Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Surf City USA

Before we run out of summer, let's get to the beach, Gidget.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Digging for Dino Bones

Dateline Perugia, Italy. Come see Colorado with me. Dinosaur bones, wineries and beautiful scenery.

And then we'll go back to Europe.

How it is

Everything is out of order, since my internet availability is limited. I have more entries ready to post, and more videos as well. but they are subject to finding a place with an Internet signal somewhere in the hill towns of Central Italy. Where is a McDonald's when you need one?

This then, is the daily pattern that life in Collemincio has become, by convenience and by necessity. Isolated in the hills, without convenient communication (Caris is leashed to the world by his mobile phone), I only recently discovered a friendly and comfortable cafe to bring forth the sacred Internet.
So, each day, Caris and I both seem to emerge from sleep in the same post-noon hour. (I could be kidding myself, though. As I make toast and heat water in the electric kettle, he makes his appearance. Fully awake and dressed, he says, “Good morning,” and we accept my foolish conceit.)
Arise, awaken, shoo flies from the dining table, eat, shower in less than a blink. dress and load the car for the 30-minute drive down through the hilly countryside to Assisi. Green hills dotted with olive trees move slowly past us as the narrow road unwinds.
I’ll sit in the Internet cafe. Caris will strum his guitar and sing in the Piazza Santa Chiara.
After 17 years, beautiful Assisi now seems tiresome to Caris, like a faded lover. I have no interest in history, he explained to me one night as he pointed his blue BMW sedan to the top of the mountain back home. But its history that bade him here: St. Francis, a catholic saint who attracted the non-catholic.
And that’s quite another story, with no great arc, so let’s move forward.
I park myself at the terrace cafe in Piazza San Ruffino in mid-afternoon, as the west coast of America is just waking. My sturdy Macbook will give me two, maybe three hours, of battery time (There are few outlets here. This isn’t Starbucks.), but the growing list of things to accomplish each day stands tall as I whittle away at it; a conversation there, an e-mail here, an assignment there.
From my perch overlooking the plaza, my back against the stone wall of the cafe, I wave away the endless cigarette smoke and watch a stream of tourists huddle and take countless photographs in the Piazza San Ruffino, a basilica of simple design two sloping stone paths up from the Piazza Santa Chiara (St. Claire) where visitors and locals gather each evening to watch the sun descend somewhere in the vicinity of Rome. Some of St. Francis’ remains were buried in the church there where the body of St. Claire still remains on view. His remains were later moved to the “new” cathedral in town, around the corner from McDonald’s
Caris opens his guitar case, displaying his CDs for sale, He strums a G, then maybe a version of C, an E minor, a D, and songs emerge, a stream of them, as he plays a repeating chord pattern. Not whole songs necessarily, or very often. Just whatever lyrics, melody or couplets come to mind. Not thematic, just stream of consciousness. Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” begets “Homeward Bound” begets “Who’ll Stop the Rain” begets “Slip Sliding Away,” and you now have the idea. What holds the tunes together is his strong voice and a simple subtle passion for making music.
These days 30-ish women approach him and tell him they remember him singing there when they were little girls. That can’t be good.
This week there’s been talk of a new album, new songs, all of that attendant energy. That can’t be bad.
(Reading this, Caris offers, “I’ll marry the first one of your female readers who brings me toll house cookies.” I’m left wondering what second prize is. www.myspace.com/carisarkin. You’re on your own.)
Sitting in my conning tower at the terrace cafe, I’m surrounded by smokers, talkers and tourists. German tourists going on and on and on and on in their dark, guttural language, the English with their maps and tour books, and Italians with their cigarettes.
As darkness falls, the piazzas, both large and small, take on a new energy. Families stroll and young boys on bicycles sweep across the piazza always thisclose to an accident, but never colliding with anyone or anything. Bars (we call them restaurants) sell gelato (ice cream) as fast as they can scoop it Franciscan monks walk away, in full habit, happily holding cups of gelato, chatting up friends and tourists. We’ll get to them in a minute.
The tiniest cars I’ve ever seen whiz up and down the narrow medieval streets. Much of the medieval part of Assisi was severely damaged in the earthquake of 1997, and has been rebuilt to much of the original design and specifications. As in most European plazas, buildings are lit upward, highlighting their dramatic stance, something American landscapers and builders never seemed to get the hang of.
Tourist shops sell the usual postcards, cheap Franciscan monk bobblehead dolls, and full suits of armor. How does anyone get those things through airport security?
I need to stop here for now.
Next time, what is the deal with those monks, anyway? Plus, more video, Charlie Yelverton, and busking in gas station.s

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Place Called Colleminccio

Collemincio, Italy sits deep among the hill towns of central Italy, in the center of the “boot,” about two and a half hours from Rome to the south. It’s situated in what’s known as the Umbria region, alongside the region of Tuscany to the west. Florence and Milan are far to the north, as Naples is far to the south. The closest town is Valfabbrico, if that helps you.

