Wanderings

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Internations brunch in Treviso

The past few months have been both busy and not particularly so. Elections are coming in the US, and along with it my anxiety tends to go through the roof. I feel less anxious here in Italy, though, separated by an ocean and a lot of land mass. On my desk are printed out ballots for both the primary and a special election for schools infrastructure and funding in my county of legal residence back in the states. They’ll be marked and sent back soon.

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ceramic plate from Japan

In February Tanja, a Slovenian woman from Koper I met through Internations, came to Trieste and we visited the Asian Art Museum together on a rainy weekend afternoon. I believe it was first Sunday of the month, and all Italian state museums are free to enter on that day. I’ve walked by the museum many times. It’s on a pedestrian lane and there is construction happening around it right now so the path is partly blocked. The collection is small but a nice one, and fairly eclectic.

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Taoist sage, China

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Japanese print

A group of us from north and east of Venice have been meeting monthly for coffee and lunch, which has been fun. Next weekend we’re venturing into Koper for the afternoon. The Venice group has a Sunday brunch occasionally, and I go to that if they aren’t too far away; a train trip early in the morning for brunch can be a bit grueling when you’re a night owl. The food and the company are quite nice, though. This month’s is in Treviso, in walking distance from the train station.

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The poet, Alessandro, Gillian, Tanja, Jim, and Sere at the Arco Riccardo in Trieste.            Photo by Dave Seddon

March saw me visiting Ireland for the Ulidia 5 conference on the Ulster Cycle tales. The conference itself was held in Maynooth at the university there. I got to stay in a lovely but obviously old and poorly plumbed building. The shared shower was the sort where you push a button on the wall and get 10 seconds of freezing water. (Of course, it is a Catholic college. Suffering not optional.) The architecture was gorgeous. I bought several books at the university bookshop, and went to the famous Dublin bookshop Hodges Figgis afterwards, before finding a hostel for the night on my way home.

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Maynooth campus map in Irish

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swans at the Maynooth train station

At the conference, I got to hear papers from many scholars whose work has influenced me over the years, and was introduced to many others. I had dinner with a table full of people including Elizabeth Gray, who gave a splendid talk on ravens and wolves, satirists, and the féinnid in the tale of Deirdre. There was a reception and festschrift release for Tomás Ó Cathasaigh. Plenary sessions were given by Máire Herbert, Tomás Ó Cathasaigh, and Ralph O’Connor. The French scholar Gaël Hilly spoke on Lug and Cú Chulainn and the use of magical postures in battle, which was quite interesting. I have to say that it was entirely geektastic for someone with my interests.

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campus housing, St Patrick’s College, Maynooth

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Máire Herbert and the poet, at the reception for Tomás Ó Cathasaigh              Photo from Ulidia 5 twitter stream

Two of the people to whom I was introduced were Kim McCone and his wife Katherine Simms, whose names some of you will certainly recognize. For my fellow Celtic Pagans and Polytheists, I will report my favorite quote from the conference, uttered by Professor McCone: “I’ve gone nativist. I really hate the McCone orthodoxy.” Apparently they have a flat in Vienna and would like to visit Trieste sometime, so I gave them my contact information and told them I would be happy to show them around the city.

I was also introduced to Damian McManus, whose book on ogam I found particularly influential when I was writing my own book on the topic. He had done a reprint of the book recently, but hasn’t been able to sell them because someone pirated it and posted a PDF online for free. He was extremely generous and sent me five copies of the reprint in return for a copy of my poetry volume, which I sent out to him last week.

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women of the Easter Rising, Dublin 2016

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street art, Dublin

I left the conference before the final speaker on Sunday so that I would have the opportunity to get to Hodges Figgis before I had to fly home on Monday. My plane left at a painfully early hour, so there was no way for me to stop in on Monday at all. They have an incredible selection of books on Ireland, and on early and medieval Irish history and literature, which is nearly unmatched, from what I can see. Kenny’s in Galway has a much larger collection of books on the topics actually in Irish, or did when I visited there some years back, but I was nowhere near Galway this trip.

