The inspiration for this post started with the pretty icing sugar snow tumbling down outside my windows, but possibly because today I am alone and isolated it has turned into a rant about my inability to influence change.  Since my last post on my glorious if tiring walk to Assisi much chaos has continued.  I hate to recap on events most of which that I am sure you are all aware of, but my frustrations are getting the better of me.  Some visibly impinge on my life here in the peace of Umbria, central Italy, and although I know in negative ways they do, I kid myself, fortunately much does not.   The insanity of the world continues apace.  Like all I increasingly have difficulty in differentiating fact from fiction, true journalism seems to be a historic remote concept, but the devastating shooting and killing at yet another school in America and the carpet bombing in Syria I believe to be true and must rank against some of the worst atrocities ever for a world that supposedly has learnt from the past horrors of previous ages.

Posts quoting a highly media savvy, but illogically reactionary seemingly flip-flopping American President have filled my Facebook feed, yes, in these long dark winter days I do admit to occasionally dipping into and reading Facebook.   45’s reported suggestion to train and arm teachers had me crying at my computer.  More guns the solution, how can that be?  Hey, was the security guard at the school not dismissed for inaction, and were some of the local cops not guilty of the same, their guns did not save lives.  Yet when re-education is what is needed 45 wants to give selected teachers guns, more guns in circulation?  Can you imagine the reaction if the legislation is passed and a black muslim teacher fires…  The suggestion of arming selective teachers is like a call to more war.

I just do not understand the logic of the argument for owning guns in any shape or form and “Semi automatic” rifles what is the point of them how oh how in today’s world can they exist?  What multinationals have a vested interest in their promulgation?  Selecting just one example of the many reactions to the mind-blowingly illogical NRA’s ensuing publicity I came across; “If it’s people not guns that are to blame for killings then, why, when we go to war do we not just send troops, why give our troops guns, which according to you do not kill and troops evidently have no need of?”  The US Republicans who react to yet another mass shooting by offering “thoughts and prayers” just makes me sick, it does not cut the ice for me.

The UN resolution for a thirty day ceasefire in Syria was passed a few hours ago.  The country and more importantly innocent people are being destroyed and for what?  Who is profiting? A thirty day ceasefire to allow for humanitarian aid to get through to those whose lives are being destroyed by many of those states represented and hypocritically profiting from the bombardment.  Thirty days, thirty days, only thirty days.  If we can do it for thirty days then why not forever?

Despite living happily indeed joyously in Italy for over ten years I still dip into British news.  Sometimes I am never sure why.  Is it because of a quirk of the EU for another four years that gives me a British political vote, or because I can trace my maternal Gallovidian family back to twelve hundred and something and so have deep roots in the country?  I am not sure if that either of these wacky reasons justify my continuing to listen to the BBC but listen to it I do and they are the first plausible ones that come to mind.  Brexit, huh!  I voted ‘Remain’.

I used to be a keen skier and was fortunate enough to be able to spend several winters in the Valais.  I used to go by car.  Drive south from Galloway grab a birth in the bilges of a dirty tired overnight ferry from Newcastle to Zeebrugge, and then drive through Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Germany and finally into Switzerland. My early trips were made pre-Schengen and the waits at the borders and required changes of currency were to say the least mildly irritating and seemingly pointless.  In the latter part of the nineteen eighties the Schengen treaty removed the borders and made driving across Europe at first somewhat surreal but so much easier and more pleasant.   The sense of harmony, hope and co-operation was warmly welcoming.

Having grown up just across the sea from Northern Ireland, and if memory serves me correctly, at the height of ‘the troubles’ even hearing bombs in Belfast going off, I remember my fearful parents forbidding me to go to the Emerald Isle.

