May 24 2018

Hosting the Italians: Part III of III

porticos in Bologna, Italia

Hosting the Italians: Part III of III

(Read Part II here.)

I.

So the gang got back to Austin early Saturday afternoon, their bellies full of eclairs and kolaches and peach cobbler from die gut Volk aus (“the good folks of”) Fredericksburg. Once everything was unloaded, David and Dyhana went back to their place to rest for the afternoon, while Cosimo, Chiara, and Scott did the same at the home of the latter.

Later that evening I went to Scott’s to see everyone. Our friend Calvin (a.k.a. DJ Cal Cutta) had also stopped by. Cal was instrumental in originally introducing Cosimo to Scott––some five years ago on an internet radio show that he hosted and both Scott and Cosimo performed on. I hadn’t seen Calvin in several years, so it was an interesting reunion all around. For our entire relationship with our Italian acquaintances originated in the celebration and composition of music.

Later that night, which was both St. Patrick’s Day and the penultimate night of SXSW 2018, all of us (Cosimo and Chiara, David and Dyhana, and Scott and Ciera) went downtown for the Holodeck records show at Central Presbyterian Church at the corner of Eighth St. and Brazos. This was a somewhat unusual venue, but the church has been hosting SXSW events for the last several years. No alcohol was served, though I saw some vitamin-fortified water and granola bars available at the concession stand near the church’s portico.

At about 10:00 that night we sat in the sanctuary on crimson cushioned pews and, though we were too late to see our friend VVV’s show, we got to see a performance by another friend, Dylan Cameron. I’d seen him deejay aplenty––and, incidentally, both he and I have fathers who are musicians––but this was my first time seeing him exclusively play his own produced work.

Just before the show began social media addiction triggered me to tag my location. Next thing I knew, an old acquaintance from a disbanded book club I used to attend seated himself nearby. He said he saw my post, that he was already downtown and was “looking for something to do for South-by.”


II.

Alas, it’s impossible to not be abstract when writing about music.[1] Overall Dylan’s performance of (what I would call) electronic impressionism was technically precise, but not so exacting as to sacrifice organic emotion. Regardless of whether the electronic instrumentation was analog or digital, the mood his music conveyed was authentic, not artificial. Psychologically, the tone proved utterly true, not just a dim clang of mere “truthiness.”

The acoustics in the church were outstanding, probably due to the woodwork on the walls where laser beams flickered, flashed, and burst against the shadows of the sanctuary. This was accompanied by a mellow aurora seeping in through the stained-glass windows that surrounded us—windows illuminated that evening from outside the church walls by Austin’s downtown nightlife.

It all reminded me of the great German writer Goethe (1749–1832) who once recalled that both music and architecture can charm in the same way.[2] Thinking along similar lines as Goethe, the socialite Madame de Staël (1766–1817) once remarked that “architecture reminds me of frozen music.”[3] Or, to bring the conversation closer to home, one could compare a line from the novel The Big Road (1931) by Texas writer Ruth Cross (1887–1981), when her character of David realizes that “music was a sort of cathedral.”[4]

III.

After the show we talked to Dylan (and his companion, the voluptuous Vi) for a few minutes. But it was approaching midnight, and with the inebriated city crowds participating in both St. Paddy’s Day and SXSW, we all knew we needed to get out of the downtown area as soon as possible. Traffic was beginning to clog near Congress Avenue. The crowd was beginning to roar, approaching full climax. Recalling that moment, I’m again reminded of Goethe:

I don’t pretend to be a great actor or a great singer. But this I do know: when music accompanies bodily movements, enlivening and at the same time controlling them, and the manner of delivery and the expression needed are indicated to me by the musical composer, then I am a totally different person from when I have to create these for myself, as I have to in a spoken drama, inventing my own tempo, my own manner of speaking, and always liable to be disturbed in this by my fellow actors.[5]


We were all muttering to one another about where we should go next to get a drink and some food when I was suddenly put on the spot:

“Christopher Landrum, you know this town better than anybody—why don’t you tell us where to go?” says Scott in a tone that was both asking and assertive.

