27 Jan

Paul Critchley and New Opportunities for Artists in Farindola

Paul Critchley is an artist.
He lives in Farindola.
Paul isn’t short of ideas.
That becomes clear if you ever look at his fascinating work.

Go on, take a look…



I think he has the uncanny ability to see the world in a very different, yet disturbingly familiar way.

Paul publishes a newsletter that is always a joy to read.

In his most recent newsletter he describes a meeting with the Mayor of Farindola and the birth of an idea for an Arts Festival that will benefit artists, art lovers and the Town of Farindola itself.

Paul kindly gave me permission to publish an extract from his newsletter that describes the meeting brilliantly.

If you want to contact Paul to find out more about how the plans for the festival are progressing or to find out more about his work then email him at  mr@paulcritchley.com

Here is the extract from Paul’s newsletter…

Newsletter 2014

Me and my big mouth

“You and your big mouth!” exploded Helen after we had left the meeting with the mayor.

“Who me?”
“Yes, you!”
“Every time you open your big mouth it means more work for me! The rest of the world seems to think your daft ideas are wonderful, amazing, fabulous and, and … and then you walk off to inflict other dreamy daydreams onto equally dreamy naïve innocents.”
“So what have I done wrong this time?”
“Men! Grump. Where do I start?! To begin with. It’s all your fault! And…”

… and to keep a long story short I’ll just mention the general idea. The little village where we live, Farindola, is in the National Park of the Gran Sasso & Monti della Laga on a hill spur on the edge of a curving valley. The lowest point of the community of Farindola is about 300m and its highest is over 1,900m. The village is at 500m. To the east we can catch sight of the sea, if there isn’t a heat haze and the wind has blown away all the dust and pollution hanging over Pescara. To the west we can look up the valley to the mountain peaks, and when the wind has blown all the clouds away we have a spectacular alpine view. To the south we look across the valley to tree covered mountains. Behind us to the north is the rest of the village. We live on the edge of the historic part of Farindola and the house is perched overlooking the majority of the old houses. These old houses were built very tightly together on the steep side of the valley and so the only access to them is by foot.


Since it takes an hour to drive to Pescara on winding, bumpy roads few people in Farindola commute there to work. In the 1950s the population was over 6,000 but that has now dropped to 1,800 within the whole area, including all the farms and hamlets. The total number of people who actually live in Farindola proper is little more than 600. Because the population has plummeted, and the fact that commuting to the big towns isn’t that attractive, Farindola has been virtually ignored by the property developers. Penne, 15 kms east, has lost its aged and romantic charm as it’s surrounded by new housing estates. Loretto Aprutino looks great from the outside but when you look out from within all you see is the anonymous new town on the other side of the road. Farindola has more or less survived the monotonous concrete wave of development, which is something that adds enormously to its value. Other villages further inland such as San Stefano di Sessanio have been renovated perfectly, they are an inspiration to what could and should have been done elsewhere, and what should be done here, and my big mouth thinks so too.


When the new mayor was elected in the summer, before asking what his plans for the future of Farindola were, I told him mine.
“What you need is a big plan” I said, “Look long term, more than your 5 years as mayor, and do as I say”.
That’s the way to deal with politicians; they were elected by the people to work on behalf of the people and not to just load their pockets with cash nor use the inhabitants’ council taxes to award each other with ‘official’ back handers like Christmas goodies and retirement presents, and a present bought with someone else’s money isn’t a present but corruption.
“So this is what you do” I continued, not giving him chance to escape. “Every village in the area has its identity; some for wine, some for ceramics, some for horse riding, some for this, others for that. Farindola is known for its Pecorino sheep cheese, for being in the National Park, for its summer festival, its 4 star hotel at 1,200 m with a spa, and being on the access road to the Campo Imperatore; a breath taking plateau behind the mountains. But it needs something else, it needs an identity which no other village has, not just in the area but in the whole region of Abruzzo.”
“What’s that?”
“What I and every other artistic/creative minded person needs: cheap rent.”
I was obviously making progress.
“Creative people like artists don’t have regular monthly incomes, some ideas are successful others not, but what they all need is the time to try out those ideas and develop them. And to do that they need to live cheaply, and by cheap I mean FREE, or as close to FREEdom as possible. Although some people return to Farindola during the summer more than half of the old town is deserted since so many have emigrated. And because the tax system has just changed those absentee owners now have to pay extra taxes for owning a second house even though, in effect, they’ve been abandoned. So what will happen to all those empty houses?”
“It’s a big problem becau…”


