As I sat this morning at my kitchen window half-listening to the BBC news I was deeply saddened by the report on the American Presidential executive order on 28th January banning, all be it temporarily, people from seven predominantly Muslim-majority countries entering the USA.

The sun shone brightly, bursting through the open window.  Outside down in the valley below swollen by the melting snow from the Apennines the river Chiascio burbled noisily and energetically over rocks, carving its way to the soon to be formed lake that we will look down upon, and the birds were busy looking for food in the still glistening frosty ground.  I am in a fortunate place, for all the problems I encounter, there can be fewer places that I would rather live and work.  My work is an utter joy, I own and run Bellaugello, the gay guest house in central Italy.  I welcome guys from all over the world, many return, and many pass on their recommendation  to friends who then come and stay the Bellaugello network grows, long term friendships are made.  My clientele is eclectic and my business targeted specifically at gay men.  To elucidate…

Quite often I am asked by a lesbian or heterosexual person if they too will be welcomed at Bellaugello.  My swift answer is ‘Yes of course’.  As my guests well know I justify this by the statement that us gay guys have fought long and hard to be accepted by mainstream society.  We want and expect to be treated equally, to book into an hotel with our husband, partner, lover and be offered a double bed, no questions asked, to buy a cake in a bakery with whatever script or design we desire, to sit in the park and hold hands, to gaze dreamily into our man’s eyes over a steaming skinné latté frappé flatté macchiato or whatever is now in vogue.  We want (and quite honestly deserve) equal pension rights and the right to be treated as the next of kin in life and death decisions, so it would be hypocritical of me to refuse a stay at Bellaugello to anyone who is not gay and wanting to experience a stay in a gay guest house.

Following on the line of questioning the next one is often, especially from my guy guy clients, ‘What is the percentage of lesbian or hetero guests here at Bellaugello?‘ the answer; ‘remarkably few’.  To date, two or three couples of lesbians and one or two hetero couples a year stay at Bellaugello, last year there were fewer.  Now I do ask myself why they would wish to stay here, the place is packed with gay men, frequently naked, but as far as I am concerned it is their right.  One delightful lesbian told me that they chose Bellaugello because all lesbian guest houses they have researched run obligatory courses on macramé or pottery and have self-help groups, and she, being a well respected civil servant, and her wife a senior police officer, neither believe, and I agree, those activities are for them.

Marketing Bellaugello is sometimes difficult, especially online in link sites.  Generally the sites give you three options for classifying your business; Gay Only – Gay Friendly – or Hetero.  Oh how I hate the term ‘gay friendly’ it really sucks and signifies that “we will grudgingly accept those weird gays, but only because they are rich”, it is a horrid horrid term and concept, but one currently and inexplicably we have to live with, (I dislike hetero-friendly possibly just as much).  If you have read the preceding paragraphs you will also realise that the category ‘gay only’ also gets my goat big time.  We need to remove these classifications, they do not need to exist, make them obsolete.

Until recently I believed the world was moving down a more tolerant and inclusive road.  Many countries have finally enshrined in their laws same sex marriage, and others such as here in Italy have same sex civil unions, yes guys even as foreigners you can have a civil union ceremony here in Italy, the city of Gubbio has a beautiful historic hall, and Bellaugello is the perfect setting, for the wedding banquet and party.  Employment law has recognised the right for same sex partners to work related pensions and health care, there is now enshrined in law in many countries same-sex partner life and death decision-making, all really good stuff.

From my American guests I know just how much they value the hard determined work by ex-President Obama to have enshrined these rights in law, thus countrywide allowing guys to marry, and bringing to an end the hideous ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy.  Guys who lived together for decades can now openly demonstrate their love and commitment to each other.

Last year we welcomed many couples of all ages (many, but not all, even remotely in their first flush of youth) who having just got married were on honeymoon, yes Bellaugello is hopelessly romantic a perfect place for a honeymoon.  It was such a joy to me and my team to see the happiness and love in these guys eyes and in their gestures, I felt really positive and good for the future.

