My Travels: A Photo Shoot at the Foot of Sirente

Sirente is a long mountain that rises from the village of Rovere on the Altipiano of Abruzzo and at its peak reaches up to 2200 meters above sea level. The plateau of the Altipiano sits at between 1350 and 1450 meters above sea level.

Rovere sits on the western and southern slopes of a small hill at the base of Sirente. From the north it presents a quaint skyline.  It is one of those kitsch pictures you always want to capture, so as I drove out of Rocca di Mezzo at 5 am I was tempted to stop on the road and take a photo, but decided against it. It was just too kitsch! When I turned down the road that runs parallel to the cliffs of Sirente for 40 kilometres, I saw mist in the valley before Rovere and turned off into the fields and set up my tripod. I had to take a picture of Rovere.

A slightly less kitsch picture of Rovere

Remember it is midsummer in Italy, and they are experiencing a heat wave. It was 7 degrees Celsius above zero below that mountain and fortunately I was wearing a thick winter jacket. The three quarter moon was quiet high but as the sun rose orange rays warmed the Velino Range in the background and presented a beautiful spectacle.

I packed up and drove about 15 minutes along Sirente towards the town of Seicinaro. I stopped in the Prati di Sirente (the plains) where the mist was thick and banked up against the mountains.  There was a large herd of cows feeding like happy babies in a cot with warm milk. Instead of mobiles making noise, the sound of their bells rose and fell, echoing in the quiet cold air. I took some photos of the cows and one I thought would make a good black and white photo with the white mist behind and the light rising through the mist onto the cliffs high above.

The moon had not really set any further and was still high, so I had to use the wide angle lens in portrait mode to capture the cliffs and moon in one picture.

From there I moved on to the watering point, a stone trough, further down the plains. The mist had burnt off and the light was harsh, even thou the sun had not yet peeped over the foothills nestling the Pagliare di Tione to the north. I decided to pack up and drive home. Already I had seen a wild rabbit and was satisfied with the wildlife viewing. Along the way back just before the turnoff to the Anatella Fountain, where the road is thickly wooded, I spotted movement in a small opening about one hundred meters to my left. My heart jumped. It was a young male deer with 20 centimetre antlers and a smaller doe. Fortunately I had my 70 – 200 mm lens on the camera on the seat next to me, and I managed to get some photos to prove I saw them. It all happened very fast and they were quite skittish. The shutter noise of the camera really scared them. It is hunting season here, even though it is part of a reserve. One time we were walking in the mountains a few years ago and we came across a hunter shouldering a shotgun. He had lost his dogs, and asked us if we had seen them.

Happy with the deer viewing I drove home to process the pictures. All in all a happy morning  with some good photographs.

A happy view of a forest with the sun behind the leaves

My Travels: Summer in the Appenines

Yesterday I arrived in Roca di Mezzo, on the Altipiano of Abruzzo, a large plateau home to five quaint mountain villages set at 1350 metres above sea level. Rocca di Mezzo lies between the capital city of the region, L’Aquila, which was recently devastated by an earthquake and Avezzano, a medieval university city to the south.

The weather was gorgeous. Warm in the high twenties with no wind and bright sunlight. I had an awesome lunch with the family cooked by Zia Luciana. The meal was exquisite and  it was rounded off by her homemade straciatella ice-cream and a liqueur, crema di limone. She had made this a few years ago, with alcohol infused with fresh lemons then mixed with boiled milk. The end result was a liquid creamy lemon scented drink that smoothed the path to my bed for a siesta. I lowered the shutters leaving enough space between the slats for the bright afternoon light to filter through into the shadows like some lanquid lazy waterfall in slow motion and fell asleep.

When I awoke the house was deserted but I heard low voices from two sides of the garden. I walked downstairs past Zio Franco’s museum, which houses old agricultural and military implements. The large metal garage door

Zio Franco’s Key Collection in his Museum

faces the afternoon sun and in winter is frozen; ; now it emanated a haze of heat. I opened the small factory type door to get out and saw the men sitting under the shade of the gazebo next to the vegetable garden. Tomatoes were training on simple bamboo poles while spinach flourished, some recently harvested. A variety of herbs released subtle fragrances into the warm still air. An old friend of my father-in-law, Italo, was sitting with Zio Franco. I knew something was wrong when Italo did not recognise me. I had only met him once but my previous experience with the villagers was that they had memories like elephants and never forgot. Then the second time he asked me if I was from Rocca, I knew he had lost it. By the end of the half hour visit he had repeated four verses of his favourite poem perfectly five times, each time not realising he had just recited it a few minutes ago.

It was a lovely poem, something to the effect of “the road is long but I’ll take it anyway, and if my soul needs a rest I will stop.” And it ends “and when I leave, I will be fortified with wine to continue”. Italo has a beautiful voice and in the quiet of the mountain the words resonated against all the mountains around he had climbed with his youth. The men had climbed all the peaks in their youth: the hills around like Monte Rotondo and Monte Canio, the mountains behind, Sirente and Velino and across the L’Aquila valley, the highest in the Appenines, the Gran Sasso. This peak forms part of a high ridge whose skyline forms a silhouette of a sleeping beauty, la bella dormentata.

He left and we moved to the other side of the gardens under the shade of plane trees and drank some beer and spoke and laughed and played with the children.

That is just a few hours of summer in the Apennines. Imagine a whole summer!

Afternoon light over the geraniums of my room