Thursday, January 29, 2015

Norcia pics

Just some pics from the last few months...

A sparrowhawk, female I think, perched the other day in a tree across the street, keeping its eagle-eye out for mice in the fields.

The Valnerina at the end of March

Frescoes above one of the city gates.

Italian graffiti in San Pellegrino

Frescoes in the Church of Santa Scholastica, built in the place where she lived in the early days of her vocation, about half a mile outside of town.

San Pellegrino, about 8 miles down the valley from Norcia.

Castellucio in November, about another 1100 m. higher than us. It's all under snow now.

Still a very rural place.

My trusty bike, in town.

Playing with fire. December 9th, the vigil of the feast of the Translation of the Holy House of Loretto. Since the 12th century, people up and down the Valley light bonfires (and eat grilled pork and drink mulled wine) to help the angels find their way to Loreto with their precious burden.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Winnie update

Dr. B. thinks she has bone marrow cancer. Her red blood cell count is way down, and her organs are failling.

This would be the explanation for why none of our antibiotic therapies have worked.

He's going to keep her for another night and try some palliative therapies, but that's the final word.


Update to the update:

Walked up to the vet's this afternoon to pick her up. She is very weak and has trouble walking. But Dr. B. has given her a palliative therapy of cortisone and antibiotics and she doesn't seem to be in any pain or distress. She isn't producing enough red blood cells. The tests showed her number is half of what it was two weeks ago. Anaemia is leaving her very weak and her temperature is down, so I've got her favourite big white blankie and she's curled up in it.

She's very still right now. She had a little something to eat and drink when we got home, and she wandered around a bit as though reasserting her home rights. She sat in my lap for quite a while, and rested her head on my arm, very quiet and still. Dr. B. said that he doesn't think she will last very much longer. The cortisone treatment may slow the advance of her symptoms, but I think we both expect her not to last more than a couple of weeks.

I think I'm OK with this now. She's had a good long life with me, and I know that, medically, there wasn't anything I could have done. I missed her terribly when she was in hospital, and I knew that it was going to be very, very difficult to adjust to her not being there any more.

He gave me some more of the same stuff and we walked home. She's back in her spot on the chair again now, and I have to admit that it is a relief to have her home. What a strange feeling it was to be so used to her presence and have her suddenly not there. Every time I was in the kitchen I expected her to come in and bug me for something to eat. Whenever I sat in the living room, I kept looking up expecting her to be on her cushion.

The other day a friend suggested that I go ahead with my trip to England, which was to start on Monday, and the vet can cover her last days, to spare myself the pain of watching her go. But I just can't carry that. The world has become a horrible place mainly out of people indulging their desire to do anything to avoid suffering. I can't go there.

Dr. B. did, however, say that there is a spare cat ready for me as soon as I'm ready. He mentioned that perhaps it would be indelicate to talk to Winnie about the new cat, though. He's been great about this too. He said, "If anything happens, if she goes up, or down, call me. If you wake up one morning and she's died, call me. I want to know."

As I was carrying her home I said, "You're a world-famous cat. People from all over have sent us nice notes."

Thanks, everybody.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Loss and pet-love

The first picture I ever took of Winnie, about two days after she came to live with me. She had refused to come out from under the bath tub. One evening, she crept downstairs while I had the fire on, and hopped onto the back of the sofa cushions, and that has been her Spot ever since. 

I feel guilty. I've been distracted, out of sorts and unable to concentrate (more than usual), emotionally fragile and whatnot.

Every night that I've spent at home for the last seven years - which, of course, has been pretty much every night, since I hate to leave the house - I have had the same routine. I feed the cat her dinner, make sure there's water in her dish, power down the house, and say, "OK cat, time for bed." We get in, she walks on my head a few times before she either takes up her spot in the crook of my knee or burrows under the covers (depending on the time of year).

Every morning is also the same. She walks on my chest and meows in my face for her breakfast and I wake up and say, "Oh, hi Fur-face."

If I stay up too late, she starts meowing and circling the furniture: "Go to bed, Monkey. Why are you still up?"

All through the days, we have kept each other company in the kind of companionable and understanding quiet that I think most old married couples aspire to. Cats aren't complicated creatures. You feed them, pet them, play with them and give them a warm, safe place to sleep and they bond with you.

