Celebrating Normal

No matter what you choose to watch, read or listen to at this time of year, it is all but impossible to avoid some form of ‘review of the year’. Whether it is politics (Don’t get me started!), foreign affairs (Ukraine, we weep for you), climate science (COP27 or cop-out?), sport (Football – again…) or popular culture (White Lotus or The Traitors?), there always seems to be an almost irresistible urge to look back and take stock. After the preceding two years, which both staggered to an exhausted, pandemic-scarred close, a year of turbulence-free normality was what I imagine most were hoping for in 2022. And while the very particular and frightening abnormalities that Covid placed upon us largely receded, I doubt that many would characterise 2022 as truly normal or lacking in turbulence.   However, despite all that has been going on around us, now semi-officially known as a ‘permacrisis’ (the word of 2022, by the way), Mr Blue-Shirt and I have had one hell of a year. So here, then, is a personal review of 2022…

In a nutshell, La Dolce Vita made a spectacular come-back. Well, it did once we had recovered from Covid which we both managed to catch in February. Fortunately, neither of us had it too badly, although it did take a while to get back to full strength. As soon as we were firing on all cylinders again, though, things really took off.

Definitely one of the highlights of the year was hosting no fewer than ten sets of visitors between March and October. It was a real delight to be able to share our home with so many of our friends and family once again and to introduce them to Le Marche’s many pleasures: its yummy food, its fascinating culture, its pretty towns and villages and its magnificent scenery. After all, welcoming visitors to our home had always been one of the things we had been most looking forward to in moving to Italy – and at last we were back in ‘this-is-what-we-joined-for’ mode.

In between visitors it was pretty full-on too. On the house front, Mr Blue-Shirt’s main project was the construction a proper carport, complete with tiled path down one side, newly rendered and painted retaining walls, and all topped off with a timber pergolato. But he was at last able to devote time to setting up his workshop too. After a couple of false dawns, he now has a fantastic space in the corner of a barn owned by a local framer we have become friends with. It’s only about 3km up the road and has uninterrupted views across to the Sibillini Mountains and should be fully operational in the next few weeks – there is just the small matter of a forge to build first…

With the last few Covid restrictions finally lapsing in June, all the village food festivals that are so much a feature of summer here were back in all their glory. So we took great pleasure in being able to attend Montelupone’s annual artichoke festival and its excellent Festa della Pizza, as well as a wine-tasting event and a street-food festival in neighbouring villages. On the cultural front, we finally managed to make it to the annual opera festival at the Sferisterio, Macerata’s amphitheatre-like outdoor arena, taking in not only a fabulous modern production of ‘Tosca’ while my nephew and his partner were here, but also a brilliantly bonkers production of ‘The Barber of Seville’ while some musical friends from the UK were with us. As for scenery, we enjoyed some stunning walks in the Sibillini Mountains, the most spectacular – and challenging – of which was the 10km/1000m ascent to (and corresponding descent from) the tiny and mysterious Lago di Pilato over which the Sibillini’s two highest peaks stand guard.

Something else that made 2022 a special year for us is that we both turned sixty. We marked Mr Blue-Shirt’s 60th in June with the purchase of a classic Fiat 500, a car for which we have both had a massive soft spot for years. Having had three or four very pleasant days going out for test drives, his heart was finally stolen by a gorgeous 1970 500L that he found in Bologna: teal-blue with tan interior and in terrific condition, but with just enough tinkering required to keep him happy. We transported it home in the back of the van: it fitted in (just), but Mr Blue-Shirt did have to climb out through the sunroof.  So he could play with his new toy, I organised a surprise overnight trip to a swanky B&B further down the coast near Porto San Giorgio where we also enjoyed dinner in a fancy restaurant.

In early September and halfway between our respective birthdays, we marked our joint milestone with a fantastic holiday comprising four days in Alghero on Sardinia’s north-west coast, which is stunning, and five days in Barcelona, which has long been on our ‘must see’ list and was absolutely jaw-droppingly amazing. The trip also allowed us to give our 100% electric Nissan Leaf its first long outing, as we took the overnight ferry from Rome (Civitavecchia) to Sardinia, and from Sardinia to Barcelona, and then drove all the way home via the Côte d’Azur and the Gulf of Genoa.

I have to say, though, that this trip was probably eclipsed – and I admit I am probably biased – by the incredible Magical Mystery Tour that Mr Blue-Shirt organised for my 60th in November. It involved a week in the UK and included, along with several other surprises and treats, a surprise lunch party in Exeter with every single member of my family followed by a corresponding dinner party at a cosy pub/hotel in the Cotswolds with most of our dearest friends. ‘Overwhelming’ barely does the experience justice.

After so much partying, we chose to bring the year to a close with a comfortingly normal Christmas à deux. Superficially, it may have looked very much like the preceding two, but it felt oh, so very different. Over our roast turkey and all the trimmings, we raised our glasses to toast our year together as usual, but this year, Mr Blue-Shirt and I didn’t have to grasp feverishly at the odd glint of positive within a swirling, frightening fog of negatives. For all the positives 2022 had brought us still shone brightly like jewels of joy in a glorious kaleidoscope of memories, that with just a simple shake and twist can be infinitely re-played…

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