Monday, October 31, 2016

earthquakes head north, grow stronger, envelope San Severino Marche

It is a curious thing that a booking with airbnb, a booking in the sharing economy is, at least for us in our experiences, a more personal connection than other accommodation booking.

And so we feel a sense of connection with the family who will be our hosts in San Severino Marche, or such is our plan, from 15-20 March next.

Ls Quercia Blu, San Severino
We wrote last week to express concern and support in the wake of the earthquake of 26 October. The situation has now deteriorated at San Severino with the earthquake on 30 October.

The headline below reads:
Earthquake: houses collapse at San Severino, a supermarket crumbles.
The report indicates the whole town was in the street or in the refuge at 7.40am, and preparations had been made for accepting 1500 in the refuge.

The report indicates greatest damage in Via Mazzini, where apartments had been evacuated from 26 October. There have been no deaths but on 30 October 'tens of people' attending first aid (pronto soccorso) centres. A significant number of residents in these towns in the Appenines, shaken for two months so far, have packed up and moved to the coast.

San Severino's physical damage seems thus far to be less than in the hill towns of Tolentino and Camerino, on either side, places more famous for their history, with an ancient university at Camerino and Tolentino as a place of pilgrimage. But throughout the region, damage to industry, agriculture, education and services is very great. In the region of Le Marche alone:
“There are between 10,000 and 100,000 people who will need to be assisted,” said Luca Ceriscioli, the president of the Marche region, adding that if the seismic activity does not stop, “you are likely to get to 100 thousand displaced people.”

Sunday, October 30, 2016


see the embedded video below

We are in Vasanello from Sunday 12 March 2017 to Wednesday 15 March, 2017.

It began as a convenient location, not too far from the airport at Rome. Then we found a delightful apartment.

On the way to Le Marche. With an opportunity to travel over two days in areas where we stayed for a month in 2010.

That was when we only knew that we had rushed through Vasanello on the bus hastening to the station in Orte, on a grey morning.

Now we begin to discover Vasanello. And good grief, having just finished writing about Lucrezia Borgia in Ferrara, earlier about Cesare Borgia in taking on Catherine Sforza in Forli, here's the Renaissance news from Vasanello. Pope Alex 6 as below was father of Lucrezia and Cesare...small world in Rome.
"In 1489 Orsino Orsini, Duke of Vasanello (or Bassanello as it was called at the time) married Giulia Farnese, a 
beautiful young woman who shortly after her marriage (or perhaps even before) became the mistress of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (from 1492 Pope Alexander VI). Giulia Farnese ensured her husband had some compensation for his silent tolerance of her affaire and she favoured the ecclesiastical career of her brother Alessandro, the future Pope Paul III. She lost her husband in 1500 and her lover in 1503. At that point she thought it wise to establish good relations with the new pope (Pope Julius II Della Rovere) and in 1505 she arranged the marriage of Laura, her only daughter, to Nicolò Della Rovere, nephew of the pope, who became the new duke of Vasanello."
This is not, reports Wikipedia the Orsino Orsini, husband of another Giulia Farnese, who years later, just a few miles up the Tiber established his monster garden for the entertainment of ladies at Bomarzo.

A couple of young bloggers who would like people to be more interesting, more creative and capable of dealing with change in the world ahead, have published an interesting piece on an argument  over land in the centre of the town with the Orsini castle owners in Vasanello which has been a source of resentment for 150 years. Because they write in a creative style, Google's translation is not good, but try translation of the page at link.
This, favourable to the castle and owners, is a video on the glories of Vasanello with some nice history.
But there's more than such to contemporary Vasanello.
Usually when you search youtube for towns away from the Tourist Tramp, you get videos of bike and motor bike trails in the mountains. But in Vasanello, there's this fun:

On wealth: Gonzaga, Este, Borgia, Medici... and Trump

I wrote yesterday of the enormous wealth of the Gonzagas of Mantova,  also mention of the Este family in Ferrara and connections with other gigantically rich families, the Borgias, the Medici and the grasping of those especially for the papacy and expenditure on art and fame which lost them, in several cases, all their wealth.. and in the case of the papacy, half the church to Luther and the Germans generally, resentful, hateful of taxes and 'indulgences' sold by the popes to finance the art of Rome.

Edith Templeton, calling them Renaissance gangsters, questioned their happiness amid their wealth.

Today, reading James Fallows's invaluable political blog at The Atlantic I find a link to a reflection on wealth and Citizen Kane by Donald Trump. Which surely the Gonzagas, Russian kleptocrats of the present, the Koch brothers might do well to have watched at some time. The clip is from a never finished film by Errol Mark Morris, known mostly for his film The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S McNamara.

