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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Old Farmhouse in Tavoleto.

In Tivoli, we stayed in a house so old that strange arches rose suddenly out of the floor into the walls, a telltale sign that ancient door archways existed beneath our feet buried under successive layers of history - the middle ages, the Renaissance, the Belle Époque... Since Tivoli was built onto a steep hillside, our AorBnB apartment had its bedrooms downstairs. I disliked the corridor that lead into the common bathroom. It seemed to both The Daughter and me that there was a creepy presence in that corridor and in the bathroom. Then too, the piping in my own bedroom's attached bathroom gave out the smell of sewage that permeated the whole room. The hot water came in intermittent spurts so whether you liked it or not, you had a Roman bath which consists of alternately dipping in cold water and then hot.

Leaving that apartment, I made my family promise to whack me if I ever booked an historical property again.

Then, in Perugia, we found ourselves in a large sprawling property belonging to a doctor. His lands were on the outskirts of Perugia and had all sorts of fruit trees, a main house and 2 small cottages to house his children's families when they came to visit. We took one of the small cottages. The cottage was warm and had ample hot water. We loved it.

Today, we moved to Tavoleto, a tiny village on the outskirts of Urbino. The village has one main street, one butcher, one hardware store, one supermarket, one baker, one pharmacy... and I was really surprised to find that it had its own castle. The instructions to get here read thusly - Follow the road till you come to a red brick house that has NOT been plastered over. Take the white gravel road 200m and you will have reached."

I kid you not. We did encounter a fully inhabited house festooned with X'mas lights that looked half built and completely unplastered. The raw red bricks stood nakedly in the half light of the setting sun. Our car drove into a one car gravel lane and arrived at an ancient farmhouse that looked right out of a picture postcard.

"Uh oh... old house again!" I cringed to myself.

The house sits beside an olive grove and is guarded by a maremma sheep dog, called Luna, who is so old that she opened one eye as we parked and then went back to nap. The whole house wears its centuries of age elegantly, its decor an interesting contrast of the very old and the very new. A gleaming new clawfoot bathtub sits in the huge bathroom, with red clay tiles at least 200 years old.. The toilet bowl's water cistern looks 60 years old and its ancient chain has been replaced with a peach coloured silk tasselled cord. Ancient plasterwork of roses sprout like tumbleweed over the fireplace. A modern (but still old) firestove sits comfortingly inside another ancient fireplace. Heavy armoires and hefty chests of drawers,with ornate carvings from mismatching eras, offer ample storage. A brand new stand lamp with pretty flowers is a pop of new in place of old. The tiled roof and its roof beams are visible when you look up. No wonder this house is cold! Only a thin layer of roof tiles separates us from the cold outside. Happily, the beds have heated mattress pads and the hot water comes in a steady stream. Bed is warm and showers are hot.

There is literally complete silence. No cars. No chickens. No cows. We are in the middle of nowhere at the end of a gravel driveway, 200m behind an inhabited house that someone forgot to plaster. When the sun rises, an extraordinary view reveals itself. Green fields roll away from the house, interspersed with olive groves, persimmon trees, cypresses and a few houses.

This is bliss. Maybe old houses aren't so bad after all!

The Husband and I decided that living in this house is an experience in and of itself, to savour. We declared that we would spend all day in this house, cooking, eating and living. I spent 1.5 hours just cooking in the kitchen and staring at the view outside the kitchen door.

Oh... one can get used to this peace and silence.

Museo Laboratorio Moretti Caselli, Perugia

Francesco Moretti's Study Room

Perugia is the capital of the Umbria region, just like Florence is the capital of the Tuscany region. Umbria is a region further south from Tuscany and amongst Italians, it is known for its beauty and truffles. Perugia is well worth a visit for those who come to Italy. The town is big enough to be interesting but not big enough to be touristy. There are also interesting things to see.

Nearby to Perugia is the town of Assisi. This is the famous town where St. Francis of Assisi has his church and monastery. St. Francis is the patron saint of the whole Italy. He started life as the son of a prosperous silk merchant and a French noble woman. As a young man, he lead a dissolute lifestyle of parties and games. He was also a soldier who pledged his services to various Lords eager to wage war on each other. It was only later in life that he experienced God's calling on his life. He founded 3 monastic orders and left an indelible mark on Umbria, on the Vatican, on Italy and on people of the Catholic faith the world over.

In Perugia, 2 workshops are must sees: textile weaving workshop (Museo Giuditta Brozzetti) and the stained glass workshop (Museo Laboratorio Moretti Caselli). The stained glass workshop is housed in the only surviving townhouse of the Baglioni family. Florence was ruled by the Medicis. Milan belonged to the Sforzas. Perugia was the domain of the Baglioni family. However, precious little of the Baglioni properties are left in a town where ruins from Roman times still stand. The Pope attacked Perugia and routed the Baglionis. He razed all their homes and built his own papal castle in its place.

