Compleanno in Italia

You may notice that the header on my blog has changed. The old photo was a street in the small mountain town of Poffabro, in the Dolomite mountains. It was beautiful, but it was from my visit in 2012, and it reflects the more rural beginning of my journey here. The new header, I think, is more appropriate to the current themes of my life – living in the city of Trieste, being once again in a city, and entering a new phase of my life.

Also, the Free Territory of Trieste feels kind of like being in a pirate movie, doesn’t it? Who doesn’t want to be in a pirate movie?

My birthday was this past week. The bora blew through town that day, rattling windows, blowing every hidden bit of trash out of its concealing crevice, and staggering the pedestrians as we went about our business. My own windows didn’t rattle at all, due to the lovely double-paned outside windows that are relatively new to the building. It was silence itself inside.

My brother was in town overnight for my birthday. We went over to the Questura to see if they had the papers that had been sent from Pordenone, but the office was already closed for the day by the time he’d arrived and we got over there. We got the hours, though, and also found the office of the Comune di Trieste, where I’ll need to register my residence and get my Carta d’Identita.

For dinner, we went to the Arcoriccardo restaurant, which I linked to in my last post. It was a quiet evening there, and the food was really good. It was, as anticipated, on the expensive side but not over the top. I thought it was worth it for what we got and would certainly go back for a special occasion again. Service was very good, as well.

The next morning, we went to the Questura, where we were told that the papers had not yet arrived from Pordenone. They made sure they had my proper phone number and said someone would call when they were ready for me to come in. After that we walked to the office where I had to register my residence. I wasn’t able to do so, but the question about why Montereale hadn’t given me my Carta d’Identita was resolved. Apparently, the first time you apply for your Permesso di Soggiorno, they won’t register your residence or give you your card until you actually have the Permesso. After that, if you are renewing your Permesso, they don’t worry about that and all you need is the receipt from the post office. So, weirdness resolved, but I’m still a bit in limbo. Regardless, I’ve done everything they’ve asked of me so far, and things appear to be legal and going all right. It does seem there may be a bit more of a delay, though, given the move and the transfer of the papers.

About ten minutes after my brother left to go home, the Questura called. They want me to come in Tuesday morning to get fingerprinted. Again. I don’t know why, but I’ll be there. My brother will come up on his motorcycle and go with me in the morning then head back home after lunch.

He brought more bookshelves with him when he came, so now three more bookshelves were built, and all of my books are finally up off the floor. This is a relief, and I do have room on some of the shelves to let the collection grow, as libraries do. We all know books breed in the dark, when we’re not looking.

Today it has been gloriously sunny. The time shift happened last night, so now the clock has moved forward an hour and dusk comes later. I hate clock shifts, but it will be nice to have more light in the evening again. Feeling like a walk and wanting to get some sun, I headed down to the Molo Audace, the long, narrow stone pier near Piazza Unità. I think all of Trieste was out walking today, in the piazze and along the waterfront. There was a haze over the sea, and cargo ships floating like islands on the horizon. Sailboats skimmed slowly over the calm water like the people walking the shoreline.

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Ships and sailboats on the Adriatic off Molo Audace

I saw an immense number of jellyfish, along with small schools of minnows skimming just below the surface of the water. Beneath the murmur of conversation, if you listen closely, you can hear the tiny splash of dorsal fins. There were two species of jellyfish, their umbrellas rippling gently as they moved, rising and falling in slow motion. I sat on the dock for a while, writing in my notebook and enjoying the warmth of the sun.

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Aurelia aurita (smaller jellyfish) and Rhizostoma pulmo swimming near the pier

Finally, feeling like moving, I rose and headed back toward the Piazza. Along the way, a man with a hookah sat on the stone, putting together a fishing pole. Around me, Italian, German, and Slovenian language in waves. I walked slowly, trying to let go of my need for perfection and my unconscious desire to hurry everywhere. I thought about Specchi, but it was pretty crowded, as one would expect on a brilliantly sunny Sunday afternoon. I walked down to Ginger, but the four little tables inside were full, and there was a line, so I wandered back to Specchi and got a seat anyway, and had a spritz aperol. The presentation was a bit over the top, with a bowl of chips and bits of other snacks on pikes like the heads of my enemies.

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Spritz aperol with food on spikes. NOM.

I talked briefly to the waiter. I think people are starting to recognize me, even if they don’t know my name, as the smiles I get are friendlier than they were the first few times I’ve been into some of these same places. It’s nice, having people recognize my presence as something other than a passing thing. He grinned when I left, at my “ci vediamo.” I can’t say much, but I’m trying to use more of what little I do have in hopes it will become easier. I stopped a couple of blocks from my flat at Gelateria Zampolli, at Via Carlo Ghega 10, which came recommended to me as one of the better places in town. I remember when I was initially researching Trieste online, I’d read one person’s report of the city, complaining that they couldn’t find a gelateria anywhere, and I will admit I find myself wondering if they ever got more than a block from Piazza Unità for their entire visit, as there are quite a few gelaterias here, just like pretty much anywhere else in Italy. I had a scoop of lemon. It was delicious.

