Making a Month of It: Part 1

How do I even get started with October? I’m going to have to give you two posts about it, I think, as this is going to get unwieldy otherwise.

The entire month was pretty much full of visits and travel and planning for visits and travel and recovering from visits and travel, though not in that order. Some paperwork issues have been resolved, Italian classes are finally (sort of) scheduled, and art and music has been viewed and appreciated.

Starting with the bureaucratic necessities, my new Permesso di Soggiorno was approved for two years, and I should be receiving a text from the Questura sometime in the next few weeks to come down and pick it up. A letter arrived for me, dated a couple of weeks prior to the approval, telling me to come down to the office with more papers – that had already been done. Ah, the efficiency of the Italian post. I elected not to freak out on it when I saw the date. What this means is, I will go through the process one more time for another two years when this one is up, then I can apply for my permanent residence, which you can do after you’ve been in Italy for five years.

I took the Italian language placement test and, as expected, fell into the A-1 level. The teacher, Fran, was quite convinced I should be in A-2 and seemed to desperately want to put me there, despite my not having the irregular verbs down too well, and having some trouble understanding some of the conversational stuff. Class lists finally were posted this week, after almost a month of waiting. I’m on a waiting list for an A-1 class, but Fran called and said I could come and sit in as I liked on her A-2 classes until my A-1 class came open, so two nights a week I’ll be going down to the school on Ugo Foscolo to sit in on a class rather more advanced than where I genuinely ought to be, starting this Thursday, because Monday is the local saint’s festa and school is closed. Looks like she got me into A-2 despite myself. Sneaky, that. I’m perhaps understandably nervous about the whole thing and I know I’m going to be desperately behind everyone else but, if I pay attention and work at it, by the time the official A-1 class comes along, I should be able to blow it out of the water.

Thus endeth the bureaucratic report.

There were six big events this past month: a birthday party, the Barcolana, two visits, a trip to London, and the Corvus Corax concert at the Halloween festa. Well, and the flood. Post the first will cover things up to the end of the first visit. Lots of photos ahead. Post the second will have our second visitor, London and the I:MAGE conference, and Corvus Corax. Further photos, I promise.

One of our Italian friends, Denise, was having a significant milestone birthday and threw a huge party with about 150 people in attendance. It was circus themed, with a band and some slackline walkers, and a clown. This wasn’t the scary weird dress up clown like people get for a kid’s party, but a guy who was doing something a little less over the top. I got volunteered as a decorative coat rack for one of his bits. And a shoe rack for another. Probably because of the green hair, I’m guessing (mine, not his). People were encouraged to dress up, but I had green hair anyway, as I’d re-dyed only a week or two prior now that I didn’t have to worry so much about the bureaucratic tangle.


lazing about on the slackline


maybe not quite so slack after all


circus cake!

The Barcolana, Trieste’s immense sailing regatta, came and took over the waterfront for more than a week. There’s a gallery of photos from this year here. I am continually impressed by Italian street fair food. In the US at fairs, you get deep fried everything and beer. Sometimes you get deep fried beer. I shudder to imagine it. Here in Trieste, you get an amazing variety of seafood (some of which is fried, some not) and prosecco. I’ll take the prosecco, thanks. I had very yummy mussels, and on another day there was a lovely rack of ribs, though they don’t do it here with a bbq sauce like they do in most parts of the US. The ribs were mildly seasoned and dry so, while they were a bit messy, it was nothing like the appearance of having bathed your hands in slightly congealed blood as sometimes happens with a spicy sauce.


on the water at Barcolana

We spent time wandering the waterfront, checking out the boats, some of which were really beautiful. There were fancy restaurants set up in a couple of places along the water, and a Land Rover dealership had a test track set up on one of the piers. The Barcolana is a high-end crowd, as you might imagine. I saw flags and registries from all over the world on the sailboats. The race itself began fairly early on race day, and was so far out on the bay that there wasn’t much to see from the waterfront. I had been too sleepless to get up, but my brother went down to the water and said he could barely see anything but a line of sails in the distance. If I was reading things correctly, the local paper headlines said that over 1500 boats had registered this year, a record for the event.


