Monthly Archives: August 2018

This and that from re Thai r ment, by 3Th. 28 Shadow 0007 (July 18, 2018)

 

The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that, “My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
~~Isaac Isimov (1980)

 

 

 

TODAY FROM ITALY:

 
A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN SICILY — GETTING THERE IS HALF THE FUN:

 

Following a delightful breakfast of coffee, brioche and a fried egg with pepper chips, we set off to Cosenza and the train station. After a series of the usual misadventures and annoyances, I boarded the train to Sicily. It was the same cattle car I remember from years ago when I used to take the dolorous train from Sicily to Rome, a train carrying the impoverished Sicilians to jobs in the North (Sicilian Il Norte) — standing room only for the 13-hour trip. This time there were no impoverished workers going north, but many not particularly impoverished people going south for whatever reason. Passengers still were standing in the aisles and sitting on one another’s laps. My reserved seat was among a group of young women and families going somewhere in the same direction I was. They did not appreciate my expropriation of the seat one member of the group occupied. She then continued the trip sitting in the lap of an older man accompanying them or walking up and down the aisles.

I was also disturbed by the loud braying voice of one of the men traveling with that particular group. I could not make up my mind if he was a “cafone” ( loud, ignorant and oblivious) or “pazzo” (crazy). I decided it was a little bit of both. Even those traveling with him seemed to either humor or ignore him. When the women next to me left the train at Messina, I moved into her seat by the window. He sat down next to me and began to fling his arms about, pester me with questions and opinions and generally acted grievously obnoxious. I seriously considered braining him with my cane. But, long checkered experience in dealing with situations like this has taught me to act like I understand nothing about the language, am old and feeble and a little bit addled and confused (which is not too hard to do at my age). Inevitably, they either give up in frustration or some woman comes to my aid and drives them off. It happened like that here. The women in the group began to yell at him and told him to stop bothering me. The high point of the trip other than when he got off the train was the crossing of the Straits of Messina on the train ferry.

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Scylla and Charybdis. (The Straits of Messina)

 

The trains were decoupled and stacked into the hold of the ferry. We disembarked the train and climbed to the top decks where we could sit, walk around, buy snacks and enjoy the half hour or so trip across the straits.

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The train ferry.

 

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Messina.
We disembarked at Messina. They reassembled the cars into several trains depending on their destination. Ours set out for Catania. Along the way, we passed Taormina and Mt, Etna blowing out smoke from its caldera.

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Mt. Etna.

 

I changed trains at Catania, boarding one for Caltanissetta where I expected to change trains once again to take me to my final destination, Canicatti the ancestral home of my mother’s family. Unfortunately, after arriving at Caltanissetta, while attempting to read the train schedule to find out from which track my connection would leave even though there was only one other train at the station, that train, my connection, left with me running after it banging at the side of the cars until it left me standing at the end of the platform forlorn and alone as the train disappeared into the distance.

I was truly alone and forlorn when I realized I was not at the train station in downtown Caltanissetta as I had thought, but in an almost derelict and abandoned station far out in the countryside at the end of an unpaved and weed overgrown dead end road — and the night was descending. It seems that that station was used only for passengers to disembark from the express train to Palermo and catch the now departed train to Caltanissetta Central and Canicatti. So I called up Antonio and asked him to come and save me. He good-naturedly agreed and explained it would take at least 45 minutes for him to get there. So, I stood there in the gloom and watched hoards of swallow type birds flitter through the sky in search of those insects who dare to come out at dusk, while a hawk sat calmly on a phone wire contemplating tonight’s dinner. A group of young men arrived driving a truck containing a jitney type vehicle in the back, They met some other men who came from somewhere I did not notice although one drove up in an old car with cardboard covering a broken window. They took the jitney down from the truck bed and began pushing it up a hill toward an abandoned building. The jitney got away from them and began rolling down the hill sending the men running in every direction. It then tipped over and skidded to the bottom of the hill. I thought I was watching a Buster Keaton silent film. They then all stood around — wondering what to do, I guess. I never found out what happened next because Antonio arrived and drove me to his home.

During the ride, I noticed much of the highway between Caltanissetta and Canicatti that they had been building two or three years ago when I had last been here has been completed. It is exceptionally lavish. Where it is not elevated it is tunneled. To construct the tunnels they first tear down the hill. Then they build the tunnel. Then they put the hill back on top of the tunnel. I’m not kidding.

When I first arrived in Sicily, now about 50 years ago, although the modern technology of the time, telephone, automobiles, television and the like had been well established but much of the social life of the people remained medieval — Marriages were arranged, dowries negotiated, crime of honor legal and common, crime organized, autocrats vicious, noble families if not admired then respected and government remote and rapacious. It was a place for travelers, not tourists, for those that traveled with no schedules expecting discomfort, not those with schedules, sights to see and an expectation of basic comforts. Yet, despite their suspicion of strangers, the people were welcoming when that suspicion waned, the food good, the wines better and the climate benign.

Since then, most of that has changed, the young are more independent (although my female cousins, PHDs all, will not leave the island even for brief periods without their mother’s consent), suspicion lessened, crime diminished, noble families dispersed and the government still corrupt but no longer remote. The food has not yet been completely homogenized to suit the food production industry and the wines are perhaps even better and while tourism has become accepted, old historical sights cleaned up and new ones developed, it is still not as easy to get around, make schedules and enjoy pure luxury (Taormina and a few other places accepted — but it was always like that). On the other hand, there are few places that afford the wanderer such a variety of experience, even ones that are not so good but, on the other hand, rarely so bad either.

My visits to Canicatti and to Antonio’s house are neither as a tourist or a traveler, but is simply returning home. As I grew older, I found, at least for me, there is no one “home,” a principle place of residence perhaps, but many homes identified by the fact that there reside, people, I love and like to be with. In Antonio’s case, there is also the food and the wine.

