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Archive for May, 2010

After a whirlwind tour through Milan, Paris, and London, none of which I’m particularly fond of, I’m happy to be back home in Torino enjoying all my routines: morning coffee and croissant at the caffe-bar across the street, hanging laundry to dry all over my apartment, shopping for delicious fresh fruit, vegetables, pasta, wine, etc., and reading War and Peace on a bench by the river Po.

Milan, apart from the chance to see daVinci’s Last Supper which is well worth the view in person, was a bit of a nightmare. Congested narrow streets, an almost total absence of greenery, impeccably dressed men in a hurry with cigarettes dangling from their mouths, ridiculous prices, and il Duomo – an immense Gothic cathedral that like many other aspects of Milan is just a little too much for me. I sat for awhile at a trattoria near the Duomo watching wealthy Russians, Asians, and Middle Easterners come to get their Gucci on striding by with enormous shopping bags, and laughing to myself at how Prada’s flagship store faces directly onto a giant McDonalds … laughing until I got my exorbitant lunch bill. In my hurry to get out of town I slipped getting into the airport train and ended up with blood pouring down my shin and a limp, but got out of town nonetheless: to Paris.

My limp made the idea of sightseeing in Paris rather unappealing, which was fine because I’ve been there enough times before to see nearly all the “must-sees”. I did have an absolutely lovely dinner at the home of old friends from my law school days, Dougall and Valerie, who I hadn’t seen in over a decade, who are still as cool as ever (and not just because they gave me a bag of ice for my ankle), and now the parents of two very cute kids. I really hope much less time will pass before we see each other again.

Then it was onto London via the Eurostar train through the Chunnel, where I was very happy to meet up with friends Nicolas and Charlene, then got down to business: get Mongolian visa, see osteopath and physiotherapist (who between them pretty much restored my foot and ankle to their pre-Milan condition), buy boots for upcoming hike around Mont Blanc and a few summer clothes in my size, and take a token doubledecker bus tour. Mission accomplished.

Just before heading off on the above tour, I managed to make it back for a couple of days to Levanto, on the Ligurian coast just north of the Cinque Terre, where this time the weather was sunny and the fragrance was of roses and basil. I retraced some of my steps, an entirely different experience without the fog, and also hiked a gorgeous, if occasionally terrifying, trail around the Portofino promontory.

So… imagine that Neil Diamond was from Newfoundland. Now make this whole scenario Italian. That is the closest that I can come to describing the phenomenon of Nino d’Angelo, aging Napoli pop star. Definitely not the sort of thing I would have come across on my own, but thanks to Marco, who offered me an extra ticket to come with him, Marina and her boyfriend Roberto, and another friend to Nino’s Torino show, I got to see him a couple of weeks ago. Apparently there are a lot of Napolis in Torino who have migrated over the decades for work with Fiat, which made for enthusiastic responses to Nino’s cries of Viva il sud!!! throughout the night. As I repeated to Marina over a pizza a few days later, it was a lot of fun 🙂

OLE OLE OLE OLE!!!! NINO!!! NINO!!!

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Other Plans

Doing some housecleaning on my desktop the other day, I came across an electronic sticky note I made about a year ago, when faced with the blank canvas of time in front of me I decided I needed to make a list of must-dos. How have I done? Starting with the list for last summer: spend a week in Wasaga Beach. Check. That’s kind of cheating because I think I’d already booked the cottage by that point. Road trips to Algonquin and around Lake Superior. Nope. A three week trip to Ireland? Nope, although it looks like that will happen this summer. Didn’t even manage to make it to Ottawa.

Here’s the rest of the list:

October 2009-2010
a camping trip in the Sahara [went to Bali instead of Mali]
a safari in East Africa [nope]
a few days in Zanzibar [nope]
a cultural tour in West Africa [nope]
Goa [no, although I did get to Kerala]
a month in Bali doing yoga [a month in Bali, but more surfing than yoga]
a kayaking trip in the S. Pacific [no, although I did have some great beach days on Easter Island]
a week in Florence [probably not going to happen]
two weeks in an Italian villa [definitely not going to happen]
learning Italian [working on it]
3 weeks in Sweden [nope]
the Nahanni [nope]
an Arctic river trip [nope]
a few days in Vancouver [managed a couple of days in Vancouver]
horseback riding / kayaking / rafting/ learning Spanish in Patagonia [oh yeah, mission accomplished]
a few days in Machu Pichu [nope]
a few days in Ecuador / the Amazon [nope]
a kayaking trip in Panama [nope]

Missing from this list: a fabulous road trip through Quebec last summer, surreal Mexico, and… Bhutan (third trip currently in the works).

Am I sorry things didn’t go as planned? Definitely not. Sitting in the lobby of my Paris hotel with an ice pack on my ankle as I write this, I am trying to keep this in mind. Nothing catastrophic (slipped getting into the Milan airport train yesterday morning), but I’m not sure about all the hiking I’d planned to do next month….

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Spring Flowers

[Translation of previous post] This post is dedicated to my dear MĂ©mĂ©, who this past April 24th followed my beloved PĂ©pĂ© into the Light. In honour of them, I wrote the first version of this post in their language, even though I knew I couldn’t even manage these few short paragraphs in French without many mistakes and anglicisms.

