Thursday, March 18, 2010

Recommendations for travellers, including us [1]

I am recovering from a lung infection, something arising this week, having begun to have an infection in my throat two weeks ago in Soriano. The evening-duty doctor at the health centre, who is otherwise a GP in Soriano, said he would not give me an antibiotic because the infection had not reached my lungs. I travelled with throat infection and have sought to defeat it till this week, but, hooray, it got to my right lung Tuesday and I went to my doctor who was a bit amazed by this apparent Italian policy and of course now prescribed Keflex for me.

So - recommendation 1: If you are a person who has any difficulty throwing off a cold or cough, and you understand when you move from virus to bacterial infection treatable with antibiotic, ask your doctor for a script to have dispensed in Australia to take with you. If you have a sign of cold before you get on the plane, even if you are one of those who defeats cold, again get a script if you can, you don't want to lose a lot of your holiday... But don't actually use any antibiotic if you only have a virus, reserve it for when you have an infection (producing muck from nose, throat, etc).

Also take a mask or scarf on the plane. If you have a cold, do not share and it's an obvious prospect that someone near you on a plane will cough and sneeze and you are likely to start to do that days later, some security from a mask. This obviously very relevant for those of us who travel 24 hours to get to Italy, but shorter flights carry risk too. A mask reduces dehydration on the plane. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

very heavy snow and sad news

Ian has sent an email to say that Soriano has had heavy snow (which has fallen across much of southern Europe). Ian's photos show views from the apartment as well as photos he took while he and Noelene walked in very cold weather the last two km up into the town with their bags on Tuesday, with the bus unable to get all the way from Orte.

And then yesterday, with the snow becoming ice-coated overnight, Graziella, whose family has lived in the apartment next door for seven generations, has gone out in the morning and fallen and died from head injury.

Such tragedy...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

things we leave

It was market day on Friday March, as is every Friday. We needed to drive to Fiumicino, to the Rome airport, return the rental car and catch the 5.30pm for London and Sydney. In innocence we had amazingly parked the night before, paying till 10am, in what turned out to be the closest parking space possible on market day. We would have had lots of difficulty otherwise. We were offered by hand as well as by windscreen wiper leaflets for the regional elections.

We said goodbye to a world of small sellers of very very fresh food, surrounding us.

We said goodbye to the main piazza and the market, buying an extra suitcase...

A last look from the castle security post, our kitchen window.

slipping down the back stairs of the Borgo di Sotto

Glancing up the short cut passage to our front door in Borgo di Sopra

a last look at this prettiest staircase entrance often admired on our way

and in the car, a last look at the old town and the castle

and this avenue of pollarded trees, winding our way out of town

down the road to Viterbo, turn left around the city walls

head on past Tarquinia and aqueduct ruins

see the autostrada empty ahead as we fail to keep pace...



there will be some summing up later...

Last morning

We had been feeling very much at home here, but also as remarked earlier, conscious that we would always be outsiders. And then, as I was wheeling a bag to the car on Friday morning, Fabrizio Sanna saw me from his shop and rushed to say "E Venerdi!" [It's Friday] He knew we were leaving Friday. And then I was gathered into a two cheeks embrace of genuine friendship and mutual regard. It is indeed possible to strike up warm friendship. So this blog entry simply shows Fabrizio and I and Fabrizio's shop L'Antica Latteria,with its treasures especially in the cheese department, a short walk from our apartment.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Bells in the morning

I managed to record the Soriano Siren herself last night.

And this morning I recorded the bells which did not follow the siren last night. Today a bright and sunny day, though cold. The market being set up the square below, it's Friday.

As a special consideration to those of you who use the computer in bed or who, like the Etruscans or Romans lie down at the dining table, I managed to take this morning's movie, with no time to replace it now, in portrait mode!!

We now load car and go to Rome airport, after lunch in Maccarese, near the airport, where this blog began... See you in the southern hemisphere two days from now. The plane to London 5.30pm today Friday, the London-Sydney plane arrives Sydney 6.05am Sunday, we should catch the 7.38 train for Kiama, change to the railmotor, be in Gerringong 10.20am. (and we did, and it was a beautiful soft sunny maritime kind of day when we arrived. Helen the Fit walked the 300 metres home for the car, I minded the bags.)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Tre Scalini - last dinner in Soriano

We seem to have settled for dining in the restaurant 40 metres from our door - four times in four weeks, and all wonderful fresh food. As someone said to us on the first day we were here: "why bother eating anywhere else." It may sound less than positive as a comment, perhaps, but read it the other way: "nothing better".

