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Posts Tagged ‘Sacile’

She insisted that I accompany them, stay the night and return to Milan the next morning, leaving Hayden and her to spend two or three weeks there. I demurred, explaining that I had had enough traveling for a while. Following somewhat emotional discussions and a series of telephone calls to the so-called friends, it was agreed that I would accompany them to the Veneto and remain with Hayden lodged at the farm while she returned to Milan with Nikki and departed for Thailand to return in about two weeks.

So, four or so hours later we drove into Sacile (pronounced Sah Chili) a town about 40 kilometers north of Venice. It is also known as “Il Giardino del Serenissima,” or something like that. It translates as “The Garden of the Most Serene Republic of Venice.”

Before reaching the center of town we stopped on a side street at a coffee shop/bar operated by a friend of SWAC and Nikki, a tall slender middle-aged woman named Lucia. Outside the bar were a few tables, one of which was occupied by several locals playing the traditional Italian card games of Scopa and Bresaola. They and the other patrons were generally drinking Prosecco, not the sweet bubbly crap one gets in the US but the refreshing local, hot weather afternoon, kick back and enjoy life drink. It was very good. We had two glasses and spent about an hour in pleasant conversation with Lucia, her strange boyfriend and some of the customers.

We then walked to the main plaza of the town that has a river running through it. Apparently, during the heyday of La Serenissima, barges from Venice would travel up the river to the small falls that made further travel difficult. The barges, carrying, I guess, things like Murano glass souvenirs, porcelain Carnivale mask and things like that would be offloaded and replaced by agricultural goods from the area and other goods like cuckoo clocks carried over the alpine passes from Switzerland and Austria. The town sprung up to service this barge traffic, I assume to provide food, drink, and entertainment to the lonely bargemen as they awaited their consignments.

The town is a picture postcard of what someone would imagine a Venetian town should look like. At first blush, it appears that the ancient town has reemerged from history. A closer look reveals something a bit more like one would find at the Venetian in Las Vegas, a use of post-modern architectural design flowing seamlessly into the few remaining vintage structures.

Post-modernism despite the acres of intellectual drivel generally written by those hoping to make some money off of it, is merely a form of colorful mostly straight edged Moderne (with pitched rather than flat roofs) as it existed before Walter Gropius sex crazed with Anna Mahler tarted it up into Bauhaus (Or had Gropius become a sexual deviant before the advent of Moderne, I never could remember which). Essentially it consists of a series of rectangular planar facades painted or otherwise colored in earthy reds, yellows and beiges adorned with simple architectural elements, like plain arches ( now and then festooned with architectural artifacts). It was concocted by Venturi and Graves hungry for commissions out of their impression of the reconstruction of traditional domestic and small commercial structures in post-war Italy as the local people filled in the bombed-out spaces between the surviving historical structures with simplified copies of traditional design and painted them with a brighter version of the standard stucco. It spread back to Europe and It works here in Italy since that was always the local vernacular architecture anyway.

In NY, Johnson, tired of living in glass houses and unable to diddle Anna himself, nevertheless attempted to capitalize on the post-modern craze by creating the worlds largest and perhaps ugliest misrepresentation of a piece of obsolete junk furniture as a New York skyscraper. San Francisco, ever ready to slavishly follow East Coast fashions adopted postmodernism as the design element of its planning code thereby converting something generally simple into the gross monstrosity of pink-tinged architecture that graces the City today.

Ah well, I liked Sacile a lot, even if it seemed a little bit like an urban version of Danville.

As we walked about, I noticed that this was a town populated by people with prominent noses, from fleshy cyranoesque proboscis to hawk-like aquiline appendages cleaving the air as they walked along like ax heads cleaving a log. These notable features adorned generally slender well dressed men and equally fashionable and sensuous women. Unlike the drab dark colors, I found ubiquitous in the US, here both the men and women were more colorfully attired. Although there was the usual excess of pre-stressed jeans and off the shoulder tank tops, there was nary a velour exercise outfit to be seen,

After wandering around the city for about an hour our hosts arrived and we followed their automobile to their farm on the outskirts of a village with the pleasantly sounding name of Tamai.
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A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN VERONA:

 

The train ride from Sacile to Verona was relatively uneventful. Traveling by train is my favorite way to go. I find train stations far more comfortable than airline terminals, don’t you? I mean, despite all the time and motion studies and the ergonomic designs that go into the building of a modern airport, an old train station with their hard wooden benches and old train station smells seem much more comfortable than any airport I have been in — except perhaps for Singapore.

