Mad About Manzano

Manzano, Italy!

What a lovely, idyllic region. I refer to the 6th definition of the adjective “mad”: overcome by desire, eagerness, enthusiasm, etc.; excessively or uncontrollably fond; infatuated.

I am traveling to the places OFF the tourist map and timeframe so that I can enjoy this trip from the perspective of those who live in Europe. This can ONLY be made possible by the wonderful friends who are hosting me on my voyage. The Beltramini family has made me more than welcome as I sit with Lea (their beloved Maltipoo) on my lap and watch the creation of some of the finest Friulian dishes by Meris. My friend Claudia has been blessed with amazing parents.  Though I understand only a bit of the exciting dinner conversations, I learn by their fantastic explosions of dialog accompanied by gestures and dynamics of voice.

Put on your headphones and have a listen:

So, I have been here, there, and everywhere with my tour guide extraordinaire, Claudia, who is also an audio fanatic as I am; so, I experience the best of Friuli visuals with the best of sound conversation.

How about a little video of the food preparation?  Cooking_Manzano

And lastly, Claudia is preparing homemade pesto for lunch. Did I mention that I’ve put on a couple of extra kilos, otherwise known as:  “Ho messo su un paio di kili.”

Making Pesto copy

Wine with lunch, wine with dinner… OY!




Captured by Vino and Rain






It’s the first hangover I’ve had all trip. Woof.  Started with Prosecco, then Vino Blanco with the soup and Cabernet Franc with dinner, then Grappa afterwards.  I delighted in the sound of the pouring rain and thunder along with massive amounts of lightning (what a show!) while carrying on with some wonderful people in Friulian, the language of Friuli. Can I really communicate in Friulian? No, but I’m starting to understand it…must be something in the wine accompanied by excellent hand gestures and facial expressions. It contains the sing-song vibe of Italian with some words similar to Italian, French, and Spanish though pronounced differently.  Another Italian I met in Venezia told me that she has Friuliano friends that she doesn’t understand at all, so she requests that they speak Italian when they are all together.  That’s how different it is.

Put those headphones on and delight in this rain.  Can you hear the tangled message inside?

While the rain pours in your ears and into your memory bank, I’ll tell you a story of traveling from A-to-B on that rainy day at the villa when I needed to go to the train station by taxi.  The curt driver showed up and saw a villa, so likely figured me out to be someone who I am not (read: important and with money).  He drove me the 3-minutes to the train station and told me 25 Euro.  I was flabberghasted!  What?  I took a few taxis with Hugh on much longer distances for 10 Euro tops, how on earth was this a 25 Euro ride?  I looked at his meter which was neatly covered up by brown cloth and a rope resembling the garb of a friar.  I pointed to it, put my hands up in the question mark kind of way, and said “25 Euro?”  He hollered something in Italian over his shoulder with the word “domenica” thrown in which I know is Sunday.  Oh, OK.  So on Sundays the cabbies cover the meter and charge whatever the hell they feel like.  I get it.  Oy.  I had exactly 25 Euro on me (a 20-Euro bill and two 2-Euro coins and a 1-Euro coin).  I rolled my bag in the rain into the station to figure out how on earth I was going to go from Mestre station in Venezia to Udine a couple of hours north.  Let the fun begin!  First, a stop at the ATM which works perfectly well as your way to obtain money in Europe – no need to plan any changers back home first.  Just take your ATM, pop it in, and out pops some money in the currency that you need.  It worked in Iceland for the Krona and it works all over Europe for the (thankfully single) Euro.  I remember when you had to change currency for every country.  Oooof.  It’s all different now with one currency. Taken note:  one important thing is to keep track of the daily changes in the currency so that you know what you have withdrawn from your account…

Next up:  the Train to Udine which cost only 11 Euros, by the way.  Just sayin’.

The featured image I display are two glasses of delicious house white wine with a view overlooking Manzano, Italy.  Such a beautiful place that I get to explore between the bursts of rainstorms with my dear pal, Claudia. She’s an audio engineer as well, so we get to talk shop while she shares the magnificence of the region of Friuli with me.

