Archives for February 2011

Keeping a Diary

Do you keep a diary? A journal? A record of everything from when the plumber came to how you felt when your much-loved, one-winged crow disappeared from her aviary. (That would be me  two weeks ago.)

I used to keep a five-year diary when I was a teenager andI really wish I could read those entries now. Among other things, I wrote about my undying love for David my next door neighbour's son who took me out once in his Capri Ghia, promised he'd phone and then never did. I remember still waiting for that call six months later, detaling my anguish in my little lockable journal. That diary was like a friend. But when we moved house it somehow disappeared and I kind of lost interest in diary writing after that, for a very, very  long time.

When we moved to Italy in 1994. Alan and I started keeping a joint diary. After all, it was the experience of a lifetime. We had bought a ruined farmhouse in Umbria. It had no gas or water, no toilet or kitchen, no electricity or glass in the windows. Our farming neighbours were friendly but uncomprehending as we learned to plaster walls and lay bricks. We spent three hours in the blazing sunshine in July digging a round hole for a septic tank that arrived the same day. The driver laughed when he saw the tiny excavation we had made. 'You can plant a tree there,' he said as he unloaded a tank the size of the Ark Royal. It all went in the diary.

Our diary-writing gradually stopped as years passed and life became more 'normal. But I kept a record of my experiences through my weekly letters to my Mum, something I still do to this day. I found a bundle of my letters the last time I went to see her and re-read my tales of buying the geese, cleaning years of white paint off the beams and starting our little language school. You forget so much, you know?

I started keeping a diary again about two years ago and I write in it every morning, usually at about 7 am before I take the dogs out. I detail the boring stuff: got 21 quintale of logs they're too big for the stove!, but also the more interesting things: 'Picchio the handicapped pigeon arrived yesterday and promptly flew round the aviary. It's a miracle!'

I don't think many people keep diaries these days (God, I sound about a hundred years old!) but I think it is very important to have a way to express your feelings and record your life as even the little mundane details bring back a raft of other memories. Facebook and Twitter have their place but  lots of people seem to spend more time taking photos and uploading them on Facebook to prove they have had an experience than actually experiencing the thing in the first place!

So please consider writing a few lines every day in a notebook – writing not typing, notebook as in notebook with paper not electronic gadget – and record everything you do, big and small. One day you'll be glad that you did.

Why the Internet is Super Cool

Ever since my first Internet download back in the nineties on dial-up in our house in Umbria (time taken: 3 hours, result: half a photo of a Hurricane Spitfire), I have been totally hooked on the Internet. Well, not so much the Internet per se but rather what it offers, particularly for writers and researchers. Let me illustrate this with a little story that happened on Sunday. Look out for all the Internet references!

I love metal detecting. I find it relaxes me and switches off my all-too-busy left brain after a few hours at the computer. I have a Garrett Ace 150 and often go on a useful site I found on the net: Gary’s metal detecting to pick up tips.

As our house is a stone’s throw (if you have Popeye-like arms) from a rare Etruscan altar I am convinced that one day I will unearth a valuable Etruscan artefact, but so far I have had to content myself with a lot of nails, assorted tractor parts, a horseshoe and an 1861 coin. (Which is quite nice as it is the date of Italian unification and I found it at the start of 2011 – it is Italy’s 150th birthday this year!)

I discovered by looking online at the historic land registry  that the house’s land used to be called La Vigna (The Vineyard) and so I always concentrate my search around the area I imagine these people worked, vividly visualising them dropping things for me to find!

On Sunday I got the sound for jewellery on the detector and so, surrounded by three patient dogs all sitting looking at the hole I was digging, I found a little medallion covered with soil. I raced back to the house and cleaned it up with a toothbrush in best Time Team style and could just about make out a Madonna on one side and a figure on the other.

The mysterious medallion I took a digital photo and uploaded it then used photo enhancing software to enlarge it. I printed it out but I still couldn’t read the reverse of the medallion. I was pretty sure it said Giuseppe something. I trawled the net using any combination of Italian terms I could think of: medaglie devozionale, Madonna e Giuseppe (yep – Mary and Joseph, not too successful that one!) and finally chanced upon a forum for Italian numismatists, La Moneta.it. I quickly registered, posted my question and a photo and then while I was waiting, took another look at the blown up photo. I was fairly sure it said LABR- something after the Giuseppe bit  so Googled that and came up with San Benedetto Giuseppe Labre, the nomad saint. I read all the references to him, including his saint day, when he was canonised and a map of his birthplace.

I logged back in to my numismatists site to find a kind soul had answered my question. He confirmed that it was indeed San Benedetto Giuseppe Labre, that the medallion dated from 1880-1900 and was copper or brass. Perfetto!

I danced into the living room with the medallion, my bits of paper, photo and information and regaled Alan with the story. ‘Remember the Spitfire?’ he said.

‘God, yes, the Spitfire!’ I replied. ‘Can you imagine how long it would have taken me back in pre Internet days to find all this out? Instead of just a morning? The Internet is so fab.’ I zoomed out of the room again and went back to my metal detecting. And all the while I was thinking I wonder who wore this, I wonder who dropped it? And never in a million years would they ever have imagined that over a century later I would be blogging about it.

Don’t you just love the Internet?