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June 2010

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Arrive in Pisa during a proper blizzard, and as usual, fuck up the bus and end up a 20 minute walk past the destination. The tower, a blasted minas tirith white, looks fairy tale caressed by snow. A bit smaller than I expect. If it had opposable thumbs, it’d overcompensate by driving a Ferrari. Tiramisu for late lunch at a nearby tratorria, and my pants don’t fit.  Anymore.  They used to fit, its not like I originally bought illfitting pants.

March 9th

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decision is made to leave a bit earlier for Pisa, being that it’s fuuucking snowing! Not the ripest weather for trail walking. The hotel noticed, regrettably, that there were 3 of us in the room, and promptly, as all hotels are when it comes to the bill, raised our rate 50%. Hard to argue when they have my passport. Shouldve stolen the scrambled eggs at breakfast…I am engaged in conversation by a loquacious Senegalese on the bus, who speaks in a mixture of French, Italian and English, and whom I somehow easily understand; he is residing illegally in La Spezia selling umbrellas and wooden cats to tourists. we chat about Africa, Obama and my junker jacket for about 20 minutes before he writes down his email and disembarks. He asks me, between chews on a toothpick dangling in the crevasse of a split lower lip, to take his picture next time I’m in town. And I have a strange, compelling idea to actually take him up on it, to return here and photograph his tribe of immigrants, how they came to be here, what their stories are, how they manage… Perhaps for many, with soaring unemployment rates in their home countries, selling tat to tourists is the only option outside of crime. Sure they’re a pain in the ass when all you’re trying to do is explore and enjoy a new city; but I wonder if they merit more respect than we mete out? One thing he said sticks; that Italy is racist, hard to endure, but America is free of racism, because we elected Barack Obama, a black man. During my most recent meanderings across europe, i have heard on more than one occasion, a newfound respect for americans based solely on our mutual decision regarding the presidency. If you travelled after 9/11 like I did, breaking against the abysmal opinions of Americans inspired by Bush and his foreign policy, a statement of such brash, but utterly positive naïveté, makes me feel as though even if Obama does absolutely nothing in office, just plays foosball with his valet in the nude while watching the Twilight trilogy and Ginger Snaps, the simple reality of his election has done so much to repair our battered national image. We can finally stop pretending to be Canadian.

March 8th-Tyre

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there are interchangeable moments that appear periodically in life, where the eyes are always closed, the sun is always out, spring is almost here, and the only sound of either wind or sea. I wonder, when my eyes open, where in time I will be, and almost always expect it to be other than the one it actually is.

There is a purple flower that grows between the flagstones in Umbria. It blossoms every morning in the direction of the rising sun, and turn along the stars axis, shadowing her slow progression through the sky. Observing this flower is like believing in god. My petal folded eyes hunt the warmth,

and wait.

march 7th

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this hotel was recommended based on it’s continental breakfast, and I do believe, between the fresh squeezed blood orange juice and limitless capucchinos, that I may never leave. But San terenzo beckons, a dreamy coastal stroll retracing the steps of the Shelleys, along rock drizzled paths that follow the water, up past the terenzo castle, until it breaks suddenly against the cliffside, smote by the seas saltwater fists…that, or maybe the local contracor pocketed the money needed for the last leg. The volcanic rock bites like an angry pommeranian, but I decide to leap the broken bridge to the cliff and mantle my way to the other side; more beautiful beach stretched against the rock, but no way around besides a swim. We return to lerici, and after a brief rest, unravel the route to the great lerici castle, a stentorian bulwark, a basilisk roused against the coming of the Barbarian horde; duly transformed into the silliest of dinosaur museums I shall er be privvy to witness. I believe John Cleese curates. The castle interior is as impressive as it’s exterior battlements, but in some not too distant past, someone decided that some papier mâché raptors would really lure those tourist dollars. There was one particular raptor, clearly the outcome of a barely passing 4th grade science project, whose head had been neatly struck off and remounted with lots of copper wire, just maniacally wound about it’s lilting neck like a Masai decoration. Something akin to 70s era Connery bond belly dance tabla trance was piped through the speakers in the main area, though my dream of a conga line of krunking tutu clad tyrannosaurs did not materialize. This exhibit should come with free mushrooms, or pony rides. Tommorrow we continue on to the cinque terre, to coastal hikes and sweeping vistas that labor ones eyes with fecund glory.

