Monday, May 15, 2017


Well, the kitties are really loving the outdoor life. For the first week or so they refused to leave the terrace, and would look through the rails very dubiously at the wide vista of farms and fields. But now there's no stopping them.

Pippy and Farm Cat: So, you wanna fight? Nah. 

I was a little worried they would just be terrified of the farm cats but so far there really haven't been any conflicts that I've noticed. I was also vaguely concerned about all the dogs that mostly roam around, but they seem to not be bothered by cats much.

All the time we were in Norcia I was worried about them on that scary road that went right in front of the house. It wasn't very busy, but people really drove way too fast on it, and in the two years I was there I saw three dead cats on it, one of which was a feral that was almost friendly and whom I was quite sad to lose. I put bamboo screens over the fences and gates because when he was still a kitten, Pippy used to like to just shoot right through them onto the road without pausing.

Here we also have a road but it's half a kilometer away on the far end of the wheat field, and the Crew tends to like the back 40 better, where there are lots of bushes and things to climb around in and little creatures to kill. One of the first things Pippin did after he got here was come dashing in with a shrieking starling in his mouth! One night I woke up about one am and realized Bertie hadn't come in for his dinner, which he usually wants very promptly at nine; you can set your watch by his unfailing sense of dinnertime. So, being a crazy cat lady, I got up and put a cardie and slippers on and went out with a flashlight to see if he was around, and the glow of the flashlight caught him looking very wild indeed, running along with a mouse in his jaws.

So we have finally left off our kittenhood discipline of being kept indoors at night. They're grownup cats now, and have to get on with their important cat-work.

Enricus Rex, Chieftain of the Tribe of the Gattini-Doofii, killer of snakes, catcher of mice and other foul vermine, protector of the people... known to be fond of his mum. 

Henry started this early - being by nature the Alpha-King and a hunter - he really couldn't be kept in by the time he was a year old.

But the twins always seemed to like being in their room at night, and would even trot in there on their own at ten pm or so if I stayed up a bit later. They would have a bit of a romp around the room and then just cuddle up and go to sleep. We have a kitty room here, and I kept it up for the first week, but it was soon clear that they had reached the point of no return on their outdoor activities, so now they all just come and go as they please through the kitchen window that I leave ajar for them.

New rule: fold up a corner of the kitchen tablecloth at night. 

Henry has taken to sleeping way up on the top of the wardrobe in my room on top of a pile of spare bedding after his night patrol. Bertie still likes his spot on the sofa, and they're both usually around early in the morning when I get up. Pippin, however, has consistently not shown up in the mornings for his breakfast in the last few days, and of course he was the first one to vanish for a day and a half. They've all turned into wanderers and adventurers and this is a good thing, because this is cat-life. It's what they're designed to do, and it's more or less how I hoped we'd end up living in Norcia.

It's a different sort of life here, for all of us, and though I'm inclined always to think Change is Bad, maybe for all of us this life here is going to end up being more of a fulfillment of our respective natures.

Hope so. But I do wish Pippy would come in and have his breakfast and stop worrying mummy.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Strength and virtue - a good place to start again


I knew I sort of liked this guy. (And no, not for the obvious reasons.)

He's actually a lot like many of the people I grew up around. In the 70s, the hippie movement on the West Coast hadn't morphed into the solipsistic leftist political stuff it is today, and there was room in it for genuine masculinity, and the general gist of rejecting the Modernian lies about how we are supposed to live was still there.

I wish we could do something to make these kinds of people Catholic. We could do with some of this. It's not entirely gone, that old virile, pagan, filial piety, virtue. The kind that was Christianized in the early centuries and went on to build an entire civilization.

Yesterday Annamaria was telling me what sort of fertilizers to put on the tomatoes, and we were in the big garage under my flat where they keep all their contadini stuff. She pointed to a big round basket-y kind of thing hanging on the wall and asked if I knew what it was. In fact, there were two, hanging up together, one made of a big round wooden frame with one side closed in with metal mesh, about 5 feet in diameter; the other smaller made of wicker, looking like giant flour sieves. I said no, and she said, "My father the contadino used it when I was growing up." Then I realized.

I'd seen it on television and in the movies; it was for winnowing grain by hand, a winnowing fan.

You put the grain in the baskety thing, and on a breezy day, you toss it up in the air, and allow the wind to carry away the chaff while you catch the grain again, to throw it all up again, and again. People had been using them since the agricultural revolution began.

One generation away. Annamaria is probably old enough to be my mother, maybe in her early 70s. She dug out five rows of ground, three for her and two for me, to plant our tomatoes, zucchini, beans, peppers and melanzane. The rows are about ten meters long, and she did it by hand with a long handled iron mattock, a job I could not possibly have done myself.

They've given me a huge patch of land to do whatever I want with, and I'm a little overwhelmed. Frankly, I haven't been terribly strong, physically, since chemo, and after 15 years of sitting down to work, but I remember when I was 19 or so, redoing an entire garden alone one spring. A little house I'd rented with some friends hadn't been seen to in a couple of decades, and I took to it like a duck who'd never seen water before.