the fair on the waterfront


drive-by lobstering


fireworks outside my window

The day before our first visitor arrived, we had a huge storm blow through. Thunderstorms last a lot longer here than I was ever used to in Seattle, but this one went on quite literally all night, and the thunder didn’t just stay off in the distance. Rain came bucketing down for hours in an immense deluge. When I got up the next day, the underpass on my street for the train station was flooded almost to street level. I’m guessing that’s a good 12 or 15 feet of water, at least. I saw a few news photos of some of the streets of the city flooded with rushing water like rivers, as well, though I didn’t see it here in Piazza della Libertà. The water here had somewhere to go, obviously. The underpass was closed for over a week. One unfortunate woman died in a landslide in Muggia, just around the bay, due to the flooding. Other areas of Italy were much harder hit. The water was still very high in the underpass when my first visitor of the month arrived.


a very happy Oggie sailing into Venice

My dear friend James aka Oggie arrived from El Paso and my brother and I met him at the airport. We grabbed one of the water buses (a larger private company contracted with the airport, not the vaporetto) into Venice, so he got to see it by water even before he’d dropped his suitcases. The day, and the view, were gorgeous. He was thrilled. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone squee that hard about something in a very long time.


behind the green gate, here’s the alley into our B&B

After dropping us at the B&B and settling us in for lunch and a little walking about, my brother headed back to Trieste and I stayed for a few days in Venice. Oggie got a room for us, which was supposed to have two beds but did not, due to a misunderstanding. Thankfully, we’re good friends and he doesn’t snore, so we made the best of it and shared the room amicably. The B&B was just off a canal, behind a gate and down an alley, in a really glorious spot like something out of a novel. I hauled Oggie off to a couple of restaurants I’d eaten at before, and we explored a few new ones as well.


door knockers of Venice, you amaze me


floating veggie stand


art along the Grand Canal


if you’re going to denounce your neighbors to the secret police, do it in style

The next day we’d intended to see the San Marco basilica and got tickets for a guided tour. I asked repeatedly if it included San Marco. Yes, they said.

It included the neighborhood, not the basilica. It was a lovely tour and the tour guide was quite charming, but it was not what we thought we were getting. In other words, I think I’m doomed to never actually set foot in the building. Perhaps I’m too devilish to let in. As we wandered along the tour route, we saw that there was going to be a performance of Vivaldi in period costume, so we got tickets for that. Oggie had desperately wanted to see something at La Fenice, but it was not to be. The prices left him gasping, as I rather expected. But we did, the next day, take a tour of the opera house anyway, which was much less expensive. He was thrilled to just be there in the building. The bar there is actually pretty reasonably priced, so we had a spritz after the tour.


the royal/imperial/whoever’s in power this week box at La Fenice opera house


detail from the box, with the crest of the Savoia family – endless mirrors


spritz Aperol at the Fenice, as you do

Oggie is a garrulous, charming southern gentleman. He speaks four languages, including Spanish and French, so his Italian, for all he claims he can’t speak it at all, was far better than mine. He was speaking Russian with one of the women working at the B&B one morning. I had a few moments of desperate embarrassment when people found out I live here and that my Italian was, sadly, far less adequate than his. I’m doing my best but I just don’t have that kind of language talent. I did end up using the little I have rather more than I usually do here in Trieste, where my brother tends to translate somewhat more than I actually need, so I get lazy. This isn’t useful for me, but the upcoming class should help a lot.


I’m always fascinated by the Venitian street lamps


the eyes of an older Venetian sailing vessel


Popethulu Ia! Ia!


Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in period costume

After our three nights in Venice, we hopped on the train and came back to Trieste. I’d wanted to take Oggie up on the tram to the Strada Napoleonica, but it never quite managed to happen. I was too exhausted by the constant walking and playing tourist in Venice, so we did a little walking around the city here, and I took him to see the Roman arch and the theatre, as well as the waterfront, and we had tea at Ginger, where he charmed the ladies who work there.