Fallows describes that as 'astonishly introspective' for Trump.
True, but one also sees in it Trump likening himself to Kane.

Here is Orson Welles, including with chorus line,
doing a bit of a Trump in the original promotion for Kane.

It would be sensible of both Clinton and Trump (and Putin)
to watch the Eleven Lessons of Robert McNamara,
not believing all the argument but understanding the tragedy involved in being 'right.'

Also spare a thought for the Gonzagas and Estes and Medicis
persistently at war, for evil or duty or right?
Right/s (diritto/diritti) a word with all its ambiguity, in English and Italian.
In Latin far apart:
iustum: justice, justness, formality, uprightness.
fas: divine law, divine command, Destiny, sacred duty, Right.
— in current times too, there is surely a lot of slippage in crisis or vision from iustum to fas
or rather there is insufficient common understanding of what may be our nations, tribes, states
to avoid conflict in which fas and iustum is confoundedly confused.

McNamara added ten more after seeing the film, see wikipedia

Saturday, October 29, 2016


Ravenna is somewhat neglected by tourists – except for those who tumble out of gigantic cruise ships, but I think we will be there before the season. Check later and avoid. We will be 30km away in Forli 20-27 March. 

Ravenna is the outstanding example of mosaic work in the ancient world. It seems unlikely that any photos I might take when there will be less failing to capture them,
"Italy has the richest concentration of Late Antique and medieval mosaics in the world." [Wikipedia]

"In 402 A.D., the Roman Emperor Honorius transferred the Western Roman Empire from Milan to Ravenna as a security measure. The city thus abandoned its more provincial appearance and took on all the pomp and circumstance of an Imperial residence. From that time on, Ravenna was thrice a capital (later of the Ostrogothic Kingdom and Byzantine Empire)." Discover Italy: there are eight UNESCO heritage buildings in Ravenna from those times.

My mentor, the late Mrs Templeman, wrote:
"I will not give any reproductions of [mosaics of Ravenna] in this book. This is the greatest compliment I can pay them."

  • p 223, The Surprise of Cremona, Autralian Readers Book Club edition 1955 

In a conversation between herself and the mosaics and a professor, we learn (as I did not learn from any tourist info) that the buildings in Ravenna were decorated with mosaics not to imitate paint, but to imitate carpets, the court having come to Ravenna under byzantine authority, and the habit and pride in the east being to decorate walls with carpet.
There follows at p 226ff a discussion of the design, organisation and colour balance in the mosaics which is such that I can happily say hunt down a copy of the book, we will be taking ours along.

Hilary's review of the book, with focus on Ravenna, is amusing but misses this most important bit. is good on the symbolism in the mosaics.


Mantova according to Edith, part 2 plus a bit more

Ludovico III Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua and Barbara of Brandenburg
with their children, fresco by 
Andrea Mantegna at San Giorgio Castle, Mantua, around 1470
source wikipedia

I had in mind drawing substantially on Edith Templeton's The Surprise of Cremona to discuss Mantova here, but have decided to be brief — and bring you a movie, albeit in Italian, but remember one picture is worth a thousand words. 

Nonetheless, Edith's book is an excellent reflective guide, though 60 years old. We will carry it to Mantova.

Descriptive of art and artists, it also dwells with some puzzlement on the Gonzaga family who seized the city in 1328 or so, built the castle to end all castles with fifteen courtyards, churches etc, etc and went bankrupt from extravagance of a wedding in 1608, whereafter most of their pictures sold to Charles I in England, more works seized and taken away by Napoleon and others. This wedding spared no expense, including one of Monteverdi's most notable operas. (The city was devastated by the Thirty Years' War, plague and sacking. It now has an elegance and charm and an integrity from being away from the main tracks of tourist tramping.)

Discussion of the Gonzaga mind, the persistent search for happiness in the art and construction, in Mantova and Sabbioneta. A fear of death on preoccupation with which she quotes Lorenzo de' Medici, another 'gangster' of the renaissance:
"Fair is youth and free of sorrow
Yet how soon its joys we bury.
Let who would be now be merry:
Sure is no-one of tomorrow."
  • quoted at page 161, Readers Book Club edition (Australia) 1955

As elsewhere Edith finds a professor, this time to discuss the Gonzaga extravagance and in response to her perspective that the Gonzaga's creations were just folie de grandeur  the professor responds that this was not so, the immense wealth of the Gonzaga was acquired by plunder in war, that they had no way of sharing the wealth as in modern times building industry, their construction works and commissioning of art enabled sharing of their wealth. And against her observation that Venice, even richer, built dainty palaces compared with the Gonzaga monster, the professor points out that Venice had an entirely different and trade oriented economy. [pp183-4].

We shall go see, Templeton in hand.

