Sunday, 30 November 2014

Voices on the Wind, Beth

November 2014

As she turned the corner onto the beach Beth felt the full force of the wind. She hadn't been down to the sea for a long time and sweet memories of picnics with her grandmother came flooding back wrenching at her heart.  She could see her mother waiting for her near the dunes. She was looking up at the clouds being chased by the wind, then turned and catching sight of Beth  waved and beckoned. Beth's artist eye formed a palette of the colours before her. The mellow gold of the dunes, the brown tufts of grass, the slate grey of the sea with the white foamy crests of the waves, overhead the pearly grey of the sky and the clouds being tossed about by the wind and in the middle of it all her mother's jacket in her favourite shocking pink.
Part of her wanted to run to her mother, bury her head on her mother's shoulder and release the tears within her, but she also  wanted to savour the moment and  so she walked slowly towards the picnic rug.

Susie watched her daughter's progress along the beach and felt the excitement welling up. The happiness for her daughter overflowing in her heart. Beth had such a sensitive artistic soul. Her father, Martin, had been so surprised when the teachers had told them that their daughter had an exceptional talent, a rare gift for painting and drawing. He couldn't think where it had come from .He and his father were from a long line of mechanics and car dealers, that was their passion. It was his mother who had told him then about his English grandfather. He had been an artist before the First World war but no-one knew much about him. There were two paintings of his grandmother, one in a bluebell wood and one of her sitting at a desk. His mother Frances had encouraged Beth to become an artist and left her a small legacy to set up a studio. Martin and Susie were so proud of their daughter's talent and had built a little gallery next to the garage to exhibit her beautiful paintings of the New England coastline.

Beth's phone beeped and she took it out of her pocket to read the text, I miss you so much, will arrive at 8pm Love forever, A x. The thrill that shot down her spine had nothing to do with the Winter breeze.


 Beth at nearly forty had put aside any hope of falling in love like her grandparents and her mother and father. Her friend Hetty that she'd known since nursery school had quickly had five children to create the large family that she had always dreamt of and Beth was greatly loved by them all. Hetty was always telling her that she'd make a brilliant mom.

 Then in the Spring an agency for a magazine in New York had asked her to go to London with a well-known travel photographer to cover the story of the poppies around the Tower of London. Someone had seen her paintings and thought they had just the right touch of sensitivity and nostalgia . They wanted to stage an exhibition of photographs and paintings along with historical documents.

Beth went to New York to meet the photographer and travel on together. His name was Archie and he was from Charleston. As they shook hands a jolt of electricity ran up Beth's arm, she jumped away and looked into Archie's eyes- He looked as shocked as she did.

On the flight to London Archie told her all about his work. He had been travelling the world taking photographs for documentaries. His family were all in Charleston, but he'd never married or had children. He was warm and funny and Beth soon found herself telling him all about her English great-grandfather. She told him about the bluebell woods and then about her grandmother, Frances,who had passed on so many family traditions and a strong bond of love.

It was while they were looking at the poppies that it happened. Archie had been taking shots of the vast display and was muttering something about the connection between all the blood that had been shed at the Tower of London and Flanders fields.
Beth was mesmerized by the poppies. Each one represented a young life that had ended during that war one hundred years ago.
 There wasn't one for her great-grandfather, but in a way part of him had died along with all her great-grandmother's hopes for a life of married bliss.
 There must have been many more like him. The tears were running down her face, Archie went towards her and it just seemed like the most natural thing to do, to lean into him and be comforted by his strong arms. Beth felt like she had come home. As Archie kissed her hair and whispered in her ear,
'It's alright, honey, everything is alright'
It was as though a missing piece of her had been found.
Archie took her hand and looked her in the eyes.
'How about we go find those bluebell woods?'


As her daughter approached and settled on the rug, Susie handed her the biscuit tin, proudly telling her that she'd made the gingernut cookies from her grandmother's recipe.
Beth bit into the cookie, savouring the sharp tang of the ginger and the salt on her lips from the sea spray. Then she could contain herself no longer and flung herself at her mother.

The words tumbled over each other as they fell out of Beth's mouth like a happy bubbling torrent.  Her eyes shone brightly with love and joy as she told her mother that Archie was on his way to stay for Thanksgiving and wanted to marry her and have a baby and that they loved each other with all their hearts. She had never dreamed that she would have been this happy.

Susie hugged her daughter, tears streaming down her face. The two women looked up then, their tears mixing with the salty air and the joyful laughter that followed carrying upwards to the sky.The voices on the wind sang gently together, 'Everything is going to be alright.'


Voices on the Wind, Frances

November 1976

As she turned the corner onto the beach, Frances felt the full force of the wind.
 She loved the feeling of the wind wrapping itself around her and finding its way under her collar. Her curly hair bounced and danced  with the rhythm of the wind and the waves. She scanned the beach to see if there was any sign of her daughter-in-law Susie but there was just a couple of dog walkers and a few joggers.
 Frances moved to a sheltered spot near the dunes where she could keep an eye out for Susie. She laid out her picnic rug and took out her thermos flask of tea and tin of home-made biscuits. Frances loved living by the sea. Even after all these years she still got a thrill out of saying to herself, I'll go to the sea and be home for tea.'

She'd come here as a young G:I bride. Her husband Bill  had told her that he wanted to marry her from the moment he set eyes on her. Even now every morning he told her it was the best thing he had ever done.
Their son Martin used to roll his eyes when his dad said this but since his own daughter Beth was born, three years ago, he had become a devoted father and husband.
Frances had sensed though that something was wrong. Susie didn't seem happy and last week Frances was sure she had seen her with another dad from Beth's nursery school in a coffee bar, just the two of them, sitting a bit too close.


Frances turned her face towards the ocean, breathing in the salty, invigorating air. She thought she heard her mother's voice then,
 'It's alright Frances, everything is alright.'

When Frances and her brother were woken in the night by her father's screams and shouting, their mother would come to them and put her arms around them,
 'It's alright, everything is alright.' They would go back to sleep reassured by her calm tones.
When the nightmares got worse and her father spent more and more time in the pub, their mother would make them hot sweet tea and tell them stories of how she had met their father and the wonderful times they had had before the war. She talked about picnics in bluebell woods, day trips to the sea, paddling in streams and stolen kisses on moonlit evenings.

 Frances's father had been a talented artist and there were some lovely paintings hanging in the bedroom, their mother laughing or sitting at a desk writing love letters, strolling through beautiful bluebell woods.
  Most evenings they would be interrupted by their father crashing into the room and stumbling up the stairs. Their mother would smile at them and tell them to hurry off to bed and she'd come and tuck them in.