In a Gadda Da Villa

Now in Italy, the pace has slowed.

Wine, the drink of choice, flows while the scenery floats all around. Vineyards everywhere including the AirBnB-found home of Anna in Venezia.  (If you haven’t tried AirBnB, click the link.  Go somewhere. Stay in an AirBnB home of someone amazing. There are so many great choices and people all over the world!)  Anna’s home was not  any ordinary home, but a villa on a huge parcel of land that includes vineyards, fields, decorated places to sit and enjoy life, all for a very low price, WELL BELOW the cost of a hotel. I lived for a night like Vivien Leigh in “Gone With The Wind” – only, Italian-style, without the big hoop dress and Rhett Butler, of course.  It was that kind of huge and beautiful place.  What a find!

So, the next day, the plan was to venture around Venice to look at the canals and do the dance of Venice before heading north to my main destination. Problem:  a huge storm came in and it was pouring rain with thunder and lightning by 7a.  Huzzah, I love it!  But, uh-oh.  This posed more of a problem than merely missing a trip to the island, because, I forgot to borrow an umbrella from my Belgian hosts and the villa was a 5-minute walk to the bus stop. So, aside from visiting Venice, how would I make it to the Mestre train station to go to Udine? Let me explain here: I don’t mind getting wet, I love the rain! But Shannon, Shelby, Sergio, Zoom, and Fuji (my digital devices on hand) would certainly NOT dig the wet.  Holy Cow.  I encountered my second real problem in 16 days (the first was losing Shannon for a week).  As I contemplated my options, I heard more thunder and rain.  I recorded the sounds, I took pictures. I stalled my time there in hopes that it would blow over before I had to leave. (Like hotels, AirBnB’s have your exit plan scheduled and this was no exception as people from New Zealand were due to arrive by 1p.  Anna had to prepare the room I slept in.) So, what to do?   I can’t walk in the pouring rain with my digital assistants!  Alas, taxi time.  Damn.  Didn’t want to do it, but I had to. This would also bring my first expedition out in Italia without a way to properly communicate.  People told me that most Italians up in the north do not speak English.  Uh-oh.

Good times ahead just around the next pass…  Stay tuned for “Taxi Driver”…

Venezia_Anna Villa front    Italy_Anna's Villa_sideyard


Musée Hergé — Le Caricaturiste Prolifique

La superbe travail de Hergé!

A simple and fastidious ride on the trains here in Belgium will take you everywhere. They are quiet, clean, and I have found them always on time.  We rode to Louvain-La-Neuve where the train stops at UCL – the home of the Musée Hergé – an amazing museum in tribute to an extraordinary artist (one of the greatest of the 20th Century any Belgian will tell you) and one whose oeuvre makes them very proud. The architecture of the building and grounds alone will leave you breathless. Once inside the labyrinthine display areas complete with Beatlejuice-esque, non-adjacent walls and ceilings (see the virtual tour here) you find an extremely detailed showcase of the work of a man whose most popular series “Les Aventures de Tintin” were but one part of the total work output in the life of this fascinating cartoonist.  Georges Prosper Remi (Hergé his pen name) was born in May of 1907 in Etterbeek, Belgium.  (An interesting aside for me, this is also the train station where I have been taking trains and a few buses all over Brussels and to some outlying areas as it is 4 blocks from where I am staying!)

Today, Hugh and I rode the train 40 minutes outside of Brussels to the lovely city of Ghent where we are staying in one of the many AirBnB residences offered here.  As it turns out, there are choices for AirBnB stays all over Belgium and throughout Europe.  We had to kill some time to wait for our host whose work day did not end until 5:30, so we were able to stash our overnight luggage in a locker at the train station to walk about some.  Once out of the station, we stopped in an instant to notice bicycles everywhere that were lined up next to one another for as far as the eye could see, wrapped around trees and metal bike stands, parked and locked.  Everyone is in pretty excellent shape here because they RIDE everywhere.  We found ourselves strolling through a huge park right outside the station that was quite lovely, but not before stopping first for some refreshment. The pace in Ghent provides a more suitable vacation vibe; everyone seems to be in a rush-rush in Brussels – not so here. Alas, it’s time to go out again to walk about and look at the lovely Historic City Centre at the confluence of two rivers.