 

 

B. ANTONIO’S — THE FIRST NIGHT.

 

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A view of Canicatti. Antonio’s house is behind the tree on the left.
We arrived in Canicatti my mother’s ancestral home and drove on to Antonio’s house at the edge of the town. After getting settled in my room and meeting the new houseboy, a young man from Bangladesh whose name I cannot remember (Friday, the previous houseboy from Nigeria, left to sell shoes in Venice), Antonio suggested a light snack before retiring. I agreed. Here it is:

The first course, lamb stew piccante in tomato sauce.

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The second course, arancini con panel.

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The third course, melanzane parmigiana.

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The Fourth course, Pasta Norma.

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The Dessert, local berries, and lemon granita. All accompanied by wonderful red and white local wines and finished off with Limoncello and grappa.

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C. ANTONIO’S — DAY TWO.

 

The next day, following breakfast and a brief nap, I went for a walk. By that time most Sicilians had returned to their beds for their afternoon siesta. Antonio worried about me walking around during the hottest part of the day. He insisted I carry my phone and call him if I passed out from the heat.

It was hot. Antonio’s home stands at the border of the rural area and the commercial-industrial area of the town. I chose to walk into the rural lands. I walked along a mostly white stone covered unpaved road through some olive groves. The sun’s glare reflected off the white road hurt my eyes even though I was wearing dark glasses. Reaching the end of the road I was traveling on and sweating a lot, I decided to return to the house and take a nap until dinner — and so I did.

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Through the olive groves.

There were two couples and me at dinner. One couple from Germany traveling with a two-year-old boy, an inveterate explorer, were staying the week. The other, a delightful older English couple, were only staying the night. What follows is the meal:

The first course, four different local goat cheeses with a suitable different (local) fruit preserve on each,

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The second course, ripe fig from Antonio’s garden with speck, local goat ricotta with fruit preserve and fried squash blossoms.

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The Third and fourth courses were the same melanzane parmigiana and arancini as I had the previous night except I learned the parmesan cheese had been replaced with a local cheese.

 

The Fifth course, a soup, the ingredients of which I no longer recall, perhaps seafood.

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The Sixth course, mixed fresh local seafood and a vegetable of some sort.

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The Seventh course, local fish, the name of which I missed, cooked in an olive, caper and tomato sauce.

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The Dessert, the same local berries and lemon granita as I enjoyed last night followed by a flute of different local berries and a different granite. I have eliminated the photo here out of pure exhaustion.

We also drank copious amounts of delicious red and white wines from a vineyard located closer to Agrigento (Antonio seems to feel something grown ten or so miles away as not fitting his definition of “local.”) And of course, limoncello and grappa. We all got very drunk and began telling each other our deepest darkest secrets. Ok maybe not our deepest and darkest, we never tell those even when drunk, but we certainly told those that we would otherwise be embarrassed if anyone but our dearest friends knew about them.

I guess I should write a little something about Sicilian cuisine — at least as I understand it. It is not simply indigenous recipes made from fresh local products improved over the centuries by the addition of spices, condiments, and recipes to overcome whatever deficiencies existed in the local agricultural products. It is also a cuisine that requires the reuse of food not consumed the previous day, not by simply reheating leftovers, but as foundational elements in completely new recipes. Another element of the cuisine is its adoption and development of the tremendous variety of deserts and sweets gifted to them by the Muslim community that ruled the island for so many centuries. Finally, the use of sweet liquors in Sicily, like in much of southern Italy, appears to be some sort of a religious ritual to celebrate a meal well cooked and well eaten.

Note: I will no longer post photographs of each course I enjoy since that would extend this issue of T&T beyond tolerable limits.

 

 

D. ANTONIO’S — DAY THREE:

 

This morning, I decided to go into Canicatti to walk around, search out places I remembered from when I lived here 50 years ago and also do a little shopping. Antonio drove me to the center of the town and I set off walking.

Canicatti is not a tourist city, there is nothing to see here. Monuments built by the rich and famous are usually reserved for the hilltops where they lived in their grand villas and palaces. Canicatti, set in a broad agricultural valley, has always been a commercial town for the sale and distribution of agricultural products. It looks grubby but is actually more prosperous than it appears.

I found the park where my mother had told me she played in as a child before she was sent off at seven years old to America in the early Twentieth Century version of indentured servitude. It is now a scruffy little park. It was much grander fifty years ago when I first saw it.

I sat on a bench among other old men and listened to the harsh guttural tones of Sicilian that Marlon Brando mimicked in Godfather I. I wish I could say I thought deep thoughts as I sat there, but I didn’t.

I eventually left and walked through back alleys and streets looking for the cafe where I would sit with friends fifty years ago. The cafe with the bullet holes still in the walls. Bullet holes made by American soldiers in WWII in the Canicatti Massacre when the American commander lined up random citizens and had them shot as a punishment for the town harboring the Germans. The fact was, there never were any Germans there.

My friends and I would gather at the cafe and watch the white-suited Mafiosi stride into the place with their jackets draped over their shoulders and the furtive hand gestures among the other customers ringing as loudly as shouts. The cafe where I sat those long afternoons so long ago with Gigi, Piccolo Gaetano, and others. Alas, I think it is no more, swept up by the years like unwanted refuse.

I looked for the Landowner’s Social Club building that, so long ago, I sat in front of one afternoon with the Baron La Lomia, the head of the hereditary ruling family of the town, a fat overdressed little man with a great square beard who was making his annual appearance at his demesne. As each resident of the area would approach to pay their respects to the Baron, he would say to them “And, I would like you to meet my good friend Mr. Petrillo who traveled all the way from America to be with me today.” And, I would shake the hand of each person in that long line as they passed by. I could not find that place either. Did it exist and was eventually blown away as an anachronism like the dust and litter blowing around as I walk or was it simply my imagination? Who cares? There is no difference — imagination, memory, reality — all the same.

I also looked for the tiny park with the statue of the erstwhile patron saint of the town, the Blessed La Lomia, a missionary in Brazil killed by the natives who saw through the baloney he was trying to sell them. I could not find it. So I sat down outside of a little cafe across from the Church where I was to meet Antonio and ordered a coke and a lemon granita. I chose the cafe because the outdoor tables were shaded by a large tree and an awning.

