Making a Month of It: Part 1

How do I even get started with October? I’m going to have to give you two posts about it, I think, as this is going to get unwieldy otherwise.

The entire month was pretty much full of visits and travel and planning for visits and travel and recovering from visits and travel, though not in that order. Some paperwork issues have been resolved, Italian classes are finally (sort of) scheduled, and art and music has been viewed and appreciated.

Starting with the bureaucratic necessities, my new Permesso di Soggiorno was approved for two years, and I should be receiving a text from the Questura sometime in the next few weeks to come down and pick it up. A letter arrived for me, dated a couple of weeks prior to the approval, telling me to come down to the office with more papers – that had already been done. Ah, the efficiency of the Italian post. I elected not to freak out on it when I saw the date. What this means is, I will go through the process one more time for another two years when this one is up, then I can apply for my permanent residence, which you can do after you’ve been in Italy for five years.

I took the Italian language placement test and, as expected, fell into the A-1 level. The teacher, Fran, was quite convinced I should be in A-2 and seemed to desperately want to put me there, despite my not having the irregular verbs down too well, and having some trouble understanding some of the conversational stuff. Class lists finally were posted this week, after almost a month of waiting. I’m on a waiting list for an A-1 class, but Fran called and said I could come and sit in as I liked on her A-2 classes until my A-1 class came open, so two nights a week I’ll be going down to the school on Ugo Foscolo to sit in on a class rather more advanced than where I genuinely ought to be, starting this Thursday, because Monday is the local saint’s festa and school is closed. Looks like she got me into A-2 despite myself. Sneaky, that. I’m perhaps understandably nervous about the whole thing and I know I’m going to be desperately behind everyone else but, if I pay attention and work at it, by the time the official A-1 class comes along, I should be able to blow it out of the water.

Thus endeth the bureaucratic report.

There were six big events this past month: a birthday party, the Barcolana, two visits, a trip to London, and the Corvus Corax concert at the Halloween festa. Well, and the flood. Post the first will cover things up to the end of the first visit. Lots of photos ahead. Post the second will have our second visitor, London and the I:MAGE conference, and Corvus Corax. Further photos, I promise.

One of our Italian friends, Denise, was having a significant milestone birthday and threw a huge party with about 150 people in attendance. It was circus themed, with a band and some slackline walkers, and a clown. This wasn’t the scary weird dress up clown like people get for a kid’s party, but a guy who was doing something a little less over the top. I got volunteered as a decorative coat rack for one of his bits. And a shoe rack for another. Probably because of the green hair, I’m guessing (mine, not his). People were encouraged to dress up, but I had green hair anyway, as I’d re-dyed only a week or two prior now that I didn’t have to worry so much about the bureaucratic tangle.

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lazing about on the slackline

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maybe not quite so slack after all

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circus cake!

The Barcolana, Trieste’s immense sailing regatta, came and took over the waterfront for more than a week. There’s a gallery of photos from this year here. I am continually impressed by Italian street fair food. In the US at fairs, you get deep fried everything and beer. Sometimes you get deep fried beer. I shudder to imagine it. Here in Trieste, you get an amazing variety of seafood (some of which is fried, some not) and prosecco. I’ll take the prosecco, thanks. I had very yummy mussels, and on another day there was a lovely rack of ribs, though they don’t do it here with a bbq sauce like they do in most parts of the US. The ribs were mildly seasoned and dry so, while they were a bit messy, it was nothing like the appearance of having bathed your hands in slightly congealed blood as sometimes happens with a spicy sauce.

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on the water at Barcolana

We spent time wandering the waterfront, checking out the boats, some of which were really beautiful. There were fancy restaurants set up in a couple of places along the water, and a Land Rover dealership had a test track set up on one of the piers. The Barcolana is a high-end crowd, as you might imagine. I saw flags and registries from all over the world on the sailboats. The race itself began fairly early on race day, and was so far out on the bay that there wasn’t much to see from the waterfront. I had been too sleepless to get up, but my brother went down to the water and said he could barely see anything but a line of sails in the distance. If I was reading things correctly, the local paper headlines said that over 1500 boats had registered this year, a record for the event.

