24 July 2011

Tower of PisaGood morning and welcome to another week at the Villa San Francesco. The bad news is that we are half way through this vacation – doesn’t time fly when you are enjoying yourself! The other bad news is that Ben, Nick & Lucy and Bump left yesterday. It’s been absolutely wonderful having them all here and especially having Ben and Adam together. (Of course, I am not saying that it hasn’t been grand having Nick and Lucy here but we do have the opportunity of seeing them quite regularly. The last time we had all three boys together was at Nick and Lucy’s wedding two years ago). Our disappointment in saying “good-bye” to Ben (and Nick, Lucy and Bump) is only marginally tempered by the arrival yesterday evening of our friends Dave and Sue Walton and Sue and Stuart Kelly-Brown who will no doubt try their best to help us through the rest of this week.

We’ve had a pretty jam-packed week, I’ll tell you. On Sunday evening we celebrated Adam’s birthday with a feast and presents and then on Wednesday evening, much to my surprise, we celebrated mine. (I know my birthday is really in December but you will recollect that this gathering was all about acknowledging the accumulation of sixty years in a place and climate somewhat more pleasant than mid-December in beautiful, downtown Byfield). I included a photo of the birthday mugs last week; most of you will have recognised that they are based on the iconic Obama “Hope” image. I suggested that perhaps the caption should have been “Hopeless” or “Despair” instead of “Sixty.” I was assured that the only reason those weren’t used is that there wasn’t sufficient room.

Book and CalendarMuch to my surprise, however, on Wednesday evening more presents appeared, the production of which involved a wide variety of co-conspirators including Dad and Mom. Firstly, there was a calendar for 2012 with a collection of rare and vintage photos of a much younger, much slimmer, much handsomer and presumably much smarter Gregory Stragnell. Then, a book with the collected mutterings from the Befouled Weakly News 2006-2007 was produced which is stunning. It’s similar in concept to the collection of Whiners Stephen White produced for Pam and includes a “description of the author” which, although lengthy, bears repeating:

About the author

Greg Stragnell grew up in small town America– a small town called Los Angeles– well, in reasonably close proximity thereof (Greg’s Writing Tip No 1: Never let fact get in the way of great exaggeration).

Born of highly intelligent parents and eventual sibling to many, Greg developed the wacky sense of humour we witness herein. A fast runner and sportsman at the age of twelve, it was downhill from thereon, and by the age of eighteen sport, whilst retaining a position of elemental importance in his life, had been relegated to the box, and Greg to the sofa, hereupon he has spent his latter years in blissful contentment.

In the interim he has earned his living aiding and abetting the education of British schoolchildren under the auspices of Oxfordshire County Council who kindly paid him enough to keep the wolves from the door and multiple dogs under the table, and gave him a lovely vase to commemorate his first twenty five years.

He has fathered three brilliant and gifted offspring that we know of, has loved and laughed through “adult” life in the company of his “gorgeous” wife Penelope (herein referred to as “Ms Playchute”), and has become famous in a limited capacity for his “hollow back”.

This particular compilation of his weekly communication, the origins of which indeed date back to the early years of his residency in the village of Radway (circa 1970s), and transmitted via the most up to date, state of the art technology to his close family and the occasional unlucky friends, begins in the year AD2006. Not perhaps what one might designate a “historical document”, its intended purpose is purely to capture the essence of the man – his wit, his charm, and the absorbing, compelling and thought-provoking nature of his outpourings.

Mr Stragnell’s hyperbolic renderings of trivial occurrences on the home front and regular, vociferous diatribes against the idiocies of government and those in positions of authority, treat their subjects with equal significance and, more often than not, scathing sarcasm. His style is his own and his repetition of pet terms, a favourite indulgence (Greg’s Writing Tip 2: Hit upon a good thing – repeat it ad infinitum – you simply cannot overdo it) “Needless to say” and “veritable” made particularly frequent appearance in his earlier scribblings, so frequent in fact that the “Gorgeous Penelope” (ref Ms Playchute) threatened a good smack.

And so, Dear Reader, prepare yourself for a veritable roller-coaster of a ride through the meanderings of a finely tuned mind – needless to say, so finely tuned that on occasion the insights herein will defy your comprehension, belie your convictions and might even make you laugh.

Ms Playchute.

Needless to say, it’s a veritable masterpiece!

And so, to some of the activities we’ve endured this week:

Monday we “did” Lucca, Tuesday we “did” Florence and then, on Thursday, we “did” Pisa. In between we’ve sunbathed, swum, eaten and consumed some excellent Chianti Classico, visited some gorgeous hill top villages and purchased just about everything that the Carrefour supermarket in Lucca can possibly provide.

Lucca is a lovely walled town with a multitude of towers, winding alleys, and lovely piazzas. We meandered along the top of the town walls for a spell and then wandered through the streets and alleys eventually climbing to the top of the Torre Guinigi, a tower with trees growing on the top before stopping in the piazza on the site of the old Roman amphitheatre for some sustenance and refreshment.

Florence was, as those of you who have been there will know, simply stunning. On the suggestion of our good friend Chip Boynton, we had engaged the services of a personal guide who provided an outstanding overview of the history, architecture, art and culture of the city. We had arranged for a three-hour “orientation” tour; what we got from our guide, Lacopo Volpi, was a five-star, five and a half hour in depth exposition of everything Florentine. What I didn’t learn about Florence and the Renaissance isn’t worth knowing. Of course, I have now forgotten more about Florence and the Renaissance than is in most libraries but it was great while it lasted. We visited San Croce and the Accademia (Michelangelo’s David – simply amazing) and then, primed with the requisite knowledge, we toured the Uffizi and enjoyed masterpiece after masterpiece. Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus is even more impressive than one can imagine and Giotto’s Madonna Enthroned simply wonderful.

After the exertions of Florence, Wednesday was a day of rest and recuperation and then, on Thursday it was off to Pisa. Nick had the splendid idea of creating a photosynth of the Campo dei Miracoli so we were all set the task of taking as many photos from as many different angles as our collective memory cards could accommodate, the result of which is pretty impressive and which you can find here. If you click and drag and play about you can see the sights from all different perspectives. Bonus points for finding photos with some of us.

The occasional excursion to neighbouring hill top villages has rounded out the week nicely. More to come, I suspect!

Love to you all,