Posted by: cianoz | June 29, 2010

The Assen TT experience

Tucked away in the Dutch farmland, where only cows and a few men live, lies Assen. Today, there’s a procession of motorbikes going there for the race – and us. The bikes are just everywhere, by the thousands in every field-become-parking lot.
The crowd at the Assen TT race track is almost the same as at the AC/DC concert I was at earlier, only the tees feature a lot of great bands or pilots, and not just one. Giant beer bellies, tattoed arms, leather and bike boots aplenty, it’s a fabulous ride through tamarroland (*for non-Italians – tamarro is quite difficult to translate, but you get it, I guess). Every parking shows extensive burnout circles.
I walk by super expensive merchandising stalls: 30 euros for a cap? The Doctor is by far the most represented: never mind that he’s not racing because of a broken leg, people love Valentino Rossi, the rest are one step below. The Commander and the Queen Mother stop to don Assen TT caps.
It’s past 11 am and class 125 is finishing the first race, which sounds like vuvuzelas all over from behind the hillocks around the track… 15 mins more walking under the blazing sun and there we are: our seats are in the Haarbocht tribune, by the first bend after the start. Will I see anything? They are going to be riding at 300 kph before they get to the long fast bend.

Soon after the award ceremony come the Moto2: this is more like what I imagined as they roar and whizz past and you’d better know how to use your camera if you want anything to show your friends later.
I get to see a legend doing honour laps around the track: Giacomo Agostini, the pilot who won the most bike races EVER. 122. I had read about him when I was a kid. Everyone claps, it’s like when I saw John Paul Jones with Them Crooked Vultures.

But everybody is waiting for the MotoGP stars. The first sign that they’re out there is them turning on the engines in the box… No more vuvuzelas here, more like an army of angry drummers approaching.
I stick my arms through the chain link, to get better camera angles.
The bikes and men start the warm up lap and I’m already breathless. They start the race and that army of angry drummers riding some (angry) beasts out of a Judas Priest song sweeps through my head, eyes, ears and all. I swear loud. This is very very metal.
We all watch dogfights on the giant screen and when the tv chopper comes close it means  wowow! wow! damn! and they’re gone again. A girl squeals in excitement every time Lorenzo goes by. I manage to take a nice shot of the guy winning. It’s over. Madness.

The way back is part of the event itself. 100000 people will leave the premises, most of them by bike. The people in the peaceful villages around Assen sit on the kerb, on tractors, on CRANES for chrissake, watching the strangest show, sipping beer and enjoying the perfect sun. An endless, multicoloured snake of Honda Yamaha Ducati Aprilia unrolls past the cute canals and locks, not roaring any more, just purring.

We’re out of the queue now, the bikers clog the fuel stations, the radio is playing Lynyrd Skynyrd and we’re heading towards the sun. Almost perfect.

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Posted by: cianoz | May 19, 2010

The Magical Mystical Assisi Tour e non solo

Assisi

Penso me la caverò in mezza giornata e quasi mi preoccupo di cosa fare tornato a Perugia. Dopotutto Assisi è un paese e voglio visitare quattro chiese di numero. Poveretto.

Già sapevo cos’è Assisi per l’arte e la spiritualità cristiana, ma che avrei passato tre ore dentro San Francesco, compresi profondi momenti mistici… Questa mini vacanza sta diventando impegnativa.

Le vie del borgo mi ricordano una Perugia più gentile e quasi disneyana, probabilmente sono state ripulite dopo il terremoto del ‘97. Alla fine della via principale, aperta su una piazza, ecco san Francesco con i suoi due livelli.

Basilica Superiore di San Francesco
La basilica è semplicissima ed elegante da fuori. Dentro, uno spettacolo.

Visito, per cominciare, i restauri di una cappella nella Basilica Inferiore. Mi verrebbe da stringere la mano ai restauratori, ma stanno lavorando…

Restauri nella cappella di San Nicola, Basilica Inferiore di San Francesco

Bellissima la possibilità di ammirare gli affreschi in restauro da distanza ravvicinata!