I like standing around in train stations or on the platforms watching people walk about or disembark or board trains. I don’t think much about whatever I see going on around me. I never wonder, for example, where all these people are going to or coming from or why. No, I just watch hoping to see something odd or entertaining.

Come to think of it, I may be one of the oddest things around. Here I am, an old man, older than almost anyone in the crowd passing by, taller than most here in Italy, frightfully skinny like an oddly dressed cadaver, a hunched back becoming more Quasimodo like by the day, a long dour face resembling some ancient sad-faced bloodhound with jowls plunging below its jaw, dressed in a loud Hawaiian shirt, a sweat-stained straw hat on my head, ill-fitting shades and carrying a cane shaped like a shillelagh — Odd I seem, odd indeed.

Verona — As tourist destinations and cities in Italy go, Verona is an also-ran. It never amounted to much. Even during the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, when Italy in these parts was jumping, Verona nestled comfortably in the shadow of its wealthier and more powerful neighbors. It has, however, a few archeological and artistic treasures of note including a bitchin Roman amphitheater and some fine medieval castles and palazzos to attract the well-heeled tourist.

Most of whatever Verona has to draw the curious visitor it owes to two rather shallow young men and a rather idiotic pair of doomed lovers — all figments of the fertile imagination of a bald-headed English playwright. That’s right, people come from all over the world to Verona to see what never existed — a fiction. Even the greatest of the mad men of Madison Avenue would be hard pressed to top that.

Anyway, I booked into a hotel that billed itself as being a mere four kilometers from the old city and sporting a four-acre garden and at a price that seemed a bargain. I thought that would be great. I could enjoy the garden, take a taxi to visit the old city and save money. Unfortunately, the distance from downtown was somewhat of an under-exaggeration and a $20 taxi ride to boot.

After checking in, I had a delightful lunch in the hotel restaurant overlooking the pool. I ate an interesting pasta, a type that I had never eaten before. The noodles were tightly wrapped pieces of dough about an inch long and quite thin. It made for a very chewy noodle. I think they are called “sparrow.” The pasta was served with a tomato and eggplant sauce. It was quite good.
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Following lunch, I strolled around the gardens. Feeling good about my meal and enjoying my walk, I decided to skip Bolzano, skip visiting the old town of Verona and stay here for the next few days lounging about the pool, walking through the gardens and eating. Having reached that decision, I then returned to my room and promptly made a reservation for new lodging the next day in the heart of old town. With that all behind me, I showered, napped and later ate a dinner beginning with mussels, followed by a pasta in a white sauce with peas and asparagus and tiramisu for dessert. I also had one or more glasses of my beloved prosecco. Then, I returned to my room and went to sleep.

The following morning, just before I left for breakfast, noticed the large painting on the wall of my room that up until then I thought was some hotel commissioned impressionist paint splashing of a crooked vase — suddenly the subject matter of the painting became clear:
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I later checked into a B&B near the inner walls of the old town of Verona. While waiting for the owner of the place to show up and register me, I strolled over to the building that housed the supposed sarcophagus of poor little Juliet. Considering that her resting place remained unknown for 400 years until some enterprising Veronese came up with this one, I have my doubts. About one or two hundred years later, Dickens, after meeting the women in whose keeping the sarcophagus descended, described her as “clear-eyed.” Clear-eyed enough to spot a rube, I would imagine.

After a brief and unsuccessful attempt to connect into the “free” internet promised by the B&B, I set out to explore the town. I ate a lunch of a rather undistinguished risotto at a restaurant on the large plaza near the ruins of the bitchin old Roman Colosseum. Then I strolled around, saw Juliet’s house and searched for poor old Romeo’s home. No luck, the tourist maps were unhelpful and misleading, nevertheless, I enjoyed poking about the alleyways of the old town. I then returned to the B&B for a nap before dinner.
IMG_4813         The Roman Amphitheater and some Thai woman in a red dress trying to avoid having her picture taken.
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The Adige River with the old Roman Theater at the base of the hill in the background.

