I bought the tickets for Ronan as a Christmas present in 2019, Andrea Bocelli in the Theatre of Silence near his home in Tuscany. The concert was originally to take place in July 2021 the weekend of our 24th anniversary but of course, due to Covid, was postponed to the following year to our 25th anniversary, which would make it all the more special.
We stopped off for a quick lunch in a hilltop town on the way. It was 2.15pm, so we had to be quick. As everyone in Italy knows, restaurants open at 12.30 for lunch and usually close by 2.30pm. They don’t open again until 7pm for dinner. There are no ‘in between’ time dining places.
This takes a bit of getting used to, especially if you are a tourist… You have a leisurely breakfast at your hotel, set off to visit a small town, do some sightseeing and want to sit to eat at 3pm or have a drink. Not possible.
“No! You are in Italy,” I heard one waitress roar at a german tourist last week who had enquired about having a snack and some beers at 3pm just as the restaurant was closing. So you can’t eat. And not only that but you can’t shop, because all the shops close ‘for lunch’ until 4pm. So even if you time it right and go to visit a town in time for lunch at 1pm and finish by 2.30pm, you are left wandering the streets salivating at the things in windows you would like to buy, but can’t, because they are not open until 4pm.
I’ve asked Italians what we’re supposed to do during this ‘lull’.
“You are supposed to be having a siesta. To digest your lunch.”
“But if a tourist is visiting a town an hour or two from their accommodation, what are they supposed to do. Go sit in their car?”
“I don’t know, but the Italians need to digest their lunch.”
The concert was due to start at 8.30pm seating was open from 5.30pm. Refreshment and food stalls would be available. So we left the hotel at 6.15pm. With the plan to arrive by 7pm and get something at one of the food stalls. Nothing major just something to fill us up.
There is traffic entering the area from all roads but it’s all well organised. Lots of staff to direct and keep the traffic flowing. We park in the assigned field and walk through the fields and up the hill to the outdoor space. I had thought it would be bigger and more slopped, like some of the many amphitheaters visited throughout Italy and that we would sit on stone shelved seating, but this is flat enough for plastic chairs to be placed on the different levels. So it gives more of a feeling of a field than an amphitheatre. Some people are carrying picnic baskets. I had considered bringing food and drinks, but thought it would be like previous concerts I had attended back in Ireland, where this was forbidden. This event is much more casual. More of a Sunday picnic feel.
There are no food stalls. There’s a gelato cart with a long queue of people and there are drink stalls. These sell panini also. We queue and then notice it says no bankomat. Cash only. So we queue at another, but that is the same. We panic. Neither of us had considered getting cash out, but both usually have some on us. But not today. We are searching in our pockets and end of our wallets and scrape together 16 euro in coin. “That’s enough for a panino, €6, two bottles of water €2 each and one glass of wine €6 or a second panino.”
“I’m still okay from lunch, so I’ll have the wine and no panini,” I say, sacrificing myself.
“Do you think he’s going to come galloping in on his horse?” says Ronan jokingly.
“Don’t be ridiculous Ronan… that’s him there.” I point to his helicopter making a dip over the crowd before flying off to the other side of a hill.
“Although it would be pretty cool to see him coming across the hills on his horse.”
“He lives nearby, why not?”
Bocelli on horseback was the cover photo for our magazine two years ago, his horse looks amazing.
An hour after the scheduled start time, church bells toll over the speakers and the orchestra make their way to their seats. I feel quite excited. Just as they sit, a large drop of water lands on my lap. I feel like someone has spat on me. Not a good feeling during Covid. Within seconds, others around me are looking up to the sky at the large dark cloud that has formed above us. I’m wondering what they will do if it starts to rain. There must be a cover that goes over the stage to protect the classical instruments.
They do a warm up song and I remember how good a live orchestra sounds and pulls at your emotions. In walks Andrea. I settle in to be amazed. The gods spit on us again throughout his warm up. He then performs an operatic piece with another guy. Then another with a soprano woman. There’s a song in between by another excellent soprano who was one of their scholarship students. They are all great, but I am not an opera fan. I want to hear Andrea Bocelli classics. The other soprano woman does a solo and the skies open just as she finishes. The orchestra makes a run for it with their very expensive instruments that cannot get wet.
The conductor announces, “we’ll just wait a few minutes until the rain passes”. The rain stops after 10 minutes and the orchestra returns. They set up and it starts to rain again. So they run off with their precious instruments.
