Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Nettle Day

Had an EPIC stomp around the Marcite today. It was the warmest day of the year so far, at 22 degrees, and I didn't bother with either a jacket or even a cardie. I took a nice flask of green and gallium aparine tea, and used my backpack chair, stopping when the bells for Sext wafted up the valley from the Basilica, and joined in from afar.

Three hours, all the way down the hill, across the Nera and mucking about in the mud, wading over the little streams and peering into the depths. In one little pond, I saw lots of caddis fly larvae with their intricate little stone houses and a few water-skaters, but also witnessed something I'd only previously seen on Nature Shows on tv. I startled a spider as I approached the pond, and it ran across the surface of the water, its little feet bouncing off the water's surface tension like a trampoline. If I'd been just glancing the wrong way for an instant I'd have missed it. No more than a tenth of a second across to a safe blade of grass. Amazing!

Startled a few pheasants, and saw plenty of trout in the river. Took a rest in the shade of a willow in the middle of a big field to have a cup of green tea. Without another human in sight, I figured it was the perfect moment to make up a new song. "Happiness is a Damp Swamp" to the tune of the Beatles song Happiness is a Warm Gun, sung loud and through several verses improvised on the spot.

The nettles are up, and I collected two full shopping bags worth, mainly around the base of one of the old ruins where the nettles had grown up between the fallen stones and so had lots of sun. It made it a bit hazardous to climb over these loose stones, but it was fun.

Not only are they an excellent green leafy vegetable when steamed, full of ten times the nutrients as spinach, a decoction of the fresh leaves taken twice a day can treat seasonal allergies, which, as I moaned about earlier, have flared up ferociously in the last few weeks; I sound and feel like I've got a horrible deathly cold. Antihistamines work pretty well, but turn me into a zombie, so I'm going to try some Urtica dioica.

I started the seeds for chamomile, salvia and marjoram and will do the rest when I've finished my stories tonight. I've also bought the necessaries for finishing the stock I've been planning. A friend likes to serve prime rib for Christmas and I have had last year's bones in my freezer all this time, waiting for a new pressure cooker. Well, today's the day.

Stock is very misunderstood. People think that it's meat-flavoured water that you get from boiling the meat and the bones don't add much. But in fact, that's what used to be called "beef tea" which was popular for sick people in the 18th and 19th centuries because it was pretty insipid and you could digest it on a weak stomach. But with real stock, it's the bones that give you the goods, and what you've got at the end is not flavoured water, but liquified meat protein. Bones are spongey, and the cells are filled with this marrow stuff that is possibly the healthiest part of the animal. The way to get it out of the bone framework is simply dissolving it in hot water over a long time.

I do it the traditional way by saving in the freezer the odds and ends of vegetables. I've got a bag of frozen asparagus ends and mushroom stems, then toss in a whole onion or two, paper and all, an apple cut in half, a carrot and a few stems of celery, cloves of garlic and peppercorns. I also throw in a couple of whole cloves, but not too many as well as a handful of bay leaves and maybe a bit of orange peel. Fresh herbs should be thyme and marjoram, but not oregano which tends to be too strong. I also exclude from the veg any brassicas, broccoli or cabbage for the same reason. You also have to be careful to avoid anything that would disintegrate too thoroughly, so no potatoes. You're not making soup. Soup comes later.

All in the pot, and top up with water and let er go. Without a pressure cooker, I used to let stock go for at least five hours. Just on a very low simmer; no boiling. With a pressure cooker... we'll have to see.


Bunnies and breathing

When I lived in the Canadian arctic (briefly) with my family when I was a teenager, we had a bit of property outside of town and kept a snare line. I learned how to set a snare and then go and collect the free food the next day. We did this in winter when the rabbit runs were most visible in the snow, and the dead bunnies were frozen solid when we got them out of the snare the next day. All winter we had a freezer full of delicious free meat. My stepfather used to make moosehide mukluks and mother would sometimes tan the skins and Graham would add them to the tops of the boots to make them look nice and furry and to keep the snow out of your ankles. It was a win-win.

Around here, the fields are criss-crossed with rabbit trails. Bunnies are creatures of habit, and they will locate a steady source of food and take exactly the same route to get to it every day. This, of course, makes them easy for us to catch if we just pay attention to where the warren is and look carefully at the fields. I've seen loads of bunny highways around about, and every time I do, I think, "Hmmm... gotta get some snare wire."


