A tale of many cities

A tale

The following excerpt from Charles Dickens “A Tale of Two Cities” could apply all over our precious planet at present, for while too many innocent bodies are being ravaged by this horrendous pandemic, people are still falling in love; new life is coming into being, and new, vital, medical and other advances are, fortunately, being made.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the Spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

The biggest positive in that paragraph is “the Spring of Hope” for where would we be without it?!

Whatever age we are, many of us have doubts. Some more than others. Despite being enthusiastic and keen to write, for years I never felt good enough and always too aware of successful, top authors. Something we should never do…Then, one day, I read a description which led me to view my efforts in a different light. It stated: “Writers can be weavers of magic and purveyors of exotic tales. They can transport readers to new heights and give them hope and guidance; they can educate, illuminate, as well as shock and open our eyes to the unique, mysterious and exotic.” That gave me heart, and hope, and as long as we write to the very best of our ability and strive to write even better, readers should be mollified and entertained. After all, if we can make someone, somewhere happy reading our words, even for a little while, it is surely worth any effort on our part.

With Christmas very near, whatever our circumstances, we can only hope that we and our loved ones will be able to indulge in a little festive fare, and can at least make sure that our neighbours are not hungry. With food in mind, the following quotations may be apt!

wc fields“A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand.” Barbara Johnson (Courtesy Sarah Weinberg)

“Ice cream is exquisite. What a shame it isn‘t illegal!” Voltaire

“You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food!” Paul Brudhomme

“People who love to eat are always the best people.” Julia Child

“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently, is an art.” Francois de la Roche Foucauld

And, an excellent one:

“I cook with wine. Sometimes, I even add it to food!” W.C.Fields

Christmas memory… Lake Garda & Riva

Riva del garda

I’m sure we all have festive memories that stay special to us, and – if you’ve never experienced the delights of Italy, do sample them if you can! I’ve written about the alluring sights of Florence, Rome and Venice elsewhere, but the magic of our Christmas Lake Garda holiday remains almost as enjoyable in retrospect as it did physically. Imagine a marginally ‘iced’ town festooned with coloured lights, with welcoming cafes and shops casting pools of light on the winter gloom, guarded by snow-topped mountains as a lure. Then a cosy hotel offering all the traditional delights and day trips to a dazzling, freezing …Venice and the gay market of Verona, where Romeo was supposed (of course he did) to have wooed his Juliet, and the actual balcony: ‘Wherefor art thou Romeo?’ on which she stood! Magic was in the air…It hovers still.

Back to today and reality… whether you are dining alone and spoiling yourself –and why not? – or having (a few) family members or friends over for chow, enjoy every mouthful and raise your glass to HOPE for a much, much better year in 2021. Cheers!

Jingle bells, jingle bells…

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2020

A Spanish Christmas and New Year

“Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart…”
Victor Hugo

befana canile-2Fascinated by the customs of other countries, I was involved in some research recently and discovered several odd facts about Christmas. Unless you happen to be Italian, did you know, for instance, that in Italy an “old woman” named Befana delivers presents on the night of January 5th and even “goes down chimneys!” I bet all the octogenarians are queuing up, poor dears…

In Iceland, the Jólakötturinn (the Yule Cat) dominates the scene. Good children are given new clothes, but woe betide the bad ones, as they are eaten by gigantic felines. Oh dear!

Christmas-catIn Spain, things are much more to everyone’s liking, especially the sometimes naughty children…
Being a mainly Catholic country, religious Spanish attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve – also known as the “Mass of the Rooster” – as one was said to crow when Jesus was born, while the non-religious celebrate it in a traditional manner without the religious connection. Parks, and other green areas, are planted with hundreds of glowing Poinsettias, and outside many town halls and churches, creative “Beléns” are erected. A Belén is usually a religious scene, or a ‘cameo’ showing how people lived at the time of Christ’s birth. Some are beautifully constructed and lit, and often different villages and towns compete. They are also evident in many shop widows.

