Monthly Archives: October 2017

LA SERENISSIMA – October 16th

We thought we were headed to Padua but we got distracted and spent the day looking for Petrarch’s mummified cat. There’s a unique geological area southwest of Padua called the Euganean Hills comprised of conical hills of volcanic origin. It was here, in the town of Arquà Petrarca, that the poet Petrarch retired from the world near the end of his life. His home may be the oldest writer’s house museum in the world. The dwelling has had countless visitors since the 14th century and, yes, is reputed to contain the remains of his beloved pet cat.

We find the old poet’s digs only to discover 1) it’s fucking chiuso lunedì and 2) we’re famished. Signs point to a place called L’Enoteca di Arquà and we follow ‘em. We’re offered a table by the railing of the terrace. The day is perfectly balmy. We share the meat and cheese plate and the homemade marinated mushrooms and kill two bottles of sparkling water.

Onward to Padua! Today, we will return our VW, it having served us mightily and well. But first we locate our apt for the next two nights. It’s in the middle of the outskirts of the University of Padua campus which is in the middle of Padua. The rental agent is charming and makes us feel at home. Onward! Effortlessly, I fill the tank with many litres. The Hertz folks are mildly amused to see us. The tension of the ding inspection melts away as we’re given a thumbs up. And we just walk away.

I discover an interesting osteria and make a fucking reservation. Boy, are we glad I did, because it got packed. It’s just a modest place with a two-page menu. We order the medley of Padovan appetizers (yes, we love bacala) and what’s listed simply as ‘Spaghetti Bolognese’ but is the best iteration of gluten I’ve ever encountered. Osteria Ai Scarponi – remember the name.

LA SERENISSIMA – October 15th

We are back on line at the Van Gogh exhibition, intent on following the audio guide this time. The real benefit of the guide is that it slows me down and I rest on each selection. Some of the explanations add to the enjoyment, some are just stem-winders, but seeing this a second time adds immeasurably to the thrill of being in Vincent’s company. Some of the paintings are now imprinted, though perhaps temporarily, in my old memory bank.

Palladio’s Teatro Olympico is not far. It is the oldest extant indoor theater in Europe, planned by him and completed after his death. The first performance took place in 1585. The Globe Theater in London was built in 1599. The onstage scenery, designed by another, depicts a full-height Roman-style screen of statuary, columns, and niches of painted wood and stucco, with three open arches that give the appearance of long streets receding into the distance. We sit in the amphitheater of wooden tiers and gape at the stage. I can imagine Medea killing her kids right here.

This is followed by the aimless search for fucking lunch. When your dogs are barking and the breakfast croissant and coffee are but fumes, what better time to try to make a well-considered decision where to sit and have a midday meal. Meandering is hopeless, then I spot a spot that looked attractive yesterday and still does. Osteria Monelli. It’s dimly lit. They miraculously have a table (this is Sunday after-church / brunch hour). The food is slow to arrive, but my gnocchi in squash purée and Joss’ piece of perfect tuna would set the tone for the rest of the day.

But. A stop back at Campo Marzio reveals that housekeeping has staged a fragrance assault on Joss’ room. She demands and gets new bed linen, but the ever-expiring insect on her windowsill remains extant. We rest the puppies.

In the late afternoon, we take the car and drive to Palladio’s most iconic building, Villa Rotonda. This is his most copied, adapted, and historically important work. Basically, it’s a four-story domed cube with pedimented porticos and grand staircases off each of the four sides. The perfect symmetry and luminous golden stone in the slanting sunlight create an ambience of classic serenity. The interior is closed to us, but wandering the grounds is eminently satisfying. An adaptation of Don Giovanni was filmed there in the late ‘70s.

Several hundred meters from La Rotonda lies Villa Valmarana ai Nani. The three buildings that comprise this ‘villa’ were lavishly frescoed in the 17the century by Giandomenico Tiepolo and his son, Giambattista. The motifs range from rustics at play to exotic Asian tableaux to mythological dramas. Hundreds of putti. The Valmarana family still owns the complex as evidenced by the hoard of family snapshots. FYI: the ‘Nani’ are sculpted dwarves. A cockamamie ‘legend’ involving an ugly princess ignorant of her looks recounts the petrifying of her dwarvish retinue. Walking back to the car, I am struck by the autumn colors of the trees and vines, having completely internalized the morning’s Vincent exhibit.

Once again, we take our chances finding a place to eat. I’ve written down a couple choices on a scrap of paper. Our first try nets us a table. Fuori Modena is its name. I can’t remember what our main courses were, but Joss ordered Culatello di Zibello, a thinly-sliced, aged pork of exquisite flavor. It has an apple scent and melts in your mouth. I’ve never tasted anything like it. It’s not available in the US.

