This is the second consecutive post that I have written and when pressing “Save Draft: the WordPress system has crashed and my creative beautiful writing has vanished into the ether.  It is not hat the system does not automatically save drafts or is supposed to, it is not that I press the delete button – there is not one, but the entire blog post vanishes even from the archive.  Alt delete or what?  I am anything but happy, I lost my rhythm, my written words were pleasing and to re-write them will be difficult and the result undoubtedly less pleasing, however here goes..

To begin and borrow an opening line from the late Eartha Kitt “As you have guessed” we do not really have female guests at Bellaugello Gay Guest House.  It is not that they are not welcome, but rather that as a Gay Guest House our principal efforts are to attract gay men and our marketing is wholly concentrated on them and it is they who come and stay here, enjoying our hospitality, the peace and quiet, the stunning infinity pool, lazy breakfasts on the terrace and making or meeting friends.

It was just another normal day here at Bellaugello.  I was down in the vegetable garden harvesting chilli peppers when I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye.  Just outside the fence a young fox was playing with the leaves of a zucchini, gently persistently it was tugging at them.  The fox caught my eye and rather than darting back from where it came, the fox started to walk round the Orto fencing.

Round the perimeter the fox walked, nosing at the odd stone or dried fig, until, the open gate appeared, and in it trotted.  Not shy the fox came to the tomato plants and picked up a dried tomato that had fallen on the ground, it is so hot this summer the orto is suffering.  Trotting to a corner the fox, she as I discovered dug a hole and with gay abandon flicked the tomato into the hole.  No sooner was it in than her snout went down again and she flicked it out of the hole.  Gambolling over to where it had landed she once again picked it up and put it more carefully in the hole.  Thinking she had been more deliberate I thought that is where the tomato would stay, but no, she flicked it out, a delightful childlike game and with me a mere two metres away so entrancing to watch.

Now she has become a frequent early evening visitor.  As I water the pot plants she slowly reveals herself from the lower terrace, and of course me being me has to find her food.  She is young, a wonderful thick tail but so so thin.  Cutting up some left overs I gently throw them in her direction, she comes and eats gratefully.  Her only fear is the two farm cats that since my dogs died seem to have adopted (or so they think) the gardens here at Bellaugello.  If she sees them she keeps the morsel in her mouth and runs away to a quiet spot to eat in peace, I learn the cats are boss.

I am followed from terrace to terrace, she stops and admires the handsome guys drinking aperitivos on their terraces, sometimes she finds a dried apricot or fig hidden under the leaves, sometimes she is happy just to admire, whichever it is she is delightful.  Yesterday evening I fetched a bowl of water and she drank copiously I even managed to catch her on video.

Now it may be said that she has a penchant for Brikenstocks and Havaianas, but I refuse to believe that she is too young and cute.  Last week I learnt from guests that scientific studies on how long it might have taken for a wild dog to become domesticated were carried out on foxes.  Taking the quietest of the litter and breeding it with the quietest from another the scientists discovered it took only three generations for the fox to go from being totally wild to being domesticated,  I guess our fox is somewhere in the middle of that process, also bearing in mind the repeated disappearance of half pairs of footwear!

My concern is that her days are sadly numbered.  The hunting season opens shortly here in Umbria and hunters hate foxes.  Afterall the foxes kill the small birds and wildlife that the hunters want to kill themselves, so have to done away with.  Maybe this time she will be sufficiently domesticated to survive for welcome she is.

Gay Pride Montreal 2017

Montréal est fière. is the watchword of the Gay Pride Montreal 2017. What pride I had seeing the photographs of Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau proudly waving a gay flag as he processed with thousands of gays and our supporters lining the streets of Montreal.  He walked and at times danced alongside Leo Varadkar, the Taoiseach, the openly gay Irish Prime Minister, and the first foreign head of government to join in a Canadian Pride celebration.  Their smiles reinforced my view that Pride is very much part of life to be supported and promoted, as it demonstrates that we all must have the right to be as we are without prejudice, a philosophy that is key to Bellaugello Gay Guest House here in Umbria, Italy.

Of course I, like my many gay guests from Toronto and Montreal see Justin Trudeau as a great hot guy.  He is doing so much to promote gay rights in Canada and beyond, his actions are talked of and admired here in Italy, as is he, a modern gay icon and international statesman.