Ghent Bicyles

Adventures of TinTin Covers_pano Adventures of Tintin covers in 70 languages– panoramic shot on Apple iPhone 6.

all photos c.2015 Hugh Lovell

The Sound of Leuven


Sometimes to capture the feeling of a place, all you have to do is close your eyes and listen.  But in Belgium, beware!  Be sure you are not in the path of a bicyclist! Everyone has a bicycle and many traverse the cobblestone roads at high speed, so look out tourists. Such is the case in the beautiful university town of Leuven where my dear pal Hugh and I were treated to a 20-minute drive outside of Brussels to this vibrant place full of people, sights, smells, and sounds.  Have you put on your headphones and listened yet?

The next post will feature some of the amazing photos of the day taken by Hugh in the Farmer’s Market, in the cafe, of the magnificence of the architecture… I know no one better to capture the visual spirit of a place.


C’est ça…

That’s it.

Ahhh, so many things to do here in Brussels with plenty of time…

It’s easy to find oneself in a bubble, a time warp, a place inside that stands still among the busy activity of those around me who have somewhere to be at a given time. I’m staying in a neighborhood far from the tourist areas in the university district of the neighborhood called Ixelles. I have watched the place go from chilly cloudy days with some rain to a heatwave that struck bringing 90 degree heat (30 celsius) with high humidity. In the blink of an eye, one finds lovely outdoor furniture on every corner with 3 or more umbrella tables ready for customers who wish to quench their thirst. This, mind you, in the places where everyone who lives here does their everyday living.

When you travel to the tourist area as you can see in this magnificent panoramic photo taken by my friend Hugh in the Grand’ Place (aka Grote Markt in Dutch), you’ll find plenty of these types of places lined up everywhere. What I find remarkable, they exist in the places where people live as well. This signifies something very different than what we have in the U.S. – small comfortable resting stops with a unique flair that beckon one to slow down and take a break.  You can argue that we have Starbucks and Jamba Juice et al, sometimes with tables outside, but are those unique?  No. They are la même chose répétée.  (I can hear my Aunt asking “Honey, what does that mean?  All of these strange words in your writing. I don’t understand.”) It means the same thing repeated.  Why would I want to go into the same looking place over and over throughout my country?  I eat at one Cracker Barrel in the far reaches of the south and walk into the same Cracker Barrel several states north of the deep south and they look exactly the same and offer the same menu…no change.

I love the differences between each little cafe and sidewalk bar/restaurant. Everything is unique and easy in the neighborhoods where people hustle and flow. What they know how to do that Americans who work in the cities can learn from: rest, take a break, enjoy life for a minute even when work beckons. They take their pause for lunch and it’s an hour-and-a-half, minimum.

The heatwave came and went in one day bringing thunderous showers by its end. It felt remarkable for someone who lives in an area of the U.S. struck by drought. Rain, beautiful rain, I love it.

Full Square Pano-Brussels c. 2015 Hugh Lovell
Voilà tout ce qu'elle a écrit

Déjeuner avec Shannon

Elle est arrivée!

In other words, I have received my sagacious and sarcastic cohort; my personal assistant who allows me to work quickly and feel accomplished is with me once again. I’ve been attempting to write on the difficult surface of an iPad for 7 days! Many love it, mais, je préfère un vrai clavier just like I had when as a wee lass learning to type in 7th and 8th grade when it was forced on me. I wanted to take auto shop class as my elective to learn how to fix a car. Mom insisted that I take typing “for my future”. I had no intention of being a secretary. Ha. Little did I know of the foresight my Mom expressed back then. Our entire lives are built around a keyboard of some sort, for now. But I’m sure that there will be other methods in our future ability to input into “the cloud”.