Collemincio is a speck of a location, one of hundreds of hill towns scattered across this region, and it has to be one of the smallest. I believe I counted less than ten buildings in the entire town, situated along a tiny road which snakes through green rolling hills, eventually connecting you with Assisi vaguely to the west, Perugia vaguely to the east, Foligno to its south, and not much of much to the north. (The town had a car wash, but the guy who owned the car moved. Sorry. They had a library, but someone checked out that damn book and never brought it back. Again, my apologies.)
I arrived on a searing hot July day, and was greeted by my longtime friend, Caris Arkin, a talented singer/songwriter/musician who’s lived in the area for 17 years now, and speaks fluent Italian, though he remains ever the American.
We spent the first afternoon dining al fresco at an Italian pizzeria (Of course they have them, Cupcake.), and shopping for a replacement window for his car. (It’s a long story.). Then up the very long, winding drive up the mountainside to his secluded home.
His home is a two-story, two bedroom former school house, the first one on the right, past the Colleminccio sign. Surrounding the home and village on all sides are miles and miles of gently sloping hills and fields crisscrossed by tree and shrub lines, seemingly stretching to the earth’s curve. From a nearby peak, the distant view of fields, farms, roads, tiny scattered houses and churches is breathtaking. Though the afternoon was swelteringly hot, inside the house all was quiet, darkened and cool.
His neighbors, who can apparently be heard, yet rarely seen, are an older couple directly across the road, whose occupation seems to be screaming at each other. The town “piazza” is a small carportm the entrances of several small stone apartment buildings and a snippet of grass which faces the entrance of the tiny church.
The local padre, Father Michael, lives with his young male companion in one of the small apartments that surround the church. No one seems to bat an eye at this. I won’t either.
I’ve arrived a day later than planned but still in time for the Umbria Jazz Festival, which will take place in and around the town of Perugia all week. Though the festival is mostly jazz, as the name implies, a number of pop and rock acts have topped the bill over the fast few years. Last year it was REM. This year it’s Steely Dan and James Taylor who will headline at the local stadium.
I’d arranged for press credentials some months ago, and been promised one, just one, for the week-long series. Caris had informed me in an e-mail that he had “pilfered” it while I was en route, however, and later that evening as we strolled through town, I was just trying to clarify:
“This press badge with your photo on it and the name of the magazine on it, is mine, right? Is that what you’re telling me?:
“Um, yes. I told you that,” he offered, sheepishly.
I was momentarily stunned at his audacity, but I realized I would only be in town two full days, and the pass allowed him in to see jazz acts I wasn’t really interested in, and it allowed him to bring his daughter in to one of the major venues to see Steely Dan.
And life is really short.
And he might read this. And he might not.
Let’s move forward.
The town of Perugia, like every other town in the region, sits high on a hilltop. When you’re constantly feuding with your neighbors, or always in danger of attack from marauders of every stripe, it’s best to be able to see all around you, so went the medieval thinking.
Its historic center, where most of the action is taking place this week, is reached by a long modern escalator, or one can take the ancient Roman steps winding up to the top, a little more of a challenge.
During this week, the many courtyards and small plazas are jammed with locals and tourists, and shows seem to go on continuously. On a main stage a college jazz band is holding court. There are least two other small shows going on at the same time and many of the local restaurants and pubs have their own music as well.
Families and couples fill the squares in equal numbers, along with small groups of young Italian men, strutting in designer t-shirts and surging with testosterone.

To be continued.....

