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A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN SICILY — GETTING THERE IS HALF THE FUN:

Following a delightful breakfast of coffee, brioche and a fried egg with pepper chips, we set off to Cosenza and the train station. After a series of the usual misadventures and annoyances, I boarded the train to Sicily. It was the same cattle car I remember from years ago when I used to take the dolorous train from Sicily to Rome, a train carrying the impoverished Sicilians to jobs in the North (Sicilian Il Norte) — standing room only for the 13-hour trip. This time there were no impoverished workers going north, but many not particularly impoverished people going south for whatever reason. Passengers still were standing in the aisles and sitting on one another’s laps. My reserved seat was among a group of young women and families going somewhere in the same direction I was. They did not appreciate my expropriation of the seat one member of the group occupied. She then continued the trip sitting in the lap of an older man accompanying them or walking up and down the aisles.

I was also disturbed by the loud braying voice of one of the men traveling with that particular group. I could not make up my mind if he was a “cafone” ( loud, ignorant and oblivious) or “pazzo” (crazy). I decided it was a little bit of both. Even those traveling with him seemed to either humor or ignore him. When the women next to me left the train at Messina, I moved into her seat by the window. He sat down next to me and began to fling his arms about, pester me with questions and opinions and generally acted grievously obnoxious. I seriously considered braining him with my cane. But, long checkered experience in dealing with situations like this has taught me to act like I understand nothing about the language, am old and feeble and a little bit addled and confused (which is not too hard to do at my age). Inevitably, they either give up in frustration or some woman comes to my aid and drives them off. It happened like that here. The women in the group began to yell at him and told him to stop bothering me. The high point of the trip other than when he got off the train was the crossing of the Straits of Messina on the train ferry.
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Scylla and Charybdis. (The Straits of Messina)

 

The trains were decoupled and stacked into the hold of the ferry. We disembarked the train and climbed to the top decks where we could sit, walk around, buy snacks and enjoy the half hour or so trip across the straits.

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The train ferry.

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Messina.

 
We disembarked at Messina. They reassembled the cars into several trains depending on their destination. Ours set out for Catania. Along the way, we passed Taormina and Mt, Etna blowing out smoke from its caldera.
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Mt. Etna.

 

I changed trains at Catania, boarding one for Caltanissetta where I expected to change trains once again to take me to my final destination, Canicatti the ancestral home of my mother’s family. Unfortunately, after arriving at Caltanissetta, while attempting to read the train schedule to find out from which track my connection would leave even though there was only one other train at the station, that train, my connection, left with me running after it banging at the side of the cars until it left me standing at the end of the platform forlorn and alone as the train disappeared into the distance.

I was truly alone and forlorn when I realized I was not at the train station in downtown Caltanissetta as I had thought, but in an almost derelict and abandoned station far out in the countryside at the end of an unpaved and weed overgrown dead end road — and the night was descending. It seems that that station was used only for passengers to disembark from the express train to Palermo and catch the now departed train to Caltanissetta Central and Canicatti. So I called up Antonio and asked him to come and save me. He good-naturedly agreed and explained it would take at least 45 minutes for him to get there. So, I stood there in the gloom and watched hoards of swallow type birds flitter through the sky in search of those insects who dare to come out at dusk, while a hawk sat calmly on a phone wire contemplating tonight’s dinner. A group of young men arrived driving a truck containing a jitney type vehicle in the back, They met some other men who came from somewhere I did not notice although one drove up in an old car with cardboard covering a broken window. They took the jitney down from the truck bed and began pushing it up a hill toward an abandoned building. The jitney got away from them and began rolling down the hill sending the men running in every direction. It then tipped over and skidded to the bottom of the hill. I thought I was watching a Buster Keaton silent film. They then all stood around — wondering what to do, I guess. I never found out what happened next because Antonio arrived and drove me to his home.

During the ride, I noticed much of the highway between Caltanissetta and Canicatti that they had been building two or three years ago when I had last been here has been completed. It is exceptionally lavish. Where it is not elevated it is tunneled. To construct the tunnels they first tear down the hill. Then they build the tunnel. Then they put the hill back on top of the tunnel. I’m not kidding.

When I first arrived in Sicily, now about 50 years ago, although the modern technology of the time, telephone, automobiles, television and the like had been well established but much of the social life of the people remained medieval — Marriages were arranged, dowries negotiated, crime of honor legal and common, crime organized, autocrats vicious, noble families if not admired then respected and government remote and rapacious. It was a place for travelers, not tourists, for those that traveled with no schedules expecting discomfort, not those with schedules, sights to see and an expectation of basic comforts. Yet, despite their suspicion of strangers, the people were welcoming when that suspicion waned, the food good, the wines better and the climate benign.

Since then, most of that has changed, the young are more independent (although my female cousins, PHDs all, will not leave the island even for brief periods without their mother’s consent), suspicion lessened, crime diminished, noble families dispersed and the government still corrupt but no longer remote. The food has not yet been completely homogenized to suit the food production industry and the wines are perhaps even better and while tourism has become accepted, old historical sights cleaned up and new ones developed, it is still not as easy to get around, make schedules and enjoy pure luxury (Taormina and a few other places accepted — but it was always like that). On the other hand, there are few places that afford the wanderer such a variety of experience, even ones that are not so good but, on the other hand, rarely so bad either.

My visits to Canicatti and to Antonio’s house are neither as a tourist or a traveler, but is simply returning home. As I grew older, I found, at least for me, there is no one “home,” a principle place of residence perhaps, but many homes identified by the fact that there reside, people, I love and like to be with. In Antonio’s case, there is also the food and the wine.

 

 

 

 

B. ANTONIO’S — THE FIRST NIGHT.

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A view of Canicatti. Antonio’s house is behind the tree on the left.

 

We arrived in Canicatti my mother’s ancestral home and drove on to Antonio’s house at the edge of the town. After getting settled in my room and meeting the new houseboy, a young man from Bangladesh whose name I cannot remember (Friday, the previous houseboy from Nigeria, left to sell shoes in Venice), Antonio suggested a light snack before retiring. I agreed. Here it is:

 

The first course, lamb stew piccante in tomato sauce.
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The second course, arancini con panel.
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The third course, melanzane parmigiana.
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The Fourth course, Pasta Norma.
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The Dessert, local berries, and lemon granita. All accompanied by wonderful red and white local wines and finished off with Limoncello and grappa.

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C. ANTONIO’S — DAY TWO

The next day, following breakfast and a brief nap, I went for a walk. By that time most Sicilians had returned to their beds for their afternoon siesta. Antonio worried about me walking around during the hottest part of the day. He insisted I carry my phone and call him if I passed out from the heat.

It was hot. Antonio’s home stands at the border of the rural area and the commercial-industrial area of the town. I chose to walk into the rural lands. I walked along a mostly white stone covered unpaved road through some olive groves. The sun’s glare reflected off the white road hurt my eyes even though I was wearing dark glasses. Reaching the end of the road I was traveling on and sweating a lot, I decided to return to the house and take a nap until dinner — and so I did.
IMG_5424Through the olive groves.