So I shrugged my shoulders, did my best “awe shucks” gesture, and suggested going to Mr. Tramps––a self-described “sports pub and café” in our old neighborhood (that is, Scott, David, Dyhana, and my old neighborhood) in north Austin. A place well away from the chaos of the final hours of the music festival that was unfolding downtown.

At Mr. Tramps we had pizza and drinks. We also saw our mutual friend James, who is also a musician in a couple of bands who play things in the key of classical punk.

IV.

The next day, Sunday March 18, Cosimo and Chiara shopped around Austin (including the novel experiences of strolling down the aisles of Walmart and Ross). Then we all said our temporary goodbyes as they prepared for their drive to New York. By March 22 they would be on their way home to Italy.

Yes, temporary, because we all intend to see them again someday soon. And when we do, we shall share even more stories and music with one another.

NOTES

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[1] Perhaps similar to a passage from by Texas writer Ruth Cross:

These stories possessed her by night…. Sometimes the people in the story did one thing, sometimes another. But a few basic scenes persisted, and these she told over and over to herself, like variations on a beautiful theme in music. Only she didn’t know much about music, except that it was supreme—even over books. It could say what it wanted, straight and sure, without getting itself blunted and deflected and lost in words. (The Golden Cocoon, (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1924) II, 10.)

[2] Goethe writes: “A heavenly music which issued from the building charmed me still more than this pattern of architecture,” in Aus Meinem Leben: Dichtung und Wahrheit (Poetry and Truth from My Own Life) (1811–1830), trans. R. O. Moon, (Washington, D. C.: Public Affairs Press, 1949). II, p. 43.

[3] Quoted from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks, eds. William H. Gilman et al, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1960–82).  Vol. IV (1832–1834), Journal Q, September 14, 1832, [p. 55], p. 40. Emerson is quoting Corinne, ou lItalie, (1807) Bk. IV, ch. 3… [Editor’s note:] “In 1834 Emerson traced the origins of this phrase much further. See p. 337, n. 250 below [ibid].”

[4] Cross, The Big Road, (New York: Longmans, Green & Co, 1931) I, xvi, 66.

[5] Goethe, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meisters Apprenticeship) (1795–96) ed. and trans. Eric A. Blackall, (New York: Suhrkamp Publishers, 1983) II, xii, 74.


Apr 13 2018

Hosting the Italians: Part I of III

Mortadella in Bologna, Italia

Hosting the Italians: Part I of III

It’s been two years since Scott and I traveled to Italy to meet Cosimo and Chiara, and now, they were coming to meet us in Austin. We expected them to arrive sometime Saturday, March 10, 2018. So that afternoon I went over to Scott’s house in Pflugerville. We were a little anxious and a lot excited: anxious because we’d been so well-hosted in Bologna and Rome that we felt obligated to return the generosity; excited because we were enjoying good springtime weather and we’d taken off from work for the next several days. In other words, this would be a vacation for both of us, but one with responsibilities.

Cosimo and Chiara flew directly from Rome to Los Angeles. They said it took about fifteen hours. For a couple of days they toured L.A. and Vegas, then began working their way east from the Grand Canyon through New Mexico and eventually to Amarillo. There they saw the Cadillac Ranch (I think) and ate slabs of steak from the world-famous Big Texan Steak Ranch restaurant.

They texted us once they left Amarillo on their journey to Austin. But by that time the weariness of road travel had become burdensome. For not only did Cosimo and Chiara have (quite expected) jetlag from Italy to California, but as they began their trek across the Great American West, they had forgotten to account for the time zone changes occurring across the continent. In addition, they were unaware that that particular Saturday night was the Day Light Savings change-over. Talk about a triple-whammy.

