Italy 2018

Finally got around to typing up my reflections upon arriving in Italy

June 5, 2018

Through planes, three trains, and the number 22 bus from Salerno, and I’ve reached Pellezzano from San Francisco in exactly 24 hours. Flying is a brutal way to go, packed in an airlock, and cramped together with all the other venturing souls. In Paris, at Charles de Gualle, I find myself racing to my connecting flight. Five a.m. and harried. The X-ray tech reminds me to zip up my fly before entering the scanner. My passport hanging, my itinerary sheets, personal devices, are strewn about in the obligatory plastic tubs jamming up on the wheeled flow of everybody else’s scanned offerings. I feel no longer cut out for this. This flying. The past two years, I have been pummeling myself in the States; hardly even cognizant I would be capable of making this journey back to where my heart is dwelling.

     Back to Italy, where not giving a fuck is innate, and chaos is in the DNA. I had isolated myself in the mad matrix of the Trumpian dystopia back home; glued to the subtleties of the insanity, driven by the minutiae of the banal; the lurid and unbridled gaslighting that is the American reality; gorging ourselves in our auto-fellation sequence.

    I’ve been hammered, pummeled, and spiritually castrated by this sad façade that is ‘America.’ A country and culture built upon genocide, genocide, and genocide; colonialism gone wild with it’s own tour bus. The naïve hubris that a horde of dumbfucks tamed a continent will bring an unprecedented wrath upon us. We are the doomed Americans.

    I arrive in Pellezzano early in the evening and Viriliglo the grocer I met two years ago, is stacking boxes outside, looking regal in his white grocer’s coat. “Ciao ragazzo!” I call, and I am soon taken back into the fold. Alphonso is asking me how life is back in America. I tell him “I State Uniti è una casa dei pazzi;” a house of madmen. I go on to relate how the son of my friend had his throat slit on a train in Portland, as he stepped in to protect two girls being harassed by a a racist imebelcile emboldened by our mad king president; how everyday a new violence unfolds, and people are slaughtered by mindless goons.

    A woman comes in the grocery with her young daughter and they exchange affectionate greetings with the grocers. A dapper man comes in and Viriglio chides him “Oh, sei bello!.” The gentle comraderie expressed between my friends is profound to me. Accounting my plans to Alphonso, giving him the report on my plans here, this spin around through Italy. I tell him I came straight to Pellezzano in the South, among their guttural dialect and even their coarse weariness of outsiders, as they are, actually the warmest people. It is here, with them that I feel at home.

  

Eulogy for my Father

My father Pete Cislo passed away on May 19, 2019. Today is the first day in my life, spanning 52 years, that he has not been with us on Father’s Day. Yesterday (June 15, 2019), we held his memorial. This is the eulogy I gave. I miss him profoundly.
EULOGY

My father made an impact of so many people during the course of his journey. You may be here honoring him today for his work in the arena of education; or perhaps, through Leave Your Mark,! he helped you realize a landscaping project you had in mind for your home, or helped you keep your home during the housing crisis of 2008 through his work with Building Hope. Maybe you were married by him as an ambassador of the Universal Life Church; or perhaps you are an old friend from a well-storied past, or relative, here to recount his irreverent, or rather reverent way of embracing life head-on, in full joy and unbridled love for people.Whatever the reason, we are all here today to remember a man who eclipsed the typical mold, one of those rare people who flowed endlessly, effortlessly, with an incredible appetite to love, connect, heal, and celebrate each other. Whether you came to know Pete as a teacher, a counselor or a businessman, he was always a solid friend. I wanted to share with you today what Pete was like as a father, and I can unequivocally state, I drew the Golden Ticket when chance, destiny, God, whatever made me his son, and his friend.
    

     Pete was born in Butte, Montana, a boom town that rose up to mine the wealth of the copper found in her rocks. It was a town built feverishly by immigrant labor, and epitomized the rowdy frontier. The people of Butte instilled themselves with a solid work ethic, a fierce attachment to family, community, and in some strange and ironic way, perhaps because the mine was ground zero in the middle of town, a surreal sense of attachment to the earth. It had the pulse of the Wild West, the pirate, the rebel….. Pete was always the guy who would get out and push the car stalled at the light in front of you. Always there to give you a hand up, it always came down to Friendship. After Pete and my mother divorced, they remained friends and took a collaborative effort in raising us. There was never drama, only love. With new marriages, new children, our family grew, and it was always tempered by Pete’s loving approach, and excitement in knowing every single one of us. 

   When my Pete was 8, his father died suddenly from a heart attack. He would never speak of it; he wouldn’t go there. The only thing he told me about it was that a few days later, he had a revelation that at any moment, your world could be turned upside down, you could experience the greatest loss imaginable, so then and there, he decided to choose happiness. Joy was his mantra.

  In 1961 at 17, Pete and his family move to Hilmar, California in the Central Valley near Modesto, and after graduating from Stanislaus State, he started teaching English Lit at Modesto high school. He loved Whitman’s Poetry, and Thoreau, Mark Twain, john Muir, Lord Byron, and Native American mythology. During this time, 1971, he was part of one of the earliest recycling programs in California, and was an advisor to the high school’s Ecology club. In is uncanny way of getting people connected, my aunt and uncle met in the Ecology Club. They are still married today. He found divinity in nature, and wonder, and he was always taking us along for adventure.

    A classic story of Pete’s was in 1973, he took a high school class rafting down the Colorado river. They rented an U-Haul and painted it Partridge Family style. He was getting swept up in the exhilaration of the counter-culture movement. The kids rode in the back of the U-haul. I remember they hung a chain mesh at the back door so no one would fall out. Driving through the desert, the sun baked the tempura paint into the body of the truck, and it wouldn’t come off. U-Haul banished my dad from renting their vans for years.

