Nov 10, 2011

Life and Times of an Old Italy

Once upon a time
it wasn't just
that were deliverd
to your door.

Pane = bread
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Oct 31, 2011

All Saints Day

There is a great article already written in Italy Magazine on All Saints Day or All Souls Day so I rather direct the attention there than write about it again.

I remember going for a motorbike ride a couple years back, before I realized just how celebrated this day is in Italy and was extremely thankful we were on two wheels. It enabled us to pass all the cars making their way through clogged narrow streets heading to pay the expected visit at the various cemeteries.

If my first impression of this ritual was to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of people making their pilgrimage, I was unprepared for the magic that night when we were heading back home.

Every cemetery was lit up from the dancing flames on candles set before each tomb. Every flickering light proclaimed a love for someone and it was intense having such a visual declaration from so many at once.


Oct 29, 2011

Pillars of Strength

I know I've many times looked at the churches around Italy as grandiose and
overwhelming, but nevertheless beautiful (mostly the structure from the outside as the inside is usually a bit too ornate for my taste). In their enormous shadow I can't help but feel puny and humbled and I enter the towering doors with a sense of awe and respect.

Today I am feeling a little desolate and as though I have lost something and find that those pillars are not so subjugating as before, the immensity is not so awful as it is comforting. What in one mind set was colossal and overpowering becomes in another perspective a symbol of strength to those who pass beneath.

 Photo:  (Nameless) Church in Verbania
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Oct 17, 2011

We've had unusually warm weather for October but lately the mercury is having trouble edging up past 50 F if even that.  I've discovered that one of the more effective ways of chasing away sleep is to get into a freezing bed. Seeing I don't have warm flannel sheets, I believe it's time for other bed warming measures.

Not listed in order of preference or availability:
1. Brick heated in a fireplace and wrapped in cloth to protect sheets.
2. Large plastic detergent bottle filled with hot water. Dad puts several of these on mom's side of the bed, perhaps because he goes to sleep before she does and she used to use the...
3. Hairdryer
4. Lover, but make them get in first.
5. Electric blanket.

For a step back in time, the container below was heated and used by the Walser's (early German immigrants to the upper Valsesia) as an iron to warm the sheets.


Oct 8, 2011

Packing to Alpe Campo Alagna

An indian summer, a weekend without A, and the call of the wild were the reasons for an overnight in the Alps.

Italy's mountains are generously covered with mountain huts; some offer food and lodging, others just food. Alpe Campo, one of the closest to the town Alagna in Northern Italy's Valsesia region, falls into the latter.

However, when I called to make sure they were still open for the season, I was told I was welcome to stay over as it was just me and Tala. I discovered the building houses the manager and has one extra room. I still took my tent because sleeping out in nature is a very special experience.

I followed the trail No. 9, easily marked but not the easiest walk as it was constantly uphill. It's maintained by the Alpine Club, CAI, and they placed rocks to simulate stairs. I'm really not sure if that makes an uphill climb any easier. And I am certain it is harder on tired legs and knees on the way down. Anyway, one step at a time and I arrived at Alpe Campo.

When the cluster of "huts" came into view, I stopped to catch my breath because it just doesn't look good to arrive huffing and puffing. What did I learn from the Italians? Image is everything. No wait, pure vanity taught me that a long time ago but the Italians have made it into an art.

At the stairs, I was greeted by the manager Gilberto who had been sitting with his friends on a corner of the patio that looked over the valley. As you can see, it was warm enough even for October, to be half naked. They offered me prosecco and cake while I relaxed at an adjoining table but other than a short conversation, I didn't join in their discussion of their early morning trek to rock climb one of the tall nearby peaks.

Tala the in-indefatigable dog was off searching for an appropriate site for my tent and put in dibs for a spot near the water. I agreed it was a good place and we were set for the night. Gilberto invited me to have dinner in the hut as (as he put it...) "he has to make something for himself anyway".

I spent the next few hours in the company of another soul who also embraces the solitude of mountains. His dream had been to restore the mountain home and with the help of a few friends, a helicopter service and a lot of time, the hut was finished. It became a part of the CAI and he began maintaining it for hikers, hunters and anyone passing by. He transformed a boggy piece of land into a lake and soon after, the inhabitants of Alagna watched in bewilderment as a small boat passed over their heads and disappeared into the hills.

The morning after, my first view out the tent window was of mountain majesty and after a few photos, I headed to the hut for coffee. I learned that Gilberto's mother had passed away that night and he was closing up to head into town. I was sorry for his loss, but in some circumstances, death is sometimes a release and this was the case for both him and his mother. On a personal level, this news meant no lunch so I was forced to stay only as long as my salami and cheese lasted in my tummy.

By 2pm, I was back on the trail and heading home - where I proved that stairs are more painful for already tired and sore muscles.



