Tag Archives: Italy

January 1, 2016

Born on this day in 1449, Lorenzo de Medici, “Il Magnifico.” He wrote — among other things — the following words:

Quant’ e bella giovinezza,

Che si fugge tuttavia!

Chi vuol esser lieto, sia:

di doman non c’e certezza.

If you know any romance languages, you can probably figure that out, but just in case, it says (more or less), “How beautiful is youth (or how beautiful is it to be young)/which nevertheless disappears (runs away)/Be happy all who wish to be/of tomorrow there is no certainty.”

Basically, “enjoy life while you can.”

I am currently reading this book, from which I am learning a good deal. Tim Parks’ non-fiction are always terrific. (Not saying his novels aren’t terrific, I just haven’t read any of them — yet.)

Update: Ok, I just finished the afore-linked Tim Parks book and it includes his translation of the bit of poetry above. His translation is, obviously, better than mine. Here it is: How fine youth is/Though it flee away/Let he who wishes, enjoy/Nothing’s certain tomorrow.

Feast of St. Francis — from the Archives

Very busy these days, folks (understatement). So not able to post as much or about all the stuff I’d like. But I wanted to acknowledge the feast of San Francesco, the man who blessed the birdies and tamed the wolf. In honour, a piece I wrote a couple of years ago.

It makes me realize that I miss my kitties immensely, and that I still feel such guilt about their last days, particularly Pushkin’s.

 

Museo Archeologico Nazionale dell’Umbria

These pics are from when I was in Italy, in April. I went to the Archeological Museum of Umbria, which is full of fascinating history and seemingly endless artifacts — Byzantine earrings and Roman tableware and even the remains of Etruscan aristocrats (in ash form). It was Easter Sunday so entry was free and I spent about four hours there. I didn’t take pics of the exhibits, though I think it was allowed, provided you used no flash. I just wanted to enjoy looking and not worry about capturing. That said, once I left, I — being me — found a cat to photograph, the “official” cat of the museum, it was explained to me. The very kind folks at the ticket booth gave kitty a home, food, veterinary care, and love. (I think she had recently had her spay, hence her shaved belly.)

Official Greeter.

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And here is a hideous view from one of the museum’s upper-floor windows.

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Umbria — so ugly!

Bastille Day

I have visited France twice in the last year. Those visits came after an absence of 22 years on my part, my last visit having been in 1992, though I had lived, studied and worked in Paris for five years previously (i.e., 1986-1991). I always stayed abreast of French politics, though, and kept my language levels up, and stayed in touch with friends living in Paris and Lyon.

So what was the first thing that struck me in November, 2014, when I got off the plane at Orly? Well, given that I had been in Italy for a couple of months, it struck me that it seemed I had landed in a Protestant country where everyone was whispering and everything was super well-organized. Everything is also relative, of course. And once I adjusted from my “Italian voices/Italian ways” settings, what struck me was how incredibly popular Starbucks had become.

When the first Starbucks opened in France (in Paris) over a decade ago, the doomsayers were out en force, promising an early death. And while Starbucks follows a rocky economic path in Europe, what I saw in Paris indicated that at least with a youthful demographic, it is extremely popular. First of all, most all Starbucks in Paris are often, if not always, bustling…with younger people and yes, some foreigners. For us, there is that sense of familiarity and, of course, the free wifi. Free wifi is more common in France now, but still nothing like in North America.

The crowds (and at certain Starbucks I do mean crowds) of people I saw in Parisian Starbucks were mostly French young people — under 30-year-olds — and in the after-school hours, under 20-year-olds. I think younger French people like feeling cool, like the celebrities they see carrying Starbucks cups on TV and in movies. At some locations the lineups tried one’s patience.

And some locations were right on the much-vaunted Places – the parts of the city where four or five main streets meet and one can find restaurants on almost each corner. When I lived in Paris those spots were always taken by the classic French brasseries with their red awnings, their steak frites and their omelettes or Croque Monsieurs. Now one can get a pricey Starbucks coffee or pastry (as in North America, it ain’t cheap), slightly changed in flavour or name to accommodate the locals.

