The hidden village: Isola Santa

Last Friday was a holiday here in Florence…San Giovanni,  = St. John, Florence’s patron saint. So Stefano and I decided to spend the three-day weekend in an ancient village called Isola Santa ( = Saint Island) up in the Alpi Apuane (Apuan Alps), a mountain range in northern Tuscany. Isola Santa is perched on the side of a mountain and reachable by a rather steep walk down from the main road where we parked our car. 

We were hoping to escape the horrendous heat wave that has hit Florence in this period…really awful, damp heat…

And, in part, we were successful, although it got warm there, too, during the day…but nothing like Florence.

We’d never been to what turned out to be a very interesting area of Tuscany, famous mainly for its marble quarries (Michelangelo!), which were clearly visible at many turns in the winding mountain road.

So…Isola Santa. The ancient, fortified village was originally built in the Middle Ages around a lodging for tired pilgrims and travellers…

In 1950, however, the inhabitants of Isola Santa were forced to abandon their homes, and the village essentially became a ghost town for decades.

The consequences are still clearly visible…caved-in roofs, ruined walls covered with ivy and other plants, and so on. What happened was that a hydroelectric power station/dam was built upriver, creating an artificial lake that submerged part of the village, including the old mill (we saw some ancient ruins emerging from the water).

View from our bedroom window

In 2001, though, a couple decided to bring the village back to life and embarked on an ambitious renovation project. To sustain the costs of this renovation, they began renting rooms and studio flats. They also built a restaurant and a café.

We stayed in a double room on the third and last floor of the ancient guard tower, with lovely views of the mountains and the lake and, of course, parts of the still-ruined village.

The village, its lake, and the woods surrounding it are super peaceful. Magical, really. Oh, and no TV, no Internet, no Wi-fi, very few people around. We spent two and a half days in almost total isolation from the world. Bliss.

One of the most amazing features of this lake are its reflections…it’s almost impossible to distinguish a reflection from the thing being reflected (as in the last two photos). Paintings, almost…

Ohhh, and our walks along the lake, in the woods…wow. Such peace. No noise, apart from the wind blowing through the trees…The best was just sitting on a bench in the woods and listening to the water…to the wind…so relaxing…

Such a treat…such a lovely treat.

P.S. I took these photos with my cellphone…

Châteaux de la Loire

Château de Blois

Wow, what a trip! The villages, the scenery, the food and, of course!, the castles, the fabulous châteaux of the Loire Valley.

Here’s the list of all the castles we visited from May 28 to June 4 (June 3, really, since we left for Annecy on the 4th). So, 7 full days in the valley.

Bourges

During our two-day stay in Blois we visited the following castles: Château de Blois, Château de Chambord, Château de Cheverny, Château de Chaumont.

Chateau de Chambord (the exterior was being restored, so, unfortunately, my best photos are of the interior)

We spent most of our stay in Tours, and from there we visited these: Château de Chenonceau (perhaps the most famous, deservedly so), Château de Loches (it’s more than a castle, more like a fortified village atop a hill), Château de Villandry, Château d’Azay-le-Rideau, Château d’Amboise, Château du Clos Lucé (Leonardo da Vinci’s last home), Château de Chinon (more of a fortress than a castle), Château de Langeais. And we had an outside look of the Château de Saumur.

Château de Chevergny

The towns we visited were Bourges (its cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site…but I remember Bourges best for its half-timbered houses, see photo 2, and its macarons, which were amazingly tasty, and, hey, I don’t really care for macarons, normally), Amboise, Chinon, Loches, Chédigny,  and, of course, Blois and Tours. Lovely Medieval centres.

Château de Chenonceau

And also a 12th century abbey, the Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud, where the body of Richard Lionheart is buried (but not his heart, which was embalmed and sent to Rouen, and his entrails, which were buried in Chalus…a bit gruesome, yes, but I thought it was really interesting) next to his wife and his parents.

Village of Chédigny, lovely roses everywhere

Speaking of the parents, I have read quite a bit about this period of history, especially about Richard’s mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine (have you seen the BBC series “She-Wolves: England’s Early Queens”? Well, I found it enthralling…And Eleanor of Aquitaine is one of the…she-wolves). Anyway, that was all very interesting…Lots of history, there…

Okay, here are a few of my million photos (the earliest ones, up to Villandry…I may post more in the coming days)…

Château de Villandry, famous for its stunning gardens 

Oh, a quick note: with my “new” (relatively speaking, since I had the operation in late November) hip, I walked between 10-13 kilometres a day without any problems. Up and down hills, up and down stairs, too. I was, and am!, very pleased!