Our host Roberto (he who did the lunchtime on-the-spot-invented song and dance the other day)

and Lui

Our meal this evening began, as once before, with assaggini di pesce - little tastes of fish

these are not professional food photos, they do little justice
they are just pointed iPhone.
... hiding in the middle of which something very cheeky and innovative, a half passionfruit stuffed with little shrimps.

Followed by cockles and mussels (cozze e vongole) in a broth with white wine and olive oil, alongside a gratin of long shellfish, in their own super fingernails.

Helen return to a dish of chicken with porcini mushrooms, in a truffle cream sauce.

Dennis had saltimbocca, a Roman dish with scallop of veal, leaf of sage, slice of prosciutto crudo. It did not supplant the memory of the first time with this dish, it is very hard to cook well and was not as well cooked this time as before (too long cooked, or the meat not as good).

As a vegetable dish, cicoria, chicory, wonderful wasteland weed, which was light fried with a little porcini mushroom.

and for dessert after that we said please:
tiramisu, uno
cucchiai, due
Tiramisu 1, spoons 2
with Roberto finishing each line for me
and then bringing a doppio or larger serve.

When I said it seemed a doppio he grinned and said ssshhh.

The atmosphere is warm and local and we will go back there, wherever we may stay, if we are fortunate enough to come back to Italy.

last evening

I had hoped to record the 5pm sound of the siren for work in Soriano to end AND the church bells that usually follow (something akin to the competitions between Don Camillo and Peppone, find the book The Little World of Don Camillo or the old b and w film at YouTube) but for some reason the siren went at 4.45 and the camera waited in vain for the church bells to ring again after the siren.

The camera - well, I say I was holding it discreetly, but it wobbles a lot. And the movie begins with a little circus of getting a van through the inner gate (where the funeral notices are posted, on the left, lethal to stop and read!) below our window... as you see, cold and wet.


Early this morning, Helen raised the question of when-if we can come back to Italy sometime - where should we stay next time?

So we did a quick internet search and found that Roberto Gasperoni, in Bagnoregio - who would surely (I can't help saying it) be used with a name like that to head a smoking or anti-smoking campaign in Australia - had a couple of apartments for weekly rent. So we said, let's go out there, Dennis feeling better, Helen not as weak with the cold as she is this afternoon, alas.

And then in writing up about the popes in Viterbo I had read this about the current pope's adventures last summer:
Pope Benedict will travel to Viterbo by helicopter from the papal summer villa at Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome.
Before returning to Castel Gandolfo, the pope will transfer by helicopter from Viterbo to Bagnoregio, where St. Bonaventure was born in 1217.
Pope Benedict wrote his postdoctoral thesis on the doctrine of revelation in the works of St. Bonaventure, a doctor of the church. The pope is scheduled to venerate the "holy arm" of the saint, which is kept in Bagnoregio's cathedral. The rest of the saint's body is buried in France.

This led to learning more about Buonaventura, this great son of Bagnoregio and noted medieval scholar.

And it meant that the first thing we did when we got to Bagnoregio was go into the Cathedral. This cathedral is a place of great spiritual sensitivity, when you enter (unlike many churches in Italy, which seem unworked, as it were). However, it was dark. The photos (there are jpeg effects when enlarged) show the centre of the cathedral ...

....and the sanctuary where the arm of Buonaventura is kept. In a world where so much language emphasises the 'strong arm' how interesting that it should be the writing arm of Buonaventura which is kept in this special place.

We had completely lost track of the big tourist thing at Bagnoregio - the Civita di Bagnoregio, of which, here a photo... and be assured, it is as amazing to see as you might expect from the photo. Click here for more history. We did NOT do the walk, it seemed likely to snow unless, Helen's other thought, it was too cold to snow.
We did find the letting agent, saw the outside of apartments and certainly will consider this as a location for next time. The topography, culture and agriculture are quite different, and it is closer to Umbria and Tuscany.

But that may or may not be another story... now to start packing!

Early morning, second last day

Photo taken by Helen Tuesday, from another ridge,
of the castle and old town of Soriano nel Cimino.
Our apartment is inside the walls,
directly facing a clock tower above the inner gate.
You can, if you click to enlarge the photo,
see the clock tower behind the top of the power pole.

Having a cold and perhaps also because in reflective mood I have yet to put up that report on Viterbo (but it now appears below this one, drafting commenced earlier). We leave Italy in 35 hours and there is much to do, also much to think about.

Here is the view from this kitchen window at 4am this morning. There are only three things I can see there that would not have been there over hundreds of years.

