Scribbles from Italy: The Centre of Things, Last Days in Canada, And So It Begins

By Vian Andrews | February 12, 2023

July 9, 2021

THE CENTRE OF THINGS: Amazon finally delivered a copy of Graham Hofmann’s book Lorenzo’s Vest to my door. The book is a a deep, illuminating dive into the Region of Umbria in Italy, the singular region that lays in the very heart of Italy.

Gualdo Tadino, Umbria, Italy.

The book is fun, it’s delightful, it’s informative and it is incredibly well-paced so that one is carried on Hofmann’s river of words to the far corners of Umbria, sometimes moving lazily through its multitudinous valleys, sometimes tumbling in the cataracts that spill from its mountains and hills, sometimes bubbling up in the fountains that gurgle, spit and flower in the piazzas of Umbria’s towns and cities.

Lorenzo’s Vest is not for the tourist, but for the traveler and sojourner, for those who see the universal in the particular and who are able to read humanity’s peculiarities in faces and voices.

It is deucedly difficult to limn the uniqueness of a place. Those who do it successfully, have to surrender to it, immerse themselves in it, smell it and taste it and open their hearts to the people who live in it. And, of course, they have to know how to deploy language artfully.

Hofmann, who has made a home in a small hamlet near the ancient medieval city of Gubbio, where he lives as humbly as his Italian neighbours, has done it in Lorenzo’s Vest. There he has made a calm and sustaining center of his life in the village, and from it he moves out into Umbria, returning each time with new, well-observed observations and insights about its people and places that he tells to us. So, the book has the feel, life being a continuing thing (until it isn’t), of a generous beginning, not an ending.

I admit, I am in the early chapters, but already I am deeply impressed. And I am hard to impress.


July 10, 2021

LAST DAYS IN CANADA: Men will arrive tomorrow and load our stuff onto a truck. In two or three months another truck will show up at our place in Italy and download our belongings. Magic.

During the last few days I’ve met up with good friends, in person and on Zoom, and we’ve said goodbyes of a sort. But, really, we’ll be seeing and talking with one another, much as we have during the pandemic, using the tech that’s available to us. Many promise to invade Umbria in the not too distant future and pay a visit.

In these modern circumstances, my Gallic sentimentality has not been allowed full play. In other words, those waiting to see a grown man cry during his leave-taking will be disappointed.

Italy is wreathed in corruption, its bureaucracy inept and its politics fractious and befuddled. I don’t — and won’t — give a damn. But, I will cast backward glances toward Canada and continue to suffer the sense of foreboding about Canada’s future that I have been feeling for quite a long time now. Will until time and distance do their good work.

Italy attracts me. It’s not a hideout, not a place of exile, but, truth be told, I do have a sense of fleeing Canada. Maybe that’s not the right way to put it. Let me put it this way; I will feel less distress about the state of Canada over there than I do here.

Now, I could write several long, complicated paragraphs to explain why this is so. But, I would arouse the disbelieving indifference of my fellow Canadians if I did, and I know it.

Somewhere, way back in my childhood, the map of Canada, brimming with colour, was implanted in my mind. My life has been lived in some of its far-flung dots: Digby, Nova Scotia; Toronto, Burlington and St. Catharines in Ontario; Vancouver and Burnaby here in British Columbia. I was — we all were — small within the grandeur of our place on earth, humbled by its scale. I live now on a street, in a town, in a province in a region — inside white space with black borders.

I hear in my adolescent ears and in my young man’s ears, the stirring calls of nationhood from the mouths of Diefenbaker, Pearson, Pierre Trudeau, Turner, Clark and Mulroney. And after them, only the tedious, divisive, careful muttering of our politicians, every goddamn last one of them.

These latter day politicos do not have a vision for this country; no power to call forth an over-arching theme that by definition would put all parochial and particularized concerns in their place. They pursue, instead, a technocratic politics that depends upon the progressive atomization and manipulation of their multitudinous electorates.

Maybe if I were young again, maybe if I had not so discredited myself with my shortcomings, maybe I’d pick up the damn flag again and charge into battle. But, I think a tomato patch awaits me, from which vantage point, across a green field, I will watch my dual-citizen grandchildren play happily, for the time being, outside the echoing walls of history.


July 11, 2021

AND SO IT BEGINS: In the ancient times, when the world was child-wild, when adults kept a distance, even though their godlike eyes hovered above us, there were those summers when a hot day slowed we children just a little, filling us with a lassitude that sent us to the couches, comic books in hand, or perhaps with a book in which boy or girl detectives unravelled a mystery or two.

Outside, a certain science did its work, lifting lake water into the convected air, its molecules piling into clouds a million miles high, at first, brilliant white, but darkening quickly in the colder climes of the upper universe.

Sudden crack of lightening. Then the hammer of its thunder. We were lifted suddenly to our feet and propelled through the screen door that banged in its frame behind us. Out onto the lawn to run bare foot there as the cool and drenching rain fell upon us and softened the hard ground beneath our feet, while we slipped and slid, played tag and chased worm-eating sparrows from the grass. We were alive beyond our comprehension amidst the surrounding flowers where, in the bordering gardens, they drank the water that fell upon their petals.

It is a memory that stirred in me yesterday after we arrived in Umbria, where, as at Vancouver from whence my wife and I had departed many long, uncomfortable hours before, daily life had been caught in the grip of hot, bone-dry weather for many weeks.

As we drove out of Rome, heading north and east, we entered under a canopy of thick greying clouds, into cooler air. We arrived at the door of our daughter’s house, where we were smothered in grandchildren’s hugs. But then, just as our driver sped away to leave us in the place where we will spend the rest of our lives, the crack of ancient lightening, the rending of the heavens by immemorial thunder.

We felt a sudden desire, just as these children, to play, to be released into the elemental forces that keep us humble and happy when we surrender to them.


[Vian Andrews’ “scribbles” from Italy will appear 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