 

There were two couples and me at dinner. One couple from Germany traveling with a two-year-old boy, an inveterate explorer, were staying the week. The other, a delightful older English couple, were only staying the night. What follows is the meal:

 

The first course, four different local goat cheeses with a suitable different (local) fruit preserve on each,

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The second course, ripe fig from Antonio’s garden with speck, local goat ricotta with fruit preserve and fried squash blossoms.
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The Third and fourth courses were the same melanzane parmigiana and arancini as I had the previous night except I learned the parmesan cheese had been replaced with a local cheese.

 

The Fifth course, a soup, the ingredients of which I no longer recall, perhaps seafood
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The Sixth course, mixed fresh local seafood and a vegetable of some sort.
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The Seventh course, local fish, the name of which I missed, cooked in an olive, caper and tomato sauce.
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The Dessert, the same local berries and lemon granita as I enjoyed last night followed by a flute of different local berries and a different granite. I have eliminated the photo here out of pure exhaustion.

We also drank copious amounts of delicious red and white wines from a vineyard located closer to Agrigento (Antonio seems to feel something grown ten or so miles away as not fitting his definition of “local.”) And of course, limoncello and grappa. We all got very drunk and began telling each other our deepest darkest secrets. Ok maybe not our deepest and darkest, we never tell those even when drunk, but we certainly told those that we would otherwise be embarrassed if anyone but our dearest friends knew about them.

I guess I should write a little something about Sicilian cuisine — at least as I understand it. It is not simply indigenous recipes made from fresh local products improved over the centuries by the addition of spices, condiments, and recipes to overcome whatever deficiencies existed in the local agricultural products. It is also a cuisine that requires the reuse of food not consumed the previous day, not by simply reheating leftovers, but as foundational elements in completely new recipes. Another element of the cuisine is its adoption and development of the tremendous variety of deserts and sweets gifted to them by the Muslim community that ruled the island for so many centuries. Finally, the use of sweet liquors in Sicily, like in much of southern Italy, appears to be some sort of a religious ritual to celebrate a meal well cooked and well eaten.

Note: I will no longer post photographs of each course I enjoy since that would extend this issue of T&T beyond tolerable limits.

 

D. ANTONIO’S — DAY THREE:

This morning, I decided to go into Canicatti to walk around, search out places I remembered from when I lived here 50 years ago and also do a little shopping. Antonio drove me to the center of the town and I set off walking.

Canicatti is not a tourist city, there is nothing to see here. Monuments built by the rich and famous are usually reserved for the hilltops where they lived in their grand villas and palaces. Canicatti, set in a broad agricultural valley, has always been a commercial town for the sale and distribution of agricultural products. It looks grubby but is actually more prosperous than it appears.

I found the park where my mother had told me she played in as a child before she was sent off at seven years old to America in the early Twentieth Century version of indentured servitude. It is now a scruffy little park. It was much grander fifty years ago when I first saw it.

I sat on a bench among other old men and listened to the harsh guttural tones of Sicilian that Marlon Brando mimicked in Godfather I. I wish I could say I thought deep thoughts as I sat there, but I didn’t.

I eventually left and walked through back alleys and streets looking for the cafe where I would sit with friends fifty years ago. The cafe with the bullet holes still in the walls. Bullet holes made by American soldiers in WWII in the Canicatti Massacre when the American commander lined up random citizens and had them shot as a punishment for the town harboring the Germans. The fact was, there never were any Germans there.

My friends and I would gather at the cafe and watch the white-suited Mafiosi stride into the place with their jackets draped over their shoulders and the furtive hand gestures among the other customers ringing as loudly as shouts. The cafe where I sat those long afternoons so long ago with Gigi, Piccolo Gaetano, and others. Alas, I think it is no more, swept up by the years like unwanted refuse.

I looked for the Landowner’s Social Club building that, so long ago, I sat in front of one afternoon with the Baron La Lomia, the head of the hereditary ruling family of the town, a fat overdressed little man with a great square beard who was making his annual appearance at his demesne. As each resident of the area would approach to pay their respects to the Baron, he would say to them “And, I would like you to meet my good friend Mr. Petrillo who traveled all the way from America to be with me today.” And, I would shake the hand of each person in that long line as they passed by. I could not find that place either. Did it exist and was eventually blown away as an anachronism like the dust and litter blowing around as I walk or was it simply my imagination? Who cares? There is no difference — imagination, memory, reality — all the same.

I also looked for the tiny park with the statue of the erstwhile patron saint of the town, the Blessed La Lomia, a missionary in Brazil killed by the natives who saw through the baloney he was trying to sell them. I could not find it. So I sat down outside of a little cafe across from the Church where I was to meet Antonio and ordered a coke and a lemon granita. I chose the cafe because the outdoor tables were shaded by a large tree and an awning.

Alas, I soon realized it was probably the place where the dregs of the town congregated. Those young people who lived at home had no job and wanted none. One table was occupied by a boisterous threesome, two young men, and a tiny young woman. One of the men would shout at me and make faces. The other young man and the tiny young woman would every now and then rise from their chairs and chase each other around the table, ending in a brief wrestling match. I do not know why they did it. A very large tattooed man carrying a beer came in, sat on a bench facing me, not more than three feet away, and stared at me for a long time, then declared “Hot isn’t it?” I agreed and responded, “Yes it is.” He continued to stare and sip his beer. Various people who seemed not in complete possession of their mental faculties would enter, wander around, and sometimes stand next to my table and stare at me. I loved it. The chances of anything dangerous happening was minuscule. Yet the frisson of excitement drove away any residual melancholy remaining from my walk around the town.

Dinner was the usual many course affair, a mixture of old and new. The new included a fava bean soup, crawfish and the melanzane parmigiana with capers and other savory items replacing the cheese. Dessert included cassata as well as the berry and granita dish.

At dinner tonight was an Argentine couple, Herman and Christina who live in Florida and run a business finding investment properties in the US for foreigners. They also have started up a treasure hunting business in Columbia to raise several sunken Spanish Galleons. The twist of this effort compared to other treasure hunting schemes is that instead of distributing the treasure to the investors as it is recovered which when attempted by traditional treasure hunts runs into severe legal and political problems, they intend to keep the treasure hoard intact, but use its value base for the creation of a new crypto-currency and pay the investors with the crypto-currency. Crazy perhaps. But, Trump made a career of persuading people to invest in much less and look where he ended up — the bitch for an insecure Russian autocrat who trapped him in a wired Moscow hotel room taking a golden shower.

As coincidence would have it, about twelve years ago, I had a small practice representing treasure hunters, almost all of whom failed. The dream never dies.

 

E. ANTONIO’S DAY FOUR:

Following another excellent breakfast, the Argentinian couple invited me to join them on a trip to the beach. They had asked Antonio to suggest a remote and secluded beach and he did — at a very remote and far distant location. We drove at least 40 miles before we turned off the main road and on to an unpaved track that wound its way through farmland with many abandoned farmhouses and a few appearing not so abandoned. We saw three maybe four very old men working in the fields, and a very old and hunchbacked shepherd driving a small flock of undernourished sheep — no-one else. At times, we drove through weed forests with the cane like stalks twice as high as the car cutting off all view. We drove for five or six miles up steep hills and through narrow canyons before we came to a dirt parking lot containing a few cars and a small shack with a somewhat rotund gentleman standing in front. He took our money and announced in very good English that it was at least a two-minute walk to a sandy beach where it was suitable for swimming which he called “Beach One.” “Beach Two,” he said, “was a ten-minute walk up the coast and was good for taking photographs but because it was rocky was not good for swimming but suitable for snorkeling.” Beach three he explained was a twenty-five-minute walk down the coast, but I forget what it was good for. We walked the allotted two minutes and came out of the towering weeds and saw a very attractive sandy beach containing a few bathers but still many more than I thought would ever chance the treacherous drive.
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Pookie at the beach.
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The Beach.

