Riad Maizie — the Cast

Early Morn­ing Sun on the Roof

Sun in the Courtyard

Dan and I bought Riad Maizie, in the very old­est part of the  Med­ina of Mar­rakech just 100 yards away from the orig­i­nal mosque, ten years ago. We knew that it was here that we could devote our­selves to gam­bling and gladly read johanngut.wordpress.com. We fell in love with it imme­di­ately, and then pro­ceeded to slither head­long into one drama after another, until two years ago, when we realised that it had to be run Mafia-style, within the fam­ily. The story of our bumpy ride can be read in my book, ‘Cin­na­mon City’. Riad Maizie is now a fam­ily busi­ness — you can see the seri­ous info on riadmaizie.eu — but I thought I’d intro­duce you to the peo­ple who give it warmth and character.

Maizie her­self


Maizie was a mere dot when we bought the pretty, aban­doned court­yard house in Octo­ber 2001. We named it after her to cel­e­brate its com­ple­tion and her arrival on the planet. Her first visit was some­what marred by the fact that she had chicken pox, and spent the time explor­ing the accoustics. Despite every­one tip­toe­ing, she would wake at the twit­ter of a soli­tary bird, creak of a sin­gle hinge, a per­am­bu­lat­ing lizard’s quiet cough, and she would scream and scream. She has greatly improved since then.

Dan, work­ing in the Olive Room


Dan the Carpenter

Dan loves Mar­rakech — the King­dom of Boys. It takes me for­ever to get to Dje­maa el Fna these days because every other bloke wants to know how he is, where he is and when he’s com­ing back to Mar­rakech. The answer is that he spent a year man­ag­ing the riad, quite bril­liantly, and now lurks here in Italy in his frow­sty lair doing his Oscar car­toon, and noth­ing short of an earth­quake will budge him.

Leo, Chi­lali and Maizie



Leo and Saki are Maizie and Chilali’s par­ents. Leo is a Web­site Meis­ter, and really got us going when he did such a bril­liant job on riadmaizie.eu — of course he always com­plains that it needs updat­ing. He web­site is called zimzamzimmy.com for rea­sons best known to himself.

Super­man and Batboy

Plus ca change.….


When Dan came back to Italy, Spigs took over. He com­bines eccen­tric, effi­cient and con­vivial man­age­ment with learn­ing Ara­bic, provoca­tive paint­ing, superla­tive cook­ing (he worked as a chef for a cou­ple of years in Spain) and SKATEBOARD FANATICISM.

Spigs the Charmer

Spigs the Chef

He has a mas­ter­plan to set up a skate­board park for the bored youf of Mar­rakech — who oth­er­wise turn to less salu­bri­ous pas­times — and to some­how to pro­vide them with afford­able skate­boards. It’s a great idea — his  name is Will, and I can’t help but think, where there’s a Will, there’s a way.

Spigs the Artist

Amal and her Family

Amal holds the place together. With a sweet, secre­tive smile, she makes Riad Maizie into a home. She has a major reper­toire of fab Moroc­can cui­sine, for which she shops fresh every day — even down to the spices with which she makes her own dis­tinc­tive ras el hanout.

Amal and tomato man

Amal and spice man

Hicham, his wife Nezha and her sis­ter Amal

The trio work peace­fully together and for them the riad rep­re­sents sta­bil­ity, cash, and amuse­ment. They observe us, our friends and the guests with dis­creet inter­est, and earn acco­lades for their quiet atten­tion to com­fort and plea­sure, with­out a trace of judge­ment for riotous or eccen­tric behav­iour . Nezha buffs the brass basins until they shine like gold, she and Amal cook together, and Hicham is guard,  handy­man, organ­iser and gen­er­ally Mr. Fixit.

Our Mates, Yussef and Jamal

Yussef, Spigs’s Ara­bic teacher

Jamal and friend — famil­iar to read­ers of the book.

Jamal used to play and sell musi­cal instru­ments, but decided it was irre­li­gious and now sells teapots.


Me with appar­ently no legs — a prob for a yoga teacher

Oh, there they are.….

So, there you have it — you now know every­one. Next I’m going to intro­duce you to the riad, the city and the shop­ping. Baci, M

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Books — rating and choosing

There are 15 times as many lin­gerie shops in Italy as there are book shops — though Ital­ian women have only one and a third babies. (Greek and Span­ish women have even fewer). I no longer spend hours rootling in Water­stones  — the only thing I miss is the smell of new books. When in the UK I trawl the book shelves of Char­ity shops, which I pre­fer any­way -  to find the weird, the orig­i­nal, the import and the small run which never appear on the 3 for the price of 2 table. In Italy most of the books I buy come from the more eso­teric back­wa­ters of Ama­zon and its subsidiaries.

The Oxfam book that I was ecsta­tic to find for 50p is Stephen King ‘On Writ­ing’. Partly I like to buy books for pen­nies because it means I can deface them with gusto. I’m one of the world’s great under­lin­ers, have a woolly cloud down the mar­gin of entire inter­est­ing pas­sages, hairy taran­tu­las for things I must go back to, excla­ma­tion marks when I take excep­tion to some­thing, and float­ing ufos for phrases that I’d love to steal. So, you don’t want to inherit my library.