Again, Château de Villandry (you can spot it in the distance), one of my favourites

 

 

A little holiday

Well, actually, for us it’s a BIG holiday: we’re driving to the Loire Valley tomorrow and will be traveling around the Tours and Blois area, visiting castles and pretty medieval towns for about 10 days. Bliss!

She hated the collar, but she didn’t complain, especially after she found a new…friend with a similar collar…

News snippets: 1. Petunia was sterilised last week and is doing beautifully. She is such a sweetie (unless you try to put her inside the cat carrier, in which case she goes absolutely ballistic and twists and turns and…well, those of you who have cats will know what I mean, I’m sure…)…Anyway, I took her to the vet for a check-up yesterday, and her wound is basically healed. So, all is well with Petunia, my little princess…such a relief!

2. A few days after we get back from France, in early June that is, I’ll be taking Puffin, her brother (see photo) to the vet clinic to be neutered. Ah yes, the…fun never ceases. Ugh. 🙁 

3. The renovation work on our house will begin in early July, not mid June as we’d been told. A bureaucratic issue, as it turns out. We are taking advantage of the Italian government’s so-called Ecobonus or Superbonus, which allows homeowners to deduct 110% of the cost of adding energy efficiency upgrades to their homes (and we will be doing just that…new roof, solar panels, etc.) and that sort of thing. In order to receive this Bonus, though, we obviously have to have all of our technical appraisal documents in order…and, as it happens, the last one only just came in. Uff! So…a bit more waiting. No problem. As long as it gets done…

4. Did I tell you that I am a dual citizen now? Oh yes: U.S. and Italian. As you (may) know, I am a U.S. citizen married to an Italian (a wonderful wonderful guy whom I love to bits!)…Well, I finally decided to apply for Italian citizenship a couple of years ago. After months and months of collecting and translating all the necessary documents, I became an Italian citizen in early November. I already have my Italian identity card, and a few days ago I also applied for my Italian passport, which I should have at some point in June. I’m so happy! I mean, HAPPY! Yaaaaaay!!! Oh, I love this country…

Anyway, sorry for the long ramble. I actually just wanted to mention that I won’t be blogging until we return from France, but then I got a bit carried away, hehe…

Well, until I get back and post some of our photos, do take care, everyone, and be well…Ciao! 🙂

Castles and croissants

Hi everyone! I hope you’re doing fabulously!!! I’ve been getting messages from blog readers with a variety of queries, and that made me realise that I haven’t been blogging for a VERY LONG TIME! So sorry about that! Yes, true, I’m still quite “blogged out,” but mainly I’ve been busy with a bunch of projects that I’ve been putting off for years.

Petunia, Florence, May 2022

In June we’re having our roof redone and solar panels installed, as well as a bunch of other stuff, including having air-conditioning put in the only (two) rooms that don’t have it. Our cat-vomit-stained-cotto-tile-floors are going to undergo a new sort of treatment that will be much more resistant to stains and whatnot.

This is only a partial list, of course, but the long and short of it is that we’ll have workers inside and outside and on top of the house for a month and a half…I’m certainly not looking forward to all the dust dust dust dirt dirt dirt…Just the thought makes me sneeze!!! But the work must be done, and the house will be fabulous in the end, and much cheaper to run compared to now…

Point is, and yes here we get to the point of all this rambling: in order to prepare for this long…ordeal, we have been going through and getting rid of heaps of stuff that we don’t use anymore and that is mostly stashed in the attic. A clean sweep, so to speak, before the dust and dirt covers everything…

Attics…wonderful places, you know. That is, until you have to CLEAN them, especially when you’re being followed around by a bunch of very curious cats intent on getting into bloody EVERYTHING. But I don’t mind…they are so adorable…!!!