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the fair on the waterfront

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drive-by lobstering

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fireworks outside my window

The day before our first visitor arrived, we had a huge storm blow through. Thunderstorms last a lot longer here than I was ever used to in Seattle, but this one went on quite literally all night, and the thunder didn’t just stay off in the distance. Rain came bucketing down for hours in an immense deluge. When I got up the next day, the underpass on my street for the train station was flooded almost to street level. I’m guessing that’s a good 12 or 15 feet of water, at least. I saw a few news photos of some of the streets of the city flooded with rushing water like rivers, as well, though I didn’t see it here in Piazza della Libertà. The water here had somewhere to go, obviously. The underpass was closed for over a week. One unfortunate woman died in a landslide in Muggia, just around the bay, due to the flooding. Other areas of Italy were much harder hit. The water was still very high in the underpass when my first visitor of the month arrived.

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a very happy Oggie sailing into Venice

My dear friend James aka Oggie arrived from El Paso and my brother and I met him at the airport. We grabbed one of the water buses (a larger private company contracted with the airport, not the vaporetto) into Venice, so he got to see it by water even before he’d dropped his suitcases. The day, and the view, were gorgeous. He was thrilled. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone squee that hard about something in a very long time.

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behind the green gate, here’s the alley into our B&B

After dropping us at the B&B and settling us in for lunch and a little walking about, my brother headed back to Trieste and I stayed for a few days in Venice. Oggie got a room for us, which was supposed to have two beds but did not, due to a misunderstanding. Thankfully, we’re good friends and he doesn’t snore, so we made the best of it and shared the room amicably. The B&B was just off a canal, behind a gate and down an alley, in a really glorious spot like something out of a novel. I hauled Oggie off to a couple of restaurants I’d eaten at before, and we explored a few new ones as well.

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door knockers of Venice, you amaze me

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floating veggie stand

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art along the Grand Canal

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if you’re going to denounce your neighbors to the secret police, do it in style

The next day we’d intended to see the San Marco basilica and got tickets for a guided tour. I asked repeatedly if it included San Marco. Yes, they said.

It included the neighborhood, not the basilica. It was a lovely tour and the tour guide was quite charming, but it was not what we thought we were getting. In other words, I think I’m doomed to never actually set foot in the building. Perhaps I’m too devilish to let in. As we wandered along the tour route, we saw that there was going to be a performance of Vivaldi in period costume, so we got tickets for that. Oggie had desperately wanted to see something at La Fenice, but it was not to be. The prices left him gasping, as I rather expected. But we did, the next day, take a tour of the opera house anyway, which was much less expensive. He was thrilled to just be there in the building. The bar there is actually pretty reasonably priced, so we had a spritz after the tour.

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the royal/imperial/whoever’s in power this week box at La Fenice opera house

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detail from the box, with the crest of the Savoia family – endless mirrors

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spritz Aperol at the Fenice, as you do

Oggie is a garrulous, charming southern gentleman. He speaks four languages, including Spanish and French, so his Italian, for all he claims he can’t speak it at all, was far better than mine. He was speaking Russian with one of the women working at the B&B one morning. I had a few moments of desperate embarrassment when people found out I live here and that my Italian was, sadly, far less adequate than his. I’m doing my best but I just don’t have that kind of language talent. I did end up using the little I have rather more than I usually do here in Trieste, where my brother tends to translate somewhat more than I actually need, so I get lazy. This isn’t useful for me, but the upcoming class should help a lot.

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I’m always fascinated by the Venitian street lamps

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the eyes of an older Venetian sailing vessel

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Popethulu Ia! Ia!

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Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in period costume

After our three nights in Venice, we hopped on the train and came back to Trieste. I’d wanted to take Oggie up on the tram to the Strada Napoleonica, but it never quite managed to happen. I was too exhausted by the constant walking and playing tourist in Venice, so we did a little walking around the city here, and I took him to see the Roman arch and the theatre, as well as the waterfront, and we had tea at Ginger, where he charmed the ladies who work there.

For his final day with us, we rented a car and went out to Aquileia. He has an interest in early church history and was very interested in seeing the basilica there, as there was once a Patriarchate based in the city, that is now defunct. He was absolutely thrilled with the mosaics, the archaeological dig, and the crypt below the church, and spent quite a while talking with the lady in the gift shop about details.

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basilica and tower at Aquileia

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do fools rush in where angels fear to fish?

