Archives for March 2020

I’m thinking of walking an apartment Marathon (or not)

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Locked-down and inspired by the man who was just run the Marathon on his 7-metre balcony in a suburb of Toulouse, France (above), I have just walked a thousand steps around our apartment in Florence, in and out of the balconies and round the sitting room, kitchen and bedrooms, five times.

And I’ve been doing some mathematics. My course, including Balcony Corner, Bathroom Bend and Sitting Room Straight, tots up to some 200 steps and, at half a metre a step, that equals 100 metres. Since the Marathon is a mere 42.195 kilometres, I could complete the distance in 421 laps or so.

Suppose I was to do my lap 20 times a day, then the daily total would be a a couple of kilometres, and I would have completed my Marathon in 21.1 days! The way things are going here, we could still be in lockdown. I might just give it a try.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Rounding Balcony Corner and into Sitting Room Straight!

On the other hand, I also attempted some stretching to an online programme that Lois is following, but it turned out to be more like contortion than extension, and I felt that if I manipulated my limbs in the ways that the chirpy Chinese-American girl suggested, I might never be able to return them to their proper position. Instead, I made myself a cup of coffee and sat for 10 minutes soaking up the rays on one of our sunlit balconies, working hard producing vitamin D…

Anyway, my salutations to Elisha Nochomovitz, the French balconiste marathonaire, whose main worry, it seems, was not annoying the neighbours (“They were very understanding.”) He completed his task in six hours 48 minutes and had crucial support in his challenge: “I had my girlfriend here who was giving me drinks and M&Ms.”

Me? If I take up the challenge, I’ll need more than M&Ms. One of our balconies overlooks the gardens of our apartments and beyond, our local café on the corner (closed), the bread and pastry shop (open for morning brioche) and the butchers. We’ve been eating largely vegetarian, if not vegan, for the past couple of weeks and I was suffering from carnivorous withdrawal symptoms. So yesterday, I asked my designated shopper (Lois) to nip across the road and buy a couple of hamburger patties, to satisfy my craving. Delicious! Now, am I raring to go? We’ll see.

More unforgettable memories for a Watermill guest: she fell in love!

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
May Delory’s picture of the Watermill nestling in its Green Valley.

Following the delightful email we had last week from Lesley Pendlebury, who came on a creative writing course with Jo Parfitt a couple of years ago (click here to see more) we have had a spate of emails from other guests recollecting the fond memories they have of their time with us.

The latest comes from May DeLory, who came on another creative writing course several years ago, in 2013. She sent as a blog she made following her Writing Romance course with Sharon Kendrick. May says: “Feel the earth move you in Italy.”

Yes, while Lesley talks of the aura of peace and tranquillity which makes the Watermill such a special place, May fell in love! She says: “The fast-flowing stream beneath my bedroom window emits negative ions. I push open wider the very old window frame. I look down at the stream.  Freshly washed sheets hang to dry on a thin rope line to one side of the courtyard below. I feel tipsy with joy; or, is the high spirit due to my being in Tuscany — land of milk and honey…I love blue skies and I even love stormy skies. I love the air I breathe and the land beneath my feet.  I love learning something entirely new; and, I love learning about people and their culture.”

Thank you, May, for sharing those beautiful memories with us, and for the fascinating pictures in your blog of seven years ago. As May says, some of the pictures are out of date: we have undertaken major renovations and refurbishments since then. But they are worth looking at. Here’s the old dining room now the sitting room since we built a new dining room across the courtyard. a few years’ ago.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

This is what it looks like here today.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Enjoy companionable evenings in the new Watermill sitting room. Picture: Francesco Lastrucci.

Here’s another atmospheric shot by May, of the surrounding countryside.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

You can see more pictures and read May’s post by clicking here.

Why not come and savour the aura of the Watermill for yourself? And do some creative writing? We still have a few places left on Jo Parfitt’s incredible Writing Your Life Stories week and on Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran’s famous Scriptwriting course. Details below.

And don’t forget, everything is included in the cost of your week at the Watermill. As May said in her blog: “One thing to keep in mind when taking a course of any kind far from home: what’s included in the cost of the course? At the Watermill, accommodation, meals, snacks, wine, day trips and course instruction are included. Even return transportation from Pisa to the Watermill is included. Just pay for your flight.  Of course, the Watermill is only too happy to explain everything to you.  I hope you find your dream story at the Watermill…I know I did.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself!

Our enriching 2020 writing courses

Jo Parfitt
8– 15 July 2020 – one or two places left
Write the stories of your life
To learn more about Jo and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran
8 – 15 August 2020 – two or three places left
Scriptwriting
To learn more about Laurence and Maurice and their course at the mill, please visit their 2020 Profile Page.


Come and fall in love!

