13 December 2015

A flit across the Alps, what I didn't wear, and if angels could sing!

“There is no world without Verona walls….Heaven is here”  Romeo & Juliet  Act 3 Scene 3

showing the Ponte di Castelvecchio over the River Adige, 
and the Roman Arena

Maybe Romeo was going a bit far, though Verona is an undeniably lovely city, and it arguably boasts the best location of any city in Europe – dare I say The World? Actually, I’ve never heard or read anyone else expound this specific view, and I take full responsibility for the sweepingness of the statement, but its proximity to the cocktail of culture offered by Venice, Milan, Mantua, Bologna and Trento and the ludic/sporting opportunities offered by the nearby Dolomites, Lake Garda and  sea are hard to find together in another, equally beautiful, city.

All that being said, back in July I quite literally leapt at the chance to turn my back on Verona and speed north up the motorway and over the Brenner Pass. Three hours later I arrived in the charming Austrian city of Innsbruck (I hate to labour a point, but see what I mean about Verona being “close to” stuff?)

 Innsbruck has a river, the Inn, 
spectacular mountains, and a bridge, 
thats' the bruck(e) bit

quaint old city centre,
          a rather smaller than expected, though certainly shiny, Golden Roof
and plenty of Italians on holiday.

The language spoken is German of course. I’ve always loved witnessing the physicality of ancient language dividers such as crossing a mountain range only to find that the languages spoken on either side are different. But as the point of my trip wasn’t specifically to see Innsbruck,  I’ll just say here that it’s very pretty and worth visiting.
No. I went because life opened an all too rare window of opportunity to spend time with a precious friend without having to plan my getaway weeks in advance. Umberto was spending an adventure week immersed in nature with friends, in a stone hut up on nearby Monte Baldo,

Monte Baldo flanks the eastern shore of Lake Garda

and Filippo and Camilla jumped at the chance of having the house to themselves, so off I galavanted without a backward glance, to join my friend. She manages some of the world’s finest opera singers, and was visiting one of her artists, the Australian countertenor David Hansen who was to perform in Porpora’s work “Germanico in Germania”.
Yes, we were going to .... The Opera

Australian counter-tenor David Hansen

(and now’s the perfect opportunity to show you what I DIDN’T wear that evening. I know it’s a bit of a con isn’t it? but as I didn’t make what I wore that evening, but I DID make this dress, and it's this dress which marks the beginning of my sewing again after more than 20 years, it’s fitting that it should be slotted into my very first blog post. I know we’ve only just met and I’m already taking liberties, but please bear with me in this and I’ll try not to make a habit of it!)

The dress I DIDN'T wear!
Readers for whom sewing details are mind-numbingly boring are invited to fast-forward to the fabulous David Hansen bit now.

So, I sew. I began as a teenager growing up in a provincial city where, even if I’d had the money and desire to buy clothes from Top Shop or Snob, it would have meant looking just like every other girl out on a Saturday night, which wasn’t acceptable to sixteen year old Sal.  So, I sewed; on my Mothers antique Singer (it’s still with her and working beautifully by all accounts).  Then, as now, I found no satisfaction in pouring love, creativity, energy, effort, time,  MYSELF, into everyday staples which could be bought for less,  so I saved up my saturday-job money for the train fare to London where I bought the best material I could afford - china silk. Today it's a common enough choice for lining but in 1970s Norwich it was a commodity of unheard of luxury. I carefully fashioned unique garments, teaching myself how by following the excellent Vogue pattern instructions to the letter, or by drafting my own patterns with the help of Ann Tuits book “Introducing Pattern Cutting”.  Thus ensued a 20 year period of marvelousness, followed by a 20 year maternal period of heightened marvelousness, only without the same sewing heft. Now, Rip Van Winkle-esque, Sal the Sewest is reawakening into an alien world where overlockers and lycra have long been old hat. Blimey, what am I to do with all this overwhelming STRETCH?

I was not prepared to be beaten, so I picked up a Husqvarna Huskylock 905 for €100 (I’m told I got a bargain!), and peered at the out-of-print Lagerfeld dress pattern Vogue 1979 which had been taunting me for more years than I care to remember with its “Fabrics: Moderate stretch knits only”,