Alas, I soon realized it was probably the place where the dregs of the town congregated. Those young people who lived at home had no job and wanted none. One table was occupied by a boisterous threesome, two young men, and a tiny young woman. One of the men would shout at me and make faces. The other young man and the tiny young woman would every now and then rise from their chairs and chase each other around the table, ending in a brief wrestling match. I do not know why they did it. A very large tattooed man carrying a beer came in, sat on a bench facing me, not more than three feet away, and stared at me for a long time, then declared “Hot isn’t it?” I agreed and responded, “Yes it is.” He continued to stare and sip his beer. Various people who seemed not in complete possession of their mental faculties would enter, wander around, and sometimes stand next to my table and stare at me. I loved it. The chances of anything dangerous happening was minuscule. Yet the frisson of excitement drove away any residual melancholy remaining from my walk around the town.

Dinner was the usual many course affair, a mixture of old and new. The new included a fava bean soup, crawfish and the melanzane parmigiana with capers and other savory items replacing the cheese. Dessert included cassata as well as the berry and granita dish.

At dinner tonight was an Argentine couple, Herman and Christina who live in Florida and run a business finding investment properties in the US for foreigners. They also have started up a treasure hunting business in Columbia to raise several sunken Spanish Galleons. The twist of this effort compared to other treasure hunting schemes is that instead of distributing the treasure to the investors as it is recovered which when attempted by traditional treasure hunts runs into severe legal and political problems, they intend to keep the treasure hoard intact, but use its value base for the creation of a new crypto-currency and pay the investors with the crypto-currency. Crazy perhaps. But, Trump made a career of persuading people to invest in much less and look where he ended up — the bitch for an insecure Russian autocrat who trapped him in a wired Moscow hotel room taking a golden shower.

As coincidence would have it, about twelve years ago, I had a small practice representing treasure hunters, almost all of whom failed. The dream never dies.

 

E. ANTONIO’S DAY FOUR:

 

Following another excellent breakfast, the Argentinian couple invited me to join them on a trip to the beach. They had asked Antonio to suggest a remote and secluded beach and he did — at a very remote and far distant location. We drove at least 40 miles before we turned off the main road and on to an unpaved track that wound its way through farmland with many abandoned farmhouses and a few appearing not so abandoned. We saw three maybe four very old men working in the fields, and a very old and hunchbacked shepherd driving a small flock of undernourished sheep — no-one else. At times, we drove through weed forests with the cane like stalks twice as high as the car cutting off all view. We drove for five or six miles up steep hills and through narrow canyons before we came to a dirt parking lot containing a few cars and a small shack with a somewhat rotund gentleman standing in front. He took our money and announced in very good English that it was at least a two-minute walk to a sandy beach where it was suitable for swimming which he called “Beach One.” “Beach Two,” he said, “was a ten-minute walk up the coast and was good for taking photographs but because it was rocky was not good for swimming but suitable for snorkeling.” Beach three he explained was a twenty-five-minute walk down the coast, but I forget what it was good for. We walked the allotted two minutes and came out of the towering weeds and saw a very attractive sandy beach containing a few bathers but still many more than I thought would ever chance the treacherous drive.

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Pookie at the beach.

 
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The Beach.

 
After setting up the umbrella in the sand, instead of going swimming, I abruptly announced I was going to hike the ten minutes to the photogenic beach, and then set off. I do not know why. I found a small weed overgrown path that seemed to climb up what appeared to be more than a hill but less than a mountain. After several minutes of climbing, huffing and puffing, and sweating profusely, I realized I was all alone on this steep rocky path that I knew not where it went, without water, becoming rapidly exhausted and convinced I was about to collapse. But like Scott in the Antarctic, foolishly pushing ahead only for the irrational pleasure of beating Amundsen, I went on. Like Scott, I thought I could beat Amundsen too,

I noticed the path was strewn with the bleached shells of snails. I could tell they were not laid down here due to some ancient geological catastrophe, they were strewn around not buried in rock hardened silt. I then imagined massive escargot eating rituals by Sicilian cultists in honor of Diana the Huntress every night of the full moon. But, finally decided they were simply the carcasses of egotistical land snails who believed they could make it across the blazing hot paths in the middle of the day and were fried for their arrogance. I picked up one desiccated bone white shell, put it in my pocket and continued struggling up the slope.

I little later, I came upon a single quill lying on the path. I stopped and stared at it and wondered what sort of quilled creature survived the five thousand year commitment by Sicilians to rid their island of every mammal except those they could domesticate and rats and mice. Unable to reach a conclusion, I picked it up and put it in my pocket too. I also picked up and pocked some interesting small stones and happily contemplated carrying them back home and washing them, not to study but to remind me that it was not a figment of my imagination that I chose to climb this damned path at midday.

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The Treasure.

 

 

Eventually, I reached the top and found myself on a high bluff overlooking a beach with no way down. I then realized I could have reached that same beach by simply walking a few feet from where I began and wading in ankle deep water around some rocks. Annoyed by this discovery, I began to retrace my steps. I was further annoyed when a family with two young children carrying beach equipment and towels jauntily passed me by having clearly enjoyed their morning at the ten-minute walk rocky photogenic beach.

When I returned to the Argentineans they were just packing up to leave. So, we left, renegotiated the weed jungle and drove another twenty miles or so to Sciacca to have lunch.

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The Photogenic beach?

 
Sciacca (pronounced Sha – ca) is a fairly large town on a hill near the water with an interesting if arcane history (look it up). At its base was a large working fishing port.

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The Port of Sciacca.

 
We entered a restaurant directly across the road from the port. It had a great view and served freshly caught fish. We chose our fish and from a comely waitress ordered them grilled and then ate them along with an extremely tasty salad.

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The fish.

 

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The comely waitress and the Argentinians.

 

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The cooked fish.

 

For dessert, I had cannoli made with local ricotta.
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The sacred cannoli.

 
On the way home, we came upon a traffic snarl caused by an electrical transmission wire having fallen across the road. There were no police or first responders anywhere so passengers would jump out of their cars hold the wire up over their heads while the driver drove the car through, then drop it and jump back into the car. Thinking I could be as brave and foolhardy as the women in the photograph below, I jumped out of our car, held the wire over my head until Herman drove under it and then jumped back into the car and we sped away. No, I did not die.
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The brave but foolhardy women of Sicily.