Unfortunately, as soon as you decide to get any pet, you are taking on the future inevitability. One day, and sometimes not too far off, the hard days will come. You will be emotionally and psychologically attached to the pet that is bonded to you. Your life will have revolved to some degree around looking after it for years. Your routines will have your pet integrated with them in a very intimate way.

And the day will come when all that structure will have to be abandoned.

Winnie doesn't like sudden noises, or loud noises. We've had a very quiet life, and she has made it clear that loud music of any kind is unacceptable. If I have dropped a pan or closed a door too sharply or made some other noise, I have fallen into the habit of automatically saying, "Sorry, cat."

I've sometimes thought about what these habits are going to do when there is no longer a Winnie to hang them on.

Tonight is the first night Winnie has slept over anywhere but home in the whole time I've had her. I've been away sometimes, but she's always been here. When I was moving over to Italy, she had to stay for a short while in a cattery in Cheshire. I found myself talking to the empty room in the same way I would have if she were there. For seven years, every time I've opened my front door, I've said, "Hi sweetie!" (like a girl, I know.)

I don't know what to do with myself. And though I know she will probably come home from the hospital tomorrow and we will carry on, it will, I fear, not be for much longer, and this feeling of being uncomfortably alone and at loose ends, will become a permanent state.

Add to this discomfort the feeling I have that this is inappropriate, that I am somehow transgressing in the moral realm by having allowed myself to become so attached to a pet that the thought of her death is distracting me from work and other important things. I keep saying, "She's just a cat." Cats aren't people. We do wrongly to become inordinately attached to them, and the whole of our civilisation has done wrong in trying to replace our children with our pets.

This hyper-sentimentalisation of pets is something I have struggled against. I've had conversations with friends who refer to their cats as "my babies". They're not your babies. They're cats. I know that farm people don't have such attachments, even though I know that they do become fond of their animals.

I've been struggling with this for some time, and all the while Winnie has been sick. How much money is appropriate to spend on vet bills and medicines? How far is it appropriate to go to save her life? Dr. B. told me about a couple who brought their cat to him. The cat was suffering kidney failure, and as he put it, "was already more on the other side than this one." He mentioned that in Paris they are actually doing kidney transplants on pets. He was shocked when the husband pulled out his phone and started looking up flight times to Paris for the same day.

I got Winnie at a time when I was very keen to become settled in life. I wanted to become more involved in life and with my family and community. I had felt, since the death of my friend John Muggeridge, that I needed someone to care for and be responsible for. And having Winnie has certainly made me a better person. It's going to be very difficult to let go of all that.

Anyway, I've been reading a bit of theological stuff about the affections and how they are to be correctly ordered by the intellect. Thomism 101. But I keep looking up in the midst of this and not seeing little Winnie perched on the back of the arm chair, and it all falls apart.

One thing I have decided to do is not wait. When the day does come, I'm going to give it a few days, maybe a couple of weeks at most, then ask Dr. B. for a new cat.


Winnie's off to the kitty hospital

Well, that's it, Winnie's off to spend the night in the kitty hospital, and I'm suddenly horribly lonely and rather weepy, I have to admit. The nice doctor has come and fetched her and said he'll sedate her and do some tests, and get a good bit of food into her through a tube, and we will see if she's responding to the therapies. After that we can decide what to do.

But honestly, I think the answers won't be very good. She's been quite fragile. Some days good; some days really bad. She's eating, but only barely, and still having ... ermm... gastrointestinal distress, which is a very bad sign. That didn't clear up at all from the antibiotics, so he says it's probably a result of kidney trouble.

She's got high blood pressure and I've been giving her the pills for it (which are not expensive) by crushing them up and mixing with a teaspoon of tuna (so she thinks this is the best thing evah!) But the big worry is her kidney function.

The vet is really the nicest guy in the world, and I know he'll be straight with me about her prospects. I've told him that as long as she isn't suffering unduly we'll just let things take their natural course if her condition isn't improving. She was horribly distressed on Friday and kindly came over and gave her a bunch of shots of various things and after that she was much better. Able to rest and eat something and slept the whole night.