Oct 6, 2011

The Butcher's Window


 There was a time when I didn't know the Italian names for different types of meat so I never went to the butchers where I'd have to actually say something in order to get an order. Instead I'd go to the supermarket where I could stare at all the names and try to identify them by the appearance of the meat. I like to do things the hard way, I know.

Now, in addition to asking for whatever meat I need, I occasionally request any left over bones they have lying around to prepare for Tala to gnaw on. One young man asked me about Tala's size and when I said medium, he came back out with a giant bone that was bigger than Tala herself and with a grin asked if it would do.

Would it?
Oh, you bet. And I think that is personal service, with a smile.

Sep 23, 2011

Satellite debris to fall over Italy

NASA and other organizations have calculated that lovely Italy ranks highest as the possible recipient of America's space debris. First McDonalds and now UARS!  They estimate the defunct satellite will enter the earth's atmosphere sometime today.

Although they anticipate debris will fall somewhere over central to north Italy, (not near to me) I have the news on so I'll know. I'm unusually curious about this satellite that will disintegrate and leave bits and pieces of itself in Italy. Well, until NASA comes to gather all the pieces.

Perhaps it's my romantic imagination running off with me, thinking that even mindless metal would leave the lazy silence of space, endure the blazing heat upon re-entry if only to have a few parts touch Italian soil.

Enough of that...

(photo from wikipedia)

Sep 13, 2011

Photos Tende France

The clock tower in Tende skirting the edge of the cemetery. 

The neat doorways of the cemetery looking over the town of Tende in France

Cars parked at a dead-end but with a view :-)

With the steep hills surrounding, it's not surprising that gliding would be a popular sport

Sep 11, 2011

La Via del Sale 4 x 4 road in Northern Italy

The Via del Sale or the Salt Road is the name for the various old stretches of dirt roads or trails that run from the inland areas of northern Italy to the coast. They were used in ancient times to transport goods such as wool or weapons to the Ligurian ports to trade for precious salt to preserve their food.

For one reason or another, it's taken four years to finally go in search of one of these high mountainous trails.

One popular trail runs from the Torino area to Ventimiglia on the Ligurian Coast. We decided to skip the trail on the plains and start with the mountainous trail that runs along the French and Italian border.

 Colle di Tenda

Passing through Fort Central
Just before the Tunnel that passes under the Colle di Tenda, we turned right to follow the signs for Tre Amis and climbed until we reached Fort Central above the tunnel.
Coming up to Fort Central
If we were excited to find signs for the Via del Sale, we were soon disappointed to learn that the road was closed to 4 x 4 traffic due to landslides. It was however open to trekkers, horse, bike or motorbike (enduro) traffic.

Bactracking through the Fort, we followed the signs to Valle de Valmasque in French territory. There was the quick way down....

We opted to skirt the hills  before heading back to the valley floor and followed the trail past the remains of yet another fort that was used in WW1.Here is a photo of me on the outer wall of the fort.

A on the fort ruins

On the way down, driving on the edge

Arriving at the town Tenda before going back into the hills on the other side
La Brigue to Nava
Going through La Brigue towards the Notre Dame des Fontaines we followed the dirt road and signs to Nava. A nice fog was coming in which didn't seem to bother this crazy group who had the fortune, seeing they were on two wheels, to take the Via del Sale from Limone to Ventimiglia.

Refugio along the way

The only female rider we encountered on the trail. Brava!

Narrow road with cliff on side and fog rolling in...a nice combo

I want that house on the edge of the world.


Sep 5, 2011

Summer is over, the vacation as well as the weather. The mornings of having my rooms bathed in the soft morning light has been exchanged for the dismal quiet that comes with the closing in of the fog. Blue above is practically non-existent and droplets of rain are par for the course.

So reminiscing a little, these photos highlight our awesome summer. Of course, Tala is a huge part of it....

Our favorite moments, naturally hers, because we played a LOT. What dog wouldn't feel in heaven with sand to dig, water to jump in and a Frisbee to catch. And it's one of natures gifts to let humans see animals express their joy in movement like the last happy leap through the air to pounce on the Frisbee...

The morning light made this sloop look like it was beached on an expanse of sand. The water was so calm almost every morning that we made it our first order of the day.

This man brought his very nervous horse to the beach, which I thought was a good idea since it looked like it wanted very much to buck him. He'd have had a soft landing. I was the only one on the beach and was a little miffed that he decided to stop right next to me to take a dip. But I was entertained by seeing this very fine animal take a swim, then come out to roll in the sand and then rinse off again. (photo taken by my phone so it's not so great.)

 Will miss the food. There is a huge difference between the southern dishes and the northern and I prefer that from Calabria. This was taken when we were at the festival at Bivongi for the Mercato della Badia where there was a large sampling of their typical dishes. Can't for the life of me remember the name of this breaded thing....

Packing the car (the day before) to head back home...Tala was making sure she wasn't going to be left behind. I think she'd be as happy as I would to get back into the car for the 15 hour drive back to sunshine and sand.