I say all this because I was unusu­ally respect­ful of King’s hard­back (which has one of the weird­est cover images I’ve ever tried to puz­zle out). It was a curi­ous expe­ri­ence, read­ing it. At first it raced, then about one third through it slowed to a glacial crawl — or maybe I did. What­ever. I never take longer than 2 days to read a book — this one took eleven. I was wad­ing through mud, fas­ci­nat­ing and thought-provoking, but hard work. He him­self explains this mys­tery at the end. A man called Bryan Smith ran him over, break­ing his leg in 9 places, frac­tur­ing his right hip, chip­ping his spine in 8 places, break­ing 4 ribs and caus­ing sur­face wounds requir­ing much embroi­dery. ’ Writ­ing is not life, but I think that some­times it can be a way back to life.’ There is so much con­fes­sion, so much good sense, his email address even, which make the book a prof­li­gate act of communion.

I like that he doesn’t bang on about plot but just jumps into nar­ra­tive clad lightly in a cou­ple of ideas. He’s very good on back­story and research. Ruth­less with adjec­tives and adverbs. He quotes his high school teacher’s com­ment on one of his essays: ‘Not bad, but PUFFY. For­mula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft — 10%.’ He advises you to find or imag­ine an ideal reader, ‘Try to decided whether he or she will  be bored by a cer­tain scene’. OK, he’s quotable too. ‘The scari­est moment is always just before you start. after that things can only get bet­ter.’  Agents — ‘It’s easy to con a writer who’s des­per­ate for rep­re­sen­ta­tion.’ The book is full of inspir­ing stuff that makes you long to rush off and write. It is writ­ten sim­ply with endear­ing mod­esty. What a lovely man to have on your shelf. 9/10

The Ama­zon book of the week for me was Uzzi Reiss’s ‘The Nat­ural Super­woman’, vehe­mently rec­om­mended by Mar­gosha, an elfin Pol­ish painter whom Anna the Swedish chef met in the pub­lic sul­phur bath at San Cas­ciano Terme  — where they were both audi­tion­ing boyfriends. Uzzi Reiss’s book eulo­gises about bioiden­ti­cal hor­mones, as being the solu­tion to sex tedium, stress, depres­sion, anx­i­ety, insom­nia, osteo­poro­sis and mem­ory holes. It sounded pretty con­vinc­ing to me, but I have no idea what to do about it or where to find these things. But if you enjoy that sense of recog­ni­tion when peo­ple describe your very own ail­ment, you might find this excit­ing. He also rec­om­mends — with sci­en­tific evi­dence — the mul­ti­ple health ben­e­fits of reduc­ing caloric intake by a quar­ter. I could do some­thing about that, but would rather ignore the promised reju­ve­na­tion for heart, brain, bone, mus­cle, skin, sex­ual response, kid­neys, liver, eyes and homones, and have one more piece of but­tered toast and Mar­mite instead. 6/10

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YouthDude’s rx for Holiday with parents.

The impor­tant thing here, is to make sure that no one has a good time.

Start cam­paign well in advance, by refus­ing to go on the hol­i­day that Par­ents are propos­ing. They have not been able to afford a hol­i­day for four years, and the idea has come up now because your elder brother has finally got a job and your mother’s aunt Daphne died, leav­ing enough money to take the fam­ily some­where sunny.

1 Repeat often and loudly that you don’t want to go, that it’ll be bor­ing, you hate for­eign food, you’d rather have the money, none of your friends are going away, you want to stay with Fish, your par­ents are always mak­ing you do things you don’t want to do, no one else’s par­ents make them do things and every­one else’s par­ents give them more money and let them do as they like. Imply that your father is a slob because he doesn’t have a BMW and because he has not bought you the sound sys­tem that Kenny has.

2 Slam doors.

3 Shut your­self in your room with Kenny and Fish and play Ixnay on the Hom­bre very loud, espe­cially at four am on Sunday

4 Raid the kitchen when every­one is in bed, leave the fridge door open, and, hav­ing removed the can­dles, eat most of Lydia’s 9th birth­day cake out of the tin leav­ing crumbs and can­dles over a wide area.

5 Con­tinue with 1 – 4 until the eve of depar­ture. Announce that

a) you can’t find your passport,

b) you need new green Con­verse which cost 90 quid,

c) you will be sick if they make you eat for­eign food. Stare out of the win­dow a lot with your mouth open, jig­gling your left foot. Make no attempt to pack or find your passport.

6 When Par­ent finds, buys and brings you new Con­verse, point out that they’re BLUE.

7 When Par­ent finds your pass­port and tells you to put it some­where safe, put it on the pile of news­pa­pers that father is throw­ing out. Grunt at mother when she remarks on this, and replace pass­port on top of the fridge.

8 Stay up until four the night before you all have to be up at six, play­ing Tupac, soul­ful but loud.

9 Stum­ble around the fol­low­ing morn­ing. Be surly. Get in the way. Demand a proper break­fast. Shrug shoul­ders and sigh loudly if any­one talks to you. Say: ‘don’t care’ or ‘dunno’ in response to ques­tions about pack­ing, pass­port and Spinhaler.

10 Develop a sud­den and unusual fond­ness for Fido. Tell par­ents how cruel they are to leave him with strangers.

11 Wait until you are at the check in to remem­ber that pass­port is on top of fridge.

12 Sigh heav­ily and look aggrieved when your dad says how lucky it is that the flight is delayed by two hours and he’ll just have time to go back and col­lect it.

13 In father’s absence, demand money from your mum so that you can buy a com­puter game and have a dou­ble cheese­burger, chips and milkshake.