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Blooms Hotel, Temple Bar, Dublin

The city was commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising. Art and information was everywhere in Dublin, and the hostels and hotels were packed. I did manage to find a room in a hostel, Kinlay House, which had a bus direct to the airport right outside their door. I was quite pleased, and the cost was low. The staff was informed and polite, which is always good.

I spent a lot of time sitting in the airport at Gatwick on the way home. After having spent time in Maynooth among scholars and Irish speakers, it was quite a pleasant surprise to hear a small group of Irish speakers at the airport. I’ve studied some modern Irish and was able to understand a few words and phrases here and there. They were older folks, mostly, which wasn’t too surprising. I’m not sure where they were from, but it was a real pleasure.

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Piran, Slovenia, church

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Piran’s waterfront

After I got back to Trieste, Tanja invited me to come to Slovenia for Easter Sunday. We went out to the little coastal own of Piran for lunch, and then to Koper. It was a glorious day. The restaurant we went to for lunch was packed, and we were lucky to get a place at all. Many people were told there would be an hour or more to wait, particularly if they were groups and had no reservation. Larger tables are always more difficult to get. Being just the two of us, a table had just emptied when we got there and we were able to just walk over and sit down at the outside table. The fish was delicious. After lunch we drove to Koper and had coffee before heading back to Trieste.

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Piran harbor

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harbor with port and starboard lights for the entry to the docks

Music, travel, and plans for the year

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Seisún musicians, Taverna ai Mastri d’Arme, Trieste

In November I went to the Irish music seisún in Trieste. I sang Chì mi na mòrbheanna, and my friend Gowen (playing his drum, above) joined in for the chorus, as he was familiar with the song. I’d been encouraged by my friend Anna to sing there, though it has been years since I sang with a group or in front of other people. I was nervous, and a bit out of breath by the end of it, not having had a lot of practice in all those years. It takes a certain amount of muscle control and stamina to do it proper justice, after all, and not practicing means losing some of that muscle tone. I did mostly okay, though, and was relieved when it was over!

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uilleann piper

December found me in Gorizia, a town that is now divided by the Italian/Slovenian border, with Novo Gorica on the other side. I was visiting with some folks from the Internations website – a woman from England, and two Italians who were born in Gorizia when it was still part of Slovenia. We walked the streets of the town, visited the castle, and had a huge lunch at a local restaurant. The platters were inexpensive but immense. I ended up taking a bucket of sausages home for later; my brother and I ate them for two days. Next time, fewer dishes and more people!

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Christina, Gillian, Alessandro, and Erynn at the border in Gorizia

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Gorizia from the castle

The Internations group met again yesterday in Udine for lunch. This time there were six of us. Gillian from England organized, while a local Udine Italian and his Russian wife recommended the restaurant. They were in attendance with their two kids. There was a Slovenian woman and a man from Scotland as well. The food was fantastic and plentiful, as was the talk. It’s a pretty nice bunch of people I’ve met from the website so far. We talked about getting together again next month in Udine for Chinese food at a new restaurant there and, when I told people about the seisún, they said they wanted to know when the next one was, so we will probably meet at the Taverna for that as well. After lunch, some of us wandered back in the direction of the train station. We stopped at a covered tent arcade that was sheltering a small chocolate festival, where I got to practice a little of my Italian.

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A pirate pub in Udine

Yesterday also saw demonstrations all across Italy in support of legalizing same sex civil unions. There was a small crowd in one of the piazzas; I heard there was a larger demonstration in Trieste, as well. The US State Department had sent out an email advisory to Americans living here about anticipated peaceful protests in many cities around the country. Italy is the last western European country that does not have legal provisions for the protection of same sex partnerships, but things are slowly changing for the better.

