A Meandering Mann

Thoughts, quirky insights and experiences in my meandering life.

Halloween Bookends

The view from my window….

On Halloween, 2018 I closed my house sale in Toronto and moved out, and on Halloween 2019 I spent the first night in my new home in Owen Sound. Interesting coincidence. Sadly for the kids here it was an awful night, rain, rain and more rain with wind thrown in for good measure. Not much fun going around to neighbours dressed up in costumes that have been planned for weeks and are now completely covered with rain gear. My downstairs neighbour Dianne and friends gamely waited outside to hand out candys while I made my first dinner, two batches of soup. We had to eat it out of mugs as the bowls were still packed. A good housewarming, but loads of candy left. Have to get that out of the house.

The next day I overheard someone comment that it was too bad that Halloween had to be at the end of October. A good question, that got me musing. About quarter days and cross quarter days, and how traditions get layered, one on top of the other, but often (always?) going back to the cycle of the earths journey around the sun each year. I love Winter Solstice, on or about December 21st, because it marks the shortest day of the year. It is a quarter day. From then on, to Summer Solstice, the days get longer. Of course Summer Solstice makes me sad because we loose daylight, ever so slightly, til Winter Solstice. When the days are perfectly balanced with night are the Equinoxes, on or about March 21st and September 21st. Okay, okay, you are probably saying, I know all this. But what about those cross quarter days? February 1st, May 1st, August 1st and November 1st, the dates that correspond to what some traditions consider the more important festivals, the Fire Festivals between the Solstices and Equinoxes. In North Western Europe the Celts certainly recognized them, and the Druids knew all about the cycle of the year, think of the June 21 st celebrations at Stonehenge when the sun rises over the Heel stone. The cross quarter days have various names but commonly recognized ones are Imbolc, February 1st, Beltane, May 1st Lammas, August 1, and Samhain, November 1st. Christians took some of the quarter and cross quarter days to celebrate their own festivals. Christmas is on top of the Winter Solstice, and Easter is close by Spring Equinox, and Samhain is All Saints Day or All Hallows to name a few.

Beltane, May 1st, was the licentious one. Unwed people could couple up that night around the Beltane fire and begin a trial marriage. No wonder the Puritans banned dancing around the Maypole, and how did it become a day for military parades in Russia?

Samhain, November 1st, marking the end of summer, and possibly the end of the Celtic year, became associated with burial grounds, and under the Christian calendar All Hallows, so October 31st was All Hallows Eve, Halloween. So sorry kids, you have to collect free candy in dicey weather, it can’t be any other day.

I could go on about this for quite a bit more as I find it very interesting, but will leave it by saying that the February cross quarter day is now celebrated as Groundhog day in North America. The layering goes on.

What a lot happened between those two Halloweens, and a big and important part of it was setting up meeting points, coordinating drop off points, driving the boat to those connection points. You get the picture. And right in my Bailiwick, my comfort zone, I love that challenge. Then there was the planning of what to take to England and Italy for winter on a boat, and summer in a very hot city, with a quick switch over between. (And who knew you could collect so much stuff in one year that I would need to ship 4 boxes home?)

For over a year I have been very goal or date driven. The foot has been pretty well pressed down on the gas, and although I was looking forward to taking a breathe it felt a bit strange when it happened, when the accelerator eased up. It didn’t happen until after everything was moved into my new home.

After all, I had to choose paint colours in a hurry, and get the place ready for the painter to start. I had to get a new cell, get the internet connected, join the library, join the YWCA, get movers at the last minute, right at the end of the month.

And then it was done, I was moved in.

Yikes. No deadlines, no foot on the accelerator, just unpacking.

And more unpacking. I felt lost. My full time job was finding a new home for all my possessions, whether they wanted a home or not, or even if I didn’t have a clue what to do with them. But luckily life is intervening. Dates are being made for doctors, dentists, accountants, financial advisors, all that important stuff, and to see friends and catch up. How quickly the time begins to get taken up. Aquafit, gym orientations, contra dancing, dog walking. Of course I had to visit Zoey’s grave.

I had a really good cry, but the walk up the hill to where she is through the fall colours reminded me of what I love about Ontario at this time of year.

and there is some semblance of sanity in my home, although I am leaving it for the weekend to catch up with friends, oh, and pick up those boxes.

P.S. Those light fixtures have got to go.

