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When I was writing poems for my book, ‘Friends In My Garden,’ I had a few young female friends for whom this one was suitable. The sort of people who never seem to tire and who make you laugh whenever you are with them. I’m sure you all know and love someone like my
Exuberant is Zinnia
full of zest and vigour
she paints a smile on passing lips
this zippy zany flower.
The 9th May was a good day to be leaving Venice.
Over breakfast,with most guests huddled in the main dining room instead of the balcony, we looked out at grey skies and choppy water in the canal, feeling a little sad because our chances of a future trip to Venice were slim. At the same time we were excited about the next chapter in our holiday – the cruise down the Dalmatian coast and parts of Italy.
The private water taxi for our departure from the hotel was disappointing after that initial trip but we were glad of another opportunity to photograph gondolas and the buildings that could not belong anywhere else in the world.
Celebrity Constellation was moored in what looked like an industrial harbour, away from the glamourous part of Venice. We arrived by car (arranged again through the very helpful concierge) and told to leave our cases with hundreds of others, which was a bit disconcerting as anyone could walk in and help themselves.
At last I am back in Venice, (mentally, not physically) writing about the rest of our final day there.
After our tours and icecreams we stopped to enjoy a game of football, played by youngsters dressed for the theatre, or perhaps this is how the youth of Venice always dress for their games.
We then headed back towards the hotel and as we crossed one of many bridges I recognised the restaurant where, on my previous trip, I had
dined with my husband. He has been dead for five years so it was with some trepidation that I went back and sat at the same table, hoping for a meal as good as that previous one.
The ambience was the same, the waiter as
charming as before and the food equally delicious. The view from our window was even more entertaining. In another country I’m prepared to be a people watcher and not be concerned about capturing a beautiful moment.
He was a bundle of cuddlesome delight
when first I brought him home,
a bouncy, yappy pup
full of mischief.
He loved to entertain
performing tricks and making silly noises.
Even when I tried to teach him
to be good
he’d roll around, do his stunts
wag his tail
and look at me with a goofy grin.
How could I be stern?
As he grew he gathered round
a motley sort of pack.
They trampled flowers
and dead-patched the lawn
his noisy doggy gang.
Now he’s grown
left this home
but still he comes to visit,
still makes me laugh as no other can
and wishes for me to be happy.
Into my garden he brings the funshine
to me he brings love.
White sheets white gowns white faces
walls a putty-coloured grey
dreary vinyl scrubbed thin.
Disinfectant pervades the air.
Lumps on beds, wrapped like mummies
body functions monitored,
minds in zones beyond our reach.
Around them hover guardians of gadgetry
in sterile masks
connecting life support machines
to almost lifeless bodies.
Cryptic messages scribbled and hung
on boards at every bed.
This one says she’s dying.
With shaking hands I reach for hers
clasp the claw-like fingers
dresses for a teenage Cinderella
who turned into a pumpkin
despite your efforts to catch her a prince;
Sunday roasts and several thousand casseroles,
bottling fruit and making jam.
A gardener’s hands,
no time for manicures and painted nails.
Despite hospital scrubs
a patch of green remains
from the weeds you pulled last week.
Three generations of babies
your hands have cradled.
How many knees have they patched?
Can you feel my tears on your fingers?
Are you still here or have you already gone?
Mum, your hands are so cold.
Breakfast in the Hotel Bauer is generally taken on the patio facing the water. Our rate included a mouth watering display of fruits, pastries and a hot selection of eggs, sausages, bacon and tomatoes.
Sadly, I came down with an almighty cold during the night so, rugged up and red-nosed, I had to sit inside. We enjoyed the view through the window though and Susanne ventured outside to take photos when I went back to our room to prepare for the main event – a guided tour of St Mark’s Square and the historic buildings surrounding it.
Our professor was waiting in the lobby, as arranged, at ten o’clock. I was a little surprised to see an elderly gentleman, as most of our guides have been quite young, and usually female. I’m sorry that I didn’t record his name as he was such a fountain of knowledge and his love of Venice was palpable.