   Very young, I remember when my parents gathered with friends, talking about Vietnam and Nixon’s corruption, and falling asleep in his lap with my head on his chest. His deep, gentle voice would reverberate into my subconscious as I drifted off to sleep. He made you feel safe, always. In 1974, Pete bought some land in the Santa Cruz mountains. He called it rattlesnake mountain. Life always took on a greater, mythic quality with my dad. He built a cabin and a corral for our horse. I spent that summer riding our horse on the hillsides. He always provided us with magical experiences. That summer, I remember Ron Hoffer dropping Pete, my sister, and me early one morning along the highway so we could hitchhike back to Modesto. I was 7, my sister was 5. Needless to say, my mother did not approve, nor was she amused. But it always worked out when you were with Pete. The first ride that picked us up drove us all the way to his house. Those were different times, but even when my dad was pushing the envelope of making prudent decisions, you always felt safe, and had the pleasure of witnessing a man making adventure and forging connections with strangers who became fast friends to Pete.

   When I was young, every Christmas you received a special gift from Pete. Something he made for you. One year he made me a skateboard with my name carved into the deck. He profoundly understood the inherent and intrinsic value in creating. He spent much of the 70’s as a woodworker and had a hot tub business. He was a craftsman, in Colstein when he had the rabbit farm, he felled his own trees, milled his own wood, built his own furniture. He absolutely loved working with his hands; he made you realize it is noble, even sacred work; to manifest something of beauty with your intentions and your skills, it becomes and act of love.

    He was always on the move. He had such an appetite for experience. Sometimes, if you wanted to have a conversation, you had to follow him around, trying to keep up, as he was always juggling multiple projects. But you never felt ignored; he was just always connected; right there; present.

     I recently came across a letter Pete sent me when I was living in Crete. It was 1993, and he was just starting Leave Your Mark! In that classic sense of Pete, his voice came by airmail and through the page. I could hear it; feel it. His calm, reassuring voice, always hinting excitement. He wrote:
   “When you sit on that point and look out over your favorite scene of Crete, think about the balance between expectation and actualization.”
Expectation and actualization. He mastered that balance. I think its why he seemed to make it all seem easy, natural, like a dance, Whitman singing the body electric. My dad wasn’t a religious man, but he was deeply spiritual. It was just a given. He didn’t make a show about it. He embraced and was imbued with the Great Spirit. When I was 5, I asked him “Dad, why are we here on this world, alive?” Of course he had to have the answer. He was my dad, and my hero. He told me,
      “Eric, people have been asking that question since forever. Nobody knows, but the perhaps the reason is just to be here and to live.” It would naturally follow to paraphrase Pete’s simple statement that sums up his attitude about life is:

WE MUST LOVE FULLY, LIVE FULLY, AND LEARN, FULLY
  

 

Lunedi Twenty-Four November, Twenty Fifteen

  Milan

Catching a 9 a.m. Train from Milano to Turin. Our hosts left us the sweetest note, with an element of regret that none of us made the effort to get better acquainted. The timidity of people, and the holding back from experience and exchange. It’s strange…. Adriana, from Brazil wrote to me this morning. I miss her, her intelligence and kindness and genial demeanor. I believe she holds a lot of pain, and working things out. The pain we hold, it keeps us in chains….
We wheel our bags through the neighborhood toward the Cimiano station in a drizzly cold rain. I am feeling off; beaten down, in synch with the gray sky, I suppose. At Milano Centrale we forget to validate our tickets before boarding. A few miles into our journey, the the train man comes by and chews our asses. Stress, nightmares, the unknown aspects of our house in Baldiserro…. Scattered mind, clouded, chilled….. Desperately grasping for my chi… train barrels west toward Torino, and I gaze at the snow-covered mountains to the North. A sweet feeling of melancholy in sensing Winter coming on. 

 From Train

   We disembark at Porto Susa, and the predicament of the inability to find an extraurbano ticket to Rivarolo requires a hike to the nearest tabbachi, and a two-hour wait for the next train out. In Rivarolo we catch the bus to Castelemonte. Jumping off, we scramble to catch the connecting bus at the ex-stazione, not realizing it’s the same bus. Our bus (the one we just disembarked from) is pulling away as we approach the platform. The driver sees us scrambling for the door, but cannot be bothered by a pair of fools. We should of stayed on the bus, but I am all nerves, and mucking it all apart. Stuck in Castelemonte with the Oregon blues again…

   For the first time this journey, I am feeling wearied; as if hung over…. Hung up something about Milan, and coming face to face with all the factors at play in an absurd equation…. A growing sense of defeat I feel, surrounding the property in Baldiserro, or perhaps coming to the realization and inevitable acceptance that I will have to return stateside in January.  

 Ex-Stazione, Castelemonte

We catch a bus to Baldissero for a connection to Vidracco (a 3 km ride). From the Tabbachi stop near the old cemetery, Liam and I haul our bags into Baldissero, two pilgrims dragging their shit around the Italian countryside, winging it. The joyous absurdity of the process hits us, and he tells me this is an aspect of the journey he is sure to tell his own kids some day. I offer the theory this is tradition; how my own father would hitchhike from Santa Cruz to Modesto back in the 70’s with my sister and I in tow. I was weaned on adventure, I suppose.

  European Son

   It’s now five in the afternoon and the sky is growing dusky. As we approach the bus stop in front of our family home on Via Monte Grappa, I realize one of the wheels on my suitcase has burned up, and melted away. I reckon it was not designed to roll long-distance over rural roads. As we are waiting for the bus, Liam asks to hear some Velvet Underground, so we open up the iPad and blast “European Son.” Seems fitting….. And then the bus comes, screaming by, as if the driver could not be bothered to stop for a couple of pilgrims. We are up shit’s creek now… Still two kilometers away from our room in Vidracco, and me dragging a broken box of 50 kg of crap along the road, in the dark. Walking along Italian mountain roads in daylight is sketchy at best, suicidal at night. By the time we reach the Damanhur institute, I am down to one wheel and the fiberglass is wearing through as my burden scrapes along the pavement. I’m thinking of that Bob Dylan song “Brownsville Girl…” How “We’re going all the way until the wheels fall off and burn.” Story of my life; modus operandi.