Eleven and a half months

View from San Gimignano

The most time consuming part of creating a posting is choosing the pictures. I get lost in reviewing them to choose the ones that I want to use and what I want to say about them. Today was no exception as this blog is the last from Europe. I fly home to Canada on October 16th, just the day after tomorrow.

Art installation in the Rose Garden on the way up to the Piazzale Michelangelo

Things I will miss include, and not in order of importance:

All the taxes being included in the price that you see on the menu or on the shelf in a grocery store, or on a piece of clothing. This applies to the UK and Italy. What a treat to not have to stop and calculate how much tax you need to add to the item you are buying, or to your division of the bill in a restaurant.

How close things are, relatively speaking, in Europe. And how much easier it is to use public transport to get around. Trains connect towns and cities efficiently and quickly. I have “popped” up to London at least three times on this trip, and this last weekend we “popped” down to Jane and Martin’s home to celebrate Ruben’s 2nd birthday.

Ruben was exercise averse this weekend, preferring to be carrier or pushed. Sally in charge of the wheel barrow.

In Italy trains took me and various guests to Venice, Lucca, Modena and San Gimignano quickly, efficiently, and in comfort. A bit more space than British trains.

My fifth guest, Katherine, in San Gimignano.

I will miss having access to all the leather, sewing machines, sciving machines, leather splitter, findings and structural fabrics, mentorship and so much more at the Scuolo del Cuoio. Choosing what are the most important things to begin with in my own workshop will be an interesting process.

Leather sewing machine with sewing guide

Just to round things out I took another weekend course in England, just a few miles away from where Sally lives. It was a completely different style of leather work where we dyed our leather and hand stitched the bag.

I found the course on a website called www.craftcourses.com What an amazing resource. You put in your postal code and it gives you a list of course of all kinds that are offered in your area. From blacksmithing to leather work to who knows what. This country has a dense enough population that a website of this sort is viable. What a resource, both as an artisan offering courses and for participants. I wish we had a similar one in Ontario.

Above are silver rings that Sally and I made at the Glamorous Owl in Newcastle. A workshop gift from friends for her 60th birthday that I got to enjoy as well. Mine is on the left, a herringbone finish, and Sally’s is hammered.

It goes without saying that I will miss being close to my family. I thought I may see Ruben once while here but it has turned out that I have seen him frequently, and what a treat that has been. He is a lovely, happy, sweet natured little boy, but I am tremendously biased. It has been lovely to see people frequently and be a more continuous part of the fabric of their lives.

Things I will not miss, in no particular order:

Florence in July and August. My brother in law Trevor called the heat scorchio, and he was right. I felt like I was being slowly roasted when I was in direct sunlight. What a relief it was when the temperatures cooled down in September and I could really explore Florence without discomfort. My early visitors were real troopers, but Sara, Gayle and Katherine all planned their dates well. It was lovely to get out of Florence with Katherine and visit San Gimignano, a hill top town close by. The views were amazing, and it was lovely to rest my eyes on the far distance. In Florence the streets are narrow and the town is relatively flat so there are no views unless you climb towers or hills slightly out of town.

The towers of San Gimignano

There were few ways for the rich merchants of San Gimignano to show their wealth when the town was at it’s most successful. As space was limited to build big impressive houses, they built up. They built towers above their houses. At one point there were 72 (or so). They had no function except to demonstrate wealth. Amazing.

Winding alleyways, wonderful views, great restaurants and treacherous sloping sidewalks (when it rains, which it did while we were there,) in San Gimignano.

I missed main course salads. England, and strangely, Italy do not offer a good selection of salads that constitute a main course. In fact, I could say that the main course salad in the UK is almost non-existent. Traditional Italian restaurants, which means most of them, do not have a tradition of salads as a main course. Usually the only real choice was a Calabrese salad. So after pub meals in England and pasta and gelato in Italy, back to Weight Watchers I go. Sigh

We were actually stuck in this picture. Something was holding us in place, probably wood caught in the water draining system. This was part of ladder of locks, or is this called a flight? No pounds between them.

I will not miss copper coins.

All in all it has been everything I wanted it to be, and of course there were many things that I could not have anticipated, such as the extra visits with Ruben, or participating in the People’s Vote along with 1,000,000 others, doing Swingfit, and Pilates and meeting great new friends at Sally’s and Jane’s.