I rented an electric trimmer, and cut and pruned, and trimmed and dug and turned over beds that hadn't been dug in a long time. I found the old compost bed that someone had dumped an entire sack of potatoes into some time in the past and that had therefore become the potato bed, and produced the best potatoes I'd ever eaten before or since. I did carrots and beets and broccoli. I cut back the wilderness of Himalayan blackberries that had grown to fifteen feet deep, and of course - being roses - they loved the pruning so much they produced an enormous summer crop of berries. Someone had planted climbing white roses right next to the hedge and they had grown right into it, so when I trimmed the hedge I also pruned the roses, which then sprouted huge white blossoms all along its length. The pink clematis had turned into a huge tangled wall and I cut it down into an arch that became a mass of flowers in the summer.

That spring and summer in that little garden - that we lost again the following winter when the landlady sold the property to developers - will stand in my mind as one of the happiest periods of my life. I remember it in a kind of pink and green and golden glow. I'm not 19 anymore, but maybe we can do something like it again.

I've been here three weeks and it's been busybusybusy, so it only occurred to me the other day that there's a good chance here, perhaps even better than in Norcia (where flat land is hard to come by). Unlike the city, where rotting, corrupt Modernia is still reigning supreme in the last days of its wicked glory, here, only a few miles away, a much older kind of life is still lived, and remembered. I think Annamaria likes me because I so obviously value it, and so clearly want to live it myself (I think her daughter wasn't that interested). Even though our ability co communicate the details is still a bit limited, we've become friends because we both discovered a similar kind of soul, the same sort of priorities.

I've mostly finished organising the house. The books are all out of their boxes and arranged in the cases, and the oratory is set up. I sang Compline in it on Sunday night. The only thing that's missing now is someone to share it all with.

A bit of what will be the flower garden, with the oldest fig tree I've yet seen.

But I'm also happily anticipating the arrival of a friend from the US. (Note to self; order sofa-bed from Ikea.) She's a young lady who found that her ordinary life - with good, morally praiseworthy work, good, believing friends, a large and loving Catholic family - wasn't enough. She is thinking thoughts of bigger things, as you do, and her spiritual director suggested she come to Europe.

Annamaria's doves. In the big shed behind it are chickens and rabbits.

So I invited her to come to think them here, to stay and use my place as a home base to look for answers to her vocational yearnings, (there's no more centrally located place in Italy than Perugia.) and meanwhile, eat a lot of good Umbrian food and drink a lot of tea. There are monasteries on the continent where the Faith is preserved, though not many. And there are plenty of other things going on. She says it's a funny sort of urge, to leave where she is and come to Europe to look for something. How well I know that urge! Say a prayer that we can help her find what she's looking for. She will come in September.

San Fortunato, the church on the hill behind the house. 

Annamaria's chair in the orto, where she has a rest and a smoke and can just sit and look at the view.
Last night I went down to the bottom of the garden with a pair of kitchen scissors and cut the remaining wild chamomile to start drying. It grows very abundantly all over the place here, usually twined up together with the brilliant scarlet poppies that are just coming into bloom now in the fields and along the edges of the roads.

Her patch, and mine on the top right, which we planted the other night. 

The other night I took a bit of a stroll around as the sun was going down and the opening chords of our next stormfront was starting to really blow, and stood watching three kestrels wheeling and spinning and riding the wind like acrobats.

This weekend, I'm going to start building my flower beds, and I've got a bucket of seed packets and jars of wild seeds I'd collected from Norcia. We're a bit late in the season to start seeds but I don't mind.

The growing season here is very long. Who knows what we can grow here, given enough time.


Monday, May 08, 2017

Coming back to life

First day of classes today. All classes in the mornings, and it's rather gruelling. Ten to two, with a ten minute break at the end of each hour. By the middle of the fourth hour I had had enough. But apart from that, it's pretty doable. Perhaps the weirdest thing is being a student again, even if only in a small way.

Pretty good for the first day. Woke up at ten to six this morning: fed kitties, sang Laudes, made and drank coffee, got to the bus in the village bang on time. Was up to the centro 25 minutes later. Popped into the Duomo on the way to make a visit. Classes were fun and not scary, and I more or less understood everything the instructor said.

Mostly finished setting things up in the house this weekend, except for the big pile of stuff on the work bench, which is mostly sewing projects. The art supply cupboard is organized and ready. Got all the books done on Sunday afternoon, and the oratory is as set up as it's going to be. I'll be on the lookout for a few things for it, but it's usable. Finished the day with Compieta last night.

Here are a few pics I took the other night, Saturday I think. I've never lived on such a flat surface before - though of course the Tiber Valley isn't exactly Saskatchewan-flat - and I am sort of enjoying the storms. We get these HUUUUge storm fronts rolling down on top of us from the Appenines. Dramatic skies!

Another big one this afternoon, complete with brilliant forks of lightning against the charcoal grey sky!

(Photo quality from my tricorder camera not as good as I'd hoped. I'll switch back to the normal Canon, as soon as I find the battery charger.)

The village of Torgiano, glowing in the evening light as the setting sun peeks under the big black clouds. 

A little further off is the village of Deruta, famous for its ceramics. 

A bit of the little orchard on my patch. 

The country road leading to the house. Not paved, and very pot-holey. 

Pippin on the patch that will be a flower garden. I'm planning to do round raised beds around the trees, and lay down a clover ground cover in between. 

The road between the village and the house. And the beginning of the storm front. 

The old well. The house is quite old, but has been renovated into three flats, two of which are occupied. But the well still works and it is the main irrigation source for the gardens.

Henry, sizing things up. He's doing better than I expected, and I found Bertie out late one night with a mouse in his jaws! Good job Bertram!