BelénChristmas Eve sees most revellers partaking of generous feasts of festive fare when family and friends get together, continuing on the 25th… The streets and houses are decorated- often in lavish fashion – with festooned trees, coloured lights and bright decorations, as in many parts of the world. And, I can assure you, the Spanish know how to welcome and party!! Can you feel a BUT coming? For it doesn’t end on Boxing Day… Oh no! Apart from New Year’s Eve celebrations to welcome in the New Year (Wowie…) when the magical 5th of January arrives, children in particular get very excited, for it is the night of the Three Kings. And anyone who has seen the extravagant, colourful, procession of the beautifully dressed figures, will always 46191107442_1da1b1b0c3_wremember it! I certainly will. We saw ours on the 5th night of the new century 2000, snuggled in our warm coats against the cold, and ducking to escape the showers of sweets being generously thrown to the children from the elaborate floats passing by. As custom decrees, most children put their shoes outside their bedroom doors which are magically filled with small gifts in the night. (Glasses of cognac, a Satsuma and walnuts are left for each King.) Then more festive food on the 6th! In the Basque country of Spain, gifts are distributed by a ‘magical man’ called Olentzero, and in Catalonia country, gifts are left in or near a hollow log in the image of a ‘funny man.‘

2959233463_d8c68098b0_wHeralding in a new century, the lavish firework display was another memory for the diary. It was the most extravagant I had seen since the end of World War 2…Oddly enough, nevertheless, the New Year’s eve of 2001 beat it hollow.

Living in a new country in the midst of people of many nationalities, was a newish and heady experience and no less than fifty people of our acquaintance – from two urbanizations – got together and booked tables at an excellent fish restaurant in Torrevieja. You could have cut the ambience and electric atmosphere with a knife! The fact that my middle brother and his dear wife were present, plus a Scottish couple who had a holiday home near us, was also of significance. My brother had brought some ‘flying balloons’ over and the poor waiters – so good-humoured – had the devil of a time serving our food while being ‘attacked.’ The Scots: Katrine and Gordon, were more than ‘up for it,’ and Gordon, in particular, was the life and soul of the party. Possessing an infectious humour and warm personality, he was ‘flavour of the month.’ He later … wearing a red wig and Scottish hat, sang us ballads and strummed his guitar until the wee hours. We all remained good friends…

25627865030_97a4752618_wThe rest of that January seemed very quiet…until a Dutch couple moved in nearby. While they behaved impeccably and were very pleasant, we noticed pungent odours drifting from their casa and, in fact, the wife of our President – who had stayed chatting to them too long – admitted she felt ‘squiffy’ when she arrived home…The Dutch couple had a romantic story to tell – told to yours truly – in that ‘he’ who had been in the British Navy, wrote his name and phone number on a slip of paper, sealed it in a bottle and threw it overboard (fortunately still at sea). It bobbed gaily along in the ocean, until it was washed up on a Dutch beach weeks later. A young lady, out walking, picked it up, read the contents and phoned ‘said guy.’ Footloose and fancy-free, he travelled to Holland and claimed the maiden as his own. You couldn’t make it up! They duly married, had children, and lived near us for several years.

Meanwhile, there was a Boules match to organize – on cleared waste ground nearby – planted and treed with seats and suitable pitch – and a holiday in the UK to arrange.

Before I wish you Adios, I must admit to a weakness for good quotations, and noted a few worth quoting, by no less a person than Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of the acclaimed “Don Quixote.” He said: “Wit and humour do not reside in slow minds.” Comforting words. And another I’m fond of “When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams – this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness, but maddest of all, is to see life as it is, and not as it should be.”

3154478032_ea58011fc8_cWishing everyone a healthy Christmas, with no socks… (well, not under the tree) lots of noshy things to eat, maybe a few gifts AND an abundance of peace, fun and love.