 
After setting up the umbrella in the sand, instead of going swimming, I abruptly announced I was going to hike the ten minutes to the photogenic beach, and then set off. I do not know why. I found a small weed overgrown path that seemed to climb up what appeared to be more than a hill but less than a mountain. After several minutes of climbing, huffing and puffing, and sweating profusely, I realized I was all alone on this steep rocky path that I knew not where it went, without water, becoming rapidly exhausted and convinced I was about to collapse. But like Scott in the Antarctic, foolishly pushing ahead only for the irrational pleasure of beating Amundsen, I went on. Like Scott, I thought I could beat Amundsen too,

I noticed the path was strewn with the bleached shells of snails. I could tell they were not laid down here due to some ancient geological catastrophe, they were strewn around not buried in rock hardened silt. I then imagined massive escargot eating rituals by Sicilian cultists in honor of Diana the Huntress every night of the full moon. But, finally decided they were simply the carcasses of egotistical land snails who believed they could make it across the blazing hot paths in the middle of the day and were fried for their arrogance. I picked up one desiccated bone white shell, put it in my pocket and continued struggling up the slope.

I little later, I came upon a single quill lying on the path. I stopped and stared at it and wondered what sort of quilled creature survived the five thousand year commitment by Sicilians to rid their island of every mammal except those they could domesticate and rats and mice. Unable to reach a conclusion, I picked it up and put it in my pocket too. I also picked up and pocked some interesting small stones and happily contemplated carrying them back home and washing them, not to study but to remind me that it was not a figment of my imagination that I chose to climb this damned path at midday.
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The Treasure.

 

Eventually, I reached the top and found myself on a high bluff overlooking a beach with no way down. I then realized I could have reached that same beach by simply walking a few feet from where I began and wading in ankle deep water around some rocks. Annoyed by this discovery, I began to retrace my steps. I was further annoyed when a family with two young children carrying beach equipment and towels jauntily passed me by having clearly enjoyed their morning at the ten-minute walk rocky photogenic beach.

When I returned to the Argentineans they were just packing up to leave. So, we left, renegotiated the weed jungle and drove another twenty miles or so to Sciacca to have lunch.
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The Photogenic beach?
Sciacca (pronounced Sha – ca) is a fairly large town on a hill near the water with an interesting if arcane history (look it up). At its base was a large working fishing port.
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The Port of Sciacca.
We entered a restaurant directly across the road from the port. It had a great view and served freshly caught fish. We chose our fish and from a comely waitress ordered them grilled and then ate them along with an extremely tasty salad.
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The fish.

 

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The comely waitress and the Argentinians.
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The cooked fish.

 

For dessert, I had cannoli made with local ricotta.
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The sacred cannoli.
On the way home, we came upon a traffic snarl caused by an electrical transmission wire having fallen across the road. There were no police or first responders anywhere so passengers would jump out of their cars hold the wire up over their heads while the driver drove the car through, then drop it and jump back into the car. Thinking I could be as brave and foolhardy as the women in the photograph below, I jumped out of our car, held the wire over my head until Herman drove under it and then jumped back into the car and we sped away. No, I did not die.
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The brave but foolhardy women of Sicily.

 
That night I played my first game of chess in 50 years with the German gentleman and I won. It took the sting out of Croatia’s loss in the World Cup final. There had been no meal prepared. Antonio was gone for the evening so we snitched some sausages he had cooking on the stove for tomorrows meal. I went to bed happy. It was a good day after all.

 

 

F. ANTONIO’S — DAY FIVE:

Today is my last full day here. Tomorrow, I fly to Milano and two days later back to the Enchanted Forest and Naida. I am both sad and eager to go. Sad because I feel so comfortable and relaxed here and eager to go because I feel too comfortable and relaxed here. Too much of a good thing can become irritating if it goes on too long.

After breakfast, I said goodbye to the Argentineans. Then Antonio, the Bangladesh houseboy and I left for Licata, a town on the coast, to buy some fresh fish for tonight’s meal. I pictured a large fish market open to the fishing boats tied up to the wharves, burly men pushing crates around slick cement floors while fishmongers in their stalls lined up their wares with military precision on beds of gleaming ice. It was not like that at all. It was more like a dope deal. First a stop on a remote road on the edge of the city for a telephone call. Then two more stops at gas stations for more calls. Then a wait in a cafe drinking espresso until a man arrived and engaged Antonio in a whispered conversation. Then we get back in the car and follow the man’s car through the back roads of the city until we both come to a stop on the side of the road and Antonio and the man get out of their cars and walk around a building and disappear for a fairly long while. Then Antonio returns with a small plastic bag that I presume contained the fish and we drove off returning the 50 or so kilometers to Canicatti.

Back in town, I asked Antonio to drop me off at the church so I could go to the bank and withdraw the money I would need to pay for my stay. The charges amounted to about $70 per day for the room, breakfast, and dinner and all the wine, grappa and limoncello one can drink. It is not so bad a deal when I consider that I probably drank $20 worth of alcoholic beverages each day.

After, withdrawing the money, I returned to strolling around the town looking for places I knew — no luck there. I then looked for the ice-cream shop I had spotted two days before that made the best ice–cream in the area — but it was closed. I then thought about walking up the hill to where my mother lived in a section of the city called the Borgo, the old center of the town before they filled in the stream from which the town got its name (Cane Brook, for the dense cane like plants that flourished along its banks. Wikipedia, on the other hand, says it comes from the Arabic word meaning “muddy ditch”). I thought it would be good to see my mom’s old house again. But, I looked up at the hill I would have to climb, felt the heat of the sun and concluded it was not going to happen on this trip, so, I chose to sit in a cafe on the main street drinking a very good chilled white wine and nibbling on the little snacky things they brought me. Around me sat a number of young men and women. The men all had beards and the women all had tattoos. In my day, the men all had beards also.

I napped the afternoon away.

That evening, my last here, Antonio made dinner for only him and me. There was a wonderful salad of vegetables picked that day from the garden including sweet onions all in a vinegar, olive oil, and pepper dressing. He also broke out his favorite local white wines from Canicatti. Since he was busy cooking I drank most of the wine.
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He indicated we were going to have a light dinner this evening. For pasta, he prepared a dish with zucchini and mushrooms.
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Zucchini and mushroom pasta.

 
Then came the fish course.
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Antonio with the fish.

 

I do not know if that was the fish we pursued that morning, but it seemed like a lot of fish for two people. It was cooked with oranges, capers, and tomatoes in olive oil. After, deboning and serving the fish, Antonio brought out another bottle of white wine from Canicatti vineyards. “This,” he said, “is the best white in Sicily and perhaps is all of Italy.” While the previous bottle was made from Grillo grapes, this he said was made from a blending of four local grape varieties.
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The Great White.