For his final day with us, we rented a car and went out to Aquileia. He has an interest in early church history and was very interested in seeing the basilica there, as there was once a Patriarchate based in the city, that is now defunct. He was absolutely thrilled with the mosaics, the archaeological dig, and the crypt below the church, and spent quite a while talking with the lady in the gift shop about details.


basilica and tower at Aquileia


do fools rush in where angels fear to fish?


mosaic detail on the basilica floor

We had hoped we might have a little time to go up to the Strada, but it was late by the time we got back, and we wanted to go to one of the osmize, the local farm restaurants, that were having a festival for a few weeks. Many of these restaurants are open only a few days a year. They’re required to serve only things they produce themselves, so it’s wine and meat and bread and eggs and perhaps a little veg, for the most part. The three of us ate a really fabulous meal at the osmiza Sardo David in Zgonik (Sgonico) for less than the cost of food for one in Venice. They are an old Austrian/Slovenian tradition from when the area was under Austrian rule. Because they are open so rarely, there are websites that will tell you which ones are open that day.

We drove up in the dark, as it’s become autumn in earnest now. Osmize are identifiable by the green branches hanging outside. Traditionally it’s pine or another evergreen, but this one had a bough of ivy outside, and I’ve seen others with branches of deciduous trees as well. Most of them ask that you call first, to make sure they’re not fully booked. Depending on the day, they may not be very busy, but it’s wise to be sure, at least to let them know you’re coming. I think a lot of them are very local and don’t see a lot of tourist trade. Everyone else in Sardo David that night was local.


amazing food at osmiza Sardo David

The next day we were to meet our cousin Lisa, who was vacationing in Italy from her home in Hawaii. Oggie was going to head out to Padua, then to Milano to see another friend, so we all got the train down to Venice together, and he hung out with us until we were scheduled to met Lisa and her husband at the train station. We bid him farewell at the post office, where he had to mail things back to the US, and went off to meet some family.


Trieste’s Science+Fiction film festival is this weekend but I’m too exhausted to leave the house


Venice, Film, and Food

the pink glass of Venetian streetlamps

the pink glass of Venetian streetlamps

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


the offerings at Pasticceria Dal Mas

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


view from the vaporetto to Lido


a young couple courting along the way

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

a Lido market

a Lido market

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

pillar near the Giardini vaporetto stop

pillar near the Giardini vaporetto stop

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

Serra dei Giardini

Serra dei Giardini

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

even in Venice, the laundry must be done

even in Venice, the laundry must be done

Venetian glass

Venetian glass

Venetian flags

Venetian flags

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


there’s more than one leaning tower in Italy


gothic arches, evening light


the marble of San Marco


mezzo litro di rosso at Al Portega

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

Venice by night from the steps of the train station

Venice by night from the steps of the train station

Live and direct from Everett

I left Trieste on Sunday so that I could go with my brother to lunch at the home of some friends. We had a lovely time, but I got no sleep that night. The next day it was off to Venice. I wanted to pick up a couple of gifts for some of my friends who have been helping me out, and for my girlfriend.

My brother and I had lunch in Venice and wandered the glass shops looking for just the right thing for Caera. Charles and Patrick got leather-bound journals, made by a woman whose family has been making and binding books in Venice for 85 years. I picked up a card from the shop and will definitely be back again when I am in need of new notebooks. When we finished up in Venice, my brother dropped me off at the hotel near the airport and left me to my own devices. Things went reasonably well, and I spoke a fair bit of my rudimentary Italian. I made it all the way through dinner at a nearby restaurant with no English whatsoever, surrounded by American and other English-speaking tourists. It was a good feeling, even though all of it was simple stuff. I feel like I’m improving, a little at a time.

My flights were uneventful, thankfully. In Frankfurt, the planes were parked away from the terminal and we disembarked onto the tarmac and were bussed to the airport, then back out to the next flight. The Lufthansa people were very nice and quite efficient. I had no trouble at all. I have to call them today to get final instructions about when and where to check my dog in when I fly out on Thursday.

