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


Live and direct from Everett

I left Trieste on Sunday so that I could go with my brother to lunch at the home of some friends. We had a lovely time, but I got no sleep that night. The next day it was off to Venice. I wanted to pick up a couple of gifts for some of my friends who have been helping me out, and for my girlfriend.

My brother and I had lunch in Venice and wandered the glass shops looking for just the right thing for Caera. Charles and Patrick got leather-bound journals, made by a woman whose family has been making and binding books in Venice for 85 years. I picked up a card from the shop and will definitely be back again when I am in need of new notebooks. When we finished up in Venice, my brother dropped me off at the hotel near the airport and left me to my own devices. Things went reasonably well, and I spoke a fair bit of my rudimentary Italian. I made it all the way through dinner at a nearby restaurant with no English whatsoever, surrounded by American and other English-speaking tourists. It was a good feeling, even though all of it was simple stuff. I feel like I’m improving, a little at a time.

My flights were uneventful, thankfully. In Frankfurt, the planes were parked away from the terminal and we disembarked onto the tarmac and were bussed to the airport, then back out to the next flight. The Lufthansa people were very nice and quite efficient. I had no trouble at all. I have to call them today to get final instructions about when and where to check my dog in when I fly out on Thursday.

Upon arriving, Charles picked me up at the airport. I was hungry so we headed up to the hill, where I got a bowl of chicken pho, which I’d seen hide nor hair of (skin nor feather of?) since I’d been in Italy.  After that, it was over to Edge of the Circle, where I bought a book and visited a bit with Raven B, who reads cards there. She was one of my roommates for a while when I lived in West Seattle. She plays bass for a local goth band, Legion Within. Then it was up to Everett to see my sweetie and visit the pupster (who was mellow but happy to see me), and get some sleep.

The next day, I got together with a bunch of my friends over at Travelers. I was there from when they opened at 4:30 to when they closed down at 9pm, with company the whole time. It was a lovely evening, and I bought a bunch of my favorite spice mixes from them — curries and sambar and garam masalas. I’ll be happy to have a little taste of home when I get back home to Trieste. Much chai was drunk, thali was had, and there were many wonderful discussions.

The next day I went to visit Shiuwen at Floating Leaves, and to get some tea from her, and meet a friend for lunch in Ballard. I took the bus down, as Caera was at work, and Charles wouldn’t be awake until later. I stopped at Half Price Books and got a few things for myself and some books for the Women’s Space at the American library back in Trieste. When Charles picked me up, we ran by Edge again so I could say hi to Robert, then wandered over to Elliott Bay Books, where I picked up another pile of things, including a big box of Italian word flash cards so I can do review a little more easily. It was nice to be in Seattle again. In some ways, I feel like I never left. In others, I feel quite disconnected. It’s an odd space. It still feels like home, but Trieste is feeling like home these days, as well, even if it’s not yet as familiar as 30 years in Seattle. I’m wondering how that will feel during later visits?

Yesterday was deal with the dog day. We hauled the DoDC+3 off to the vet for his exam and to fill out the mountain of paperwork necessary for the flight. It took quite a while, as the forms are a little confusing if you’ve not dealt with them often. The example forms were in English and had instructions, the target forms to actually be filled out are in Italian. Monday we have an appointment down in Tumwater to have them stamped by the USDA. We took the pup for a long walk, and went to a pet store for supplies and to have him scrubbed down and brushed. When we got back to Patrick’s place, the poor little guy didn’t want to get out of the car and have to stay. He doesn’t understand that it’s only for a few more days.

This afternoon, I’ll be visiting with some of my former neighbors. I’ve signed a little more paperwork about the condo. Later in the afternoon is a reception for some friends who have renewed their handfasting vows. That was happening Tuesday evening when I got in, but I was too tired to cope with the whole thing, and had got back to Caera’s a little too late in the day to get there on time for the start of the festivities.

Tomorrow I’ll be going up to Anacortes to see several of my other friends.  I’m going to stop by the AFK to see if Kayla’s there. She’s been really busy opening a new AFK down in Renton and has been going back and forth between the restaurants. She says she’ll be in Everett in the evening, so we’ll see what happens.

This coming Tuesday, I’ll be hanging out for the evening at the AFK up here in Everett, hoping to see some of my steampunk friends.

Since I’m currently trying to post this from my iPad, I’m having technical problems now and then with the bluetooth keyboard and with the site, so there aren’t any photos for you this week. I haven’t really taken any yet since I’ve been here, as I’ve been far too busy just being here. If  I remember to take some, I’ll try to share a few when I’m back home in Trieste. Until then, I hope you all have a fantastic week!

