Thursday, January 18, 2018

Yes, Karen! (comment yesterday) I, too, got an email from Susan Crawford telling me to fill out a survey or else I couldn’t have my book. The point of the survey was to establish whether contact details had changed in the considerable amount of time that has elapsed since we crowdfunded. The website wasn’t entirely confidence-inspiring, and I particularly regretted the absence of a “Submit” button at the end.

We shall see.

There is happy news, too, on other fronts. Kate Davies is now in full swing with the West Highland Way club. The current offering is an oversized Fair Isle called Strathendrick. Interesting, tempting.

And the Early Winter VK turned up today. You Americans, at least, must have seen it weeks ago. It’s almost all rather interestingly Nordic. I am seriously tempted by Meg’s “Danish Sontag Shawl” which looks like something that would be useful in weather like this – chest warm, garment secure, hands and arms free. The cast-on is more than a bit daunting.

And I’m going to want Vivian Hoxbro’s new book, “Strik Danske Stjernetrojer”. It concerns Danish “nattrojer” – “night shirts” – decorated with knit and purl patterns and worn day and night, under other clothes. They sound as if they may be even earlier than the first Shetland knitting. (My friends and I, in the Shetland museum, were shown interesting 19th century onesies into which the wearer was sewn for the winter. But they weren’t decorated.)

If all else fails, Meg will find someone to translate it.

And I have more or less re-engaged with the shawl, and am determined to finish the current chart before turning in this evening. Only another half-row of plain-vanilla garter stitch.


The rest of the UK has had quite a lot of bad weather in the last 24 hours, but Edinburgh has been OK. More snow was forecast for last night, but instead we had a thaw, the streets and pavements were clear this morning, and I got out to the supermarket. A good thing, too: we were getting low on cat food. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

So, Monday morning, we went to the Cathedral of Monreale – a splendid end to the week. The website says that only 350 people are allowed in at a time, and visits are restricted to half an hour. It wasn’t like that. There were perhaps as many as four dozen people there – and seats were available for sitting on. And it is gloriously, astonishingly beautiful. I wondered if Hagia Sophia in Constantinople had once been like that, a whole golden space.

This is, I am afraid, the only picture I took the whole time we were there, as Archie and I sat in a cafĂ© waiting for the time we had assigned to the taxi driver. Those are oranges on those clipped trees. Archie took lots of pictures, and I will soon post (I hope) the one I signalled to him to take, of me and Tancred at lunch in the Palazzo Lanzi Tomasi. It’s not a very good picture, but there we both are.

Our plane left late on Tuesday afternoon – EasyJet does one round-trip per day, and turns around on a dime. Archie pointed out that we had been there a whole week and hadn’t been to a museum or art gallery, so we went to the Museum of Sicilian Art. We’d have done better with Archaeology, but it isn’t as conveniently located. Sicilian Art has one beautiful Antonello, and is located in an old palazzo. Otherwise little to recommend.

BUT, by good luck rather than good management, we happened upon the best meal we’d had all week (except for the one we cooked ourselves) at the Ristorantino Palazzo Sambuca nearby. I had a Sicilian version of a prawn cocktail/salad – the prawns (those little ones) were raw, and they were delicious.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about the homeward journey – smooth – and the reunion with my dear cats.

I enjoyed the new Fruity Knitting, although not the best; and I have done a row and a half, perhaps, on the shawl. I had forgotten how long those rows are, all four borders. And here we are in ’18 and the baby is due in April, so I had better keep my nose to the grindstone.

Snow, today. Helen turned up at 7:30, still pitch dark, me dozing to the Today programme, my happiest hour of the day. She cleared the steps and the car and told me to stay in. Alexander came over from Glasgow and reiterated the advice. More snow is forecast for tonight.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Not much tonight. I am tireder and weaker than ever. And there’s a new episode of Fruity Knitting, with which I and my iPad can go to bed. Again, no knitting.

Palermo: I left you as Archie and I were leaving the Catacombe dei Cappuccini on Saturday morning. I think there are several other places in Italy where you can see skulls and bones piled up in church, but Palermo may be unique in offering mummies in their Sunday best.

