Thursday, January 15, 2009

French picnic

Good sunny weather so took a break from fixing the house to go to Nice. Most of the day was shopping (for things for the house) but the highlight was buying two baguettes, some cheese, salami, pâté, ham and red wine then heading for the beach between Nice and Antibes for a late in-the-car picnic.

The sea was quite agitated, the waves hitting the stony beach quite hard and high. Hardly anyone there, just some locals packing up their mountain bikes. On days like this the wind pushes away the usual city pollution and you can see how close the Alpes Maritimes really are; today with the snow level down quite low the view was quite impressive.

I didn't bring my camera with me this time but here is a shot from the same location taken just about a year ago when I came back from Baghdad.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A day in Milan

Had two meetings to do in Milan before going home, so once I had completed them I wandered around the center for a while, where snow was still on the ground in some places.

Milan is as it always is, a mess of traffic and people, nearly all of whom are rigorously dressed in black. Man, did Dolce and Gabbana have an impact on this city - for years now the Milanese are in synchronicity with their grey city.

The Duomo has been cleaned up again; its façade a light tawny gold as the sun edged its way through the arctic blue sky. Milan's one saving grace this - and this building is one of the most graceful there are.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Finally a work day !

First day back at work - or at least off to Brescia to see what's cooking there. Fully kitted out for a Lombard winter day - from ski cap to boots.

This is a trip I've taken many times: by train to Genova, change for Milan, change for Brescia. Just over the mountains that separate the Italian Riviera from the Po valley and the change in view was quite dramatic - snow everywhere, bright in the pale sun.

Arrived in a freezing Milan, jumped on the train to Brescia, finished the meetings there and returned to Milan. Had dinner and drinks with an acquaintance and finished the day tucked up tight in a warm bed in the hotel I usually stay at when I'm there.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

What a load of crap !

The amount of complete crap one can accumulate in a few years ....

Today was a day of moving things around, from attic to cellar with places in between. Essentially I gathered together all the spare bits of wood lying around from the different projects and brought them together in one place - the cellar. Then the same for the tools, accessories, cables and all that type of thing. Nine boxes. Then resort the lot, plus reorganize the spare furniture (beds, tables, desks, chairs...) and sweep out.

Seven hours; my back aches, my arms ache, my brain aches..

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Snow cancels work day !

I was supposed to go by train up to Milan and Brescia today; as usual that meant sleeping little as was worried about not waking up to the sound of the alarm.

During the night I had gone out to the bathroom (i.e. the laundry room) and saw the clouds had slipped so far down the hills that if I reached up I could just about touch them. The wind was strong, freezing and full of the finest rain - basically cloud mist. I definitely was not looking forward to a train ride into Lombardy.

Fortunately at 8am I got a call telling me not to bother; the snows in the north were deep and crisp and even.

OK! Home day!

Marcia surprised me with a cup of coffee; I surprised her with 'guess what, I'm here today' - to which she said 'well why didn't you come down and tell me earlier?' True, but the bed was deliciously warm, I didn't want to get up ..

I did, of course and the sight before me when I walked out onto the top terrace was, for here, unbelievable. There was ice on the wooden pergola - and on the hill behind the house, snow! Aarrgh!

Went down to the kitchen and looked out of the windows there - yep, snow over the valley too. I didn't leave northern Europe for this!

Then I realized, over another cup of hot (yes!) coffee that a couple of fotos would be good for the record. So here they are :-)

Rest of day was spent in making lunch and making shelves in the the cellar so I can better store my work tools and stuff.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Cold Twelfth Night

Miserable cold day. Finished with the laundry room door, visited my Mother and Paul for lunch, helped Marcia take down the Christmas tree she had set up as part of a very lovely holiday season.

Back to work tomorrow.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Bye Bye Cabrio ...

Today Paul came to pick up the Peugeot Cabrio I've had for many years. For the last two it's essentially been off the road as I can no longer insure it, the reason being I'm no longer resident in France (where it is registered) and it's way too much of a hassle and too costly to import it into Italy - which I can't anyway coz its not insured in France. Catch 22 European style, designed to make you buy local and, of course, pay fees to notaries and taxes to the authorities. So he knows someone who might buy it over-the-border.

Pity to see it go - the car has given me no problems in the ten years I've owned it - it still has style and I do like cabriolets.

Now I have to dump the old Lancia Y10 also, which leaves the Skoda for Marcia. If I'm not much at home I don't need the extra stuff. In fact, would be good to start to unload all the other things I don't really need or use either.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

First day of 2009

At midnight checked with the TV for timing, blew the cork on the bottle exactly right and celebrated the beginning of 2009 with Marcia.

Marcia went to bed very soon after; I held out till 1:30, fruitlessly trying to call friends in other places - but the lines were jammed. In one night Italian operators make over 260 million Euros of revenue. Stunning.

Got to bed and launched the mail program to send the last of the New Year's greeting.

Woke up really early - 6am, checked the mail program, fell asleep at 6:30 and woke again to bright sunlight streaming in through my bedroom window. It was 11am already. Ilham called in, I checked other stuff on the Internet, replied to some mails, got up at noon.

Grabbed a cup of coffee, a piece of panettone, a copy of the Economist and a chair and went to sunbathe on the top terrace until 3pm.

The sun touches the snow on the mountains just behind the valley; the sea is a deep, cool blue.

This time last year I was in Taji. My thoughts, as I sit in the weak, bright sunlight, are with the people I met and worked with. Some have returned home; a few are still there.

Sawed down the wood panels from the old door - that's fuel for the fire tonight. Dinner is cottage pie (minced beef, onions and mashed potatoes in a casserole; peas on the side). I'm making that while Marcia plays 'Need for Speed' on the new Wii she bought as house-gift for Christmas.