My first eagerly awaited trip to the republic was in the mid 1980’s.  In those days in the UK there were only a handful of vehicle registration plate recognition cameras.  1984 had been and gone but there was still no ‘need’ for the blanket surveillance of the entire population we are told we need today.  There were cameras at the port of Dover and one set of cameras was placed on a bridge on the M6 motorway just north of Carlisle – at the gateway from England to Scotland.  A third set on the entry to the Scottish ferry terminal in Stranraer the exit port for sailings to Belfast.  Now like all port towns the world over Stranraer is a place of transience, an uncomfortable town, but living some twenty five odd miles away was a place I knew reasonably well, or so I thought until for the first time turning right at a roundabout, driving through security gates in a high wire fence and entering the ferry terminal, the world changed.  Here was a huge long shed with security cameras and intimidating uniforms asking a myriad of questions, a scary frightening world.  On arrival in Larne, the car was searched and more uniforms asked more questions.

The border between the north and the republic was still in existence, and the crossing patrolled by soldiers could take as much an hour and a half to negotiate.  With the Good Friday Agreement the hard border went, and in its place there is so much good.  There is a sense that harmony and integration have happened since those war-torn days of ‘the troubles’.  I have been back many times and delight in the sense of community and freedom of movement over what was a barricaded border.  I do however fear the peace is still fragile, and I so despair of the insanity of Brexit one consequence of which seems to want to turn history back on itself.

Flicking through YouTube I came across a British publicity film from the nineteen sixties which reminded me exactly how we have forgotten just how complicated life was and in a funny sort of way why European integration came about:

Here in Italy we are in the throes of another election, this time to elect the eighteenth legislature since 1948.  The road from Bellaugello Gay Guest House to our local town of Gubbio is currently, in part like a tunnel in a no go zone, sheets and sheets of metal hoardings have gone up ready to be plastered with election posters that will inevitably blow away in the wind.  Italy is a delightfully whimsy country and ever changing of politicians has become a national trait.  The more politicians and governments the more people on the gravy train benefit, and they all benefit hugely.   Although there are a myriad of political parties posting candidates I learn that effectively there are few parties to choose between, only three in the running are likely to be able to win;  Linked to the xenophobic Northern League the Forza Italia party led by the scary destructive Cher aspirant Berlusconi, himself legally blocked from returning to the senate, but if the party wins, as in the past laws somehow will mysteriously be changed and he will inevitably return.  Matteo Renzi’s (if I lose the referendum I will exit politics forever) PD party which represents more of the same, and the 5Star movement with its vague and polarised policies.  None of my friends have an inclination to vote, they all feel disenfranchised and whatever party they vote for nothing will change for the better.  Democracy is an illusion.  Yesterday La Repubblica reported massive aggressive rallies in many cities throughout the country, fascists, anti-fascists, xenophobes, anti-xenophobes it is all turning very unpleasant, the war drums are beating.

So today Russia has sent Italy a gift; Il Burian, the bitterly cold snow bearing wind that is born in Siberia.  Temperatures are predicted to slide to minus five during the day and minus sixteen through the night for the next three or four days.  The impending arrival of the Burian has been headline news and anticipated for some time.  The schools in many parts of Italy are closed tomorrow, Gubbio made the announcement early last week.  The past days I have been busy wrapping plants and water pipes, putting out strings of nuts for what will be hungry freezing wild birds, covering and protecting everything I can in the hope of preventing too much damage.  Friends throughout the country are equally concerned, it is a tough spell ahead but we will survive.

I draw the inevitable conclusion that humankind is being manipulated by huge multinationals each fixated on with their financial profits and greed, with absolutely no regard whatsoever for common decency and a happy humankind.  Maybe I am slow on the uptake!  The multinationals only look to growth in financial returns and control, and increasingly we are all being sucked in to their vortex.  Here at Bellaugello, it is different, it is a small business, and you are able to escape all, be it just for a holiday, or as a work post, or a partner.  Here you will find a harmonious place to holiday away from the ‘madding crowd’.  To me, a simple immigrant peasant farmer living half way up an Umbrian hillside it is a huge pleasure to be able to offer guys from all over the troubled world an ‘island of peace in a sea of insanity‘.   My guest house is small, five individual suites, each with super comfortable bed, large bathroom, kitchen corner and private terrace.  Some suites have also an outdoor shower, and  of course our infinity pool is the place to soak up the sun.  Guests make friends, be it over breakfasts served with everyone seated together at the same table or poolside.  Be naked if you wish.  Stripping off your clothes gives one a great feeling of freedom, and freedom is so very important.

