Publication: Along the Tevere – A Gastro-Historical Portrait of the Region

I wrote a piece about a study trip we took during my MA studies, following the Tevere river from its sources in Emilia-Romagna to Rome. I call it a “gastro-historical portrait” because it doesn’t quite fit any style or genre. There was so much to talk about, so much indeed of history and culture that we encountered on this 10-day trip that it would have ballooned in length had I written it as a straight-up re-telling. Worse though, I found that it lacked narrative coherence and became a boring “and then…” list of things. Often, in travel writing, it is the traveller herself who provides the coherence, but this trip or this story at least was not about me, or us as a group. It was about the river, and so I had to put the river at the heart of it. It ended up becoming quite a lyrical piece, returning again and again to the motif of the river, water and movement. As the focus is not on any particular person or community, these became often nameless, supporting actors. It reminds me of what Anna Burns did in Milkman (2018), her novel set in late 1970s/early 1980s Belfast, in which she does not name a single character with a name, only by their relationships, characteristics or nicknames (“maybe-boyfriend”, “older sister”, “real milkman”). In her story, the technique captures the secretive and cautious way of life in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. In my article, it is not about secrecy but about, I suppose, unimportance. The smallness of individual lives and stories against the eternal story of the river.

***Along the Tevere (excerpt)***

Source of the Tevere – (c) Roberto Fogliardi /Creative Commons

“On the first evening, over dinner in their beautiful restaurant, the hosts explain how their work is centred on memory and tradition. But 82 years ago, their tradition abruptly changed, as they ceased to be Tuscan, and became Romagnoli. People are polite here, or is it careful? The carefulness that comes with having been ruled by many lords, with never much to say. Careful not to offend anybody, because who knows who will be the next masters? So people are cautious, stick to the facts: Yes, we used to be Tuscan. Now we are Romagnoli. They call it Tuscan Romagna. That’s us. Never a word about the power-hungry man from Forlì1, who thought he could influence destiny through geography2. A forced syllogism: what springs out of the sources of the Tevere must end in Rome. I am from Romagna. If the sources of the Tevere are also in Romagna, therefore, what springs from Romagna must end in Rome. In fact, he ended at the shores of an Alpine lake3. But that is a different story.

The story of the river is not one of destiny. A river has no destiny. The water never stops. It enters the sea, only to rise up again into the clouds, then fall down as rain on the top of the mountain, seep through the rocks into the underground reservoir4, and out again through the cracks. A little stream, trickling through the beechwood forest5, downhill, towards the valley and the city. An endless cycle, forever repeated. A river is movement. And in the movement, there is force. The force to carve a valley out of these mountains, or just to transport the heavy loads of the upstream harvests to the city. Grain and oil, milled with the force of the river. Wine. And people. Always people…”

1 Benito Mussolini (1883-1945), Prime Minister of Italy 1922-1943
2 In 1927, Mussolini decreed that the borders of Romagna and Tuscany should be re-drawn, in order to include Monte Fumaiolo with the sources of the Tevere into Romagna, his home region.
3 Mussolini was executed by partisans at Lake Como, April 1945.
4 The sources of the Tevere spring from an underground reservoir on Mt. Fumaiolo.
5 There are many beech trees on Mt. Fumaiolo, because they are especially adapted to the local terrain – it is very sandy, and so only the beech, which has sprawling roots, about as many as it has branches overhead, can find enough hold to become very old there.

Read the full story here: https://arrow.tudublin.ie/tfschafart/212/

Bridge over the Tevere in Rome – (c) Giampaolo Macorig /Creative Commons

Unfortunately, all my own pictures from the trip were lost when my laptop crashed a while ago, so these pictures are from the Creative Commons, with thanks to the photographers.

Autumn in Piemonte

IMG_1820If you go for a walk in the woods one of these crisp Piemontese autumn mornings, you may meet a man carrying a wicker basket. In it, a few small mushrooms on a bed of fern. ‘Oh,’ you will say, ‘not so lucky today?’ – ‘No,’ he will answer, with a rueful look into his basket. ‘Not much luck today. Or maybe I just don’t know where to look.’ And, with a slight shrug of the shoulders, he will say: ‘Maybe this wood is not good for mushrooms. Good luck to you though.’

But if you were to come to the house of this man in these days, you will find him sitting at his kitchen table, carefully cleaning porcini mushrooms the size of his fist. He will be surrounded by several wicker baskets, full of glorious nut-brown and stone-grey specimens, resting on their bed of fresh green fern.

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Book Fix Lisbon – Bookshop Bivar

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Where to find books in English in Lisbon?

No. 1 – Bookshop Bivar in Estefânia. All-English secondhand books. Browsing recommended!