 
That night I played my first game of chess in 50 years with the German gentleman and I won. It took the sting out of Croatia’s loss in the World Cup final. There had been no meal prepared. Antonio was gone for the evening so we snitched some sausages he had cooking on the stove for tomorrows meal. I went to bed happy. It was a good day after all.

 

 

F. ANTONIO’S — DAY FIVE:

 

Today is my last full day here. Tomorrow, I fly to Milano and two days later back to the Enchanted Forest and Naida. I am both sad and eager to go. Sad because I feel so comfortable and relaxed here and eager to go because I feel too comfortable and relaxed here. Too much of a good thing can become irritating if it goes on too long.

After breakfast, I said goodbye to the Argentineans. Then Antonio, the Bangladesh houseboy and I left for Licata, a town on the coast, to buy some fresh fish for tonight’s meal. I pictured a large fish market open to the fishing boats tied up to the wharves, burly men pushing crates around slick cement floors while fishmongers in their stalls lined up their wares with military precision on beds of gleaming ice. It was not like that at all. It was more like a dope deal. First a stop on a remote road on the edge of the city for a telephone call. Then two more stops at gas stations for more calls. Then a wait in a cafe drinking espresso until a man arrived and engaged Antonio in a whispered conversation. Then we get back in the car and follow the man’s car through the back roads of the city until we both come to a stop on the side of the road and Antonio and the man get out of their cars and walk around a building and disappear for a fairly long while. Then Antonio returns with a small plastic bag that I presume contained the fish and we drove off returning the 50 or so kilometers to Canicatti.

Back in town, I asked Antonio to drop me off at the church so I could go to the bank and withdraw the money I would need to pay for my stay. The charges amounted to about $70 per day for the room, breakfast, and dinner and all the wine, grappa and limoncello one can drink. It is not so bad a deal when I consider that I probably drank $20 worth of alcoholic beverages each day.

After, withdrawing the money, I returned to strolling around the town looking for places I knew — no luck there. I then looked for the ice-cream shop I had spotted two days before that made the best ice–cream in the area — but it was closed. I then thought about walking up the hill to where my mother lived in a section of the city called the Borgo, the old center of the town before they filled in the stream from which the town got its name (Cane Brook, for the dense cane like plants that flourished along its banks. Wikipedia, on the other hand, says it comes from the Arabic word meaning “muddy ditch”). I thought it would be good to see my mom’s old house again. But, I looked up at the hill I would have to climb, felt the heat of the sun and concluded it was not going to happen on this trip, so, I chose to sit in a cafe on the main street drinking a very good chilled white wine and nibbling on the little snacky things they brought me. Around me sat a number of young men and women. The men all had beards and the women all had tattoos. In my day, the men all had beards also.

I napped the afternoon away.

That evening, my last here, Antonio made dinner for only him and me. There was a wonderful salad of vegetables picked that day from the garden including sweet onions all in a vinegar, olive oil, and pepper dressing. He also broke out his favorite local white wines from Canicatti. Since he was busy cooking I drank most of the wine.

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He indicated we were going to have a light dinner this evening. For pasta, he prepared a dish with zucchini and mushrooms.
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Then came the fish course.

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Antonio with the fish.

 

I do not know if that was the fish we pursued that morning, but it seemed like a lot of fish for two people. It was cooked with oranges, capers, and tomatoes in olive oil. After, deboning and serving the fish, Antonio brought out another bottle of white wine from Canicatti vineyards. “This,” he said, “is the best white in Sicily and perhaps is all of Italy.” While the previous bottle was made from Grillo grapes, this he said was made from a blending of four local grape varieties.

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The Great White.

 

The white wines from Sicily I have tasted so far on this trip have been very smooth and suitable for drinking with food or alone. They seem to lack that slightly astringent aftertaste of other expensive white wines.

After the fish course and having downed most of two bottles of wine, I was —well drunk or at least well on my way.

Dessert was a cassata followed by an absolute smashing mulberry granita accompanied by limoncello (a lot of it) but no grappa.

I was helped off to bed and woke up the next morning with no hangover.

 
G. DEPARTURE

 

Breakfast, some puttering around packing and then Antonio drove me into town to catch the bus to the airport. Hugs and kisses all around. Then a two hour or so ride through an ofter relatively bleak and empty Sicilian countryside I arrived at the Airport waited for several hours and flew off to Milano.

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The Sicilian Countryside on the way to Catania.

 

 

 

 

DAILY FACTOID:

 

From Harper’s index: Minimum number of scientific papers published on nomophobia, the fear of not having access to cellular service: 55
Sigh — modern life can be so stressful. Bring back public phone booths with internet connections and save us from this debilitating affliction.

 

 

 

 

PEPE’S POTPOURRI:

 
A. Matthews’ Musings:

 

Jason Matthews, a retired CIA operative with extensive experience in Russia, in his espionage thriller “Red Sparrow” expresses what are clearly his own feelings about Putin’s Russia through the words of one of his fictional characters.

“Energy, population decline, natural resources, client states. Forget all that. Russia is still the only country that can put an ICBM into Lafayette Square across from the White House. The only one, and they have thousands of nukes.”

“Russians. They hate foreigners only a little less than they hate themselves, and they’re born conspirators. Oh, they know very well they’re superior, but your Russki is insecure, wants to be respected, to be feared like the old Soviet Union. They need recognition, and they hate their second-tier status in the superpower stakes. That’s why Putin’s putting together USSR 2.0, and no one is going to stand in his way. “The Vkid who pulls the tablecloth and smashes the crockery to get attention—that’s Moscow. They don’t want to be ignored and they’ll break the dishes to make sure it doesn’t happen. Sell chemical weapons to Syria, give fuel rods to Iran, teach Indonesia centrifuge design, build a light water reactor in Burma, oh, yeah, people, nothing’s out of bounds. “But the real danger is the instability of all this generation of world-stopping crazies. People, the second Cold War is all about the resurgent Russian Empire, and don’t kid yourselves Moscow is gonna sit back and see how the Chinese navy handles itself when—not if—the shooting starts in the Taiwan Strait.”