And I've been thinking a lot about life and death, and the meaning of happiness.


Monday, January 19, 2015

In a mood...

Most of Friday and all of Saturday and Sunday with no internet. I read books. I went for long walks in the country. I stacked firewood. I went to church and heard the Divine Office. I nursed my cat and took her down to the monastery to get her blessed on the Festa di Sant' Antonio. I wrote about the plants and trees native to the Valnerina in my notebook. I worked on my fairy story. I did some mending. I watched my favourite TV show on DVD. I chatted with my friends in real life. I did housework.

It was almost like normal life again.

The cat is a little better after a really bad spell on Friday. Every time I tried to get her to eat or drink anything, I would put the dish right under her nose, hoping the smell of nice food would make her want to eat. But every time, she would just turn her face away like it was the awfulest thing she'd ever smelled.

Today, within three minutes of turning on the damned internet, I suddenly know exactly what she feels like.

When I was at the computer store, I was chatting with the Computer Store Guy, and said that I'd read somewhere that the entire internet comes to the Old World via a cable, about as thick as a man's thumb, that runs along the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. There's nothing protecting it, no plastic tube or anything. It could get cut at any moment, and then, finally, things could go back to normal. Wouldn't that be nice?


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Successful experiment

In the photo of my sitting room below, you will see that in the hearth there is a grill for cooking meat. This is apparently still a very common feature of life in these parts, and the grill, which looked like it hadn't been cleaned in years, was here when I moved in and had obviously been well used.

Tonight, I tried it, and mmmm-boy!

I had observed the technique at a favourite restaurant in town

where there is a large traditional wood-burning open hearth oven/grill.

If you are ever in Norcia, you absolutely must eat at least once at Granaro del Monte restaurant. And try the fegatino. It is in a large vaulted medieval banqueting hall kind of place, in the 16th century palazzo of the hotel Grotta Azzura, one of the four hotels in town run by the wonderful Bianconi family (who have been exceedingly kind and welcoming to me and my friends).

Anyway, the technique is as follows: You start your fire fairly far forward in the hearth. When there is a good bed of coals, push the rest of the combustible stuff (wood) way to the back and let it keep going. Rake all the coals forward into a pile. Flatten them out with your poker, and put the grill on so that it's not more than an inch or so above them. If your grill doesn't have little feet like mine does, just put two largish pieces of wood on either side of the coals for a stand.

I did lamb tonight, and just marinaded it a little, rubbing with seasoned salt, then letting it sit in some olive oil and red wine. I didn't have any rosemary, but this is really great if you let it grill with the rosemary sprig right on the grill. It doesn't take long, and if you've got a good cut of meat, it will do exactly what it's supposed to do, which is get nice and crispy on the outside, and seal in the juices and be incredibly tender.

You can also use the grill, as they do at the Granaro del Monte, to make toast.

If you come to Norcia, one of the first things you see on the main strip are these iron monger shops that sell all sorts of things made out of steel, copper and cast iron to use with your fire.

There are pans for toasting nuts, including chestnuts, all sizes of grill, copper pots and tripods, hooks and ladles and fire irons and warming pans, and all sorts of old fashioned looking things. Of course, the first thing you think is that this is just touristy kitsch, and in a way I suppose you'd be right. Except that I've learned that a lot of people still do use these things, at least some of them, and they're sold to locals.

I get the feeling that life here, until they finished the tunnel to Spoleto in 1996, hadn't changed much since the time that painting at the top of the post was done, and I think it probably looked a lot like that.

I've also learned how to "bank" the fire, so the next morning you can start it again quickly to get the tea on.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Little Winnie's much better

Thanks to the people who sent messages and said little cat-sized prayers.

The vet gave her antibiotics, IV drips of saline, glucose, vitamins and other kinds of super-nutrient supplements. He gave me special food for her, and at first it was a bit of a struggle to get her to eat it. But now she's just yumming it all down. We went back tonight for a follow-up and she's strong enough now for the next stage in the special diet. We've moved from "recovery" diet, to "renal" diet, which she will have to have for the rest of her wee life. But it's not going to break the bank. And neither is the vet bill, because... Norcia! where things are just... well... sensible.