  Burned up/Burned out

 Pitch black now, and we haven’t even reached the treacherous section of road below the dam at Lago Gurzia… A cliff-hugging section of road edged by a small stone wall on one side, shear face rock hillside on the other. Liam takes a proactive approach and puts out a thumb. The well-to-do Damnhur crowd speeds on by in their Audis, and I am thinking there is not a chance in hell we are going to catch a lift. At this point, I am thinking that laying down in the nearby field the best option. And then some one stops in an old battered Fiat station wagon. The guy gets out and opens the hatch. The back of his rig is a jumble of tools and electrical parts. Our samaritan is an electrician and introduces himself as Paul. Liam piles in the back, crammed between his pack and my box, laying on tops of tools, and parts, and wires. I climb in front and we’re off. Grateful for bailing us out, I mention to Paul how it always seems the tradesmen, the blue-collars are the generous ones. He comments that the Damanhurs would never stop to give a lift, and asks me what I do for a living. When I tell him “Io Sono fabbro.” (A metal worker). His response is quick and empathic…. “Brutale,” he says. Indeed, it is. 

  Artwork at Casa di Giulia  We are dropped in Vidracco and make our way to Casa Juilia on Via Roma. Liam is ecstatic, and rolling on the feeling of badassedness for thumbing us a ride, and high on the carnival aspect that was our journey today. As we step into Giulia’s and climb the gray marble steps to our room level, I am overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude and relief, and awash with the sensation of returning home.  

 Vidracco Sunrise

Milano, Twenty-Two Eleven, Twenty Fifteen.

  

Monumento Equestre a Vittorio Emanuele II
Waking early, and Torino is locked in cold fog… ‘nebbia’….. the atmosphere is nebulous and vague and cutting. We go to Porto Nuova and board a train to spend a few days in Milan. Recent explosions and the massacre in Paris has Europe on edge, and intelligence given to Italian authorities by the FBI suggest Rome and Milan are prime targets for fresh attacks. My family back in the states is certain we are going to perish in a bomb attack, but then a couple months ago they feared I would be swarmed and stole upon by ‘migrants.’ But I will not submit to the spin asters and fear mongering. My mantra is that of Virgil: “Death twitches my ear;
’Live,’ he says… 
’I’m coming.”

Liam is ill. When I returned from my nocturnal wanders last night, he figured he would have a go at the San Salvario neighborhood and ended up partying with a group of Senegalese. Thus, he is racked and poisoned by his fun, and spends the train ride in anguish, just trying not to puke bile from the gin he consumed, and the street hash he smoked with the Africans. His condition is exacerbated when our train stops short and stalls for an hour just outside Milan. Ruthless time… he is desperately seeking a bed and sleep.   

  www.gizmoweb.org

Milano Centrale is a grand station, with an amazing arching steel-spanning roof truss. It evokes old train scenes of steam billowing over the platforms, while lovers give farewells and young men are hauled off to war. Sooty, this, my first taste of Milan.

We secured a room in the Cimiano suburbs, about eight metro stops from the central station. We come out of the Cimiano metro station and enter a forest of apartment blocks, post-war architecture, and in the gray gloomy weather, it’s the architecture of doom.  

 Art Hanging in Our AirBnb

Our apartment is tiny. We are actually on a pull-out sofa in our host’s living room. Two sisters, students. The kitchen is no bigger than a closet. It’s more Tokyo than Milano. Our host Gracie prepares the bed and mothers Liam in his sickness. I go back into the city to explore and track down maps, and I want to visit the duomo and see if any bombs are going off. The aesthetic of the Milan metros is all Mcdonald’s in yellow, red, and black. Ironically, the city is full of McDonald’s, and they seem to serve as begging-grounds for the Romani population. I am reminded of Emir Kusturica’s wonderful film “Time of the Gypsies,” as I witness the brutal squalor of the crippled and the starved alongside the finely dressed and elegant Milanese. In America, the disparate chasm between the rich and the poor is clouded by a fabrication of distance and diverted through the appearance and sensation of affluence, and the genius of media distractions….. The conspired carnival of spectacle, tube-feeding the herd….

In Italy, the dichotomy is all at ground level and brutally in your face. It’s dirty and honest.

  Duomo di Milano

As I ascend from the ground level at the Duomo stop, I am taken aback by this looming cathedral. It’s magnificence is almost grotesque. It’s a powerhouse, as is Milan, solid and extravagant. Over-the-top culture, circus-like in the haute couture filling the streets. Police presence is off-the-chain. I feel more threatened by all the factions of armed forces stationed around the palazzo (local police, carabinieri, alpine forces, army,) than any perceived terrorist threat. The tourists are en masse, as usual… a congregation point, gawk and awe. I circle the duomo, dumbfounded by the scope of it. The horrors of the old testament alongside the paradisiacal, carved in marble. Napoleon was crowned king of Italy here. The brilliance of the duomo nearly rivals the Sagrada in Barcelona, although it lacks the fantastic elements of of Gaudi’s mad design.  

 Driven from Eden

  I return home to Liam, picking up some comfort food along the way. Mashed potatoes, and buffalo mozzarella; something easy and familiar to get him back on his feet. The grocers are from Bangladesh, as are many in Italy, and I have found each one of them to be incredibly kind, curious, and intelligent. We lay low for the night.

 Ferdinand

 Sunday and the sun is shining. I wake early, as usual, and Liam wants to sleep in, and then skate around the hood. I head toward the cathedral, into the city to wander. Milanese families on Sunday strolls mingle with the throngs of tourists, under the watchful l gazings of our protectors. No one seems to be the least concerned of getting blown up, unlike the Americans back home, suckling on the lurid shrieking of the press. I wander into the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II…. perhaps the first shopping mall, built in stone, glass, and money. The center point of the building is a vaulted glass dome, it’s sides embellished with some interesting interpretations of global conquest.  