Regents Canal, going around Regents Park

Of course I new that people were going to visit me both on board Little Star and in Florence, and I continue to be delighted and honoured that they chose to do that but the reality was so much more fun than the anticipation. Thank you everyone for making my adventure so much MORE.

I think I will end this now before I become maudlin. See you in Owen Sound!

Last day of Leather School.

The last two major projects came home with me today. A design based on a saddle bag, vaguely.

When I started thinking about what I wanted for my bag I at first explored Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass designs, but decided to have a look at my friend Caroline Shuttle’s website, http://elements-glass.ca/ and was inspired by her stained glass instead. Those on her website and those in my head from my many years of admiring her designs. Thanks for the inspiration Caroline.

My bag, cut out and ready to construct.

I had help with the colour choices and actualizing the design from Sara Anne Leigh and Gayle Campbell, my fourth set of guests. Sara was my graphic designer for Beaches Therapeutics and Plant Life, and I called upon her skills to discuss the design and cut the leather with her many years of precision experience. Gayle is a colour wizard, and I agreed with her choices.

Sara and Gayle

This was the view from the villa that Gayle and Sara took me for a traditional Tuscan dinner. The food and company matched the view.

We got out of town again, and went to Modena in search of true balsamic vinegar, and we were lucky, very lucky. We went on Sunday, the only day available to us, and found:

but it was closed. We rang, not knowing it was closed, they said it was closed, then they opened up for us. So we got our own private tour and education.

The Acetaia is in the attic so that the heat from the summer increases fermentation, and the cool in the winter allows the particulate matter to sink to the bottom of the barrel. The vinegar is moved from larger to smaller barrels as more of it is lost to the gods. It is a strict system, even down to the type of wood that the barrels are made of. Although a lot more seems to be lost to the gods than in making whiskey. You can see the bottles on the table for sampling. We didn’t try them all but enough to get a good idea of the different flavours. What a wonderful experience, and what a wonderful smell as we walked up the stairs to the attic. They are laying down vinegar now that will take 25 years to mature. Long after the present owners will have left this mortal coil. A bit like Capability Brown designing landscapes for 100 years minimum after they were planted. Needless to say, some is coming home with me. Sara and Gayle both do fermented food, kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut and more. They will be one of the first workshops I offer in Owen Sound. Can’t wait.

The earth has turned enough on her axis that the weather is finally enjoyable. Not until the temperature came down to the high twenties rather than the low to mid thirties did I really realize how much I had not enjoyed that hot hot weather. That I had to “gird my loins” to go out in it. What a relief to walk around without feeling that I was on a grill when I was in full sun. It is glorious now, September has been largely idyllic. In two days it is fall equinox, so sadly it is getting darker much earlier. Another year is winding its way to a close. I love December 21st which signals the slow return of the light, but that would be rushing things.

Firenze fact

Apparently someone is going around Florence altering the “do not enter” signs. At first the authorities removed them, but now apparently they are going with the flow and leaving them. Next will be tee shirts. A Florentine Banksy?

Italy fact: They still use corks here in most wine and prosecco bottles. Maybe they have a secret supply of cork producing trees here that the rest of the world does not know about.

Big things and little things

My third set of visitors have come and gone. Anne Pearson, a high school friend who now lives in Australia, and her daughter Kathryn, who is already a world traveler at 22. I hadn’t seen Anne since the early 90’s. What a treat.

That is a Bellini that Anne is drinking, of Harry’s Bar fame in Venice. Anne brought me gin from Australia, Ink Gin.

Anne says the colour change is something to do with the pH of the tonic, but I prefer to think it is magic. And it tastes delicious. Was that a big thing, or a little thing, hard to tell.

Doors in Florence are huge, impressive things……..

This is from the Baptistry next to the Duomo. It is a copy, maybe even a second copy and the detail is amazing. It is three dimensional, and I believe the original was probably covered in quite a bit of gold. You can tell the dimensions by the height of the people. Pretty hard to get a picture with no tourists unless you get up in the middle of the night and set up lights.

The vehicles, on the other hand, are small.

Yep, two people in a three wheeler pick-up truck. The streets are small, and gas prices are high, at least twice the cost in Canada.

Cars are just as creative. I believe this one was electric. A two seater.

A twizy, made by Renault, seats one. I have seen quite a few of these around town. But back to those doors…..

