Thursday, September 20, 2012

The end?

What's happened to me? I wish I knew the answer to that question myself. For as far as I know, I've always been the very same and I've never changed a bit. But that's not what the people around me are telling me. They say that I've retreated even more in my personal shell, hardly letting other people in anymore. That I've become careless and anti-social. Or even that I've become very snappy at times. And when I look deep down into my soul... I have to admit that they're right. I don't want to participate in social life anymore, whereas I used to do anything in order to become "normal". It's like I've given up completely on the outside world and only want to roam in my dreams anymore. The infinite stars... flying around the world in Flight Simulator... my music... All the rest doesn't seem to count anymore. Oh, I still tell sweet Christine every day that I love her with all of my heart. And I do mean that. But am I fooling myself here? Would I not rather want her to be just an ornament in the house that can be activated only when I want it? Am I truly treating her with the respect that she deserves?

Oh, I don't know. Perhaps it's an amalgamation of things that makes me say all of these things, like the exhaustion after a heavy season of teaching, the financial worries, the courtcases, the B&B which leaves us hardly any time for ourselves... Between us, it's even come down to the point where I wonder if this life's really worth living. My psychiatrist replied that this world wouldn't be the same without such a nice person like me. I was truly touched by that because I had forgotten that there are a lot of people out there who still care about me. And after a double dose of medication and a lot of support from Christine, the lads of the Italian Astonomy Forum and all of my other friends I slowly started to climb out of this deep hole. Yes, today I'm already feeling a lot better thanks to all of you. 

So I think that I'll have to see this as a warning. It demonstrates that it doesn't take much to turn me into a true "Rain Man" and that I'm still quite vulnerable. Or that I can't carry all of this world's misery on my back. Because I think that this is the main cause of this downfall. When I was diagnosed with autism, I wanted to become a light in the darkness for all other autistic people or for people who're close to an autistic person. I wanted to help all of them for as much as I could. Unfortunately I wasn't prepared at all for the infinite amount of sad stories which would literally inundate me from that moment. Suddenly there were so many people clinging to me as if I were their last hope of salvation. They drained my final energy reserves totally. or rather, I did that because I couldn't say "no" and believed that my "purpose" was more important than me. How wrong I was.  

Therefore I'm terribly sorry, but I've decided that I'm done with the world of autism for the time being. I'll still keep in touch with my remaining friends of course, but I'll no longer actively participate as a so-called autism expert through personal experience. It's time that I finally start thinking about me, and more importantly, about the people who I really care for because I've neglected them so much. Obviously I'll continue to write on this blog and I do hope that my posts may still be entertaining, if not helpful. Again my sincere apologies to all of the people who I may have given such high hopes and who I have to let down now. But I hope they'll understand. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Apologetic of an Autistic Person

Yes, I'm seriously autistic. Even though I manage to hide my true inner-self so well if I want to. Although this apparent self-control is very frail and much too often it is blown to bits by these emotional storms that whirl around my conscience, waiting for the moment to strike. Now this is a gross misunderstanding about autism. Many people believe that autistic people are numb and emotionless. And yet, it is quite the opposite. The only problem we have is that we don't understand these emotions as such. We can't explain them or talk about them and there are just so many of them that the only thing we desire is escape. This is why we appear numb. We put ourselves in a kind of "off-line" mode which not only blocks the constant bombardment of unfiltered stimuli, but also shields us from heavy emotional outbursts. Coming "on-line" is like taking a serious risk because you're never sure that you'll be able to handle the situation you're about to face. And when it fails, it's usually too late and we end up in a crisis. 

But what's even worse, many people completely misunderstand our "off-line" behaviour, and this is quite normal. We humans are very sociable animals and we've created a lot of unspoken rules about communication and acceptable social behaviour. "Playing numb" is regarded as a very unsocial thing to do. It's like not showing any respect to the people who're talking to you and understandably this can make them very upset. Or it can easily lead to verbal abuse and even bullying among children and youngsters. The result is that the autistic person will withdraw even more in his shell and the situation gets out of hand. And then... suddenly... BANG! There is one thing worse for an autistic person than not being able to handle a certain situation, and that is being forced out of the protective shell. "Come on, be normal...", "Talk to me, now!"..., "Wake up!"... occasionally accompanied by verbal abuse or the odd shake, prod or much worse. This invariably leads to an outburst of rage, many people would rather assimilate with a wild beast. All these nameless, cropped up emotions explode like a volcano and the result is all but pretty. I'm no exception in this regard. How nicely I can play "normal" at times, my mind isn't near powerful enough to stop my autistic self from pulling the plug, as one of Christine's best friends witnessed only a few weeks ago. I was totally beyond myself and shouted, cried and behaved extremely aggressively (without really becoming violent because like most autistic people I couldn't possibly hurt another person). The reason was very simple: an accumulation of too many stimuli and not having enough opportunity to let off steam. Oh, how much would I like to apologise for what happened. I hate that part of me so very much! Then again, it's not my fault because I haven't chosen to be like this, just like a handicapped person didn't choose to be in a wheelchair. We can only try to make the best of things, even though we have to swim seriously upstream whereas "neurotypical" people can just follow the current. Perhaps the sudden outburst also had a positive effect, i.e. that people understand better what an ordeal it is to be autistic and how much effort we must do to blend in in normal society. 