Our nearest neighbours on the north side: the church of San Andrea, whose bells I hear throughout the day. 

Dramatic skies!


Saturday, May 06, 2017

Shaping up...

Pics are coming. For now, Bertie and Pippy cuddling during their nap time the other day. 

Well, life in the tiny Umbrian farm village is coming together. The minute I find the camera's computer cable, I'll be able to post some pics. Had a lovely long bike ride - first since the quake - the other day, and found a spot near the Tiber where elder and robinia are blooming, and wild mint is all over. Every morning the smell of the blossoms wafts through my window, along with the birds that start around five in the morning these days, including at least one pheasant I can hear making its weird croak from the trees. 

Internet is being a pain, and I've finally resigned myself to getting the guy to the house to fix me up with full time fixed wifi. I hate having it in the house, but since the paying work has been piling up all this time it's going to have to be done. For now, I've just found the bar in the village that makes quite a good pot of tea (in an actual pot!) and has wifi. Also found the bike shop and made friends with the bike-fixing lady. Got all the little things that needed doing to the bike done, everything tightened that needed tightening, and one part replaced that was developing an alarming rattle. The house is about a five minute bike ride from the village, which makes it nice. Quiet around home, but close enough not to be isolated. 

My nice landlady took me to the garden centre today and I got some tomatoes, cukes, hot peppers, and rhubarb (!). The other garden centre, closer to home, has some very lovely roses that have quite a good fragrance. (Can't understand the point of roses without fragrance... just another Modernian horror.) Going to put it all in the ground and in the pots on the terrace tomorrow after Mass. I've got a whole raft of seeds to start, a bit late, but better than never. Tomorrow after Mass the afternoon will be dedicated to the garden. 

Making plans for the big patch in front of the house. The soil has not been worked for a long time, so it's not to do a lot right away. But there are lots of bricks and bits and pieces lying around, so I'm going to build flower beds around the base of the ten fruit trees, build up the soil a bit, and lay down some soil-recovering, nitrogen-fixing, moisture-retaining clover as a ground cover in between. It's been raining on and off quite a bit so the soil has lost its brick-like texture and should be easier to dig into. On the whole, it's good soil though, and everything around about is very green. There's a large patch of wild chamomile at the bottom of the garden too. I've got half a dozen bunches hanging up drying in the kitchen already.

In the house I've got the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom finished completely (except for hanging pictures) and a little oasis of civilisation in the workroom/sitting room that you can sit in and read or have a tea, and gaze out at the beautiful countryside. The work area itself is still a box-heap, but it's getting to be an organized box-heap. After that, I've only got to get the books on the shelves, and set up the oratory, and the house is done. Probably by the end of next week.

The big news is that I'll be starting the Italian course on Monday. It felt a bit strange to have a student card again after all this time. The last time, Madonna was still hot, my hair looked like Cyndi Lauper's and they hadn't invented the internet, so everyone still believed everything the news told us! The classes run from 8 or 9 am to noon, five days a week, so I'll have the afternoons. And a good thing since a bunch of paid work has just fallen into my lap, so I'm going to need the structure to the days as well as the time.

San Martino in Campo is a charming little place. It's not fancy. It's not very ancient (and all its medieval stuff is more or less unrecognizable as such) but it's quiet, family-oriented, friendly, and full of the kind of people who I got used to being around in Norcia - country people who aren't in a hurry. The other day I needed to find the other supermarket, the big one. I asked an older gent who was also on a bike, and he just said "Follow me" so we pedaled through the village together. It's like that here.

By contrast Perugia is... busy. Not my sort of place at all anymore. I guess I'm officially old.

Internet time is limited for a few more days, so just this little update for now. 

More next week after I finally cave and get full time internet at home. Work... (Urgh!) 


Monday, May 01, 2017

New stomping ground

Well, little Pippin had an adventure this weekend. Since he seemed to be the one most adjusting to our new life, I let him out for a run-around on Saturday afternoon, and he got lost. Stayed out all night while I was beside myself and sleepless with worry. I had gone out looking for him until midnight, and again as soon as it was light. Spent the day alternately staking out the kitchen in hopes he would show up, and wandering the countryside whistling his special whistle and calling his name. He finally came home at about 8:45 last night, and a joyous reunion - lessons learned all round - was had by all.

In the meantime, one of the positive results of the Pippin crisis was that I have now got to know, at least to be introduced to, most of my neighbours. And with all the walking around I did, I've learned where the principle blackberry, nettle, rose, robinia and elder patches are, and discovered that my own garden is currently blooming mightily with wild chamomile and mint, with a whole patch of very healthy looking nettles down by the irrigation canal.

I shall be out with my collecting bag very soon, I can assure you. The robinia is at its height and the elder is just coming to it, and I don't think another season should go by without at least one batch of liqueur. We'll see what we can do about elderflower champagne, and perhaps some non-alcoholic cordials for our abstaining friends - that turned out surprisingly well last year.

I went for a long bike ride the other day and discovered the elder starting to bloom along the banks of the Tiber, which is not far away and a very beautiful place to spend an afternoon.

Elder is a little harder to find here than in Norcia, (where it is a veritable forest of elder) but I've just found this recipe for Robinia liqueur.