IMG_4818                                              The famous and well–photographed balcony with an old Roman ruin in the foreground.

After again attempting to connect with the internet and getting the same results, I left for dinner. I looked for a neighborhood away from the tourist centers and a restaurant with older pot-bellied waiters and with a clientele that spoke mostly Italian. I found one. It specialized in fish. I ordered cod in an interesting brown gravy and a side of well-made polenta and a glass of prosecco. I enjoyed myself immensely. After a tasty creme brûlée to finish off the meal, I left the restaurant for a walk before heading back to my room. For the most part, there was only me walking the streets in that part of town — just me and the silence except for the sound of my walking stick clacking on the pavement and the thrum of a motor scooter off in the distance. Now and then, I would see someone scurry across the street or cross a darkened intersection. I enjoyed myself as I walked while the gloaming passed into night.

 
B. BACK IN LOMBARDY — WELL NOT EXACTLY, MORE LIKE BACK AND FORTH:

The morning after breakfast, I walked to the train station and purchased a ticket to Milan. Because I had some time before my train departed, I decided to enjoy a second cup of coffee and a brioche con crema. This was to be my first mistake of many I was to make that day. You see, I misread the ticket and thought the arrival time at Milano was the departure time at Verona. I missed the train. I had to buy another ticket because my original one was for reserved seating and the express. The next train was a local, more cattle car than a train. I bought the ticket anyway.

Among the interesting things, I observed as we rode along was the young woman all smiles and enthusiasm who eagerly attempted to engage in conversation with the young man sitting opposite us. He was most likely a student, deeply engrossed in a book of mathematics. He answered her persistent queries with one-word responses or grunts until he realized what she was up to, blushed, and closed the book. The rest of the trip involved lengthy and animated conversations about train travel and railroads mostly. As the train approached her stop, the young woman announced it sadly and they both hurriedly went on about how fortunate it was to meet each other, how much they enjoyed the conversation and the hope that they would meet again. Alas, neither asked the critical question, “What is your telephone phone number.” It is because of this reticence that many a promising relationship goes unfulfilled. If only Romeo and Juliet had been this timid they could have lived, married others and populated the world with even more blushing lovers — alas. The young woman rose from her seat, stood there for a moment looking forlorn, then turned and got off the train.

Now, with that bit of theater behind me, things got more interesting, but not in the way I would have liked. You see, the person I was to meet who I have been warned not to mention and whom I shall hereafter refer to only as N, was to pick me up at the Milan train station, but on account of that prime mistake, I would now be grossly late. I attempted to call him but I discovered my phone no longer worked, only giving me back several unsatisfying machine responses to my frantic calls and messages.

I arrived at the station and of course, N was not there. Now, I am not going to list each and every one of the cascades of wrong decisions that ensued from my original mistake. You can pick them out yourselves. Anyway, I first decided on another cup of coffee to calm my nerves and to wait there in the train station cafe savoring the espresso and hoping N would decide to return one last time to see if I had arrived. After finishing my coffee, I tried reaching others on my phone in an effort to secure assistance for my plight with the same results as I had trying to contact N. That is, nothing except machine speak. I then decided to find an ATM and withdraw some money in case I had to spend the night. The damned machine merely responded “unauthorized.” I, of course, told myself I obviously was not panicking as I began trying everything I could think of including begging the damned machine for some money — all to no avail. I then thought, cleverly I believed, that I could use a pay phone to call up my bank, call N, and call my carrier and clear everything up and save the day. I asked in several shops if they could direct me to a pay phone. Ha! I learned that in our wireless world, pay phones no longer exist (at least not in Milano). I then began asking people in the station to call N on their smart-phones in the hope that he would respond, pick me up and drive me to his apartment where I could use his computer to fix my modern communication generated crisis.

Unfortunately, there was no answer. I continued this every five minutes or so asking startled and suspicious travelers to call — All unsuccessful. It was then I realized with horror, in this modern age anyone without internet access is a non-person. So, here I was, In the Milano Centrale (Mussolini’s great architectural work) penniless, homeless and destitute. I found the predicament quite energizing and in its own way romantic.

