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Posts Tagged ‘Truth’

“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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Radioactive-Dreams---2-dvd

Among my favorite movies, a list that includes “The Princess Bride,” “The Iron Crown,” “Diva,“Fabulous Fabiola,” “Blazing Saddles,” and “The Godfather” is a little known and hard to obtain Scifi film entitled “Radioactive Dreams.” The protagonist heroes, two 19-year-olds named Phillip and Marlowe (Philip Chandler and Marlowe Hammer), had grown up in a fallout shelter after the world’s entire nuclear arsenal, except for one missile, had been unleashed. They had only 1950s detective fiction to read and swing music to listen to. They grew up wanting to become private eyes — “dancing dicks” as they put it. After leaving the cave they had lived in for 15 years and driving a 1950s muscle car convertible, they meet up with Miles Archer (a villainess played by Lisa Blount) and later with Rusty Mars (Michelle Little – a villainess who turns heroine). The movie could be described as one long music video featuring the clashing beats and rhythms of Swing/Early Rock and New Wave. It is also a detective story of sorts. Below is an interesting description of the film written by a crazed gamer.

Radioactive Dreams begins with two little boys getting whisked away by their fathers to an underground shelter right as the bombs go off. They stay there avoiding the nuclear war for 15 years with a nice supply of water and food until their fathers abandon them to the surface. After never hearing back from them they assume they’ve perished, so the now-19-year-olds dig to the surface and make their own way into a nightmarish version of 2010. They are not prepared.

The Wasteland
The film opens in black and white with a 4:3 aspect ratio, until the kids open the door to their vault and color seeps into the film as the frame widens, much like a post-apocalyptic Wizard of Oz. As they drive through the desert wasteland everything is a rusted brown and orange color, one very flat — everyone knows the post-apocalypse will not be pretty.

The Pip-Boy
In Radioactive Dreams, the very first person they meet on the outside is wearing a Pip-Boy, of sorts. What better way to listen to old music than with some giant slab of metal and wires on your wrist, after all? It’s just strange that it doesn’t work as a communicator — she has the boys stop at a still-working pay phone (?) to place a call. But everyone knows that it’s the vault dwellers that come equipped with Pip-Boys, anyway.

An Amazing, Ironic Soundtrack
Our heroes Philip and Marlowe read Raymond Chandler novels (ahem) and listen to swing music to keep busy, which makes them grow up wanting to become “dancing dicks.” Thankfully they also have the period-appropriate 1940s suits to go with it. But after listening to all those old records in their shelter they aren’t prepared for the New Wave that’s sunken into the land deeper than the radiation from the bombs. It may not be “I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire” by the Ink Spots, but you have Lisa Lee’s “Eat You Alive” during a scene with cannibals and Jill Jaxx’s “Nightmare” kicking things off.

Radioactive Dreams also features what’s perhaps the best music video in cinematic history, and it comes out of absolutely nowhere fifty minutes in. Just imagine a normal film unfolding before Sue Saad suddenly jumps into frame and starts belting out “Guilty Pleasures.” It’s wonderful.

Mutants & Cannibals
What’s a wasteland without rad-crazed individuals roaming it, looking for victims? Pretty much everyone Philip and Marlowe run across wants to kill them, eat them, steal from them or all three, and their innocence from living a literally sheltered life soon gets shattered. Guns and axes get brandished pretty much right away and they are thrust into violence before they’re ready for it.

The Tunnel Snakes
Everyone knows the Tunnel Snakes from Vault 101. That’s them, and they rule. When our Radioactive Dreams heroes get to their first settlement they run afoul of some real greaser rockabilly types blasting rock’n’roll, particularly a mean guy who dresses in leather and has plenty of hair gel. You half-expect him to be a part of this gang.

Giant Mutated Rats
It’s quite a bit bigger than the mole rats we see everywhere in the Fallout wastelands, but everyone knows the effect radiation has on the local wildlife. It’s too bad that this guy’s appearance is so brief because it’s certainly a showstopper.

VATS
The end of Radioactive Dreams, which sees our heroes fighting with all of the above and more, is punctuated by a slow-motion gunfight. No limbs are targeted but multiple enemies get blasted out of windows, so clearly some turn-based aiming was happening.

About the only thing from Radioactive Dreams that isn’t in Fallout is a big dance number for an ending scene, but hey, there’s always room for DLC, right Bethesda?