For many years as a kid I had terrible spring allergies, and would swell up and go half-blind and nasal from April to June. It was like having the worst cold of your life, but instead of lasting a week, it went on for months. We tried all kinds of antihistamines and the awful stuff was almost worse than the ailment. The kind that was not "non-drowsy" had the effect on me of general anaesthetic, and although I could sleep peacefully because I could breathe, I would sleep (or be a walking-dead zombie) through the whole period of their effect, so I woke up when it was time to start wheezing, sneezing, coughing and itching again and had to decide if I was going just be miserable or take a pill and go back to sleep.

The non-drowsy kind allowed me to stay awake but still left me zoned out like a dreadlocked stoner at a music festival, and would generally only work for about half the time it said on the package. If it said 12 hours of relief, it would work for six, and the wheezing, sneezing, coughing and itching would go on for the next six until it was "safe" to take another one and get a few hours relief. And the non-drowsy had diminishing returns, so I would find that after a week or so, the relief time would be down to three or four hours.

This nightmare went on year after year, and no doctor seemed to have any answer except more antihistamines. Then when I was 20, we got to April and it had just stopped. No reason or apology given, my body just decided it could cope with whatever it was floating around in the air. I mostly forgot about allergies until I came to Italy. Here, come April, I would get a brief bout of inexplicable sneezing and runny nose for a few weeks, then it disappeared again. It would come in bursts lasting about an hour at a time, and then clear up, so I didn't bother with drugs.

But this is my first spring in Norcia, and even though there was almost nothing flowering in mid-March, my nose went inexplicably stuffy about a week ago, and things have been escalating since. This weekend, with spring bursting forth all over, we hit full-blown allergenic misery. In the last couple of days, I've been barely able to breathe.

But even this isn't as bad as the itching. Dear Lord, there is nothing worse than the itching! The membranes on the insides of your sinus cavities swell up and start to itch, and it's so bad you find yourself actually contemplating shoving a knitting needle up there just to get some relief. I have woken the last couple of days desperately rubbing my forehead. So I hied myself down to the farmacia, and after a pause for one enormous sneeze, the nice farmacia lady gave me the zombie drugs.


The worst of it (apart from the inside of my skull itching like there's a nest of caterpillars up there) is that I don't know how long it will last. Whatever it is could go all summer.

So, I've looked up herbal remedies, and one of the best bits of news is that there is something out there right now that could give me a bit of relief. I had no idea that stinging nettles were so broadly useful. I knew you could eat them and that they are pretty good, and massively good for you. But I have been collecting medicinal herb books, and they all say to take an infusion of nettle tea every morning, or a few teaspoons twice a day of nettle decoction or tincture.

I've been seeing the sprouting nettle patches all over, and they look dark green and wonderfully healthy, so I've been meaning to go out there and do some collecting anyway. I've also seen loads of Gallium Aparine that I've been having for the last couple of years as a tea to help resolve the lymphatic flow issues that followed cancer treatments.

So today, off we go with collecting bags, scissors and sturdy rubber kitchen gloves. And I'll take the camera.


I've got the peat pots going, and have bought several packets of seeds for lavender, thyme, sage, oregano, marjoram, sunflowers, harebells, rue and mint. The nice young chap from the garden centre brought over the large planter box I bought the other day and we're ready to roll.

I'm a little worried about watering in the summer though. Norcia makes you pay for water, and though it isn't much just for domestic use, I'm pretty sure the garden is really going to make the bill shoot up. It seems a bit hard, considering how much of the stuff flows for free out of the ground and out of the sky here.

The old lady who lives in the house next door has a series of big blue rain barrels along one wall of the house, and I'm thinking that it would be silly to just throw away the greywater from the bath and the washing-up. Not sure how I'm going to work it just yet, but I'll figure something out.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday procession

My very first upload to Youtube. A 1 minute 46 second video took nearly two hours to load, so I figure I must be doing it wrong. But it's not bad, I thought.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Doing it different

This was one of the first alt-farming videos I saw demonstrating that there is a movement to change things substantially.

One of the big issues, as this person says, is knocking the global addiction to fossil fuels. Right now the world's food supply is totally dependent upon oil. But whether you believe in Peak Oil or not, this is an enormous problem.

And something that is probably too politically incorrect for the BBC to mention, kicking the world's fossil fuel habit would also render the threat of Islam null. Right now, the only reason the Mad Mullahs have become a resurgent threat is the oil money buying the bullets and bombs.