14 Do not be where you arranged to meet until eleven min­utes before the plane is due to leave.

15 Bring up cheese­burger, chips and milk­shake on unknown fel­low pas­sen­ger on the plane.

16 Blame your mother.

17 Com­plain about the heat and the smell on landing.

18 Com­plain about the heat and smell in the hire car.

19 Vomit on Lydia.

20 Say at two minute inter­vals dur­ing the drive ‘Aren’t we there yet?’

21 Mut­ter incom­pre­hen­si­ble swear words, and answer ‘noth­ing’ if any­one asks what you said.

22 Feel aggrieved when Par­ents take the dou­ble room at the villa. Slam the door of your allot­ted room and refuse to come out. Be pissed off when you hear the oth­ers hav­ing fun in the pool. Eat the Lasagna they bought for din­ner, leav­ing four dirty pans – one irre­triev­ably burnt – a bro­ken egg on the floor and a trail of sticky plates, cut­lery and sur­faces. Com­plain about the Lasagna. Com­plain about the ants when your mother points out that there is noth­ing left to eat

23 Com­pel your par­ents to drive to the vil­lage ten miles away to get another Spinhaler

24 When they sug­gest you might like to come with them, point out that they left your BLUE Con­verse at home.

25 Eat all the Hob­nobs while they are out. Refuse lunch.

26 Be sick again. Get a temperature.

27 Sud­denly feel much bet­ter when they have gone back to the vil­lage to find med­i­cine for you, and play Nin­tendo for the next eight hours, snack­ing on a loaf of bread and all the Nutella.

28 Refuse sup­per. Tell your mother she is an alco­holic when she sug­gests to your dad that they have a glass of wine

29 Scowl and look embar­rassed when the owner of the villa drops by to see if you need any­thing and your mother talks to her. Point out that the tele­vi­sion does not have the sports chan­nel and that the cd’s are bor­ing old people’s music.

30 Sleep all day. Play Heavy Metal and Nin­tendo all night

31 Refuse all sug­ges­tions for trips to Water­world, the local fiesta, horserid­ing, the sea, the pizza restau­rant. Feel mar­tyred if they go with­out you.

32 Keep this up for the week or fort­night, and there is a good chance that you will not have to endure another hol­i­day with your parents.

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How to Grow a Writer

If you want your child to become a writer it is imper­a­tive that you treat it to a con­found­ing vari­ety of soli­tary and strange expe­ri­ences. It is a good pre­cau­tion to make sure that the child never gets a chance to form alliances. Also an excess of hap­pi­ness is very dele­te­ri­ous to the cre­ative juices, so it is wise to sub­ject it to emo­tional jolts at reg­u­lar inter­vals, with­out ever explain­ing what hap­pened, what is about to hap­pen or why. Any sense of auton­omy might give the child the notion that it can have some influ­ence in the real world, and you may end up with a politi­cian on your hands. Or some­one who can fit in, earn money, marry, have well-balanced chil­dren and a happy life. Appar­ently there are peo­ple who want that for their offspring.

I was the last, very likely unex­pected, child. My sis­ters Jocasta and Judy are 10 and 7 years older than me respec­tively, con­fi­dent, loud, glam­orous and best treated with cau­tion. My brother Christo­pher is just four years my senior.

My par­ents and I lived in China, Xia­men and then Hongkong. We stayed in Hongkong for 18 months, where my mother taught in the Kennedy Road School. For some rea­son she refused to allow me to grad­u­ate to her class when the time came, with the happy result for me that I briefly became a very clever seven-year-old and scooped all the school prizes. I hardly ever saw my sib­lings. They were shipped off to board­ing school when Christo­pher was seven, and stayed with Mrs Dabbs in Fowey dur­ing most of the hol­i­days. How per­verse. Why have chil­dren at all?

In the UK I was sent to a con­vent school, which cured me defin­i­tively of reli­gion, not that I was ever deeply afflicted. Expe­ri­ence of nuns left me with an abid­ing hor­ror of reli­gious hypocrisy, a frisky flight or fight vis-à-vis the gloat­ing self-righteous finger-wag, and the cer­tainty that redemp­tion lay in not get­ting caught. How could you attach your­self seri­ously to a reli­gion whose most pas­sion­ately upheld tenet con­cerned wear­ing a hideous brown, yel­low and blue striped blazer, and white gloves in public?

Jocasta used to come home on brief raid­ing sprees dur­ing the Uni­ver­sity hol­i­days. She would bor­row my things – clothes, jew­ellery, a cute lit­tle card­board suit­case given to me by my father – and I might get them back even­tu­ally, usu­ally minus some vital part.

When, as a rounded nine-year-old I asked her to write in my auto­graph book, her response:

‘Miranda may be a fat

Girl, but she’s none the worse for that’ cured me com­pletely of auto­graph books.

Judy was kinder, but had a con­sci­en­tious head-prefect’s sense of duty. She was always telling me to do the things that I had hith­erto mirac­u­lously man­aged to avoid – wash­ing up, hang­ing out wash­ing, lay tables. And she would always put you right on dates and what peo­ple said. I devel­oped a Fear of Facts so severe that when I was inter­viewed for a place at Brighton Uni­ver­sity, I could not remem­ber my name.