I could say the same thing about some of my posts. Loyal followers have certainly already noticed that some of my scribbles can be quite hard or yes even arrogant. But then again they're also good examples about how we reason and how impossible it is for us to accept things that we consider as "unfair". Not that these things are per definition "unfair", but we see them that way and nothing in the whole world can make us change our views. It's like converting an astronomer into an astrologist, to take a spicy example. :-) No, to us this thing or situation is "unfair" and has to change NOW. So we fight like Don Quichotes against the windmills and just as many times hit the wall with our face. Again my apologies. I realise that this particular behaviour of mine can easily put someone off and that this is the main reason why many people dislike me. Even though deep down I've got a tiny little heart begging for a bit of love and attention... It's the arrogant outer shell, constructed as a protection against the dangerous outside world and fed by our incapacity to see things in a different perspective that drives me to do, say or write certain things. 

I hope that all of you forgive me for that and that you'd take the effort to look through this façade, how hard and convincing it may be at times.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Famous autistic people?

Following my previous post, I'd like to elaborate a bit on famous historical people who were supposedly autistic. Many illustrous names come up when you google famous historical people in combination with autism: Leonardo Da Vinci, Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Thomas Edison and many more. Well... again, I have to say... (pardon me for the third time)... WHAT A LOAD OF RUBBISH!!! Upon what evidence does one state that for example Da Vinci was autistic??? Because he was a genius??? Come on, give me a break! It is true that there are quite a few autistic people who are geniuses, but so are many "neurotypical" people. There is absolutely no link between autism and a high IQ whatsoever! So then, what evidence is there? Where is the psychological analysis (ZAT, MMP1-2,...)? Where's Rey's complex figure? The neuropsychological examination (Bourdon-Wiersma,...)? And so on...

Let's take the example which is closest to my heart: Johann Sebastian Bach, without any doubt the greatest musical mind in history ("next to him all others look like children" - Robert Schumann). When I took the tests, they told me that it was essential to do an in-depth psychological analysis of the first two life years in order to be able to make an autism diagnosis with a certian accuracy. As far as Bach is concerned, we know absolutely NOTHING of the first TEN years of his life. And the only thing we know from the period immediately after, is that he became an orphan and had to go and live with his oldest brother. For the rest, it's a total blank! So who is the smartass who claims that Bach was autistic??? Indeed, Bach repeatedly got into trouble with his superiors. So, is a "difficult" person by definition autistic now? By the way, who says that Bach was a difficult person anyway? What do we actually know for certain about his character? Very little as it turns out, and this very little could just as well mean that he was exactly the opposite of being autistic. His second oldest son, Carl-Philipp Emanuel, writes that he was a "loving father and that his door was always open to give visitors a warm welcome". He also gave us a couple of examples that indicate he was actually a very good-humoured person. We also know that no musician would pass through Leipzig without having paid Bach a visit. He was also the heart and soul of the musical afternoons in Zimmermann's coffee tavern. So it rather seems to me that he was indeed quite a sociable person, fun to be with and kind. Could it be that the many conflicts with the authorities arose because he was simply too good at what he did? Could it be that his magnificent music wasn't appreciated by the strong pietist movement in Germany, which claimed that music should only "support the prayers of the faithful" and hence be kept simple and dull? 

Likewise, I'd like to challenge all of the other claims for so-called autistic historical people because they're based on nothing at all. But apparently, this is the best example of the "hype" that autism has become. Hopefully it's also the best proof for the absurdity of many stories about autism. 

Monday, July 2, 2012


Something that amazes me lately is how "popular" autism has become. It's even become some kind of "hype". Everywhere you read and hear about autism and everyone knows at least someone who's definitely autistic. The figures are dazzling! From one in a thousand, I now hear stats like every one in a hundred or even one in fifty people that are supposedly autistic.

If you ask me, these figures are... and pardon me the word... a lot of bollocks. What I do know for sure, and I'm talking personal experience here, is that the vast majority of therapists, psychologists and other psychiatrists don't know at all what "autism" means. Whenever you say that you're autistic, most of them start groaning, wobbling with their chairs or even sweating. One psychiatrist (who's spent 13 years at university!) confessed to me openly that he didn't know anything about the subject! So who says that every one in fifty is autistic? These incompetent people?