Things got a bit hazy when Frances was about ten and her father was sent to a place to get better. Frances's mother took her and her brother aside and told them that their father was a wonderful man, he loved them very much but he had a sensitive soul and the trenches had taken something precious from him. For her though he would always be  her handsome true love. Frances never saw her father again.
 At night her father's screaming was replaced by her mother's weeping.
When the war started in 1939,  Frances's brother became a pilot. Frances worked at the factory making ammunition. When the G.I s arrived they held dances and she met  Bill. He came round to their house and brought chocolates for her mother and asked if he could take Frances to the cinema.
He was with her when the telegram arrived to say that France's brother was missing in action. Bill made strong tea  and held her until her sobs subsided.
Not long after that Bill asked her to marry him. He told her that her mother could come too. His parents would make her welcome and  she'd soon make friends in their little New England community. He told her all about his home on the beautiful Atlantic coastline and his plans to carry on his father's car maintenance business  after the war. He'd always loved working on cars, he had a real passion for them, doing them up and taking them apart. His eyes still shone when he talked about cars.


Frances spotted Susie in the distance, wearing a bright pink jacket, her dark hair tied in a pony tail. She waved to her and Susie ran towards her.
 She  jumped up and down, apologizing for being late and rubbing her hands to keep them warm.

Frances moved to make room for Susie on the rug and poured out two cups of tea from the thermos.
Susie bent towards her mother-in-law and asked her what she wanted to talk about.

Frances blew on her tea and put her hands round the cup to warm them. Now she was sitting next to Susie she didn't know what to say. Perhaps she was being too apprehensive. Maybe Susie would be offended. She tried to find the right words to be reassuring but also warn Susie about the dangers of  giving the wrong impression.
She smiled at Susie and told her how much she loved coming to the beach on a sunny day even in Winter. She told her how this had Always been her special place. She used to bring her mother here and have picnics with Martin. They would look out to sea and tell him   that across the sea was England, their home. Once he put a bottle in the sea with a note. Francis said how welcome they had been made by Martin's family. It had made up for their longing for home. She said how important family was to cushion life's blows.  Francis knew all about trauma and how much a loving family could heal pain.
Susie listened in silence, gazing out at the ocean, feeling her breathing rise and fall with the waves.
She told  Francis how much Martin loved his grandmother and what a gentle influence she had had on him.
Francis looked pleased. She spoke softly as though she was talking to the waves that were rushing across the sand. She said how she could hear her mother's voice on the wind, calling gently that everything would be alright.

Susie sipped her tea. It seemed as though Francis was trying to tell her something. Her mother-in-law was quite reserved and not one for speeches like this.  She still kept up her British traditions and used such quaint expressions .When Susie met Martin she was completely besotted by his quiet thoughtful ways and his discretion and sensitivity . Underneath he had a strength and resilience that made her feel safe and protected. She fell head- over- heels in love with him and had never looked at another man since.
 Susie reddened as she thought of Frank, Hetty's dad. He was going through a nasty divorce and they had got in the habit of having coffee together while the girls were at nursery. Frank was angry and hurt and she thought she could help, but maybe he was getting the wrong idea. She was becoming far too involved in his problems. Francis's words seemed like a warning. Susie became aware that her mother-in-law was talking again.
She was offering Susie a biscuit from her tin with a photo of King George VI. Francis warned her that the biscuits were very spicy because she had put in too much ginger.


Just then a couple of joggers ran past kicking up the sand. They shouted out an apology and waved cheerfully. They looked so young and happy that Frances and Susie smiled back at them.
Francis pulled up the hood on her jacket and looked straight at Susie.
She put her hand gently on Susie's arm and  a small smile played on her lips as she described a happy marriage as being one of life's blessings but not many realize it until it's too late. She said how happy Martin was with his lovely family and how fragile families really are.
She talked about her own mother and how she never stopped seeing the young handsome man that she had fallen in love with, even  though the hardships of life had snatched away their chances of happiness.

Susie was getting anxious, had Frances guessed something. She thought about Martin and how hurt he'd be if he thought for one moment that she'd betray him. She took another biscuit, the ginger made a nice contrast with the sweetness.

Francis watched Susie eat the biscuit and casually remarked that marriage is like a gingernut biscuit, you need the spice as well as the sweetnessi. She then giggled mischievously.
It was such an unexpected sound from her rather serious mother-in-law that Susie couldn't help giggling too and then they were both laughing , revelling in the feel of the wind and the sound of the sea, the waves crashing and the Winter sun warming their faces. They looked at each other, two women, joined by a sort of atavistic female solidarity, enjoying being together, sharing the secrets of the heart that are passed on generation after generation.

The sound of their laughter rose up and mingled with another voice on the wind from the ocean, 'It's alright Frances, everything is going to be alright.'

Saturday, 29 November 2014

An ode to little children

Children need looking after, so do old people and those in difficulty. It is often stated that you can tell how healthy a society or country is by how well looked after these people are. anyone who has the calling to look after children, old people and those in need often will say how rewarding this can be. Looking after children, teaching them how to behave and get on with others,

My poem for the day is dedicated to children and the rewards from looking after them.

What really could be nicer
Than a little boy of three
Who holds his hand out to you
Saying, 'Come and play with me.'?

What really could be nicer
Than a little boy of four
Whose little hands are knocking
And tapping on your door?

He says, 'we've made some biscuits,
Mummy sister and me
We'd like you to come round to us
And have some with your tea.

What really could be nicer
Than a little girl of one
Who every time she smiles at you
It's like looking at the sun?

What really could be nicer
Than a little girl of six
Who proudly demonstrates for you
All her latest tricks?

So here's to little children
Here and everywhere
That you'll always feel safe and warm
And find someone to care.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Poem for the day

November can surprise us with beautiful sunsets and warm sunny lunchtimes and here is a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier,(1807-1892) that says it all. Don't you think he's got an appropriate name to be writing about leaves ? I hope you like his poem too.

Talk not of sad November, when a day
Of warm, glad sunshine fills the sky of noon,
And a wind, borrowed from some morn of June,
Stirs the brown grasses and the leafless spray.

Close to my heart I fold each lovely thing
The sweet day yields, and, not disconsolate,
With the calm patience of the woods I wait
For leaf and blossom when God gives us Spring.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. Even if you're not American  you probably know that it is a very important event and people travel far and wide to be with their families and friends and have Roast turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. It involves everyone, all denominations and creeds. It sounds really wonderful. The idea of being grateful and showing everyone how much you care about them. I have chosen a short verse by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) for poem of the day. It seems appropriate for this occasion. She is telling us that to let the joy within you blossom you have to turn away from cares and worries, you must be aware of it and at the same time not try and hold on to it for too long.

We shun it ere it comes,
Afraid of joy,
Then sue it to delay
And lest it fly
Beguile it more and more -
May not this be
Old suitor heaven,
Like our dismay at thee?

As it's Thanksgiving I'm going to tell you three things that I'm giving thanks for today.
My cappuccino was served with a heart on the top.
I was in a child friendly bar with toys for my granddaughter to play with
A friend of mine asked me round to celebrate her birthday.

Just to end up here is a quotation that a friend of mine gave me;-

Gratitude is the memory of the heart

La Riconoscenza è la memoria del cuore.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Birthday wishes

Happy Birthday brother

Today's my brother's birthday
He lives so far away
I'm sending him these wishes
To have a happy day.