When I was a rotund and cred­u­lous crea­ture, Christo­pher fed me chill­ies telling me they were sweet­ies. Appar­ently, when I was still a small but chunky human blob he took me out for a swim head­ing across the South china Sea in the gen­eral direc­tion of Jalisco in Mex­ico, and it is only due to my mother’s long-sightedness and sprint power that I am still around. I have a sus­pi­cion that he also sys­tem­at­i­cally broke every stick of fur­ni­ture in my doll’s house. His con­ver­sa­tional gam­bit was to say ‘prove it’, to what­ever inno­cent opin­ion was voiced by any­one younger than him­self. Me. So I steered clear of boys, became wary of show­ing peo­ple my trea­sured pos­ses­sions and gave up express­ing audi­ble opin­ions. How­ever, a con­stant wit­ter in the head is a cru­cial tool for a prospec­tive writer. My highly respected ex-editor at coun­try Liv­ing, Deirdre Mac­Sharry, used to describe Ire­land as being full of writ­ers talk­ing out their nov­els. I sus­pect that most writ­ers keep their words locked within, build­ing up pres­sure, until they are forced to com­mit the stuff to paper.

Being part of my par­ents’ bag­gage meant that I did not have much opti­mism where friend­ship was con­cerned. There was Carol Aylen and Fiona Mac­nab, but no sooner had we bonded over cen­tipede dra­mas and eat­ing con­densed milk from the tin than I was snatched away to some new rainy coun­try where I couldn’t speak the lan­guage of my fellow-pupils. Out there — For­mosa (now Tai­wan) — was a lonely and dan­ger­ous place. It was far far safer to spend those lonely hours sit­ting beneath my father’s desk wait­ing to go home – wher­ever that was – with my imag­i­nary friend.

I’m shar­ing this mis­ery mem­oirette because it was some­where here in that mis­fit, soli­tary child­hood that the seeds of writ­ing were sown. Plainly life was nasty and brutish, and the safest place was within my own head. I became a lolly stick nerd. I used to invent sto­ries, and make tiny gar­dens where minis­cule dra­mas were enacted – which is where the lolly sticks were handy. Diminu­tive picket fences for a bon­sai paradiso.

One good rea­son to write – no one could take my imag­i­na­tion away from me. I issued no pass­ports for entry into the mad minia­ture world where I was top despot. My thoughts were my trea­sure, pre­cious, secret, and very often vin­dic­tive. Revenge and anger are high-octane fuel for a would-be writer.

Another fab­u­lous aspect of writ­ing, is that no mat­ter how weird is the thing you absolutely have to get off your chest, you can do it. You can closet your­self with your com­puter and spew it all out, and no one will inter­rupt. My his­tory of occa­sional loud sib­lings has left me with a con­vic­tion that there is no point in try­ing to tell any­one any­thing. So many times I would launch into some anec­dote only to observe that every­one had left the room, or turned on the tv, or felt a vio­lent need to hoover. It gave me a wispy feel­ing of unre­al­ity – so often I would won­der if I had actu­ally said those fab­u­lously witty things aloud, or had they just remained in a thought bub­ble float­ing above my head.

Mar­tin Amis claimed that most writ­ers have at least this in com­mon with Nabokov: ‘I think like a genius, I write like a dis­tin­guished author, and I speak like a child.’ The obses­sion to write must so often grow from a small unat­tended child jump­ing up and down, pulling parental coat-tails, and shout­ing ‘me, me, me, lis­ten to me.’

To be lis­tened to, to be heard, to elicit echoes of recog­ni­tion, to find an inter­ested audi­ence – this is for me the most thrilling aspect of writ­ing. I love get­ting emails from readers.

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What we do in Italy, is: Eat. Drink. Make merry. For­get where we put our glasses…. both sorts.

A rowdy group — yoga stu­dents and gen­eral good-time bon viveurs — came round to Santa Lucia last week for a food spree hosted by Suzie Alexan­der and her hus­band Anto­nio Santaniello.

The menu that night con­sisted of warm sour­dough bread made by Suzie, anointed with their freshly pressed olive oil of impec­ca­ble pedi­gree, chick pea and rose­mary soup, ribol­lita (see below for RECIPE), deli­cious nutty pecorino and sub­lime, sub­tle, sweet ricotta — which hith­erto I had always con­sid­ered a sen­sory white hole, a sort of flavourfree spackle use­ful for plug­ging pro­tein short­ages — which they mar­bled with sun­flower honey warmed by the fire. Spritz­ing our taste buds the while with organic apple juice, red Mon­tepul­ciano le Berne, and white wine pro­duced by a trio of artists.

Of course they’re empty

Start­ing as a per­sonal quest for the best and most tooth­some local organic pro­duce, and snow­balling as an ever more com­pli­cated busi­ness, Suzie and Anto­nio began Suzie’s Yard — see www.suziesyard.co.uk less than a year ago, and since then they have been pro­vid­ing Umbri­ans with all the neces­si­ties of the good life sourced within a 40km radius of their home: spelt flour, farro and upmar­ket carbs; fresh organic veges in sea­son, not flown in from Zanz­ibar; unsur­pass­able Chi­an­ina beef as chomped by Roman sol­diers con­quer­ing the world; mmmmm cheese; cit­rus sliv­ers and other gor­geous things drenched in dark­est chocolate.