Friday, January 09, 2015

Fight 'em until we can't

There's a problem in the West, the cultural and political mega-entity that we used to call Christendom, and that the Muslim fanatics (who clearly haven't been keeping up with the news in the last 50 years) still imagine they are fighting. I read somewhere that the savages are crowing about how they've struck a blow against the "children of the cross" with the Paris shooting. (Seriously, you freaks, if you think that Charlie Hebdo had anything to do with Christianity you've got a pretty big problem with your brains.)

Where was I? The problem in the West... Yes, it's that the people in it no longer love it, no longer care enough to fight to defend it. And, honestly, it's hard to argue against this. What about the post-Christian "West" is worth fighting and dying for? Universal health care? The European Convention on Human Rights? Secularism? The "right" to have the government pay for your gender reassignment? The perpetually open maw of Europeans who have become as helpless and dependent as baby birds waiting to get fed predigested food regurgitated by Mamma-government?

As I write this, I'm listening to a CD of Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band singing their cheery versions of Medieval English Christmas carols. The work of this group has always been to reach back into England's musical and cultural and religious past and bring it forward, to remind us of its homely greatness, the humane, the sane greatness of Christian culture.

As I was listening to it, and reading ... well... all that, all that we've all been reading in the last few days, I was thinking that there is indeed something I'm willing to fight and die for. But it has nothing to do with anything the EU or its fellow travellers think they are doing, or with Charlie Hebdo's mentally and morally disordered rants. Honestly, I've always hated that stuff since it started appearing in the 1970s.

What I love, and am willing to fight and die to protect, is what I've found still surviving in this valley I've moved to. In the middle of the Apennine mountains, a hidden and almost secret place where the ancient and good things are still honoured, remembered and kept. Will I fight and die for this? Oh, hell yes.

Will I fight and die for the disgusting, drooling, squelching anti-culture we've created since 1965? No, I'm afraid that thing is on its own.

The remnants of Christendom are hanging on by a thread, assaulted on our ancestral turf by our own traitors. In our even more ancient homeland it is shattered. Is it beyond repair? I don't know, but I think all this will require more than we are able to do to restore. It will take direct Divine Intervention, and I honestly think that is where all this... all of it, including what's going on in Rome... is going. It is what I'm praying for, almost exclusively, now. That, and that the time will be short, and that souls will not be lost along with lives, or too much that is good and beautiful and precious will be burnt, bombed and destroyed.

I can offer no advice at all to the individuals, who do email me from time to time, asking what they should do, except that we must fight. We must fight the twin threats with everything we have and all our strength. How that will manifest in your own town or parish or family I have no way of knowing. Maybe "fighting" will take the form of simply resisting the secularising trends in your schools or parishes. Maybe it will mean packing your family every Sunday into an oversize van and driving an hour each way to get to the Real Mass. Maybe it will mean standing in front of an abortion mill with a giant graphic image of aborted children and replying to the hate with reason and facts.

Maybe, and perhaps increasingly, it will mean actual fighting, as it has in Iraq and elsewhere.

But I offer this conversation from a man who has studied Islam, Andrew Bieszad, with an old Coptic woman who faced down her Islamic persecutors:

" I sat and had begun to eat when an elderly Coptic woman sat down next to me. I struck up a conversation with her, and when I told her a little about myself and my background, she smiled warmly and began speaking in an animated and passionate Arabic.

Over the next hour she told me her life story, about growing up in Egypt, being harassed by Muslims, the threats made against her and her family, and how she eventually came to America with her adult children and their families because the persecution was too severe. She said that she was disappointed by many of her fellow Coptic priests and parishioners. In her words, because they did not take an aggressive posture against Islam and the Muslims who habitually harassed them, they worsened their own standing. She added that because Islam has no concept of love, Muslims only respond to force. That it is the only thing they understand.

She told me that one of the last confrontations she had with the Muslims was right before her family left Egypt. She and a friend were walking home when a group of young Muslim men approached them and began verbally and physically harassing them for being Christians.

“Do you know what I told him?” the woman said.

“What?” I asked.

“I did not show him any fear. We pushed him back and punched him, and we screamed at them ‘Your god is ****, your prophet is ****, and you are **** because you believe in them!’ They ran away, because all Muslims are cowards, and they are afraid when you stand up to them.”"