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Demonstrators in Udine

My travel plans for the year are coming together. I’m hoping to go down to Naples and Pompeii in February, but got word the other day that a good friend of mine will be presenting a paper at a Celtic Studies conference in Maynooth in late March. I thought I might have to choose one or the other for the beginning of the year, but one of the folks at the American Corner told me about Flixbus, a German bus company that has inexpensive fares, and some really amazing promotional sales, for cities all over Europe. Joe and his girlfriend had just got back from Naples last week, where they’d traveled for one Euro each (yes, you read that correctly) on the bus. Their normal fares are better than Trenitalia or the plane, so it is looking like I will be able to afford Napoli in February and Ireland in March after all. Right now, I’m pulling together my plans and looking at booking my travel next week for both destinations.

September promises a reprise of the Sherlocked convention in London. My friend Jenn from Spokane is planning on attending again, this time accompanied by her husband Nick, and I’m looking forward to seeing them. Sarah, one of my English friends, will also be there, so we are talking about splitting room costs for the con.

In October I will be back in Ireland for a pilgrimage hosted by Vyviane Armstrong and led by Morgan Daimler, to sites associated with the Morrigan. Morgan has been doing some really excellent translation work with early Irish tales, and publishing collections of her work, which I very much recommend. We have been in correspondence off and on for many years, and I’m looking forward to meeting her in person. With any luck, I can also spend a couple of extra days in Dublin book shopping! Be still, my Celtophilic geeky heart.

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It’s time.

Mad Poets on an Island

Be not afeared; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Shakespeare, The Tempest

A few weeks ago, I was invited to go to Croatia by a friend who would be spending about a month there, on the island of Mljet. It’s a small island off the coast near Dubrovnik, largely composed of national parks and a few tiny villages. He’s been working on a book of “shadow plays” and poetry for Scarlet Imprint press and was hoping to finish up work on it while he’s there. Both of us have previously been published in their anthologies of esoteric poesis, edited by Ruby Sara.

I met Geordie, a Vancouver BC poet and hip hop musician who writes and performs as Slippery Elm, a few years back, when he was 18 or 19. He’s 23 now. I could have sworn we’d known each other longer, but it really only feels like a long time. He’d contacted me by email, because he’d read some of my work and really liked it, and we have some mutual friends, as well. We talked, I invited him to come down to Everett for a visit to talk more, and the rest is a still evolving and really rather exciting history.

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Gruž harbor, Dubrovnik

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the ferry Nona Ana

Dubrovnik, where the ferry for Mljet departs, is a 15-hour bus trip away from me, and buses only leave from Trieste twice a week, so that was a constraint for our time. I had to be able to get there and back between the periods when he would have other guests staying. The long haul buses aren’t that bad. They’re actually more comfortable than the short hop planes used by Ryan Air, for instance, but that wouldn’t be hard. My journey took me through Slovenia, the northern section of Croatia, a ten-kilometer strip of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and then back into the southern fragment of Croatia, tucked between Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the country of Montenegro.

The bus arrived in Dubrovnik at about 8 in the morning, and the ferry Nona Ana doesn’t depart for the islands until 5pm, so I had several hours. I was, however, too tired to do much of anything at that point. I walked along the waterfront, then had a little lunch and some tea. There are a lot of small tour ships, including some lovely sailing ships, in the harbor that will take people out around the bay or to the islands for the afternoon. There were also bakeries everywhere, though I didn’t sample anything. That’s an error I shall have to rectify next time I go to the city. One thing I found odd about the place was that at the little coffee houses, they only served drinks. I didn’t see one that served any food. Perhaps I was just too tired to get it right, but that seemed awfully odd to me. Who wouldn’t want some of that wonderful looking pastry with their coffee?

The day was pleasant and fairly sunny, if a bit windy, so I spent the rest of the wait sitting on a bench on the dock. While I waited, I met a couple of young women from Quebec who were going out to Mljet to backpack in the forest there. We talked for a while about Canada and Seattle, and about traveling, and language, and places we’d been.

