Parliament of the World’s Religions, Salt Lake City, Utah

In 1893, approximately eight thousand people came together from many religions and spiritual traditions in Chicago, hoping to create a global forum for religious dialogue among many diverse faiths. In 1993, on the centenary of that meeting, another gathering was held, billed as the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Since that time, gatherings have been held at irregular intervals in Chicago (1993), Cape Town, South Africa (1999), Barcelona, Spain (2004), Melbourne, Australia (2009), and again this year in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was invited to speak there on a panel about reconstructing Pagan religions.

The journey started with a train trip down to Mestre to get to the airport on the day before my flight. I was in a particularly reflective mood and felt very open to the land around me as I traveled, thinking about issues of relocation, of inhabitation, of touching something larger than myself. I was feeling in need of connection while in the midst of a sense of rootlessness, and finding similarities to other places.

the train, Trieste to Mestre, October

give me time
to know this fallow earth of autumn
mist rising from the waters
egrets wading
or still and watching
the complex, fractal augury
of starlings
curling across the sky

there should be time
for this slow decay
of leaves
gone from trees
of grapes
gone from vines

melting into loam
melting into wine

melting slowly into winter rain


Mormon temple

Mormon Temple, Salt Lake City

The long flight was difficult and I was running on three days with about five hours sleep in total, but I was met by friends I hadn’t seen in about three years, and I was happy to have that opportunity. We drove into Salt Lake City and got to the hotel, then registered at the conference. The venue is large, with lots of glass, though I was a bit disturbed to see signs acknowledging the open carry laws. I am not someone comfortable around guns. I didn’t think of it as a particularly auspicious start, but most of the conference was better than this.


you know you’re in America when…

According to the Parliament materials, 50 religions were represented at the conference, and there were about 10,000 people registered to attend. Many of the sessions were Livestreamed, and you can view them here. I saw one lone protester outside the venue, with a garbled message about how there had to be One True Truth, and if it wasn’t Jesus then it wasn’t anyone. I’m not sure his signs quite said what he thought they were saying, though. As a polytheist, I found it kind of amusing – I’m perfectly comfortable with there not being One True Truth. It is, in fact, a foundation of my worldview that such a thing doesn’t actually exist.


Kirk Thomas, Ar nDraiocht Fein


Diana Paxson, Hrafnar


M. Macha NightMare

On the first evening, I attended the Pagan meet and greet, getting together with a few old friends and acquaintances and just catching up with my body, trying to adjust to a new time zone again. Out in the main hall of the conference center, Tibetan Buddhists were working on a sand mandala, to be constructed during the course of the long weekend, and destroyed at its end, a symbol of the world’s impermanence. I visited every day, watching the progress, and the infinite patience of the monks.






Very close by, the Jains had set up a small temple for people to visit. The Sikhs provided a free lunch every day for the attendees, called Langar. Each day, they sang in a group to bless the meal before people entered the hall to sit together and have vegetarian food. In the exhibition hall, the Sikhs had a booth where they would turban anybody who came and wanted one, explaining the origins of the practice. Apparently, back in the day, long hair and beards, and the right to wear a turban, were only afforded to the very wealthy. When the Sihks embraced the turban, it was a radical act of equality and a protest against the inequity of the society of the time. It was a fascinating process to watch, and the smiles everywhere were wonderful.


Jain temple


blessing Langar


Langar service

There was a room where shrines for many religions had been set up, and some of the Pure Land Buddhists had a chanting ceremony several times a day on the hour, where you could go to sit and participate with them.

Japanese Shin Buddhists

Japanese Shin Buddhist ceremony

In the exhibition hall, there was a stage with music, dance, and storytelling performances from many different cultures. There were spiritual art displays throughout the venue, and conversations going on in every corner.

Sunday's performances in the exhibition hall

Because of the sheer size of the Parliament, it was impossible to attend everything. In fact, I went to very few things simply because I was tired and had to pace myself. I went to a session on protecting women’s rights – the session was supposed to consist of two speakers, though only one was able to attend. I very much wish more of the Parliament could have been streamed, as there is so much I would have loved to see. At least I can watch some of what I missed, and I’m grateful for the opportunity!


T. Thorn Coyle, Gus diZerega, Diana Paxson, post panel discussion

As a part of the Parliament, films were also screened, and I attended two of them, dealing with Native American issues and with veterans. The first was a documentary about the Doctrine of Discovery, which is the result of a Papal bull granting European Christians the authority to own anything they landed on, despite it already being occupied by Native peoples. This profoundly racist document is still cited by the US Supreme Court and other governments all over the globe. Its existence as a driving force of colonialism effects nations all over North and South America, Africa, Australia, and an incredible number of other places.