Today is the first day in a while that we've had any sun. And the difference a week or so makes at the end of March is amazing. The grass and wildflowers are everywhere, the hedges are sprouting, Stellaria media, shepherd's purse, nettles, prunella vulgaris, ranunculus, hazel, plums and whitethorn all blooming and sprouting all over. And all week the clouds and fog curling over the tops of the mountains and rolling down the slopes and down over the valley floor.

It's so gorgeous here that it's actuallyl hard to concentrate. I find my attention drifting out the window when I ought to be watching cat videos and brainlessly drifting around Facebook. If I'm not careful, I'm going to start liking the real world more than the internet.

Actually, in all seriousness, I've been getting more and more frustrated and annoyed by the internet. So, I took a bit of a step yesterday, and cancelled my home account. No more full time wifi in the house.

Also took a long walk, happily splashing through the puddles in my English wellies, down to the garden centre and bought one of the biggest planter boxes they've got. What I hope to do ultimately is build wooden planters straight onto the ground, but for the moment, I think I'm going to go with containers.

You can do a lot with containers.


Friday, March 27, 2015

Permanent Culture

I walked past one of the local realtors' offices today, and had a long look at one of the postings. It was for 5300 sq m. of tereno agricoltura, that's a little over half a hectare or about 1.23 acres, for €8000. It has water access and some structures for enclosing animals.

I keep thinking about it...

And about this.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Ancient Japanese building techniques: We're doing it wrong


Natural building primer

A friend in the UK has expressed an interest in building her own house, and we were talking about our shared ambitions to not live in the standard middle-class type of dwelling that most people in our culture take for granted as "normal". I have been a member of various internet groups that talk about "natural" or "sustainable" building techniques that are starting to grow in popularity around the western world.

They take their inspiration mainly from ancient, pre-industrial techniques that were used nearly everywhere in Europe for thousands of years. Most significantly, they were used by the people who wanted to live in the dwelling. In other words, it used to be normal for people to build and maintain their own housing. The idea that the only way to own a home is to buy one ready-built, the suburban model, seems to be a product of Modernia that really took off after WWII and the great suburbanization of our populations. Which is itself an outgrowth of the post-Industrial Revolution thing of packing everyone together into cities so they can take a "job" working for someone else. It is, in other words, the final defeat of the old Catholic feudal/agricultural model, and one that I believe is perhaps the single most morally, socially and physically destructive development of human history.

Back in the day, and not too long ago, it was considered unremarkable for people to acquire a piece of property and build a house on it. My grandparents did it. Back when Vancouver Island was a remote backwater hardly anyone wanted to live on, they bought a 1/4 acre for $2000, high up on a cliff above the sea, with a fantastic view of the Nanoose inlet off the south side of the property. They built a small but beautiful two-bedroom house and a garden, mainly on the flat part in the front of the property, and a rock garden and container vegetable garden on the little bits of flat at the back of the house. They lived there until my grandfather's death, and it is still to this little pocket of paradise that my subconscious goes when I am anxious about the world or about life.

My friend agrees that the mass-produced, cookie-cutter, suburbanised direction our societies' domestic architecture has taken since the War has been gravely damaging. The idea of getting "on the housing ladder," that is, "buying" a "starter-home" by locking yourself into a titanic morgtage for the rest of your life is a thought that fills me with horror. Because the reality is simply not what we are being told. You do not become a "homeowner" this way; you become a mortgage-slave to a bank, who are the ones who really own your home and rule your life. This seems to me to be like voluntarily enslaving yourself to an evil macro-culture that is bent on the destruction of everything I love and hold dear. When my friend told me that she and her husband were considering "just getting on the housing ladder" I felt depressed and a little suffocated at the thought.

One of the "hippie" things my mother instilled in me that really stuck was a horror of debt. I would rather have a ball and chain attached to my ankle than be in serious debt, either with credit cards or student loans or a mortgage. When I was a kid, my mother got a bill from Visa that had attached interest at a rate of 22%. My mother, being ahh... somewhat less reserved than I... wrote a very elegant letter to Visa along with the cheque that said that if we were in biblical times, the entire pack of them would be stoned to death for the capital crime of usury. Along with this, she included the tiny little pieces of plastic that were all that was left of her Visa card.

