Can you even get there from here?

The poet, photo by Cristiana Sibenik

It’s been a busy week or so! I finally have my Carta d’Identita. It took a bit of running in circles and €5.20, but I now have all the identification documents I need to get by here. Now that I’ve got the ID card, I can go and register the dog with the city as well, though that may need to wait until I return from Greece.

Ithaka may be a severe case of “can’t get there from here.” Reports are conflicting and I may well need to take a bus (or cab) to Kyllini. I went to the Greek Consulate, where the ticket office is for Minoan Lines, and talked to the woman at the desk. She said there’s nothing on any of the websites they use though, sometimes, small local ferries are not listed. One website says that trips to Ithaka from Patras are all suspended. I won’t be able to find out until I actually get to Patras. The potential for missed connections and screw-ups is fairly large, but I’ll do my best. I may end up only spending one night on Ithaka if I have to go to Kyllini and deal with ferries that don’t run daily.

The dock for the Trieste to Patras ferry is down in the commercial port, south of the city’s main waterfront. My brother will take me there on the day I leave, to avoid having to worry about nonexistent buses and finding a taxi at that hour.

I spent some time walking around new parts of the city with Cristina, an artist and photographer I met at Luisella’s last week. Our first stop was a bar and gelateria on the waterfront near the aquarium. They have a nice little deck out in the back overlooking the harbor and the marina. I tried the watermelon but it was just too thin and too sweet to be really enjoyable. She did warn me that it was going to be very sweet, but I wanted to try it. I saw a new species of jellyfish at Molo Audace on our way over, too. This makes three so far.

Chrysaora hysoscella

Chrysaora hysoscella

From there, we took a long walk south along the waterfront, past the railroad museum, and then over the park along Viale Romolo Gessi until we got to the Unione Sportiva Triestina Nuoto, an Olympic sized swimming pool near the place where I’ll have to go in to the ferry docks. There’s a hideously ugly sculpture of a hippo standing on a ball out front of the building. The building itself is right up there with the Experience Music Project in Seattle for architectural WTFery. From there, we walked along the main road and until we passed the gate for the commercial shipyard, then up the hill via Scala Campi Elisi and past the Madonna del Mare church in the neighborhood where Cristina grew up.

We stopped for a rest and something to drink, then continued back toward downtown, passing the Osservatorio Astronomico, mentioned in my last post. I got some photos this time, and it’s quite the interesting building.


University of Trieste’s Astronomical Observatory


The observatory tower

On our way back down into the waterfront area, we stopped by the Casa della Musica, a funky blue building in a pedestrian alley not far from the Arco Riccardo. One of Cristina’s friends was there and invited us to go upstairs and watch a rehearsal if we wanted. We did, but only for a few moments, as it was packed, and really hot. There’s a bar on the ground floor with a bulletin board, posted with instruments for sale, musicians and bands looking for one another, and upcoming gigs. On the first floor there’s a rehearsal and performance hall, and there are practice studios for rent as well. The second floor houses a recording studio.

Casa della Musica

Casa della Musica

The evening brought us back to the canal for a spritz and a snack, and a little talk about cameras and photography. We sat on the dock, but my chair was a bit too close to the edge and one leg of it slipped off. Fortunately, there’s good rope netting around the dock, and Cristiana grabbed my arm, so I didn’t take an unintentional swim.

boats and the dome of San Spiridone, the Serbian Orthodox church

boats and the dome of San Spiridione, the Serbian Orthodox church

Eventually, we made our way back to my place then took the Dog of Devastating Cuteness +3 out for a ride and a little walk in Piazza Hortis. He likes going out, of course, and loves riding in cars, but he does get overly excitable around other animals, so it can be difficult to take him very far from home.

My brother was in town for the last couple of days. We watched the US-Portugal football match at midnight, projected onto an outside wall at a bar in one of the pedestrian zones just off Piazza Unità. A fair sized crowd had gathered, including quite a few Americans. Four were seated at a table just behind us, who had come into town for the Pearl Jam concert that had happened a night or so before. They were in from DC and New York City, and would be on their way to Venice on the train the next day. I’m not much of a sports fan, but it was fun to go watch something big like that al fresco on a gorgeous evening, with a spritz in hand. There’s an Italy match today, which likely means everyone will be glued to their TV for a couple of hours between 5 and 7pm. I’m sure I’ll know it if Italy wins.

Here's the park. Down on the lower right is the bus stop we needed. The lower left was the one we ended up at. Yay, confusion.

Here’s the park. Down on the lower right is the bus stop we needed (11/25). The center left was the one we ended up at (25/26). Yay, confusion.

