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Friday, January 3, 2020

Early summer in the mountains of Italy

Early June in the Sibillini mountains is an exquisite time of year. The winter snows have all but receded from Monte Vettore and her sister peaks, and although the Springtime starts a little later here than along the coastal strip, it bursts through suddenly at this time, in a riot of colour as if celebrating the very rebirth of nature, awakening the animals, the bears from their winter slumber and the wolves who are already nursing their newly born cubs and in the crystal clear blue sky above, the mountain eagles are scouring the fields below for food for their offspring. Butterflies and honey bees abound in this unpolluted air, and we are all entranced by this symphony of life which abounds at this altitude

Our days
We arise early of a morning before breakfast to stroll down to the pool for Tai Chi or Ci Kung

Here, it is as if we are floating in the sky, or at least the swallows and house martins might think we are as they swoop down and around us and falcons glide blissfully high up above us.

Staying at Cittadella, you can't help but become absorbed in Nature, and there are places close by amongst these mountains which are somehow sacred, by the waterfalls, the gushing streams and rivers, the ancient pathways. And our walks and adventures hereabouts allow us to shed ourselves for a while of the strains and stresses of our lives and to allow our creativity to flourish. We paint, we write poetry, we photograph, and we share our experiences with one another, forming new and lasting bonds in our lives.

Many past participants will be returning again this year; the finest of folks who love to share what they have learned....And there will be a places available for newcomers too.
So who would this attract?  I would say, folks who have some experience with art expression; any type at all photography, music, writing, sketching, painting, handicrafts, gardening,

They would have a love of sharing too and probably be less rational and more poetic by nature.

And if this gives you a tingle in your tummy, well, that's a positive sign,.And if you need to chat about the weekend, don't be shy, just call me on whatsapp +39 328 3535358. 

Or mail

Monday, May 6, 2019

Hoopoes have arrived

The Hoopoe birds have arrived from Africa. Here in Italy in Spring they are the heralds of warmth and of the flourishing of nature and are an awakening call to the renewal of life (our species included), with their HOOPO calls echoing across the landscape. I look up and see the swallows are arriving too and within this week I know the first cuckoos will swoop in and I find myself enchanted and totally absorbed by a cacophony of music each morning.
I log in to my daily Guardian fix and there, would you believe is an article on birdsong  and its therapeutic value to those who take time out to listen. And then I check my mail and find a quote by Krishnamurti..
'I do not know whether you have listened to a bird. To listen to something demands that your mind be quiet—not a mystical quietness, but just quietness; just to listen. It is only when you listen without the idea, without thought, that you are directly in contact '
So something is going on! I know that when serendipity conjures events and bowls them at us, that it is a wakeup call, telling us to pull our socks up, and for me to dust my brain; put my mind and attention to things that matter and to discards stuff which is of no use to me.
Things that matter, my painting (unfinished work), photography (editing to do), my creativity workshops (getting publicity out)
Now, talking about things that matter, if you too would like to lose yourself in nature in the magical heights of Monte Vettore in Italy this Spring (where Creativity will surely find you), click right here
And the venue is Cittadella. Bear, wolves, eagles, falcons, marmots, butterflies and wonderful Italian cuisine. There's a Guardian article about Cittadella here 
And, if you are truly interested in joining one of our workshops, you can call Michael on (whatsapp) +39 3283535358, or email; 

Ciao for now,


Monday, April 1, 2019

A tale about happiness

I left England at the tender age of 18 and have lived in other countries since; in fact most of my life now I have lived outside of the UK. I left because I was a working class kid and was offended by the class system in Britain; felt powerless to do anything about it and chose to go and live in New Zealand for few years. And then Africa, America and so on, settling finally in Italy where I have lived mostly now for 35 years.
Why am I writing this today?
Because today is what the press is calling Crunch Day in British politics.
It is the day, the first of April, 2019 when the UK could disappear into the sink hole of history.
It is All Fools Day (such irony)
And it might be sunk by the very class of people I despised as a teenager.
I never write about politics. That world is a nest of vipers and I have always attempted, often with great difficulty, to create a parallel world, if you will, for my life, my family, my friends and artist colleagues. One of optimism and happiness
And today is also the day, almost in contradiction, when I have been collating images for some publicity for our workshops this early summer in the mountains close to where I live in Le Marche.
And looking at them lifts my spirits, because they are of last summer, in a part of Italy, high in the Sibillini mountains, where we were able to cleanse our minds of the cares of the world and instead to live and work together in a carefree atmosphere where we created art together. Where we laughed and walked and talked and gave our attention to those things that matter in that altitude, the sky, the circling eagles and swooping swallows, the waterfalls and mountain streams and the fragrances of flowers and the flowing of myriads of butterflies and bees in the gentle breezes.
But these are just words
I'll leave you with some images from last summer, and they speak more powerfully than words on a day like today.