Tonight I’ve got some chicken simmering on the stove. I’ll make chicken soup with lentils. My brother brought me baking powder, baking soda, and corn starch for various things, so I picked up eggs and milk to make scones. I usually use an egg substitute because I’m mildly allergic to eggs, but a little bit in a batch of scones isn’t usually a problem. A year ago, I didn’t imagine my life would look like this, ever. It’s strange what life hands us sometimes.

The flat smells like chicken soup. The balcony door is open. The sun is lowering in the sky. Life is good.

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Anxiety

Anxiety. It’s a thing I’ve struggled with most of my life. I deal with a level of it that occasionally requires medication for panic attacks, and I also spent about two years of my life so embedded in anxiety that I couldn’t even leave the house without someone accompanying me. I deal with post traumatic stress as well, and it’s probably not a combination that usually lends itself to solo international travel or relocation overseas. It’s also been kicking me in the teeth a lot this week.

This is something that I knew was inevitable. High stress situations intensify anxiety, as does feeling isolated, and moving to another country pegs high on both of those scales. Not knowing the language lends itself to a certain feeling of helplessness as well. I’m doing my best not to let it all get to me, as I know from experience it is a passing thing, even if it doesn’t feel that way in the moment.

I’ll admit I spent a day or two just hanging around the flat writing. I got an email from my friend in Granada soliciting some poems for an anthology he’s going to publish with a due date of June 21st, so I do need to actually put words on paper for that. But there are necessary things that need doing, and places that require going, and no amount of avoidance (a big thing when the anxiety hits) is going to do things or go places. Even when I lived in Everett, surrounded by friends, I had days where just taking the dog out for a walk was a fraught activity but, when you live alone, nobody is going to walk the dog for you, no matter how awful you feel for whatever reason.

Part of me knows that if I actually put on my shoes and my jacket and walk out the door, I will feel better, but it’s hard to convince that tight knot that’s made its home in my chest that this is true.

I went to my first Italian class on Monday. The teacher had been waiting for four people to sign up; they did, and I was the only one who actually showed up. That meant I got a lot of really good intensive time with her, so I was pleased. I was told that after I took the first class, I could decide if I wanted to continue, and to pay before the second class (this coming Monday). I told her after our first session that if she was good with teaching one person, I would be happy to keep coming and working with her. Today I went and paid the class fee. The class is twenty hours, ten weeks.

We started out with some reading, not for comprehension but for the sound of the language. There was a reading for comprehension exercise, some fill in the blank stuff for the verbs essere and avere – to be and to have – and personal pronouns, answering questions based on pictures, and a read through of a short newspaper article. She’d chosen the article after skimming the first couple of (short) sentences but hadn’t realized that the article then evolved into lengthy sentences with semicolons and dependent clauses. We read it aloud, her first and me following after, as I struggled with pronouncing things. We worked on translating the article as we went along. Between her rough English and my appalling Italian, I would break out my dictionary as she struggled for the right word to help me along, and we got through about nine column inches of text.

The class was intended to last two hours. With just the two of us, we did a little over an hour and 45 minutes, but I felt like it was time very well spent. If there had been two or three other students, it probably would have run a lot longer and we wouldn’t have got through everything. She gave me homework to write three sentences sort of on the theme of being a child and things I did as a kid. I didn’t do short, three word sentences, but I wasn’t going for dependent clauses, either. I did get three sentences together, though I know one of them has some issues because I’m not sure how to say a particular thing, but she’ll correct it when I see her again. That’s what this is all for, after all. A class is a safe environment to make mistakes.

We’ve had a couple of nice, sunny days in Trieste, but I’ve been too busy to go around taking photos. I’ll try to have some more for you this weekend, as I want to get to the Aquarium soon.

I have spent a fair bit of time since I got here trying to locate a rice cooker and a water filter pitcher around town, both of which I finally found today at a little kitchen supply shop. The rice cooker is larger than I’d like, but cooked rice keeps and can be frozen. The water filter is going to help immensely for reducing the chalky taste and the film on top of the water here, so my tea will actually finally taste like tea again. Both of these are things I consider really necessary maintenance items. I eat a lot of rice, and clean water that doesn’t taste weird is mandatory.

