Scribbles from Italy: The Big Valley, Here’s to the Big Brain, No Turn Around, Breeding Ground…

By Vian Andrews | February 26, 2023

July 18, 2021

THE BIG VALLEY: The hillside where we make our temporary home overlooks a long, wide valley of stupendous beauty. It is eight AM.

Monte Cucco

Behind the Appenines on whose slopes I’m perched the sun has been on the rise for many hours. At noon it will achieve its zenith, then begin a long sinking until it slips into the sea behind the western hills and sizzles until extinguishment. Up behind this house, a cock crows and some old sod, not a priest, but a believer, has rung the bell of the hamlet’s ancient church to mark the hour.

Last night I stirred in my sheets, my mind and body still trying to pull themselves out of Vancouver from whence I came short days ago. In the darkness, as I shift from side to side looking for sleep, I admit to myself that, when it comes to humankind, I am no optimist, but a dire pessimist. But then, I am not a fatalist either. How could I look my children and grandchildren in the face if that were so?

It is clear now, evidenced by the pandemic and by the pains visited upon billions of people by global climate change, that we are approaching a tipping point, and may already have arrived at it.

Why? Because obdurate minorities with enormous power – some of them minorities of one, or a few, sometimes of millions – have ways and means to prevent the rest of us from doing what must be done to bring ourselves back into harmony with the rest of the natural world.

There is no single human who has the agency necessary to alter our fate. But, by collective means the majority can. In fact, we are trying. You can see that large and small efforts are being made almost everywhere, but so far, not enough, and so far, with too many obstacles placed in the way of the faster and better.


We just do not know yet how to withdraw the permission we have granted those who stand in the way to continue their destructive behaviour.


Because we have a decided preference for as much liberality toward them as we wish to have for ourselves.

That is our dilemma. How can we change the fate of our species without subduing the forces that are aligned with our destruction? One thing seems certain: be a pessimist, but act optimistically.

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July 19, 2021

HERE’S TO THE BIG BRAIN: We have, at this our temporary home, a long east-facing balcony overlooking the Val di Cucco. The fields that lay across the entire panorama are dun-coloured at this time of year, each field roughly etched by lines of old trees growing dark green along their borders.

A two lane local road runs north and south at the bottom of our hill and way down at the bottom of the valley, there is a fast highway that will, if you take a left, get you to Rome in a couple of hours. Go the other way you can get as far as the port of Ancona on the Adriatic Sea.

That we humans have a mind that is delighted — sometimes even awestruck — by such scenes, that we can find pleasure in every change that is made to it by the vicissitudes of the weather while at the same time remain in contemplation, even if remotely, of the most difficult, perplexing and painful goings-on in our lives, is the wonder of it.

Some, I know, get older and wish to retire from the bafflements, inconveniences, irritations, confrontations, griefs, and demands that filled our younger lives. We don’t want the worst parts of our nature provoked or upset by politics or other forms of controversy. Disagreements alarm us. We want those who are coming behind us to fill a void we do not mind making at this age, so they can carry the responsibilities and cares we once carried, and take charge of the world. Make of it what they will.

When we retire, we go to tend our gardens, enjoy our travels, savour our food, bask in the sun, find amusement, laugh more easily, sleep and nap as we will, surrender as gracefully as we can to the increasing discomforts of our aging bodies, grasp at depth, the mortality that our very births bestowed upon us. In the beginning is our end, the poet, T.S. Eliot proclaimed, and so it is. He also said, that at our end is our beginning.

Some others want all the benign delights our advancing years provide, but also, (attribute this to our contrariness) we do not want to be absolved of the responsibility for what we did — and did not do — to make the world a better place when we were the younger ones.

We feel, because of our now apparent shortcomings, our younger shortsightedness, our lack of wisdom, and the distracting busy-ness of our pre-retirement years, even more responsibility to make a contribution to the betterment of humankind.

We do not want to push the troubles of the world from our minds, especially because our children and grandchildren live in it and may be — and probably are — at peril.

When things happen — or don’t happen — that arouse our indignation and fire-up our anger, it is not enough to grouse for a moment and let it go so that we can peer over the balcony at glorious nature and pretend in the utter joy of it to have a clear conscience, to have become entitled to constant and uninterrupted pleasure. We want, also, to be charged-up enough to be moved to action, and to be as active as we can. To be that way because it is our moral responsibility to be so.

Another poet, Dylan Thomas, wrote this. You loved it when you first read it, said “YES! YES!” this is how I want to be when I get old. Well, with your big brain, you can be THIS way while also enjoying life to its fullest measure.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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July 20, 2021

NO TURN AROUND: My wife and I have landed in an apartment in a house at the top of a steep hill in one of those picturesque mountainside villages that dot the landscape of Italy. It is a temporary home, but we’ll be in it for a few months. Winter will come and go before we move down into the valley, so we anticipate some tough times bringing the motor up to our door, it being unlikely that snow will not fall from the heavens and ice not form on the road.