Last night, we went up to the Parco Farnetto for the Triskell Celtic festival. The posters don’t make it very clear where the place is, and actually finding out how to get there was problematic. The poster talks about a place called Boschetto del Ferdinandeo, and there’s some information about buses, but unless you know that this is a stop in the Farnetto, you’re going to be utterly lost. You can’t find it on Googlemaps by that name. The website says that buses 11, 25, and 26 go there, but really only the 11 and 25 stop at the site. If you take the 26, you end up having to walk most of the length of the park – about one and half kilometers – to get to it; it’s a lovely walk, but not what we were looking for. On the other hand, the festival schedule 26/ (yes, the / makes a difference) does run from that stop down into downtown, but it only runs on Sundays and holidays. Most of the buses stop about 8pm, but that one runs until midnight.

The Bog Bards, a band from Slovenia

The Bog Bards, a band from Slovenia

We headed up during the middle of the day, as the schedules talk about things happening starting about 3pm, but the place really didn’t open until 7pm, and music doesn’t start until 8 or so. We headed back up about 8:30, checked out the booths, had some food, and listened to some music. I met some of the local Pagans there, who were doing a labyrinth walk and holding sacred space for a fire and some ritual work. One of the women speaks English, and we had a talk, though I did speak a little in Italian to a couple of the others. My brother helped translate for some of the conversations. I’ll be going up again this evening around 8:30 to talk with her again, and to show her a few of my books.


ritual fire at the Triskell festival

Jim will be back later this week to watch the dog while I head off to Torino to see Dan give his talk about his new book, and then head off to Greece. I may not have much in the way of internet access while I’m gone, but when I return, there will be photos!


fiddler for the Bog Bards


Irish dance group on stage with the Bog Bards


A walk on the waterfront


Trieste Aquarium

It’s been a busy week. The washer didn’t get delivered until Thursday, but I found an organic grocery store up where the waterfront takes a turn to the right around the harbor and up a couple of blocks inland. It’s about a 20 minute walk from my place.

My brother came on Friday and hauled me out to the Ikea near Palmanova so that I could get some supplies for the house – laundry things, a little lamp for my bedside, a desk chair (which I am now comfortably perched in instead of the hard kitchen chair), and some stuff for the kitchen. What a difference a comfortable chair makes!

Today I didn’t have anything pressing to do so I decided to go for a walk along the waterfront. My first stop was the aquarium. Entry is €4.50 and I didn’t have quite enough in my pocket, so I went in search of a bancomat. By the time I’d got cash, I would only have had about 45 minutes to see the place, and I have no idea how much time I’d actually want to spend inside, so I went to lunch instead. I had Chinese (lemon chicken that wasn’t half bad) at a place on the tree-lined waterfront walk along Riva del Mandracchio.

The aquarium is an interesting building from the outside, formerly a fish market. Its high ceilings can be seen through broad glass windows and ironwork, while the outside features images of sea life along the roofline. I’m quite interested in checking it out, but I knew I should save it for a later day.


Aquarium detail: octopus!



After lunch, I continued up the Riva to the little park at Piazza Venezia, which features a statue of Maximilian of Austria, once Emperor of Mexico. Maximilian himself isn’t really all that interesting to me visually, but the four winged supporting figures around him are rather more so. I don’t know for certain who or what they are intended to represent. One is an African figure with a Pharaonic headdress. Another is a figure bearing what looks like a harpoon, wearing a lion skin, reminiscent of Heracles.


Maximilian statue: Winged African figure

Maximilian statue: Heraclean harpoon wielder with hippocampus riders

Harpoon and lion-skin

Walking further along the waterfront, where the coast takes a sharp turn to the right toward the freight rail yard, I came to the marina and a forest of masts. There’s a lighthouse there a little further along, but by that time my hips were starting to bother me, and I knew it was time to turn back. The view of the city through the masts of the boats in dock was really lovely, with the clouds descending slowly from the Carso.


Marina and lighthouse


Trieste from the marina

On my way home I stopped for a macchiato at Specchi. My receipt said “cappuccino Triestino.” I’ve been told that macchiato and cappuccino are pretty much exactly the opposite things here of what they are in the rest of Italy, but I got what I ordered, with a tiny cup of whipped cream and a little chocolate to go with it.

As I sat outside in the piazza, I watched the city go by. Dogs barked and attempted to chase pigeons (less than successful, considering they were leashed). Kids rode bicycles and played with soccer balls. A couple entered the caffè, speaking to each other in sign.

I stopped briefly at the tourist office just off the main piazza to ask about a bus map. The woman at the office said there wasn’t really a transit map, but she gave me some bus route numbers for places like Castello Miramare, Grotta Gigante, and the natural history museum. “Everything else, you can walk to from here,” she said. Bus 42 will take me to the cave from Piazza Oberdan, not far from my flat, and I think it stops by the train station as well. It’s about a half hour trip. There are hour-long guided tours and a visitor’s center out there. Bus 6 will take me out to Miramare. I’m definitely interested in both and will probably do one or the other sometime soon.