Our school doors, closed and open. The school is housed in a monastery which was built by the Medici and given to the church. Now, why would they do that, they didn’t get a tax receipt to write off against their taxes.

Well, the Medici were money lenders, as one of the school employees put it, they rented out money, which as we know Catholics were not supposed to do. So to soften up God, and the Church, they gave them real estate, and I am sure many other material gifts. Probably also hoped it reduced their time in purgatory, a now abandoned concept, but very much a threat held over peoples heads back then.

A bit like the sanctuary knocker of Durham Cathedral.
The amazing thing is, these doors are used all the time!
Entrances to inner sanctums are pretty interesting too.

My door and my hosts, Elana and Alessandro. They have recently taken over this building, have renovated and upgraded it. Domus Plaza, they are with bookings.com, or is it booking.com! Very centrally located. Ok, yes, this is a plug for them. Lovely young enterprising couple.

Italy fact: A lot of people smoke here. In England they vape, here it is good old tobacco.

Meanwhile, back at the Scoula del Cuoio

When I signed up for the course I noticed that they offered a three and six month course which ran concurrently, the six month course included learning Italian. I wondered, and inquired, whether we all went to school in the morning, and the language students studied in the afternoon. No, I was told, you go to school all day. 9.30 to 5 pm. With half an hour for lunch. Half an hour for lunch in Italy? What about siesta? No siesta, just half an hour for lunch. Now I tend to be a little late for things, but I am not late for school. Often getting there a little early, we barely take 30 minutes for lunch and are often there until 5.15 or 5.25. And we don’t stop. All day long. We work at our own pace, although we are all learning together. Some of the young women have experience with pattern making and sewing and are very fast. I have never made patterns before, and the lines have to be precise. I am used to working in inches, and eighths of inches, which I can pretty well visualize, but here it is centimeters, and millimeters, and those millimeters are tiny. Counting 2, or 3, or 4 is challenging to my eyes. And cutting from exact point to exact point without the ruler slipping…. is getting better.

The prototype is in the corner. The leather pieces are cut, deer skin as soft as silk for the outside, and a beautiful fine leather lining. From start to finish, seven days. So production has slowed down somewhat.

The Classic Bag. I made a very simple version, which I think looks a little like a 60’s air hostess bag.

It is constructed in two parts, the outside and the inside, and then sewn together, so everything has to match exactly, and underneath that smooth surface is all kinds of supporting structures. Linings, interlinings, bits of metal, tape to support stitching. I will never look at a bag in the same way again. The shoulder strap took me the most part of a day to construct, and of course I made it more complicated because I wanted a buckle to adjust the length.

Although we all tend to have a side project as well. Mine was replacing a wallet that I have had and loved for over 30 years.

I made it slightly bigger and added a small flap so that the cards I keep in it do not fall out.

I already know that when I make it again it will be slightly different, but I am very happy with it as a prototype. Of course two other people, my brothers in law, have asked me to remake their wallets. We do get attached to our things!

Martin’s wallet, well used.
It has four pouches. A clever design.

The prototype, made in Salpa, reconstituted leather, is also used for linings to give support to the finished item. We are on break for a week and I brought the leather pieces home with me to trim. However, we leave for Venice tomorrow, Monday and after that to Lucca for an overnight so not sure if I will get to it.

I am now in the process of making a bag called a Bugatti. Don’t know why, it doesn’t look like a sports car. It is another seven or eight day bag. And Sally has put in her order for a bucket bag which is the next thing that we make. The final part of her 60th birthday present.

Sally, choosing the dimensions of her bag.

Firenze fact. It is hard to find a Florentine in Florence voluntarily during August. Stores shut down, factories shut down and everyone heads to the beach. I have seen closures for a week, but most often for longer. As someone who used to own a clinic and store I find it amazing that they can give up the income and pay the rent while they are away and not go broke. But it is hot. 38C today.


Florence, the continuing adventure.

Hailey and Sandra. No mistaking they are mother and daughter, the same lovely smile

My first guests have already come and gone, and the week they were here disappeared in an instant. Although I have only been here four weeks it was fun to see Florence as new again through their eyes. And it was fun to be able to show them around a little bit using my growing knowledge of where things are. I used to think I had a good sense of direction until I traveled with my friend Brenda to Boston. I was just getting my bearings but she already and always knew which way to go, even though it was the first time there for both of us. I had to have a rethink of my capabilities. Here I have a well worn tourist map tucked in my bag. Now more of a security blanket than a necessity. Strangely I love imaps for driving, but find it frustrating when I am walking. I wonder if other people have the same experience.

