Sep 29, 2008

A different kind of Board minutes. In Alagna


It's almost October and I am starting to think of the winter. It's not that far away considering the distinct chill in the air and the frequent fires blazing away in the fireplace.

When I flew in last October, I lugged over my snowboard and boots with every intention of carving up those Italian hills. I never made it.

This year, I am even more determined to go, especially when I remember getting stuck at the exit of the security zone in front of strangers eagerly searching for friends and relatives. All I could do was grin sheepishly as I struggled to maneuver my full cart around a narrow corner, with my board sitting awkwardly on it and jammed in the doorway. So I'm goin'!

The most natural place for me to go is Alagna (Piemonte), which is really just up the road from where I am at Borgosesia. The mountain is HUGE and even if there are a lot of people, there is space for everyone. The season starts December 6, so I have time to get in better shape. (I seem to always need to get into shape for something and to be honest, I very rarely prepare well--except for one time I can think of. It involved the stairs in the hall of the symphony).

Alagna is on the south side of Monte Rosa, which is the second highest mountain in Europe. (I like that bit of trivia). That will be a lovely sight for when I stop for a rest. Chances are I won't see a thing while boarding as my eyes will be glued to the run...if there is a run. There are so many options and "off piste" is one of them. I like that idea too. And if my pocketbook can manage it, there is heliskiing here too. One choice is to go heliskiing at a point that drops you into Zermatt; the lift there takes you up the Matterhorn and then the runs return you back to Alagna. Sounds expensive, but as you can imagine, I want to do it. If you plan to stay in the area, I would recommend Baita Reale , a family run apartment built in Walser style. Lella is sunshine in human form and she and her husband will definitely make sure you feel welcome.

The lifts are also connected with other ski resorts in Gressoney and Champoluc. Who wouldn't like the idea of crossing borders? Makes me think of Tahoe.

I am not one for skating, but there is a rink there (Squaw Valley comes to mind) and of course cross-country skiing. Yep, I can't wait. And if I don't go, I will definitely be homesick with all these reminders of places to which I once went.

Sep 22, 2008


September 21, 2008 marked the beginning of hunting season here in Italy. This is a huge part of the life here, probably more so some years ago but times have changed. Nevertheless, many have eagerly awaited this day.

My thought was, "so what if it is the first day of the season; if they expect the grounds to be crowded, why not wait for another day, after all, what is a few more days or a week, after waiting months?" Logic doesn't make any sense sometimes to some people. It's time for the hunt.

Very, very early on Sunday morning, we headed out with the dogs for the spot we had in mind. The unlucky critters for today were duck and pheasant. Since the hunting area were on the borders of someone's rice paddies, I opted to not go on the first hunt and waited in the car. It was still dark when we arrived (we got up at 4am!!!) and I saw the lights of other cars still looking for a parking spot along the banks of the paddies. Everyone was wearing waders, some short and some long and most came in pairs or with friends. I mention this because I was amazed at how stylish some of them were and how they matched each other. If they didn't care about their style in regular daily life, they certainly cared about their hunting wear. I saw one pair with long sleeved white shirts, a dark colored, mulit-pocketed vest over it to hold various items like their permits and shells, dark pants tucked into knee high boots. My imagination placed them in the Swiss mountains yodeling.

Having visited the hunting/fishing store here in Borgosesia, I can tell you a lot of money was walking down that dirt road, not counting the guns slung over their shoulders.

It was quiet........until the true crack of dawn when the sun was still a deep orange and barely over the trees. And then all hell broke loose. I was snoozing in the car when shots broke out from all around the paddy nearest me. I looked out, but couldn't see a thing, it was still so dark where the men were standing. However, a duck, flying in for breakfast would be a nice dark moving target against the paling sky. This is where good dogs come in and they run out and retrieve the fallen duck. Don't ask me just how many dogs pick up another hunters duck, okay? But I know it must happen because there are stories of men "losing" their prize, where the dead duck is nowhere to be found.

When it was light enough I got out and watched the spectacle as I've never been present at a hunt before. I can appreciate that people enjoy a hunt for sport or for food. I for one would readily do it for food if I had to, so I am open to it. It was funny to me when I heard my thoughts, "Fly, little bird, fly....." or "NOOOO, don't turn back you fool". Ducks are known for this trait of stupidity where they would fly out of the danger zone, only to turn around and fly back through. A hunter's dream. They must not be affected by the sight of pal #3 plummeting to the ground, nor must they be afraid of all the ruckus coming from below.