A film that’s equal parts absurd and entertaining and features about six genres crammed into it, perhaps the worst thing about Radioactive Dreams is that it’s almost completely unavailable on home video. Released on VHS by Vestron Video, the film has still never seen the light of day on DVD or Blu-ray, which is criminal. Until some wonderful company re-releases it with the love it deserves (hey, it’s the 30th anniversary!), you can find a VHS at the below link. You owe it to yourself to hunt down Radioactive Dreams any way you can.
ALEX RIVIELLO https://birthmoviesdeath.com/2015/11/10/radioactive-dreams-the-fallout-movie-you-didnt-know-existed

Here is a cite to a poorly reproduced a cut version of the film. Unfortunately, the last — and in my opinion the best — scene in the movie is severely truncated. After the mystery was solved, Phillip turns to Marlowe and asks “Well Marlowe what do we do now.” Marlowe answers, “Now we Dance.” Then for the next 10 minutes, they demonstrate Marlowe’s tap-inspired “post-nuke shuffle” to the crowds of the city. It is unfortunately cut to a scant two minutes.
https://www.onemovieboxd.pro/stream-radioactive-dreams-full-movie-watch-online-v1-47342

 

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“It’s never treason if you win.’”

Stross, Charles. The Traders’ War: A Merchant Princes Omnibus. Tom Doherty Associates.

 

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY JESSICA
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TODAY FROM AMERICA:

 

A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN SACRAMENTO:

It was a balmy warm spring day. I walked around the lakes at Town Center taking photographs of the flowers now in full bloom and reminiscing about things past and present.
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The Roses at Town Center

For all extents and purposes, I live now in the midst of a forest near the Capitol City in the center of the Great Valley and travel every morning back to the Golden Hills to eat breakfast, exercise and discharge my duties to the Scooter Gang (soon to be renamed the Adolescent Bicycle Riders from Purgatory).

I live in the middle of a deep dark seemingly enchanted forest near the center of Capitol City. It is like living in Capital Park except here, tiny little houses are grouped around curving flower-lined pathways snaking beneath the branches of the trees. There is no horizon visible here like there is in the golden hills, only the trunks and branches of the great trees, redwoods, cedars, and pines and the little slip of sky above. Like all forests, it is quiet, only the slight hum of the nearby freeway penetrates the shadows.
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The Enchanted Forest

In the mornings, I still walk around the lakes in Town Center but in the evening, I now return to stroll along the banks of the American River and through the Enchanted Forest.

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The American River at Dusk

Last night after dark, I watched Marlene Dietrich vamp her way through Shanghai Express, feathers flying, eyes flirting and smoke rising from the cigarette clutched between her fingers like an orchestra conductor’s baton.

On Saturday, I helped Naida set up her table at the semi-annual flea market in Campus Commons where she sold some books. Residents of the subdivisions browsed through the unwanted ephemera of their neighbors. Surprisingly, there were a number of bicycles for sale. It seems bicycle thieves strip the bicycles of desired objects (a gear shift, wheel and the like) and toss the remainder into the neighborhood bushes. The derelict cycles are then sold by the HOA at the market.
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Naida (in the hat) in Discussion with a Potential Customer

I took the time while waiting for the market to close to continue my exploration of the Enchanted Forest. This time around the lakes in the center of the Forrest. I sat on a bench and stared at the water. I was soon joined by another elderly retired gentleman who used to work for a local real estate development company that just so happens to have developed both Serrano the major subdivision in El Dorado Hills and most of Campus Commons. We swapped tales of developments past and discussed at some length the many difficulties and few joys of being old.

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The Lake in Campus Commons

That night, we attended a concert in downtown Sacramento that featured a new choral work by a young composer. We believed we were to attend a performance of Tosca but unfortunately had the week wrong. Attributing it all to another example of creeping dementia, we decided to make the best of it and cadged some tickets from a nice couple whose friends could not join them that evening. We enjoyed a presentation of religious-themed music including “Ancient Airs and Dances” by Respighi, Dvorak’s “Te Deum” and “Jubilate Deo” by Dan Forrest (the young composer). The latter contained hymns in Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, Mandarin, Zulu and Spanish accompanied by some of their traditional instruments.
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The Concert Finale. (It looks more like the Triumphant March in Aida)

 

B. A BRIEF SOJOURN IN THE BAY AREA:

On Monday, my sister was to be operated on for breast cancer at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley. She urged me not to take the long drive to be there since she would probably be too medicated after the operation to appreciate my effort. I told her that I was not coming to see her but to accompany George who I was sure would be quite distressed waiting for the operation to be completed. When I arrived at the hospital, I found George well attended to by Brendan and Katie.