After five minutes, Andrea comes on and someone brings him a guitar. He sings ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Che Sera’. Obviously it was not part of the planned repertoire but at least it’s Andrea Bocelli.
The rain is spitting on and off, but too much for instruments. They announce they will have an early interval. It stops raining immediately. When the interval time is up, the orchestra makes their way to their places again. As soon as they are ready, it starts to lightly rain. The musicians make a run for it. We wait. It stops they make their way out again cautiously. The wind is picking up. It’s 11.15pm my back is hurting from sitting in the seat for three hours now, my stomach is growling and I’m not in the overcome with emotional state I expected to be in by this time. I’m just a bit damp from the rain. “If it happens again, will we go?” I say to Ronan.
He has been enjoying watching the bright orange fork lightening bouncing around the hills, that’s getting very close. “I don’t think this concert is going to happen. It’s weird they don’t have a backup plan, even a recording of the orchestra which he can sing to. I know it wouldn’t be the full experience, but Andrea doing karaoke would do me just fine.”
We wait. The rain stops. The orchestra return. I feel sorry for them. I’m sure they need to get into the feel of things more than I do to do their best and they can’t be happy participating in the Olympic style sprints off the stage as the gods tease us under dark skies. I see some stars above. A break in the clouds, that’s hopeful.
As soon as they are seated, they spit again. I see the stage manager arguing with someone. They all look demoralised as they walk off again.
“Come on, let’s go,” I say. “This is just feeling frustrating.” It’s the event planner coming out in me. I plan outdoor events and there always has to be a backup plan. I wouldn’t mind getting wet sitting in the audience, but I would expect a backup plan to keep valuable instruments safe and able to continue the performance.
We’re not the only ones who are leaving a little disappointed. We join a large crowd of mask wearers as we stream out of the theatre space and make our way down the beaten track towards the car park. To the right, there is a cluster of vehicles. There’s a temporary wall built of straw bales. People are leaning on one side chatting. On the other, there is a beautiful chestnut stallion with a long black mane. On his back, there is a man with a fantastic face. The horse is frisky, a bit freaked out by the lightening and distant thunder. We come close to being eye to eye. But I know by the man’s face he is in complete control.
“Oh my God, it’s Sir Cesar! I recognise him from the cover of the magazine.” I say to Ronan at the surreal scene in front of me of the snorting, frisky beauty dances as another flash of lightening strikes the hill behind.
“You know that guy?”
“No, the horse. It’s Andrea Bocelli’s. You were right, he must have arrived on horseback!”
It’s too late to get food anywhere, but we find a shop open on the way home and we buy a bag of crisps each for dinner.
It wasn’t exactly the romantic, memorable night I was expecting for our 25th anniversary celebration, but at least I got to be eye to eye with Andrea Bocelli’s horse.
Yesterday Umbria and many regions of Italy changed to status Yellow, which meant our son could go to college for the first time (his course has been all online since he started) and we could go out and eat at a restaurant! This has been a real lifesaver as I don’t think we can stand our own cooking efforts much longer. I also had draught beer for the first time in about a year.
I had forgotten how nice it was to put on clothes not covered in paint and go out.
To celebrate and to thank you for following my journey so far, I would like to gift you a FREE PDF copy of ‘My Post-Pandemic Planner and Memoir’.
If you like planners, journaling and making lists you will love this. You can print the PDF and save the pages in a binder or get a keepsake notebook and fill it full of memories and plans, using the prompts and questions on each of the 94 pages of the planner PDF.
As we are living through historic times, recording your memoirs by pen and paper you will create a keepsake future generations will cherish. I created this planner to help you do that.
It was by writing my daily memoirs during the first lockdown that led me to writing and publishing ‘A Rosie Life In Italy’. So perhaps this will lead to the same result for you.
I hope you LOVE the planner and enjoy it. Please feel free to share the FREE Planner link with your friends. If they are still in Lockdown it might cheer them up a bit.
Now I have to get back to writing and painting and recover from my slight beer hangover. Have a great day.
Last week my dad called “We’ll be over on Sunday,” I knew he was joking but the penny dropped and I knew what this meant. They were getting their vaccine.
For the last year my Dad would not speak of coming to Italy we were all in a ‘place’ of thinking with Covid it may never be possible.
They had their first Modena vaccine on Friday and the difference it has meant to them already is so up-lifting. My Mam is excited to go grocery shopping again as the shop keeps on delivering the wrong brands and she enjoys a browse.
