Thoughts on a train trip

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I love train trips! Even the short half-hour trip to Chivasso to visit beloved grandchildren and daughter has a charm of its own. Slowly the train accelerates, wheels click-clacking with hypnotic regularity. I gaze out of the window at field and forest, cocooned in the warmth inside the coach.

Muffled conversation lulls my senses and I slip deeper into the moment, noticing the deep green of newly planted fields and the bright glow of spring sunshine. Lifting my gaze, I’m awestruck by the distant Alps. Powdery peaks line up as far as the eye can see, anchoring me in this place, this moment. There’s Monviso, one of the highest peaks, towering over Turin. A hawk hovers over a newly turned field, perfectly balanced in the morning air, while a coven of evil looking crows struts the field, pecking and squabbling. The track beats the rhythm of my destination like a simple repetitive prayer. My heart aches with the sheer beauty and oneness of it all.

Then, the familiar curve as the line enters Chivasso. The coach leans to one side. Brakes screech as it slows..until…..finally…….. it stops. Doors hiss and airlocks release with a thud – slide open. We’re there. Down the steps, through the underpass, up the other side.



Today’s prompt is Priceless. So much could be said, but this is my personal list of some of the things that I count above price in my life and in life in general.

  • Hearing my grandchild call me Nonna or Granny.
  • Feeling arms around my neck and a tired little head resting on my shoulder.
  • The look in your eyes when you say I love you.
  • The love and support of dear friends.
  • A walk on the wild side with friends.
  • The look on your face when you realised you had thrown our medicines in the bin and left the composting refuse in a packet on the table.
  • A day’s work for a day’s wage.
  • A good night’s sleep.
  • A thankful heart.
  • A roof over my head and a warm bed to sleep in.

What do you count as priceless in your life?

Life lessons from a walk in the mountains

Sunday saw me in the mountains again, this time on a longer and more difficult walk. Instead of giving you a boring account of every step, however, I thought I’d share some of the thoughts inspired by another spectacular day in the open.

Anything worth doing or having requires effort and sacrifice. The view at the top was worth every exhausting step!

Take time to enjoy the view. Life is all about the trip.

Don’t forget to look back often. It helps to see how far you’ve come.

Expect the unexpected. Change is the only constant in life, so they say, and nothing is more changeable than the weather in the mountains!

Some paths are easier than others but we all get to where we need to be in the end.

The company you keep impacts on how much you enjoy the journey. Stick with those who encourage you and build you up.

If you’re in Italy or coming to visit, this walk is in the Aosta area, in a valley called Valsavarenche. It entails a walk of about 2 and a half hours on well beaten paths with a climb of about 750m. Information on the walk and the mountain hut prices here.

Smoke signals

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Smoke Signals

We send them out,
Sometimes half formed
Born before their time
Limping and gasping
Sometimes beautifully crafted
Perfect in their entirety
Soaring and rising
In their perfection

See me! They waft into the ether
Hear me!  Love, loss, laughter
Read me! Joy, fear, pain
Know me! A primal urge
I am, therefore
I write, therefore
I am.

M Brizzolari Dec 2014

Spring Cleaning!

Notice anything different? Yes, we’re spring cleaning. Well actually, we’re having a makeover. Please be patient while this blog gets a new look. It may take some time and patience as we try on every dress in the store until we find the one we like best. Feel free to tell us what you like or don’t like, and we’ll consider your ideas while flouncing around in our new clothes. But like any self-respecting teenager, our decision will be final! Our first tryout is Pink Touch 2. I love the way the photos are larger in this theme, and the font is larger too. Much better for people whose eyes tire easily.  It also has more formats, including audio. Hmmm… something new to try out. What do you think, dear reader?

Spring azaleas
Spring azaleas

It didn’t come easy!

Italian Language Workshop
Italian Language Workshop (Photo credit: Context Travel)

Daily Prompt: Apply Yourself

Describe your last attempt to learn something that did not come easily to you.

So there I was, sitting in a cramped classroom in the Dante Alighieri Centre in Johannesburg, reciting verb conjugations.