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As Saturday afternoon turned into evening, Scott and I decided to watch The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), which is an Italian-made film starring American actors and shot in rural Spain. Before we knew it, we were approaching the end of this three-hour flick but were still awaiting the arrival of our guests. I told Scott that I expected “time had caught up with them,” and just before I left to go home for the evening, we received a text message saying they had driven from Amarillo to Brownwood but were going to stay there for the night. Having traveled half-way across the continent, followed by driving half-way across Texas––and all in the last 48 hours––we were not surprised.

 

So the next day we met them at Baby Acapulco’s in Pflugerville for a Tex-Mex lunch, one that lasted a few hours as we all conversed and caught up together. Scott’s friend Ciera also came and met everyone. Then we all went to Scott’s and helped them unpack and unwind.

That evening Scott said something to our guests like: “There’s lots of good food and restaurants here I want to show you, but there’s also good fast food,” so we went and picked up fried chicken from Raising Cain’s.

Later that night we went downtown to the intersection of Fifth St. and Congress Ave. where at the Ethics Lounge was an electronic music show, an event that was part of kicking off the South by Southwest 2018 music festival. Here we saw DJ-producers 6Blocc of Los Angeles and Von D of France, both of whom Scott and Cosimo were familiar with. Other than the elevator at the club not working, it was a great night.

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(Cosimo, Scott, Von D, and our friend Adam B)

Bologna is considered the food capital of Italy, and when we were their guests, Cosimo and Chiara treated Scott and me to some of the best food to be found in both Bologna and Rome. We therefore wanted them to try some of the best in Texas cuisine. Part of that meant taking them, along with Ciera, and my extended family David and Dyhana Landrum, to Storm’s Drive-in Restaurant in Lampasas, my hometown. A place with food so good that, back in the 1950’s, Elvis used to frequent it when he was an army draftee stationed at nearby Fort Hood. Today it remains just as much a culinary pilgrimage as it was back then for the King.

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(Dyhana, Chiara, Scott, David, Cosimo at Storm’s)

After lunch we went to the Landrum family farm, now called Finca de la Luna, where under sunny skies we inspected the vineyard, played with the dogs, drank some wine and Topo Chico mineral water, and listened to guineas meep and beep in the farmyard. At one point some homemade wine was brought out. It was negroamaro, a couple of years old. Cosimo was quite impressed. For though he is not a heavy wine drinker, he really enjoyed his glass, said it reminded him of Salento, his hometown in southern Italy—in the region where negroamaro originates. It was as if our two hometowns were united with this wine, for recalling this memory and writing about it now reminds me of a passage by the Southern writer Harry Crews (1935–2012):

I come from people who believe the home place is as vital and necessary as the beating of your own heart. It is that single house where you were born, where you lived out your childhood, where you grew into young manhood. It is your anchor in the world, that place, along with the memory of your kinsmen at the long supper table every night and the knowledge that it would always exist, if nowhere but in memory.
(A Childhood: the Biography of a Place, (New York: Harper & Row, 1978) 13–14.)

At some point later in the evening we were discussing burlesque dancing while Cosimo played piano. Despite everyone keeping their clothes on, it was still a fun night.

(At Finca de la Luna)

On the way back to Austin, Cosimo played a CD my father had given him of his punk rock band, Skull Shaker. The album had just been released during the South by Southwest music festival. Scott said they listened to it several times, so I assume they enjoyed it (we were in separate cars).

The next day I had to return to work, so what follows was told to me, though I did not experience it: that is, on Tuesday, March 13 Scott took Cosimo and Chiara to Lockhart. Scott’s mother Corally as well as David and Dyhana, also came along. After driving for about an hour south of Austin they arrived at the house of Scott’s grandmother. Scott’s grandmother, a.k.a. “Mom-maw” Ridge, proceeded to give everyone a short lesson on the history of Texas. Afterwards everyone ate lunch at Smitty’s Market, considered one of the best barbeque joints in Texas (and the world for that matter). They ate brisket, sausage, and pork chops, with Big Red soda to wash it down.