Feliz Navidad

Joy xx


Important PS
I would like to express my heart-felt appreciation for the inspiration and assistance freely given by so many writers on the internet. You are stars in the earthly firmament. X

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2019

Pic links: Befana  Yule cat  Belen  Street lights   Fireworks & Valencia tree   Bottle

Bella Italia

VeniceThe first introductory ‘Whistle Stop Tour’ of Italy’s most famous cities almost scrambled my brains. Oh the majesty of Venice! To see painter Canaletto’s (little canal) print of the Piazzetta on the wall of my childhood home become a reality before my eyes, was a joy; and as we alighted the ferry, was that Vivaldi’s music I could hear?! There is a magic veiling Venice which delights. Were we really walking across the vast Piazza San Marco, gazing at St. Mark’s Campanile, and the Doge’s Palace? Alas, there is only room for a thumb-print.

Travelling through Italy’s verdant countryside, with the divine voices of Pavarotti, Carreras and Domingo (radio-borne), we were charmed by the terracotta roofs dotting the horizon, the abundant flowers and the adjective-begging scenery passing our window.

Trevi fountainIt seems almost criminal not to give a brief description of Assissi, but we were impressed. Next stop, Rome. Hardly a place you could ignore – from the vastness of St. Peter’s Square, the grandeur of The Vatican, the incredible Sistine chapel, to the many churches and museums. Our brains were in danger of over-load…

We next added our coins to the three offered in the film to the Trevi Fountain; stood in the Coliseum: which seemed steeped in death, and from where I escaped asap!

Via the town of Pisa, with its famous leaning tower (yes we had our photo taken holding it up!) we arrived in Florence – ‘Cradle of Renaissance’ – wondered at The Diomo (cathedral) Santa Maria del Fiore, and the quaintness of the Ponte Vecchio, shop-bearing bridge straddling the river Arno. Yet another jewel in Italy’s impressive tiara. Satiated by so much antiquity, we longed for the following week’s calmer atmosphere.

ponte-vecchio-masseffect84_wp6_9366Catching us by surprise – inducing a coach-load of travellers to catch their collective breath – the town of Riva suddenly lay at our feet: the sparkling waters of Lake Garda lapping the hem of its skirt. Praises buzzed in the air like bees¸ smiles inhabited faces. We were in thrall of its beauty and had surely found a little piece of heaven! As recorded by murals and mosaics, ancient Romans visited this lovely haven. No fools they! Elongated Lake Garda sits grandly in the north eastern part of Italy, surrounded by towering cliffs and mountains with abundant vegetation; saucer-like, creamy magnolias growing on its slopes. Every day, around late morning, a determined wind whipped up the lake water. Cue wind-surfers, who appeared like water-borne butterflies. Later, fun over, they disappeared as the wind dropped, leaving the lake serene.

lake-garda-istockOut hotel – more than we had hoped for after the basic fare of our first week’s tour – was delightful, with ‘silver service’ at our elbows. (It was, after all, a reasonably priced package holiday.) The service was impeccable, the food delicious, and the waiters handsome… As in Spain, the pleasing Passeggiata – promenading – was popular with local families: the praiseworthy public gardens the venue. Riva has a tranquil, refined air, the inhabitants mostly elegant Italians. The shops and produce were a delight, and the restaurants and cafes had me purring like a spoiled cat. As for the rest rooms – there were ‘state of the art’ loos in Riva – self-flushing, and taps which turned themselves magically on.

So, what did we do in Riva? We explored, admired, laughed a lot, ate a lot…fortunately walked a fair mile or so…and ferry-chugged across the satin-like waters of the lake to sup coffee and eat delicious pastries in a minimalist café on the far shore. Exploring the many small towns and hamlets peppering Lake Garda’s banks was a must (a bus hugs its contours). The narrow, medieval, cobbled streets come alive as I recall the charms of Sirmione and Malcesine; and in Desenzano there is a castle and grounds where outdoor concerts are held. A trip to pristine, pretty Gardone, pleased, and a day in buzzing Verona: “Wherefore art thou Romeo” intrigued. An aged edifice boasted a painted fresco: a faded scene, in part depicting the devil prodding his fork into the ample posterior of a well-endowed maiden, bawdy enough to bring a blush to a Nun’s cheek.

Ah, Bella Italia, you made my heart sing!

 

© Joy Lennick 2018

© All photographs are copyright of the respective photographers