Thursday, January 08, 2015

Had enough "multiculturalism" yet?

Financial Times on Parish magazine massacre:

"Some common sense would be useful at publications such as Charlie Hebdo”


Perhaps I lack a sufficient quantity of this virtue...

I once had a brief conversation with a pretty girl in Indigo books. It was the year Ezra Levant's Western Report magazine published something or other that had "offended Muslims" and I was in Indigo (a now-defunct Canadian book chain superstore that I normally never went into) to see if I could get a copy.

Actually, I knew perfectly well that I wouldn't find a copy of it, but for some reason, I was feeling bloody-minded and I went in to see how many of the staff I could annoy by asking for it.

I said to the girl, "I couldn't see the latest edition of Western Report."

"Oh, that one's been taken down."

"Oh? Why?"

"Well, it got a lot of complaints."

"What kind of complaints?"

"Oh, you know... people found it offensive, so we took it off the shelves because we didn't want any incidents."

"Incidents? What kind of incidents? Which people were these?"

"Well, you know. We're a volatile people, so it's best not to offend us."


"Well, those are my people and it was insulting our religion."

"Well, that's funny because over there in what Indigo calls the 'Christianity' section, there are a bunch of books that I, as a believing Catholic, find deeply offensive and insulting, so why do you think they're not being pulled off the shelves?... Could it be it because the Vatican doesn't issue fatwas?"


Put the screen-thing down.

On Facebook, this video was shared with the caption: "Why kids should put down X-box..."

Hey! I've got an idea! Since they're not the ones buying the X-box, how about: "Why parents should take some damn responsibility and not give the X-box to the kids in the first place."

When I lived in Halifax Nova Scotia, I saw people playing instruments like this all the time. They'd be in the pubs and on the streets. One day I went to the Sunday morning public market and saw a kid playing the fiddle (as well as the boy in the video above).

When he'd finished, I dropped a loonie in his case, and asked him where he was from. "Cape Breton".

No surprise there; the island is still a natural wellspring of traditional celtic musicians.

"How old are you?"


"And do you come down every weekend?"

"Only when I don't have too much homework."

"How much money do you usually make?"

"Oh, about three or four hundred dollars a day."

Yeah. Take all the electronic gizmos in your house, drive the lawnmower over them a few times, and put the remains in a bonfire. Everyone will go through withdrawal for a week or so, then you can teach them to live in the Real.


Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Winnie' sick

Well, you never really know yourself until you're challenged, I guess.

Winnie has been getting alarmingly thin for a while now, and it's been getting harder and harder to get her to eat anything. After New Year's I just couldn't deny it any longer: she's sick, and it's serious. As a 14 year old cat, she's been doing pretty well all this time, and though she's been up and down a bit in the last few months, she's been bouncing back. Trying to coax her to eat anything at all had become impossible. I'd tried mixing her food with all sorts of her regular stuff, and it would work for a while, then she'd turn her nose up at it and refuse to eat. But on Friday I started getting really alarmed. She started vomiting and then just stopped eating all together. Still drinking water, but not a bit of food.

A nice local friend her recommended a good vet, a German who does nearly all the town's pets, farm animals and hunting dogs. She drove us over on Sunday evening, and he did blood work and other tests, including an ultrasound, and she's got a chronic infection in the junction of ducts that connect her kidneys, liver and pancreas. She's also got two really bad teeth that will have to come out once we've got her a little stronger. After two days with no food, she was very weak, so he gave her intravenous glucose, shots of vitamins, digestive enzymes and antibiotics and gave me a tin of special medicated food and told me to come back the next day. We went back last night and got m ore glucose and more antibiotics plus some drops of something for three times a day.

He said that it is pretty serious, but not untreatable. He told me that her recovery is dependent upon her eating the medicated food he gave me for her, but, being a cat and not feeling well, she was absolutely refusing to eat it. She'd taken a few little licks, and then walked away.

Finally, I figured I'd done enough polite coaxing. So I grabbed her, sat her on my lap, forced open her mouth and started just spooning it in. I guess, realising that I was not going to let up, she relented and licked up the rest of it off my finger a little bit at a time, but we got a full dose down her.

