All posts by IntentSpirits

The nomad hotel / the small alachigh

We have gone back down to Italy to do some work on our new land and to do some of our non profit work for the heartland association. In between all the Italian mountain madness, endless lunches, voyages to abandoned villages and so many meetings, we also finalised our smaller alachigh concept tent. We are […]

We have gone back down to Italy to do some work on our new land and to do some of our non profit work for the heartland association. In between all the Italian mountain madness, endless lunches, voyages to abandoned villages and so many meetings, we also finalised our smaller alachigh concept tent.

We are making this tent for an amazing guy called Andrea from the mountain village of Palena, who runs reenactment and historical events in costume. Over 5 years now we have developed an amazing idea, for a nomadic hotel, a new horizon in sustainable tourism, directed for rewilding and safari projects, but one that suits his ideas and work, and is prefect means to explore Italy’s secret region of Abruzzo, one of the wildest mountains regions in Europe.

Like our larger Alachigh concept tent this one relies on a rib and connector system, a welded stainless steel wheel, and bottom brackets. Arguably the bottom wooden ring could have been avoided if this tent was to be pitched on a deck, but because we want it to be put up at the end of a day journey at some of the most remote high meadows of Abruzzo, the bottom ring was needed.

You can see the bottom brackets better in this picture below. Its also a little clearer how the bolts work to hold the bottom ring tension, and to lock the rib.

We have set up a new company concept top deal with these new tents, as part of our work to make sure some nomadic tent forms would not get extinct, and like we said the Alachigh which is arguably the best looking nomadic tent in existence, has always too little attention in the west, whilst thousands of yurts were made or imported into Europe there are maybe ten to fifteen examples of Alachighs made, to fight this we have come up with a dedicated concept which we are now turning into the Alachigh company . I argue that whilst we are already building this new company, and looking for someone who may want to buy it as a stand alone business, I also wanted to explore new tourism angles.

I have spent days on end talking with Andrea on how we can create this nomadic hotel, and our 7m Alachigh model was the perfect tent in my mind. It takes one person to set up, the wheel could be lifted with one hand, the 4.5m ribs weigh very little, and can be transported on a roof rack of any 4×4 to the remote locations we see it pitched on. The idea for this new hotel, is to have groups travelling in remote areas, arriving at a secluded location, one that celebrates the best nature a region has, but at the same time I wanted it to take people into contextual tourism, exploring a region in a new way. Andrea has given me endless ideas, in fact it is hard to stop him sometimes, and focus on an end product as he seems to drift into fantasy. But the idea of historical context of a people in a given area, like the Samnites of Abruzzo as a way to explore indigenous culture as a new type of ecological tourism is something that I am really inspired by.

We aim to combine mountain journeys, with archeo foods, taking people into the wildest locations yet arriving at a tribal encampment, with hosts dressed in tribal clothing. Rewilding projects are now popping up like mushrooms after the rain, those are mostly efforts by larger bodies and estates, sometimes when traditional farming is abandoned, what we feel is missing out of most of those is the human element, a way those can turn into rural living schools, and so from a bespoke tourism point of view, teaching people how indigenous groups lived in a given territory, and allowing them to explore low impact and natural connection, travelling not only to a location but into another time is to me the highest form of innovation for ecological tourism.

I was going to end making this tent with the same door design that we used for our larger 10m Alachigh tent, but that morning Andrea again came to examine how I was getting along. He looked at the door I fabricated that morning and decided he did not like it at all.

He just came back from a large gathering of lord of the rings type festival, his mind full of elves and hobbits, he insisted we must be more artistic in our design, so we went for a double curvature on the door poles too.

This was a little of a nightmare to get right because of all the welded angels, plus it created a little pooling issue on top of the door, which we decided to deal with by using three arches on the porch/door.

All in all the tent took quite an interesting shape, even if I had to spend a few more mornings welding brackets at weird angles, it proved the point that the rib and bracket design could in fact accommodate and given shape which is its beauty and the design concept behind bringing those tents back. We replaced both the tension bands and the need for a central anchoring with this new system. I think a little more perfection of the angels top play between the various tensions could be perfected, but this would come with new trial. It is hard to strike a balance between new design and what the market is already used to. We are committed to bringing a higher level of tent design back into the centre of the tourism industry. Contact us to discuss these new tents, or if you also have an urge to create a new type of tourism experience.

The Return Of The Alachigh

There has been a little lull in the UK Glamping industry this year, coming on the back of it’s crazy drive to milk clients out of every penny, peaking with the insane adventures of covid era, and some bad decisions. This has seen a lot of our clients suffering, because of the actions of a […]

There has been a little lull in the UK Glamping industry this year, coming on the back of it’s crazy drive to milk clients out of every penny, peaking with the insane adventures of covid era, and some bad decisions. This has seen a lot of our clients suffering, because of the actions of a few, and even though they believe that those will fall by the way side, leaving people that actually have a passion for outdoor hospitality to rebuild, some damage has been done, in fact it still is being made not only by hospitality providers but by many retailers and structure providers.

We work with up to half of the UK tented campsites, some on regular basis. Our clients are reporting occupancy rates going down from 85% to 40%. This I am afraid to say was predictable with some of the low quality rush to make as much money as possible during covid. But this is another subject.

So although this meant some of our livelihood was affected, I do love those lulls in the industry. Because they push us to innovate, to rethink. In a sense I think there has been too much money thrown at this industry over the years, with some yurts being sold for 20 thousand, and remembering that when it all started over 25 years ago the very same yurts cost fifteen hundred pounds. So the industry has gotten a little drunk on money. Having a moment away from cover making allows us to raise our heads from the machine, and focus on some of the ideas that have been spiralling in our heads between all the seams.

We have started a campaign against the endless stream of retailers and structures that are currently flooding the market, aiming to bring those back into the hands of the makers. Our dream is to see people steaming hard wood again, sewing canvas, working with felt and stainless steel, forging elements, and bringing high quality hand made products back into creation. Above all we are dreaming new venues for giving people a little more freedom and imagination in hospitality, because the rustic, the love of nature, or more so falling in love under canvas, lying by a fire is what this is all about.

Our current project is focused on the Alachigh tent form, it is an Iranian tent, rumoured to have been created because of the ban on trellis tents, resulting in a rib (or rafter if you like) only tent. Peter Alford Andrews who is a good friend and the world’s authority on nomadic tent architecture, a person we feel is the unsung hero of the rise of nomadic tents doing such a comeback, has been an invaluable source of information over the years, has helped us a lot to think about this tent form. We have an aversion of people copying each other, or worse still stealing each other designs, which is another reason we focus on this tent, because it has seen only little attention in the UK and no where else otherwise, except of course in Iran.

It is one of the most elegant tent forms ever created, but it also always had issues. Its main problem was that the long rafters that it uses require long lengths of wood, which are not always available, this is truer the bigger it gets, with lengths over 4.5m. Steam bending such lengths though we have found out is actually fairly easy, in fact where we would usually use a dedicated jig, we found out we can easily form a couple of ribs, and after those have been bent to the right shape, using the traditional method of a wooden beam with two strong pegs to slowly shape the rafters.

Then we could easily use those initial rafters as a jig. Meaning that any given size of Alachigh could be made without needing to resort to making a new jig with a different diameter every time. Why does this matter? Because not only we are trying to bring this tent back into more focus, we are aiming to create a new business for making this tent form so it would not go extinct.

The next issue with this tent form, is that the long rafters tend to “spiral collapse” as we call it, a problem that traditionally was resolved by applying tension by pegging the wheel to the ground, a little like tipis are anchored.

The traditional method of stabilising the rafters was by using two bands that wrap around each rafter going from one rafter to the next, those are then lowered down and so tensioned to pull the rafters in at the bottom, keeping the curvature of the tent and maintain the rafters straight, so in a sense this whole tent functions under tension, where a yurt only has tension at the meeting of the roof rafters and the trellis.

The few examples that have been made of this tent in the country have at times missed that last part, resulting in the rafters not being held straight, or the tent itself being a little unhinged. There have been a couple of attempts to stabilise those with ground sheet sleeves, but those have not been sufficient.

From a design point of view we have looked into two modes of resolving this issue, in fact to deal with it we have had to make two structures, one which we tested on a smaller (7m) tent with long rafters to test the tension band approach, this was traditionally the biggest size used, with a 32 rafter being reported as the biggest size ever made.

The other which is much bigger (9m) applies a more modern approach of creating a fixed ring of wood and connectors. This approach has been tried with some modern Glamping tents, but in a way those we felt were a little too modular. As those tents use a CNC cut plywood for the wooden parts, and a screw on connector. They tend to leave one with the impression of being inside a kit car or a model shop rather than a nomadic structure.

In our minds if modern methods are used, one should not skim on the hand made manufacture feel to such a degree that the charm of the tent looses appeal. This happens all the time unfortunately, in fact as a manufacturer of framed tents (as opposed to velum tents which use guy ropes) for commercial ends, one usually looks to having a modular repeatable process, which is easiest done with having plywood cut to round shapes on a CNC machine. This is the approach for modular Glamping structures, and even some Shepard hut makers, and whilst this make a lot of sense from a business point of view which is important as hand made manufacturing has limitations when it comes to repeated multiplication, a lot is lost in the translation. As with it goes most of the charm of the tent, and its rustic beauty.