After another hour or so of thought and indecision, I decided to search through all my pockets and my luggage hoping I would find enough odd coinage to pay my way back to Sacile. I did find enough, bought a ticket, hopped on the train and about seven hours later popped off at the Sacile station in the dark of night. Not being able to call Vittorio, I made my way to Hank’s house. Although it was late and Camille earlier that day had injured herself and was recuperating, he graciously let me use his internet connection and assisted me in dealing with my problems until sometime after midnight things seemed back to normal. They let me stay the night there and the next morning I again traveled across northern Italy. This made three times in two days I made that damned trip.

I thought it was obvious my phone had been hacked in Verona. (“Hacked in Verona,” a movie starring John Goodman as an aging, fat, inept, hacker hiding out in Verona because of his erroneous belief he was being hunted by the police of several nations. Frances McDormand plays the Interpol receptionist dedicated to tracking him down to let him know that, in fact, no one was looking for him. She locates him in a one-room attic apartment two doors away from the “Juliet” house. They fall in love and she moves into the apartment. The film was so successful that its two stars were contracted to appear in its sequel, “Malaise in Verona.” — OK Peter the ball is in your court.)

 

C. ST. MORITZ AND MORE ALPS THAN ONE CAN HANDLE:

At three the next morning N and I left to travel to Milano Centrale to catch the 6AM train to Tirano near the Swiss border in order to take the famous tourist train that climbs from there into the Alps and on to St. Moritz and beyond. The train to Tirano passed along the edge of Lake Como and into the mountains. At Tirano, we boarded the amazing train (a World Heritage something or other) that climbs the Alps summer and winter. When we arrived at St. Moritz, we had an excellent lunch at some upscale restaurant. Next to us was a table of six or seven youngish men (Anyone in their 30”s and 40’s I consider young) three of whom sported prison tats including the obvious leader (he paid the bill), a swarthy man with wavy black hair and sunglasses that he never took off. N overhearing some of their conversations said they discussed something about the clothing industry but confirmed they were those people you usually deny having seen. After lunch and a brief walk along the lake, we returned to the train and began the ride down the Alps. We arrived back at N’s apt at about 12 midnight.

I took a lot of photographs. These are some:

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The Alps.
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St. Moritz.

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More Alps.

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Still more Alps with a town in the valley.
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Even more Alps. This time with the World Heritage train in the foreground.

The next day, we slept late and went for a walk of about three miles from Busto to another town where we had a coffee, watched the World Cup and then walked back. Later that evening, because it was my last day before returning to Sacile, we decided to have dinner at one of the best restaurants in the area. It was Monday and the restaurant was closed as were the eight or so other restaurants we tried. We ended up eating at a fast food place located in a twenty-four-hour supermarket.

The following morning, I left at 5AM for my fourth trip across Italy in the past three days and my fifth since I arrived in the country. It must qualify for the Guinness Book of Records.

 

D. BACK IN THE VENETO:

At about 1PM, I exited the train at Sacile. After a brief stop at Lucia’s for a prosecco, I sat at a cafe in the piazza and ate a lunch of barley salad and ground meat in zucchini along with an iced white tea and cranberry. For dessert, I had a delicious chocolate ice cream drink. Hank found me there and offered to let me stay at his apartment until we leave for Croatia. I thought it was a good idea because it would relieve Vittorio and Anita of the burden of hosting me while also caring for the two women. I would miss Topo Tamai though.
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They put me up in a wonderful garret type room above their apartment with a long sloping ceiling, a large bed with old wood carved headboards and three windows with views across the orange-tiled roofs of the town and into the pre-alps off in the distance.
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The next morning following a breakfast go cappuccino and brioche at Lucia’s, Hank and I drove off towards the old American air-force base at Aviano have lunch with to have lunch with some friends. Along the way, we stopped at a local winery so that Hank could by some wine for household use. Their best wines were arrayed several large barrels. Attached to each barrel was a hose from with you could draw the wine contained their in into your own bottles at About $1.50 a liter.