Aug 29, 2011

Upstaged by a dog

This is all about Tala, the socialite. Let me back-up a little. I am somewhat of a recluse; I like my alone time and although I am a socialized individual, if I had the choice to be with people or alone, I'd choose the latter.

Well, I have to say good-bye to all that if I decide to go out with her. She attracts people like a magnet and I am forced to chit-chat while she gets all the cuddling and caresses.

A couple days ago we were tossing her favorite toy, the Frisbee, into the water to swim after or across the sand where she'd leap and catch it. A mother and her two kids took a fairly good walk, from the other side of the bay, to talk to us and play a little. Today I saw them again on the beach and Tala, knowing just how much those kids like her, went over to their umbrella, uninvited, and dropped the Frisbee at the little boys feet waiting for him to toss it. Then she did it for each one in the family while I just stood there doing the small talk. Why do I get the hard part?

But what amazed me, is that animal sense that I know exists, but have never seen in action until today. She "knew" the little boy was dying to play with her but didn't say anything. She included everyone, although it was obvious she had a favorite, the dad, who tossed it just the way she liked it.  By the way, she excluded me.


I guess I feel awed by this demonstration of friendliness because I know I hesitated to go on the beach with her when I saw the family car parked where I usually go. I was the one who didn't want to "play" but went grudgingly, knowing I should say hello. And although she doesn't know it, she showed me up by openly embracing each one of them and giving them what they wanted...the opportunity to connect and interact with another living being, albeit or perhaps especially, a dog.

I am again reminded, and probably will take the rest of my life to learn, that it is really in giving that we live our finest moments. 


Aug 24, 2011

Sunrise over Riace Marina

This morning I rose early enough to see my living room tinged in red. I love sleeping with the balcony doors wide open so in the stillness of the early morning, the only "movement" is the fiery red tint on the chestnut wood cupboard and brown leather sofa slowly fading into light.

View from the balcony doors off from the kitchen. In addition to this wonderful visual experience, a moment later, the room was filled with the scent of fresh coffee.

Every morning these fishermen, with their very individual style go out to the beach where I take Tala and drop their nets. Talk about having sea legs!

Now that the enchanting sun-kissed moment is over, it's time to close the shutters to keep out that once lovely sun. These days are muggy, with the hot African heat coming in over the Mediterranean but hardly a breeze to cool off. Believe me, Tala isn't too keen on it. She's happiest near to the water, sitting under the umbrella and watching seagulls, or chasing after her Frisbee....near to the water.

Aug 19, 2011

Bagpipes of Reggio Calabria

We went to the Mercato della Badia, the annual festival at Bivongi in Reggio Calabria and stopped at one stall for a meal. We heard the strains of the traditional tarantella and before long the musicians were standing amongst us. The musical instrument that arrived first was the ciaramedda, native to the rural areas of Calabria (and parts of Sicily), and is usually paired with a tambourine. If you think it looks like an inflated animal, you are right. It is made from the skin of a goat, with the legs still in place and dangling merrily to the music.

Ciaramedda, bagpipes of rural southern Italy


Aug 11, 2011

Festa at Placanica in Calabria

Placanica is another charming hilltop village in Calabria that is filled with ancient ruins and a very old historic center. I am always amazed at how villages are constructed with homes practically one on top of the other and then ends up charming.

The poster announced that the town would be lit up only by candlelight, which I thought would be an enchanting sight. We headed out from Riace where the air was so still, it was practically suffocating. We arrived at Placanica in the midst of a "hurricane". Unless they were covered, I didn't think there would be any candles lit that night. In fact there weren't any, and not because of the wind, but because I was one night too early!!

The stairs lead to an overlook with an amazing view of the valley below. Tonight it was too windy to appreciate, and too dark!

My love of old doors and entryways. How I'd LOVE love love to have one of these on a front entrance. This led to a narrow staircase with the name "Vico P". 

The ancient olive press that sits at the entrance of the Domenican Convent, founded in 1470. The convent is one of the oldest in Calabria.
Ruins from the "original" church from the '400's remain in the restored Chiesa di Santa Catarina. "Original" means that the first construction had been modified over the years in various styles. The face of the church, not shown, reflected the Baroque period.

Musicians playing the Tarantella, typical music of the area. Fun to watch as some of them pulled local youngsters from the crowd to dance. I had some of the best ribs ever at the outdoor kiosk. The only drawback to the meal was having to weigh everything down from the gusts of wind, especially the wine.
View of the theatre where we wanted to see Paolo Migone, a comic, perform. Of course that would be the next day. We didn't stay for the concert which was scheduled to start at 11pm. Way too late for me.
The houses in this old historic area were built from limestone that was ground, boiled to make a paste, cooled off over a period of days before it could be used to form the bricks of the house. Talk about time consuming but they have stood up well to the test of time.