Puffin, Florence, May 2022

Speaking of curious cats, our kittens, see photos, have almost reached the age of sterilisation, which will happen in early June, before the work begins. In Italy, kittens normally don’t get sterilised before they are seven months old. And these two little monkeys are almost seven months old…

Anyway, I don’t want to bore you with the long list of all the things I’m doing right now zzzzzz and will be doing in the next few months zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!!! No. I just wanted to write a short, chatty post to let you know that I’m fine…just caught up in my life. Oh, BIG NEWS: I’m walking and have been walking for a while now…My crutches are a thing of the past! Yaaay! And where are the crutches, you might be wondering? Why, in the ATTIC…where else? Hahahaha! 🙂

So all is good…actually, VERY good…Stefano and I are going to take a break in a few weeks and drive up to the Loire Valley…Nothing but castles and croissants for ten days…mmmh, can’t wait…I will certainly post photos here when we return.

Okay, must stop blabbing now…Take care, everyone! Ciao! 🙂

“Why multiple myeloma returns”…

That’s the title of an interesting Science Daily article that I came across this morning (and that blog reader Ana also told me about in a comment I read soon afterward, thank you!). Here’s the link: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/03/220301131117.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email

In a nutshell, a group of researchers at the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin discovered that the culprit to the HUGE problem of drug resistance (non-genetic drug resistance, in particular) in myeloma is the increased production of a protein, the CDK6 protein, which not only activates cell proliferation but also, interestingly, binds with one of myeloma’s best buddies, Cyclin D1 (about which I’ve written quite a lot…do a Search of the blog if you are interested in the topic).

Okay, so we now have a culprit: CDK6.

Guess what? Well, by now this should not come as a surprise: curcumin inhibits CDK6, just as it inhibits Cyclin D1.

Bazinga!

Will the curcumin-CDK6 connection ever be studied in the conventional myeloma world? I doubt it, oh very much so, for what I believe are obvious reasons. No, what will happen is that a conventional drug, probably with lots of side effects, will be studied, tested, and put on the market.

It’s frustrating…so many missed opportunities to help us myeloma folks (as well as other folks with different types of cancer). So many missed opportunities…

To be honest, I think that’s probably the main reason I got such a serious case of burnout and stopped doing research…I knew it wouldn’t go anywhere, really, and that, no matter what I uncovered and wrote about, nothing would move in the conventional myeloma world. The only thing that has moved, which is a huge deal, of course!, is that many of us now take curcumin and other natural extracts that I’ve researched and posted about. And even though my blog is almost at a standstill now, I still get lovely messages on a daily basis from blog readers. It means a lot to me…thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

Petunia and Puffin, March 2022

Anyway, changing topic before I get too carried away, I wonder what other natural extracts inhibit this blasted protein. Hmmm…

If I can tear myself away from our amazingly adorable 4.5-month-old kittens, I will definitely have a look. 🙂

Take care, everyone! Ciao!

P.S. Here’s the link to the article itself (I haven’t read it yet…zzzzzzz!): https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-022-28515-1

Petunia and Puffin

Everything is going well. Very well. Two days ago I had my first orthopaedic checkup at the clinic and was told that I am their best patient, top of the class (hmmm, perhaps that’s what they say to every patient…nonetheless, I was pleased!).

I’m down to one crutch now, which has made a huuuuuge difference to me, since I can manage the stairs on my own and take showers now! Yay! So…all is well on the hip replacement front. So nice to be without pain…so nice!

In about three weeks, these two Maine Coon kittens will be joining our family. As I mentioned in a previous post, they have the same parents as our Potter, so we know that they will fit in this complicated feline family as well as he has. Or, at least, that’s what we hope! 🙂

Here is a recent photo of the two, taken by our friend (no idea how she got them to sit still and pose for the photo…hehe). On the left is Petunia, on the right is Puffin. Respectively, female and male. Aren’t they just the cutest little fur balls?

Well, that’s about it for now. I would like to end by wishing Very Happy Holidays to everyone!!!

After hip surgery

I had my left hip replaced last Tuesday, November 30, and am happy to report that the surgery went amazingly well. I’m going to be using the word “amazing” a lot in this post…I mean, just think that my wound was closed with some sort of super glue. Glue! No stitches, not even one. Isn’t that…amazing? 🙂 Well, it’s amazing to me, anyway.

On Friday, that is, just three days after surgery, I came home…walking! Sure, I was walking with two crutches, but using them as you use walking sticks when you’re on a hike. Ama…zing!