How can you not take a photograph?

The closer you get to the Ponte Vecchio (old bridge), the more expensive the shops become. The bridge is packed with 18k gold jewellery stores, and in the surrounding area pretty well every big Italian fashion house is represented. Gucci, Dolce & Gabana, Fendi, Giorgio Armani, Prada, to name a few, and although I will very likely never shop in them it feels “right” that they are here. Italian companies in an Italian town.

Ponte Vecchio, shops locked up at night, but still thronging with people.

When I was a kid I loved the idea that old London Bridge had shops built all along it. It burned down in 1666 during the Great Fire of London and when they rebuilt it the shops did not return.

Ponte Vecchio, the famous view, with the Vasari Corridor across the top, allowing the Medici’s to get from their palace to work (ruling Tuscany and financing European monarchs) without being assassinated. It is one kilometer in length, snaking along on both sides of the river.

All during my time on Little Star I enjoyed hearing church bells coming across the countryside air. Often it was a weekday evening that I would notice the sounds, and the bells were tuneful and often went on for some time, stopping and then starting again. I imagined that it was the practice session for the bell ringers, to get it right for Sunday services. It was a far cry from the single bell that rang out from our village church on Sunday morning, a rather doleful sound, but that has nothing on the bells of Florence. I have been trying to find the right word to express the sound. Clamouring? Dissosant? Tumultous? Discordant? People are hauling on those bell ropes for all they are worth with no concern for how they sound, often two bells or more at a time, completely out of step with each other, and jangling on the ears and nerves. But they do ring at 7 am in the morning, when I need to wake up for school. They must follow the Catholic church services as they ring at times I can make no sense of, not being a Catholic.

San Lorenzo Market, now my regular Saturday morning market, buying what is in season.

I will bring all my visitors here. Markets, a connection not just to other markets worldwide, but to all markets through time. For some reason markets always make me think of the Silk Road, and traders moving their goods from China and India all the way to the Middle East and on to Europe, and goods going in the other direction. Meeting at markets along the way and trading. Spikenard is mentioned in the Bible, set in the Middle East, but it comes from the Himalayas.

The temperature in Florence has cooled down to the low 30’s now, so I am able to take more than small sips of the city when I venture out, but most people still seek the shade. The following two pictures were taken standing in the same spot, just in different directions.

Just over that shade line
Hardy people in the sun, mostly walking.

Notice the beautiful paving stones, these are relatively flat. Many around Florence are worn and very uneven. Watching where you walk is an absolute necessity to avoid a twisted ankle. I will have to take pictures of the street next to Sante Croce, which are the worst I have seen. I wonder if there is a disclaimer that we all commit to about not suing the city of Florence if we injure ourselves as tourists. North American cities would never survive being sued by trip and fall suits being brought against them if their pedestrian, or roadways, were in this condition. It is truly authentic, and I don’t blame them for leaving them they way they are. Definitely part of the character of Florence as much as the Duomo or Baboli Gardens.

While Sandra and Hailey were here we wandered along the banks of the Arno, abandoning a plan to climb up to the Piazzale Michelangelo because of impending thunder, lightning and rain, and having had to abandon climbing the Torre Palazo Vecchio, tower of the old palace, due to rain that began and ended and began again. They close the tower when it rains. As we walked along we saw a throng of people looking over a bridge to the water. This is what Hailey saw when she zoomed in with her camera.

We still do not know whether they were rescuing the dog, or if the dog was there to sniff out a body or ? We hung around for a while but gelato was calling, so we don’t know the outcome. Didn’t really fancy seeing a body being brought up. We checked the local news as much as we could but to no avail.