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We were joined at lunch by a retired American Army officer and his wife who used to be the American military historian assigned to the base. While eating a delightful meal (I reprised the pasta I enjoyed so much in Verona) we talked of many things, where we came from, what brings us here in northern Italy, favorite books, dinner plans and so one. The historian and I discussed Naida’s trilogy. She appeared eager to read it and wrote down its name.

After lunch, Hank drove me to the two headwaters of the Livenza River, the river that flows through Sacile and into the Adriatic. A river that had been a major trade route for over 7000 years since Neolithic times. ( As a side note, perhaps twenty years or so, after reading the book “The Nine Daughters of Eve” I had my mitochondria analyzed by the geneticist author and found my penultimate mother to have been born somewhere around here about 15,000 years ago). The entire river is generated by springs under the mountain. The first source is this spectacular turquoise pool fed by water from the caves beneath the cliff. Divers have gone down up to 250 feet to find the source of the water with no success. If you look closely at the center of the photograph there is a submerged statue of the Christ facing the cave from which some of those divers never emerged.

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The second headwater emerges directly from the rocks at the bottom of the photograph below and alone creates the river you see in the picture.
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That evening Hank, Camille and I went to a restaurant in a nearby town that specialized in fish dishes. We were joined by the couple with whom we had lunch, an Italian gentleman who, as it was explained to me, was the wealthy owner of a local winery, and another couple, a retired contractor for the Defense Department and his wife a very engaging woman from Madrid. I ate a spaghetti with tiny clams and a salad and for dessert a melted ice-cream and vodka drink.

The next day was market day in Sacile. The stalls were set up along the streets throughout the central part of the town. After a cappuccino and a brioche, I set off to wander through the market and the town. I walked over bridges I had never crossed before, down streets I had never traveled before, past restaurants I had never eaten in, past town walls I had never passed before, and took photographs of views I had never seen before. I was both happy and a little sad. Happy to see all these new things and sad because at my age who knows if I shall ever pass this way again.
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Then back to Lucia’s for a prosecco and water with a little ice and lemon and then off to pack and to nap.

Tomorrow we are off to Croatia.
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E. NEWS STRAIGHT OR SLIGHTLY BENT:

Besides the World Cup, the news here these past few days have been dominated by the plight of the 12 member Thai teenage soccer team and their coach that had been trapped in a cave for about 10 days. Through the efforts of an international rescue team, they were eventually found miraculously all still alive. The coverage is ongoing since the students have been determined to be too weak to move according to medical personnel with the rescue team and must remain in the cave for another week or so.

Meanwhile, the media being so preoccupied with the rescue and the World Cup completely missed the news of Trump’s appointment of Vladimir Putin as the US Secretary of State, putting him third in line for the Presidency. When queried about how Putin could ascend to the Presidency of the US given the Constitution’s requirement that the President be a natural born American citizen, the administration’s spokesperson stated that a birth certificate recently had been discovered showing Putin was born in Tennessee, the child of two Russian double agents working in the US at the time. When asked when the birth certificate would be available for review, it was explained that it was in the President’s possession and would be released when he releases his tax returns. Reports that Vice-president Pence and Speaker Ryan, the two people in line for the presidency before Putin have recently hired a team of food tasters and doubled their security detail cannot be confirmed at this time. The President, in announcing the appointment, said that he, Trump, was the greatest President and leader of a nation in all of human history and that Vladimir Putin was “a good guy,” “very trustworthy,” “a true lover of democracy” and a “friend of the United States.” Trump also said of Putin that, “All the prettiest girls in Russia love him almost as much as they do me.”

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A. POOKIE PREPARES FOR A VOYAGE.

 

In two days, I will fly off to Italy and stay there for about six weeks. On one hand, it is no big deal — you know, been there done that — although I hope to visit a few places I have not seen before. On the other hand, I have passed my do by date and the immortal stage hand’s sweaty fingers await the directors signal to draw the final curtain. — — Well, that is a little bit overdramatic. Actually, age tires most of us out. It certainly does me. Sometimes, watching the sunrise and the sunset seems to be a pretty cool experience and quite enough for me for that day and if I want to laugh or cry, a smartphone can do wonders for connecting with relatives and friends who live far away,

Just before I began writing this, I noticed an article entitled the Meaning of Life saved on my desktop for some long forgotten reason. It gives a brief discussion of what each major religion or philosophical school believes that meaning to be. I thought about what I had read and tried to figure out what it means to me. The best I could come up with is: if I feel good, then life is good and if I don’t feel so good, then it’s not so good.