That afternoon they went to visit Scott’s uncle, who has a nearby ranch. There they explored the land on ATVs. Upon returning to Austin, they stopped by Whole Foods and grabbed a bunch of things to prepare a meal at home. After five hours of preparation and cooking, everyone was treated to some authentic Bolognese style pasta with sauce, a soufflé, and cauliflower cheese casserole. It was a terrific meal, but one that could not eaten and enjoyed until about 1:30 in the morning.

(Read Part II here.)

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(Big Red at Smitty’s Market, Lockhart, Texas)


Jun 2 2016

Adventure Italia: Days 8 1/2 and 9 of 9

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Adventure Italia: Days 8 1/2 and 9 of 9

Day 8 ½

On our eighth day we left Roma in the late afternoon and arrived in Firenze (Florence) sometime after dark, maybe nine or ten. Here Chiara and Cosimo surprised Scott and me by driving up a hill on the south side of the Arno River called the Piazzala Michelangelo—a piazza that overlooks all of Florence and has copies of some of Michelangelo’s works, including a bronze David statue that is perhaps a fourth the size of the original marble. We took pictures, drank water and beer, and ate some pizza we had brought with us from Roma. We got back to Bologna around midnight.

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(Piazzala Michelangelo at night)

Day 9

We mostly packed for home and took it easy on our last day in Italia, but in the afternoon we went to the local grocery store to get some things for dinner. I was surprised at how the layout felt so similar to any grocery store in the States. Same lights, floors, baskets, checkout procedures.

We had a little going away party that night. Tosco came, along with Cosimo’s friend and Scott’s acquaintance, Raffaele, and another fellow musician named Domenico, who was from Crotone. We drank beer, played music from phones and 45s (the gang introduced us to the subgenre of Italo Disco), ate a roast wrapped in hog-jowl prosciutto which was then surrounded by dough (cooked together almost like a pot pie) with fried potatoes and bufala balls on the side.

(an example of Italo Disco)

It was all very bon voyage and bon appetite.

What moved me was the thought that this Florence which I could see, so near and yet inaccessible, in my imagination…. [Venice and Florence] became even more real to me when my father, by saying: “Well, you can stay in Venice from the 20th to the 29th, and reach Florence on Easter morning,” made them both emerge, no longer only from the abstraction of Space, but from that imaginary Time in which we place not one, merely, but several of our travels at once, which do not greatly tax us since they are but possibilities,—that Time which reconstructs itself so effectively that one can spend it again in one town after one has already spent it in another—and consecrated to them some of those actual, calendar days which are certificates of the genuineness of what one does on them, for those unique days are consumed by being used, they do not return, one cannot live them again here when one has lived them elsewhere.

––Proust[1]

(Read “Adventure Italia: Days 6, 7, and 8 of 9″ here.)

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[1] Proust, À la recherche du temps perdu. (In Search of Lost Time.) Vol. I. Du côté de chez Swann. (Swann’s Way.) § “Place Names: The Name.”


May 24 2016

Adventure Italia: Days 6, 7, and 8 of 9

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Adventure Italia: Days 6, 7, and 8 of 9

The places that we have known belong now only to the little world of space on which we map them for our own convenience.

––Proust[1]

Day 06

In the late afternoon we head south to Rome. In Florence, we encounter a major traffic jam on the A1 Highway, forcing us to detour over some back roads through Tuscany. We stop somewhere in a village south of Florence and have salami sandwiches, a bottle of Chianti, lemoncello. Some kids hear us speak English, so they rush up to our table to ask how one says “ciao” in the Anglo-Saxon tongue.

Driving past two men scuffling on a sidewalk, Cosimo points at them and says, “If you see people fighting in Rome, they’re most likely British.” (And they did look British.) We had entered Rome sometime around one a.m., and after our four–five hour drive, Scott is a little car sick, so he doesn’t see the couple kissing in Piazza della Rotonda. Chiara’s mother Rita comes out to greet us and says in a matter-of-fact, dry manner: “Welcome to the Pantheon.”

An interesting day: breakfast in Bologna, late lunch in Tuscany, dinner in Rome (cold homemade eggplant pasta, freshly sliced strawberries, breads and cheeses (including gorgonzola) I believe).