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mosaic detail on the basilica floor

We had hoped we might have a little time to go up to the Strada, but it was late by the time we got back, and we wanted to go to one of the osmize, the local farm restaurants, that were having a festival for a few weeks. Many of these restaurants are open only a few days a year. They’re required to serve only things they produce themselves, so it’s wine and meat and bread and eggs and perhaps a little veg, for the most part. The three of us ate a really fabulous meal at the osmiza Sardo David in Zgonik (Sgonico) for less than the cost of food for one in Venice. They are an old Austrian/Slovenian tradition from when the area was under Austrian rule. Because they are open so rarely, there are websites that will tell you which ones are open that day.

We drove up in the dark, as it’s become autumn in earnest now. Osmize are identifiable by the green branches hanging outside. Traditionally it’s pine or another evergreen, but this one had a bough of ivy outside, and I’ve seen others with branches of deciduous trees as well. Most of them ask that you call first, to make sure they’re not fully booked. Depending on the day, they may not be very busy, but it’s wise to be sure, at least to let them know you’re coming. I think a lot of them are very local and don’t see a lot of tourist trade. Everyone else in Sardo David that night was local.

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amazing food at osmiza Sardo David

The next day we were to meet our cousin Lisa, who was vacationing in Italy from her home in Hawaii. Oggie was going to head out to Padua, then to Milano to see another friend, so we all got the train down to Venice together, and he hung out with us until we were scheduled to met Lisa and her husband at the train station. We bid him farewell at the post office, where he had to mail things back to the US, and went off to meet some family.

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Trieste’s Science+Fiction film festival is this weekend but I’m too exhausted to leave the house

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Venice, Film, and Food

the pink glass of Venetian streetlamps

the pink glass of Venetian streetlamps

Yesterday I got up at 6am to take the 7:15 train to Venice with three other intrepid travelers: Michelle from the My Creative photography blog, her husband, and one of the folks who also works at the school where they do. The object of our early morning trip – the 71st annual Venice Film Festival. Sunday was the last day of the festival, and we were going to watch a little film, and catch some good food and a lovely day on the Lido. Yesterday was also the #1day12pics for this month, so you get the benefits of both right here!

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the offerings at Pasticceria Dal Mas

The train from Trieste takes a couple of hours, but there was good company for the trip and some good conversation. I’d grabbed a cappuccino and a brioche at the train station before we left, but by the time we arrived in the city, coffee and pastry was in high demand. We picked up tickets for the vaporetto so that we could go out to the Lido, then headed off into the crowds for Michelle’s favorite place, Pasticceria Dal Mas, founded in 1906. They sell most of their very tasty pastries by the etto (100 grams), rather than by the piece, and the coffee was good too.

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view from the vaporetto to Lido

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a young couple courting along the way

After being suitably caffeinated, we headed off on the vaporetto for the Lido. Three routes will take you there from the Ferrovia station – the 1, the 5.1, and the 5.2. We took the 5.1 on its circuitous route around the city, past La Guidecca, and out to the long, narrow island of the Lido. If you want to take the vaporetto around the city and to the various islands, your cheapest ticket is the €18 for 12 hours, or €20 for 24 hours, depending on how long you’re staying. You get on and off however many times you want within that period and can go anywhere on the public transit system, which also includes the buses on the Lido. The day was lovely, sunny, and warm without being intolerably hot or muggy.

a Lido market

a Lido market

Once off the vaporetto, we walked to the Film Festival grounds, down quiet streets, along a canal, and then along the beach facing out into the sea, though the street is separated from the view of the beach proper by a tree line. I had come to see one film, Words With Gods, while the others were also going to attend a showing of The President shortly afterward. Words With Gods was a series of different vignettes intended to offer some perspective on a variety of different religions, with a piece on Atheism also included. The stories and perspectives of each director were very different – the film began with birth and ended with death, as life tends to, with some fascinating stories in the middle. I found it really interesting and, in places, quite moving. Being the only one among us who had a wide background of spiritual experience, I had more context for some of these vignettes than the others, so some of it made a lot more sense to me, I think.