Okay, it wasn’t all a picnic in the park. I mean, something had to go wrong, right? And so, in spite of being oh so incredibly cautious!, I came down with a cold about four days before surgery, and, as if that weren’t enough, I developed a mild but productive (yuck) cough over the weekend. Darn! How did that happen? Well, Stefano had come home from work one day, all stuffed up, but we thought it was his usual allergies acting up so we didn’t take the precaution of sleeping in separate bedrooms. Bad decision: I caught what he had, although his was a much milder case. Different immune systems, duh.

So there I was, the weekend before surgery!!!, with a blasted cough. I couldn’t believe it. Drat! On Monday morning, figuring that we might have to postpone surgery, noooooo!, I called the clinic and was told to  to show up early in order to be checked out by a doctor. Luckily, that went well: my lungs were clear. I did have to have another Covid swab, which turned out negative like the swab I’d had two days earlier.

Result: I was given the okay for surgery, yay!, and so, a few hours later, I checked into the clinic. The following morning, I was the first patient in the operating room. Excellent.

I was awake for the entire procedure. I could have chosen to be sedated, but I decided against that, in part because I was afraid of coughing during surgery…For the record: that didn’t happen.

Thanks to the epidural, I didn’t feel a thing from my waist down, but boy oh boy, nothing, not even the Playlist I’d carefully put together the previous week (which included some AC/DC, not just classical music), could shut out the noise. I heard it all, loud and clear…all the hammering… Whack whack whack thump thump thump! But my interest in what was going on kept me from getting anxious. As I mentioned, this was my first surgery ever, and I was curious about it all.

Funny thing:  before and after surgery, and actually for the first 48 hours more or less, all the doctors and nurses checking my vitals kept asking me the same questions : my name, surname, place of birth, birthdate…innocent little questions like that. It happened a lot, especially before and after surgery. I was a bit puzzled at first, since they clearly had all my personal data in front of them, but I soon figured out that they must be making sure that I hadn’t had a stroke or whatnot.

Speaking of which, I have an anecdote. After surgery, I was wheeled out of the operating room into a sort of recovery room where a nurse monitored me for quite some time, at least a half hour, perhaps longer, who knows?, I’d lost track of time by then. We had a very nice chat…once I’d told him my name and surname, birthplace and birth date, of course, hehe.

Well, it was in that room that I looked down and saw my operated leg for the first time since surgery. HOLY CATS! What the…???? For a nanosecond I almost had a “stroke”: my entire left leg (foot included) was bright red! And by bright, I mean BRIGHT! RED! I thought it was blood, and that was soooo freaky!, but then my brain told me that that made no sense…I asked the nurse what had happened down there, and he explained that it was just the color of the disinfectant they’d painted all over my leg in the operating room.

Disinfectant??? Gee wiz, you guys…why didn’t you let me know that I’d be coming out of surgery with a BRIGHT RED LEG??? Hellooooo??? What’s the bloody point of asking me my name and taking my vitals if you’re planning to give me a heart attack by painting my leg bright red and not telling me? (I’m joking, of course…hehe!!!). I was much relieved and even amused at myself, at my first reaction of semi-horror. Anyway, until I’m able to take a shower–about 10 days from now–my leg will continue to be reddish, although a couple of my nurses tried to wipe  off the color. Didn’t really work. My leg is all spotty red now. Lovely. Anyway, a funny-in-retrospect moment at the clinic…one I will never forget!

Just a few hours after surgery, in the early afternoon, a physiotherapist came to teach me how to get out of bed. I even went to the bathroom by myself, well, on crutches of course, under his supervision (in respect of my privacy, he shut the door once I was safely inside). I also took a few steps outside my hospital door. All that, just hours after having surgery. Amazing!!!

By the following afternoon I was instructed to put my full weight on my operated leg. Wow! I am still amazed…amazed amazed amazed. Sorry, I’m over-using that word…but for me the entire experience has been really…well, you know. 😉

At the clinic, I was taught lots of things–from how to walk up and down a flight of stairs to how to get dressed by myself (putting on socks still isn’t easy, I tell ya…)–which I’ll have to put into practice and be careful about for the next couple of months, albeit less and less, of course, as my leg gets stronger. Also, no bending over and picking up anything that falls on the floor (fortunately, I found a pick-up-stuff gadget…fantastic!), no crossing my legs…the list goes on.