Cheese made in Heaven

Umbria is in a state of per­ma­nent foodie renais­sance. La nonna, of course began it. Any nonna, doesn’t mat­ter, but woe betide you if your melan­zane alla parmi­giana does not share the iden­ti­cal thick­ness of aubergine slice, con­sis­tency of tomato sauce. Quite rightly, we are all in awe of tres­pass­ing on the culi­nary tra­di­tion that rev­o­lu­tionised French cui­sine from the time of Cather­ine de Medici and which still causes eyes to glaze — all over the world — moist with desire, at the drop of the word ‘pizza’.

A feisty cheese mate, to be approached with caution

But there will always be mav­er­icks, fear­less icon­o­clasts who labour in their kitchens — known as lab­o­ra­to­ries — to per­fect new­fan­gled con­cepts such as jewel-bright, intensely-flavoured velvet-textured purees of pear and mus­tard, straw­berry and corian­der, green tomato and vanilla, red onion and bal­samic vine­gar, apri­cot and saf­fron, which act as star­tling and piquant condi­ments for your tra­di­tional mild, deli­cious sheep’s cheese or ricotta fresh from its whey drain­ing bas­ket. Small, pas­sion­ate pro­duc­ers for whose obses­sions we can all be grate­ful. Thanks to Suzie and Antonio’s research and energy, this event pro­vided a lit­tle bou­quet garni of new flavours, ideas and recipes to chew upon.

Francesca shows you

how a real Italian

Suzie’s Ribol­lita

Recipe serves 8

eats spaghetti


250 g split peas soaked in plenty of water overnight

2 onions, finely chopped

1 dried red chilli crushed

1 cel­ery stalk finely chopped

2 car­rots peeled and chopped small

3 small cloves of gar­lic crushed

small bunch of sage

2 pota­toes peeled and chopped in small cubes

sea salt & freshly ground pepper

125 g farro decor­ti­cato (hulled spelt grains) rinsed

1 tblsp tomato puree

350 ml tomato passata

1 bunch cavolo nero (kale), thick stalks removed, finely chopped

a good Tus­can olive oil to serve

Drain the soaked split peas and rinse, cover in ample cold water, bring to the boil and cook for 1½ hours. Drain once cool.

Cover the bot­tom of a thick soup pan with olive oil and over a low heat sweat the chopped onions, chilli and salt, until soft.

Add cel­ery, car­rot, gar­lic and sage (tie 5 stalks together with cot­ton to make removal eas­ier) and cook on a low heat for 20 min­utes to release flavours.  Add potato & farro and a cou­ple of min­utes later the tomato puree, then the pas­sata, turn up the heat.  Cook for 5 min­utes whilst boil­ing some water on the side. Remem­ber to stir to avoid pota­toes sticking.

Add in the drained cooked split peas and cover with ample hot water, enough for a thick veg­etable broth.  Stir in the cavolo nero and reduce the heat.  Sea­son with salt and pep­per. Cover and cook for at least an hour stir­ring every now and then.

Remove from the heat and let cool com­pletely.  Let the soup stand for a cou­ple of hours for flavours to infuse and reheat before serv­ing and driz­zle with a good extra vir­gin olive oil.

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The Marriage of Shiva and Parvati — By Dan

When things had only just began

Shortly after dawn of man

A god called Shiva did appear

All pow­er­ful, mighty, caused great fear

But though he was a god and tough, he

Per­son­ally was rather scruffy

And peo­ple got a big surprise

When meet­ing him– he had three eyes

Long black hair which was fright­fully matted

(Later he would have it plaited)

Was cov­ered head to toe with ashes

Now and then he’d smoke some hashish

Half naked, wild, he looked alarming

But actu­ally could be quite charming

See, gods are just like ordi­nary folk

Who sit around and have a smoke

Apart from the third eye of course

An attribute of godly source

You’d think. But actu­ally the fact is

That with ded­i­cated Bud­dhist practice

You can grow your own. Sensation!

(Fail­ing that, try trepanation)

Now Shiva loved the god Pavarti

Nice girl, good fam­ily and quite arty

And she fan­cied him which was just as well

Nobody else could put up with the smell

And the blood on his loin­cloth after slaugh­ter­ing foes

His habit while eat­ing of pick­ing his nose

The things in his hair and his ash on her dress

But when he asked her to marry him she just said YES

Though nor­mally dar­ling, I would say maybe

But I have to tell you I’m hav­ing your baby’

Shiva dumb­struck but Pavarti

Said ‘We’d have a smash­ing party!

But we must do it quickly, honey

Cos pretty soon I’ll have a tummy’

They spoke to the vicar of their devotion

Set the wed­ding plans in motion

Sent out lots of invitations

To friendly gods and their relations

The cater­ing was left to mortals

Soon food and wine came through the portals

Of the villa they had rented

With the gar­den fully tented

(Pavarti’s house was far too small

And Shiva’s wouldn’t do at all)

Next day the church was filled with flowers

The con­gre­ga­tion waited hours

Until the groom, trans­formed, appeared

Plaited hair and shaven beard

Mas­cara painted round his eyes

Rented suit of largest size

SOMEONE’S influ­ence was clear

Sud­denly there came a cheer

And up the aisle strode fair Pavarti

Really gor­geous but not tarty

Shiva took her by the hand

Slipped on her fin­ger a golden band

Then he grasped her round the hips

And with pas­sion kissed her lips

Oh what joy, what jubilation

After such anticipation

Ring the bells, set trum­pets blasting

Sing for hap­pi­ness everlasting!