Day 07

Rome has been in the tourist business for over two millennia, so it’s no surprise that I wake up in this city and–as our accommodations overlooked the Piazza della Rotondato and Pantheon–hear someone playing Leonard Coen’s “Hallelujah” (1984),  then Ennio Morricone’s theme to “Once Upon a Time in the West” (1969), then Nino Rota’s theme to the “Godfather” (1972).

Our excursion begins after some coffee and pastries. First, the Pantheon: a Roman Temple built by Hadrian in the second century and now a consecrated church that holds, among other things, the tomb of composer Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713) as well as the crypt of painter Raphael Sanzio da Urbino (1483–1520).

Next, Basilica di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, consecrated in 1370, a church which immediately faces the southeast side of the Pantheon. Once inside we find that we happen to arrive at the right moment to see light shine through stained glass and illuminate the Madonna and Child Giving Blessings (1449) by Benozzo Gozzoli (1421–1497). Outside Sopra Minerva in the piazza stands a plinth holding an elephant that on its back supports an Egyptian obelisk. This is the Obelisco della Minerva, sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680).

We then stroll a few blocks westward into the massive Piazza Navona––full of tourists, music, fountains and food. And, at some point we make our way to La Casa Del Caffe Tazza D’oro on Via dei Pastini and Via degli Orfani: a shop, according to Cosimo, considered by the native Romans to be one of the best places in the city for coffee.

At evening we eat pizza at Al Forno della Soffitta near the corner of Via Augusto Valenziani and Via Piave. We are served appetizers of fried mashed potato balls, onion rings, olives stuff with prosciutto then fried like jalapeño poppers here in the States (except that all were battered in flour). Then, each of us is presented with an eighteen-inch pizza. All the pizzas have mozzarella, some with bufala (mozzarella made from buffalo milk). Scott’s is topped only with bufala and prosciutto. We are slightly mocked by our hosts for our slow intake of such fine cuisine. “You certainly don’t eat like Americans,” says one.

After the pizza, we settle our stomachs via vehicular sightseeing: in the warm, Roman night we see the Coliseum, the Bocca della Verità (which I knew only from watching a scene in Roman Holiday), then the Basilica Papale di San Pietro (St. Peter’s Basilica) and the entrance to Vatican City, Trajan’s Column and later the Column of Marcus Aurelius. We also see the Italian Supreme Court building and the Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio (Church of the Scared Heart of Jesus in Prati) whose neogothic architecture stands out in contrast to its more classical surroundings.

(Bocca della Verità from Roman Holiday (1953))

Our night ends with a walk to the Trevi Fountain (which I knew only from watching a scene in La Dolce Vida). Here many late-night tourists take selfies, American frat boys wearing NBA jerseys chug wine from bottles tightly clenched, as Roman police supervise everyone and seagulls flying overhead and bathing in the fountain before us. We throw in coins, make wishes, and are now obliged to one day return to Roma.

(Trevi Fountain La Dolce Vida (1960))

Day 08

After celebrating a birthday brunch for Chiara’s mom Signora Rita with risotto, pasta, roasted chicken, pastries, cake, coffee, Chianti, bitters, we drive back to Bologna—but not before picking up some Roman pizza for the road (possibly from Pizza Zazà off of Piazza di Sant’Eustachio but I can’t remember exactly).

Too much to tell…. words only fail…. One could live in Rome for two lifetimes and still not have time to explore it all…. I need someone from Bologna who has written about Rome…. I need to imbibe Bolognese composer Ottorino Respighi (1879–1936) and absorb his symphonic poem “Pines of Rome” that those notes transposed might transcend and further ferment understanding my initial experience of the Eternal City.

(Respighi’s Pines of Rome (1924))

(Read “Adventure Italia: Days 4 and 5 of 9″ here.)