From my hastily scribbled notes, here are a few gems.
From 697 AD Venice was part of the Byzantine Empire. When San Marco was built, between 1063 and 1093 this Byzantine influence was still in effect and the Arabic skills and tastes are obvious in many features of the building. I was keen to learn about the ancient floors, covered with exquisite and intricate patterns of marble. Our professor explained that the section I particularly admired came from Persia in the 14th century and was laid by experts who had worked on palaces and mosques there. Today, this section of floor is markedly uneven due to the amount of movement it has endured, but the art of perspective and the use of colours and geometric patterns, although faded, are still much admired.
Persian influences can also be seen in the use of eagles (birds of power) and in some of the figures used as decoration on the walls. Persian figures are plumper than the very thin Byzantine ones.
These marble floors were a major part of my reason for seeking an educated guide. On a previous visit, with just fifteen minutes allowed inside the church, and with a regular tourist group guide who had no idea how to answer my questions on the history of the marble flooring, I had come out feeling totally frustrated.
Sadly, photographs were forbidden so I planned to buy a book about the floors and their history at the end of our tour. If only we’d thought for Susanne to ‘accidentally’ click on her camera as she held it pointing to her feet. The books were all so heavy we couldn’t possibly lug them around in our cases for the next few weeks, and the photographs inside the books were of paintings on the walls. I managed to buy one postcard that captured frescoes on walls and ceilings, with masses of gold leaf (previously covering every internal surface except the floors) and a small section of flooring. As with our other Italian ’No Photos’ venues, Google supplies an amazing number and variety of illegally captured images which I only discovered after returning to Australia.
Another interesting snippet of trivia from the professor; Venice was a stopping point for those travelling to the Crusades. Having knits in one’s hair and the resultant blood running down one’s face, supposedly made the crusaders more like the suffering Jesus, and therefore more worthy to join the war against the Infidels.
In the Middle Ages Venice was the heart of business and trade for much of Europe. Italy was not then a single country and Venetians regarded themselves as separate from and superior to, the rest of the Italian states. Its situation and its fleets, made trade with the rest of Europe and with the Middle East, fairly easy; Venice became the hub with ships from all over the known world, passing through. People of all colours and nationalities were accepted and appreciated for the money and for the learning that they brought to Venice.
Another thing to understand about Venice, is that, being an international port and welcoming trade from around the world, meant that Bubonic plague was introduced through ships and the rats they carried, into Venice and often from there to the rest of Europe. The outbreak in 1630 almost decimated the city.
The Vatican disapproved of Venice and the freedom that its citizens were allowed, particularly in areas of learning. Being part of Byzantium during its early years gave this city state a peculiarity which is evident even today. In 1501 the first pocket sized bible was printed in Venice, making it possible for those outside the monasteries and churches, to do their own reading and interpreting of what had been the monopoly of the Catholic institutions.
The first Talmud was printed in Venice in 1527 and the first copy of the Koran for general reading appeared in 1528.
This freedom lasted for only six months, as the heads of churches objected to the public and lay teachers being able to read it. In 1536 the Library was built. Venice was determined to allow knowledge to flow to its citizens.
Stories of deceit and intrigue that could be carried on undetected by partners, both marital and in business, lend a certain thrill or fear, to our impressions of Venice.
Take those masks and the parties where one is supposed to be able to flirt and more, undetected. Venetians seem, even today, to regards those who bring in their livelihood, (mainly the tourists and the big ships) with disdain. Even more than Paris, I felt barely tolerated by most of the locals.
We know that Venice is built on reclaimed land that is slowly sinking and that the beautiful old buildings have to be continually propped up as the original foundations crumble. St Mark’s Square appeared to be stable and above the water level, but in winter time, clear of tourists, even this area can be subject to flooding. This, of course means that the surrounding buildings, including the famous church, have often had their ground floors under water.