Matthews, Jason. Red Sparrow: A Novel (The Red Sparrow Trilogy Book 1) (p. 28). Scribner.

 
B. Giants of History: Pat Carlone:

 

Peter, after reading the previous T&T post, was reminded of his old friend, Pat Carlone.

Our friend Pat Carlone hails from Calabria via New Britain, Conn. Your travel descriptions help explain some of Pat’s endearing bizaarisms. FYI, we enjoyed his aging parents dancing on a table at Spengers around midnight at one of Pat’s birthday celebrations some years ago. Pat, who used to play trumpet, piano, and accordion, was the guy who nudged me to start playing jazz bass back on the 1970s. He lived for a short time with our friend Howard over what was then a laundromat on the corner of 24th St. and Diamond St., which we used to frequent before we acquired our mechanical improvements. Remind me to tell you a couple of vignettes about Pat’s peregrinations before his rendezvous with Lois Lane.

Now doesn’t that last line make you just salivate to learn more about Carlone’s peregrinations and rendezvous with Lois Lane? I can see many a long afternoon at the Geezer Bench listening to Peter’s stories.

 

 

 

 

TODAY’S QUOTES:

 
Two from Kieran Healy (@kjhealy) on gun violence in America:

“In any case, over a few decades, the US got nudged into a terrible but stable equilibrium by gun hobbyists, at an annual cost of 10,000 homicides and 20,000 suicides. At this point, the issue is less “policy” and more whether there’ll be some tectonic shift in public opinion.”

“Most policy discussions are beside the point, too. There will be no Port Arthur or Dunblane moment in the US. The main response will be to further entrench a layer of consultants whose job is to socialize children into the expectation that they might be murdered in their classrooms.”

:

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Categories: July through September 2018, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

This and that from re Thai r ment, by 3Th.    24 Shadow 0007 (July 13, 2018)

 
“We ain’t tourist’s honey — travelers, buy there or mail it back.”
A friend of the Old Pirate.

 
Remember July 15 in National be a Dork Day.
Be a Dork, I know you can do it.

 

 

 

 

TODAY FROM ITALY:

 

A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN CROATIA:

It was a lovely sunny warm morning when we left for Croatia. Our first stop, of course, was at Lucia’s Petite Cafe for coffee, brioche, and hugs. For me, it was especially sad, since at my age I cannot know if I will be back again. I even hugged Danielle, Lucia’s somewhat dissolute and shaggy boyfriend. Then we were off.

The drive to the border of Italy and Slovenia was relatively brief. We passed Trieste on the way, a surprisingly small city nestled among relatively gentle hills surrounding the bay and the Adriatic.

After a drive of not much more than a mile from the Slovenian border we reached its border with Croatia and passed through without incident. This portion of Croatia, Istria, had been part of Italy or some Italian City State since Roman times except for a period of Austro-Hungarian rule in the 18 and 19th Centuries but eventually passed to the old Yugoslavia after WWII.

After a brief drive through some low hills, we entered a low flat plain containing Mediterranean type forest vegetation and few people. According to Hank, Goldman Sachs plans to buy up just about everything it can get its hands on in this area, even its toll roads (one or more of the people we will be partying with over the next two days is [are] involved somehow). They want to make it into a tech hub for Europe like Silicon Valley (Facebook already is building a facility) and some sort of Adriatic vacation paradise. In the meantime, it remains someplace one would like to visit, easy going, pretty and slow moving.

Our first stop was at some Trulli type buildings. Actually our first two stops. Initially, we halted at the side of the road to view an abandoned Trulli. A road maintenance vehicle then appeared to see if we needed any assistance. After explaining that we stopped only so I could take a photograph of the abandoned building, the worker then offered to sell us truffles, olive oil, and grappa. Hank bought some truffles, I took some photos and we continued on our way.

A short time later we stopped at a place with considerably more of those buildings, in fact, the whole area was some sort of archeological park. Trulli-type buildings are conical stone buildings common throughout Europe in one form or another. They were built mostly in the 19th century as agriculture in Europe moved into less ideal areas because of rising demand. The buildings (and walls) were built from the stones taken out of the cleared lands. The most famous or at least picturesque of these are the large conical stone homes In Puglia, Italy. Since that portion of the trip had been jettisoned for logistical reasons, I felt that a photograph of me standing beside any like structure would be a satisfactory replacement.
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Pookie and the Trulli in Croatia
We eventually arrived at our hotel near Pula. A nice little place not too far from the harbor where the ferry to the Island National Park disembarks.

Many stories I either heard, saw or experienced on this part of my trip — much too many to write about here but some of those I remember most vividly follow. Many were told by Hank. But, be aware, their veracity depends upon: the accuracy of my memory; may be affected by what I may have thought I had been told; my additions where I could not recall what I had been told; what for one reason or another I avoided; and whatever I have added in an effort to make the story more interesting, After all, isn’t that what history is all about, a few truths surrounded by a lot of little lies and highlighted by a few big ones.

To pass the time on the drive, Hank told me the story of Paul Bingham who was Tennessee Williams lover at one time and lived at Hank’s house and died there. Hank ended up with many of the letters that passed between Paul and Tennessee which he still has. He also told me about someone he called “Doc.” Doc was one of Hank’s professors at college. When Doc retired from teaching he also retired his suits and other clothing replacing them with bib overalls, tee shirts, and black work boots. With the time on his hands that often comes with retirement, Doc got involved in various dicey projects and would often persuade Hank to join him — apparently a not too difficult task. Projects like growing okra for profit. One time Doc went into the illegal fireworks business and blew up his house. Homeless, he moved in with Hank and stayed there until he died.

We arrived at our hotel, a pleasant little place not too far from Pula and near the warm where the boats depart for a national park located on an island a few hundred yards away. After checking in we left to visit our friends at Tito’s old vacation estate.