Firenze fact. The historical part of Florence is a Limited Traffic Zone. It limits who can drive in the city at various times of the day. Now being Italy it is a very complicated system, which changes between Sundays and the rest of the week, holidays, and between seasons. It only allows residents, taxis, delivery trucks and municipal (or subcontracted) vehicles, such as the garbage pick up from the designated boxes to drive in the old part of town. Which is great for pedestrians. Even if it is a roadway walking in the road is possible, which is essential to pass snaking lines of tourists as they follow their shepherds, I mean tour guides, listening to the guide through their headsets. I checked out a visitor site that emphasized that even if you made a wrong turn and ended up in a LTZ for one minute that they would find you and send a fine, long after you returned home. I had been planning to drive to Florence from Amsterdam because I was going to be bringing Zoey. As much as I miss her every day and wish I could still enjoy her wonderful energy I am glad I don’t have a vehicle here. However, there are enough scooters, vehicles and bikes on the road to keep us on our toes. I certainly wouldn’t want to be a driver trying to avoid tourists. Or tourons as a young man serving us lunch in Yellowstone park, right next to Old Faithful, called us back in 1983. The word has really stuck with me. It was, quite literally, the last day of the season, his last day of work, and he was letting off steam. Pun intended. Ciao.

English, the international language of tourism

Here I am, in Florence, a uni-lingual person, making myself sufficiently understood to get along as most people associated with tourism have at least a little English.

When I was a young teenager I travelled with my family to the Netherlands. I remember being very impressed that the person serving in a small local store spoke English. I am pretty sure that the equivalent person at the store near my home was unlikely to speak other languages. French and German were only offered to “O” level students, not all secondary students. Dutch was not offered at all. Again, when I travelled to Iceland in 2007 it was normal for everyone to speak Icelandic, Danish, English and probably one other language. We were visiting a hot spring and talking to a mother and young daughter, maybe 10. The daughters English was excellent but she hesitated to speak because she thought her accent was not very good. I do not think it crossed her mind that we did not speak Icelandic.

I am attending a school where instruction is offered in Italian and in English. In my class there are 5 women from South Korea, one woman from China and myself. Our English speaking teacher, Ted, is from Singapore and the Italian speaking teacher, Mao, is Japanese. No one is speaking in their first language except me! Most of the teaching is done in English as only one student speaks Italian, and she has a lot of experience with sewing fabric already, so catches on easily. She is also amazingly proficient with an iPad pro, it is mesmerising to watch her. I use old fashion pen and paper to write notes. The technological divide in evidence.

At the teaching table, learning from Ted

It was an experiment on the part of the school to offer the course in July, August and September instead of September, October and November as it had been in previous years which I think accounts for the very small class. The usual number of students is closer to 20. We get a lot of individual attention and help and there is no real waiting time to use machines or ask questions. And we have room to spread out at our work stations. A privileged group.

We are still learning new techniques at a furious rate. Each new item that we make, actually usually two at a time, focuses on adding a new technique or two. Two at a time because there are variations, such as soft leather and stiffer leather, seams with piping and without. This week it was coloured edges, zippers and piping. It is quite stunning that we are producing finished objects so fast. I count eight completed projects in two weeks.

My first zippers on my first zipped bags

Do you notice the leather forming the ends of the zippers? That is because we made the zips. We had to remove the metal teeth with clippers, no easy job, put on the zip mechanism and learned two ways of finishing them, with metal, or as here, with leather. Not sure I will be doing that in my own studio.

First zipped pouches ready for sewing the seam
Week 2’s production

I haven’t yet quite finished doing what we were taught at the previous teaching time before we are called together for the next one. That is a goal I hope to achieve!

I have been exploring Florence in small sips, taking a new way to or from school, and going out on weekends. I say small sips because it is hot and I am not an extreme heat seeker. It is going up to 33C today, and 39 or 40 later in the week, but thankfully humidity is low, so shade really is cooler. A lot more civilised than Toronto yesterday. My friend Katherine told me that with the humidex the temperature was in the mid 40’s! The hottest day of the year so far. She was not planning on going outside.

When I reach a piazza I plan a route to get across it and back into the shade quickly. I could go round the edges in the shade, but that is where the curb side restaurants are set up, or people are huddled, seeking respite from the sun. The streets are filled with tourists wearing very comfortable shoes, loose clothing and hats, each person having their own individual Florence experience. Either following a tour guide holding a stick in the air like a sheep herder holding a staff, or in small groups, parents and children having an Italian experience, or couples doing the romantic thing. I know how I used to feel when I walked home from my massage therapy clinic in the Beach after work at around 8.30 pm. Sidewalks were crowded with people strolling, eating ice cream, pushing strollers and walking dogs. I just wanted to get home and it was trying. I can only imagine what it feels like to be a Florentine dealing with the invasion of tourists every day, and I am not sure it is possible to avoid tourists because the whole town is a tourist attraction.

