Trieste, Grado, and sliding into summer

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in the woods above the Strada Napoleonica

 

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

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

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

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

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17th century wrought iron gate to the treasury

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cathedral interior – paintings from 17th century

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San Giusto Servolo and Christ Pantocrator, 14th century

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candles in San Giusto

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13th century frescoes from the life of San Giusto

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

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

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detail from the castle bell

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bell ringer detail

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Trieste and the carso from the castle

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roses and lizard on the castle grounds

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Trieste observatory tower from the castle

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

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Amerigo Vespucci in port in Trieste

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

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Dave, Sere, and the antipasti

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vineyard roses on a rainy day

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wine barrels

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

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

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the beach at Grado

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

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6th century floor mosaic

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the pulpit of the basilica

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a quiet piazza

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Wanderings

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Internations brunch in Treviso

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

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ceramic plate from Japan

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

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Taoist sage, China

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Japanese print

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

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

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

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Maynooth campus map in Irish

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swans at the Maynooth train station

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

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campus housing, St Patrick’s College, Maynooth

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

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

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

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women of the Easter Rising, Dublin 2016

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street art, Dublin

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

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Blooms Hotel, Temple Bar, Dublin

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

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

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Piran, Slovenia, church

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Piran’s waterfront

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

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Piran harbor

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

Music, travel, and plans for the year

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Seisún musicians, Taverna ai Mastri d’Arme, Trieste

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

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uilleann piper

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

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

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Gorizia from the castle

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

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A pirate pub in Udine

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

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Demonstrators in Udine

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

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

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

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It’s time.

Parliament of the World’s Religions, Salt Lake City, Utah

In 1893, approximately eight thousand people came together from many religions and spiritual traditions in Chicago, hoping to create a global forum for religious dialogue among many diverse faiths. In 1993, on the centenary of that meeting, another gathering was held, billed as the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Since that time, gatherings have been held at irregular intervals in Chicago (1993), Cape Town, South Africa (1999), Barcelona, Spain (2004), Melbourne, Australia (2009), and again this year in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was invited to speak there on a panel about reconstructing Pagan religions.

The journey started with a train trip down to Mestre to get to the airport on the day before my flight. I was in a particularly reflective mood and felt very open to the land around me as I traveled, thinking about issues of relocation, of inhabitation, of touching something larger than myself. I was feeling in need of connection while in the midst of a sense of rootlessness, and finding similarities to other places.

the train, Trieste to Mestre, October

give me time
to know this fallow earth of autumn
furrowed
mist rising from the waters
egrets wading
or still and watching
the complex, fractal augury
of starlings
curling across the sky

there should be time
for this slow decay
of leaves
gone from trees
of grapes
gone from vines

melting into loam
melting into wine

melting slowly into winter rain

 

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Mormon Temple, Salt Lake City

The long flight was difficult and I was running on three days with about five hours sleep in total, but I was met by friends I hadn’t seen in about three years, and I was happy to have that opportunity. We drove into Salt Lake City and got to the hotel, then registered at the conference. The venue is large, with lots of glass, though I was a bit disturbed to see signs acknowledging the open carry laws. I am not someone comfortable around guns. I didn’t think of it as a particularly auspicious start, but most of the conference was better than this.

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you know you’re in America when…

According to the Parliament materials, 50 religions were represented at the conference, and there were about 10,000 people registered to attend. Many of the sessions were Livestreamed, and you can view them here. I saw one lone protester outside the venue, with a garbled message about how there had to be One True Truth, and if it wasn’t Jesus then it wasn’t anyone. I’m not sure his signs quite said what he thought they were saying, though. As a polytheist, I found it kind of amusing – I’m perfectly comfortable with there not being One True Truth. It is, in fact, a foundation of my worldview that such a thing doesn’t actually exist.