Upon arriving, Charles picked me up at the airport. I was hungry so we headed up to the hill, where I got a bowl of chicken pho, which I’d seen hide nor hair of (skin nor feather of?) since I’d been in Italy.  After that, it was over to Edge of the Circle, where I bought a book and visited a bit with Raven B, who reads cards there. She was one of my roommates for a while when I lived in West Seattle. She plays bass for a local goth band, Legion Within. Then it was up to Everett to see my sweetie and visit the pupster (who was mellow but happy to see me), and get some sleep.

The next day, I got together with a bunch of my friends over at Travelers. I was there from when they opened at 4:30 to when they closed down at 9pm, with company the whole time. It was a lovely evening, and I bought a bunch of my favorite spice mixes from them — curries and sambar and garam masalas. I’ll be happy to have a little taste of home when I get back home to Trieste. Much chai was drunk, thali was had, and there were many wonderful discussions.

The next day I went to visit Shiuwen at Floating Leaves, and to get some tea from her, and meet a friend for lunch in Ballard. I took the bus down, as Caera was at work, and Charles wouldn’t be awake until later. I stopped at Half Price Books and got a few things for myself and some books for the Women’s Space at the American library back in Trieste. When Charles picked me up, we ran by Edge again so I could say hi to Robert, then wandered over to Elliott Bay Books, where I picked up another pile of things, including a big box of Italian word flash cards so I can do review a little more easily. It was nice to be in Seattle again. In some ways, I feel like I never left. In others, I feel quite disconnected. It’s an odd space. It still feels like home, but Trieste is feeling like home these days, as well, even if it’s not yet as familiar as 30 years in Seattle. I’m wondering how that will feel during later visits?

Yesterday was deal with the dog day. We hauled the DoDC+3 off to the vet for his exam and to fill out the mountain of paperwork necessary for the flight. It took quite a while, as the forms are a little confusing if you’ve not dealt with them often. The example forms were in English and had instructions, the target forms to actually be filled out are in Italian. Monday we have an appointment down in Tumwater to have them stamped by the USDA. We took the pup for a long walk, and went to a pet store for supplies and to have him scrubbed down and brushed. When we got back to Patrick’s place, the poor little guy didn’t want to get out of the car and have to stay. He doesn’t understand that it’s only for a few more days.

This afternoon, I’ll be visiting with some of my former neighbors. I’ve signed a little more paperwork about the condo. Later in the afternoon is a reception for some friends who have renewed their handfasting vows. That was happening Tuesday evening when I got in, but I was too tired to cope with the whole thing, and had got back to Caera’s a little too late in the day to get there on time for the start of the festivities.

Tomorrow I’ll be going up to Anacortes to see several of my other friends.  I’m going to stop by the AFK to see if Kayla’s there. She’s been really busy opening a new AFK down in Renton and has been going back and forth between the restaurants. She says she’ll be in Everett in the evening, so we’ll see what happens.

This coming Tuesday, I’ll be hanging out for the evening at the AFK up here in Everett, hoping to see some of my steampunk friends.

Since I’m currently trying to post this from my iPad, I’m having technical problems now and then with the bluetooth keyboard and with the site, so there aren’t any photos for you this week. I haven’t really taken any yet since I’ve been here, as I’ve been far too busy just being here. If  I remember to take some, I’ll try to share a few when I’m back home in Trieste. Until then, I hope you all have a fantastic week!

Venice and head colds and phones, oh my

Venetian face

Venetian face

The plague caught up with us. We’ve spent the last couple of days down with a nasty head cold, but I have hopes of it getting better by New Year.

The unfortunate saga of my telephone continues apace. AT&T insists that my phone is on the unlocked list. Apple says it is not. I’ve tried the recommended procedure for unlocking three times in the last three days without joy.

