travel

Traci Slatton’s Best of 2014
5 star review | authors | gratitude | happiness | hope | kindness | review | special | travel

Traci Slatton’s Best of 2014

This is a personal, idiosyncratic list. These items are what I loved and enjoyed.

BEST MOVIE: In Your Eyes, produced by Joss Whedon

Traci Slatton

BEST SONG: This is a tie between “Crumblin‘”  by Noah Moffitt and Jessica Friedman, and “The Riot’s Gone” by Santigold, both from the Soundtrack of In Your Eyes.

BEST BOOK: This is hard. I read a lot of great books this year. Mostly I read non-fiction for research purposes. The research continues, and I just read something I really love: “THE CATHARS AND REINCARNATION” by Dr. Arthur Guirdham. Great book.

Traci Slatton

FAVORITE MOMENT: Sitting with my husband at the kitchen table of our little apartment in Venice, listening to the rain patter on the canal outside.

Traci Slatton

FAVORITE PICTURE: My husband and me in Venice. I’m usually the photographer, even though I wobble the camera and stick my thumb in the way. But Sabin accosted a passerby to take this shot of both of us.

Traci Slatton

FAVORITE MEAL: November 26 at Da Umberto. The meal was delicious and so was listening to my husband speak Italian with the waiter and the maitre d’. Sabin is always happiest speaking Italian. And the tiramisu rocked!

FAVORITE BOOK REVIEW: BROKEN received many thoughtful reviews. I am deeply grateful for the good words from so many reviewers, including Leslie Wright, Sandy at The Reading Cafe, Jen at No Market Collective, Ashley at Game Vortex, Drey from Drey’s Library, Grady Harp, Layna at Lunar Haven Reviews, and Dii at Tome Tender. It’s hard to choose one review from among so many good ones. Of them all, nestled deep in my heart is Rebecca Skane’s commentThis is thought-provoking literature that explores female sexual equality and the nefarious act of unwanted dominance in every form“.

BEST TV SERIES: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. OF COURSE!!! Doesn’t everyone want to be Phryne Fisher when they grow up?

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BEST YOGA MOMENT: One day I actually accomplished eka padakoundinyasana. Yep, I got up on my arms in that exquisitely challenging balance. That was before I tore my hamstring and had to ease up on the intensity of my practice. Nope, no pix of that moment, and I don’t even remember what day it was. I just remember managing the pose–on both sides–and feeling delighted.

FAVORITE CHRISTMAS PRESSIE: There were a few, Santa was good to me this year. I got some really luscious Hanro of Switzerland nightgowns, and the hand of that fabric is delicious. I also got some beautiful hand-painted Deruta of Italy espresso cups and larger mugs for my morning coffee. Wow!

FAVORITE NEW BOOK IDEA: I’m working on 3 novels right now, which gives me keen pleasure, indeed!

BEST CHOCOLATE: Hu Crunchy Mint, because chocolate makes life better. It’s good for the soul.

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BEST PETS: Molly and Gabriel, my 55 lb. lap dogs.

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anarchy | apocalyptic | art | criminal behavior | dystopian | politics | travel

Italy: Blocked by socialism, corruption, and a no-can-do attitude

Last year when we came to Italy, we went first to Venice and then to Florence and then to Rome.

We rented an apartment in Rome near the Vatican, and one evening went out for ice cream with our landlords. They had two bambini and we have one. In the course of the conversation, we discussed a large factory complex on an island outside of Venice that lies empty and unused. Marghera, I think it’s called.

“Some entrepreneur should come along and re-purpose the space,” I said. “Turn it into a nightclub or a mall or a skating rink.”

“That is not possible,” exclaimed our landlady, a lawyer, with total certainty.

“Sure it’s possible,” I shrugged. “Some bright person will come along and think of a way to re-use the space and make it productive. It doesn’t have to sit there and be empty. It could be an auction space, a market, or an art gallery. It could be anything.”

She insisted vigorously and with a rigid refusal to consider any other possibility that such a thing was not possible. The only possibility was that the factory would continue to lie fallow–forever.

She was a smart and educated woman, but I ended up looking at her and thinking that she was quite backwards. That’s my cultural bias, of course. In the US, some hotshot entrepreneur would come along and do something clever with the space and turn it into the next hot spot. If the first entrepreneur failed, the second would succeed. If the second didn’t, the fifth would.

The US–despite Obama’s best efforts to destroy the middle class and create a totalitarian state where every citizen’s most picayune communications are watched over by the NSA–is still all about reinvention. We still get second and third chances. Note to literary readers: we have long sense superseded Gatsby’s assumptions.

But in Italy, there is only one option: that the unused factory space, which was expensive to build, will remain empty and useless.

It’s an attitude that Sabin and I have encountered over and over again in our travels through Italy: “No can do.”

It’s not the fault of ordinary Italians. We meet people who work really hard. Over and over again, we hear the same thing: the bureaucracy in Italy is set up to thwart citizens, to deny fledging businesses any hope of success, and to create the conditions for business failure.