 Liberty/Progress, Happy Slaves and Peaceful Natives

  Along the way, I encounter people spinning delightedly in hopes of good fortune, upon the testicles of a mosaic bull. A crater has been formed in the tiled floor after centuries of spinning. One theory is that Giuseppe Mengoni, the builder of the Galleria, fell to his death where the bull is laid, shortly before completion of the project. So spinning on the bull is some kind of vague defiance to the law of gravity… another more plausible theory is the bull represents the Torinese, the city and the people. Spinning on the balls of the bull is a way of ‘giving it to’ this rival city. I observe for awhile but I do not participate with the herd. Perhaps the mindlessness of gangs of Chinese tourists, or my feeling of affinity with Turin. Or perhaps I regard it as a slight and sacrilege; I am Taurus, and the bull (especially Ferdinand), and the Minotaur are my spirit animals. 

 I leave the tourists to their follies and wander down Via Dante, toward Castello Sforzesco, the Sforza Castle… the Sforza, powerhouse duchy of Milan, married and aligned for a brief time with the infamous Borgias, and additionally, in fiction, the progenitors of Hannibal Lecter. Their crest is a man, sword in hand, being swallowed by a dragon. Badass. There is a ruthless vibe in Milan, a sense of unrelenting power-grabbing, banking, and political intrigues, machinations, blood…. 

 Sforza 

 Da Vinci
 Arco Della Pace

 From the castle, I wander into the Parco Sempione, a massive park designed, it seems,for thoughtful obambulations, as the pathways are named for philosophers and writers; Schiller, Racine, Cervantes, Goethe….. I go in the direction of the Arco Della Pace, and sit for awhile, as an old homeless Russian shouts around the Arch, in tattered Dostoevsky shoes, disturbing the peace. I head back and meet up with Liam and we explore a nearby park. Gray clouds have settled over the city, and the gloom returns. Out in the suburbs here, in Winter, I feel I am in Russia, or Belgium. Another quiet night in Cimiano… 

 
  Monday…. I have my pilgrimages to sites I consider holy, and Liam has his, so we go in search of the Ralph Lauren outlet in Milan. After circling block after block, we find it, but it has been shuttered…. along the way we meet Alabama, a dread-locked Rasta who asks us to help him celebrate the birth of his child by handing us a ‘gift.’ I receive a cheap bead necklace and Liam receives a cast resin turtle. Once in hand he asks for payment, and begins wailing, “Show some love for Alabama, Mon.” It’s an uncomfortable situation and I return the gift. Liam parts with a euro and we are rid of him….. a nice guy, just hustling two naïve Americans on the streets of Milan. 

We go back out for our last night in Milan and have a simple dinner at the Café Miro. An Italian restaurant run by a Chinese family. The food is simple and good and cheap, and the walls are covered with Mirò. We walk around the Duomo one last time, and the moon, near full, is rising behind her spires. 

  

  It’s an epic scene, and despite struggling in the psychological state of being a coarse and penniless creature in this rich city, I have a fondness for this place, for it’s elegant brutality. Tomorrow we head back toward Torino and into the mountains of Baldissero….

 

Turin, The Dark and The Light

  
30 Via Grappa, Baldissero-Canavese

Stagnacy in Baldissero. Waiting for movement on our property, but it is at a standstill until our stateside attorney can provide contacts here, ownership details, and the typical protocol involved in taking possession of the house. 

 Liam and I go to Turin for a change of scenery. I have been invited to a dramatic event and I am game for adventure. We are not certain if we will be returning to Vidracco/Baldissero so we embark with all our baggage. Moving day….. dragging my hardshell baggage all over Italy… the eternal fool….Housing is tight in Turin, and I am rejected several times on Airbnb, or simply find no response to my inquiries. We finally land a place in San Salvario and snatch it up, despite there being no wifi, no kitchen, no hot water…. roughing it. We meet our host Emilio at the Marconi metro stop and he walks us to the apartment on Belfiore. He graciously lugs my 50 kg box of shit up four flights of stairs. As he makes the first pull on the luggage he looks at me with sad eyes, exclaiming dwindlingly “Oh, Eric!”… as if, with my luggage, I am burdened with herpes or some terminal illness. The building is classic, and the balustrades up the old dingy stairs are epic. I am reminded of an old photo of a man following a woman up to a room…. deliverance, stairway to heaven, and grungy like the Lower East side.  

 Via Belfiore, Fourth Floor

   Stairway ~ Via Belfiore 17

  Unknown

 Josef Koudelka

We settle in and venture out to the San Salvario streets, roaming, thinking Liam could use some urban energy after two weeks in the mountains. We wander around, and find a bar: “Drunk or Sober,” serving hot dogs. I don’t normally indulge in ‘lips and assholes’ wrapped in a bun, but this is comfort food. At € 1.50 a dog, it’s a cheap filling of the voids. After awhile, I go and meet with my friend Ramona to see the dramatic spectacle that is Antonio Rezza.  

 Antonio Rezza

Bizarre again, to find myself waking in the mountains and then to be among the intelligensi and drama set in the urban playground of Turin. Rezza, I find, is some kind of amalgamation of Robin Williams, Alfred Jarry, Eugene Ionesco… like a hyperactive Rain Man strung out on Ritalin… I don’t understand much of his contortioned language, save the miming, and his celebration of the ribald and iconoclastic… and rhythmic with the other preformers, the spectacle is a fusion of theater of the absurd, modern dance, and social commentary, scathing through humor.

Heading back to San Salvario, I relish the passage through Turin’s metros; the stainless steel, glass… black and polished silver is the aesthetic here…. and one has a view of the tunnels while speeding through the subterranean passages. Liam is passed out by the time I return home… Breathless from the climb up our four stories, I collapse into dreaming.