We had a special mum and dad
We loved them very much
But now that they are here no more
It's hard to keep in touch.

We always had a lot of fun
Life always seemed a game
Looking at my grandchildren
I see that they're the same.

He has a lovely family
They're always having fun
A very pretty daughter
And a very handsome son.

My brother's very clever
I look at him in awe
Not only is he brilliant
He can sing and paint and draw.

So happy birthday brother
Though we are far apart
I send you all the love I have
That is within my heart.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Dear Princess Susan, would you like to come to tea?

Sophie finished wiping down the tables and putting the chairs neatly in place. She had already swept the floor and given it an extra scrub where the group of mothers and babies had been sitting.
 There was just enough time after the morning rush of coffees and cappuccinos to get the café ready for the brunch and late breakfast crowd.
Sophie loved working in the café with its pretty colour scheme of pale blues, pinks and mint green.
 She turned as the kitchen door flew open and Karolina, the new Polish waitress came in bearing two mugs of hot chocolate and marshmallows.
'Here you are Sophie, coffee break for us, while there's no one here.'
They sat down together on the new sofa that had been bought for the WIFI users.
Karolina blew on her hot chocolate.
I think this is such a great idea. I am so happy being able to skype my family it makes them seem so much nearer.'
She took a sip of her drink and didn't see the look of pain on Sophie's face.

The WIFI idea was certainly proving to be very popular. At first just a few teenagers had sat there after school, giggling and holding up their phones and pulling faces  taking selfies.
Now though there was a steady stream of business men and women as well as older people who were becoming more confident at using their new devices.
Yesterday one of their regular customers, Mrs.Richards, had come in with a new IPad and Skyped her grandchildren in Australia. She'd walked round the shop showing them the chocolate bunnies and lollipops that she liked to send them and the display of delicious cream cakes.
Mrs. Richards had kept raising her coffee cup and saying 'here's to you all!' Cheers!'
Sophie could hear the little voices calling out 'cheers Nana ! We love you!'
She had had to turn away as her eyes had filled with tears.
Karolina was telling Sophie all about her new boyfriend who was coming to Krakow with her for Christmas. She was so excited Sophie smiled at her and took the cups back to the kitchen.
Mrs.Richards,Karolina both missing their family and friends. Sophie didn't have a family that lived in another country but she did know what it was like to miss the people you love. She jumped as a hand touched her shoulder.
'I'm so sorry Sophie. I didn't mean to startle you. '
It was Karl the café owner.
'I just wanted to remind you to prepare the table for the family that have booked for brunch. You know we don't take bookings at weekends but they sounded so desperate . They said it's for a very special occasion. It's just a one off.'
As Sophie folded the napkins and checked the glasses she thought how different her life could have been if she had met more people like Karl and Karolina. She mustn't think like that though. The Social worker that looked after her in the Correction centre had always told her that she is in charge of her own life.


When Sophie was a little girl her favourite game was playing tea parties . She would dress up and put her dolls in a circle and lay out her pink tea set. She would pretend to pour out the milk and the sugar and raise the little cups to her dolls' lips. Sometimes she would help her mother make tiny biscuits to serve on the plates. When Sophie had learned to write she would put little invitations in her mother's apron pocket.
Dear Princess Susan, please will you come to tea? There is a big chocolate cake. Love from your friend Princess Sophie.
Years later when it had all gone wrong, Sophie found one of the notes in her mother 's bedside drawer . It looked shabby and forlorn and tear stained. It made Sophie think of what might have been.
The Social worker in the Correction centre had helped Sophie to understand but so much damage had been done and  there was so much pain inside her.


Sophie had had what could only be described as an idyllic childhood. A lovely sweet mother and a caring kind dad and a greatly loved little brother Tom. Things had started to go wrong when practically overnight she blossomed from a charming little girl into a voluptuous and difficult teenager. No-one knew how to cope with her moods and sulks and she didn't know how to cope with the enormous amount of attention that her body received. The phone was constantly ringing and a stream of male callers meant her school work quickly suffered. Her father was busy with his failing business and her mother threw her energy into her voluntary work at the local hospital.
 Sophie got in with a group of young men that shared a house in the nearby town. At first it was a relief to be in an environment where there was no tension or rows and then one of the young men, Jake asked Sophie if she would like to move in with him. This seemed a good idea to Sophie, she would be looked after by just one young man instead of the various callers to her house.
 By this time Sophie was eighteen and her parents had bought her a new blue car. Sophie told her parents that she would live with Jake and get a job.
 The social worker in the Correction centre made Sophie realize that they had been completely at a loss as to how to deal with her.
Tom was quietly keeping his head down and passing all his exams, he didn't know how to treat Sophie either. Her parents told her that if she left home they would not consider her as their daughter any more.
This made her even more determined to leave and she and Jake rented a small room above a Fish and chip shop where Sophie worked.

For a few weeks it all seemed very romantic. She would bring the left over fish and chips up to their flat and they would sit eating and feeding each other the chips. One day though Jake told her to meet him after work outside the bank in the High Street  It was dark when Sophie arrived and there was no sign of Jake.  Sophie was thrown into the air by a blast. Her head hit the pavement and she couldn't remember what happened next. When she came round a policewoman was holding her head and she was covered with a blanket. Blue lights were flashing around her and she felt sick.

Later in the Police station she was told that her car had been driven into the Cash point and it had exploded. Her finger prints were everywhere and she was accused of being the accomplice. There was no sign of Jake and when the policemen went to their flat all trace of him had gone, no-one seemed to know anything about him.
Sophie was too tired to protest as she was lead away. Part of her felt responsible. She was frightened now. What if someone had got hurt? How could she have been so blind not to see what Jake was like? She felt she deserved her punishment.


In the Correction centre Sophie was looked after by psychologists and a social worker called Nancy. It was Nancy that suggested that Sophie worked in the little cafeteria and took a course in Book keeping. The psychologists helped her understand  how her relationship with her family had deteriorated so badly. Sophie didn't want them to come and visit her , she felt too ashamed. She hated herself and she put all their letters in a box, unopened.
 She really liked working in the cafeteria. Even though everyone was dressed in the same clothes and the coffee was quite bad she pretended that she was Princess Sophie again. She asked if she could make biscuits and convinced the officers to improve the quality of the milk and coffee. Soon the cafeteria was humming with happy conversation and laughter. An inmate called Josie who was in because she stole from her employees set up a book group in the cafeteria and an old woman called Lili started crochet classes.

When Sophie's time was up Nancy told her that a friend of hers was looking for a waitress in his cafè and would be happy to employ her.


Sophie cleaned the coffee machine filters ready for the brunch crowd. She was about to go and get the orders when Karl came in.

'Sophie the family that have booked the table have asked me to give you this note. They specifically want you as their waitress.'

She took the note and as she read it tears of joy and pain and happiness flooded down her cheeks.