We saw evidence of this in the Doge’s Palace, which we had to hurry through as the professor had another engagement after us. Building on the palace began in 1340 and ended in 1505. The Doge had to be rich, old and take no salary for the work he did in governing the city. He also had to donate works of art to the church and the public. His position was for life (I guess hence the ‘old’ requirement) and each Doge was chosen by a council representing the wealthy local families. Rules ensured that the position did not become hereditary.
Rather like the Vatican, this building leads from one grand room to another, decorated with paintings by Tintoretto, Titian, Heronymus Bosch and others of that school who created such vast scenes that I got lost and overwhelmed, trying to look at them. Like everything in this palace, the intention is to blast the visitor with a sense of the power of the owner. After two or three vast, tourist crammed rooms, I’m afraid I switched off.
A little light entertainment was essential after our full-on history and culture lesson so we left the professor to hurry off to his next engagement and headed for the obligatory ice-cream. Most people rave about Italian coffee, but for Susanne and me, it was the tempting array of ice-cream flavours that had us
charging across the wide, crowded square. I usually chose pistachio and some other nut. This was Susanne’s treat for me every day, generally after lunch in a cafe, chosen for its delicious aromas and what looked like food cooked on site. We avoided the sort of touristy places displaying pictures of plated food with English translations. They seemed to us like the Italian equivalent of Kentucky Fried.
Then, eating our ice-creams, we walked along the arcade of shops that line one side of the famous
square. Of course, everything here is double the price of shops a street or two away from the church, but nowhere else had such enticing masks, or shoes, glassware and jewellery. Even the tacky souvenir shops had class in this part of Venice.
On Friday, May 6th, we left our temporary home in Florence and headed for Venice. Christina, our B&B host, had booked a porter to meet us at the station and help us board the correct train. No-one seemed keen to fulfil that role, so I left Susanne to guard our cases while I went searching. Thank goodness our man was booked, as there was a rush on the only two porters available and ours turned up with little time to spare. As before, the platform information appeared two minutes before the train was due to arrive and almost immediately depart. As soon as the doors cleared of the crowd getting off, our man charged on board, hefting our two big cases into the only storage spaces provided at the end of the carriage. We thanked him, tipped him well and settled into our seats.
THE HILLS IN SUMMER
The throb of the helicopter woke me. Seven fifteen, the clock said.
‘Smell that?’ Another deep sniff and I bolted out of bed. ‘Get up! Get up Tom; there’s a fire.’
‘Wha.’ My husband’s sleepy head rolled over to face me. ‘What’s that love?’ He swallowed, trying to get the juices back into his dry throat after lying open mouthed, snoring.
‘Fire. Can’t you smell it? And listen; the helicopter’s flying overhead. It’s low, so the fire must be near here.’
Running to the window, I pulled back the curtain and peered out. Smoke billowed from the valley below our house and black specks floated past the window.
‘Get up Tom. Now. For heaven’s sake, get up man. There’s a bloody fire at the bottom of the hill. Some idiot again no doubt; probably a teenager seeking thrills. I wish they’d catch the bugger and punish him properly. Oh, come on, hurry up. We have to fill up the bin and the baths and troughs and everything. You know they’ll cut off our water if they have to.’
‘It’s six o’clock already.’ Rain drips from the points of her umbrella as Jasmine checks her watch and tries to move faster through the Friday evening crowd.
Despite the weather, her mouth turns up at the corners. She does a little skip over the next puddle, dreaming about her coming flight and Brendon’s plans for their weekend in Paris. His emails were necessarily brief and vague, sent from his computer at work to the computer at the boutique where she sells high fashion garments to wealthy women living and working in the West End.
Never mind the lack of specific directions, he’ll be at Orly Airport to meet me, she re-assures herself while jostling with the other sardine shufflers making their way through Knightsbridge Underground Station. She squeezes into the carriage and manages to claim a small section of rail to hang onto.