Tucked away on a hill in a residential neighbourhood with winding narrow streets, I only found it because I was lost, but it’s worth the hike. A few bookshelves, a table, a counter and a big, inviting couch – it doesn’t take a lot of fancy trimmings to open a bookstore. The books themselves lend a merry atmosphere with their colourful spines on the white shelves. A few potted plants and someone friendly to help the customers with their queries about books for school, for beach-reading or to satisfy their book cravings, and you’re away.

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Book Fix Dublin – Chapters

img_20161121_153249Where to find good books in Dublin?

No.3 – Chapters on Parnell Street. A goldmine for hardcover books, and Ireland’s largest independent bookstore.

I used to think of Chapters as a sort of bargain bookstore. The prices are shown on the front of the books with large, red-and-white stickers, and often they are “special prices” and actual bargains. This makes a big difference on  hardcover books. I have no great ambition to own my fiction in hardcover, in fact, I prefer paperbacks, as they are lightweight and fit better into my handbags. But food and cookery books often come only in hardcover, and Chapters was instrumental in helping me build up my collection of recipe and reference books on food and wine. For the same reason, anybody interested in coffee table books on Art and Architecture should not miss visiting this store.  Continue reading

Book Fix Dublin – Hodges Figgis

img_20161120_152432 Where to find good books in Dublin?

No.2 – Hodges Figgis. The name sounds like a Dickens character, the shopfront looks exactly how you would picture Dublin’s oldest bookstore. Huge windows full of books curve towards the door like a bell jar. Their frames and the door are dark green, like the leather inserts on a library table.

But the shop is not resting on its long and illustrious pedigree (which includes being mentioned in Ulysses, no less).  From humanities, business and sciences on the top floor to the sweeping selection of classic and modern literature, Hodges Figgis is eminently knowledgeable without being snobbish.  Continue reading

Book Fix Dublin – The Secret Book and Record Store

img_20161118_141610Where to find good books in Dublin?

No.1 – The Secret Book and Record Store. A bookworms’ lair unfazed by fashions.

The Secret Book and Record Store is not all that secretly located in the city centre of Dublin. Around the corner from busy Grafton Street, amidst cafés and shops, a large yellow sign adorns the entrance. The corridor burrows away into the old building. At the end of it, boxes and tables and shelves full of books fill a low room almost to the ceiling.

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Berlin Book Fix – No.6: Goldhahn & Sampson

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Where to find books in English in Berlin?

No.6 – Goldhahn & Sampson in Prenzlauer Berg. The cook book lover’s treasure chest.

Goldhahn & Sampson caters for the mind as well as the palate. They sell food, wine and delicatessen – local specialities from around Berlin and elsewhere. A contradiction? Not at all: speciality food is generally rooted in a certain locality. That’s what makes it special and different from the foods from other localities, and of course from the mass-produced products that have the same taste (or lack thereof) everywhere. Continue reading

Berlin Book Fix – No.5: Hundt Hammer Stein

img_20161101_183556Where to find books in English in Berlin?

No. 5 – Hundt Hammer Stein in Mitte. Style and substance are no contradiction for this basement bookshop.

The area around U-Bahn station Weinmeisterstraße is a hub for stylish young Berlin. The shops sell contemporary urban fashion for art and architecture aficionados – COS, Skunk Funk, Urban Outfitters, & Other Stories – and during Berlin Fashion Week, the footpaths are a gauntlet of prosecco tables. Around the corner in Alte Schönhauser Straße, between Australian ice cream, Japanese sneakers and Italian espresso machines, the Hundt Hammer Stein bookshop takes up a basement unit. Continue reading

Berlin Book Fix – No.4: Curious Fox New and Used English Books

img_20161022_180755-1Where to find books in English in Berlin?

No. 4 – Curious Fox New and Used English Books in Neukölln. Excellent selection of Irish writers, lovely spot for a cup of tea.

The Curious Fox has its burrow on Flughafenstraße, where the hill dips down again  from the Flughafen Tempelhof heights towards the shopping district around Rathaus Neukölln.

It is a cosy shop with a red sofa by the entrance and a couple of easy chairs in the back room – you can also get tea or coffee at the counter. Locals drop in for a chat as much as to browse the collection.  Continue reading

Berlin Book Fix – No.3: Saint George’s New and Secondhand English Bookshop

img_20161020_143607.jpg Where to find books in English in Berlin?

No. 3 – Saint George’s New and Secondhand English Bookshop in Prenzlauer Berg. Well-stocked with interesting titles. They know what they are doing.

You enter through the fiction section. Plenty of good things here. The nonfiction section – starting by the cash register – is ample and organised into many themes. Genre literature and children’s books are in the very back. There are a few comfy chairs around – leather chesterfield ones, the type I would like to have in my own library, should I ever have the room for one. #classyreadingnook Continue reading