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Posts Tagged ‘Rome’

 

A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN SACILE, TAMAI, AND VENICE:

Sacile and Tamai

On Saturday, Vittorio and Teacher Brian intend to go off on a 30 hiking pilgrimage from France, through the Pyrenees Mountains, and across northern Spain to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela a journey of about 500 miles. Their friend Marco decided to hold a bon-voyage party for them at his house.

Both Vittorio and Brian are accomplished hikers. Vittorio hikes 20 kilometers several mornings a week. Brian, an American originally from South Dakota, who now teaches physics and other sciences to high school students at the nearby American military base (hence the nickname Teacher), has an interesting back story about his commitment to hiking. When he was a young man serving in the military he was diagnosed with a large growth in his lower spine. After its surgical removal, it was feared he could never walk again. But he did and now hikes regularly through the Veneto plain and the pre-alps.

Anyway, we gathered at Marco’s for the party. I was pleased to see Professor Hank and his wife there. He is a professor (hence the nickname) of economics at a college in New Jersey and used to teach the same at the military base. Like Teacher Brian, he and his wife have a home in Sacile and spend summers there.

The dinner, in good Italian style, lasted from 7:30 when we arrived and until 1 AM when we left. It began with Prosecco, moved through Thai main courses (Vitorio’s wife and several other people there are Thai) and finished off with Italian pastry, sweets, liqueurs and cherries marinated in grappa. It was a truly multi-cultural meal.
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Professor Hank, a thoughtful gentle man whose company I find extremely enjoyable. As usual, when he and I get together, we talked about many things including the possibility next summer of he and I traveling together to visit his friend who lives in Marshall Tito’s old villa on the Ischia coast of Croatia. Thereafter we would take the ferry to Bari and tour Calabria, his wife’s birthplace. After that, I could go on by train to Sicily and visit Antonio and my family before setting off to Thailand. This excited me because I had hoped to take a similar trip this year but had to cancel it because I had not yet fully recovered from my treatment.

Venice

On Monday I set off to Venice. I wanted to see how the Biennale exhibits had changed since I visited there almost two years ago.

Although I visit it often, Venice is not my favorite city. Perhaps, it is because of having read Thomas Mann or seen the movie made from his book. Perhaps, I am terrorized by people who creep about at night in masks and garish costumes. Perhaps, it is the signage for the route back to the train station that always seems to lead me through a section of the city I had never visited before, usually, one that I never even knew existed, and lose me there (this visit was no different). But mostly I think, it is because I have never eaten a good meal in that city. Despite whatever it is that puts me off, I still find myself returning again and again and happy I did so.
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Back in Sacile and Tamai

The rest of the week included trips to the markets, mornings and evenings in the cafe’s talking with Hank, Lucia and others. I marvel at how these few people, Vittorio and Anita, Lucia, Professor Hank and Teacher Brian have become such close and important friends of mine despite having first met them only a few years ago and having visited with them only briefly since. I consider them as close and as dear friends as any I have made in my life.

On my last full day there like my first, I accompanied Vittorio to a nearby town where he marched with his band in a religious procession. Although growing up in Tuckahoe where religious processions were common, I have rarely seen them since then. Along with the procession, the town held a soccer tournament and hosted a dinner beneath a grand tent where I watched some men play “scopa” (a popular Italian card game) well into the evening.

 

B. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN ROME:

On Friday, Vittorio drove me to the train station for my five hour trip to Rome. The train ride was uneventful other than when somewhere in the middle, I noticed my suitcase was not where I had left it. After some frantic searching, I found it at the opposite end of the car. The car itself was full of American college students on their way from Venice to Rome so I guessed it had been moved to make room for their mountains of luggage and backpacks. I otherwise dozed, read, or watched the hill town pass by my window. Sometimes, I tried to guess their names and recall if I had ever visited them.

Having lived in Rome for three years back in the late sixties and early seventies, I consider it my home. There are four cities I think of as home; Rome (and Sabina), New York City (and Tuckahoe), San Francisco, and Bangkok. I have lived for a considerable length of time in all of these cities. Whenever I return to any of them, I find myself just as happy sitting quietly or strolling around as I would in some more energetic or social activity; so it was with this trip. I am still too weak and ill for anything more than the briefest of walks. Nevertheless, on Saturday morning I ambled to my beloved Borghese Gardens and sat on a bench near the magnificent Borghese Museum that as usual had sold out its tickets for admission about a week in advance.