But I want my own home, and am starting to want it more and more each year. My friend feels the same, and she is currently living in a beautiful old house that, through various happy accidents, she and her husband live in rent-free. But this situation could be taken out from under them at any moment, and she doesn't like the idea of pouring money down the bottomless rent-hole either. She said, however, that she was open to the idea of building, and I said I was looking closely at this new "natural building" trend that seems to be going around the world among people who also don't want to opt into the evils of the modern macro-culture. I said I would poke around and find some information for her.

Here is a video interview of one of the guys who started this movement, Ianto Evans, a Welshman who feels as we do about it all. "Any kind of loan for something you can't afford is asking for trouble. If you're already in that situation, get out of it. And if you're not, for heaven sake, don't get into it."

I've already posted this video, but it's worth looking at again:

"As an architect who spent five years years in school and at the end of it couldn't build a house, had you told me this fifteen years ago, I would never have believed you, I would never have believed that you could learn to build your own house in a ten-day workshop. But the proof is there by the dozens of people who have now gone out and done that. Once you don't have to be paying a mortgage on your home, then maybe you don't need to have two cars for each of you to get to work... and then maybe you don't need so much income. And then maybe you can keep your kids at home and grow a big garden. And do thngs together as a family..."

There seem to be generally three categories: straw bale, "cob" and, less often, "cordwood". Personally, I am most attracted to "cob,"

which seems to be a reiteration of the ancient wattle and daub technique.

There are a lot of groups in Britain and elsewhere that help people learn how to do this and, as with all these alternative living movements, the internet is the best way to find them and get in touch with them.

Here is the website of Cob Cottage Company, that gives people workshops in Oregon.

Here is the iLoveCob website where there are a lot of quite inspirational photos of the extremely charming houses that are possible to build using this technique.

Here is This Cob House which has more of this stuff.

Here is the blog of This Cob House.

Here's one in the UK, The Natural Building Centre

And this is the little cottage a guy in the UK built for ₤150. This is is his blog: Michael Buck

Here's more

From what I have seen, there is a movement in the same alternative building community, to turn back to other traditional building work, like the use of whole-timber for framing, found timber, recycled and salvaged materials.

And I really see no reason at all why all of these could not be combined to create a home like this:

I will mention only one more thing. I take the occasional look at the boards at the local realtors' offices and there are regular postings of agricultural properties. One of them was 7000 square meters, up on the lower slopes of the Norcia valley, and was selling for €22,000.

I'm just sayin...


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Under Pressure

Got a shiny new pressure cooker for Christmas, and it's awesome. The biggest one they make, 9 litres, and took it out for the first test drive.

Pressure cooker rabbit stew:

It's the simplest recipe you can imagine: you cut up the coniglio into big pieces, chop two carrots, an onion and four cloves of garlic. Dredge the bunny bits in a little flour with a little salt and curry powder, (used the plastic bag method). Brown the pieces in a bunch of butter, then put it all together in the pot with the veg. Add a soup cube and some sage and water just to cover, then bring the water to a boil, put on the pressure lid, and turn the heat way down. Seriously, it'll be done in 20 minutes. It's amazing. And the meat is perfect, tender and done all the way through, and the broth is fantastic. The only thing that could make it better is a little white wine which I didn't have.

What I couldn't believe was the speed. I figure it's basically what a microwave was before microwaves.

Totally get a pressure cooker.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Insult to injury

Mmm-boy! I love me some a yer fancy modern pharmaceuticals!

In the last few weeks, I've had the last fifteen years of typing every day catch up to me in the form of severe pain in my hands, which matches all the descriptions of "computer elbow". This malady is one of those repetitive motion injuries you hear about, that can include actual tiny tears in the muscle tissue, as well as nerve pain as the damaged muscles pinch the nerves that run from your elbow to your hands. It feels like someone is more or less constantly hitting me in the funny bone.

And as a bonus round, it is aggravating the neuropathy caused by the chemo that was better for a year or so, but is now back in a most vengeful way, like a jilted lover. Oh, how well I remember that lovely combo of the feeling like my fingertips are on fire and pressure in the hands and lower arms that builds up until it feels like my fingers are going to explode. Ever get your fingers caught in a door jambe? (Cringing a little now?)

I spend about three minutes in every ten holding my hands above my head and shaking them to try to get the pressure to go down.

It makes touching anything hard, like turning a key in a lock, zipping up my jacket, handling metal cutlery, opening the fridge door, and of course typing, a uniquely penitential adventure.