I think that makes me an epicurean or a Monte Pythonian. The latter postulated the “Meaning of Life” that it is:

“Well, it’s nothing very special. Uh, try to be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try to live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”

Hmm, I think I like that — the answer to any inquiry about what or who you are — “I am a Monty Pythonian.” Works for me.

The Saturday before departure, Naida and I attended the morning coffee held every Saturday by our section of the Enchanted Forest HOA. One of the women who seemed in charge announced the birthdays of those in attendance at the coffee and the deaths of those who were not. Another woman, several years older than I named Winnifred (Winnie), engaged me in conversation. I later learned she found me “interesting.” Perhaps, I can become a geriatric boy toy. I also had a spirited discussion with Naida, another woman and a retired teacher regarding the persecution of Native Americans, a subject the retired teacher will be lecturing on at something called The Renaissance Society, an adult education organization at the nearby university. Could I be becoming acculturated to the senior community of the Enchanted Forest? I can envision myself eventually becoming like some elderly elve strolling among the trees with the other ancient elves talking of shoes, ships, candlewax and whatever.

 

B. ACROSS THE LAND AND OVER THE SEA.

 
Travel may be annoying at times but almost always interesting. For example, while loading for my flight from New York to Milano, a little old lady (younger than me I think) struggled to put her exceedingly heavy suitcase in the overhead bin across the aisle from me. I jumped up and helped her stow it. She then went into the restroom. A young man wearing an NY Police Department tee shirt then came along and tried to get his luggage into the same bin in which the old lady had put her suitcase (there were plenty of other empty bins). He could not fit it in. Frustrated, he ripped the woman’s suitcase out of the bin and threw it on the floor. “Hey,” I said, “What the fuck do you think you are doing?” ( just so you will not confuse my action for senseless chivalry: One, I was still p.o.’d from the unpleasant twelve hours I had sat in the airport’s departure lounge and Two, it takes me only a few hours of being in NY to acculturate myself to its mores and manner of interpersonal colloquy). “I’m sitting here,” he said in Italian pointing to the seat directly under the bin. “The bin is mine. It has the same number,” he added this time indicating the row number. As we faced off, LOL emerged from the toilet, eyed her suitcase on the floor, quickly took in the prancing bulls locking horns and with an annoyed snort, hauled the suitcase off the floor, slammed it into an empty bin and took her seat next to mine. The young man and I glanced at one another and sheepishly returned to our seats never to look at one another again during the entire flight.

I arrived early morning in New York’s Kennedy Airport. I was listed standby for the flight to Milano. Unfortunately, the plane was overbooked so I had to wait twelve hours to be admitted into the departure area. During that time, I mostly sat and stared. I tried to eat a hot dog while I waited for my Mac and iPhone to recharge. As with the last two times, I tried to eat a hot dog, a piece lodged in my throat and I ended up spitting bits of the dog across the table. Instead of wondering whether I was going to die as I usually do, I wondered how embarrassed I was going to be. Not much as it turned out. I was back home in New York after all.

 
C. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN LOMBARDY OR MORE ACCURATELY THE LACK THEREOF.

 

I landed in Milano. Nikki met me there and immediately announced he was leaving the following morning for Thailand despite the fact that he urged me to travel early so that we could spend some time together. I said, “Tell me, Nikki, isn’t it true that as soon as SWAC heard we were going to spend some time together she told you to leave immediately because she needed you to deliver some cheese and salami to her bar in Thailand.” After a short period of prevaricating, he agreed that was pretty much what happened. As Vitorio pointed out a few days later when I told him the story, “Nikki’s mind turns to mush whenever he talks to the SWAC.” Despite this minor flaw, he remains one of my dearest friends and can make the dreariest of days delightful.

