Bill’s marathon progress — stand clear of the doors please!

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

I’d like to keep you up to date on my progress towards the World’s Slowest Marathon – 422 100-metre laps around our Florence apartment. I’ve been at it for 19 days now, at 20 laps a day, so that’s 38 km under my belt.

I had an email from Mo Farah (only joking) asking if I had hit the Wall yet. I was able to tell him that I hadn’t hit the wall, but occasionally bumped into the French windows leading to our balconies.

The big moment will come during the Easter weekend – and we’ve already bought a large Italian Easter egg to celebrate. We’ll keep you posted as the finish line approaches.

Whatever you are doing to keep fit and add some fun to your enforced incarceration, we wish you well. Keep safe and keep smiling. We hope to see you at the Watermill before too long.

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

Blue sky and buds. What more could a serin want?

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

This good-looking creature, photographed recently at the Watermill by our gardener Flavio Terenzoni, looks like he (or she; I think it’s a male but I’m no expert) is having a good time. Not surprisingly, because he likes eating buds and it’s a budding time of year.

He’s a European Serin, verzellino in Italian, and one of rural Italy’s commonest birds. A relative of the canary, the serin’s trilling song is part of the background to the marvellous dawn chorus we enjoy at the Watermill on spring mornings.

Or we would do, if only we were there: we are locked down in Florence, with cooing pigeons, a magpie or two and the odd sparrow flitting about outside our apartment. We are, however, beginning to look out for the swifts, who should be with us in another couple of weeks.

No sign yet.

Traditionally they arrive in Rome, on 21 March the feast day of St Benedict: (San Benedetto, rondini sotto il tetto, Saint Benedict, swifts under the eaves). There is no sign of them yet in Florence…

Their raucous screeches as they swoop around the rooftops may not be as pleasant as the serins’ song, but they are harbingers of summer, so their arrival will be welcome. Unlike us, they’re free to travel. We will let you know when they make their appearance, after their long journey from the south of Africa.

They are on their way!

No need for Lisztomania: you can enjoy this exhilarating piano-playing quietly at home!

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

In my lockdown musings on Florentine and Italian art, architecture and music, I would like to introduce you today to a Ukrainian-American pianist playing music by Hungarian composer, recorded in Holland!

It is Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No 2, played by Valentina Lisitsa, and you can see it by clicking here.

There is (very) tenuous links to Florence, in that I’ve seen a grand piano played by Liszt in the Palazzo Capponi, the Florence home of Stanford University, but I must confess that’s pushing it!

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
The tenuous link: Palazzo Capponi in Florence.

My excuse is that Valentina’s playing will amaze and inspire you by its sheer virtuosity. Just under ten minutes of extraordinary piano-playing that will invigorate your day. You can admire it quietly, in the privacy of your own home, unlike the earlier performances by the composer himself.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Plenty of locks to choose from!

Liszt was an old musical show-off, of course, and his composing and his piano concerts played unashamedly to the gallery. Lisztomania, the hysterical ecstasy of his female fans, preceded Beatlemania by more than a century. His fans would wear his portrait on brooches, and some would try to grab his handkerchief and gloves. A lock of his hair was as gold dust.

And not just his hair: some women carried around glass phials, into which they poured his coffee dregs and according to another report: “Liszt once threw away an old cigar stump in the street under the watchful eyes of an infatuated lady-in-waiting, who reverently picked the offensive weed out of the gutter, had it encased in a locket and surrounded with the monogram “F.L.” in diamonds, and went about her courtly duties unaware of the sickly odour it gave forth.” I don’t recollect the fans of John, Paul, George and Ringo go to quite such lengths!

So, make yourself a cup of coffee, click on the YouTube link and enjoy an exhilarating ten minutes. It might just make your day! And you can keep the coffee dregs!

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

The Grand Duke’s statue continues to intrigue the children of Florence (me, too)

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

The Grand Duke Ferdinando I of Tuscany, although he’s been dead for 400 years or so, still has the capacity to keep unruly Florentine children under control, for a few moments at least. He is the subject of my latest musing during our enforced incarceration. If we can’t go to see him at least we can think about him.

It’s not the Grand Duke himself, of course, who keeps the kids in check, but rather his bronze equestrian statue. Sitting motionless in the elegant square of Santissima Annunziata, Ferdinando has a grand view of the dome of Florence Cathedral, while to his left is Brunelleschi’s graceful colonnade of the Ospedale degli Innocenti, echoed in the measured classicism of Caccini’s façade of the church of Santissima Annunziata behind him.