Out-of-print Vogue pattern 1970 -
I made up the pink version on the left

I LOVE line drawings!
 Mine's dress B on the right 

rummaged through a depleted “stash” of oddly hued (wotchamacallit) polo shirt material(?),  and decided if I was going to learn some essential stretch-taming techniques I'd better get on with it. I also created a safety net for myself, saying that if it turned out horribly I could excuse it as a “wearable toile”. Then, “Oh, good god … WHAT SIZE am I now?”  Look, I’ve never owned a dressmakers dummy, (I didn’t seem to need one then, but I desperately want one now so will be coming to my dear readers in possession of sewing expertise for recommendations please, and by cutting a size 12 which graded out to a 14 at the bottom always seemed to work back then …. so I took a deep, hopeful breath and cut the 14.  BINGO! What FUN! I was sewing again and it was (almost) plain sailing.  Karls instructions did have me unexpectedly stabilizing all sorts of  seams – which I sewed in the end with a straight stretch stitch and then overlocked together, 

I raised the shoulders by 2cm which consequently raised the neckline

I hasten to state here that I did this soley in order to correct upper body fit, and not as the result of a morbidly excessive sense of modesty. This is Italy. Cleavages are unashamedly, and justly, displayed and admired.  Think Sofia Loren.  When did we ever see her dressed as a nun? Unless she was in the role of a nun of course.

   I used a contrasting orange bias binding for the neckline and armholes, 

Reflected in the "mystic mirror" with my very patient photographer son

and using embroidery thread I made a “feature” of the visibly botched, "joke invisible-zip" insertion.

I was so distracted with pleasure,  I got my feet on the wrong legs 

The pink dress on the pattern envelope is just boring.....

...look at these zazzy colours!    

 ....... even if it was far from perfect.
Underlining would have the prevented this seam-allowance from showing. 

Then it shrank in the wash!
Definitely a snug fit now

I still wear it and feel it doesn’t deserve to be demoted to “wearable toile” status, but it fits rather snugly now as can be seen.

So, back to Innsbruck’s Tiroler Landestheater on the evening of the opera.

My expectations of the stranger I was to meet were ambivalent as we made our way backstage to say hello, and “break a leg” to David. But he surprised me by getting up from his seat,  (leaving the makeup artist, brush poised,) to greet us with warm, delighted hugs, kisses and jokes,  and enquiries about our comfort; had we had trouble collecting our tickets? did we have good seats? I found such spontaneity and lack of pretention remarkable in an artist who was soon to be on stage for the best part of the five hour opening night performance.

(When I read on Marcy's gorgeous blog www.oonaballoona.com of her account  of  meeting  Pavarotti, I couldn't help wondering whether such humanity was a general Opera Singer thing???)  Whatever the case, even though I had yet to hear him sing, I was already completely smitten by this man.

Now, just about everyone who lives in Verona has been to the opera, since each summer there’s an open-air opera season staged in the Roman Arena, which makes for a unique and spectacular evening’s entertainment.

Opera season in the Roman Arena, Verona

But it lacks the intimacy of an opera house, and this particular production was exceptional too in its remaining faithful to the period of the piece, employing an orchestra of eighteenth century instruments, including a theorbo (I know, I had to Google it too).  

And then David sang, and I was transfixed. His performance was mesmerising. I would genuinely love to wax very lyrical at this point, but such gushings would be incongruous to a blog post, and there are others who have done it better.

The opera was followed by a reception in the glorious Royal Palace

The Royal Palace, Innsbruck

The reception was in this very room!!!

where we met David’s beautiful Norwegian wife Ida, joined by his parents visiting from Sydney, to whom huge respect is due for nurturing such a son. His sparkling mind and personality, his care, warmth and generosity of spirit, and his diminished ego add up to a human being of rare quality.  Then, add to this his extraordinary talent! Truly, if angels could sing they’d strive to sound like David Hansen;

after all “ Ancient Greek theorists held that the entire cosmos vibrated with the harmonies audible in music, it was so heavenly that it had magical properties Music of renowned excellence, continues to offer a sound that connects with the human soul to soothe, to motivate and lift it up to a place of grace and contemplation.”

Later, as we all wished each other goodnight, he asked me with a hug if he could give me a copy of his CD, “Rivals”...... Could he???  I nearly fell over with joy.

If you'd like to get to know David better, you can find him on YouTube – I especially like this 
video of when “Rivals” was being recorded.
And his website is 

Yes,  he has a sense of humour too!!

This Blog is pro-autism.
Thank you, Sally xx 


  1. Wow Sally, what a comprehensive post! I think I only managed to write one paragraph with my first post. Love your outfit, love all your background story, the content. Will be back x
    Anna's Island Style

    1. Thanks for this Anna, what a lovely encouraging first comment to receive :) Sx

  2. oh my! that pique is simply gorgeous!!! such bright colours and you look quite the diva in it. I loved the story too.
    Congrats on the blog !!!

    1. Pique? So, that's what it's called! :) Thank's for enlightening me Sasha, and for your lovely comments too. Sx


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