Paperwork, apartments, and minor frustrations

It looks like I have an apartment!

We went back to Trieste a couple of days ago and talked with people at the rental agency about contract details, and are supposed to go back tomorrow to sign the contract with the building’s owner. I’m not sure if I’ll get the keys on the 15th of January or the 1st of February, but it will, at any rate, be soon. I’d like to work on getting a bed in there, and things for the kitchen as soon as I can, as I won’t really be able to live there without a place to sleep and something to cook and eat with.

The building with my soon-to-be apartment

The building with my soon-to-be apartment

Getting a bank account was a little more challenging than I’d anticipated. The first place we went to was reluctant and the person we talked to said that services for Americans were much more restricted than for other people. Apparently after 9/11 the US government put a lot of restrictions in place for offshore accounts, and that means that people like me, who just want to be able to pay rent and the bills, will have a harder time than otherwise. He called around for us and said that another bank would be able to help us, and we thanked him and headed over there.

The process of opening the account there took half an hour or so, not counting the waiting in line. I had to sign a novel’s worth of papers, and was asked if I was a political activist. The answer to this question, unlike the answer to “are you a god?” is always “no.” If I do any deposits that aren’t electronic deposits, I have to fill out a paper saying where the money came from each time I make one, so I’m going to talk to the VA and see about them automatically depositing my disability check while still having my Social Security check deposited in my US account so that I have options for dealing with things in both countries. I have a debit card and some limited internet banking availability. I’m still not sure yet if I can pay the rent electronically or if I’ll have to get checks every month for the rent and my bills. At any rate, I am bank-enabled now and this is a start.

Amid the frustrations of dealing with banks and rental agents, we took a walk around other parts of the city. The Roman amphitheater is right across the street from the Questura office, so I’ll be able to find the place pretty easily when I need to go there to do things like renew my Permesso when that becomes necessary.


Roman amphitheater in Trieste

Stained glass at Pescada

A little toward the waterfront from the Questura, and into a pedestrian street, we grabbed some lunch at a fish restaurant called Pescada. The décor was cozy and a bit funky, and they were playing chill electronica rather that the surprisingly ubiquitous English-language pop that most places seem to have going all the time. The food was fantastic as well. It’s definitely a place I’ll be returning to.

The restaurant generally caters to the office workers at lunch, with a fixed-price menu, except on Fridays. I’m betting dinner is really nice too. The stained glass separating one of the dining areas from the kitchen was oceanic, complete with octopus.

We walked around on the waterfront, too, and I took some photos of the city from the dock. The day was overcast and a little chilly, but not too bad. There was a little drizzle but certainly not anything I wasn’t used to.


Triestine waterfront


View of the city looking toward the train station


View of Piazza Unità d’Italia from the waterfront


Image of the Bora wind from a wind rose on the dock

I still don’t have a Carta d’Itentità. It turned out my brother’s landlady didn’t actually have to sign anything. The guy down at the office in Montereale has never dealt with an elective residence visa before and was concerned that the Questura would want one. They didn’t ask for it, so that wasn’t at issue. Since I arrived on an elective residence visa but am being sponsored into the country as though it was a family reunification type visa, he was not certain which category I belong in, and is not going to issue the identity card until I actually have my Permesso in hand. As previously noted in other posts, that may not be until the first or second week of February. While this isn’t really that long in the larger scheme of things, it does mean that I can’t legally change my address to Trieste until after I have a card for Montereale. Even if I get the keys to my apartment on January 15th, I can’t register my address there until that paperwork is done. I will still mostly have to be living here in Montereale. I suppose it’s not that big a deal, as I do still need to get things together to make the place actually inhabitable by someone who needs to be able to eat and sleep.


I don’t have a lot of time right at the moment, but I arrived in Venice yesterday through pea soup fog. My brother met me at the airport and fetched me away to his place. I now have internet for my laptop.

All of my flights arrived early, with fair following winds for my travels.

Today we’ll go to the base at Aviano to see the new Hobbit movie. There are a lot of other things to deal with as well. Monday will be our visit to the Questura to file for my Permesso di Soggiorno. I also have to register with the Comune of Montereale Valcellina and they will have to come by and see that yes, I am actually in residence with my brother.

First things first, though – a shower, tea, and out for breakfast.