The other was a documentary called Healing the Warrior’s Heart, on Native sweat lodges at the Veteran’s Administration hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, and their effect on veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As a vet with PTSD, this was right up my alley, and I talked briefly with the producer afterwards about some things that my own spiritual community does to deal with these issues.


our panel on reconstructed polytheist religions

The panel I was on was not a part of the officially filmed sessions. We do, however, have a rather shaky youtube recording of most of the panel discussion in three parts. Probably best just to go with audio and not bother watching the video, as it was filmed on Rob’s iPad. The title of our session was Rebuilding the Altars: Reconstructing Indigenous Pagan Faiths for Today. I will note that I have some serious issues with the use of “indigenous” here, but that I was asked to speak on the panel before we had a title or a panel description. That said, I think some important things were shared, and we did have a good turnout for the small room we were using.

Despite the focus on women’s issues, racism, indigenous issues, and religiously based violence at this Parliament, we still had sessions on the program that were profoundly homophobic, transphobic, and problematic regarding women’s rights. One session on the “gender war” brought about by “gender feminists” was quite insistent that it was okay for women to vote but we shouldn’t want, you know, bodily autonomy, and that people loving people of the same gender was destroying families. We are making progress, but there is still so very much work to be done. It can be hard to remain optimistic in the face of things like this, but it is necessary to continue. Change does not come unless we insist on it. Nobody ever won their rights by sitting there accepting the status quo.


Goddesses from around the world


and sacred images of the feminine


from an installation at the conference

After the Parliament, I was in town for one more day, as I didn’t want to fly home on the last day of the conference itself. The day of my flight, my friend Lorrie and I went out to the Great Salt Lake to have a look. Having been raised and living most of my life by various oceans, I recognized the scent of salt water, but this was very very different than any of those larger bodies of water. The scent of it was very “chemical” to my nose, and just smelled off to me for reasons I could not quite put my finger on. The lake is far saltier than any ocean, but less so than the Dead Sea. The only life in the water is brine shrimp, but that does support a large population of water birds, and it is a major stop on the migratory flyways of many bird populations. The mountains are beautiful and the light on them was really glorious. There was some rain, and occasional bits of rainbow made themselves known.


at the Great Salt Lake



this may look like tidelands, but it is not

After such an intensive trip, emotionally and spiritually, it was really good to get back home to Trieste. I’m looking forward to next month’s Irish music seisiún at Taverna ai Mastri d’Arme. I’ve been to two so far; I’ve heard that Trieste has one of only three traditional concertinas player in Italy at the seisùn, and he goes to Ireland annually to study with players there. My friend Anna keeps insisting that I sing, but I don’t know enough lyrics to participate. I did, however, promise to memorize a couple of Gaelic songs again and sing next month. Did I mention I was in a Scots Gaelic language choir in Seattle for several years? About a dozen years ago now, anyway. It’s been a long time, but perhaps I ought to get back on that horse.



Compleanno in Italia

You may notice that the header on my blog has changed. The old photo was a street in the small mountain town of Poffabro, in the Dolomite mountains. It was beautiful, but it was from my visit in 2012, and it reflects the more rural beginning of my journey here. The new header, I think, is more appropriate to the current themes of my life – living in the city of Trieste, being once again in a city, and entering a new phase of my life.

Also, the Free Territory of Trieste feels kind of like being in a pirate movie, doesn’t it? Who doesn’t want to be in a pirate movie?

My birthday was this past week. The bora blew through town that day, rattling windows, blowing every hidden bit of trash out of its concealing crevice, and staggering the pedestrians as we went about our business. My own windows didn’t rattle at all, due to the lovely double-paned outside windows that are relatively new to the building. It was silence itself inside.

My brother was in town overnight for my birthday. We went over to the Questura to see if they had the papers that had been sent from Pordenone, but the office was already closed for the day by the time he’d arrived and we got over there. We got the hours, though, and also found the office of the Comune di Trieste, where I’ll need to register my residence and get my Carta d’Identita.

For dinner, we went to the Arcoriccardo restaurant, which I linked to in my last post. It was a quiet evening there, and the food was really good. It was, as anticipated, on the expensive side but not over the top. I thought it was worth it for what we got and would certainly go back for a special occasion again. Service was very good, as well.