Since it is in the same quadrant of town, we went on to see the Royal Palace – which contains the Cappella Palatina, No. 2 on the mosaic list. Unfortunately, just as we arrived, they were launching into a baptism (you’d think it was a Roman Catholic church or something), and there was a good deal of standing around on the part of the tourists before we were allowed in. And I was feeling pretty feeble by the time that happened. And the seats were roped off – one could but lean on a pillar.

And the crowd which had gathered behind us, once admitted to the chapel, was of Sistine Chapel dimensions.

So I don’t have very happy memories of the Cappella Palatina. Archie dispatched some pictures to his mosaicist mother.

I reported every evening while we were there to friends and family back in Blighty, and the reaction from London, at least, was that we must take Sunday off. So we did – except for going (by taxi) back to the restaurant Jamie Oliver mentions in his Italy book. I asked our young, intelligent waitress about him. “Celebrity chef” was beyond my Italian vocabulary. I settled for “English writer” and told her that it was because of him that we were there. She had never heard of him. The restaurant is small and very Italian – clearly, despite Jamie, not yet on the tourist trail. Da Pippo la Gondola, should you find yourself there.

Monday, January 15, 2018

I’ve still done no knitting to speak of, since we got back: but I think perhaps I feel slightly better today. I watched the programme last night, with great pleasure, in which the Queen talked about her coronation . There was mention of burying the Crown Jewels in a biscuit tin somewhere in the grounds of Windsor Castle. And I wondered – I am pretty sure I have mentioned the thought here before – about where they were planning to hide the Princesses, when the invasion happened.

That winter of 40-41, when invasion was expected with every full moon, must have had an extra measure of anxiety for families – like that of the King and Queen – who had adolescent daughters. Churchill (let alone the King and Queen) was very thorough in his planning. I don’t suppose we’ll ever know what he had in mind. I wonder if the Queen knows.  It could have been somewhere close to Kirkmichael, which is close-ish to Balmoral. What you need is a village united in not talking to Germans (we’d have been great for that), and a big house (but not too big) where an extra English girl with her auntie – I think the sisters would have had to be separated – wouldn’t have attracted too much notice.

Palermo: we’re now finished with the Gattopardo, at least for the time being. The next day, Friday, was one of the best. We embarked on mosaics, and by good luck rather than good management, saw them in the right order. We started with the Church of the Martorana that day, well-attended but not what you would call crowded, beautiful, interesting.

Then we went on to the market we had visited the day before with the Duchess.

On Saturday, we started with the Catacombe dei Cappuccini. Archie is something of a connoisseur of horror, so I thought he really ought to see that. Well-off Palermitani used to leave themselves to the Cappuchins to be mummified and then dressed in their Sunday best and suspended from the walls. There they still are. It was a bit on the depressing side, but not quite as bad as you might expect.

I learned afterwards that Giuseppe di Lampedusa is buried there –not, thank God a suspended mummy, but in the adjacent cemetery. I am sorry not to have seen his grave, but profoundly glad not to have walked past his skeleton.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

On our second full day in Palermo, we went “Cooking with the Duchess”, with me still shaking from my fell.  This needs a bit of preliminary explanation.

Giuseppe Tomasi, Prince of Lampedusa, author of the “Leopard”, had no children. Late in life he adopted Gioacchino di Lanza, a distant cousin from an even grander family. Gioacchino is still alive – indeed, some months younger than I am. Giuseppe never did much of anything in life, except write a masterpiece. Gioacchino has had a distinguished career as a musicologist.

The title character in the book is based on Giuseppe’s great-grandfather (Burt Lancaster, in Visconti’s film). The great-grandfather had a princely nephew who appears in the book as Tancredi. His adventures may or may not be vaguely historical – but his physical presence and mannerisms are based on Gioacchino.

OK: so here we are, me and Archie, presenting ourselves at the Palazzo Lanza Tomasi on Thursday morning. Lampedusa lived there during the last months of his life, and sets the death of the Gattopardo in an hotel next door. He – Lampedusa – actually died in Rome.