Leaving the ghosts of my life

Yesterday morning I moved out of the condo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11 Days: Remembering last summer

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

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

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

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

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

Mary shrine at the headwaters of the Livenza

Mary shrine at the headwaters of the Livenza

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

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

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

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

Venetian flag on a gondola

Venetian flag on a gondola

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

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

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

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

Lion in Piazza San Marco

Lion in Piazza San Marco

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

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

Dolomite mountains

Dolomite mountains

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

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

Mosaic in the bascilica at Aquileia

Mosaic in the basilica at Aquileia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dragonfly in the WW1 cemetery behind the basilica in Aqileia

Dragonfly in the WW1 cemetery behind the basilica in Aquileia

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

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

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

Selling my previous life

Tomorrow I’m selling off all my remaining things in a moving sale. If you’re local to Everett, Washington, please feel free to come by between noon and 3pm to have a look!

I’ve spent the last week hauling my things out to the garage, and the last two days sorting and pricing things; I’ve arranged for Northwest Center to come and pick up what they want of what’s left a few days later. Arrangements have been made for taking the last few boxes of my things to my storage unit in Seattle, my desktop computer will be shipped to my brother via priority mail, and I should be out of the condo by the morning of December 7th, latest.

There’s still a little left to do here as far as getting things out to the garage, but I’ve been saving the last few cooking things, flatware, and kitchen utensils until the morning, so that I can use them today and tomorrow morning. After it goes out to the garage, it’s restaurants for me until I leave. It isn’t the cheapest option, but it’s certainly the most practical, and there are a couple of restaurants right next door. I suspect I will be living on teriyaki and sushi rolls for a few days until this is over, as it’s inexpensive and filling. I’m giving the rest of the food I would have to cook to one of my neighbors, and tomorrow evening it’ll be time to clean out the fridge. I’ve already given things to my girlfriend that she can eat, but there’s a lot left that she couldn’t take from me, so it goes to the next person on the list.

Yesterday, I hadn’t planned on participating in any turkey day festivities. I didn’t have the time or the energy to deal with it, but seven of my friends brought the holiday to me, with folding tables and chairs, food, a log for the fire, and their good company. Despite having a migraine, I had a really lovely time with them. One is a couple of weeks out from his annual winter in Mexico. Another stopped in with his partner on the way home to Bellingham from their own festivities in Seattle.

My neighbors have been talking with me out in the parking lot when I take the dog for a walk or get my mail or haul things up to the garage for the sale. They have all said they’ll miss me and are very sad to see me go. It’s nice to know my presence has been appreciated despite my unusual hours. One neighbor dropped by while I was sticking price tags on things and bought a few things from me already, so that’s a couple fewer items to worry about! I’ve been overwhelmed by the sea of my possessions and am glad to be getting rid of everything that’s left.

I am at the point in this process where I just want to be done. I want to be on the plane and not have to deal with the intervening 11 days. Beam me up, Scotty! I’m feeling restless and at loose ends in this empty space. I’ve got accounts to close, addresses to change, and last minute details to attend. I’ve got myself a Skype US phone/text number so my family and friends here can stay in touch with me and not have to make international calls, but it’ll be strange not to have the same number I’ve been using for about 15 years now. I couldn’t get a Skype number with a 206 area code, like the one I’ve had for so long. Even my displacement is displaced.

Earlier this week, I went with one of my friends down to Seattle to walk around Green Lake for the last time. The weather has been clear, if cold, and I’ve had some lovely views of Tahoma to file away in my memory. The rosy orange glow of sunset on its snowy peak from the south entrance of the Veterans Hospital was particularly beautiful last week, with that slight touch of unreality that follows when things are in flux. The mountain seized me emotionally when I first got to Seattle many years ago, and it is hard to imagine not seeing it regularly. I have been looking at things with the eyes of one who will not see them again for a very long time and it steeps sadness into me even as I am letting go and looking forward to my trip with excitement. Every time I am down in Seattle, I realize how much I will miss the place, and how much of a home it has been to me for most of my life. Seattle’s mountains and water, and its green spaces have become a part of my soul. I hope that I can find that same sense of connection in Italy.

My brother’s last day with the Air Force was this week. This means that we won’t have to worry about him leaving me alone at his place out in the countryside with no way to get around while he’s at work. He’s driving down to Venice to pick me up, rather than taking the train; it’ll be easier on both of us when I first arrive, as I’m going to be exhausted. I’ll have been in transit for about 18 hours, not including the time it takes for me to get to Seatac and get through security, then wait for the plane. I’m guessing closer to 24 hours will be my total transit door to door. I will be fried when I arrive that morning; there will be lunch and then sleep. The next day, we’ll arrange for me to go to the Questura to apply for my Permesso di Soggiorno before my eight days are up. He says that the office in Pordenone has become much more efficient in recent years, so it shouldn’t be too much trouble. Then again, I have no idea what to measure that against. It could be downright Dantean, even by Veterans Administration standards.

I’ll be sure to bring a book. And a sense of humor.