We tried to draw a line between going too modern and sticking too much to the traditional. This is because we could be said to be too much of the traditionalist at times, and in a sense more than the tent itself we like to push ourselves as tent makers into new places, where we feel it is easier to have made things in a certain way, or have all thew right machinery, we instead focus on keeping ourselves as small as possible as a company, and doing things with as little tools as possible to make the tent making art grow rather than the size of the operation, as after all we feel that a low foot print and nomadic flexibility have always been important to us. This approach meant that we have seen most of this industry come and and go, building companies and selling them, or worse going bankrupt, whilst we always enjoyed a central place in the industry. This is another design element we try to implement and encourage others to follow, and one we aim to install into this new venture which will hopefully become a stand alone business.

For the larger tent ribs not to end up as an impossible length, more from transporting point of view, we used a split rib and connector design and laminated the wood for uniformity, even though those can easily be steam bent too, if done correctly, trying to crate a more uniform shape.

For the wheels I’ve opted for welded mild steel or stainless design mostly because I have wanted to see if replacing yurt wheels with steel could also be done elegantly. Those copy that original form but allows for outer metal sleeves to hold the ribs from collapsing sideways too, and though the normal wheel with its square holes does this to a degree it does not do it well enough, which was a design defect traditionally, so steel has also offered a benefit.

The last major issue of redesigning this tent, was that of the doors. There was a similar looking tent used by the Turkmen, traditionally being a hand-me-down yurt with the trellis which was old being discarded and the rafters only used as a very low tent for cooking, or for poorer families who could not afford to have full yurt made. This form has resulted in a higher rib tent, like the Alachigh in one place that has eventually also used a wooden door. The problem of the wooden door was that it called for a rebalancing of the Alachigh shape, calling it to be made higher with more vertical upstaged at the bottom of the rafter, which took away some of the elegance making the tent more dome-like. It also asks the door to stand outside of the structure, even if the rafters are lengthened. A dormer door always takes away form the beauty of a round structure, in our view at least. Which is what we are working on right now, to test the different approaches we would probably end up with a fixed door for the bigger structure and look to develop a canvas door that mimics the Shasevan design.

Keep your eyes peeled as we complete those two structures over the summer, the large one will be up for sale as an event space, standing at 30ft diameter, and is the only one of its kind in the country. The smaller one is made for a unique business plan we have of a pop up hotel for nomadic expeditions so we would probably keep it for that purpose. Like many of our other projects we also intend to turn these into a business that could either work directly with us or become its own stand alone operation, in which case we would look to help its owner taking the design form of this tent in at least those two approaches above, and work with them on making a bespoke canvas cover with some exciting elements we have had in mind for a while whilst sewing over a thousand yurt covers. We have created a dedicated website for this new venture here hoping to turn it into a unique business we run or sell that can focus on bringing this tent into the market and so saving the most elegant of all traditional nomadic tents from disappearing. also look at our Handmade Hand page if you have a similar passion and have your own new tent design in mind, as we can help you with a similar product design process, as long as you commit to making it by hand.

Sustainable Tourism course, Part one

I was teaching a university class as a guest speaker for my friend Rita Salvatore in the university of Teramo in Abruzzo recently. My lecture was about tourism. Rita wanted me to talk about the gentrification of the countryside in the UK, and the impact of tourism on rural areas, a subject we both covered […]

I was teaching a university class as a guest speaker for my friend Rita Salvatore in the university of Teramo in Abruzzo recently. My lecture was about tourism.

Rita wanted me to talk about the gentrification of the countryside in the UK, and the impact of tourism on rural areas, a subject we both covered earlier. She also asked me to talk about the Glamping industry and how it started, as in Italy it is only beginning to take hold.

However, when I stood in front of the class, I decided to talk about tourism as an art in itself. Here im going to outline what is possibly going to be a course I am going to teach individuals on a one to one base, ill try to outline it in a chain of a few blog entries if time allows, hoping to develop it into a consultancy or a course for cutting edge innovation in tourism we can offer individuals, farms and sites.

To begin with I took the two terms – Sustainable, and Tourism and asked the class what do they actually mean? Seeing the class was of gastronomic students and they have already been studying the subject the answers were quite interesting. I told them I would like to redefine tourism as the act of exploring the otherness, the unknown, places or states that we do not know and ones that do not make part of our everyday life.

I defined sustainability as life itself, meaning the everyday. Saying that in order to have a sustainable system all we need to do in reality is to have an integrated life system, and that sustainability means we live it for long periods of time, as an example I gave them the contadino (peasant farmer) way of life, saying that although it is sometimes elated above what it actually was, the sustainable element in it was that people actually lived it for thousand of years, and as such had to create an integrated system both with their environments, but also as a socio-political entity of rural lifestyles, in fact most of the social system problems we faces in modern society could be attributed to the collapse of the oral tradition that held rural communities together and the push to the cities through globalisation and industrialisation.

I put forth the idea that sustainable tourism is basically an exploration of places and ways of life we do not know in order to bring meanings to our everyday, going to explore for the sake of exploring, I said, or trying to use tourism as a sort of infinite freedom, as new trends of a “care free life” offer, is not sustainable. Nor is sustainable tourism really about climate change, this is just the tail end of really bad social and economic practices, but not flying for your holidays, is not the answer to sustainability.

To understand modern tourism we need to understand the creation of the middle classes, and the industrial revolution as in a way the birth of the concept started with them, even though similar exploration existed forever. The move to urban industrialised life styles, created less contact with nature, but it also started a redistribution of wealth, when the economy was not tied to land based realities. The result was that more people had access to wealth, and could break away from the bonds of endless working hours, it could be said in a way that the middle classes were born from the industrial revolution because it allowed more and more people to not be tied to feudal contracts, which in a way is the classic definition of the upper classes.

Why does a class system matter to tourism? You may ask. Because tourism is an act of exercising our freedom to explore out of our lives. Tourism is an activity that was available to the public only started with the upper middle classes going abroad, emulating the ‘grand tour’ the upper classes took as part of finishing their education.

In my lecture I put forth that in the birth of any new field, as was the case for example with psychology, we usually meet the seed of what is good and what is bad, and so is with tourism. I gave as an example the name of two founders in the tourism industry, one was Albert Smith and the other was Thomas Cook.

The first has invented a sort of tourism that for me is revolutionary because it took people not to a place but into an experience, in the days before television and cinema, Albert Smith put on a 6 year show of his ascent to mount Blanc. The show took a London audience through the whole journey, recreating it scene by scene to a point that buckets of ice were placed in the theatre to recreate the alpine scenery. His show was said to be even better than the experience itself. I think that in it was a seed for another type of tourism that could have been developed much further. It was Thomas Cook however who influenced the activity into an industry.

It started as an attempt by him to find a way to get his local community away from the pub, saying that social gatherings do not have to include alcohol, he started organising group journeys by train (an important element in his later business). It slowly developed into an empire of affordable travel, where he would take groups into the continent and later to almost any place on earth, arranging for everything. By doing so he also created the first instance of mass tourism. The upper classes who used to frequent the same places, were now at a disadvantage, often meeting with groups of middle classes who seemed to want for nothing. It also created the first instances of impact by tourism on certain places, and very soon after hotels and even villas would take over popular tourist locations, bringing problems ranging from sewage to mass crowding. So many elements of the best tourism practices we present at the start yet they soon gave way to the impact of the “packaged tour” that created our modern image of tourism, real exploration was pushed further afield and the race was on to discover the last untouched places, and so exploration and education were forever divorced from tourism, which in truth was the art of touring the unknown.

Tourism was born as a repossession of our right to explore and roam, a right that was not accessible to most, first because of the problems of travel and transportation and second because most people had no means to afford such travel. The problem was that the trend, instead of being a repossession of freedom, actually turned into a watered down copy of an upper class activity, something that has stayed on, creating the idea that tourism means luxury or that exploring means freedom, partly because by exercising it people believed they were free from their class system. So now tourism and the everyday are two separate elements and so sustainability and tourism could never really meet again.

One example is the recent idea of digital nomads, which is now sweeping the whole world with the pandemic of working from home, something a lot of people think is desirable. The idea that you can live in any place without being part of it, and thus joining your work and holiday into one thing to me is a misuse of the concept, where in truth life should have more freedom and community in it so one would not try to escape from it, creating the idea that freedom is somewhere else, still follows from the days of the industrial revolution where people tried to escape the smog and the noise using their new riches, to live in a small hamlet or to go and take the healing waters in Europe. So what is wrong is the concept and the trend more than the activity in itself. Mass tourism, or tourism in itself has become an activity divorced from life. It also reshaped our idea of what freedom looks like, which to the few who achieve it, never meets the expectation.

In my lecture I turned to Italy, seeing that I was talking to a group of gastronomy students who mostly come from rural areas. This is my favourite subject, rural development in marginal areas and the role sustainable tourism has to play in it.

Italy has one of the most sustainable agri-tourism systems in the world, it offers the tourist too much and charges him too little. I used to laugh in the days when we introduced Ecological tourism and Glamping to Italy, because we told our clients that they can easily charge people 120 euros a night to stay in a tent. Most Agritourisms and rural hotels have spent hundred of thousand of euros, and used to charge a anywhere from 50 euros to 80 euros, accommodating people in rooms that would pass as high end, and giving them some of the best food Italy has to offer, I laughed because Italy did not need Glamping. Italy needed to simply charge for what they offered like anywhere else.