She’s also looking forward to letting someone in to wash the floors for her as neither her or my dad can do it anymore.
They are talking optimistically again about coming over to Italy, perhaps in September. So my plan is to go back to Ireland in August and granny nap my parents and bring them to Italy where I can wrap them in cottonwool and spoil them rotten.
I know my Dad has reservations about moving to Italy because of the food, he is a typical 85+ year old Irish man who likes his potatoes. His opening line for every phone call is “Are you eating Macaroni?”.
Macaroni was our only experience of ‘Italian’ food when we were growing up. On the weekend we’d have Macaroni with warm milk and sugar as an evening treat. I don’t know if this was just a speciality in our house because my mother didn’t know that pasta was more of a savoury food rather than something similar to a breakfast cereal, or if it was a general Irish thing to do with macaroni.
Tinned spaghetti hoops in tomato sauce on toast for lunch was another favourite. These were my experiences of Italian cuisine. I was about nine when my Mam starting to buy frozen things called pizzas. They came in five packs and were small frozen disks of dough with a scrapping of tomato sauce and a sprinkling of grated cheese across the top.
Ronan’s experiences of Italian cuisine were equally scarce when he was growing up. He claims he was one of the first people to experience pizza in Ireland. He was friendly with an Italian chipper owner (there is a whole culture of Italian owned fish and chip shops in Ireland – we all thought it was the national food of Italy).
One evening back in the early 80s Ronan stopped off at the chipper on the way home the pub and the owner was very excited. He was having a thing called a pizza oven delivered the following week. “You have to come and experience pizza!”
“What is it?”
“It is like’a… bread… with eh… the cheese melted on top.”
“So a toasted cheese sandwich?” said Ronan waiting on his Italian fish and chips.
“No it is different come and see.”
Ronan was there for the opening launch of the pizza oven. He wasn’t that impressed and told his friends; “It’s basically a roundy cheese sandwich without any bread on top, I can’t see it taking off.”
It’s a year ago today that we experienced the first day of lockdown in Italy. Last week marked the day I returned here from Ireland as the pandemic was taking hold in Italy. The news was on 24/7 talking about the crisis Italy and by the time I was leaving Ireland I was news exhausted, I couldn’t wait to get back to Italy with it’s then 1600 cases. The ongoing news had freaked me out so much I patted my parents on the head to say goodbye rather than hug them because I was afraid I would give them the virus. Also I knew it was going to be quite a while before I saw them again, and a hug would have broken me and turn me into a snivelling wreck. I never imagined I would be sitting here a year later still not knowing when I will be able to return to hug them.
Rather than feeling gloomy at today’s 1-year Lockdown Anniversary I am focusing on the positive.
I never would have thought that the blog I started this day last year to keep myself sane and optimistic during lockdown would lead me to write my first novel ‘A Rosie Life In Italy
’ which today is ranking No.1 in two Italy travel sections on Amazon! And I never would have thought I would have created a book like ‘My Post-Pandemic Planner and Memoi
r’ to inspire others and help them through the gloom.
The fact that my parents got the vaccine last week and that numbers are starting to decrease gives me hope.
So today I’m planting potatoes in the garden in preparation for my parent’s arrival in the early autumn so my Da can have his potatoes rather than that all time classic Italian dish in our household; Macaroni with milk and sugar. Fingers crossed.
If you haven’t got a copy of ‘My Post Pandemic Planner and Memoir’ today is a perfect day to buy it, as I have heard the paper in the printing machines is of excellent quality today! Get on to Amazon now and treat yourself and I’ll treat you to some Macaroni when you get to Italy.
“We need to fill in your holes”.
“Nooo… you are not to go near my holes,” I shout back. It’s not the first time I have had one of these weird conversations with Mick Kelly (Michele) our Italian Architect.
“I like my holes they’ve been there forever, why do you feel the need to fill them now?” We are talking about the alcoves in the three rooms that were once kitchens in the apartments which will now become bedrooms. I have visions of making them into nice inset shelving units for books and candles or a wardrobe space.
“Rosie it is better for the seismic level of the house. If it was straight brick it would be okay but the walls are stone so they are irregular and with movement holes are dangerous. A solid wall is safer than a wall with a hole. Holes in the wall make the structure weak and you have a lot of holes already for window’s, doors and fireplaces. We need to fill in the unnecessary holes for safety.”
What he is saying is that in the event of an earthquake the house would less likely to crumble on top of us if we had more walls and less alcoves.