Last season for the first time Bellaugello welcomed couples from Russia, Ukraine and Gulf countries, such great guys, they just rubbed along with everyone else, and why ever should they not?  My guests come in all shapes, sizes and colours, the one thing they have in common is their wish to live ‘normally’ and that they do at Bellaugello.    Putting up barriers and making exclusions just does not work and is quite frankly inhumane.

At my kitchen window as I prepare to sign off and head into the garden to tackle some pruning of the ever invasive ginestra I am worried about the way things have moved in the past week.  All this action of building walls and banning entry, ‘post truth’ and ‘alternative facts’ (hideous evil phrases) makes me conclude there are dark days ahead, I ask have we gay guys enjoyed only a brief interlude of freedom, and will we too join the ever swelling ranks of the persecuted.

Despite the sun pouring in through my kitchen window, a sharp frost rapidly melting I’m angry, frustrated and almost (but not quite) speechless.  The nonsensical bureaucrats have got to me, I cannot begin to understand their actions. I have to share and vent my spleen.

No, it is not the Italian bureaucrats, it is the British ones.  Because Italy has been my home for nearly ten years and spurred on by impending ‘Brexit’ with the wish to remain in Italy and travel freely, or, move to be with a future husband, and eventually retire even to another country within the European Union and because I do believe in a united europe,  I am applying for Italian citizenship.   You may well ask why did I not do this earlier.  Simply I felt no rush but now circumstances have changed and I am spurred on to apply for citizenship of the country that I really love to call home and to remain european.

The application for Italian citizenship is now online.  Twenty three pages, many of which do not apply to me, it is relatively simple to complete.  Naturally the Italian state requires some background information on the applicant.  In my case this is my British birth certificate, my passport (I can still retain my dual nationality so Liz and Phil will be my guardian angels when I travel) and a certificate called ‘Disclosure’ that states that I am not an undesirable person, a terrorist or a criminal.  Logical I have no problem with providing these documents.

Now I have my birth certificate and passport, but having been in Italy since 2007 my discosure form was obviously out of date, so I have had to apply for a new one.  UK – efficient, or so I thought no, Applications can be made online but only if you reside in the UK, applications from abroad require to be made by post.  So I write to them, they write to me and send me a form which I complete and mail back to them, they produce the document and post it to me.  How stoopid is that…  International post is not exactly a precise science or speedy.  Yesterday I received an email from a couple of my Bellaugello guests in the Netherlands thanking me for the Christmas card I sent (dispatched 06 December) and having taken the scenic route had just arrived!

So understandably I was a bit frustrated that I could not apply for said document online.  Add to that the strange statement that private citizens can only apply for the most basic of Disclosure forms, not the full or enhanced disclosure I had previously had.  Oh well my hope is that the Italian government will accept this basic form.  So the form arrives, I am not undesirable, a criminal or a terrorist, my application is one step further on.

Now to send the documents to the UK to be legalised or ‘Apostilled’.  The office is in Milton Keynes, pay online, (£14.50 postage)  print the cover sheet, enclose the documents and post them by recorded delivery to the UK.  Trek up to see Mimmo at the post office at Scritto.  He kind of likes me at the moment, I send many letters from there and my parcels in arrival tend to somewhat mysteriously prefer to go to the post office than directly here to Bellaugello Gay Guest House.  “Buongiorno, devo spedire un pacco in Gran Bretagna.  Dev’essere tracciabile non raccomandata il livello piu alta.”  ‘Recorded delivery’  Buzzing of Mimmo’s fingers on Poste keyboard, scratching of head, pushing of glasses up the bridge of his nose, ‘sorry Alec you cannot send a letter by recorded delivery to the UK, they have not got such an agreement!’  When you consider you can send recorded delivery letters from Italy to Azerbaijan, Afghanistan and Somalia I find that rather weird, maybe the UK never really wanted to be part of europe.  I was sending my disclosure and original birth certificate, not items I particularly wanted to loose, but no option I have no friends in Milton Keynes, Mimmo and I decided to send the letter ‘raccomandata’ – signed on delivery (if it arrives)….