I sat where I usually do, on a bench near the accordionist. I have been coming here for about 10 years now and sitting on that bench listening to him play. He bills himself as “The Ukrainian Organist,” but I suspect he is just an ordinary Slavic accordion player. He plays light classical music which I always felt had been written specifically for sunny days in a park with breezes rustling the leaves of the trees, filtering the sunlight and dappling the ground in shadow or destined to be stolen by some modern musical comedy composer caught in a momentary lack of inspiration. Today alas, he, the musician, seemed distracted. He’d play only a few bars of a piece before jumping on to another. Even his piece de resistance the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach(what the phantom of the opera plays in his grotto under the Opera House whenever he has agita) seemed forlorn and discordant — at least, more so than it usually sounds.

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The “Ukrainian Organist” at the Borghese Gardens

On Sunday my delightful cousin, Federica picked me up at my accommodation in the Castro Pretoria section of Rome. She first drove us to the “Quartiere Coppede a fantastical mix of Ancient Greek, Roman Baroque, Mannerist, Medieval, and, overall, Art Nouveau mixture created by the mostly forgotten architect Coppedè in 1919.
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Fede and Pookie Footloose in Rome.

After that, we drove out to Sabina where we had a great lunch with her parents and another cousin Andrea.

Lunch was the typical 3 or more hour affair. It began with kisses and hugs all around followed by the antipasto. I do not recall all the ingredients included in the antipasto but I remember fried zucchini and potatoes, tomato and peppers (or perhaps just red peppers) and olive oil on a lightly baked breaded cracker of some sort, I think. Small mozzarella balls, mixed vegetables, and cantaloupe with Parma ham. The pasta course contained cold Ziti (?) mixed with vegetables. Then we had turkey involtini and a salad. A fruit compote followed by ice cream cake (chocolate) made up the dessert —followed, of course, by coffee. This was all accompanied by interesting conversation and a very good chilled white wine that I, unfortunately, was unable to drink more than a sip.

We also spent some time looking at old family photographs and watching the finals of LeMans on television. (Andrea is service manager for Ferrari and had a professional interest)
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The Cousins and me

After the lunch, Fede drove me back to Rome and the next day I set off for Thailand.

 

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I. England

In 1968, I was living in London with my two and a half years old son Jason and decided it was time to visit my relatives in Sicily.  No one on my side of the family had visited there since 1912 when three of the four siblings of my maternal grandparents emigrated to America. So, one rainy and foggy London morning I, with my son and my luggage, walked to a nearby used car dealer and bought a Trojan 200. I bought it not because I thought about whether it was suitable for the trip, but because I liked the way it looked and it was cheap.
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The Trojan 200

Britain’s Trojan Cars Ltd under license from Germany’s Heinkel Flugzuegwerke sold the Heinkel’s bubble car as the Trojan 200. The car had three wheels and weighed a little over 1000 pounds. Powered by a one-cylinder four-stroke air-cooled engine it produced a grand total of 9 horse power that could push the vehicle to a top speed of a little more than 50 miles per hour over level ground. Portions of the automobile were constructed from surplus WWII airplane parts.
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The Engine

I immediately piled my son, the one suitcase that held our worldly goods and a huge supply of disposable diapers into the vehicle and took off in what I had hoped would prove to be the general direction of Sicily.

The first problem we faced was the British convention of driving on the left side of the road. I exited the used car lot directly into a busy one-way street in the opposite direction of traffic. There was not enough time to panic (as I am sure I would have preferred) so, I maneuvered my way through screeching tires and blaring horns until I reached a place where I could move on to the proper lane.

The second was escaping from the maze that is London in the general direction of Dover where I was reasonably confident I could find a ferry that would transport us to the continent. By keeping the River Thames on the right side of me, I was able to make my way to the edge of the city where I located signs pointing the way to the coast.

We soon found ourselves driving along a pleasant rural road towards our goal. Suddenly the car stopped cold.

I tried to suppress my worry by attending first to change my son’s diaper and carefully depositing the used one behind a nearby bush. (In 1968 I had not yet become environmentally conscious or for that matter socially responsible.) We then went for a short walk to observe the visual pleasures of the English countryside.

Upon our return, I placed my son back in the car, went to the rear of the vehicle and opened the cover of the engine. There I saw staring back at me a grimy little thing that seemed too small to propel a toy wagon much less an automobile.

My working thesis was that by staring at it long enough I would either be able to figure out what was wrong or frighten it sufficiently to scare it into operating again. After a few long minutes, it was clear the first option was not going to work, so I closed the cover, returned to the cab and turned the key to start the engine. I do not recall whether or not I was surprised but the engine started right up and we soon found ourselves back on the road.