Ready when you are! Enjoying pointing in the sunshine

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

As I was saying yesterday, the Watermill team has been beavering away putting the finishing touches to our preparations for our 2020 creative courses season. Like everybody, we are having to learn to live with the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic, but our philosophy is to continue to improve the ambience of the Watermill, so we are ready for creative guests whenever they arrive.

We have all but completed the external restoration of the old frantoio, the olive press. Above are our happy builders, Nico and Daniele, enjoying the sunshine and putting the finishing touches to the pointing of the ancient stonework overlooking the river. It looks like they’re having fun, but as far as acting is concerned, we have suggested that they do not change their day jobs! We’ll show you how the frantoio facade looks from a distance as soon as we have taken down the scaffolding next week.

We’ve now installed all our air-conditioning units, connected to our photovoltaic generating system (which makes us self-sufficient in electricity) so you can now be Cool and Green while enjoying warm hospitality and convivial company at the Watermill.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Solar power to keep you cool.

Flavio, our gardener, will soon be putting in new plants for the gardens and courtyard, as well as for the myriads of window boxes that adorn our buildings.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
The Watermill at Posara for painting, knitting, creative writing, Italian language, personal development and yoga holidays/vacations/retreats, Tuscany, Italy.
The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

All we are waiting for now is you, as soon as that dratted virus has gone away…

Our 2020 creative courses: yes, we are still up and running and waiting to welcome you!

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Updated 26 March 2020

We hope this report finds you well and in good heart in these difficult times for all of us.

In view of the coronavirus situation, which seems to change daily if not hourly, we have postponed our early courses, pushing them back to later in the year when, hopefully, the situation will have been resolved.

We do hope you will be able to plan ahead for when we are through this difficult time and you are ready for a relaxing and inspiring break away from it all. Please come and join us.

Please rest assured that if travel restrictions in your own country or in Italy mean that the course cannot run on these dates, or that appropriate flights are not available, we will postpone your course to later in the year or even until 2021. You can find out all about our coronavirus strategy by clicking here.

Below you will first find details of our rearranged inspiring painting courses, followed by information on our creative writing, knitting and Italian language weeks.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, sculpting, knitting, creative writing, Italian language and yoga, holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.

*** By the way, the Watermill is renowned for its inspiring teaching, its beautiful setting, its delicious food and wine, and its warm and welcoming hospitality. We are also Cool and Green, even in the summer: all the bedrooms and public rooms have air conditioning, powered by our hidden array of photovoltaic panels, harnessing the sun’s energy to makes us self-sufficient in electricity generation. So you will enjoy Tuscan sun and a cool watermill!

Our inspiring 2020 painting courses


The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Randy Hale
13 – 20 June 2020 – three or four places left
Watercolours
To learn more about Randy and his course at the mill, please visit his 2020 Profile Page.


Vicki Norman
20 – 27 June 2020 – one or two places left
Oils and watercolours (and other mediums)
To learn more about Vicki and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Mark Warner
11 – 18 July 2020 – one or two places left
Colourful Acrylics, Drawing, Pen & Wash
To learn more about Mark and his course at the mill, please visit his 2020 Profile Page.


Carl March
18 – 25 July 2020 – three or four places left
Drawing and watercolours en plein air
To learn more about Carl and his course at the mill, please visit his 2020 Profile Page


Mike Willdridge
29 August – 5 September 2020 – three or four places left
Watercolour and drawing (also gouache and acrylics)
To learn more about Mike and his course at the mill, please visit his 2020 Profile Page.


The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Rebecca de Mendonça
5 – 12 September 2020 – two or three places left
Pastels and Mixed media
To learn more about Rebecca and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Maggie Renner Hellman
19–26 September 2020 – a few places left
Oils, acrylics, watercolours and pastels
To learn about Maggie’s courses, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


Mary Padgett
26 September – 3 October 2020  – one place left
Pastels en plein air
To learn more about Mary and her course , please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Milind Mulick
3 – 10 October 2020 –  fully booked, waiting list open
Colourful watercolours
To learn more about Milind and his course at the mill, please visit his 2020 Profile Page.



The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Tim Wilmot
10 – 17 October 2020 –  fully booked, waiting list open
Watercolours
To learn more about Tim, please visit his 2020 Profile Page.


Our enriching 2020 writing courses

Jo Parfitt
11– 18 July 2020 – one or two places left
Write the stories of your life
To learn more about Jo and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran
8 – 15 August 2020 – two or three places left
Scriptwriting
To learn more about Laurence and Maurice and their course at the mill, please visit their 2020 Profile Page.


Our enticing knitting holidays

Louisa Harding
27 June – 4 July 2020 – two or three places
Knitting and La Bella Vita
To learn more about Louisa and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Knitting Retreat
4 – 11 July 2020 – one or two places left
Knitting and La Bella Vita
To learn more about this retreat, please visit our 2020 Retreat Overview Page.