The operation appeared to be a success. Maryann emerged looking well. After they all left the hospital to spend the night in the hotel, I left for Peter’s house in San Francisco. That evening, Peter’s band, Blind Lemon Pledge, played a gig at Green Tortoise, the well known SF hostel featuring the beginning point for the hippy era cross-country bus trip to NYC. I attended as the band’s temporary roadie. During the performance, the management of the hostel, suspicious I might be some homeless person who slipped into the hostel to get out of San Francisco’s spring cold and snag a free meal, questioned me closely. I managed to persuade them that I really was a roadie so they left me alone.

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Blind Lemon Pledge

 

The following morning Peter and I met with my grandson at Bernie’s for coffee and pastry. Anthony has had what is known as a troubled adolescence that included several convictions for marijuana offenses and the like. For the past few years these offenses have centered on his attempt to develop the technology for distilling the essential ingredients from the cannabis plant, a complex, dangerous, and previously illegal activity. His passion has led him to be hired as laboratory staff by the major (and right now only) approved dealer and developer of cannabis products in SF. The laboratory is virtually indistinguishable from a traditional chemical lab, with gleaming new machines, meters, switches and cautionary signs of the wall. He distills from the plants the various active ingredients that are used to make several products. He replaced two trained college educated chemists. Good luck Anthony.

(JP — Since that meeting I received the following from Anthony:

Thank you, that means a lot. Im happy in this field. And you know.. i have been in this field since i was 13/14 yrs old. Its great to be able to do things legally now.

Remind me, what are your current symptoms now so i can find a cannabis product that will work for you. I remember you said edible maybe 2:1 ratio 2 cbd: 1thc (so higher cbd) are you interested in tinctures and tropicals as well?)

 

C. BACK IN THE GOLDEN HILLS AND THE ENCHANTED FOREST:

One of the more significant problems that arise upon reaching my age is that I often soon forget whatever I may have been recently up to. Like now, I am sitting in a nondescript Starbuck somewhere in Folsom writing this. It is raining outside. I met with my oncologist a few hours ago. He declared me still in remission. Hooray for me. I cannot remember what else I have done since my return to the Great Valley a few days ago. Perhaps, I napped a lot. I recall having a late lunch-early dinner at Subway with HRM a day or so ago. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: How are things going with you?
HRM: Good.
Me: Anything interesting happen in school recently?
HRM: Everything.

And so on — the conversational rhythms of the emerging adolescent.

One evening, we went for dinner at a nearby Ethiopian restaurant. It was enjoyable, especially accompanied by honey wine. That night, I had a dream so loaded with Jungian overtones that to attempt to describe it could lead to madness. I struggled, eventually successfully, to wake myself up but could not get back to sleep again for fear the dream would return.

 

D. AN INVESTIGATION AND AN ADMISSION:

Recently I learned that someone may have investigated my background and concluded that I was somewhat of a libertine. I am incensed. Not because I had been “investigated.” Nor am I upset because privacy in modern society seems to be as outdated as garters. No, what chaps my hide is that they failed to discover or disclose that I am also a “ner’do well,” bipolar, an only partially reformed doper, and am fond of walking sticks, straw hats and Hawaiian shirts. I firmly believe that when my privacy rights are violated, I deserve the right to be assured that those interested be completely informed of as many of my peccadilloes as possible. Otherwise, I feel others will be left believing I am only half as defective as I actually am. I believe that in a free country, we have as much a right to be acknowledged for our defects as for our abilities.

 

E. SEARCHING FOR “SPITFIRE”:

When one loses a word from memory or from a computer-saved document, it can be quite distressful. Especially if like “Spitfire” it is difficult to replace. We recently lost, or perhaps not lost but misplaced, the word “spitfire.” We were understandably upset and spent a considerable amount of time and effort looking for it — alas, to no effect. It did, however, make quite a story. Unfortunately, it was a story with no end. After all, once you’ve lost your Spitfire, what can you do?

Actually, “Spitfire” was what two full grown men called the 14-year-old girl who fought off their attempt to abduct and rape her. Twenty years later another man tried the same thing with the same woman with the same results. She is not a “spitfire,” she a Heroine because none of the men were punished by anyone but her alone.

“Spitfire” is not alone in her experience. As “me too” movement demonstrates, it is a tragic event in the lives of all too many women.

 

F. ENNUI AND ME:

In life, it is a truism that no great euphoria or great misery goes on forever. Sooner or later they all return to the mundane mean. This morning, after yesterday’s emotional roller-coaster, I, once again, sit in Bella Bru Cafe with my cafe latte and toasted cinnamon-raisin bagel with cream cheese trying to decide which exhibit of life’s amusement park I will visit next.