The Robinia pseudoacacia, that we call Black Locust, is in full flower right now, and there is acres of it right outside the windows. It's leaves and roots are toxic, but the flowers are edible and are now heavily fragranced. Apparently the tradition in France in the pubs is to dip them in a light tempura-like batter and deep fry them. But I have learned to love flower-scented liqueurs and cordials.

So I think I'm going to give it a go.

Robinia liqueur

200 g acacia flowers
500 g granulated sugar
1 litre pure alcohol
2 tbsp acacia honey
1 litre water

Clean the flowers with a dry cloth, or soft brush. Put alternate layers of the flowers and sugar in a large glass bowl. Cover and leave to infuse for 48 hours. Then add the alcohol and honey. Leave the infusion until you can see that the sugar has totally dissolved. (Approximately one month.) Add the water and stir gently. Strain the liquid well and bottle.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

Buona terza Domenica dopo la Pasqua

Yesterday I just felt not very well. I think I was having a bad reaction to the supplements I take. (It's a post-chemo thing.) I forget sometimes that they can irritate if you take them on an empty stomach. Anyway, yuck. Bad morning, followed by a day-long headache, so I decided that being horizontal on the sofa was a better idea than tramping into Perugia on the bus for the afternoon Mass. That made this the Sunday for attending the local parish, ad experimentum. I'm happy to report that the parish in San Martino in Campo is quite a flourishing one, as Italian rural parishes go. People seem to go because they want to, which is good (better than Norcia where you get the impression that no male over the age of six darkens the door of a church if he isn't being carried in by six of his friends and relations.) They've got a good group of Adorers every Thursday in a little chapel that has been rather nicely renovated for the purpose. And the church of San Martino itself is quite lovely. And it really is a good feeling to join the local community for the main Mass. Just going to church, like a normal person, in a normal way, in a normal parish has a lot to be said for it.

The village of San Martino is quite a nice little place, actually. Doing a bit of reading around the internet to discover that it is relatively new. The valley of the Tiber has created a fertile flood plain that is now used as abundantly productive farm land. But until the tenth century it was considered swampy and malarial, and was mostly uninhabited.

"Of fundamental importance for the birth of towns along the Tiber valley, then, was the Benedictine reclamation implemented by the monks of San Pietro in Perugia since the tenth century. It was not until 1163 when Emperor Henry IV received under his protection the bishop Giovanni and Perugia Church, that we will find in a document for the first time of the existence of the church of San Martino in Campo. The small rectory there already belonged to the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, and as evidenced by the title of parish was equipped with the baptismal font, and it had a small land ownership and had the right to demand tithes."

The current church, however, is not so venerable. Though it is very pretty, having been completely rebuilt from 1815 by Giovanni Perugia Cerrini. Originally there was only a little chapel here, suffragan to the older parish in San Martino in Colle ("in the hills," which is the twin village to ours about five minutes away by car). It was built to provide religious services for agricultural workers, and archaeologists think that was some time between the 8th and 10th century. There was certainly a defensive castle in S. Martino in Campo perhaps as early as the 11th century, and I'm guessing this is on the site of a rather posh hotel that takes up the main part of the exact centre of the village, today. The earliest record of the church here being an independent parish is 1382.

This makes San Martino in Campo very new place indeed. (Compare with Norcia, that was settled in the late Neolithic, possibly by refugees from either warfare or natural disasters from Sicily.)

But I'm starting to become fond of it. After a rather harrowing trip home on the last bus last Saturday, I was more glad than I could say to get back to the quiet little village, pick up my bicycle from the bar where I left it that afternoon, and pedal slowly home (in the absolute pitch dark... from now on, I'm going to be taking my reflectors and helmet for evening rides around here... no street lights at all in the country, and lots of potholes!) City life just ain't for me anymore.

One little note about the church: this is true. The local people have a real devotion to their lovely medieval fresco, apparently a survivor from the original church...

"The fresco depicting the Madonna and Child popularly called "Madonna della Scala." Today [it is above] the main altar of the parish church of San Martino in Campo and still revered by the population, it was found on 10 January 1701 during the renovation works carried out in church that demanded the removal of a staircase leading to the house parish, hence the name by which it is known today. This unexpected discovery was the origin of a vast movement of popular devotion, which attracted crowds of pilgrims from surrounding countryside."

And indeed, there it is above the taberncle at the peak of the lovely high altar. And the local devotion continues. At the back of the church, there is a little table and someone has made little wooden folding diptych sort of things with a little reproduction of the icon on one side and a devotional prayer on the other. Small enough to fit in a pocket or handbag. And there's a book. But more people were buying the little wooden diptych things. I'll have to get one.

Here is my "review" of this morning's Mass.

- It seems like a nice crowd, and obviously wanted to be there.
- Good mix of young and old, men and women.
- Very pretty church, and nicely kept up and not at all badly novusordoed. Hardly noticed it.
- Beautiful statues and stained glass (19th century, I think, but top quality)
- Blessed Sacrament reserved in the original tabernacle on the high altar
- Adoration chapel (newly refurbished) and used at least once a week for adoration

- Guitar "choir" that never once gave us an instant of peace, populated by young persons with no musical training...the usual horrifying screeching (though still less screechy than the Cat Stranglers at San Giuseppe in S. Mar.) and has apparently been instructed to ensure that they "cover" every moment the priest isn't actually talking. (No one in the congregation sang along, of course.)
- Pretty sure the priest (nice African guy, spoke Italian with no discernible accent) said something along the lines of "without the community there is no word of God..." aaahhhh, yeah... So from now on I guess I'll just read the Matins homily from the D. Office.
- the usual Italian thing of the "presider's chair" placed in the centre behind the altar and in front of the tabernacle (do they really not understand what message that gives? Is it on purpose? "Pay no attention to that God behind the curtain! Look at meeeee!!!!")
- nearly everyone received standing and in the hand
- Young person serving Mass in a t-shirt and jeans, also doled out Holy Communion with his grubby, unconsecrated paws all over the Sacred Species
- Exactly zero time for quiet prayer after. At the end, everyone jumped up out of their pews and started talking as loudly as possible.