But what aggravates me even more is that there are now so-called "doctors" claiming the wildest causes for autism. Most of them would have something to do with child vaccines. Pardon me again, but what a load of shite! Then what about the one thing we DO know for sure as far as autism is concerned and that's the parental link. Autism sits dormant in someones genes and is passed on from one generation to the next. I know for example that my autistic link can be traced further back in the family. So where do these vaccines enter then? Or what about another fact? Autism surfaces a lot more among boys than girls. HELLOOOO, DOCTOR VACCINES!!! I only have one name for people who're spreading such rubbish and that is parasites! They prey on a defenseless part of society in order to get their face in the papers or on TV. It's a big disgrace! 

Would it stop there? No, of course not. Things get even worse! I've got the impression that autism's become some sort of "fashionable"! Whenever kids are difficult, they're being labeled as "autistic" and then it's all ok. Even more so, then it becomes "cool"! I even know of certain people claiming that their children are autistic so they can get higher child benefit! There is a certain lady who told her son so many times that he's autistic, that the boy eventually started to believe it and even behave more or less likewise. In the beginning I believed the whole story too. Until I saw that the boy's mask fell off and that it was clearly just an act. Or do you know one autistic person who'd ENJOY changing school nine times in two years time and looking forward to going to the next school??? Now, the only thing he still cares about are his computer war games and if he prefers to stay at home and play his games, mummy writes a fake doctor's note so he doesn't have to go to school. I've even seen him on-line playing at 1h45 at night on a weekday! No, people like that - and I mean the boy's mother because she's created this situation - are maggots. They're not only ruining the lives of their children but are also giving real autistic people a bad reputation.  

Autism is a very serious condition. I'm absolutely thrilled that nowadays it's been given the attention it deserves. But I'm worried that it's getting a lot of "bad" attention as well and we have to be careful. Autism needs proper diagnosis and for that therapists need proper training. Training which to date is still severely lacking. And once our limited knowledge about autism is spread further, these undesired side-effects like fake doctors and fake autistic people will be rooted out alltogether. Hopefully.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Lisa's surprise

When we got Lisa, we didn't just inherit a nasty skin disease with her. Oh no, she had an even much bigger surprise in store for us! Now it's also clear why her first owner wanted to get rid of her so fast. We had already noticed that lately she already got tired after a walk of barely an hour whereas in the beginning she could keep running for days. And also her nipples looked a lot bigger than last month. We began to suspect that we had been tricked a lot worse by the former owner and the vet immediately confirmed our fear. She turned out to be pregant of three big puppies! At first, this was a big shock to us because what could we do with three puppies in a country where there are simply too many of them, meaning they'd be hard to get rid of. To let alone the fact that a lot of the mountain folk over here have never heard of animal rights and treat their cats and dogs like dirt. Then again, there were only three of them and Christine and I agreed that we'd probably keep already one for ourselves.

And last Friday afternoon was the big day! I was out teaching English, but when I returned, Lisa immediately ran out of the house to greet me and hinted that I had to follow her. So proud that she was to show me her three cute little pups... 

Number one's a male and very much resembles his mum (the darkest of the three). Unfortunately he's not very fond of the camera because most of the time he hides under or behind mummy. Number two's a female and slightly lighter and more greyish in colour...

And then there is our favourite... number three, also a female. Christine always says that Lisa's ink cartridge must have run out because the second one was already less dark than the first and when number three arrived... well... :-)

Number three's also the only one which already has a name: Fee (pronounced "fay" and meaning "fairy"). Isn't she a beauty? She's quite adventurous and likes to hide under the cloth we put on the floor.

Proud mum Lisa watching over Fee...

Number two having a nap...

Fee again with her creamy-grey fur. All three've got white toes and a white tip on their tails! :-) 

So since Friday we're proud grandparents! The cats are a bit less happy because Lisa's become over-protective and even aggressive towards everything she sees as a menace to her pups, including our cats, although she's already calmed down a bit today. But yesterday we received an unexpected visit. An elderly couple we've never seen before wanted to walk to our house in order to see how it has changed since we live here. It's something Italians like to do and usually we respond kindly to this exaggerated curiosity. But this couple brought two dogs with them, none of which were on a leash! Lisa heard the dogs and stormed right out of the garage (where we've made her nest) and violently attacked the dogs. The old man raised his walking stick at her and wanted to beat her, just when Christine per chance also arrived with her car and the man turned back. He shouted something like: "it was a mistake to come here!" and went away, followed by his wife. We can understand that they must have been terrified, seeing Lisa (who after all very much looks like a real wolf) barging at them. But then again its them who've trespassed on private property with two dogs on the loose. In the mean time we've heard that in our village they're saying all kinds of nasty things about us. Like blowing a football horn at hunting dogs, for example. :-D Well, we've never seen any hunters since. Hopefully this will also be the end of all these intrusions of curious people... hehehe...