While there is no cure for the chemo-induced neuropathy except time and luck (with some people it never goes away entirely) there is something to be done about the repetitive motion injury: stop doing the thing that caused it. For at least two weeks, to give the damaged and inflamed muscle tissue time to heal. I suppose eating properly and getting a lot of exercise to boost the body's immune and healing systems would also not be a bad idea.

I've been trying various stretching exercises, which help temporarily. You sit on the sofa (or the pew) with your hands flat on the seat on either side. Then turn your hands around so the fingers are pointing backwards with the palms still down and flat. Now lean slowly backward so the fingers are pushed backwards in an L shape. Then slowly back again. Do this several times during Lauds, Vespers or Mass.

To get the full Crazy Lady effect, do the other stretches in between during the standing parts of the Mass, putting your hands and fingers behind you into weird contortions, then shaking them vigorously. Doing this during the Consecration is especially effective.

Yesterday I realised I would have to do take a break. I was writing an email to a friend back in BC, and the only way to do it was to hold my arms perfectly straight out, with my fingers splayed out like a starfish, and wrists held in a perfectly flat plane with my arms, no twist. I could type, very slowly and winceingly, with my thumbs.

Right now, I'm busily making things worse by taking strong painkillers, which work well enough that I can forget that it's actually just masking the symptoms enough to send me back to the keyboard so I can continue to do the thing that caused the problem.

I've already injured my way out of one promising career. I'd still be slinging bread dough if I hadn't been stupid and slipped a disk when I was 32.

Maybe it's a sign from God. Maybe it's just plain time to give up the internet entirely. Somehow.


The title of this interesting documentary is perhaps not the best. It's not so much about getting "off the grid". I would have called it Downsizing. The idea of downsizing your life on a personal, individual level, has always seemed like a good one to me. But not only getting rid of stuff, most especially consumer debt (credit card debt) but of getting rid of the desire for consumption, curbing the appetite for Things.

I've seen so many people try to climb up into that strange model of living that involves huge ownership of material things in opposition to huge commitment to people, to truth or knowledge or spiritual benefit. And I think a lot of people are quietly starting to understand that these things are not only largely out of reach (mainly by design) but unworthy of our commitment and personal resources. We have been sold a mess of pottage in the form of the lies of people who want to sell us a lot of useless things, and a great many people are starting to give it a serious re-think.

The hippies had a pretty good idea at the foundation of their "drop out" doctrine, but they ended up getting distracted with the urge to indulge other appetites. In many ways they made an accurate critique of Modernity and their exhortation not to participate in it was much in line with some home truths that can be found in the Bible and in a lot of other religions.

Things are not what life is supposed to be for. We all know it. It's hard to live this truth, but we do all know it.


This is Passion Week, and I've resolved to consider doing things a bit differently, perhaps radically differently (though perhaps not). I realise that despite having been a moderately serious Christian for a while, I've really never approached the Bible in any systematic way. While I was doing the housework this morning, I ran another interesting documentary about a group of Amish teenagers being taken to Britain to experience the outside world. I was impressed with the sincerity and seriousness of mind these young people displayed, even though none of them were over 17. They were, as the Proddie saying has it, "Bible believing Christians" but the first thing they were, clearly, was Bible-knowing Christians. I could do with a bit of knowing what they know.

How about some Passion Week homework: what one thing do you all think you would do well to add or subtract from your life?

I think I might try reading the Bible.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Still life with cliche

I just realised I'm a sucker for a particularly formulaic genre of still life painting, which I only just noticed is kind of cheesy: Stack of Old Books.

The genre comes in several variations:


Stack of Old Books with Candle

probably more than any other...

seriously, I could have gone on all day...

Stack of Old Books with Fruit (usually, but not always, an apple or a pear on top of the books)

(Yes, yes, we get it... snake, apple, knowledge...)

Stack of Old Books with Other Old-Timey Desk Stuff

Stack of Old Books with Tea Cup seems popular

The latest thing seems to be Stack of Old Books with Birds

And of course, my favourite, Stack of Old Books with Memento Mori,

good old "Vanitas"

I've already succumbed to the temptation once. But in my defence, it was a class exercise.

Of course, it might be a bit harsh to call it cliche. In some sense, these subjects and styles are more or less obligatory for artists.