NOTES

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[1] Proust, Marcel. À la recherche du temps perdu. (In Search of Lost Time.) Vol. I. Du côté de chez Swann. (Swann’s Way.) Translated by Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff and Terrence Kilmartin. § “Place Names: The Name.”


May 17 2016

5 Things to Read for Tuesday

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5 Things to Read for Tuesday

From the looks of these first three links, it appears the New York Review of Books is celebrating things Italia this month:

  1. Andrew Butterfield writes on some Botticelli exhibits in Berlin: “Botticelli: Love, Wisdom, Terror,” May 26, 2016.
  2. Tim Parks writes on “How Italy Improved My English,” May 10, 2016.
  3. Matt Donovan discovers that tourists used to climb the Pantheon in “Climbing the Eye of God,” May 13, 2016.
  4. Sam Jordison of The Guardian writes about Delillo’s work, both old and new, in “White Noise is an outsider’s look inside small-town Americana,” May 17, 2016.
  5. Sarah Boxer of The Atlantic has an article “Reading Proust on My Cellphone,” June 2016.

 


May 9 2016

Adventure Italia: Days 4 & 5 of 9

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Adventure Italia: Days 4 & 5 of 9

Day 04

Running through Bologna is Piazza Malpighi, a major roadway named for hometown scholar Marcello Malpighi (1628–1694), the “father of microscopical anatomy, histology, physiology and embryology.” Our host Cosimo had to finish mastering a song with his friend Tosco today (a song for an advertisement for which they’d already been paid), so while they were working in the early afternoon, Scott and I were let loose to explore downtown Bologna. We were dropped off at the corner of Piazza Malpighi and Piazza San Francesco, just in front of the thirteenth-century Basilica di San Francesco, the Due Torri (“Two Towers”) ever-hovering overhead.

Walking through the touristy district of Bologna near the base of the Two Towers, at the corner of Vicolo Ranocchi (“Frog Alley”) and Via degli Orefici (“Street of Goldsmiths”), Scott and I each had a slice of pizza and a beer at a café called Forno Quadrilatero (“Quadrilateral Oven”)

We next decided to try some mortadella (real bologna) at another café on Via degli Orefici called Loste. Here we had another round of beers, and the mortadella served two ways: first, cooked in and served with beans; next, sliced and stacked on pieces of bread.

It was about time to meet back at Cosimo’s apartment, so Scott and I tried to find our way back without getting lost. Just as we arrived at the correct building we saw Cosimo, Tosco, and another Giovanni (whose stage name is “Kappasaur”) laughing under the porticos. We all walked together for a few blocks till arriving at Via dell’Orso (“Bear Street”). Our companions were hungry, so Scott and I watched the trio eat American style fast food in a place called simply “Chicken Taste,” owned and operated by Asian subcontinentals.

After they finished their dinner, we walked about a block to the corner of Via dell’Indipendenza and Via dei Falegnami (“Street of Carpenters”) where we sat at an outdoor table and had a glass of red wine, possibly at Piadineria Wine Bar. We then headed home for the evening.

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(more downtown Bologna)

Day 05

At brunch we were all too busy talking to each other to notice that the toast in the oven had started to burn. So after eating up and cleaning up and airing out Scott and Cosimo went to his music studio to work on a new track they later tentatively titled “Burnt Bread.” I worked on my novel while they composed.

Chiara’s car had been making a strange noise, and she wanted it diagnosed before our upcoming trip to Rome, so that afternoon we went beyond Bologna to the village/suburb of Calcara to see a Moroccan mechanic with whom they were acquainted. There we walked around for a few blocks in the suburb before the mechanic decided the noise was nothing important. As we were leaving, he asked Cosimo if I spoke French, perhaps because the straw hat I wore was banded with a tricolor of red, white, and blue.

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(blooming succulents in Calcara)

From Calcara we returned to Bologna, drove past the Ducati factory, and made our way to what Cosimio and Chiara described as the best restaurant for Bolognese cuisine in Bologna, Nonna Rosa Trattoria. The four of us shared three courses. The first was a platter with a soft cheese (similar, but not as tart as sour cream), sliced mortadella, fried bread, and a cooked vegetable root similar to onions, leeks perhaps. Second course was tortellini; third was fried pork chops topped with prosciutto and cheese. Desert was torta di mele, an apple pastry served over mascarpone. We finished this off with coffee some lemoncello.