“But we live here beside the lake where there are no earthquakes,” I grumble.
“Yes, the lake does protect us from earthquakes, but there is still potential of movement.”
I still find it a little magical that the lake somehow absorbs movement and protects us from earthquakes in such a seismic prone country.
“When the lake dries up and drops below a certain water level, the surrounding land moves a little and can affect the structure of the house,” he explains patiently.
“I don’t think there’s any fear of that have you seen the front garden? It looks like we’ve moved to Venice.” The Venetian theme around the house has been caused by the unusual heavy rainfall we have been having and exaggerated by the fact that the roofers and plumbers were not watching what each other were doing, so the roofers put one drainpipe on the far corner of the house and the plumbers put the ground drain inlet hole on the near corner of the house. The realisation that never the two shall meet only came about when the scaffolding came down.
This is noted in Mick Kelly’s notes. We’re walking around the house on a ‘finalising phase 1 inspection tour’ with Andrea our builder who has proved to be amazing. Mick Kelly speaks some english but Andrea speaks none he just goes by my facial expressions and hand gestures and understands perfectly. Our project manager disappeared about a month into the project so a new project manager was elected called ‘Google translate’. It’s done quite a good job but sometimes makes mistakes with the finer details. I’m rolling my eyes behind Mick Kelly’s back and Andrea is laughing.
We walk into the bedroom. “You sleep here?” asks Micko. “Yes,”
“But it is dangerous,” he says pointing to the plaster that has been chipped away to put in the new wiring for the light. “It needs to be filled otherwise pieces could fall and it is heavy.”
I find enough Italian to say, “It is okay it over Ronan’s side of the bed.” Andrea is laughing again but Micko isn’t having any of it, “I am serious it is dangerous!”
“Okay okay” I say rolling my eyes again. Andrea is agreeing to get Roberto out to finish filling the ceilings asap.
Later that evening myself and Ronan are laughing about how safety conscious Mick Kelly is when we hear a crash upstairs. It takes us a while to find where the noise came from and then we walk into the room Ronan is using as his office. A large piece of plaster has fallen from the ceiling and smashed all over the computer and printer.
“Maybe he has a point,” I say. “Well, at least it saves us knocking the old plaster off.”
We quietly cross the hall and move our bed to a room downstairs. It’s the 5th room we have slept in since we moved in six weeks ago. Sleeping around has a very different meaning to us.
I text Mick Kelly to say they can fill my holes, better to be safe than sorry. I’ll buy a bookcase.
“I think I need to go to a doctor, there’s something weird happening to my stomach when I do a sit-up. Look at this,” says Ronan lying on the bed beside me and does a sit up. A pointy ridge rises down the centre of his belly as his stomach muscles tighten. “Ronan what the hell is that? It looks like an alien baby is about to burst through your skin.”
“Ha ha Rosemary’s baby! Get it?!”
“Seriously, that looks serious.”
“Yeah I googled it, I think it’s a herniated aorta.”
“Don’t be ridiculous your aorta goes to your heart.”
“It also goes down the centre of your stomach, do you not know anything?”
I’m immediately on my phone googling “Where is Aorta?” and I get a small town in the Netherlands. So I cut to the chase and google Aorta abdominal hernia. ‘For God’s sake Ronan that’s life threatening, when did you notice this?”
“About a week ago.”
“And you are only mentioning it now?”
“I thought it would go away.”
‘What? You thought your aorta would go away?” I’m already texting our Italian friend and neighbour Anna to ask her to help us make an appointment with the doctor and I explain why. She is on it immediately and has an appointment made for later that morning.
As we are not yet full residents in Italy we have not been assigned a doctor and thankfully we have had no cause to go to one up until now, other than me with my frozen shoulder. She’s an older no bullshit doctor, who doesn’t speak english so Anna has to come with us to our medical appointments until we get better at Italian. When I asked payment on my last visit, via Anna, the doctor said “You can owe me lunch at your family’s restaurant”, to Anna. Seems like a fair deal, I drag my Italian neighbour to be an unpaid translator and she then in turn gets to pay for my treatment by giving the doctor a free lunch.
“She is a very good doctor,” Anna had explained on the way for my shoulder visit. “I have gone to her all my life”.
I did previously question Anna’s judgement of the doctor’s worthiness when she told me the three-choice prescription she gave to Anna for stress. “You need to take up meditation or get a strong man to help you with the farm or take up smoking.”