The next morning, we went to the Questura, where we were told that the papers had not yet arrived from Pordenone. They made sure they had my proper phone number and said someone would call when they were ready for me to come in. After that we walked to the office where I had to register my residence. I wasn’t able to do so, but the question about why Montereale hadn’t given me my Carta d’Identita was resolved. Apparently, the first time you apply for your Permesso di Soggiorno, they won’t register your residence or give you your card until you actually have the Permesso. After that, if you are renewing your Permesso, they don’t worry about that and all you need is the receipt from the post office. So, weirdness resolved, but I’m still a bit in limbo. Regardless, I’ve done everything they’ve asked of me so far, and things appear to be legal and going all right. It does seem there may be a bit more of a delay, though, given the move and the transfer of the papers.

About ten minutes after my brother left to go home, the Questura called. They want me to come in Tuesday morning to get fingerprinted. Again. I don’t know why, but I’ll be there. My brother will come up on his motorcycle and go with me in the morning then head back home after lunch.

He brought more bookshelves with him when he came, so now three more bookshelves were built, and all of my books are finally up off the floor. This is a relief, and I do have room on some of the shelves to let the collection grow, as libraries do. We all know books breed in the dark, when we’re not looking.

Today it has been gloriously sunny. The time shift happened last night, so now the clock has moved forward an hour and dusk comes later. I hate clock shifts, but it will be nice to have more light in the evening again. Feeling like a walk and wanting to get some sun, I headed down to the Molo Audace, the long, narrow stone pier near Piazza Unità. I think all of Trieste was out walking today, in the piazze and along the waterfront. There was a haze over the sea, and cargo ships floating like islands on the horizon. Sailboats skimmed slowly over the calm water like the people walking the shoreline.


Ships and sailboats on the Adriatic off Molo Audace

I saw an immense number of jellyfish, along with small schools of minnows skimming just below the surface of the water. Beneath the murmur of conversation, if you listen closely, you can hear the tiny splash of dorsal fins. There were two species of jellyfish, their umbrellas rippling gently as they moved, rising and falling in slow motion. I sat on the dock for a while, writing in my notebook and enjoying the warmth of the sun.


Aurelia aurita (smaller jellyfish) and Rhizostoma pulmo swimming near the pier

Finally, feeling like moving, I rose and headed back toward the Piazza. Along the way, a man with a hookah sat on the stone, putting together a fishing pole. Around me, Italian, German, and Slovenian language in waves. I walked slowly, trying to let go of my need for perfection and my unconscious desire to hurry everywhere. I thought about Specchi, but it was pretty crowded, as one would expect on a brilliantly sunny Sunday afternoon. I walked down to Ginger, but the four little tables inside were full, and there was a line, so I wandered back to Specchi and got a seat anyway, and had a spritz aperol. The presentation was a bit over the top, with a bowl of chips and bits of other snacks on pikes like the heads of my enemies.


Spritz aperol with food on spikes. NOM.

I talked briefly to the waiter. I think people are starting to recognize me, even if they don’t know my name, as the smiles I get are friendlier than they were the first few times I’ve been into some of these same places. It’s nice, having people recognize my presence as something other than a passing thing. He grinned when I left, at my “ci vediamo.” I can’t say much, but I’m trying to use more of what little I do have in hopes it will become easier. I stopped a couple of blocks from my flat at Gelateria Zampolli, at Via Carlo Ghega 10, which came recommended to me as one of the better places in town. I remember when I was initially researching Trieste online, I’d read one person’s report of the city, complaining that they couldn’t find a gelateria anywhere, and I will admit I find myself wondering if they ever got more than a block from Piazza Unità for their entire visit, as there are quite a few gelaterias here, just like pretty much anywhere else in Italy. I had a scoop of lemon. It was delicious.

Tonight I’ve got some chicken simmering on the stove. I’ll make chicken soup with lentils. My brother brought me baking powder, baking soda, and corn starch for various things, so I picked up eggs and milk to make scones. I usually use an egg substitute because I’m mildly allergic to eggs, but a little bit in a batch of scones isn’t usually a problem. A year ago, I didn’t imagine my life would look like this, ever. It’s strange what life hands us sometimes.

The flat smells like chicken soup. The balcony door is open. The sun is lowering in the sky. Life is good.