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

And it’s not the Grand Duke’s look of stern command that awes the children, either. But rather, bees. Yes, in a bronze plaque on the pedestal of the statue, there is a multitude of bees surrounding their Queen. The aim is to reinforce the Medici message: the rule of one over many; happy and busy Florentine bees surrounding their monarch.

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

Because of the way the bees are arranged, however, it’s extremely difficult to count them. So that’s the task generations of Florentine mums have set their unruly children. It keeps them quiet for ages!

The answer, by the way, is 91. Or is it 92? Next time you’re free, have a go yourselves.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
I’m not telling!

Another Watermill guest revives his memories with a painting

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

We are delighted when previous guests send us pictures of the Watermill they have painted on their return home, reviving pleasant memories of their stay with us. The latest comes from Chris Franklin and shows the southern façade of the Watermill, with the river Rosaro tumbling beside it. Thank you very much for sharing it with this Chris. We look forward to welcoming you here again very soon.

Come and make your own memories of the Watermill. We are still running our famous creative courses – painting, creative writing, knitting and Italian language – in late summer and autumn. And our coronavirus pledge means your well-being is our concern and we will postpone courses if the situation means we are unable to run them or you are unable to come. Find out more about everything by clicking here.

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

A colourful bouquet to you from Mike Willdridge

Painting by Mike Willdridge, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.

In his daily quest to find beauty in simplicity, our friend and Watermill painting tutor Mike Willdridge sends us a Sunday bouquet. It’s all part of his lockdown project to explore the Japanese concept ‘shibusa’, beauty in everydayness, and make a new drawing on this theme every day.

Mike says: “Here is a bouquet of tulips purchased today at the supermarket. The rush of colour into our home seemed even more welcome in these difficult times and sent me straight away to the studio to respond with this collage.”

And when all these troubles are hopefully resolved later in the year, you can join Mike to enjoy the colourful beauty of the Watermill and its surroundings. His course, in watercolours and drawing (and gouache and acrylics) will run from Saturday 29 August to Saturday 5 September. Details and link below.

Why not give yourself something to look forward to and join Mike here? We think things will be back to normal by then, but don’t forget the Watermill’s coronavirus promise:

  • 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 again to later in the year or even until 2021.
  • If a workshop is cancelled, rather than just being postponed, we will refund any payment in full.
  • If a workshop is postponed and you cannot make the new dates for the tutor you have chosen, we will offer you alternative courses with others inspiring tutors, either this year or next.

Below is Mike’s beautiful but simple demonstration painting of the nearby church at Pognana. Come and see for yourself. We would love to welcome you here.

Painting by Mike Willdridge, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.

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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.


Painting by Mike Willdridge, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.

The world’s slowest Marathon: a progress report

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.

Those of you who have been following my efforts to complete the world’s slowest Marathon (and the sporting world talks of little else) will be pleased to know that I have now completed no fewer than 16 km, well over one-third of the total distance.

You will recollect that I started this challenge a week or so ago, to help keep fit and relieve the boredom of our compulsory lockdown here in Italy. I was inspired by a man in France who ran a marathon up and down the 7-metre balcony of his apartment. I set up a walk around our Florence apartment, in and out of our balconies and round the sitting room, kitchen and bedrooms. The circuit, including Balcony Corner, Bathroom Bend and Sitting Room Straight, is 100+ metres, and I have been doing 20 laps a day.

Anyone seen Bill?

Since the Marathon is a mere 42.195 kilometres, I’ll knock it off in 422 laps or so, to be achieved in a breath-taking 21.1 days. Twenty laps take about 40 minutes, so in total the running time will be some 13 hours 20 minutes. Eat dirt Mo Farah and all those skinny Ethiopian long-distance runners. You have heard of the tortoise and the hare, so watch out, I’m just behind you. Well, a long, long way behind you.

Watch this space for more up-to-the-minute reports.

The sun also rises…

… and has made us self-sufficient in electricity generation!

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

The picture above, from our handy little photovoltaic monitoring app, shows that that today we have produced our first 10,000 kilowatt hours (10 MWh) of electricity from the sun. And we’ve also saved some seven tons of carbon dioxide production.

Our arrays of photovoltaic panels, hidden away on our south-facing roofs overlooking the river, make us self-sufficient in electricity generation, even powering the new air-conditioning units installed in all our bedrooms and public rooms.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Solar power to keep you cool. Some of our panel embedded in the roof of the 19th century Mill 2.