It’s such a perfect day. I’m glad I spent it with you.

LA SERENISSIMA – October 14th

Our next destination, Vicenza, is not far from Treviso, but when I explain our itinerary to Anna, our hostess, she tilts her head to the side and coos, “Asolo.” Asolo, that lovely hillside town situated among the cypresses. There’s no easy way to get there, of course. And once we’ve negotiated the formidable incline, we are forced to confront the dreaded traffico limitata quandary. After a couple painful forays into the outer limits of the town, we settle into perpetual circumnavigation of the closest parking lot. It takes twenty minutes, but we get lucky.

Huffing (me) and striding (Joss) up the narrow cobblestone streets or sticking to the relative safety and anonymity of the arcades, many charms are discovered, including the last house the Eleanora Duse lived in. Her final resting place can also be found somewhere in Asolo, but not by us. We retreat to the main piazza in hopes of turning lunch from a theory into a practice. We score a table outdoors on the piazza and order a Caprese salad and two ‘toasts’, a grilled ham-and-cheese of sorts. Slim Italian men in navy crewneck sweaters are everywhere. So are spandex-clad, long-in-the-tooth cyclists, a very bro-ish crew high on accomplishment.

It’s a long and circuitous route to Vicenza from Asolo, because, in GPSia, there is no simple, matter-of-fact ‘Point A to Point B’. We wend our way in the city center, park, and walk, but there’s no need. Hotel Campo Marzio has parking. With the VW shuffle accomplished, we accommodate to our snug accommodations. Both our rooms are dorm-size, with just a single bed. And a bidet, always with the bidet. Yeah, the thumping beat of spin class music that penetrates the double-glazed window from God Knows Where.

A flier in the lobby promotes a Van Gogh exhibition at the Basilica Palladiana. We’ve got time this afternoon. The Kröller-Müller Museum contains the second largest collection of Vincent in Holland and has contributed 40 some odd paintings and 80 drawings. Eschewing the audio guide, the work still dazzles. These paintings cover his career and I’ve never seen any of them, not even in books. Immediately upon exiting, we commit to going first thing tomorrow, but with the audio thingie.

Vicenza harbors quite a bit of Andrea Palladio’s work, his classic civic projects, like the Basilica Palladiano and the Teatro Olympico, as well as his most iconic domestic work – La Rotonda. The Basilica Palladiano fills one side of the Piazza dei Signori. Its great bronze roof is supported and surrounded by a dramatically compelling double loggia, a two-story arcade of marble arches and brick vaulting. After Vincent, Joss and I perambulate the loggia, an ideal place to decompress. We stop to watch a fire eater below work an amiable crowd.

We order two splendid pizzas, but don’t finish ‘em.

LA SERENISSIMA – October 13th

At ten o’clock we bid Belluno arrivederci. Earlier, a preemptive scan of Google Maps revealed nearby villages that no roads lead to named Mel, Gus, Gena, and Barp. “I went to Barp and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.” Today our aim will be true. Next stop – Treviso. We’re going down, down onto the Veneto plain from whence we came. After many spookily endless tunnels, the VW arcs over a trestle that spools out in front of us for miles while it threads back and forth across the valley floor.

Semi-impulsively, I pull off the highway to stop in the small town of Vittorio Veneto. Some sources say Zeffirelli shot scenes from Romeo and Juliet in its streets and piazzas. I can’t confirm this, but there are some striking spaces and buildings. After strolling as the day warms up, we sit down for a double espresso. The couple sitting in front of us is cinematically elegant. She smokes; he slouches. He is wearing the navy blue crewneck sweater and collared shirt that seems, with only slight variations, to be the uniform of a certain large subset of Italian men. And shades. She appears to be created out of the smoke of her own cigarettes.

We don’t linger. Treviso calls. Again, caution concerning our nemesis, zona di traffico limitata, has us plop the car in a lot and search for our new lodgings on foot. We ring the bell and a bell-like voice answers. I identify myself as a guest. Silence. Bummer. We turn back the way we came. We are startled when a small man in a green brocade tunic stops us. “Come with me,” he says and leads us back. Our lodgings are a palazzo that has been designed with understated, over-the-top, Italian style. The only flaw is the heavy scent of too many lilies. Our hostess, Anna, undertakes to help us move our car from the lot to the back of the palazzo.

Treviso is enchanting, with streams cutting channels through the renaissance city. These waterways are fast-moving and shallow, used to power mills, not for transportation, like Venice. The city fish market is under a arched metal shed on an island called Il Mulini. The current on either side washes the fish slop away after the market shuts down. At least four waterwheels turn, now just for the pure romance of it. Treviso can be compared to Venice, but unfairly. Far smaller in size and ambition, it has charmed me completely.

