Renovating in Italy

It’s now ten years that we have been in Pitigliano, renovating, holidaying and living. We chose Pitigliano, in the hills of La Maremma, southern Tuscany, for several reasons – the town itself; the hot springs of Saturnia; the wonderful beaches south of Argentario, and the countryside all around. Here are a few photos.

We took up the floors and found old tiles which was a wonderful find, but which now need work again because the ceiling of the magazzino (store room) below is deteriorating affecting the floor above. In truth this work was always going to be done, it was just a matter of when – when arrived in 2012.


I made my own stoneware tiles for the kitchen, following the idea of uncovered – ‘found old marble’.

We found the original painted wall and built it around designs incorporating terracotta wall lamps I made. Not everyone would do this or even like it for his or herself, but for us the architectural point of an old house like this, going back in parts to the 17th century – as it it is for local builders – is that you create and reconfigure old aspects and ‘finds’ into the overall look.

The fireplace was completely excavated, set back and made much larger, and we designed a heavy cast iron grill and had it made at a local foundry, so any fire on it would suck up the air and roar up the chimney.

A wood heater (la stufa), for keeping the house warm when a roaring wood fire would create too much heat.

The roof was redone.

Ceilings and a skylight done.

Shutters (le persiane) put up.

Slowly, modestly we are getting the house in shape.

Another Outsider

Mother died today. This morning at 11. Having a sudden feeling suddenly all might not be well I called. The nurse told me my mother had died six hours before.

No one sent me a telegram: Mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Yours sincerely. I had been back and left my number just in case she worsened.

Flying back to see her it was winter. Getting off the plane at five in the morning I went and swam in a pool to get my head straight. Driving up into the hills I stopped at a bakery in a small shopping centre. On offer were the same rolls loaves and sweets I knew from my childhood. I ate them in the early sun under a 7am clear sky, drinking hot coffee. Then I drove on to see her at the home. The nurses were kind. You are the one abroad aren’t you? We heard of you.

The home where she lived is half a world away. The nurse on the phone said the funeral will be tomorrow or the next day. The body had been taken away.

I have been away for twenty years this time. If you add up all the years in between the times we saw each other, contact was sparse over the last thirty-five years.

I watched as a Roman Catholic sister came in and said to her: I know you are a woman of great faith, would you like me to give you a blessing? My mother looked up at her with adoration in her eyes. Yes, she said. The sister took her hands in hers. I bless your eyes for all the beautiful things you have seen. I bless your nose for all the wonderful flowers you have smelled. I bless your lips for all the kind things you have said, and I bless your hands for they have held all your children.

What do you do? the sister asked bouncing a little on the vinyl floor. I write, I said. You are all creative. Then she left, coming back to confirm my telephone number. Is this still yours? Yes, I said, mine.

My mother and I used to be very close, before others made a weapon of the distance between us. I am a writer, before that a filmmaker. Not the lawyer my mother wanted me to be. So there was that in the silence between us.

The last thing she said, I hear you have not been well. Given all the laps up and down in the pool I said they would have scraped me off the bottom by now if I weren’t. She didn’t laugh, just closed her eyes, went back to that half dream, dozing morphine state.

I suppose I needed a caretaker to walk in, say, You’ve no need to justify yourself, my boy. I’ve read your file. You just lost contact with what you were once.

It was true. Or maybe I am confused as to what it was in truth. After I left the first time whenever I wrote we were two points in space inching further and further away. She looked at me with her one good eye, her beautiful mouth ruined by a stroke. You are looking well on the whole. I nodded. I keep fit. We only have one body so I guess I have to. I wondered if she was ready.

The room was oblong, purpose-built, bigger but plainer than I expected, the walls covered with my sister’s paintings. Photo albums were scattered around. Over in the corner on the floor in with some other dusty paperbacks I found a copy of my last book.

My mother liked her apple juice. I helped her drink some. She was connected to a catheter. She couldn’t get up, her life now like Bukowski’s beer sodden sadder than all the dead Christmas trees in the world. In the corridors residents pushed metal walkers.

I never saw my father’s body. I’ll never see hers. On my last day I kissed her forehead near the large cyst. I have to go to the airport, mother. I hope to see you soon. Yes, she said. No anger, no hopes and no dreams. I could  have looked up through the roof at the mass of signs in the stars and laid myself open to the benign indifference of everything, but there are no signs to be had. I left, walking the corridors, thinking: if I meet my family at the door I hope they greet me with shouts of hatred.

Narratorial Unreliability

Christian Mihai discusses his ideas on unreliable narrators, something he likes to see writers use, and a technique he says he uses himself. Still, he misses a fundamental point – all narrators, storytellers, dramatists, poets, are unreliable. From Homer, Shakespeare to Sartre, no writer tells, gets close to ‘the truth’, even if he or she is prepared to die in the process of collecting all the observable details of a factually based fiction.

Catherine Lacey

Do we trust Tolstoy’s account of Napoleon in War and Peace? Perhaps… if we are Russian.

Narrator unreliability doesn’t have to be a first person account, though the most obvious modernist exploitations of narrator unreliability in fiction use that form. The best approach – for this writer at least – is when the writer sets out to deceive us, and by convincing us that he or she has told the truth, transfers any doubt on narratorial reliability to a reader’s interpretation of the tale.