Every now and then, throughout the rest of the trip, this mysterious stoppage would recur. Rather than worrying, it gave my son and I the opportunity to commune together on beauties of whatever countryside we were passing through at the time.
Not too long after, we arrived at Dover or Folkestone or wherever the ferries docked. I originally wanted to take one of the hovercraft that had been newly introduced but the fare was too expensive. So, we parked in the cavernous hold of one of the regular ferries and immediately went up to the top floor and sat in front by the big glass window.

The sun had just parted the clouds leaving us in glorious sunshine. We chattered happily to each other and bounced up and down on our seats as the boat sped across the silver water towards the dark line of the continent on the horizon before us.

II. France

I do not recall where we landed, Calais perhaps. Jason and I got back into the Trojan 200 and drove off the ferry into France.

I had never been to Europe before. As for France in particular, for some reason I had been convinced the French were rude, arrogant and anti-American, and so it was my intention to drive through the country as quickly as possible, hopefully in a day or two.

It was late afternoon when we entered the old town of St Omer, not too far from where we disembarked. We were both hungry and tired so I checked us into a small hotel with an attractive restaurant on the ground floor. I thought a good night’s rest and some food would better allow us to push quickly through France and into Italy as I had planned.

The room was pleasant and after we rested a bit, cleaned up and played around with the bidet and giggled (we had never seen one before), we went down to the restaurant for an early dinner.

As we entered the little restaurant, a rather arrogant looking waiter, a bit chubby with curly reddish hair, a bow tie and striped starched shirt and apron approached and motioned for us to follow him. After we were seated, he said something in French that I did not understand. I responded, in English of course, that I would like whatever he considered appropriate for dinner with an extra plate for my son. I also requested a glass of the house wine. He reddened a bit, made a slight noise like the chuffing of a hog and disappeared in a huff.

Now, my mother was a great cook and my family owned a number of Italian restaurants so I was used to eating good food, but I never had experienced the wonders of a full French meal before. I was stunned. Course after course was brought out and, for at least an hour and a half, Jason and I happily and greedily ate them all. (I learned a few years later that this place was a Michelin two-star restaurant)

The only problem was the wine. I asked for a glass and he brought me a bottle. I thought that I was about to be charged for the entire bottle. I was determined not to give the arrogant bastard the pleasure of fleecing me, so I drank the whole thing. (Much later I learned that they only charged for the amount of wine one drank.)

I was no stranger to drinking wine, being Italian-American, but this trip occurred long before the American wine revolution. The wines available in the US then were generally straw encased bottles of cheap Chianti, Italian Swiss Colony Red, Almaden white and the like. They always tasted as though the wine maker left a bunch of metal shavings at the bottom of the bottle. This wine was different, as smooth and mellow as a good night’s sleep.

Following the meal, I staggered with Jason back to my room and after putting him to bed fell into a long deep dreamless slumber.

Thereafter, my plan to race through France was at an end. Every day I would wake up a bit groggy, pack Jason and  myself into the Trojan, drive two or three hours then stop to check into a hotel. We would eat lunch at which I would drink the entire bottle of wine. After this, I would stagger back to our room and we would nap until dinner. As a result, my intention to traverse France in a day or two turned into a ten-day trek before we caught sight of the Alps.

One day shortly before reaching the mountains, we were traveling along a lovely two lane road through the French countryside when I heard a large clank at the rear of the Trojan and it abruptly coasted to a stop.  I got out of the car to find out what was wrong. What I saw appeared to me as though the Trojan was a giant prehistoric bug that had just taken a metallic crap in the middle of the road. The pile of metal was the car’s engine. This, I realized right away, was probably a much more serious problem than the mysterious stoppages.

Nevertheless, I proceeded with my usual approach to these things — changed Jason’s diapers, threw the used one into the bushes lining the road, walked with him a while and returned to the car. There I sat cross-legged on the road next to the pile of metal with Jason nestled on my lap and began to contemplate my options. I certainly did not relish the thought of hitch-hiking the rest of the way to Sicily. Nor was it appealing to contemplate finding a French mechanic who might be able to fix the machine. Eventually, I notices that the pile was composed primarily of two large pieces of metal and a number of smaller ones. This fact seemed to demand closer investigation.  Jason by that time had fallen asleep so I carried him back to the cab, laid him on the seat and returned to the pile.

I picked up the two large pieces and found that they fit together perfectly. I then opened the engine cover and discovered I could fit those prices snugly around whatever was remaining attached to the vehicle. So, taking a long piece of thin wire that a prior owner of the auto had left in the cab, I carefully fitted the two pieces in place and then wrapped the wire tightly around the whole thing until it seemed relatively secure. I then fitted what small pieces I could back into the engine, throwing the remaining ones into the car just in case they proved to be important.