Feeling a little happier now I've written that

Michael at Starstone

Thursday, March 14, 2019

How we start the day

At 7 am we are at the poolside in Cittadella immersed in a majestic arena beneath the magnificent Monte Vettore, at 2,550 metres in altitude, an extinct volcano that contains the twin glacial lakes of Lago Pilato, remnants of an ancient sea which once covered this land before the Appenine mountains pushed themselves up through the spine on Italy.
Here, by the pool we prepare ourselves both mentally and physically for the day ahead with Ci exercises and Tai Chi followed by the creation, each of us individually, of a bubble of abundance, which will contain everything we want of our day and from which we can discard that which we don't.
Interestingly, just this year, I have heard of professional athletes, particularly tennis pros, using this term and we use it to prepare ourselves to be grounded within the very moment of time in which we are breathing, to become aware of the sounds and fragrances around us. The birds singing in the trees , the swooping swallows and the cry of a circling falcon above; the howl of a distant wolf and the snuffling and grunting of a passing bear. The tinkling of a mountain stream, the crashing sounds of waterfalls and then the gentle caress of a light breeze on our faces and the sheer beauty of mountains flowers. And butterflies and bees are in abundance at this altitude because the air and water are pure and clean.
Because, you see, it is in this state of full absorption that Creativity finds us. It is our garden of now if you will. It is where Creativity whispers to us. It is where she gives us gifts of song and dance and music and images and is where she wants to dance with us in this Tango of Creativity.
And she is searching for us every second of the day and how can she find us unless we step into this garden of now.

And we are part of this dance, part of this cycle of creativity
Because Creativity needs us to make manifest these gifts she sings to us
It is where we learn, at last, to create beyond ourselves.

And so, whether we are on a painting retreat or photography or poetry, it is the same.

It is, above all, about Creativity pure and simple, because, you see.....
After all, the object isn't just to make art, it's to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable

And so...
After chatty Italian breakfast, we meet together to discuss the adventures awaiting us amongst these breath-taking mountains.
Our days, from then on, are conducted in the natural wonders which the abound in the Sibillini National Park. We foray out to sketch, to walk, to photograph, to write poetry, to accumulate material during the day to haul back to our studio base at Cittadella. There to disseminate, talk and share and enter more deeply into the realm of creativity with a fuller understanding of its wonders and gifts to us.
Finally, during much of the final day of the workshop, we collate all our work into a process of finality, whether this is a painting, poetry or a series of photographs which celebrate the manifestation of the experiences that we have shared

There are two Spring workshops in May and mid June

And you can find fuller information on our Starstone site, of travel, costs etc

Monday, February 11, 2019

The man on the bridge

It was on a humpback bridge and he was struggling up as we were passing him on a fresh early morning in Algarrobo. He was pushing an old bike stretched over which were two huge conga eels which he told us he'd caught that night. We helped him push his bike up to the top of the bridge and he went on his way, hobbling along on his wobbly legs and angled feet.
As we walked away, my daughter told me that he is an artist and that a few days before that he had fallen on the bridge and that she had helped him to his feet and that he had asked her not to mention the incident to his mother that he had taken a spill, that she was against him going out onto the street because of his unsteadiness and that she was tired of always having to fetch him when folks called her out to take him home.
And so,over the days I spent there, my daughter told me more about him and we would pass him every now and then and always found him full of stories and happy to share our company if only for a brief while.
I learned that his name is Jave and that he had lived in Algarropo all of his life and that he was also a fisherman, one who supported his art by selling the fish he caught. He would fish at night and sell his catch to buy art materials.
I learned too that he suffers from Parkinson's disease and I was humbled by the courage of this brave man who did not simple just sink into his illness; just give up, but that he pushed himself almost to the limit of endurance to keep his creativity alive.
His output was prodigious and the images and sculptures he makes are of his fascinations for the sea;in painting and sculpture, drawing his living and his art from this same source. My daughter and I took a walk along the seafront on the last evening of my stay and passed his studio where we found him making art objects from pieces of cable he'd found on the beach that day. And one of these he gave to her as a gift for her kindness to him

This is a tale of courage, but it is also about the a state of creativity,
'That wonderful state which makes art inevitable', to quote Robert Henri.
It is a story of a unique human being and it is a sharp reminder of life's truer values, a sort of wake up tonic-thought, ideal to kickstart the day, I would say,

To seize the day.

