Ice, Sheep and Bells

Ice sculptures are becoming increasingly popular forms of art, especially in the colder parts of the world. Harbin, in Manchuria, for example has a very well-known international annual ice and snow sculpture festival. I’ve never actually been there but, gazing at pictures of some of the exhibits, it looks spectacular!


(Trans-Siberian express Harbin-style)

Ice festivals have spread in many other parts of the world and, since 2009 there’s even been an ice sculpture festival held at London’s Canary wharf. In Italy, Christmas cribs provide some nicely traditional forms of the art. There’s a particularly good festival at Abano terme near Padova in the Veneto which I must make a date to visit next Christmas.

 Presepio di ghiaccio-4-2

Of course, like sand sculpture, ice carving is a “temporary” art and, as such, indicates an almost Zen-like reflection on the transience of life and artistic creation. Tibetan mandalas, and Navaho sand paintings which must be destroyed immediately after completion, come to mind in this respect.  If one believed in the permanence of great works of art then one shouldn’t become an ice sculptor!

Great skill is needed to become an effective ice sculptor since the material used changes constantly according to temperature and water purity. Ice sculpture can be of two main types: in the first, one works on the ice itself with special chisels and saws, in the second, one controls water coming from a hose in intricate patterns to form amazing textures.

Naturally, the greatest ice sculptures are made by nature herself! Iced waterfalls are a particular manifestation of nature’s miracle:

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(Iced waterfall near us in Mediavalle)

Every winter at Longoio, when sub-zero temperatures persist at night there is a spectacular sight created by a marriage between nature and man. A local hose pipe weaves its way down from a precipitous waterfall near my house and, at one very leaky stage, creates remarkable effects. I passed by the holey part of the hose yesterday during an utterly clear and beautiful day when I went for a walk with two of my cats.

Only nature’s art could create such wonderful interlacing and delicate effects. It was quite stunning especially when its background was made up by the snowy peaks of the Apuan Alps.

Our cats thoroughly enjoyed their walk, as usual, and refreshed themselves amply at the fountain on the outside wall of our house.


Cowbells for the great Austrian composer and lover of nature, Gustav Mahler, evoked a feeling of pastoral innocence and nostalgia for the passing away of child-like feelings of immortality. Mahler said that cowbells were the last sound to be heard from the earth by the lonely in the highest of heights and that they were a symbol of total loneliness. Certainly this is the feeling evoked in his greatest slow movement from the Sixth symphony where cowbells sound particularly poignantly. (the Seventh too…).

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For me there is a big difference between being alone and being lonely. I think Mahler believed in aloneness (rather than loneliness) in typical Garboesque spirit. He even sometimes complained when there were too many birds singing around his isolated composition hut in the Austrian Alps.

One is truly summoned by bells where I live. From the church chimes ringing across the valley from the Pieve di Controni to the sound of sheep bells they are a particular feature. When I and my cats returned from our walk yesterday some bells seemed very close to home. I looked out and saw a herd of fine sheep coming up our little road escorted by two dogs and a rosy-cheeked shepherd girl. Soon I was surrounded by the finely horned animals, some of whom started trying to chew at my sweater!

The girl, who keeps a hut further along the hill from where I live, has been a  goat-herdess for the past two years and truly enjoys what she is doing – alone-ness rather than loneliness, I suspect. I wonder how many girls imprisoned in call-centres or shackled behind receptionist desks in the world’s urban jungles have a secret dream to become a shepherdess…

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8 thoughts on “Ice, Sheep and Bells

  1. Morning Francis, I particularly resonated with your thoughts on Mahler (same birthday as me!) and the difference between aloneness and loneliness. Yesterday I had the urge to get up to more remote parts, so I drove up the track to the Prade Garfagnini and then walked up from there for an hour or so towards Saltello. I sat for ages in the silence, and on the way back took some photos of ice sculptures! Came home peace of mind restored.

  2. What glorious weather wall to wall sunshine how marvellous that our three cats two tortoishell and one grey tabby cat the original wild cat have been all on a healthy round walk I compliment them as well as ourselves and then the so called animalists who tried to free the wonderful circus hippo of Circo Orfei fame which only resulted in his demise as he was freed and then promptly run over by an unsuspecting driver what a tragedy animals enjoy a little training and attention as we all do in fact to boot we went to enjoy and be amazed by circus acts both human and animal a good traditional circus is always on my must see and do list we were honoured that evening by Moira Orfei who was chauffeur driven around the arena at the start of the most amazing circus act show! Icicles is twicicles as niceicles when seen out in the natural surroundings I quite agree like the stalagmites and stalagtites as seen in our Grotta del Vento nice to visit especially on a hot Summer’s day. I had seen some other ice machinations broadcast on a TV programme it was just a magnifiscent event a whole city was reproduced in ice smaller scale obviously. In some parts of the world there also exists ice bars wholly made of ice I have never visited these I must say it would require salopettes gloves hat and whatever else to safeguard me against the cold not the best of ideas though to drink alcohol in a freezing atmosphere! Also at Livignio where we once went skiing there are the traditional cribs created out of ice a must see event it is truly an amazing sight!

  3. I wandered lonely as a cloud….not many daffodils to be seen in the area sadly.interesting however we are all alone even in a crowd of people even in company of people we can feel lonely but we do die alone even in a company of angels. But we do have our guardian angel to watch over us sometimes I wonder where mine is!

  4. Pingback: Where Sheep May Not Safely Graze | From London to Longoio (and Lucca and Beyond) Part Two

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