Mrach 6th

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I’ve come to the end of the journey here in Umbria, boarding literally at the last moment, the train for Rome, then onward to cinque terre and Pisa. Despite the challenges presented by the lack of heat and hot water, I truly enjoyed working outdoors in the jawdropping environment, surrounded by meadows and mountains, medieval worlds just a walk away. There’s a little romantic voice telling me to chuck my vocation and learn the art of the vine, that I may produce and photograph the quinntissential Chardonnay here in tumbling Umbria, though I intend to minimize the heeding for now…3.5 hours later and we arrive under cover of Alps, at la Spezia, which is abruptly armpitty, but oh well, you got to put the factories somewhere I guess. Lerici is a sleepy coastal village at the end of the Italian riviera, 15 more minutes by bus. It is dominated by a formidable castle jutting into the bay, now a museum of sorts, and has the dubious honor of being the place where Percy Shelley drowned, this part of italy being a favorite haunt of the poetic duo, manifest in the many trattorias, streets and hotels that have adopted a part or all of their names. Our hotel has a heater and hot water, and a terribly civilized minibar, though it does require some fortitude getting up the winding cobble-strewn stairs with all the luggage. Time enoughfor a quick trip around the piazzas before a nap. We have a rather lot of wine with dinner, and i decide to run up the myriad stairs to our hotel. I almost decide to throw up, but change my mind.

March 4th

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I leave my shoes outside to relax and enjoy the sudden downpour, so now I get to explore Amelia with infantry trenchfoot. Maybe someone will mustard gas me in the face before a good, stiff ass bayonetting; I feel like I’m in a Metallica video. We have time for a quick cappucino in Narni. Italians don’t really do breafast, in the egg/toast/tea manner I’m so accustomed to; as usual, they are more easy going…dessert! Cappuchino of course, but only till round 2pm, then you instantly become a tourist ordering anything other than espresso, and pastries typically doused in heavy cream and custard. 2pm is also when one is supposed to switch to buona cera, just FYI. Amelia is a thoroughly beautiful mountain town encircled by a wall that gives the Vatican’s pretensions pause. Traffic is prohibited in the historic center at odd intervals, though not when we arrive. Traversing the approximate perimeter takes just over an hour, but since all of the churches and roman cisterns we pass are all inexplicably closed, we end up at la porta romana, our starting point, far earlier than expected. The best solution, in order to kill some time before siesta is over and the groceries reopen, is to get on the wrong bus and end up stranded for an hour in Terni, which has the dubious honor of being the only town in Umbria that looks like an anchovy’s asshole.  We wait an hour for the bus back to narni, and finish our food shopping with alacrity. I teach the butcher how to say “good evening” instead of buona cera and he donates an extra slice of porchetta to our pasta pool. And then we find cocoa puffs and the dampness suffusing my frozen feet evaporates in a sauna of soggy chocolate delight.

March 3rd

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we sleep past the first bus to narni, emerging unto a countryside wreathed in mist. The bus is balls deep in grannies. Our shoot is inside La Rocca, a restored fortess above Narni, closed to the public, but Germano, beyond being quite the racecar driver, also has castle connections. He runs the medieval festival in Narni and comes equipped with armfuls of rennaisance costumery, swords and a plumed helmet. We embark on one of the stranger shoots in my experience, roaming the halls in voluminous velvet, doing my best with the near nonexistent light. Unfortunately; the restoration takes a distinctly utilitarian turn, most of the rooms are white stucco and come prepared with modern windows and gas heaters, with big overt halogen sconces. I will definitely have some ageing to accomplish in the Photoshop. Christiane pleads desperately for the chance to bare herself and wear the helmet. We decide to leave our further trip to Amelia for the morrow, and return to the farm with a bellyful of pizza and croquettes. The markedly improved weather this afternoon obviously prompts me to shoot christiane in the nude. On the roof.

March 11th

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After a brief nap and a gauntlet run through wristwatch-peddling vendors (good price, real rolex!), we arrive hours early at the airport on yesterdays unpunched tickets. Italy is relaxed about most everything, particularly public transit and saturated fats, and you can get great mileage off a single purchase, especially if you look all doe eyed and foreign. And travel with pretty girls helps too, va bene. I get a baleful eye from customs as my passport is unstamped; why am I not stamped with entry to Italy? Because the Rome guy didn’t stamp me; I want a stamp! I just got a new, grafitti free virgin of a passport, stamp it! Clearing with a mere one exit stamp, albeit from Pisa, I mount the plane hoping for a peaceful transition through uk immigration, I have plenty more pages to spare. Still a bit jittery about uk customs, as they appear rather distrustful of the truth; that I have a bit of cash in the bank and am travelling for the sheer joy of it. I make it through unscathed, grateful for the officials cheery aplomb once I told him my purpose for the 3 week visit in Italy. Weeding. In a monastery no less. “do you plan to do any weeding during your stay in the UK?”.