La Basilica Inferiore fa girare la testa, non fosse altro per guardare gli affreschi sulla crociera del transetto. Poi ci sono le cappelle, le vetrate… Aiuto. Troppa bellezza. L’audioguida riversa spiegazioni, illustra simboli, indica dettagli… Dove le metto tutte queste storie?

Nella cripta c’è la tomba del santo. Ora, pur da “credente non praticante”, mi devo fermare. Via le spiegazioni sociologiche, via l’osservazione della fede altrui, questo posto mi colpisce. Il fatto che la visita alla Basilica Inferiore conceda l’indulgenza plenaria è un piacevole bonus. Ne esco, quindi, un ometto nuovo che si è guadagnato il panino e il porcello quotidiano.

Affreschi di Simone Martini nella cappella di san Martino, Basilica Inferiore

La Basilica Inferiore è così piena di capolavori che non si sa dove cominciare, la cappella di San Martino può preparare al resto.

È ora della Basilica Superiore: il piano inferiore era basso, denso, qui la navata gotica è leggera ed entra un po’ di luce dall’esterno, inquieto ma bello per le foto. Per una volta, rispetto il divieto di fotografare l’interno.

L’ho già vista alla tele dopo il terremoto e il crollo parziale, ma finalmente eccomi qua in mezzo al ciclo di Giotto. Un’altra mazzata artistica. La storia di Francesco percorre tutta la navata sui due lati, mentre qua e là non posso fare a meno di notare le vele ricostruite dai frammenti crollati a terra dopo il terremoto, un lavoro immenso.

Fosse finita… Tornato a Perugia visito una mostra fotografica stupenda (Mc curry) e la Galleria Nazionale, dalla quale esco correndo perché adesso è proprio troppo e ho assorbito arte per… I prossimi cinque anni? Spero di tenerne un po’ con me e che non venga sciacquonata dalla memoria come dopo un esame.

Posted by: cianoz | May 17, 2010

Scale, scale, maiale

Dopo la sbronza di Duomo, visito due grotte fra le centinaia scavate nel tufo sotto la superficie del colle su cui sorge la città. Non essendo più giocatore D&D, riesco a godermele senza immaginare mostri e tesori… Mi sembra perfino strano scriverlo!

Arrivo a Perugia nel pomeriggio, satollo di porchetta e capocollo.

Perugia è piena di scale e trascino a testa bassa il trolley fino all’albergo, ringraziando fra me e me la cara vecchietta che mi ha evitato di finire chissà dove con l’autobus e poi mi ha accompagnato alle scale mobili cittadine giuste… Sì perché la città è decisamente in collina ed esiste anche una nuovissima funicolare per salire la rupe, che stranamente la mia guida del 1986 non citava… Woops.

La cosa più bella del centro è un palazzo civile. Gotico, pulito, con i suoi archetti e un portale veramente magnifico con tutte le sue statue dalle facce lunghe e basite, i mostri, il grifone di Perugia… ah i mostri.

la Fontana Maggiore e il Palazzo dei Priori di Perugia

uuh prospettivaaa... la Fontana Maggiore e il Palazzo dei Priori, sullo sfondo

Ceno in una simpatica trattoria ignorante. Satollo e con in corpo mezzo litro di vino, mi siedo di nuovo a contemplare palazzo e fontana maggiore, un po’ perché sono stufo di fare scale, un po’ nell’attesa di digerire la quantità imbarazzante di maiale e coratella di agnello.

Il portale di Palazzo dei Priori

ma... quel grifone sta... il leone guarda, pietrificato

Ripenso ai turisti seduti vicino a me nella trattoria che hanno chiesto un PROSECCO – ottimo, ma decisamente fuori luogo, e pasta al pomodoro – mi astengo. Loser.

Prossima tappa, Assisi.