‘You’ll catch your death love.’ The elderly woman sitting in front of her, points to Jasmine’s soggy boots.
Jasmine looks down at the brown suede boots which she had bought to wear on the flight.
‘I’m okay. Thanks.’ She turns away, suppressing a grin. Well, I’m sure Brendon will love my underwear. She sees herself taking off her coat, jumper and skirt. A shiver ripples up her spine as she imagines Brendon slowly removing the black stockings and suspender belt, the lacy French knickers and the deliciously naughty new bra which she discovered in her lunch break.
After Christmas, time to get back to writing at last. Chopin and Mozart are entertaining me from the lounge room and I have been searching through some old stories in the hope that I might find something for my readers to enjoy. This one is based on our years on a farm that was situated in a magnificent karri forest in Western Australia.
Grey clouds skittle up from the south, hastened by a blustery wind. From the karri forest surrounding our farm I hear branches crashing to the ground. Electricity in the air makes the hairs on my arms stand on end. A jagged slash of yellow light spears the earth, accompanied by the crack of thunder.
Cows waddle as quickly as their ungainly bodies will allow, away from the fence and tall trees. In tones that vary from soprano shrieks to the calming pitch of more experienced mums, they summon their calves. Soon I am the only lightening rod in the top end of the paddock. I sprint towards the protection of the cattle; like them I seek safety in numbers.
Splattered by large blobs of rain, the thirsty ground releases an earthy smell that sets off primitive emotions in me. I sniff the air and welcome the downpour. Steam rises from hot hides, calves nuzzle at their mothers’ teats and big brown eyes watch for the next flash that might barbecue one of us.
With just a few hours left of our last day in Florence, we decided to leave the famous Uffizi until last. I knew that many hours could be wasted there, trying to get from one gallery to the next as it’s always crowded. Giotto’s frescoes and
Donatello’s amazing crucifix in Santa Croce would be easy to find (I thought) and without the crowds.
On the way we stepped into the Museo Galileo, called the Science Museum on some maps, for a quick look at the ancient clocks.
My sister, Susanne, had this museum on her list of ‘must sees’ so she found The Planetary Clock particularly interesting. I was lucky enough to get a photo of the information in English so I hope it is clear enough to read here. Most of the other photos in this museum were taken by Susanne. Of particular interest were Galileo’s telescopes and some of his geometrical instruments.
Just one more day and so much still to see. We were up early, had breakfast and a few coffees, then walked to San Lorenzo, where Donatello’s pulpits were top of my list. What a disappointment; one of them was totally covered, under major restoration and the other so well protected with plastic (or some similar see-through material) that photos were impossible from ground level. To view the stunningly
sculpted facades we had to pay an entry fee at the base of a steep staircase (fair enough as these art works are expensive to maintain) but then we were too close to photograph the full length of the pulpit. Donatello died before they were finished, but the commission for these bronze relief ‘pictures’ was entrusted to him and was carried out by his pupils. The depiction of the crucifixion which I’d seen on my previous visit and which is stunning, must have been included in the restoration, completely covered up by timber panels.
I wrote this in the 1980s. I know the city has improved since then. I hope you find my observations amusing, or maybe you were there then and agree with them.
IMPRESSIONS OF NEW YORK
‘New York, New York, it’s a cow of a town.’
That’s not how the song goes, but it’s how I hear it. Some call it the ‘Big Apple’ but I find it more like a smelly cabbage—those fumes seeping up from the underground railway system, like an evil mist rising from Hades. Three or four times I’ve flown to the city. With each touch-down I hope that this time I’ll experience the excitement—the magic—that others rave about.
My impressions of New York are dominated by yellow taxis – dirty, rusty, yellow cabs with horns blaring non-stop, day and night—and their angry drivers, who look and sound as though they’ve just arrived from Ethiopia, or somewhere equally unlikely to have provided any training for this occupation. At every traffic light they scream to a halt, then roar away on burning rubber as if their tails are on fire, to stop again at the next red-lit corner, fifty yards away.