  Five a.m. – I am awakened by the sound of bed-beating-wall, and the moaning of a woman. The neighbors upstairs going at it, and I find myself critiquing the technique of her lover; the encounter seems rushed and rabbit-like. Nonetheless, I am stirred to waking and grab some cold-morning smokes on the terrace. It’s frigid here in Turin, damp and foggy and still dark… the street lights strung over via Belfiore between buildings like the laundry in Napoli glow softly; people are stirring off to their jobs; a pack of carousers down the way along Corso Gugliemo Marconi are singing and shouting drunkenly, giving farewells, as if daring the sun not to rise and thus bringing end to the follies of the night. 

 We spend half the day tracking down a money changer. The post office has refused my bills.. the new dollars, they have ‘Euro-envy,’ they are losing their drab, a bit of color, and metalic, and the clerk seems to think I printed them myself. I carry too many blades and my femur is titanium, so the banks won’t let me in. Eventually, we find one of the private exchanges, the old man in a dusty office with the best rate actually, and I am actually surprised when he asks me for documents. In Genoa, the codger simply took note in an old ledger and sent me on my way.

  Liam along Parco del Valentini.

 Liam is suffering culture shock. He is not keen on Turin and Italians in general have been getting to him. He is jonsing for something familiar, something he can do here that gives him a sense of his own; a skate board……so we quest, into the West end of town to a board shop, and he pimps out with a deck and trucks and wheels…. we assemble his gear on the floor of the the shop. Liam raises hell along the sidewalks all the way back to city center on his new board. My son, a gangly Bart Simpson making racket on the cobbles, scaring old ladies, and turning the heads of all the girls.  

 
  Along the river Po

Back at the apartment, liam goes down for a nap and I go for a stroll to the river, along the Parco del Valentini. Autumn is on here, the leaves are piling up…. it’s all golden reds and grays and yellows. Squirrels and hoody crows forage in the park. The colors along the river are evoke peace; that beauty just before the leaves turn to decay.  

 
  Hoodies and a squirrel.

Waking early, I drag Liam out into the city streets to pilgrimage to some Art Nouveau buildings along Corso Francia, specifically the Casa della Vittoria or ‘Casa dei Draghi,’ (House of Dragons) built by Gottardo Gussoni around 1920 to commemorate the victory of WWI. Giovan Battista Benazzo’s Casa Tasca is another gem. Corso Francia is like Turin’s bit of Barcelona…. these beautiful Gaudi-esque creations, executed in that sublime twisting of organic intention that is art nouveau, especially in the tendriled metal of grills and rails and windows of these remarkable buildings. 

 Casa dei Draghi

  Casa dei Draghi

  Casa dei Draghi

  Casa Tasca

 Casa Tasca

 Wandering, our path comes upon a flat place centered with a plain crude obelisk topped with an armillary. I comment to Liam I sense this place holds some importance. In fact, I count the trees that have been planted, circularly around the obelisk. I remark, “I imagine secret arts practiced here, coven rituals…. some shit goes down on this bare ground.” 

 Piazza Statuto

We wander toward a nearby looming fountain. Jaded riders in the trams speed by before we can cross to where stands this rocky erection speckled with ivory figures, male, and in various states of what looks like anguished, and apexed by a dark bronze angel. The significance of this fountain and its location escapes me until later. 

O

 
                                                   

 Piazza Statuto…. the fountain commemorates the building of the Frejus railway tunnel between Italy and France, but the symbology expressed in the suffering males, seemingly attempting to climb the rubbled spire, goes beyond the suffering of digging tunnels. I learn after visiting this space that the Piazza Statuto, and the obelisk nearby, is the alleged door to the underworld. Turin, and the location of this obelisk specifically, marking the 45th parallel, is one of the vertice points of the dark magic triangle: London – San Francisco – Turin. Ley lines, energies…. The angel atop these rocks is presumed to be Lucifer, crowned as he is with an inverted pentagram. Centuries ago, the gallows stood nearby, and an ancient necropolis is underfoot. Turin is also a point of the white magic triangle: Lyon, Paris, and Turin. No surprise this city has enchanted me. But how is it that I just happened to stumble upon the gates of hell and feel at delighted?

  Castello del Valentino

Later that night, Liam sleeps, and I go out into the foggy dark, and prowl, down to the river Po. The night photography of Brassaï is a cornerstone of my spiritual aesthetic, and I go searching, to capture my own amateur nocturnal expressions of this old city, kicking fallen leaves about on Viale Virgilio along the river. Near the the rowing club and crews glide by swift and nearly silent along the dark water. Passing the police stables, the night smells of wet leaves, horses, and strangely, metal… acrid…… 

 River Po

   

 We wake early for a train to Milan. The shopkeepers are washing urine off the walls along the sidewalk, a morning ritual in San Salvario; the cornerstones of buildings are patinated, corroded, and caked in black by years and years of urination and city dirt. The city is living and breathing, even in the cold. The elegant and the underbelly entwining.  

 Viva il Sabotaggio

  My time in Turin has been brief, but I feel, as the metaphysical painter Giorgio de Chirico (greatly influenced by Nietsche) expressed… Turin is “the most profound, most enigmatic, most disquieting city not only of Italy, but of the world.” And I concur with Nietzsche, who exclaimed: “Evenings on the bridge over the Po: splendid! Beyond good and evil!”…. yes, beyond good and evil, dark and light….. 

 River Po
  River Dora

 Giorgio de Chirico ~ The Departure of the Poet, 1914

Monti Pelati, Vidracco, Baldissero…

  Panorama from Via Monti Pelati

Late Autumn…. cows and sheep and goats are being driven to higher pastures; the ringing of their bells is written in the season’s score. Pungent smoke fills the communes as piles of fermenting vegetation burn and winter crops are planted. In Vidracco, the low bellows of Briggs and Stratton engines sound, as farmers creep along from plot to plot.   Vidracco

  Vistrorio

  
  I walk the Monti Pelati trail down to Baldissero, alone, in profound silence, save the cascade of falling leaves. Autumn shading into winter… Among brown and pale-gray Oaks, golden Aspens with their bone-white trunks, and branches growing bare of foliage stand splintered flaming pale. And the small conifers all Bob Ross-like, with fine-needled bristles stand dotting the hillsides, junipers resiliently crawling out of rocks, shaping twisted like gnarled hands. 

