Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants ~ Epictetus
Author: Mary Louise Tucker
Writer, blogger, traveller, Italophile.
Keen eater and bike rider.
Philly born, choose to live in Adelaide, South Australia, heart in Abruzzo.
We arrived in Rome on Sunday and immediately headed south by train to Salerno, a working port city at the bottom of the Amalfi Coast. We had visited over night, in 2010 on our way south to Sicily, to break the trip down the length of the peninsula. This visit gave us another chance to explore the old centre, the centro storico.
“Why is it important to be creative?” This is the question posed by my local writing group as a blog post topic.
I’ve thought about creativity for most of my life. I am the third of six children and early on I realised that my siblings could do thing I couldn’t, like draw, dance, make up songs and play musical instruments well.
Our much-loved great-uncle Tom Doerer, was a successful cartoonist and newspaper man, who started his career as a copy-boy for the legendary satirist HL Mencken. Allan Holtz, a comic strip historian and author, wrote an very informative post regarding my great uncle here.
Our grandmother, Anna Mezzacappa, cooked with the radio on and sang along to the Italian opera programs in perfect pitch. Our grandfather, Giovanni Pergolini, was a tailor ‘un sarto’ who created beautiful coats and hats for us children out of seemingly little fabric, no more leftover scraps from his tailoring business.
To me, these people in my life were ‘creative types’. My notion of creativity was tied to expression in writing, painting, drawing, sewing and musical ability.
My parents, Owen and Louise, however, were not what I thought of as creative. Our father studied accounting and worked in project management finance for a contractor to the burgeoning US Space Program. Our mother was a nurse. They were both well-read, kind, funny and incredibly supportive of us six kids. They loved music and introduced us to the likes of Mario Lanza, Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Neither could play an instrument and dad used to say he had two left feet on the dance floor.
My own path to creativity has been a slow road. I won a spelling bee in 5th grade. I remember my teacher telling me that to win, I would not only have to spell the words, but I would also have to use each word correctly in a sentence.
More than 50 years later I can’t recall my winning word but I do remember sitting in bed with my pencil and exercise book visualising verbs and nouns and subjects and objects. Fascinated with the combinations that could be created I’d fall asleep, pencil in hand, and awake with sounds and visions of ‘Ships sail on azure seas’ or ‘Rhythmic music is played on bongo drums’, ‘azure’, ‘rhythmic’ and ‘bongo’ being words I had studied. To this day I have a recurring dream of waking up with my pencil poking me in the side.
I knew one day I would write. I didn’t know what I would write though. At University I studied one class in Creative Writing. I wrote short stories and sketches for the class. Although my writing was good enough for a beginner, I knew I couldn’t expect to repay my student loan as a Theatre Technician or a Writer. Eventually, with a love of new, emerging technology and an ability to write I landed a contract as a Technical Writer. It turned into a 30+ year career working in different industries.
For some years I thought I had settled for a cop-out career and was suppressing a creative writer urge. But slowly, I began to see the creativity in the work I was doing, finding ways to turn technical information into language the lay-person could understand, or designing a graphic to appeal to visual learners. I’ve worked for publishers, financial institutions, government IT departments, software companies, utilities, consulting firms and more. In each of these places I have worked with creative people.
I have come to recognize creativity outside of the traditional creative (Arts) industries. A large part of creativity is ability to solve problems, to connect the dots, to recognise patterns, to see what others don’t see, and to use that knowledge to better our lives.
The application interface that you love on your smartphone was designed by a creative person (who also knows how to write elegant code). Your favourite restaurant meal was conceived by a clever chef (and cooked by a team of passionate and creative people with great knife skills). The botanic garden that you stroll through was laid out by a master horticulturist (and planted by a group of strong souls with an eye for beauty).
I see now that my parents were genuinely creative. My accountant dad dreamed of the future of space and used his considerable analytical skills to support that passion for the future of exploration. My mother managed a job and a household on a shoestring, cooked delicious and healthy meals and encouraged each of us kids to pursue our own diverse paths – all with no preconceived notion of how we should conduct our lives.