We arrived at Marshal Tito’s vacation estate in Pula on the Adriatic coast at a place called Volkane.
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Tito’s villa

Tito had the villa built to his specifications. He also had all the lands that could be seen from the Villa which were treeless, reforested — planting over a million trees in the area. Now that the trees have reached maturity some of the people in the area complain that the trees obstruct their view of the water and of the other trees.
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The view from the terrace

At some point, Tito gifted the villa to his chief of intelligence. That spy’s daughter lives there now with her husband an ex-marine officer who at one point had been an Assistant Under-secretary of Defense for the US by the name Jolly (he was the tallest man in the marines at the time and was nicknamed the Jolly Green Giant shortened to Jolly. He liked the name and it stuck.) He was a trained psychologist and was sent around the world to, as he put it to me, “Find out the truth.”
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Jolly

The villa and part of the estate stand upon an old Nazi bunker one entrance of which remains. An ancient Roman wall surrounds part of the estate.

Every year on or around the 4th of July, Jolly and his wife hold a party for about two hundred of their nearest and dearest friends among which, due to Hank and Camille, I found myself included.

On my first day at Volkane, I met some of those that lived there, the sisters of the spy’s daughter and other relatives and friends who visited during the day. I also stared a lot at the pleasant view of the Adriatic. The air was warm, full and restful. I walked several times through the gate onto the rocks by the water and along the shore to a bench where I would sit for a half hour or so after which I would make my way back.

In front of the villa, there was parked a large black Mercedes. I was told the Mercedes once belonged to Tito. It now belongs to an aging local rock star who lives in one of the three units the villa had been divided into after Tito’s death. The name of the rock group was Atomic Shelter and had a bit of a reputation in eastern Europe.
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Tito’s wheels

A lot of time was spent telling stories. Mostly by Jolly about his life and times in the military and going and coming from some clandestine doings in some backwater somewhere, but never about the nature of the clandestine doings themselves. Most of the stories, I do not remember, or remember vaguely, his time in Thailand, his selection for his job or jobs and so on.

He told one about his great-great-grandfather, Christopher Sheats. Sheats from Winston County Alabama was one of the delegates to the convention of southerners who drafted the Articles of Succession that began the Civil War. He objected to secession but lost. Upon returning to Winston County he, at a meeting of Union sympathizers held in Looney’s Tavern, a local meeting place and center of Pro-Union sentiment, declared the county a free state arguing that if states had an inalienable right to secede from the Union than counties have the same inalienable right to secede from a state. He called it the Free State of Winston and sought to join the Union. The Confederate State of Alabama arrested him and sentenced him to death by hanging as a traitor. The rope broke saving him. He was imprisoned and escaped, fought for the Union using freed slaves and, according to Jolly, never lost a battle. After the war, he served in Congress. Because of threats on his life, President Grant appointed him Ambassador to Finland. After he died, the county refused to bury him in the whites-only cemetery so he was buried in the Blacks-only cemetery with many black people attending the ceremony. Since then almost all members of the Sheats family have chosen to be buried in that same black cemetery. The Incident at Looney’s Tavern, a musical drama performed regularly in Winston County, tells the story of Christopher Sheats and the Unionist meeting at Looney’s Tavern. It is the official state outdoor musical drama of Alabama.

Another story I remember from lunch the following day — Jolly had been asked to serve as a chief judge in the court-martial of a women soldier who, when told her husband had taken a women into their bed while she was at the base, bought a 45, went home, and promptly shot he erring husband in the nuts.

The young military attorney from the Judge Advocate General’s office chosen to prosecute her charged her only with assault with intent to kill. At the trial, when questioning her the young attorney asked, “Sergeant ___ when you shot your husband you intended to kill him did you not?” She pointed to a gold marksman medal on her uniform. “ See this” she responded, “I won the pistol shooting competition at the Olympics and when I qualified as a marine marksman they gave me a gold marksman medal rather than the silver in honor of my Olympic victory. I assure you I intended to shoot him in the nuts. If I wanted him dead he would be dead.” Jolly and the other judges ruled her innocent of the charge, stating, “The defendant may be guilty of many things regarding the shooting, but not of the only charge before us today, shooting with the intent to kill”

A few years later it happened that the sergeant was assigned to Jolly’s unit. When he asked her about the trial she told him that, had she been charged with anything else, she would have pleaded guilty, but not to the charge of intent to kill. When Jolly inquired as to how she has been doing since then, she responded, “Pretty well sir, but it’s been hard to get a date.” (Note, I suspect Jolly made this one up because I seem to remember having heard tales like this before but who knows maybe those tales were about Jolly.)

We had lunch, with a small group on the terrace that day.
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Lunch on the terrace

After the lunch, Hank told me a story about the sister of Jolly’s wife, Mary (she is the blond woman second on the right in the photograph). When she was about three or four years old she had been captured by the Nazi’s but released in a prisoner exchange. A year or two later she was trained by her parents to operate the clandestine radio transmitter that was secreted in a place too small to get into for anyone but her and thereby able to avoid the Nazi search teams.

The next day was Market Day in Pula, the streets were full of stalls selling whatever and everything. I could smell the aroma of freshly baked bread. The cafes, like the streets, were awash with people. The place seemed vibrant and alive as did many of the tourist cities in Italy when I first visited them 40 or 50 years ago. Now with prosperity, restoration, tourism, and the departure of the young to the largest cities they often appear dead, dying or mausoleums celebrating a culture that never existed. Cities are always becoming, a mixture of despair and of hope. When they don’t change they die no matter how pretty they may appear.

I strolled through the town, drank prosecco in the cafes, browsed the stores and visited the port and the Roman ruins. There’s a bitchin Roman Arena here also. It seems those Romans dropped them everywhere like rice at a wedding. When one considers the cost and turmoil surrounding the building of the relatively few large sports areas around the world today, the efforts of the Romans seem even more amazing.

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The Amphitheater

The following evening was the big party. It was also the night of the World Cup match between Croatia and Russia. A large screen was set up so everyone could watch the game and eat hot dogs and hamburgers before the party began. There were many local notables including the head of Goldman Sachs for this area and much of adjacent Europe. I was told he was an ex-Mossad agent.