The white wines from Sicily I have tasted so far on this trip have been very smooth and suitable for drinking with food or alone. They seem to lack that slightly astringent aftertaste of other expensive white wines.

After the fish course and having downed most of two bottles of wine, I was —well drunk or at least well on my way.

Dessert was a cassata followed by an absolute smashing mulberry granita accompanied by limoncello (a lot of it) but no grappa.

I was helped off to bed and woke up the next morning with no hangover.

 
G. DEPARTURE

Breakfast, some puttering around packing and then Antonio drove me into town to catch the bus to the airport. Hugs and kisses all around. Then a two hour or so ride through an ofter relatively bleak and empty Sicilian countryside I arrived at the Airport waited for several hours and flew off to Milano.
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The Sicilian Countryside on the way to Catania.

 

 

 

 

 

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‘’ When the long nights would come long ago, the people of this and another village would gather together every night sitting beside the fire or wherever they could find room in the house. Many a device they would resort to shorten the night. The man who had a long tale, or the man who had the shorter tales (eachtraithe), used to be telling them. At that time people used to go earning their pay working in County Limerick, County Tipperary and County Cork, and many a tale they had when they would return, everyone with his own story so that you would not notice the night passing. Often the cock would crow before you would think of going home.”
Leabhar Sheáin Í Chonaill (1948)

 

 

MEMORIES OF BLASKET ISLAND, IRELAND.

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40 years or so ago, I traveled to Great Blasket Island off the Western Coast of Ireland. This bleak and barren island located off the tip of the Dingle Peninsula housed between 100 to 150 souls until the 1940s when the Irish Government in a fit of uncharacteristic responsibility removed the remaining twenty-two of them and resettled them in other parts of the country. As far as I know, none of the islanders objected to the relocation nor made any attempt to return.

I ferried there from mainland Ireland in one of those tar-covered little leather boats that used to be common in the western part of the country.
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Drying the boats. The village is in the background.

 

I met the ferry-man in the pub that stands on the bluff overlooking Blasket and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. For a few dollars, I persuaded him to row me there. There was no regular motor ferry to the island then but there is now.

Although the passage from the mainland to the islands is no more than a couple of miles, during much of the year when the Island was inhabited, it was too stormy and impassable for the small traditional row boats available at the time to make the crossing. As a result, the residents of Blasket were often marooned and had to live exclusively on what they could glean there on the island.

Even though the sea was relatively calm during my trip, the waves and currents in the straight threw the little boat around quite a bit causing the oarsman to strain at the oars and me to question the rationale for my visit.
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A traditional leather covered boat (a type of coracle) approaching Blasket Island. I took a boat like this on my trip.

 

We landed on a tiny bit of dressed stone surrounded on three sides by large rocks making an anchorage about ten feet or so wide. We tied up to a rusty and corroded iron ring.

I left the ferry-man there with a promise to return in an hour and a half.

In the only habitable place on the lee of the island lay a tiny village in ruins and deserted. I climbed through the ruins and into the abandoned cottage — Peig’ cottage. It was my reason for the trip — to pay homage Peig Sayers.

Peig was an old woman and seanchai (storyteller) who when approached by a representative of the Irish Folklore Commission and asked to write the story of her life on that forlorn island, did so. Much to the surprise of all, it became perhaps the greatest work of Gaelic prose literature.

The Book opens with the words:

I am an old woman now, with one foot in the grave and the other on its edge. I have experienced much ease and much hardship from the day I was born until this very day. Had I known in advance half, or even one-third, of what the future had in store for me, my heart wouldn’t have been as gay or as courageous it was in the beginning of my days.

 

In the evenings the people on the Island would gather in Peig’s cottage to listen to her stories. Seosamh Ó Dálaigh wrote the following about these sessions:

‘I wish I had the ability to describe the scene in Peig Sayers’s home in Dunquin on a winter’s night when the stage was set for the seanchaí’ ‘When the visitors arrived (for all gathered to the Sayers house when Peig was there to listen to her from supper-time till midnight) the chairs were moved back and the circle increased. News was swapped, and the news often gave the lead for the night’s subject, death, fairies, weather, crops.’ All was grist to the mill, the sayings of the dead and the doings of the living, and Peig, as she warmed to her subject, would illustrate it richly from her repertoire of verse, proverb and story…

Great artist and wise woman that she was, Peig would at once switch from gravity to gaiety, for she was a light-hearted woman, and her changes of mood and face were like the changes of running water. As she talked her hands would be working too; a little clap of the palms to cap a phrase, a flash of the thumb over the shoulder to mark a mystery, a hand hushed to mouth for mischief or whispered secrecy. ‘When the fun is at its height it is time to go’, runs the Irish proverb; and when visitors went each night Peig would draw the ashes over the peat-embers to preserve the fire till morning, reciting her customary prayer: ‘I preserve the fire as Christ preserves all. Brigid at the two ends of the house, and Mary in the centre. The three angels and the three apostles who are highest in the Kingdom of Grace, guiding this house and its contents until day.’

 

Her home there on Blasket was now little more than rocks piled on one another for walls with more rocks added to make the roof (I understand it has been made into lodging for a small hostel now). Peig’s home contained a single room in which she spent most of her life.
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Peig in her cottage.

 

Beyond the village, exposed to the fierce winds off the Atlantic, the island was covered in a thick mat of furze, Irish gorse, and heather, with peat (or bog or turf) beneath. When walking on it, although it supported my weight, it felt as though I was walking on a springy mattress.

There were no trees or bushes to be seen anywhere. I climbed part way down a steep incline towards the cliffs on the island’s north side where the residents would scramble down to pilfer the eggs of the shorebirds that nested there. I did not go further than perhaps 10 feet or so because the cliff quickly became much steeper. It was on those steep cliffs according to Peig that Blasket’s citizens often met their death trying to secure enough food to carry them through the winter storms.
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The north side of Blasket Island and the cliffs.

 

As hard as life was on Blasket, during the Irish persecutions and famines several mainland families settled on the island, “Because life was better there.”
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A Better Life?

Perhaps the most astounding thing about Blasket was that Peig was not the only one from there who authored a Gaelic literary classic. Two others, Twenty Years a Growing and The Islandman, were written by Blasket natives also.

How hard was life on Blasket? Tomas O’Crohan in The Islandman wrote the following about his children:

“Ten children were born to us, but they had no good fortune, God help us! The very first of them that we christened was only seven or eight years old when he fell over the cliff and was killed. From that time on they went as quickly as they came. Two died of measles, and every epidemic that came carried off one or other of them. Donal was drowned trying to save the lady off the White Strand. I had another fine lad helping me. Before long I lost him, too.”

 

 

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Blasket Island Today.

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“We ain’t tourist’s honey — travelers, buy there or mail it back.”
A friend of the Old Pirate.

 

 

 

Remember July 15 in National be a Dork Day.
Be a Dork, I know you can do it.

