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Pizza, birdsong & skeletons – my first week in the residency

March 10, 2013

I can’t believe my first week in the Arte Studio Ginestrelle has gone so fast. Each day the snow seems to recede off the top of Mount Subasio and little more and the fields become more dazzling green as Spring announces itself.

It’s strange trying to start a detective novel set on the dirty streets of London and finish a screenplay set on the Yorkshire coast while trying to embrace the Umbrian way of life but I am just about managing it. Last night Marina, who runs the residency, and the wonderful cook and house keeper, Adria, showed me how to make proper Italian pizza and I’ve already learnt how to make

My homemade pizza

My homemade pizza

proper Italian coffee which I am consuming in suitably vast quantities. The house where me and three other (proper!) artists (Lena from Denmark, Linda from the US and Lisa from Berlin) are living is absolutely stunning. The porch has a money-shot view of the mountain, though it’s not been quite warm enough to sit and sip wine out there in the evening yet. There are plenty of log fires and wood-burning stoves in the house to keep us warm though.

I’m still getting used to the geography of the surrounding area – it would be easy to get lost amongst the forests here, and there are wild boars, wolves, venomous snakes and the odd hermit monk roaming around out there. Yesterday  Lena, Marina and myself went to by eggs from a nearby farm. I say nearby – it took us about two hours there and back walking up the steep mountain paths, but it was quite an adventure. The sun came in and out of the clouds as we walked, illuminating fields, patches of forest and scrubland in turn. The landscape is a tableau of greens, from dark teal to shimmering lime green grass – an epic countryside landscape that Constable would be envious of. As we passed by a farmhouse, the farmer appeared from his field, quite an apparition in the morning light, in his woolly hat, tweed jacket and wellingtons, brandishing a bright green lettuce like a bouquet.

The view from the porch of  snow-topped Mount Subasio

The view from the porch of snow-topped Mount Subasio

Further on, we met two old women – they’re sister-in-laws and live with three brothers and another wife in a huge, rambling farmhouse. One of the women stood, leaning against her mop, chatting with Marina, looking like the perfect Italian version of Hilda Ogden. The farm was still further, up past the shrine to the Virgin Mary and the cemetery. As we approached we saw fat brown rabbits romping in the field, and the hens who laid the eggs were were about to buy picked about in the grass, as free range as you are ever likely to get. After a lengthy conversation about quantity and price, in Italian, between Marina and the female farmer who was dressed up in a Addidas tracksuit suit pants and a milkman-style coat, we received our eggs wrapped in newspaper and tied in plastic bags. Then we had to walk all the back down the mountain without slipping over and breaking them. We took a short-cut through Ginestrelle’s own fields – full of the Ginestra bushes after which it is named – and passed art works left by previous residents. One the hill opposite, the eye is caught by a slick of aqua-marine: the recently installed swimming pool at the back of a house owned by a film producer. He’s not there at the moment. He must be off living in some other place which is a world away from the old Umbrian farmers who’ve lived their whole lives in these mountains.

Also nearby is a deserted house. I went up there one day to have a look. The roof has totally gone and the some of upper floors has collapsed, so it’s just a shell filled with rubble, tree trubks and twisted machinery. The sun was out so I sat on grass for while and listened – no sound but birdsong. I wish I could have bottled that feeling of absolutely serenity – I know I’ll wish I was back here when I am lost in some chaotic, polluted South East city or sterile, CCTV infested airport.

This week I also I undertook the two and a half hour walk to Assisi…and when I got there it started raining which soon turned into a downpour. Still, at least you can take shelter in the Basilica San Francisco… I could spend ages looking at the frescos. I’ve noticed some cool looking skeletons along the bottom of huge scene which decorates the alter. I think they are the dead being woken up to be taken to heaven, or else zombies were invented in Assisi, I don’t know. Hmm, has anyone done a Biblical-epic-zombie movie? I think I feel an idea coming on…

Neroni, the residency's aloof cat

Neroni, the residency’s aloof cat

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