“Because you’ve not found a way to re-populate Farindola, but I have. Artists need cheap rent and you’ve got a village of empty houses so my plan is to invite creative people like artists, writers, musicians etc., to come and live here.”
“You could invite the unemployed to live here but they wouldn’t come because … they’re looking for work. Others with work won’t come either because of the cost of commuting. Artists would come if it were CHEAP. They would add to the economy of Farindola because they would have to buy their food here. They could come for a month, six months or a year and work on new paintings, write another book, compose an opera or whatever, and then leave taking their work with them. That’s why I live here. The house we bought cost the same as a garage in Pescara.”
“Hmmm.” was his reply, so I knew I was making splendid progress and continued to push the point home.
“Incidentally with the growth of broadband internet which is spreading further and further you may be interested to know that a new phenomena of rural expansion is developing. I commented earlier about the reluctance of people to commute from rural villages like Farindola and instead to live in the towns and cities. But now that access to the internet is becoming easier and faster some are moving back to the country, like us, where the housing is less expensive. The cities aren’t exactly safe playgrounds with all the traffic (and weirdoes) for the children to play in so the future of Farindola looks extra promising, but obviously it’s not going to happen overnight. Plus, if artists live here then the identity of Farindola would quietly expand from a culture of local customs to an international culture of many customs. Artist communities always attract attention simply because artists are like monkeys in a zoo; they make a positive contribution. An artistic identity would offer something extra to Farindola.”
“OK, we’ll do it”.

And they’re going to.
The town hall is going to start modestly with an Arts Festival and will provide accommodation for up to 10 artists AND their families from the 23.7.2015 to the 4.8.2015, inclusive, for FREE. Hurrah, I won! Some members of the council wanted to charge rent but I quickly pooh-poohed their reasons. I also told them that I think two weeks is too short to do any proper work, but it’s better than nothing and I’m grateful for their enthusiasm. The mayor has really taken this whole idea to heart and is even considering giving each artist discount vouchers for local restaurants and free entrance to the municipal swimming pool. Plus, the town hall will arrange for 4 excursions to show off the territory of Farindola and, even more, will invite the artists and their families to evening events where they can taste the local products such as the cheese and arrosticini, for which Abruzzo is famed. Arrosticini are skewers of lamb cooked on a BBQ and are delicious – unless you are a vegetarian… or a sheep.

In exchange for such generosity the artists will be requested to produce some work which will be exhibited during the local 5 day festival ‘Sagra del pecorino di Farindola’. The work could also be for sale, a small percentage from any sale will be taken by the organization to be used to help pay for the event and also for next year’s festival. At last year’s Sagra they claimed there were 10,000 visitors, they should know as there were half a dozen open air restaurants in the squares and they know how many plates they served. Local musicians in folk costumes wandered from square to square playing their instruments while everyone enjoyed the local dishes and poured down the wine. During the festival we had an Open Studio where people wandered in, which they did because we are on one of the squares which had one of the restaurant stands.

The only costs the artists will have will be the transport to Pescara airport/railway station as they will be met and brought to Farindola and then taken back. The artists also have to pay for their materials such as paint, canvas and bring their own easel etc. The mayor is hoping to make this an annual event under the title Farindola International Arts Festival, which will be tremendous, even better if artists want to come and live and work here for more that just two weeks in the summer.

However, apart from the short time, there’s also a tiny problem. They don’t know any arty people and are expecting me to organize it, duh. Hence Helen’s exasperated cry of “You and your big mouth! Every time you open your big mouth it means more work for me!”

Women! They’re always exaggerating. Besides, I’m no good at all that organizational sort of stuff as I’ve got so many other things to do like painting… and drinking wine.



02 Jan

Some of the People in My Abruzzo Neighbourhood


Usually when I write about Abruzzo, or in particular my “Abruzzo Neighbourhood”, I write about its places, its festivals and its culture. This means that there’s no shortage of material as Abruzzo, from the mountains to the sea, is blessed with plenty to explore and experience.

But it’s the people I’ve been lucky enough to meet and get to know there that make this region such a magical place.

I do like spectacular landscapes, picturesque villages and beautiful coasts but all of that can quickly become tired without people to share it with.

Although I recognised early that the Abruzzese are special, I didn’t go out of my way to photograph or create portraits of this region’s greatest asset.

I prefer my photographs to be of landscapes, architecture and urban exploration.  If people are in them, that’s OK, but they are secondary, almost anonymous.

If I deliberately take a photo of a person I prefer it to be natural, un-posed and preferably, they are completely unaware of the camera.

Well that’s what I thought.

Today I had a look through all the photos I’ve taken in Abruzzo since August 2013 and I was surprised that many of them were of people.

Sure there are plenty of images of people being occupied, going about their business, but what really surprised me was how many there were of friends that were clearly well aware of the camera.

I didn’t look through my entire collection of Abruzzo photographs. That would take a bit more time than I had today. I limited my search to roughly a year’s worth of photography.

Most of the photos are of good friends or people I’ve become friendly with over the last year. Some are of people I’ve never met before or since.

Here is a selection, I hope you like them.