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Nikki and Pookie having coffee at a restaurant in Busto a town near Milano.

The next morning, following some delicious pastry at a local cafe bakery, I left for Sacile by train. I was not particularly unhappy. As I said, it is the annoyances that make travel interesting. On the other hand, I could just as well have stayed home and fallen down the stairs and get to enjoy the same experience without having to fly half-way around the world.

 

D.TAMAI AND SACILE — IN THE HEART OF THE VENETO.
IMG_4776Tamai and Sacile sit on the fertile flat plains of the Veneto that lie just beneath the rise of the pre-Alps jutting into the sky.

 
After a good night’s sleep and a breakfast of coffee and toast, I walked the half-mile or so into Tamai the small village that sits in the middle of the farm country it serves — Its church bell tower rising higher than anything else. The bell tower used to provide the farmworkers in the fields with the time, now it serves as the romantic focal point for this scenic northern Italian town in the Veneto.
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I walked past well-tended houses on their half an acre to acre lots, fruit trees and vegetable gardens co-existing with clipped lawns and florid flower gardens. Behind the houses stretched the farmland all a deep green with vineyards, corn, and alfalfa fields. The latter two secondary crops are grown to feed the meat and dairy products industry somewhere else in the Veneto.

It used to be that these farmlands were owned and worked on by those who lived in those nice well-maintained houses. With the aging of the farmers and changes in the industry, the fields were leased out or sold by the owners of those houses and are now farmed by industrial conglomerates whose offices are located in the big city financial centers. In the well-tended houses, many of the aging farmers still live. Their children, however, have gone to seek employment in those same financial centers. When I look around me I think of how well these communities would serve as ideal senior communities — but then again they already are.

I had coffee and a delicious pastry at the New Life Cafe one of the two cafes in the town. After an hour or so, I left and walked to the other cafe, the Central Tamai Bar, and had another coffee and pastry and then walked back to the farmhouse and took a nap. As I was falling asleep, I contemplated the benefits of traveling four days from where I can enjoy a comfortable nap any time I want, to someplace else where I do the same thing. I decided, it is much sweeter as a reward.

IMG_4718Pookie at the New Life Cafe in Tamai

 
That evening, Vittorio, Anita and I went to a cafe we often visit when I am in town. It is a place where musicians frequently congregate although there was no music that night as everyone was watching Croatia defeat the heavily favored team from Argentina in their World Cup match.
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Anita and Vittorio at the cafe.

 

A few days went by until Professor Hank (Hank Schwartz — “Black Henry” in English) and his wife, Camille, the couple I would be traveling with to Croatia and Calabria, arrived and met us at Lucia’s Le Petit Cafe (the happiest place on earth) for several morning glasses of Prosecco.

Hank is an economics professor at some college in New Jersey and a staunch, if gentle, Republican. He and I had a lighthearted discussion of current American and Italian politics. Italy is going through a similar collapse of the body politic as the US (although they are more used to it). The North has succumbed to the argument of the radical right that they are being invaded by hoards of black people landing on their beaches (alas, In this case, building a wall would be impractical). They also have accepted the canard that the Italian South receives an unfair amount of government handouts and its people are lazy and corrupt (corrupt perhaps, but lazy, no. Good corruption requires significant effort). This is a little different than here in America where the South also receives more governmental handouts. But in that case, the people are corrupt, lazy and stupid too. Unlike the Sicilians, Southerners in America tend to vote in favor of politicians committed to ending their gravy train as long as they also harm other people who they do not like.

I asked one man who was making the point about how southern Italians were receiving an unfair amount of the nation’s tax revenues how he would feel if the situation was reversed and the Veneto was destitute as it had been at times in the past. He said he was all for one part of the country assisting the other during a time of need, but in this case, it was too much.
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Camille, Lucia, Black Henry and Past Primetime Pookie.

 

 

That night we gathered at Teacher Brian’s house. There were four couples and me — Hank and his wife Camille, Vitorio and Anita, a pilot for Air Italy named Alessio and his girlfriend, and Brian and his wife who he met in Korea when he taught at the American Embassy there. We had a good time. For the first time in two years, I was able to drink too much (Prosecco, Grappa, a Japanese Grappa like drink, etc.)