Satisfied with my efforts, I returned to the cab, turned the key and after a few coughs, to my great surprise, the engine started and we drove off towards the looming mountains.
III. Italy

Not long after entering the foothills of the Alps it became obvious to me that a vehicle with an engine producing only nine horse-power had little chance of climbing 10,000 feet or so in order to find a pass through the mountain range. So, I began searching for an alternative —which led me to a train on to which I drove the Trojan and in which Jason and I sat for the duration of the trip under the mountains. It was so much fun. We jumped up and down and squealed with delight as the tunnel lights flashed by the car’s 360 degree view or when we would pass out of one section of the tunnel briefly, see the huge mountains and blue sky and then plunge into the looming dark again .

Eventually we were deposited on the other side of the Alps. We seemed to be quite high up because the road snaked a long way down in front of us. I did not know what country we were in but assumed it was Italy since the signs indicated we were passing through the Val d’Aosta and we could see small villages and large castles dotting the valley or clinging to mountain outcroppings far below. We continued coasting down the south face of the Alps until we hit the hills of the Piedmont and Turin.

At that time Turin (Torino) looked like most industrial cities, dark and grimy. Instead of the floral exuberance of classical and baroque architecture we were met with the basic brutalism of 20th century factories and worker housing. We took a room on the outskirts of the City and left early the next morning for Rome.

A few miles from the city we came upon the Autostrada to Rome. This was the first limited access highway I had seen so far in Europe. The Italian system had begun building a few years before and the road from the North to Rome was the first section completed.

I decided to take the highway believing it would knock several hours off my trip. Almost as soon as I entered on to the highway I realized my mistake. It was an Italian system, which meant its purpose was to test top speeds of the vehicles and the nerves of the already high-strung drivers. Since the top speed of our little car was somewhere between 40 and 50 MPH, even driving in the slow lane I was greeted with loud crashing of horns, red faces and hand gestures, predominating with the extension of the middle finger.

Rather than exiting the system, I decided to try driving on the broad shoulder. This seemed to work somewhat. At least the faces of the other drivers now were less red and sometimes even smiling, the toots of the horns less insistent and the previous hand gestures for the most part replaced by putting the thumb, index finger and middle finger together and shaking it up and down.

In this way we travelled from Turin to Rome dutifully stopping at all the wonderful rest stops in between where we ate and played. Luckily Jason was as willing to eat anything placed in front of him as he was to dispose of it without notice. The only concern I had was the tremendous whomp that would strike the car whenever one of those large two-trailer trucks whizzed by.

We arrived in Rome. After driving around a bit, we checked into a small hotel across the street from the Barberini Palace (now the national museum). The hotel still exists. There we stayed for two or three days. I was too exhausted to run around touring so Jason and I mostly would walk up the Via Veneto stopping at one of the sidewalk cafe’s for an hour or two. I would order an espresso and Jason would have a hot milk and some cookies. At that time the places were still primarily coffee houses and had not turned into the expensively bad restaurants they are today.

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The Hotel

The ladies of pleasure still displayed their wares along the street. At times when one would take a break she would come over and play with Jason for a while. On the second day she decided to take a long cigarette break and walked with me to the playground in the Borghese Gardens. The Gardens had not yet been criss-crossed with highways and was still a wonderful park. I let Jason loose. She went to stand near the kids playground and smoke her cigarette and I laid down on the grass and stared through the pines into the blue sky beyond. I must have dozed because the next thing I remember is her shaking me and telling me she had to get back to work.

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The Borghese Gardens

The next day we left Rome.

Ever since entering southern Europe the three-wheeled bubble car became less a car than a curiosity. So it also was in Rome as I tried to find my way out of the city. People would come out of the shops a stare or wave as we drove by. Years later I discovered that one of those onlookers was my cousin “Gecco.” He greeted us as I drove by with his favorite hand gesture — the first three digits spread wide and twisted like a corkscrew.

I decided against the more direct route over the Alban Hills and chose to hug the coast. Somewhere south of Anzio we passed through the area where the finest Bufala Mozzarella was made. At that time a few rude stands lined the highway where a traveller could buy some of the cheese — as well, if they wanted, some bread, wine, tomatoes or fried peppers and olive oil. I loaded up and then crossed the highway to sit on the large rocks bordering the Tyrrhenian Sea to eat lunch (actually several lunches) with Jason. I then watched him play by the water before we got back into the car and proceeded on.

We arrived in Naples in the evening. The city still bore the horrendous scars from WWII. Whole neighborhoods remained bombed out. Knowing the city’s reputation for crime, I drove directly for the docks and on to the ship taking us to Sicily.

The staterooms I thought were too expensive so Jason and I curled up on the airplane seats in the hold of the ship used by backpackers and were quickly lulled to sleep by the thrumming of the engine.