Thanks to @andykeith_ for the photo.

 

 

It all began with a leisurely lunch the other day at home at Bellaugello and subsequent digestive stroll in the valley…. “why don’t we walk to Assisi?”  Maybe it was the good lunch, maybe it was the bucolic afternoon, but the decision to trek to Assisi following the Sentiero Francescano was made, and now with sore calves and aching joints I sit at my computer to recount yesterday’s all day adventure.

My alarm went of before six am.  I fell out of bed and stumbled across warm cotto flooring to the bathroom to splash water on my face in an attempt to open my eyes to be able to make a mug of tea.  A squint outside, still dark but promising to be a lovely morning.  Thermos filled, wholemeal toast and home made marmalade downed, layered clothing donned I locked the house and set off to join four friends for the walk to Assisi.

For those of you who have not been to Bellaugello Gay Guest House in Umbria, we sit high on a south facing slope commanding huge views over the Chiascio valley looking to the far distance and horizon where slumbers Monte Subasio, the hill (seen on the right of the photo) on the other side of which nestles the rose pink stone town of Assisi.  In ‘linea di aria’ – as the arrow flys, Assisi is some twenty five km from Bellaugello but we had decided to walk along the pilgrimage route “Sentiero Francescano” which passes through our valley on its way to Rome and it turned out to be a long thirty eight kilometres.

We set off as the sun rose in the east, the morning colours spectacular and warm.  We walked along the dirt road, down past the tiny chapel of  “Madonna delle Ripe” with its ancient but still fresh frescoes.

What is it that possesses people to tie plastic ribbons and clip padlocks and tie twigs with plastic strips in the form of crosses to the bars of monuments?  This chapel is tiny, so stunningly simple, built by a farmer thanking the Madonna for saving his land from tumbling into the valley below, but now surrounded by tacky trinkets from people who will never return.  Oh if only passers by would adhere to the ethos of Chief Seattle; “Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints.

We continued past a farm with a huge amount of huge loudly barking dogs and to the Eremo of San Pietro in Vignetto.  This old monastery was until a few years ago lived in by a very anti-social hermit, who refused people even a cup of water.   Reportedly now awaiting a new custodian and to be opened as a hostel for pilgrims and hikers, it is a stunning setting.

The track is now downhill, through a lovely wood and at the bottom of the hill there are two options; To branch off right and climb high and steeply to the abbey of Biscina, over a new but temporary path or to climb over a barrier and follow the original route down to the River Chiascio and along the airport smooth road in the building site.   The building site is a continuation of forty six years work on the dam at Valfabbrica, a blousy project to create a lake to supply water to Rome, and when finished will be seen in all its glory from Bellaugello.  I love the view from my house, but a lake will make it even more special.  Alas the dam leaks, and for the past forty years they have been trying to fill the holes.  The latest tranche of sixty six million euros has supplied huge amount of earth moving equipment, trucks, and created a road smooth and large enough to land a jet plane.  Work is in progress and they are now talking of beginning to fill the lake next year.

On past the abbey of Biscina, its walls standing tall on a bluff.  It is part repaired but empty, one room of which seems to be used for the ‘dark arts’ very spooky indeed.  The route continues down onto an abandoned asphalt road then, getting ever nearer Valfabbrica, reverts to a strada bianca.

We pass abandoned houses, climb up hill only to descend again, the countryside is beautiful and the first signs of spring are in the air.  We stop and eat greedily from Rosa Canina, those sweet succulent red rosehips that with much hard work make great jam.

The path now climbs past two or three agriturismi, all closed and offering no welcome, and we find ourselves a delightful stopping point at the small shut church of San Marco in Sambuco.  Alas! the adjacent water tap is also closed for the winter.