I wrote also in an earlier blog entry regarding those times.

The map at right in this text (link also in right column) shows the Po delta in 1570, before effects of an earthquake that year. Note the great lake in front of Bologna, Mantova in a lake and Ravenna out to sea. Chioggia is in the northeastern corner of the map. Venice off the map just north of that. 
Note Ferrara - pointer from the bottom. Ferrara a great rival of the Venetian Republic and hostile to Venetian desires to muck around with the delta and block off their lagoon from floods. 

But then the Este family who had made Ferrara great (their works are what people go to Ferrara to see) ran out of legitimate heirs—and so Pope Clem 8 in 1598, [declaring them a pack of bastards] sent in his army and grabbed the city. But then the same Clem 8 declared a Holy Year in 1600, meaning he would do no warring. The Venetians quickly upped spades and in four years diverted much of the flow away from their lagoon. And then in the south the land grew and the delta marched out to sea (continuing)

source wikipedia
Lucrezia Borgia had died
after difficult pregnancy and childbirth
in 1519
These cities on the north of Italy went through extraordinary times in the Renaissance, the arrival of the printing press, many of them in Venice in particular, altered possession of and entitlement to information (compare with the Shock of the Internet since 2000) and also altered language, enthusiasm for an 'Italian' language, a shift from Latin. The great foundation literary work of Italian language, Orlando Furioso, which draws on Arthurian legend as well as that of Rowland, was written by Ludovico Ariosto who was an administrator for the House of Este. He produced three editions of Orlando Furioso, changes reflecting the 'great argument' about how an Italian language should be, in those years.

Portrait of a Woman by Bartolomeo Veneto,
traditionally assumed to be Lucrezia Borgia.
 Dominant figure in literary direction and music and the popularisation of the madrigal, at the time, was Pietro Bembo.

It was probably a contributing consideration Ariosto's responses to Bembo's advice on his text that Bembo was senior to him in the court of the Este family, indeed senior to the point of carrying on with the wife of the duke of Ferrara, a certain Lucrezia Borgia, daughter of Pope Alex 6.

And, and, we are back to the point, just a bit, inasmuch as also Lucrezia was carrying on with her husband's sister's husband, Francisco II Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantova.

Herewith let me venture, if none has before, that Lucrezia Borgia was surely thus a major influence on the form of the Italian language—and the popularisation of the madrigal.
Look at those two, sound out the word 'popularisation'  and ask yourself...or ask Rupert Murdoch!

Alfonso deserves credit too, having brought an array of painters and musicians to Ferrara. While Alfonso 'acquired' Ariosto when he inherited Ferrara, in the shining pages of history the visual artists and musicians are way ahead.

The National Gallery of Victoria claims this on the right is the only true painting of Lucrezia Borgia: "We have the only known portrait of the most famous and notorious woman in Renaissance history."

Were a man so described he could certainly be a major figure in literary history...

Hey look, what's she been writing?

Friday, October 28, 2016

Earthquakes in Le Marche

We will be in San Severino Marche in March.

With new earthquakes closer to San Severino than those in August, We wrote today to our hosts in San Severino to say:
Arriviamo in Marzo. Adesso stiamo attento alla situazione con terremoti, leggendo Il Resto del Carlino. 
Mandiamo la nostra sincera simpatia e preoccupazione per la sicurezza della vostra famiglia e communitå. 
A presto
Helen and Dennis
Translating: "We are arriving in March, we are aware of the earthquake situation and we are reading Il Resto del Carlino. We send our sincere sympathy and concern for the security of your family and community. See you soon."
Link to government response to latest earthquakes
A Prime Ministerial visit to Camerino safer than to
Ussita (link, second link)
or Visso (four earthquakes on 27 October),
one of the club of most beautiful towns in Italy.

Il Resto del Carlino is a newspaper from the 1800s, based in Bologna, with a number of local editions. Literally 'il resto del carlino' means the change you would get from the smallest coin of papal currency, the sheet of news you would be given as change from buying a cigar.

The major national La Corriera della Sera, based in Milan, has a little video to show earthquake vulnerable regions, from which this below is a still image. And from these one can see that though there are troubles currently in Le Marche, the bigger risks are theoretically to the west and south.

These risks, like those of plane travel and fairground death are surely much smaller than the risks in crossing the road in the city or driving the car in the country. We choose where we go every day. The unexpected shocks, the frequent numbs. Those who said 'nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition' weren't there at the time. Galileo expected the Inquisition. Giordano Bruno suffered it with greater obstinacy than Galileo, but tourists often don't even see the big black figure over there, surrounded as it is by food and frolic. Descartes, doubtless trembling a bit in his boots in Belgium reading the news of Galileo, defended himself with a bizarre scientific explanation of the existence of god and left western science with twin swords on which it continues to fall, reductionism and mind-body separation notions, which have surely killed many more people than earthquakes.