Now, only one house survives. It belongs to Maddalena Caselli, who is the great great grand niece of Francesco Moretti, the founder of the stained glass workshop. The tour was engaging. The man who conducted the tour spoke with drama and poise. He knew when to pause for effect and stand aside like a circus maestro opening room after room of the Baglioni house to showcase stunning stained glass and life sized sketches of people used as models for people in the stained glass windows.

Yes... they apparently use real people in those church stained glass windows!

There is also an interesting story about the Baglioni family. On 15 July 1500, Grifonetto Baglioni decided to make a power grab for his family's wealth. He massacred as many members of the family as he could, tore out the heart of the bridegroom, took a bite and threw the body out on the street, all whilst laughing maniacally.

Ok... I added that bit about laughing maniacally.

Anyway, some prominent members of the family escaped and sought justice. Grifonetto Baglioni was hanged on a hilltop to show the world how the Baglionis dealt with traitors. Apparently, in Renaissance Italy, if you don't like someone's face, it was ok to kill them.

The oven where they make the binding powder for stained glass paints.

The colours used in the stained glass paints.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Museo Atelier Giuditta Brozzetti, Perugia

This was a great find. Again, we were the only foreign tourists there.

St. Francis of Assisi lived in this very place. When the order of Franciscan monks grew up around St. Francis, the young monks built this church in the shape of a Greek orthodox cross. Later, the church was sold to the Benedictine nuns, who enlarged the church by adding a nave, turning the church into the shape of a Latin cross. The Greek orthodox cross has its vertical axis and the horizontal axis of equal lengths. The vertical axis of a Latin cross is longer than its horizontal axis.

We were here to visit a textile workshop.

The region of Umbria is stunning, but less well-known than Tuscany. If visitors take time to mosey about, you can find gems like the Giuditta Brozzetti Textile workshop which still makes fabric using techniques from the 16th century.

Martha, the great grand daughter of Giuditta Brozzetti, runs the workshop. She gave us an in-depth tour to explain warp, weft, silk weft, gold thread weft, linen weft. She explained the binary codes that determine the patterns woven into the fabric. She even gave us demonstrations on the 400 year old looms. Apparently, in one of the oldest looms, the pattern has not changed in 400 years. That, my dear, is tradition. To change the pattern, a few thousand threads need to be threaded into the loom, ONE BY ONE. If you change the pattern, you might not know how to get back to the original pattern!

My family was entranced by the tour. The Daughter and I were fascinated by the rich fabrics. The Husband and The Son were captivated by the machines and the pattern codes. It was an entertaining morning, indeed!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

La Rocca, Spoleto

Here comes the story of Lucrezia Borgia.

Lucrezia Borgia lived in this castle at Spoleto, and ruled here in her own right. She was an immensely intelligent woman who has gone down in history as an infamous femme fatale... and errr... in her case, the word "fatal" is no understatement.

She was the daughter of Pope Alexander VI (aka Rodrigo di Borgia) and his longtime mistress Vanozza dei Cattanei. In those days, a daughter's hand in marriage was used to contract political alliances. Unfortunately for Lucrezia's first 2 husbands, the political winds of that time changed frequently.

Giovanni Sforza was her first husband. He was the illegitimate son of the powerful Sforza family who held sway in Pesaro and Gradara. When the political winds changed in Rome, Pope Alexander VI sought to annul the marriage between his daughter, Lucrezia and Giovanni. He paid a handsome sum to the Sforza family who in turn pressurised Giovanni to declare himself impotent and explain that he had never consummated his relationship with Lucrezia. It was that or be assassinated.

Then, Lucrezia Borgia married Alfonso d'Aragon who lived a short life because when the political winds changed, his brother-in-law Cesare Borgia, hired assassins to stab him to death in a back alley.

Lucrezia Borgia next married her 3rd husband, Alfonso d'Este, Duke of Ferrara. This marriage produced 10 children but along the way, Lucrezia had many affairs. In 1499, she was made the Governor of Spoleto in her own right. When her father became Pope, he entrusted the administration of all of the Vatican's correspondence to Lucrezia.

What an amazing woman, with an amazing life!

The Son pretending to be a Lord, surveying his domains.

Kick ass huge well.

Original frescoes from the 15th century.

Imagine Lucrezia Borgia walking along that corridor.

Pooh Bear Tours

Pooh Bear said, "When you do nothing, it leads to the very best of something."

So, on holiday, my family likes to do nothing. If you ask my kids what they want to see at a town, they say, "Nothing. Let's stay in the apartment, eat and sleep." 

I understand. During the rest of the year, my children and husband spend their days doing something all the time. It is rare to see my kids and husband dawdle and mosey about, relaxed. So, when The Husband and I watched the latest Pooh Bear movie on the plane, Pooh Bear's words stuck, and we decided to make it our holiday mantra.

When you do nothing, it leads to the very best of something.