Recently I was involved in an argument with an Italian tourism professional who argued that Italy should follow the market and create the same offer as elsewhere, I laughed because that it exactly the thing with tourism it invents trends that make the market, Italy does not need to follow anyone it already is best, it just needs to recreate a trend around its tourism, or as I would have it invent a bespoke cutting edge new tourism.

Italy (unlike the UK) is a service giver not a taker, it is one of the traditional destinations for travellers, and it still offers all that the UK does not, the problem in Italy is that the tourism offer is too focused on the past. The other problem is that tourism in Italy is rarely a good economic venue because of the business mindedness that lacks in rural areas. People pay in a life time of work to create amazing experience, based on traditional life and typical foods, but they will never get their return on the investment. To Italians that does not matter so much, because their life and work balance is different, what matters is that they can manage to keep their family home, and work from it. What matters to them also is that they offer their guests a good experience, something that lacks almost everywhere else and so they are already leaders of sustainable tourism, because they are masters of the work life balance. Italy is an award winning destination, and teaching sustainable tourism in it, often is more about sitting and eating endless amazing meals and learning from locals.

To the class I was teaching I said that with all of that, Italy needs to reshape tourism into a new direction. It is a first in the world for bio-diversity, it still has a lot of what all other European countries seems to have lost : the sense of a sustainable life in the countryside.I said that to me it needs to lead the way in a industry-wide rethink, where we see tourism as the creation of a new life work balance. For the touristic offer I said that Italy need to get off the traditional train, because in truth tourism in Italy is only a tourism of the past.

Seeing that we work with ancient grains as part of our projects, resulting in me being introduced to some of the best organic growers in the world and of course all over Italy, I said that good practice, is not just taking all the past into the future, it is understanding the concept of sustainability and local product, and applying them onwards.For example, no wheat variety was local in Italy, which is now the hotspot for ancient landraces. Pizza, pasta and so much of the Italians food we love, were imports and creations of rural people that have plenty of love and endless ‘Materia Prima’ to experiment with. It is not hard to create new landraces, or foods. This idea of the endless strings of typical products Italy lives by, is a sustainable mechanism of the past, what matters is not the actual local product, but the mechanism of creating it. Find some old variety of food you like, grow it on the land you love, and turn it into an amazing food and you have created a local product, let your community eat it for a long period of time and tell stories about it and you have a typical product.

Italy exalts in the tourism of the past, like Albert Smith it transports people into something that is more than a local, in fact Italy has taught the concept to me. You can stay in an Albergo Difusso and experience life almost as if you were in medieval times, again the experience is too focused on luxury, but now a few leading hotels offer you a more down to earth experience, like Sexatnio in the small village of Santo Stefano of Sessanio that lets people stay in the small dark, stone houses of the historical centre, where one can really get into the feeling of life in a small mountain village, not as the upper classes but as the peasantry, again there are issues with buying and repurposing a whole village into a sort of medieval Disneyland, and the issues of impact on the locals could be infringing on sustainable practices, like it did in the 1800’s in many local communities that had pure nature or healing waters.

I am working on a similar concept in one of our projects, where people can first experience life as the feudal lord of a local castle, and next experience life as the lowest contadino (peasant farmer), because I think it allows someone to experience the land and historical social elements in a new way, asking the client to think about land ownership, about luxury and about life in itself, in one holiday that is actually two. It is a little unclear if I manage to carry it forward, because it involves buying one of the local castles. It also brought me face to face with what turned into one of my rule of thumbs, saying that not every part of the past should make it to the future, which is what I told the owner of the castle, before I fell in love with the idea.

Good sustainable tourism is an art, one that we are finally looking to teach, it is course in which one looks first at local area, and asking where the activity stands as a bridge between past and future, second it looks at sustainable life and asks a question, is there already an integrated system and active rural community? If there is one, the next question should be, its there actually a need for tourism, and would it damage the community? Only if the answer is no I think there is a call for the creation of a touristic destination, this is where true genius and innovation should be made, where dreams and freedoms are mixed into potion of an image of a life, a moment in time that takes visitors into something so potent it sends them back healed and revived, in love and inspired, but more than all it gives them the meanings that are so missing in their lives. In that stage one should also ask what is a good life and work balance, and my answer is rural Italy.

If you are interested in taking our course in reshaping rural tourism, or prefer to have a yearly consultation to help take your own campsite, B&B or even castle, please contact and also follow the thread of blog posts as I get time to write them. The idea is to teach others how to make a living in a sustainable way first, but more so it is about reshaping rural tourism, about taking it further than anyone ever did, it is about typical products, about dreaming new trends and rethinking local freedoms into a new platform of tourism which is in a sense the last freedom available to all.

In the last years I have had so many people asking me to give them advice or teach them, this usually results in a string of phone calls where I work with them more on life and work balance, than on their campsite. Most people do not even understand what tourism is, and so they simply follow a formula that gives no one anything, so the idea of turning it into an actual interactive course was born.

We are currently looking for about 10-20 sites and individuals to take part in this programme, people we can work with closely and on regular basis, some of the work can be on site and practical, and the rest could be done online as part of a course and possibly as a part of a group of others where we can also engage together with their issues, allowing all to learn and suggest ideas, and possibly also create a community of friends that can support each other for life, not to mention that as those are all tourist destinations an offer of staying at each others campsites as part of the course could be an interesting point too. I am hoping to focus on rural areas in the UK and in Italy, but anywhere else, providing the owners speak English or Italian.

This would hopefully develop into a year long course if we find enough people interested, or even longer if we deem it necessary, some of our campsites are now almost family. I argue that in truth if you can not teach people within a year or two what they need to learn than there is no point to continue, and you will be wasting their time and them yours, but often I find that our clients are happy to engage yearly and we support them like that, we visit each other, and so the idea is to open the family up to others too, taking rural campsites from the UK into Italy and vice versa.

The goal is to create bespoke cutting edge tourism which we tailor to any given place, where we can reimagine rurality and local community, and above all change the myth of a free life in the countryside into a sustainable reality.

Call or drop us an email (contact details are at top of page), if you too follow this passion, however if you are simply looking for someone to tackle planning permission or tell you how to set your campsite, there are many other people who offer consultancy, or in truth you can get most of this online.

Nomadic Tent Design – The mutant forms

Ardabil is an ancient city in northwestern Iran. In 1974 Peter Alford Andrews, who has now been nominated to receive the Burton medal for his work on the Eurasian tent, interviewed the only two Iranian Alachigh makers, They were brothers. They told him that they were in fact the only two craftsmen who made this […]

nomadic tent

Ardabil is an ancient city in northwestern Iran. In 1974 Peter Alford Andrews, who has now been nominated to receive the Burton medal for his work on the Eurasian tent, interviewed the only two Iranian Alachigh makers, They were brothers.

They told him that they were in fact the only two craftsmen who made this specific tent type, legendary because of its elegant curvature and flowing design, a tent that stands alone amongst all the trellis tents of the region, I mean that literally, as it stands alone without a trellis.

The two brothers claimed that the work had remained exclusively the speciality of their family since it was introduced eight generations earlier by Seyyd Bejan, they could name the makers in each of the eight generations.

Alachigh

 

What a lot of people do not know is about the way it all came about, did you wonder how come the UK has become crazy about yurts? To begin with we all owe the come back of nomadic tent types to a book, that not accidentally bears the same name, the fruit of Peter Alford Andrews’ work. In it he has covered all nomadic tent forms in the Middle East. He and his wife have traveled extensively and lived with the nomads themselves, documenting the tents to the inch, it is a master piece with exact drawing of the frame work, the felts, even the decorations on the door panels. 
Peter, who has become a good friend, never imagined that his work to document nomadic tents before they disappear will catch on like that, but that is exactly the point, for something to catch on it needs to have a story in it, he himself was inspired by a one liner from one of his lecturers who said, “no one has taken tent architecture seriously”.

Stories need to have a core in them, something that catches us, in the same way the American guy who coined the phrase “the Mediterranean diet” he never thought that it will become such a hit few decades later, nor did Thor Heyerdahl ever think that his original “back to nature” idea will become a movement, he even later laughed saying he was probably the first hippie.

Similarly Bill Coperthwaite, who had sadly passed some years ago, never imagined that his experimentations with yurts will ignite the a craze in the US. The point is that good design or good ideas always have some core in them, and all those above share a truth, which is a traditional entity, they are based on the lives of rural communities. Be it Italian peasants, Polynesians sea farers and navigators, and the great nomadic people of the Steppe. Their freedom, their rurality, their traditions are those that ignite this thing in us, the feeling of belonging to a wilder earth.

I have predicted two years ago that canvas tents in the UK will start disappearing and be switched over to cabins or wooden huts, and so does the trend seem to go. Meanwhile in Italy, people can not get enough of yurts, in fact after Covid importers can not even get them, my phone keeps on ringing all day.

Whilst Glamping has gone a little crazy, driven by bigger profits, moving little by little to prefabricated structures, or using some amazing design concepts that some small guy worked out in his shed and copying them into a plastic tent, in an industry where intellectual property has never been regulated all can happen.

