Italy: the Apuan Alps and Orvieto

We made a 10 km circular alpine trek that began and ended in Fornovolasco, an adorable, itsy town parted by a stream, with stone bridges and buildings and a single restaurant. (Our trek is the day 4 itinery outlined here, except that we did it in reverse.)

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The trails were well-marked and easy to follow. We climbed up, up, up, past a couple of old stone houses, before reaching the most incredible land-bridge I’ve ever seen.

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It was overcast at first, so that the view of hill-towns beyond and below were obscured by mist, but when we returned to the land-bridge after climbing to the peak, we could see all the way to the sea — about 100 miles. Each of the peaks had crosses on top, and early in the trail, there were religious icons (mostly Virgin Mary statues) tucked in nooks in the rocks. There are also a few caves (essentially big holes in the ground) between the bridge and the peak, but we were trying to make it down before dark and didn’t have time to explore.

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The views on the way back were amazing — nifty rock formations, several wide-open shots to the sea — but the rolling gravel underfoot landed us both on our asses and could have launched us off a cliff. So yeah, if you make this trek, go slow and be careful.

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Tuscany and Liguria

This is long overdue, because I’ve been busy having a fantastic Fall. But Italy was my official farewell-to-summer, oh-hello-fall, so I thought I’d reminisce a bit. Also I promised more last post, though it was so long ago no one remembers.

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Pitigliano is a medieval city built on volcanic rock, with an old synagogue and Jewish quarter. You can explore the synagogue, but there’s not much to see, and the cemetery was closed when we were there. The Jewish community was established in the 15th century by people fleeing papal persecution in Rome, but now there are few, if any, Jews left in the town. For us, the best part about Pitigliano were the Etruscan caves below the hills of the city. Unlike the caves in other towns, such as Orvieto, these are a free-for-all — no admission fee or guide required. Simply hike the paths on the outskirts of town, and you’ll stumble upon them. They’d make great places to camp.

And speaking of, camping in Italy is weird. It’s like KOA times ten. (Ever heard of the “glamping,” i.e. glamorous camping?) Everyone had these mega-tents, with electricity and multi-rooms.The campgrounds (there were several different companies, all with their own compounds) were right across from the public beach, so people stayed in the tents for weeks, crossing the road every day to go to the beach. Each compound comes with a general store, restaurant, big stage, family activities and bad American pop-music. It reminded me of some quaint resort, the kind of place upper middle-class Americans went during the post-war boom (think Dirty Dancing). It’s expensive, too — roughly $50 per night for us to pitch our tiny, claustrophobic, non-electric tent.

(Of course, the one time we took them up on their overpriced offer, it rained and our tiny tent leaked.)

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Saturnia was one of the highlights of my trip. It’s an entire river of hot (okay, really, more warm) mineral springs, set against the backdrop of the Tuscan hills. There are falls and natural whirlpools, which provide a variety of water-massages and privacy, despite the fact that this place is crawling with people. Best of all, it’s free! If I lived here I would go all the time.

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This is our little swimming nook, on the island of Giglio, which was all the more fabulous because it was never part of any official plan. We were trying to find the “untamed rocky beaches” (thus dubbed by Lonely Planet) of west Monte Argentario, but after guiding our little rented Fiat around sharp curves with gorgeous views and straight drop-offs for hours, we realized they were all privately owned or accessible only by boat. The vacationing Italians all seemed to take the ferry to Giglio. My traveling partner, Bruce, didn’t want to go to Giglio. He worried it would be cheesy and touristy. But we were getting nowhere and we were loath to waste the day, so we risked it.

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Giglio was magical. We knew nothing at first, but later befriended a couple who told us it’s made up of three different towns. The ferry dropped up in Giglio Porto — replete with candy-colored buildings and red-tile roofs — where we got a map and headed out in search of an official beach. But after walking about 20 minutes, we saw this cove and a narrow rocky path with desert fauna.

The path led down. Illicit is always better, right?

There was a single man down there, sunbathing on a rock. We spent the afternoon leaping off rocks and swimming in the icy, clear perfection of the Tyrrenhenian Sea. The waves were gentle, so I swam far out, floating on my back and gazing at the layers of mountains and immediate cliffs and scattered houses. (I am the best floater I’ve ever met. It’s one of my odd talents, right up there beside being able to pee anywhere, anytime.)

After swimming, we hiked just over an hour to reach Giglio Castello, which is actually a town, not a castle, like we expected. The landscape and the plants reminded me of the California coast, except that, interspersed among the dusty, rocky, thorny patches, there were deep, dark forests that made me think of Renaissance fairs and reminded me that we were seeking a castle.

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Two weeks in northern Italy, in sunsets

The fiery one, igniting boats and cliffs and haphazardly piled, tropical-hued villas in Riomaggiore, as viewed from the rocky shore with at least 100 other admirers.

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The one that shrouded the highest point in a village rising from a castle, all of it adrift in the Mediterranean Sea (after missing the last ferry back, while drinking local wine and eating rosemary biscotti with an idealistic couple from Verona, who love opera and linguistics and wish cruise ships would stop docking in Venice).