 

 

 

A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN CROATIA:

 

It was a lovely sunny warm morning when we left for Croatia. Our first stop, of course, was at Lucia’s Petite Cafe for coffee, brioche, and hugs. For me, it was especially sad, since at my age I cannot know if I will be back again. I even hugged Danielle, Lucia’s somewhat dissolute and shaggy boyfriend. Then we were off.

The drive to the border of Italy and Slovenia was relatively brief. We passed Trieste on the way, a surprisingly small city nestled among relatively gentle hills surrounding the bay and the Adriatic.

After a drive of not much more than a mile from the Slovenian border we reached its border with Croatia and passed through without incident. This portion of Croatia, Istria, had been part of Italy or some Italian City State since Roman times except for a period of Austro-Hungarian rule in the 18 and 19th Centuries but eventually passed to the old Yugoslavia after WWII.

After a brief drive through some low hills, we entered a low flat plain containing Mediterranean type forest vegetation and few people. According to Hank, Goldman Sachs plans to buy up just about everything it can get its hands on in this area, even its toll roads (one or more of the people we will be partying with over the next two days is [are] involved somehow). They want to make it into a tech hub for Europe like Silicon Valley (Facebook already is building a facility) and some sort of Adriatic vacation paradise. In the meantime, it remains someplace one would like to visit, easy going, pretty and slow moving.

Our first stop was at some Trulli type buildings. Actually our first two stops. Initially, we halted at the side of the road to view an abandoned Trulli. A road maintenance vehicle then appeared to see if we needed any assistance. After explaining that we stopped only so I could take a photograph of the abandoned building, the worker then offered to sell us truffles, olive oil, and grappa. Hank bought some truffles, I took some photos and we continued on our way.

A short time later we stopped at a place with considerably more of those buildings, in fact, the whole area was some sort of archeological park. Trulli-type buildings are conical stone buildings common throughout Europe in one form or another. They were built mostly in the 19th century as agriculture in Europe moved into less ideal areas because of rising demand. The buildings (and walls) were built from the stones taken out of the cleared lands. The most famous or at least picturesque of these are the large conical stone homes In Puglia, Italy. Since that portion of the trip had been jettisoned for logistical reasons, I felt that a photograph of me standing beside any like structure would be a satisfactory replacement.
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Pookie and the Trulli in Croatia.

 
We eventually arrived at our hotel near Pula. A nice little place not too far from the harbor where the ferry to the Island National Park disembarks.

Many stories I either heard, saw or experienced on this part of my trip — much too many to write about here but some of those I remember most vividly follow. Many were told by Hank. But, be aware, their veracity depends upon: the accuracy of my memory; may be affected by what I may have thought I had been told; my additions where I could not recall what I had been told; what for one reason or another I avoided; and whatever I have added in an effort to make the story more interesting, After all, isn’t that what history is all about, a few truths surrounded by a lot of little lies and highlighted by a few big ones.

To pass the time on the drive, Hank told me the story of Paul Bingham who was Tennessee Williams lover at one time and lived at Hank’s house and died there. Hank ended up with many of the letters that passed between Paul and Tennessee which he still has. He also told me about someone he called “Doc.” Doc was one of Hank’s professors at college. When Doc retired from teaching he also retired his suits and other clothing replacing them with bib overalls, tee shirts, and black work boots. With the time on his hands that often comes with retirement, Doc got involved in various dicey projects and would often persuade Hank to join him — apparently a not too difficult task. Projects like growing okra for profit. One time Doc went into the illegal fireworks business and blew up his house. Homeless, he moved in with Hank and stayed there until he died.

We arrived at our hotel, a pleasant little place not too far from Pula and near the warm where the boats depart for a national park located on an island a few hundred yards away. After checking in we left to visit our friends at Tito’s old vacation estate.

We arrived at Marshal Tito’s vacation estate in Pula on the Adriatic coast at a place called Volkane.
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Tito’s villa.

 

Tito had the villa built to his specifications. He also had all the lands that could be seen from the Villa which were treeless, reforested — planting over a million trees in the area. Now that the trees have reached maturity some of the people in the area complain that the trees obstruct their view of the water and of the other trees.
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The view from the terrace.

 

At some point, Tito gifted the villa to his chief of intelligence. That spy’s daughter lives there now with her husband an ex-marine officer who at one point had been an Assistant Under-secretary of Defense for the US by the name Jolly (he was the tallest man in the marines at the time and was nicknamed the Jolly Green Giant shortened to Jolly. He liked the name and it stuck.) He was a trained psychologist and was sent around the world to, as he put it to me, “Find out the truth.”
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Jolly.

 

The villa and part of the estate stand upon an old Nazi bunker one entrance of which remains. An ancient Roman wall surrounds part of the estate.

Every year on or around the 4th of July, Jolly and his wife hold a party for about two hundred of their nearest and dearest friends among which, due to Hank and Camille, I found myself included.

On my first day at Volkane, I met some of those that lived there, the sisters of the spy’s daughter and other relatives and friends who visited during the day. I also stared a lot at the pleasant view of the Adriatic. The air was warm, full and restful. I walked several times through the gate onto the rocks by the water and along the shore to a bench where I would sit for a half hour or so after which I would make my way back.

In front of the villa, there was parked a large black Mercedes. I was told the Mercedes once belonged to Tito. It now belongs to an aging local rock star who lives in one of the three units the villa had been divided into after Tito’s death. The name of the rock group was Atomic Shelter and had a bit of a reputation in eastern Europe.
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Tito’s wheels

 

 

A lot of time was spent telling stories. Mostly by Jolly about his life and times in the military and going and coming from some clandestine doings in some backwater somewhere, but never about the nature of the clandestine doings themselves. Most of the stories, I do not remember, or remember vaguely, his time in Thailand, his selection for his job or jobs and so on.

He told one about his great-great-grandfather, Christopher Sheats. Sheats from Winston County Alabama was one of the delegates to the convention of southerners who drafted the Articles of Succession that began the Civil War. He objected to secession but lost. Upon returning to Winston County he, at a meeting of Union sympathizers held in Looney’s Tavern, a local meeting place and center of Pro-Union sentiment, declared the county a free state arguing that if states had an inalienable right to secede from the Union than counties have the same inalienable right to secede from a state. He called it the Free State of Winston and sought to join the Union. The Confederate State of Alabama arrested him and sentenced him to death by hanging as a traitor. The rope broke saving him. He was imprisoned and escaped, fought for the Union using freed slaves and, according to Jolly, never lost a battle. After the war, he served in Congress. Because of threats on his life, President Grant appointed him Ambassador to Finland. After he died, the county refused to bury him in the whites-only cemetery so he was buried in the Blacks-only cemetery with many black people attending the ceremony. Since then almost all members of the Sheats family have chosen to be buried in that same black cemetery. The Incident at Looney’s Tavern, a musical drama performed regularly in Winston County, tells the story of Christopher Sheats and the Unionist meeting at Looney’s Tavern. It is the official state outdoor musical drama of Alabama.

Another story I remember from lunch the following day — Jolly had been asked to serve as a chief judge in the court-martial of a women soldier who, when told her husband had taken a women into their bed while she was at the base, bought a 45, went home, and promptly shot he erring husband in the nuts.