In Spoleto, that mantra paid off handsomely. We planned nothing and arrived in Spoleto open to any possibility. It was thus that we ended up going on a hike. It appeared to be a popular walking/jogging and mountain biking trail. On the way up and down, we met locals on their morning walks or jogs. At the top, there was a magnificent view of the Ponte delle Torri (Bridge of the Tower). This is a humongous walkway spanning the tops of 2 mountains. On one mountain, sat a fort belonging to Lucrezia Borgia (yes... we saw this name in the previous post and I will share the salacious details of her life in the next post). On the other, sat a tower (you know, like Saruman's tower).

It was a lovely hike in a place that tourists never go. So you see, when you do nothing, you do get the very best of something.

It really is not as nonsensical as it sounds. When you aren't always busy doing something, you open yourself to flashes of inspiration that come from random thought. These flashes of inspiration may be the game changer that increases your performance a hundredfold. When you aren't always doing something, you also are more aware of opportunities that present themselves and yet again, these opportunities could be the game changer that would increase your performance a hundredfold.

Villa d'Este, Tivoli

We bypassed Rome, except for Tivoli. The Villa d'Este of Tivoli is the stuff of legend, with its famed terraces and crystal water fountains dating from the 1500s.

The town of Tivoli dates from even before the Roman period. The ancient Etruscans lived here from 700BC to 400BC (BC dates go in reverse). In those days, a sibyl was lodged in Tivoli. A sibyl is a female oracle who spoke with the voice of the river nymph of the Aniene river. The town is perched on the side of the hill at the start of the Aniene river falls. The Roman elite chose Tivoli as their summer retreat and built here magnificent villas of which Villa d'Este survives in part.

It is the gardens of Villa d'Este that people come to see.

Since there is a waterfall, there must necessarily be a steep gradient. The gardens of Villa d'Este sit on a series of terraces downhill. The steep gradient water pressure powers the many fountains of the garden. There are no pumps and yet jets of water spurt, tinkle and chime from every corner of the garden. There is even one fountain that plays a waterpower organ. I kid you not. At 10.30am every day, doors in the fountain swing open and music fills the air, played by no human hands.

The Villa d'Este was the construction of Ippolito d'Este the Second. He was the grandson of a pope and the son of Lucrezia Borgia, whose salacious story we will learn when we make it to the town of Spoleto a few blogposts later. Ippolito d'Este' the Second's career was a trailblazing one. At 2 yrs old, he was ordained a priest. By 10 yrs old, he was already an Archbishop. For a time, it looked like he would become Pope, like his grandfather. Happily, he did not because in his disappointment at not becoming Pope, he soothed himself by building Villa d'Este for Petunia to enjoy.

This said, I was a little disappointed. The aged patina of these 16th century constructions look beautiful in photos. They photograph well. Up close, they wear their decay too proudly. Statues are covered in moss. Nymphs are overgrown with foliage and you can barely see them as they hug the columns they were carved into. The Husband thinks that there is so much history to preserve in Italy and not enough money. The Italians have to prioritise. Personally, I think that the Italians have a high tolerance of things that look old and decayed. These things are old after all and they should look old. That is as it should be. Still, I wish the Italians would put as much effort into preserving their historical sites as the British do. Buildings from the same period in UK history look so much better.

Not far from the Villa d'Este, there is the Villa Adriana, which looks even older because it dates from the 2nd century AD. That is about 1800 years ago. The Villa Adriana belonged to an Emperor, no less. The Emperor whose influence stretched all the way from Rome to England at that time, reigned from his Villa Adriana in Tivoli because he hated his palace on Palatine Hill in Rome.

One must not underestimate the Villa Adriana ruins. It is single handedly responsible for the design of many Renaissance buildings that stand proudly today across Europe. The spirit of Emperor Hadrian's Villa Adriana lives on in buildings and art still standing today. This is because famous architects and artists of the Renaissance period all came to Villa Adriana to get inspiration and to study construction methods - Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Palladio, Pirro Ligorio, Brunelleschi. In the 18th century, anyone who was anybody, came here to see Villa Adriana and imagine what it must have been like in the 2nd century AD.

The Son said Villa Adriana is a pile of ruins and so, we did not go and see it. Sigh... my son.

Friday, November 23, 2018

50% A* Rate

Last year, we had a 40% A* rate and one B. This year, we have a 50% A* rate and no B. I hope we can do even better next year. In PSLE2018, we sent in 16 students to PSLE. We have 8 A* and 8 A.

26 Nov 2018: Edited to 9 A*... I left out 1 person. We now have a 56% A* rate.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Word Bouquets 2018

Here are our Word Bouquets for the Year 2018. 

This is a mainstream child.

This is a gifted child.

This is a mainstream child.

This is a mainstream child.

This is a mainstream child.

Parent Coaching Client 1.

Parent Coaching Client 2.

Parent Coaching Client 3.

Parent Coaching Client 4.

Parent Coaching Client 5.

Parent Coaching Client 6.

Parent Coaching 7.

Parent Coaching 8.