Delicious paninis prepared by Matteo are greedily devoured.  A few practice tugging on the rope and tolling the bell before we head off once again down a muddy track to be met by the huge works of the dam.

We head steadily downhill past yet another delightful chapel.  As well as being a delightful hiking trail this really is a pilgrimage route.  A few more kms and we are into the small quiet town of Valfabbrica.  Having by now walked over 20km time for a well earned coffee and rest stop.

Refreshed, we leave the town through deserted side streets and continue the trail walking up a very long and exceedingly muddy track to reach a saddle from where I have my first, all be it distant, view of Assisi.

and back way nestling in the hills below the Apeninnes the view of Bellaugello Gay Guest House and our starting point. Of course nearby there just happens to be another chapel!

The trail continues on field borders and olive groves.  We pass small well tended trees, happy livestock and then once again begin to head downhill.  It seems that we have to go way way down to then have to climb way up again to reach Assisi.  The route is attractive but our unprepared and tired muscles are beginning to feel the strain.  We all take note of the goat, it has the right attitude!

Passing yet more agriturismi, we finally arrive at the valley bottom and begin the long climb up to Assisi, the Basilica of San Francesco complex in all its imposing enormity comes into sight.

Finally our goal is achieved and we are at our destination.  Matteo’s running watch tells us by the time we find the car which we had left here yesterday we have walked 38.11 km, in 10:37 hours at an average speed of 16.43 min/km.  On the route we have climbed up 1,072 metres and gone downhill some 1,241 metres, and it has taken over 51,000 paces.  Hey, we have burned 2,404 calories so all well deserve a good meal and glass of wine when we get home.

This is a trail I have long been wanting to do.  Looking wistfully along the valley and hills from Bellaugello to Monte Subasio, I wondered often if it would be possible for me to do the walk, and yes, it is possible.  Possible also for guests of Bellaugello Gay Guest House.  Parts are utterly glorious, others less so, and in some places a bit of serious maintenance would not go amiss.  The singeage is a bit haphazard, some are so faded by the sun as to be white, but with common sense one does not get lost.  I enjoyed a fabulous satisfying day out in the company of amazing friends.

 

As if by magic our local town of Gubbio hidden away in a quiet corner of Umbria, itself a beautifully sleepy region in the centre of Italy has a distinguished historical connection with Harry Potter, and now you can live the Hogwarts experience yourselves.

The unassuming village of Ponte d’Assi is not only home to a great bakery and friendly petrol station, the drop off point for packages by lazy courier drivers, the joiners who made the large table that sits on the terrace at Bellaugello Gay Guest House, around which so many meals in great company have been enjoyed but it is also home to a small light industrial estate where one company is truly global.

MedioEvo started many years ago in metalwork, and through their dedication to excellence and detail won the contract for supplying props and costumes two major Hollywood film series, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.   Recently as if by magic they have opened a store dedicated to Harry Potter memorabilia.  Here you can shop for wands, broomsticks, gowns, potions and Flying Cauldron ‘beer’ and much much more.

Oh! doesn’t Daniel Radcliffe look so young!

The demise of Air Berlin has left many European flight slots to be filled and re-allocated.  Easy Jet has picked up many of them and announced new destinations to regional airports in Italy, one of which is Ancona.  Brexit gossip has it that companies like Ryanair will have to relocate the British part of their fleet to mainland Europe and vie for new slots so this is just the beginning of many new flights to central Italy.  Happily our regional airports of both Ancona and Perugia are in the running for new destinations.

From this summer it easier to make connections to Bellaugello by the revitalised “Marche Airport“.  The airport is small, friendly and easily to use, and as it is just over one and a quarter hour’s drive from Bellaugello Gay Guest House, so shockingly convenient to meet up and escape.

Lufthansa has, for some time scheduled incoming flights from Munich, convenient also for trans-atlantic connections, and now confirmed by Easy Jet and already bookable on their website (see links below) this summer there will be twice weekly flights from both London Gatwick and Berlin with prices starting at a trifling 30 euro.