Why is creativity important? Our survival depends on it. Imagining new ways to not just live, but thrive, in an ever-changing world requires some divergent thinking. Fortunately, most of us are capable of that.
This piece is part of the August 2018 Writers of Adelaide blog chain. To read what others in the group have to say on the subject of creativity, check out their blog posts:
I’ve recently joined an Adelaide-based writing group whose moderator has suggested we write about the city we live in as a source of inspiration for our creative work. So here goes.
Adelaide is my adopted home. I grew up in a small town outside of Philadelphia in a multicultural environment with Italian, English, Irish and German heritage. I never had a sense of being American and began travelling as soon as I could. To Mexico and Canada first. Then across the Atlantic to the UK and Europe to meet my parent’s and grandparent’s families. During this period of backpacking in the late 70s I met many Australians and they gave me the courage to come visit the other side of the world.
After some years travelling and working round Australia and living and working in Sydney my fella and I came on holidays to see a friend in Adelaide. I’d visited before in 1981 and liked it. We spent a magical 10 days in South Australia delighting in how easy it was to get around in the city. This was 1988. The pace of Sydney and the cost of living were getting to me.
I had a new 12 month contract to start back in Sydney after the Christmas break. My fella (now husband) and I decided on the long drive back east to serve out our year (we’d also just signed a new lease), and then pack up and move to Adelaide.
It ended up being March of 1990 by the time we got here. We didn’t really know anyone as our friend we’d visited in ’88 had just been here to study winemaking and had moved on to New Zealand.
Soon after we got here we were looking for a small wedding venue where we could have dinner with just our families. So we went out weekly to different restaurants and wineries. This gave us the chance to see different parts of the city and suburbs and go further afield to the wine regions. We were being tourists in our own region. What most impressed us was the availability of great food and wine at reasonable prices. Think of places like Mistress Augustine’s, Mona Lisa, Meze, Ruby’s, Jarmer’s, Jemima’s and Bridgewater Mill back in the early 90s.
We found, after the high prices in Sydney, that we could affort to buy a house and garden in Adelaide. The lack of huge mortgage has given us the chance to continue to enjoy what Adelaide has to offer in the way of the arts and entertainment as well.
And of course, Adelaide’s Central Market has always been the heart of Adelaide for us. We love spending time there then in the kitchen to create new dishes on weekends when we have time to experiment. I often write or post on social media about our kitchen successes! The Central Market has everything we need and is now complemented by the Wayville Farmer’s Market. All within cycling distance of where we live.
There are many places in the world where I could live, but I choose to live in Adelaide. I love to travel, but I also love coming home to Adelaide.
Inspiration? Well, living in a place with a reasonable climate, some variation in seasons and plenty of affordable creative and culinary opportunities had given me much to write about. My earliest blog posts on this site were about food, seasons, concerts, walks in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, things growing in our garden or seen on walks or festival events.
Jennifer’s post (linked below) has lots of ideas on how to nurture creativity in your daily life. And have a look at the other writers from the group, Writers of Adelaide, who have also taken part in the chain:
Last night’s dinner was a quick one before I had to go out. It was what we like to call the ‘Louise memorial’ meal.
Louise Pergolini Tucker was my mother and she passed away 11 years ago.
A few days before her birthday my husband Andrew and I went out to the Booths Corner Farmers Market in south-eastern Pennsylvania, where mum lived, to look for some Easter goodies. We came back to the house with chocolates and some homemade-style chicken salad.
You see, Louise was dying and she’d been having a craving. Who would deny a dying woman her last request, right? So Andrew made her a lovely soft roll filled with chicken salad and tomatoes. She enjoyed it slowly, savouring each bite while sitting up in her bed. Then she thanked Andrew and declared that it had really hit the spot.
That chicken salad on a roll turned out to be her last meal. For the next few days she dozed and only woke infrequently. When Louise finally stopped breathing on the morning of her 81st birthday, the 10th of April 2007, Andrew was there holding her hand.
And last night’s dinner in Adelaide showed that the simplest of meals, prepared with love, can evoke a flood of memories and bring a smile to a tear-stained face.