The trend however is a move away from making yurts or nomadic tents by hand, away from the craft aspect. We would like to take things back to the original story, having sat with the women who invented the word glamping, or having worked with the first people in the industry, I feel also that the idea has been boycotted and executed in some very strange ways. What it aimed to achieve is to give people the feeling of mystery, the spirit of nomadism, and tribalism yet here in the UK. It was so successful the whole world copied it.

It was never a new concept, the mogul emperors invented Glamping generations before, they had cities of tents, that would put burning man festival to shame, court tents that reached the sky, two story decorated and bejewelled pavilions, cities that travelled.

We decided we would like to first take the concept back to its origins in Peter Andrews work, the idea was to not let those tent forms disappear, to be honest, the main Asian nomadic tent form – the yurt has been covered and done extensively, we would like to focus for a moment on some of the other tent forms in order to save their architectural concepts, more so because those are stories of mutant forms, a tribe or a people that had to redesign away from the rest. The Northern Afghan tribe alliance that translates into the 4 tribes in English, all had a double curvature yurt, some of them claim to be descendent of the Mongol army (the Hazzara) but why are they the only ones to use the double curvature? What was the idea behind its design, why the tall profile and the small wheels?

I have theorised before those are because it was in fact the first western yurt, when mongols moved west and encountered wetter climates, so the higher and smaller wheel could be open (each yurt has open fires in the past) and the form may have helped with smoke.

The same goes to the Alachigh, which like a yurt is a curved tent, but unlike it is only uses ribs without trellis, the genius of the yurt was that it allows for shorter pieces of wood and tied bundles that could be simply opened, in fact there used to be a form of tent that grouped all rafters together with a rope instead of a wheel meaning the roof could be erected like an umbrella almost, again it must have been designed around camels for weight. A lot of those tent design concepts have never seen a return, genius almost, yet now lost.

Afghan yurt concept

The rib tents of the Turkmen were reportedly adopted from older yurts, meaning a poorer couple would inherit the rafters and wheel of an old yurt, possibly when the trellis gave way, or older yurts had the roof only pitched on the ground to serve as an outside kitchen, at a few places those turned into their own design, and possibly this was the way the Alachigh of the Shasevan was born too. The Yomut or Turkmen of Iran, have taken one of those rib tents and made it with especially long rafters, so it turned into a yurt shape without a trellis, but high enough to stand with a wooden door. I would have liked to understand the design concept behind their thinking, and at times the easiest way is to make the structure itself, which we did a few years ago. That led to a break through in tent design but that is something for another time, plus advertising your design concepts for me usually means someone copies them before I get to realise them.

Kutuk tent

 

I pour over old accounts of travellers and avidly look for the mutant design forms, I think that in the last 10 years the industry have been in a design standstill, no new great concepts were actually introduced, the focus on creating prefabricated forms to keep up with demand has also wiped many of the crafts people who used to make structures for the Glamping industry, and little by little it too started to loose its appeal. The UK has always been the leader in this industry, yet now it lags behind, the passion is gone, and with it the joy of the great outdoors, almost as if people have given up on the country, own sustainability, on adventure.

In short Craft, tradition, great design mixed with natural materials will always work better, creating a story line that grabs the soul, where one can feel the gaze of the qirgiz nomads, a woman brining the hand of a guest to her heart saying you are home in my yurt.

We work with a small group of people who always led this industry, and yeah I feel like we all have gone a little astray because of the need to make a living, yet a new trend in tourism is waking up, like a wave, it wants true freedom. Once we were the only people living on the road, 10 years ago we travelled the UK in trucks seeing no one, yet no van lifers have been born everywhere, people are converting vans all across the country. Working as a non profit association in Europe (mainly Italy) also means I see a constant stream of people leaving the country, looking for rural areas and meaning, and so I know the battle for rurality is not lost, traditional ways of life will always win in the end, you can not bend nature away from itself, at the end it will go back to weather and man, shelter and rain. All this development craze and second homes will pass, it only works because people can not access nature in the UK.

Going back to nomadic tent design, I want to focus more on content, bringing sustainable tourism into being the most important aspect, almost the only way through which we can design rural areas back into community. Yet I want it to happen around the magical stories and some great design concepts.

nomadic tent

 

I would  like to leave you with an image of one of the greatest craft concepts in nomadic tents, one created by the Nogay.

tent was made like a yurt, except that it was woven, using two big rings around the walls which were fixed, going into a yurt wheel, it was made this way so it could be lifted on and off a small cart, and was only used by the newly wedded couple. This is a great metaphor also for the nomadic tent design and the state of the modern world, because now days the largest of all yurts made are wedding yurts, and the nogay wedding yurt was in fact so small it could be lifted on and off and made intact so it would not need to collapse, a great effort and nomadic tent design now gone. Again I would love to see it remade, in fact the idea behind all of this research is to focus again on making some great nomadic tent design, maybe use some modern materials where applicable but without losing the form and concepts. This amazing little tent can become the best Shepard hut even made.

Soon when time allows I would like to open up the possibility of working and teaching others, so we can together create some of those great tents of the past, we have some great business ideas, enough to allow for at least one or two new independent businesses. This we think would tie very well with the new emerging market of sustainble tourism, imagine moving camps as a safari on rewlibding projects in the highlands, yet done with nomadic tents instead of plastic, imagine arriving at the camp fire, and sitting inside a nomadic tent, the fire is lit, food is served, the magic flows through the wheel, and one can feel the hand of a qirgiz woman almost, going to her heart telling you, you are home inside my tent.

Nogay tent cart

Yin and Yang

‘Bombs’ Marziale said, ‘first they throw bombs and then close everything up’, it was his conspiracy theory. The gate for his charming ramshackle row of houses was closed behind him, I think it was more of a reflex because the dogs used to come out, but I don’t think he realised that the only dog […]

‘Bombs’ Marziale said, ‘first they throw bombs and then close everything up’, it was his conspiracy theory.
The gate for his charming ramshackle row of houses was closed behind him, I think it was more of a reflex because the dogs used to come out, but I don’t think he realised that the only dog that posed any danger has been tied for two years now. With a few of his dogs killed by the hunters and a few others gone missing.
The paint on the gate was old, but the tricolours of the Italian flag could still be seen clearly.
He has been our neighbour for over 6 years. His Italian is a dialect special to him only. He made me laugh, i’ll stop every time on the way back home, and even though our conversation would always be the same, as if we are rehearsing, I’ve come to appreciate it.

The fields were all ploughed, and though we usually spoke of our strategy for sowing wheat, it was as if time itself stood still, things did not make sense anymore. The Holocene has come to an end.
Winter was approaching, but the last few years it came late, climate change was everywhere. By ‘bombs’ he meant to say that the pandemic was back, that it was man made, it was dropped on us all.

There is a craziness in rural Italy, one that is hard to make sense of, especially for us that have grown up in the western mindsets. Families are the rule, and there is an ancient law that rules the land, and it all comes together in my neighbour in a strange way. We were leaving, or at least I think we were, something snapped inside me, we were leading a revolution by ourselves, a revolution I did no longer believe in.
So standing there with him outside his gate, the fading tricolours and 10,000 years of sowing wheat, the climate change itself even, and our plans to bring back the heritage wheats of old into production, where all on standby, as if waiting for some heavenly decision, ‘bombs’ he said, ‘they drop bombs on us and than they make new rules’.
This plan that I have convinced him will see him back into farming, more as a way to convince him not to give up. Somehow all of it came together for me, it is this imposing mountain we live under, it makes everything dramatic, everything seems big. I was sitting in the car, talking to the last peasant farmer of Torricella Peligna, about sewing wheat.
The revolution was none other but an effort to save the Holocene from collapsing on itself.
Wheat is what made the weather stable for over ten thousand years, no one really knows about it, because it’s not a scientific fact. It is a pact some long lost ancestor of us made.

One of his dogs set on the ledge of the second floor window, even the dogs here do not follow normal rules, the row of 4 houses were a progression from liveable, to quite broken, to beyond repair, with the last being the house were the dog lives on a window ledge, that dog used to have a brother, one was white and the other was black, the black one used to live on the roof of his house, but he disappeared one day. Then after the roof was somewhat fixed, the remaining puppy, I took to call Yang, because they looked like Yin and Yang, the white has a black head and the black had a white.
The remaining puppy used to sit on the upstairs window, as if he was mourning his brother.
Things were different under the mountain, and it made some dogs behave differently, Yang found a compromise, he only ventured as far as the second floor, his brother went all the way to heaven and disappeared. One needs to find a balance with how far it allowed the mountain to drive him into other planes of existence, the dogs knew it.
It was the time of the second wave and sure no one dropped bombs to infect us all, or so we we think, but it is also true that things stopped making sense.

Yang at the window ledge

It was a picture frame, his dog. Framed by choice over sensibility, the mountain pulls us into higher planes. Sometimes it seems crazy, the old laws of conduct in small Italian villages, so difficult to the outsider at times, that they almost broke me. I felt like I am being asked to make a ruling, here in this strange land of the past, medieval villages are suspended in mid air, dogs are pulled into window ledges, and wheat stands in question, the stability of the Holocene.

I drove back home, I have given all my wheat to local farmers to plant, I give them one seed and they give me two in return, that’s the core of the project. I could not really focus on wheat anymore, In fact I never could. I was running late for work, we have endless yurt covers to make. I wonder how we got to that point, we used to be free, on the road, with no work and no hassle, how come nomads can not travel freely, because they make yurt covers for a thousand campsites.