I caved. I bought a new phone. I also had to buy a new SIM card because the iPhone 4s and the 5c use different sized cards. Glee. Bliss. In doing this, I’ve had to download the iOS update twice, which has consumed most of my bandwidth for the month, so my internet access is slower than slugs in molassas. Anyway, I am at last wired again. I should have known that anything AT&T touches is going to be borked in one way or another. iTunes won’t let me change my address from a US to an Italian address when I try to register my new phone. I have an email in to support to ask about that.

On a far more pleasant note, we spent a few hours the day before Xmas in Venice. It was a Monday, which apparently means that much of the region is closed down for the day. Tourist spots were open, but outside the tourist areas, the city looked nearly deserted. I suspect that it was a combination of Monday and the impending holiday. My brother tells me the city is half empty in terms of actual residents and that if I wanted to rent something there it wouldn’t be difficult, just rather expensive.

We walked around parts of Canareggio that are more residential. Now and then we’d see someone walking a dog, or carting groceries around. There were a few people working on boats. The fog was in, but not terribly overwhelming.

None of the real estate rental agenices we walked by were open, but we probably should have suspected that. There were some listings in the windows, and we picked up a couple of the local papers. Most of those were only listing places for sale, but I got some practice reading real estate ads when I got home.

In walking Venice that day, I was left with the same impression I had last summer for my visit. It’s a lovely place and one I would like to spend a few months in. At this point, I’m not sure I would want to live there. I’m reserving judgment until I’ve seen Trieste, at the very least. I know rental prices in Trieste are considerably more reasonable, as we looked online when we got back that evening.

Stepping out of the train station through the gates of Venice and into the open is a bit breathtaking. I’m not sure there can be any experience quite like it anywhere else. The train station is grey and echoing, with tourist shops between the trains and the city itself. Then, suddenly, people and buildings and boats and water. It has to be one of the most impressive sights I’ve ever seen. I know I want to visit frequently. There’s so much there to experience. I would wax somewhat more poetic, but the head cold is still making me quite muzzy and I was feeling feverish earlier today. Here, though, are some photos for you.

IMG_4607  IMG_4614  IMG_4601



I don’t have a lot of time right at the moment, but I arrived in Venice yesterday through pea soup fog. My brother met me at the airport and fetched me away to his place. I now have internet for my laptop.

All of my flights arrived early, with fair following winds for my travels.

Today we’ll go to the base at Aviano to see the new Hobbit movie. There are a lot of other things to deal with as well. Monday will be our visit to the Questura to file for my Permesso di Soggiorno. I also have to register with the Comune of Montereale Valcellina and they will have to come by and see that yes, I am actually in residence with my brother.

First things first, though – a shower, tea, and out for breakfast.

11 Days: Remembering last summer

Yesterday was dim and chilly, but there was no rain for the moving sale. Over half of the bookshelves went, and a lot of other stuff. Many of my friends came by and got things from me, and some of their goodbyes left me tearful. Others stayed for a while and had dinner with me afterwards; it was very kind of them and I enjoyed their company immensely. One of them, PSV Lupus, wrote an elegiac post about living in my library for two and a half years, and about our friendship.

I will admit, I sniffled a lot when I read it in the dark, early hours this morning, when I wasn’t able to sleep. A word to my friends – you guys have to stop making me cry, damn it!

Today has been rainy, though somewhat warmer. One friend who couldn’t make it yesterday came by today and picked up a bunch of stuff that I’m much happier to see going to a friend than to a charity shop. He also picked up some things I’d given to another couple of friends who’d come by for dinner last week and forgotten what I intended to send home with them. Overall, I pulled together several hundred dollars from the sale, and I feel very good about what’s going off to the Northwest Center on Wednesday morning.

After spending that brief time with Robert this afternoon, I went back out to the garage and started bagging and boxing things for the Northwest Center. There’s more to do yet, but Charles is coming by this evening, in just a little while, after he gets back from the Irish language class he teaches with my girlfriend Caera on Sunday nights. The class used to be located here, but I haven’t any furniture left, so there’s no place for anyone to sit. When I’m not using my laptop, I have to stand at the breakfast bar to use the desktop computer, and that’s being shipped off to my brother late next week.