The sky is overcast, not dark — a light covering of clouds, all silvery light, just waiting for the sun to break through — ambivalent. Sort of like my mood. Should I go for a walk, swim or should I stay here, sipping on my quickly cooling coffee and staring off into the distance? I decide to move — not molt in the darkness. So, I drive to a nearby Starbuck’s, get a warm cafe latte, plug in my Mac, and stare off into the distance. Of all human emotions, I like ennui best.

 

G. SAME OLD GRIND:

Had a great morning. Got out of the house at about eleven-thirty singing “Shaboom” and skipping down the path to the car. The day got even better when I found the car’s windshield did not carry a nasty note warning me I risked receiving a ticket for parking there overnight. The sun was shining as I drove the 20 miles or so up Route 50 to Bella Bru. It was too late for my usual breakfast so I ordered a hamburger. While I waited for the burger to be delivered to my table, I thought about how best to take advantage of my current good mood. I decided the best thing to do was to do nothing which is the same thing I do when I am in a bad mood. Ennui and indolence go together like mac and cheese.

After transporting two members of the Scooter Gang from the Skate Park to Zach’s backyard pool, I returned to the Enchanted Forest. A long walk along the levies of the American River and through the university campus followed. Then an evening around the piano singing old show tunes until September Song brought tears to my eyes.

And the days dwindle down
To a precious few
September, November
And these few precious days
I’d spend with you
These precious days I’d spend with you

Ain’t it the truth.

It had been a good day and so I went to bed and hoped for a dreamless sleep.

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MENDOCINO ON MY MIND:
On Tuesday morning, I emptied my room and packed up the car. I drove HRM to school. It was a sad parting for both of us. I have no idea when or if I will return to my part-time job as dedicated Uber driver for the Scooter Gang. He said that in my absence he would do his best to arrange transportation for himself and his cohort to the various skateboard parks and fast food restaurants, but I knew he was worried. I said, “I know you can do it, kid.”
He stood for a moment on the sidewalk in front of the school, put the decal laden crash helmet on his head and hopped on to his tricked out scooter. I watched for a moment as he one-legged the scooter up the path to the school and then, I drove off.
I stopped in Sacramento for breakfast and stories with Naida after which I set off on the long exhausting drive to my sister’s house in Mendocino.
After a great dinner of tuna-burger covered in pickled cucumbers and ginger, I went to bed and slept fitfully. The next morning, I sat with my coffee and exhausted myself staring out at the yellow-flowered lawn and the sea and so, went back to bed and took a nap.
IMG_4330    The Morning View from the House on the Mendocino Headlands,

But for some walks along the bluffs and through the town and eating, I spent the next few days mostly asleep. Tomorrow, I pledge myself to either hike through the hills above Big River or visit the Rhododendron exhibit at the Botanical Gardens.
So, off I went for my stroll along the bluffs above the Big River Estuary. I walked further than I planned. I kept walking along a path that appeared to climb constantly upwards. I thought I would walk to the top of the hill hoping I would have a great view of the river from there. But, I never got there. I walked and walked and still, the path climbed upwards, Finally, I gave up. I turned around to head back and noticed the path behind me also curved upwards. How could that be I asked myself? I then realized the upward slope was an optical illusion. All the way back, I would trudge up the hill and after struggling for about a hundred yards or so, I would turn around and see the path behind me also climbing upwards and I would start giggling. And so, I made my way back exhausted but in high spirits (It takes very little to amuse me now).
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Pookie at the Big River
On Friday, I rushed back to Sacramento. A close relative of Naida’s had died in Oregon. I expected to either accompany her to the memorial service or to dog-sit her dog, Boo-Boo. For reason too complex to relate here, neither occurred and so, I spent Saturday in Sacramento. It was one of the happiest days of my life. I have entered it on my calendar as Joey’s Happy Day so that now I will remember and celebrate April 21 for as long as I live.
On Sunday, I returned to Mendocino. On that same evening, we had some friends of Maryann and George over for dinner. I enjoyed it very much. We ate Harissa chicken and talked a lot, told stories, laughed, discussed Mendocino art, politics, and gardens, the benefits, and evils of economic development on rural lifestyles, books we liked and politicians we didn’t, and reviewed the obsessions of our youth.
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George, Maryann, Marilyn, Bill, Nancy, and Duncan.
In many ways, coastal Mendocino County, by virtue of the coastal range making transportation difficult and separating it from the rest of the State, is as remote a community as a village on the Asian steppes. It has developed its own interests and obsessions, cultural identity and way of life. As a result, it resists change to that way of life, its environment, and its beliefs. I have seen this before in other communities and have found that often change is something best done slowly.
The next day I strolled through the town, shopped, took pictures had lunch at the Good Life Cafe with George and Bingo the dog and generally lazed around for most of the day.