 Sunday morning, and I have climbed up on my hilltop from Baldissero. I stop here often, to sit and think and write, and listen. Fog rolled in last night, and the cold is blistering. Eleven now, and the sun begins to dissipate the mist. I see two hikers on a nearby ridge, gray shadows against the pale white of sky. From this vantage point with Vidracco to the North, Baldissero just below, Vistrorio further up the valley beyond Vidracco, Muriaglio and Campo nestled close to the West, I am centered here on this butte and listen to the Northern singing of the valleys… the steady churning hum of the lime kiln: Fornace Conta Calce; a braying ass; dogs barking; an ambulance siren on the auto-strade across the Eastern ridge; gunshots cracking, and then rippling up along the walls of the gorge formed by the Torrente Chiusella below the dam of Lago Gurzia; the splitting thud of someone chopping wood; a tractor grinding into low gear; faint Sunday greetings lifting from Baldissero’s Piazzo San Marino near the church; small birds in their flutterings among the Aspen stands; the grasshopper’s raspy chortles in the nearby grass….. 

 
  Via Monti Pelati, the foot path, has become my road and daily routine, hiking into Baldisserro to stir up some activity with the property, visit the alimentari, and then hike back. The routine is zen, getting to know the rocks and grass trees, observing the subtle changes taking place as Autumn turns to Winter, encountering the birds as they make their way along the ridge, feeding in the trees.  

 Lago Gurzia

 Torrente Chiusella

  Near Vistrorio

   Along the way to Vidracco, I come upon a herd of cattle being driven up to the valley. I join them for a kilometer or so, alongside the young herder and his dog. A horse brings up the rear. I run interference as the herd is prodded off the road to let cars pass. The dog seems to enjoy the work; the horse just moseys along with the herd.

   

There is a rhythm in all of this….the plants and animals, stones and light…..   Winter is coming….  
Sunrise in Vidracco

Seventeen Eleven, Twenty Fifteen

  Pier Paolo Pasolini

I’ve been invited to a literary event in Torino; a lecture and reading on the poetry of Pier Paolo Pasolini – “Una disperata vitalità. Federico Faloppa commenta Poesia in forma di rosa di Pier Paolo Pasolini.”
  My Hilltop Where I Sit and Think and Write, From The Cemetery Fermata.

So I catch a bus at the cemetery stop in Baldissero and ride to Rivorolo, and then a train to Porto Susa. The journey is much easier without wheeling 50 kg of shit around in a box. I am nervous though (in addition to my usual train anxiety), as my Airbnb request for one night in Torino has been rejected… I am winging it, may be sleeping on a bench or in the station…..
…. and naturally, I assume I have been blacklisted or something from Airbnb. I put in another request and, gratefully, am accepted; a room close to Porto Nuova in the burgeoning San Salvario neighborhood, and near to the bookshop where the reading is taking place. Tute Bene.

The journey is smooth (two hours) and I walk the kilometer from Porto Susa to Porto Nuova where I am to meet up with my friend Ramona. Wide boulevards lined by massive stone buildings, sidewalks covered by arching vaults, extensions of the first floor…. “Italy’s Paris.” Intelligent design. I imagine the streets covered in snow and ice and rain, and the Torinese remain dry and warm under lamps, and strolling beneath the edifice.

  Nietzsche by Munch

Nietzsche wintered here in 1888, and I feel, as he wrote in a letter to his composer friend Peter Gast, that “Torino, my friend, is a capital discovery.” I would like to spend a Winter here, and pinpoint the location where he witnessed the beating of the Turin Horse; the event that supposedly sent him over the edge into madness, declaring himself “Rex Taurinorum,” and writing in “Beyond Good and Evil”:

“Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, daß er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird. Und wenn du lange in einem Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein.”

 “Who goes to fight monsters best see to it that he does not become the monster himself. And when you stare long into the Abyss, the Abyss also stares back into you.”

  Why are these artists and thinkers who play so close to the edge my mentors and teachers and heroes?… Rimbaud, Van Gogh, Artaud, Jarry… the precipice of the fool, followed by his faithful hound, oblivious to the fall, and then Nick Cave’s anti-abyss, post-nihilism conclusion… “You leapt into the abyss, but find it only goes up to your knees.”

  Cobbled streets with the old train rails that curve, like in the horse-drawn days, like old Brooklyn or San Francisco. The bars and cafes of ‘La Belle Epoque’ conjoined as chocolatiers. Rambunctious streets, and a man shifts small brass bells upon a table, hiding the bean, people tossing down 10, 20, 50 Euro bills… trying their luck on a game rigged since its conception. Too swift for my skill-set, and I am not in the mood to throw away my dwindling funds.

I meet Ramona at Porto Nuova and we stroll. I am taken by Turin, as she tells me the stories of different buildings, the growing cultural sophistication taking place in the past decade, and pointing out obscure, notable locations, like the site from an old Dario Argento horror film. Torino is the most well-monied city I have seen in Italy. I drop my bag at my room and secure a key, and we wander around San Salvario. It’s like Mississippi Avenue in Portland, a playground getting all built up, gentrified, hipsterized….a spectacle of restaurants and trendsters, urban, open-carry bottles of Morettis, Peronis, and Heinekens, and the smell of hash floats about. 

The reading is in a bookstore owned by a friend of Ramonas. The selection on the shelves is world-class, and I am in church. The reading is profound, and for the first time I begin to ‘hear’ Italian, without mentally trying to translate what I am hearing. The academic dialect of the lecture and the dramatic renderings of the poems brings the beauty of Italian alive. And to find myself here, in this salon of intelligentsia is surreal. I have started to hear phrases and rhythms in small things; the turning of a lock; the scuff of shoes on the road, silverware settling into the bin….. the language is coming alive in me. 