There was enough wind that the sea was slightly rough, but it wasn’t at all problematic. The crossing took maybe 90 minutes or two hours, with a stop between Dubrovnik and the port of Sobra. Geordie greeted me on the dock at the port of Sobra; Vera, the woman who runs the place where we stayed, had driven him down to pick me up. The island is tiny, with only one main road through. The largest town only has a couple of hundred people in it, and Okuklje, where we stayed, has 32 residents. It’s located on a tiny, isolated bay with gloriously clear water. We stopped on the way in at the grocery store to pick up supplies for the next few days. The Croatian currency is the Kuna. When I was there, the exchange rate was about 7 Kuna to the Euro, so I was constantly having to remind myself that things were not as expensive as they seemed just based on numbers.

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detail St. Nicholas church, Okuklje

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view from our porch to Okuklje harbor

Mljet has a submarine. It’s a miniscule red sub with a glass bottom, moored in Okuklje’s harbor. It’s used during the tourist season for viewing marine life, and apparently owned by the national park. I found myself rather wishing we’d been there in June, but it was nice to be there while it was so quiet. There is also a tiny St. Nicholas church up on the hill above the town, only opened once a year, presumably for the saint’s day. The view from there is incredible.

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Church of St Nicholas, about halfway up the hill

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Okuklje harbor, with the mainland in the distance

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a poet in Okuklje, photo by Geordie Kennedy

Because there is no real public transportation on Mljet, I didn’t get to go to the park or see the lakes. It would have been too long a walk for me, in the heat, and on the hills. Geordie and one of his friends, who had visited the previous week, climbed the hill above the town, only to discover there were no trails, and that it was considerably steeper and taller than it looked. It took them several hours, but he said they’d had fun. They came back all scratched up from thorns and branches, but quite satisfied with themselves. There are wild boars on the island, but the only time Geordie saw one was down in Okuklje, while he was taking a walk late at night; it was a young piglet, at the edge of the road.

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home made produce and local olive oils

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in the garden, next to the wood fired oven

We both spent time every day writing, and walking along the little waterfront. One of the women in town had a little stand where she sold local cheese, olive oil, wine, and liqueurs. We bought some of the goat cheese in oil, and some myrtle liqueur, which tasted somewhat like blueberry. It was quite good. The plum, however, tasted more like banana for some reason neither of us could fathom. We got a second bottle of myrtle to make up for it.

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local wildflowers on the table

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writing, with myrtle liqueur

Geordie is, among other things, a flamenco dancer, so we listened to a lot of flamenco music every day while he practiced. The rest of the time, it was mostly Arabic music from Egypt and Tunisia; he’d been visiting Tunisia a month or two previous, working on his Arabic and writing poetry.

Most days, Vera made a little food for us. One day it was some local fish, battered and fried. Another day it was a sort of sponge cake with apple in the middle, which I couldn’t eat because of an apple allergy. (It smelled amazing.) There were tiny fried dough balls kind of like doughnut holes, and also a cheesecake sort of thing with berries. It was all wonderfully tasty. She would show up at the door or on the porch with a plate in hand for us. If you want to go visit Mljet, I highly recommend staying at her place. She is just fantastic, friendly, and very accommodating.

She really did go above and beyond, because the ferry back to Dubrovnik leaves at a very early hour in the morning, and we got up at 4:30am so that she could drive me back down to Sobra to catch the boat. I have no idea how I would have got there without her help.

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the harbor at Sobra

My last day in Croatia was spent wandering around Dubrovnik. I left my pack at a tourist luggage drop, and got a suggestion for lunch from the woman working there, then walked from the port down to the Old Town and the castle. I am not much of a tv watcher, but apparently they film parts of Game of Thrones there, as there were Game of Thrones walking tours, and several shops advertising official merchandise. The city was, for a time, a Venetian territory, and the old town felt rather like Venice in some ways. The tiny pedestrian alleys and streets looked similar, but the view from the hill down into the main part of the Old Town was quite spectacular. Venice, of course, has no hills. It rained a bit that day, but it was warm, and the rain was more drizzle than a downpour. I stopped in a bookshop and got an English-language cookbook of Dubrovnik recipes before having lunch and walking back down to the port to catch my bus.