Bearable for those times when I didn't get into Perugia for the MOAT the evening before, as long as I sit in the back and read the readings and get out before the yammering starts.


I've come to treat the novus ordo as a place you go strictly in absolute necessity. A kind of quasi-protestant gathering that barely fulfills the canonical requirements of the Sunday obligation, but at which one does not dare receive Communion for fear of participating in sacrilege, conscious or unconscious.

What a lovely time this is in the church! When you sit in the Mass, rather desperately admiring the pre-revolutionary architecture and art, in hopes of mentally drowning out the cacophony of abuses, heresies and outrages against the Sacred, doing everything you can to resist the urge to stick your fingers in your ears and start humming Palestrina.


Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Taking the adventure

The new garden; gardener of all I survey...

Well, that's it. The next phase is beginning. The house in Norcia is empty, and all my belongings are (mostly) jammed into one room in the new place in Perugia, so that's that done.

Spent the weekend lifting and toting. The biggest we could get was a 9-passenger domestic, and not the cube van we really needed, so it took us longer than we had anticipated. All together, it was three days and four trips back and forth

Job done. Katia, Emanuele, me, Christine and Christopher on Saturday.

... and four friends helping...

It wasn't the worst move I've ever done. I'll never forget the time I rented a house in New Westminster with two friends and we had to bring stuff to one location from four different parts of Vancouver. It took nine people, four trucks and three days. I remember sitting on the living room floor at the end of that, with four sofas piled up like a fortress around us, eating McFries and wondering when the nomad lifestyle would end. That was 22 years ago. When I turned thirty a couple of years later, I sat down and worked out how many times I'd moved. 40. I'd moved 40 times by the time I was thirty. Sometimes across town. Sometimes across the water to the Mainland and back to the Island and back to the Mainland again. Sometimes across the country. A couple times across the Atlantic. After that it slowed down. And I stopped counting, because that can really mess with your head.

My section of the garden directly in front of the shed. After that the fields of the farm and the hills beyond. Perugia is behind. There are three apartments in this complex, and it seems I'm not the only gardening enthusiast. The shed has a good sturdy work  bench with an old fashioned vice, and lots of room to work.
Anyway, here we are, done. I can't actually live in the place until after Easter, though, because they're rebuilding the bathroom and refurbishing the kitchen, so the kitties and I are staying in Santa Marinella until the middle of April. Then we rent (or maybe borrow) another car, and drive me and the kitties, a couple of suitcases and a houseplant or two up for good.

The survivors. Last year's pansies, snap dragons and day lillies. Also one rose and the sage.
But though it was not really my choice to leave Norcia in October, it has become, through an act of Providence, my choice to remain away for now. The grace of God is a funny thing sometimes. I had known for some time before the quakes that I needed to do some things, and to do other things differently. I had been trying to work out whether I could commute to Perugia (there's a daily early morning bus from Norcia even now) to enrol in the Italian language course there at the Università per Stranieri. It's an hour by bus, so in theory it would have been no worse than some of the city commutes in Vancouver and Toronto.

I also sort of knew the monks weren't going to stay down in their monastery inside the walls forever. They had that country property up the hill and I knew their goal was to move into it at some point. Rebuild the church and the old monastery. At which time they would more or less disappear from the integrated daily life of the town. I was thinking a lot about what that would mean for me.

The house I was renting in Norcia wasn't ideal either, lovely as it was. The garden was tiny once you took away all the vertical part you can't grow anything on, and being on the foot of the mountain the soil even on the little postage stamp of flat was pretty much non-existent. Stick a spade in it and you hit rock no more than a few inches down. Nearly everything I grew had to be in pots.

The position of the house was also not very good, since it faced directly back towards the town. Romans love noise, and in the summer Norcia turned into a kind of three month-long discoteque with the position of the house making it sound like the disco was happening in my living room. Every night until one or two am... "Whump-whump-whump-WHUMPWHUMPWHUMP-whump!!" interspersed with someone bellowing and screaming into a mircophone - and every night louder and louder. I slept in the living room with all the windows and shutters closed, a fan blasting on its highest setting next to my ear to drown it out, and industry-standard wax ear plugs in my ears. If someone had warned me about the noise in the summers, I certainly would never have taken that place. But of course, I guess that problem has been resolved now, at least for a few years.

So, I knew that things had to change. Of course, I was dragging my heels... as you do... but it had to change. Of course, God knows us pretty well, and knows I'm not very good at making decisions, good or bad. I really do have to be herded where I'm supposed to go. But it's nice to have a sign.