I think they all tell a story. Each face expresses clear emotion. I expect what you see and I see will be different – photography is subjective after all.  But there are common themes. I see strength, pride, fun, curiosity, happiness, diligence, satisfaction, joy, attention and maybe a little puzzlement. There are certainly quite a lot of smiles.

Mostly I see the natural kindness of people who have welcomed strangers into their community and have made them feel at home.

I see Abruzzo’s greatest asset.

Felice Anno Nuovo a tutti!

16 Dec

Abruzzo Photo Review 2014

Festa dei Banderesi

In a recent post Random Thoughts on Our First Year Living in Abruzzo I listed several highlights of our first year living in Abruzzo. This post is similar, but different. It’s a personal photo review of 2014 in Abruzzo.

I’ve selected 20 photos that represent memorable events. They’re not necessarily the best 20 photographs I created in 2014, but they depict moments that mattered in some emotional way during the last year. They were taken with either a Canon EOS Rebel T3i, a Canon Digital IXUS 970 IS os a Samsung Galaxy S3. As always the best camera was the one I had with me at the time.   :-)

They might be of a new journey, a special moment with friends or returning to a familiar much loved place. Some you may have seen before but there are definitely a few new images for you to enjoy.

I hope you like them. If you have time please take a moment to let me know what you think of the photographs and which one is your favourite.

You can click on each image to enlarge it.

Ok, let’s begin in January 2014…

This was the first time I’d seen the festival of Sant’Antonio Abate in Loreto Aprutino. It’s a relatively small intimate festival that pulls the local community together. The eyes in the crowd are fixed on the actors telling the story of Sant’Antonio’s struggle with the devil.

Loreto Aprutino on a night in February. Light matters so much taking photographs and in this case the absence of sunlight with the street lights shining like stars made the town look as though it was from a fairy tale. I have so many photos of this special town it was hard to pick the right one for this post.

Penne, at most 7km from LA (Loreto Aprutino), beautiful but different. If you follow the path the couple are walking and turn left at the photos of the group of women, you exit the old town at the Porta San Francesco. The wall where the group of women are displayed is Largo S. Nicola and is an outdoor art space http://www.wowogallery.com/ that is updated throughout the year. The last time I passed I saw this collection by my fiend Paul Critchley





Paul has a way of seeing the world differently. I love his work.

May brought me to Bucchianico in Chieti with my good friend Bruno to see the Festa dei Banderesi. This was another first for me. I’d heard about this festival but I hadn’t had an opportunity to see it before. It was a wonderful spectacle and it was great spending time with a good friend.

In a moment of quasi-madness we decided to have a few days away by the Adriatic. We didn’t go far, just down to Montesilvano. The weather was mixed but the break was perfect.

The very familiar Festa di San Zopito in Loreto Aprutino. A boy dressed as a girl depicting an angel travelling though the narrow streets on a white ox, the procession of the martyr’s bones, Valentini opens their doors and for those who need it refreshment is never too far away.

This image is less to do with the beer and more to do with where I’m drinking it. I like Leffe, I like it’s flavour but I’d probably be happy sipping any beverage on a warm day sitting outside a bar in some local piazza watching the world go by.

Pescara bus station taken from a platform at Pescara Centrale train station. I spent a lot of time travelling by bus in 2014. Not everyone’s preferred mode of transport I admit, but it can certainly teach you patience.

A quiet piece of public beach away from all the lidos and the regimented sun chairs. Sometimes it’s necessary to have your own space.

The day the lambrettas came to town. Hidden among them is an interloper , an intruder, can you spot it?

This is for my dog loving readers. This very friendly fellow followed us around the old village of Vicoli. Alistair and I went for a spin in the car on a dullish day and ended up there.

The next day was brighter with clear blue skies so we went to Pacentro near Sulmona. Alistair, who is Scottish and absolutely impossible to decipher, was visiting us for week. He’d been to Abruzzo before so this was an opportunity to see somewhere new.  Walking around Pacentro was a lovely experience. I bet it’s spectacular in the snow.

A native of Pacentro. This photo is also for my dog loving readers.

From Pacentro we went back to Sulmona. Tried in vain to find the perfect bar – one with good coffee (easy) and a clean toilet (difficut), but we enjoyed the relative quiet of an almost empty Piazza Garibaldi and some damn fine ice cream.

I really like Sulmona. It has a lot to offer and with Pacentro so close it should be on everyone’s list of places to visit in Abruzzo.

Speaking of places you must visit in Abruzzo, in my “humble” opinion not to visit Rocca Calasio and Campo Imperatore on a trip here would be complete madness. I love seeing the new, and I think Abruzzo appears to have an endless supply of new places to see, but prospect and possibility of visiting and re-visiting Rocca Calasio and Campo Imperatore fills me with joy. There really is no other word for it, joy! Once I get there I don’t have to do anything other than breathe and let the Abruzzo scenery work its restorative magic.