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city walls of Old Town Dubrovnik

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church detail

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pedestrian street in the Old Town

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view from the hill within the walls

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statue of Baroque era poet Ivan Gundulić in the market square

When I arrived back in Trieste, I had to get ready for a poetry reading at the American library. One of my friends, Anna, has translated several of my poems into Italian, so the reading was in both English and Italian. I wasn’t expecting much turn out, but about twenty people showed up, including three of the teachers from my Italian language class at the library, and a couple of the other students. It went well, and I was pretty pleased by the whole thing, though I always do get stressed out before I do any public speaking. Poetry readings are no exception.

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the poet and her translator, photo by Denise at the American Corner, Trieste

A couple of days ago, I went up to a friend’s house with Anna and Bianca. The apartment is beautiful, and the view is spectacular, up above the Adriatic. I had only anticipated staying a couple of hours, but we were there until fairly late in the evening, talking, having prosecco and snacks, and then pizza for dinner. I have an invitation to go up there in the fall for the Barcolana; they can see everything from there. If that works out, it’ll be really amazing.

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Faro della Vittoria, from my friend’s apartment – Trieste at sunset

And, finally, I got an invitation to speak on a panel at the Parliament of World Religions in October. This year it will be in Salt Lake City. I’ve registered for the conference, but now I have to deal with flights and lodgings. I have a couple of potential places, to stay, but all that has to be firmed up in the next month or so, and plane tickets bought. On top of that, I’d like to go to Klagenfurt, Austria for a weekend and visit a friend there.

It’s going to be a busy year.

***

Poet’s Colloquy

it is said that Odysseus spent seven years here
with Calypso
on these pine-scented shores
amid olive and oak and fig
walking this greenest of Adriatic isles

I blew in with the impending storm
to Sobra
over the steel-jade sea as it rolled

a wind at my back and the branches dancing
like mad things

we made lentil soup, with tomato
and the roasted flesh of paprika
red onions, garlic, and rosemary from outside the door
secure in our small rooms
sheltered
with the wind rushing, wild
through the open windows
singing its hollow song

two poets speak
long into the night
of writing and books and our art
and of Odysseus, his feet upon these shores
of Geordie and his pressing through the thick brush
as he climbed the hills nearby
of bread and honey and coffee, dark as starry night

there is cheap red wine
there are oranges
there are branches, tossed and flailing
there are books shared through a haze of exhaustion
fifteen hours on a bus
two hours on a ferry
the sailboats and the grey stone houses
the subtly moving dock in Dubrovnik
in the hours while I waited

we speak of our travels
of Spain and of Tunis
of London and Ljubljana
we speak of dates and honey and grappa

we speak of the bookbinder’s art and of grimoires
and the calling up of daemones
and there is tea
and there are stars
and pine needles
and curtains fluttering in the wind

A Fangirl on Baker Street

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Piccadilly Circus – the statue is not actually “Eros” as is often assumed but is supposed to represent Anteros, then renamed The Angel of Christian Charity by various Victorian prudes

This weekend, I was in London for Sherlocked, the official con for the BBC Sherlock series. I’ve been watching the show since it came out, but have been a fan of Sherlock Holmes since I was just a kid. I remember watching the Basil Rathbone movies, and I adored the Jeremy Brett series from Granada TV back in the 1980s, as well. When the production company decided to put together an opportunity to see props and meet actors and production crew, I was happy to get my pennies together for a trip to see it all.

Ryanair recently changed its flight times from Trieste to London, so instead of arriving at a reasonable hour, I got in at near midnight. I was able to get a train to Liverpool Street Station, but had to take a cab to my hotel – I was sharing a room with another fan, a young woman from Latvia. There were people from all over the world at the con, united by a mutual love for the show.