Leo Varadkar walking at Gay Pride Montreal 2017

I made my first visit to Ireland some thirty years ago.  Before the ‘Celtic Tiger’ boom it was a charming if quiet, very rural and very traditional country, dominated by the church, a sleepy backwater that I thought would stay the same.  But no, I have returned many times and been amazed at the rapid change and thrilled at how the Irish have welcomed and embraced gay rights, and now to have not only gay marriage, but an openly gay Taoiseach, and who is of Indian heritage, remarkable, inclusive and so so right.  To see the smiling Leo Varadkar, the first openly gay Taoiseach, walking at Gay Pride Montreal 2017 being embraced by so many is not I sight I had ever imagined way back on my first visit to his country, but it filled my heart with pride.

Traditionally I think of cross Atlantic ties as Ireland and America, St Patrick’s night, but this is a new and exciting departure and I hope one that will be the catalyst to many other senior politicians and countries embracing gay rights so enabling us all to live as one.

Picture credits: www.fiertemontrealpride.com

The other morning I had early departures, a couple of guys taking the plane to Brussels from Ancona airport back to Brussels wished to leave at 06:00 and so I was up early to give them coffee and cake before they headed off, so I decided it was a good opportunity to sit down and blog.  Over the next three hours on and off as tasks permitted I wrote a blog post about my evening at the local sagra in nearby Carbonesca and my evening at the opera in Macerata.  The post was a good one, my creativity had returned and I had inserted many links giving you guys ideas of things to do whilst visiting Bellaugello.  As ever I clicked the ‘save draft’ button, but this time the post vanished… yes completely vanished.  Even my webmaster could not find it, all my creativity lost, frustration does not come close.  These past few days the creativity has not returned, but now I sit at my computer and will try and recreate the post.

For those of you who have not yet had the opportunity to visit Bellaugello let me describe where we are.  Situated in the region of Umbria, we are in central Italy, placed between Rimini on the Adriatic coast, Florence in Tuscany and Rome.  The region of Umbria is utterly beautiful, even in this exceptionally dry and hot summer the countryside retains a lush greenness not found in many places in Italy.  Bellaugello looks out over the valley of the river Chiascio, this summer lazily running towards the dam at Valfabbrica which will at some future date get closed and create a huge lake in front of the house, what an even more splendid view we will have.

Nestling on the eastern hillside is the village of Carbonesca, it is a small village, one bar and a small supermarket, a couple of hundred inhabitants, but during the first week of August it comes alive as with so many small towns and villages across the region they hold their local ‘sagra’ or party.  To me the event is most likened to a harvest festival, the harvest is in and people gather to celebrate and give thanks.  The difference with Carbonesca is that they do this in huge style and this year the 43rd Sagra of Polenta and Sausages drew huge crowds.  The sagra is held over a week, but the big night is the Saturday and as ever all of us from Bellaugello Gay Guest House head over to join in the party.  We hired a minibus, nobody needed to drive, and queued for tickets.  Finding a table was not so easy, over one thousand people attend, but an eagle eyed guest spotted space and very soon we were served with wine and scrumptious polenta with sausages, all of which just kept coming throughout the evening.  We were joined by friends from the valley and the band struck up.  A huge stage and live music, the Bellaugello guys joining in the dancing from waltzes to line dancing, so enthusiastic was the dancing that we were all reluctant to return to the bus.

Dinner with friends at Sagra della polenta in Carbonesca

Of course the village sagras are not the only events held in Umbria.  July sees Perugia, our regional capital host “UmbriaJazz” a two week music festival with headline acts in the stadium and two live sound stages in the historic centre.  Music is from pop to rock to folk, a heady mix, something for every taste.  Headlining last year was Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett, this year Kraftwerk.  “UmbriaJazz” winter season is held in the beautiful town of Orvieto, concerts over the new year period.  To find out more click the link: Umbria Jazz

Perugia is also the venue for “EuroChocolate” a chocaholics dream.  Yes the event might be run by Nestlè and the chocolate mostly from one of their many brands but the historic centre is filled with stalls groaning with chocolates, chocolate drinks and chocolate souvenirs. This link takes you to the official website of the festival which runs from 13th to 22nd October, so still time to book Bellaugello: BOOK your stay at Bellaugello we have plenty of availability, and here is the chocolate website: Eurochocolate October 2017

For those of a more eclectic leaning then a visit to the National Gallery of Umbria is a must.  Situated in the ancient Palazzo dei Priori, in the historic centre, the gallery has one of the finest regional Italian collections of renaissance paintings including many by Pinturicchio, and Pietro Perugino.  The gallery is modern, and much natural day light filters in, the vivid blues, reds and golds, painted so long ago still strong and vibrant: National Gallery of Umbria, Perugia