I've got a lot of books, and some of them are appropriately decrepit and dusty. I've also got tea cups, candle sticks, some odds and ends of spooky-looking Dickensian desk stuff and even a skull or two.

Please remind me never to put them all together in a still life.

I'm working on a new skull. Not this one.

One of the sheep skulls I found on my walks. I was thinking of adding a book, but now maybe I won't.


Friday, March 20, 2015

Winnie update

Winnie and I are just finishing our supper and watching a little TV before bed. She's doing that adorable thing again, sitting behind me on the chair and butting her head up against my shoulder while she falls asleep. I've had to push her back onto the chair cushion twice now before she slips off entirely.

Last Sunday she was in such a state, that I was once again sure we were looking at her last day, or at least last 48 hours, but Dr. B. came again and saved the day. For the last few days she's been almost bouncy. I've been feeding her with her all-time favourite thing, chicken livers, which I mince up fine and mix with her special diet food. Every time I feed her, she runs over to the dish. So I guess she's not quite ready to give up yet.

Today, as I was puttering around the garden and watching the eclipse, she came out of the house and nosed around, sniffing the new grass and sat for a few minutes in the sun. I was going to get a pic, but the camera batteries chose that moment to crap out.

As a friend said, we're on her timetable and when she's ready to go, she'll go. Until then, we hang out.


Spazio! Ultima frontiera!

Sono stato a guardare Star Trek in Italiano, e ho imparato a dire, "Spazio, ultima frontiera! Questi sono i viaggi della nave stellare, Enterprise. La cui missione cinque anni è di cercare nuove forme di vita e nuove civiltà, per andare là dove nessun uomo è mai giunto prima."

Nerding out in two languages.



We got at most about 55% here and in Rome. According to the national Italian astronomical organisation, they got 69% in Milan, which was the most in this country. Totality could be seen only in the Faroe Islands in Iceland.

After we had all the lunar coverage we were going to get here, I watched the live feed by SLOOH from the Faroe Islands. At totality, the screen went absolutely black until they removed the filters from the cameras, and BAM!

Spectacular! The Baily's Beads, the little ring of lights where the sun shone over the moon's craters, then two solar prominences, then as the moon moved on, the Diamond Ring effect.

I was outside for most of it with the pinhole camera I made. The light did indeed get noticably dimmer, and took on a strange quality. At the peak of our coverage, all the dogs and cats in the neighbourhood went bananas, barking and howling and running madly around. Which was cool.

While all this was going on, the guy from the ferramenta came by with my new trestle table, and he showed me the photos he took with welder's glass. We watched the coverage for a few minutes, and he said there was going to be a total eclipse visible from Norcia in about 15 years. So put it on your calendars.

Then I planted my nasturtium seeds and all was well with the universe.

I vaguely remember a near-total eclipse in Victoria from my early school days, and they told us, of course, that we couldn't watch it directly but taught us how to make pinhole cameras to see it. I looked it up on the innernet and voy-lah! Because, Science!

Best pic. With my eye (stupid camera!) it looked a lot cooler, like a cookie with a big bite taken out.

Nature Girl doing her nerdy Amateur Naturalist thing...

V. annoyed that the camera couldn't pick it up, but at this stage it looked like a little Pac-man.

Slightly off topic - Daffs!!

Peak. The light all around was very weird.

The BBC's footage of totality in the Faroe Islands.

I thought it was pretty funny listening to the commenters from SLOOH talking about what an "amazing coincidence" it is that the moon is precisely the right size and distance from the earth to create total eclipses.

The closest we'll come to a totality in this area again will be August 12th, 2026 but it will be close to sunset. We'll get most of the eclipse but then the sun will drop below the horizon, at about 8 pm. The next total eclipse that will be completely visible, weather permitting, will be in 2187. I can't guarantee I'll be able to get pics.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Living in Rivendell

I want to buy a piece of property, and then get this guy to come over to Italy and show me how to build my own house.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Cheery thought for the day

Years ago, I was having a conversation with Paul Tuns of the Interim and the guy who gave me my first political lobbying job in Toronto about the future. We joked that there was no point in worrying about retirement on pro-lifer salaries since by the time we were old enough to retire, the governments of the western world would already have legalised euthanasia and would probably already be using it to get rid of people like us.

I remembered that conversation a few weeks ago when ISIS murdered those Copts about 500 km from Italian soil and started thinking maybe I wouldn't have to wait until Big Brother decided to purge his enemies.

