Trieste, Grado, and sliding into summer

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in the woods above the Strada Napoleonica

 

Summer is here, and the weather is hot again. Getting up into the woods off the beaten trail was nice, as always. A lot has been going on in the world and I’ve done a bit of traveling. I’ve been wandering a bit in Trieste, as well, and finally got up to tour some of the Castello San Giusto and the cathedral with some of the folks from the local Internations group.

The original cathedral was built in the 6th century, adjacent to what had been a temple of the Capitoline Triad of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva.

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Roman ruins at the cathedral and castle of San Giusto, tower dating to 1337

The original church is long gone. Two basilicas were built there between the 9th and 11th centuries, and the base of the current church and a bit of the artwork inside date back to the 12th and 14th centuries. Mosaics and paintings from several periods remain on the walls within.

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17th century wrought iron gate to the treasury

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cathedral interior – paintings from 17th century

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San Giusto Servolo and Christ Pantocrator, 14th century

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candles in San Giusto

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13th century frescoes from the life of San Giusto

To help preserve the artwork, lights are only turned on in some areas for a minute or two at a time if you drop a euro in the control box. The background of the mosaics in the two apses is brilliantly reflective in bronze tones, and was made by artisans from Venice and Constantinople. There is a central mosaic over the nave as well, made in the 20th century but with what look like similar materials.

The castle overlooks the cathedral and the city of Trieste. There’s a civic museum inside but the entrance for the museum and the castle are separate. I didn’t pay to go into the museum, just the castle grounds.

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detail from the castle bell

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bell ringer detail

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Trieste and the carso from the castle

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roses and lizard on the castle grounds

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Trieste observatory tower from the castle

That weekend, the Amerigo Vespucci was in port. She is the oldest commissioned ship in the Italian navy, a square-rigger built in 1930 and has been used as a training vessel that circumnavigated the globe in 2002-2003. The lines to go aboard were over an hour long every day that she was in port, so I never did have a chance to go and visit her, but one of the guys I was hanging out with that day had actually sailed aboard her many years ago. Her full crew and training compliment are 480 people.

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Amerigo Vespucci in port in Trieste

June brought the Cantine Aperte, and several of us met in Gorizia to head out on the wine road again. We tasted and snacked our way around the area. We stopped at one of the vinyards that had a restaurant open when we were there two years ago, but the restaurant wasn’t open this past year. They did, however, recommend a really nice restaurant not that far away.

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Dave, Sere, and the antipasti

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vineyard roses on a rainy day

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wine barrels

The day was rainy, with lots of breaks between the weather. We ate inside the restaurant rather than going al fresco, which was a good choice, as a huge thunderstorm blew through while we were eating. The rain pounded down on the roof, and the people outside had to deal with the wind blowing the umbrellas around.

A couple of weeks later, we were off to Grado, a small beach resort town on the coast between Trieste and Venice. The place was packed with Austrians. It has a gorgeous sandy beach, and a lot of really lovely looking restaurants.

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the beach at Grado

We toured the Basilica of Sant’Euphemia there, with early floor mosaics similar to the ones in Aquileia. The original basilica dated from the 4th century, though parts of the current one were built in the 6th and 7th centuries.

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6th century floor mosaic

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the pulpit of the basilica

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a quiet piazza

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boreto and polenta at one of the traditional castrum restaurants in Grado

Boreto is a traditional dish made by the families of the Grado fishermen with whatever fish they had to hand. There’s some garlic, oil, salt and pepper, usually, and the fish (or sometimes shellfish) is stewed and served with polenta. Depending on the fish, the flavor could at times be quite strong – as might the scent! We ate at the Ristorante Alla Pace, in the heart of their tourist district. The food was good, and it was our last outing with Gillian, who was done teaching English for the school year and would be heading back to Liverpool to consider what she wanted to do next.

And, because the world is often a cruel place, as well as containing a lot of beauty and wonder, Trieste had a vigil in memory of the 49 people who died in Orlando a couple of weeks ago. I attended and I think there were a couple of hundred other folks there as well. The memorial was sponsored by the local Arcigay group.

 

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memorial for the murder victims of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, in Piazza Sant’Antonio Nuovo, Trieste

Not long after, I headed out to London for the London Occult Conference. I came down with a nasty cold the day before I flew out, though, and didn’t really have the energy to cope with taking photos. Mostly I was concerned with staying upright and trying as best I could to keep my germs to myself. I did get to see two friends from Seattle, though, and a couple of friends from New York as well. I also had dinner with a couple of my World of Warcraft friends, which was fun. I’ll be heading back to London in late September for the Sherlocked con, and am hoping I’ll have a little more energy for that when I do, but my mom will be here for the three weeks prior to that, so I will probably be running my butt off to keep up with her!

