindness deposited itself in my happiness tank.

Later in the week I was buying a loaf and was about to go when I asked for a slice of sausage and mushroom pizza only to be told by the lady serving that they only had one slice and the corner was burnt. I told her it didn’t matter I’d take it anyway. She then wrapped it up and told me I could have it for free. She wished me a good day and I left with another deposit in the happy tank.

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You can also create your own happiness by just doing something simple. This morning I drove to the beach with my partner and we walked along the pebbles watching the lazy winter waves saunter towards the shore. The sky was clear and the December sun danced across the sea. I picked up shells and driftwood, as I had done as child on family holidays and these simple acts contributed to a further deposit into the happiness tank.

I know there will be times for everyone when happiness avoids us, when unhappiness invades our life, but as I get older I choose not to dwell on the negatives and eagerly embrace every positive, because sometimes all it takes to make a deposit into your happy tank is, qualcosa semplice – something simple.

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Literally 28 minutes after publishing this blog entry, Mario drove up our lane and gave me this large wedge of sheep’s milk cheese made by his wife earlier this week. I think the happy tank is full now.

A Life on Shuffle wishes you all happiness.