On my walkabout this afternoon, I found a larger grocery store with a better selection of fruits and vegetables than the one on the corner, and a somewhat different selection of meat and cheese. There’s a larger selection of a bunch of other stuff, as well, which is good. I bought some of what I think are beets, but they’re neither the deep red I’m used to nor the gold sort, so I’ll find out what they taste like. They looked nice, though. The store is not all that far, and it’s great to have so many choices within easy walking distance. I know there are a wide variety of others in the area as well that I haven’t yet explored, and that doesn’t count any of the small shops that are just for fish or meat or diary or fruit and veg. Because of the anxiety, I tend to be a little hesitant to go into new shops, particularly when I am struggling just to ask basic questions, but I’m very happy with the fact that I have actually been doing these things. I might get myself one of those little carts I see some people pulling along behind them for when I have to get heavy things at the grocery.

I talked to the people at the American Corner this morning. They had a coffee and conversation group from 10 am to noon, and it was really nice to get out and talk to people for a while, even if almost all of it was in English. I asked about finding a doctor who speaks English – I’m not going to put my health issues on the line with my bad Italian if there’s any choice, because some of my problems are rather complicated – and was referred to a doctor whom one of the people there had been going to for several years. Now all I have to do is conquer my phone anxiety to call and make an appointment, as I’ve run out of one of my (less vital) medications, and I don’t want to even come close to running out of the antidepressants!

Depending on the weather tomorrow, and how my hip is recovering from its creakiness after my wandering, I may stay in and work on some poems. We’ll see what happens.

Moving day

Things that seem slightly unreal:

Gilded murals on buildings
Everywhere I walk, statues
Floating in a sea of barely-intelligible conversations
Vast pedestrian spaces
Good restaurants in tiny alleys
Roman ruins in the city
Café life, outside, in February
Being able to drink the coffee
Light in my rooms on a rainy day

I’ve spent the last couple of days moving into the new flat, with my brother’s help. We drove up from Montereale on Thursday so that we could meet my landlady a little after noon on Friday without having to come in early. His little car was packed with my things and we parked (illegally) just down the block where there was a little space and hauled things up to my place as quickly as we could. There was no rain, thankfully. In this huge space, my few things rattle and echo. My desktop computer sits on the floor beneath the office window, awaiting a desk, a wireless connection that doesn’t come from a USB drive, and a chair for me to sit on.

Insurance was procured. The registered copy of my rental contract was acquired. All the keys to the place were handed over. My brother installed wall lights in the dining room and hallway. The landlady likes the lights. We still have to deal with lights for the ceiling in each room, and with a desk lamp or three, but they can be handled later. I do want one for the bedroom soon, though.

This past week I got a clothes washer on a deep discount sale (it had a scrape on one corner) that will be delivered on Tuesday. They’re pretty simple to install, and I can do that myself once the driver brings it up here and hauls it into the bathroom. All I need is a screwdriver, and I’m competent to handle one of those, unlike lighting installation.

I got myself a little sound system for the iPod. On the base, it was less than half the cost of anything I’d seen in Italian shops, though I had been looking. I’m glad to have music again. My brother’s taste in music and mine are quite different, so I didn’t have mine playing if he was home, and he didn’t usually have music on or, if he did, he was wearing his headphones at his computer. It tended to be quiet, when the roosters weren’t crowing.

Most of my life at the moment is taking place in the kitchen, where I have chairs, or in my bedroom, where I can lie down and sleep, but there’s nothing in the other rooms yet. In two to three weeks, I should have my library and other things arrive, but there is no furniture aside from a few folding bookshelves. I’m having to acquire things slowly, a little at a time. That said, I’m just as glad I didn’t ship everything with me, as it would have been expensive, and I don’t think most of it would really have gone well in this space. Buildings have personalities, and this one is entirely different than my condo back in Everett.

Nothing moves in straight lines here. The streets might look straight but they are all moving at angles, along the coast or up into the hills, or around the piazzi. Walking in a “straight” line won’t get you to a place you though you were going, and the gps system on my phone gets confused by things. Locations are not where they appear on a map. My brother and I were searching for a Greek restaurant on Thursday night and both our gps maps had it at different locations, neither of which were the right one, even though we had both entered the same address. Sometimes a paper map is still the best answer, even for the wired.

I’m spending time getting lost, and it’s okay. Lost is an all right place to be at the moment, both in metaphor and in the physical space of Trieste. Being in a different country, surrounded by a different language, it is a natural state of being. Wandering aimlessly leads to familiarity and opens up the potential for serendipity. A comics and games shop across from a church whose door is surmounted by the all-seeing eye in a pyramid; the Lupa nursing Romulus and Remus on a building façade; people laughing and talking at tables outside a bar in a tiny alley.

Last night there were fireworks over the water. Neither my brother nor I have any idea what was going on. I only knew there were some loud bangs. I thought someone was hauling something really heavy up the stairs, as the sound was echoing in the building. My brother saw the bursts from his window above the piazza but he thought I was asleep, so he didn’t call me to watch. He asked the barista at the place we had breakfast this morning, but she hadn’t any idea either.

The clouds have rolled in thickly and it’s drizzling. I am inside wishing for a soft, comfortable chair and a lamp for reading. There is tea. Life is good.