Saturday, June 16, 2012


I know, I've been neglecting my blog a bit. Of course I've been awfully busy and I'll reveal more about my current projects some other time. But actually, I've already been thinking about this particular post and especially about how I would write all this. Because to many people who're still in the daily grinder, spending hours in rush-hour traffic, working all day long and then still having to do all of the household, my life here must seem like a dreamworld. And in many respects this is quite true and you'll never hear me complain. I know that I'm lucky, although I don't feel any shame towards the rest of society because I've been working very hard as well for twenty years, until my autism made me completely collapse. So I firmly believe that I've paid my debt to society and that now I've earned a bit of rest. But saying that I'm now living a dream is also far from the truth. In fact, there are days when I rather wish I was dead. It sounds grim but it's exactly how I feel at times and no beautiful mountains or abundant sunshine can change that. The environment has changed and I find a lot more rest now. But within I haven't changed at all. I'm still the same Peter, seriously autistic and sick and tired of having to compensate this terrible thing. Well, I don't find it so terrible but other people would if I became the person I actually want to be. And there's the nag because rarely do I get any appreciation for the effort that I'm doing. People take it as read and on the contrary get very angry at me when at times I can't do as much effort as I should and my mask falls off.

Last week, Christine and I were sitting at the breakfast table while all of a sudden I asked her something which she actually had already just said. Tears started rolling off my cheeks because at moments like that I have to face the fact that I have a certain "condition". I'm very intelligent, gifted even, but I can't remember something simple that was just said to me. It's something very difficult to accept and it frustrates me beyond words. But then, Christine said something that made me furious: "Now do you understand why I always ask you things two or three times?". Which she indeed does and for which I always become very snappy and even angry. It's like reminding a disabled person all the time that he's sitting in a wheelchair. So what's the most important? That I sometimes forget something or that I keep my dignity as a person? Well, you have to anwer this for yourself because obviously I choose "dignity", being the person concerned in this case. 

All in all, it's one of these small examples where people say that they accept my handicap, but in reality still expect me to be "normal" because I can pretend to be "normal" so well. Sometimes I indeed wish that I were physically disabled rather than mentally because the latter is so difficult to understand for other people. Phrases like "But I often also feel like that" or "Don't be so faint-hearted"... I've heard them a thousand times. And also after this blog post people will not understand; I'm realistic enough about it. But I can only keep trying... :-) 

Monday, May 28, 2012

The translator job

What a day, last Thursday! The headmistress of one of the schools where I'm teaching asked if I could do an extra day's work. The school would receive an important visit from Denmark and they needed someone to translate. Since my Danish is a bit rusty, English would do nicely as well. And so I jumped on my Vespa for what I thought would be a visit from Danish children. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that it weren't as much children, but an important delegation of adults. Headmasters, inspectors and even people working for the Danish ministry of education! And there I was in my best... t-shirt. One person from the Danish delegation did in fact speak very good Italian so I began to seriously wonder what the heck I was doing there. But after the introduction the party was split in two and I was to accompany the second group. 

The Danes visited the nursery, the infant school, the primary and the (lower) secondary school. And all the time I had to translate. Easier said than done. Doing a live translation between two languages neither of which actually is your mothertongue is a bit of a challenge, even for a "normal" person. Imagine what it must be like for an autistic person like me, who doesn't understand words in the first place! 

At this point I'd like to explain that being autistic also means that I'm completely unable to follow a normal conversation because not all of the words get through to me. In my head I have to puzzle the words that I do pick up back together into something that makes sense, more or less. Can you imagine how I was falling apart? I had to hold on to every word with my fingernails, hoping that it would not vanish into the bottomless well in my head before the sentence would be finished. Fortunately, I intervened just in time and already started translating after only a few words, thus forcing the person talking to split the explanation into little bits which I could just about manage. It worked and in the end I got lots of compliments for my work, even from the Danes who said that my English translation went very fast and was easily understandable to them. It was the best compliment anyone could give me that day because I felt absolutely exhausted.

When I got home, I almost collapsed and didn't say much anymore for the rest of the evening. My head was spinning and felt like hundreds of needles were penetrating my skull. No, doing a live translation must be one of the worst jobs anyone could ask of me. Even though I did like doing it very much and it was a wonderful day as a whole. But once again I had to face the limits of what my condition allows me to do. I had to think back to the days when I was still working in Belgium and had to go to all of these important meetings. I have to admit that I was lucky enough to have the most amazing colleague you could ever imagine and he usually helped me through the ordeal. Not that he probably noticed how much I was using him. Although I don't like the word "use" very much in this case because it sounds so pejorative. I respect that person so much that I don't want to sound too rude - I was only trying to survive... Anyway, it's one of these tricks I learnt myself over the years in order to hide my autism to the rest of the world. I pretend that I've totally understood what was said, even though I didn't understand a peep of it. But then I take the initiative, before anyone can beat me to it, and ask some open questions about the meeting. Something like: "That was quite unbelievable what he said, wasn't it?" Inciting the other person to comment and then I obviously agree for the full 100%. Even more, from the person's response I can more or less guess what was being said during the meeting. Yes, you could almost consider that I was completely asleep during the meeting itself. But mind you, I was wide awake all the time and desperatly trying to make some sense of the discussion!