I may be reading too much into all of this, but I think it is positive and another indication that the French are becoming less parochial. I think it kind of goes hand in hand with something else I noticed both during my last two visits and also from watching a lot of French news in the past decade or so. What I noticed is this: far more integrated French people of Maghrebin background; integrated into jobs where one would not have seen them, say, 25 years ago. For example, news anchors. That might sound silly, but I remember when I came back to Canada in 1991 after five years in France, I found it odd to see so much diversity on news shows. Now one sees that in France.

In fact, when Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested in the States a few years ago, I made a point of watching French news and what was interesting to me was how many correspondents had Arab last names. It was a refreshing change. One also sees far more French people of North African/Arab/South Asian origin in politics and law, in academia and so forth. Far from being oppressed (as the apologists for the Charlie Hebdo massacre would have you believe), Muslims in France are at home.

I am not convinced Jews are, unfortunately, but that is for another post.

Oh, and on the matter of Starbucks in France, I just found this article.

Happy Bastille Day, French people!

For Canada Day: the tale of the lady from Quebec who was really mean to me last year in Italy…

…for reasons I still don’t understand.

I always say that collectively, Quebec drives me bonkers, but individually I love the Quebecois. (I also used to say the exact reverse of Alberta, but now with Rachel Notley, not so sure, though she could go some way to winning me over if she would do something about the animal torture at the Calgary Stampede.) The Quebecois – I used to say — they are so warm and they’ve got all that joie de vivre and every other cliché one could spew. But I have found those clichés to be true. Or rather, I had found them to be true until last autumn, when I met the exception who proves the rule.

I was studying for a semester in Italy and one of my classmates was a French-Canadian lady from Montreal, probably in her later sixties. When our language teacher noted that we were both from Canada, French-Canadian lady immediately said (in Italian), “Yes, but we hate each other. We’re enemies.” Oh ha ha ha. I assumed she was kidding.

From her end, she apparently wasn’t. She spent most of the next three months needling me, heckling me (literally) when I spoke in, or in front of, the class, putting me down, correcting me, taking not-so-subtle cheap shots at me, explaining things to me that I already knew (things she would never have tried to explain to anyone else) as though I were some sort of hapless dolt, excluding me from get-togethers and so forth. Very, very, super odd.

One example: I had (stupidly and trustingly) confessed to her how difficult it is for me to speak in front of groups in any language, and that I was dreading giving a certain talk in front of our class in Italian. So when the day came that I gave the talk, what did she do? I wasn’t but half-way through my first sentence when she contradicted me at the top of her lungs, causing a gaggle of our Chinese and East-European classmates to giggle uncomfortably. I ignored it and kept on and I’m glad I did. But then she got up and gave her talk, starting by pointing in my direction and reminding everyone that, as far as she was concerned, I was totally wrong in what I had said. Again, I ignored it, because, well, I was brought up properly. (FYI, I was not wrong in what I had said, of that I am sure, but that is not even the point. I sat through many talks in my three months studying in Italy last year and listened to my classmates say things that were inaccurate, even breathtakingly stupid, but in a million years I would never have publicly contradicted or embarrassed them.)

Another example: our wonderful art history professoressa (seriously, this woman was a goddess of knowledge and calm) used to take us out once a week on walks through Perugia, discussing works of art and architecture both outdoors and indoors. One day, a rainy day, we were inside an art gallery and there happened to be a modern art exhibit. (With our prof, we were studying the Renaissance.) It was, literally, stuff like irons and aspirin bottles and cloned Mao portraits in different colours and garbage like that, all meant to be meaningful, I’m sure. Our prof (who by then I had impressed in class – she made that clear with her replies to me — on several occasions, not the least of which being when we discussed the Elgin Marbles and I didn’t spew the usual drivel) asked me what I thought about it all. I started by saying (in Italian) that modern art was not really my thing and that I found this particular stuff not that great and…Well, surprise, surprise, French-Canadian lady interrupted me (seriously, I was still talking!) and said, glaring at me, “I am an expert in modern art. This is my area of knowledge and interest. I understand it.” That seemed pretty odd to me since as far as I knew she was a retired employee of Bell Canada, but ok. She then blathered on, glaring in my direction, about folks who were too dumb to get the deep meaning in modern art.