These ancient hamlets were built long before the advent of the motor car, let alone the snowplow. Long before electric and phone lines reached hillside homes. Long before salt was thought of as a means of melting road ice. If you had a horse or donkey, you were upper middle class or better, otherwise you walked, and no doubt, the folks here muffle-cursed their resolutely Old Testament, Catholic God when they slipped and slid going up or down their customary hills on a winter’s day.

In an Umbrian town.

Getting into the yard of our house with a car requires a few A-turns before we can point it up the steep, narrow drive that rises from the main road. Even on a dry day we have to gun the engine so we can make the grade, then come to a terrifyingly abrupt stop before our front fenders smash a pot of geraniums or kill the landlady’s dogs. There is no graceful turn around, even at the top of the village for anything on four wheels. Forward or backward is all. There are no circles of convenience.

Well, you know me. I won’t let a good metaphor go to waste.

You get born into whatever familial (or institutional) setting you are lucky or unlucky enough to find yourself in. It is in that context, before you reach the age of 10, that you learn the strategies and tactics that you will use for the rest of your life to get what you want. Alas, chances are that much of the time they will also prevent you from doing so. A net gain is good. Net losses? Yes, for many.

We encounter people who move through life as though on a straightforward and honest thruway that takes them to the promised land. Or on a thruway paved with money.

Others, who grew up with obstacles thrown in their way get a little bent and inevitably veer into a life that requires a special knack — sometimes a disreputable one — to navigate the twists and turns their lives engender. Success is not assured.

And some are dead-enders. They live in frustrated pain, sometimes so blinding they cannot see the human landscape in which they drive their despair well enough to steer themselves into light. Some, so convincing of their inescapable fate is their benighted childhood, they do not, in fact, believe there is a place of light to steer toward.

I am of the bent kind. Grateful for that. At least, now I am.

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July 22, 2021

BREEDING GROUND FOR KILLER VIRUSES: Bin doin’ a bit of reading in a book about geometry (Shape by Jordan Ellenberg). Not that I understand it all, because it sure ain’t your dad’s geometry. Understanding how viruses spread is geometric math, nothing like the Euclidian stuff you learned in high school.

Geometric math can be used, also, to predict the life cycle of bad ideas from the time they rise to the time when they finally peter-out into insignificance.

What we now call “Trumpism” got its roots long before even the Tea Party appeared (otherwise it wouldn’t have). But, let us not dive too deeply into US history because, actually, the seeds were planted with the founding conventions of that country (when slavery was an accepted fact) and were embedded in the US constitution, so a long book would be required to explain it all.

Question is why don’t the bad ideas of Trumpism die-out? They probably would had nature been allowed to take its course. But, it can’t because the so-called “right”, which constitutes a sizeable MINORITY of the US population, has exploited the US constitution and State legislative power concerning electoral policies, processes and procedures to acquire and maintain powers that are disproportionate to its actual fraction of the population.

To wit:

Every state, regardless of population gets 2 senators. The 53 GOP Senators in congress only represent about 20% of the US population. Wyoming, with a population less than 600,000 gets 2 Senators; California with 38 million also gets 2.

A majority of states of relatively small populations bend toward the conservative side as represented by GOP controlled State senates. They wilfully use their power to gerrymander Federal and State districts to ensure continued dominance of the State legislators and the number of reps they send to Congess in Washington.

GOP right wing activists at the Federal and State level control the nomination of candidates through the primary process. Moderates don’t get involved enough to impose their will over the far right. So, Trumpists, even though a vast minority, choose GOP candidates.

The Electoral College over-represents the minority as a result of gerrymandering and voter supression laws — one man one vote being an egregious myth in the US.

It being impossible to imagine that the necessary constitutional changes will be made to ensure voter equity, Trumpism will be here for awhile. The direct vote of the President got Biden elected with a sizeable majority but State control of the electoral process ensures that it is hugely difficult for Dems to overcome the structural inequities that are baked in as a result of the existing system. The conservative block on the US Supreme Court now headed by John Roberts, reinforces GOP rule.

The “geometry” that would ordinarily serve to stamp out horrible ideas, cannot do its work. America is fucked. And so may the rest of us be because of US power in the world.

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Vian Andrews’ “Scribbles from Italy are posted every two weeks.


  • Vian Andrews

    Vian Andrews is a Canadian writer of stage plays, film scripts, novels and essays now living with his wife in Umbria, Italy. His two-novel series, The Summit of Us and The Land of Is, is available on Amazon, Kobo and other online distribution platforms. He took a BA from Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario and a Law degree from the University of British Columbia but rather than practicing law he pursued a career in business before turning his hand to writing, which he does on a more or less full-time basis.

Scribbles from Italy is a series of articles from Vian Andrews in which he reflects on his experiences of life in his new home in the Umbrian countryside. 

You can find the full list of posted chapters here