I cannot describe how much better this feels to be typing on a real keyboard. It’s a 2012 MacBook Air that I shall forever here on out call Shannon for the place she was found after a long trip in the air from Oakland to LA, LA to NY. That’s where we parted ways. I went off to Reykjavik and the laptop ended up in a small airport in Shannon, Ireland. While I lounged at the Blue Lagoon spa in Reykjavik, it crossed my mind that I may never see her again and she held SO MANY details of my life and all of my creative work for the past 3 years. Of course, I have it all backed up at home on 2 hard drives, but they are nowhere near Brussels where I am now and where Shannon has finally arrived exactly one week after I departed Oakland. My flight left at 11:15a last Wednesday and Shannon arrived at 10:16a (Brussels time) this Wednesday, 7 days later.   This entire trip was originally planned around Shannon accepting all of the thoughts and ideas I have been harboring and wishing to download out of my brain for months. (years, actually) I have not had a speck of time to truly let go and write with reckless abandon. Well, here it is.

It seemed a desire of the universe to make this easier for me as she intervened to allow me 6 days of pure whatever without the familiarity of spending time in front of a keyboard; something I do all of the time while at work and in play. Really, the only time away from Shannon is when I teach as I’m in front of a class and then among a plethora of audio equipment for hours teaching my students exactly what to do and how to do it. Then, I return to Shannon to complete myriad other never-ending tasks that I must do in daily diligence. The lists of items grow with every hour. So much more than is humanly possible to complete, piled on with no reprieve. And I’m very fast at tasks. There are just far too many…

I’m seated in a restaurant with a huge outdoor section at 1:33p (13:30 is the way the rest of the world accounts for time), eating a “Salade Ibericque” consisting of grilled and sliced sausage, grilled calamari strips, tomatoes, cucumber, mixed lettuce and parmesan. (On the menu: chorizo grillé, calmars grillés, salade mixte, roquette, & parmesan – everything sounds and reads better in French.) I couldn’t help but order Frites Maison, as I have not had them at all since the day I arrived, choosing instead to imbibe my calories in the liquid form with over 300 Belgian bière to choose from. I’m only enjoying one a day–today’s is a Leffe Blonde. One-a-day, I told myself as I might grow 3 sizes if I’m not careful. After many days here in Belgium, I will spend many more in Italy!

Many here are bustling about on a quick lunch break from school and work. The family near me is on a holiday as am I. I can tell by their pace. It matches mine while everyone else is on “10”. The kids stare in wonder at the odd arrangement of food on my plate. Mom requests politely in French just what I have ordered.   As I type, I feel one child, maybe 9-years-of-age, continue to stare, but in a good way that kids do when they want to know more…not in judgment. I am also the only one with a laptop out at their table. Everyone else uses their petite phone to type messages and such.  I read further in the chapter titled “The Blue of Distance” last night in Rebecca Solnit’s book: “For the elderly, often the nearby and recent become vague and only the faraway in time and space is vivid. For children, it’s the distance that holds little interest. They want to be engaged with what is immediately before them.”

As I slowly sip and taste each bite, it seems as though I’m in slow motion in comparison to the other patrons. I realize that when you witness everyone rushing around while you are on vacation, you know that you, too, rush at home in your life, every day, every minute. Many of my friends have advised that I take up yoga, tai chi, meditation; anything to get my body moving and my mind OUT of work mode. I know that I have changed in the past 3 years. I’ve lost a couple of friends because of it. I’ve become harder, angrier, faster-paced, with no time for anyone except for heart-filled attempts to save public education as my college is under siege and I am but one of many tourniquets attempting to stave off the bleeding.

The family departed with an “au revoir” tossed back at me with smiles. I look around me at les autres who dine here today. The place has cleared out somewhat as it’s now 14:03. A young couple with a baby in a carrier on their table sit discusses the bill. Just beyond them, a man with a tightly shaved head and face (like Fred Flintstone’s face-shadow) looks at his dining companion with a clenched forehead. His puffy, red face shows a bit of annoyance as he smokes the dregs of a cigarette, sqinting through the smoke. Behind me, the sonorous language of Italian spoken rapidly into a cell phone enters my consciousness. I can tell that the man is on a phone as there is no audible answer to any of his statements, only brief bursts of silence.