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Kirk Thomas, Ar nDraiocht Fein

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Diana Paxson, Hrafnar

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M. Macha NightMare

On the first evening, I attended the Pagan meet and greet, getting together with a few old friends and acquaintances and just catching up with my body, trying to adjust to a new time zone again. Out in the main hall of the conference center, Tibetan Buddhists were working on a sand mandala, to be constructed during the course of the long weekend, and destroyed at its end, a symbol of the world’s impermanence. I visited every day, watching the progress, and the infinite patience of the monks.

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Very close by, the Jains had set up a small temple for people to visit. The Sikhs provided a free lunch every day for the attendees, called Langar. Each day, they sang in a group to bless the meal before people entered the hall to sit together and have vegetarian food. In the exhibition hall, the Sikhs had a booth where they would turban anybody who came and wanted one, explaining the origins of the practice. Apparently, back in the day, long hair and beards, and the right to wear a turban, were only afforded to the very wealthy. When the Sihks embraced the turban, it was a radical act of equality and a protest against the inequity of the society of the time. It was a fascinating process to watch, and the smiles everywhere were wonderful.

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Jain temple

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blessing Langar

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Langar service

There was a room where shrines for many religions had been set up, and some of the Pure Land Buddhists had a chanting ceremony several times a day on the hour, where you could go to sit and participate with them.

Japanese Shin Buddhists

Japanese Shin Buddhist ceremony

In the exhibition hall, there was a stage with music, dance, and storytelling performances from many different cultures. There were spiritual art displays throughout the venue, and conversations going on in every corner.

Sunday's performances in the exhibition hall

Because of the sheer size of the Parliament, it was impossible to attend everything. In fact, I went to very few things simply because I was tired and had to pace myself. I went to a session on protecting women’s rights – the session was supposed to consist of two speakers, though only one was able to attend. I very much wish more of the Parliament could have been streamed, as there is so much I would have loved to see. At least I can watch some of what I missed, and I’m grateful for the opportunity!

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T. Thorn Coyle, Gus diZerega, Diana Paxson, post panel discussion

As a part of the Parliament, films were also screened, and I attended two of them, dealing with Native American issues and with veterans. The first was a documentary about the Doctrine of Discovery, which is the result of a Papal bull granting European Christians the authority to own anything they landed on, despite it already being occupied by Native peoples. This profoundly racist document is still cited by the US Supreme Court and other governments all over the globe. Its existence as a driving force of colonialism effects nations all over North and South America, Africa, Australia, and an incredible number of other places.

The other was a documentary called Healing the Warrior’s Heart, on Native sweat lodges at the Veteran’s Administration hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, and their effect on veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As a vet with PTSD, this was right up my alley, and I talked briefly with the producer afterwards about some things that my own spiritual community does to deal with these issues.

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our panel on reconstructed polytheist religions

The panel I was on was not a part of the officially filmed sessions. We do, however, have a rather shaky youtube recording of most of the panel discussion in three parts. Probably best just to go with audio and not bother watching the video, as it was filmed on Rob’s iPad. The title of our session was Rebuilding the Altars: Reconstructing Indigenous Pagan Faiths for Today. I will note that I have some serious issues with the use of “indigenous” here, but that I was asked to speak on the panel before we had a title or a panel description. That said, I think some important things were shared, and we did have a good turnout for the small room we were using.

Despite the focus on women’s issues, racism, indigenous issues, and religiously based violence at this Parliament, we still had sessions on the program that were profoundly homophobic, transphobic, and problematic regarding women’s rights. One session on the “gender war” brought about by “gender feminists” was quite insistent that it was okay for women to vote but we shouldn’t want, you know, bodily autonomy, and that people loving people of the same gender was destroying families. We are making progress, but there is still so very much work to be done. It can be hard to remain optimistic in the face of things like this, but it is necessary to continue. Change does not come unless we insist on it. Nobody ever won their rights by sitting there accepting the status quo.