In the midst of all the activity, I’ve been reflecting a little on some of the things I saw in Italy last summer, and how much I would love to see them again, to give them a chance to settle into me more. We went to places that astonished and delighted me, and I’ll share a few photos with you here, and my memories of those places.

Mary shrine at the headwaters of the Livenza

Mary shrine at the headwaters of the Livenza

I had never seen an entire river emerging from the base of a mountain before. Fiume Livenza emerges from three sources near the town where my brother lives. We visited the banks of the stream that flows from the underwater cave at Gargazzo; there’s a restaurant there where I’d love to have dinner some summer evening. The water is incredibly clear, and the emerging stream is in a gorgeous wooded area and flows down into the small town below.

Another source of the Livenza is situated next to a busy road. Just slightly downstream from the little shrine pictured here is a ruined mill, broken and painted with graffiti, but there’s a path that runs along both sides of the river and around the resurgence where it emerges from beneath the mountain. There’s a beautiful riparian zone below this, peaceful and filled with life. In the myths that I read and love, “springs” and “wells” play a powerful part, representing not just life but the eruption of poetic power and wisdom from some secret otherworldly source, but I had never really viscerally understood what that meant and why they might feel so sacred before I saw this place.

The Livenza here is not just a little stream. It’s a full sized river coming out of the ground.

Mountain. Road. River. Nothing gentle about this transition at all. It’s nothing like the swamps where the streams and rivers of my childhood rose in the Berkshire hills of Massachusetts. In this place, I knew with my entire body what the poets of Ireland were talking about when they spoke of the sudden, violent emergence of rivers from the otherworld.

Venetian flag on a gondola

Venetian flag on a gondola

We spent only one day in Venice during my visit. Like so many others, I was enchanted by the city and its canals. I’ve always been in love with water, and I wanted very much to spend more time there. This city, without cars and trucks in its streets, was a large part of what inspired me to try to move to Italy when the dizziness hit. If I couldn’t drive anymore, if I had to walk and take public transit for years, or possibly for the rest of my life, I thought it might be a good idea to live in a place where everyone walked.

Public transit in Washington state includes the ferry system. These are moderately sized car ferries that traverse Puget Sound in a wide variety of routes, and I’ve taken quite a few of them over the years. It’s always a pleasure to take my friends on the ferries when they come to visit, and I have loved riding them simply for the love of being on the water, and the view of the Cascade and Olympic mountains rising above the sound before and behind me. Tahoma towers in the distance to the south, an immense, snow-crowned presence that visually defines the region. It is a spiritual presence as well as a physical one.

The vaporetto system in Venice is more like city buses than our ferries are, but they are at least larger than the smallboats I took to work from the mainland of Pearl Harbor when I was stationed at Ford Island back in 1980. I understand there’s a bridge now, and that you can drive to the island if you work there, but my daily commute was standing crammed in with probably thirty or so other people, swaying with the waves, and getting wet from the spray despite the canvas cover, regardless of the weather.

The vaporetti are a lot more comfortable. You get seats. I could get used to the vaporetti.

Lion in Piazza San Marco

Lion in Piazza San Marco

I could get used to the strange, casual beauty of the cities, and to the sense of age and history that non-indigenous North America lacks. While there are interesting architectural moments in Seattle, its buildings are largely utilitarian and they don’t date back past the late 19th century. Some 25 blocks of downtown were lost in the great fire of 1889 that resulted in the burial of most of downtown and raising the streets by about twenty-two feet. There’s nothing particularly elegant about Seattle’s buildings now, though I’ll admit to being amused by the long-tusked walruses on the façade of the Arctic Club building.

We have natural beauty in the mountains and the waters here, and the temperate Northwest rainforest can only be understood by backpacking and camping in it, but our cities are too modern to have the depth of history that is found everywhere in Italy. Put a spade in the ground there, and you unearth Romans and Etruscans.