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The one that streaked, chemically colored, across a flat sky in an unknown, industrial town, where we stopped for a patio after hours hiking the Alps. We were starving, and there was a crowd. It was, undoubtably, the best aperitif spread in town. We only bought the wine for the free sandwiches and pasta.

The first one solo, orange and yellow over the Umbrian hills, surreptitiously absorbed from the rocky overhang of a cliff on the wrong side of the autostrade railing.

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The one that painted the Tuscan mountains, leaning fast into cut-away curves from the back of a motorbike, riding the thrill of breaking into an abandoned hospital with, essentially, a total stranger. Cold wind, sheer drops and rosy patchwork vastness.

The second solo: warm drape over red-clay roofs of Lucca and the purple hills beyond.

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The throngs of tourists snapping photos of mauve-tinged roofs and bridges from Piazzale Micheangelo, dangling high over River Arno.

The last one, an elegant stillness settling over the domed, mist-softened magnificence of Florence, as viewed from the deserted streets of Fiesole.

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(More adventures and visuals to come…)

Wakarusa 2014

To see the rest of my pics, go here.

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Wayne Coyne seems a bit of a tool, but maybe narcissism is a pre-requisite for spectacle-creation?

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Air Dubai, this Colorado hip-hop fusion band, was fantastic.

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Alexander Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros were kinda lame, but at least there was crowd participation. For a crowd-sourced story that made 60,000 folks cry, see the last video of this post.

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Toby (from Dr. Dog) sat on a random guy. Then a random girl sat on Toby. He looked bewildered. Wonder if his wife’s the jealous type?

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I don’t know this guy. I just liked the way the picture turned out – the mood and the aperture and such.

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Reignwolf. Best. Set. Ever.

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Yep, there was a ferris wheel. And Arkansas’s take on north (midwestern) lights.

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There were boobs and lots of butt cheeks. This is the most fleshy photo of my lot, because taking pictures of strangers, even strangers who choose to be naked in a crowd of 23,000, felt too creepy. Maybe I will overcome my puritan roots and emerge with way-better flesh pics next year?

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Alex Ebert changed this guys life. Apparently.

Memphis music and Mack City

Fun facts: If you brush corn starch through your hair every few days, you never have to wash it.

There’s an entertainment district in Memphis called The New Mack City. You’ll know you’re there when everything around you is yellow and green. (It’s a bit like Oz, y’all).

We stumbled upon a Mouserocket show at Black Lodge Video in Memphis’s midtown. It was actually a DVD release party for Mike McCarthy’s 2009 film, Cigarette Girl. (From what I gather, smokers must live in the ghetto, a scantily-clad, leggy lass deals cigs to addicts-in-hiding, who still live in the fancy part of town and there’s lots of Tarantino-style action.)

Mouserocket, currently one of my favorite bands, is a decade-old collab between garage-punker Alicja Trout, Big Ass Truck’s Robby Grant (who freakin’ shreds on guitar), drummer Robert Barnet (also of Big Ass Truck), a bass player (the world-wide-web says Hemant Gupta?) and Jonathan Kirkscey, the Memphis Symphony Orchestra cellist who did the music for Cigarette Girl and Black Snake Moan.

Hanna Star also played a set. She’s Mike McCarthy’s 15-year-old daughter, who has pink hair and braces, a pretty, shivery voice, puberty-meets-nursery rhyme lyrics and sparse but catchy guitar bits. (We saw the stripped down version, just Hanna and a guitar. It was less poppy and frankly, more interesting, than what you’ll find online.)

And before Black Lodge, Pat Sansone (of Wilco by way of Mississippi) played with Jody Stephens (drummer and last surviving member of Big Star) and a rotating collective of other folks that we didn’t recognize. It was a free show in Overland Park, and the sound was fantastic. They went through all of Third and a lot of stuff off Big Star. They also played several Chris Bell songs, bringing out Richard Rosebrough, the original drummer for “I Am the Cosmos.” The finale? “The Letter” by the Boxtops. Pretty perfect, right?

Here’s my unsatisfying Mouserocket clip (card ran out of memory):

Here’s my even less satisfying clip of Stephens & Co.’s “September Girl”:

Here’s what Mack City looks like (more after the jump):

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Rainy Sunday marathon

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No Facebook. In fact, no mention of internet at all (which, if they had it, was surely AOL dial-up). No cell phones and not even multiple land lines. Only beepers and subway tokens (ha, tokens) and a young Eddie Vedder with a terrible band name (Reigndance?), and a Mazzy Star/Suzanne Vega siren, stylistically and emotionally preserved somewhere between Parker Posey in Party Girl and Winona Ryder in Reality Bites, and a lady rapper befriending a gal from Alabama, the latter an obvious product of neighborhood dance competitions in chain-hotel ballrooms (cut to the spandex short-and-bra set), and a smart, hyper-defensive poet, a bisexual artist, some lava lamps and chiseled abs and a frat-boy haircut, a respectful exchange with a homeless drug addict, earnest discussion and, believe it or not, authenticity.

Thanks MTV. Thanks Hulu.