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Goddesses from around the world

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and sacred images of the feminine

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from an installation at the conference

After the Parliament, I was in town for one more day, as I didn’t want to fly home on the last day of the conference itself. The day of my flight, my friend Lorrie and I went out to the Great Salt Lake to have a look. Having been raised and living most of my life by various oceans, I recognized the scent of salt water, but this was very very different than any of those larger bodies of water. The scent of it was very “chemical” to my nose, and just smelled off to me for reasons I could not quite put my finger on. The lake is far saltier than any ocean, but less so than the Dead Sea. The only life in the water is brine shrimp, but that does support a large population of water birds, and it is a major stop on the migratory flyways of many bird populations. The mountains are beautiful and the light on them was really glorious. There was some rain, and occasional bits of rainbow made themselves known.

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at the Great Salt Lake

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this may look like tidelands, but it is not

After such an intensive trip, emotionally and spiritually, it was really good to get back home to Trieste. I’m looking forward to next month’s Irish music seisiún at Taverna ai Mastri d’Arme. I’ve been to two so far; I’ve heard that Trieste has one of only three traditional concertinas player in Italy at the seisùn, and he goes to Ireland annually to study with players there. My friend Anna keeps insisting that I sing, but I don’t know enough lyrics to participate. I did, however, promise to memorize a couple of Gaelic songs again and sing next month. Did I mention I was in a Scots Gaelic language choir in Seattle for several years? About a dozen years ago now, anyway. It’s been a long time, but perhaps I ought to get back on that horse.

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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

Ergo bibamus, ne sitiamus, vas repleamus!

When last we left our intrepid poet and her sibling, they were in Venice awaiting the arrival of a long-lost cousin.

We hadn’t seen Lisa since she was maybe nine. There had been a rough divorce, I left home shortly afterwards anyway, and she’d spent years not really wanting to be in contact with the rest of us, from what I understand. Funny how 30-ish years changes people.

Lisa and her husband arrived on the train after having been on the road for some days already, doing a tour of Italy. They’d been in Rome and Florence, I think, among other places, and having a grand time. She’s been living in Hawaii for years and works in the medical field these days. We helped them find their hotel, waited while they dropped things off and got themselves together, then went off to find some food. We were so busy catching up with each other that nobody thought to take any photos.

We introduced them to spritz Aperol, which they found instantly addicting, and they spent the rest of their time in Italy having them every day. It was a delight to become acquainted with her once again after so many years, and we’ll stay in touch. She’d love to come back and visit again – maybe next time she’ll come to Trieste!

A few days later, I flew from Ronchi airport, here near Trieste, to Stanstead in order to go to the I:MAGE conference at the Warburg Institute in London, where I wanted to hear my friends Amy and Pam do presentations. The day-long conference was part of almost two weeks of other activities surrounding esoteric art and the occult, including a showing of contemporary occult art at the Cob Gallery in the Camden area of London.

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river boats at the Camden Market above the locks

The city is half an hour or so away from the airport, and I took the bus in. My hostel was in Camden Town, in walking distance of the conference, but also of the British Museum, Camden Locks, and the Camden Market. The place was cheap and clean, but it was also above a bar (where hostel clients got free breakfast and a discount on selected food and drink). The crowd was, primarily, quite young, but that tends to be the sort who stay in hostels. That, and rather more adventurous adults who want to travel cheap and don’t mind sharing rooms with strangers.

I hadn’t realized how much I missed skyscrapers until I got to London. Trieste is beautiful but very modest in terms of tall buildings. There are some apartment blocks up near the Cattinara hospital that are quite tall, but most of the city is pre-20th century, so the buildings are rarely more than five or six floors. I don’t mind that at all, but it was nice to be in a proper city again.

London is immense. There was no way for me to see more than just a tiny part of it in the weekend I was there. That said, I was thrilled to walk streets and see things that I had been reading about or seeing on TV or in the movies my entire life. I walked along Montague Street near the museum, where Sherlock Holmes had his rooms before Baker Street. I walked by a building where Charles Dickens once lived. I had cheap street food at Camden Market, surrounded by a swirling mass of humanity from all over the world.

at the British Museum

at the British Museum

The conference itself was really good. I had a lot of fun and met some fantastic people. One lady, Susan Alberth, wrote a book called Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy and Art, which I picked up a copy of at the reception that night at Treadwell’s, a London fixture in the occult scene. I’ve been interested in the Surrealists for a long time, and a lot of my poetry is influenced by that artistic movement, so it was a delight to hear a presentation on Carrington, and to meet Susan. She’s very interested in Trieste, as well, so she may come visit at some point.