But, and this is a big BUT, the pain I had before surgery is gone. Sure, I had a bit of pain after the surgery, no point in denying that (pain for which I was given some lovely painkillers), but right now I have NO PAIN. What a wonderful change from my pre-operative state, when I was limping all over the place, grimacing with pain.

And now I’m now happily at home with Stefano (who took a week off from work to be with me) and the kitties…and lots of documentaries and TV series and movies to watch while I do my strengthening exercises. I’m doing very well. The physiotherapist who came to check on me yesterday was amazed at how well I’m walking. I will be using two crutches until my first checkup, week after next, after which I should be going down to one crutch for another 20 days. So by the middle of January I should be ready to fly on my own, which is good since the new kittens will be here, and I do not want to be on crutches with those two little fur balls running around the house! 🙂

Life is good. Take care, everyone!

New hip, new kittens, new citizenship…

How did October fly past so quickly? ?  I really should make a point of posting something once a week when I’m super busy with life happenings. But sometimes it isn’t that simple. In my defence, at least this time, a lot has been going on, as you will see…

I went through a lot of waiting in October–waiting for all my tests to be set up, waiting in waiting rooms to have my tests done, and then waiting for test results. Waiting waiting waiting. I still have some waiting to do, but most of it is over. I have all my test results, I mean.

The most important result is that my PET and CAT scans were both negative, meaning that I don’t have any bone lesions (NO BONE LESIONS, yaaaay!!!) and there are no signs of cancerous activity in my body. Nothing. Nada. Big relief, for sure.

This means, among other things, that I’ve been cleared for my hip replacement surgery, which is scheduled for the end of this month. After spending three nights in the hospital, if all goes well, fingers crossed, I will be sent home and should make a full recovery in about a month and a half. My hip has really started acting up lately, ouch, so I’m ready…

And here’s another, HUGE bit of news: about a year and a half ago, after spending many months collecting all the necessary documents, having them translated, authenticated, etc., I requested Italian citizenship. Well, just recently, toward the end of October to be precise, I received my citizenship letter, and about a week later Stefano and I went to the municipality of Florence where I took my citizenship oath. So now I have dual citizenship, U.S. and Italian. I’m ecstatic…completely ecstatic. I’ve wanted Italian citizenship for so long, so this is a dream come true…

And…more good news. After vowing that (Harry) Potter was going to be our last cat, that we are getting too old to adopt any more cats, blablabla, we recently fell completely in love with two Maine Coon kittens–siblings–who are now a month old. Potter and the two kittens, a male and a female, have the same parents. They will be joining our family in mid January, at the age of three months. We are soooo happy about the kitties…they are so adorable…

So, Italian citizenship, kittens, no cancerous activity, and a titanium hip…What else could I want?

I actually have a bit more news, but it’ll have to wait for another post…I have to go now.

Take care, everyone! Ciao! 🙂 

New study: ursolic acid and myeloma cells

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a myeloma research post, but a recently published Korean abstract made my fingers itch to hit the keyboard. Here goes…

Remember ursolic acid? Well, perhaps not, since the last time I wrote about it was, oh, as long ago as 2007, the year I began blogging, in fact. What is ursolic acid? It’s a pentacyclic triterpenoid (yeah, I know, I know…) that can be found in a lot of foods, such as rosemary, apples, cranberries, pears, oregano, holy basil, thyme and prunes.

Back to the Korean abstract (the full study, from what I can gather, hasn’t been published yet), which I read about a half hour ago: it reports that the ursolic acid found in the root bark of Morus Alba, more commonly known as white mulberry, doesn’t just inhibit “the proliferation of RPMI-8226 multiple myeloma (MM) cells,” but it kills them, too. Oh yeah!

You can read the abstract here: https://www.jmb.or.kr/journal/view.html?doi=10.4014/jmb.2109.09002

Conclusion: “These findings suggest that MRBE and its active ingredient, ursolic acid, […] may have significant chemopreventive potential against MM.” Very exciting, don’t you think? Of course, we must remember that this is a study that used MM cells in a lab setting (not human patients, I mean), so, as always, we mustn’t get overly excited. But still, a wee bit of excitement can’t hurt, right? 🙂 

I have already ordered some white mulberry tea, while I do some more research to find a reliable source for ursolic acid (I hope to find the Morus Alba extract…but so far, I’ve found mainly rosemary extracts…). No idea if the tea will do any good, but at least it can’t hurt!

Fingers crossed…