Read any good books lately?

Sometimes you just get lucky. Getting ready to go on a flight down south I found not one, but two Donna Leon books. That I hadn’t read! They are not heavy reading, always set in Venice and perfect for a day at the beach or a day in the air. Guido, the police commissario, is so erudite and engaging, as is his family.

And the author has many nice turns of the phrase. Well, I like the stories. Harmless entertainment.

book james joyce trieste

DonnaLeonBook

Particularly, when it happened in my own post-Joycean world. Go ahead, paint me a Philistine. I tried. I wanted to like old James. He and I both love Trieste. So, my first choice on our last flight was “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” Written early in the century in Dublin and then started over and finished in Trieste, ten years later. Clearly Mr Joyce was miserable times seven when he initially wrote it. Hopefully, finishing it in Trieste, he was crying on the outside, on the pages of the manuscript but laughing it up on the inside, having survived and escaped Catholic boarding school in Ireland to sunny Trieste!

Beautiful Ruins is a surprise. I bought this book for my wife awhile back. We both like books set in or about Italy and it had a cool Cinqueterra-looking cover so that was enough for me to want it for her. Mid way thru our trip she said “I’m almost done with this, I think you will like it.”

Half way thru it I’m ready to break a Cardinal Red Rule which is “don’t brag on a book until its over.” Which is just what I’m doing. I like it a lot. It has complex, interesting characters, over laid with each other in surprising ways, lots of specific “voices,” just a myriad of things to like. I’m already plotting to try more of Jess Walter’s books.

Speaking of books: What good books have you read lately? Either set in Italy or about Italy or by an Italian? Anything, even marginally Italian-oriented, would be considered. If I get a lot of responses, I might like to share them here. Which will drive me to update my Favorite Italian Books List on the web site.

Thinking about our upcoming September trip to Venice, Umbria and hopefully Trieste already. Which makes me want to keep repeating

See you in Italy! See you in Italy!

Stew Vreeland

Carrying on in Italy

Varenna Castello over Lake Como, Italy
TRIESTE/LAKE COMO, Italy–Our anniversary trip to Italy was grand. It was just too short. We had planned for three weeks but it became one. Best laid plans and all that. And seriously, who is going to pout about ONLY getting a week in Umbria / Italy in spring? Where would a person have to go to find a lot of sympathy for that?! Regardless, we were there in our minds. Ferrari Varenna, Italy on Lake ComoAnd our travel buddies from Steamboat Springs Stayed Calm and Carried On in marvelous fashion. And thru pictures and videos made us feel like we were actually right there with them, just as planned. Which well and properly answers the age-old question “what are good friends for?” Their still photos of Italian lakes, Ferraris, and lazy afternoons shown here are from Varesse on Como. The video from Piazza Grande (now called Piazza Unita d’Italia) in Trieste. Trieste is about as far as you can go in Italy. East of Venice. A couple miles further out of town and you are in Slovenia. I’ve heard it said that Piazza Grande is the biggest piazza in Italy. It’s original name more famous by the classic Lucio Dalla song “PIAZZA GRANDE, 1943”. Three sides are elegant buildings. The fourth side is all Mediterranean, looking out past cruise boats, across the harbor at Emperor Maximilian and Carlotta’s fantasy castle, Miramar.

COUNTRY COMES TO TRIESTE.
VIEWS OF PIAZZA FROM HARRY’S CAFE

AFTER MIDNIGHT, PIAZZA GRANDE
TRIESTE, ITALY IN SPRINGTIME

When push came to shove . . . .
we came to Torgiano

TORGIANO, Umbria–I think the fact that we came here to Torgiano to celebrate our anniversary was very telling. A year ago it was Torgiwhat? We’d certainly never been in the village. (It is a bit left of Perugia and above Deruta) Oh, we’d heard “i voci” whispering about the wine museum, but I’m such a barbarian, I just couldn’t imagine such a thing. Turns out, I’ve only got two speeds on my wine analysis dial 1) hey, not bad. keep pouring and 2) Gack. no, no, choke, i’m fine, thanks.

But our co-anniversary celebrants kept after us. And we thought, you know, they are such inveterate, non-stop, explorers – lets get over ourselves and go see the darn Wine Museum with them. Well. We spent over an hour at MUVIT last year one rainy spring day and hardly made a dent in the place. Loved every minute of it. They have every thing from the ancient, ancient, bet-you’ve-never-seen-one-of-these to knock-your-socks-off modern art.
olive oil museum, torgiano italy, umbria, wine museum. Siro's restaurant
Thanks to their sugardaddy and founder Lungarotti Vineyards, everything is top drawer, world-class. Exceptionally well done and high art standard across the board.

This year, on a rainy spring day we went to its companion museum MOO. Yes, as fluent as the site and guides are in English, they all seem oblivious to the fact that we think “MOO” is cow noise, but they think it is Museo Olio Olive . It was smaller than the wine museum but no less interesting. Both are worth the trip and both can be seen on the same ticket for the price of seeing either one. On the day we were there they were throwing in tickets to the wine tasting at the winery as well. Win-win.

The previous year, post tour, we asked a guide where to eat. Specifically where CLOSE as it was raining buckets and some other museum-goers had “accidentally” walked off with my wife’s black and white polka dotted umbrella. The guide half leaned out the door and pointed to the corner of the street. And said “Giri, a destra all’angola, immediamente a sinistra, c’e Ristorante Siro.” This is where I would usually put a link to a deserving hotel/restaurant’s site. They evidently don’t have one. You can Google them, people like them and review them, but I couldn’t find a site per se. Regardless, we went and we were glad we did. And not just because we had shelter from the storm although that was in its favor. I would rank the food as wonderful, good vistas and personable staff who were the only people we ever heard speaking English. So there.