Now you must be wondering why and how over the last month or so I have managed to come upon so many ex-spies or relatives of ex-spies — Two in the Enchanted Forest; one who I met two days before in Sacile retired from the military whose job he said was to examine military construction sites in areas of American troop deployment; Jolly; his wife; and now the Mossad agent and god knows how many others were at the party. One must remember, however, all these people are from my generation and the following one. The generations who lived their productive years from the sixties through the eighties, the Spy vs Spy era when anyone who was anyone spied on someone or believed one lived under their bed or were entertained by stories about spies. It was the James Bond era.

Croatia won. The crowd went crazy.
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Croatia scores

The music started. Everyone drank too much. I got kissed by two Young Croat women who I am positive either they only wanted to take a photograph of themselves kissing the old codger staggering around with the cane or they were drunk.

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The next morning we left for Southern Italy and the rest of our trip.

 

B. TO NAPLES AND BEYOND:

We left Pula at about 8:30AM and drove south through Italy, getting lost only once until at 5PM we arrived at a surprisingly nice hotel with the improbable name of Hotel Gentiluomo just outside of Arezzo. It was owned by an Indian company and we shared the place with an Indian tour group all saried and caste marked up. While they ate various curries, the smells wafted through the hotel, we dined in good Italian fare that alas I have forgotten so I guess it was good but not particularly notable.

The next morning, we left and arrived at our hotel above the Bay of Naples early in the afternoon after becoming lost in those little towns south of Vesuvius that I have been getting lost in each time I have come here for the past fifty years. The marvelous and inexpensive Hotel Torre Barbara in Vico stands high on the bluff above the bay. We drank some prosecco while sitting on the veranda admiring the view of the volcano looming over the towns clinging to its slopes like barnacles on a ship’s hull. Intending to swim in the pool with a view, I returned to my room but lost myself playing with my computer and dozing until dinner time.
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Pookie with the Bay of Naples and Vesuvius in the background

On the veranda, I had dinner of shrimp risotto accompanied by prosecco and finished off with a chocolate mousse ice cream and grappa while we watched the sun sink into the sea beyond Capri and the lights\ come on and twinkle like a necklace of fireflies around the base of Vesuvius.

The following morning, I arose early and with my cup of cappuccino and a glass of fruit juice I sat alone on the veranda and watched the sun climb above the hills behind me and strike the bay. I tried to understand why in the many years I have been coming to Italy and having so rarely planned to visit Naples, I seem almost always to end up here for at least a day or so. Beautiful the view of the bay and the volcano may be but, I have seen many places more so —although while I sat there, I was hard-pressed to name them.

As I continued to stare at Vesuvius across the bay with its string of buildings encircling its base I began to think about how wretched those buildings and neighborhoods actually were. They began to look to me more and more like a disease creeping up the slopes — as though the volcano suffered from psoriasis and would wake up someday from the itching on his flanks and burn it all off. That’s what Naples signifies, I thought, beauty and horror together — Pompey rich and licentious ending buried in lava, the Bourbon dynasty of the Kings of Naples, squalor, and corruption alongside elegance and art.

Caravaggio spent much of his career here in Naples. A drunkard and a vicious murderer and perhaps the greatest painter that ever lived. His painting of Narcissus gazing at his reflection in the pool of water is beautiful until you think about what the painting is about, someone imprisoned forever.
C. MATERA — A CITY CARVED FROM THE ROCKS.

The next day we were on the road to Matera in the Province of Basilicata. The drive took only about three hours, a relief after the grind of the past few days.

After leaving the hills of Calabria, we drove through the weary plains of Basilicata. The approach to Matera left much to be desired. We passed from forested mountains and rolling hills green with vineyards, fruit trees, and vegetable gardens, onto a large undulating plain of dry farming almost all of it wheat leaving the land with a bare desolate desiccated look.

Here and there the plain was crisscrossed with steep stone canyons invisible until looking down on them from the bridges spanning them. On the top of a broad rise in the terrain stood a large city, much larger than the small hill towns we had seen in Calabria and Basilicata so far, and much uglier also. I was quite disappointed and contemplated urging Hank to turn the car around and retrace our tracks to Naples.

We checked into an attractive newly built hotel that seemed to have a swimming pool with stepped smaller pools cascading into it. Excited, I put on my swim trunks, strode through the lobby and out to the pool. Alas, when I got there I found it was only a decorative fountain built to serve as a background for photos of lavish nuptial celebrations that seemed to be the main reason for the existence of the hotel. Dejected, I changed back into touring clothing and we set off to the town to see what the travel brochures raved about.

After a lot of aimless driving about the modern town looking for the rock city, we parked and followed the signs and suddenly came upon the amazing city carved from the rocks and perched upon the largest of the steep stone canyons, the smaller versions of which we had crossed while driving here.
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Matera — almost every building in the photograph of a facade covering the cave which provided at least 80% of the building’s interior.

We decided then that we could not fully appreciate the city without a guide so Hank asked the driver of a small tuk-tuk style tour vehicle how we could find a guide, “Wait here for Vito” he advised. So, we waited there for Vito. While waiting, Camille and I explored a nearby church containing another church buried underneath containing fascinating frescoes on the walls.
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The mosaics painted on the walls of the cave church.

And, one of the more bizarre statues I have ever come across.
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The Saint who steps on naked fat women.

It is a statue of Saint something or other (I do not remember his name) with his foot on the back of a naked woman. Finding this odd, I moved closer in order to read the information card. I translated it as either Saint what’s-his-name with his foot on a fat woman or, Saint whoever driving out fatness from women or maybe something else. Perhaps, he is the Patron Saint of diet scammers.

Vito arrived in his bitchin red tuk-tuk (as far as I could tell the only red one in town). He turned out to be a delightful young man who entertained us during the tour.
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Vito and his bitchin red tuk-tuk with Hank and Camille.