It is a strange occupation being a yurt maker, and a yurt cover maker (which is the majority of our work) even more so, it’s such an art. We make all of our yurt covers from afar, and believe me it is maybe one of the hardest lines of work. To know how much to add, how much to trust the client’s measurements, where to cut more, where to add less. The fact I was running up and down the mountain, did not help, the measurements of three different covers were turning inside my head to a point that I could not see the math anymore, Pythagoras was taking over but who knows what he was calculating. There are pictures in my mind, snaps, stories and they tend to come out when I sew.
The problem is that it is hard to bring them out to make sense, not so much to me, but to others.

I know what was going on, I know it was not bombs, but I also know my neighbour is not crazy, even though the locals sometimes say he is, he is the last link of a chain of a people, a way of life – the sedentary. I am his neighbour, yet I never belonged anywhere, and though I find it hard to deal with the issues of central Italy, I have found a belonging here. I am though more of a nomad and he, the last peasant farmer. The mountain frames everything in this dramatic sense, a romanticisation of daily lives.
If we did not buy our land with the last houses of the commune, he would have sold already. So I live in the contradiction, it’s the end of time, not because the world is ending, because it is not, what is ending is our pact with the creator.

Currently here, under the mountain where dogs live in their own abandoned houses, perched on window sills, me and my neighbour are facing this question together, can we save the climate?.
What is hard to explain, is that the climate we are used to is an agreement.
It is an agreement made by nomads at the end of the younger dryas (the last ice age) when in order to stop the sky from rotating, which they failed, they chose to live in one place. What they succeeded in, is making the chain of ice ages stop. They did it with wheat, they did it by stopping their roaming.

It is only in the contradictions, on the edge of abandon, or when everything seems to fall apart, something magical opens, like a door. In it you can see the making of ages. Italy of the mountains is ruled by something older, something that seems so foreign to the outsider, it is community.
What makes it hard to see, is that we have a sense of community that we gained from instagram, novels of a paradise lost, of other ways of life.
So it is hard for us to see it, because now, at the end of the Holocene, when all the agreements are falling down, we do not understand that the last guardians of a ten thousand year agreement, are small Italian farmers.

Nomads, it has been said always plunder the sedentary. We, in our own personal journey, have come to place after place like that, the rule of 5 (which also means something else to us) meant that we were used to pack our things and move within 5 minutes, if we deemed a place to be unhealthy. That still drives me crazy, the idea of living in a park-up, in a lay-by for 6 years. The Huns see houses as tombs, and I can not fault the judgement, houses are tombs for nomads.
I sit on a pile of yurt covers, there are only a few people who knows this art, the cover makers, most of which have been taught by us. We have our own language, seam allowances, and shrinkage. Sometime at the end of long day of chasing the illusive line between reality and craziness, trying to find the right place to end the canvas above the yurt door, not sure if to trust the client, or the figures they have sent us, it boils down to intuition, at the end of the day sometimes we have a small victory, a new way to pattern the roof pieces or
another way to stitch the cap. Sometimes we design another tent, but most of all it is impeccability of the trade, throwing yourself into the unknown of
someone else’s frame. Learning a to know from experience what can go wrong, and assume the worst, I laugh how my clients get amazed when I tell them how they took a measurement and why its wrong. To give them their dues, they work hard to measure their frames for us, and we send them back and back again to them to make sure they haven’t got anything wrong.

How did we get here, can nomads make the law for the countryside?, I remember when we lived in tents, and everything seemed sane, even if new age community is a monstrosity, with no real roots in existence, but we were the only people living in tents. The rest of the population lived in houses, we were poor, and once every few years we would sell our tent cover, or poles, it was our way to pay for a new home. which was again a tent, it was like a snake shedding its skin, and in order to afford the new one, he had to sell the old to someone else, this is how it all started.

How did we end up with a thousand campsites, and people in massive estates calling us to make them new yurt covers. Now they ask us how to run the countryside, but we alongside them have ruined it. We turned it into a chain of holiday homes and campsites, we sold them our community and they use it to repackage their massive estates, so we can never buy, or even rent in the countryside, and none of us is really happy, even though for a time they pretend it’s so much better solution to farming, its called diversification, I can call it diversify your attention from what’s really going on.

So you see, it is hard to strike a balance between the real and the made up, the lines are diffused, only a few yurt cover-makers know that art, only they understand. We live in a lie, because as long as we make yurts for sedentary people we can not travel, it is their way to keep us in place, they sell our art, and the country side with it to an endless stream of people who would never live in it. Together we have repackaged the land and made it less accessible to all.

We have no time to make up our mind, to lead the sedentary into another epoch, because there is always the next yurt cover to make, I am lucky because I have trained others to make covers with me, and it gave me some time to focus on something else. We dreamed together, but the pressure of making a cover after cover, yurt after yurt, broke their dreams. They feel like we will never find freedom, all that we have found is an endless pile of patterning, we got holed in small homes and workshops. Once the only campsites were where we lived, around the fire.

We all knew how to make our tents. Sure, none of us were very good at it because we only did it every few years. Now we sold our freedom, and we make the best tents in the world, I know things about pattern making that few do, Its an art, when you get good at it you can do it in mid air, its a space a few can hold, the patterns float, and you must hold them all inside you, balancing all the factors, holding all the measurements, the canvas shrink, the stitching. We sold our way of life and the community, and as long as we keep doing so, to people who re-market it as an experiential tourism, nor we or them can ever find it again.
The people who I’ve trained blame me, and maybe they are right. I feel like something is looming over us all. It is decision time. Underneath all this industry of selling the landscape as a package, there is a small family of tent makers, and most of us are related.

In central Italy the mountain rules all, I know that modern society is incapable of true community, it does not even know what it should look like. We have become accustomed to making belief, we convince each other community still exists. I have lived in the marginal, in the borderlands of society all my life, I have seen enough alternative communities to know nothing is different. Maybe I am the only one that will say it, but there is no such thing as sustainable tourism either. We sell abandoned lands as a dream, as a resource, when we aren’t willing to live sustainably in them.
I have been up since 5 in the morning, and I am on the verge of giving up on my (now) one man revolution, I know something else. It is just hard to speak about it, my “crazy” neighbour seems the only sane person around, ‘bombs’ of coronavirus, are the mark of the end of an epoch. Most of us are so distracted by Covid-19, that we do not see that the countryside itself is sick, the apple trees, the olives. This last year has seen a whole olive field next to our place in Italy, develop a new sickness. We are all so homocentric that we miss out, currently (it seems to me at least) all of the non local varieties of fruit trees are dying. Sure they always had less tolerance to sickness, but they managed, you do not expect them all to die within one year. After all the olive grove next to our houses have been there for 30 years.

I say I am a nomad, but there have been no true nomads for over ten thousand years. Nomadism as we know it is an offshoot of the neolithic revolution, the people of the steppe domesticated horses, and it gave them a trading power. They lived in yurts, and now I feel like their last descendant, I know things that only exist in contradictions. We have ran out of a design plan, our rent is due. I led a one man’s revolution, I have to make up my mind, but my mind does not function like other people’s.

In the long long ago, all mammals have been infected by a virus, not unlike we are now. ‘Bombs’ he said it, and it makes me laugh.
Some think he is crazy, but there is a sanity in how he sees things, in his dialect, it is a language of his own, made from being the last frontier man for so many years, farming the last farm of the village. The real edge of abandonment makes one sane in ways others can not comprehend, it is where nature writes Man.

All of our minds have been infected by a virus, and this is how we think. Activity-regulated cytoskeleton-associated protein or ARC as it is known, plays a critical role in synaptic plasticity in our brains. With an important function in our memory. It has been suggested that it acts in a very similar way to a virus, self assembling into virion-like capsids that encapsulate RNA as it does.
It is thus theorised to be repurposed from a viral event somewhere in earlier evolution in order to mediate intercellular communication in neurones.
What?!! you may ask.

We have ALWAYS been thinking like a virus!!!, in fact thinking is a viral function, and that is what I am trying to say, what we deem crazy, is that some of us do not encapsulate in the same manner, our thoughts are not regular, and mine never seem to have been. We are humans, now scared of a new virus, always scared of the virus, yet it is the virus itself that taught us to be scared. We above all other animals, we are not the smartest, we just got more virused. That is why community is hard for us, we make separation inside our heads, the capsids we wrap around our thoughts and memories.
Yet that was then (million of years ago) and now is now, and now is the time for someone to make a decision, the trees are dying, and the Holocene is at an end, not because of climate change, but because we stopped honouring our agreement with the creator, when nomads come to farm.

Living in the marginal makes you see things that others do not, and it teaches you to not put stock in thoughts, or agreements, those work very well for people in the city, they live in a system, for me houses are tombs, and thoughts are a take over from another ancient pandemic, one that has changed mammals into new evolutionary strategy. So we think, and we think a lot, we remember also, but it is just the function of a virus from long ago, and even though it gave us brilliance, we still need to make our choices for ourselves, the trade off for that so called brilliance is community, what made us “better” than the animals, is not that we are, is that we think is separation, we can break the biome, we can encapsulate the idea of the individual, and they can not, they have been infected like us, but never got as sick.
My problem is that I need to decide for others.