From La Corriera della Sera, source the national vulcanology institute

Saturday, October 22, 2016

To Mantova with Edith, part 1: Edith, Virgil, Aeneas, ... and Dido.

Before this contextual diversion, I should refer the reader who would like something more practical to this piece in The Guardian.    :-)
The rest of this drawing on Edith Templeton, 
The Surprise of Cremona, 
page references to the 
[Australian] Readers Book Club edition, 1955 

In preparing for a visit to Mantova, I have been preoccupied by a history of development of the city by one family: by the extent to which the city is presented in many photos as fortress walls, moats, riches, art, beauty, complexity,  accumulated by a few for themselves — on the backs of bleeding many.
Such is tourism: Who built the pyramids, did the emperor really also bury the potters along with the terracotta warriors (well Qin Shi Huangdi buried scholars anyway)? Is this where the Red Guards marched? Don't tell me about the genocide of Aborigines, that's old, I'm here and I'm going to climb that rock because it belongs to all Australians. And after that I'll go to see the Roman Forum, where was it that Caesar was stabbed? Ah touropia, wherefore art thou touropia, let me make a selfie with you.

"Eating cheese in Mantua is a thoughtful business, 
made for pondering over Virgil."
photo from
Edith Templeton is an excellent cicerone though not dull or dry pseudo-professorial, rather a worldly woman with a fine sense of sizing up men, art and other preposterations.
In part I enjoy her writing because she asks questions I have been asking myself, in part because she takes one on adventures in her head to unimagined places.

By Mantova she has warmed again to Dante, so scoffed at in Cremona. But here she focuses on the Roman poet, Virgil, child of the peasant soil outside Mantova, made godly in Mantova a thousand years ago, placed on pillars and posters around Mantova, forever influential in European poetry.

Edith discusses at length Virgil's Aeneid. Wikipedia tells you it is the story of Aeneas, Templeton tells you it is the measuring of Aeneas alongside Dido, queen of Carthage.
From Wikipedia.
I note that as recounted by a classical scholar
Aeneas cannot 'tell' he must 'recount'. 
"The creation of Dido is revolutionary because Dido is the first ill-used woman in literature. A woman who has loved for thirty years and not been ill-used has not lived at all. Therefore Dido is as universally important as Hamlet, Faust and Don Juan.... [T]he heart of Dido's tragedy does not lie in the fact that Aeneas left her. It lies in his unworthiness."
Pages of erudite reinterpretation and relating to the modern (pages 146-157) lead us here:
"I now put her on the scales and see what happens... I put Dido on her funeral pyre, with the sword in her breast, bleeding to death.... I see her rising again in the light of our own times... a fine beautiful woman, not very bright, not very distinguished... Although this time he has not left her for the Italian shore, she knows just as surely that his love for her has died... I see her placing her red bag beside herself and laying herself on the rails and I hear the roar of the approaching train. I have witnessed the end of Anna Karenina."
But, um, yes, Mantova is mainly about the city, the river Mincio and the Gonzagas. For part 2!

From Radio Prague
Another thing that we should say at this stage is that this [quotation at link] is not a translation. Edith Templeton does write in English. How is it that she came to write in English?"She left the country and married an Englishman. In the 30s she worked in London. She worked first in the office of the US Army chief surgeon and then she became a captain of the British Army, working as an interpreter. Later on she moved to India, because her second husband was a doctor. In fact he was physician to the King of Nepal. So she lived in many different countries - later on Portugal and now she's living on the Italian Riviera, so she's a very, very cosmopolitan writer.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The surprise of Cremona

I am seduced by Edith Templeton, or at least by her amazing The Surprise of Cremona which I secured from ebay Australia, in local bookshops I guess because it was a Readers Book Club selection in 1955. A racy selection at the time.

I value this book because it is fun and intelligent, but especially because its sharpness offers points of irreverent entry into the mythologies of Italy. So much tourism in Italy slides on a deep, overdone lacquer of tritely trotted guidebook patter. It's nice to get a fingernail under the shellac. You plainly don't have to agree with everything she says ... and she would find you beyond boring if you did.

Templeton has a razor wit and sense of irony and the naughty haughty of Czech background, reminiscent of I Served the King of England and other wonders of Czech cinema.

But her life of aristocratic origin, French education and marriages to Englishmen giving her a different trajectory from the central figure of that film and a capacity to arrive in Cremona in the early 1950s with a gigantic knowledge – and immediate experience, born in Prague in 1919 – of history and philosophy and outrageous confidence and self-protective sarcasm, plus a world-weary warmth. 