We'll try it again this evening before bed time, but I can see it's already making her feel better. On Sunday night she started sleeping better, and last night she slept through the whole night, (under the covers and cuddled up to me, which was lovely). Just now she came up to me demanding a bit of my toast, which is normally one of her favourite things but that she hasn't touched in weeks.

Fingers crossed.


Monday, January 05, 2015

Dulce Domum

I have just achieved a life-goal that until five minutes ago I didn't realise I even had: my own fireplace into which to toss the peels of my mandarin oranges at Christmas.

All my life, I've been trying to recreate the life I had at my grandparents' house in childhood. I think I'm almost there. Maybe need better towels.

And to dust more often...


What kind of post-apocalypse survivor are you?

Why do I like apocalypse movies...

and books...

and tv shows...

aaaand comics...


Why? Because of the challenge. They all ask the same question, What would you do (or how would you do) in a world without all the protections and comforts supplied by this civilization? How would you remake your life out of this context, on your own or with a small group of other survivors? I think the popularity of the genre is a hint that a lot of people are not entirely comfortable with our comforts. Do we feel, somewhere in the back of our minds that we're being set up? That life really just ought not to be so comfortable and easy, (materially speaking, that is... spiritually/emotionally it's really a lot harder than it used to be, but that's another day's rant).

Do we all have a sneaking suspicion, perhaps, that all is not so very secure as our grandparents thought it was going to be? Is there a growing civilisation-wide distrust of this way of life? Is there maybe just a disquiet that we relatively tiny group (1st worlders, white anglo westerners... whatever) are living this way like the aristos of France eating cake all day in our silk frock coats while millions of everyone else are teetering between starvation and uprising? That our coffee-house iPad lifestyle is all about to pop like a soap bubble and the smart people are the ones with the basements full of dried food packs and boxes of batteries?

And in a larger, less personal and material sense, which aspects of (fallen) human nature would come to the fore? Assuming we survived "the Event," would we be the victims or the joiners? Would we be the ones to set up a little distributist hobbit society and try to raise goats and hoard books? Or would we be the ones joining the leather-gang and roaming around the withered landscape stealing gasoline and ammunition? Are we, deep in our souls, the good guys or the bad guys? We are pretty smug about what kind of people we are until there is a serious crisis.

(Why do I like videos of nerdy people talking about pop culture? Another question entirely. Mind your own beeswax.)


Sunday, January 04, 2015

Desperate to make the unworkable work

Um... yeah, OK. I guess. But how about this for a suggestion: don't live in cities. They're bad for you.


Saturday, January 03, 2015

A stranger place than I thought...

It turns out that Norcia and the Sibillini mountains are a much, much stranger place than I had thought at first. I've spent way too much time today entranced by reading about the very strange and tangled legends and fairy tales surrounding the Apennine Sibyl, the mysterious and extremely ancient stories of a magical "Lady of the Mountains," "Queen of Sibyls," an enchantress or oracle, that are all over the local area.

The stories about this mysterious figure, who was said to have lived in a magical labyrinth of caverns high up above Castellucio at the peak of Monte Sibilla, seem to have some possible connection to the stories of the Sibyl of Cumae and the story of Aeneas, but there are hints that they could possibly go back even to predate the neolithic.

A rather garbled series of legends about her and her magic, wisdom and natural knowledge go back at least as far as Suetonius and persist with remarkable consistency through the Middle Ages to the 16th century. And there are dolmens and man-made megalithic stone constructions in the higher mountains around here that indicate pre-Christian worship had been going on since before agriculture came here.

For centuries the Sibyl's cave or fairy cave was well known, located on the Monte Sibilla about 2150 m above sea level. It was regarded as a place to go to learn ancient wisdom and secrets. Magicians and sages would bring their books to have them "consecrated" in the lake below the cave by the magical Lady of the Mountain.

As you see above, the cave is still well known, but what is left of it at the surface is quite shallow and was mostly closed by landslides and earthquakes, by the 17th century, but is still called a path to the underworld. The story, that goes back to the 13th or 14th century, is that this cave is only the antechamber to the vast system of caverns that go very deep, where she and her followers lived. She wasthought at that time to be a "fata" which is basically the Italian word for "fairy". There are medieval stories of knights going into the cave system and living there with the fate (plural of "fata" pronounced "fah-tay") and coming out with fantastic stories of an underground paradise and a fairy queen.