Dear Princess Sophie, please come and have tea with me, with love from your friend Princess Susan..


Robin Red breast

There's something very exciting about catching sight of a robin hopping about at this time of year. He's definitely the number one bird to be on cards and wrapping paper.
Today we watched a very friendly robin who danced along the pavement and made me hum 
the red red robin goes hop
Hop hopping along.

When I tried to take his picture
He hopped onto a tree
Just as I was thinking
He was making friends with me.
He's really quite a small bird
He isn't very big
And with his back towards me
He looked just like a twig.
And so I waited patiently
For him to kindly show
His lovely little waistcoat
That's red as you all know
He gives us all such pleasure
When the other birds have gone
All the way to Africa
To enjoy the Winter sun
Yes the robin stays here with us
And makes our Winter bright
I really hope he's somewhere warm
On this cold and windy night. 

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Canoodle with canederli, a Winter warmer.

 Now the weather is getting very cold and the forecast says it will be the coldest Winter for one hundred years. In the South Tyrol region of Italy one dish you will always find on the menu is Canederli. It comes from the German word Knodel, which sounds like the English word noodle, but they are more like what we would call Dumplings. This is a great Winter recipe. They are easy to make once you know how and the ingredients can be adapted to what you have in the fridge. Everyone will be happy to arrive home from work or school on a cold Winter night and find them gently simmering on the stove. The Canederli can be made in advance and kept in the fridge for a day or two before cooking.
The word Canederli always makes me think of the English word canoodle. It is often used in fun to describe in a light-hearted innocent sort of way, kissing and a cuddling with your partner. So keep warm this Winter with lots of Canederli and canoodling.

Canederli, serves four

6  day old bread rolls or slices of bread, cubed
250 ml milk
2 eggs, beaten
100g speck or smoked ham
150 g ham chopped
100g grated Parmesan cheese
30g butter
half an onion, finely sliced and gently cooked in a non stick pan
parsley, chopped
3 tbsps. flour, to mix
broth made with chicken or vegetables or a good quality stock cube.

Soak the bread in the milk and squeeze out the excess.
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and shape into 8 balls.
Put on a saucepan of broth and bring to the boil.

Gently place the Canederli into the broth and simmer gently for about 10-15 minutes.
Make sure they keep their shape.
You can serve them in the broth or gently remove them and serve with sage and melted butter.

This recipe can easily be adapted for Vegetarians and spiced up with some chilli or paprika if you want something a bit more hot.

Buon appetite and happy canoodling.

Prepare the ingredients

Form into balls that will hold their shape while cooking

Simmer very gently for about 10.15 minutes

Buon appetito

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Italian Stories, Toni, Part two.

The field hospital in Somalia was full of wounded soldiers. Toni didn't dare lie down in case the sickness came over him again. His temperature was still very high. He couldn't stop shaking and his eyes were glued together. He felt terrible. Physically he was so weak he could hardly stand up and had to rely on the auxiliaries for everything. He couldn't remember what it was like to feel normal.
 Most of all though he felt wretched and  completely useless. Just after a week's training Toni had caught the dreaded Somali sickness. Two men had already died from it in the same room and he felt doomed.
The doctor came to stand by his bed. He was wearing a mask in the vain hope of keeping the deadly virus away. The doctor was a kind man from Cosenza. He had served in the Great War on the frontline in the mountains near Toni's home.
He spoke now, occasionally throwing in some words in Toni's local dialect.

'You're over the worst now Toni. If you can survive the first two days it means you'll be alright. Unfortunately you won't be able to fight ever again. This infection leaves a weakness in the stomach that would make military life impossible. You're a brave man.
Although I don't understand soldiers. My job is to save lives.'

Toni didn't feel brave and he didn't want to fight. Lying there in the hospital bed he just wanted to cling onto life and get better and go home.

'Thank you doctor. You're the brave one, not me.'

The mere effort of talking had worn Toni out and he tried to relax against the rough pillow. There was a commotion as a young man was brought in screaming in agony and calling for his Betti. It was Lucio.

Toni turned to the doctor.

'What's happened to him , he's my friend.'

'He has shot himself in the leg, it happens more than you'd think.'

The doctor walked over to Lucio and whispered some soothing words. Lucio immediately calmed down and looked around the make shift ward.
His haggard dirty face lit up when he saw Toni but was immediately replaced with an expression that looked to Toni like shame.

'Hi mate nice to see you,' Toni struggled to reassure his friend.
'Welcome to the world of the walking wounded.'

Lucio pointed to his shattered leg.
'I'm not walking anywhere right now. What a couple of heroes eh? What shall I tell Betti''.

Toni lay back and tried to quell the sickness that was washing over him.
'No need to tell her anything Lucio. I'm not telling and neither is the doctor. Let's concentrate on getting better now.'

Toni's eyes closed with the effort and he fell into a deep sleep. He dreamed that he was a hero, that he had a pile of scented letters from a young girl who adored him, that he was walking round Pompei and impressing her with all the stories he knew, and then he dreamed that he was at home. When he awoke he was amazed to feel that the horrible sick feeling had at last lessened.
He looked across at Lucio who was looking at the bandages on his leg that was propped up.

'I can't wait to draw some funny faces on that,' Toni smiled and Lucio grinned back.


As the train drew into the station at the Northern Italian town the passengers could hear a deafening cheer. They hung out of the windows waving their hats and scanning the crowd for their loved ones. Betti was at the front wearing a red hat and jumping up and down waving an orange scarf. Toni could see his mother hovering at the back next to his father. They were standing apart from the screaming girls. Toni caught his father's eye and saw him lift his hand in a salute. Toni grinned to himself. He looked across at Lucio who was struggling with his tears.

Toni handed him a handkerchief.

'Chin up mate, we're heroes ok? Go to your Betti and have a happy life.'

Later at home in the kitchen Toni gave his parents the gifts that he'd found for them. Some beads for his mother and a leather pouch for his father, bought in the desert before he fell ill.
His mother put hers on straight away and admired herself in the mirror.

'Lucio looked fit and well, I knew he'd look after you. Such a brave young man. What a pity that he's going to live in Milan.'

Toni caught his father's wry glance. He poured himself a glass of wine and raised his glass to Toni.

'Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to stay. The brave ones never run away.'

 He smiled at Toni and for the first time he felt as though his father was proud of him.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Italian Stories, Toni, Part one

Toni looked at the back of his mother's head as she turned to stir the risotto. He was filled with such tenderness that he was glad that she couldn't see, she would have broken down. He wanted to stroke her hair and hold her but knew that would alarm her. She would see it as a sign that he would not return.
His father burst into the room relieving the tension and bringing an atmosphere of normality as he sat at the table and poured himself some wine.

'So you're going then? Off to fight for a worthwhile cause, following the path of the great Roman emperors, conquering the world.'

Toni ignored the sarcasm in his father's voice. He joined him at the table, poured some wine and raised his glass.

