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.

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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

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

Venice, Film, and Food

the pink glass of Venetian streetlamps

the pink glass of Venetian streetlamps

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

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the offerings at Pasticceria Dal Mas

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

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view from the vaporetto to Lido

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a young couple courting along the way

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

a Lido market

a Lido market

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

pillar near the Giardini vaporetto stop

pillar near the Giardini vaporetto stop

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

Serra dei Giardini

Serra dei Giardini

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

even in Venice, the laundry must be done

even in Venice, the laundry must be done

Venetian glass

Venetian glass

Venetian flags

Venetian flags

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

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there’s more than one leaning tower in Italy

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gothic arches, evening light

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the marble of San Marco

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mezzo litro di rosso at Al Portega

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

Venice by night from the steps of the train station

Venice by night from the steps of the train station

On buying ferry tickets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#1day12pics for June 7th

It’s a monthly thing, apparently. Some photobloggers on twitter participate, posting 12 photos from their day, and I participated a couple of months ago, not realizing it was a regular thing. Anyway, here it is, come round again. Join me for my day in photographs.

 

 

 

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coffee and goetia

Breakfast today was coffee and cherries. My brother brought me a couple of kilos of the things and I’ve been eating them like crazy. I gave some to my friend Gabby, who was quite happy to receive them. The book is my current reading material: Geosophia volume 1 by Jake Stratton-Kent. Some interesting material about goetia, necromancy, ceremonial magic, Greek mythology, and the European grimoire tradition. Sadly, when he ventures into Celtic territory, he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

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watering the garden: geraniums and rosemary

This is out on my balcony. One of the rosemary plants I got isn’t in the best shape. I suspect it may die on me, but the other seems to be doing just fine.

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the fountain in Piazza Vittorio Veneto

A neriad and a couple of tritons hold up a shell in the piazza across from the main post office.

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capo in b

This is how the Triestini take their coffee – cappuccino in bicchieri, a capo in b. It’s a very local thing, and you won’t find it outside of Trieste.

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mussels, oysters, and limpets

I sat for a while near the sewing sisters on the waterfront. This was below me growing on the sea-wall.

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still life with geranium

The last of the cherries, some oranges and apricots, a lovely little melon, and a bit of geranium that broke off one of the plants while I was picking the dead blooms today.

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Chris, the DoDC+3

Here’s my snoozy little companion, catching a nap in the sunshine.

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skulls and fetishes

The horse skull was given to me by my friend Gar, who found it when he was working in the field in Montana for NOAA. The others are bobcat skulls. The fetishes are also bobcats.

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Lu Yu (陸羽), the sage of tea

Lu Yu is said to be the sage who discovered the art of brewing tea. The teaware is all from Floating Leaves in Ballard, owned and operated by Shiuwen Tai.

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apricot-rosemary gelato

This stuff tastes amazing. So does the peach-basil. Taken together? Godlike.

 

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learning Italian

This evening I went over to Knulp to meet Giulia, who is helping me learn Italian. She’s learning how to teach Italian as a second language, and needs a guinea pig. I volunteered, as I need someone to work with me. We were joined later by her boyfriend Luca, and went down to the Riva for dinner.

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sunset on the waterfront

The sunset from our dinner table on the Riva opposite the marina. Good food, great company, and a fantastic evening. Tomorrow I’m meeting them for coffee (and possibly lunch) at noon, at Life, a bar in one of the pedestrian areas near Piazza Unità.