Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Gathering Some Summer Bliss in Nesodden, Norway

I am passionate about my home in the village of Piegaro nestled in the heart of Umbria with its green rolling hills, fields of sunflowers, vineyards and olive groves and endless sun.  Sometimes I need a change of pace and some family time. Within a short plane ride to Oslo and then by ferry to the island of Nessodden nestled in the Oslo Fjord, I can be in another world.  This is the idyllic place where my daughter, Laara, and grandson, Milo, have made their home.  In the middle of August, the temperature is milder than Piegaro and when I disembark at the airport to find it raining, I cheered!  The next day dawned with glorious sunshine and the view towards Oslo is stunning with the sailboats and cruisers gliding along in the breeze.
This week has been perfect for gardening, playing with Milo, long talks with Laara, dozing in the sun and swimming at the local beach of Hellvik where an historic mansion is outfitted as a restaurant and one can dine on organic salads and polser (hot dogs), shrimp and divine desserts. 
Milo loves to swim in the Fjord along with his friends from school, who often show up here on fine days like this past week.  The large rocks on this beach create safe lagoons for the children to swim and natural launching pads from which to dive. Laara looks like a mermaid as she joins Milo on the rocks while he dives over and over splashing into the warm summer water of this lovely Oslo Fjord.
Sunday the beach at Hellvik is packed with families enjoying the last of the luminous summer days and we make room for all on the grass overlooking the beach.  Some families come prepared with small portable stoves for polser while others take advantage of the grill special on the restaurant terrace.  The resplendent sun has complete freedom to break through the sparse clouds, so ice cream is in great demand with both children and adults.  As I watch families enjoying such a fine day,
I am reminded of my years in Juneau, Alaska and in Seattle; how we treasure each day of sun in our short summers. In this place, when the sun comes out and the clouds disappear everyone wakes with a feeling of great joy and anticipation for what the day will bring. When the sun appears, the days stretch into the late hours and it becomes the land of the midnight sun. Everyone is energized to wring the most out of each and every hour. What a contrast from my home in Italy where the sun greets us every single day from May to September and is taken for granted. We all shutter our windows, Italian fashion, in the afternoon to shield us from the sun and savor the coolness of a dark siesta.  In the midst of all that sun, Italians yearn for the gift of some cooling rain. In Norway, windows and doors are flung open to embrace the sun, there are few curtains and most homes have rooms with banks of windows and skylights.  Everyone is overjoyed to receive a gift of sun for a day or a few weeks.
In the midst of the darkness and cold of winter, after Milo sits cosy reading while Pickles looks at the deep snow outside, will he drift off to sleep remembering how he dived over and over from the rocks to be immersed in the softness of summer water in the Fjord?
When Laara returns from a long swim out and back in the Fjord, so refreshing on this hot summer day, it is time to savor the warmth of sun on bare skin.  She needs to store this up for those long winter nights ahead.  Often heard, "Is this the last weekend of summer sun?"  One never knows, we could have two or three more into an Indian summer of September.
After Milo's long time in the water, he has a little favorite place to eat his polser.  Every time we come to Hellvik, he heads straight for the rope swing hanging from a giant oak tree.
While Milo swings, the summer crowd dines on the Hellvik restaurant terrace into the long afternoon.
When reluctantly we prepare to leave, it is best to delay by having some snuggle time before returning home....the end to a blissful summer day in Norway.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Love of Gardens!

I have always taken great pleaseure in gardening having inherited my mother and grandmother's green thumbs.  At our home in Seattle I had years of joy creating a palette of pinks, lavendar, purple, blues and white perennials and roses and draping climatis that clung to every tree and fence.  It was a fragrant and visual paradise that soothed my soul.  It was the place where fairies hung out and where my daughter, Laara, spent many hours during her formative years.  This June, Laara asked me to help her re-create that paradise in her garden in Nesoddtangen, on an island just outside Oslo.  Her garden already had "good bones" with an abundance of apple and plum trees, grape and climatis vines and interesting levels, nooks with both shade and sun. 
Mature bamboo, hydrangea and ferns created a natural border between deck and yard. Five apple trees were espaliered all along three fences surrounding the back yard which gave much visual privacy and of course, abundant apples in the late summer and early autumn.

Climbing vines and climatis had already been trained up and over several trellis to create little gateways to transition between level of the deck to yard and out the gate to alleyway.

Even the outdoors comes inside her beautiful house with its skylights and bank of windows.

What did this garden need to remind Laara of her childhood paradise?  A few perennials and roses tucked here and there and some extra color, we decided.  Part of the joy of gardening is in the planning and the other part is searching out the plants!  So after many exquisite trips to local nurseries, we got down to the actual planting.  Exquisite?  Well, let me put it this way: I was famous for making repeated trips to nurseries and one year my dear Mother threatened to post a sign "Do Not Sell Anymore Perenniels to This Woman!"  Like mother like daughter, for Laara was as enthusiatic as I to make these trips together.  Since Norway is much like Seattle, we decided on David Austin heirloom roses noted for their abundant fragrance, astilbe and delphiniums for structure and the color palette of rose, pink and purple with some yellow and orange thrown in for fun.