Latvia is a beautiful country of only two million people. My husband Andrew (known as Roo) and I were lucky to spend two weeks exploring a bit of this tiny Baltic country and meet his family for the first time.
Young cousin Mārcis and his fiancée Sintija had already given us an introduction to the capitol, Rīga, during week one. We visited nearby towns of Sigulda, Jurmala and Bauskas for a few hours each and we were keen to spend more time in Latvia’s vast, empty countryside and small towns.
I have documented some family history and our first week in a previous post, which you’ll find here.
During week two we based ourselves in Jaunjelgava, Roo’s father’s village which is 80 kilometres from Riga. Mārcis and Sintija both grew up in Pļaviņas, a small town about 50km further along the Daugava river from Jaunjelgava.
When not meeting and dining with Mārcis and Sintija’s families in Jaunjelgava and Pļaviņas we ventured to other towns for day trips. We also spent a day and night celebrating Midsummer, or ‘Līgo’ as it is known in Latvia, with Mārcis’ grandmother Vida and her sister Vanda and family.
Rather than narrate too much, I’ll let the pictures and their captions do the talking. The photos in the following sections are a mixture of mine and Roo’s plus a few of Mārcis and Sintija’s.
Rundāle Palace is an ostentatious 18th-century country estate built for Baron Ernst Johann Biron, lover of Anna Ioanovna, the Russian-born Duchess of Courland. The area known as Courland is both a cultural and historic region roughly comprising the modern-day Latvian region of Kurzeme. As summer houses go, it was pretty special, inside and out.
Bauska Castle is a complex of two castles at the confluence of the Mūsa and Mēmele rivers on the edge of the town of Bauska. It was built during the 14th through 16th centuries. Parts of the site are a ruin but you can climb a watchtower and gain excellent views of the surrounding countryside.
This Castle, compared with Rundāle Palace, feels more like a country hunting lodge. The decoration is austere and the walls are solid; they’re built to withstand enemy attack.
In the town of Jelgava there is another palace designed by the same architect as Rundāle. Jelgava Palace now houses the Latvian Agricultural University.
We didn’t visit the palace, however, in the adjoining park a costumed crowd was gathered preparing for an evening concert. We heard some warm-up performances and watched the men, women and children enjoying the Midsummer holiday.
Ušķes — The family farm
Ušķes is the name of the farm where Roo’s dad Roberts grew up, and it was also Roo’s grandmother Minna’s maiden name.
One cousin still lives on the farm. The land is not cultivated these days and there are no animals. Native forest is reclaiming much of the property.
We explored the buildings and farm equipment, some of it quite old; we admired the surrounding forest; we drank clean crisp water from the well where Roo’s dad would have drunk.
Being in the presence of objects that had belonged to Roo’s aunt and grandparents was an emotional experience for all of us. The fact that his father had never been able to return was on all of our minds. But we weren’t really sad, just grateful that we were fortunate to meet all the living family.
Remembering Roberts Beķers at Ušķes
As I mentioned in the previous post, Roberts never returned to Latvia after the war finished, and Roo is the first person in his family to visit since his dad left in 1944. I knew it would be an emotional visit for us all, but I didn’t expect the family to be so sensitive to Roo’s feelings. But they were. His dad died in 1984 and none of the people still living in Latvia had met Roberts. Still, the family had a strong sense of our visit as being a momentous occasion. And it was.
During our discussions with Mārcis during the months before we got to Latvia, some sort of action or ceremony or memorial for Roberts was discussed. We decided that planting an oak tree for Roberts would be a symbolic gesture. There is a very old oak tree already on the property which was planted in 1926 when aunt Vilma was born.
Sintija’s mother in Pļaviņas knew of a good plant nursery where we could find a decently-sized sapling. We arrived at the farm with the tree and some fresh potting soil. Everyone had a dig and pitched in to place the tree in the ground and water it in. We stopped to admire and each of us was lost in our own thoughts of the significance of the moment.
A universal truth we have discovered: whether families are meeting for the first time or the 100th time, there is food.
At the cemetery
We visited the peaceful Jaunjelgava Cemetery where Roo’s family members are interred.