Posted by: cianoz | May 16, 2010

Più tufo per tutti

Mi sono perso per ore nel centro di Orvieto. Un sacco di tufo. Mura potenti. Le comitive di ragazzetti delle medie schiamazzano senza sosta, ma io paziento, tanto tra un’ora la città sarà mia…

Arrivo al Duomo, una meta desiderata da anni. Conquisto un comodo scalino con vista quasi al centro perfetto della facciata, respiro e mi decido a guardare su. L’insieme mi colpisce in pieno volto, mi satura, mi immobilizza.

La facciata è un insieme di portali gotici, altorilievi, mosaici, ricami di marmo, statue di bronzo, tutte perfette nell’insieme. La struttura a pietra bianca e nera mi ricorda il viaggio con i miei fatto vent’anni prima. È una vista incredibile, da vicino e nell’insieme.

La facciata del Duomo di Orvieto

La facciata del Duomo di Orvieto

Entro. L’attrazione principale è la cappella del Signorelli ed è vivissima, gli affreschi uniscono scene apocalittiche a ritratti di scrittori celebri, alcuni dei quali guardano verso l’alto, preoccupati o interessati dal caos permanente in corso. Un sacco di corpi, dannati, risorti, beati… Chiappe e tette ovunque, per essere un luogo sacro.

Uno dei ritratti nella cappella di san Brizio, sotto le scene dell'Apocalisse.

Ma che succede là sopra? Risposta - l'Apocalisse...

Rendo anche omaggio alla pala della Madonna dei Raccomandati, che non si sa mai. Lei continua a guardarmi con questa faccia gotica.

Quello che mi piace di più nella chiesa, però, è un… Signore? Anziano? Nonno, che spiega alla nipotina gli elementi base dell’architettura. Lei ascolta rapita nonno che le insegna “arco”, “volta”… Sei il migliore, nonno.

All'interno del Duomo di Orvieto, nonno spiega.

"E quella è una colonna. Capisci?" Vai nonno!

È ora di ammazzare il tempo perdendosi fino all’ora di cena. La città è proprio mia e il sole è tornato a farsi vedere. Una ragazza mi passa accanto, sorride e mi saluta; io ricambio riuscendo a non suonare come un cretino “brgbhl yip ciaoOH” e quasi la invito a cena… Mi trovo bene, sarà la polo?

Posted by: cianoz | February 3, 2010

And that, son, is why it’s called a “break”…

It’s Thursday morning, you’re on vacation and you’re up at 6 am. Why. Why! Because surfer Yann says that the best breaks are in the early morning (it’s true). Ok, vamonos: our gracious host Eugenio senior (Uge) drives us to El Tunco, which according to the Lonely Planet is one of the best places for waves in Central America.

Let me digress briefly: Uge has a very… informal driving style, which will become relevant in a while. Hold on.

Anyway, El Tunco. I’m in awe of the black (volcanic?) sand, the sea spray on a rock perfectly rising in front of the bars, the early morning sun… At this point I realize my camera is out of battery and the charger is still in Houston. Shame…

A bunch of ripped, tanned guys teaches us the basics of surfing: paddle, wait for your turn on the break, point towards beach, push up, stay low on your legs, ride it. How hard can it be? We’re even wearing stretchy tops, for crying out loud. We look like pros (except for the colour).

It is bloody hard. We paddle for what seems eternity from the shore to the break area, then we wait. It’s amazing. The waves rise up, some experts zoom by with incredible ease and speed, then my turn comes and it goes like this.

Ok ok ok paddle woo I’m been lifted up push up! push! What the f push you sonofa! what the ARGH BLUB fuck fuck fuck I’m gonna drown here OW the ocean floor swim UP UP I need air *wheeze*. “Well, if I haven’t died this time, I’m ok for a while, no?”

