In the Hills


Mural for the Alpinists, Rocca Malatina    Blair and Laurie Pessemier

While walking Harika, a man we know in town motioned for us to “come over here”.  He went on to point out the white wall on the new clubhouse of the Alpinists. “A mural is what we need here”, he asserted.  The club’s thinking had, in fact, gone beyond that – they had an image in mind, the “Sassi”, the two big rocks which define our town, and the surrounding wood.


The Alpinists are a force here in the Apennines.  They were very active in World War II, and much action transpired in these hills.   They still get together, and have increased their numbers with the addition of local hikers.

Bob Dole, the former US senator, was a second lieutenant in the 10th mountain division at Castel D’Aiano (we went to lunch there on Monday, passing Dole’s monument), where he was seriously wounded.   It was thought Dole wouldn’t survive, but he did and was determined to do as much as he could with his remaining strength.  Dole was here, just ten miles from our house, in October 2015, to revisit his mountains. “This may be my last trip,” the 92 year old veteran announced.

We gladly agreed to paint the mural, if the Alpinists provided all the paints.  Blair went up on Monday and sketched out the design, in charcoal.  Tuesday morning we were in full painting form, and knocked out most of the picture that day.  The Alpinists decided they’d like their alpine hat on top of the mountain – which I gladly obliged.  “That feather needs to be longer…”


We loved painting outside, in public, once again.   A dozen people stopped by over two days to watch the progress:  sidewalk supervisors.  I was, myself, surprised at how quickly the work went.   Blair was the layout man, and I did the sky, the rocks, and the hat.   He painted most of the trees, although I made an occasional dab of green paint.  On Wednesday, we finished.


Harika supported us, dozing, chasing a cat and digging shallow holes in the clay, the same stuff that was on the playing fields.   She welcomed each observer.  An occasional coffee laced with brandy, a plastic cup full of homemade grappa, “the specialty of the house”, kept us warm.  I almost hated to see the project come to a close.

We’ve asked for a Christmas tree in return – if anyone can find us a nice 10 foot tree, these guys will.   As we signed our name on the mural, I told the president of the club, “we’ll be in Rocca Malatina forever now”.


Laurie and Blair Pessemier


​​Pheasant at the side of the Road    Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/linen  10.5 x 14″  27 x 3 cm   

“Eat lunch in Comacchio.” our friend called to say.  We were on our way to the beach, Porto Garabaldi, the “dog” beach, and probably our closest bit of sea from the house.  We ​live​  smack in the middle of Italy, with the Mediterranean (actually on both sides) on one side and the Adriatic on the other.   The Adriatic is marginally closer by car (just about 2 hours), so we pointed the Cream Puff east.

​The Soccer Field   Blair Pessemier   Acrylic/linen  8.5 x 13″   2 x 33 cm 

Earlier in the week, there were lots of kids wandering around up the hill from our house.  They came in buses, from the city.  One of our party spoke to the the leader.  “Orientation”, she said.   The students were let out, with compasses, to go find certain landmarks in the woods.  I can hardly imagine that activity taking place in my own youth, but I thought it was a useful and remarkable exercise for young people.

We arrived at Comacchio right at lunch time.  We parked outside the town under a shady tree for Harika (she will not leave the car now that we have it back), and Blair and I trekked in, to this “little Venice”.    The town is mainly pedestrian, with intersecting canals.  It is not known as much for the town itself, but for excellent regional food.  My friend added “eel is the specialty”.


​Comacchio   Blair Pessemier   Acrylic/panel   13 x 16   33 x 41cm 


We staked out what looked like a good restaurant – two Italian men were tucking into some very tasty looking spaghetti.  There were many restaurants, but I like to choose one where people are eating.  There was a fried eel starter available, eel spaghetti and a variety of other dishes.   We opted for the “spaghetti granchi”, crab spaghetti, cooked only if two ordered it.  Several half-crabs lie on a bed of red spaghetti.  It was outrageously delicious, and really would have been a meal in itself, had we not opted for a second dish of “brodetto di Anguilla”, eel stew.  It was fabulous as well.  I had to pace myself to eat all this food (it came with polenta).   They had a variety of homemade desserts, but I wondered if I could walk back to the car as it were.

We had bought Harika a few slices of bresaola (dried salted beef), another Comacchio specialty, which she downed with bountiful water.   We drove the five minutes to the beach, where we all dipped our toes in the very cold Adriatic.  In the summer, the Adriatic is a murky brown and tepid; in the winter, it takes on a turquoise hue and is surprisingly cold.    I was the only person in a swimsuit, and only proceeded to my stomach; I couldn’t make it any further.   I kept my sweater on.


​The Adriatic at Porto Garabaldi    Lauie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/linen   10.5 x 16″  27 x 41 cm


My own “orientation” process in Italy has been an interesting one.  I am making new friends, always scary for me, and I am shocked at my own eagerness to form relationships.  I am very happy about it.  A friend describes it as the difference between the city and the country:  in the city, you have to have a tough exterior to ward off egotists and charlatans; in the country people don’t have to be like that.

I painted one picture while we were at the beach – the Adriatic region has such a jewel-like look in the sky and water.  Just at that time Harika got in a fight with a German shepherd – our girl’s usual technique of acting wounded and crying didn’t work with this young dog, whose owner had less success in corralling her than we did in catching Harika.  Fortunately, no blood was shed.

​Hills   Laurie Fox Pessemier   Acrylic/linen   13 x 18   33 x 46cm  

​We drove home by Castello di Serravalle, overlooking the hills of gold and red leaves.  Next day we set out to paint them.