With a local history professor as real or notional source she places Frederick II, who for a time headquartered his Holy Roman Empire in Cremona, on a pedestal (yanks him off when she gets to Parma); takes wonderful potshots at Virgil, Goethe and Dante and admires Pontius Pilate, miscast in a cathedral performance on Good Friday..

Of Virgil
His famous gentle melancholy, which lends itself superbly to pastoral elegaic poems, and which was imitated by all Europe in all ages, was not the picturesque which one might think it to be
but rather a pent up anger at the Roman army's confiscation of his peasant parents' farm between Cremona and Mantova. He ate his heart out in his writing, then
During his last days he went to live in the country near Naples... Why didn't he go and live on the banks of his native Mincio instead, among the barren stones, the slimy marshes and the bitter willows, over which he had shed his heart-blood...
On Good Friday she is appalled that a angelic young tenor is cast as Pontius Pilate in a performance in the cathedral with "three hundred yards of choir boys"
This was quite wrong of course, Pilate was an impeccable high Civil Servant, nothing unearthly about him. ... he could not afford another uprising, all because of a new religion. New religions were two-a-penny in those days. I think he retired to the south, when he was pensioned off, to Naples or Sicily... Pilate is my favourite figure in the New Testament. He is the model of a detached, fair, and judicious colonial governor who hesitates before making a move and prefers tact and negotiation to violence.
Of the pope's triple excommunication of Frederick II she writes:
I think this reckless excommunicating is silly. It is bound to lose its effects after the first time.
She reports of Dante's visit to Cremona and his finding sufficient time there to quarrel with a nobleman Cavalcabo. Having earlier admired greatly the traditional buildings of Cremona and disparaged buildings with added-on baroque facades she notes that
The Cavalcabo Palace still stands. It is one of those well-bred buildings whose beauty derives from superb craftsmanship and proportions, with no trimmings, substantial and discreet, like a well-tailored suit. The Cavalcabo family still live there. 
Cavalcabo was 'black', that is, he was Guelf and supported the Pope, whereas Dante was 'white' and supported the Emperor. This is, of course, just what one would have expected of Dante. He would quarrel with anybody if he possibly could. It was merely a matter of giving him enough time.
... and then a wonderful summation of history and its writing:
The professor tells me that Dante's faction, the Whites, were called in Dante's time, the 'accursed faction'.
"Was it true?" I ask. "Did very nasty people belong to it? Or was it called Accursed because it was against the Pope?"
The professor regards me with astonishment. "Oh, no. It was only called Accursed because it lost."
Then an account of how Dante fell out with the Whites, concluding (and this may have been a novel expression then):
If [Dante] had lived today, he could have held his Annual Party Meeting in a phone box.
This is such a cut across the conventional weaving of Dante into so much hortatory carry-on in Italy. We have a glimpse of the Cremona mind, albeit through a turbulent Czech mind.

Whereafter the professor begins the most interesting part of Cremona's history: the story of the Surprise of Cremona, for which you must find your way to page 45 of my edition.
St Sigismondo
I have a book hard to put down. And very hard to quote in brief.  I note two things:
• we could go to Cremona one hour by train from Mantova to see a stylish town whose best buildings by this account are pre-baroque, some much older.
• and then 15 minutes by bus to the edge of Cremona we could see St Sigismondo. Templeton is enraptured on entering.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Ah Chioggia, Chioggia

the walk from our apartment to the fish market.
If the market is on the little finger, the wharf
for the ferry to Venice is marked Porto
on the thumb where the nail is missing.
The railway station is on the wrist,
on the mainland.
Click any image to enlarge
Largely ignored is the old town of Chioggia, in the southern corner of the Venice lagoon.
[Chioggia pronounced key-ODJ-uh]

Hard to get to, no Pokemon-go-for-adults-with-inadequate-tech as abundant in Venice, Florence, Rome and as they refer to them at Tripadvisor CT and AC and want to visit them all in a week. Or more.

But hoards, if that's the right word for folk from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, go to the adjacent district of Sottomarina, which despite its name is not currently underwater but has beaches under thousands of umbrellas in summer.

The old town. where we will stay, is where the history resides.

This is a link to a google translation of a wonderful local presentation of the history of Chioggia. Even if you have no plans to go to Chioggia, if you have ever felt life is tough, if you have ever thought your community has had a trouble or two, please go and read the link. The difficulties in presenting lively proud local expression in a computer translation (or any other) adds to the telling of a history of clinging to life against adversities of the sea, of diseases and the bastards who come calling from land and sea, century by century.

We look forward to meeting people who have come through such and write about it without bad words, as I just did.

Perhaps the biggest pride is in the seafood.