It all went swimmingly. Archie said afterwards that he had feared they would be “snooty”. They weren’t. We strolled with the Duchess on the terrace, picking herbs and lemons for lunch. We went with her to the market to buy fennel and fish and olives and bread. We worked in the kitchen. All was brilliantly organised and totally calm. We had a break for wine and another for coffee. And, somehow or other, at one, we discovered that we had cooked a four-course lunch for 14 people.

White-gloved servitors appeared at that point to serve lunch to us in the rather grand dining room. We were all good friends by that time – an American couple, a German one, and me and Archie. A bit of a WWII morality play. And I sat next to Tancred. And I can tell you that his eyes are, indeed, blue. And that he is delightful.

Most of the time, however, he talked to the German woman on his right, and I to his son Giuseppe on my left. When I read about that fatal dinner party at Donnafugata, I always picture Concetta to the left of Tancredi, with Angelica beyond, in the position of the German woman. I don’t know if there is any textual evidence for that.

Now I will go watch the Queen on television and knit onwards with Archie’s sock. I must get back to that shawl.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

I am greatly encouraged, Mary Lou, by your comment which suggests you know what it means to sit next to Tancred. But that’s for tomorrow. We’ll start at the beginning.

I am very grateful for all your comments. Tamar, you are never wrong – I will see a doctor if weakness and unsteadiness persist. I gather that the NHS is currently overwhelmed by flu. I’ll stay away if I can.

So: our outward journey was smooth. I was consumed by anxiety – could a taxi really thread its way through the post-Hogmanay detritus? Would a train really be running on 1/1/18? Yes, to both. Branson had us on starvation rations – a choice of Sandwich A or Sandwich B, and no alcohol, for 1st Class catering. But we got there, and took a taxi to Sydenham, where we fared a good deal better with Cathy and James.

Uber and EasyJet went smoothly on Tuesday. Archie persuaded me to take a taxi from the airport – the slippery slope. The Hotel del Centro, chosen because it offered single rooms, proved to be an excellent choice. Quiet, clean, comfortable, as conveniently located as its name suggests. I’ll write something for Trip Advisor soon.

Wednesday was our Gattopardo walking tour with a local expert. It was excellent, although it stretched me to the limit. The best part was when we went to the site of the Palazzo Lampedusa, where the author grew up, an only child who loved the house. It was destroyed by an American bomb in ’43 – Palermo had a hard time, that year. But for that bomb, however, we wouldn’t have had the book.

For many years, it lay in ruins, but has now been rebuilt as an apartment block. In the book, it is Prince Fabrizio’s town house. His principal residence is a couple of miles out of the city, just beyond Monte Pellegrino. We walked along the route the carriage took from that house to the ball at the Ponteleones’, -- it's not far -- past the church where they met a priest carrying the Sacrament to someone in extremis, and the Prince got out of the carriage and knelt on the paving stones.

I rested in the afternoon, but in the evening we set off – too far – to a restaurant Jamie Oliver mentions in “Jamie’s Italy”. We ate well, but it was on the return journey that I fell. I didn’t trip on anything, I just fell. At least I didn’t hit my head.

More tomorrow.

Friday, January 12, 2018

I enjoyed “Three Billboards” a lot – but is it that good? The end seemed to me to drag, as ends often do. The actor who ran away with it, secondo me, was neither Frances McD (whom I love) nor Woody Harrelson, but Sam Rockwell (whom I had never heard of before). I guess you’d better go see it.

Otherwise, nothing to report. No knitting.

At the end of our first full day in Palermo – might as well plunge in at the deep end – I fell, on our way back home in the evening, only a few yards from the hotel door. No bones broken. I got to my feet unaided. But I was both shaken and stirred. And for the rest of the week, both weak and lacking in appetite.

I thought I was getting better the last couple of days, but have been weaker than ever, these two full days back here. Archie and I took taxis to and from the Filmhouse this afternoon. This can’t go on.

One thing on the knitting front, though: perhaps in itself a worrying symptom. We “West Highland Way” club members have had our first pattern from KD, a delicious hat and mitten set. My reaction was, that’s great! But what about the yarn? I signed up for that, too.

Then I discovered – from no less a source than this blog – that I had already received the yarn. Then I looked where it should be, and there it is. Perhaps I should knit the hat as an act of penance.

I hope, tomorrow, to get started on telling you about the actual Palermo adventures.