So here are a few from my last few weeks, from Koper, Treviso, and Udine. Food, clouds, fountains, and other details.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
They don’t call it Word of Warcrack for nothing. Yes, that is in large part why you haven’t seen anything from me here recently. That, and much of February spent with evil migraines. But here I am again, with more photos from the last couple of months, and a little bit of natter as well.
While I didn’t have any photos of my cousin from her visit to Venice last year, my brother did take a few. Here’s Lisa and her husband, enjoying themselves greatly.
My friends from Prague came and went over the holiday in December. Jim and I tried to go out for a traditional New Year dinner at a local restaurant, but that was kind of a disaster. The food was mediocre at best, and the restaurant didn’t tell anyone it was cash only, so every last person in the place had to go to the bancomat for cash to pay for dinner. There were a lot of very unhappy people that night. Despite the freezing cold and the wind, though, there was a huge party going on in Piazza Unità at midnight.
As always, I helped out with food over the holiday at the AIA. In this photo, though, I’m taking a quick break from my duties. The turkey was fantastic.
Piazza Unità was lit up for Christmas, and there was a small Christmas market in town, which was nice diversion. A group from Udine was in town making polenta for the masses. It was pretty tasty, but there were potatoes involved so I didn’t eat much of it.
A couple of weeks ago I went to Ljubljana for the first time. It’s a really lovely city. I toured the castle and walked around the pedestrian downtown area. Franci, the very kind gentleman who showed me around, took me to lunch at a place called Sarajevo, which served Bosnian food and Yugoslavian nostalgia. We had huge sandwiches of ćevapčići served with raw onion and a soft, slightly sour cheese called kajmak, which tastes rather like what might happen if you’d made mascarpone with sour cream. It was delicious and very filling.
We stopped at a wine bar for a sample of some local wines. (“See that guy at the bar there? He’s the mayor of Ljubljana.”) I had a very nice, hearty red while Franci let me sample his orange wine. The flavor of it was rather like port, raisiny and round, and I quite liked it.
There was an exhibit of Dalí works at a convention center, as well, and I was excited to go and see it. Finding it, though, was a bit challenging. It was in a building that was behind what was essentially a small-scale construction site in a parking lot, so it was difficult to tell that something was actually happening there. Most of the exhibit consisted of a collection of prints from The Divine Comedy, and a selection of his prints illustrating biblical texts. The most interesting thing for me, though, was a series of prints showing each individual color plate for one complete print. I think there were over 30. The resulting print looked more like a painting than a print, and some of the plates had just a tiny spot of color to highlight or overlap on another. It was complex and elegant, and absolutely fascinating.
We walked through one of the main parks in town, on the way up to some small museums. There was still some snow on the ground, though the crocuses were showing in sunny spots on the hills. It was cold, but a gorgeous day. We visited the museum of graphic arts, which had a showing by Alenka Pirman, a local Slovenian artist who spent a fair bit of time in New York City. Some of her work was satirical and quite funny. She did a collection of skateboards that were quite absurd. One was upholstered. Another was essentially on stilts. There was a fake book project, and a few other things of that sort, and I quite enjoyed most of it.
Dinner was at a restaurant called Čompa in the middle of the old town. The food was simple and very much like what you would get at an osmiza, but absolutely beautifully done. I talk about food porn, and this was hot sex on a plate. The place was packed and we got in pretty much by chance, when a group cleared out at a table a little earlier than expected. The food was excellent, the wine was very good, and I have to say that walnut schnapps is very tasty stuff.
I had traveled to Ljubljana via a service called GoOpti, which is sort of a private bus service that will take you door to door or from point to point through a fair bit of continental Europe. I paid a little under €50 including tax to go round trip from the train station across the street to the central station in Ljubljana. The hours are actually quite flexible compared to commercial bus services, and the service was good. My return trip was at about 10:30 pm, so after dinner we had another walk.
Franci took me to a part of town called Metelkova, essentially an arts district with guerilla galleries, alternative scene clubs, and a lot of young people. It rather reminded me of the artists loft neighborhood that Zoh took me to in Brooklyn when I visited a couple of years ago to do my poetry reading in New York. We sat in an outdoor structure among people smoking and drinking and conversing in several languages as we waited. It was a great atmosphere, and very good company.
On the writing front, Jerome Rothenberg says that the poetry anthology Barbaric Vast and Wild, which will have my version of the cauldron of poesy text, is due out on April 7th, and he was requesting addresses for contributor copies. I’m very excited for this publication, as his anthology Technicians of the Sacred has been very much an influence on my work over the years.
Next month I’ll be making another brief trip to London, this time for a Sherlock convention. Should be a lot of fun. I have my plane trip, my shared hotel room, and my ticket for the event. I’m very excited!