Can you even get there from here?

The poet, photo by Cristiana Sibenik

It’s been a busy week or so! I finally have my Carta d’Identita. It took a bit of running in circles and €5.20, but I now have all the identification documents I need to get by here. Now that I’ve got the ID card, I can go and register the dog with the city as well, though that may need to wait until I return from Greece.

Ithaka may be a severe case of “can’t get there from here.” Reports are conflicting and I may well need to take a bus (or cab) to Kyllini. I went to the Greek Consulate, where the ticket office is for Minoan Lines, and talked to the woman at the desk. She said there’s nothing on any of the websites they use though, sometimes, small local ferries are not listed. One website says that trips to Ithaka from Patras are all suspended. I won’t be able to find out until I actually get to Patras. The potential for missed connections and screw-ups is fairly large, but I’ll do my best. I may end up only spending one night on Ithaka if I have to go to Kyllini and deal with ferries that don’t run daily.

The dock for the Trieste to Patras ferry is down in the commercial port, south of the city’s main waterfront. My brother will take me there on the day I leave, to avoid having to worry about nonexistent buses and finding a taxi at that hour.

I spent some time walking around new parts of the city with Cristina, an artist and photographer I met at Luisella’s last week. Our first stop was a bar and gelateria on the waterfront near the aquarium. They have a nice little deck out in the back overlooking the harbor and the marina. I tried the watermelon but it was just too thin and too sweet to be really enjoyable. She did warn me that it was going to be very sweet, but I wanted to try it. I saw a new species of jellyfish at Molo Audace on our way over, too. This makes three so far.

Chrysaora hysoscella

Chrysaora hysoscella

From there, we took a long walk south along the waterfront, past the railroad museum, and then over the park along Viale Romolo Gessi until we got to the Unione Sportiva Triestina Nuoto, an Olympic sized swimming pool near the place where I’ll have to go in to the ferry docks. There’s a hideously ugly sculpture of a hippo standing on a ball out front of the building. The building itself is right up there with the Experience Music Project in Seattle for architectural WTFery. From there, we walked along the main road and until we passed the gate for the commercial shipyard, then up the hill via Scala Campi Elisi and past the Madonna del Mare church in the neighborhood where Cristina grew up.

We stopped for a rest and something to drink, then continued back toward downtown, passing the Osservatorio Astronomico, mentioned in my last post. I got some photos this time, and it’s quite the interesting building.

IMG_6226

University of Trieste’s Astronomical Observatory

IMG_6237

The observatory tower

On our way back down into the waterfront area, we stopped by the Casa della Musica, a funky blue building in a pedestrian alley not far from the Arco Riccardo. One of Cristina’s friends was there and invited us to go upstairs and watch a rehearsal if we wanted. We did, but only for a few moments, as it was packed, and really hot. There’s a bar on the ground floor with a bulletin board, posted with instruments for sale, musicians and bands looking for one another, and upcoming gigs. On the first floor there’s a rehearsal and performance hall, and there are practice studios for rent as well. The second floor houses a recording studio.

Casa della Musica

Casa della Musica

The evening brought us back to the canal for a spritz and a snack, and a little talk about cameras and photography. We sat on the dock, but my chair was a bit too close to the edge and one leg of it slipped off. Fortunately, there’s good rope netting around the dock, and Cristiana grabbed my arm, so I didn’t take an unintentional swim.

boats and the dome of San Spiridone, the Serbian Orthodox church

boats and the dome of San Spiridione, the Serbian Orthodox church

Eventually, we made our way back to my place then took the Dog of Devastating Cuteness +3 out for a ride and a little walk in Piazza Hortis. He likes going out, of course, and loves riding in cars, but he does get overly excitable around other animals, so it can be difficult to take him very far from home.

My brother was in town for the last couple of days. We watched the US-Portugal football match at midnight, projected onto an outside wall at a bar in one of the pedestrian zones just off Piazza Unità. A fair sized crowd had gathered, including quite a few Americans. Four were seated at a table just behind us, who had come into town for the Pearl Jam concert that had happened a night or so before. They were in from DC and New York City, and would be on their way to Venice on the train the next day. I’m not much of a sports fan, but it was fun to go watch something big like that al fresco on a gorgeous evening, with a spritz in hand. There’s an Italy match today, which likely means everyone will be glued to their TV for a couple of hours between 5 and 7pm. I’m sure I’ll know it if Italy wins.

Here's the park. Down on the lower right is the bus stop we needed. The lower left was the one we ended up at. Yay, confusion.