We eventually left the rice paddies and headed for a wooded area, this time looking for pheasant. An old couple was parked by the side of a little waterfall (No, not PARKED in the sense of teen parking) and he said that it was YEARS that he'd seen any pheasant in the area. He was a jolly old man who loved to hunt, but now it was his wife who liked to pick up the gun for target practice. Don't you love how times change?

It was true, there were no pheasants to be found. But then again, it was hard to tell because Argo, who was with us this time around, was not interested in working. He seemed to think we were out for a nice stroll. But the reality was, Argo had sex on his mind. Macchia was just coming into heat and Argo was ahead of the game. For him, the hunt was on! He humped air and howled and panted to let out all that hot air building up inside him. Beside him, Macchia looked completely sweet and serene, patiently putting up with the excited Argo sniffing around and making a fool of himself; but even her patience would run thin and Argo would yelp in pain as her nipped him in warning. If dogs are like men, then it was no surprise that Argo didn't learn from her growls, bared teeth or from the intermittent pain. Our ride back home was highlighted by a few dogfights, each one more fierce than the previous.

Macchia has a reputation in the neighborhood, especially with other female dogs. They don't mess with her. Argo is in one piece because they are friends. I've seen Macchia take on three other dogs who were picking on Argo, and chase them back to their home, two bigger than her.

Next week, we are going out again, but Macchia will stay at home, and Argo will have no distraction. Well, at least we hope so.

Sep 20, 2008

Veline and Striscia la Noticia

Striscia la Noticia

It doesn't really matter what it means. It's a show that makes fun of the news or other items of interest mostly in Italy. Something like Saturday Night Live. Just check out those crowns though. I'd be proud too.

All joking aside... well, I can't stop making fun of this whole show because it is what all women's movements despise. It seems to be just AOK in Italy though.

At the start of the show there are two tall, scantily clad and obviously sexy young things who come on stage and dance. Well, they don't have to be professional dancers, but then you don't have to be professionally trained to dance like a stripper. Before you all get excited and want to check out the show to see for yourself..... they dance for all of 30 seconds. And to find these two talented girls, there is a "talent" show called Veline where girls from ALL over Italy audition for the part. One dark haired and one blond. Red heads are out...but then again, when was the last time you saw a red head italian chick.

Okay, so every week, 8 girls line up on stage to make an utter fool of themselves... remember... just to get to wear that crown at the end of the show. What do they have to do? Anything, even if they can't. Like...sing. So since this is all about being beautiful and eating up airtime, the producers have the contestants do all sorts of stupid things but cleverly if not subtly designed to get them wet, or in a position where the camera can get a really good view of a pretty little butt. Or perhaps hoola hoop or falling into a tub of soapy water. Contestants usually come prepared, in the shortest skirts or shorty shorts, with high pumps, because they know it's all about how talented they are.

Needless to say, because the role in Striscia is all about dancing, after they do all these silly gimmicks, they have an alloted time, what was it...3o seconds?....to show how well they can boogie. And it's more jiggling boobs, more twirling to get that already short skirt even shorter, flinging of their long hair to the left and to the right while their hips go the other way. It's quite a sight...and it's only the poor, poor married men with jealous wives who had to forfeit watching the spectacle.

I know I sound like this is all a horrible thing to do to smart young girls who were going to college, but the Veline position is a coveted position. One contestant wept from the stress of waiting for the announcement if she and her blond partner made it to the final. She did, and had to bear the strain of waiting again to see if they were the winners. They weren't. The two lucky ladies that won the title of Veline are celebrating their success and they will begin their gruelling work on Monday.


Sep 19, 2008

creative structures: The Art of Innkeeping I

creative structures: The Art of Innkeeping I

I have not met her, the owner of the inn, but I already admire her. She is an artist and that tells me that she is sensitive to form, texture and color. She sees the world in a different light than most of us and brings that vision from the abstract into a reality that we all can see. Her home, and also her Inn which I know as Baur Bed and Breakfast in Piemonte Italy, is filled with beauty. She is also a potter; her home filled with love that is poured into each plate, each vase, each piece that her fingers form. These items, although inanimate, reflect to each person who come in contact, the warmth of those emotions.