We don't know the history of who has lived in this apartment, but you will see from the photo that we can see through the inner gate to the outer gate of the old city, through walls protecting a castle built in 1278, never taken by force, only by popes. If I were the boss around here, through any of that period, I would want this window in the hands of someone I could absolutely trust. Imagine, just imagine, conversations and mutterings and dark night awake wonderings about who is watching the gate.

Helen the other night was reflecting on the fact that our neighbour's family, in a small apartment, have been there for seven generations. Then she the feminist social worker, focused in how short generations have been, how young many mothers... how many generations in 800 years.. and thus, in utter contrast to how we feel in relation to death in a house in Australia, how many have died in these walls, how many ghosts are here with us. And woken to discuss this, my mind fell, eventually, to reflecting on how many died before the age of say 3 (being conscious that among my father's father's six siblings, one other lived to the 1950s, two died in World War I, and three died before eight years old. So, and I had never thought about this before at all, nor does it seem to enter literature, a high proportion of the ghosts out there - and in here - are tiny tots. Age is a rare and mainly modern privilege...

There is a risk of romanticising Italy entirely, especially in such a place, look back again at the top photo and at our travels. But there is also a lot of blood on walls, and a lot of physical grief for ordinary people, however salved by religious belief.

We watched last night Ermanno Olmi's wonderful 1978 film L'Albero degli Zoccolli (The Tree of Wooden Clogs) which won virtually everything at Cannes 1978, and which presents the life of peasants in northern Italy as it was 100 years ago. And I have been reading again Eric Newby's book Love and War in the Appenines, which presents life as continuing and slightly updated from then, in World War II.

And you see the continuum of history if you look and inquire, everywhere. In Viterbo I took the liberty of politely asking a couple opening their front gate, to beautiful courtyard and home (geez they must get fed up but I actually asked the question while saying politely no, to his invitation to come in for a look):

"Per quanto tempo sono state qui, vostra famiglia"
"Dal trecento."

How long has your family lived here? From the 1300s.

We may say wow, but this, here, is life. (We also had families alive (I suppose) around 1300, but we most of us come from such a vagabond and upheavaled horseback-horsewhipped place as England that we have no clue about our past - and we often scoff at Aboriginal claims to history, huh.)

And it is continuing life. Ian laments that the young generation will not keep places like Soriano intact, they are captive to globalisation. I am less sure. At least away from the big cities. The rhythm of life is powerful.

Last night Helen and I agreed that among the many ways we are still outside (and we are 96% outside, really) is our failure to adjust to the daily rhythm. We look from our window in the evening and say "oh", once again we have missed it. The kids go to school 8.30 to 12..30. Shops open 8.30 (earlier for food, later for fashion) and everything shuts at 1pm, except the bar (coffee, juice, alcohol, there are no drinking hotels, no sign of gross drunkenness, at least outdoors) and the restaurants. And then everything is open again at 4pm or maybe a snoozy bit later (and after 5pm in summer) and closes again at 7 or gossips on a bit longer (or at 8 in summer). The gelateria just past the church is there late if we need a little palate cleanser later. But we have failed to adjust to this rhythm, this very sensible business of siesta and revival and going out for the passeggiata in the evening.


This is no great help:

Pocket Oxford Italian Dictionary © 2006 Oxford University Press:

passeggiˡare intransitive verbwalk, stroll
Glen catches it nicely:
in fact, just glimpsing that site now, you can see we are not alone.

We failed in this month to get even the rhythm of the passeggiata. Of course, this has been winter and the fact that it has been quite cold has kept us and locals off the evening streets; now my wretched cold cancels our plans to do the Viterbo passeggiata...
fa niente, possiamo tornare, la lasciamo per un'altra volta.... forse
No matter, we can come back, we can leave that for another time ... perhaps.

We are also very conscious, and this is more important than attachment to a place where we will always be outsiders, we know more about ourselves and about each other from this trip, and we carry away from it not just such a wonderful body of new knowledge but also new eyes to what we have at home and what we can do in our own spaces at home.

Helen had been on a brief visit in the late 70s. I had been here for two years when really very young in 1968-69. It has been wonderful for me to find that naive understorey of understanding has enabled me to be more confident and fluent than before, to slip into so many conversations so easily, to see so much more than then (because I have seen so much more life than then).

For Helen it has also been wonderful, I know, though the language cliff has been enormous, not least coming directly from her management role with ten fleas under ten fingers, as the Chinese would say, back home. For her the adventure has been enhanced by her outings alone, as yesterday to Viterbo, in this non-English-speaking world. I leave it to her to write more - when she may have a chance - but it is evident that she can hear it and say it, even in this place where language is complicated because accents are local and speech interwoven with dialect. (I smiled at the point in Olmi's film where at a local fair an earnest young bearded socialist is giving a speech to a crowd of peasants about the rights of man, in Italian; the film otherwise in Bergamo dialect, full of sloshy sounds and words derived from French.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Viterbo: who needs a museum?