Sit back wait, wait and then the yellow DHL van arrives with a parcel form the UK.  I rush to open the package to discover a beautiful piece of embossed paper attached to my birth certificate – Apostille yes, but the disclosure certificate is returned not stamped.  There is a covering letter explaining that they were unable to legalise the document as it does not have a signature. WHAT??!! this is a British Government official document with the ink barely dry, why is it not acceptable. Grrr…

The only suggested solution is to have a UK lawyer or doctor sign to confirm the document is genuine.  Isn’t that what the legalisation office is supposed to be doing?  This to my mind is mad, they are confirming the genuineness of a third party signature and his or her capacity to be truthful.  Now the said signatory has to be in the UK, I’m in Umbria.  By circuitous means I get the form to my UK based sister and ask that she obtains the requisite signature.  Ok it took time, but a member of the legal profession signed the document, I paid again and scanned the receipt, emailed it to my sister and she popped the documents recorded delivery to Milton Keynes.

Yesterday I receive a further email from said cretins: (oh dear can I use that word?  well it’s done and cogent)

They don’t have his signature on file?!!  Presumably he will now have to get a person whose signature is on file to confirm the veracity of his signature, and the legalisation office will owing to ‘privacy laws’ no doubt refuse to confirm whether or not his suggestions are on their list… it goes on and on.

For me the bottom line is that the legalisation office is legalising a lawyer’s signature and the British government is playing games issuing official legal documents that cannot be Apostilled..

No doubt this story will be continued, but now I must go the Motorizzazione office in Perugia which closes at one – ‘per pranzo’ and start the process for the renewal of my already Italian driving licence, wish me luck.

Amidst all the chaos, turbulence and unrest,

I feel so very fortunate to be a simple peasant farmer perched high on a tranquil Umbrian hillside.  Mornings herald new days, some can be dramatic, fiery skies,

others less so…

but in Umbria, the centre of Italy mid way between Rome, Florence and Rimini, there is tranquillity and an escape from the violence of today’s world.  Bellaugello is a place to escape.  Here I am woken by the dawn chorus, birdsong, the rushing of the river cascading over stones way down in the valley, the majesty of the hills that far away encircle my gay guest house provide an inner peace that so many guys come to enjoy.  Wars, job worries, stress, uncertainty and hatred are a far off land, here is an oasis of calm and simple life.  Now that is not to say all is rustic or basic, we enjoy a wonderful swimming pool,

and when one wants to simply chill and relax there are comfortable suites, each one different, furnished with family pieces and items from my collection of life, places to enjoy with your loved one…

I am in the business here at Bellaugello Gay Guest House of offering hospitality to guests, and judging by the amount of guys that return (some have been here six years in succession) I must be doing something right. Over the years happily many have become firm friends.   Often I am asked just what I get up to in the winter.  Well apart from marketing, maintenance, repairs, sleeping, olive harvesting, and catching up with friends and neighbours also in the hospitality business I do find time to tear myself away from this little paradise and travel.  So having received invitations from guests who now have become friends I booked air tickets and headed to the Netherlands and Denmark to spend time in their homes.

A drive through early morning mist down to Orte to catch the train and a morning flight out of Rome got me to Amsterdam lunchtime to be met by one of the guys who has over the years become a really close friend and mentor.  He drove through crisp grey weather to their house where his partner Paul famous at Bellaugello for his painting series “Piscina” painted at our infinity pool, had prepared a delicious lunch of local meats and cheeses.  We gossiped before setting off to the Concertgebuow in Amsterdam, the guys had tickets for the Concertgebuow Orchestra, Debussy and Stravinsky conducted by Gatti, (what energy and vitality) a huge treat, an amazing start to what was an amazing week.  The Umbrian contadino came to the city and was blown away!