Anxiety. It’s a thing I’ve struggled with most of my life. I deal with a level of it that occasionally requires medication for panic attacks, and I also spent about two years of my life so embedded in anxiety that I couldn’t even leave the house without someone accompanying me. I deal with post traumatic stress as well, and it’s probably not a combination that usually lends itself to solo international travel or relocation overseas. It’s also been kicking me in the teeth a lot this week.

This is something that I knew was inevitable. High stress situations intensify anxiety, as does feeling isolated, and moving to another country pegs high on both of those scales. Not knowing the language lends itself to a certain feeling of helplessness as well. I’m doing my best not to let it all get to me, as I know from experience it is a passing thing, even if it doesn’t feel that way in the moment.

I’ll admit I spent a day or two just hanging around the flat writing. I got an email from my friend in Granada soliciting some poems for an anthology he’s going to publish with a due date of June 21st, so I do need to actually put words on paper for that. But there are necessary things that need doing, and places that require going, and no amount of avoidance (a big thing when the anxiety hits) is going to do things or go places. Even when I lived in Everett, surrounded by friends, I had days where just taking the dog out for a walk was a fraught activity but, when you live alone, nobody is going to walk the dog for you, no matter how awful you feel for whatever reason.

Part of me knows that if I actually put on my shoes and my jacket and walk out the door, I will feel better, but it’s hard to convince that tight knot that’s made its home in my chest that this is true.

I went to my first Italian class on Monday. The teacher had been waiting for four people to sign up; they did, and I was the only one who actually showed up. That meant I got a lot of really good intensive time with her, so I was pleased. I was told that after I took the first class, I could decide if I wanted to continue, and to pay before the second class (this coming Monday). I told her after our first session that if she was good with teaching one person, I would be happy to keep coming and working with her. Today I went and paid the class fee. The class is twenty hours, ten weeks.

We started out with some reading, not for comprehension but for the sound of the language. There was a reading for comprehension exercise, some fill in the blank stuff for the verbs essere and avere – to be and to have – and personal pronouns, answering questions based on pictures, and a read through of a short newspaper article. She’d chosen the article after skimming the first couple of (short) sentences but hadn’t realized that the article then evolved into lengthy sentences with semicolons and dependent clauses. We read it aloud, her first and me following after, as I struggled with pronouncing things. We worked on translating the article as we went along. Between her rough English and my appalling Italian, I would break out my dictionary as she struggled for the right word to help me along, and we got through about nine column inches of text.

The class was intended to last two hours. With just the two of us, we did a little over an hour and 45 minutes, but I felt like it was time very well spent. If there had been two or three other students, it probably would have run a lot longer and we wouldn’t have got through everything. She gave me homework to write three sentences sort of on the theme of being a child and things I did as a kid. I didn’t do short, three word sentences, but I wasn’t going for dependent clauses, either. I did get three sentences together, though I know one of them has some issues because I’m not sure how to say a particular thing, but she’ll correct it when I see her again. That’s what this is all for, after all. A class is a safe environment to make mistakes.

We’ve had a couple of nice, sunny days in Trieste, but I’ve been too busy to go around taking photos. I’ll try to have some more for you this weekend, as I want to get to the Aquarium soon.

I have spent a fair bit of time since I got here trying to locate a rice cooker and a water filter pitcher around town, both of which I finally found today at a little kitchen supply shop. The rice cooker is larger than I’d like, but cooked rice keeps and can be frozen. The water filter is going to help immensely for reducing the chalky taste and the film on top of the water here, so my tea will actually finally taste like tea again. Both of these are things I consider really necessary maintenance items. I eat a lot of rice, and clean water that doesn’t taste weird is mandatory.

On my walkabout this afternoon, I found a larger grocery store with a better selection of fruits and vegetables than the one on the corner, and a somewhat different selection of meat and cheese. There’s a larger selection of a bunch of other stuff, as well, which is good. I bought some of what I think are beets, but they’re neither the deep red I’m used to nor the gold sort, so I’ll find out what they taste like. They looked nice, though. The store is not all that far, and it’s great to have so many choices within easy walking distance. I know there are a wide variety of others in the area as well that I haven’t yet explored, and that doesn’t count any of the small shops that are just for fish or meat or diary or fruit and veg. Because of the anxiety, I tend to be a little hesitant to go into new shops, particularly when I am struggling just to ask basic questions, but I’m very happy with the fact that I have actually been doing these things. I might get myself one of those little carts I see some people pulling along behind them for when I have to get heavy things at the grocery.