Of course, it didn't always go like this. When I'm very familiar with a subject and/or have a strong opinion about it, I'll be the most eloquent person in the meeting room and defend my point of view with the utmost vigour. It's so strange... Sometimes I wish I could just unscrew my head for a couple of days... or years... 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Taking Lisa for a walk

Having a dog is also having a lot of responsibility. Especially in Lisa's case where a shipload of traumas came with the dog as a free bonus package. It's a package we want to throw in the bin as soon as possible so we immediately took her on long walks, at least once a day but generally two to three times daily. And how happy she is since. In the beginning she couldn't contain herself and she pulled us all the way round as if she were a sleigh dog wanting to win the race. She can go on for hours if she has to, pulling with all of her might up and down the hills, meadows and foot trails. But this week we had enough faith in her to let her off the leash. In the beginning she was still a bit wild and disappeared in the woods up to the point that we were getting quite anxious. But now she's calmed down a lot and although she still likes to run after a roe deer or investigating a strange scent she picked up in the fields, she always comes back when we call her and always remains in the vicinity. Even more so. It's hard to believe this but it's true... When Christine takes Lisa for a walk on her own, Lisa stays remarkably close to Christine and almost never lets her eyes off her. Could it be that Lisa instictively feels that Christine is suffering from chronic fatigue and that she's worried about her? She's oh soooo sweet...

A few days ago I took Lisa out on a three-hour hike all around the Monte Carù, the hill against which our house is situated. Unfortunately the sky was veiled and near the end it started to drizzle, but the temperature was mild - about 18°C - so the perfect weather for a stiff walk. The nightingales were again singing until they'd burst, the air was full with the sweet scent of wild thyme and honeysuckle and going down the trail behind our house I could already hear the gentle rustling of the Secchia river. Time for a last glance at the Bismantova rock before diving into the woods...

Lisa was completely overjoyed. She ran and leapt and took in the whole of stunning nature with all of her senses. Dogs are all natural born runners, well the Pekingese probably a bit less so :-), and the wolf-hound with its amazing lung capacity is certainly excelling at this. Lisa could run about for days and never shows the slightest bit of fatigue. This is what she was born for... to run freely as the queen of these woods and fields.

The woods were getting thicker and the trail meandered downhill, towards the Secchia. Just look at her, how happy she is and how well she responded to my call...

Finally we arrived in the Secchia valley. The Gessi Triassici ("Triassic Rocks") you can see on the next picture are not just a wonderful sight as such, they also have a big paleontological value, just like the cliffs of South-England for example. Naturally these rocks form an integral part of the Tuscan-Emilian National Park.

Again a snapshot of the Gessi Triassici with the beautifully flowered meadows and lowlands leading towards the river...

Having a quick rest, enjoying this earthly paradise...

We continued our hike through the valley, with the Monte Carù on our right...

Then, I stumbled upon this sign. At first I didn't understand it quite well and I guessed that "geome" must mean something like "gnome". So... "Madonna of the gnomes" and "TR1" would be a track or distance number or something. 

This was actually confirmed by what I found in the woods. A tiny chapel with tiny benches in front of it, as if they were truly made for gnomes...

But when I returned home and looked "geome" up in the dictionary, I couldn"t find it. Not even when I Googled it. And then I sussed it. It's not "geome" but "geometri", in one word even though there was a big space in between. "Geometri" means "geometers"... the Madonna of the geometers??? Hmmm... Next time I'll return with a torch and burn that place down! hehehe... ;-) 

On we went, through dried up sidearms of the Secchia river and next to the bends of the river itself. Nowadays this river's quite calm, but imagine what a torrent it can be just after the mountain snow begins to melt! On this picture you can see some treelogs on the island of rubble behind the main river. A bit further down the whole riverbed is even covered in old treelogs!

Lisa playing with the ripples and barking at the noise the river makes. This was probably the first time she actually saw a river...

And then she couldn't contain herself any longer... :-)

It was only a quick dip but she really loved it! One more picture taken in the direction where we came from, with Monte Carù to the left and the Monte Ventasso in the distance. There is a very nice ski resort at Monte Ventasso, by the way...

On the muddy trail we found fresh evidence of the biggest animal living in these woods: the noble deer! Unfortunately no antlers though; it's too late in the year to look for these anyway, unless you're incredibly lucky...

Fresh, young trees planted where old ones had been chopped down. I was glad to see that forest preservation's been carefully planned and executed. Also nice colours in this picture, don't you think?