One quick [language] aside: I’m just beginning to find it odd that there are two forms of the pronoun “you” in Spanish and French. One is more formal (usted or vous), yet I can’t remember when it’s correct to use one over the other. Of course, you use a formal you for elders, but there are fewer of them in my life these days. Ha. I’m in the middle of age! And here’s one for a tickle as I notice some dark clouds circle in and I realize that I have no umbrella: it’s called a “paraguas” in Spanish and “parapluie” in French. Both make total sense: translated to “for water” and “for rain”, respectively. Umbrella with Latin/Italian origins speaks of shade as in protection from the sun. hmmm. wimpy.

As I move my finished plate to the other side of the table, I notice that Shannon is lighter than the plate! THIS is one of my favorite aspects of Apple design. When they get it right, and quite often they do, it’s totally ON!

Welcome back, Shannon!

Shannon & Rebecca

First Lunch Out_Brussels


One Degree of Dana

image Signs all around me.

This appears to be the motivation behind this trip: “No stress”. Even when given a 90-mph stress ball pitch the moment I landed, the “no stress” meme was in full swing. It is for this reason that everyone needs to find some way to take a regular break to unwind as it is something I have not accomplished in 5 years. I have let work be the driver, the motivating principle in all that I do. I sure noticed the change the minute I unhooked, checked out, hopped a plane, and left my regular life behind for awhile.

Brussels! What a huge difference from Reykjavik and a perfect next step on this journey that will take me to many parts in western Europe for the next 30 days. Happy June a tout le monde!

The airport in Brussels is quite modern and very bright. Unlike the slower pace in Iceland, everything was rush-rush, hustle-bustle and I had to step it up a notch so as not to be mowed down by my fellow international travelers. Awaiting my arrival were two wonderful people whom I came to know during the weekend of their daughter’s graduation from the program I teach. They invited me to visit some day after our fun-filled evening out on the town in San Francisco a couple of years ago and they meant it. “Come to Europe and stay in Brussels. We are at the center of everything and it’s easy to go everywhere from here.” When my work this year far surpassed being “too much”, I knew I had to disconnect from the mothership for awhile. Here I am.

In the home, Spanish is spoken as the family hails from Barcelona originally but have lived in Brussels for 20+ years. In Brussels, everyone speaks French so I’m deeply entrenched in my two favorite languages, thankfully both of which I speak some. I say “some” because it’s been well over 20 years that I’ve had sharpened practice in either and suddenly I’m thrust into both. The wonderful “Lala” of 90-years-young and the mother of my hosts is full of life and happy to chat with the newcomer: “Entonces, esta bueno si tu parlez le Francais aussi  parce que hablo los dos tambien.”  Perfect.  I understand this and today I was caught with my mouth open speaking both at the same time when a shop owner quizzically asked where I was from since I’m speaking two languages at once.  His eyes widened when I told him San Francisco. Um, yeah.  We do a LOT of things in a non-traditional way there. (Malheureusement, hablando en dos lenguas al mismo tiempo est pas un d’entre eux.)  OK.  Enough of that. My Auntie already outed me on Facebook to please translate for her when I attempt to make a funny post using bits of language. The best part is it prompted an old pal from school days (“Hey, Darlene!”) to pipe in about our teachers in high school and we’ve gone off on tangents about Señora Lopez (our Spanish teacher) and Mr. Weill (our Geography teacher) both of whom she reminded me but whipping up a scan from our yearbook, tout suite, for me to see.  THIS brings me to my next thought here and the reason for the title which one of my buds and fellow colleagues used as the subject line in an email to me about my trip.