But it is to the neighbouring region of Le Marche that together with two guests I ventured.  We drove to the honey brick town of Macerata to listen to opera.  Macerata, an University town is just south of Ancona, has a population of 43,000 population and is built on a hillside facing the glittering Adriatic.  We were attending the: Macerata Opera Festival held in the dramatic setting of the open air Sferisterio.  This building dating from 1820 was originally designed for the old Italian sport of  “pallone con bracciale” or handball where the players with their arms encased in a wooden sleeve hit a ball, from prints it looks a tough game…  Football gained in popularity and took over the use of the Sferisterio, then in 1921 the first opera was held, then the Sferisterio fell quiet until recent times, revived and expanded to seat 3000 now impressively hosting the Macerata Opera Festival, the forty metre stage hosts productions with international artists.

Opera Festival Macerata landscape

The evening was hot, 40˚c and our seats were in the centre of the upper tier of boxes, the brick columns radiating yet more heat.  The production was “Turandot“.  I was in the company of two guests from Denmark, one the Solo Tenor, Michael Kristensen who I heard in Mahoganny this winter is a great friend of the Swedish Soprano Irène Theorin and she was to be singing the part of Turandot.  Tragically one week before the performance she fell badly and broke her jaw so was unable to sing.  The production was modern, minimalistic sets and an amazing cast.  With the chorus, including a large group of school age kids spending part of one act in a huge fabric lined box, the remainder dressed in Alitalia like uniforms flocking back and forth, and about twelve young extremely fit guys initially wearing black boiler suits and balaclavas, moving props and cast, as we sweated in our box, I felt for those on stage, they must have been sweltering even if towards the end of the third act the young fit guys were adorned motionless only in speedos.

Opera Festival in Macerata pic

For lovers of opera the Macerata Opera Festival next year runs from 20th July to 12th August 2018 and they have a great website: Macerata Opera Festival 2018 Macerata is an easy two hour drive from Bellaugello, we dined simply in one of the main piazzas, walking towards the Sferisterio eating delicious gelati, a really enjoyable evening.

This winter amongst other productions the amazing Michael Kristensen is singing in “Butterfly” he tells me that rehearsals have already begun.  The production opens on 17th September and runs throughout the winter.  So for any of my readers heading to Denmark please do go and hear him sing.  The venue is the Royal Opera House, Copenhagen, a stunning modern building overlooking the harbour and Royal Palace funded by Maersk Lines.

Selfie of Michael

On my visit there I sat next to Michael’s husband.  We had amazing seats in the front centre of the stalls, the cast walking on a narrow companion-way suspended over the orchestra pit, almost close enough to touch.  Mahoganny by Kurt Weill, premiered in 1930 but seeing it in February 2017 the message was strangely apt, I was enthralled.  I was lucky enough to be invited back stage for a tour of the rehearsal stage, and to actually stand on the main stage (it is enormous and the auditorium mind bogglingly, intimidatingly huge) and see the dressing rooms, an awesome experience for a peasant farmer from Umbria.  For the full programme simply click the link: Copenhagen Opera House – programme and buy tickets

It was a strange experience.  For two mornings I woke with a pain in my chest.  It felt that a great weight was pressing down on me and the second morning I felt dizzy and light headed.  I have been super stressed, more than usual, as someone has got it in for me and is making my life a misery, despite my smiles life is hard.   During the preceding days I guess I had been experiencing smaller pains, but being me I just ignored them and continued on with work, but this morning it was clear that something had to be done, so I took myself off to hospital.

Having spoken with a good friend, a nurse who works in A&E he told me to call an ambulance, but not being the kind of person who wishes to cause problems (even if my friend said that I need an ambulance in case I blacked out during the thirty minute drive to the hospital) I drove myself.  Usually I am a great forward planner but this time I treated the visit as a jaunt, thought I would be given a code ‘white’ and kept waiting a few hours before being released, how wrong I was.

On describing my symptoms, the admissions clerk assigned me a code ‘yellow’ and I was swiftly taken through the doors and hooked up to an ECG machine, and then in to see a doctor.  Apparently I had the classic signs of heart problems, and they wanted to see me quickly.  Whatever else might be dysfunctional in Italy, and believe me there is much, the health service is extraordinarily good.  With a needle inserted in my arm, they took blood to measure my enzyme level.  Then I was directed to the waiting room to await results.  In the waiting room I saw this guy in a wheelchair, his leg recently plastered resting on the only table.  One of my neighbours who I learnt had managed to drop a base of a pool umbrella on his foot and break bones, painful..  He has a heart condition and was in to be monitored, unlike me he was driven to hospital.  We chatted, I used my pitifully small amount of loose change to  buy us two bottles of water and him a panino from the vending machine.