And, lastly, a couple of bits of art for your edification and amusement.

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notice for an art exhibit of goddesses in Trieste by Rossella Paolini

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carved stone warrior based on the Papil Stone in Scotland by Dave Migman

 

 

 

Ljubljana and Being Buried in Game Worlds

They don’t call it Word of Warcrack for nothing. Yes, that is in large part why you haven’t seen anything from me here recently. That, and much of February spent with evil migraines. But here I am again, with more photos from the last couple of months, and a little bit of natter as well.

While I didn’t have any photos of my cousin from her visit to Venice last year, my brother did take a few. Here’s Lisa and her husband, enjoying themselves greatly.

Lisa and her husband - photo by Jim Laurie

Lisa and her husband – photo by Jim Laurie

My friends from Prague came and went over the holiday in December. Jim and I tried to go out for a traditional New Year dinner at a local restaurant, but that was kind of a disaster. The food was mediocre at best, and the restaurant didn’t tell anyone it was cash only, so every last person in the place had to go to the bancomat for cash to pay for dinner. There were a lot of very unhappy people that night. Despite the freezing cold and the wind, though, there was a huge party going on in Piazza Unità at midnight.

As always, I helped out with food over the holiday at the AIA. In this photo, though, I’m taking a quick break from my duties. The turkey was fantastic.

Taking a break from cooking - photo by Jim Laurie

Taking a break from cooking – photo by Jim Laurie

Piazza Unità was lit up for Christmas, and there was a small Christmas market in town, which was nice diversion. A group from Udine was in town making polenta for the masses. It was pretty tasty, but there were potatoes involved so I didn’t eat much of it.

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traditional mass production of polenta – photo by Jim Laurie

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how to get a huge amount of polenta onto the slab – photo by Jim Laurie

 

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Piazza Unità lit up for the holidays

A couple of weeks ago I went to Ljubljana for the first time. It’s a really lovely city. I toured the castle and walked around the pedestrian downtown area. Franci, the very kind gentleman who showed me around, took me to lunch at a place called Sarajevo, which served Bosnian food and Yugoslavian nostalgia. We had huge sandwiches of ćevapčići served with raw onion and a soft, slightly sour cheese called kajmak, which tastes rather like what might happen if you’d made mascarpone with sour cream. It was delicious and very filling.

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Ljubljana castle

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ceiling in the scriptorium

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stairwell in the observation tower – note the dragons on the stair treads

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window detail

We stopped at a wine bar for a sample of some local wines. (“See that guy at the bar there? He’s the mayor of Ljubljana.”) I had a very nice, hearty red while Franci let me sample his orange wine. The flavor of it was rather like port, raisiny and round, and I quite liked it.

There was an exhibit of Dalí works at a convention center, as well, and I was excited to go and see it. Finding it, though, was a bit challenging. It was in a building that was behind what was essentially a small-scale construction site in a parking lot, so it was difficult to tell that something was actually happening there. Most of the exhibit consisted of a collection of prints from The Divine Comedy, and a selection of his prints illustrating biblical texts. The most interesting thing for me, though, was a series of prints showing each individual color plate for one complete print. I think there were over 30. The resulting print looked more like a painting than a print, and some of the plates had just a tiny spot of color to highlight or overlap on another. It was complex and elegant, and absolutely fascinating.

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winter gets so cold even the fountains have to wear wooly hats

We walked through one of the main parks in town, on the way up to some small museums. There was still some snow on the ground, though the crocuses were showing in sunny spots on the hills. It was cold, but a gorgeous day. We visited the museum of graphic arts, which had a showing by Alenka Pirman, a local Slovenian artist who spent a fair bit of time in New York City. Some of her work was satirical and quite funny. She did a collection of skateboards that were quite absurd. One was upholstered. Another was essentially on stilts. There was a fake book project, and a few other things of that sort, and I quite enjoyed most of it.

Dinner was at a restaurant called Čompa in the middle of the old town. The food was simple and very much like what you would get at an osmiza, but absolutely beautifully done. I talk about food porn, and this was hot sex on a plate. The place was packed and we got in pretty much by chance, when a group cleared out at a table a little earlier than expected. The food was excellent, the wine was very good, and I have to say that walnut schnapps is very tasty stuff.