(I got that last bit over quickly

I find that sort of thing quite sickly)

Thank god that’s over’ Pavarti said

I’ll spend the after­noon in bed’

But no, she had to stay awake

To look at presents, cut the cake

And pose for por­traits which took forever

Cos they were painted, slow but clever

Cam­eras hadn’t been invented

Which meant artists were contented

Pavarti def­i­nitely tiring

Presents mostly uninspiring

Tow­els, ser­vants, gold in chests

(Shiva’s mum gave him a vest)

That’s it, I’m dead’ Pavarti said

I’ll have a drink and go to bed

I don’t think that’s a good idea’

Said Shiva ‘The evi­dence is now quite clear

That too much booze affects the foetus

When it comes to par­ties, you drink litres’

Dar­ling, don’t be such a pain

I only sip the best champagne

And any­way, look who’s talking

I can tell from the way you’re walking

You are com­pletely out of your tree

So don’t go preach­ing stuff to me’

She sneered at him and then departed

As usual Shiva was outsmarted

To cut the story rather short

I’ll only give a quick report

Of the party which ended early

Due to exces­sive hurly burly

And Shiva, danc­ing, stoned, elated

Mis­tak­enly decapitated

Some hap­less human, no-one important

But it intro­duced a note discordant

And Pavarti shouted at him shrilly

Danc­ing with swords is VERY SILLY

Blood all over my wed­ding dress

Don’t expect ME to clear up this mess!’

With that she stormed off to her bed

With­out her things became rather dead

Shiva smoked a final joint

And tear­fully asked ‘What IS the point

Of mar­riage?’ So you will agree

Their rela­tion­ship is all at sea

But has their love gone done the toilet?

Well no but I don’t want to spoil it

For you because that’s it for now

Later there’ll be more… somehow

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Life in the Limbic Cave

What you must know, my dar­ling girl

Is that trap­pists are chattier

Part of the knack is to make your talk small enough

You must also learn to dodge the ele­phant when serv­ing dinner

Even so, there will be the hall of cloudy mirrors

Dimin­ish­ing dark reflections

Of a crea­ture so alone, that, were she not you

You would put your arms about her and give her cake.

What you must know, my dar­ling girl

Is that to be with the silent one

Is to be spin­ning in a black vortex

Is to lose the sense of who you are

Is to pad­dle in madness.

You must be armed with Stentor’s shout

For when the words that cost so much to say

Dis­solve into the air leav­ing you

An invis­i­ble, inaudi­ble unbeing

You must be pre­pared to devolt, unwatt

Col­lude with the jerk­ing strings

Fake igno­rance of the trip­wire, and the joke

Whose punch­line leaves you winded.

And for all this, what will be the gift, the treasure?

One night, when you are a soli­tary speck

Float­ing in the space between the planets

When your voice is thready with silent screams

The beast will open his shaggy coat

Hand you his heart with cal­loused paw

And let you in

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Waiting to be Born

In a time before time, before sun, before night and day

Mind­less drift­ing flot­sam in a nar­row amni­otic sea

With only the steady metro­nomic thud for company

A depth-sounding echo calls from an unimag­ined world.

Just being. This slow med­i­ta­tive dance has left in me

Ter­ror of small places, cramped spaces, the thought of mines.

I can­not imag­ine what pre­his­toric urge dri­ves men

To put on rub­ber suits and inves­ti­gate tight potholes.


There was noth­ing to see, but what was inside my head

And inside my head there was nothing.

Wait­ing in a dark som­nam­bu­list trance of evolution

A dot divid­ing, trans­mut­ing, gilled, rep­tile, finally

Mam­mal. Mamma mean­ing — inti­mate beyond comfort -

Breasts. I was a stranger to my mother and she to me

The thought of start­ing life as an alien invasion

Lay­ing siege to her belly, still makes me squirm.

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From Creaky to Bendy double-quick

Bend, breathe and smile if you want to stay young

I sin­cerely believe that yoga is the secret of eter­nal youth, or maybe of pro­long­ing a frisky, jaunty, devil-may-care mid­dle age.

Look up any ail­ment — from the myr­iad stress-related stuff to arthri­tis and osteo­poro­sis — on the inter­net and you’ll find yoga men­tioned some­where as being a use­ful anti­dote or pre­ven­tive.
On which topic, check with your doc­tor if you have spe­cific aches or pains, high blood pres­sure, injuries, back, arm, neck or knee trou­ble, con­trary ham­strings, osteo­poro­sis, heart prob­lems, her­nia, swollen joints or eye prob­lems such as detached retina or glau­coma.
Doing the poses, you should never feel sharp pain — but a kind of dull ache, mean­ing that you are work­ing your body, awak­en­ing unused mus­cles and joints, is a good thing. Yoga teach­ers always say ‘lis­ten to your body’, and while I’m not sure what that means, I think it is pos­si­ble to be a sym­pa­thetic friend to your body, firm but fair, treat­ing it kindly and sen­si­bly, much as you might your grand­chil­dren. Expect great things, applaud gen­er­ously, don’t push or bully. And — where appro­pri­ate — boost your immune sys­tem by giv­ing your­self a hug, or stroking recal­ci­trant bits fondly, as you might a way­ward puppy.

Doing the Tree at Riad Maizie

Yoga is absolutely a non-competitive pas­time. You will be able to do what is now impos­si­ble very quickly, with gen­tle and reg­u­lar practice.

War­rior Women

It is bril­liant to be rac­ing up the down escalator.