Writing for me is a way to bridge all of that, where I live there are no rules. Simply because no one wants to live there. I was pushed all of my life to this place, the borderland, even as a kid. So now my mind works in a different way, and it takes a lot to balance it all, I have to wake up at 4am to think clearly. The hard truth about the virus that made us able to think, is that it gave us one mind only, and made us all share it. None of us think alone. I took me years to accept that fact. I was taught by others, the simple first steps into telepathy, and it almost ruined me. What was hard was not being able to hear other people’s thoughts, it was understanding that none of mine were ever my own.

So I guess since then the only place that makes sense is the marginal, the abandoned lands without design, where nature and Man hit on each other as waves. It is a contradiction – where nomads come to farm, to hold the last days of an epoch at bay, and because I do not like to decide for others, I find myself sitting on a mountain of yurt covers, that we make for a string of campsites, places that have “diversified”, or in other words, stopped farming. We are nomads and we never cared about farming. I mean we are all nomads, we only farm because there are too many of us to live freely, we killed too many animals. That is the story of the last epoch, that is why we spent ice age after ice age in isolation. The world was devastated in ways we could no longer fathom. Now we freak out because one degree celsius of change, at the end of the last ice age, our ancestors stood a much more nomadic earth. Their stories of the flood, and comets, of endless winters of starvation is what drove them to a new agreement, but even then it was not all of them who decided, it was a small group of people who came together to hold the sky from rotating. They tried to stop the heavenly mill from grinding the ages, and they failed, but they did manage something else, they managed to appease the creator, and they gave us the Holocene, they were as wild as we are tame, we fear a change of 2 degrees, which comes to show how stable our climate is.

I have to make up my mind, but I no longer trust the mind, I say this, if we are to make a new decision if we are called to turn the heavenly mill around again, our rent is due, and we can no longer find a house to live in, because houses are tombs, yet nomads are just horse breeders without an idea, that do not even grow their own food.

Nomads have been a threat to the climate, because the climate is an agreement they made, I write because I feel you too must have a say. In order to find sanity.
I always ran away, my mind maybe does not work like yours, I need a lot of quiet to hear my own thoughts, so much so, I usually do not trust mine, only at 4 am while the world is asleep. I know the thoughts are mine.

I have learned to trust something else, which is more akin to feelings.
I see truths in contradictions, where dogs sit on window ledges, where the crazy are actually the sane ones. Yang lives on the window of a broken house, mourning because Yin has gone to heaven.

The Best Pesto, the Italian Za’atar and the secret for making guys fall in love.

Three years ago I have planted some Za’atar (Origanum syriacum) in the land we have in Italy, this is a native plant in Israel and the surrounding countries it is also the main ingredient in the Za’atar spice, made with sesame seeds and ground sumac. However, as we have been talking about our latest inspiration […]

Za'atar
The Italian Za’atar

Three years ago I have planted some Za’atar (Origanum syriacum) in the land we have in Italy, this is a native plant in Israel and the surrounding countries it is also the main ingredient in the Za’atar spice, made with sesame seeds and ground sumac. However, as we have been talking about our latest inspiration with food and rural development strategies this time I would like to go on a little journey into Italian food.

We All love pesto, originally a paste from Genova made with Pecorino cheese and pine nuts, Basil, garlic and olive oil. However like many things on our table, we make pesto from whatever herb grows plenty, so Thyme, Oregano, and even Rosemary. Instead of pine nuts, we use whatever nut is in the cupboard. Walnut is a good choice although it can add a little bitterness, Brazil is also a great choice, but as those don’t grow locally I prefer walnut after all the trees are just a little walk away, and so are almonds (although in this case, they came from the bag in cupboard which is quite local to the kitchen).

So back to our thread, in tonight’s cooking blog entry I would like to explore a very simple and potent mix, and what we think now is actually, the best Pesto.

We started with a load of Za’atar herb, at this time of year it has a strong new growth, usually I like to transplant a lot of the herbs by using cuttings, but at times one of the bushes does so well, and using it in teas doesn’t do it enough justice, because the amount exceeds what we can consume fresh. Although come summer we make pesto every third day, if you prefer Basil all you need to do is plant a few plants and keep picking the top leaves only, each leaf will sprout into two new ones so your plant will never go into seed and turn into a mighty bush, at least until winter comes.

Best Pesto

Here is the recipe –

100g of fresh picked Za’atar herb, (you can use Oregano if you can’t get any because you live in northern Europe, although it is like 20% of the strength).

100g of organic Almonds (this makes for a sweet counteraction to the intensity of the Za’atar)

100g of Pecorino cheese (I prefer Sardinian mature pecorino to the Abruzzen ones, although at times you can find a really good homemade one locally).

Olive oil – We use the local veriaties of Intosso and la Gentile most as they are strong and flavourful and those are the trees we have locally.

3 cloves of garlic (you may want to use less if you don’t like it to strong) I prefer the local red garlic of Sulmona, as we grow it in the garden.

pesto ingredients
Pecorino Sardo

To make the pesto put all the ingredients, but starting with the nuts and herb only, in a strong blender, we have an omniblend V. Having now owned it for 5 years we use it daily, it’s good enough to make flour out of grain so the nuts aren’t a problem for it. Once it is all mixed till its a paste you add olive oil, garlic, and the cheese, at this point if your blender isn’t strong its motor has just burned out!, which is a shame as we can not make balck chickpea Humous or even Falafel (also known as blender killer).

This is a short way to making a great dinner because it takes all of 5m, and if you are a pasta lover you can simply cook a great pasta and serve with pesto only.

For the pasta part we use Ancient grain pasta. This time we used senatori cappeli. It’s not as ancient a grain as the Solina or Saragolla we love, but it is considered one of the highest quality “grano duro” for pasta. You can maybe be lucky and taste it at a good Italian restaurant in London, but here in Abruzzo we actually see it as the lesser grain, because it was crossed to produce its characteristics. Where the Solina is an older grain, and the Saragolla traces its origins to one of the earliest the Khureshan wheat (it’s Egyptian) and was supposedly brought over to the area by Bulgarians, hence its name meaning yellow grain, but it made for a better picture than hand made pasta.

For sauce we threw a simple red sauce, Italians maintain that one shouldn’t bother with fresh tomatoes, and they simply use Passata, we only buy organic ones, and although I do prefer fresh tomatoes, to do it justice one has to peel the skins off, and as this is all done already in the bottle and the seeds are sieved its a no brainer for a quick meal. If you start from fresh this could be a great way to say your tomato seeds, I just peel, blend and sieve in that case, or if you prefer having bits you can just peel and cook.

I prefer leeks to onions, and for the best pasta sauce I use an old Jewish Italian method that adds the onion (leeks in this case) only after the sauce, it is sweeter that way. I love using rosemary and I use a lot in pasta sauce, but that is also because I need to keep using as much as the bushes give us. You can add some green like broccoli heads (cima di rapa) or similar. Cook it until it runs thick, I don’t like to overcook it, but the rosemary is my guide in this case and I cook until the dryish herb becomes soft and one with the sauce.

Ancient grain pasta served with Jewish Italian sauce and best pesto

Before we leave this meal there is another part that completes a good recipe. Or rather its a way of cooking, so if growing your own food and inventing dishes out of your favorite herbs and cereals isn’t enough, there is a secret ingredient that is the most important in my opinion, and that is conscious cooking. Although the name may be a little confusing, as it makes it sounds like some new age thing that goes well with yoga, it isn’t. But I call it that because its under that name that I was taught it, the idea is that everything is connected, and cooking is an alchemical act, conscious cooking is a lot about feeling, or the alchemy of only putting in the food what is meant to go there.

When I teach it to others I get asked if I mean cooking with love, I don’t. Conscious cooking is the act of being aware when cooking, It is done by trying to feel or sense all the feelings you actually feel at that moment so they don’t slip by and end in the dinner and get eaten by everyone, because most of the feelings we go through should not really be served to others, the same goes to thinking. In my opinion, it is best to simply not think at all when cooking. But if you already are thinking (we seem to not be able to stop) try and stay in touch with it, and don’t start “running it” into the dinner. There is a more advanced part, its about feeling all the feelings in the space even those which aren’t yours and saving the food from them too, but this may be too farfetched for most so lets keep sweet.

Now, I agree that once you master the basics and you can hold it, and if you have a flow of love you can add it to the mix, but I would prefer someone who is angry yet holding their feelings to cook my dinner most days. This is the basic law, it is hard to explain what feeling your feelings in full actually means, but whilst cooking this is the method I follow. Sometimes when I feel like I have a free hand and I can be creative I use consciousness as an ingredient itself, in that way you can actually choose what effect your dinner will produce in others, and I don’t just mean taste here. I had a great friend who I taught this method to, she used it on a guy she liked. She was so good she only needed to make him a cup of coffee and he fell totally in love with her, it’s not that she wasn’t the falling In love sort of material, she was. Its the magic she put in while making coffee, so you get the idea, and we should leave it at that.

So here is the best Pesto Recpie, the best pasta in London (but only one of the better ones in Abruzzo), and the secret to making guys fall in love with you through coffee.