Here’s the park. Down on the lower right is the bus stop we needed (11/25). The center left was the one we ended up at (25/26). Yay, confusion.

Last night, we went up to the Parco Farnetto for the Triskell Celtic festival. The posters don’t make it very clear where the place is, and actually finding out how to get there was problematic. The poster talks about a place called Boschetto del Ferdinandeo, and there’s some information about buses, but unless you know that this is a stop in the Farnetto, you’re going to be utterly lost. You can’t find it on Googlemaps by that name. The website says that buses 11, 25, and 26 go there, but really only the 11 and 25 stop at the site. If you take the 26, you end up having to walk most of the length of the park – about one and half kilometers – to get to it; it’s a lovely walk, but not what we were looking for. On the other hand, the festival schedule 26/ (yes, the / makes a difference) does run from that stop down into downtown, but it only runs on Sundays and holidays. Most of the buses stop about 8pm, but that one runs until midnight.

The Bog Bards, a band from Slovenia

The Bog Bards, a band from Slovenia

We headed up during the middle of the day, as the schedules talk about things happening starting about 3pm, but the place really didn’t open until 7pm, and music doesn’t start until 8 or so. We headed back up about 8:30, checked out the booths, had some food, and listened to some music. I met some of the local Pagans there, who were doing a labyrinth walk and holding sacred space for a fire and some ritual work. One of the women speaks English, and we had a talk, though I did speak a little in Italian to a couple of the others. My brother helped translate for some of the conversations. I’ll be going up again this evening around 8:30 to talk with her again, and to show her a few of my books.

IMG_6293

ritual fire at the Triskell festival

Jim will be back later this week to watch the dog while I head off to Torino to see Dan give his talk about his new book, and then head off to Greece. I may not have much in the way of internet access while I’m gone, but when I return, there will be photos!

IMG_6322

fiddler for the Bog Bards

IMG_6326

Irish dance group on stage with the Bog Bards

Advertisements

On buying ferry tickets

IMG_1950

I lost all my photos from the past couple of days, so have a consolation photo of Molo Audace at dusk

I spent Monday and Tuesday afternoons at the Italian civics class. It was at a school closer to me than the one I’d originally been assigned when I had the trip back to Seattle, with no big hill in the middle. The class is a series of videos available in 20 languages. There were three of us in the English session.

The videos had a lot of necessary information but they were so badly done. The narrators, an American woman and a British man, were obviously and awkwardly reading from a teleprompter. They would talk about informational slides that occasionally were duplicates of each other, not showing the information they were referring to, or not appearing at all. Still, now I’m done with that bit and have retained the 15 points toward my eventual permanent residence.

The school also does free classes in Italian for foreigners. The A1 level is 100 hours of instruction and the A2 is 80 hours. They will give an Italian language test at the beginning of the school year, in September, to place the students appropriately. I have to be able to pass an Italian test at the A2 level within two years to remain in Italy.

Wednesday, my brother was here to help me with the Tessera Sanitaria for signing up for a doctor. The videos were rather confusing about the health service and didn’t cover my situation at all, which was unsurprising. Most of the people going through this are here as students or for work, while others come to join a working spouse. Elective residence visas were mentioned very briefly but were not discussed in any detail.

Anyway, when we got to the Tessera, we asked about joining the Italian health service. Since I don’t work and have not contributed to the Italian system, they would want a percentage of my annual income to go to the system (a reasonable request, actually), but that percentage equaled about $1,000 more than I’m paying in insurance right now, so I elected to remain on my insurance. I was, however, given an assignment to a woman doctor who does speak English – I think for dealing with medical issues, it’s pretty important to have as few barriers to communication as possible. She has an office down by the Barcola, so it’s not that far away, but it’s a long walk. Buses go by there regularly, though.

I picked up a 10-trip bus pass at a Tabacchi. It was about €11. I haven’t used the bus yet, but am feeling a bit more confident and will probably do so soon.

Thursday I went back to the school with a Croatian woman I met at the American Corner. We spent a fair amount of the day together. She speaks English, Dutch, and French. She said that she left Croatia before the war that split Serbia and Croatia and that the language changed after that, with the Croatians wanting to remove words and influences from Serbian and other languages. When she goes back to Croatia, as she has been living in other countries for a long time, people say, “you haven’t been here in a while, have you?” We both signed up for the Italian class, and she signed up for an art class.