The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Renée Callahan
15 – 22 August 2020 – still a few places
Knitting and La Bella Vita
To learn more about Renée and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


Our elevating Italian course

Langues Service and Francesca La Sala
22 – 29 August 2020 – still a few places
Italian from the Italians
To learn more about Federica and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.


We do hope that you will be able to join us, taking a well earned rest from the troubles of the world and enjoying our inspiring teaching, our beautiful setting, our delicious food and wine, and our warm and welcoming hospitality. And be Cool and Green.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Away from it all: the Watermill riverside

More Florentine musings

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

One of my favourite museums in Florence is the Bargello, and my favourite room is the Donatello Room. And my favourite space there contains two entries in a 1401 competition, and one marble and two bronze sculptures. Were you so minded, you could cross this space without drawing breath, but I wouldn’t recommend it: linger and wonder every step on the way. (Since we can’t get into the museum at the moment, you’ll have to make do with my virtual tour.)

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Yes, you can see the true beginnings of Renaissance sculpture and bronze casting within 10 metres (possibly even less, I’ve never paced it).

First, in the top right-hand corner, look closely at Ghiberti and Brunelleschi’s entries for the 1401 competition for a set of bronze doors for the Baptistry.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Brunelleschi on the left, Ghiberti on the right

Ghiberti won and eventually designed and produced not one, but two sets of doors, the second of which Michelangelo described as the Gates of Paradise. Brunelleschi went off in a huff to Rome, with his then apprentice Donatello, where he learned much from the Roman ruins and from the Pantheon, which enabled him to design and build the miraculous dome of Florence Cathedral.

Meanwhile, Donatello made himself the greatest sculptor of his time, so in a couple of steps, stop in front of St George, his first marble masterpiece, created in 1416 and an inspiration for his contemporaries. Can you see ‘life itself stirring vigorously in the stone’?

Brunelleschi on the left, Ghiberti on the right

When you’re done with George, an arm’s length away is Donatello’s amazing bronze David, commissioned in 1430. Technically it is the first free-standing bronze statue cast in the Renaissance, but that’s nothing compared with the audacity of the creation. The young David is naked apart from his hat, garlanded with laurel leaves, and his boots. It is, if you will pardon the expression, cheekily homoerotic.

Brunelleschi on the left, Ghiberti on the right

And lastly, Verrocchio’s bronze David, a little late to call early Renaissance, since he was created in the 1470s. But I’ve left him in, not only because he is vigorous, handsome and classical, but also because, supposedly, the model was the young Leonardo da Vinci, Verrocchio’s pupil.

Brunelleschi on the left, Ghiberti on the right

Not bad stuff for a 10-metre stroll!

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

A glorious celebration of love and beauty (from a notorious monk)

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Picture: Uffizi gallery

Some more musings on art during our ‘enforced incarceration’ in the coronavirus pandemic.

I noted, when taking a new look at Botticelli’s Spring a few days ago, that the first few rooms of the Uffizi gallery contain little more than a succession of crucifixions, annunciations and virgins with child, so that Botticelli’s two enormous pictures, Spring and The Birth of Venus, overpower us, in-your-face acclamations of the Renaissance at its height.

But just before you’re knocked-out by Botticelli, there is one painting of a Madonna and child that you must see. In fact, I think it’s my favourite painting in all of the Uffizi — and perhaps one of the most important in proclaiming the values of humanism and the realistic representation of people, however saintly they may be.

It is Filippo Lippi’s Madonna and Child with Two Angels, painted in the 1460s and seen in reproduction above. Absolutely beautiful, but also sensual, playful, even mischievous.

Compare this with the idealised solemn representations in the mediaeval paintings that preceded it. Mary is a beautiful and serene young woman, though perhaps saddened by the foreknowledge of her son’s death.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

And… look at the second angel, what earlier painter would ever dare hide much of an angel’s face behind the arm of the baby Jesus? Both these angels are real kids, the sort that could be found playing in the streets of 15th century Florence. The cheeky-faced angel in the foreground is my favourite.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

And… look how clever Lippi has been to make the frame of the window almost the frame of the painting.

And… look at the background through the window, a landscape painted in bold perspective, in sharp contrast to the gold monotone backgrounds surrounding earlier Madonna’s.

And… look at the sinuous, translucent drapery on Mary’s head. Botticelli was a pupil of Lippi’s and you can see where he learned the techniques.

And…

There is so much more to see in this wonderful painting. So, don’t pass it by when you are hurrying to see the Botticellis.

And what of the painter? Well, not to put too fine a point on it, Filippo Lippi was not the ideal monk! He was notorious in his pursuit of pleasure. His vows of celibacy meant nothing and eventually, released from them, he married an ex-nun.