  Pasolini is regrettably under-appreciated in America, known mostly for his films. Although I don’t understand the full depth of what is being discussed, I glean the gist is that he wished to get ‘beneath’ the artifice of the symbology of the word, synthesize the sacred and profane, the old, like Rimbaud’s plea for a language of poetry, an entirely new set of syntax necessary to live as a poet, breathe as a poet. 

 After the lecture I say goodnight to Ramona and the others and make my way through the boisterous dirty carnival streets of San Salvario back to my room……

  Waking to catch an early train, I walk up to Piazza Carlo Alberto and peer into the windows where Nietzsche wept. Homeless sleeping in the cold doorways of the Palazzo Carignano, sun coming up as burnt orange, glistening on the dark stone cobbles and gleaming on the cold iron railcar tracks.  


 
    

  I hike through the empty morning streets to Porto Susa. The train to Rivarolo is nearly empty, as is the bus from Rivarolo to Baldissero. From the Municipio parking lot I spy Liam poking around up on the ridge, making his way down from Vidracco to meet me. 

  I head up the trail and find him, and we pass some time along the path sitting on large stones and soaking up the Autumn sun, recounting our evenings and gazing down on the village. Strange to go dichotomously from the urban streets Turin to the naked hills and dirt paths of Baldissero……and in some strange way, the rural aspects and honest tranquility here evokes the poetry of Pasolini still stirring in my head…… 


 

Eight November, Twenty Fifteen – Vidracco, Baldissero-Canavese

If you are traveling off the main road by way of public transport in Italy on the weekend, I advise waiting until Monday, and staying indoors. Driving by car from Genoa to Baldissero is a two hour journey. It takes us thirteen by bus and train. We catch a morning train to Porto Nuova in Torino and Metro over to Porto Susa. We catch another train to Rivarolo. It is an ‘extraurbano’ line that requires a different regional ticket. We spend two hours procuring these, and Liam begins to meltdown. In Rivarolo we get bus tickets to Vidracco, where we are staying. A forty-five minute wait for the bus to Castallamonte, and another two hour wait for the last leg, a 20 minute bus ride to Vidracco. Santa Dio! 

We arrive in the dark, and stumble around the hamlet in search of our room. A kindly old man hearing our clamor takes pity on us and points the way.

 
I wake early to watch the sun rise. Venus, Mars, and Jupiter align in the dawn sky, over a wide arc to the East. I have arrived, come to my ancestral home, of the Bertoglios, and Ferrero-Vercellis. They farmed this ground, and mined in the surrounding hills, before emigrating to the promised land of Butte, Montana, during the great boom of the nineteenth-century turning. I ponder how they came from this quiet and sleepy land to the Anaconda mine-fields. Butte, with her infamous mob of brothels, labor-riots, lynchings of Wobblies, and all manner of commerce. The great Wild West… Dust and rock and twisted iron… the plundering of earth and decimation of her First Peoples…. I ponder, how they became swept up in that great wave, that exodus… 

 The scene here is pastoral. A herd of cows ringing low-toning bells mill about in the fields below Vidracco. I walk down Via Molino to an historic mill, the old molino. I’ve stepped into the cinematography of Ridley Scott’s “The Duellists.” Visions of D’hubert and Feraud settling matters of honor out on the wet grass… the European light in the morning, soft and orange. 

 
Via Molino

 
   Walking along the mill stream following the lake side, Lago Gurzia. The product of a small hydroelectric dam, built, I am told, by the Americans. Well yes, because we are mad for damming up the rivers. A tree-covered island in the middle of the lake is host to a gulp of cormorants. They emerge from their bird dreaming, wings stretching, gathering warmth carried in the first morning light. A number of waterfowl, diving ducks, “Pochards,” criss-cross the glass surface of the lake. The calm here, the morning, the beauty…… is profoundly spiritual. 

 
 
   Baldissero and Vidracco are nestled along the Eastern side of a ridge that has become a nature reserve: Riserva Naturale Speciale Monti Pelati e Torre Cives. Monti Pelati, the bald mountains. Blessed with the prospect of nature, I rouse Liam to hike the two kilometer trail from Vidracco to Baldissero. As bald mountains go, the diversity of trees is impressive…. oaks and aspens, in full swing of their Autumnal funeral march, and conifers…. fine-needle bristled branches, and small junipers pepper the hills. The path takes us by the Torre Cives, the Cives Tower, a Twelfth century remnant that stands as a lone sentinel on the high point of the ridge.  

 Vidracco, Vistrorio, Lago Gurzia

  Looking down on Damanhur and Baldissero-Canavese

  We hike along and the landscape is straight out of Skyrim. We keep a look out for wild boar, but half expect to encounter a cave bear, or troll, or maybe come upon an encampment of bandits. 

 Torre Cives

   

  

  

  


   

 Baldissero-Canavese

I like to make personally significant entrances into locations. The first time I set foot on Manhattan, I walked, crossing the Brooklyn bridge. Today, we come in through the woods, into the back side of the village, just above our family’s property. 

 
 Liam  Path into the Woods   

  The Old Family Home                                                                                              

Seven November, Twenty Fifteen – Palazzo Ducale, Genoa

La Palazzo Ducale….. an installation on loan from the Detroit Institute of Arts 
http://www.palazzoducale.genova.it/dagli-impressionisti-a-picasso/ 
  Works from the Impressionists to the Modern, and another exhibit of the photography of Brassaï, some 500+ photos. Died and gone to heaven…. we decide to see both. The Palazzo is a grand building. As we climb the marble steps to the art exhibit, I notice how the path of travel has, over the centuries, bowled out the steps. I imagine this place long ago… swords jangling from the hips of mustached and goateed Cyranos. 

 At the first landing stand two large sculptures, of Andrea and Giovanni Andrea Doria, restored as best as can be. They used to stand outside the palace but were toppled in some kind of uprising. Headless, armless, legs chopped up, they look like dismembered car crash victims, but they are still astounding.

