May 11, 2020

Darkness had descended on another glorious spring evening. Then a disturbing surprise. A vehicle was slowly grinding its way down the back lane with a loudspeaker, repeating information that at first was incomprehensible. Garbled, fast instructions, momentarily intimidating. Had we been invaded? Then I grasped the tenor if not the detail of what was intended. Every villager was being summ...

July 22, 2019

Umbria is glorious, a global, cultural brand. That said, try finding walking or trekking guides through its peerless landscapes! The official online ones are almost impossible to use – no maps, pdfs that won’t download. Thankfully thoughtful Americans leave their versions to whet your appetite.

So we set out to walk a section of the Spoleto-Nocera (abandoned) railway. Under cloudless skies...

February 18, 2019

Every year the Yorkshire treasure – the writer and playwright – Alan Bennett reads his previous year’s diary for The London Review of Books podcast. Each diary entry is a gem and as I walked on this blissful February Sunday beneath a cloudless sky and inhaled the late winter pleasure of Umbria, I double-dipped listening to his inimitable master’s voice.

Umbria on a mid February morning

He b...

November 12, 2018

Day breaks with a thick mist and the raucous yelling of hunters. The veil of mist lifts to reveal a cloudless sky and the hunters fire episodically and then go quiet. It’s a perfect afternoon for hunting archaeological sites.

Sergio has invited me to visit the archaeological sites he has been recording in our liminal comune of Giove, western Umbria. The first is beside a bend in the Tiber....

September 10, 2018

After weeks of afternoon storms, the grass has started growing again. It is astonishing. Confused spring flowers pop up everywhere. Then the storms suddenly cease giving way to  cloudless days. Mowing the unexpected grass on a stormless Saturday sets up a billowing cloud of dust. Momentarily it is reminiscent of the serene, drifting mists that now typify the otherwise listless hour after...

August 6, 2018

The best discoveries in archaeology stretch your imagination. Most of all they up-end your preconceived notions about the past. Better still if the discoveries are made in blissful places.

In the late 80s and early 90s the American archaeologist, David Soren, now at the University of Arizona, partially excavated a small Roman villa, high on a promontory known as Poggio Gramignano overlooki...

November 3, 2017

Last night rain arrived, the first non-tempestuous rain in six months. Just to hear it drumming on the windows was a reassuring sound, balm after glorious autumnal days which have left the Italian countryside on the brink of desertification. Some doubt climate change; politics aside, they are wrong. Listening in Copenhagen last weekend to fellow archaeologists working in sub-Saharan Afric...

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