It is not my nature to seek out people and their companionship, but beautiful places with their unique gifts draw me. And her place draws me, if not to stay, to just bask in the glow of someone's beautiful creation.

Sep 11, 2008

A Voice from the Past, Lucio Battisti

It was September 9, 1998 when the voice of Lucio Battisti was stilled forever. But no, as "Mogul" wrote in his tribute to Battisti, it is only a physical death because Battisti will live in the hearts of Italians for a long, long time.

Tonight, September 10, Italians are paying tribute to this singer-songwriter who made an enormous impact in the 60's and 70's and I decide to put in his CD and listen to the music that created this following. It's not a beautiful voice, but a haunting one that cracks every now and then, with emotion. These are words of love and about love, words from HIS heart, messages to people known and unknown. They become our words, our messages to our lovers. And then it's about lost love and I can feel it as Italy once again acknowledges its loss of a loved one. Battisti.

He was a quiet man who loved to sing; not just sing words, but sing his heart and it showed. It is no surprise that I learn that in his later years as a performer, he chose to not give interviews, only gave 5 live performances and limited his interactions with even his co-writer to correspondence. He said "an artist must communicate with the public only through his work" and in '82, he spoke no more.

It's no wonder the emotion he had inside expressed itself so powerfully in his music and his voice.

Antonio came home late from work and was met at the door with the strains of "Il nostro caro angelo" ...Our dear angel. He gave a sigh of contentment commenting "Ah Lucio Battisti, what a beautiful song...che bella. I explained how I came to be listening to Lucio, how I loved the music but not the rendition of the artists paying tribute on TV. He responded "There is no one who can sing like Lucio."

A clip from one of my favorites:


Sep 4, 2008

Matera Basilicata Italy

Matera Basilicata ItalyMatera, Basilicata Late August 2008

The road to Matera passed through open fields of grain. Or what was left of it. Without the welcome shade of a single tree, it remains in my mind an image of blazing heat….a scene painted from an artist’s palette of pastel yellow and blue color, then splashed with white.

The new part of Matera, with its condos and parks seemed like an entire world away. Cars parked under the shade and two old couples sitting on their small balcony watched us as we checked the map for directions. An officer, “vigile” was walking toward us and we asked for directions for the “cave homes”.

And then we entered yet another world, remnant from centuries ago. It is not hard to see why this region was chosen to film The Passion of Christ.

Old town roads were made of large slabs of stone, slippery rock for a bike. Heat rose from the road and as soon as I hopped off the bike, I yanked off my heavy leather jacket and helmet. I’d have to manage with the pants, complete with knee and hip protectors. There were signs for various well visited parts of the village, the water well, the sanctuary, a typical house of the time. We followed a group for a short while, listening to the commentary from the guide. Then we struck off on our own. We chose an interesting landmark and headed in that direction.

The homes were built into the rock, some of them with faces on the outside, and others built into a cave. Trees were scarce and so were the people. What a contrast from the new part. It is not hard to see why people would stay in their homes during the day and then only come out at night.

Matera land of Sassi

The cave home was a large living space that was separated into different working parts. Sleeping quarters were comprised of the large bed for the couple. Use of a small bed at the foot of the parents’ was rotated between children. Washing took place near a hole in the ground where an underground stream ran. The kitchen, in its own nook, was also near the water supply. At the rear of the cave was the stall for the animals which usually consisted of a horse or mule, sheep or (help) goats. Tools used for work were hung on the walls with the animals. The only thing lacking was a toilet and to accommodate, a port-a-potty was stored next to the bed…yes…sweet dreams…and emptied manually. As you can imagine, animals just did their thing.

Over time, with deterioration in the standard of living and the lack of water (due in part to the building of the new Matera) the Italian government offered new housing elsewhere and closed the old town. Only those wealthy enough were able to buy the new homes and keep the cave homes as well. Many of the homes have the sign on the front that say it has been taken over by the government…and unfortunately left to further deterioration.

Although I love the old, uneven paths, the irregular floor plan for the village and the houses built into the side of the rock, into the rock, on top the rock, the absence of shady trees makes it a difficult place to fall in love with. But history makes it a fascinating and definitely alluring place.

Matera Slideshow: