The day before New Year, we took a road trip down to Vincenza to spend the evening and the next day with a couple of my brother’s friends. On the way down, we stopped in the town of Asolo for a little walkabout.
Robert Browning lived in Asolo for a while, and I can see how a place like this would appeal to an English poet of the period. It’s a beautiful little town on a high hillside with a lovely view of the mountains and the surrounding countryside. I wouldn’t mind spending a little time there myself, once I’m settled in and have the option of going places by myself and taking my time at things.
As we traveled, I got an email from a good friend of mine, Slippery Elm. He’s a young poet and hiphop MC from Vancouver, BC who is currently living in Granada, Spain. He’s working at Taller de Arte Vimaabi as their poetry coordinator, and invited me to come down to Granada and do a poetry reading there sometime in April. With any luck, that will be able to happen; they don’t have a firm date for their April poetry event yet. I’d invited him to come see me here in Italy when I’m settled into my new place, and that will likely happen later this year. He also suggested we take a trip out to Ireland together, as we share a deep and abiding mutual interest in the place, and in Celtic mythologies and Gaelic poetics. I’m hoping that I’ll have my dog here with me by then, and that I’ll be able to afford another trip so soon afterward, as the return to Seattle to get Chris will be expensive.
Vincenza, where my brother and I spent the new year, has a large US Army base in town, and one of the people we were visiting works there at the hospital; he lives across the street from the base. Early in the evening, as the sun was setting, we took a trip up to the top of the central hill, where we went to a viewpoint across from the Basilica di Santa Maria di Monte Berico. This church was originally run by the Franciscan Order of Santa Brigida, a Bridgettine order of the nuns of St Brigid (though this Brigid is Saint Birgitta of Sweden) from 1429 to 1435.
The colors of the sky over the bascilica were gorgeous. As it grew dark, we went down into the city center and walked about the centro storico to see the lights and the pedestrian streets. The city of Vencenza didn’t have music or a fireworks display this year (budget cuts and whatnot), but the neighbors put on quite a show, and we could see private fireworks displays spread out all across the countryside below the apartment.
The next morning the four of us piled into one of the vehicles and headed out to see some of the towns near Vincenza. We stopped in the medieval walled city of Marostica, where they host a live chess game every two years in September. My brother was there a few years back and said the show was quite impressive, with musicians and a torchlit procession, medieval costuming, and mounted knights on the large paved chessboard in the piazza. The wikipedia article says it happens in even-numbered years, so maybe I’ll get to see it this fall!
Up above the town proper, a ruined castle presides over the countryside. Inside the standing structure, there’s a restaurant, though it wasn’t open when we were there. The view was spectacular. There’s also a footpath up the hill from behind one of the churches, through some olive trees on the hillside.
Our next stop was the town of Bassano del Grappa, which is a center of grappa distillation. Grappa is the Italian distilled liquor, rather like vodka, though made from the skin of grapes after they’ve been pressed for wine. One distillery has a little grappa museum and showroom with a limited but fine display of glassware used in alchemy and distillation, along with a small selection from their larger library of about 1600 volumes on distillation and on grappa. One of their particularly distinctive works is an edition of Liber de arte distillande by Hieronymous Brunschwig, from the year 1500; it was the first printed book on distillation. A nearby town hosts the larger museum of which this one is the satellite, and the main library collection.
We had lunch at a lovely restaurant, Al Sole, on a side street; it very much had the feel of old elegance, with actual silver cutlery on the tables. It has apparently been around since at least the 1950s, possibly longer, under the same ownership. The food was excellent and the prices were moderate. After lunch, we walked down to a wooden covered bridge. There had been wooden bridges on the site since at least 1209, with the current bridge having been designed by Palladio in 1569. The bridge was rebuilt after the war in 1947, and there are Renaissance era arches at the entrance to the bridge. There is also a medieval tower at one end, still in existence.
We got home late on New Years day and the next morning had to go into Pordenone for my appointment with the Questura. I had an appointment for 10:30 but all that really meant was that I was entitled to a number and to wait in line. Which we did. For over three hours. The post office hadn’t said anything about needing anything more than what we had provided for my application for the Permesso, but we both took along our folders of official documents anyway. It turned out that we needed them. The officer at the desk wanted to see our birth certificates and several other things. She asked for a document that they have in Italy which the US doesn’t have — apparently Italy issues some kind of legal document that states people are siblings. She was confused by the fact that we didn’t have this, but our birth certificates list both of our parents as the same, so she decided that would do, and approved the Permesso. I was fingerprinted, then sent upstairs to be fingerprinted again, and told they would text me when the Permesso was ready so that I could come down to Pordenone again to pick it up. From what my brother heard in some of the conversations going on around the room, that is likely to be sometime in early February.
After the Questura, we went over to the base at Aviano, where I was able to get an APO box. They do issue them to retirees (I was treated as one for the purposes of the box, though I am technically in a different category, as a disabled veteran), though there are weight restrictions that don’t come with a box if you are active duty. I can’t receive any package over 16 ounces/one pound unless it is medications. Medications and medical supplies are always accepted. I was told that if there was any trouble with that just to come to the customer service window. I’ll need to get a power of attorney for my brother to pick up packages for me if I’m not able to get to the base for them myself, but that I can get at the legal office on base as well. What this means now is that I have a US mailing address, and this will make a number of things easier and in some cases less expensive.
I did try to get a bank account on base, but there are some international agreements governing who can and can’t have an account there. Active duty service members can have them, but not retirees. They weren’t quite sure what to do with me, because (as noted above) I’m in a different category and have different and slightly more base privileges than retirees, so they kicked the question over to the legal department on base and will call me when they know whether or not I’m eligible for an account there. If I can get one, it would mean I can transfer money to myself without a $35 wire transfer fee from my credit union. If I have to transfer money to an Italian bank, that will cost me and I’ll have to just make one large transfer once a month when my checks come in. It won’t be convenient but it will be doable.
I spent most of the rest of the day updating my address with my credit union, the Veterans Administration, my credit cards, and a few other things. I’ve been having difficulty with things like my iTunes account because my country of residence and my bank account country don’t match, so having the APO box should fix that issue.
Next week, it’s down to Montereale again, to the municipal office, to get my ID card and to open a bank account (Italian) so that I can get money over here to deal with rental and bills on this end. The sooner I get the account, the sooner I can initiate a wire transfer so I’ll be able to get cash together for the necessary rental fees and other expenses of getting myself an apartment!