So Ronan goes to the doctor and illustrates the problem by doing a sit-up. Her first reaction, “Why you do sit-ups? You are too old to be caring about a six pack.”
“Because I want to stay fit?”
She tuts. “It is not your aorta, it is your stomach muscles, they have detached and separated. You need to stop doing sit-ups, you will never have a flat stomach because of this. But I will send you for a scan anyway.”
“What causes it?” asks Ronan. “Often pregnancy… but in your case probably lifting heavy objects.”
A penny drops for me. “Oh my God… could that have happened to me during pregnancy? Does that explain why I haven’t been able to get a flat stomach for the last 24 years no matter how hard I try?”
She looks at me. “yes probably… It is too late now for you.”
We leave the surgery both written off as wrecks doomed for Tellytubby Land for all of eternity and with another promise of a free lunch from Anna. She still hasn’t taken advantage of the last one, I’m expecting her to arrive someday at the restaurant with a list of guests and the dates of our medical appointments beside each one she is owed dinner for.
At least we know that Ronan isn’t going to explode.
The private medical clinic for Ronan’s scan is just down the road. It’s a fantastic facility, modern, clean, no waiting. His scan confirms the doctors prognosis, no more sit-ups are prescribed and no heavy lifting, which I know Ronan will ignore. The technician has time so he offers to scan Ronan’s kidneys, liver and whatever else he finds – it’s like when we go to the vet, she gives the pets a full checkup while there for no extra fee. And like our pets, Ronan has a clean bill of health. So we buy a gelato on the way home to celebrate Ronan not being pregnant with an alien baby and both of us never having to do sit ups again.
This week was a busy week in Umbria. It’s not only fire wood collection time but olive harvest season also and this year’s crop is much better than the previous two years by all accounts. I have driven passed Constable styled scenes of families sitting on the green nets under one of their trees eating their packed lunch having started at sunrise and still hours of work to go before they finish at sunset. I’ve seen a Nonna standing half way into the middle of a road holding up the side of a net as the matching Nonno precariously dangled off a wooden ladder reaching the sacred branches of their ancient grove’s boardering trees which were planted before the intrusive road existed.
The olives are picked and brought to one of the many olive pressing mills in the area on the day the crop is booked in, there is no time to waste and not an olive to be missed.
Giovanni (our landlord) had the 20 trees in the front garden stripped in one day. The next day he arrived in a new white shiny Lamborghini. I didn’t realise olive oil was so profitable. I should point out it was a small Lamborghini tractor he was driving. Ronan asked how many miles on it. “Three!” he responded very happy with himself. It must have just arrived and he had hitched up his rusty trailer to it and driven directly to our house to take us up ‘his mountain’ on a fire wood hunt as promised. I didn’t know he owned ‘a mountain’. Olive oil must be very profitable indeed.
We follow his rattly trailer up the mountain to a section of fenced and gated woodland. We walk after him as he points out neatly stacked piles of wood. We’re not quite sure why we are being taken on a tour of the different deposits of felled wood, but the walk is enjoyable. Watching Giovanni getting very excited about a bunch of mushrooms which he promptly fills his cap with is even more enjoyable. He gives us an explanation of why he is so excited about these particular mushrooms and tells us not to tell anyone, no fear in that as none of us understood what he said. He points to the smaller ones beside which he’ll come back for tomorrow when they will be much bigger. Maybe it’s not just the olive oil that allows him to afford a new Lamborghini and a mountain, maybe it’s all the money he also saves by foraging for food?
We follow him back up to where the tractor is and load the large pile of seasoned logs already piled near the gate into the trailer. Giovanni definitely has OCD and I know he will have a particular way to stack them and sure enough he does. Long pieces are propped up around the edges to form a fence as the fatter logs are loaded. We are quite happy with our stacking effort until we are headed back down Giovanni’s mountain and get stuck behind two tractors at different points with skyscraper loads of perfectly stacked wood.
We stop off at the house on the way back. One of the advantages of buying The Sighing House was that the plaster was pretty sound in most of the rooms so they would just need a lick of paint and no need for re-plastering. Not anymore unfortunately, the open topped roof during the three wettest weeks of the year took care of getting rid of that plan. Large slabs of ceiling plaster now lie shattered on the floor. We also have a new variety of mould growing on some of the ceilings, this one is a nice orange tone to go with the autumn theme. Perhaps a rare edible fungi will now grow from the damp blackened walls which we can sell to Giovanni to fund all the re-plastering that will need to be done. One can only hope.