The young military attorney from the Judge Advocate General’s office chosen to prosecute her charged her only with assault with intent to kill. At the trial, when questioning her the young attorney asked, “Sergeant ___ when you shot your husband you intended to kill him did you not?” She pointed to a gold marksman medal on her uniform. “ See this” she responded, “I won the pistol shooting competition at the Olympics and when I qualified as a marine marksman they gave me a gold marksman medal rather than the silver in honor of my Olympic victory. I assure you I intended to shoot him in the nuts. If I wanted him dead he would be dead.” Jolly and the other judges ruled her innocent of the charge, stating, “The defendant may be guilty of many things regarding the shooting, but not of the only charge before us today, shooting with the intent to kill”

A few years later it happened that the sergeant was assigned to Jolly’s unit. When he asked her about the trial she told him that, had she been charged with anything else, she would have pleaded guilty, but not to the charge of intent to kill. When Jolly inquired as to how she has been doing since then, she responded, “Pretty well sir, but it’s been hard to get a date.” (Note, I suspect Jolly made this one up because I seem to remember having heard tales like this before but who knows maybe those tales were about Jolly.)

We had lunch, with a small group on the terrace that day.
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Lunch on the terrace.

 

After the lunch, Hank told me a story about the sister of Jolly’s wife, Mary (she is the blond woman second on the right in the photograph). When she was about three or four years old she had been captured by the Nazi’s but released in a prisoner exchange. A year or two later she was trained by her parents to operate the clandestine radio transmitter that was secreted in a place too small to get into for anyone but her and thereby able to avoid the Nazi search teams.

The next day was Market Day in Pula, the streets were full of stalls selling whatever and everything. I could smell the aroma of freshly baked bread. The cafes, like the streets, were awash with people. The place seemed vibrant and alive as did many of the tourist cities in Italy when I first visited them 40 or 50 years ago. Now with prosperity, restoration, tourism, and the departure of the young to the largest cities they often appear dead, dying or mausoleums celebrating a culture that never existed. Cities are always becoming, a mixture of despair and of hope. When they don’t change they die no matter how pretty they may appear.

I strolled through the town, drank prosecco in the cafes, browsed the stores and visited the port and the Roman ruins. There’s a bitchin Roman Arena here also. It seems those Romans dropped them everywhere like rice at a wedding. When one considers the cost and turmoil surrounding the building of the relatively few large sports areas around the world today, the efforts of the Romans seem even more amazing.

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The Amphitheater.

 

.The following evening was the big party. It was also the night of the World Cup match between Croatia and Russia. A large screen was set up so everyone could watch the game and eat hot dogs and hamburgers before the party began. There were many local notables including the head of Goldman Sachs for this area and much of adjacent Europe. I was told he was an ex-Mossad agent.

Now you must be wondering why and how over the last month or so I have managed to come upon so many ex-spies or relatives of ex-spies — Two in the Enchanted Forest; one who I met two days before in Sacile retired from the military whose job he said was to examine military construction sites in areas of American troop deployment; Jolly; his wife; and now the Mossad agent and god knows how many others were at the party. One must remember, however, all these people are from my generation and the following one. The generations who lived their productive years from the sixties through the eighties, the Spy vs Spy era when anyone who was anyone spied on someone or believed one lived under their bed or were entertained by stories about spies. It was the James Bond era.

Croatia won. The crowd went crazy.
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Croatia scores.

 

The music started. Everyone drank too much. I got kissed by two Young Croat women who I am positive either they only wanted to take a photograph of themselves kissing the old codger staggering around with the cane or they were drunk.

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The next morning we left for Southern Italy and the rest of our trip.

 

B. TO NAPLES AND BEYOND:

 

We left Pula at about 8:30AM and drove south through Italy, getting lost only once until at 5PM we arrived at a surprisingly nice hotel with the improbable name of Hotel Gentiluomo just outside of Arezzo. It was owned by an Indian company and we shared the place with an Indian tour group all saried and caste marked up. While they ate various curries, the smells wafted through the hotel, we dined in good Italian fare that alas I have forgotten so I guess it was good but not particularly notable.

The next morning, we left and arrived at our hotel above the Bay of Naples early in the afternoon after becoming lost in those little towns south of Vesuvius that I have been getting lost in each time I have come here for the past fifty years. The marvelous and inexpensive Hotel Torre Barbara in Vico stands high on the bluff above the bay. We drank some prosecco while sitting on the veranda admiring the view of the volcano looming over the towns clinging to its slopes like barnacles on a ship’s hull. Intending to swim in the pool with a view, I returned to my room but lost myself playing with my computer and dozing until dinner time.
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Pookie with the Bay of Naples and Vesuvius in the background.

 

On the veranda, I had dinner of shrimp risotto accompanied by prosecco and finished off with a chocolate mousse ice cream and grappa while we watched the sun sink into the sea beyond Capri and the lights\ come on and twinkle like a necklace of fireflies around the base of Vesuvius.

The following morning, I arose early and with my cup of cappuccino and a glass of fruit juice I sat alone on the veranda and watched the sun climb above the hills behind me and strike the bay. I tried to understand why in the many years I have been coming to Italy and having so rarely planned to visit Naples, I seem almost always to end up here for at least a day or so. Beautiful the view of the bay and the volcano may be but, I have seen many places more so —although while I sat there, I was hard-pressed to name them.

As I continued to stare at Vesuvius across the bay with its string of buildings encircling its base I began to think about how wretched those buildings and neighborhoods actually were. They began to look to me more and more like a disease creeping up the slopes — as though the volcano suffered from psoriasis and would wake up someday from the itching on his flanks and burn it all off. That’s what Naples signifies, I thought, beauty and horror together — Pompey rich and licentious ending buried in lava, the Bourbon dynasty of the Kings of Naples, squalor, and corruption alongside elegance and art.

Caravaggio spent much of his career here in Naples. A drunkard and a vicious murderer and perhaps the greatest painter that ever lived. His painting of Narcissus gazing at his reflection in the pool of water is beautiful until you think about what the painting is about, someone imprisoned forever.
C. MATERA — A CITY CARVED FROM THE ROCKS.

 

 

The next day we were on the road to Matera in the Province of Basilicata. The drive took only about three hours, a relief after the grind of the past few days.

After leaving the hills of Calabria, we drove through the weary plains of Basilicata. The approach to Matera left much to be desired. We passed from forested mountains and rolling hills green with vineyards, fruit trees, and vegetable gardens, onto a large undulating plain of dry farming almost all of it wheat leaving the land with a bare desolate desiccated look.

Here and there the plain was crisscrossed with steep stone canyons invisible until looking down on them from the bridges spanning them. On the top of a broad rise in the terrain stood a large city, much larger than the small hill towns we had seen in Calabria and Basilicata so far, and much uglier also. I was quite disappointed and contemplated urging Hank to turn the car around and retrace our tracks to Naples.

We checked into an attractive newly built hotel that seemed to have a swimming pool with stepped smaller pools cascading into it. Excited, I put on my swim trunks, strode through the lobby and out to the pool. Alas, when I got there I found it was only a decorative fountain built to serve as a background for photos of lavish nuptial celebrations that seemed to be the main reason for the existence of the hotel. Dejected, I changed back into touring clothing and we set off to the town to see what the travel brochures raved about.