Last weekend, the 15th and 16th October, we stayed in the city in order to visit several of Perth’s old buildings, hear stories, see a photographic display in panorama and enjoy a display of ballroom dancing which was all free as part of a program called Perth Heritage Days.
The Royal Perth Hospital Museum was our first stop, in the building that used to house young nurses. As my cousin spent her traineeship there, I was interested to hear tales of windows climbed into or out of, depending on whether the young lady was returning from a night of frivolity, or daring to disobey matron’s orders and climb out into the arms of a waiting beau.
Irises fill me with joy when their vibrant blues, purples, lemons and whites burst forth outside my windows. I have to grab the camera and snap away, almost as if I fear that they will disappear if I don’t capture their beauty immediately.
This gorgeous display comes from the bulbs that I almost tossed in the bin. Last year they produced so few flowers that I thought they were past their use by date and I did discard most of them. Then I found these, in a cardboard box in the garage – stored through the heat of summer, with no protection, surely useless, I thought. This bed, in front of my lounge room, needed something to fill the space where I removed a few straggly shrubs, so, rather than toss them in the bin, I tossed them in the ground.
Jealousy is insidious.
Its poison drips
twisting thoughts and crippling hearts
of those who feel its wroth.
are whipped by demons
and all consuming.
Their eyes are blinded,
by the smouldering flame.
Destruction is the only path it follows
and the ones who suffer most
are those who give it freedom
to ruin their lives.
Most of the crowds had left by the time we reached the Duomo so Susanne and I could photograph the stunning facade without too many people in the way.
We approached the main door, thinking that would be the point of entry. Directions in Italian didn’t help, so we moved to admire the Campanile, designed by Giotto in 1334 but not finished until 1359, after his death. Part of the facade is clad in marble, making it almost too beautiful. We must have walked the whole way around the cathedral, before finding access into the building.
Grey is the colour of sorrow
and long abandoned dreams.
It’s a life that’s wasted,
an old man
sleeping in a cardboard box
clutching the bottle
drained into the greyness of his being.
Grey is the colour of hearts devoid of love.
A colour that confines
grinding the spirit into a pile of dust.
From Fra Angelico we walked to the Museo del Opera del Duomo. According to my calculations we still had at least three hours to closing time for the museum which houses the most valuable works of art from the Duomo. But, again we were faced with ‘Florentine time.’ That museum was closed for maintenance. We couldn’t find anyone official to ask, but a wandering priest assured us that it would be open again tomorrow. There was no point in dallying, so we headed for the Duomo.
Ducking down an alleyway, hoping it was a short cut, we nearly walked past a small sign with a picture of Leonardo da Vinci on it. The place looked like an insignificant residence, certainly not a museum, but we decided to take a look.
San Marco was on our itinerary for the 4th May, but as it was close to Accademia, we headed that way next. Before leaving Australia, I had noted the closing time as 2pm; once in Florence we were told 4 or 5 pm. We were getting into the swing of Florentine time.
The convent of San Marco was founded in the 13th century, and thanks to Cosimo il Vecchio was enlarged and rebuilt in 1437. He reserved two of the cells for his own peace and spiritual sustenance.
For me though, the frescoes, painted by Fra Angelico, were the main reason for our visit. Having been raised as Catholics, we knew the story of The Annunciation very well; Archangel Gabriel appears to Mary to tell her that she will be the mother of God’s son, Jesus Christ.
We walked to the top of the stairs in Museo di San Marco and my favourite painting of the Annunciation wowed us. Fra Angelico has created his Mary with the face of innocence and an air of humility and acceptance of God’s will. Even for unbelievers this surely has to be an image that draws the viewer in. Single blocks of colour, Fra Angelico’s style for most of the paintings, are part of the appeal in that I’m not distracted by details. Painted in 1445 (or thereabouts) the picture is still pure, clean and simply beautiful.
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