Quite pleased with myself today for coming up with one of my better lines.

About the response to ISIS by the Vatican diplomatic mission to the UN

What doesn’t the Vatican delegate’s polite, politically correct, jargon-laden joint statement say? It does not say what Catholic prelates, including popes, used to say routinely: that Christian civilisation is better than the vigorous barbarism and the bloated and enervated classical pagan fatalism it replaced 2000 years ago. It is better than Islam, that dominates what we now call the Middle East, the ancient Christian homeland brutally conquered by Mohammed’s ruthless, salacious and bloodthirsty will to power. And it is better than the predatory relativistic secularism, spawned out of 18th century Freemasonry, that still has its venomous fangs sunk into the twitching corpse of Christendom.

Anyway, back to Big Bang Theory...


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

So, I finally caved.

I finally got the internet full speed in my new place. I had no other choice. I had to work and my internet stick - which was very helpful at rationing my internet time - was out of juice and could not be recharged for another two days. With Little Winnie sick, I felt I couldn't be away from home working down the hill for hours at a time, so I gave in and registered for the Telecom Italia account that came as part of the package with my landline.

I only got the stupid landline because it came as part of the package with the Telecom plan I bought for my cell phone, so I didn't have to keep ricarica-ing my phone. Of course, now I really don't remember why I wanted to get a full time mobile plan, except that for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to give an international telecommunications conglomerate my home address so they could bother and pester me at home any time they wanted. Because I clearly needed more utilities bills in my life, along with all the joy utilities companies bring to our days. (With the added extra-special joy of it being Italy, so you're more likely to get hit by lightning than for your bill to arrive at your house in the post. This probably the only country in the world where getting a phone bill is actually cause for rejoicing.)

Now, not only have I got a landline I will never use myself, or give anyone the number for, I've got Big Brother Internet invading my home like an obnoxious encyclopaedia salesman.

Because, Modernity! Shiny, shiny Modernity! It's the BEST!

But on the upside, I can finally get back to my old TV show and YouTube addictions and stop going outside so much and getting all that exercise in the fresh air and sunshine.




Saturday, March 14, 2015

Bonfire Night

It just occurred to me that I never got around to posting the photos of Bonfire Night.

In England, they commemorate the night of the Gunpowder Plot, and burn effigies of Guy Fawkes.

In Norcia, they commemorate the Translation of the Holy House of Loreto.

In briefest terms, because of the threat of desecration by the Mohammetans, the angels picked up the Holy House in which our Blessed Mother spent her early life, and experienced the visit from the angel announcing her role as the Mother Of God, and brought it to safety.

As the Catholic Encyclopedia has it:

Angels conveyed this House from Palestine to the town Tersato in Illyria in the year of salvation 1291 in the pontificate of Nicholas IV. Three years later, in the beginning of the pontificate of Boniface VIII, it was carried again by the ministry of angels and placed in a wood near this hill, in the vicinity of Recanati, in the March of Ancona; where having changed its station thrice in the course of a year, at length, by the will of God, it took up its permanent position on this spot three hundred years ago [now, of course, more than 600]. Ever since that time, both the extraordinary nature of the event having called forth the admiring wonder of the neighbouring people and the fame of the miracles wrought in this sanctuary having spread far and wide, this Holy House, whose walls do not rest on any foundation and yet remain solid and uninjured after so many centuries, has been held in reverence by all nations." That the traditions thus boldly proclaimed to the world have been fully sanctioned by the Holy See cannot for a moment remain in doubt.

It has been the custom in Norcia, and previously all over the Holy Valnerina, to light fires in succession on that night, the vigil of the Feast of the Translation of the Holy House of Loreto, December 9th, to light large bonfires to help the angels find their way across the dark and uninhabited places of the mountains.

Bundle up, it's cold out.

When the day comes for pitchforks and torches, we know the right people.

A total of nine fires are built around town the day before, looking like huge haystacks, and people set up large wood barbeque grills. You go down the hill about nine pm, and meet your neighbours who fill you up with grilled pork, mulled wine, truffle fritata and lentils.

We explained that it is a bad book, against Our Lord, and we'd brought it to burn.

The local county-mountie taking a video for the kids.

It's chilly out; better drink with both hands.