Return of medical staff, this time a wheelchair was brought and I was whisked off and put on a trolley in the observation ward, no information, just placed behind green curtains in a corner.  After what seemed like hours a doctor appeared and I was told that they were keeping me in.  “You cannot!” I said, “I have a business to run”.  Ok I had only gone to the hospital because I knew I had staff coverage that afternoon, work and my guests come first.  Panic, I had no phone charger, the phone was getting low on battery.  Asking a nurse if I could borrow a charger was met with a negative.  Explaining to the doctor that I had to stay in touch with my business and, not being able to do so would further increase my stress levels, asking ‘permission’ from the doctor to go to my car and retrieve a cable to hopefully connect to a computer to allow me to trickle charge my phone was met with a very reluctant “Yes Ok”.

So it was that I lay behind the green curtains on a trolley. No money for a drink – it is not provided, you have to buy water.  Nobody to talk to, all the other patients were surrounded by visitors and family, I suddenly realised just how isolated my life is.  Yes, I run the most beautiful Gay Guest House in Italy, I have a constant stream of beautiful guests from all around the world, here in Gubbio I have many many good friends, but basically I am all on my own.  I did make a few calls, mostly to my dedicated team at Bellaugello to ensure everything was organised, yes a very busy house, and I really did not want my guests to know where I was, but otherwise I was reduced to staring at three green curtains and a scabbily painted wall.

For the first time in my life I realised just what it must be like to grow old and be placed in an old peoples’ home, endless hours of boredom and waiting just to die.  No visitors, no social interaction, numbness.  I did not think to bring my Kindle, nothing to read, not even graffiti on the wall, I never imagined they would keep me in, but they did.  I was trapped and it was bad.  More bloods were taken, enzymes still high, blood pressure taken regularly, high, “è alta lo sapevi?” your pressure is high, do you always have high blood pressure? “I dunno I never measure it”

Supper came and went, I was served on my trolley, the nurse putting an incontinence pad on the sheet and placing a bowl of thin soup with noodles and a circular item in red sauce that I guess was pretending to be meat, but tasted insipid, meanwhile others were brought food.  No water, I was getting thirsty, and left my trolley, went back into the waiting room to see if somebody could change the 5€ note I had that I might buy water.  Later that evening I was transferred to a bed, a clean sheet and another corner, solitude and by then no phone so I could not even annoy anyone outside the now two walls and two curtains.

Hospital dinner

Morning came, no breakfast, it seems I was to undergo a heart stress test.  My heart was already stressed, I was lonely, very lonely, no contact with anybody much, no visits and nursing staff obviously deciding that I was to be left alone.  Irritation when I overheard the duty doctor snottily pretending to pronounce my surname over and over again and say to the nurse “huh another foreigner who doesn’t speak the language” to be forcefully rebutted “excuse me he has an exceptional command of Italian”, I had an ally.

“What time are they taking me up?”  I asked, I had to be home that evening by 18:00 at the latest we were serving dinners.  “oh late morning”.  Morning came and went, lunch trolley passed me by and finally at 15:00 I was put in a chair and pushed upstairs to cardiology.  Another wait, blood pressure up again, another hole puncturing my other arm, more blood taken, and finally the indignity of having my chest brutally shaved, being connected to electrodes and made to ride a bike!  “You do sport?” asked the consultant “No” I replied, “go to the gym?” again “no, I am just a peasant farmer who runs a guest house and I live half way up a hill.

Test over, I was wheeled downstairs and finally discharged – told to take at least two weeks off work and then to take it easy for the next month.. fat chance!   However I was allowed to drive myself home.

Back at Bellaugello the team had coped splendidly, and I was able to slowly chat to the guys and help with preparation and serving of dinner.

Outside dinner at the gay guest house Bellaugello

This is not a photo of the dinner that evening but a more recent one, but it just illustrates the warmth and conviviality of Bellaugello, how friendships are made and life is shared.  I am proud to be the host of this guest house.  I realise it is a very important sanctuary for a growing number of people, sometimes I act not only as host but therapist, I listen to guests offload their problems, am an impartial shoulder to cry on, I am the cheery mad host who has crazy ideas and is aspiring to be normal, and having experienced the loneliness of a 30 hour hospital stay I realise now more than ever that Bellaugello must continue and grow, but it can only do that with your support.