On the way back to my place, she took me by Prunk Carni, which is a Slovenian butcher and grocery store on Largo della Barriera Vecchia, across from the Coop, giving me a tour and explaining what some of the things there were. They have game meat in regularly – venison, squirrel, bear, and other things. They have wine in barrels, sold by the liter, and you bring your own bottles. She showed me which of the dairy case things was sour cream, and talked about some of her favorite things, like nettle syrup and various sweets. I was really happy to have a guided tour, as I would have been completely lost without her explanations.

Friday night I went to visit my Italian teacher, Luisella, and her husband and father in law. She lives at the top of the Scala Dublino, right above the Trieste observatory, which was built in 1753. Gino said something about the building having been sold by the University last year and converted into a hotel, but I couldn’t find anything online confirming that. Gino’s father, Aldo D’Eliso, was a translator for the American army during and after the second world war; he wrote an autobiography that talks about his origins in Bari, in the south, and his move to Trieste with the British and Americans between 1929 and 1954. He was very kind and gave me a copy of the book. I haven’t read it yet, but talking to him was quite interesting. I spoke some Italian over the evening, but a fair bit of English as well. Since Giulia had donated a copy of my poetry book to the American library recently, Luisella had borrowed it and both Aldo and Gino have read it and very much liked my work. Luisella said she is reading it next.

Yesterday morning I walked down to Piazza Unità for a caffe latte and a brioche. The heat here has been pretty intense for my tender northwest sensibilities lately (up in the 90s and humid), so breakfast al fresco was just the thing. There were a lot of fire engines on the waterfront, and a stage set up across the piazza. On the way home along the Riva, I saw a long line of firefighters – the Vigili di Fuoco – carrying what seemed like an endless Italian tricolor over the bridge at Ponterosso toward Piazza Unità. It was quite a sight, but I was feeling a little under the weather so didn’t follow them down to the piazza to watch whatever was happening. I took some photos with my phone, but lost all the photos I’d taken over the past couple of days in a tragic iPhoto accident when a software update did me in while I was transferring them. When I got home, I did a little web searching and found out that the Vigili were having their annual conference here in Trieste this weekend, and this was part of their ceremonies.

Today I’ve been finalizing plans for the end of June and early July. My friend Dan has a lecture in Torino on June 30th, so I’ll be taking the train there on the 29th, then back here to Trieste on the 1st of July. On July 2nd, I’ll hop on a ferry to Greece to visit with my friend Stephen Green, a ceramics artist I met on Twitter in 2012. I was couch-surfing across Europe after my Brigid pilgrimage to Ireland and made a stop in Penrith, staying at a B&B to meet him and his partner at a ceramics festival where he was vending. We hit it off quite well and hoped to meet again at some point. Now that I’m in Italy, they have invited me to stay a couple of days with them on the island of Ithaki while they’re there on holiday. I’ve spent gods know how many hours this past several weeks trying to figure out how to get there for the least expense. Flying would be extremely expensive, and there’d still be the issue of getting from whatever airport I landed at, out to the island.

Almost all the ferry websites I encountered are difficult to navigate, often with outdated information about routes and prices. I’ve got myself a ferry ticket from Trieste to Patras, an overnight trip out and a two-night trip back with Minoan Lines. From what I can tell there are local ferries to the islands from Patras on Strintzis Ferries and I should be able to get to Vathi on Ithaki without too much trouble, as there are daily trips. I have an email in to Strintzis, as they had an actual 2014 schedule and rate sheet posted, but the website they link to for online purchase of tickets is pretty much non-functional and doesn’t give me the right options.

My brother agreed to take care of my dog for me while I’m traveling. I’ll be taking my laptop along, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to post anything while I’m traveling. There will definitely be photos gu leòr when I return!

11 Days: Remembering last summer

Yesterday was dim and chilly, but there was no rain for the moving sale. Over half of the bookshelves went, and a lot of other stuff. Many of my friends came by and got things from me, and some of their goodbyes left me tearful. Others stayed for a while and had dinner with me afterwards; it was very kind of them and I enjoyed their company immensely. One of them, PSV Lupus, wrote an elegiac post about living in my library for two and a half years, and about our friendship.

I will admit, I sniffled a lot when I read it in the dark, early hours this morning, when I wasn’t able to sleep. A word to my friends – you guys have to stop making me cry, damn it!

Today has been rainy, though somewhat warmer. One friend who couldn’t make it yesterday came by today and picked up a bunch of stuff that I’m much happier to see going to a friend than to a charity shop. He also picked up some things I’d given to another couple of friends who’d come by for dinner last week and forgotten what I intended to send home with them. Overall, I pulled together several hundred dollars from the sale, and I feel very good about what’s going off to the Northwest Center on Wednesday morning.