As you know, the Watermill is renowned for its inspiring teaching, its beautiful setting, its delicious food and wine, and its warm and welcoming hospitality. Now, whatever the weather, you will be Cool and Green with us.

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

Lockdown musings continued: a larger-than-life character who brought opera to the world

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
He ate the spaghetti and signed the photo. Luciano Pavarotti enjoying life. Picture: Getty Images

Continuing my occasional musings on art and music during quarantine in Florence, I’ve been thinking about Luciano Pavarotti, the larger-than-life character (in all senses of the word) who helped popularise opera, or at least bring to a larger audience many of the wonderful melodies of the great composers like Verdi and Puccini.

It was said that in Verdi’s day, Italian grocery delivery boys whistled the tunes of the latest arias as they peddled their bicycles, but in the last 50 years or so opera has become something of a cult, enjoyed by the few but spurned by the masses. I think that was particularly true in Britain.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Nessun dorma : Let no-one sleep!

There is one tune, however, that just about everybody knows, even in Britain, and that’s Nessun Dorma. Pavarotti’s version of this rousing Puccini aria was adopted by the BBC as the theme tune for its coverage of the 1990 World Cup (held in Italy) and became so popular that it reached number two in the hit parade. And the eve of the World Cup final saw the first of the Three Tenors concerts, which became the biggest selling classical record of all time. But it was Pavarotti’s smiling personality and captivating voice which really appealed to non-opera lovers and which frequently filled concert halls and open-air venues alike.

I was reminded of Pavarotti’s genius by watching a short YouTube video in which Antonio Pappano celebrates the tenor’s skills and explains why he is so good. You can see it by clicking here. Pappano’s knowledgeable comments add to the spine-tingling enjoyment.

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

Nessun Dorma comes from Puccini’s Turandot, the composer’s last, and unfinished, opera. There is a rickety plot with fantastic characters, but the opera enables Puccini, my favourite composer, to heighten our emotions and tug at our heartstrings. And heartstrings were definitely pulled at the opera’s debut performance in 1926, at La Scala in Milan, conducted by the incomparable Arturo Toscanini. In the middle of the last act, the orchestra paused, Toscanini put down his baton and turned to the audience. His precise words are now disputed, but I find this version the most satisfying. Toscanini said: “Here the opera ends, because at this point the Maestro laid down his pen.”  The curtain was lowered slowly.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

The Japanese have a word for it: Shibusa, everyday beauty

Painting by Mike Willdridge, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.

In his enforced quarantine, our friend and Watermill painting tutor Mike Willdridge has been exploring the concept of Shibusa, the Japanese word for ‘beauty in everydayness. Mike says: “I plan on exploring this concept in my now limited horizons – and to post a new drawing every day.”

Mike has been doing this for the past week or so now. Above you can see his effort on Day 8, when a single vapour trail in the morning sky above Maiden Castle, Dorset, England, caught his eye: “Well, Shibusa is about simple beauty.”

Earlier, on Day 3, he was still able to visit his allotment: Small stirrings of activity as winter slowly turns to Spring. This simple drawing, I think, sits nicely under the Shibusa banner.”

Painting by Mike Willdridge, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.

You will be able to enjoy the simple beauty of the Watermill, its buildings and grounds, and the stunning surrounding countryside of Lunigiana, with its rivers and valleys, ancient villages slumbering under the Tuscan sun, castles and convents, vineyards and olive groves – and much more besides.

Painting by Mike Willdridge, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany Italy.
Mike’s picture of the River Rosaro, which runs beside the Watermill.

In these difficult times, why not give yourself something to look forward to and join Mike here? His course will run from Saturday 29 August to Saturday 5 September and there are more details below. We think things will be back to normal by then, but don’t forget the Watermill’s coronavirus promise:

  • 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 again to later in the year or even until 2021.
  • If a workshop is cancelled, rather than just being postponed, we will refund any payment in full.
  • If a workshop is postponed and you cannot make the new dates for the tutor you have chosen, we will offer you alternative courses with others inspiring tutors, either this year or next.

Below is Mike’s drawing (more detailed than Shibusa, but just as beautiful) of the millstream as it bubbles beneath one of our sinuous bridges. Come and see for yourself. We would love to welcome you here.

Painting by Mike Willdridge, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Mike-plus-river.jpg

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.