Exactly how much did it ring our bell? When we had to cut our trip back from three weeks to one, we could see it would cost us jaunts to the dream duo Trieste and Lake Como. We thought what can we do to make this right? To come up with a worthy last-minute fill in that wouldn’t chew up all our precious time by riding about in a rental car? We voted and revisiting Torgiano/Siros won. We felt like we did too. It was an unforgettable string of laughing in the rain, Dear Diary moments.

Thanks Torgiano,

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

Did we see you at the casino?

CHURCHILL DOWNS, LOUISVILLE, KY – Sandro is our Sardinian Italian Language instructor from the Language Exchange in Portland.

We do private lessons with him once a week when whenever we can. It gets technical. And specific. And then it spins out into wide ranging and freewheeling conversations. We were talking about our trip to the Kentucky Derby and that led to betting. And want to guess what the Italian word for Casino is? That’s right: casinò!. Emphasis on the end.

Depending on the circles you travel with, usually you will hear the word without the ending emphasis. And that’s just a mess. Because without the accent it means “mess.” Well, technically it means “bordello” but somehow “che casino!” or “what a bordello!” has evolved to “what a mess!” Hey, wait a minute, Bordello looks like an Italian word too. See how much we owe Italians?

stewvaleriemidgeThe photo is us with the indomitable Valerie Harper between races.

See you in Italy!

we’ll try not to make too much of a casino.
Full breakdown of the race weekend and videos and glimpses at true party ethic in action

Stew

TO THE FOUR CORNERS OF ITALY. AND BACK.

look-both-ways, trieste, bevagna, italyTRIESTE, ITALY –The lost province of Istria fading out of sight in our rearview mirror, we were headed through Friuli-Venezia (FriuLIVEnezia as the posters remind you) then the Venato. Then another hyphenated province, Emelia-Roman this time, then Tuscany, and finally “nostra” Umbria. It was five or six provinces in seven plus hours but leisurely, sunny, well-caffinated “don’t-miss-any-AutoGrills-at-all” kind of hours.

Barely paying attention, we were watching the lush landscapes roll by, and thinking The Big Thoughts. The ones we all think in quiet moments of a long trip when our minds on autopilot. When SUDDENLY like a EURIKA moment, it dawned on me: We’ve been everywhere, man, we’ve been everywhere. Over the years we have managed to see Italy from Reggio di Calabria and Siracusa in Sicily in the South – to Chivasso in the North (just below Lugano in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland). And from Genova and Torino in the West to Trieste in the East.

I think we can safely say we’ve pretty much done Italy top to bottom. And now add, the left to the far, far, almost in Slovenia, right.
coffeeandwine, Tavernelle, Bevagan, italy
BUT, WAIT. THERE’S MORE.

That revelation came to us the first week of our trip. But, oh so obviously, in between those four corners there’s things we will admit we’ve missed. For Example: just the other day, we went to a mid-morning! wine tasting at San Clemente Vineyards outside Montefalco. Hey, it is Eleven AM, somewhere. But, such are the rigors of traveling with our wine-importing friend Paul Turina of Turina Italian Wines. Back on the road, it dawned on us that we could take our friend Andrea’s (of Masolino’s in Panicale) advice and See Bevagna.

Bevagna is half an hour from Panicale. But, yet. We’ve never been there? How can that be? Walking through its gates we knew were someplace quite different. Different look and personality from any Umbrian town I’ve seen to date. Small, walled, lower buildings, on a plain rather than a hilltop as are many walled towns. Medieval overtones everywhere. Including one 14th century fountain that actually mirrors the one in Panicale. Just as Andrea had promised.

It was a dark and stormy day as they say in Peanuts. The word “cold” could be thrown in for good measure. But it was still a lark to shop about, have a nice lunch, see their museum (lots of Roman artifacts) go to their theater and then for the finale see the town’s pride: a huge black and white aquatic themed mosaic floor of a Roman Bath. This big floor was only a third of the whole bath system, the cold room. It was saved because someone built a house over this part at some point in Post Roman history. It was just re-discovered about 1900. Honey, look! I pulled up the carpet and there’s another darn Roman mosaic in this room too. Che sorpressa!
bevagna, italy, ape, geraniums, theater, tower And then, we met a charming British artist having a show of his ink drawings in a renovated church/gallery. And then, when asked, he pointed us down a nearby alley to his favorite restaurant. Which proves that when you are out and about, the best plan can be – no plan at all. Sometimes translated as Stay Loose. Which we did!

We certainly had no idea at our coffee that morning in Tavernelle that we’d be enjoying Bevagna for lunch. And just as our original destination of Montefalco had passed us to Bevagna, Bevagna was passing us on to Bettona. We were headed away from Bevagna on a back road outside of Torgiano, when we looked up and saw a towered village on a hill high above us and Bettona signs pointing right at it. That’s even closer to our home. How did that get there? Really no idea. But we’re saving Torgiano and maybe even Bettona for another day. Maybe we’ll discover them with our next round of company. Stay tuned.

Are we having fun yet? Yes, yes we are. I think we can safely put this whole day in the Win Column.

See you in Italy!

Stew Vreeland