Directionally challenged

I am directionally challenged.

I came up to Trieste for the weekend to carry some of my things here, and to see if I could go to the antiques market that’s supposed to be on the third Sunday of each month, at least according to a couple of websites I found. “Behind the main squares” (Borsa and Unità, from what I could gather) and “in the Old City” were the only directions I was able to find.  None of this was of much use. I asked one of the folks at Caffè degli Specchi and he had to ask someone. I was told it was “that way” (along the waterfront) about two minutes. I suspect they thought I meant the antique shop/mall (?) on one of the piers. I’ll explore that on a weekday, I think.

“Behind” is such a relative term, really. Did the website mean “behind” from the perspective of the train station? From the waterfront? Did “the Old City” mean up on the hill above the Roman amphitheater? I walked up the waterfront and in a block. I walked up the hill and up some stairs to the streets behind the amphitheater. I walked back down again, toward the public garden. No antiques market was in evidence.

I have no idea if I simply couldn’t find it or if the market is actually only a summer phenomenon. I’m leaning toward “summer market” at the moment. No matter, though. I got a chance to walk through more of the city on a Sunday morning and into the afternoon.

Lunch was pasta with salmon in a vodka sauce at Caffè San Marco. It is a large place with classic-looking art painted on the walls, and classical music playing. The wifi was free and fast, at least at that hour on a Sunday. The food was good, as well.

It will be nice to walk through the city on a weekday, when things are open. I need to get more of a sense of where different types of things are available, and I definitely need to find a shop that specializes in organic food. Yesterday I went into a couple of the small department stores near Piazza Unità; Coin and Upim. Everyone is having sales right now, probably for end of year inventory reduction purposes after the holidays. Coin seemed a little more upmarket than Upim, but now I know where to find a few household things of different types. I picked up a bathrobe and some slippers. With the polished wood floor in here, I don’t want to be wearing shoes in the house, but I’m not keen on wandering around in just my socks, either, in this weather. I haven’t done the shoeless in the house thing since living in Hawaii, back in the early 80s, so it will likely take a little getting used to at first.

I brought pots and pans and flatware with me to the flat this weekend, which means I’ve been able to cook a couple of meals here for the first time. There’s something satisfying about being able to cook in my own kitchen again. I’ve got some curried lentils and mushrooms simmering on the stove right now, which makes my heart very happy. On the phone, I’m playing some Mediaeval Baebes for a little background. Earlier it was Corvus Corax and Abney Park. Let’s just say my musical tastes are eclectic.

This evening I had to call Lufthansa to deal with getting a flight back to Seattle to pick up my dog. With an APO as a billing address for my credit card, it is impossible to book a flight online. I called from my Skype number on the computer. Between the echoes in the room because the flat is nearly empty, and the crap connection, it took us nearly 40 minutes to arrange everything, but I’ll be able to bring him here for about half of what the places quoted me when I checked into getting someone to ship him here without me. And I’ll get to spend eight days back in Seattle, visiting people. I’ll still have to pay for my dog’s ticket ($200) when I check him in at the airport, but that’s rather minor compared to the rest of the situation. Quotes for shipping the dog ranged from $3300 to $3700. With the dog, I’m only paying about $1200. Needless to say, flying myself and visiting everyone wins by a mile.

I’ve found a decent mattress and a bed for the flat. I tried to get store credit for them, but I have to actually have my Permesso in hand, and my Carta d’Itentità in order to do so. It won’t be a problem once I have them, but that’s still probably two to three weeks in the future. In the meantime, I put a little money down to hold the items at that price and have the receipt for later. This does, however, mean that I’ve got cash enough in my accounts to still get some other things I need within a reasonable time frame.

I knew when I sold all my furniture that I’d need to replace most of the material things that make life comfortable. It takes time to find things that I like, though I’ve started locating likely items. A clothes washer is next on the list, as I’ll need to use that frequently and it’ll be easier than hauling clothes down to a laundry and back. Another Real Soon Now item is a desk and chair for the computer. I’ve brought a measuring tape with me so that I know what dimensions I’m looking for. Now that I have them written down, a shopping trip is in order.

My brother took me to Ikea near Palmanova earlier in the week. They are the same everywhere. The vast maze of the place aggravated my dizziness and I suspect that visual overstimulation may well have something to do with it. I’m not fond of them at all, as the styles aren’t really what I’m into, with only a few exceptions. I’ve had Ikea items before and the bookshelves, at least, just don’t hold up to my literary needs. They’re fine for paperbacks and cheap hardbacks, but my books tend to be of the heavy and often academic variety, which seem to weigh about twice as much per square inch. Ikea shelves die under that sort of assault fairly quickly. My brother took me over to the furniture shop on the base, run by an Italian company that custom builds things, but I’m not sure if I can afford shelves there on the scale at which I will actually need them. I’ve taken measurements for the room that the library will live in, but until I get a look at what comes out of the boxes and gets stacked around, I won’t be able to make a fair assessment.

We got lights for the hallway and dining room walls. Those will be installed next weekend, when we come back again and I move my stuff in permanently. I’m still going to have to do some travel back and forth between Trieste and Montereale for the Permesso and ID card issues, but I’ll have enough notice of when that will need to be done to handle it all. It’ll be good for both of us to have our own space again. I’m definitely cramping the sib’s style.

I unpacked two of the boxes I mailed to my brother before I left. Four of the items were damaged but only two of them were unrepairable. They were not the ones that were most important to me, so their loss doesn’t bother me much at all. The other two will be fixable easily with a little glue and it won’t be noticeable at all on one. The other will have a little seam in one place, but that won’t be much of a problem. I set up a temporary Brigid altar on the kitchen counter, which makes things feel much more like home.

Home is such a lovely word, isn’t it?

In which there is a thought-provoking film, and trains are not what they seem

I’m back in Montereale. We’re having some sunshine and my brother is off on his motorcycle for a little bit while it lasts. It apparently poured here all weekend, where Trieste had a little bit of a break and occasional sunshine.

I spent most of Sunday wandering a little further afield. Rather than heading down to the waterfront, I walked inland a bit to the Giardano Pubblico Muzio Tommasini.

triestegardenIt’s a roughly triangular public park and botanical garden founded by its namesake, a botanist born in Trieste, who later became the city’s mayor. There’s a pond and a playground for the kids, some chessboards (including a large one paved in an alcove between some seats amid the trees), and busts of cultural figures lining the paths. Artists, musicians, scientists, and intellectuals of varying sorts who have some connection with Trieste are found all along the park paths. James Joyce and Italo Svevo are found next to one another with statues erected at the centennials of their birth.

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James Joyce at the Public Garden

I sat for a while on a park bench next to the pond, under the watchful eye of Joyce and Svevo, scribbling in my notebook while the sun edged in through the clouds. The weather was relatively warm and pleasant, particularly after the previous day’s pouring rain. I enjoyed the respite as I let myself get a feel for this part of the city.

Because it was Sunday, and around lunchtime, most of the city’s businesses were closed, but people were out walking and taking advantage of the nice weather. I passed by Cafè San Marco (free wi-fi advertised in the window), which looked large and inviting, though I passed it by instead of going in. Wandering randomly, I eventually stopped for lunch myself at a little kebab place on a small side street before heading back to the apartment.

At the film festival, I watched La Mia Classe, which was much more about immigration issues than learning language, per se. It was fascinating, hilarious, and heartbreaking by turns. Part of the film was fictional, though some of it seemed to be entirely too real to be scripted, and the person associated with the film who spoke at the festival said that it had started out as fiction but mutated into something else as filming went along. It reminded me of how very fortunate I am in my own circumstances. I’ve never thought of myself as a wealthy person, though I know I am a lot better off than some of my friends. In Seattle I am just under the income cutoff for public housing assistance. I could have qualified for a very small, subsidized apartment. Over here, by comparison, I have a lot of money, and that isn’t a circumstance I ever thought I’d be in.

It’s sobering to think about. In my life, I have spent time homeless. I’ve slept on people’s couches and floors and in their spare rooms for a couple of days, or a few months at a time for a total of probably three years of my life, though, thankfully, I’ve never had to sleep under a bridge or in a doorway anywhere, or try to deal with a homeless shelter. I’ve had to go to food banks because I didn’t have money for food, but I’ve never gone more than two days with nothing at all to eat. By the standards of some of the people in the film, even those circumstances were better than what they left when they came to Italy. I have always been thankful when I have enough – a roof over my head, a warm place to sleep, something hot to eat that tastes good. I can only say that I am moreso now.

When the film ended, I grabbed a sandwich and went to find the train my brother had referred me to for the trip back to Pordenone. He gave me the information for the last train of the night, not realizing that it wasn’t the train to Venice via Udine, but the overnight to Rome. There is a price differential of €5, and I didn’t have that much cash in my pocket. They didn’t take credit cards on the train. There wasn’t enough time for me to run to the Bancomat for a little cash. I’d already stamped the ticket, as you’re supposed to, so I couldn’t use it the next day; it was now essentially just a piece of paper that had cost me €13 and change. Thankfully, my apartment was just across the street, so I hauled my backpack up the stairs again and stayed on the air mattress for another night, and caught a morning train down to Pordenone, happy that I had a place to stay and more than enough money to buy a new ticket.

Today my brother took me out to look at furniture and mattresses. I found one that will do nicely and shuffled funds around so that I have the cash in my bank account to buy it, but I will have to find out how much delivery will cost and when they will be able to get one to Trieste. It was at one of the chain department stores, so they can probably talk to a more local branch for less distance, but I’ll have to be in the apartment to take delivery. It’ll be a while before I can get a bed to put under the mattress, but it’s a pretty good start. A warm, comfortable place to sleep, even if it’s temporarily on the floor, is worth so very much.

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Giardano Pubblico Muzio Tommasini

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A view from the garden

Meeting Trieste

Monday my brother took me down to the coastal town of Caorla. After the pouring rain of the weekend (we got two inches or so and rained out the Befana bonfires), it was a gorgeous, sunny day, and relatively warm. He didn’t tell me where we were going. When we were nearly there he asked if I could guess.

Frankly, I hadn’t any idea where we were or even that the coast was anywhere near. The only thing I knew was that we were heading south, away from the mountains, but “south” covers a lot of territory from Aviano. Living on a huge, open plain, there are no real vantage points from which to see the surrounding territory, so I had no way to even guess we were near the coast. “Um, no,” I said. “I haven’t got any idea of the geography yet.” I think he was slightly disappointed.

Caorla

Caorla

 

Caorla seems like a lovely little seaside town. We walked along the paved path along the beach, but didn’t actually venture down onto the sand. I would have, had I been by myself, but I wasn’t sure where my brother was going or how long he wanted to spend out of the house. I very much enjoyed it, though.

 

Right on the beach is a little church. One side of the church tower has a large light on it, facing out to sea, so I imagine that it functions as a sort of lighthouse, though the light wouldn’t be visible from all directions. The stones along the sea wall are interspersed with a variety of stones that have been carved by different artists. Some of the carvings are whimsical (one of the first ones I saw was a head with an alligator or crocodile perched atop it like some Egyptian deity), while others seemed more abstract or more serious. They did liven up the waterfront walk quite nicely.

Church tower on the beach at Caorla

Church tower on the beach at Caorla

We finished up our short walk and had lunch at a seafood restaurant. The grilled fish was delicious but the rest of it was really only so-so. He hadn’t eaten there before, so it was a shot in the dark. The place he usually eats there was closed, as Monday was a holiday. Despite the mostly uninspiring food, I was glad to have a bright day, and to get some salt air in my lungs again. I’d been missing it mightily.

Yesterday, though, we got up at about 6:30am to get the train from Sacile to Trieste. My brother prefers to take the train from Sacile rather than Pordenone (which is closer) because you can actually find parking there, and the train isn’t as crowded when you get on. We got first class tickets because he wasn’t sure whether the second class compartments were going to be packed with students and commuters. By the time we got to Udine, there were crowds boarding, but first class remained relatively roomy by comparison.

I enjoyed the train ride up to Trieste. For quite some time, we were traveling over the plain but as we got more into the mountains, I began to feel much more at home. All I could think was, “This is more like it. This feels right.” I’ve been missing having hills surrounding me. I feel too exposed out here with nothing but space around me and I know I wouldn’t be able to live in a place like this, even in a city, for very long before it really started getting to me. I need the steep hillsides and the variety in the terrain to truly feel comfortable. I need the sea close at hand. I need to be able to look up and see the hills ranging into the mist, and the trees on the mountainside.

One of my brother’s friends had commented about the hills in Trieste, suggesting that I might have a rough time with them. Having lived in and around Seattle for so long, the thought mostly amused me. I can’t wait to be living between the mountains and the water again. I’m fine with climbing hills, and I can generally take my time if I’m walking. The exercise agrees with me. So far the only three complaints I have heard from anyone about Trieste are:

  1. The Bora wind. I figure the city is prepared for it and I can learn to live with it.
  2. There’s no parking. Since I can’t drive, this is irrelevant.
  3. Hills. See above.

If these are the only complaints people generally express, it can’t be that bad a place to live, can it? These may well be famous last words, but we’ll see what happens.

Trieste is a border city, on the edge of Slovenia. It was the seaport of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for a couple of centuries. During the Cold War, it was nearly as divided as Berlin, though without the physical wall. There was once a small US Navy base there, long gone now. The British writer, Jan Morris, wrote a book about the city called Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere, which I read a month or so before coming to Italy. She made the place sound quite melancholy, which wasn’t the impression I got when we visited.

As we approached Trieste, Duino Castle was visible along the coast in the town of Duino, made famous in the literary world by Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies series of poems. Not much further along was Miramare Castle, built by the ill-fated Hapsburg Archduke, Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico. He lasted for about three years before he was executed by firing squad. Personally, I’m more of an Emperor Norton fan, myself, but the castle is lovely from the train, situated on a point overlooking the Adriatic. Sadly, the train windows were a little smudged and dusty for taking photos.

When we arrived at the Trieste station, there was a young man walking out into the city ahead of us; he was wearing a long and rather nice black cloak. “Okay,” I thought, “that looks about right to me.” The impression was further confirmed when we stopped at a bar across from the train station. A woman who may have been in her early 40s was one of the baristas, wearing nose and labret piercings with studs. Obviously among the conceptual group of “My People.” I felt a tiny spark of joy at seeing her.

Detail, Serbian Orthodox Church

Detail, Serbian Orthodox Church

In hopes of talking to some people with experience around Trieste, we went over to the American Corner. I’d found them on the internet when I was researching the city several months ago; they’re located at Piazza San Antonio Nuovo, number 6. There’s a library there that used to be part of the no-longer-operating American consulate in Trieste. When the last consul died in 2008, the State Department closed the consulate and never bothered to send anyone else, but the library remained and was taken over by a group of volunteers. Now they manage a library of books and movies, they host movie nights and English-language documentaries, offer English classes and Italian classes, along with other social gatherings. One of the things they host is a monthly gathering for English-speaking newcomers to Trieste to offer some orientation to the city and its services. The next one is on Friday the 17th, and I’ll be hopping on a train to go down for the weekend to attend.

Canal into the Piazza San Antonio Nuovo, Trieste

Canal into the Piazza San Antonio Nuovo, Trieste

The Facebook page for the organization had them listed at number 9, and the map pin on the page had them placed in yet a different location. I asked my brother to call them and we headed off to Piazza San Antonio Nuovo, along the waterfront up to the canal. “It’s after the Serbian church,” he was told.

There is no number 9 after the Serbian church. I don’t think there’s a number 9 at all, actually. I spotted a nondescript door in between a couple of businesses, with the typical column of resident/business labels and doorbells. “Maybe we should look at the door, there,” I said. “They might have a name tag up.”

“Oh, no,” my brother said, “I’m sure it’s around here somewhere. Let’s walk a little more.”

We walked around the block. We walked up to number 1 and down past the Serbian church. I said, “We should call them again.” He did.

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Serbian Orthodox Church, Piazza San Antonio Nuovo

It was, in fact, the door I’d suggested we check out. Naturally.

We went inside, up the tiny, ancient lift and into the offices. It’s actually a fairly nice location, with a number of rooms for their library collections, their movie room, classrooms for adults and kids. The volunteers we spoke to were quite nice and there’s apparently a thriving small community centered around the place. They have regular hours, but are often open if someone’s in the office just because someone is there. We had a very nice chat with Denise, who was helpful and quite informative. She gave me a stack of flyers for classes and events, and some contacts for people in the city who might be able to help with finding a place to live. “We’re always looking for volunteers,” she said. “Do you have any library experience?”

I’m not a librarian, but I live in one, and I’ve worked in bookshops and libraries before, so it’s likely I’ll be spending time there and probably doing some volunteer work myself, to get acquainted with people and start to find community. It’s always easier for me to talk to new people if I have an actual reason to speak with them, rather than just randomly approaching strangers; having A Thing To Do would be very helpful while I got settled in.

After our chat with Denise, we grabbed some lunch and called a rental agency. We had found a few places that looked like possibilities on an online rental site. She said to meet her at one of them at 2:30, so we spent a little time wandering around the area of the apartment we were going to look at. Denise had said the neighborhood was a nice one, and fairly quiet, which was encouraging. The building itself is across the street from the train station, in walking distance of pretty much everything, and at a fairly substantial hub of bus routes. The place was gorgeous inside, as well, so I’m currently in the process of dealing with attempting to get a rental contract. I emailed the agent today and gave formal notice that I want to rent the place; she’d texted my brother and asked me to do so, as they had another inquiry about the place today. I don’t know whether I’ll get it, but it would be ideal if I could, as it’s a lovely large place with a southern exposure and lots of light, in a place that was just renovated. The apartment went on the rental market not three weeks ago, right about the time I arrived in Italy. I’d love a place with light after spending ten years living in a cave.

Friday we’ll be going into Trieste again. Italian banks run very differently than US banks, and the only way you can withdraw cash from the bank without a bank card is to go into the branch where you opened the account. That means I’ll need one in walking distance of wherever I happen to live.

You can’t just walk into an Italian bank. The damned things have airlock doors equipped with metal detectors. With most of them, you can’t even carry your bag inside. You have to leave your purse or backpack in a locker outside the door, provided by the bank. It certainly seems like the sort of thing that would make robberies a lot harder, if nothing else. I’ll admit it all seems very strange to me, used to being able to walk into any branch of my credit union without having to pass through an airlock, and withdraw money if I there is a teller at the branch.

A lot of banks here don’t do online banking yet, either, so I had to spend time today searching Italian bank websites (mostly in Italian) to figure out what services they offered. I did find one on the waterfront, only a few blocks from the apartment I’m trying to rent, that actually has online services something like what I’m used to, including bill paying. It’ll make life a lot easier if I don’t have to deal with walking down to the bank for a check every month when I need to pay bills to places that don’t take cash. It looked like they might even set up automatic payments for rent, though I’m not certain. We’ll have to talk to them when we are in town again on Friday.