The art exhibit is impressive, including:

Degas – Morning Ride

Cézanne – Three Skulls

Pierre Bonnard – Woman with Dog

Odilon Redon – Evocation of Butterflies

Matisse – Coffee

Modigliani – Young Man with Cap

Chaim Soutine – Red Gladioli

Max Pechstein – Under the Trees

Picasso – Girl Reading (1938)

Picasso – Seated Woman (1960)

A couple Van Goghs, who always brings me to tears. 

 We wander the rooms in awe. Soutine’s “Gladioli” is especially profound. Like something Rimbaud would have painted while writing “Night in Hell.” “Horreur de ma bêtise.”…. A man grappling with his baser instincts, and yet driven and consumed by the desire to express beauty. The anguish and suffering he transmutes through reds and blacks, like tears on fire….. Lava….. Art transcending…. 

 To stumble upon a showing of Brassaï is providence. I have been reading Tropic of Cancer throughout this trip, and viewing his photography of Paris during the 20’s and 30’s is like peering through Miller’s distillations. The graffiti photos, the iconic steps of Montmartre, Paris by night, the brothels, chez Suzy, Porteur aux Halles, lovers on the the dark streets, Dora Maar in her atélier, Picasso, Les Mauvais Garçons, then, to find myself standing before “Le Phénomène de L’extase” is unbelievable. Pilgrimage. This photograph hangs in my pantheon, but I have only seen it on screen, and on page. Pressing my face to the glass, taking in the detail of the threadbare sheets, playing off the texture of her skin, this acknowledgment of the transient nature of our lives, our joys, our beauty, as we grow old and threadbare, our skin thinning with time, the fleeting nature of ecstasy, the fading, la petite mort, and Brassaï’s wizardry in capturing the fleeting light……  

 “Inside the museums, infinity goes up on trial……” and prevails…..

Later, Liam is spent, but I feel compelled to wander. Into the maze, I sit for a spell on the steps of the Duomo. Friday night, the mood is festive…. A girl waiting, and is then joined by friends. Introductions all around, but one girl can barely manage to pull her eyes from her Samsung. Why bother making new friends in the flesh when you are swarmed with hundreds of virtuals.  

 I stumble upon a kind of anarcho-intelligentsia bar. Shaggy, bearded old-timers sentineled at the counter, while the young mingle in boistered conversation. Racks filled with manifestos, a couple tables with literature. I thumb through Camus’ “Myth of Sisyphus,” a sponge in this environment that reminds me of the spontaneous vibe of the old X-Ray Café in Portland. The DJ spinning 60’s Blues. I request some Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, but all he has is Booker T. I hit him with a request for The Sonics, but he has none. He throws on Coleman Hawkins and the energy of the place comes up a notch. It’s the energy of Reinhardt/Grapelli, all hopped up. And then, some kind of garage-band Jazz, infused with Latin….. Very nice, very cred, tarnished like that caramel sheen on old silver. 

 
  All girl in leather pants and a flannel top with the most bewitching eyes I have ever seen, engaged with another, all in denim and tattooed fingers, oblivious to everything around them…. mind melding. Dudes pontificating like B. Bardot back home, and I don’t understand much, except they seem to be drafting a new world model over Budweiser’s, the Italian PBR. 

 I descend to use the toilet. Subterranean, door broken, handle instructions scrawled on the wall. A grungy scent here that pre-dates grunge. A melange of thought and piss and beer I have not encountered since Powell’s Book’s toilets circa 1985… before the great hipster invasion, while Bud Clark flashed to statues; the iconoclastic call to “Expose Yourself to Art!” The kind of urinal Ginsberg could have written an ode to…. 

 I emerge into the street, and wander. Genoa is my Ariadne, but she is not delivering me to the surface. This yarn is coiled, woven like a nest, a languid bed, and Africa is calling, singing softly, and I am led by the hand, this siren of the night, where sailors lose their sea legs to drift along the stones….  

  

Six November, Twenty Fifteen – Nervi

  Liam

  Passeggiata Anita Garibaldi

  Nervi

  The day is warm and we head to Nervi, an old fishing village akin to the postcard hamlets of Cinque Terra. Twenty minutes by bus, and find ourselves in Nervi’s city park. An expansive botanical collection of trees from all over the globe. Nervi has a cliffside promenade, the Passeggiata Anita Garibaldi, running 2 kilometers, with stone stairs lurching down to the water. It’s beautiful and the lizards are swarming. We come upon a pair of male wall lizards locked in a territorial skirmish, the dominant lizard clutching the head of his foe in his jaws. The challenger breaks free and what ensues is an acrobatic chase along the face of the wall. Eventually the young turk is driven off….. 
 
    

 
Liam
  

  

 Wonderful building, sadly in a state of decripitude.

Two old men climb down to the water and bathe in the sun. Another old fellow is chagrined as they are on his fishing perch. Territorial skirmishes…    

   We settle in for awhile in a small cove where the local fishermen have pulled their boats up to shore, in an alcove under the cover of the promenade, the dwellings cut into the rock face. As Liam takes a swim, an old woman comes snorkeling in from the sea. She joins an old man near the water, and I get the impression this is the norm here, the regimen, to be cleansed in the sea and bathed in the sun.  

 
  Old Gods 

  

 We catch a bus back toward the city center and jump off way short of our stop to photograph an equestrian statue and admire a pair of Cane Corsos, Italian Mastiffs, Roman War Dogs, beautiful creatures….. from there we walk in the general direction of the Piazza de Ferrari with the intention of getting lost, as to be lost is to discover. We climb a hill and come upon a kind of park of Petanque courts. Old men tossing metal balls in serious play. This is the Mura dello Zerbino…. and home to the Zerbino Wall Petanque League. We watch a few matches enthralled. One old guy lobs a flawless shot and a girl walking by catches the subtle mastery of his play. She makes an almost imperceptible account of it to herself; a kind of private admiration for his throw. I relish these moments, these flash-in-the-pan images of people making internal contact with the life around them. 

 
  Somehow, we double back on ourselves as we make our way down from the wall, and then seemingly, magically appear at our target point. This is Genoa, you get lost, even in the wide-open streets…..