pillar near the Giardini vaporetto stop

pillar near the Giardini vaporetto stop

While they went to view The President, I had a couple of hours to myself. I sipped a spritz and then went for a walk down to the beach. It was the first time in probably a couple of decades that I’ve been able to wade barefoot on a sand beach with warm water. Puget Sound and the Pacific Northwest beaches tend to be rock, and the water is very cold most of the time. Being in the sun, with my toes in the sand and the warmth of the water lapping around my ankles was a species of ecstasy that I haven’t experienced in ages, and it reminded me of how sometimes simple joys can bring tears to my eyes. I walked a fair way down and back again, arriving back at the festival site maybe ten minutes before my friends got out of their movie. We walked back to the vaporetto station and took the 1 to the Giardini Bienalle dock so that we could grab an aperitivo at the Serra dei Giardini, a greenhouse conservatory that has been transformed into a small restaurant and a learning and activities space. One doesn’t tend to think of Venice as having parks and green spaces, but they do have some lovely ones, and the Serra is located in the midst of one of the largest. They sell plants and some other items there, as well as sometimes hosting live music. I had a hugo, which is a spritz with Sambuco and sometimes a little mint, where one might instead have Campari or Aperol. Very tasty stuff. While we were having our drinks, we made reservations for a 7pm dinner at Osteria al Portego.

Serra dei Giardini

Serra dei Giardini

As we walked through the park toward our dinner destination, we found ourselves in Piazza San Marco right about dusk, and the place was gorgeous in the evening light. I still haven’t been in the cathedral, but I’ll get there at some point, I know.

even in Venice, the laundry must be done

even in Venice, the laundry must be done

Venetian glass

Venetian glass

Venetian flags

Venetian flags

More walking, and down more alleys, and there was our goal. Osteria al Portego is a tiny place with only six tables, but the food was amazingly good and the service was excellent and very friendly. There are no printed menus, but the daily offerings are on the chalkboard, and they do have vegetarian things that are not on the board. Two of our number were vegetarian and both of them got items not listed, that they really enjoyed. The prices were quite reasonable, with the total meal and local wine averaging out to about €22 for each of us. Given the small size of the place, if you want to be sure of a seat, I’d recommend getting a reservation.

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there’s more than one leaning tower in Italy

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gothic arches, evening light

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the marble of San Marco

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mezzo litro di rosso at Al Portega

Stuffed to the gills, we walked back to the train station. They already had return tickets, but it took only a minute to get mine from the ticket dispensing machine. We took the last train back to Trieste and arrived just before 1am, tired but having had a really fantastic day.

Venice by night from the steps of the train station

Venice by night from the steps of the train station

Moments of Absence

Editing at Caffe degli Specchi on a drizzly morning

Editing at Caffe degli Specchi on a drizzly morning

Life in the last couple of weeks has been busier than I’d quite anticipated. A writing project that I’d been poking around the edges of for a couple of years finally came together, and last week I signed a contract with my publisher for a collection of essays, articles, and other (mostly) previously-published works to appear under one cover. What this means is that I’ve been busy collecting files, making sure I had permissions from original publications, and messing about with the idea of self-publishing, though that has gone by the wayside, as it is just too much work for me.

The thing about writers is, ideally, that we write. It means that sometimes we disappear into ourselves and our notebooks or computers for days or weeks or months at a time as we work our way through our projects. Stuff gets neglected. Like, say, eating and sleeping. Also, blog posts.

My printer is out of ink and I need to get some more to finish printing out the draft manuscript. I’m spending a good deal of my time editing. In a couple of cases, it means taking the draft file and the published book to make sure that the two match, because editing happened between file and print.

Admittedly, a compilation is a lot easier than starting something from scratch. I’ve got about twenty years of material here to go with, and folks who are familiar with my work are looking forward to it. I’ve been asking around for cover blurbs and have got people working on front matter for me. Once something approaching layout is done, I’m also going to have to work on indexing the book, because nonfiction books without indexes are an affront to humanity.

Poems that I composed earlier this year for an anthology were accepted, so now I’m just waiting to hear about editing, printing, and publication dates. My friend Slippery Elm is editing the anthology and he’s back in Vancouver, BC from his cave in Spain. He says he’ll be returning to Spain after the end of autumn. He also sent me Spanish translations of a couple of my poems that he likes; they look lovely, even if I can’t read them very well. I’m enjoying the bits where Spanish and Italian have similarities.

Italian metal band Rhapsody of Fire in front of Teatro Verdi

Italian metal band Rhapsody of Fire in front of Teatro Verdi

Triestino pedestrian street at night

Triestino pedestrian street at night

My brother is here in Trieste, and we celebrated his birthday last week. We went out for Indian food to a place we hadn’t been before called Krishna, which was pretty good. It’s located just off Viale XX Settembre, across the street from an Indian grocery. I was very pleased that when I ordered chai, I got an entire pot before the meal arrived, as opposed to a small cup at the end of the meal. Of course, this also meant I didn’t sleep that night, but chai is worth it.