'Lucio will be in my regiment. We're leaving next week. We're stopping at Tivoli and then on to Somalia where we'll be trained in artillery.'

His mother, Lucia,  slammed the saucepan of risotto on the table and served it out with her ladle beating on the bowls.

'Men have such short memories, it's all madness. All that suffering in the Great War was meant to end it all. It was terrible for me, going off on my own with a small boy, not knowing if I'd ever see my husband again, losing my brother, nothing to eat and making clothes out of old bits of material and never knowing when it would end.'

Toni and his father looked at her in astonishment, their spoons in mid air. She never talked about the Great War and seemed to pretend it have never happened. Lucia had grown up in the last years of the Belle Epoque before all illusions were swept away for ever. She had been the most elegant, sweet and dainty young woman, her head full of romance and deeply in love with her dashing husband, Filippo, who showed such promise as a brilliant Penal Lawyer. She had had to go away to Genoa to stay with distant relatives for the war years. Toni's father had stayed behind in their home in the North of Italy. His high standing in his profession meant he was needed there, he dealt with the toughest cases and the most hardened criminals. Filippo  was a handsome man and there were many women left behind seeking male company and a warm companion to comfort them amidst the harsh realities of life in war time. When Lucia and Toni returned the marriage was never the same again. 

Lucia  went back to the stove and brought out plates of polenta and salami. She handed round Filippo's favourite spinach with ham and cream and poured herself a small glass of wine.

'Well I'm glad that Lucio will be with you. He is so big and strong and will surely look after you. Though I can't think why he wants to leave that lovely girlfriend of his, Betti.'

Toni rolled his eyes.
'Oh mamma, you are funny, look don't worry, I'll look after myself. I'll be back soon with lots of interesting things to tell you.'

  Lucia breathed in deeply and went back to the kitchen to return bearing her speciality 'Tirami su' and setting it on the table with a flourish.

'Tuck in now, they won't have this in Somalia.'

 Toni was about to reply when he noticed his father's expression. He was looking at his mother with such love and a sort of regret. Toni could see  what might have been between them if the war hadn't got in the way. The moment passed and his father got up whistling an American yankee tune from the war, Over there, over there'.
He felt that his father was making fun of him and went to help his mother clear the table.
Toni had recently qualified as a lawyer, following in his father's footsteps. Instead of Penal law however he had decided to specialise in Civil Law. For once his father had supported him and they worked together in the same studio. Toni had always loved learning and finding things out. He had sailed through school and university with the greatest ease. His school friends had often teased him and called him a swot but it really was just what came naturally to him. Toni's excellent results gained him an award and a prize trip to The United States.He was fascinated by the American way of life, the democracy, the variety of races all working together and the efficiency. On his return he had found that his friends were all talking passionately about politics in a way that made him deeply uneasy but he went along with them for friendship's sake. Lucio had talked him into going off to fight for Italy in this African campaign but Toni wasn't looking forward to it at all. Part of him wanted the young girls to see him as more of a man and admire his strength instead of always being in awe of his academic brilliance.


The station was completely overrun with young men in uniform trying to find their groups. Toni soon spotted Lucio, smart in his brand new kit and his hair full of Brilcream. He went over to him and was soon joined by a few more friends from university smoking their free cigarettes.

They were told to get in the second carriage.

The whistle blew and Toni leaned out of the window to wave to the people who had come to see them off. 
Toni felt sick but pulled his cigarette packet out and tried to stop his fingers from shaking as he lit  one.They were on their way, there was no going back.


The train stopped in Tivoli and they were taken to accommodation and told their training would begin the next day. The training was tough and  Toni was relieved when they were told they were going on a sightseeing trip to the Villa Adriana. Lucio had already seen it and was enthusiastic.
'You'll love it Toni, a brain box like you. All I can remember is that it was built between 118 and 138 BC by the emperor Hadrian.'

The villa Adriana was indeed magnificent. Toni wandered around taking photographs and imagining himself as an emperor creating such a beautiful place. The layout of the rooms could still be seen and it was evident that Hadrian had a great love of architecture. There was even a room that looked as though it had been specially designed for romance. It was at this moment that Toni decide to grow a moustache. He would go back home as a conqueror and an emperor.
While they were at Tivoli letters started arriving from home. Lucio quickly gathered a whole pile from Betti, all scented and sealed with hearts. He told Toni they were full of passion and her undying love for him. Toni felt embarrassed about his letters. They were also full of passion and undying love but they were from his mother. Luckily they weren't scented.
Up until the visit to Villa Adriana, apart from the training Toni and Lucio had almost felt like tourists.
'Italy is such a beautiful country. Everywhere you look there is something,' Lucio was reading a guide book and started talking about studying Archeology when they came home.
'Well the Romans certainly did all the hard work for us,' Toni grinned at his friend.
'I think you'd be interested in the Etruscans Lucio, I'll lend you a book about the Necropolis at Tarquinia.
Their conversation was interrupted by a shout from a young skinny boy from Milan.
'We're off lads. They're sending us to Maddaloni tomorrow ready to embark for Somalia next week.'
All thoughts of studying and home were put aside, they were on their way.
Maddaloni was a lovely town built on a hill near Caserta, from there they were taken to Naples and marched onto their ship.
As they left the port, Toni looked at the spectacular view of Vesuvius in the distance. Lucio came up to him looking nervous.
'Well Toni, this is it, no going back now. We're following the steps of our forefathers, Hadrian and Caesar.'
Toni thought how his father would laugh if he heard that.
he took one last look at his homeland laying there before him in the setting sun and followed Lucio to their bunks.



Thursday, 20 November 2014

Beauty in the Winter sky, poem for the day

The seasons are often likened to people, Spring being light and pretty, decked with flowers, Summer holding sheathes of corn, Autumn with bunches of grapes and Winter red in the face and portly. I think of them as dances. My Autumn dance is dressed in rich velvet gowns of ruby, golden silk and rich bronze taffeta. As they spin and twirl they gradually change into their Winter robes of fine gossamer studded with pearls, creamy lace and ruby buttons.
As you watch the leaves tumbling down at the slightest gust of wind and the carpet beneath your feet growing ever thicker you might look up and see the vision of the trees silhouetted against the twilight sky tinged with gold and rose and see a different beauty in the trees.

Here is a quotation by Sarah Brana Barak that seems appropriate for such moments:-

When one sees the tree in leaf, one thinks the beauty of the tree is in its leaves, and then one sees the bare tree.

I have written you a little poem about that moment when the Winter sky shows you its beauty, I hope you like it.- it's from the series 'Poems I could have written when I was ten.'

The trees are preparing for Winter's delight,
Through Autumn they've been a magnificent sight,
Such a lovely display of gold and red
Now all that bounty will be shed,
A ballroom of colours swirling round
Until the last leaf is upon the ground,
The cold North wind will blow and roar
On the branches they will hang no more,
The trees now bare they look so stark
Wait until it starts to get dark,
The sunset is shown at its very best
Behind the wonderful silhouettes
Of the Oak and the Ash and the Sycamore
In the park, on the hill and across the moor,
The rosy glow of the setting sun
Tell us Winter is ready to have some fun.