The next morning via a walking tour of the city of Almere, one of my hosts being responsible over many years for designing houses and architectural works in this new town as shown in this Lego display in the town theatre foyer, a most interesting insight, and then

we headed into Amsterdam for a wander of places known and less familiar.  Throughout the week I was to discover many sights the tourists just do not get to see, and discover the passion with which my guests love their countries and are both knowledgeable and proud of their heritage.  So now you get to see some of my holiday snaps:

and places that many do get to see…

I was thrilled to stumble across the Moco Museum with an exhibition of Banksy originals, and discovered the delights of the Rijksmuseum.

I was taken on tours, we went shopping – gay guys hey! walked on the beach, ate mussels and frites in elegant beachside restaurant, were blown away by the beauty of Den Haag, did Dutch things and had many laughs, the guys enthusiasm knowing no bounds and becoming quite infectious.

One snowy morning we headed deep inland across wet fields, dykes, polders, rain sleet, snow, rain, grey, big big skies, so reminiscent of the best Dutch landscape painters, our destination being Kampen, I was planning to surprise some other Bellaugello Guests…

a couple of guys who have the most amazing pancake and more restaurant in this delightful Hanseatic port town.  A slight but happy double take on his part, huge smile, warm hugs, lots to catch up on and also to meet three delightful labradors, all before a delicious pancake lunch prior to a tour of this enchanting town.

and then as the musical clock tower bells played round to meet yet another couple of Bellaugello Guests, this time owners of a hearty steak restaurant.

but my day was not finished I was heading further inland to dinner with some of my ‘adoptive parents’. “What??” I hear you say, yes, I have several sets of prospective adoptive parents, keen to see that post-Brexit I continue to live in europe! A dinner invite, preceded with by request, one of the hosts playing his harpsichord, and then a delicious Italian meal cooked by his husband and featuring wines from Puglia they first tasted at Bellaugello and have now sourced in the Netherlands. yeah Bravi!

Train back to Almere for my final night before a tour visiting the ancient fishing island of Marken – wow! it was very very cold there, brrrr….

and then to the airport for the next leg of my holiday.  I was sad to leave the Netherlands, my hosts were so very kind and attentive to every detail, but I too love Copenhagen and was on a mission.  Met at the airport by Michael and whisked off to their downtown apartment as I was about to discover my Bacchanalian and epicurean holiday was far from over.

Copenhagen is a city I adore.  I was there only two years ago staying with the son and girlfriend of Italian friends, and it was good to be back, this time I was with Bellaugello guys and to be treated like a prince.  As in Almere my stay was carefully planned by my hosts and fine dining and excursions to new places on my itinerary.

We rummaged through Queen Margrethe’s attics in the Amalienborg Palace, skipped through the gardens in the Rosenborg Castle, hit Illums, Royal Copenhagen, Gant, and der Glace – a dangerous place but ideal for souvenirs for the kind folk back home looking after my dogs, cried over my hopeless attempts at husband hunting and dashed from wifi hotspot to wifi hotspot (well not quite!). From these photos it seems that all we did was eat… not true 😉

but almost!  My hosts are also exceedingly good cooks and one night held a dinner party at their home, this time a chance to meet non-Bellaugello guys, a warm convivial evening with conversation in English, so kind, so many laughs, bizarre tales of a very eccentric mother, and a chance to savour real Danish roast pork and an exquisite home-made semi-freddo.

So to the highlight of my galavanting gastronomic week; A seat at the Copenhagen Opera House to see the performance of Kurt Weil & Burtold Brecht’s Mahoganny with one of my hosts in the starring role.  We entered through the stage door, and Michael gave me a tour back-stage, including actually walking onto the stage, what a huge space, then with his husband out front to appreciate the new opera house.