The fully cupped roses add fragrance and beauty to the table.
We added a pale yellow rose to the back deck and planted containers of perky yellow and orange nesturtiums, blue lobelia and orange begonias for a riot of color to spill onto the deck beside the outdoor table.

And that is just the half of it!  Laara's front yard presented many opportunities for creativity for sun and shade plants. There was already a willow tree draped across the cobble walkway lined with perenniels and a bower of climatis vines at the front gate. 

We chose pink and purple astilbe, bleeding hearts with dainty pink and white flowers and a deep purple lace fern for the corner shade garden.

More fragrance and color went into the sun filled front seating area with red climbing roses, yellow honeysuckle vine, and containers of lobelia, lavender, begonia and tall pink cosmos that always remind me of my mother's self-sowing annual gardens.
Mature grape vines climb over fences and reach to the top of an evergreen tree, and the huge climatis with tiny white flowers wants to take over the front window but has to be tamed each year.
Current berries appear by the middle of August along with the plums and apples.

My heart leaps with joy and is filled with the creativity of gardening with my beloved daughter, Laara.  I certainly am a lucky lady to live between two worlds: Piegaro,  Italy and Oslo, Norway.  Next year we will transplant some wild lupine that fill every meadow in Norway.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Time Travelers to Renaissance Piegaro

Each August we look forward to seeing all our friends and neighbors transformed into Piegaro royalty in Renaissance costumes.  Sunday, August 12 was a very special time for Tom and me when we joined the Royal Corteo draped in velvet and pearls.  Days before the event our neighbor, Bruno, invited us to choose our own costumes and we got first pick from the Museo's collection!

Tom found some black tights to complete his ensemble and must admit I had never seen his legs look so great!  He looked like an angel getting ready in our bedroom just before the procession.

Everyone was talking about how hot it would be, but the day dawned cooler than usual, a blessing from the gods in charge of  Medieval festivals!  So the layers of velvet we donned weren't so stifling after all.  Joining the milling participants at the Museo, we were delighted to see some of our little friends dressed as courtly pages, squires and small ladies-in-waiting.  Tom joins Ascanio, his sister, Sofia, and Francesco before the procession begins.
Our good friends, Roberta, dressed as a Marquesa and Daniele, a notary, were just as excited as we were to be in this year's Corteo.  Tom and Daniele showed off their comely gams in black tights.

The excitement is palpable as the drummers practice and Maestra Liliana gathers the children of Piegaro together for their roles in the processione.

The drums roll, the Prince and Princess of Piegaro are lead by the children and we begin!

We all take our places behind the royal couple and their court jester and wind our way through every street of Piegaro as the drums reverberate between the stone walls of houses and ancient apartments.
We gather in the piazza for the Renaissance dancing performed by many of the local teens.

Watching the dancers and the fanfare of a medieval joust, we all wonder who will win the jousting event, the black or the white knight?  Every year it seems to be the same....how does that white knight win every time?

In just a few hours, our brief time as time travelers in Renaissance Piegaro comes to an end, and we return to our ordinary selves in an extra-ordinary village. And we go home dreaming of who will join Martina, Sofia and Giorgia next year!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Child's View of Assisi

Children have a particular perspective and experience of Assisi.  Each time I come with children I discover something new and amazing!  Follow along seeing this beloved place through a child’s eyes.
First is the story of St. Francis, the patron saint of Italy, best told walking down the path at San Damiano beside the bronze statue of this humble saint gazing across the Valle Umbra.

The birds are singing in the branches of the olive groves lining the path and we arrive at the little Chapel of San Damiano, that Francis rebuilt with his own hands.  It is just exactly like in his life.
We explore the courtyard surrounding the convent where Francis' beloved friend, Clare spent her cloistered life.
We climb the very small stone steps worn smooth by millions of visitors to see Saint Clare’s tiny garden and the room where she slept with her sisters on bare straw mats and wonder what it would be like to live inside for our whole life like they did.
Next, we go almost up to the top of Mount Subasio, winding our way up the steep mountain road, to Eremo dei Carceri, perched beside a chasm, where Francis loved to sleep on a rock buried deep within a grotto.  The monastery has tiny stairs and doorways just our size!
Walking in the footsteps of St. Francis along the forest path we children delight in watching for small animals darting about in the branches above and crevices of the stone wall.
We wander the paths and see where Francis preached to the animals in a forest amphitheater now filled with offering of handmade crosses.
We all want to make their own little offering out of small twigs tied together with grass.

We stop to savor the quiet tranquillity of this place and read Francis’ lyrical poem “Canticle to the Creatures”, his celebration of the natural world and all its creatures. We really are walking in the footsteps of this saint.
Now, it will be time for a gelato, so into Assisi, passing shops filled with toys! How many Pinocchio puppets can you count?

Oh, and just take a look at all these pastries, giant meringues and candy!  But we just had a gelato.
Now we can climb on the fountain at the Piazza del Comune and visit Roman Minerva’s Temple.
Just how old is this temple? Try more than two thousand years!

Along the way to the Basilica we might hear a woodworker singing opera and we can watch him carve a big window frame with intricate flowers and birds of wood.
The woodcarver tells us that he learned how to do this when he was just our age from his grandfather!
After all those stairs to see where Francis was buried deep within the Basicilia where no one could find him for many years, it must be time for a playground before we go home!
What a great day this has been in Assisi!