I just might come back and improve this....

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The Red Sweater, a short story

A woman on the bus today carried her Pekinese dog inside her handbag. It had a red bow on its head that matched her sweater.

Jenny got on the bus feeling very self-conscious. She had worn black from head-to-toe ever since she left school five years ago. She hadn't been able to get a job with her poor A- level results and  her eating problems had started again.
Jenny's mother had run off to live in Spain with a man she worked with when Jenny was six years old and life had always been so lonely for Jenny and her dad.
Now he'd got himself a girlfriend, Lucia, not much older than Jenny. She was a nurse at the clinic where Jenny had to go for her eating problems and had started coming round to their house with cakes and making hot meals for them all. Lucia had given Jenny a red sweater for her birthday last week and now today she had asked her to take her little dog Trixie for a walk in the park while she was at work.
Lucia was so kind and friendly that Jenny had found herself agreeing and now here she was on the bus and on her way to the park.
As they were going out of the door Lucia had tied a red bow on Trixie's head the same colour as the new sweater. They'd all giggled as they looked at themselves in the hall mirror and Lucia had taken their photo.
As Jenny moved along the bus she noticed that people were smiling at her . An unfamiliar sensation crept over her as she sat down and placed her handbag on her knee. She felt the warmth of Trixie's little body and a glow seemed to settle itself in her heart.
It was happiness.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Thoughts while watching the sunset and poem for the day

There have been some magnificent sunsets this week. the thing about a sunset is that you can be engrossed in your work or walking along lost in thought and then you look up at the sky and are filled with an enormous sense of wonder as you see the colours in the sky. Phrases pop into your head like, 'Nature's paintbrush, sweeping rainbow colours. Then as you become lost in the wonder of the spectacle before you maybe you will catch a glimpse of the Evening Star looking just like the diamond in the famous nursery rhyme.

Twinkle, twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are
Up above the world so high
Like a diamond in the sky
Twinkle, twinkle little star.

Most of us have been fascinated by Rosetta and the comet. It is really amazing and mind boggling. Also this week lots of people have been to see the film, 'Interstellar' and come away moved and feeling quite emotional.
Whenever I look at the sky for a long time and think about all that mysterious space I'm sure I am not alone in feeling that I am so glad that I am here on earth and how lovely it is to be down here looking up and not the other way round.
My poem for the day is about this, how we all want to fall to earth. It was written before man landed on the moon but after Newton saw the apple fall to the ground.

The Arrow and the Song

I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly, it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroken;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Sunset, a great time to reflect on all that's good in the world

Monday, 17 November 2014

Pasta with Seven Ps

One of the first recipes I was given by an Italian friend was called Pasta con sette P, which means Pasta with seven Ps.
All the ingredients in the pasta sauce begin with the letter P , in Italian.
Pasta, penne - which means feathers
Pomodoro - tomato
Porri - leeks
Peperoncino- hot chilli pepper
Panna - cream
Pinoli - pine nuts
Parmigiano - Parmesan cheese

As often happens when asking an Italian friend for quantities of ingredients they shrug their shoulders and turn their hands palm up and say 'ad occhio.' For more details look at one of my earlier posts.
This recipe is really delicious and here are my quantities for four.

1 leek, washed and thinly sliced
10 cherry tomatoes, washed and sliced
2 cups of passata
1 small packet of toasted pine nuts
1 cup of cream
1 tsp chilli powder
Grated Parmesan cheese
260g penne

Gently cook the sliced leek in a small amount of butter and olive oil until soft. About ten minutes.
Sprinkle in the chilli to taste and stir.
Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for another few minutes then add the passata and simmer gently for about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet.
Stir in the cream and grated Parmesan and turn off the heat.
Drain the pasta and mix in the sauce.
Sprinkle over the pine nuts and serve with more Parmesan cheese if liked.

This pasta dish goes well with a green salad and a glass of Rose wine.
Finish the meal with pears and cheese and walnuts.

Buon appetite and special memories of the friend who gave me the recipe many years ago.


Seven ingredients beginning with the letter P

Just the thing for a windy night

When I grow up I want to be a ballerina.

Once upon a time there was a little girl called Virginia. When she was just three years old her mother and father started to argue all the time. One day she told her auntie that her parents argued all the time because her mother wanted to live in the town and her father wanted to live in the countryside. When she was asked what she wanted to do she answered in a matter of fact voice that she wanted to be a ballerina.

Most little girls at some time or other have probably wanted to become a ballerina. It is such a lovely word. Straight away you think of romantic calming music, lovely costumes made of net and silk in shades of pink or white, silky shoes tied with long satin ribbons. your hair up in a chignon covered with a net.
Of course to become a ballerina requires not only a certain talent but a lot of dedication and hard work. When a ballerina goes for an audition they have to start from scratch each time, no matter what they have done before.
I've got one of those cactus type plants that flowers twice a year, now it is in full bloom and the flowers look like lots of graceful ballerinas.
Here's a wish to all the people I know that are ballerinas and all the little girls that dream of becoming one when they grow up.
Edgar Degas Ballerinas, 1890

Georges Seurat, Le Chahut, 1889-1890

A little ballerina in a music box ,

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Apple cake, Torta di mele

Apple pie without the cheese
Is like a kiss without the squeeze.

Growing up in England we had Apple Crumble or Apple Pie for pudding about once a week. Apple crumble was quick and easy to make and could be put in the oven along with a Shepherd's Pie. Apple pie was more for Sunday lunch and served with custard or cream. When I came to Italy my mother-in-law made Apple Cake, Torta di mele. This is more like a cake that is served with coffee or tea, than a pudding, and keeps for a few days. There are many ways of making Torta di mele. You can add cinnamon, nutmeg, almonds, brown sugar, put the apples all in at once or layer them attractively on the top. Whatever recipe you follow everyone likes it. It's a sure success.
Apple Cake is one of those recipes that must be made with love and smiles. Take your time and put some music on and enjoy making your Apple Cake. If you make it for a Sunday treat then some might be left over for breakfast on Monday morning to start the week off with a swing.
Some friends of mine went to Sud Tyrol and brought me back a large basket of apples. We have really enjoyed looking at them on the table and eating one a day. They look very decorative and of course you know the saying,
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but today it's time to use some of  them to make a cake.
This is my mother-in-law's recipe, I hope you like it.

4 apples, peeled, cored and sliced and sprinkled with lemon juice to stop them from going brown.
250g sugar
250g butter, at room temperature
3 eggs, separated.
250g self-raising flour or plain flour with a packet of baking powder

Heat the oven to 180.
Whisk the egg whites until stiff and set aside.
Cream the sugar and butter until soft and fluffy.
Add the eggs yolks and beat well.
Fold in the flour and the beaten egg whites.
Stir in the apple slices .
Pour into a cake tin lined with greaseproof paper or well buttered.
Sprinkle over some sugar and bake in the oven for about 40 minutes until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Leave the Apple cake to cool down in the tin and then turn out into a plate.
Dust the top with icing sugar.
Serve with cream or ice-cream if liked, or why not .. a piece of cheese.
Whatever you do don't forget the squeeze.
Buona Domenica.