In the morning we were awoken by a blast from the ships horn announcing we had come in sight of Palermo.
IV Sicily

Jason and I stood on the ferry’s deck as it approached the Port of Palermo, the three thousand year old harbor originally built by the Phoenicians. The morning sun was shining brightly —the water a deep blue-green and the low-lying city a dusty brown with red arabic cupolas here and there and the cathedral a mix or gothic and moorish architecture rising up in the center.

At that time, 1968, the city had not yet sprawled beyond its medieval walls. Along the shore, those walls still bore the scars WWII bullets. Mount Pellegrino loomed over the city like a frozen storm.
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Palermo Harbor with Mt Pellegrino in the background

As the ferry docked Jason and I ran down into the hold, squeezed into the Trojan 200 and waited for the doors to open. They opened slowly. Light penetrated the gloom. The noise was almost painful as the engines in the vehicles revved up together, and then we moved down the ramp and into the city.

We drove into and through the city looking for the road that would take us across the Island to its southern shore and the town of Canicatti our destination.

While driving through the city we passed San Cataldo, The Cathedral and the Opera Houses. Then we passed out beyond the city walls and headed toward the center of the Island.
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San Cataldo

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Palermo Cathedral

At that time, there were no highways in Sicily. Mostly two lane roads often rural and, at times, unpaved crossed the Island. Each road connected a town with the nearest one to it. Then it would pass through the center of the town and meander on to the next village.

After leaving Palermo, the first village we came to was perched on top of a mountain. The road swooped in long switchbacks until it entered the village. We started up the hill but soon the 9hp engine could go no further. So I got out of the car and pushed it up the mountain to the edge of the town. It was getting very hot and I began to sweat a lot. I got back into the car and drove it through the village.

As we wound our way through the narrow streets,The people came out to watch us pass by. Unlike towns in other parts of Italy where the people would shout, smile and gesture, the villagers here lined the road in silence — the women mostly dressed in black and the men with their caps slouched low over their foreheads. Only a child now and then would smile. When we came to the end of the settlement, I saw that the road swooped down from the mountain top, crossed a small valley and then careened up another mountain upon which sat the next village. And so it went. I would leave a village, drive the car as fast as it would go on the down slope so that I could get as high a possible up the next slope, then get out of the car and push.
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The Road up to Mussomeli

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(The above photograph taken in 1970 shows the single narrow road up to the village. It also shows the land as treeless, barren and rocky. It no longer is like that today. After 2000 years trees are again returning to Sicily.)

Finally about eight hours later, I had travelled a total of 80 miles, my clothing drenched with sweat and every muscle aching. I decided I could go no further than the next village but as we emerged, I saw below not another mountain top village at the end of the road but a rather large town in the valley, Canicatti.

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Canicatti

It was late in the afternoon when we arrived in the town. It was larger than I thought. That was a problem. I knew the last name of my relatives, Corsello, and the town in which they lived, Canicatti but that was all, no address and no first names. I had thought Canicatti would be a small village where everyone knew everyone else, but it was a rather large town instead.

I drove into the town past a small park where I learned later my mother used to play as a child and stopped by a coffee-house with chairs and tables sprawled haphazardly about. The wall by the cafe was pock-marked with bullet holes. I was later to find out that is was the site of the Canicatti massacre where American soldiers slaughtered a number of townspeople for no reason.

So, I started asking if anyone knew where a family named Corsello lived. Someone mentioned some people by that name lived just around the corner. We drove there. It was a new building one of the few in the town at that time. I found the name on a card and pressed the button. “Qui e” someone responded. After a somewhat difficult conversation since I did not speak Italian and they did not speak English we managed to discover that they were in fact the right family and they came down from their apartment to greet us. They invited us in. But before entering Vincenzo the patriarch asked, “What are we going to do about the car. We cannot leave it here where it will be stolen.”

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Giovanni, Vincenzo and I in 1968

V. Deterioration and Renewal

In order to store the car during my stay in Canicatti my cousin Giovani called a friend who had a large garage attached to his home. The friend, Luigi (Gigi) Gallo, came over and we took the car to his garage. I was convinced the car was on its last legs, or wheels. The engine stopped working before we got to the garage. We pushed it the rest of the way. Once we arrived and settled the car in the garage, I unceremoniously turned my back on it and walked away.

Today forty years later I feel bad about that. After all it safely took my young son and me almost 2000 miles across a continent from north to south, through one of the earths great mountain ranges. Yet as far as I was concerned its use to me was finished.