Dolomite mountains

Dolomite mountains

The Dolomites are sharper and more angular than the Cascades and the Olympics, and the environment, while alpine, is very different than the mountains here. My brother took me for a drive up into the Dolomites along a winding road, filled with switchbacks and hairpin turns, that he’d helped improve some years back, when the US Air Force was doing community projects in the area.  I was eager to get out and hike, and we spent time walking along a dirt road in a park, moving slowly up the mountain. I took photos of flowers in the forest, and pictures of the view from the road as we turned and turned again.

When he was out here visiting a few years back, I took him out to the Hoh rainforest, and to the Grove of the Patriarchs on Mount Rainier; his friends back in Italy who saw the photos of him hiking the trails could hardly believe the size of the trees. Jim had been pretty impressed himself. They are some of the most ancient and impressive living things on the west coast. I’ll miss the cedars and hemlocks and Douglas firs. The scent of cedar in the rain is the scent of home to me.

Mosaic in the bascilica at Aquileia

Mosaic in the basilica at Aquileia

Jim took me to Palmanova and Aquileia on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. We had a snack in the piazza in Palmanova and walked out to the city walls. I would have liked to explore more, but Aquileia promised mosaics and a really nice little museum. I’d seen the mosaics in documentaries before and was eager to see them for myself. The whimsy of the sea-life charmed me from a screen, from the octopodes to the sea monster swallowing Jonah. Seeing the mosaic pavement for myself was a wonderful experience.

Aquileia was once one of the major seaports of the Roman empire, on the Natissa. We walked the archaeological trail through the ruins of the ancient port; its waterway was a still green trickle, sailed only by a few ducks. The place was well-supplied with signs in Italian and English, explaining the town’s Roman history.

We ate our lunch at a sunny table outside a small cafe, where the waitress tried to talk to my brother in German. He kept answering, in Italian, “I don’t speak German. I’m not German.” She refused to speak Italian to him – apparently not believing him – but did take our order. I ate my sandwich under the watchful eye of the Lupa, suckling Romulus and Remus atop a column next to the basilica.

The crypt was almost as fascinating to me artistically as the 4th-century mosaics. The paintings had a different sort of charm, with boggle-eyed kings and saints, foliate green men, and beautifully flowing trees.

Heron or crane from the crypt below the Patriarcale Basilica di Aquileia

Heron or crane from the crypt below the Patriarcale Basilica di Aquileia

There were monochrome figures and medieval graffiti. I particularly liked the heron eating a fish. Speckled and cross-hatched, he looks a bit smug and quite pleased with himself.

The damage to the paintings was considerable. In some places entire figures were expunged, while others were missing parts. Yet there is nothing like this here where I live. America is obsessed with newness and youth, and things like this would vanish under the hard machines of developers here. It’s difficult to preserve what history we do have, whether indigenous or immigrant, because profit drives everything, and history isn’t generally considered profitable.

Without history, though, we have no sense of who we are or where we came from. We are adrift in the present and without roots. Without history, we don’t value the past and the forces that have shaped us.

I want to touch an older history. I want to look back beyond my lifetime, beyond even the lifetime of the country where I was born. I want to spend time in cities that have been inhabited for hundreds or thousands of years. I want to have ghosts beneath my skin. I want to read the words written by the people who lived in those places, to see the art that they made as it changed and developed.

This history is distant from Americans, not just temporally but spatially. We are thousands of miles from these places and events. Even more recent history can be difficult for us to feel on a more than theoretical level.

Dragonfly in the WW1 cemetery behind the basilica in Aqileia

Dragonfly in the WW1 cemetery behind the basilica in Aquileia

Behind the basilica in Aquileia is a cemetery filled with the men from the town who died in the first world war. It’s a quiet place, laid out in neat rows of iron wreaths of oak and laurel leaves. Its battles were never fought on my continent, though over a hundred thousand Americans died in the fighting. Its physical distance puts a psychic distance between us and the reality of it all. In Europe, there are still memorials everywhere. Each town has them. Here, they are much more difficult to find and, unless a family member died in that war, no one really remembers. It’s a short segment of a high school American History course and very little more.