I like this story about Lippi by Vasari in his Lives of the Artists: “He was taken into great favour by Cosimo de’ Medici, but being devoted to pleasure, he neglected his work for it. Cosimo therefore, when he was working for him in his house, caused him to be shut in, so that he could not go out and waste his time; but he, cutting up the sheets of the bed with a pair of scissors, made a rope and let himself down by the window.

“When after many days he returned to his work, Cosimo gave him his liberty, considering the peril he had run, and sought to keep him for the future by many favours, and so he served him more readily, saying that genius is a heavenly being, and not a beast of burden.”

I’m not sure how heavenly Filippo Lippi was, but his painting certainly is, and it has made him immortal.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

A magical musical moment – a sigh, a smile and Mascagni’s sublime melody.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

While we are ‘confined to barracks’ here in Italy, as the nation battles to contain and overcome the coronavirus, Lois and I have been trying to work on some creative ventures.

We are doing some research, for example, into the Italian composer Pietro Mascagni, creator of Cavalleria Rusticana, and the operatic heir to Verdi and Puccini. Lois is beavering away reading all the contemporary papers and biographies of Mascagni and I too am doing my bit!

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
At the height of his fame.

Mascagni is often regarded as a ‘one-hit’ composer, gaining international fame in his 20s, but although writing another dozen or so operas, never again achieving anything quite as good as Cavalleria Rusticana. Add to that, he became mixed up with the fascists and Mussolini in the 1930s and ended up a petulant old man in a hotel room in Rome when it was captured by the Allies in 1944, and we think we have the makings of a fascinating novel or screenplay.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
In Rome 1945. New York Times archive.

But the music, as ever, is more than the man, particularly to my mind, the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana. If you’d like to see something goosebump-creating, have a look at this Taiwanese young people’s orchestra, conducted by their (older) Chinese director of music. (The orchestra is the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra and Conductor, Lim Kek-tjiang.) His sigh and smile (at the top of this report) as he leads the orchestra into the main theme of the Intermezzo (about a minute and a half in), is an amazing moment. Have a look at it at by clicking here.

It stirs the heart in these challenging times…

Wash your hands — and improve your posture

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
To whom shall we sing?

In the midst of our voluntary house arrest in Italy, we Brits haven’t lost our sense of humour. I can’t resist sharing with you Michael Sanders’ comment to Rod Liddle’s column in today’s UK Sunday Times:

Each morning I wake up with at least two if not more classic symptoms of Covid-19, as the day progresses they wear off and completely disappear after the first glass of Chardonnay at 6.00pm. I should also say that I wash my hands to God Save the Queen as it takes just a little longer and improves my posture*. The only thing I have tested positive for so far is hypochondria.

*You may recollect the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, emphasising the importance of washing our hands and suggesting that we do so for the length of time it takes to sing Happy Birthday to You twice. Good advice, but I fear that every time I wash my hands for the rest of my life, I will think of Boris. A not unmixed blessing.

Tranquil and beautiful memories help in difficult times

The Watermill at Posara for painting, knitting, creative writing and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Time for a little friendly conversation in the Watermill Walled Garden. Picture: Sandra Strohchein

We have had this wonderful email from Lesley Pendlebury, who came on Jo Parfitt’s Writing Your Life Stories course in 2018.

She says: “I have just read Bill’s newsletter/blog [about the reaction of the Italians to their enforced quarantine] and am so glad to have done so.  It is a measure of our humanity that we can reach to others and keep going in such ways.  The Watermill is such a special place and means so much, I’m sure, to its many guests.  It is comforting to think that, in the middle of our panic and concern, it is still there – and one day we may visit it again.

“Here in London we are only just beginning to understand what may lie ahead.

The spirit of carry on and keep calm is there – but muted.   The worst is separation from the ones we love.

“At times like this our minds protect us by creating images of places where our lives were happy.  Thanks to its tranquillity and beauty – and the creative talent of leaders who, like Jo, you choose to run your retreats, Posara is such a place.

Please continue to preserve this aura.  I hope that you and your family and staff are well.  Stay safe.”

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
The millstream will still be here when you return.

 Thank you so much for that inspiring message, Lesley. It means a lot.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Roses in the Watermill garden.

Cheers from Italy

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

In the midst of our voluntary mass house arrest in Italy, we haven’t lost our sense of humour. The latest Italian aperitivo is called a Quarantini. Sad we have to drink it alone.

On a more practical note, a friend has suggested that if there is a shortage of hand-sanitising fluid, we should buy cheap vodka from the supermarket and use that instead. It’s the alcohol wot kills the bugs. I think we’ll have a vodka Quarantini first, shaken but not stirred…

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Cheers Pierce

And talking of stirring, you can make Italians stay at home, but you can’t stop them singing. Last night, for example, some residents of Siena harmonised on their balconies to keep their spirits up. Click here to be uplifted;