(if you should travel there an want pleasant knowledgeable guide call Vito at +39 3931772506)

I could go on about the wonders of the town, but T&T is not the place for it. I will mention that Matera is the third oldest continuously occupied town in the world. Across the canyon stands the neolithic caves in which the ancestors of the townspeople lived before crossing the canyon to settle the current site when agricultural technology reached the area.
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The Neolithic caves
Matera, despite being almost abandoned 30 years ago when the government forcibly relocated the penniless agricultural workers living in the rock homes, had experienced a rebound when that policy was abandoned and the original residents, artists, and others were allowed to move back in. Next year, according to Vito, the UN will declare the town the World Artistic Capital (or something pompous like that).

That evening we dined in what Vito declared was among the oldest and finest restaurants in town and was the favorite eating place of Mel Gibson who dined there often during the filming of the “Passion of Christ” (the crucifixion scene was filmed on top of the rock outcropping in the above photograph). While we felt that last was a dubious recommendation we dined there anyway and found it excellent and well worth it.

The next day we set off for Altamonte back in Calabria.
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D. A PLEASANT DAY IN ALTAMONTE.

Altamonte a pleasant little hill town in Calabria, remote from just about anywhere with little to recommend it other than the Hotel Barbieri. Started by the patriarch of clan Barbieri a hotelier and master chef he has built up a small industry here and in the US selling regional Calabrian foods and folk art at the hotel and at a string of elegant delicatessens in Philadelphia and Pittsburg owned and operated by the family whose members have been sent to the US to manage their interests.
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The view from my room.

The hotel started small on a hill with a great view of the town and the countryside around it, grew in a comely hodgepodge of rooms, verandas and a pool and a spa. Members of the family still run it day by day. “It serves the best Calabrian food in Italy,” Hank claimed.
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The pool and newly built terrace (we ate dinner on the terrace to the right)

We had a snack that included a local specialty, chips made from the local long red sweet peppers dipped momentarily in hot olive oil until they become puffed and brittle. Marvelous. We ate them and washed them down with prosecco under the trees on one of the verandas with a view of the town, a cool breeze and three children of the family playing and running around the tables.
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Hank, the daughter of the Patriarch, Hank and a bowl of sweet pepper chips.
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Camille and Hank on the terrace waiting for lunch.

I then took my much-delayed swim in the pool, napped and had dinner on one of the more formal terraces. We ate a variety of traditional Calabrian dishes and ended with a delicious homemade fusilli in a sauce of tomatoes and eggplant. The noodles are freshly hand rolled into long curving pasta with a hollow center and were delightfully chewy and went perfectly with the sauce. Grappa and dessert ended the meal. It was everything Hank said it would be.
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First course

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Second course

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Fresh-made Fusilli

The next morning, after another great breakfast we said goodbye to the patriarch and his daughter who came by to see us off. And so I left for Sicily and a week ar Antonio’s.

 

 

 

PEPE’S POTPOURRI:

 

A. Today’s Poem:

My remark in the previous issue of T&T about the possibility of my becoming a “geriatric Boy Toy” generated a few humorous comments such as Peter’s “It sounds like an Asian food” and Ruth sending me her husband’s poem which I have reproduced below.

TOYBOYS

The world is full of pretty boys
The aging ladies’ favorite toys
If I were only twenty-two
I’d be some lady’s toyboy, too.
But sad to say I’m eighty-eight
And I’m afraid it’s just too late.
Bill Lansford ([c] William Douglas Lansford).

Alas, so true, so true — But is there still hope if you are only seventy-eight?
B. Giants of History: Peter responds to a challenge.

In the previous T&T, I hurled a challenge at Peter when I wrote:

I thought it was obvious my phone had been hacked in Verona. (“Hacked in Verona,” a movie starring John Goodman as an aging, fat, inept, hacker hiding out in Verona because of his erroneous belief he was being hunted by the police of several nations. Frances McDormand plays the Interpol receptionist dedicated to tracking him down to let him know that, in fact, no one was looking for him. She locates him in a one-room attic apartment two doors away from the “Juliet” house. They fall in love and she moves into the apartment. The film was so successful that its two stars were contracted to appear in its sequel, “Malaise in Verona.” — OK Peter the ball is in your court.)

He accepted the challenge and in a heroic effort flung back at me the following:

Sequels uber alleles. “Godfather” etc., “Rocky” etc., “Peewee’s Great Adventure”, etc. “Malaise in Verona”– bathos with mandolins. Saving grace: Monica Vitti, Anna Magnani, Giulletta Messina, and Sophia Lauren star as the Four Horsewomen of the Apocalypse. Our intrepid heroes Goodman and McDormand, wallowing in humid solicitude and a decent spaghetti sauce in a Verona pension, are interrupted by the Fab Four [who are aware of course that no one is looking for Goodman – after all, why would they?] who present the lucky couple with a dilemma: Why stay in Verona when you could be in Ravenna? The two are completely flummoxed by this question. Camera closeup: they look at each other, McDormand says “Why Indeed?” Goodman counters: “BFD- we could be in Ravello.” McDormand: “No. Puglia. The olives are better.” The four horsewomen interject: “Have you made up your minds?” Goodman: “Who are you, and where is that masked man?” The 4: “Chasing after Tonto. Last seen in Parma. The ham is good there. As to who we are, only Fellini knows for sure. You needn’t bother yourselves.” “Oh”, say the humid duo. “And anyway, Ravenna, Ravello, what’s the difference?” The 4: “We hate people who wave Occam’s razor around indiscriminately. In any case, Lucretius and Sartre are staring you in the face: which shall it be: Osso bucco con barbera or authenticity and rye crisp?” And that’s why they made Godfather III.

I concede.

 

 

TODAY’S QUOTE:

 

“Most cities lived on the very edge of civilization. Everyone talked about towns and villages out in the middle of nowhere as if they were uncivilized, but she’d found people in those places pleasant, even-tempered, and comfortable with their quieter way of life. Not in cities. Cities balanced on the edge of sustainability, always one step from starvation. When you pressed so many people together, their cultures, ideas, and stenches rubbed off on one another. The result wasn’t civilization. It was contained chaos, pressurized, bottled up so it couldn’t escape. There was a tension to cities. You could breathe it, feel it in every step.”

Sanderson, Brandon. Oathbringer: Book Three of the Stormlight Archive (p. 629). Tom Doherty Associates.

 

 

Categories: July through September 2018, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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