After a lot of aimless driving about the modern town looking for the rock city, we parked and followed the signs and suddenly came upon the amazing city carved from the rocks and perched upon the largest of the steep stone canyons, the smaller versions of which we had crossed while driving here.
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Matera — almost every building in the photograph of a facade covering the cave which provided at least 80% of the building’s interior.

 

We decided then that we could not fully appreciate the city without a guide so Hank asked the driver of a small tuk-tuk style tour vehicle how we could find a guide, “Wait here for Vito” he advised. So, we waited there for Vito. While waiting, Camille and I explored a nearby church containing another church buried underneath containing fascinating frescoes on the walls.
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The mosaics painted on the walls of the cave church.

 

And, one of the more bizarre statues I have ever come across.
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The Saint who steps on naked fat women.

 

It is a statue of Saint something or other (I do not remember his name) with his foot on the back of a naked woman. Finding this odd, I moved closer in order to read the information card. I translated it as either Saint what’s-his-name with his foot on a fat woman or, Saint whoever driving out fatness from women or maybe something else. Perhaps, he is the Patron Saint of diet scammers.

Vito arrived in his bitchin red tuk-tuk (as far as I could tell the only red one in town). He turned out to be a delightful young man who entertained us during the tour.
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Vito and his bitchin red tuk-tuk with Hank and Camille.

 

(if you should travel there an want pleasant knowledgeable guide call Vito at +39 3931772506)

I could go on about the wonders of the town, but T&T is not the place for it. I will mention that Matera is the third oldest continuously occupied town in the world. Across the canyon stands the neolithic caves in which the ancestors of the townspeople lived before crossing the canyon to settle the current site when agricultural technology reached the area.
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The Neolithic caves.
Matera, despite being almost abandoned 30 years ago when the government forcibly relocated the penniless agricultural workers living in the rock homes, had experienced a rebound when that policy was abandoned and the original residents, artists, and others were allowed to move back in. Next year, according to Vito, the UN will declare the town the World Artistic Capital (or something pompous like that).

That evening we dined in what Vito declared was among the oldest and finest restaurants in town and was the favorite eating place of Mel Gibson who dined there often during the filming of the “Passion of Christ” (the crucifixion scene was filmed on top of the rock outcropping in the above photograph). While we felt that last was a dubious recommendation we dined there anyway and found it excellent and well worth it.

The next day we set off for Altamonte back in Calabria.
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D. A PLEASANT DAY IN ALTAMONTE.

 

Altamonte a pleasant little hill town in Calabria, remote from just about anywhere with little to recommend it other than the Hotel Barbieri. Started by the patriarch of clan Barbieri a hotelier and master chef he has built up a small industry here and in the US selling regional Calabrian foods and folk art at the hotel and at a string of elegant delicatessens in Philadelphia and Pittsburg owned and operated by the family whose members have been sent to the US to manage their interests.
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The view from my room.

 

The hotel started small on a hill with a great view of the town and the countryside around it, grew in a comely hodgepodge of rooms, verandas and a pool and a spa. Members of the family still run it day by day. “It serves the best Calabrian food in Italy,” Hank claimed.
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The pool and newly built terrace (we ate dinner on the terrace to the right)

 

We had a snack that included a local specialty, chips made from the local long red sweet peppers dipped momentarily in hot olive oil until they become puffed and brittle. Marvelous. We ate them and washed them down with prosecco under the trees on one of the verandas with a view of the town, a cool breeze and three children of the family playing and running around the tables.
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Hank, the daughter of the Patriarch, Hank and a bowl of sweet pepper chips.
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Camille and Hank on the terrace waiting for lunch.

 

I then took my much-delayed swim in the pool, napped and had dinner on one of the more formal terraces. We ate a variety of traditional Calabrian dishes and ended with a delicious homemade fusilli in a sauce of tomatoes and eggplant. The noodles are freshly hand rolled into long curving pasta with a hollow center and were delightfully chewy and went perfectly with the sauce. Grappa and dessert ended the meal. It was everything Hank said it would be.
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First course.

 

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Second course.

 

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Fresh-made Fusilli.

 

The next morning, after another great breakfast we said goodbye to the patriarch and his daughter who came by to see us off. And so I left for Sicily and a week ar Antonio’s.

 

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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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On Pythonism

Interesting chronological confluence: Recently finished reading “The Swerve: How the World Became Modern” by Stephen Greenblatt. It’s about the rediscovery of Lucretius”s poem “On The Nature of Things”, after over a thousand years, by Poggio Bracciolini around 1417, who was a former pope’s secretary and enthusiast for ancient Greek and Roman manuscripts, and the poem’s contribution to and impact on Renaissance and later thinking. Lucretius was a disciple of Epicurus. the poem articulated the radical (for the late middle ages) view that the universe and all things, human and otherwise, consist solely of atoms and the void, that there is no afterlife or resurrection or heaven and hell, God doesn’t exist let alone run things, and after all the right approach to life is to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Find joy in what you can now, ‘cause there ain’t no heaven. Works for me. Monte Python in a Roman toga.

 
On coffee get-togethers in the Enchanted Forest

Sounds more intriguing than Leisure World or stumbling down Collins Avenue sidestepping doggie do. Do they wear purple hair in the Enchanted Forest? Boy toy sounds like some exotic Asian dish (just watched Anthony Bourdain in Viet Nam eating some fabulous soup in Hue); but cannibals probably wouldn’t eat geriatric boy toy.

 
On the contention, that beauty can bore

Interesting: Suggests that wandering is a cure for the ennui or boredom of salubrious settlement. Thus, commuting from Heaven to Purgatory to Hell and back, and onward. Or at least to New York and Sacile. Forever seeking beatitude or a good pastry. Unless, of course, one is totally absorbed in one’s obsession, whatever it is: Putin’s grabbing and disrupting others, Van Gogh’s painting and agonizing, Scrooge McDuck’s diving into his money bin….

 
On negative news about negative people

Years ago I read something about news, and how history shows that people always want to hear/read/see the bad news, disaster news, negative stuff. What I read referred back to news and pamphlets. And whatever back two-three hundred years. So there’s a psychological basis to take advantage of for slanting the news.

Given US history, as shown e. g by “Fantasyland,” the US is both a testing ground for new corporate-driven forms of domination and, together with its predilection for violence and fantasy, a retrograde movement backward toward more primitive and difficult times.

 
On corporations and oligarchs

Ultimately, the world corporate oligarchical/dictatorial concentration and continued climate change impacts will result in continued and enhanced mass migrations and consequent population redistributions, and as a byproduct, a reduction of “guns in America” as counter-productive. The beauty of the Veneto will provide an oasis in which the “ho-hum, another day in paradise” ennui will be reluctantly deemed the tolerable alternative to hemlock or standing on line at the Louvre to gape at the Mona Lisa or joining a futile, isolated white-armed resistance cell whose membership includes — by that time — a senile Michael Caine, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington, Sean Penn, Samuel L. Jackson, Benicio Del Toro, Russell Crowe, and Angelina Joli.