It’s true that Italy in springtime is a sight to behold, but it’s her fragrances that I find the most charming. Lemon, lavender, rosemary, little flowers growing everywhere whose names I don’t know, greenery, damp earth, fog, and the sea. And that’s without even mentioning the smells coming from the kitchens: tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mozzarella, prosciutto, wine, chocolate, oranges … just to start. These scents are my best memories of Cinque Terre, a small region of the coastline about 3 hours from Torino, which I visited toward the end of April. Having made the happy discovery over the last few months in Patagonia and Bhutan that my foot and ankle, which I injured in an accident several years ago, can once again bear long hikes, I took the opportunity to take first the traditional “azzuro” trail, which takes one through the five villages in about 4 hours, and the next day, the less popular “rosso” trail, which is close to 40 km long. The latter begins at Portovenere, a maritime village with a medieval castle and an ancient church built on top of a pagan temple. The poet Byron spent some time here, and it’s said that he once swam across the gulf to visit his friend Shelley who lived on the other side. It’s only a little south from here that Shelley drowned.

After leaving Portovenere, I spent the next 12 hours accompanied by the scents I mentioned earlier, first crossing a section of narrow path bordered by brush and steep drops to the rocks and the sea. A fall here knocked the wind out of me and reminded me of the importance of staying present in the moment. Next were vineyards, hills, villages, woods and sanctuaries, and often I could not orient myself with respect to the coast far below because of the dense fog. The fog provided a sense of mystery I quite enjoyed, although I no doubt missed some spectacular panoramas because of it. The trail ended at Levanto, a very pleasant seaside resort where I spent the next morning napping on the beach and savouring the local pizza and homemade ice cream before returning to Torino.

This week, I got back into hiking, this time on the island of Elba with my friend Charlene, who was a classmate of mine last year in Toronto. Despite the unusually cold and damp weather, we spent several very enjoyable hours exploring the island’s trails. Of course we also took time to enjoy the local wine, beer and seafood. Yesterday we left Elba for Pisa, where we climbed the famous Leaning Tower and visited the cathedral next to it. It’s in Pisa that I now find myself this evening writing this post (Charlene left for London this morning) sitting next to a window overlooking the Arno river in an 1830s hotel where I can imagine many young ladies and gentlemen on their “Grand Tours” of the continent took rest.

I was in Torino two weeks ago when I got the news of MĂ©mĂ©’s death. After a several hours of researching plane tickets and direct and indirect communications with parents, aunts, uncles and cousins, I managed to make arrangements to join my family in Ontario on the Tuesday, which left me with one full day before my departure to Canada. Rather than spend it home alone, I decided to go and see something beautiful to keep myself occupied, and also because it seemed to me the best way to honour MĂ©mĂ©. So that Monday, I found myself at Pralormo, a country castle just an hour outside of the city, where there is an annual tulip festival. The day was warm and sunny, which brought out the delicate perfume of the tulips and other flowers even more. Throughout the garden were young families, older couples, groups of friends, everyone in a good mood and feasting on the good weather, the little well-cared for castle, the bright colours, the fragrances, and the gelato for sale in the market. MĂ©mĂ© never crossed any oceans or walked through any castle grounds, and I’m told, she preferred roses to tulips, but in that garden full of all the hope and beauty of springtime, I still felt her presence. The pretty, sassy young woman PĂ©pĂ© fell in love with in the 1940s, who was still very much with us even after her body had carried eleven babies and lived eighty-four years, after her bones had become thin and brittle and she had suffered so many losses, most recently of her husband and of her twin sister, that woman that we saw in the many photos that my cousins and I, her grandchildren, prepared for the funeral home: her wedding day, in the water wearing her Daisy Duke shorts and holding two little girls (my aunts) by the hand, celebrating her thirtieth, fortieth, fiftieth and sixtieth wedding anniversaries, and proudly holding a new great grandchild in her arms, that woman, I do believe, would certainly have shared in the joie de vivre of such a garden on such a day, and its her spirit that I felt with me and will carry in my heart.

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Les fleurs du printemps

[English translation to follow] Ce post est dédié à ma chère Mémé, qui a ce 24 avril passé suivi mon Pépé bien aimé à la lumière. C’est par respect pour eux que je tente cette fois d’écrire d’abord en leur langue, bien que je sache être incapable de sortir même ces quelques petits paragraphes sans multiples erreurs et anglicismes.