A basket of apples from a friend

Get everything ready

Straight from the oven and looking good

Dust with icing sugar and ready to go

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Making Christmas cake, making memories

The traditional British Christmas cake is best made as early as October. It is full of dried fruit and brandy and once it is cooked it is carefully wrapped up. Once a week it is unwrapped and fed brandy or other alcohol. This is done by pricking the surface with a skewer or fork and gently pouring over the brandy. When I was young there weren't all the delicious shop bought cakes that there are today and so most people made their own. It was a great occasion. Just buying all the ingredients was a major event. Then there was all the mixing and stirring and the kitchen full of excitement. Once in the oven the house was soon filled with a warm and tantalizing aroma. the fact it had to stay in the oven for four hours meant you had a long cosy afternoon together watching over it. The Christmas cake was not decorated until a few days before Christmas but once it was made and wrapped up the excitement of the holiday season had officially begun.

Making memories making Christmas cake

Aprons on and at the ready
Hands are washed and sleeves rolled up
Wooden spoons and bowls galore
On the table in a row
Make the oven nice and hot.

Cherries glistening in a bowl
Little fingers pick one up
Raises it towards her lips
Hesitant and then more bold
One by one they disappear

Sultanas next dipped in some flour
Raisins, currants, ginger too,
Pineapple cut in little cubes
Walnuts broken into bits
Almonds slipping from their skins.

Cream butter and sugar first
With a wooden spoon is best
Beat the eggs all on their own
Then use a fork to whisk it well
Sieve the flour, add salt and spice.

Now it's time to taste a bit
Fingertips are best for this
Scrape the sides and mix again
Line the tin and tie with string
Pour all the lovely mixture in.

While it's baking make some tea
Sweet aromas fill the air
Dusk is coming light the fire
Now this Christmas cake of ours
Brings some magic to our lives.

Photograph from Mrs.Beeton's Christmas Cookery book

The finishes touches are done at the last minute. (Mrs. Beeton's cook book)

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Dummy run with mince pies

Ready for the oven

Having fun cutting out shapes
Not much to do now
It's time to start stocking up your freezer and larder and laying down stores like squirrels do. In Britain Christmas cakes and puddings are traditionally made as early as October. They don't need to be kept in the fridge or freezer because they are so full of rich dried fruit and brandy. Mince pies however do need to be eaten within a few  days or frozen. I only make them at Christmas and so today I had a dummy run to make sure I hadn't lost the knack. There are so many variations nowadays , using cranberries, walnuts, port, brandy. I used a simple traditional recipe to start with, homemade pastry but bought mincemeat. 
Get your ingredients ready and put on some music. Take your time and think of offering them to your friends and family with a nice cup of tea or some spicy mulled wine.

First make the pastry;)

275 g plain flour
1 tsp salt
150 g butter, very cold
4-5 tbsps very cold water

When making shortcrust pastry everything must be cold, the butter, the bowl, your hands, the knife. You must work lightly but quickly.
Sieve the flour into a large bowl.
Add the salt and the butter cut into cubes. Rub the butter into the flour gently and quickly with your fingers until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Sometimes I do this with my eyes closed, it's so nice to feel the soft flour combining with the butter.
Sprinkle over the cold water and mix to bind using a knife. Knead lightly to form a ball.
Roll out onto a floured surface  till about 3mm thick.
Use a glass to cut out round to line buttered and floured cupcake or patty  tins.
Place a spoonful of mincemeat in each pastry case. Cover with another pastry round and if liked cut in festive shapes.
Seal the edges well.
Brush the tops with water and dredge with caster sugar. Make two small cuts in the top of each pie.

Bake the mince pies for 15-20 minutes at 200 degrees.
Leave to cool in the tin and then gently remove using a sharp knife to loosen the edges. Put on a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes twelve.

These mince pies can be frozen for up to three months.
Pack cooled mince pies in a suitable container for freezing. Separate layers with baking parchment so they don't stick together.
Reheat from frozen on a baking sheet at 180 for 10-12 minutes until warmed through.

Remember to eat one a day over the holiday season.

Everything is ready to start

Tasting time, everyone said they were delicious,

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Love that is passed on. A short story for Italian women

This story is dedicated to  my Italian friends. I hope you enjoy it.


Emma took a deep breath and hugged her husband.

'Off you go now. Valeria said she might come round later.'

Federico held her tight and stroked her hair. He shrugged on his jacket and kissed her.
His voice was full of concern.

'Are you sure you'll be alright here on your own?'

Emma opened the door and smiled.

'I'll be fine. I feel as though she's still here with me.'

Emma  closed the door behind her husband and walked towards her mother's bedroom. She buried her face in the pillow as she had done as a child whenever her mother went to Florence to look after Emma's grandmother Anna.
She breathed in the scent of lavender and rose that her mother had always worn. She let the tears come.

 'Oh mamma, mamma, I miss you so.'

  Emma took the small wooden chest out from under the bed where she had placed it the day before.
One of the removal men had found it tucked away in the old cellar.
 He had handed it to her with great reverence as though it contained hidden treasure.
 She'd had to force it open because there was no key and she gasped as she lifted the lid. There was a huge pile of letters carefully arranged and tied in bundles with faded red ribbons. Emma lifted the first one out of the chest. It was addressed to her father in her mother's beautiful handwriting. She didn't know what to do.
She felt like she was prying and was reluctant to read them but somehow she wanted to, to feel part of her mother's life again.

Emma didn't know much about her mother's intimate feelings. They had never had cosy chats and heart- to- heart talks. There was just one anecdote that her mother  loved telling.

In the Summer of 1939 ,her mother ,Amalia, had gone to the mountains in the north of Italy for a short holiday with her two brothers,Giorgio and Giancarlo.
There they had met Emma's father Toni who was staying at a hotel called 'Il Paradiso'. Toni was a quiet serious young lawyer. He told them that he had been invalided out of the Army due to his severe asthma and the doctor told him the mountain air would do him good. It was soon evident that he took great pleasure in Amalia's  company and every time he rang their hotel to ask to speak to her, Amalia's  brothers loved to shout out to her,

'Amalia, Toni is calling you from Paradise.'

When the time came for Amalia and her brothers to return to Florence, Toni had already mentioned marriage and they were soon engaged.
Toni and Amalia were married in Florence in 1942 and settled in Toni's hometown in the north of Italy.

Emma knew that her mother had gone for two years without being able to see her family and communications were very difficult.

That was about all she knew.
The temptation to read the letters was strong.
Emma went to the kitchen to make herself a cup of coffee. There was the old china biscuit barrel shaped like an elephant that Emma had loved as a child. She took a biscuit out and brushed it against her lips thinking of her mother buying them for her, knowing they were her favourites.

