orWine Tastings in the Comfort of you own villa or B&B while on holiday in Tuscany or Liguria

To book an informative and fun wine tasting whilst holidaying in Italy or arrange for a wild food walk in your area contact me on tuscanytipple at libero dot it or check out my Facebook page

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Saturday, 20 June 2009

New Cultural Venue for Ponzano

When you think of Italy’s cultural heritage sites, you usually picture Roman ruins such as the Forum Romanum in Rome or locally to us the former Roman port of Luni, from where the marble was shipped (until it got silted up and is now 1 km inland, which is inconvenient for a harbour). Or you may think of the many Medieval cities with their historical buildings, such as Lucca or Florence or numerous others. But you never think of the more recent past. It seems Italy skipped several hundred years of history and an Industrial Revolution, which was taking place all over northern Europe, to arrive directly from the Middle Ages in the modern age.

However, Ponzano Magra (as opposed to Ponzano Superiore, where we live. Superiore, because it’s in the hills above, and Magra, because it lies in the valley by the river Magra) has one of the few sites bearing witness that an Industrial Revolution did take place in Italy. In fact it’s the largest site of its kind: the Ceramica Vaccari.

Around 1880 a ceramics manufactory was established in what at the time was in the middle of nowhere. Carlo Vaccari took over the site 10 years later. He had obviously seen and decided to copy industrial villages in England, such as the textile mills of Yorkshire, where forward thinking factory owners not only supplied a place to work for the local population, but provided them with everything from housing, medical care, a school, shops, a social centre and even a chapel. This was the birth of the village of Ponzano Magra. After World War II the site fell into increasing decline. The site still produces ceramic tiles, but due to modern machinery needing a smaller workforce and less space, a lot of the old buildings now stand empty and the former workers houses are now not exclusively inhabited by employees of the works.

I have always been fascinated by old industrial buildings. I visited the gasworks in Belfast shortly before they turned them into trendy housing and a hotel. The walls of the gasworks were immortalised in the song “Dirty Old Town”: “I kissed my love by the gasworks wall. Dirty Old Town…” And it was dirty there in those days. A canal carried the most solid water I’ve ever seen through the site, and it stank to high heaven.

Anyway I digress. I always felt that leaving this site mostly unused was a shame and I feared, they’d probably turn them into yuppy flats too, when they would be so much better as a venue for cultural events. So imagine my delight when this is exactly what they’ve now done. Currently there is a series of concerts being held there under the heading “Bella Canzone”, featuring Italian singer-songwriters as well as an arts exhibition being held under the title “Emergenze7”.

Yesterday we had a chance to go for the first time. The theme of the art exhibition was loosely based on the impact of industrialisation on humans, which was a fitting subject for the surroundings of the derelict factory halls. Works included “Amazzonica by Stefano Tedesco. It consisted of a large, black, cylindrical tent that you could enter. Inside you realised that there were actually different shapes of black and you were surrounded by 8 speakers giving out jungle cicada type noises, which also may have been noises of some kind of machinery. Another exhibit by Aurora Pornin and Daniela Spaletra called “M16: mondo sommerso” was put together mostly from materials actually found on the premises. A mosaic, partially from old tiles, partially from old tools, rusty tins and engine parts is to show the set roles each man woman and child has within the confines of a workers village. Next to it these overalls are hung up, like the ghosts of the workers who formerly occupied this space, above a hopscotch game drawn on the floor.

Very original were also the works of Matteo Ratti collectively under the heading of “Cermobil”, who has created giant insects and humanoids out of old machine parts, incorporating the odd skull. Very dark, but impressive. Below is what looks like a heavy metal guitarist.
And a spooky spider and insect arrangement

The concert we saw there last night featured Francesco Tricarico. He was obviously known to the audience, but I hadn’t heard about him before. I wasn’t too keen on the music either. His accompanying band consisted of 2 guitars (presumably because he had 2 friends who could play the guitar), a bass, which was turned on too heavy, throbbing my bladder (in fact I think the bassist himself needed to go for a wee himself, the way he was prancing cross-leggedly over the stage), a keyboard and an over-enthusiastic drummer. All that background noise distracted from the singing in my opinion, mind you the singing wasn’t all that great either. He was being interviewed before the start of the concert and the interviewer suggested he was influenced by Bob Dylan. I’d agree insofar that like Dylan, he couldn’t sing either, but Dylan unlike Tricarico could write songs

Well it was a free concert, and hopefully not the last time an event like this is organised. The exhibition is on until the end of the month, if you are in the area. The last of the concerts is tonight, so you’ve gotta get your socks on to make it.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Of accidents, flowers and wine tastings

It’s been a while since my last post, and I think I abandon the series of “Our Terraces” The last 4 terraces didn’t look all that exciting on the 25th April, so I hope you won’t be too disappointed. If you are you are just going to bloody well come here and have a look at it yourself!