After spending that brief time with Robert this afternoon, I went back out to the garage and started bagging and boxing things for the Northwest Center. There’s more to do yet, but Charles is coming by this evening, in just a little while, after he gets back from the Irish language class he teaches with my girlfriend Caera on Sunday nights. The class used to be located here, but I haven’t any furniture left, so there’s no place for anyone to sit. When I’m not using my laptop, I have to stand at the breakfast bar to use the desktop computer, and that’s being shipped off to my brother late next week.

In the midst of all the activity, I’ve been reflecting a little on some of the things I saw in Italy last summer, and how much I would love to see them again, to give them a chance to settle into me more. We went to places that astonished and delighted me, and I’ll share a few photos with you here, and my memories of those places.

Mary shrine at the headwaters of the Livenza

Mary shrine at the headwaters of the Livenza

I had never seen an entire river emerging from the base of a mountain before. Fiume Livenza emerges from three sources near the town where my brother lives. We visited the banks of the stream that flows from the underwater cave at Gargazzo; there’s a restaurant there where I’d love to have dinner some summer evening. The water is incredibly clear, and the emerging stream is in a gorgeous wooded area and flows down into the small town below.

Another source of the Livenza is situated next to a busy road. Just slightly downstream from the little shrine pictured here is a ruined mill, broken and painted with graffiti, but there’s a path that runs along both sides of the river and around the resurgence where it emerges from beneath the mountain. There’s a beautiful riparian zone below this, peaceful and filled with life. In the myths that I read and love, “springs” and “wells” play a powerful part, representing not just life but the eruption of poetic power and wisdom from some secret otherworldly source, but I had never really viscerally understood what that meant and why they might feel so sacred before I saw this place.

The Livenza here is not just a little stream. It’s a full sized river coming out of the ground.

Mountain. Road. River. Nothing gentle about this transition at all. It’s nothing like the swamps where the streams and rivers of my childhood rose in the Berkshire hills of Massachusetts. In this place, I knew with my entire body what the poets of Ireland were talking about when they spoke of the sudden, violent emergence of rivers from the otherworld.

Venetian flag on a gondola

Venetian flag on a gondola

We spent only one day in Venice during my visit. Like so many others, I was enchanted by the city and its canals. I’ve always been in love with water, and I wanted very much to spend more time there. This city, without cars and trucks in its streets, was a large part of what inspired me to try to move to Italy when the dizziness hit. If I couldn’t drive anymore, if I had to walk and take public transit for years, or possibly for the rest of my life, I thought it might be a good idea to live in a place where everyone walked.

Public transit in Washington state includes the ferry system. These are moderately sized car ferries that traverse Puget Sound in a wide variety of routes, and I’ve taken quite a few of them over the years. It’s always a pleasure to take my friends on the ferries when they come to visit, and I have loved riding them simply for the love of being on the water, and the view of the Cascade and Olympic mountains rising above the sound before and behind me. Tahoma towers in the distance to the south, an immense, snow-crowned presence that visually defines the region. It is a spiritual presence as well as a physical one.

The vaporetto system in Venice is more like city buses than our ferries are, but they are at least larger than the smallboats I took to work from the mainland of Pearl Harbor when I was stationed at Ford Island back in 1980. I understand there’s a bridge now, and that you can drive to the island if you work there, but my daily commute was standing crammed in with probably thirty or so other people, swaying with the waves, and getting wet from the spray despite the canvas cover, regardless of the weather.

The vaporetti are a lot more comfortable. You get seats. I could get used to the vaporetti.

Lion in Piazza San Marco

Lion in Piazza San Marco

I could get used to the strange, casual beauty of the cities, and to the sense of age and history that non-indigenous North America lacks. While there are interesting architectural moments in Seattle, its buildings are largely utilitarian and they don’t date back past the late 19th century. Some 25 blocks of downtown were lost in the great fire of 1889 that resulted in the burial of most of downtown and raising the streets by about twenty-two feet. There’s nothing particularly elegant about Seattle’s buildings now, though I’ll admit to being amused by the long-tusked walruses on the façade of the Arctic Club building.

We have natural beauty in the mountains and the waters here, and the temperate Northwest rainforest can only be understood by backpacking and camping in it, but our cities are too modern to have the depth of history that is found everywhere in Italy. Put a spade in the ground there, and you unearth Romans and Etruscans.