So I repeat the experience a couple of times, only without the fear of drowning. I discover that if the waves are so nice it’s because there’s a shallow rocky ocean floor, where I cut my feet repeatedly. The guys and I exchange opinions and we’re ready to paddle back. OMG MORE PADDLING NOOO… everyone is limp by the time we’re back there.

I try the animistic approach this time: ok sea, I respect you, but I’m gonna ride you for a minute, ok with you? It works, up to a point. After the third ARGH BLUB SPLUT I am riding – kneeling. All this water pushing me forward, fast, it is an incredible feeling. I have a little surfing stoke, that is. Then I put the weight down in the wrong way and it’s ARGH BLUB time again.

When I’m back on the shore, I feel a sharp, horrible pain on the left of my ribcage. It hurts if I breath or pretty much do anything. I am cheerfully told by Jola “Oh you have a broken rib! There’s nothing you can do.” So I spend the rest of the day short of breath and generally being a pain in the ass for everyone. No laughing, no moving too fast, and please Uge can you drive slower? Every bend in the street – A LOT of them – makes me wince. There will be a lot of driving in the coming days. Ow.

We all head for a beach club, where we will spend the rest of the afternoon: 5 of us and 200 metres of beach, palms and beer. Lots of beer since it takes the edge off the rib thing. Nothing happens and that’s great. Then comes a gorgeous seafood cocktail and we’re ready for the bachelor party.

Posted by: cianoz | February 3, 2010

Pupusas. Grab them, eat them, share them.

…but let’s start from the beginning.
Pupusas welcomed my first night in El Salvador. This national dish sounds subtly obscene to my Italian ear. Pupusas with pork, with cheese, with beans… eat them ’til you fall from the chair.

Pictures this: I am chewing on the pupusas, platano and a number of other salvadorean delicatessen (“mostly corn-based” as Eu puts it) at Paulina’ place; Jola, Yann, Eugenio are there, right there. It is happening, the Utrecht reunion 10,000 km or so from Utrecht! I am so happy, but my jet lagged face probably looks sagging anyway. Everyone is tanned, relaxed and I can’t wait to get rid of my clothes. I mean for a shower.

When Eugenio and Chele had picked me up at the airport to cruise home in the warm Salvadorean night, yours truly was super excited and without a suitcase, since Continental had screwed something up in Houston. Never had I had chance to put in practice Commander Z’s “son, always put spare undies in your hand luggage, because you’ll never know if your luggage is going to wind up somewhere else”. I did, o Commander, AND I had beach trunks to boot. Thursday’s beach trip was safe.

In bed, can’t sleep because of jet lag, peacefully not worrying about the possibility of having to bribe an officer or something like that to have my luggage back. I have been fed by airlines, airports, hosts, so I’m good.

The fan blows really hard in the bedroom I share with the other guys.

Posted by: cianoz | December 27, 2009

Ye Aulde Christmas Trolley Frenzy

Rarely have I felt as powerful as when rolling along the cobbled streets of my hometown pulling my trolley, heavy with brand new books and gifts after a day in Padua.
Crowds part, wives are pulled aside, prams half-alarmingly taken out of the way, expensive fur coats fur collars black standard-issue glasses cower in fear.
They first hear the thunder of the cheap-ass wheels, magnified by the cobbles, and then a sugar-high-crazed, pale face fueled by excessive quantities of Christmas cake chocolate sweets high-calory dried fruit. A man with a plan – a straight line in the direction of home and MORE SUGAR, which happens to go RIGHT THROUGH them.
Get out of my way! Dull-coloured jackets, expensive haircuts, out out out! I cover the incommensurable fifteen hundred (!) metres between the station and my house in record time among trolley-walkers. Somewhere in an airport some businessman is tugging his high-flyer’s trolley and thinking “woah man that’s some trolley action” without understanding why. That would be me, the rumbling wheels heard thousands of kilometres away, somehow.
I roll past teenagers who are not smiling smugly anymore and lower their eyes at such displays of trolley prowess, I am to them Strider, a Two-Wheels Wonder, a little Ganesha, Remover of Obstacles – no pavement too high, no cobble too cobbly for the wheels to trample ON.
As I near my destination, I dream of a three-storey cyber trolley I would command from vantage point, the wheels as tall as a house, causing alarm and some degree of shoving around among one-to-three-floor buildings. And why stop there? Here is a humongous ur-trolley, crunching lesser buildings and finally crossing the seas to hump the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, to the delight of engineering university students around the world and the scandal of respectable locals (who however did not like the towers that much anyway and are secretly glee at their humiliation).
Unstoppable even by car traffic, I am at my house’s doorstep. I DEMAND MORE SUGAR. BRING ME THE FINEST PANETTONE and wines to pair.