Latvia’s midsummer festival is known as Līgo and is celebrated on 23 June. The feast of St John the Baptist (John being ‘Jānis’ in Latvian) is the following day. These two days, the 23-24 June, make up one of the biggest Latvian celebrations — two days and a night of food, singing and dancing. Traditionally, men called Jānis, (a common name that is like the English John) wear an Oak crown. Part of the fun of the day is going into the fields to collect flowers, which are abundant in Latvia’s gentle sunshine.
Midsummer cheese (Jāņu siers) is one of the special seasonal foods served and since we liked it so much, we ate it most days. The celebration table never ran out of food.
Tradition dictates that if you wish to have good health and cheerful spirit for the following year, you should stay up all night. Even though this is the shortest night of the year, it’s a job to stay awake so the night is spent singing, eating, drinking and having a bonfire. Jumping over it is said to prevent evil spirits and illness — but only young men trying to impress someone usually have a go.
We celebrated with the families of Vida and Vanda, Mārcis’grandmother and her sister, in the countryside south of Jaunjelgava, near the Lithuanian border.
This post covers the main places we visited but is by no means comprehensive. We made other stops along the road between places, ate in local taverns and cafes and met more people than we have told you about here.
And, this will not have been our last trip to Latvia; there is so much to explore. The warm welcome will always be with us. Having had that first wonderful experience has just whet our appetite for more.
I leave you with a few more photos. Just get out there and visit.
Roo and I are off again tomorrow. This time to southern Italy, Berlin and Latvia (with a side trip to Tallinn, Estonia). Ten weeks in all.
A highlight will be visiting Roo’s family in Latvia for the first time. None of the Bekeris (Beķers) family have returned since his father left during WWII. Thanks to a young cousin who speaks English, we will be able to meet everyone and travel to Jaunjelgava where Roo’s dad came from.
If you want our postcards from the road, you can sign up for this blog and my other blog Heart in Abruzzo.
Everyone loved my mother, Louise Pergolini. She smiled quickly, listened completely and cared deeply.
The 10 of April 2017 marks ten years since Louise passed away. I think about her daily and have written about her in the past on my blog Heart in Abruzzo (here and here) and on this blog (here)
She could be the life of a party, but if she was hosting she would make sure everyone had a drink, something to eat and a comfortable place to sit.
Louise loved nursing and was respected by patients and doctors alike. If a friend or neighbour was suffering from some pain or anxiety, she discreetly helped find the right professional care.
When we were young, she ferried us and our friends from after-school sport to part-time jobs to play practice and always managed a meal on the table for us six kids plus anyone we brought home with us.
Louise loved to dance and I can only imagine her, in the 1940s, cutting the rug to a Glen Miller riff. Our dad, Owen, had two left feet. Still, she would get out on the dance floor with anyone who offered their hand.
Her musical taste ranged widely. She loved everything from the Big Band sound to crooners like Tony Bennett, Mario Lanzo’s operatic works, Broadway musicals, and even Julio Iglesias.
Louise didn’t cry easily. She was strong and unsentimental. Though, she certainly had her share of sadness and loss: beloved cousin Angelo during the war, multiple miscarried pregnancies, her parents, her husband and her adult son.
Our Anglo-Saxon dad, Owen, was more visibly emotional and welled up easily with tears. We said he should have been the impassioned Italian and Mamma Louise the stoic northerner. But her love of linguine and mussels or the famous Abruzzo dish scripelle ‘mbusse gave her away as the Italian in the family. And her looks….what a stunner.
Looking back and remembering my mother ten years after her death, I see not just my mother, but Louise the person. The loving, fun, intelligent and determined woman I will never be.
Warning. This is no cheap-and-cheerful, boozy, disco nights, cheap massage, trinket-buying beach destination. For a holiday to Lord Howe Island, you save up then savour the serenity.
My husband saw a photo of Lord Howe Island back in the mid 1980s, not long before we met. We both love to travel and over the years it has been built up in our minds as a must-see destination. And I can honestly say that it did not disappoint. It is laid back, beautiful, warm, friendly, full of natural wonders and has protected plants and animals found nowhere else on earth (all of which helps it being ‘world heritage’ listed by UNESCO ).
