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 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 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

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

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 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 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

Blog | Spirits Intent

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 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 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

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

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 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 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