“One Degree of Dana” (thank you Denise!). Can we take a pause here to marvel at how amazing it is that I can instantaneously keep my people informed and in discovery WITH me right up to the minute on my trip? I am an ocean, a continent, and 9 time zones away from home and we can all input and have a laugh at my excursions and multiple daily missives as I “postcard live” on Facebook and post occasionally here.  (It was supposed to be a daily occurrence, but my Shannon Air is in Ireland until Wednesday when she will be delivered to me and I will, once again, be reunited with my best writing buddy I have ever known. See previous post for details. And yes, I’m a dork and WILL BE LOUDLY SINGING the Peaches and Herb classic hit “Reunited” when FedEx delivers while I sign for it.)

It blows my mind that I can post a picture in one second and have friends comment on it immediately. It is both amusing and amazing that I can tease a friend with text verbiage from my phone simultaneously in the moment I’m having an experience. (Yes, there are finally plans available for you to actually USE YOUR EXISTING CELLPHONE when traveling…see AT&T’s Global Passport and whatever Verizon is calling theirs. These just started Mar 2015, and are worth every dollar–I have a 30-day plan or you can purchase a 3-month plan) So, your people are literally there with you which is why I refer to my phone as my spaceship. Are we not traveling through space to hang out together now? 🚂🚞🚅🚊🚀🚀  Ready? Blast off!

And this brings me around to my more solemn realization that I’m learning on this trip from all of the signs presented to me daily. I have spent more time with people I love in this “spaceship mode” on my trip than I ever do in person, and THIS is an awful tragedy! I’m always too busy to get together with people. I almost never accept an invitation anymore or I say “maybe” knowing that when the weekend comes I will want solace and downtime for me alone. How has it come to this when I’m one of the most gregarious people I know?? I’ll tell you what: WORK.  I have enslaved myself to my work as it’s never-ending and it’s all I do 90-hours-a-week. I blame myself because I take this on and put it on my own shoulders to make this choice and I can tell you that this trip (even in its nascence) has shown me the signs. Most people here do NOT live like this. Family, friends, and joie de vivre come FIRST. (I’ll be blowing my stack about this and other America(n) crASSbackwards thoughts and our f’ed up situation on my other blog that I save for rants at when Shannon comes back) so let me stick to this point: I can and will no longer subject my self to all work and no play as this goes far beyond “makes Johnny a dull boy” as it literally kills Johnny from  head to toe in self-inflicted illness called stress.

One last sample of a moment here to hopefully tie this all together: I took a walk last night to be sure that I understood the neighborhood and my whereabouts here in the very cramped and wonderfully busy Brussels. There were cafes and bars galore all beckoning me in for a nightcap. People enjoy beer here but I was in the mood for something stronger, so I entered a busy spot filled with the vibrant living of young people (I’m staying in the university district) and proceeded to order a Blue Lagoon. I was a bit uncomfortable in my first foray alone speaking French and making sure that no Spanish crept in. I thought I did fine until TWO tall ice-filled glasses of blue swimming pools arrived at my solo table. I stopped the waiter with a simple question “Two?” I was sure I hadn’t slipped the word deux in my order! He replied quickly which was difficult for me to capture, but I believe he said that it was a two-for-one special and proceeded to request money for one.  I paid. Laughed for a minute, and reached for the book I’m reading as I knew it would be awhile. What unfolded in Rebecca Solnit’s next three pages in “A Field Guide To Getting Lost” blew me away. She began a discourse in art history and the use of the color blue in the first paintings that started to open up with the use of sky and space in the beyond as a connotation to the viewer of “being there” along with the subject in the artwork.  She discovered in life that  being somewhere in the blue of the “beyond” in a picture and in life never allows us to actually arrive because blue is always moving further beyond. It is not anywhere to arrive at; it is a moving target, if you will. (I’m totally paraphrasing here and you must find this book and read it because it is one that nurtures the soul, for sure.) So there I sat, sipping two Blue Lagoons, reading about the ephemeral color blue, hearing people chatter in French in the background while also listening to some quietly-playing Birelli Lagrene, a protégé of Django Reinhardt and guess what? a Blue Note Records recording artist.


Handle the weather...

Handle the weather…