Reg­u­lar. You have to keep at it. It will soon stop being a chore, and become the best bit of the day – grad­u­ally you’ll notice that your hips don’t jud­der like they used to, that you can reach your feet, that your shoul­ders don’t ache, that you are con­scious of your pos­ture. With a bit of luck you’ll find calm­ing, even sooth­ing per­spec­tive in the practice.

My Anchor Posture

Annie's Anchor Posture

Every sin­gle body is built dif­fer­ently, and while your part­ner may do a superla­tive dog, your taste may be more in the­gen­eral area of spit­ting cobra. Some peo­ple have nat­ural bal­ance, some have unex­pected strength. Lit­tle skinny peo­ple tend to be good at tying their feet behind their heads. The thing is, it is only your, one and only, fab­u­lous body that mat­ters. And accord­ing to sur­geons – who com­ment favourably on the tidy inte­rior of a yoga practitioner’s body – reg­u­lar yoga takes care of it.


Four rounds of Sun Salu­ta­tion every day. Four left and four right. Morn­ing, or mid-afternoon if morn­ings are impos­si­bly creaky.
This ver­sion is aimed at Chakra One, Mulad­hara, which looks after fun­da­men­tal secu­rity, sta­bil­ity, ground­ing, and is sit­u­ated as you would expect in the per­ineum. It con­cerns your right to be here and to have what you need, and is the vital foun­da­tion upon which every­thing else rests.
Don’t give your­self grief if you can’t face doing it every day.
Sun Salu­ta­tion stretches and strength­ens every major mus­cle group and exer­cises the res­pi­ra­tory sys­tem. It is a reminder to be grate­ful for the exter­nal source of light and life, and stokes the cre­ative fire that radi­ates from within each of us. Start by doing it slowly and con­sciously. If you like to buzz, get faster, warm up, get your heart trot­ting (leave rac­ing for boys).

Sheila’s Per­fect Crow

Sun Salu­ta­tion 1

Start with hands to heart

1. Reach hands to the sky, arms par­al­lel, palms fac­ing

2. Jack-knife from your hips with heavy head, hands some­where near your feet, bend­ing your knees if nec­es­sary, in for­ward bend

3. Hands to floor, right leg back and straight, left bent at right angle in a lunge. Look up

4. Left foot joins right foot in plank posi­tion — FANTASTIC for your stom­ach mus­cles

5. Bot­tom up in the air in inverted V in down­ward fac­ing dog

6. Bot­tom back to rest on feet, arms extended for­ward in extended child’s pose

7. Tuck toes, raise bot­tom in another down­ward dog

8. Right leg for­ward and knee at a right angle, left leg back and straight in lunge. Look up

9. Bring both feet to front of mat, head down, heavy, hands near feet in for­ward bend. Bend your knees if it hurts

10. Slowly raise arms to sky as before

11. Hands to heart. Catch breath. Repeat on the other side.

Well done. Just three more rounds to go…….


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Under the Tuscan Sun. The Doppelganger

Villa Laura

Under a Tus­can sun­set, as four-square as a child’s drawing

Girlie films – you either love ‘em or hate ‘em. For the tear-streaked ranks of the for­mer, ‘Under the Tus­can Sun’ has all the essen­tials – plucky Frances Mayes (played by Diane Lane) strug­gling out of post-marital despair, clam­ber­ing up the slip­pery and pitfall-strewn path to hap­pi­ness and ful­fill­ment, bat­tling to turn a dream into real­ity – her progress mir­rored in the tri­umphant restora­tion of a neglected but beau­ti­ful Tus­can house. Find­ing the per­fect loca­tion was one of the tough­est things the direc­tor had to do: ‘Most houses of that era have small rooms and low ceil­ings. We needed a believ­able house of mod­est scale but with high ceil­ings to accom­mo­date light­ing and give us room for maneu­ver.’
The 300-year-old villa padronale sat­is­fied all require­ments: a con­ve­niently domes­tic size, half that of most houses of its type, with large rooms, high ceil­ings, fine details. In addi­tion it is a handy three-minute slalom from Cor­tona: a model of the Ital­ian genius for archi­tec­tural restora­tion that does not reduce a liv­ing city to a museum. Among the awestruck tourists check­ing their pix­els and the native camari­eri snatch­ing a smoke out­side their café doors, the city bus­tles with ter­ri­ble art, the most expen­sive antique shop known to man, fre­quent bouts of fancy dress, an excep­tional hat shop and great restau­rants. The trek up to town from Villa Laura earns you four courses, but the gen­tle mean­der back after lunch through the olive trees, with a glit­ter of Lake Trasi­meno and the misty expanse of the Val de Chi­ano in the dis­tance, is the per­fect pre­am­ble to a sybaritic after­noon of som­no­lent nod­ding over ‘Bella Tus­cany’ in the patchy shade beneath the stone pines.

A reg­u­lar, hand­some villa padronale

The present 300-year-old house is full of mys­ter­ies and mar­vels. It stands on the site of a traveler’s inn, built a mil­len­nium ago well out of the city so as to bal­ance hos­pi­tal­ity with a desire to pro­tect the inhab­i­tants of Cor­tona from plagues and dis­eases. A carved stone coat of arms hangs above the road entrance, and the bones of one, Heironymo Vagnucci, rest beneath a mar­ble slab in the tiny chapel.

