I’ve passed it a thousand times and didn’t know its name: Villa Leopardi Dittajuti, or, as most people call it, Villa Leopardi. Nothing to do with the poet Giacomo Leopardi, though Isabella tells me Count Leopardi Dittajuti, who had the mansion built in the late 19th century, was a distant relative of the poet.
The Amici di Villa Leopardi have kept themselves busy, erecting tombstone-like monuments to the hard work they have carried out making the garden hospitable, though Isabella’s report on the little-known catacombs beneath us had me wondering about their muse.
Like the catacombs, the mansion is unfrequented these day. Probably awaiting restoration. Any indoor activities around here take place in the local library and centro anziani, which are also housed within the grounds.
For most of the people here these days, Villa Leopardi is the park rather than the mansion, and there does seem to be plenty of variety: places to sit, to picnic, to walk prams and wheelchairs, a space for children to play, even a dedicated speaker’s platform… or a place where speakers are cornered, it’s not entirely clear.
So, something for everyone.
For me, it was the flowers, the leaves, the plants. After so much time spent indoors over the past year, and especially the quarantines of the past winter, just being immersed in the season’s lusciousness and heady scents was exhilarating, something I would have liked to be able to recreate in the photo edits.
Peering through my macro lens, I watched insects gather goodies from even the smallest daisies.
Then out of nowhere came three colourful, exotic birds.
The darkness of winter was definitely over.
Nothing is ever what it first seems.
Going to the shops for groceries these past couple of months has been a slow process at times. The upside is that in the long wait, some interesting things have caught my eye. I found this lovely item in the dark depths of a tiny grocery shop nearby, and once home, I positioned it with care in the late afternoon sun.
My Facebook people weren’t overly impressed:
Daughter: What the hell is that? (😂😂)
Sister: A misshapen pepper? (👍🏻)
Brother: A pepperwrongi (😂😂)
Friend: I thought it was a puppy (😲)
Daughter: It looked like a person from here (😂)
Me: It’s me, how I felt today 😜😂 (🤣🤣🤣)
Daughter: Well who hasn’t felt like a misshapen pepperwrongi puppy person sometime in their life! (😂 😂 😂 😂 😂 😂 😂 😂 👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻)
Not a great time for landscape trips, but a good enough time for other things.
My three days in Ballintoy sped by, leaving no time to explore the beaches further along the coast. Just a sneak peek from the roadside…
I’d got drenched the evening before here, but I was back, a bit earlier. The place is mesmerising.
You can’t come here without wondering about Fionn mac Cumhaill at some point. For some he’s just a legend. For others he is legend, and is still around here somewhere, sleeping, waiting.
It was a short walk from the road, and not a long drive from Dunluce Castle, but the name of the place escapes me. The rocks were slippery and I was hobbling around in pain with a recent injury so didn’t venture further downstream where the more exciting views were to be had.
There was an Old Man of Dunluce, Who went out to sea on a goose: When he’d gone out a mile, He observ’d with a smile, “It is time to return to Dunluce.” Edward Lear, More Nonsense, Pictures, Rhymes, Botany, Etc. (1872), limerick 12
If I’d got to the Dark Hedges pre-dawn as intended, they might have appeared as dark as their name suggests. But the light-coloured beech trunks and even just a hint of morning sunshine made this tunnel of trees a fairly light and airy one, not spooky at all.
Spookier is the fact that the number of trees has practically halved since they were first planted in the late 18th century, some through storm damage, but also as the flux of visitors has intensified.
Early one morning looking out from Ballintoy towards Sheep Island, I wondered how the island got its name, since it has no sheep, and doesn’t look like a sheep, but apparently has a lot of cormorants and other seabirds. Mind you, as for everywhere else around here, a nice wool jumper would definitely come in handy if you were ever to go there (unlikely, since it’s uninhabited, and a Special Protection Area), even in summer.
The Seabird Centre at Rathlin West Lighthouse, whose light flickers in the distance, has plenty of birds too, including the tiny puffins that people love to photograph. But the puffins had all gone by August. The tourists and seagulls certainly hadn’t.
But back at the port it proved fairly easy to find a quiet place for a restorative cup of tea (or was it a late afternoon gin?) and an even quieter spot a short walk away to enjoy the peculiar mix of sunshine and ominous clouds to be had around these parts. Far too hot for a wool jumper on Rathlin Island that day, while we heard that it lashed buckets in Ballintoy all day.
Who said you have to suffer for your art?
No more backpack-laden uphill hikes pre-sunrise for me. I’ve had it up to here with standing around in loch-side mud getting chewed by midges. It has finally dawned on me that I’m no longer interested in putting up with endless hours in the rain and howling winds without sleep, food, relaxation or wine in the name of landscape photography. Same goes for the effort involved in trying to keep up with the exaggerated strides of blokes 2 metres tall, each with 3 cameras, 10 lenses and 2 tripods in their backpacks, as on The day I landed on Mars.
Landscape photography tours and workshops can be wonderfully inspiring thanks to the places you visit and the input and feedback provided by the workshop leader. The people you meet and exchange information, views and ideas with can also make all the difference. But do we need to experience extremes or push ourselves to physical limits in order to create interesting images?
These were my thoughts when I came across an “impressionist photography” workshop in Giverny arranged in summer 2019 by photography workshop leader Cheryl Hamer. It sounded just what I wanted: a peaceful rural location, a small group, no early morning rises, no long hikes to extreme locations in wild climatic conditions. Just an unexplored photographic technique for me to learn about and practise (multiple exposures with an impressionist effect). Plus I love French food, wine, the sounds of the French language, and Monet’s water lily paintings.
In the stunning setting of Monet’s garden at Giverny, Cheryl’s clear input and supportive feedback, both of which came in just the right doses at the right time, provided plenty of opportunities for creating images in Monet’s garden. The fact that this particular group turned out to be made up of lovely, friendly people with a sense of humour who also appreciated pain-free photography in a relaxing environment was an unexpected bonus.
Not that I’ll be giving away my midge net, wellies or rainproofs yet though: Northern Ireland is my next stop.
The high spot of the trip was the frozen Pericnik Waterfall. Brrrr…
A fair bit of puffing and panting took place on the way up in the snow, but I’d do it again any day… with a lighter backpack 😜
The picturesque Church of Saint John the Baptist at Lake Bohinj.
Even standing more or less still for a couple of hours or more in sub-zero temperatures, somehow you just don’t feel the cold.
The touch of warm colour in the sky as sunset approached probably helped.
And once again the snow melted.
But not before I’d had the time to take this shot:
We had plumped for a morning walk, but the tower area was teeming with tourists. The city walls seeming like a decent alternative.
On that quiet and sunny autumn morning, we came upon 3 or 4 other people in as many hours, and ended up in a still and silent residential district.
A tiny sample of views to be had:
And my favourite autumn image so far this year:
Now that I know what winter weather can be like in Lanzarote, and know the places I’d like to spend more time in, I’m pretty sure I will go again, but not among the crowds in the baking summer sun.
Well not exactly a walk. First a drive, then a lengthy wait for parking space, followed by a couple of minutes’ walk up the hill to the bus, and finally a bus tour with recorded commentary complete with musical drama – the only way allowed to see the Parque Nacional de Timanfaya, Lanzarote. Spectacular nonetheless. [Photos taken through the bus window with my phone].