Today has been all work except for an early morning walk and one espresso. Just one espresso. I can’t believe I’m back in Italy and the first thing that happened was a headache that is only going to get worse if I feed it caffeine.

Piazza Erbe Verona (Italy is a land full of beauty – and cute little dogs)

In the early afternoon when it was bright although only around 12c I went to the Caffe Vergnano near the Basilica San Zeno. It’s the same company as the Caffe Vergnano 1882 at Charing Cross in London but the decor is traditional, almost homely, not chic. I sat inside because the weather was a bit chilly but brave Germans were chatting at the open air tables.

But I am here in my happy place and I feel invigorated and inspired even if in a couple of weeks’ time I’ll have to return to grey, dreich, damp Scotland.  Here I can draw and design and make plans that will help me get Izzi Mishka accessories finally off the ground in 2018.

Tomorrow I’ll see a friend who has promised me a pure silk saree she says will remind me of gelaterie. I don’t need much reminding about gelato, I really don’t, but I’m looking forward to it all the same.

Or Breakfast With Gussie Finknottle

(a condensed version of something from my old blog)

To be fair Gussie Finknottle* has no more to do with this post than the fact I had my breakfast sitting on the edge of a small pond watching newts appear and disappear. While I was there and Gussie, Augustus, and Gus were popping up to the surface catching bugs for their own breakfast (at least that’s what I assume they were doing although they may have been trying to get to my cheese on toast) I started thinking about my 80/20 purchasing rule.

80/20 Purchasing Rule

I tried for a long time to be ethically perfect. I am by nature a perfectionist and I  struggle with being able to call anything being good enough but the world is complicated and I’m not strong enough to overcome every ruse of every loveless, avaricious big business out there yet I still have to act morally and live sanely.  The 80/20 rule was my solution.

It works like this. The values on the heart above are important to me – fair trade, cruelty free, recycling, etc – and so I make sure that 80% of everything I buy ticks one (and preferably several) of these values. The other 20% can be from anywhere.

Thoughts on ethical perfectionism, 80/20 rule.

So far the 80/20 rule has worked for me. It’s not difficult to be cruelty-free nowadays although it can be harder to buy clothes and other things from countries with fair and enforced labour laws it’s still very possible with only a little research and vigilance. I’m still flexible though because I realise that not everything I eat can be organic, that I can’t get a lot of things secondhand (larger sizes are always harder to find), and that something I know is made by a women’s cooperative in Nigeria might be using chemical dyes. What I used to forget when I was ultra meticulous about the provenance of everything is that an awful job is better than no job. People working in horrific conditions don’t have alternatives because if they did they would take them and there wouldn’t be a problem. I’m all for making manufacturers see that we want decent practices by putting my money towards fair trade purchases wherever possible but I have also come to realise that the women working in the sweatshops want change not close down.

The reality is that I think I do better than 80% most of the time. This is partly because I am a creature of habit and once I find something I like I stick to it and, partly, because by taking off the pressure to be perfect I’ve given myself the freedom to relax and rationalise instead of being caught up in a paralysing state of guilt.

Bird By Bird

Anne Lamott in ‘Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life,’ said, “Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.’”

That’s what I’m trying to do. I want the world to be a better place and I want a clean conscience but I’m one woman with financial limitations so instead of doing everything I’m taking it bird by bird (or newt by newt). It might not be organic but it’s enabling someone feed her children. It might not be local but it’s fair trade. It isn’t from a micro business but it’s keeping people in work. It might go on my credit card but once it’s paid off I’ll have it for twenty years. It’s not perfect but it works.


(Today’s breakfast: bread from an organic bakery in Glasgow courtesy of Roomie, Isle of Mull cheddar, tomatoes from my friend’s greenhouse, olives from the counter in Morrisons, fair trade coffee, charity shop cup and saucer).

And Gussie, Augustus, and Gus agree. I’m glad I had breakfast with them. Newts are very good listeners and ours are obviously very with it so never let anyone tell you that just because you live at the bottom of a pond you can’t have an informed and valuable opinion about the things that matter.

*Gussie Fink-Nottle is a regular character in the ‘Jeeves & Wooster’ stories by P G Wodehouse and, as you can guess now, Gussie is obsessed with newts. He’s actually an early literary appearance of the modern nerd: weedy, socially inept, and able to bore everyone else to tears with his pet subject in nought to ninety.  When I was a teenager I thought I could probably get him as a boyfriend.

Why I love Verona

I’ve always loved Italy since my parents took me to Florence aged six in 1971 but I didn’t discover Verona until I was thoroughly grown up.

I lived in Florence for two years between 1985 and 1987. I was lucky enough to rent a flat belonging to a friend of a friend’s nonna, a treasure of a woman in a black twinset and pearls and a gold cross set with coral that had been bought for her on the Ponte Vecchio in 1919 and which she’d never taken off. She was eighty and gone to live with her daughter and the flat was exactly what you’d expect. Dark wood and horse-hair sofas, crystal glasses used by Miss Lush, the very bed Lucy Honeychurch slept in, and a pensive little Bernadette Soubirous keeping an eye on you in every room plus crucifixes of course, crucifixes everywhere. I loved it. The plumbing had a mind of its own and the floor tiles were cracked but they were sixteenth-century floor tiles, the stove must have been the envy of the block in 1955, the balcony served as scales (anything over 123lb and it would creak and threaten to spill me on to the street), and the cat was called Topo Gigio. I don’t think he knew.

Then someone died. It took me twenty years to go back. Not to go back to Italy, I’m not that insane, just Florence. I got off the train on the first of May 2005 and on the second I got back on; it was that awful. Florence had changed too much and not enough. I found the flat and it was part of a B&B so I stood in the street and gazed up at the reinforced balcony and my heart’s eye saw geraniums and a fat ginger cat nestled in the morning sunshine where a young couple sat smooching. I had expected to feel mellow and sentimental but instead I was overwhelmed so I did the sensible thing and went for un caffe and I decided I would find my own special place without bittersweet memories.

From the train I phoned a friend in Florence from these days and he cheered me up (as only a man would) by telling me Topo lived till he was 18 and died under a picture of Our Lady of Lourdes looking out on to his balcony. I was glad Topo lived a long life and died peacefully but I had to lose the signal and cry for half an hour anyway. In another half hour I was in Milan fighting with the ticket machine (some things never change, and the entire Apocalypse will be held up by the Archangel Gabriel trying to get a ticket down to Rome) and my friend’s wife called and said, “Meet us in Verona at the weekend, it will make you feel better.”

I love that woman.

I got off the train in Verona and like all Italian railway stations it’s full of stairs so I’d had my weekly work out before I struggled into my taxi. Ten minutes later it deposited me at a B&B and this was – more or less – the view. I say more or less because this photo is from a long the road a bit taken this year. I forgot I was depressed and that I thought I’d die on the way out of the railway station although I suppose I wouldn’t have – in Italy if you look as if you’re expiring people will rush to you with water, inhalers, advice about herbs/vitamins, and offers of an ambulance.

I had been living in Como and had had enough. It was too wrapped up in business, an awful love affair, and a friend’s crazy brother whom I’d gone right off helping. I decided at that moment, standing on the doorstep of the B&B that Verona would be my place.  And it has been. I’ve lived there, worked there, painted there, and was stupid enough to leave.  I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to live in Italy full-time again (money and health, not Brexit) but as of now I have the opportunity to work there off and on for a few weeks at a time. I am happy.

Verona makes me happy.