Lord Howe Island lies about 600 kilometres east of the coast of New South Wales, just out from Port Macquarie. Here are the UNESCO maps. It’s officially part of the state of New South Wales.
The crescent-shaped island hugs a sheltered lagoon which has at its mouth the southernmost coral reef on the planet.
The main activities on the island are cycling, swimming, snorkelling, kayaking, hiking, reading, sunset-watching, photo-taking, eating and drinking. Our visit lasted one week, but we could have easily stayed another. It takes a few days to get into the island’s rhythm and really start to relax.
The lagoon by the boat sheds.
Island ‘dress’ footwear.
A fine finish at The Anchorage.
Roo getting back into the water – snorkel trip
Our daily ride from the Milky Way where we stayed.
Ned’s Beach where you can feed the fish.
A divine starter of kingfish sashimi with a cucumber foam.
Spot the turtle in the right foreground?
Our accommodation was at Milky Way near Old Settlement Beach, and we stayed in a self-contained cottage. In addition to a private veranda looking out to a sweeping paddock and the hill up to the north end of the island, we had a full kitchen, spacious living & dining area, a large bedroom and an en-suite bathroom.
There are plenty of places to eat out on the island so we did a combination of eating in and out. Food to cook at home can be obtained at two main shops and beer, wine and spirits are also available at the liquor store near the Commonwealth Bank. The main township on the northern half of the island features a few shops, the post office, The Anchorage cafe which is open long hours and also has a bakery, a community centre that serves as the movie theatre and the Catholic church, and along the beachfront, a variety of boat sheds housing different tour companies. Tours include turtle watching, snorkelling, scuba diving, hiking the magnificent Mt Gower and Mt Lidgebird, and a variety of other custom tours.
Tour-wise, we enjoyed a two-hour snorkelling trip. The fish life plus the colours and varieties of coral and reef plants were better than any we’d seen on the Great Barrier Reef, and it was all easily accessible. You could easily swim or kayak out to the spots where we had been taken.
Our rented bikes took us the length and breadth of the island. Tip: All rental bikes have a basket so keep your beach towel and snorkel handy at all times.
We approached Old Settlement Beach one afternoon and a woman excitedly ran to tell me there was a turtle in the lagoon and that I should put my snorkel on and get in straight away! I did and must say that swimming with the lovely green turtle was one of the most fabulous underwater experiences of my life. I only regret that we had no underwater photographic equipment with us.
Crime is not a problem on the island; we were given no keys for our cottage and no locks for the bikes. On a morning snorkelling trip, we left our valuables at the beach shed of the tour company. It’s that safe.
Hibiscus the size of a dinner plate.
That view again.
The famous kentia palms.
View to the north from Intermediate Hill Lookout.
One day we hiked Intermediate Hill. We’d been told there was a good lookout at the top. Australian adventurer and philanthropist Dick Smith is a big fan of Lord Howe Island and in 2013 he donated the funds for a lookout platform. It really made the walk worthwhile as the view over the treetops is now 360 degrees.
Flights rely on favourable weather conditions to land and take off. It’s not unusual for visitors to wait a few days for a flight if there is foul weather. We had no such issues; we came and went without incident if a bit late on departure.
QantasLink flies 40 seated Dash 8 planes to the island a few times a day to and from Sydney. Additionally, on weekends there are flights to and from Brisbane. Seasonally, flights service Port Macquarie.
Only 400 visitors are allowed on the island at any time. Tourism and the export of kentia palm seeds and seedlings are the mainstays of the economy today.
Maintaining the unique environment and world heritage listing must be a delicate balancing act. Lord Howe Island seems to be doing it right.
To plan your trip, have a look at the Lord Howe Island Tourism Association website here. As their motto says: Just paradise.
I’ve noticed fellow bloggers respond to WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge (WPC). Back in August 2016, the topic was Frames. After taking these photos I knew that they fit the bill, with the shaded veranda framing the incredible views of Ned’s beach on Australia’s Lord Howe Island. So here’s my entry, albeit five months late.
Watch this space for a longer post with more views from our trip in December of 2016.