Canvas Troubleshooting

  If you have canvas tents or are thinking of getting some, you need to know something about canvas care as well as looking after tents in general. Some site owners avoid tents because of the maintenance – one should remember that they are tents after all and you can’t just put them up and […]

 

If you have canvas tents or are thinking of getting some, you need to know something about canvas care as well as looking after tents in general. Some site owners avoid tents because of the maintenance – one should remember that they are tents after all and you can’t just put them up and not think about them when the Weather Gods are playing or let them sit unheated through the winter. If you want something with lower maintenance, best go for something more solid like a hut but personally, I think the romance, beauty and simplicity of nomadic tents, such as tipis and yurts, is well worth the effort.

tipi drip strip

Looking up in a tipi

So canvas…first I would advise you NOT go for cheap canvas however tempting it seems. A lot of the imported Mongolian yurts are made from a heavy canvas which is made for the dry climate of Mongolia but doesn’t adapt well to damp European climates and the canvas will quickly leak. Our main work is making yurt covers, and have re-covered many a Mongolian yurt barely in its infancy.

spirits intent

Sewing yurt covers

The usual canvas used in the UK is 12oz FWR (flame, water and rot-proofed) poly/cotton, Before 2007 it was cotton that was more popular, but the rot-proofing agent used in the proofing was banned, so a new one was used which was actually water-soluble! It meant that there was a batch of bad canvas around that time and we heard horror stories of canvas rotting after a year. Although a new rot-proofing agent was developed, the industry had moved into poly/cotton as it is more rot-resistant and stronger, with 50% polyester content it’s really a game changer.

It’s hard to say how long canvas lasts as it depends on many factors, so we don’t offer any guarantee on its life, but if looked after, one can expect 5-7 years for a tent left up all year. One consideration in pitching your tents is the choice of location. If pitched under trees, the canvas gets dirty from falling leaves and the run-off from tree sap and this can contribute to it perishing. Trees to be extra careful of are pine and willow. Also, obviously, if pitched in the shade the canvas doesn’t dry out so quickly and generally in the UK, the damp is more damaging than UV (although this summer has challenged that trend!) In hotter climates, such as Southern Europe the UV exposure continent, damages the cotton element of the canvas so it is worth thinking about alternatives to poly/cotton (see below about acrylic canvas).

Our Yurt and tipi garden in Israel

Next …general maintenance… we recommend reproofing the canvas once a year which can greatly increase its longevity. Before reproofing one should clean the canvas with a soft brush and warm water, no soap, no scrubbing, no pressure washing, but as long as you reproof the canvas well it should be OK. Remember that any cleaning will remove some of the proofing. (Obviously, white canvas shows the dirt and mould more than other colours, so many of our customers, when replacing yurt covers are choosing to replace white covers with darker colours, such as sand).

Reproofing is usually done with a paint-on solution when the tent goes up for the season – various products are available, but mostly only contain waterproofing and rotproofing agents. Recently the FWR proofing solution used by the manufacturers themselves has become available. (We can supply this at manufacturers cost). We have heard stories of tent covers being sent to professional cleaners, who have little experience of canvas and come back unproofed and sometimes perished although there are now companies who can clean and reproof for you.

Another consideration in canvas care is if the tents are left standing through the winter, they should be heated at least every few days, usually with a wood-burning stove (or open fire in a tipi) and, if the tents are not being used, they should be taken down when the canvas is bone dry and packed somewhere dry and rodent free. The summer before last we had a mice invasion on our site in Italy and we were surprised to discover that the mice chose to eat through the proofed canvas of the yurts rather than the wool blankets and mattresses inside. No accounting for taste. (Troubleshooting rodents and creepy-crawlies is for another chapter).

More yurt covers

There is a common perception that cottons are more ‘natural’ than synthetic fabrics, but people forget that they are proofed with chemicals. Our customers are choosing to go for acrylic fabrics as an alternative to poly/cotton as, although much more expensive, it is a better investment longterm, it greatly outlasts the poly/cotton as it doesn’t rot and it’s also stronger. The acrylic proofing isn’t in a coating but in the thread itself, thus doesn’t need reproofing the same way. It is a woven fabric so looks almost identical to the poly/cotton, yet feels nicer to touch and stays clean and new looking for much longer.

Acrylic canvas wedding pavillion

We are Spirits Intent, expert makers of nomadic tents and specialists in the canvas side of things, call on us if you need any advice on canvas or need new covers for your structures.

A Yurt Living Adventure by Sara Wheeler (Guest Blogger)

The things that people ask me at first is ‘ Why do you live in a yurt?’ Closely followed by…. ‘What’s it like?’ Well, first let me introduce myself. I am a 40 year old woman who is Mum to 2 boys ages 8 and 6. My husband is called Mike. We used to live […]

The things that people ask me at first is ‘ Why do you live in a yurt?’ Closely followed by…. ‘What’s it like?’

Well, first let me introduce myself.

I am a 40 year old woman who is Mum to 2 boys ages 8 and 6. My husband is called Mike.

We used to live in a nice house in Bristol, UK and realised that we were missing the children’s childhoods and working too hard to pay for it all.

One day, Mike suggested that we sell the house and travel round the world. I thought he was joking at first. Within a few months we sold the house, took the children out of school and set off with a one-way ticket on the trip of a lifetime.

On 2 October 2015 we flew to Indonesia and made our way around South East Asia, employing a strategy called ‘World schooling’ where children lead their education, sparked by curiosity of the world around them. We climbed mountains in the Himalayas and snorkelled with sharks in Belize. We scaled the Grand Canyon and camped on a beach amongst wild kangaroos in Australia.

Our trip was immense, hard work and awesome in every sense of the word. Increasingly though, our thoughts turned to when- and if, we should return home. We missed our family and friends and being part of a community. Most of all we DIDN’T want to fall back into the trap of working to pay bills again. Old friends of ours had a smallholding in Wales with a few acres to spare. For years they had suggested we come and live on their mountain. We skyped them from our beach hut and apparently they were serious. We’d split utility bills and the field was ours, if we wanted it.

We looked at converting one of their barns, craning in a container… but we had always loved camping and yurt holidays. Having spent over a year living in the same room and out of 2 backpacks, a yurt would feel palatial.

Mike set about researching yurts and we joined some Facebook groups to talk to people and get an idea of what we’d need to live fairly comfortably. With friends in the festival trade, installing infrastructure into our field was no problem so we focussed on what we needed from the yurt:

  • A traditional design
  • as big as possible to fit on the existing platform.
  • To future proof it, we’d need to get a high wall and roof so we could install a mezzanine for the children to sleep on for a bit of privacy.

Oh, and we wanted an ‘indoor’ toilet.

We ordered our 22’ Turkmen Yurt from Spirits Intent and that was our decision made. Updates on their Facebook page were exciting as we could see our new home being built from the other side of the world.

Mike was clever enough to bag himself a job when we were in Guatemala, so we had a deadline for the yurt build. We had to be moved in so he could start work on the 4 December 2017. After a whirlwind of reunions with our friends and family, we took ourselves to mid Wales on the 24 November as the weather forecast was… ok…We had been chasing the sun for 14 months and I think we had forgotten how harsh British weather could be. Anyway, this was Wales and we needed somewhere to live so we had to get on with it.

Nitsan from Spirits Intent arrived at our friends’ house, hungry and serious. He had been building our yurt with some volunteers and had come to stay the night before- sleeping in his van, to brace us for the hard work that was to come on Build Day. I felt sick with nerves as I heard the wind and rain battering at the house windows. I think the weather forecast for an‘ok’ day might have been optimistic. The whole family pitched in. We tried to ignore the hailstorm and Nitsan showed the youngest how to do a sun dance. Oddly, it seemed to work a bit even just to lighten the mood as we got battered by chunks of ice being hurled at us from the sky.

The trellis was up, the doors and rafters tentatively slid into place. We stopped to warm up with soup and I realise I had lost sensation in most of my body due to the numbing cold. We piled on the layers and the children decided to stay indoors after the rest of it (I couldn’t blame them)

We knew we’d start to lose daylight at about 3pm. So we hurriedly put up the felt insulation and lifted the canvas on with the last ounce of strength we had in us. Tying the fabric to the lattice was painfully slow as I had to cling to the edge of raised platform whilst my hands were frozen by the cold. Nitsan’s rallies of positivity were soothing, as our energy fell to its lowest ebb.

Then, all of a sudden, despite every sort of weather that the Welsh mountainside could throw at us, we had a yurt.

We were soaking wet and exhausted but we had a home all of our own. We waved Nitsan an emotional goodbye, as our team disbanded- the hard work cementing a bond between us. 

For the next couple of weeks we worked at sanding the floors, putting in the filtered water, installing a gas boiler, hooking up electric, building a kitchen, digging drainage ditches and laying pathways… lastly we brought in our furniture.

So, what’s life like in the yurt?

The day we moved in our furniture a blizzard came and covered everything in 6 inches of snow. We slept and woke up to a world that was like Narnia.

It looked beautiful but the reality was hard work. The first night the canvas dripped in multiple places as the seams had not had a chance to bed in…. the children were frozen from playing but it was hard to keep them dry and warm. We had no toilet, running water or drainage and icy drops of water falling on our faces when we were in bed.

After the blizzard though, normal Winter feels easy! We have learnt our lessons, dried out, and are enjoying nature as we fall asleep to flicker of the fire, the sound of the river and Barn Owls calling along the valley. 