C’est vrai que l’Italie au printemps est joli à voir, mais ce sont plutôt ses fragrances qui me charment. Le citron, la lavande, le romarin, plusieurs sortes de petites fleurs qui poussent partout dont je ne connais les noms, la verdure, le sol humide, la brume, et la mer. Et cela sans même parler des odeurs qui proviennent des cuisines: les tomates, l’ail, l’huile d’olive, le vinaigre balsamique, le mozzarella, le prosciutto, le vin, le chocolat, les oranges … pour commencer. Ces parfums sont mes plus beaux souvenirs de la Cinque terre, petite région du littoral méditerrané à trois heures de Turin que j’ai visité vers la fin du mois d’avril. Ayant constaté avec grand plaisir ces derniers mois en Patagonie et au Bhutan que mon pied et ma cheville, blessés dans un accident il y a plusieurs années, puissent de nouveau supporter de longues randonnées, j’en ai profité pour faire d’abord le sentier “azzuro” classique qui traverse les cinq villages en environ 4 heures, et le lendemain le sentier “rosso” moins fréquenté qui a près de 40 km de longueur. Ce dernier commence à Porto Venero, village maritime doué d’un château médiéval, et d’une église très ancienne bâtie par-dessus un temple pagan. Le fameux poète Byron y ait passé quelque temps, et on dit qu’il ait une fois traversé le golfe en nageant pour rendre visite à son copain Shelley qui habitait de l’autre côté. En faite, ce n’est qu’un peu au sud d’ici que Shelley ait noyé.

Après avoir quitté Porto Venero, j’ai passé les prochaines douze heures, toutefois accompagnée des fragrances que je viens de mentionner, à traverser d’abord une section étroite bordée de maquis et de descentes raides aux roches et à la mer où une petite chute m’a coupée le soufflé et m’a rappelée de l’importance de rester toujours présente dans le moment. Par la suite des vignobles, des collines, des villages, des bois, et des sanctuaires, souvent sans pouvoir m’orienter vis-à-vis la côte loin ci-dessous à cause de la brume, ce qui a donné une sensation de mystère que j’ai beaucoup appréciée bien qu’à cause d’elle j’ai sans doute manqué de panoramas spectaculaires. Le sentier termine à Levanto, station balnéaire très agréable où j’ai passé le lendemain matin à faire sieste sur la plage et savourer du pizza et gelato artisanal avant de retourner à Turin.

Cette semaine, je me suis remise à faire des randonnées, cette fois ci sur l’île d’Elbe en compagnie de Charlene, une copine que j’ai connue à Toronto l’année passée qui suivait le même programme d’étude que moi. Malgré le temps frais et humide atypique, nous avons passé plusieurs heures très plaisantes à explorer les sentiers de l’île. Bien sûr nous avons aussi profité du vin, de la bière et des fruits de mer locaux. Hier nous avons quitté Elbe pour Pise, où nous avons visité la fameuse tour penchée et la cathédrale située à quelques pas de ce dernier. C’est à Pise que je me retrouve ce soir à écrire ces mots (Charlene est repartie pour Londres ce matin) assise à côté d’une fenêtre qui donne sur le fleuve Arne dans un hôtel qui date des années 1830 et où je peux bien imaginer que de nombreux jeunes messieurs et demoiselles faisant leur “grand tour” du Continent aient pris repos.

J’étais à Turin il y a deux semaines quand j’ai eu la nouvelle de la mort de ma Mémé. Après quelques heures de recherches et de nombreuses communications directes et indirectes avec parents, tantes, oncles et cousins j’ai réussi à faire des arrangements pour rejoindre ma famille en Ontario le mardi, ce qui faisait qu’il me restait un jour complet avant de repartir. Plutôt que de la passer seule chez moi, j’ai décidé d’aller voir quelque chose de beau pour me distraire et aussi parce qu’il me semblait la meilleur façon d’honorer ma Mémé. C’est de même que je me suis trouvée ce lundi là à Pralormo, un château de campagne à peu près d’une heure en dehors de la ville, où a lieu un festival de tulipes annuel. La journée était chaude et ensoleillée, ce qui faisait sortir autant de plus les parfums délicats des tulipes et de l’autre flore. Parmi le jardin on trouvait de jeunes familles, de couples plus âgés, de groupes d’amies, tous de bonne humeur, et se régalant du beau temps, du petit château si bien entretenu, des couleurs vives, des fragrances et des gelatos en vente dans le petit marché à côté. Ma Mémé n’a jamais traversé d’océans, ne s’est jamais promenée dans des terrains de châteaux, et, m’a-t-on dit, préférait les roses aux tulipes qu’elle détestait, mais dans ce jardin plein de tout l’espoir et la beauté du printemps, j’ai tout de même ressenti sa présence. La jeune femme jolie et coquette avec laquelle mon Pépé est tombé amoureux dans les années 1940s, qu’on pouvait facilement reconnaître même après que son corps ait porté onze bébés, et vécu quatre-vingt quatre ans, après que ses os soient devenus minces et fragiles et qu’elle ait souffert tellement de pertes, les plus récemment de son époux et de sa sœur jumelle, que l’on voyait dans les nombreux photos que mes cousins et moi, ses petits enfants, avions préparées pour la maison funéraire: le jour de ses noces, dans l’eau portant ses shorts “Daisy Duke” avec deux petites filles qui sont mes tantes aujourd’hui, fêtant ses trentième, quarantième, cinquantième et soixantième anniversaires de mariage, et tenant fièrement dans ses bras un nouveau arrière petite enfant, cette femme, je crois bien, aurait aussi bien su partager la joie de vivre dans un tel jardin une telle journée, et c’est cet esprit que j’y ai ressenti avec moi et que je garderai dans mon cœur.

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