“Io sono, tu sei, lui è….” the class droned on. My tongue stumbled over the vowels and double letters (which are both supposed to be pronounced in the Italian language). I couldn’t even hear the difference between one letter and two letters! We spent the three hour weekly lesson following the antics of cartoon characters an badly photocopied pages and repeating grammar drills endlessly, but we never seemed to apply those drills in any conversation of our own. Our frantic pleas for more conversation skills was that you had to be ADVANCED level to attend the conversation classes. Say WHAT! I was sure I would never get to that level, or if I did, I would be old and grey.

Nevertheless, I persevered, and after two years was considered to be at the pre-intermediate level. I could use the present tense fairly well, but the past was still a mystery to me as I grappled with passato prossimo and trapassato, not to mention passato remoto. To speak a romance language, you need a good memory as there are so many tenses and conjugations to learn. My memory was getting an olympic workout, but only giving amateur results! I made myself a vocabulary book with pictures and the names of common items. That helped me to learn more words. I thought I was doing brilliantly! Initially, I had been learning for fun, but around that time, a life change resulted in our move to Italy. Boy, was I in for a shock!

I arrived in Italy in October 2002 thinking I would seamlessly integrate. I pictured myself making friends and having long conversations, but the truth was that I could hardly understand what people were saying, and every time I wanted to dive into a conversation with a comment, I found myself momentarily (or sometimes permanently) lost for words. By the time I found my little comment, the conversation had moved on. People were very kind when they realised my predicament, and often waited for me to find the words, but my frustration often moved me to tears or to clam my mouth shut and only listen.

It’s now ten years later. Have I reached the point where I can have a seamless conversation? Sadly, not. Since I teach English, I speak English most of the day. We have a habit of speaking English at home, and we tend to watch satellite TV – you guessed it – in English. We have a stock saying in the ESL business: Use it or lose it! I can make myself understood when I need to buy something and I can read quite well, but I still make some horrendous mistakes. (More about those in another post).

Have you learnt another language? What were the challenges for you, and how have you fared?


Starting over

Written in response to the writing challenge which you can see here:

Starting over

Silence bounces off the walls,
friends and family have drifted away
warm hugs, promises, invitations 
Left like solemn gifts of love.
Survey the walls
Listen to the silence
(How long have I yearned for silence,
surrounded by your music?)
Now I don’t want it,
Yearn for your music.
Ache for the sound of your voice.
Tears flow.
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Stretch out before me.
I pack my tears and fears away
Rise up to face the day.

Can anyone explain the formatting problem I had here? The first three lines had normal spacing, but then the lines became double spacing. Nothing I do seems to change it. Help?

Five is not enough

Notes on Dreaming in Hindi
Notes on Dreaming in Hindi (Photo credit: brewbooks)


In the spirit of end-of-the-year listmania, here are my top books for the year. I started with five, but couldn’t stick to that number, hence the title. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.


A Watermelon, a Fish and a Bible by Christy Lefteri. I was deeply touched by this debut novel set in Cyprus during the Turkish invasion. Much of it was painful and shocking, but the evolution of the characters drew me in and kept me reading to the last page.


Dreaming in Hindi by Katherine Russel Rich. This memoir appealed to the teacher and language learner in me. I was fascinated with the author’s experiences as well as the insight she offers through her discussions with various language and science experts. There were a number of things I could identify with as well. Woven into the language learning experience is also the historical period, as the 9/11 terrorist attacks take place while she is in India, and she recounts her experience of the events as seen from that country.


25 Things You Need to Know about the Future by Christopher Barnatt. This book fascinated me and introduced me to technology and science of which I had previously had no knowledge. Have you heard of 3D printing, vertical farming, synthetic biology and quantum computing? If you haven’t, read the book. It’s written in a clear, down-to-earth style that makes you want to read on.


The Glassblower’s Daughter by Frances Clarke. Another debut novel that was well worth reading. It deals with a difficult topic in a sensitive way. I would certainly buy her next novel.


My final choice has to contain all the South African books I read this year because each one of them opened my eyes to my homeland in a different way:


South Africa’s Brave New World: The Beloved Country Since the End of Apartheid by R. W. Johnson.


The Bang-Bang Club by Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva.


Elections and Erections: A Memoir of Fear and Fun by Pieter-Dirk Uys.


The Unexploded Boer by Erich Rautenbach.


Touch My Blood by Fred Khumalo.