This morning the usual car park I go to in Valtopina was full so I was forced to go to another one.
I was rather glad I did.
The first thing I discovered was a bank of orange marigolds in full bloom.
The second thing was a single purple anemone in flower at the edge of a lawn.
The third thing was strawberry trees laden with fruit, putting ours in the shade.
On the way down to Valtopina today I saw evidence that the cat-feeder had been there.
I’ve seen him in action sometimes, crouching, long grey hair in a ponytail down his back as he spreads a feast for the feral cats of the area.
Today it was pieces of meat – great strips and hunks at least three-quarters fat.
When I passed, there was one cat and the dog from the house opposite tucking in.
Feral cats are quite a phenomenon round here. In the nearby city of Foligno there’s a road up to a monastery frequented by a large population of cats of every colour and description, likewise fed by eccentrics.
The handsome cat in the photo doesn’t have the timid feral look to it at all as it basks against a garage door a bit further down in the valley. I took more than one shot and so was able to verify that it didn’t move a muscle even faced with Taylor straining on his lead to get to it.
This is the finished Nativity Scene in Valtopina.
It’s a little piece of the Holy Land based on a theme of mountains and caves, with miniature tableaux of activity tucked into pockets of the landscape.
A cascade of water runs continually from the highest point.
The Holy Family is hidden in a cave in the centre with the Christ Child lying on straw between an ox and an ass.
The orange notice at the back proclaims that the scene improves each year (thanks to our contributions). It’s certainly the most elaborate I’ve seen yet.
Every Christmas our town of Valtopina constructs a nativity scene in the same place and along the same basic lines.
It consists of a landscape of cliffs and glens and forests with, as its main feature, a stream of real running water that turns a miniature water wheel.
Somewhere in this landscape, bathed in light, is the Holy Family, with various shepherds and kings trekking their way towards them.
I haven’t seen the completed scene this year – it was unveiled last night – but this was how it began.
The young man in the quilted jacket is being advised by his grandfather, just visible.
This is the Topino river, after which our town Valtopina is named.
Topino actually means ‘little mouse’ but today, watching its gentle meandering, all that came to mind was the word ‘torpor’.
I recognise Torpor. I meet it practically every day when endeavouring to stir the Italian Health System into meaningful activity. They’ve had 4 months (minus 5 days) in which to help a man who can neither stand nor walk, and they’ve achieved precisely nothing.
The Topino is a flashy river. Sometimes it brims over its banks, churning and gobbling in an opaque brown torrent.
I’m not holding out for that kind of activity; just forward movement of some kind …
Our area of Valtopina, which is called Castello di Poggio, is the over-all winner of the medieval games – see my Facebook page.
There will be yellow flags flying everywhere.
The area is named after an uninhabited castle just outside the town.
Here a Poggio contestant is about to score in ‘Aiming at the cockerel’, in which a weighted plastic ball is thrown over a distance of 12 metres at a metal cockerel.
I was very impressed by his relaxed confidence and apparent complete lack of nerves.
The tug-of-war at Valtopina’s medieval games was a short, sharp affair.
The centre of the rope had only to move a very short distance in order for victory to be proclaimed.
The event was as good-humoured as ever, and started with a warm embrace between the 2 leaders.
As far as I can make out, the Italian cheer rhythm is ‘pi-pi-oolla’, the ‘oolla’ being a deep, rich, savage roar of a sound.
However absolute silence was decreed for the tug itself because the umpires weren’t using loudspeakers and might need to be heard.
The green team leader, a veritable giant of a man, went in front.
It must have been the right choice because the green team won the contest.