I learned at the end of February that I was not going to be able to move back, so spent all of March charging around all over Umbria looking for the next step. It finally came down to Perugia, and I went up to sign the lease documents and hand over some cash. The plans had all been set, all the details of buses and transport to make the commute to the college, the locations of supermarkets, the church in the centro for the Sunday Mass, signing up for the local Trad Mass weekly lectures, making contacts... all the preliminary work... I came back to S. Marinella and had an email waiting from Fr. Prior who had promised to keep his ears open for a place in Norcia. There was an "agibile" flat available inside the walls, 3 beds, for 500/month. The news was two days after I'd signed on the new place.

If it had come only two days before, everything would have been different. But the decision was made, and the course plotted and laid in. In all this time, and through all these thousands of miles, I suppose I've finally learned how to read the signs. Nervous as I might be about leaving Norcia and striking out somewhere new, it seemed only a confirmation that I was on the right track. My lease is for a year. In that time I think we've learned that nearly anything can happen.

And now that I've had a few days to recover, it's made me realise something else. When I was a Dumb Young Person, I think my main goals in life mostly revolved around finding a good place to hide. A traumatic upbringing had taught me that the world was mostly just a place of danger, mainly to be avoided as much as possible. But the mindset that always looks for safety more or less makes it impossible to accomplish anything positive. This attitude towards the world was the common one among my peers when I was young. We were a traumatised generation, we all grew up expecting the Bomb to annihilate us and everything we loved. We tended to retreat into nihilism, or at least existential despair, and refused to make plans or harbour hopes for the future. The entrepreneurial mind that looks on the world as a place of opportunity, a place to do things, was unknown to us.

But a conversation I had with Fr. Prior some time ago revealed the limitations of my thinking. In all this time I had been seeking self-preservation and motivated by fears. In trying to find a safe place in the world - 40 moves in the first 30 years - I had been stuck in survival mode all this time. And here in front of me was a group of men who had taken exactly the same situation - a world that was bent on destroying itself - and instead of seeking shelter had dedicated themselves to building something lasting and Real. The goal was not only to provide themselves with a place of safety, but to start building something for the future for everyone else. Benedictine life is a funny thing; it was never intended originally as a civilisational rescue operation, but in times of great crises the formula has served not only to preserve but to build up while everything else was falling down. Starting a monastery (the community was founded in 2000) in that particular place, and in times such as these was a deliberate sign.

We live in profoundly uncertain times, and nearly everyone is focusing on survival. Maybe it has to do with Generation X's systemic, innate uncertainty. We were the generation that our Boomer parents loved to terrorize. They dismantled an entire civilisation, like demolishing a house we were still trying to live in, and it left us with the core belief that we were all doomed. Even if our societies didn't collapse from social unrest, we would be incinerated by nuclear war before we were thirty. If we survived, we would "envy the dead" as we stumbled around blind and dying in a radioactive wasteland. This was the future our hippie parents taught us to expect. None of us made any plans, few of us got married and had children. We are the generation that has no belief at all in the future and very little trust in the present.

And now we're in our 40s and 50s, and more or less in charge of the world. Is it possible that this is where the western world's sudden malaise of anxiety has come from? Perhaps. I know that all my life I've had to fight the urge to retreat into the safety of despair. But a Christian has no business indulging in despair.

I have resisted talking about the earthquakes in St. Benedict's home town as some kind of metaphor. There are real people - people I know - whose lives have been flattened by the quakes, and they deserve better than to be turned into a rhetorical gaming chip. But if you think about it for a moment, it does seem like a mad thing, to think about building in a time when all around you is crashing down. And of course, those monks were doing exactly that 17 years ago when they first arrived. The quakes - coming at the same moment as the worsening crisis in the Church and the world - have simply made the reality that much more obvious, and made the task that much more clear.

Whatever the World is doing, we are called to the same thing as believers; we are called to build up the Kingdom. Now, while all the world is either willingly participating in this civilizational self-destruction, or trying to find a place to hide, we are being given quite a different sort of task, wherever we are.

On my own two feet, and by my own choice.

When I got, essentially, an offer of a place to continue hiding it just became clear that the time had come to do the next thing. To go voluntarily and so take the next adventure that's sent.

[All pics, H/T Christine Broesamle]


Wednesday, March 15, 2017


Well, that's settled. 

I've been charging around, all over Umbria for three weeks - Norcia, Narni, Terni, Citta di Castello - and it's finally come down to Perugia, and a small place in the country. It's not fancy. It's not posh or suburban. But it will do. 

I left Citta di Castello in a funk on Tuesday morning. It was hopeless. The logistical problems of having three cats, a house full of furniture - but no kitchen - and needing a place that was both close enough to the centro storico that I could go to Mass, but also needing a place with a garden and away from traffic - was impossible. There's a lot to tell about Citta di Castello, and I'm going to be writing about it elsewhere soon. Suffice to say here that it didn't work out, and is in reality quite a depressing place. I was glad to leave, in fact. 

I took the little local two-car diesel train down to Perugia and just wung it. Deciding to start from the middle of the bullseye, I got a hotel room (off-season prices quite good) in the middle of the centro storico at the very tippy-top of the "scala mobile" - the escalators that take you up from the train station at Porta Sant'Anna to the medieval town on the flat top of the mountain. It was cold. And windy. 

The hotel wifi found me all the realtors in town, and I made appointments. Came back to S. Marinella on Wednesday afternoon, fed the kitties and slept. Rested all day Thursday, and then charged back up to Perugia for my appointment on Friday. 