I talked to the people at the American Corner this morning. They had a coffee and conversation group from 10 am to noon, and it was really nice to get out and talk to people for a while, even if almost all of it was in English. I asked about finding a doctor who speaks English – I’m not going to put my health issues on the line with my bad Italian if there’s any choice, because some of my problems are rather complicated – and was referred to a doctor whom one of the people there had been going to for several years. Now all I have to do is conquer my phone anxiety to call and make an appointment, as I’ve run out of one of my (less vital) medications, and I don’t want to even come close to running out of the antidepressants!

Depending on the weather tomorrow, and how my hip is recovering from its creakiness after my wandering, I may stay in and work on some poems. We’ll see what happens.

Moving day

Things that seem slightly unreal:

Gilded murals on buildings
Everywhere I walk, statues
Floating in a sea of barely-intelligible conversations
Vast pedestrian spaces
Good restaurants in tiny alleys
Roman ruins in the city
Café life, outside, in February
Being able to drink the coffee
Light in my rooms on a rainy day

I’ve spent the last couple of days moving into the new flat, with my brother’s help. We drove up from Montereale on Thursday so that we could meet my landlady a little after noon on Friday without having to come in early. His little car was packed with my things and we parked (illegally) just down the block where there was a little space and hauled things up to my place as quickly as we could. There was no rain, thankfully. In this huge space, my few things rattle and echo. My desktop computer sits on the floor beneath the office window, awaiting a desk, a wireless connection that doesn’t come from a USB drive, and a chair for me to sit on.

Insurance was procured. The registered copy of my rental contract was acquired. All the keys to the place were handed over. My brother installed wall lights in the dining room and hallway. The landlady likes the lights. We still have to deal with lights for the ceiling in each room, and with a desk lamp or three, but they can be handled later. I do want one for the bedroom soon, though.

This past week I got a clothes washer on a deep discount sale (it had a scrape on one corner) that will be delivered on Tuesday. They’re pretty simple to install, and I can do that myself once the driver brings it up here and hauls it into the bathroom. All I need is a screwdriver, and I’m competent to handle one of those, unlike lighting installation.

I got myself a little sound system for the iPod. On the base, it was less than half the cost of anything I’d seen in Italian shops, though I had been looking. I’m glad to have music again. My brother’s taste in music and mine are quite different, so I didn’t have mine playing if he was home, and he didn’t usually have music on or, if he did, he was wearing his headphones at his computer. It tended to be quiet, when the roosters weren’t crowing.

Most of my life at the moment is taking place in the kitchen, where I have chairs, or in my bedroom, where I can lie down and sleep, but there’s nothing in the other rooms yet. In two to three weeks, I should have my library and other things arrive, but there is no furniture aside from a few folding bookshelves. I’m having to acquire things slowly, a little at a time. That said, I’m just as glad I didn’t ship everything with me, as it would have been expensive, and I don’t think most of it would really have gone well in this space. Buildings have personalities, and this one is entirely different than my condo back in Everett.

Nothing moves in straight lines here. The streets might look straight but they are all moving at angles, along the coast or up into the hills, or around the piazzi. Walking in a “straight” line won’t get you to a place you though you were going, and the gps system on my phone gets confused by things. Locations are not where they appear on a map. My brother and I were searching for a Greek restaurant on Thursday night and both our gps maps had it at different locations, neither of which were the right one, even though we had both entered the same address. Sometimes a paper map is still the best answer, even for the wired.

I’m spending time getting lost, and it’s okay. Lost is an all right place to be at the moment, both in metaphor and in the physical space of Trieste. Being in a different country, surrounded by a different language, it is a natural state of being. Wandering aimlessly leads to familiarity and opens up the potential for serendipity. A comics and games shop across from a church whose door is surmounted by the all-seeing eye in a pyramid; the Lupa nursing Romulus and Remus on a building façade; people laughing and talking at tables outside a bar in a tiny alley.

Last night there were fireworks over the water. Neither my brother nor I have any idea what was going on. I only knew there were some loud bangs. I thought someone was hauling something really heavy up the stairs, as the sound was echoing in the building. My brother saw the bursts from his window above the piazza but he thought I was asleep, so he didn’t call me to watch. He asked the barista at the place we had breakfast this morning, but she hadn’t any idea either.

The clouds have rolled in thickly and it’s drizzling. I am inside wishing for a soft, comfortable chair and a lamp for reading. There is tea. Life is good.