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nuns in the park

I had traveled to Ljubljana via a service called GoOpti, which is sort of a private bus service that will take you door to door or from point to point through a fair bit of continental Europe. I paid a little under €50 including tax to go round trip from the train station across the street to the central station in Ljubljana. The hours are actually quite flexible compared to commercial bus services, and the service was good. My return trip was at about 10:30 pm, so after dinner we had another walk.

Franci took me to a part of town called Metelkova, essentially an arts district with guerilla galleries, alternative scene clubs, and a lot of young people. It rather reminded me of the artists loft neighborhood that Zoh took me to in Brooklyn when I visited a couple of years ago to do my poetry reading in New York. We sat in an outdoor structure among people smoking and drinking and conversing in several languages as we waited. It was a great atmosphere, and very good company.

On the writing front, Jerome Rothenberg says that the poetry anthology Barbaric Vast and Wild, which will have my version of the cauldron of poesy text, is due out on April 7th, and he was requesting addresses for contributor copies. I’m very excited for this publication, as his anthology Technicians of the Sacred has been very much an influence on my work over the years.

Next month I’ll be making another brief trip to London, this time for a Sherlock convention. Should be a lot of fun. I have my plane trip, my shared hotel room, and my ticket for the event. I’m very excited!

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

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

Too busy for a long post

Champagneria restaurant

Champagneria restaurant

 

I didn’t want you to think I’d forgotten you! I’ve been busy, my brother has been in town a lot, and I’m working on my new book, which is actually a compilation of a bunch of my articles and essays from anthologies and from online in different places, so I’ve not had a lot of time to devote to other things.

My brother’s divorce became final (after six years) on the 19th of July, so I took him out to dinner. We’d walked out earlier in the day to find the little Triestino liquorifico, Piolo e Max, where they make a wide variety of flavored grappas, bitters, and other artisan liqueurs. The very kind lady in the shop was generous with samples of the different liqeuers they produce. I bought a few things for myself – a small bottle of cardamom, and a larger one of a creamy hazelnut – and was going to give a coconut one to my brother in honor of his divorce, but she gave us the bottle for him, with her blessings and a fond wish for his future happiness. It was all just remarkably lovely, and a great way to spend a little while in the afternoon.

Early that evening, we went to Champagneria for dinner as an additional celebration. We’d wandered by it during lunch as we were on our way to Piolo e Max and thought we’d like to check it out at some point. They specialize in fish and in local varieties of prosecco and white wines. The food was excellent, if a bit pricey. My brother said it was the best fish he’d had, and I agreed it was excellent. Everything was very fresh and very well prepared. The presentation was gorgeous as well. I spent quite a bit, but it was worth the money for my brother’s big day.

On the way back, we ran across the fire spinner who’s often in Piazza Unità on a Saturday night. I’ve seen him several times, though I usually catch him just as he’s ending his performance. This time we were there as he was setting up, so we got to watch the whole thing. I got a few photos, but night time pictures of moving fire spinners are iffy at best when you’re an amateur with a cheap camera. At any rate, there are a few below to share the experience.

In front of the Teatro Verdi, just behind Piazza Unità, there have been a series of free music performances on Saturday nights as well. That night, it was a jazz group. I enjoyed it, but my brother’s not into jazz, so we didn’t stay very long. I’ll probably go back again without him when the weather clears up, as we’ve been having a lot of rain and thunderstorms this past week. We’ll see how it goes!

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“I seem to have heard of Ithaca”

The intrepid poet, relaxing at Cafe Spavento

The intrepid poet, relaxing at Cafe Spavento

Ithaca … yes, I seem to have heard of Ithaca,
even on Crete’s broad island across the sea,
and now I’ve reached it myself.
~~Odysseus, to Athena, in disguise

I arrived in darkness and in darkness I traveled the winding roads through the hills in a shared taxi to the small town of Kioni. I couldn’t see much, but the taxi deposited me in the driveway below my friends’ apartment just above the little town. It was, as in so many photos of Greece, white and blue in the heated darkness.

When I woke the next morning, my friends said that their life while in Kioni was sedate and fairly set: breakfast, off to the beach, back for lunch, down to town for a drink, back to the apartment for a bit, then down into town again for dinner. Would I have a problem with that, they asked.

I told them no, that sounded lovely, and I had a book, and notebooks for writing, to keep me occupied. I waved my Odyssey at them.