                                 Jave and his concha shells

                 Jave and his musical shell

She told me that on News Years Day at sun rise he laid out his collection of conch shells on the wall, from the smallest to the largest and as he did so he polished them, at lunch time he took them down again and that evening as the sun went down he blew a huge conch shell and the noise floated across the ocean...She wasn't quite sure what that ritual was but it was beautiful.

For Jave, life is continuous action, despite his health issues. He is creating beyond himself.
I found it to be a humbling experience to have met him and to witness his incredible output and energy

Look out for our creativity workshops in Italy this summer; photography and painting

Friday, December 21, 2018

The return of the light

    My countryside

Today is December 21st, the Solstice, the stilling of the sun, which continues for three days. And I register the shadow of a drainpipe with a mark now, black line in indelible ink on the outside kitchen wall. This I do at the very same spot every year. It's my mini Stonehenge. I have to be sure that the planet has returned to the same place as ever after its long orbit. I need the reassurance that everything is the same as it ever was.
I need to know that the snow has covered our Sibillini mountains as it always does a few days before Christmas and that there will be enough water in the Spring for the lakes up there and the animals that depend on them.
I need to see the starlings fill the skies with their poetic murmurations (but these are so few and thin and scattered this year and this saddens me).
Where I live between the mountains and the sea in Italy there is little industry and the air and water are clean, (especially so because most farmers use animal manure to fertilise their fields). A plus.
So, in this sense we are fortunate. But we know what is happening in the world outside and we cannot and must not delude ourselves that the impending dangers which threaten the planet are not our concerns
Sound gloomy don't I?
I do.
But all is not lost, because a message arrives as I am typing this, from Ant in Spain.
It is our serendipity at work again.
I call him back and he enthuses about a book he has found which I must, must get and which I've already ordered.
It's entitled 'Abundance' and is written by Peter Diamandis
It turns on its head the gloom and doom we are becoming addicted to, says he, and is about how innovation, creativity and fantastic breakthroughs in technology are abounding and that, although currently unsung, that they will be our salvation.
So as quick as you can, on to Amazon where you find the book second hand for a few pence.
Read it, and then we can all discuss it together.
You find him on TED too. Well worth watching as he succinctly runs through a verbal precis of what his philosophy, his life view is: 
My take on it this solstice, is it is good that we are challenged and bumped off any negative addictions; shed them from our minds before we enter the New Year.
Because we need to put our hearts and energy into new engines of survival and no longer waste our time fixing rusty old bikes.
I am happy about the return of the light.
And the celebration of Abundance.
It starts today, at the winter Solstice

Two workshops in the Sibillini Mountains in early summer which you might like to experience....

Wild Photography

A workshop with a Wabi Sabi edge to it.

The Tango of Creativity.

To dance the dance of creativity, because it is we who make manifest the

the imagery, the poetry and the song that the Gods of creativity whisper to us.

Buon Natale,


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Happiness is like the wind

I once lived on a hill in Tuscany above the Abbey of San Galgano. There was talk locally of a Russian Film Director who had been making a film thereabouts and I learned that it was Andrei Tarkovsky, an art school hero of mine. The protagonist in the film, Andrei Gorchakov is a poet in exile and he is struggling with the superficiality of life in Italy and longs for the deeper darker melancholia of his  life in Russia. There is a scene in the film Nostalghia (1hr.24 mins in) where, in a rain drenched ruin, he meets a little girl, and he asks her 'Are you happy?' And she answers ' 'Happy with what?'. He says with life, and she answers 'With life yes'

The subject of happiness has popped up a lot these past weeks.
Initially, I was asked by a friend if I was happy and I gave the answer that happiness, to me, is like the wind, that it blows sometimes warm and fragrant, sometimes cold and brittle and in fact that it is never the same, never constant.
But the question has made me want to define it to myself.

If I catch the wind in my hand, is it still the wind?

Questions then, that I have begun to ask myself.
When am I most happy?
In which situations am I not happy?
Do I think some people are born happy and others not?
Isn't perhaps the pursuit of happiness a more noble aspiration?
Are happy children more likely to become happy adults?
Does schooling take away a child's happiness?
Is a simple life a happier life?
Are gardeners happy souls?
Are creative people happier than social media addicts?
Are dog owners happier than most other folks?
(The Dalai Lama was once asked the secret of happiness, and he answered 'Buy a dog')

So there you are, go out and buy a dog.

Alternatively, you  might like to sign up for one of our workshops in Italy.
Springtime and early summer breaks in the mountains of La Sibilla, the Nature Goddess.

Write to Michael for further info about our retreats and workshops