If you search the web for Chioggia fish market you are taken to the 'Mercato Ittico'. Ittico translates into English as Ichthyal. And from a web search for ichthyal you get such as:

Is ichthyal a word in the scrabble dictionary? | Definition and Meaning
Ichthyologists know about this word:

Ichthyology (from Greek: ἰχθύς, ikhthus, "fish"; and λόγος, logos, "study"), also known as fish science, is the branch of biology devoted to the study of fish. This includes bony fishes (Osteichthyes), cartilaginous fish (Chondrichthyes), and jawless fish (Agnatha).

Ms Google translates the 'who we are' (Chi siamo - pronounced 'key see-AR-mo') part of the Mercato Ittico web site thus:
Chioggia Fishing is a project born from the Fisheries Foundation for the enhancement of Chioggia local fish product, for its marketing and introduce it in the full possession of his peculiarities. Our fish is able to satisfy the most refined palates, in many varieties of species. Many species are unknown to most people because of this, our goal is not just to talk about the most famous species, but to know the genuineness of the smaller species.
Within the section "The Fish Market" the user can find the contacts of wholesale and retail dealers: the relationship between those who sell and those who want to buy will be so simple and effective.
In addition to this, we will get you in the culture of Chioggia fishing, with traditional recipes and explanation of fishing techniques. In this portal you will feel an active part of the vein of the city: the sea, the lagoon ... .l'acqua.
Wonderful, proud: "we will get you in the culture"! Italians at their determined best: wanting to get everyone, especially the rest of modern bloody Italy, to understand the real.

Note for readers. If you don't eat seafood perhaps stay in Bologna.

And to Chioggia

We have subtracted some days from our time in San Severino Marche, so as to be able to visit Chioggia, staying in Enrico's spectacular apartment with this view, from 27 to 31 March.

photo from airbnb ad

So we have brought forward our booking at Forli to 20-27 March. We will drop off the car in Bologna on 27 March, not 31 March, and travel by train from Bologna to Chioggia.

There are a number of reasons to go to Chioggia. It continues to the north our excursion around the lower Po. It has its own beauty, reportedly a lot of determined character, a serious working, mainly fishing town. A daily fish market. A possible journey over water to Venice, recalling Eric Newby's wilful decision to arrive out of the mists of the sea in On the Shores of the Mediterranean. And then, not least, there is the alleged addiction of women in Chioggia to crochet. Helen is addicted to crochet (wonderful shift from complex management responsibilities at work) and moving smartly towards higher levels with more complex patterns and some of her own, now adept in the calligraphic language of crochet which means she buys from eBay crochet magazines from Russia and the Ukraine with classy dames in spectacular and sophisticated garments, which can be read without knowing Russian. It will be nice if she could join a circle of women doing such in Chioggia.

Then on 31 March, three trains to reach Mantova. There is a short 'veloce' journey from Rovigo to Monselice on the main line Bologna to Venice, but the journeys from Chioggia to Rovigo and Monselice to Mantova will hopefully be more languorous, through bucolia, marshland, hills and flat lands, nature reserves, hard working farms and towns with great history.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Not getting to Bellagio

Bellagio is a place of great beauty on Lake Como. Best known for the residence of Rosemary Clooney's nephew George, hyper-paparazzified and with a campaign against his liberal views on refugees by the execrable but sadly popular Daily Mail.

Here is the wonderful auntie of George Clooney. As we heard her when I was pre-teen

Less well know is the important Bellagio Centre of the Rockefeller Foundation.

We have no plan to go there.

But I have begun reading the Rosales saga of Francisco Sionil Jose, a highly praised historical novel series on the path of Filipino nationalism from the 1880s. A very important popular door to identity for a nation still in search of its independent place in the world. There are big time gaps in my attention to literature, places, friends, because of illness.

Dusk, or Po-On  in the Philippines, the first novel in the series, was drafted in a month at the Bellagio Centre but it took three decades to complete.

we were younger in 1965
When I arrived in Manila at age 21, on my first diplomatic posting, I walked back from my first appointment in the Foreign Ministry down Padre Faura and browsed the Erehwon Bookshop and then was gobsmacked by the shiny, new, packed with everything Solidaridad Bookshop with Frankie's lovely wife Tessie at the counter. Coming smiling from the back room was Frankie - Francisco Sionil Jose.

While so warmly received by them, I did not know immediately that this was my first really substantial, worthy, independent adult friendship, with this lovely family, life shaping, integrity prodding, in a very quiet way. Somewhat undeserved, I think. They gathered us up and included us in many things including family trips. And, he the renaissance man, writer, political and social activist, bookshop owner and soon to be publisher, steered me one day cheerily to a copy of Masters and Johnson's very new and astonishing Human Sexual Response which he assured me I needed. Which I did. How innocent and ignorant of so much the world then.