It’s been an eventful couple of weeks since the last post. The weather cooled down at the very end of May, beginning of May, with a couple of days of badly needed rain. This was followed by slightly changeable weather with odd sprinklings of rain showers, which meant we didn’t have to water the land until yesterday. Now the hot weather has returned. Cherries are finished and plums keep falling on our heads, loquats are finished and we’re eating our courgettes. The sunflowers have burst into flower too as you can see.

So much about the land.

Last Monday we had cycled to the seaside to see our Swiss friend Irene, who works there at the moment. On the way back we had to negotiate the busy Sarzana by-pass road during rush-hour. Just as Susan, feeling quite chuffed with herself about surviving so far, had got around a particularly busy roundabout, a car pulled out of private property right in front of us. This left us with no alternative, but move over to the extreme right of the road to avoid a collision with said car. As it happened the father of the lady-driver was busy cutting some major branches off his hedge bordering the road, and one of those branches came down precisely in front of Susan who was cycling behind me. She didn’t even see what was happening, before the branch had wrapped itself around the front wheel of her bike, sending Susan onto the tarmac. I only noticed after I had gone on a bit and found her bleeding from her face, left shoulder and right knee.

The driver stopped and the owner of the property still with saw in hand came rushing out of his garden. He did kindly offer to drive her to hospital, but a brief examination revealed she hadn’t broken anything and her injuries seemed to be superficial. He then offered the use of his wife’s bike, because Susan’s was not rideable. The front mudguard was broken, and the front fork was badly bent. So we took up his offer of the bike, leaving Susan’s wreck with him and exchanging phone numbers before we left.

It turned out that the proprietor was a senior officer in the Guardia di Finanza. I was a little worried about that fact, because I did not want to pursue a confrontational stance in demanding compensation, as he no doubt would be in a position to cause us more problems than we could him (I don’t want to go into any details in case the Guardia di Finanza read this blog…). However, il Capitano rang us the next morning to ask how Susan was. He sounded relieved, when I said to her that she wasn’t too bad. So I asked him: “what about the bike?” He said he’d take it to his local bike shop to be repaired. Later he rang us again, confirming what I had suspected, namely that it was beyond repair. So he bought Susan a brand new pink bike, with the same specs as the old one, but with everything in full working order. I had been thinking that both our bikes needed a general service anyway, so I now won’t need to do that one anyway. Picked it up on Friday and Susan was very happy with it.

Today though, Susan was obviously still a little nervous after her fall, we were riding down to Santo Stefano, where there was the annual Festa di Corpus Cristi, where the streets of the historical centre are decorated with flower petals. At the first hairpin bend, Susan applied the well functioning brakes of her new bike a little too hard and hit the tarmac again, resulting in another bang on the same knee and a couple of cuts and bruises on both elbows. The bike sustained only a few scuffs this time though, which is just as well as this time she didn’t have anyone else to blame. Now I’m on the look out for some falling branches myself, because I could also do with a new bike.

So much about Susan’s accidents (she says, she is going to stay off her bike for as long as it takes for her wounds to heal). Despite Susan’s fall, we did make it down to Santo Stefano to the floral display. Those who have followed this blog for long may remember the pics from last year. This year the folk of Santo Stefano excelled themselves again at some spectacular floral pictures along all the streets of the old town. My favourite this year was the representation of the church of Santo Stefano.

The original looks like this:

The final bit of news, I have now got an official website on line for my wine tasting events. It’s http://users3.jabry.com/tuscanytipple. Sorry, it’s a bit of a long and awkward site name, but it’s free. Once business starts flowing I will register an easier to remember name. In the meantime if you or any of your posh friends are planning on a holyday and would like to learn more about Italian wines, please have a look at the site and recommend it to anyone you know. The link is permanently displayed at the top right of this blog. It’s still a bit of a building site at the moment (some photos missing, only in English so far etc.) so wear your hard hats. I’d be interested how you find it as well, so do leave your thoughts on the comment function of the blog. What this business is essentially about is that I will hold fun and informative wine tastings at your accommodation while you are having a holiday in Tuscany, Liguria or our end of Emilia Romagna (Parma way).

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

…and some poetry

One quick word in conclusion to the subject of pests. You’ve got to feel for the poor wee mites. I mean, they are just trying to live and procreate themselves. We just exterminate them, because they like the same things as us, and sometimes they are being bullied by other creatures too.

Working amongst all that nature you just sometimes can’t help being awed and inspired to become creative. So today, whilst peacefully listening to the drone of the petrol powered brush cutter, I’ve composed this poem about the red spider mite. It doesn’t actually affect us much, it likes greenhouses apparently.

The Spider Mite

There once was a little red spider mite,
Who spat at a spider out of spite.
The spider spat back, saying: “you little shite!
I’m a real spider, you’re just a mite.”