A copy of David by Michelangelo in Palazzo Vecchio. No where near the beauty of the original in the Accadamia. The marble of the original really adds to its magnificence.

They sure get the scooters close together in these parking areas
Basilica di Santa Croce, where my school is attached at the back, along with a functioning monastery.

Yesterday I visited the San Lorenzo Market, full of cheese stalls, meat stalls, vegetable stalls, truffle stalls, bread stalls and cafes. All the riches of Tuscany. It was a wonderland. It reminded me of the St. Lawrence market in Toronto, the covered market in Durham, the Borough market in London before it changed focus to street food, and the lovely Saturday market in my new home town, Owen Sound. This particular covered market is surrounded by stalls outside selling, you guessed it, leather. Down every street in Florence you are bound to pass a store or street stall selling leather. Clearly a substantial part of the economy is selling leather to tourists. And they do it with a vengeance. It is quite a skill to politely avoid being roped in to look more closely at something you have glanced at, because once they snare you, you are half way sold. So I will look more closely when I am ready to buy, but at my present rate of production, it won’t be very much.

Firenze fact. I have been very impressed with how much biodegradable plastic is used here, both for garbage bags and food bags. And at the San Lorenzo Market all the food was packaged in paper bags. Way to go Florence.

10,000 Hours

Courtyard leading to the Scuola del Cuoio, 2016

Some time ago I was listening to a CBC radio program where they were discussing what made a band successful in the long term. The person being interviewed believed it was a long period of playing together before a band became famous. He used the Beatles as an example. Long before they were successful in Britain, and subsequently around the world, they played gig after gig in Hamburg in the fall of 1960. Four and a half hours a night during the week, and 6 hours on Saturday and Sunday. They were honing their craft, both individually and as a band. He cited the 10,000 hour theory, which in part states that practice, practice, practice is an essential part of success in accomplishing goals. Of course there is great controversy about whether natural skill plays a part, but the old saying goes “practice makes perfect”. I am drawing comfort from the 10,000 hour rule at this moment in time.

This is my work station, the picture was taken in 2016

In the summer of 2016 I was touring Italy with friends and my sister Mary joined me in Florence, Firenze. She came upon the Scuola del Cuoio while visiting the Basilica Sante Croce, it is attached at the back. She insisted that I see it. When not entering by the Basilica you come through the courtyard above. On the left side of the courtyard was a large room with a beautiful vaulted brick ceiling and obviously a leather working workshop. I was intrigued. We visited the retail store and picked up a brochure about courses they offered and my mind began to plan a way to work a course into my retirement. It was one of those times when you see something and it just felt right. So here I am.

The course began four days ago and we have been learning techniques at a terrific rate, one could say “like hell bent for leather”. Sciving, or skiving, which I knew to mean playing hooky from school, or generally getting out of something that you didn’t want to do, now means reducing the thickness of leather at the edges allowing it to be folded more easily. Net now does not mean your income after expenses have been deducted, but the pattern that is the same size as the finished leather item. Several, maybe even four or five, times a day the teacher gathers us around to demonstrate a new technique or the next step in what we are making. By the end of day three we had produced our first item. I made a document case. I really didn’t want an eyeglass case, or a phone case, so I bigged it up. Made it a bit more challenging, but how was I to know that, not knowing much of anything at the time.

My first finished item, don’t look too closely.

We are experiencing an apprenticeship that would have taken years and years in times gone by condensed into 10 weeks. Which is why I take comfort from the 10,000 hour theory. By day three my mind was giving me some pretty bad self-talk because I wasn’t doing everything perfectly first time, or sometimes even second time. My ruler would slip while I was cutting, my measuring would be off my a millimeter or two so a pattern would have to be re-done. And then I had to get a grip and get realistic. It was day three. And I have just about 10,000 more hours in my life to practice before I am perfect. It helps to keep the bad self-talk down.

Tools of the trade. And some big scary machines, not pictured.

Firenze fact. You don’t put your garbage, recycling and organic waste out to be collected, you deposit it in bins that are placed fairly frequently around town. So when I leave in the morning I take a bag of recycling, or organic waste or garbage and walk it to the community bin. I am staying in the historical district, so I don’t know if this applies everywhere.

How far did we go?