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the London Underground

The con was the same weekend as the London Marathon, and held in the same huge conference space as the marathon registration, so we were mixing with the runners, as well as people attending other conferences. The ExCel center is immense, and the conference areas feel rather like warehouses. It’s not a comfortable space, unfortunately, and there was road construction going on near the train tracks, so getting in and out proved problematic for at least some folks.

Friday, my roommate Vita and I were going down to Speedy’s, a café that is one of the locations where the exterior for 221B Baker Street is shot. Just by coincidence, we ran into a friend of mine, Jenn from Spokane, who was there with a few other fans; she had put together an informal locations tour, so we joined them for a few hours that afternoon. Neither of us had realized the other was going to be at the con, so it was great to run into each other randomly, and we spent some time together over the course of the weekend.

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the poet, with Jenn from Spokane – a random meeting five thousand miles from home

A lot of the con itself consisted of waiting around in lines for the panels, for photos with the actors, and for autographs. I was, more than once, tempted to moo at things. That said, I did have a good time at the event. I got to see different parts of London this time than on my last visit, though I didn’t really have a lot of time for sightseeing beyond the locations tour.

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View from St James’s Park toward the Horse Guards and Whitehall

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Buckingham Palace from the park

We wandered from Speedy’s to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, where Sherlock leapt to his supposed death to protect his friends from Moriarty’s henchmen. We stopped at the park where John Watson met Mike Stamford, who introduced him to Sherlock Holmes. There was a stop outside New Scotland Yard, where Inspector Lestrade works. We wandered through St. James Park, near Buckingham Palace, and out to where the exterior for the Diogenes, Mycroft Holmes’s silent club, was filmed. Our tour ended at Baker Street itself, though I didn’t get a chance to go to the Sherlock Holmes museum there, much to my disappointment. By that time we’d been touring around for about four hours, and we had to get back to the venue so that we could check in with registration and get our con badges.

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Sherlock Holmes, at the Baker Street station of the London Underground

I had dinner with some of my fellow fans every night. I met one of my favorite British fans, and got a chance to have a photo with one of my favorite actors from the series – on the Baker Street living room set, no less. I was able to talk briefly with a woman who was doing her thesis in fandom studies on Sherlock fandom, with whom I’d done an interview last month for her study.

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props from Sherlock: the fictional Sumatra Road underground stop sign, and the bomb Sherlock defused beneath the Houses of Parliament. Just incidentally, among the Sound of the Baskervilles, a scion of the Baker Street Irregulars, I’m known as The Giant Rat of Sumatra…

I really had a great time at the con, and with the people I met there. Arriving back home, my brother picked me up at Ronchi Airport on his motorcycle in a light drizzle, and we got back to Trieste just a little too late to get dinner out before the nearby restaurants closed for the night.

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fangirls, fangirling. SARAAAAAAHHHH!

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moment of geeky fangirl glee – me with Rupert Graves, who plays Inspector Lestrade in the show, sitting in the 221B Baker Street interior set

The month of May will have some more international travel for me. One of my friends from Canada is staying on the Croatian island of Mljet, just off the coast from Dubrovnik, for a month, and he’s invited me to come for a week to look over the poetry manuscript he’s finishing up. We’re planning on doing some hiking, and maybe some kayaking, as much of the island is a Croatian national park. It has a couple of salt lakes on it and, from what I’ve seen of the photos online, the island looks very beautiful. I’ll be taking a bus down; it runs twice a week from Trieste and is a 15 hour trip one way. I’m expecting to take some really good photos there!

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Tower of London grounds, on my way from the DLR train to the Underground to make my way back to Stansted Airport

Once I get back from Croatia, I have a poetry reading from my book Fireflies at Absolute Zero over at the American Corner library, on May 25th. One of my Triestina friends is going to translate a few of my poems, so they will be read in both Italian and English.