Arriving home around 12:00 a.m., Cosimo suggested visiting a nearby record store, just off Via Sante Vincenzi, that sometimes holds late night listening parties. Here at a place called Mint Sound we listened to records and were served a glass of complementary white wine. Evidently Mint Sound has only recently opened, and the store had made a marketing deal with a local winemaker to where the winemaker made a limited number of bottles with the record store’s logo printed on the label. These limited bottles were then served to guests at the listening parties.

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(late night listening at Mint Sound)

Instead of white wine, Cosimo had coffee (because he was driving). The coffee must’ve been strong, because after leaving the record store Cosimo,  in a kind of manic euphoria, drove Scott and me around for another hour or so, through the hills surrounding Bologna, finding panoramic points from which we could see the entire city, sometimes up to three-hundred meters below. Atop one of the higher hills sits the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca (or “San Luca” for short), which was spectacularly lit at night (the moon was big and bright and crescent), and this special high spot can generally be seen from any point down below in Bologna. Or as Cosimo put it: “You know you’re home in Bologna when you can see San Luca.”

It was either very late or very early when we got home, took tea, and took to bed.

(Read “Adventure Italia: Day 3 of 9″ here.)


May 5 2016

Adventure Italia: Day 3 of 9

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Adventure Italia: Day 3 of 9

Because Cosimo had errands to run this morning, and Chiara had class, I had the privilege of making coffee for the first time while (being?) in Italy. Scott and I sipped coffee and surfed internet throughout the morning in our hosts’ Bolognese apartment—then, we ate some breakfast (mostly buttered toast, olive jam, parmigiana).

That afternoon the four of us drove for about an hour northward to the small city of Comacchio (pop. 23,000), situated in the Po River Delta region of Italy’s northeast coast. Parts of the drive were over the Via Aemilia (an ancient Roman road completed in 187 BC).

Comacchio is surrounded by a lagoon, where the Reno River empties into the Adriatic Sea. The day was ending as we arrived at the lagoon, then, drove down a peninsula with a dirt road that had fishermen’s shanties lining both sides. From here we bird watched. As the sun set we saw flamingos, ibises, ducks, pheasants, and other fowl we could not identify. There were also literal clouds of mosquitoes—Comacchio used to have a malaria problem––so we stayed in the car while we watched the birds.

Later we drove from one side of the lagoon to the other, that is, to where the actual town of Comacchio sits, that is, at the corner of Croso Garibaldi and Via Rosario, where we had a 9:00 p.m. seafood dinner at a restaurant called Al Cantion. The atmosphere inside was both elegant and casual. Interesting old photos of life in Comacchio dotted the walls, with a large portrait of Sophia Loren hung high on the center wall opposite the entrance. In 1954 Loren starred in La donna del fiume (The River Girl), a movie that was filmed in Comacchio, and the town, quite understandably, seems never to have gotten over her.

Translating the menu was the largest language difficulty we encountered on our trip. I had a platter of fried fish and shrimp, Scott a clam and pasta dish. I think the four of us split a half bottle of pinot grigio.

After dinner we walked around the town, which was still and quiet after 10:00. We saw the Trepponti (Three Point) bridge built in 1638—a three-part bridge that connects the city’s various streets stretching over canals (canals which are not quite as large as those in Venice, but impressive nonetheless).

As we drove back to Bologna, we played different songs for each other from Cosimo’s phone. Scott and I introduced our hosts to Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again,” and Willie and Merle’s cover of Guy Forsyth’s “Poncho and Lefty,” as well as Kool and the Gang’s “Summer Madness.” Cosimo later cued up “I Can’t Tell You Why” by the Eagles and told us about some remix ideas he had for this song.