Her phone rang, it was her daughter, Valeria.

'Mamma, I keep thinking of nonna Amalia. I miss her so. Please could you look for her recipe book? I would love to learn to make her special recipes.'

A lump came to Emma's  throat. Her mother had been such a wonderful cook. How she would miss all those happy family meals.
She tried to sound bright and positive.

'What a good idea Valeria, we can carry on all Nonna's traditions.'

Emma went back to the bedroom and picked up the letter on the top of the pile. She looked towards the photograph of her parents on their wedding day. She blew them a kiss.

' Forgive me for reading your personal letters mamma and papa, but I want to feel you near me again.'

She gently opened the first letter. It was dated 1942.

Caro Toni, dear Toni,
It won't be long now before I can call you my husband, my love. Just the thought of calling you so fills my heart with a joy I never knew could be possible. to lie next to you and wake in the morning and be able to kiss you on your eyes and awaken you, it is a dream that I never dared hope for.
Some more wedding presents arrived today. A pretty pink rug for the bedroom and a glass lamp. I can hardly bear to wait to see your dear face illuminated by its glow and to step on the soft carpet in the morning with my bare feet as I slip from your arms.

Emma stopped and gulped down her coffee. The pink rug was under her feet, worn thin over the years. She tried to imagine what it must have looked like when it was new. She took off her shoes and wriggled her toes in its softness. The glass lamp was there too. Her father would read by its light every evening. Emma wiped away a tear and carried on reading.

Oh Toni, Giorgio and Giancarlo send their best regards. They still love to tease me about you coming from Paradise. They have all their friends laughing. But you do my dearest, you do.
Please tell your dear mother and father that all is arranged here for them to stay at the Milton Hotel. I am so longing to call them mamma and papa. They have already shown such great kindness to me. My own dear mother and father have arranged for a short holiday on the Tuscan coast after our wedding. I can hardly contain my excitement at going to see your beloved mountains with you for our honeymoon. You are such a dear. To see the mountains that you love so much through your eyes will be an emotion beyond my dreams. You say there is a mountain called The Rose Garden where we are going, it is such a romantic name.

Emma had to stop. The letter was so personal, so warm and full of love for her father. She broke down in tears, an unfathomable pain in her heart ,but there was happiness there too, knowing that her mother had felt such intense love.
She knew her parents had spent their honeymoon in the mountains near Cortina and every Summer they went to the mountains for their holidays. Her father always seemed to find solace there, it was where he could drive back the demons that haunted him since the war in Africa.

Emma put the letter back and then picked up the packet underneath. These letters were written in her mother's elegant handwriting but were addressed to her grandmother in Florence. She opened the first one. It was dated January 1943

Cara mamma, dear Mum,
You are always in my thoughts, along with dear papa, and my dear brothers.
How brave Giorgio is to be putting himself in such danger. For you dear mother it must be so hard to re-live what yourself had to do. Poor Giancarlo with his broken leg, but at least he is near you. Toni is working hard but has had to find a new partner. I have got a bicycle now and it is easier for me to find luxuries such as butter. Yesterday I cycled for thirty kilometres to a farm near the mountains. They gave me butter and wine and some of the maize flour that is so abundant here. I have tried to make tomato preserve but it is not as good as yours dear mamma. How I miss the flavours of your cooking.

Emma put the letter down. She closed her eyes and thought of her mother on a bicycle. She tried to read between the lines of the letter. She knew that her grandfather Pietro had been a doctor in the First World War. Her grandmother, Anna, had travelled around with him and given birth to three children on the way. These stories had always been told with humour and love. Emma was beginning to realise what a gift that had been, to hear these women talk in such a reassuring way. Emma's Uncle Giorgio had also been a surgeon and had gained a tremendous reputation for his skill. He had gone on working until he was well into his Seventies.
Emma thought of what life must have been like then. She thought of her beloved country. She liked to think of it as an elegant leather boot with the toe gently swinging in the Summer breeze. Perhaps in those days it had seemed more shabby. She knew that the First World war was a tragedy and the mountains near her home bore many scars. The Second World War was more difficult to understand. Reading her mother's letter reminded her of things her grandmother had told her. Friendships were torn apart and families forced to flee. Italy became a country at war with itself. Her grandmother, Maria, had always been wary of expressing any views and told Emma to be careful, that many an enemy has been made by talking about politics. Emma thought she was being dramatic but even now all these years later, Federico thought the same way.
Emma picked up another letter addressed to her grandmother. She gave a start as she noticed the date, November 1948.It was when she was born.

Cara mamma, dear mum,
My dearest treasure is sleeping now and so I can at last write to you. I cannot find words that are good enough to describe the joy in my heart. She is so beautiful and has the sweetest, dearest nature. Her little hands already hold mine so tightly. Her little head is so soft and silky. She has your dark hair and dare I say your blue eyes. We have called her Emma, after your dear mother from Venice. Toni is enthralled, he sits and stares at her for hours. It will not be long now before you see her for yourself and can hold her in your arms. She makes the dearest little noises. Oh mamma now I know how you must love me, I know how you must feel about me. I have been thinking of you so much bringing me into a country at war, I feel so blessed to have brought Emma into a country at peace. Surely this must be the start of a new hopeful era for us all.

The tears were streaming down Emma's face, she sobbed into her mother's pillow. She felt the full deep, heart- wrenching pain of her loss.
Emma had guessed from her mother's casual remarks that her Uncle Giorgio was her grandmother's favourite. She had been so dazzled by his golden curls and his overwhelming brilliance. When Emma was born her mother must have realised at last the full power of a mother's love. She thought of the love linking the women in her family, like a chain. Anna, Amelia, Emma, Valeria.
Italian women reaching back into the past and onward to the future united by the immense power of their love for each other.

The doorbell rang. It was Federico, standing there with a huge pizza and a bottle of wine. Her heart lurched as he held it towards her.

'I thought you might like this, '

He kissed her on her wet cheeks.

'Oh Federico, thank you, thank you.'

Then she saw that Valeria and her boyfriend, Marco,were standing behind him holding a cake box from her favourite Pasticceria.

Later when they were all sitting round the kitchen table where Amalia had served so many delicious meals, Valeria's boyfriend stood up.
He cleared his throat and held up his wine glass.

'I know this is a sad occasion and I would like you to know what a privilege it was to know Nonna Amelia. I too will miss her terribly.'

Marco paused and wiped his eyes. His voice was low and full of emotion when he spoke, his words coming out in a rush.

'I don't know if this is the right moment but we can't wait any longer to tell you.
Valeria and I are expecting a baby.'

There was a lot of laughing then and hugging and kissing.
Emma felt her mother's love warming her. She felt her presence, all  the love that her mother had given her and then  passed on to her daughter, was now in this room.

The beautiful dome of Santa Maria del fiore

Le Pale di S. Martino del Castrozzo