I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Jet-lag is weird. Italy is magical.

Well, no surprises there. You could hardly expect to sit in three planes over twenty-four hours, cross the equator and who knows how many time zones and not feel weird.

It's just that a holiday is supposed to make you feel rested, and yet here I am feeling not much different than the exhaustion after a work trip.

On the other hand, I have not thought about my work at all for three weeks, and have filled my eyes and ears and, I'm sorry to say, my mouth, too, with sights and sounds and tastes a-plenty.

We did this trip on frequent-flyer points, and with my several weeks' pretty careful planning on the web; and I'm pleased to report all went smoothly. No flight delays; no lost luggage; no dreadful hotels. We stayed in ** or *** pensions and hotels, and while the rooms were always small, they were all clean and quiet, with smooth cotton sheets. The centrepiece of this trip was an eight-day cyling circuit in Italy. We picked up our bikes in Treviso, and every day we'd leave our cases in the hotel lobby and navigate our way to the next town, where the cases would invariably be waiting for us. This was a circuit from Treviso to Venice to Chioggia to Padova to Vincenza to Bassano del Grappa and back to Treviso. J and P did the navigating, and I brought up the rear, day-dreaming my way around the countryside and back lanes of the route. We also gave ourselves a couple of days in Pisa and Florence, a second bite at Venice, an overnight in Milan, and a couple of days in Paris, with visits to family in London at either end.

P took great photos, J sketched in his book and I took a couple of desultory snaps and did some more day-dreaming.

Two highlights.

The first day of our cycling tour was one of the longest: Treviso to Venice. We struggled a bit with the road maps and instructions, and also got a bit lost before heading through the industrial zone of Venice before riding along that long strip of land to the main island. When we got there, we had to find our way through to the Casa San Andrea, on a small lagoon near the Piazzale Roma. When we arrived, we were exhausted and collapsed onto the beds, too tired to get up but wondering if this was going to be such a great idea, if we were going to be too exhausted to see anything of the beautiful places on our itinerary. After a while we regrouped, though, and struggled out to buy vaporetto tickets in time to do the most magical trip down the Grand Canal as the sun began to set. I had not been to Venice for 35 years, and it was P and J's first time. Global traveller that he is, P was still not prepared for the magic of Venice, and it was extremely gratifying to see his amazement. (I can't get the little camera to start at the moment: I'll try again when I'm less tired.) So much water! So many beautiful buildings! I bought myself a creamy guipure lace fan (even the tourist souvenirs are elegant) and for dinner had fresh sea bass with what the waiter called a "sausage": she served my fillets onto a separate plate then mashed up much of the head and other parts with more oil, then strained this extra-flavoured oil over the white flesh. Delicate and delicious.

The restaurant was just around the corner from the piazza San Marco; just near it was the entrance to one of the narrow calles that lead you into the shops and alleys and laneways. People would mysteriously enter or leave in single-file; so as we were sitting and watching we had this tremendous sense of potential: the city both opened up to us, like the fish served before me, along the Grand Canal; but also holding its secrets in reserve.

When we returned a week later, it was to a different hotel, and with a date. I'd found a website selling tickets to a performance of the Barber of Seville in a palace, and had booked, but failed to print off a map. We had a day touring and wandering around, and had planned to go back to the hotel, change, and get directions. Instead we decided just to find our way there. Turns out there is not just one Palazzo Barbarigo on the map, though. We wandered and wandered, and eventually found our way to La Fenice, thinking the main opera house would know where it was (I knew our palace was not far from there). But the box office had closed (they'd had an afternoon performance) and the cloakroom staff had never heard of it. I was starting to think I'd been the victim of a scam. I started desperately asking strangers, as I had enough Italian to ask politely for directions (though my comprehension of the spoken word is only rudimentary). Most people had never heard of it; but one man gave me detailed instructions I couldn't follow... Eventually I strolled boldly into a posh hotel and asked the concierge, who gave me several maps, the brochure from the company and set me straight, also running out after me when I left the reservation behind.

Eventually we did find the entrance, down the darkest of narrow dark alleyways, with a locked gate and a sign with a hand pointing mysteriously around the corner, which seemed to lead only to an apartment entrance. Then we found the button you pressed; and a voice said they would open the door at 8.00. So we went off to eat, and came back in plenty of time. It was a chamber performance — four or five singers; a piano, a cello and two violins — performed in several different rooms in the Barbarigo-Minotto palace; and it was utterly magical. The rooms could accommodate only about 50 people, and the singers were wonderfully engaging, moving amongst the audience with charm and grace. Beautiful strong voices and accomplished acting all round. No sur-titres, no sets apart from the palace itself, but it was perfect for this drawing-room opera to be staged in drawing-rooms with Tiepolo paintings and a palatial bedroom. When Figaro shaves Dr Bartolo, we were close enough to smell the shaving foam. After the first act, we were ushered into a different room, but invited to take in the view of the grand canal from the balcony. When you're in Venice as a tourist, you get glimpses of much wealthier travellers and residents in private courtyards and balconies. For a brief moment, we had our own balcony from which to look out at the water traffic below. Pretty much a perfect musical experience, I would say.

Other wonderful things on this trip: a Chopin concert in a C13 church in Paris; As You Like It at the Globe in London; the artichoke tart served with gorgonzola cappucino followed by potato ravioli with truffles and truffle oil at an unassuming little restaurant halfway between Bassano and Treviso; mint liquorice and morello cherry gelati eaten on the enormous chessboard in the square at Marostica; Giotto's Scrovegni chapel in Padua; being given two huge bunches of grapes by a lovely family as we rode from Vincenza to Bassano; reading A Room with a View in Florence; supper at the Mozzarella Bar, also in Florence; buying a coral and glass necklace in Venice; sneaking into my nephew's choral rehearsal in the Temple church in London; two pilgrimages in Paris: first, to climb the towers of Notre Dame after an hour queuing in the sun to see the chimeres and gargoyles up close; and another to take J to see the Mona Lisa in the Louvre; and a day in London with our dearest, much-missed family friends currently taking a sabbatical in Oxford.

Oh. And in case you're thinking this all sounds too perfect, factor in the horror of waking up in the middle of the night in Bassano, and realising you have developed a case of raging conjunctivitis. Spend several hours lying awake rehearsing conversations in your elementary Italian about locating and talking to pharmacists and doctors. But then when you tell your partner, he reaches into his first-aid kit and pulls out the broad spectrum anti-biotic drops for ears and eyes... Oh. What can I say? It was perfect after all.


Pavlov's Cat said...

Welcome home! It all sounds fabulous. Especially if you really truly did no work.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Nope. Absolutely nothing. Nix. Nada.

And the bliss of travelling without a laptop? And without having to keep receipts and travel diaries? Inexpressible.

Most of all, I just switched off...

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

Welcome home! I'm happy you and your family had such a wonderful trip. Funny, isn't it, that the stressful things -- like finding antibiotics or an opera house -- are the ones that much later become the good stories.