During the next four years or so while I lived in Sicily and Rome and even after I returned to the US, I would, at Gigi’s urging, return to the garage and check on it as its tires slowly flattened and dust and grime turned its white surface a pitted grey.

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Gigi and I in 1970

Eventually Gigi took it out to his farm in the country where the children could play in the slowly rusting hulk. One time, for some reason, thieves stole it. Gigi called the police who found it and returned it in even worse shape than before.
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As restoration began

Gigi eventually became a locally well=known race car driver. When his son, Marco, was about 14 years old Marco decided to restore the thing he played in for most of his life. According to Marco, he remembered the stories his father told him about the strange American and his young son who drove in the automobile across Europe from London to Canicatti. He wanted to see what the car originally looked like. So he contacted the Trojan Automobile Club and began assembling the car’s original parts and restored it.

There now are only two Trojan 200s in Italy, one in Sicily and the other in Rome. Marco also became a successful race car driver and now lives in Milan and is a practicing sports nutritionist.
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Gigi and the Trojan shortly after restoration

Today the Trojan 200 of my journey sits in a garage in Caltanesetta Sicily along with Gigi’s race and classic cars. I finally got to see it again after forty years.
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Pookie with the Trojan 200

A few months later I returned to Sicily. This time with my son, Jason. He was too young at the time of our trip to remember it. Nevertheless he had heard about it many times and was eager to see the car.
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Jason, Gigi and the restored Trojan 200

The joy as well as the pain of any journey are increased by who and what one travels with. For this somewhat epic trip I was fortunate to have my young son and the Trojan along. I could not ask for better traveling companions.

End.

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I was feeling a bit out of sorts so I thought a visit to the Man Cave before picking up HRM at school would help. The Man Cave looks like a large dark living room; sofas, easy chairs and ottomans. There were five or six men there lounging about, smoking cigars and watching Sons of Anarchy on the big screen TV.

I had never seen the show before. It seems to be about the trials and tribulations of being a biker gang member. The actors and actresses stared solemnly at each other and spoke in tones so low that I could hardly make out what they were talking about but assumed it was very important to them because they never smiled.

No one seemed to work much. Now, I know dealing dope is not as vigorous work as digging ditches, but usually one has to do something – like meeting customers and suppliers, collecting money, distributing profits and the like – but these people did not do any of that. Maybe because they were not particularly good at anything but auditions. They seemed to fight a lot too. Maybe they were good at that also.

Anyway the visit did not cheer me up much. I have been feeling irritable and dissatisfied recently and unable to either understand or meet HRM’s needs. We argue every day and it makes me sad.

I look forward to my upcoming trip, at least the Sicilian part of it. I have not seen my Sicilian relatives and friends in about 35 years. I will try to take the Camilleri – Montalbano tour. There are two. One through Agrigento (Montelusa) and Porto Empedocle (Vigata) where the books are set and one in Ragusa where the TV series was shot. In Porto Empedocle there is a statue of Montalbano.

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When I lived in Canicatti, Sicily for a few months about 40 years ago, my favorite sea food restaurant was in Porto Empedocle.
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Here in The Golden Hills of suburban comfort, swimming season slowly bleeds into cross-country season. The hummingbirds have begun their long trek to the shores of the Caribbean. I sit here every morning in the Bella Bru Cafe watching through the window as flocks of young mothers, having dropped off their children at school, descend upon the outdoor tables that surround the fountain.

In Italy and even at times Thailand when sitting like this in some café, I usually have the feeling that everyone is talking to me even when they are not. Here each group seems encased in a bubble from which a low rumble of conversation escapes. Maybe it is not like that at all and I am simply eager to leave on my trip. On the other hand, perhaps it is just the increasing attacks of agita as I grow older that makes me more gloomy.
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Today at breakfast a woman walked into the cafe with her pre-school daughter in tow. She was wearing an American flag twisted around her neck as a scarf — I assume in remembrance of the twin towers attack. I recall 40 years or so ago displaying the flag like that would be considered an insult to it. It is interesting how malleable emotionally charged symbols can really be. Then again fashion rules all.