The hunt was strange, and it wasn't until a last-minute change of plans that it seemed to go from hopeless to solved in the space of ten minutes. 

The appointment on Friday sounded promising. I saw one place that was very nice and posh and modern, with a fireplace, four bedrooms (and two identical full baths next to each other, which seemed like a shameful waste of space) and a teeny garden, a beautiful view just outside the city on a bus route. It seemed pretty good, but it didn't "feel" quite right. The bedrooms were all extremely small and the price was a bit high for Perugia. I put it in the "I'll keep thinking about it" file. 

It turned out, however, that that was the last thing they had for me. There was another very beautiful and quite affordable "casa independente" in the country, but it needed transport, since there was no bus.

Anyway, by this time it was nearly bus time and I was getting painfully tired. I wandered back to the train station and found out there was about a 45 minute wait for the next bus. Remembering that I'd seen another agency on the strip not far away, I decided to go there and make my needs known, in stead of just sitting waiting. It turns out that this other place was populated with just the right sort of Italian lady - the mothery kind who can't resist a stray cat - and one of them spoke good English.

I explained the whole sob story and they said that a possible solution could be to take something for a shorter term near Perugia. This would at least buy some more time, allow me to be closer to P so I could be there to look for something more permanent, and would give the kitties somewhere to run about. They called the lady in Deruta (frazione of Torgiano, which is a frazione of P) and she agreed. They said to come back the next morning at 10:30.

So instead of going back to S. Mar, I took a room in the same hotel, and stayed. I thought it was quite a good suggestion, since I was starting to really feel the pinch of not having time to do this. I had told Lina I would be out of here by the end of March, but it wasn't looking good, even in Perugia - which is supposed to be the best rental market in the country.

So, I stayed, and was quite hopeful and cheerful. I went back the next morning, and instead of going straight to Deruta, the guy offered to show me a place in the country that was on a bus route. So we went waaaay out into the farm-y district, and close to a small village was this nice couple with a big farm house, down on the flat between Perugia and Torgione. They had set up a suite in the house for the mother-in-law, who I suppose has died.

It wasn't fancy or posh and suburban like my house in Norcia, and has only a wood burning stove in the kitchen, not much of a "salone" (lounge) but two very large bedrooms, and very bright. It's very much a country farm house mother-in-law suite built in the 70s. They're putting in a new stove and redoing the bathroom - even tearing out the old pipes - so that is going to take a little longer. They said I could take it by April 15.

I've been thinking about how to put it together, and thought the second bedroom would make a nicer living room/workroom than the tidgy little salone space, and then realized that the tidgy little narrow space - that has a big Umbrian double window at the end - sure looked a lot like an oratorio to me. Take out the fridge, the ugly little dining table and big hideous faux-wood china cabinet, and it's a perfect little home-chapel space. A lick of paint and some chapel-y decor, and bob's-yer-uncle.

Most of the socialising in country places goes on not in a formal sitting room but in the kitchen anyway. 

There is a ginormous terrace off the kitchen door, and that leads to an even more ginormous garden, which is all mine to play with.

Perugia has an abundance of second-hand shops, including two of my favourite shops: MercatinoUsato - which is like Italy's version of Value Village - so whatever is needed can certainly be had there. And they said I could have it on a year-to-year lease. I told them I wanted to return to Norcia,  but thought it would be quite a long time. And one never knows what's going to happen next.

I went away and thought about it for a couple of days, and the idea has really grown on me. I got a friend who's good at this stuff to go looking for transit and other services in the area and there's a daily train from San Martino in Campo, about a 15 minute walk from the house. (short bike ride). Perugia has a weekly Mass and a good Traddie community. I've visited the Universita of Stranieri and can sign up for their monthly course which is quite cheap at 400 E. 

Perugia seems like a big city on paper, with a population of 160,000+, but the city is actually really compact because it's on that mountain with nowhere to expand to. So that number includes all the frazione (villages and small towns within the municipality) which are really quite nice little independent medieval villages out in the country. 

The house is a bit isolated, basically in the fields between San Martino in Campo and San Martino in Colle. But it will be quiet and peaceful and safe, and the kitties will LOVe it.

The main thing, though, was how much I liked the couple. Somehow it was just one of those rare times when you hit it off with someone - especially Annamaria - and are instant friends. We talked about the house, then where I was from and what I did, and then earthquakes, and then gardening and cooking... (Thank God I bought a smartphone with an auto-voice translator!)

A huge part of the problem with finding a place has been the complicated logistics. I have cats and am not really a city person anymore, so I needed place in the country but close enough to town to do things, shopping and Mass-going and whatnot. This would be perfectly doable, and even cheap and accommodating, if I had transport. The problem I had, however, is that the transit service is good to the towns, but limited to weekdays, and dries up almost completely in the countryside. 

In the case of this house the nearest bus route only runs once a day! Fortunately, it's close enough to a village that has regular service that I can bike to it. But it was very discouraging. Every time I saw a nice looking place I would be told, "Oh sorry, no bus service." 

So, I've decided to make a big change. When I get there, I'm going to sign up at the Autoscuola to get the bottom-rung motorcycle license - the one the kids get - to drive a motorino up to 50cc. It's called an AM license, and if you are an adult you don't even need to take an exam. You just have to show that you've received the requisite number of hours of instruction, a short course. It's cheap at about 150 E and I found while I was out there hunting that I was having very little problem understanding what was being said to me. It's amazing how you magically discover you know more of the language than you thought when you are forced to use it. 