Frankie is an Ilokano, behind the gentleness an intensity and passion. A medical orderly in the resistance in the jungle in World War 2, in the way of many Filipinos of that era and with that experience of guerrilla war, he carried a small gun openly. Marcos banned that, the biggest banner of weapons before John Howard... see also this other dimension, the careless bravado of going to war. (Unlike some I spoke against the Iraq war before it began.) I'm sure there's a thesis in that dual antithesis, but not here.

Frankie and I saw each other only a few times after those days. I would go back to see him now but he's 90 at least and deserves recognition not bothering. Hurry please, Nobel committee.

We last saw Tessie and Frankie in January 1986. We were on leave from the embassy in Beijing. We dropped into the bookshop unannounced and Frankie characteristically seemed to have nothing else more important to do than, as ever before, gathering us all up, putting us into his car to drive around Tondo with its huge population and desperation while talking from the heart of the social issues; also expressing some of his chuckling pleasure mixed with anxiety about safety as he persisted in writing satirically about Imelda Marcos.

Of Bellagio he writes in the introduction to Dusk:
To reach Bellagio [early 1960s] you take a car from the airport closest to Milan and drive through a scenic route, the roads hugging the sides of the mountain, and on the left, through turns and dappled foliage, the shimmering Lake Como. I got to the villa before noon, and there at the entrance was the entire staff lined up-as if royalty was coming to visit...
I think we need get no closer.

I also think I should invite you to this first para of the Dusk narrative:
Dusk is the day's most blessed hour, it is the time when the spirits of darkness lift slowly down the bright domain. The acacia leaves droop, the fowl stop their cackling and fly to the boughs of the guava tree to roost, and as the light starts to fade and the shapes of trees and houses and even the motions of people seem shrouded, the essence of time, of change, and the brevity of life itself is realised at last. 
I find in that the character of the author, especially his gentle exhortation to go outside and be glad to be alive... alive.

I bought Po-On as usual from my favourite bookshop Better World Books. Part of the thrill of buying there is you sometimes find the history of the book, especially if it comes from a library. This one has a receipt I now use as a bookmark. It was bought in the Borders bookstore in the New York World Trade Centre on 26 September 1998. It reached me looking like it had never been read. The receipt records that it was sold along with a copy of the DVD Perfect Storm...  Go back to the end of that last quote.

Monday, October 3, 2016

a budget to travel in Italy.

pasting some text below caused changes to colour and layout that it's too hard to sort out.

We have advantage, with experience travelling or living in different places. We do not spend hugely on day-to-day living, but we eat healthy-well. We have to limit expenditure when we travel.

We prefer living in a place, more than the journey. To come to terms with the local pattern of life and enjoy it. That's actually cheaper too, than running along the tourism conveyor belt.

We have to travel 23 hours or so (from departure from Sydney airport, closer to 30 hours from home to get there), as well as the money. It was good to realise that by staying five rather than four weeks the cost per day shrank alongside the growing joy of being there. Being settled in a place, not having to restock so much, fewer Airbnb cleaning and service fees, fewer journeys between abodes and so on.

In the course of discussion recently at Tripadvisor about how much it costs to travel in Italy, I contributed as below.

We have several reasons for using apartments one of which is that it makes the trip affordable, possible. Otherwise you are dependent on, and paying for, everything being made for you, presented to you. Which is, frankly, exhausting and diminishing. I've done the big hotel thing in the past, I'm over it. Tired of being a sit-up served-up person, my public dining quota and enthusiasm was exceeded long ago. For others, that experience is part of what they seek. But expensive.
If you plan on the basis that you have an apartment with a stove, you can shop for wonderfully fresh and varied foods and experience that kind of Italy at much lower cost and more as Italians do. Buy real treats. And snack at night. And wander more than five paces underclad in own space. And fewer crumbs in the bed, perhaps.
•   Excellent accommodation 12 March to 15 April AUD3600 (EUR 2450) [33 nights]
•   Per diem provision for 34 days AUD 3500, estimate moderate dine out every other day
•   Rental car Peugeot 308 equivalent Europcar 19 days AUD1000. [this raised from 740 to include modest charge for snow chains and big charge for second driver. Snow chains sensible - but also a legal requirement in mountain areas before 15 April.]
•   Airfares for two Sydney-Rome, quickest flights on Qatar, plus more room per economy seat, AUD2538 during sale.  
•   Insurance via Webjet with Allianz including AUD3000 car insurance excess cover AUD400
•  Trains and other internal travel AUD500
•   Porta Portese market Rome $?? :-) .... - but restrained by baggage allowance. As also QF, Emirates and Singapore, Qatar allow 30kg any number of bags per person (60kg for two) but excess baggage astronomical per kg. We carry a baggage scale!
•   Anticipating overruns without too much apprehension: room on card to splurge when it's irresistible. But away from the tourist rabbit-run, splurges often not so expensive. 
Hope this helps (I wrote at tripadvisor). Your tastes may differ significantly.
That adds up to $8600 for 35 days = AUD 125** (Euros 85) per day, per person, in-country, including accommodation. 
Add to the in-country costs the air fares and travel insurance ... and the strangely complicated question of how best to get the several hours from home to Sydney airport and back home again***. We have organised good house sitters. 