Eventually we had to turn right, around the corner of Monte Carù and start a steep climb upwards. At the foot we crossed a small field in the middle of the woods, completely full of wild orchids! Literally hundreds of them! From now on I'll call this place Orchid Field... :-)

Up... and up... and up... along the signposted track. This is the "S.SP" or "Sentiero Spallanzani", one of the three most important hiking trails in the Emilian Apennines, next to the "Sentiero Matilde" (dedicated to countess Matilde of Canossa and her many castles in the area) and the "Sentiero Ducale" (dedicated to the dukes of Parma and their former properties here). Well... either I'm getting old or the people who designed the "S.SP" are a bunch of ruthless sadists! My god! The climb is incredibly steep and doesn't seem to end at all! I had to stop every two minutes or so to catch my breath! And all this time Lisa was hopping about like if the climb didn't bother her in the least. I suppose she could climb the Everest without ever getting tired. :-) Afterwards, when I came to think of it, the trail made a height difference of 250m on that particular portion. This is like almost climbing all the way up the Eiffel tower in one single stretch! Oh... how glad I was to see the sign on the next picture! It meant that I had reached the orchid track (see previous blog post) and that my sufferings were over...

View from the orchid track with the weather deteriorating. So it's not the most spectacular picture I've already taken from this spot, but it was during this particular walk so I chose this one. You can see the distance I climbed, the Sologno valley with the Sologno torrent which ends up in the Secchia a bit further, and the village of Sologno resting on the crest of the hill behind. In the far distance Monte Cusna is about to be covered by the clouds. 

Back along the orchid track. Down I found this wonderful refrigerator flower! Incredible, isn't it? Imagine the effort someone must have gone through in order to drag this fridge, kitchen sink and hot water boiler (not on the picture) all the way up here, 2 miles in the woods, in order to dump them! I'm sorry, Amnesty International, but you lot can go to hell. I think that for such bastards public flogging should be reintroduced! :-( (my apologies that the picture isn't 100% sharp but it was getting pretty dark at the time...) 

And look at this! Evidence of another incredible but shy creature that lives in these woods: the big porcupine! Actually, when Christine returned home recently, late in the evening, she actually saw two male porcupines showing off in the middle of the road, with their spined backs towards the other trying to make the best impression! I can testify that these spines are incredibly sharp because I was stupid enough to put them in one of my trouser pockets. No... It's not what you think, you perverts... :-D When I wanted to take them out one of them stung my fingertip and it went in like a knife through soft butter...  

Almost home. Our house is about half a mile further, behind the hill with the trees on the far right. 

And so ended our little adventure. Lisa and I were both incredibly happy and you can count on it that we'll do this walk many times again in the future. Perhaps Christine and I can have a picknick by the Secchia while Lisa lets go of her excess of energy? Altough I'd want to bet she'd be much more interested in the picknick as well... :-D

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Realm of the Orchids

It's May... Springtime... The sky is clear and the nightingales are singing. But today I'd like to talk about something else which makes these Emilian mountains so unbelievably special: the wild orchids! 

I'd already heard that these incredible flowers bloom in this area. However, I wasn't prepared for the fact that in this particular case reality surpassed my wildest imagination by a mile. Those of you who know me can testify that my imagination can be quite vivid at times, to say the least. And therefore my statement is rather bold. But certainly not exaggerated.

This week we had a lovely English couple spending a part of their holiday at our B&B. They were both hiking and plant lovers and so I took Lisa for a walk along a path I hadn't taken before but which seemed quite interesting on the map. It was a sort of "test run" before I could advise it to our guests. What I saw along that path was absolutely stunning! Mind you, this is a trail right next to our house! 

I won't say anymore... the pictures speak for themselves. In total Christine and I counted already a full dozen of wild orchid species on this particular walk alone, so most probably there must still be a lot more of them. You can also imagine how our guests must have felt... :-) 

Enjoy... and if you'd like to see these with your own eyes, you still have until about half-June to plan a visit with a free guided tour included! :-)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Lisa's come home

Last week we finally received the lovely dog house we ordered along with all the other stuff we needed for our Lisa and so it was time to go and get her. She was lying there as always, meaning chained up to the stable wall. But when she saw us she imediately wagged her fluffy creamy-white tail as a sign of excitement and joy. Christine and I were not alone though. Cunning little Tobi had followed us through the fields all the way down to the village and there was no way we could send him back. Well, that would be his problem. Whether he'd still be so thrilled after he saw Lisa coming back with us... And indeed. His back immediately arched and he put his tail up like a big, hairy antenna. No... He definitely hadn't counted on that big monster and chose to hide in the bushes. He didn't run off at all though... 

Eventually we all arrived back home safe and sound and to Lisa this must have been one of the happiest moments of her life. They say that dogs understand when you saved them from a horrible fate and I indeed believe that this is true, judging by her reaction. Yes, also we keep her tied up for the moment because we're still too afraid that she might run off, which she already tried once. But the difference is that we've bought a rotating hook which we screwed somewhere in the middle of our field to which she is tied with a 10m leash. This means that she's got a circle with a 20m diameter in which she can run about freely. She hasn't got the tendency to run wildly into oblivion and therefore hardly had any drastic encounters with the limits of the leash. Now she perfectly knows how far she can go so we believe that this is a far better (temporary) solution than putting her in a cage. Just look at her... how beautiful and happy she looks after we gave her a good bath and brushing...