Dolomite mountains

Dolomite mountains

The Dolomites are sharper and more angular than the Cascades and the Olympics, and the environment, while alpine, is very different than the mountains here. My brother took me for a drive up into the Dolomites along a winding road, filled with switchbacks and hairpin turns, that he’d helped improve some years back, when the US Air Force was doing community projects in the area.  I was eager to get out and hike, and we spent time walking along a dirt road in a park, moving slowly up the mountain. I took photos of flowers in the forest, and pictures of the view from the road as we turned and turned again.

When he was out here visiting a few years back, I took him out to the Hoh rainforest, and to the Grove of the Patriarchs on Mount Rainier; his friends back in Italy who saw the photos of him hiking the trails could hardly believe the size of the trees. Jim had been pretty impressed himself. They are some of the most ancient and impressive living things on the west coast. I’ll miss the cedars and hemlocks and Douglas firs. The scent of cedar in the rain is the scent of home to me.

Mosaic in the bascilica at Aquileia

Mosaic in the basilica at Aquileia

Jim took me to Palmanova and Aquileia on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. We had a snack in the piazza in Palmanova and walked out to the city walls. I would have liked to explore more, but Aquileia promised mosaics and a really nice little museum. I’d seen the mosaics in documentaries before and was eager to see them for myself. The whimsy of the sea-life charmed me from a screen, from the octopodes to the sea monster swallowing Jonah. Seeing the mosaic pavement for myself was a wonderful experience.

Aquileia was once one of the major seaports of the Roman empire, on the Natissa. We walked the archaeological trail through the ruins of the ancient port; its waterway was a still green trickle, sailed only by a few ducks. The place was well-supplied with signs in Italian and English, explaining the town’s Roman history.

We ate our lunch at a sunny table outside a small cafe, where the waitress tried to talk to my brother in German. He kept answering, in Italian, “I don’t speak German. I’m not German.” She refused to speak Italian to him – apparently not believing him – but did take our order. I ate my sandwich under the watchful eye of the Lupa, suckling Romulus and Remus atop a column next to the basilica.

The crypt was almost as fascinating to me artistically as the 4th-century mosaics. The paintings had a different sort of charm, with boggle-eyed kings and saints, foliate green men, and beautifully flowing trees.

Heron or crane from the crypt below the Patriarcale Basilica di Aquileia

Heron or crane from the crypt below the Patriarcale Basilica di Aquileia

There were monochrome figures and medieval graffiti. I particularly liked the heron eating a fish. Speckled and cross-hatched, he looks a bit smug and quite pleased with himself.

The damage to the paintings was considerable. In some places entire figures were expunged, while others were missing parts. Yet there is nothing like this here where I live. America is obsessed with newness and youth, and things like this would vanish under the hard machines of developers here. It’s difficult to preserve what history we do have, whether indigenous or immigrant, because profit drives everything, and history isn’t generally considered profitable.

Without history, though, we have no sense of who we are or where we came from. We are adrift in the present and without roots. Without history, we don’t value the past and the forces that have shaped us.

I want to touch an older history. I want to look back beyond my lifetime, beyond even the lifetime of the country where I was born. I want to spend time in cities that have been inhabited for hundreds or thousands of years. I want to have ghosts beneath my skin. I want to read the words written by the people who lived in those places, to see the art that they made as it changed and developed.

This history is distant from Americans, not just temporally but spatially. We are thousands of miles from these places and events. Even more recent history can be difficult for us to feel on a more than theoretical level.

Dragonfly in the WW1 cemetery behind the basilica in Aqileia

Dragonfly in the WW1 cemetery behind the basilica in Aquileia

Behind the basilica in Aquileia is a cemetery filled with the men from the town who died in the first world war. It’s a quiet place, laid out in neat rows of iron wreaths of oak and laurel leaves. Its battles were never fought on my continent, though over a hundred thousand Americans died in the fighting. Its physical distance puts a psychic distance between us and the reality of it all. In Europe, there are still memorials everywhere. Each town has them. Here, they are much more difficult to find and, unless a family member died in that war, no one really remembers. It’s a short segment of a high school American History course and very little more.

There, they are present by sheer force of numbers, and by the battles fought on familiar ground. What was theoretical for me became a lived reality when I stood in the presence of these iron wreaths.

I know I have rambled here. I am facing a loss of my own personal history as I leave my country and my friends and family behind. I hope to find a door into another history there, one that I can immerse myself in and learn from. I will read Catullus and Ausonius and Dante and Petrarch, and walk the places they once knew. I’ll follow in the footsteps of Joyce and Rilke in Trieste. And I’ll bring some of that history into my own experience.