Stephen and Peter on the way to the beach

Stephen and Peter on the way to the beach

That was, indeed, how my days were occupied during my visit. Every morning, we got up and walked down to Cemetery Beach after having breakfast. It was about 15 minutes away, down a road and then a trail through the woods. Tall, narrow cypress trees interspersed the pines. Everywhere, at all times, there was the chirring sound of crickets under everything else. They were nearly loud enough that I thought them cicadas. They were also, as I discovered later, damned near the size of mice. Geraniums were quite literally bushes there, much larger than I’d ever seen before.

cemetery detail, Cemetary Beach, Ithaki

cemetery detail, Cemetary Beach, Ithaki

The eponymous cemetery was behind a wall, across the road from the beach, shielded by trees and weeds and vines. Up on a little bank above the beach proper, was a bar. It was separated from the cemetery by thin, brown reed walls. The bar was set up in a little kitchen trailer, with a cooler nearby, and a reed roof over the seating area, under oaks with tiny leaves. I think the oaks were Quercus coccifera, also called the Kermes Oak– an evergreen species with tiny, holly-like leaves. The ground beneath the trees was sparsely sprinkled with tiny, immature acorn caps, and the occasional larger, empty cap. I didn’t see any of the actual acorns. The bar served coffee, sodas, beer and other alcoholic beverages, light snacks, and apparently some evenings they were also open for dinner, but requested reservations.

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the bar at Cemetery Beach

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view from the bar

Each day, I’d have a swim, then a Greek coffee with a glass of water, then another swim, before we’d head back. Stephen and Peter would go snorkeling, looking for sea urchin shells. They asked if I’d like to snorkel, but my eyesight is so bad I’d need a prescription mask in order to see anything. I love snorkeling and, back when I was in the Navy and living in Hawaii, I actually qualified as a SCUBA diver, but those days are long behind me. The water in the Salish Sea is far too cold for me, and you really rather need a dry suit to tackle it, so I haven’t dived or snorkeled since 1980. Now that I’m living on warmer water, though, I’m considering taking up snorkeling again, once I can find a proper mask that will allow me to actually see.

flowers at Cemetery Beach

flowers at Cemetery Beach

One day, I found myself needing to use the restroom. There is one behind the bar, walled in with reeds, just like the bar itself. I was expecting perhaps a porta-potty. What I got was a bit surreal. There, sitting under the open sky, on the white gravel of the earth, was a fully plumbed and functional ceramic toilet. It was such a surprise in that setting that if I’d had my camera with me instead of leaving it in my bag, I’d have taken a photo.

Each afternoon, after lunch, Peter and I would go down to Kioni (Stephen had other things he needed to do) and have a glass of wine, passing the time at Café Spavento. Chairs and tiny tables line the narrow crossroads outside, with barely room for cars to pass. The place is run by Jennie, a British woman who’s been in Kioni for many years. She helped me get a bus ticket back from Kyllini to Patras, calling down to the Pisaetos ferry dock and arranging things for me. She was really friendly and very kind.

Cafe Spavento

Cafe Spavento

Unfortunately, this little slice of paradise has its own politics and its share of small-town bullshit going on, just like everywhere else. Two years ago, a man from the town of Vathi (the largest town on Ithaki) came to Kioni and opened a restaurant. When he arrived, he announced that within five years he intended to drive all the other restaurants and bars in town out of business. To that end, very recently he’s managed to have people associated with Spavento arrested four times for having their chairs and tables along the street side. The tables have been there for years, with appropriate payments to the town council for a waiver of the law against such things. The owners of the other restaurants are also being harassed and arrested. Apparently, even the cops in Kioni are sick of it. The whole thing is ridiculous, and one of the cops even suggested to the people at Spavento that they hire someone to get arrested in their place when things like this happen. Apparently, that’s a thing. At any rate, the guy who wants to put half the town out of business runs a place called Mills, so if you do end up in Kioni, for the sake of all the other small businesses in town that are employing quite a few people, don’t eat there.

Every afternoon, like clockwork, two boatloads of tourists land at the end of the waterfront in Kioni and swamp the place for about 45 minutes. It was always an eclectic mix, but there was inevitably at least one guy in an ill-advised Speedo and nothing else wandering around town. I get that it’s hot, and I’m down with wearing what you like to the beach, and naturisim for people who are into nudity, but really? The center of a small town isn’t actually a beach, and it seemed rather inappropriate. Even just a pair of shorts or a towel around the waist would have been nice.