Posted by: cianoz | October 6, 2009

Sun, water and, obviously sweat

… 6 o’clock it is. The sunrise defines the shapes of the terraces from our fantastic hotel point of view and reveals foggy pockets of landscape. One of the local mutts strategically lies down on a stone ledge and lets itself appear as if thoughtfully gazing at the horizon. What a camwhore!

6.15 am: poser dog does its staring move. The girls go crazy.

6.15 am: poser dog does its staring move. The girls go crazy.

The way down is fast and soon we reach the bus and then the rafting place. How great is that, I join a Chinese tour and I get free rafting. Apparently they’re trialing the place, which will open in October for the national holiday. The toilets look quite aged already, though, but much more civilized than anything I’ve seen so far. They even have doors.

I still haven’t grasped how wet I will get. Rafting is a very wet and exhilarating business. Two hours of rapids, fast slides… I’m soaked, i’ve been sitting in water for hours and i’m sunburnt. It’s fantastic: the Chinese tourists love throwing water at the “laowai” (me), I spray back with gusto. The meal at the end of the morning is also one of the best I’ve had in the country and it pleases my “local friends” that I eat from all courses and I can chew chilies, even though I’m not supposed to eat them at all, dumb foreigner.

This was a great lunch. Always trust the locals, even when you can only say xie xie and smile making funny faces to show appreciation. Haochi!

This was a great lunch. Always trust the locals, even when you can only say xie xie and smile making funny faces to show appreciation. Haochi!

More sweat awaits as we get to Guilin, I pack my backpack up from the hostel and lumber towards the bus station, fully loaded and looking forward to Yangshuo, Erica and CC. Once more, Moyar saves the day and gets us on the right bus – I would still be there waiting if it wasn’t for her… A Chinese couple from the Jinkeng trip follows as well. We can’t speak to each other, but we’re having a good time.

Off to Yangshuo!

Posted by: cianoz | October 5, 2009

On top of this green corner of the world

I am the only white person on the bus on the way to the hotel in the Jinkeng rice terraces. I am in fact booked in as ‘the white guy’…
The bus plays a promo video full of happy Yao people singing and dancing, as minorities do when they don’t smile on posters, happily gazing at the bright future. Right.

We lumber through the ugly Guilin suburbs traffic in a strange scenery: right behind the half-finished houses and the damn cables (which prevent all nice pictures), karst peaks peek out of the fog. I’m looking forward to seeing more. And less cables, if possible. The video now playing is a comedy show. The audio booms, untamed. There is no way to get rid of it!

Once we get off the bus and start climbing up towards the hotel, I smile: it was worth all the hassle. As we pass lower villages crowded with buses and walk up the path to Dazhai, the first scenarios offer themselves to the eye: tiny clusters of wooden houses floating in the rice terraces, almost ready for harvesting. And that’s just a taster, as I will discover. Yao women with empty baskets offer to carry the bags up the steep hills (one is actually washing her hair like in the videos).
I am very lucky to meet a friendly Chinese girl, expat in Singapore. We’ll stick together for the rest of the day talking English. She’s a life saver with the food: there are some other white people (DUTCH AGAIN OH NOO), but the menu is very devoid of English words.