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It was Autumn in Paris. We walked down Rue de Grenelle on the left bank, my arm around her shoulders. She wore a long checkered coat. We stopped to look into the window of a shop selling antique playing and tarot cards. I pulled her towards me. We kissed. We were very much in love. We stood there arms entwined gazing at one another. She was very very beautiful. That was the point when, last night, I realized I had been dreaming. I could feel myself being pulled away into wakefulness. My dream me cried out. I, however, felt no tears. I lay there in bed the rest of the night unable to get back to sleep. It had been like a reverse nightmare, waking up was the horror. The whole thing reminded me of a poem I had written many many years ago when I was much younger and living in Rome. I fancied myself a poet then (more a lifestyle than a profession). I lived in a small pensione on the top floor of a building on a side street just off via Nationale across from St Paul’s within the Walls, the major American Protestant Church in Rome. In the evenings I would sit in my room by the open window and listen to the then love of my life, practice on the piano in the church rectory were she lived having been sent there by her exceedingly wealthy Danish parents to study music at The National Academy of St. Cecilia in Rome. She was exceptionally beautiful, an accomplished musician, a doper and a bit of a groupie, especially attracted to bass fiddle jazz musicians with lots of hair. Eventually her family felt she was spending too much time with a certain Italian-American drifter and called her back from Rome to marry someone more appropriate. She is now Chairman of the Board of a major subsidiary of the family’s shipping empire. Sic transit gloria.

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Anne Moller

I hung out with a group of ex-pat would be poets none of whom ever made it as poets (one became a high school teacher in Santa Rosa) and a few con-man who also to my knowledge never made whatever it was they were hoping to make. In ex-pat communities world over, there are always a lot of those on the con. How much less interesting would the world be if there were no con and no grifters to fashion them. Movies often tend to make the grifters happy-go-lucky sociopaths, sometimes even with a heart of gold. Although they smiled a lot, most of the sociopaths I knew were anything but happy go lucky and as for their hearts, it was far more likely they were lined with lead. The poem was part of a lengthy piece most of which I no longer recall. It was lost many years ago along with all my other attempts at turning doggerel if not into gold at least into something useful like molybdenum. Pretentious Imagist drivel, it went like this:

The wanderer travels not by hook But sprawled upon the empty tides of fairy world and real And the sham cult darkness lie that was Yet will not be Marks its passage on nothing But cognition.

The entire poem ended with perhaps one of the more tragic images in all of literature, “red sails returning.” Tristan, before embarking from Cornwall on his latest war in Ireland, promised his beloved Isolde that upon his ships’ return, if he were still alive, he would unfurl his white sails but had he died his men would put up red ones. Upon word of the ship’s approach to the harbor, Isolde sent her handmaid to the top of the tower to report what she sees. Tristan, still alive, orders his men to unfurl the white sails. Unfortunately the sun was setting at just that moment causing the sails to blaze a bright red. Upon the maid’s return from the tower Isolde asked her the color of the sails. “Red” she answered not knowing the significance of her response. So, in sorrow and despair Isolde killed herself as did Tristan when he discovered his beloved’s body.*  I always envied Tristan. As far as I know, there have been very few people who longed for my return after I left the room. * It should be noted, that there are several versions of the Tristan tale many of them that differ substantially from what I have described. First of all, in a lot of them Isolde waiting in the castle in Cornwall was not the beloved Isolde, but Isolde of the White Hands, T’s wife. It seems that while T and the beloved Isolde were playing hide the salami, she was married to Mark the King who was also T’s boss. Eventually the lovers agreed T would go away because, in part, they both liked Mark the King and felt bad about what they were doing, but mostly because Mark the King was the King and if he found out what they were doing he would cut off their heads as well as other important parts of their body. So T left and married the white-handed Isolde because he liked her name and she had a castle near the water. Frankly, when T returned from his slaughter of his Irish kinsmen and found white-handed Isolde dead due to a mistaken perception, he was not too broken up about it. There are also many versions of how T died. Some have him poisoned, probably by a jealous husband and others have him chopped to bits in the midst of one of his ethnic cleansing jobs. I, on the other hand, believe he died in a bar fight with some bikers in Pocatello Idaho. However it was that he died, I am not particularly jealous of this version of T. He seems to just be like a lot of men – completely fucked in the head.

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I, and I assume others when they reach my age, sometimes think back over our lives and speculate about what may have been or what it is that we really regret. With me there are many things such as the death of loved ones or pain I have caused others that bring me sadness or fill me with remorse. But, in almost all of them, although I wish they never happened, I do not see how avoiding or reversing them would have altered my life all that much. There was, however, one recurring event in my memory that I am convinced may have made a difference.

It was during the early Nineties. I was visiting Rome and it was as hot as it gets in that town at the end of Summer. I was standing in line with my then wife Denise to buy tickets to enter the ruins of the ancient Roman Forum. There was only one group ahead of us, a family made up of man and a women with three or four strikingly blond pre-adolescent children in tow. The woman was about six feet tall, blond and movie star attractive. The man was even taller, sandy-haired and athletic looking. Suddenly I recognized him. It was Joe Montana, the legendary American football quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. I guess you can say I was gobsmacked to see him there in Rome and standing so close to me.