Outside after dark + grilled pig, mulled wine and a house-sized fire =  happiness


Party in the noisy section; camp in the quiet

I love medieval festas, I love the gorgeous costumes and armour and stilt-walkers, drummers, mummers and flag-jugglers, hurdy-gurdy and crumhorn players, and all manner of pageantry. And I love that in this town, this kind of stuff is a regular pattern of life, probably a lot like it was in the 13th century.

But I'm pretty glad I decided not to get a place inside the walls.

Party in the noisy section; camp in the quiet section. A good old SCA rule that has stood me well, lo, these 35 years.

Setting things on fire is pretty fun too. Bonfire Night, Norcia-style. 


Friday, March 13, 2015

Appropos of nothing whatever



It's a DUCK!!!

It'll kill us all!!!!!


Tuesday, March 10, 2015


I don't do spontaneous buying, on the whole. Instead I've worked out a system by which I think, "What fun thing do I want to do?" And then work out what things I need to make that fun thing happen.

Norcia is a very outdoorsy place. We're right on the edge of the Abruzzo national park, and there is a constant stream of hikers, trekkers, mountain bikers, rafters, hunters, fishermen, bird watchers and nature-lovers coming through town. We have three outdoorsy outfitters (rather expensive) and all the clothing shops also sell trekking gear.

My favourite shop is the Geosta that has clothes and basic camping and trekking gear as well as all kinds of viewing-aids like binoculars and telescopes, as well as the fancy teeny stoves water purifiers, compasses, swiss army knives and all the cool camping gadgets. It also has a very well-stocked library of outdoorsy books, stuff about the geography, birds, plants, trees, mountains, trails, and history and legends. There's loads of maps and proper field guides, both the popular, amateur kind, and the kind the government and universities put out that are a bit more ... sciency. It immediately became my favourite shop in town and I often go there just to gaze into the window at the microscopes.

I've been thinking about what sort of fun outdoorsy things I could do here, and I've set up a little bird watching station in one of the deep window casements at home that look over the fields. My two sets of binos and my bird field guides are there, and it's lovely to sit there in the mornings as the birds get on with breakfast. I've identified about a dozen species just by looking out the window.

The other day, I took a half-day and went up the hill away from town to where there is an old track down the slope that connects to the highway and then the Marcite, and spent a very happy day in my rubber wellies stomping around the marshy fields, taking pictures and noting where the bunny trails and woodpecker trees are, where the ducks and herons nest and walnut trees will produce nuts in the autumn. What I longed to do on that beautiful sunny day (20 degrees that day, though it snowed again three days later) was sit still for a while and do some drawing, but I hadn't brought the right stuff with me.

I've also been thinking how nice it would be to go to the local museum, which has quite a good collection of art and artefacts, and do some drawing there.

What I needed, clearly was one of these.

Which I bought today at the Geosta. It comes with a backpack thing and straps, so you can carry it easily and carry your binos, drawing book, collecting jars, magnifiers, pencils, camera and all that gear.

I've also recently got a nice shiny thermos for tea, and a tupperware lunch thingy.

Ready for Nature Girl 2.0

A few weeks ago, on my way up to the Vet's to fetch Winnie home.

Lots of dog roses around.

Started out cloudy, cleared up and was irresistible.

Like quills upon the fretful porpentine

To the left you can see the road. Stay on that and you'll go past my house and down to the city walls. It carries on up through the mountains. The track past the fields and down to the valley floor is probably ancient, has no name and is bristling with wildlife.

First days of March and the hazel is flowering.  Lots of nuts to collect.

Ranunculus, buttercup, starting to bloom.

Twice I saw sheep skulls stuck in the branches of trees. I don't suppose they got there by themselves.

I'll try to go back in a few days to the same spot and take another pic, so we can see how the spring is developing.

At the bottom of the hill and across the highway the Marcite, "water meadows" start. Spot the fisherman.

The beginning of the Nera river.

Plenty of trout in the river.

The yellowish and pinkish haze over the trees and shrubs are the unopened buds. Spring is coming!

The extreme range of my zoom. I saw about a dozen herons in one tree.

The Marcite: a UNESCO world heritage site. Starting in the early middle ages, the Benedictines started creating water drainage underground to pour the water into the Nera and make the land arable. The surviving mills date no further back than the 18th century, but of course there have been mills down there since the middle ages. You walk along and you can often hear the water gurgling along under your feet.

Sometimes it comes up to the surface.

One of the sluice gates still in operation at one of the restored mills.

There are about a dozen old mills left, some of which are being experimentally used to generate electricity on a small scale.