Anyway, the AM license is good for 50cc motorini, the Ape ("ah-pay," those little three-wheeled farm truck thingies) and even a smartcar. I've looked around the internet and of course there are bazillions of 50cc motorini for sale second hand, very cheap.

This would at least make it possible to buzz back and forth from the house to the train/bus station at San Giovanni in Ponte or even all the way up to the Porta Sant'Anna where the scala mobile takes you up to the centro. I have a friend who drove an 50cc motorino all the way from Paris to Florence, right over the Alps, so I think it will make a daily run up to the centro. I had one years and years ago, and it was great fun, and very cheap to run. The internet tells me the annual insurance is about 20 E. 

And once I've got one, it will open up a whole world of possible home solutions that were previously impossible. It's not glamorous, but it will work. I'm really annoyed at having missed that gorgeous house in the country. It was 150 m-sq, four bedrooms, huge country garden, all wood floors and big windows, camino in the kitchen, and 520 a month. A motorino would have made it possible to at least get to the nearest bus stop or mini-train station. But without transport of any sort, it would be impossible. 

So, that's where we are, and that's the plan.

I've just had an email back from the realtor who has said I can come up to sign contracts on Saturday. 

(Listen, Lord, if You wanted me to move to Perugia, You could have just said so. Like, in a dream or something. You didn't have to knock down a whole town... Just for next time, eh?)


Saturday, March 04, 2017



Narni is a total bust. The town is totally everything you might think it ought to be. It's beautiful and friendly and wonderful. But its also full up.

The nice realtor lady called every real estate office between here and Foligno and no one had a damn thing. This is the most thickly populated area of Umbria - the flat lands between Terni and Perugia - and there are 3000 + Nursini running about looking for places to go. I think I have to get out of the quake zone.

I am therefore making a lateral move. I've decided it's time to finally make my pilgrimage to Citta di Castello to visit Bl. Margaret of Castello.

I've just booked a place to stay in Citta di Castello, the very out-of-the-way town in northern Umbria, where I will go today.

This is where the Poor Clares of the Immaculate maintain their siege with FrancisChurch, and have a Mass every day.

Why Citta di Castello?

It's rather off the beaten path in the mountains in the northern end of Umbria, and therefore mostly known only to Italians as a holiday place. Kind of like Norcia.

It's ancient and beautiful and surrounded by medieval stone walls in the Appenines. Kind of like Norcia.

The rents are ridiculously low... kind of like Norcia.

You have to take a train to Arrezzo, and you have to time it precisely so you don't miss the one bus a day that goes up there... kind of like Norcia.

And it's got a monastery of religious there who have the traditional Mass and Divine Office every day... kind of like Norcia.

It also happens to be the place where Blessed Margaret of Castello lived, was raised to heights of wonderworking glory in her short lifetime, and where she remains incorrupt. When I was confirmed, I dedicated the conversion of my family to her because she was abandoned by her family. I took her name when I was confirmed at 36, and when I had cancer I promised I would come to visit her if I survived. It's time to go fulfil the promise.

If I don't find a place, at least I will have visited the town I've been meaning to go to since 2001.


Friday, March 03, 2017

Melting the polar caps

(I'm afraid I couldn't possibly be a real nun. I like rocking out to Pearl Jam WAY too much. But don't worry. I know I'm a podgy middle-aged cat lady, so I don't do it in front of anyone...)

Writing from the train on the way to Narni this morning. I've got a booking in a nice B&B and an appointment with some realtors there. And yes, I'm definitely going to be checking every wardrobe I find. If you never hear from me again, y'all will know what happened.

I can't tell you how much I appreciate the assurances of prayers and ... ahem... "accompaniment" I've received. There is a Facebook group of ladies who are offering me "spiritual bouquets". Seriously! I just got a note on the other blog to say that an entire convent of Carmelites somewhere in the American mid-west, is praying for me to find a suitable home. One in which I can resume being a slacker, half-assed hermit and where, much more importantly, the kitties can run around outside and get back to having fun. I've got about 50 pots of herbs and bulbs and things sitting in the garden in Norcia that need tending.

When I was fifteen I left my family in the dark of a winter morning. We lived in the (lower) Canadian arctic, and it was about - 50 degrees C that morning, and there was an ice fog. It was so cold the snow didn't crunch under my feet, it squeaked. I walked with my backpack of clothes, tooth brush and birth certificate for ID, through a cold that no parka could keep out, to the bus station and got on the early bus to Edmonton, the nearest city. I was 1200 miles away before anyone in my family noticed I was gone. I didn't hear from them until I got a phone call a year or so later to tell me that my belongings had been thrown away.

I've felt completely alone ever since. You get used to it, and by the time 35 years have passed, you take it for granted and mostly sort of forget about it. The Faith has helped, but you have to learn a lot of mental discipline - that old Thomistic thing of subordinating the passions to the intellect and will. But that's pretty damn exhausting, frankly. One can't really just grit one's teeth and white-knuckle it through life. Not forever, anyway.

It's taken a long time, but I think the ice that has covered my soul for all these years is finally receding. A good deal of the work was done during cancer; I was never alone for a moment.

But this sort of thing helps too. More than y'all might ever know until the day when all things will be revealed and there will be no more secrets.