At dinner at their apartment we had said to the owners of this apartment, Noelene and Ian McBride, that we had developed some kind of aversion to Viterbo (20km away, the provincial capital) because we knew nothing of it other than traffic snarls.

"That's what happens to everybody," said Ian. "We are going to London in the afternoon, but we'll take you to Viterbo in the morning." What amazing and lovely people they are. After protestations we accepted. In another life, on another planet called Brisbane, Noelene has retired from lecturing in early childhood education, continues with voluntary roles, Ian still has a veterinary practice. I suppose people focused on small children and small animals should be good with people too, but they also have this extraordinary still-learning love of this area.

So here they are in the Viterbo spring sunshine.

It is a city with a huge history, of which we can only offer fragments.

This below, located on the loggia, at least I think it's a loggia, yes, it's not a portico, in the picture above, is the lid of an Etruscan coffin, the lady in question has her hand around a drinking glass which is not there any more. This is from perhaps (I did not look for detail) 2600 years old. We don't hear much about the Etruscans because they lost to the Romans, after providing the first Roman kings, before Rome became a republic, and the victors write history. Viterbo still offers that sense as in imperial Rome (and imperial Sydney for that matter) that really anything worthwhile is something invented here. Anyway, you get from this image below that life had its comforts a long time ago here. Noting also that the Greeks and Romans were actually scandalised by the Etruscan inclusion of women in events like eating which were meant to be men's business.

Here, not far away, at the entrance to that loggia, are a number of plaques.

This one deserves a doctoral thesis alone. I cannot begin to imagine (nor do I really so wish) all the complicated considerations which led Napoleon III to give Viterbo to the Pope in the latter part of 1860. Click here to know more about this figure in history. Go back in this blog to Buonconvento, south of Siena, to see how close the kingdom of Italy is, in the north, with the vote of Tuscany to join the kingdom. There is another thesis no doubt in how and why this plaque was erected in 1910

... and here next is the 1872 monument to some of those who died for Italian independence from 1848 (when a socialist revolution briefly succeeded in Rome, as in other cities in Italy and Europe)... we know nothing about this generally in Australia, but might here record that Raffaello Carboni of Eureka Stockade fame (not mentioned in Viterbo, this is a minor diversion, scusi) had fled to Melbourne after the collapse of the Roman Republic. It is little known in Australia that after getting off a treason charge for his incitement of the Eureka Stockade events in Ballarat he returned to Italy and had a role of some significance in Italy's reunification, ending his days writing in Naples.

Here, across the Piazza del Plebiscito from the castle where those plaques are located, is the entrance to the Palazzo Governo, of the province.
and here, just a step away, left of photo, photo not knowing its future historical importance, is the door of the Caffe Leonardo, in via San Lorenzo... the bar where I left the car keys not the toilet key on Tuesday!!

and one proceeds through urban beauty

This remarkable little church was site of a major historical event.

Here on the outside wall is a not-easy-to-photograph plaque which records a great and enuring disgrace on the city of Viterbo. Here, on the morning of 12 March 1271, Guido e Simone di Montforte (the brothers Guy and Simon de Montfort) assassinated during Holy Mass none other than Enrico Cornavaglia (Henry of Cornwall, come on pilgrimage to see the pope, then resident in Viterbo). The monstrous nature of the crime was of course that they did it in the church and during the mass! Though if you read how Henry's dad had done in Guy and Simon's dad, and if you care a thought for the fact as the sort of plug-and-play King of England for a bit in the thirteenth century their dad actually convened the first vaguely representative parliament, you might have gone to help. If you wish to understand life in such luscious times, do not fail to read the text at this link. The wars of Murdoch and Berlusconi for the world are but metaphorically to the death ... but such a terrible, terrible punishment for a bloke who wanted a parliament, dirty little socialist.

... and so on through blissful sunshiny streets we proceeded...

Those of you seeking to replace your washing machine consider (this photo leaning over a parapet) the cold springwater Bash'n'Bash system, free replacement workers as and when...

... before entering this delightful piazza before the cathedral.

before having a peek at the place where cardinals met in conclave to select their popes. Indeed, this is where the practise began, and initially disgusted the populace. You can see the holes in the floor where poles were put up to support the tents erected inside for the non-agreeing popes at the first conclave, after the locals ripped the roof off, to tell the cardinals they were fed up with feeding them. The second source of this story, first told to us by Noelene and Ian, is impeccable, to say the least. And hey listen, if you go to the end of the news release at that link you will see that last year the pope went on to Bagnoregio... when we decided just a few minutes that we would go to Bagnoregio today, for less holy purpose! Must fly!!