The London route commences at the end of June scheduled flights every Wednesday at 11:35 and Saturday at 07:05.  Bringing London and Brighton so much closer to Bellaugello, meaning for you Umbria is easier for both a proper holiday and short break, and for me, that I can get to see my adored Brighton Pavilion even more frequently.

The Berlin route starts in August with departures from Tegel Friday and Monday 10:40 and return flights departing Ancona at 13:05 making week-ending from Berlin and Western Poland to Bellaugello so very easy, and for me a chance for city breaks in cities I adore.

Sie können jetzt Berlin Flüge buchen: EasyJet Deutsche Webseite and book EasyJet London Gatwick: EasyJet Gatwick-Ancona

Further good news is that the road from Ancona is currently being enthusiastically upgraded to full dual-carriageway.  As it heads through the Apeninnes towards Umbria, there already are super new led lit tunnels and sweeping bridges.

Now book your gay holiday here: Book Bellaugello

Finally it arrived!  Luca Guadagnino’s much acclaimed film “Call me by your Name” found a home in Postmodernissimo, the small jewel of a cinema in Perugia, and so I had to gather friends and see just what all the fuss is about.

At Postmodernissimo on Wednesdays films are screened in original language.  Wednesday is also discount day, so for the decidedly unchunky sum of €4 a comfortable seat and an English language film, especially one that I really want to watch, are yours.  On long winter evenings definitely a ‘no brainer’.

There are three screens, the “Visconti” sala is small, a mere six rows, fifty four seats, and last night it was full.  Ok it was the later afternoon screening but I was surprised at the audience, not fringe at all, instead many elderly seemingly well heeled women and some young hetero couples.  There too was a smattering of gay couples, me and two straight guys, and I guess inevitably a few of the dirty raincoat brigade, one of whom was sitting behind me (oddly with his ‘wife’?) and annoyingly kicking my seat and grunting throughout the film.

I’m not a film critic, the film is long and some critics state at times slow, but it is utterly beautiful, I drank thirstily every moment not wanting to get to the bottom of the glass.  A generous romantic love story that evolves against the backdrop of a dreamily crumbling villa, which like its garden filled with ripe fruit gives bountifully to the unlikely lovers.  The setting is a delight, the local countryside has a “must visit” quality, the period cars and accessories from a Sony Walkman to a clunky Telefunken tv add much to the authenticity of the film which I’m certain will do a huge amount to boost tourism and particularly gay tourism in Italy.  Italy is just such a fabulous and overlooked destination for a gay holiday.  Cinematographically best of all for me although set in 1982 the film does not follow the irritating trend of most period pieces, here especially thinking of ‘The Darkest Hour” filmed in dusky gloom, an annoying trait by directors I guess dully wanting to create atmosphere or a sense of past times, but to be able to watch you want to keep turning on a torch.  This film is beautifully lit.

For those of you yet to see the film the young Timothee Chalamet is on screen in virtually every shot.  His portrayal of a precocious youth entrancing, that of Armie Hammer a very convincing grad student, and the chemistry generated between them kept the cinema (apart from or maybe including the raincoat behind me) enraptured.

I’m on a mission to remove gender as a defining element of a person so hate writing this next line, but neither leading actor ‘defines themselves as being queer’.  To my view they put their all into the film, and act their respective parts with passion, intense sensuality and professionalism.  As quoted in the UK Guardian, Luca Guadagnino said  “This film is about the blossoming of love and desire, no matter where it comes from and toward what. So I couldn’t have ever thought of casting with any sort of gender agenda … I prefer much more never to label my performers in any way.”  I long for the day when labels of sexuality are no longer required.

My two friends loved the film, they saw the romance and love portrayed, regarding the gay leads were non judgemental, and chattered about it enthusiastically all the way back to Gubbio where we headed for another Italian delight, home cooked pizzas.

Guadagnino has in this film done a huge amount to show that love between two men is as natural and exquisite as any other.  The Pizzzas too were natural and exquisite, Thanks Matteo!