At Viterbo, our very lovely and effusive landlady, Alberta, picks us up from the stationand takes us our studio in Via Cacciamele 2. One large stone room with arches, and a little mezzanine where we sleep, kitchen and bathroom. One entrance and source of light, a large double door we can leave open with heavy metal grill for protection.
After Alberta leaves, we wander around Viterbo, looking for dinner. It’s about 7 pm, so everyone’s out in the piazzi: Italian babes - honey-skinned and stylish goddesses with cigarettes - older women with extravagant makeup, families, sulky male hunks etc. At the fruit shop (after buying grapes as solid as steaks and beautiful fresh figs), practice my Italian and get advice about where to eat, go to Tre Re, a ristorante where we have excellent pasta con funghi, carpaccio of cod with grilled radicchio, served by yet another handsome hunk.
Constantly amazed that everyone understands my Italian. Viterbo seems very beautiful and manageable, a small medieval city with very friendly people, and a thing for odd-looking lions. A few days of tourism follow: breakfasts standing at bars, looking at churches - Marianne and I sing in any empty church we find - wandering the medieval area, big lunches, naps, thermal baths, gardens, coffee (none as good as the Millers, Allpress, Toby’s Estate, L’affare, Havana etc etc we’re spoiled with in NZ or Australia - mi dispiace).
The Festival of Santa Rosa kicked off one afternoon with a hundred 6-10 solemn year-old boys in immaculate white (le minifacchini) processing four abreast with linked arms through the streets. They were accompanied by a raucous (ie. great) marching band in medieval drag, flag-waving girls. pom-pom twirlers and various characters - a pope, some swordbearers, a guy with a crossbow, a blonde beauty, some Templars (I think), a girl with a bowl of pears etc. This is a rehearsal that goes on for a couple of hours.
Later that night is the real procession: at 9pm all the street lights go out, pom pom girls and teams of minifacchini move out and a huge wedding-cake edifice of light manifests from behind a draped scaffold, carried by 20-30 boys - it’s a great moment. Two hours later it passes by our studio, the silent little boys looking exhausted and intent; alongside them walk parents, or trainers, constantly calling encouragement. It’s intense and quite moving. Check out the minifacchini on youTube. (We had to leave for Siena before the big night in Viterbo, when adult males carry a 5-ton, 30-metre-tall illuminated tower through the streets. 30 metres? Most of the buildings in Viterbo aren’t that tall.)
Friday 2 September, get a bus to Siena, have dinner with chums who are coming on the Singing in Siena course: Luciano Mesiti (Sydney), Claire Stevens (Dunedin), Christine Phillips (Melbourne). Next day, we all head to Montestigliano, which is, if possible, even more beautiful than last year. Oohs and aahs of awe all around.
We have about four singing sessions a day, and it’s a lovely group of singers, some with a lot of experience (there are three choir directors amongst them) and some with none. I do my thing (a mixture of traditional gospel, Taizé, and South African songs) and Nehemiah Brown (Florence Gospel Choir) does his thing (keyboard-driven traditional and modern gospel in three parts) for two days.
Nehemiah and the sopranos
On Wednesday 7, we go into Florence, spontaneously sing ‘At a time like this’ in front of the duomo to a vast number of appreciative tourists, and rehearse with the FGS.
The final evening’s concert begins with Luciano singing a heartfelt song about his father, then, ever a creature of habit, I sing ‘Sending up my timber’ backed up by a quartet: Luciano, Marianne, Christine and Peter Brake, and they sound pretty flash. Our Singing in Siena Choir sings most of our repertoire, and I’m proud of their performance. The Florence Gospel Choir sings (with keyboard and cajón, an interesting combo) and finally we all sing a few songs together, ending with O Happy Day. Then we all eat and celebrate in the piazza. I go to bed before the limoncello and karoake mix gets too dangerous.
As always, thanks to Jen for creating her dream and including us in it, thanks to Jules Damian, to my quartet and all the singers, who were wonderful and wonderful to work with.
Next day, go to Rome for a week, stay in a great apartment near il Campo di Fiore, and spend all our time meandering round Trastavere, Villa Borghese and Giancolo, drinking coffee and eating. I'm trying to do as little as possible, and we don't have internet in our pad, so feel no pressure to maintain anything other than a shadowy caffeinated and carbo-loaded presence. The only music I hear is from the gypsy bands in the Campo.