This poet has been busy, yes she has.

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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!

Saga of the Condo or My First Year in Italy

turkey day at the AIA, selfie by Gabrielle

turkey day at the AIA, selfie by Gabrielle

Saturday the 13th is the first anniversary of my arrival in Italy. It’s been a busy, exciting year and, while I haven’t made nearly the progress with language that I wanted to, pretty much everything else has been going very well for me. That includes finally, this week, closing on the sale of my condo in Everett.

my old place in Everett

my old place in Everett

Here is the saga. You can sing it to any ballad tune you like. I rather fancy Thomas the Rhymer at the moment, or perhaps The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry.

The condo got listed back in late June of 2013, so it’s been over a year and a half in the doing, and it has not been easy. The basics of cleaning, preparation, and actual moving are things anyone would have to do. Photos were taken, a sales agent contracted, applications for a short sale made.

Short sales, for those who don’t know, are sales where the value of the property falls short of the amount of the mortgage. Because of my inability to drive, I couldn’t stay, so for me it wasn’t the usual “I can’t afford this property anymore” issue but a medical necessity that I move to a location with more accessible transportation. It was a Veterans Administration loan. And there was a small second mortgage on the property, which is where a lot of the problems arose.

In August of 2013 I had an offer from a potential buyer, but the second mortgage company kept putting things off for so long that she had to back out, and we had to start the process all over again, after nearly a year. Once again, applications had to be made. “Hardship” letters had to be drafted. Now that I was in Italy, even more problems seemed to arise. And part of the problem had been that I had tried to pay the second mortgage off early, so I was nearly a year ahead on my payments, and the company insisted that I had to be in arrears before they would approve a short sale. So I had, essentially, screwed myself over by trying to do the right thing.

Anyway, we got a second buyer, who is apparently being a miserable arse to my neighbors. I was informed (rather than asked) that they would be renting the place until the sale went through, so I was getting some rent, but ended up paying over half the amount I got in that three months to the homeowner association for back HOA fees and special assessment, so I didn’t end up with much of anything extra. The mortgage company wanted me to pay four months worth of rent because, obviously, I had all this extra money sitting around. As though I can’t add.

At the point of the sale, I was feeling rather like Arlo Guthrie in Alice’s Restaurant. “What’d you get?” people want to know. “I didn’t get nothin’. I had to pay $50 and pick up the garbage.” I had to pay $300 before they would let me sign the sale agreement. So, no, selling my condo doesn’t mean I got rich, it means I got rid of a huge debt that I may still have to pay taxes on. I’m hoping it won’t come to that, because I’m uncertain where I would get a lump sum to send to the IRS.

But enough about that. Confetti has been thrown, cheers have been cheered, and I close a door on a chapter of my life.

Triestino graffitti

Triestino street art

My first year here in Italy has been filled with lovely people, fantastic places, and great food. I’m making new friends, slowly learning how to speak to people, and carefully trying to navigate a new culture without creating too much offense due to ignorance. I’ve been fortunate enough to have friends and family come visit, and this month I’ve got a friend from Prague coming down over the Christmas holiday for a few days, as well. Saturday, I’m having a little party here with friends I’ve made and people I’ve met, to celebrate my first year anniversary. Moving to Italy is a decision that has suited me very well and, despite some frustrations on both sides of the ocean, I don’t regret it at all.

the balcony, summer

the balcony, summer

I don’t know what the coming year will bring. I hope it will be more new friends and visits from old ones, more opportunities to travel lightly and inexpensively, and many more photos taken. It should bring a new book, as I’m close to ready to submit the manuscript to my publisher. And I know it will bring more facility with Italian as I spend more time in class working on it. My brother will be bringing his tv up from storage later this week so I can watch the Italian news and get more exposure to the language that way. Actually having and turning on a tv will be strange, as I didn’t really use one for years back in Everett.

A new year. A new phase of my life.

A new page.

Write on.

la mula, summer

la mula, summer

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