Late afternoons back at the apartment were spiced with the amplified hawking of a couple of guys with pickup trucks. One of them was selling plastic tables and chairs, the other selling fruit and vegetables. Their rhythmic calls never varied, echoing against the hills behind Kioni as they drove slowly along. It felt kind of like ice-cream trucks, but rather more practical, and less likely to drive anyone mad with tinny canned music on a short loop.

looking out of the living room toward the sea

looking out of the living room toward the sea

The view from the balcony of the apartment is amazing. There were always swallows swooping around and lighting on the wires outside. The hills and the beaches, the sailboats, and the colors, all seemed like something out of a dream. There were moments when I felt like I was living in a travel poster. Of course, at that point, I rather was. My hosts told me that, during the winter, Kioni has a permanent population of about 80 people. Most ferry service is sparse, and people don’t come on holiday because the sea is treacherous and the weather unpredictable.

view from the balcony

view from the balcony

Dinner every night was at the Mythos restaurant. The restaurants down in Kioni are all on the waterfront, with covered tables right at the water’s edge. There’s a significant stray cat population that converges on them during meal hours, though they are far more polite than any of the pigeons. The cats wait patiently near the tables, hoping for a handout or a dropped bit. There’s a spay and neuter program in the area, but they do also help keep the rat population down. The food at Mythos was excellent. Everything I had there was great, and the octopus appetizer was the best octopus I have ever had in my life: tender, juicy, perfectly seasoned. That stuff was tentacle sex on a plate, and I mean that in the best possible way.

imagine this as the view from your dinner table every night

imagine this as the view from your dinner table every night

I finished my reading of The Odyssey on my last full day in Kioni. My hosts had arranged for a cab to come pick me up at about 6:30 the next morning to get back to Pisaetos in time for the ferry. I bid them a fond farewell before we all went to bed that night.

At the ferry dock, I went to the kiosk as advised, and picked up a bus ticket there, so thank you, Jennie, for all your help. The bus boarded the ferry at Poros on the way back to Kyllini; I put my bag in the cargo hold at that time, and boarded the bus when it debarked on the mainland. That had to be the strangest bus stop ever, waiting on the ferry deck with other people catching the same one. Several buses boarded, so I had to figure out which was the one I needed. One was headed for Athens, others to different destinations. The Patras bus was clearly marked with a little cardboard sign in the windshield. I think it was the same one I’d ridden in on, with a little Greek Orthodox icon in the driver’s side window. The driver played local music rather than the English-language pop I hear everywhere else. I really enjoyed listening to it, as a very refreshing break from the pop. A kid who might have been his son rode in a jump seat in front of the door once everyone boarded. He’d been helping with the baggage.

When I got back to Patras, I needed to get some ouzo for my brother. I’d thought about going into town for it, but ended up getting a taxi down to the ferry terminal for Italian-bound boats. This was in a different part of town than the arrival docks, so I was glad that I’d caught a cab instead of walking up to where I’d arrived, as I’d considered doing. They did have a fair-sized duty-free shop, so I got him a bottle there, and grabbed some lunch. I was also able to upgrade my ticket to a bed in a four-person cabin, as the trip involved a full night and an arrival scheduled for about 1:30 in the morning back in Trieste. It cost an extra €38 but was, I thought, worth every penny. Said cabin included a toilet and shower and, because the route back to Italy was nearly deserted, I ended up having the cabin to myself.

Kioni street art reminds me of Coyote from the webcomic Gunnerkrig Court

Kioni street art reminds me of Coyote from the webcomic Gunnerkrig Court

Our afternoon was hot and sunny, but as they day proceeded toward evening, clouds rolled in. Most of the trip was cooler, windier, and darker than the trip in. I was pretty exhausted, so I spent some time in my cabin writing, but was dealing with a growing migraine. I took what medications I had available, but still ended up getting sick, so the private bathroom was a relief. I was so glad I didn’t have to run for one of the public bathrooms on a different deck and puke in a stall. Being able to sleep in absolute darkness after that, alone, in the quiet, was a blessing.

After Ancona, we did hit the storm, and passed through it. The boat rocked and rolled its way through the final Brazil-Germany game of the World Cup, announced in Greek. Later that evening, it was “The Tudors” in Italian. Because of the heavy seas, we arrived over an hour late back in Trieste, just on the edge of the storm. I was out on deck for part of our arrival, watching the harbor lights, and the great, blinking beam of the Faro Vittora, lightning painting the sky and lighting the clouds around us. The rain hit just as the foot passengers were debarking, and my brother had been waiting, hoping vainly that we’d be ashore before the storm arrived. We ended up riding his motorcycle back to my place in the pouring rain, soaked to the skin. I unpacked my bags; fortunately my book and notebooks hadn’t been damaged, though things were a bit damp. Home at last, a hot shower and bed called my name.

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Kioni from the road to the beach

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ouzo and urchins

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marina at Kioni

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dreaming of faraway places