This year, our friend Paolo who owns rental apartments shared with us some of his woes. The government is constantly changing regulations, hoping to trip up rental businesses and thus fine them outrageously before shutting them down. This belligerence is in part sponsored by hotels, who don’t want tourists to have the option of renting apartments. But it is also the government trying to squeeze ever more taxes, fees, financial obligations, and huge fines out of a middle-class that is already wrung dry.

Other friends of ours here recounted how the government abruptly raised certain taxes from 20% to 22%, and consequently, over half of the small mom-and-pop shops went out of business. That 2% was everything for them. Businesses here have to pay for production, and they don’t get tax credits for it. Out of 1 euro, our friend said, he gets 40 euro cents, if he’s lucky. Sixty euro cents goes to the government, taxes, fees, tariffs, etc.

Plus, in Italy, the government can simply take funds out of a citizen’s bank account whenever it wants, like when it suddenly changes the rules on permits. A small business owner can go to the bank one morning and find there is substantially less than he or she expected–because of overnight changes.

Speaking of apartments, in Venice, there is a glut of unoccupied, closed up apartments. Families who have owned apartments forever have stopped offering vacation rentals because the government keeps changing the rules, and they don’t want to pay capricious and punitive fines. Owners are afraid to rent to students because they run the risk of the students destroying the property, and they’re even more afraid to rent to regular folks. If the renters stop paying, it’s almost impossible to evict them–especially if they have children.

So the smart thing to do is not to rent out apartments, but to board them up and let them be empty. And that is exactly what many Venetians do.

Our friends who run a small establishment won’t hire anyone to help them, because the laws governing labor are oppressively burdensome. So the husband and wife do everything themselves, and sometimes his mother pitches in.

Socialism destroys opportunities.

Then there is the corruption factor.

People still mention the Mafia. It’s a problem, more in the south than in the north, but people are aware that the Mafia influences the government and the passage of laws, that there is a criminal factor in the running of their country. In fact, in many places in the south, the Mafia is the government. What a shame.

One thing I always ask Italians, after everyone has had a little wine: “Perche Berlusconi?” I am thinking, How the hell could you have elected someone as mind-bogglingly corrupt, stupid, and bad for Italy as Berlusconi, and kept him in office for twenty years? If I am feeling particularly controversial, I mention the Bunga Bunga parties.

Over the last few years, many answers have erupted. Berlusconi owns much of the media is a favorite excuse. Someone from my Italian publisher told me that people voted for Berlusconi because they hoped that they, too, like him, would get away with corrupt behavior. “I am embarrassed about him,” one Italian woman, an educated professional, confessed the other day.

So here is a country with one of the great artistic, cultural, and historical patrimonies on Earth, and it is stuck in the mud and sinking. Italy is mired in failure, backward-thinking, socialism, and corruption. Che peccato.

Venezia
food | love | marriage | Sabin Howard | special | travel

Venezia

When we are not in Possagno, Sabin makes dinner at home, at the sweet apartment in the Dorsoduro we’ve rented from his boyhood friend Carlo. It’s all luscious foodstuffs from the supermercato Billa Billa. Tonight  we feasted on mozzarella di bufala con tomate e pesto, and green olives and paper-thin slices of chicken with herbs and a rather nice Dolcetto D’Alba… Molto buono.

We’re on a quiet canal with little traffic and the light from the sky still seeps in late in the evening. A bell tower nearby rings in the hours, and tonight riffs of noise drift up, all discussion about the World Cup. The last few nights have seen raucous thunderstorms, so now the air is clean and fresh and smells softly of the sea. Just before noon, Carlo’s daughter pointed out a fish in the canal, a silvery thing wiggling around an abandoned peach pit with a few tufts of yellow meat still attached. In the afternoons, I stretch out my travel mat and do 45 minutes or an hour of yogaglo, and hope that the repetitions of downward facing dog and chattarunga dundasana will combat the calories, of which there are many, all richly enjoyed.

Venezia

 

Venezia

Agriturismo Al Vecchio Borgo outside of Possagno: A magical experience, with excellent food
5 star review | art | food | gratitude | hard work | review | travel

Agriturismo Al Vecchio Borgo outside of Possagno: A magical experience, with excellent food

If I were married to a surgeon, I would hear about cuts and scalpels; if I were married to a movie producer, I would be regaled with stories about talent and above- and below-the-line costs; I am married to a classical figurative sculptor, so I have spent considerable time in Possagno, at Canova’s Gypsoteca and the nearby breath-taking Tempio.

Tonight I wanted to try a new place for dinner. Sabin googled a restaurant and, en route, we passed an Agriturismo.

“Oh, let’s stop there, I love Agriturismos!” I enthused.

Sabin was skeptical, but he was in the mood to please me. I had, after all, endured several hours of waiting for him to emerge from the Canova museum. He raised an eyebrow but drove up the gravel road to the restaurant.

We were greeted by the honks and shuffles of a small pen of ducks and hens. “Dinner,” Sabin observed. But he was happy to note that the immaculate walkway to the Agriturismo was lined with half-life-size sculptures. It was all very neat and manicured.