Given a seat in the centre close to the stage, I was blown over, and a catwalk a mere pace or two from my seat, the star’s husband keeping me company I was entranced, an amazing production, and although written in 1930 totally contemporary and relevant to the events of this past week.  There are five more performances and if you get the chance go see it.  Buy tickets now and take all your friends you will be so glad you did.  After the show we went backstage again, and met the star.  Included in the production is a theatre group made up of refugees, they have little or no experience of theatre or opera, come from many different countries and cultures, have little language in common but have become a cohesive professional team that add much to the production.

One of the group had given my host containers with food from her country, Afghanistan, and it was that, that by candlelight so evocative of nordic winter evenings, we ate back at the apartment washed down with another glass of Pugliese wine from the cantina of Schola Sarmenti – interesting how Bellaugello wines travel!  The gesture of the delicious food from the member of the theatre group was somehow very emblematic of the warm, generous, thoughtful, delicious hospitality that I experienced on my holiday.

So with that happy experience still in my mind the next morning I flew over Sweden and back to Rome.  The car still in the car park 14.5˚c, blue skies, a different kind of warmth.  I must admit Rome airport was very swift and efficient, the problems of last year seemingly a thing of memory.  It was good to be driving up through familiar Umbria to Bellaugello.  My dogs gave me a huge welcome, the snow all but melted except on the high peaks of the Apeninnes, Umbria was looking fresh.  My huge thanks in Alphabetical order to:  Henning, Jan Poul, Marco, Michael 1, Michael 2, Michael 3, Otto, Pablo, Paul, Peter and Rohalt, you made my week so very special, I look forward to seeing you in Umbria next time xox

After a warm spell with new flowers bursting forth in the garden last week winter arrived in Umbria.  As well as snow we were sent a cold Siberian wind, biting, cold and intense.  It is at times like these that I am so grateful for the underfloor heating that we installed throughout the house.  One can simply laze on the floor and be toasty warm.

Bellaugello is looking magnificent under a blanketing of crisp white snow,

bellaugello-gay-guest-house-umbria-italy-winter-pool-scene

Even with the salt water in the pool I have been out breaking the ice, admittedly a thin sheet, but nonetheless ice.  I too have been feeding the birds.  Strangely enough wild bird seed has prtoved hard to come by, it seems that here there is not the northern european culture of feeding the birds, yet to me it gives great joy when with frozen ground they come so readily to the bird-feeder swinging languidly in the branches of an apricot tree.

snow-in-the-garden-at-bellaugello-gay-hotel-umbrie-italie

Meanwhile us locals have discovered the existence of European funding for road repairs, so we have earnestly been collecting signatures and last Tuesday handed a petition with over one hundred and twenty signatures, yes we visited every house in the ‘valley’ and all signed.  So the request now lies with the comune of Gubbio, and they have acknowledged our request and hopefully will make the appropriate requests for the use of funding for our road which currently looks beautiful:

bellaugello-gay-guest-house-umbria-the-road-in-winter

Umbria is a delightful region in the centre of Italy.  One of those increasingly rare places where you can find real peace and “simply switch off”.  I was talking with guests from the Netherlands the other day and having booked again for this year they were reminiscing about their holidays.  Amongst reasons like ‘being spoilt’ ‘feeling like being at home’ ‘meeting other great guys’ ‘the convivial breakfasts eaten together’ and ‘wonderful dinners served under the stars’ they repeated just how much they appreciate the peace and quiet, and how restoring  they find it.Giardino-Shower-two-guys-having-fun-Bellaugello-300x201.jpg

 

Sunflowers in the sunshine at Bellaugello Gay Guest House, Umbria Italy Lavender water at Bellaugello, Umbria ItalySummer living under the bamboo at Bellaugellobellaugello-suites-duca-0511If you want to be part of the Bellaugello experience it’s quite simple, just click on the ‘Book Now’ button on our website and reserve your holidays with us.

Looking forward to welcoming you..

 

over-the-infinity-pool-at-Bellaugello-Gay-Country-House-near-Tuscany-Italy