Most of Italy right now is shut down for Ferragosto (the Italian Wikipedia site is far more informative.) and the annual summer holidays. Ferragosto began in about the year 18 BCE as a festival introduced by the emperor Agustus, as a time of rest after hard agricultural labor. Today it’s apparently associated with the Assumption of the Virgin Mary by the Catholic Church. Lots of shops are closed outright, or have much reduced hours. Quite a few of my friends are or have been out of town. Ginger, the tea shop I like, has been closed down for the better part of a month now and will be re-opening on Wednesday, so I’ll have to drop by and say hello and see how the motorcycle trip went.

The heat here has been pretty intense for me, with my delicate Northwest climate sensibilities. We’ve had a lot of humidity and quite a few thunderstorms. I’m supposed to start Italian classes in early September. The Venice Film Festival is coming up, and I might go down for a day with some friends to see a movie or two. If I go, there will be pictures and review(s)!

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Ballerina performs in Piazza della Borsa

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More dance in the piazza

An apartment, a film festival, and coffee

On yesterday’s trip to Trieste, I signed the rental contract for my apartment! I’m getting the keys on Friday, and having most of the utilities and services swapped over to my name, though the garbage service doesn’t get swapped over until the 31st. I’ll be able to use the place to bring things in and will stay for a couple of nights while I’m working through a few things there, but will legally take possession of it on February 1st. I’m perfectly okay with this, as I won’t have my Permesso before then anyway, and can’t legally change my residence until that happens.

Friday morning, I’ll go to the rental office to pick up the keys. This means that I still have to get up at an ungodly hour while it’s still dark, but that bit of it will be done, at least. I’ll be going by myself; my brother will drive me to the train station at Pordenone and drop me off and I’m actually on my own in Italy for the first time, just me and my phrasebook and dictionaries. It’s a little intimidating.

Okay, it’s a lot intimidating.

At 12:30 I’m meeting the woman who owns the building, at the fountain in Piazza Unità, so that we can go to swap the utilities over to my name, and in the evening I get together with the folks at the American group for their Trieste orientation evening. It’s also their TGIF and there’s food, so I had to get a ticket (€7) to cover for expenses and I’m supposed to bring along something to share to drink. With any luck, I’ll learn some useful things to help me get by.

My plan is to haul the air mattress and a few other things I’ll need over to my new place so I’ll have a place to stay for the weekend and not have to take the train back on Friday night after the gathering. I can spend the weekend exploring Trieste and getting acquainted with what’s there, both in my neighborhood and around the more accessible parts of town. Until the 1st, the landlord and the various workers will have access to the apartment, so I won’t be leaving anything valuable there, but I will be able to start getting things into the place.

Starting this weekend, Trieste is having a film festival. It runs for, I think, about ten days, and the program at the link is in both Italian and English. Most of the films are subtitled in Italian (if the film is not in Italian already) and English, and I’m considering going to one or two, if something I’m interested in is showing while I’m there. One film that looked like a possibility was about an Italian language teacher and his students – the teacher is an actor but the students are apparently all immigrants learning Italian to integrate into Italian society, so it seems like a thing that’s very relevant to me at the moment. I’ll have to look at the program again to see what day it’s playing, and where. The festival has about a dozen venues located around town, from cafés to theatres; they have dramas, animation, documentaries, and a variety of other genres playing.

I don’t have any new photos to share today, but I’ll be taking some of the inside of the apartment when I am there this weekend. I can’t even tell you how excited I am about the whole thing. I was able to give a delivery address to the people who are shipping my things, so that is finally out of the way.

Today I spent a little time getting a few small, light things to take to Trieste with me and leave at the apartment. I also got a bilingual Italian-English visual dictionary to help me along with the everyday things on a slightly larger scale than a phrasebook. I also discovered that I may not have the same violently bad reaction to Italian coffee as I’ve had to the coffee in Seattle. I had some at home earlier today and had only a vague sense of queasiness that might have been psychosomatic because I’ve had bad reactions before, or it might have been the acid on a nearly-empty stomach. I wanted to wait until I’d settled a bit, and to try it here at home rather than out at a café so as to avoid problems if it did make me ill. In either case, it would be nice to be able to have a bit now and then so as to be a little more sociable with the people here, for whom coffee is a way of life. We shall see.