 
B. SACRAMENTO AND SAN FRANCISCO ODYSSEY:
An Odyssey is generally considered a voyage or the travelogue that accompanies it— usually including some extraordinary adventure. There is also an odyssey of the mind where the mundane waxes magical like in Joyce’s Ulysses in which the humdrum became enchanting. Then, of course, there is the made-up odyssey, like the one I wrote about in a past issue of T&T where bandy-legged freak Ulysses has to explain to Penelope why he disappeared for twenty years and killed all her boyfriends on his return. As the goddess, Athena said of that short, sly, hirsute Greek, “He is odd I see.” (https://papajoesfables.wordpress.com/2013/10/02/a-lengthy-digression-on-traveling-and-old-greeks/)
Anyway, I intend to approach the next few days as a mini-me-odyssey. Whether, it will be adventure filled, mundane or simply made-up, I am oddly eager to see. (If you cannot see that I had fun writing the above two paragraphs, please skip them.)
On Wednesday morning, I set off for Sacramento. After a brief stop for cheap gas at the Pomo Pumps at the Robinson Rancheria near Clear Lake, I turned onto Route 16 through Cache Creek Canyon (Scylla and Charybdis?) a two-lane road to Woodland that I had never taken before. The road passes through a narrow valley running parallel to California’s great valley. Cache Creek, a pretty little stream, and the canyon it runs through, although not as dramatic as some in the Sierras is pleasantly attractive. The road passes through several tiny towns ( Ramsey, Guinda, Cadenasso, Capay, Esparto) — a few random buildings that would not qualify as a hamlet anywhere else (actually they are officially called, “Census-designated communities” whatever that means).
IMG_4441Cache Creek
At its lower reaches, the canyon broadens into a small valley about a mile or two wide. There amidst the bucolic landscape of farms and ranches looms the monstrous visage of Cache Creek Casino an edifice that would not be out of place in Las Vegas (Cave of Cyclops?). I quickly passed by the giant structure not brave enough to explore the riches that may exist within.
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Cache Creek Resort
I arrived in Sacramento, strolled along the river, listened to some Cole Porter, enjoyed a sleepless night of contentment and delight (Circe?) and left the following morning for El Dorado Hills (The Land of the Lotus Eaters — or is that San Francisco?). After a thoroughly frustrating morning and an afternoon shuttling the Scooter Gang around, I set off for San Francisco and Peter’s house where shortly after my arrival I went to bed.
The next day, Barrie, Peter and I joined my sister and George at the French Restaurant at which Peter and I usually have lunch when I’m in town. My sister had just received news that her cancer had not spread so we celebrated a bit.
Then back to Sacramento, a trip that took more than four hours.
A week of bliss passed — as could be expected memories of those times melt together into an indistinct mass. Joy is a timeless blur, anguish a distinct pulsing image.
After receiving a positive doctor’s report on my cancer recovery, I slipped back into the Golden Hills later in the week to resume my chauffeur and parenting duties, stealing off now and then to assist Naida in the production of her memoir.
The school year is coming to its end and the Scooter Gang members are busily planning their summer vacations as am I.
On Saturday, I attended the Cinco de Mayo party at Campus Commons. I did not speak with the ex-spies who were there, but I did have an interesting conversation with a retired executive of Blue Diamond and managed to down two Margaritas without burning my throat.
One day, I strolled through Capitol Park with Naida. I love it there. We sat on the bench dedicated to B.T. Collins, a friend I had known since we were classmates together at Stepinac HS in White Plains NY. As a Green Beret in Viet Nam, he lost an arm and a leg. Returning to the US, he became Governor Jerry Brown’s chief of staff. He eventually was elected to the legislature. He was a lifelong Republican that every Democrat could support. While we sat there some tourists asked me what had he done to warrant a memorial in Capitol Park. I told them.
Time passes, I do not recall how long or what events transpired other than I have been deliriously happy. This morning the air was delightfully warm as I walked around the lakes at Town Center. It was that time of year where the flowers were the brightest and the leaves of the trees viridescent. It is the time just before the hills turn golden and the heat of the day rises from the ground forcing one to seek the shade of an oak or magnolia tree or an air-conditioned coffee house.
IMG_4465Morning at Town Center Lakes

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