In which there is a thought-provoking film, and trains are not what they seem

I’m back in Montereale. We’re having some sunshine and my brother is off on his motorcycle for a little bit while it lasts. It apparently poured here all weekend, where Trieste had a little bit of a break and occasional sunshine.

I spent most of Sunday wandering a little further afield. Rather than heading down to the waterfront, I walked inland a bit to the Giardano Pubblico Muzio Tommasini.

triestegardenIt’s a roughly triangular public park and botanical garden founded by its namesake, a botanist born in Trieste, who later became the city’s mayor. There’s a pond and a playground for the kids, some chessboards (including a large one paved in an alcove between some seats amid the trees), and busts of cultural figures lining the paths. Artists, musicians, scientists, and intellectuals of varying sorts who have some connection with Trieste are found all along the park paths. James Joyce and Italo Svevo are found next to one another with statues erected at the centennials of their birth.


James Joyce at the Public Garden

I sat for a while on a park bench next to the pond, under the watchful eye of Joyce and Svevo, scribbling in my notebook while the sun edged in through the clouds. The weather was relatively warm and pleasant, particularly after the previous day’s pouring rain. I enjoyed the respite as I let myself get a feel for this part of the city.

Because it was Sunday, and around lunchtime, most of the city’s businesses were closed, but people were out walking and taking advantage of the nice weather. I passed by Cafè San Marco (free wi-fi advertised in the window), which looked large and inviting, though I passed it by instead of going in. Wandering randomly, I eventually stopped for lunch myself at a little kebab place on a small side street before heading back to the apartment.

At the film festival, I watched La Mia Classe, which was much more about immigration issues than learning language, per se. It was fascinating, hilarious, and heartbreaking by turns. Part of the film was fictional, though some of it seemed to be entirely too real to be scripted, and the person associated with the film who spoke at the festival said that it had started out as fiction but mutated into something else as filming went along. It reminded me of how very fortunate I am in my own circumstances. I’ve never thought of myself as a wealthy person, though I know I am a lot better off than some of my friends. In Seattle I am just under the income cutoff for public housing assistance. I could have qualified for a very small, subsidized apartment. Over here, by comparison, I have a lot of money, and that isn’t a circumstance I ever thought I’d be in.

It’s sobering to think about. In my life, I have spent time homeless. I’ve slept on people’s couches and floors and in their spare rooms for a couple of days, or a few months at a time for a total of probably three years of my life, though, thankfully, I’ve never had to sleep under a bridge or in a doorway anywhere, or try to deal with a homeless shelter. I’ve had to go to food banks because I didn’t have money for food, but I’ve never gone more than two days with nothing at all to eat. By the standards of some of the people in the film, even those circumstances were better than what they left when they came to Italy. I have always been thankful when I have enough – a roof over my head, a warm place to sleep, something hot to eat that tastes good. I can only say that I am moreso now.

When the film ended, I grabbed a sandwich and went to find the train my brother had referred me to for the trip back to Pordenone. He gave me the information for the last train of the night, not realizing that it wasn’t the train to Venice via Udine, but the overnight to Rome. There is a price differential of €5, and I didn’t have that much cash in my pocket. They didn’t take credit cards on the train. There wasn’t enough time for me to run to the Bancomat for a little cash. I’d already stamped the ticket, as you’re supposed to, so I couldn’t use it the next day; it was now essentially just a piece of paper that had cost me €13 and change. Thankfully, my apartment was just across the street, so I hauled my backpack up the stairs again and stayed on the air mattress for another night, and caught a morning train down to Pordenone, happy that I had a place to stay and more than enough money to buy a new ticket.

Today my brother took me out to look at furniture and mattresses. I found one that will do nicely and shuffled funds around so that I have the cash in my bank account to buy it, but I will have to find out how much delivery will cost and when they will be able to get one to Trieste. It was at one of the chain department stores, so they can probably talk to a more local branch for less distance, but I’ll have to be in the apartment to take delivery. It’ll be a while before I can get a bed to put under the mattress, but it’s a pretty good start. A warm, comfortable place to sleep, even if it’s temporarily on the floor, is worth so very much.


Giardano Pubblico Muzio Tommasini


A view from the garden

San Daniele di Friuli

The mist came down this morning, light at first, then obscuring everything, rendering the world into vague shapes and bulk and hints of motion. My brother says it’s like this a lot in the winter here. The fog rolls in and sometimes stays for days, or a week or more. It’s cold, but not freezing.