Legends of the Sibyl and her magical kingdom were well known among learned men until the 1600s. Most of the stories of her show her to be a benevolent semi-supernatural person who dispensed advice, prophecies and natural knowledge.

Abraham Ortelius' 16th-century atlas, Cartographia Neerlandica, describes her realm:
The Mountain Apennine here looms over the country with exceedingly high cragged tops, in which one finds that huge cave called Sibylla's cave, (in their language Grotta de la Sibylla) and which the poets would have the Elysian Fields. For the common people dream about a certain Sibylla [supposed] to be in this cave, who [is claimed to] possess a large kingdom full of gorgeous buildings and Princely palaces, covered with pleasant gardens, abounding with many fine lecherous wenches and all kinds of pleasures and delights. All of these she will bestow on those who through this cave (which is always open) will come to her. And after they have been there for the period of one whole year, they have the freedom and liberty given to them by Sibylla to depart (if they please) and from that moment, having returned to us, they state that they live a most blessed and happy life ever after. This cave is also known to our countrymen by the name of VROU VENUS BERGH, that is, The Lady Venus mount.

Among the legends of the Sibyl and her maidens/witches/fate is that they came out of their caves and down to Norcia (which would be a heck of a journey on foot) and taught the local village girls secrets of spinning and weaving.

The stories of the Sibyl lasted for a few hundred more years into the 14th century, and then a series of earthquakes and landslides closed off the deeper sections of the caves and now you can only see the remains of the shallow antechamber. In the 19th century amateur archaeologists tried to use explosives to re-open the system, but succeeded only in collapsing more of the first cave. Later investigators claimed that the earlier descriptions of a vast network of caves, forming the "paradise of Queen Sibilla," were nothing more than fanciful tales. In 1946, Caesar Lippi Boncambi wrote in his book "The Sibillini Mountains,"

"Few are the caves, and which do not show any interest in caving. I was able to explore a single cave, barely worthy of the name, famous for the legends which gave rise to the huge literature and historical, romantic and poetic that has flourished around it in Italy and all 'foreign from the Middle Ages to the present day..."
His diagram shows a drawing only of a single room a few meters high and deep.

But here's the kicker, modern geological technology has found that there really is a huge system of very deep caves up there, all interconnected with passages:
"Promotion Committee "Cave of the Sibyl Apennines", under the auspices of the Archaeological Survey of Marche (represented locally by Dr. Nora Lucentini responsible for the Province Picena), with the active participation of the Department of Earth Sciences of the ' University Camerino represented by prof. Gilberto Pambianchi and assisted by Dr. Angelo Beano, with funding of members and the Cassa di Risparmio di Ascoli Piceno, promotes the geological and geophysical surveys at the site "Cave of the Sibyl." The scientific report prepared by prof. Pambianchi and dr. Beano is kept in the records of the Department of Earth Sciences of the University of Camerino. From the results of the GPR prospecting confirms the existence of a vast underground complex at the depth of 15 meters below the ground surface, made ​​of labyrinthine tunnels and cavities of the considerable length of about 150 m. The synthesis of the studies published in the Proceedings of the Conference (organized by Project Elissa) "Sibyl Shaman mountain and cave Apennine". The next phase of investigation, which would have provided the coring noninvasive points deemed most significant of the ground level facing the collapsed vestibule, was interrupted."

These legends are so ancient and so consistent that it seems impossible they weren't based on something real. But danged if I can imagine what it would be. It's really mind-boggling. It's hard to imagine how anyone at a neolithic level of technology could have survived for very long up there. The winter conditions are almost arctic with temperatures that can often go down to -40 C. Even now nothing much other than lentils and spelt can be grown in the short season on the Piano Grande at Castelluccio. But it could be remembered that Italy's mountains are all volcanic, and that caves up there could be geothermic, or perhaps could have been once upon a long time ago. Maybe...