The next day, I spent time at the British Museum, at the Witches and Wicked Bodies exhibit, as well as seeing some of the other things I’d always admired from afar. I saw the material from the Sutton Hoo burial, wandered through the exhibit of materials from Sumeria, stood for a time with Hadrian and Antinous, and was dazzled by even the tiny fragment of the museum that I was able to experience.

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Andrea Mantegna’s Battle of the Sea Gods

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detail, Agostino Veneziano’s Lo Stregosso

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detail, Martin Schongauer’s Tribulations of Saint Anthony

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detail, an Italian Isis from about 120-150 CE

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one of the Lewis Chessmen, carved from walrus ivory

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guardsman from the Palace of Darius, Persepolis, Iran

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Zoroastrian senmurw on a gilded silver plate

After that, I made the long hike up to the Cob Gallery for the I:MAGE exhibit. In addition to the collection for the conference, they had a one-day-only showing of an image by Aleister Crowley that has been in a private collection for decades. Considering that many of those in attendance were Thelemites, the rare showing was a bit of excitement for them. Personally, I’m more interested in the work of Austin Osman Spare, if we’re going in that direction. For one thing, I think he was a much better artist.

After the reception, Amy and I wandered off and had some dinner at a pub nearby, called The Spread Eagle. A number of (in)appropriate jokes were made about the name, but the food was good, and the company was excellent. The next day I grabbed a bus back to the airport and headed home to Trieste.

London was amazing and I’ll definitely be going back.

The next weekend, my brother and I went off to Osoppo to the Halloween Fest to see Corvus Corax. He doesn’t have his car so we rode for over an hour on his motorcycle to get there, in the falling dark. We met some of our Italian friends there. I didn’t have enough money for both of us to go to the concert, but my brother said that didn’t bother him. He could hear the music perfectly well from the campsite our friends were staying at, and there was a nice campfire, so he’d be okay.

The concert was supposed to start at 7:30, I think, but didn’t really get started until much later. The first group up was La Corte di Lunas, an Italian group from Udine who were quite good. I’d certainly pay to see them again, though they weren’t the reason I’d gone.

lead singer, La Corte di Luna

lead singer, La Corte di Lunas

Once they left the stage, a couple of guys from Fabula, a German band, played near the booths while the stage was changed up for Corvus Corax, who have a massive set of instruments. (I mean this in the best way. I have severe percussion envy.) They’re influenced by Corvus Corax and Dead Can Dance, among others, and put on quite a nice show for about fifteen minutes. Later in the evening, they joined CC on stage for one tune, and were obviously having a fantastic time. If I’d had any cash, I’d have got a cd from them, but it was near the end of the month and I was broke.

the guys from Fabula

the guys from Fabula

The crowd for the festival was small, but we were definitely enthusiastic! Corvus Corax is the Linnaean name for the Common Raven, and the band is based out of Berlin. They play medieval Latin drinking songs from the Carmina Burana, among other things, and they rocked the house. They put on a hell of a show, and their part of the concert ended after midnight. There was a third act coming up, but we had over 90 minutes on the road on a motorcycle ahead of us, so my brother and I headed home after that. I was just thrilled to be able to see the band live, as I’d wanted to for years. It was the perfect cap to a very eventful month.

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possibly the most badass hurdygurdy in existence

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redefining the pipe and drum band

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in which the poet suffers serious percussion envy

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when these guys walked in, it was like some esoteric priesthood of the pipes

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cymbals can be badass too

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check out those wrist mics – no, I mean really, what a great idea

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this guy always looked like he was having so much fun with the drums

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horns – not just for drinking anymore

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so badass it requires two players

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I’d want these guys behind me on a medieval battlefield, yes I would

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giving horny a new definition