 

 

On “the cradle of civilization”

Now, China’s new Road (whatever they call that) essentially recreates the old Silk Road by rail and highway from China to the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. The Russians are already building up Kazakhstan with their space program (and even Trump was trying to get some business there!). Iran will be a key, as it was back then, in spite of the Saudi/Sunnis. The US will have a lot to learn from the Italians’ sense of history via “Catch-22”

 

 

Wisdom from the Kabbala

“Travels With Epicurus”. Has its benefits.

Do the swallows return to Compostello?*

Thus the wheel of Karma turns; what’s new?

How do you spell Medicare in Italian?

 

Note: The T&T referred to can be found in: https://wordpress.com/view/josephpetrillo.wordpress.com

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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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Days go by like a Cole Porter tune, smooth and easy with the hint of a Latin beat. The weather has been sunny. A slight breeze cools the air forestalling the blistering heat of the coming summer for a few more days. Every day, I drive from the Enchanted Forest into the Golden Hills for breakfast, exercise and my chauffeur duties with the Scooter Gang. HRM leaves for Thailand this weekend so my usual schedule will change somewhat. I plan to depart for Italy on the 17th of June. Professor Hank, who I will be traveling with from Venice to Croatia and on to Calabria, tells me we will be stopping for a few days in Puglia (where I have never been) to attend a party. I look forward to it.

Today it rained. I sat in the house, watched television and listened to Naida play “Sorrento” on the piano. Last evening it was Jerome Kern tunes. I also looked at old photographs of my family.

Memorial Day weekend arrived. The summer season begins. HRM left for Thailand. I am very sad. Two medical students at UC Davis moved into the empty bedrooms of the house in the Enchanted Forest. The women spent Saturday cleaning the two bedrooms to apparent ICU specifications and moved most of their belongings in on Sunday. I also watched innumerable old movies on the Turner Channel as I audited the move in. This seems more like ordinary old age than any adventure. Well, I guess old age is an adventure in itself. Isn’t everything?

In order to avoid terminal boredom, I decided to take the dog on a long walk to explore some of those parts of the Enchanted Forest I had not yet seen. It was mid-afternoon and hot. We soon got lost on the endless pathways. One thing I discovered during the walk was that children lived here. I had thought they were prohibited by the HOA like many other things such as cats, parking cars on the street, and altering the outside of your house. I was surprised, however, to find one of the 10 community pools awash with splashing kidlings. Anyway, we made our way back tired, exhausted (aren’t they the same?) and thirsty. We drank a lot of water and napped. Adventure indeed.

Recently Madelyn asked me where is home for me now. It reminded me of Josiah Bancroft’s observation, “‘Home’ is an exaggeration made true by distance.” In that case, my home may still be in Thailand, or the Golden Hills or the Enchanted Forest or Mendocino. Perhaps, it is the Gypsy in my soul or, I am a Tinker and my home is wherever I can sharpen edges or, perhaps where my heart is or perhaps hearth. Ha, my hearth has been lost to me for many years now (do we even allow hearths today?). I used to carry around with me a little metal statue of a Boar (why a wild pig?) that I had found somewhere when I was a child. I used to tell myself, “Home was where the pig was.” Alas, I lost that too a few years ago. I carry a tent and a sleeping bag in the back of the car. I consider that home also. I guess, a home could be where you keep your stuff out of the rain. You know “stuff” the accumulated detritus of your working life. I used to keep a lot of my stuff in several storage containers. I gave it all away almost 10 years ago now. Home used to be more or less your mailing address. Now it is your internet address — no-place but wherever you happen to be when the router finds you .

I guess the fact is for me now home is where those I love reside. That will do — even when I’m not there — I’m not homeless but multi-homed. Where do I sleep? Now that is a different story.

Today, I drove back into the golden hills. Pookie’s adventures, other than in my mind or with my body, recently seem to be limited to sitting drinking caffe latte in a Starbucks somewhere and then eagerly driving to another Starbucks. In between, I walk around a lake or through some woods for exercise. Nights, however, are quite pleasant — adventures of their own. I’m not complaining. At a certain age, one must take excitement how and where one finds it otherwise it becomes a chore. Even television has its moments. Recently I saw La Dietrich again — in a western this time. She was teamed up with a young John Wayne with Randolph Scott as the villain. I forget its title. Lots of people were shot.

While sitting at Bella Bru this morning I could not find my Smartphone. I suddenly felt as though I did not exist. Well, that’s not quite right. I exist, mostly. I felt more like my cell phone was my home and I was homeless. Perhaps I was lost. So, I returned to the Enchanted Forest and found my phone. Now I was no longer homeless or lost but I was left with a greater existential problem — why would something good for only upsetting me with fake news on Facebook and finding a cheap plumber be considered home? I have to remember to discuss this with Peter. He is very good with existential crises in the Age of Kali.

This evening the air was comfortably warm. We went for a walk along the American River.
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The American River

We found a spot on the bank that was not too damp and sat there watching the geese struggle against the current to get to the island they seemed to be nesting on. Across the way, a large group of adults and children were spending their Memorial Day afternoon splashing in the water or having picnics on the banks under brightly colored umbrellas. In the middle of the river, an old man was gracefully fly casting. We sat there until dusk then returned home.
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A few days later, I visited with my chemo-oncologist. He looked into my mouth for a moment, felt around my neck and declared me still in remission. Good for me. It was the first day that the air was so hot that it was unpleasant to be out and about. Summer’s arrived, I guess. Instead of exercising, I headed off to Starbucks for air-conditioning, coffee, and a breakfast of egg McMuffin with sausage. I stayed there for a few hours, reading my latest novel on Kindle (Red Sparrow) and going through Facebook posts.

On my way back to the Enchanted Forest, I decided to stop for a root-beer float. While ordering, I got an urge for a hot dog and ordered one. Half-way through the dog, a large piece of it got stuck in my throat. I began to spit and spew food and my root-beer all over the booth and the floor, gagging. “Oh my God,” I thought (or something like that), “I’m going to be embarrassed or maybe even die.” I tried to drink more of my root-beer float in hope that it would help. It did not. It just ended up all over the table as brown gunk. I looked around to see if anyone would come to my rescue. Fat chance. Everyone looked away. “Well,” I thought, “thankfully the hospital was nearby.” “But, if I can’t breathe I will be dead before I could get there” I realized. So I tried to breathe. I could. Hooray! “It’s stuck in my throat and not in my esophagus” I rationalized, “therefore I was not going to die right away of anything but terminal embarrassment.” I tried to swallow again — great pain. Suddenly, I felt a lump in my throat move. My throat was clear again. I sat there amidst the dripping bits and pieces of my hot dog spread all over the table and calmly resumed nibbling on what was left of my hot dog and finishing sipping my float. Then, I cleaned up the table and myself the best that I could, got up and walked out of the place with as much dignity as I could muster. Adventure is where you find it. I mean, choking on a hot dog and living is almost a good an adventure as being attacked by a lion and escaping, but is much easier to carry out. Instead of packing for a safari and traveling god knows how far to get to the place where I escape death, I only have to pull into a local fast food joint.

That night I watched an old “Boston Blackie” movie on the TV and then went to bed feeling it had been a day well lived.

The weekend approaches and I am off the Mendocino and the film festival.

 

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