There, they are present by sheer force of numbers, and by the battles fought on familiar ground. What was theoretical for me became a lived reality when I stood in the presence of these iron wreaths.

I know I have rambled here. I am facing a loss of my own personal history as I leave my country and my friends and family behind. I hope to find a door into another history there, one that I can immerse myself in and learn from. I will read Catullus and Ausonius and Dante and Petrarch, and walk the places they once knew. I’ll follow in the footsteps of Joyce and Rilke in Trieste. And I’ll bring some of that history into my own experience.

On leaving my friends and family

Last night, I had a going-away party. About twenty of my friends showed up, a small fraction of the people here that I know and love. I live about twenty miles or so north of Seattle, in the furthest southern reaches of Everett, across a very busy road from Silver Lake. Many of my friends don’t have cars, and getting to my place is difficult. Others weren’t feeling well this weekend, as there’s a cold going around, and some are just tired from being too busy of late. Some had emergencies they had to deal with. Still others had previous commitments. Many simply live too far away. I wish they could have been here, but I understand why they could not.

I was so happy to see everyone who came. There were good conversations and a lot of warm hugs. Tea was shared, and teaware went home with some of my friends, as did tea I wasn’t keeping. A couple of my friends are mixologists and brought supplies for some lovely cocktails; they make their own liqueurs, and one of the most delicious ingredients they used at the party was a liqueur made from black cardamom, which has a sweet but smoky flavor. Blended with rose essence and honey syrup, along with other ingredients I didn’t think to ask about, we had some very nice drinks. I sent bottles home with friends – Ardbeg and Jameson’s, a small bottle of 18 year old Glenfiddich, some Frangelico. A bottle of Talisker 57 North is going back to the couple who gifted it to me for my 50th birthday a couple of years ago. It is intense and smoky, but there’s no way I’ll be able to drink it all before I leave.

There were steampunks and druids in my home, musicians and world travelers, language teachers and ferret-fanciers. My girlfriend’s band had been doing the final mix of their EP earlier in the day; their release party is two days after I leave for Italy. I’ll get to hear their music, but I won’t be there to see them play. Amid all the excitement of my move are my regrets. I won’t see Caera’s band at their release party. I won’t see my friend Brandy perform this season with the Medieval Women’s Choir. I won’t get to Abney Park’s New Year show at the Columbia City Theater.

In the wake of so much good fortune, I will miss the music that my friends make, the performances I would see, the people whose artistic work I would support with my tickets and my enthusiasm and my attendance. My friends are a diverse, talented, wonderful group of people. No matter what they do or where they do it, no matter what their day jobs are, they are creative and engaged with the world. They are kind and generous and loving and I will miss them all more than I can say. If our lives are measured by the friends we keep, I think I am living a very good one.

Today, my friend Casey is driving down from Vancouver BC in a borrowed car to help me deal with some of the boxes in my storage unit in Seattle. We’ll shift things around in my garage for my moving sale, sort them, and go through the boxes I packed assuming I was going to be moving to Seattle. I’ve known her since about 1985, when we were both writing in PaganAPA together. She has been a dear and constant presence in my life.

In a month, I’ll be in Italy. I will be lifted from my context and placed into a new one, adrift and seeking new friends and a new community. Because of the internet, I won’t lose track of the friends I have made here over the decades, and I am grateful for this. I’ll be able to stay in touch with people, and will visit them from time to time as I’m able, but they will not be so easily accessible for a cup of tea and a quiet conversation across a table as they once were. A week or so ago, one of my friends said, “It’s just starting to sink in that you’re actually leaving.” It is for me, as well.

Leaving my friends and my community is intimidating. I haven’t walked out alone like this in a very long time, not knowing what I will find on the other side of my journey. I can only trust in the goodness of the universe, the kindness of strangers, and in my own small strength, hoping that what awaits me will be something rich and beautiful, that I will find new friends as good as the ones I leave behind.

Windows in Venice

Windows in Venice