I can’t help but notice signs of an ongoing literary conference called CartaCarbone, Carbon Paper. It appears to be four years old and exclusively Italian. Joss and I unsuccessfully visit the Duomo. This shortcoming becomes the basis for a riff on the potential for a Homo Duomo. The permutations are endless. We sit on a stone bench in the main piazza as the twilight gathers, eating the last the crumbs of our Cortina cookies and people-watching. Then we search for the restaurant where Anna has reserved a table for us. It is a sophisticated place, but a couple is feeding their puppy under the table and at another table another couple is negotiating with their toddler while their young daughter plays with a noisy Speak-and-Spell device.

We sleep under canopies.

LA SERENISSIMA – October 12th

Dawn cracks at the Heidi House. I pad about downcast, bereft of coffee. There’s frost on the grass outside. The dark mountains surrounding Cortina give way to pink, developing texture and depth due to the shallow, focused sunlight that breaks on the rugged rocks. Back in the car we drop the keys off, caffeinate at Alverà, and begin a search to find the base for the Freccia nei Cielo (The Arrow to the Sky), the cable car that could take us 10,000 feet up. Up and down, up and down the mountain we drive haplessly. Joss’ directional skills are not working.

Let’s just stop, stop and fill the goddamn gas tank, why don’t we? Something practical, something we can accomplish. How do you fucking open the fuel cover on this VW? I dunno. There’s no sign of a lever anywhere. The cover doesn’t pop open in response to pressure. The VW’s manual is in Italian. Joss’ translator app on her phone makes hilarious hash of it. The tension breaks. We laugh helplessly.










Pag. 318, data techno-




THE VEHICLE or pag. 37.

Our predicament must seem pretty abject, for the previously occupied attendant comes over and makes the universal sign for ‘Turn on the fucking ignition’. Voila! With the touch of a finger, the fuel cover peeks open. Filling half a tank costs 45 euros.

It’s all downhill now, Autostrada most of the way. We take no chances with ‘restricted traffic’, so upon entering Belluno, leave the car at the train station and hoof it to the hotel, The Albergo delle Alpi. The man behind the front desk offers us parking off an alley in the rear. Soon, we’re situated. Joss got the corner room with a panorama of the mountains; I got a wall.

After ninety minutes downtime, we reconnoiter Belluno, mostly for delayed lunch. Burgers! Then we walk the town. The view of the hazy river valley from Porto Rugo, the original gate of the city, is dreamy. Back at the hotel, we engage the woman at the front desk, our first conversation with someone other than ourselves, who gives us a great dinner tip. La Buca. Italians serve up skirt steak, calling it ‘tagliata di manzo’, and it has been invariably delicious. Tonight is no exception.

LA SERENISSIMA – October 11th

Evidently, there IS a route called The Great Dolomite Road, but all the roads through the Dolomites are great. I have never seen the likes of these mountains or these forests, for that matter. The peaks have incredible personality and the forests are infused with light, not like, say, the Maine Woods which can be a dark, forbidding wall. The road zigzags by way of endless switchbacks through the green and gold forest which will break suddenly to reveal soaring limestone crags. The road is well-engineered; there’s a rhythm to the twists and turns, which mitigates the sensation of imminent peril. Then we make a turn like any other and behold open meadows folding over each other and a chalet perched where no dwelling should possibly be.

I’ve been trying to follow the directions the helpful women at the Hotel Grief’s front desk gave us along with Joss’ best, yet, to the best of my understanding, we’re headed in the general direction of Cortina. A most beautiful lake had been mentioned but I don’t remember the name and proceed with little hope of actually finding it. I need a pit stop and we pull off at what I take to be a rest area. The restrooms are down a bunker-style concrete tunnel. Surprise. At the end of the tunnel is Lake Carezza, a crystalline, blue-green pool that mirrors jagged peaks and clouds. I’ve only seen these colors in the mineral springs of Yellowstone, but this one is not thermal. I have the photo.

Switchbacks become second nature. Joss relaxes. We sail along on awe, each vista more enthralling than the one before. The descent into Cortina reactivates the agita, perhaps because civilization now begins to accumulate. Everywhere evidence of the epic winter season. Cortina d’Ampezza – host of the 1956 Winter Olympics. Ski lifts to nowhere and vast empty parking lots. And, yes, in Cortina, our nemesis – the ‘restricted traffic’ zone.