A wartime sol­diers’ billet

To reach the house you turn off the nar­row road after the dahlia farm and before the cavolo nero, wres­tle with the pad­lock to open the impos­ing gates and saunter along a dap­pled avenue of tall pines and oaks, find­ing your­self finally in a sun­lit open­ing with the almost per­fectly sym­met­ri­cal dou­ble fronted facade of the green-shuttered villa to your right, and the farmer manager’s hand­some house to the left ahead. Below in a shel­tered arc of tall trees are the tea­room with its neo clas­si­cal ped­i­ment, and the ele­gant limon­aia – at present the crum­bling depos­i­tory of a reg­i­ment of empty wine bot­tles.
Walk through the dou­ble front doors of the house beneath the sun­burst fan­light and you would be wise to turn right into the dis­creetly dec­o­rated recep­tion room where God gave Diane Lane his bless­ing in the form of a splot of bird shit to the fore­head – yoghurt and poppy seeds flicked by a sharp-shooting mem­ber of the crew.
This early scene was filmed in muted half-light: the protagonist’s emo­tional progress dur­ing the film was marked by ever increas­ing illu­mi­na­tion. In fact, all the upstairs rooms are bril­liant with light, most hav­ing sun­shine hurl­ing itself through win­dows on two sides.

Sun does fur­nish a room

Down­stairs is another mat­ter, a cat­a­comb of cav­erns where the super­sti­tious vis­i­tor can all too eas­ily envis­age ghostly ser­vants pol­ish­ing pans with salt and sand in the mar­ble sink, heat­ing His Master’s bath­wa­ter in a tow­er­ing cop­per, warm­ing chapped hands at the vast Athena cen­tral heat­ing boiler, and hav­ing bus­ied with lamp black to give a proper sheen to the cast iron, brais­ing wild boar in the mag­nif­i­cent blue and white tiled Fumisti range engi­neered by Busca­gioni & Co.

A grand Ital­ian cooker

This is where vats of toma­toes were once pre­served annu­ally – the giant pan is still there — and the old wood oven is a reminder of the weekly batch of loaves. In those days fields were ploughed using the big white Chi­an­ina cows, which ulti­mately pro­vided Fiorentina steak of leg­endary flavour, and the wine had the addi­tional nuances of assorted feet in the press­ing.
A gen­er­a­tion later, there are uniden­ti­fi­able loom­ing things down here that might make the unwary shriek a lit­tle and pro­vide any small child with a lifetime’s night­mares – a puz­zle of rooms with blocked off entrances and cob­web cur­tained win­dows guar­an­teed to appeal to the latent archi­tect and to get every handyman’s juices flow­ing. Blun­der­ing about in the Sty­gian war­ren below stairs, you are aware that it has poten­tial, and not just as a Ham­mer films loca­tion. It con­nects to the south fac­ing gar­den and the teahouse.

Nowa­days the work­ing kitchen is to the left as you enter the house, in curi­ous prox­im­ity with a min­i­mal bath­room. They strike a some­what banal note, though the unusual absence of cob­webs may com­fort the faint hearted. The three spa­cious main ground floor rooms – once sep­a­rated by doors and walls – now lead through open arches from one to another. Recall the trio of Pol­ish builders burst­ing out through the front door fol­lowed by an explo­sion of plas­ter dust – that was the wall between the din­ing room and the third recep­tion room. By way of a soli­tary con­ces­sion to the paint effects mob, a skil­fully antiqued fake fresco now adorns the remain­ing wall. The direc­tor states firmly that ‘it was impor­tant to me that we not make a home dec­o­rat­ing movie, there was too much story to tell.’

This is the defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of this part of Tus­cany – every peb­ble has a his­tory, exca­va­tions reveal layer after layer of Roman and Etr­uscan lives, there is always too much story to tell. The noble own­ers of Villa Laura are descended from crea­tures of leg­end, both polit­i­cal and cul­tural – Andrea Doria, scourge of French, Span­ish and Bar­bary pirates, Admi­ral of the Genoese fleet and known as ‘father of his coun­try’ was a mater­nal ances­tor, and the 19th cen­tury Teatro del Verme, Milan, com­mem­o­rates another from the father’s side.
The present owner spent child­hood hol­i­days explor­ing the mag­i­cal gar­den – climb­ing the giant stone pines that stand sen­tinel to the front door, wan­der­ing the tun­neled gloom of myr­tle and bay lead­ing from the civil­ity of the tea­room to the roman­tic wilder­ness of the tree-shrouded lake whose sur­round­ing rocks are emer­ald with moss, dip­ping a cau­tious toe in the unique cir­cu­lar water tank whose per­gola walk once dripped wis­taria blos­som, stum­bling upon indig­nant scor­pi­ons among the valer­ian grow­ing in the ruins of some past pig man­sion, dis­cov­er­ing a hel­met and a tobacco tin in a sunny patch of grass – poignant sou­venirs of the British sol­diers who were bil­leted in the chapel dur­ing WW2.
Villa Laura is an enchant­ing place, with spec­tac­u­lar views in all directions.

Ital­ians tend their land with love

The adja­cent farm manager’s house would respond bril­liantly to a bit of cre­ative thought, and the pic­turesquely over­grown gar­den has the price­less attribute of fine mature trees. After fairly exten­sive ren­o­va­tion, the com­plex of build­ings would make a small but gor­geous hotel or a fab­u­lous fam­ily home. In the words of the direc­tor, Audrey Wells, ‘What are four walls any­way? They are what they con­tain. The house pro­tects the dreamer. Unthink­ably good things can hap­pen.’ Villa Laura awaits.

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