San Daniele in the mist

San Daniele in the mist

It’s as much metaphorical for me at the moment as physical. Without language, the world around me is obscured, with occasional moments taking familiar shapes, or becoming a suggestion of recognizable movement. As a writer, that obscurity is challenging. I’m used to understanding what’s going on around me, and being able to participate in conversations; right now my ability to do that is almost nil.  Asking for a glass for my water is a triumph. Recognizing the name of the fruit in a jar of jam is a trickle of warmth in the cold of my great ignorance.

I’m not afraid of the mist. There’s a great beauty in it and, so far at least, I am able to float in this and sense a spark of something when I hear a word I recognize. It isn’t enough to get by, but I am feeling my way through the obscurity.

I spent the early part of this morning wrangling with Comcast over the partial refund of this month’s bill. It’ll be several weeks before I see the check, but they now have an address to send it, and it won’t be postage due when it arrives. I may well be living in my own place by then, but my brother will be sure to get it to me.

Face at San Daniele

Face at San Daniele

Once we were up and about, we drove to San Daniele di Friuli. San Daniele is famous for its prosciutto and the road into the town is flanked by a number of curing factories. We went to lunch at a restaurant associated with a consortium of prosciutto producers as the fog thickened outside.

It has been a long time since I’ve eaten beef or pork outside of special occasions, but I have started doing so again upon moving here, in part because I don’t want to miss out on some of the wonderful food, but also because a life change as drastic as moving to a different continent seems to call for a shaking loose of some of my prior strictures.

I’d never had prosciutto before. The plate I ordered was their “summer” plate, with cantaloupe, slightly prepared fresh tomato on crostini, and fresh mozzarella. The prosciutto was cool and paper-thin on the plate, beautifully arranged, and the flavors of the melon’s sweetness and the meat’s slight saltiness were a perfect complement. I had been fighting off an incipient headache, so I skipped the wine with lunch and had some pear juice and mineral water instead.

The waitress brought me a glass and a little bottle of pear juice, but didn’t bring one for the water, so I used my tentative, halting Italian to ask for one. Later, I ordered tea with milk. It isn’t much, but I am using the little bit I know, and I have to keep stretching that every chance I get.

After lunch, we walked through the shop attached to the restaurant and I did my best to read labels – sunflower oil, apricot jam, rhodededron honey, capers in vinegar. It’s not stringing sentences together, but it’s a survival skill nonetheless.

On the hill above the restaurant was the town of San Daniele, dim and white. We parked at the edge of the piazza and walked up toward the castle. On the top of the hill there, on the castle grounds, was a church whose foundations were laid in the 8th century; a renovation or rebuilding took place in the 16th century.  On the back of the church was what must have been a piece of the original building: three wise men bringing gifts to Mary and the infant Christ.

Three wise men

Three wise men

We walked along the edge of the hill. On a clear day, it must be an incredible view, but when I looked down, all I could see were layers of landscape falling away into the mist. Looking at it, my dizziness intensified, so I had to back away. Without a point of reference, my brain isn’t processing it quite properly and I lose my internal orientation. This is why I’m walking with hiking poles. I might well have stumbled and fallen if I didn’t have one in hand, even though I wasn’t moving.

I saw a few familiar friends on the drive today. A great blue heron, with the tight bend of its neck, and its legs trailing behind it in flight, and a still, white egret standing in a field were welcome sights. I’m also seeing less familiar creatures: chestnut brown pheasants, the black and white flash of a magpie, and black and grey hoodie crows. I want to know the non-human inhabitants of the land here as much as the people.

Like language, all these things come in time.


Leaving the ghosts of my life

Yesterday morning I moved out of the condo.

Wednesday and Thursday were my last appointments at the Veterans Hospital in Seattle, and I said a lot of goodbyes. I’ve been going there since 1988, and have a long history with the place and its people. Some of those goodbyes were tearful, but we all knew I was going off on an adventure, and everyone wished me good luck and safe travels. A few of them, I know, will be following me here; my friends, don’t feel like you’ve lost me.

Friday I mailed out my desktop computer to my brother and spent time chatting with Lizzie at the mailbox outlet as she built a box for the beast. I’d spent time this week changing my address with the places I needed to online, but the post office and the credit union both needed a signature for an overseas move, so Charles and I drove around and dealt with those items. I called and had the power and the internet turned off at my old place – it feels so strange to call it that.