We find only confusion when attempting to contact our rental agent. I can never remember to bring my fucking passport along when we book into our lodgings. This results in a blip or two of self-loathing and its aftermath, the dreary schlep back to the car to get it. Speaking of dreary, recounting in full this rondelay of pathos would no doubt stall any interest anyone might have in this travelogue. Then, the keys are ours.

Our glycemics have taken a potentially disastrous dip into ‘hypo’, so almost automatically we step into the nearest pasticceria. It’s called Panificio Alverà and it is the gluten equivalent of the Dolomites. We gobble one croissant with prosciutto e lattuga e pomodoro and another, then submit to strudel and espresso. On our way out, I buy pastries for the morning and a half kilo of assorted cookies for the road.

We have rented Heidi’s House, though without Grandfather or the lass herself.

LA SERENISSIMA – October 10th

It’s a straight shot from Sirmione to Bolzano on the Autostrada, from the Veneto plain to the mountains of the South Tirol. As we enter Bolzano, Joss does not want to navigate us through another ‘restricted traffic’ zone, however our destination, Hotel Greif, known to us as Hotel Grief, is on the periphery of same. Nevertheless, I pull up in front of the hotel, drop the bags and Joss in the one room that’s ready, and maneuver the VW into Hotel Grief’s nearby parking. The hotel is a stylish modern concoction within a typical Mitteleurope building. We’re hungry and under-caffeinated, so lunch at the café in the alpine sun of Walther Square.

German speakers make up a high percentage of Bolzano’s residents, because the South Tirol has been a contested area for centuries – Austria-Hungary vs. Italy. The architecture is very different from the Veneto. I’d say, “Switzerland”, if I knew what I was talking about.

We’re in Bolzano for two reasons – 1) It’s the gateway to the Dolomites and 2) Otzi, the Iceman, sleeps the long sleep here. Yes, the Iceman, murdered on a mountaintop some 5,500 years ago. The frozen dude they found in 1991 with all his belongings intact. He lies in a custom-built freezer in the South Tirol Museum of Archeology. There are two back-up freezers.

When we arrive, there’s a discouraging line, but it moves. Plugged into the audio guide, we follow Otzi’s story; from the accidental discovery by a pair of hikers to the dispute over the international boundary between Italy and Austria (Italy prevailed, but Austria performed a decade’s-worth of tests before the Iceman was returned to the redesigned Museum in Bolzano) to the continuing reevaluation of the Iceman’s condition. A thorough analysis of everything about the gentleman – his clothes, his weapons, his tattoos, his stomach contents – was performed by the Austrians. And then we step up for a glimpse of him through a window in his special freezer. Macabre and wonderful. At the end of the exhibit a full reconstruction of Otzi standing looking warily over his shoulder is terribly convincing. Pretty fucking unbelievable.

The full comprehension of Otzi and his predicament helps us work up an appetite. We opt for schnitzel at FranzenkanerStuben. We have a drive ahead of us tomorrow.

LA SERENISSIMA – October 9th

Our time in Sirmione has been spent taking it easy and keeping it simple. This is made even simpler by the fact that there’s not a whole lot to do here in the off-season. Hell, all the laundry’s done. I contemplated a drive around Lago di Garda or, better yet, a nautical adventure on one of the ferries that ply the waters, but I can’t make any sense out of all the disparate sets of information. If I stare at schedules long enough something will be revealed. The figures coalesced and I got it, finally. We are booked on the 11:40 boat from Sirmione to Garda, roundtrip.

An hour and ten minutes up the Lago, we debark at Garda onto a bright and café-filled promenade. We stroll the length and back, assessing the lunch potential. Under some shade trees, we proceed to order two pizzas and bat the usual chatter back and forth. Gradually, a monologue swells from behind Joss. A German lady has A LOT of important shit to say to her mute companion. Nary a pause for breath or punctuation. At our feet a flock of mallards cruises the pavement for crumbs. Not birds, again. As we gnaw on the penultimate crusts, a woman takes the table next to us and begins to mutter in Italian. She gets up and sits back down, settles in. She is brought the bread basket and begins to toss bits at the ducks, except she’s sprinkling gluten on my bag of ferry schedules. Oh, jesus, let’s go shop. Joss buys a sweater that bears a ‘Mood in Italy’ tag.

Our ride back to Sirmione takes just 50 minutes because hydrofoil. From the railing, the Roman villa’s site is even more impressive. We’re pretty relaxed, goddammit. There’ll be five one-night stands from now until we are get to Vicenza and Padua for four nights.

Because of our profound lack of agita, we are awarded our best meal so far, at Osteria al Torcol.