Neptune getting his Sea God on, behind the Piazza Unità d'Italia

Neptune getting his Sea God on, behind the Piazza Unità d’Italia

Before we headed back to Sacile on the train, we wandered around the city a bit. The more we walked, the more I thought, “This is a place I could live. I’d like living here.” We found ourselves in the Piazza Unità d’Italia and stopped at Caffè degli Specchi, a very famous and very elegant café. The place has a tea menu along with all the coffee, for which Trieste is quite famous. They have loose leaf tea, served in those wonderful Japanese cast iron teapots. It’s the first place I’ve found in Italy so far that had more than a little box of random tea bags, if they had any tea at all. Loose leaf tea. My day was made.

Tomorrow we’re supposed to go into Montereale Valcellina and see if we can get my ID card. My brother’s landlady was supposed to go file a declaration that I’m living here so that I can get the documentation. I have no idea if she’s had time to do that yet. We shall see.

Me and my bud, James Joyce, taking a walk along the canal

Me and my bud, James Joyce, taking a walk along the canal

San Daniele di Friuli

The mist came down this morning, light at first, then obscuring everything, rendering the world into vague shapes and bulk and hints of motion. My brother says it’s like this a lot in the winter here. The fog rolls in and sometimes stays for days, or a week or more. It’s cold, but not freezing.

San Daniele in the mist

San Daniele in the mist

It’s as much metaphorical for me at the moment as physical. Without language, the world around me is obscured, with occasional moments taking familiar shapes, or becoming a suggestion of recognizable movement. As a writer, that obscurity is challenging. I’m used to understanding what’s going on around me, and being able to participate in conversations; right now my ability to do that is almost nil.  Asking for a glass for my water is a triumph. Recognizing the name of the fruit in a jar of jam is a trickle of warmth in the cold of my great ignorance.

I’m not afraid of the mist. There’s a great beauty in it and, so far at least, I am able to float in this and sense a spark of something when I hear a word I recognize. It isn’t enough to get by, but I am feeling my way through the obscurity.

I spent the early part of this morning wrangling with Comcast over the partial refund of this month’s bill. It’ll be several weeks before I see the check, but they now have an address to send it, and it won’t be postage due when it arrives. I may well be living in my own place by then, but my brother will be sure to get it to me.

Face at San Daniele

Face at San Daniele

Once we were up and about, we drove to San Daniele di Friuli. San Daniele is famous for its prosciutto and the road into the town is flanked by a number of curing factories. We went to lunch at a restaurant associated with a consortium of prosciutto producers as the fog thickened outside.

It has been a long time since I’ve eaten beef or pork outside of special occasions, but I have started doing so again upon moving here, in part because I don’t want to miss out on some of the wonderful food, but also because a life change as drastic as moving to a different continent seems to call for a shaking loose of some of my prior strictures.

I’d never had prosciutto before. The plate I ordered was their “summer” plate, with cantaloupe, slightly prepared fresh tomato on crostini, and fresh mozzarella. The prosciutto was cool and paper-thin on the plate, beautifully arranged, and the flavors of the melon’s sweetness and the meat’s slight saltiness were a perfect complement. I had been fighting off an incipient headache, so I skipped the wine with lunch and had some pear juice and mineral water instead.

The waitress brought me a glass and a little bottle of pear juice, but didn’t bring one for the water, so I used my tentative, halting Italian to ask for one. Later, I ordered tea with milk. It isn’t much, but I am using the little bit I know, and I have to keep stretching that every chance I get.

After lunch, we walked through the shop attached to the restaurant and I did my best to read labels – sunflower oil, apricot jam, rhodededron honey, capers in vinegar. It’s not stringing sentences together, but it’s a survival skill nonetheless.

On the hill above the restaurant was the town of San Daniele, dim and white. We parked at the edge of the piazza and walked up toward the castle. On the top of the hill there, on the castle grounds, was a church whose foundations were laid in the 8th century; a renovation or rebuilding took place in the 16th century.  On the back of the church was what must have been a piece of the original building: three wise men bringing gifts to Mary and the infant Christ.

Three wise men

Three wise men

We walked along the edge of the hill. On a clear day, it must be an incredible view, but when I looked down, all I could see were layers of landscape falling away into the mist. Looking at it, my dizziness intensified, so I had to back away. Without a point of reference, my brain isn’t processing it quite properly and I lose my internal orientation. This is why I’m walking with hiking poles. I might well have stumbled and fallen if I didn’t have one in hand, even though I wasn’t moving.

I saw a few familiar friends on the drive today. A great blue heron, with the tight bend of its neck, and its legs trailing behind it in flight, and a still, white egret standing in a field were welcome sights. I’m also seeing less familiar creatures: chestnut brown pheasants, the black and white flash of a magpie, and black and grey hoodie crows. I want to know the non-human inhabitants of the land here as much as the people.

Like language, all these things come in time.

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