Love is …


 Anyone of my age will remember the cartoon strip “Love Is … ” by Kim Casali. But, what is love? Philosophers and poets have tried to define it since time began. The Oxford dictionary gives many definitions, starting with ” a strong feeling of affection” and ending with “in tennis, squash, and some other sports a score of zero; nil”

Well, I started thinking about love and what it really is this week and decided to start a new chain of Love is ideas. I’m hoping that everyone will add their own personal quote to the comments below. Here are my own loving moments from this difficult week. I rather think that “Love is … family”

My 88yr old father who suffers from dementia, on asked what he would like from me for his birthday, replied “Just a lot of kisses!” So, of course I booked a flight from where I live in Tuscany and flew home to celebrate and give them to him in person.

My mum, worn out from looking after dad who had just got home from hospital, reduced to just over 6 stone with all the worry, when asked what I could do to help her in some way said, “Just be there, love, the way you always are. I have the best children in the world.”

Coming home after a week with my dear parents, feeling sad and burdened and absolutely exhausted, I got off the train at my station feeling about a hundred years old. I started to straighten up and put on my “face” before seeing my son and husband but I did not get a chance to do so. They were there to meet me off the train, take my bags and hug me again and again until I melted right through.

Two days later and my dad was back in hospital – nothing serious this time, just an adjustment needed in his medication but I felt so far away and upset as Guido drove us back from doing the shopping. Suddenly he slammed on the brakes, pulled the car off the road and leapt out of the car. Turning I saw my lovely husband sliding down a steep bank to pick the tall daisies growing wild in a field. Returning to the car he presented me with a huge  bunch and, in spite of my red eyes and tired aspect said ” For my beautiful wife.”

So now I have a house full of sunshine in vases … Yes, I think I am lucky enough to know what “Love is …”



Wine Time


When I first met Guido and he introduced me to his families method of making wine from the grapes in their small village vineyard, I was amazed on several accounts. The first thing that surprised me was the fact that red wine can be made from red and white grapes as in Guido’s vineyard. The deep red colour comes from the tannin in the stalks, leaves and skin. Don’t forget we are talking authentic country wine here, not something highly modernised in a large factory where they make an effort to remove most of the stalks. To make white wine those elements are all removed but the grapes used can be red as well as white.

The second thing that struck me was that the grapes were not washed before being crushed and put in the wine vat to ferment. Indeed, bits of mud, dead spiders and the odd wasp all went to add to that years vintage!

I loved the fact that we used the same equipment that had been used for generations. The stick for pummelling the grapes into soggy submission morning and night during the fermentation process had been carved by Guido’s grandfather and used ever since.

It made me laugh that the whole process was carried out in the garage, which meant days of heady wine fumes emanating from there up into the rest of the house.

Once the wine is deemed to be ready, it is transferred from the Tino ( a huge wooden wine vat) to the Torchio (ancient hand press) and the filtered liquid is stored in equally ancient 54 litre demijohns which are kept in the cellar. They are inspected every now, and then and the oil at the top, that keeps the air from the wine, replaced if needed, until the wine is ready to be bottled.


When not needed the tino and torchio are good for storing things on in the garage!

The cellar is a place only to be braved by those who really fancy a glass of wine. It has never been dusted. The floor  has never been tiled because that way any spillages seep into the dirt, as they should, to create the right ambiance. I am sure we have very happy spiders in there but surprisingly we never see any – maybe because we try not to disturb the decade old dust as much as possible. It is a PROPER cellar indeed.


The top bottles are not dusty because I have just washed them before filling!

Sadly, last year we abandoned our vineyard while in Bath running the guesthouse and we cannot make our own wine this autumn. Since we have managed to drink our way through what we had left from previous years (we have had a lot of guests over to help us!) we have had to resort to buying some local wine. We bought it from the local farmer’s market this morning. I do not want to make anyone jealous here, but 5 litres of white and 5 of red came to the grand total of 12.50 Euros 🙂 It has the added advantage of being rather good. It also means that we can indulge in both red and white wine, whereas when we made it ourselves it was always red in classic Chianti style.


Dirt floor, plastic funnel and bottles that have been reused for many years.

Being good was something we could never guarantee with our own wine. Some years it was fantastic, others not so good and one year quite bad. One demijohn from that year was left without enough oil on top so and when we came to bottle it we found a kind of vinegar. My brother was staying with us at the time and he watched in horror as Guido tipped 54 litres of red down the outside drain. I think he was in shock. He kept repeating “Are you sure we cannot save it somehow?” He only recovered when we sat him down with a plate of pasta and a bottle of the good stuff!

Still, the bottling process is the same as it has always been, so I thought I would share a few photos with you so you can see how we do it.

First you pluck up courage to enter the cellar. You wisely make a lot of noise outside the door so that any resident insects know to hide themselves. Then you rinse out the equipment and start pouring wine into the bottles. This bit is easy. A few fragrant drops get spilt onto the dirt floor to make everything seem really authentic. The hard part comes next when you have to utilise the cantankerous corker. I dislike this tool intensely and it feels the same about me. You pop a cork in the top, slide the bottle onto the sprung pad below and pull firmly down on the handle, thus forcing the squeezed cork into the bottle’s neck. Suffice it to say that I lost 3 corks to one particularly uncooperative bottle. Of course, when Guido does it things always go smoothly!!!


The dratted corker!

The last part in the process is the best of course. You take the bottle upstairs, after having rinsed and tidied up in the cellar to restore it to its former glory. You take a good glass, pour a liberal measure into it and sip. Very good! Anyone fancy a glass?



Sunset Story



Sometimes I am not sure if I should take a photograph of something or not. By concentrating on the camera (or phone nowadays) you tend to take your mind away from the moment that you are trying to capture. How many photos have you seen where people look as if they are gritting their teeth, at the tedium of having to stay still and “say cheese” for as long as it takes for the photographer to get his shot right! At the same time, you long to be able to capture a special moment in time, to look back on the event some day in the future and smile at the sweet memories recorded there.


On our recent holiday in beautiful Baratti Bay we drove to Popolonia Alta to enjoy the sunset. Popolonia is a very lovely town on a hill overlooking the sea, where the archaeological evidence points to there having been settlements that date back to Etruscan times. The Romans built temples over the Etruscan ruins and later in medieval times, a stunning castle was erected in this place that guaranteed a perfect lookout spot along the coastline.

Baratti Bay viewed from above, Popolonia Alta archeaological site and castle

That evening it was full of tourists all wanting to capture the very instant when the sun would touch the sea, but as we wandered around we found places where we had our own, uninterrupted views and, slowly, the magic of the evening began to settle over us all.


Just look how the castle  walls change colour as the sun burnishes it.

We laughed a lot, teasing each other about the sailing we had done that day, racing each other in small sailing boats and watching cormorants fishing from the rocks close to Baratti. We snapped some photos, which I love even if the quality is not too good, because the mood is exactly right. The light was just amaxing, so warm and uplifting.


Then we moved closer to the cliff edge and fell silent as we watched the sun slip gently through the sky to finally touch the waves. I found myself holding my breath then. As always, when the sun is such a fiery ball sliding into the sea, I was surprised not to hear a hiss of steam as it melted into the water.


I did not take any photos myself, I left that to Guido and James. So I will have the best of both worlds this time – my own memories of the evening etched into my mind’s inner eye and the images that my men recorded for us.


Photos by James Parronchi