Having a dog house is one thing. Another is protection against the elements. Christine and I spent the last couple of days building her a shelter which is closed on two sides and therefore also prevents driving rain or wind from entering her little house. She's so happy with it and most of the time, when she's not running around or playing, she'll rest under her new roof. 

Another wonderful picture of Lisa, discovering her new environment...

Running around, wagging her fluffy tail...

Enjoying the view...

And what about our cats, you might wonder? Obviously, they're very curious and can't keep their eyes off Lisa, but all keep a safe distance. Blu's already tried to come a bit closer, even into Lisa's territory. But especially Tobi is unstoppable. We already knew that he's completely bananas, but that he'd be that brave... You won't believe this, but it's true: Tobi chased Lisa away! Yes, you read it correctly. A 4kg, 10-month old kitten charged at a 20kg wolf-hound and Lisa ran off, just to be on the safe side. Because it's clear that Tobi is a cat to be reckoned with! :-) 

But all in all, Lisa just wants to play and we're pretty certain that one day our cats will become close friends with her. Tobi already crawled into Lisa's house, so it won't take long as far as he's concerned... :-)

I'm sorry, but I have to end with a bit of sad news. We were already afraid of this, and indeed our fear turned out to be justified. Down at the stable where Lisa used to be chained up, there's another dog now. A black sort of street dog with a white mark on its chest. We can't bare to think what'll happen with it when it also turns out to be a poor sheep herder... :-(

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Oh boy, my post about humans being the lowest creatures on Earth has stirred a lot of people. Even my own dad wondered what the heck got into me! :-) Let me tell you a little story, just to show you once more what I mean.

This is Lisa. She's a two-year old cross-breed between a wolf and a dog and a rare but typical dog of these Emilian mountains. Her pedigree says "Apennine Sheperd Dog", a species which isn't internationally recognised yet but which they're trying very hard to make official. In Italian they commonly say "cane lupo" or "wolf-dog" because of her parentage. They were bred especially to guard sheep or goats because their scent is very similar to that of a wolf and therefore no wolf would dare to come closer because they take it that it is the territory of another pack of wolves. But their character is mostly that of a common dog, even more so because they're very calm and incredibly kind. This is her story...

Lisa (or originally named "Birba" like nearly all of her female kind is called, but we quickly changed that) was a dog that stole our hearts right from the first moment we saw her. One of the local sheep-farmers had bought her to guard his flock and since his stable is right down the main road through Carù, we nearly saw her every day. That's because... she was always tied to the stable wall with a heavy chain. During winter, when it's freezingly cold, or summer, when it's very hot and without the slightest bit of shadow to hide in. There she was. One hot summer day when she was still very young, we heard her screaming in agony because the sun was burning mercilessly upon her and she hadn't got a single drop of water. Christine immediately went to the owner's son, a good lad, and under the pretext of wanting to see his new dog, she asked if they could go down to her and give her something to drink. "Later", he replied, "when I've finished my game of football". As I said, he's a good kid. The problem is that this is the way people reason around here and hence this is how he got educated. It's ok to put dogs on a short chain in the baking sun all day without water because they'll manage. Over here, an animal is nothing more than a tool which you can simply dispose of if it doesn't function properly. And this is exactly what happened to Lisa.

As it turned out, Lisa wasn't the excellent sheperd the farmer had hoped for (between you and me, I seriously doubt whether he's really done any effort to train her) and so she had to go. Last Saturday, when Christine passed with the car, he suddenly waved at her and asked her to stop. "Would you like a dog", he asked her, knowing that we're animal lovers. Christine was a bit stunned by this to-the-point question and asked him what this was all about. So he explained that Lisa was no good to him and therefore either she had to go to an asylum or  she had to be put down. Which over here boils down to the same thing anyway. Christine felt gutted and couldn't believe that this was happening to this absolutely beautiful and kind dog. We had already been wondering about a dog for some time, mainly to keep foxes away from our chickens (we lost all of our chickens to foxes, by the way) and chase hunters' dogs out. And knowing that these wolf-dogs are so lovely we'd always said that if we ever got one it should be one of these. But then again, our cats would probably veto so we never did take a dog, also because a dog is much more of a responsibility than a cat. A cat will take care of itself and only come to you on its terms. Having a dog is like having a baby... you have to take care of it and spend a lot of time together. We weren't sure that we would be able to do that, given my autism, Christine's chronic fatigue and the care for our cats which already consumes a lot of our time and energy. But hence we were put before a terrible ordeal. Either we'd accept Lisa as a new member of our family, or she would be put down. 

Guess what we did? We took her. And with great joy, as a matter of fact. For the moment she's still tied to the stable because we want her shelter and everything else ready for her. But twice a day we pay her a visit, feed her decent dog food in stead of the rubbish and leftovers she's used to (she eats so frantically that she'd nearly choke, that's how much she's afraid that she won't get any more food!) and take her for a good walk. She absolutely loves to walk and Christine and I can't wait to take her to the wonderful trails that lead through our mountains. A couple of days ago we also already took her to the vet (who didn't know what to say anymore... after everything he's already been through with us! :-) ) and when she gets home we'll give her a nice bath and a good brushing, because the state she's in for the moment is absolutely appalling. 