People on Board From – to Miles Locks
Sally, Trevor, Lucien and Dani Overwater – Chester- Overwater 47 26
Sue and Katherine Overwater to Kinver 48 48
Katherine Kinver to Saltisford Arm, Warwick 62 113
Mary, with guests Wendy and Dan in Reading Saltifsord Arm, Warwick to Bath 179 175
Single handed Bath to Great Bedwyn 42 56
Jane and Martin Great Bedwyn to Thatcham 17 26
Jane Thatcham to St Pancras Cruising Club 95 53
Single handed with guests Mary and Suzie at Camden Lock St. Pancras Cruising Club to Bridge 191, Grand Union Canal, Main Branch 19 3
Anne Bridge 191, Grand Union Canal to Fenny Stratford, 45 68
Jim and Karen Fenny Stratford to Banbury 65 42
Jim, Karen, Cathy, Les, Mary, Charlie, Ann Banbury to Cropredy to Banbury 10 10
Cathy and Les Banbury to Kidlington 21 14
Single handed Kidlington to Bossoms Marina, Oxford 6 5
John, Martin and Daniel Bossoms Marina to Lechlade 29 11
John, Martin and Daniel, with guests Julia and Carla as far as Kelmscot Lechlade to Oxford 30 11
Sally, Wendy and Derek, and their dog Blue Oxford to Banbury 27 17
Single handed Banbury to Napton on the Hill 20 20
Derek Napton to Atherston 41.5 9
Single handed Atherston to Stone 43.5 19
Sandra Stone to Sandbach  24 36
Single handed Sandbach to Overwater Marina 20.5 11

891.5 773
Single handed
124 136

Well, this looks a bit like a dogs breakfast! I wish I was more tech savvy because the whole spreadsheet shows the dates and the canals traveled, but I can’t even expand the locks column, never mind figure out how to get the other columns to show up when I cut and paste it over here.

The numbers are pretty impressive though, I think. Well done everyone, it was a great adventure from beginning to end, rain, sleet, thunderstorms, wind and lovely sunshine. Lots of laughter, great company and great food, with some culture thrown in from time to time.

The Secret Bunker

Taking leave of Little Star

Each time I have driven in and out of Overwater Marina I have passed “The Secret Bunker”. Sally and Trevor came to collect me and all my accumulated gear but we had time to finally explore the Bunker. It felt like an interesting continuation of visiting Bletchley, the 2nd World War code breaking centre. The Secret Bunker is all about what came next, the Cold War, the background of my childhood. The Bunker is dense with information, but not well curated. I have been very impressed with the curation of places such as Bletchley, Blenheim, and a few years ago, the Cabinet War Room and Hampton Court. As a child I and my siblings were dragged around from boring museum to boring museum. Specimens in a display case completely out of context with their everyday use. Then I went to exhibits at the Museum of Ethnology near Piccadilly in the early 70’s and everything changed. There was a Bedouin village and a street representing a market in north Africa somewhere, contrasting the different lifestyles. So amazing. So the bar is set pretty high these days. And I am sorry to say that the Bunker did not make the grade. Maybe it is privately owned, or underfunded by the ministry of defence, but it needs an infusion of Lottery money to transform it. I think it has an important part to play today.

I learned about ICBM’s (inter continental ballistic missiles) in high shool when I was 12 or 13. We did not practice nuclear bomb drills the way that my cousins did in Canada, basically hide under your desks, but it was always hanging over my, and I imagine many others, head. We never spoke about it. It was too awful and scary. The Bunker was all about detecting a nuclear attack should it be happening, and giving the public warning. 4 minutes warning. What were we supposed to do? To my mind, back then, no one would survive, and given what would happen to the planet, who would want to. But there were companies willing to sell you a fall out shelter.

My question would be, what happened if you were on holiday when the attack happened? Four minutes is not long enough even to get home from work. So there was all this elaborate planning to let the public know of the impending attack, and there were provisions for the people who were monitoring the attack to be safe underground, and there were systems to measure the fallout, but realistically, what was the benefit to the people who were just about to be vapourised?

My parents certainly never built a fallout shelter, and it was not discussed at home. We just lived with the tension of worrying that it might happen.

I think the Secret Bunker has a big role to play in education about a world under threat of nuclear war as we seem to be heading back in that direction at this moment in time. And how helpless we really are should it happen. How I would have loved to have been a curator.

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