** Times change, my old head finds that number large, although compared to many other travellers' budgets it's small. I remember in the mid-1960s buying a copy of the revolutionary and wildly popular Europe on Five Dollars a Day. I think my (quite good) income was around $60 a week, air fares (from Australia) impossible from own pocket, ship travel interminable, anything but working unconscionable, working class and going to university highly questionable, degrees in the humanities for boys plainly deviant. Boys took girls out and paid the bills. Girls never paid when 'taken out for the evening', virtuously saved their money for their trousseau or hoping to go and work in London and perhaps find moments with a Latin Lover on a jaunt to Rome. We were barbari then. These days we are still barbari-abundant, see how they risk death mainly by continuing to thumb FaceBook while crossing the road and risk destruction of whole civilisations by taking their news from FaceBook. 
*** To get from home to Sydney airport and back, more options than for getting around in Italy!
 The train is cheapest, say $90 return for two. Takes 3.5 hours (every two hours, that is), may be cancelled by a bushfire (did that to me once). To return home on a flight arriving arriving on Easter Monday at 5.30pm, then take 'next' train, may involve McDonalds meal at airport after arrival and additional cost of funeral. Travel insurance might or might not cover that, might call it a pre-ordained illness. Wills and powers-of-attorney and terminal-instructions are done... :-)
To take the 'shuttle': $250 or so return, for two. Did that once, waited at the airport an hour for the little bus to turn up, then visited the front gates of five other couples, via meandering roads, along the way—all 5x2 of whom had been away on a cruise and who, to the extent giving signs of life, gave the impression of never wanting another cruise and never wanting to see each other again. Arrived home five or six hours after plane got in. 
Take own car? Well over $400 to park it in Sydney for five weeks. Hope that the battery has not died — it did that once. :-)
Rental cars? This may be the smart option, $130 + $170 for two <24 hour rentals, one-way between local rental depot and Sydney airport and reverse. 
Such are the little costs you have to add in.The ohandthentheres.

Mantova to Peschiera del Garda

Mantova, Peschiera and the course of the
Mincio river: the 'Parco del Mincio'
from Lake Garda to the
confluence with the larger Po River.
This little map indicates the extension of green space around Mantova, especially to the north and southwest, the course of the Mincio River from Lake Garda to where it flows into the Po. In times past this flat land was hugely productive of agriculture. Agriculture has these days contracted and much has been done to save that space to green purposes.

Discussion at TripAdvisor with a person interested in biking in Italy led me to mention that there was a lot of bike riding in Mantova, riding in the city that is... and then to discover that there is an excellent bike path all the way from Mantova to Peschiera. My health will not allow me such a venture, but the temptations of delightful villages along the way means we may take the bus/

This little film is not only a great introduction to the bike path (north to south) and the villages, but also, contrary to many little films of people in Italy, the people who ride bikes there seem to speak a clear Italian at a comprehensible pace. So it's a pleasure to watch and can be used as a language tutorial as well.

The bus [timetable for route 46 here] will not have quite as grand a path as a bike but we will research where to get off along the way.

For those bike-inclined, in summer months a trailer is hitched to a bus. You should book. Or perhaps parents with children too small to ride 2 x 40 km could take turns with bike and bus-child for the round trip.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

To follow the Via Flaminia

We have realised that in seeking a route other than the Autostrada del Sole north from Rome to Vasanello, and then heading for Le Marche, we are in fact heading out on the Via Salaria, 2200 years old.

These days great road and rail tunnels have opened the way north through the Appenines between Florence and Bologna. Historically the great road north was via this road to Rimini and beyond to the Po Valley and away to Byzantium, Constantinople. Caesar came this way heading for Rome in the civil war. In the years of Rome's decline this was called the Ravenna Road, when  Ravenna was the capital of the Western Empire.

I didn't know any of this until I read the wikipedia article, I'll stop pretending I knew this and let you read the wikipedia article.

So we now, Helen's initiative, have decided we should try to find our way north and east via the Via Flaminia, hunting the ruins, driving the remnants.