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Changing landscapes

In the space of little more than a week our latitude has reduced from 56.4° to 43.8° N and as expected, the most immediately noticeable change we experience is the climate – temperature up and humidity down. The sun has real power despite it being October and even sunburn is a reality for us northern types. Our senses are overwhelmed by much around us that feels different and strange, some things being obvious – car steering wheels appearing on the wrong side – and other things that are difficult to recognise and just seem to creep past the retina. Our brains are trying to interpret a world of unfamiliar lines and shapes.

En route we passed through the cityscape that is London and I was struck there by the preponderance of vertical and horizontal lines. There were tall buildings with flat roofs, offices with windows and doors all rectilinear in shape, lamp posts and even tall buses seem to be designed to this same model, sharp right-angles and hard edges everywhere.

Contrast this with the seascapes of western Scotland we have left behind us. The sea always produces a horizontal plane – the widest horizontal in the world – the horizon (hence the word) stretching as far as the eye can see. In amongst the islands this might be broken by vertical lines, sea cliffs, with the rounded curves of mountains aged by the centuries – shapes too complex to define but with softer boundaries.

So what then is the shape of landscape of our new home in Torri, this tiny mountain village nestling in the foothills of the maritime alps of northern Italy? It takes time to recognise just what makes this place look so different to our unaccustomed eyes. Then realisation dawns. For here the predominant shape is the diagonal. A long sweeping olive-tree clad slope dives into a deep valley bottom where a tiny river snakes its way seawards. The slope is mirrored across the valley by another identically angled slope, equally steep and equally high but there are precious few horizontal or vertical lines, just a collection of buildings tucked into the rock of the sloping hillside. The contrast with the landscape we have left behind is both dramatic and stunning. Although a cloak of old wizened trees softens the land, with branches going in all directions, unlike Scotland the ground cover is sparse, no spread of heather or bracken covering the soil, for here rain comes rarely and the summer sun burns fiercely.

Our first day here is hardly the time to comment on the people who live here but it seems pretty certain that we can always expect the language to be a barrier to deep conversation. Most of the residents speak a local dialect that renders our Italian phrase books totally redundant although fortunately French seems to be understood pretty well – the border is not far away. I used to wonder what prompted my brother to move here many years ago, until back in Wadhurst near my mother’s home I came across this sign beside a newsagent’s shop. Is nothing sacred any more?

We have spent our first day here adjusting, unpacking those mighty suitcases filled in Scotland and lugged across Europe, shopping and doing a spot of gardening. My brother has a friend whose allotment just up the valley is available for us to pick whatever is growing there. So we have come back loaded with grapes, tomatoes of various types (including some sweet yellow ones), beans, a small melon and a single chilli pepper with enough power to heat a month’s meals to burning point.

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One Response to Changing landscapes

  1. Malcolm & Kate

    Glad to hear that you've arrived in Italy. Your comments about the Italian landscape struck a chord with me as I spent my last Italian holiday trying to work out what made it different from Scotland, however I came to the conclusion that it was the lashing rain and mist that can quickly fall in Scotland!

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