We have found a rhythm and have learnt that with this life, you can take nothing for granted. We wake and start the fire. We have learnt to shower in the evenings when the yurt is warmest and appreciate that hot running water fresh from a mountain spring is a beautiful kind of sorcery. We keep the woodpile well stocked and keep muddy boots by the door. We have very warm duvets and wear lots of layers. We use ratchet straps to tie down the yurt as 80mph winds are quite common here. We empty the composting toilet every week and we have found that the Ultrasonic pest deterrents really work. Yes, we have found droppings amongst our dinner plates and had whole bags of clothes eaten by mice! Never again.

The horses in the field next door come and bray to tell us when the weather is bad and we all enjoy being connected to our surroundings.

There isn’t a day that we don’t open the yurt door and have our breaths taken away at the sight of the mountains around us. Yes, it would be nice to have conveniences like ‘heating’ but the amount we’d have to sacrifice for that just isn’t a price we want to pay.

At the moment, anyway.

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Thankyou Sara.

For more on this family adventure…see Wheelers on the Bus: Facebook page

And their lovely  Blog

Heartland in the News

More and more people are interested in Heartland and our Sustainable Tourism project in Abruzzo, Central Italy – enough that Heartland has been featured in 2 of the UK’s biggest Glamping magazines. The first was the June/July edition of Open Air Business Magazine. See page 22. Digital Issues The next was the September edition of […]

More and more people are interested in Heartland and our Sustainable Tourism project in Abruzzo, Central Italy – enough that Heartland has been featured in 2 of the UK’s biggest Glamping magazines.

The first was the June/July edition of Open Air Business Magazine. See page 22.

Digital Issues

The next was the September edition of the International Glamping Business Magazine, which coincided with the Glamping Show, an annual event for the Glamping Industry in the UK. It runs a whole feature on Glamping in Italy and we are on page 21 – and strangely there is a story of some other people who came from the UK to Abruzzo to start a glamping project.

Ready for the media…

The Sybil

It was late afternoon, I was a little tired and the smell of sulphur was hanging strong over my skin, I looked at the map, I wanted to find a place to stop for the night soon, but wanted to head towards the monte Sibbilini national park a little more first, we were drawn to […]

It was late afternoon, I was a little tired and the smell of sulphur was hanging strong over my skin, I looked at the map, I wanted to find a place to stop for the night soon, but wanted to head towards the monte Sibbilini national park a little more first, we were drawn to the place because of its name, the mountains of the sybil (the oracle) I remembered reading at some point over the summer that there used to be a cave up one of the mountains where the oracle used to live.

Anyway the day was getting old, and much have happened It felt like if I can drive us of the main road in the direction of the national park, and we can simply find a resting place that would be best, I stopped relying on google navigation at some point because of all the closed roads, so whilst driving a quick look at the edge of our map showed me mount Sibbila, there seemed to actually be a road that went up the mountain, I guessed that it wouldn’t be drivable to cars, and anyway all roads seemed closed.

But heading towards that name place seemed the goal for the night, I thought we were leaving the earthquake centre, but even here on the small roads, there was a lot of damage, at times it seemed that there was even more, small villages nestled on the Ridgeline, very beautiful, but even here many houses were collapsed, and it seemed that any road but the one I was driving was closed, I was heading towards the village of montemoncao, I thought it being a little late we can park there for the night, maybe in the morning we can see if we can find the road up that mountain, and ask the locals if they heard about the cave too.

I almost got to the village, but the road was closed, it was funny because we also reached the end of the map (its Abruzzo and Molise map) I couldnt drive through the village and there was no where for our sizeable camper either, I drove back and took the first turning, it was a small road, I was tired, I remember saying out of exhaustion It seemed we arent meant to find that mountain, the road is closed, I came to another small turning, the road sign in brown said …. MONTE SIBBILA….!!! the road to the mountain wasnt closed after all, in fact, it was the only one I could have taken, that was getting a little strange….

I drove on, something seemed to have a mind of its own, and it wasnt mine, I got to the bottom of the mountain, there was a 4×4 parked, by a barrier, this was the small road I seen on the map, the road to the Oracle mountain, as it seemed something led us here, I just drove passed the barrier, it wasnt really blocking the road and it seemed too late to do anything else, It was a small gravel road, and we were in a 7.5 ton truck, it snaked up the mountain, with drops of 1000 meter at either side, the valleys in front of us and the surrounding peaks of the monte Sibbilini were something else, a cloud hung up above, and I was relieved when we drove into the fog, because I was scared someone would see us driving the big yellow monster, at one point there was a massive boulder in the middle of the road, the earthquakes must have lodged it free from the mountain, but here too I could pass through, I felt like the something really wanted us up that mountain.

the road up sibilla

The view going up the 4×4 road

We got to the rifugio Sibbila just before dark, I was relieved to see a couple of other cars, it seemed the Italians like me dont bother with barriers, I parked the truck at the edge, below us the whole land laid like a map, it was such a strong day, looking down on all that area, and knowing how shaken it was, having been working to promote sustainable tourism in the rural mountains of Abruzzo we know what it must have felt for the locals, it seemed fighting abandonment was so much more of an issue now, but it also seemed that there is ancient myth right under our feet, a sleeping entity who is awakening.

Before we went it to make dinner, I went to read the tourist map, I was somewhat shocked to find that the cave I was after was up that very mountain!, the sign said that in medieval times people used to come up the mountain because its mystery power, that it symbolised the earth mother, and that they came to dream here, it seems very auspicious  to me.

This mountain range, Monte Sibillini is named after the sibyls, wise women, priestesses who could read the energy of things, see into the future. The sibyls are also known as oracles, the most famous being the Oracle of Delphi and the difference being that the oracles would speak the words of the Spirit, like the Oracle of Delphi speaking for Apollo: “He says…”, whereas the Sibyls would speak the words of the Spirit directly as themselves. The first story of the sibyl can be traced through Roman folklore to the 5th century BC in Greece. There were several sibyls, but this story is about the Apennine Sibyl, who lived in a cave in the heart of a mountain, which became known as Monte Sibilla. The cave could well have been the entrance to an underground labyrinth where the sibyl lived and worked on the mysterious side of things. Wandering knights of medieval times would come and seek counsel with the sibyl and people would come to the cave to dream. Supposedly people would come to seek her advice, of course we no longer know how the ancients view it all, the power of place for them was the first religion, the spirit of the mountain and its connection with the deep (through the cave) was why the oracle prophesied there.

mount sibilla

An old map of the oracle cave

The Mountain is believed to be the centre of the earth, the Navel, there are other spots like that, like the above mentioned temple in Delphi, the same goes for Cusco in Peru, the tibetans too believed the earth was a goddess, and in order to achieve super natural abilities they would travel her body, in search of the mysterious waterfall that would transport them to other worlds, In India it is believed that meditation on certain spots can advance you spiritually as much as doing the same work for years in any other place.

Anyway we get the gist, its the power of place, and its affect on the spirit of Man (or in this case Woman).

mount sibilla

The ring road of the mountain, and the cave at the top

The next morning we climbed up the mountain……there are two possible roads one can take, in fact its like a ring, and you can approach the mountain from both directions, we vouched for the way up Monte Zampa, this proved to be a good choice, because although the ascent to Monte Zampa is a little devoid of scenery, once you get there, to are confronted by a long dragon back of monte Sibbila, and the valley below was so breathtaking, I decided on the spot it was in my 5 top places ive ever visited, the view reminded me of how it felt looking down from Mt. Sinai, its pristine.

the secret valley below mount sibilla

The secret valley below the mountains

There is a convent the other side of the valley. I thought that this must be the most amazing place in Europe, the half moon was right over the Sibbila mountain, and it seemed like we were walking in the footprints of a legend, like we were brought here for a reason even, our Abruzzan shepherd loved the hike even more than us, we decided it was time teach him to carry loads, so every km or so we tied another bit of clothing around his waist, hoping that one day he can carry our loads for us, or at least learn to carry loads as part of his work, he didn’t seem to mind the pile of woollen jumpers around his middle, he was in the mountains and he felt like home, we all did, especially now he was carrying more of our clothes.

Abruzzen Shepard

The Shepard of Abruzzo carrying our clothes

After some steep ascents and some bits we had to almost carry the dog, we got to the top, the cave itself was closed obviously, There is rumoured to be a labyrinth under the entrance, with halls and magic, where the oracle used to live, the cave entrance was also blown in an attempt to try and open it, which actually made it even harder to enter, there is however a little opening that borrows down, for the brave of heart.

There are secret stories in the area rumours the locals spread, and how they believe it is best the cave is left alone, the witchcraft left untouched, maybe it was them taht blew the entrance to make sure the secret of the caves would never be explored, to dissuade people from stirring the earth again, but the strongest punch line of it all, is that once we climbed that mountain that seemed to call us, whilst we explored the area, we have come to realise that every one of the hundred or so earthquakes that occoured in Italy in the last months, seemed to be centred around the cave, some of the biggest shakes were not 15km away as the crow flies, so it seems that maybe the locals were right, or maybe they were wrong, because it seemed no one can keep the Oracle from returning, the mountain that held her for 1500 years is now shaking the area is all adrift, it seemed she has decided it is time to come out, it is time for her to find a new Woman, one that would heed the call and be the voice for the spirit.

oracle

Spirit’s voice