LA SERENISSIMA – October 8th

Joss took the morning’s first shower and reports that we have a psychedelic showerhead: it has LED lights that cycle through blue, green, and purple, tinting your lather while contributing nothing to your spirits. Far out, Italia! But, hey, let’s do more laundry! We know now that a complete cycle will take about four hours, so we can establish a leisurely pace today, beginning by dealing with semi-homemade breakfast of nasty croissant and joe from a machine.

Sirmione’s strategic position meant it controlled Lago di Garda, the largest in Italy and a major transalpine trade and military route. In the 13th century, the Scaligeris began construction of a fortress to protect the peninsula and lake and therefore, the Veneto, their investment. And this is exactly what a small fortress should look like, crenellated walls and towers and a moat, as well as a protected harbor. We cross the moat, circle the battlements, and climb the main tower for views of the town, the vast lake, and the mountains beyond the far shore.

Our custom has become ordering a pair of pizzas for lunch and share halfsies. Kinda struck out today – very blobular disks, these. Way too much fucking cheese. I doubt this outcome will alter our pie habit. After cheese-a-rama, we stroll out to the tip of the peninsula, where the ruins of an enormous Roman villa lie. For centuries, it has been called the Grottos of Catullus, for no other reason then the poet described a home in Sirmione. The villa’s a complete ruin, foundation walls almost exclusively. It is situated on a bluff that rises a hundred feet above the lake and commands attention even under these much reduced circumstances. A grove of olive trees the size of a football field covers the central open area. Along the length of the structure runs what was a wide basement corridor called a ‘cryptoporticus’, now the favorite word of day. The villa possesses a spectacular vista, while below is a ‘beach’ called Jamaica Beach.

We wend our way down. It’s not a sandy beach, but yards and yards of flat, worn limestone, populated by isolated groups of people. No one is swimming; the lake must be getting chilly. After all, it’s all Alpine runoff. We follow the beach around the bluff all the way back to place where we first had lunch.

It had to happen. The BAD MEAL. I noodled online and trusted the significant props the place got from TripAdvisor. No names will be mentioned nor food details summarized. Pfeh. I hope we don’t wake up puking.


LA SERENISSIMA – October 7th

Let’s go! Because, on Wednesday’s triumphal entry into Verona, we abandoned our VW in the far away Arena parcheggio, we will schlep our worldlies to the car, drop ‘em, and then pay a visit to the nearby Arena, which we have not seen except from the outside. Ever-practical, we hail a cab. The arena is colossal, stupendous, built in Century One. It takes reminding that it is a building and not a geological feature. Joss and I wander among the tiers, marveling at the bizarre setup underway below. What is Andrea Bocelli up to? A thirty-foot stark white head looms from the back of what I suppose to be the stage and in the ‘infield’, a vast area of white plastic has been unfurled. SuperTarp! What THE FUCK is Andrea Bocelli up to? It turns out this will be a performance of Andrea Bocelli – ON ICE! We fucking missed it. My most grievous regret.

Joss, the navigatore esperto, guides us to Sirmione, an ancient town at the tip of a skinny peninsula that juts into southern Lago di Garda. A police pass is required to enter Sirmione. Automobile traffic is restricted, due to the narrow, medieval thoroughfares and a clusterfuck of heedless pedestrians/tourists wielding lopsided cones of drippy gelato. Quickly, Joss becomes way unhappy. I stop the car. We breathe. After a couple dead ends, loop-de-loops, and hysterical backings-up, we finally arrive at our one-bedroom-with-a-lake-view-terrace B&B. And a miracle unfolds.

The apartment has a washing machine. We throw in a load of darks, wait for what we assume is enough time for a thorough cycle, then stop waiting and drift down to the Lake to find a salad, returning to the sound of continuing tumbling, and not even the goddamn spin cycle. We made a bet and Joss wins a gelato. She rejiggers the machine and we walk into Sirmione, past Maria Callas’ villa, to find some milk for morning tea (and some cookies), only to return to continued washing. Six hours later, clean clothes. With joy in our hearts, we drape the hyper-clean items on a drying rack on the terrace.

The next couple days in Sirmione will offer us a respite from our heady pace. We just won’t move the fucking car until we leave. The crowds seem to be mostly Italians taken advantage of a beautiful weekend and the end of tourist season. A dog has been barking outside our door off and on all day. On top of that, those much-desired cookies turn out to be BAD! Yummy-looking sandwich-type confections in lemon and chocolate with booze-drenched filling. Pfeh.

As we depart to find dinner on the streets, a nonna and that yipster pet tussle in the hall. She can’t control the thing, which takes out its pique on my ankle. Ow. We scram. Later, because of repetitive nonna hollering, we learn the dog’s name is Eric.