The next day I strolled around Sacile, one of my favorite places on earth. IMG_4761

A view of Sacile

 

They were having their once a month Flea market in the Town Square. I enjoyed rummaging around in Italian garbage as a change from rummaging through American garbage as I do at Denio’s in Roseville. Italians seem to like to throw out a lot of old coins and old letters. At Denio’s, the refuse is predominately toys, clothing and old tools.

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Market day in Sacile.

 

Later I went to Professor Hank’s apartment where we planned our trip. First to Croatia for two days, then the long drive through Italy to Matera stopping two nights along the way. At one of the stops, we reserved rooms in a nice hotel high on a hill overlooking the Bay of Naples. Then off to Maratea on the Calabrian coast and spending the night at the Altamonte hotel where according to Hank they serve “the best Calabrian food in the world.” Then, the next morning, off to Cosenza where I stay the night before boarding the train for Sicily.
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A View of Sacile from Professor Hank’s apartment.

 

Today I learned I have a mouse that shares my room with me. I am staying in the family room in the basement of Vitorio’s house in Tamai. I sleep on a temporary cot that sits low to the floor. At eye level, to my left, as I lie on my bed is a bench. Periodically, the mouse scampers along the bench, stops to check on me, then satisfied that I am ok scurries back to wherever he came from.

During my morning walk today into Tamai and back, I took a path through the town I had not taken before. Although the town has no more than six or eight streets, I found it contained a surprisingly modern and well-equipped sports stadium. Following my morning coffee in the New Life Cafe and a prosecco at the Central, I returned to Vitorio’s for lunch where for the first time in my life I tasted fried chicken blood. It was not as bad as it sounds.

This morning, I awoke much earlier than I should. I laid in bed waiting for my friend the mouse to check up on me. I have named him Topo Tamai, the Mouse of Tamai. By the way, in case you are interested, Tamai refers to the containers or barns in which you store cow dung until it can be used as fertilizer. I guess you could call the town “Compost.” At least that is not as bad as Booger Hole, West Virginia or Toad Suck, Arkansas.

Vittorio and Anita provide care for his 94-year-old mother and his 83-year-old mentally retarded diabetic aunt. Both women are confined to wheelchairs but eat all meals with us. Every morning at about 7:30 Vitorio’s two sisters arrive like the Marines at Iwo Jima. They burst through the door, wash, dress and strap the two woman into their respective wheelchairs. Then they strip the beds, clean the rooms, deposit the women at the table for breakfast and are out of the house by 8 o’clock. I am impressed by their synchronized efficiency.

Tomorrow I leave for Verona and perhaps Bolzano before returning to Milano for four days. Then I come back here and set off for Croatia.

I left the house at about 9:30 this morning. It was beautiful outside — the temperature almost perfect, the mountains glistening like silver ingots lying on blue silk, the few clouds fleecy and pure white floated around the peaks, the fields a deep dark green and flowers everywhere. It was that beauty that makes you believe that if you had the choice of all the places in the world to be at that moment, you would choose here — for a few minutes at least, perhaps an hour or so. Pure beauty if held for more than a few minutes is a form of death or at least ennui.

I walked into Tamai. I stopped at the New Life this morning for coffee and a brioche. Instead of my morning prosecco at Central, I strolled along a different road, one that led out of town to the east. I soon came across a bridge over a pretty little stream. I walked along the banks of the stream through a copse of trees much larger than I had seen in the area before. Eventually, I came to another road and followed it back to Vitorio’s for lunch.
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Then, off to Verona.

 

 

E. A LITTLE BIT OF SNARK.
Verona the city of Romeo and Juliet, two dimwitted self-absorbed children living in a completely insane society. They should have been kept under lock and key instead of allowed to hang out under balconies looking for sex or prowling about at night getting into switchblade fights or rifling the medicine cabinet for drugs. Rather than “But soft, what light through younger window breaks,” Romeo could just as well have recited Hamlet’s palaver with old Yorick’s skull — “to die to sleep, to sleep perchance to dream.” Wasn’t that really the choice these pre-adolescent half-wits were given — to die or to sleep, to be or not to be?

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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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