With two weeks to go before the start of lectures, I had the perfect opportunity to explore Italy! I perused the new site to see what interesting people and places I could find, and what a treasure I found! A remote little village by the name of Trassilico, located in the Apuan Alps. To get there I found a car share from Venice to Lucca (a rather peculiar city entirely enclosed by a great big wall), took the train north to Gallicano for an hour. Next was a drive along the winding route up and up and up to the mountain tops for another half hour, swaying from side to side, the view increasing in spectacularity. In close proximity were even greater mountains, capped with snow. Sound familiar? And little did I know that the couple I was staying with had only moved to this haven at the beginning of the year, from Innsbruck! It was almost as if I was still in Austria, hearing German again and minding my steps in the snow and ice. Not only that, but by night I could see the lights of Barga, a not so far away town, “the most Scottish town in Italy”.

Trassilico is incredibly peaceful, with alleys too small for cars to drive down, and houses hobbled on top of each other. 1000 or more people used to live there, but now only 70 or so remain, the young leaving the old behind, and a lot of empty and ruined homes which are possibly owned by your uncle’s cousin’s neighbour’s nephew. For some, the perfect opportunity to buy a piece of land and a house, and live the sustainable dream. There was a tranquility about Trassilico, sitting up high ever so still and peaceful, especially at the summit where the fortress lies. Dramatic sunrises and sunsets are the norm in Tuscany, pink and velvet, red and velour, and at the right time of year the sun sets through a perfect hole carved into of one of the mountains. Taking a shower involved looking over terracotta tiles and mountaintops. I didn’t have any idea of the time, most of the time. I simply slept, helped with errands like log piling and gardening, went for walks and read. I finished Amanda Palmer’s book, The Act of Asking, and I want to give and love and hug everyone. (Would anyone like to Ask me for it?) I learnt so much from my very generous hosts, especially in knowledge, from thoughts on GM crops to making art out of money. In the past they had created rather striking artwork with a variety of different valued notes, and watched the people all stare and gather around their work, simply because people are drawn to money, whether they like it or not. On another occasion they gave out doodled and cut up €5 notes in return for €3 entry. They inevitably made a loss. They didn’t mind.

South to Batignano was the next port of call. Getting there involved a 2 hour hike down a mountain bike route, uncertain if I was going the right way but presuming that as long as I kept going downwards I’d eventually end up somewhere. Technically I suppose I didn’t, because all that I found was two dead ends, daunting private signs and weird industrial looking plants next to a river. I scrambled my way up a hill and came to a main road, and a lucky guess led me to Gallicano and the train station beyond. I reached Grosseto a few hours later, via a change in Pisa, unfortunately not long enough for me to hunt down the tower that leans. Knowing that the bus to Batignano leaves a few minutes after the train arrives I quickly figured out how to use the ticket machine and jumped onto the bus, rather impressed with myself. But suddenly a familiar face appeared and it took me more than a moment to realise it was my friend! I shouldn’t have gotten on the bus at all, but I had no internet all day to check my email. We dashed off to arrive in another stunning setting, this time a home that had originally been a convent. The Sun had just set and I had foolishly assumed that the brightest object in the sky must be Jupiter. I was immediately corrected, for it was Venus, with the distinctly red Mars directly above. Yet Jupiter was in fact up there, behind me, with Saturn too. Four planets at once, seen all with the naked eye! Never have I seen such a thing.

The following week was filled with eating beautiful food, drinking an unlimited supply of wine and helping with things like weeding, olive tree pruning, and mending a torn up quilt. By day the convent revealed itself to me in a completely new light. My friend is apprentice to a sculptor, thus pieces of stone are found dotted around the place in every form, from rough and ginormous to chiselled and fine. More dramatic sunsets. I found myself standing by the window one evening for about half an hour, unable to avert my gaze. The heavens just wouldn’t stop giving. I cut my hair, all but one dread, and I still can’t stop running my fingers across my scalp. In fact, nobody even noticed that I had done such a thing, until I couldn’t take it more and finally announced at lunch time, “has nobody noticed that I cut my dreads!?!” The winds came, la tramontana, greeting us all the way from Serbia. As the winds crescendoed I did more sewing and as they diminuendoed I did more weeding. The conversation was nothing less than stimulating; we discussed evolution, psychology, Buddhism, the history of the convent (involving Napoleon and potentially Galileo)… all in great depth. There wasn’t a topic that one of us knew nothing about.

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