There are many more examples I could give, but you get the picture.

So I finally let on that I was a bit bothered by her bullying, when on one occasion our language professor was asking for an English translation of a certain word, and I said what I thought the translation was (and I was right). French-Canadian lady, who was seated in front of me, turned around and said in the most smug, dismissive tone (with a little laugh and hand gesture included), “No, that isn’t even close.” Now, this incident happened after nearly three months of being picked on by her, and I had pretty much had it. I responded to her in an, er, emphatic tone, emphatic enough that the prof noticed and asked if there was a problem. “No,” I said, before getting up and leaving, though class was not quite over (did not want to scream in front of everyone).

Well, French-Canadian lady came to find me later and offered some non-apology apology and I accepted it, though I didn’t buy it for a second. Later, I vented to a classmate who offered his sympathies to me (he had noticed French-Canadian lady’s nastiness), and I mentioned that it was pretty rich for her to be correcting my English when she didn’t even speak English. He laughed and agreed and then I added that she didn’t speak French either, when you got right down to it, but rather Quebecois (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I am not usually mean, but I was ticked.

So the whole experience was very strange. I am old enough that I just use these things for my writing and also to try and learn from the wonderful tapestry that is our life on this planet with our fellow deeply-disappointing humans. But occasionally, when French-Canadian lady was really full-throttle picking on me, I wondered why. Maybe she just hated English-Canadians; perhaps politics played a role. She friended me on Facebook early on in the semester (after saying we were enemies) and then abruptly said to me one day, “I see we don’t have the same political views.” Um, ok. I was all like, so what? Maybe to her it was a big deal.

It isn’t like I am young and cute anymore or anything, and there were plenty of young, cute chicks in our class that she was perfectly nice to, so it wasn’t that. Sometimes I asked myself if she were just insecure, but she seemed the opposite, rather an egomaniac. Although not a good singer, she never passed up on an opportunity to get up in front of the class and sing. Once she did a painful rendition of Les Gens de Mon Pays, for example, and though it was lousy, she clearly felt she deserved applause and thanks from the rest of us and overall, I kind of admired her obliviousness.

So how do things stand now? I mentioned she friended me on Facebook. Well, she has now unfriended me. I have no idea when she did that, because I don’t make a habit of checking people’s pages to see if we’re still “friends”. I noticed it recently because we were both tagged by a mutual friend.

So that is my tale of the French-Canadian lady who was mean to me for reasons I never quite “got”.

Happy Canada Day!

 

Another Pigeon Post

I saw this beautiful guy (or gal) on my recent trip to Italy. Birdie was just enjoying the sun. Really nice colouring, yes? I know it seems I may be developing a(nother) weird obsession, but I think pigeons get a bum rap…

Close-up, and…

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…profile.
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Honourable Mention

One of my favourite places in Italy is Gubbio, a small city near Assisi and Perugia. (St. Francis tamed a wolf there and said wolf is buried in a church there. Seriously.) It has a rickety old funicular thingy that will take you right up to its very top, on the tippity-top of a mountain, but it is also fun to simply walk up (as far as you can) and back down the city. I did that one day in December with a Vietnamese friend/classmate and I shot this picture quite haphazardly. My friend had walked ahead of me as I tied my shoelace, and when I looked up I snapped the shot. My main goal was to get a picture of the architecture but it came out better like this. All of this is to say that this photo won honourable mention in Accenti Magazine’s 2015 photography awards (Accent is an arty magazine out of Montreal). I would have preferred winning but I think I’m kind of like one of those TV characters — on the Waltons or Eight is Enough — who never wins anything, always just comes second and yet learns valuable lessons along the way. Ahem.

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