Bamboo chicken: you grow up the bird in the tube and one day you chuck it in the fire. I'm kidding.

Bamboo chicken: you grow up the bird in the tube and one day you chuck it in the fire. I'm kidding.

I discover at this point that the hotel organizes the trip as a full package: we’ll walk around together with a guide and… go on a white water rafting tomorrow. All included in the cheap rent. I am pleased.

But I am holding back my impression of the terraces. As we toil upwards towards the hotel, which is the highest of the whole area, we often stop to take the scenery in. It is amazing. Every corner, every peak of the area is covered in terraces, which snake through the landscape like a dragon’s backbone (hence the name of the area), the odd house here and there breaks the sea of green and gold.

On the way up, villages are cradled in the rice. They've been there for centuries.

On the way up, villages are cradled in the rice. They've been there for centuries.

I take a ridiculous amount of pictures from the 3 main viewpoints, which boast names like ‘golden Buddha hill’. The sky opens up enough to allow some dramatic shots, where a patch of light travels through the landscape, defining shapes.
It is quite a trek as we end up walking in single file for almost 6 hours on flagstones and clay paths. The last 10 minutes we get rained upon, but it’s ok. I am really on vacation 🙂

I could have stared at the view for hours, trying to spot all the shiny details like this one

I could have stared at the view for hours, trying to spot all the shiny details like this one

The evening meal is great, thanks to my friend Moyar’s choices.
Lights go off at 10: tomorrow morning we’ll wake up at 6 to catch the sunrise!

I wonder how this will look tomorrow morning. I'm on top of the world!

I wonder how this will look tomorrow morning. I'm on top of the world!

Posted by: cianoz | October 4, 2009

Aiuto! Sono da solo e ce ne sono milioni di loro!

Kunming è un aeroporto simpatico, ci sono giovani con vestiti tradizionali che si offrono per trasporto bagagli, numerosi fruttivendoli (dentro l’aeroporto) e la pubblicità delle misteriose pastiglie per la gola che mio padre portava dalla cina per un po’, testimonial kaka’.
È anche pieno di white people e mi ritrovo una comitiva di olandesi in aereo. L’orticaria si scatena velocemente al suono della lingua più brutta d’europa.
La destinazione, Guilin, soffre dello strascico di un tifone che ha colpito la costa: afa insopportabile, peggio che a PD, estate 2003. La ragazza dell’ostello però è contenta, perché non pioveva da un po’ e non deve bagnare i bambù.
L’ostello ha infatti come tema il bambù ed è una piacevole oasi nella parte moderna della città, orribile come tutte le città cinesi in veloce sviluppo.
Cammino in cerca di bancomat e cibo, lungo viali enormi in piena costruzione. Traffico, poca luce, edifici incombenti su questo povero ometto di provincia veneta che, diciamolo, si è perso. Mi sento un po’ come quand’ero arrivato a Memphis, unico bianco nella notte umida di una brutta periferia.
La differenza è che qui, a pensarci, non è per niente ostile. Quasi quasi torno all’ostello senza cena, ma mi faccio coraggio e punto un posticino in una laterale: c’è gente seduta e questo basta, stando alle guide.

Ce l'ho fatta! Mi sto nutrendo! Gli omini davanti a me discutono e mangino una montagna di roba.
Ce l’ho fatta! Mi sto nutrendo! Gli omini davanti a me discutono e mangino una montagna di roba.

Complice l’istinto materno della padrona, il dizionarietto e il fatto che, dopotutto, mica era un posto losco, mi sfamo con un euro, inclusa birra grande, molto apprezzata. Duoshao? shi (dita a croce a indicare 10), xie xie. Avanti così e compro una macchina, o una casa 🙂

Basta così per oggi, la mia comfort zone è stata tirata abbastanza. Domani si va alle risaie terrazzate: organizzare la tappa è stato un bel casino, spero ne valesse la pena.

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