But, before we fly, here, photo from the piazza outside the cathedral: all please pay homage to another most important historical item in Italian history, the Fiat Cinquecento which brought the postwar nation, riding motorscooters, indoors in the late-1950s and 60s.

Viterbo, before the big report, something special!

Forty years ago I had bought and treasured, through the 1970s until time crashed with their extensive use and they were lost, two cups, two saucers and a sugar bowl of a particularly cheerful kind with simple pattern, at modest price. Looking in windows this time, ceramics have become so much more complex and at times overwhelming. Viterbo is a wealthy and sophisticated city and the shop windows spectacular.

You will understand that we found this window item, after the style of Guiseppe Arcimbaldo, breathtaking but not tempting - there was no urge to ask the price!!! (It's huge, click image to see photo enlarged)

But I had come upon a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop of old stuff with a lovely lovely man in attendance...

and he had almost precisely what I had had, as a sugar bowl, back then; now marked with the price of '5' ($A 7.55). It had a little chip, but no crack, under the edge of the lid.

"E rotto." [It's broken] he said, simply. His style continued as very economical.

"Si," I said, "E rotto ma e poco e fa niente. Ho comprato quasi lo stesso, a Tivoli, quarant'anni fa..." [yes, it's 'broken' but it's a tiny thing, nothing to worry about. I bought almost the same thing in Tivoli forty years ago]

He cut me off with a twinkle and a grin and said quietly "Addesso e rotto." [And now it's broken]. He wrapped my replacement carefully.

... and here it is.

I had not known the meaning of the 'DERUTA' on the bottom of this ware in the past.

Now, thanks to the internet, I know. This is where it is from (click). And you will learn from that web site that this item, rotto or not-o is genuinely Deruta Raffaellesco

Deruta Raffaellesco

The birth and and name of this style can be traced back to Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio). He habitually adorned the borders of his frescoes with symbolic decorations depicting dragons and mythical animals. The craftsmen of the late 16 C copied and adapted these decorations from the engravings of contemporary artists, giving rise to one of the most famous Deruta styles. Today Deruta is still widely identified with this style.

It's interesting that in making the original purchases and in this one, my eye has been on what I had regarded as simple, local craft, not knowing this connection to one of the greats. It is all reflective of the complexity and attention of the Italian eye; the greats are interwoven with the everyday. Eric Newby writes, as I read again last night, regarding the difficulty if one escaped from a prisoner of war camp in Italy, of fooling Italians compared with Germans.

"The Italians are fascinated by minutiae of dress and the behaviour of their fellow men, perhaps to a greater degree than almost any other race in Europe, and the ingenious subterfuges and disguises which escaping prisoners of war habitually resorted to and which were often enough to take in Germans [long list omitted] ... were hardly ever sufficiently genuine-looking to fool even the most myopic Italian ticket collector and get the owner past the barrier, let alone survive the scrutiny of the occupants of a compartment on an Italian train."

Eric Newby, Love and War in the Apennines, Picador Edition 1983, p 31

Yes, as now we are observed daily intently, curiously, not unkindly, except in the tourism-shark pools. Not obviously as in China, gawking; not never-looking, as in Japan, here with some kind of social intent as well as measure, it seems.

Part of the interaction, as part of establishing 'where can this relationship go' in fact (push the limit in more ways than in the manufacture of ceramic turkeys), as yesterday, in our third visit to our local, the Tre Scalini restaurant, when with the very smart, 40 something, practical shirt-sleeved proprietor we had been discussing ingredients and he had picked from an empty plate a rosemarino twig, and was commenting on the use of rosemary in many dishes and I ventured the beginning of a sentence, "tutto il mondo e rosemarino" [all the world is rosemary, which is so in Rome-region cooking] and he cut me off and launched into a love song beginning "tutto il mondo.." closing his eyes, open arms; opening them, he saw my extended-arm rapture and he danced off down the side of the restaurant, singing and pirouetting, to a point when, near the kitchen corner he fell into an arms-extended-to-me pose, now with everyone looking, so then, feigning embarrassment, he looked in all directions. I called gently "Dopo, dopo!" [Later, later] and he jumped with feigned delight and disappeared into the kitchen.

There is an interwovenness of colour and taste and life and fun and image; food, life; music, life; art, the art of life ... and love, you can't walk the Italian street and not know love.

The graffito below is near our front door:
"AMORE TI ASPETTO" = "My love, I am waiting for you"
Yes there are more words, now obscured,
beginning "TRA" = "between"