We feel reassured because she's so gentle and relaxed. Cats pass by all the time and she doesn't try to run after them at all. Dogs are barking all around her and she doesn't bark back. She actually doesn't bark at all, except when Christine and I go home again. She also doesn't smell at all, and considering her condition that's pretty amazing. Something that put Christine and I off regarding dogs in the past, is that they usually smell pretty badly, apart from Huskies apparently. Is it because, just like the Husky, also she is closely related to the wolf? We don't know, but she hardly smells. It remains to be seen whether she'll be just as calm with our cats, but we're pretty certain she will. After all, the cats keep the house at least until it gets very cold again and in the beginning we'll keep her on a (long) leash in our field, partly protected by the trees and with a decent shelter at hand. The aim is that she'll get to know our field, claim it as her territory and remain in this area even without a leash. Although at night we'll still tie her up, just to be sure. And of course we'll take her out on a good walk every day. It's a good incentive to keep up my own condition as well because it's been lacking a bit these last few months. 

And judging by this last picture, do you think she's happy we took her?... 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Yellow gold

It wouldn't be fair to talk about the Black Gold which is produced in our region (and nowhere else in the world! - see my post of January 16th), without mentioning another unique product that the Emilian Apennines are world-famous for: "il Parmigiano-Reggiano", or "Parmesan cheese" in English. The word "Parmesan" again doesn't really live up to the truth because just like the Balsamic vinegar which is generally thought to originate from Modena, this particular cheese originates from Reggio Nell'Emilia and it is in this Italian province that you find the most and best cheese factories. Please, forget the powdery stuff that you can find in your (non-Italian) supermarket which tastes likes a bicycle tyre! This is made from the leftovers that no true Italian would dare to put on the table and is therefore sold for export, to the ignorant foreigners. The real Parmesan cheese is a superb-quality product and one of the finest cheeses in the world. But you'd probably already guessed that after I explained the difference between real Balsamic vinegar and the stuff that most of the non-Italians are used to. Italians are very proud of their national heritage and tend to keep it for themselves. Who are we to blame them? :-)

The Italian cuisine is basically "uncomplicated", a word that I certainly don't mean to use in a negative way. It's a cuisine that still carries a long tradition of poor people trying to make the best with what they'd got. But with these few and "simple" ingredients, they managed to create food worthy of a table of kings. The Parmesan cheese is no exception to that rule, on the contrary. It's a cheese that is the result of excellent craftsmanship and above all... a lot of patience, although not as much as with Balsamic vinegar which, as you may recall, can take up to at least 25 years to mature for the "gold label" brand.

Another unique feature about this cheese is that it's generally produced by a cooperative of local farmers and cheese-makers. Cooperatives are quite common in Italy and provide a lot of advantages, the most important one is that the cost for the factory and equipment can be shared. Also the farmers benefit because their salary becomes a part of the cheese sale, rather than having to depend on the ever-fluctuating price of milk. All people participating in the process have their share and hence benefit from this extensive cooperation. 

Early in the morning, the milk is collected and driven to the factory, where it's pumped into conical-shaped fermenting vats. The amount and the kinds of whey, the temperatures and the fermenting times are all at the discretion of the master cheese-maker and they all have their own little secrets. So again, like is the case with Balsamic vinegar, no two Parmesan cheeses are alike and some cheese factories have a better reputation than others. Christine and I have visited many factories and tasted many cheeses personally and we can only concur to that statement. All in all, we want to give our (foreign) guests nothing but the best and want to be absolutely certain that when we give an advice about which factory to visit that it's a very good one. The blokes you can see in these pictures are all highly skilled and produce some of the finest Parmesan cheeses that we've come across so far.

Next, the cheese becomes solid and is pulled out of the rest of the milk with a piece of cloth. 

 Then it is put into a double mould. The inner part (which you can see in the picture) is made of plastic and stamps the well-known dots, the name of the factory and date of production in the cheese. Around this plastic mould, a metal spring-mould is fastened which presses the cheese together and will give it its final shape.

The cheeses are then put into a bath of salted water for 20 to 25 days - again depending on the cheese-maker's experience. 

And then the moulds are removed and the cheeses end up in the storage room for at least twelve months. Although - personally - I always go for the 30-month cheese because its taste is so much stronger and spicier still. Every now and then the cheeses are checked by experts who can evaluate their quality by the sound of a small hammer tapping on the cheese. The "failed" cheeses are mercilessly pulled out of the shelves, branded as "insufficient quality" by means of long, parallel carvings on the crust and then... yes... usually sold for export. What do we know what these carvings mean anyway... :-)  

The result is a cheese which is almost a pity to grate and throw on your spaghetti Bolognese. No, it's a cheese which perfectly holds its own and goes down well with an excellent glass of Primitivo or Montepulciano.