(Kool and the Gang’s song Summer Madness)

Then, around 1:00 a.m., on our return to Bologna we stopped (almost suddenly) in the middle of a small city. Cosimo started asking a bystander  directions about touring around town. The whole conversation was in Italian, but Cosimo later related some of the details to us: he had started by asking the bystander something like, “Hey, I’m from Bologna, do you know where we can walk around and tour the town etc.?” and the bystander immediately responded, almost in jest, “If you’re from Bologna, why don’t you speak with a Bolognese accent?” (because Cosimo is originally from southern Italy), to which our host responds: “Ah, come on man, help me out, I’m just trying to show the sights to these Texans here in the car with me.”

At the mention of “Texans” the bystander immediately perked up his shoulders and looked in the back of the vehicle at Scott and me, as if we were exotic animals being transported to the zoo.

The little city we began exploring in the wee morning hours was Ferrara (pop. 133,000). It’s a university town, and even after 1:00 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, there were plenty of students still in the streets. Among other things we saw were the twelfth century moated castle Castello Estense, the tenth century Ferrara Cathedral, the Piazza Savonarola and its statue of hometown book-burner and excommunicant Girolamo Savonarola (1452–1498) as well as the façade to the entrance of Ferrara Synagogue that included a plaque of the 96 names of Jewish citizens of Ferrara whom Fascists sent to the camps near World War II’s close.

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(random façade in Ferrara)

Comacchio was cool and Ferrara was fun. (I’m definitely ready to go back.) We got home around 3:00 or 4:00 a.m., had some tea, watched some videos on YouTube then went to bed.

(Read “Adventure Italia: Days 4 & 5 of 9″ here.)

(Read “Adventure Italia: Day 2 0f 9″ here.)

 


Apr 26 2016

Adventure Italia: Day 1 of 9

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Adventure Italia: Day 1 of 9

After leaving Austin, Texas at 4:30 p.m. on a Saturday, we arrived in Bologna, Italy around 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. Our host Cosimo was waiting to pick us up. He lives about ten minutes from the airport, so after a short drive we were at his apartment. There we met his girlfriend Chiara and had some late afternoon snacks (almonds and spicy chip-cracker things) along with coffee.

We went out later that night, probably around 8:00 or 9:00, to meet some of Cosimo’s friends: Tosco “The Tuscan” and Giovanni, “the Yugoslavian,” who isn’t really Yugoslavian. We met them at a café on the corner of Via del Partello and Via Paradiso, just across from the Tribunale per i minorenni di Bologna (the juvenile court of Bologna). The entire length of the street of Via del Partello appeared to be located in a bar district with lots of foot traffic. The cafe served pizza and craft beer.

Tosco and Giovanni were not impressed by either the beer or the pizza. And soon enough I spilled the first half of my second beer on the last slices of pizza; so we finished our grub and moved on.

Giovanni said something like: “Texas, eh? Tony Lama boots, right?” and I replied with something like: “Yeah, those are the Gucci of cowboy boots.”

We made our way down Via del Partello for a few blocks until its intersection with Via San Rocco. Here we entered a techno music club–combination record store called Quattro Quarti (Four-by-Four).

I tried ordering a beer at the club, but it was cash only and I had yet to exchange any dollars for euros. So I thanked the bartender but declined the drink, then, about five minutes later, the bartender enters the dance floor (where I was standing, not dancing), hands me a free beer. Cosimo says: “It’s probably because you’re a tourist.”

Later at that same club we were all given a glass of champagne by one of a group of folks celebrating someone’s birthday. We were also offered a spliff outside the club, and later walking home Cosimo noted that, in terms of the crowd and enthusiasm at club Quattro Quarti, tonight was exceptionally festive.

We got home around two or three in the morning, and began a pattern of ending each evening (or morning) in Italy with a cup of tea.

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(club Quattro Quarti)

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(Vinyl from Quattro QuartiI don’t remember a suicide scene in “Rocky”)

 (Read “Adventure Italia: Day 2 of 9″ here)