In addition to the victories and the statistical records that most sports use to judge excellence and without which all else is almost irrelevant, what I admired most about Montana was his preternatural grace and his gamblers instincts. I recall once watching him play in one of the Superbowls, he had just thrown a pass that the receiver eventually caught for a touchdown. Nevertheless, it was the fluidity with which Joe leapt into the air and threw the ball that enthralled me. He was every bit as graceful as a ballet dancer; not tutus and en pointe ballet graceful but something more masculine and forceful.

I used to attend performance of the New York City Ballet when I lived in the Big Apple. The principle male dancer at that time was, Jacques d’Amboise. When he stood on the stage he looked a lot like a champion body builder who had just put down his barbels. When, however, he moved it was as smooth, graceful and beautiful as drops or water slowly dancing in the sunlight. Balanchine, the choreographer for the Company then, believed that the role of the male ballet dancer was little more than a mobile post upon which the ballerina was displayed. Nevertheless, when d’Ambiose lifted his partner up and carried her across the stage everything else on that stage disappeared except the image of his power and grace. So it was for me with Montana on that pass. It was as though I had achieved satori. Everything else on the field disappeared but Joe when, as though in slow motion, he pushed off with one leg, rose into the air and in perfect synchronicity arced his arm across his body as he released the ball.

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His gamblers instincts were not those of a risk-taker but of someone who knew the probabilities and above all the psychology of whatever game he was playing. At one time during an interview, I recall him describing a drive, probably in one or another of the Superbowls. He said something like, “I was driving them crazy, dinking and dunking (throwing short passes for 3 or 4 yards) them here and there, until they couldn’t see straight and began to lean forward and inch in, and then I threw it over their heads for a touchdown.”

“He possessed an almost mystical calmness in the midst of chaos, especially with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. While others saw turmoil and danger after the snap, Montana saw order and opportunity. He was Joe Cool, the unflappable king of the comeback.”
Larry Schwartz, ESPN

So there he was, in Rome, that day, standing about a foot away from me. One part of me in my excitement screamed at me to say something, something like “Joe! Joe Montana, what are you doing here in Rome?” while another part terrorized me into silence at the realization of how stupid that sounded and how embarrassed I would feel after saying it – especially if he ignored me.

I thought about mentioning to Denise that Joe Montana was in the line in front of us. Denise was a woman of legendary assertiveness and a tongue as sharp as the edge of a Samurai’s sword. She would not have known Joe Montana from Bozo the Clown, but she was much more likely than me to strike up a conversation, lacking the shyness that comes with awe and idol worship. Alas, I could see that she was already annoyed at how long it was taking them to buy their tickets and well on her way to flinging some insult at them as only she could. So, I hesitated fearing that she would offend them and I would lose the opportunity to become friends with Joe.

They eventually got their tickets and passed through the gate into the Forum. We got ours and followed. Right behind the gate we came upon them again. The children were sprawled on various broken bits of Roman History complaining bitterly, as children often do, about the heat and whining about why they had to be here and not back in the hotel at the pool. I could see that Joe Cool was at the edge of losing the legendary calmness that allowed him to bring Notre Dame from 22 points back in the fourth quarter to win in the Cotton Bowl. He snapped back at them, probably a lot like like any other parent in a similar situation would when being harassed by whining children “You can’t. You have to learn about culture. There is a lot of culture here.”

I knew that I could step in and help out. Over the years I virtually haunted the Forum. I knew more about it than any guide. I knew the history, the gossip, even what was traded in the market that was set up in the swamp between the hill on which the future rulers of the world lived in somewhat upgraded caves and the larger hill on which the more respectable Sabines lived and from which their wives and daughters were to be carried away by the Romans in the dead of night. Upon the fecundity of those wives and daughters an empire was built. I had crawled into places few are allowed to go or for that matter ever went or even would want to go. I knew which toilets were the cleanest. I knew where to find shade and the location of the coolest water. I knew I could keep the children entertained and enthralled and that Joe and his wife would like that and we would become friends.

I imagined that since I had lived in Rome for a few years and knew interesting places to go and appealing places to eat that Joe and his wife would never otherwise know about or go to, we could go out some evening and have dinner together. I knew that Denise with her bottomless reservoir of humor and behavioral oddities would amuse them and we would become friends.

But I did not do any of these things. I just stood there. Then Denise irritably called out, “Hurry up, it’s hot.” and I went on. For a while, as we made our way through the rubble of an empire, I would see them prowling through other parts of the ruins. Then they were gone.

Since that day, every now and then, I think about what could have been. Even as I write this now, I am convinced that if Joe Montana had become my friend, my life might somehow have been better, happier even. Some of my other friends might even have become jealous. I would have liked that.

 

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