The Italian Way

This is out of order, but it's a continuation of my adventure, trying to get from France to Italy...:

July 10, 2009

MILANO CENTRALE STATION—Through the southern portal of the Milan station, a purple-blue crayon of dawn light illuminates the interior. It’s just about 5:35 a.m., and I make my way to the TrenItalia counter. Getting to Perugia means a train from Milan to Firenze (Florence) and then boarding a local train or two to the Perugia station, which is about 35 minutes from Collemincio, or Almost Officially Nowhere (Pop. 12), which is where my friend Caris lives, high in the hills between the historic towns of Perugia and Assissi.
The total traveling time from Paris, France to Perugia, Italy, is about 15 hours, and a distance of about 604 miles, to those of you in the only country that doesn’t understand the Metric system. (It’s okay. No one in Europe seems to understand miles and feet and yards and gallons. Maybe it’s better that way.) Miraculously, there is a train leaving Milano Centrale to Bologna, and then Firenze, where I will catch a local train to Terontola and onward to Perugia. Six trains in 24 hours, so far.
Things seem to be proceeding apace, sort of. We pull out of Milano Centrale continuing south.
I’m bleary and fuzzy, after waiting all night for the early train, but relieved that I’ve been able to make sense of the train system and actually get from A to D, all in Italian.
As we jet out of the Milano station, I find myself in the cool and dramatic luxury of the “Red Arrow,” the high-speed pride of the TrenIitalia fleet. Free coffee and an Italian pastry is served by a uniformed attendant. A high-backed deep plush seat envelops me, as I carefully sleep in fits. I’ve learned to live in quiet fear of missing trains, and question fellow passengers more than once, as to the next station. Because the Italian train system holds one more terror—approaching stations are not announced. Ever, it seems.
I have two more trains to meet to get to Perugia, and no assurance that I won’t sleep through them. With a heavy wheeled bag, my laptop in a briefcase, and my guitar in a case that’s threatening to pop its zipper any second, it’s not like I can just dash in and out of every station.
Add to that the fact that there are very few escalators in the Italian train stations. Instead, there are towering concrete staircases looming over me at every location.
Arriving at a connecting station means quickly gathering my luggage (I think my bag probably weighs about 70 pounds. Before you say anything, I’m traveling for five months, through summer and fall. What would you bring?), then descending about 60 steps to the connecting passageway underneath the platform, finding the location of the connecting train, either by name or number, or continuing on into the main station for the main information board, and then back into the passageway to find the corresponding platform and the 60 steps leading up to the platform. I don’t pull my bag up the long flights of stairs, for fear that the banging against the steps will eventually break its wheels. I lift the bag and carry it up (and down) the stairs. Multiply that task by the dozen or so train stations I have by now visited.
Now, the train won’t have a name on it, and the number on the side of the coach may or may not be correct. There may or may not be a conductor to direct anyone.
Are you feeling me?
My first-class Eurail Pass, provided by France Tourism, has so far afforded me the ability to board numerous trains at will. It’s for four days in one month, in any European country. This is where it gets interesting.
Seated in a sleeper section in the Red Arrow—where I can charge my computer—I am approached by a TrenItalia agent who asks to see my ticket and Eurail Pass.
“Sir, you have not validated this ticket.”
“Excuse me?”
Now it rushes back to me. A week ago, we’re gathered in the Gere du Nord Station in Paris, with Katherine, our media liaison. She is distributing our tickets and explaining how they work.
“We have reservations from Lyon to Paris. You need a separate reservation and ticket for every destination, in addition to your Eurail Pass. Once we have our reservations, we take our tickets to those yellow machines over there,” she explains, patiently. “Put your ticket in there, and the machine validates them to make sure that each use of your ticket is accounted for.” If you don’t do this, she warns, it’s trouble.
Now trouble is standing over me, wearing a fetching red and gray cap.
“You have not validated your ticket, sir. That will be 35 Euros.”
That would be 35 Euros in cash that I don’t have on me, and she will only take cash, which seems odd.
She asks for my passport and begins to fill out an official-looking form.
“And, if you want to sit here in this section, that will be 10 Euros more.”
“Um, no, that’s OK, but thank you.”
She hands me the form, and says, “You can pay this at the next station, when you arrive.”
I consider this and examine my ticket and pass. If I’m not mistaken, neither ticket no pass has accounted for this day. I have inadvertently bought myself one more day.
And I’m going to need it.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Adventures in Vaughantown

This is the first in a series of videos from my week in Vaughtown, Salamanca, Spain. Two of my cameras have broken on this trip, an Im using my macbook as my video camera. Anyway, this is the first--singing at the first evening of entertainment for the Spanish students. To skip a long explanation, visit www.vaughantown.com

As you know, I've been traveling for the last month, and I have a LOT of things to update here; lots of stories to finish, new stories to tell you, and lots of new videos to show you. I'll be parked in Italy for a month, and I'll start updating again, as soon as I can.( I'm not sure if Italy is aware of the Internets. We shall see.)