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.


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.


Giardano Pubblico Muzio Tommasini


A view from the garden

Rewind: March 2013

Deciding to move was not something I had anticipated. Certainly not this year, and not likely in the next ten, either. I love the Northwest. I live across the street from a lake where ospreys and bald eagles fish. I’m in easy distance of Seattle, where I spent the better part of sixteen years. Within just a few hours, I can be at the coast, in the Cascades, in Vancouver BC, or in Portland, Oregon. I love the forests and the mountains and the water here. I thought I would spend the rest of my life here.

Sometimes, life has other plans.

Around the beginning of the year, I started having dizzy spells. They occurred only occasionally and never lasted very long, a few minutes at most. I had a couple of them, a bit longer lasting, in February on my way down to California and back, for a conference that I present at every year. As long as they didn’t happen when I was driving, I wasn’t worried about it.

On March 14th, that changed.

I was driving down to the VA hospital for a weekly appointment when it hit, and it hit hard. I was in the middle of the downtown Seattle I-5 traffic mess, so I wasn’t far from my destination, but I was white-knuckled on the steering wheel, hoping I wasn’t going to get into an accident. There really wasn’t anywhere I could safely pull off the road, so I continued to the VA, hoping the dizziness would abate by the time my one-hour appointment was over.

An hour later I was still dizzy so when I was done with my appointment I went to the emergency room to get checked out. They couldn’t find anything superficially wrong with me, but I was instructed not to drive until the dizziness resolved, and to get checked out by my regular physician. Here I am, nine months later, still dizzy and still unable to drive.

I feel like I’m drunk all the time. I’ve been through a wide variety of tests at the VA, without any concrete result. What this means is, it’s not a tumor, not my inner ears or my eyes, not Meniere’s disease. At the moment, their best guesses are menopause (I am living in a female body of a certain age) or a shift in the pattern of my migraines. In either case, there’s nothing that can currently be done about it and yes, I’ve tried everything that has been suggested.

Initially, I was told that sudden, unexplained dizziness sometimes happens, but it most often resolves within three to six months of onset. Obviously, this hasn’t happened for me. I’m using hiking poles to get around. A cane puts too much pressure on one arm, and doesn’t help with the fact that I can feel like I’m listing in either direction even when I’m entirely upright. A walker would be very much over the top for my situation. I’m not that old! I get around very well, but not being able to drive means that I’m entirely dependent upon friends and public transportation for everything. I live in a place where the nearest useful bus stop is a twenty minute walk away and, though my friends love me, they have their own lives and it’s hard for them to get me everywhere I need to go. I’ve gone from having an active social life to being nearly a shut-in, and have felt that it was hard to ask them to help with anything but medical appointments and the grocery shopping.

You may be wondering what all this has to do with deciding to move to Italy. We’re getting there.

In May, I realized that I was likely not going to be able to drive again for a long time, and knew that I couldn’t continue living here in Everett. My apartment is in a fairly suburban place. There are a couple of stores and restaurants I can walk to, but most of my life is ten or more miles from my door, and difficult to get to without a car.

In July I sold my car. Of all the things I’ve done so far, that has been the hardest. It wasn’t because I’m particularly a fan of cars, but because it represented my independence, and my ability to do things for and by myself. I cancelled a summer road trip I’d been planning from Everett out to Cape Cod and back, visiting friends, teaching at a Druid retreat in upstate New York, and seeing parts of the country that I had never visited before.

I started seriously researching the possibility of moving to Italy in June. As I’ve noted in previous posts, my brother lives over there and was eager to help me when I told him that I was considering the move. Looking at the necessary paperwork and requirements, I was fairly certain my residence visa application would be turned down but, as the adage goes, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” I decided to go through with the attempt, while planning to move back to Seattle. There are a couple of neighborhoods where I could both walk to everything and would need to take only one bus up to my medical appointments at the VA, and I thought it would make a better and much more independent life for me.

Venice had attracted me on many levels when I visited and I thought, there’s a city where everyone walks, and where public transit is really good. I love boats, and ferries are part of the public transit system around Puget Sound, so the vaporetto system really appealed to me. My brother is less sanguine about Venice, due to the huge number of tourists, but I don’t mind crowds as long as I can get out of them into quiet places when I need to. He said that most of the cities in Italy had walkable city cores where you could actually get to nearly everything you might need, and that public transit was pretty good over there. Compared to what we have in most places in the US, public transit in Italy is excellent. If I had to be stuck walking for the rest of my life, I figured, why not walk in beauty?

In August I started working on my residence visa application in earnest, not expecting anything to come of it. That, though, is a topic for another post.