Given that the legends of mysterious and magical wise women eventually gave way to more recent confirmed histories of saints and hermits who were mystics and visionaries, I can't help but think I may have come to a genuinely "magical" place. The world is stranger than we think, and while we may not understand it, there is a lot more going on out there than we usually imagine. There is certainly something that strikes you about the place immediately. I've spoken with an American who has lived here who agreed that it had struck him the same way, that it was a lot like living in Narnia or Shangri La. Of course, he only meant it poetically. But now that I'm thinking about it, all this has really got my "Ancient World was Stranger than we Think" antennae going all a-quiver.

At any rate, I'm completely captivated to find these stories right on my doorstep. All through my childhood, I was obsessed with the fairy stories about magical underworld fairy realms that you could get to through certain "weak or thin" spots in the world between our world and theirs. The Twelve Dancing Princesses, the fairy legends of Ireland, and Narnia itself, of course. I thought at that age that I really could find a magic door or stone, and if I just knew what to say or how to say it just right, I could go through. And now it seems I've found a real one, albeit abandoned by them a long time ago.

There's a book about the local Sibyl legends in the trekking book shop. It's in Italian, but that's getting to be less of a problem. There's bits and pieces here, but there's not very much else in English. Here's the Wiki page in Italian about the Sibyl's Cave or the "Grotta delle Fate".

"In the Museum of the Cave of the Sibyl at Montemonaco, is kept a dark stone, called "The Great Stone" which is engraved with mysterious letters and found near Lake. According to legend, this would be the lake Averno from which you enter the world of Underworld."

And the Lake of Pilate that was once called the Lake of the Sibyl and has long been associated with magic and necromancy. Here is a little article by some trekkers on their trip to the Grotta della Maga

When I said I had come here to look for the Door to Narnia, I was more or less speaking metaphorically. But it now occurs to me that I have come to one of the places in the world that are always described as "magical" for more reasons than the scenery and sunsets. If nothing else, I've already got stories and maybe a novel forming in my brain...


Friday, January 02, 2015

What to do with the January 2th holiday

I think I've mentioned that my favourite genre of film is Apocalypse. The Bomb, zombies (supernatural and viral), robots, AI super-computers, vampires, pandemic viruses, asteroids, comets, volcanoes, the sudden totally unexplained failure of all plant life (which is as close to an explanation as we got from The Most Depressing Book/Movie Ever Made Road), political dystopias, talking apes, pod-people aliens, tripod aliens, Triffids, long-forgotten buried dormant dragons, total economic collapse due to Evil Capitalists (too numerous to link), sudden ice ages triggered by industrial emissions reducing the salinity of the Gulf Stream (science!!), sudden unexplained plant-sentience (not making that one up, "They're mean, they're green and they're mad as hell..."), titanic reversals of the earth's polarity, titanic reversals of the earth's magma layer, overpopulation, underpopulation, and rampant Terry Gilliam... I love em all.

I direct your time-wasting morbid procrastinating attention to The Apocalypse Index at TV Tropes website...

possibly the only site on the net even more addictive than Facebook.


Speaker Wars

When I lived in S. Marinella, the batty old lady who lived upstairs used to have regular screaming matches with her daughter, and was stone deaf to boot. As someone born to a couple who were almost incapable of exchanging morning greetings to each other without launching a shrieking fight, I'm a little sensitive to such things and strongly objected to having it imposed on me by total strangers in my own home.

So, I trained them. I have very good speakers, and taking a lesson from Pavlov, whenever the screaming started, would play Vivaldi's Four Seasons at full volume. It took a while for them to learn but it did finally work. The screaming matches were greatly reduced at the persistent and consistent reminder that there was someone quite close by who had nothing to do with any of it, but was being forced to share the joy.

Well we're making progress in Norcia. It seems that the Gashlycrumb Noisies, (the Polish couple who live upstairs) appear to have got the message that the rave music ("music") is not on. Not today or tomorrow, at any volume or any time of day or night, EVER. But the pseudo-Gregorian New Age versions of old Simon and Garfunkel tunes, though for completely different reasons, are not really a huge improvement. Maybe we could talk about "volume" next.

But I suppose even synthesized versions of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme are an improvement over the shrieking domestic psycho-drama.

Since any one of us suddenly and miraculously turning into a grownup over night is probably too much to ask, I figure it's either call the cops or...