I’d been anticipating a rather more wrenching goodbye to the Dog of Devastating Cuteness +3 over at Patrick’s but it was quick. When last I saw him, the DoDC+3 was happily sniffing and exploring. He probably won’t even realize I’m missing for another day or two. “Don’t worry,” Patrick said. “I’ll send you pictures every day. I’ll hold up a newspaper next to him so you can see the dates.”

“Reassuring me the hostage is still alive, eh?”

I’m still waiting for that first picture. I wonder if I should worry…

Afterwards, we drove down to Seattle in time to catch Shiuwen Tai for the last half hour or so that Floating Leaves teahouse was open that day, before the tea club met. I hadn’t seen her in several months. Without a car, it was a lot harder to get down to Ballard to have tea with her. Her tiny shop has been a haven for me on more than one occasion. When it was in a larger space further down Market Street, I spent hours there and, as with Travelers, I wrote a big chunk of one of my books there some years back. We tasted a roasted oolong and an aged Kwan Yin (I’ve always regarded Ti Kwan Yin as a little too bitter for my taste), then I bought more tea for my journey. I know you can actually buy tea in Italy, but it won’t be the stuff that Shiuwen imports herself from her home in Taiwan. I’m going to have to find space in my bags for this on the plane. I bought an Alishan, an aged Ping Lin, and a sizeable bag of her House Black tea (my favorite malty black breakfast tea ever); she was very kind and gave me a parting gift of a bag of Oriental Beauty oolong for the road. I told her she should come and visit me if she gets to Italy and she promised she would. Shiuwen is another of my friends who travels a lot and may very well show up on my doorstep one day.

Dinner was Moroccan, as I’d been having a craving. Charles had never had Moroccan before (nor had he done a Taiwanese style tea), so the evening was a culinary adventure for him. He’s been doing an immense amount of carting me around the past several months, so I was pleased to give him a couple of good new experiences for our last day of errands together.

I spent Friday night with Caera, and yesterday morning Qi and Dana were coming by to collect the bed they’d loaned me, and the last three remaining bookshelves. I got there an hour or so before they were due, collecting the last of my things and doing some cleanup. Everywhere around me were the ghosts of my old life. No matter where I looked, there was the afterimage of art on the walls, or altars, or shelves filled with books. Here I had couches, there the dog’s crate, across the room a baker’s rack filled with teaware, over here my desk. There is a worn spot in the floor in the living room where I’d sat in front of my desk for nine and a half years, working on my writing and talking to my friends all over the world.

These are my ghosts – the echo of conversation before a fire, the click of a dog’s nails on the floor, the stain of smoke on the ceiling under an altar where incense and candles once burned, the imprint of a chair at a desk, the scent of feasts cooked and shared with a house full of friends. These have been the gifts of my life.  These are the memories I will take with me from that place. It’s been hard not to cry.

Last night, I went with Caera and Tara and PSV Lupus to a party down in Seattle. Nathan and Tempest were married in California a couple of weeks ago, and having a reception for their friends up here at the Tin Can Studio in the old Rainier Brewery. The building has been a fixture in the Seattle landscape for decades, its red neon R a glowing beacon marking the southern approach to the city. Nathan is a musician and Tempest a dancer, both of them immensely talented and wonderful people. I got to see quite a few more of my friends there as the evening progressed. I was exhausted even before we headed down there in the late afternoon, but it was worth the trip to be able to say more goodbyes and extract promises of visits from some of the assembled. I’m very lucky that I know so many traveling people; I’m sure that a lot of them actually will come to visit me. For some of them, that may mean having to find performance venues for them so that they can afford the trip, but I’m sure I’ll find people in Italy who can help with that after I’ve settled into my own place.

Today I’ll be unpacking both of my bags and taking stock of everything, then repacking more efficiently and so that I can live out of them for the next four days. I was trying to get everything into the main compartment of the checked bag in hopes of avoiding an oversized bag charge, but at this point it will be worth it to me to stuff some things into the more accessible outer pockets and just pay the extra baggage cost. A little convenience at this end will be worthwhile.

Tuesday the shippers are coming to collect my things from storage in Seattle and ship them away. I’ll see Irene and possibly Llyne that afternoon before Caera has to head north to practice with her band; they have an EP coming out on the 14th, with a performance and party at Soul Food Books over in Redmond. I’m sad that I’ll be missing my girlfriend’s EP release party, but timing is what it is. I wish everyone in Chronilus the best of luck and great success, and may the release party be fantastic fun!