Once inside, we saw several locals and a few tourists. Nice-looking young Demitri waved us to a table in welcoming fashion and then informed us of the day’s offerings.

The antipasti consisted of two plates of the most delicious salumi. One plate was heaped with prosciutto, pancetta, and salami. The other plate sported paper-thin slices of roast breast of turkey. As a rule, I don’t eat pork. But the salami was mouth-wateringly scrumptious, and I couldn’t resist. I ate every bite that Sabin allowed me—he finished most of it, and he wasn’t sharing, despite the kilo of beef he’d eaten for lunch.

I also indulged in the wine. It was a riot of purple goodness on my tongue, fresh and drinkable and absolutely superb. At night I have one glass of wine at dinner. But tonight a few glasses vanished before I belatedly realized that I really should pace myself. It was just so clean and yummy that I wanted more, and more. Oh, and have I mentioned that the wine is home-made?

Then came the pasta: home-made tagliatelle with duck ragu. Ohmigod. As a professional writer, I really should have a better way to say it than Ohmigod. But that luscious primi deserved devout praise, an exclamation of the purest pleasure. Again, as a rule, I don’t eat pasta. But this was a divine exception.

Sabin devoured his pasta without saying a word or even breathing.

Then I had the steak, and it was fantastic, clean and lean and perfectly cooked and exquisite. Sabin and I shared the secondi because he had, after all, eaten a kilo of beef at lunch.

We passed on dessert. I couldn’t have wedged another bite of anything down my gullet. So Demetri brought me home-made limoncello, and it was another mouthful of bliss and paradise. We fell to talking to him, or rather, Sabin spoke Italian and I understand a lot more than I can say, so I followed the conversation. Then Demetri introduced us to his wife Jessica, a lovely and talented young woman who keeps a sparkling kitchen and cooks like an angel. We begged her to allow us to take a few pictures, because it was overwhelmingly impressive.

And then Demitri brought me a glass of an herbal liquor that he claimed was a digestive, something they make themselves. Have I already used the words delicious, divine, scrumptious, and bliss? Because they all apply to this liquor, which must be tasted to be believed.

So next time you are in the area of Asolo or Possagno, or anywhere in the Veneto, stop by Agriturismo Al Vecchio Borgo. They’re located at Via Fusere 7 – Fietta di Paderno del Grappa, tel 0423 190 14 57. Restaurant open Friday and Saturday dinner and Sunday lunch and dinner.

Agriturismo Al Vecchio Borgo

 

 

Agriturismo Al Vecchio Borgo

Florence, the Medici Chapels, the Uffizi, and Social Media
art | gratitude | healing | hope | life model | love | mind-body connection | sculpting | travel

Florence, the Medici Chapels, the Uffizi, and Social Media

There are too many tourists in Florence. Plenty of them are dreadful.

Today I overheard an American as he stood in front of Leonardo’s sublime Annunciation and wondered aloud in a nasal voice if he would be “done” with the museum by 2:00.

I wanted to spit at him.

Some of us go to the Uffizi and we show up. We bring ourselves to the art, not so we can cross if off some list, but so we can participate in something larger than ourselves: great art, the finest art humankind can create. Beauty, truth, and love.

The Botticelli room does it for me. It grabs my internal organs and squeezes and uplifts me and forces me into transfiguration. I want to kneel and pray in front of the Primavera. Every time I go to the Uffizi, every time I pass through that room with its dazzling paintings, I am a different person than when I entered. I am a better person. I am someone who has been weeping with joy and grace.

Sabin the classical figurative sculptor loves Michelangelo, and Sabin in his own right is a master artist, so he’s earned the right to his opinions. He’s also read every book in English or Italian written since 1750 on the Renaissance, so he’s educated.

But for me, it is Botticelli. Botticelli understood women, he understood beauty, he loved femininity, he conveyed grace like no one else, he got it.

This is a debate Sabin and I have every time we discuss Michelangelo and Sandro Filipepi. It is hard for me to relate to Michelangelo who just didn’t like women. Michelangelo’s female figures wear coconut boobs and the most butch arms this side of construction work. OK, I understand, his architecture of the body is unparalleled. But still.

Then there is Leonardo il Maestro. The golden-ringleted angel in the Verocchio painting. That stunning Annunciation, and was that the only painting naughty, restless, genius Leonardo ever finished? Holy god.

And now we are allowed to take photos in the Italian museums. Why? Free advertising. Joe Schmoe American in front of the David on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram will bring in 20 other Schmoes, and Italy needs their $. Gotta love social media.

Florence

La Serenissima
art | gratitude | travel

La Serenissima

It’s true, I prefer the Florentine painters. The clarity and bright colors and sweet spirituality of Giotto, Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Fra Lippo Lippi, Ghirlandaio, and Verocchio fill my heart with rapture–and that’s not hyperbole.

Nonetheless, Venezia offers its pleasures, Giovanni Bellini and the marvelous fragolino wine from Enoteca Cantinone gia Schiave and a most delicious caprese salad from the Restaurant of the Old Well among them. Tiepolo ranks, too.

La Serenissima