Life on the Farm

Today we left our “Palace Apartment” and downtown Genoa and headed north to Bettola, the village that our Lavezzi ancestors emigrated from in 1870. The logistics were complicated a bit by the need to meet John Lavezzi’s plane from Barcelona.

(If you missed the explanation of why John has been cooling his heels there instead of joining us in Genoa, take a look at Judy’s blog,, or my “Tale of Three Cities” post from Saturday. Tonight I’ll just say that it wasn’t voluntary, but John has been reunited with his passport.)

We would be splitting our group for part of the day, but first Lew took Rob to the airport to pick up the car that Rob and Elizabeth will be using. They took their luggage, and a while later the rest of us reversed our routine from Sunday, schlepping our luggage portside to meet both cars. It was easier this time, because it wasn’t raining and we know the Genovese vias and vicos better. Then both carloads headed to parking for the Porto Antico (the old port, more recreational than the more modern Port of Genova), where we would enjoy the port, pick up some supplies, and, of course, have lunch.

That done, I rode north to Bettola with Rob and Elizabeth as Judy, Lew, and Elaine planned an afternoon visit with a Genovese friend before meeting John’s flight. Rob is a good driver, and he wasn’t flustered by the hours climbing mountainsides on winding switchback roads. (This part of Italy is the northern extent of the Appenine range, which runs down the boot of Italy like a spine.)

The three of us arrived about 5 PM at Ronco delle Rose, which will be our lodging for the next two nights. RDR is an agriturismo, which is basically a farm that takes in tourists: a very popular type of lodging in Italy. In this case, the farm is a vineyard, and we’re looking forward to seeing it in operation tomorrow.

After we brought in our bags, Rob drove Elizabeth and me south a few kilometers to La Vecchia Stazione (The Old Station), a bar owned by Francesco Costa. Francesco is probably a cousin–at least one Costa married a Lavezzi–but we’ve never figured out the exact relationship. But Francesco is a genial host who enjoys conversation, especially since it gives him a chance to practice his English. After conversation, foccaccia, and beer, we headed back to RDR to finish unpacking, make use of the wi-fi, and soon, hit the sack.

As I write this, we’re expecting the other four members of our group to arrive from Genoa in about an hour. I’ll be here to let them in through the gate.

Today’s photo: Ronco delle Rose is an agriturismo, which is a farm that also lodges tourists. In this case, it’s a vineyard, and this is a panoramic view from the back of our temporary home.

Exploring Genoa

We’ve already established that the first half of this trip is about some Lavezzi family history. Tomorrow we’ll head for the little town of Bettola, which is where my great-grandfather Giovanni emigrated from in 1870.

Genoa is now the capital of the province of Liguria, but before Italian unification it had eight centuries of history as an independent republic for Bettola is now in the province of Piacenza, but for hundreds of years it was part of the Republic of Genoa. So my Lavezzi ancestors, and the Lavezzo ancestors before them, were Genovese.

So today we spent the day getting reacquainted with this ancient proud port city. We visited the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, a hundred meters from our apartment, the Palazzo Ducale, a hundred meters from there, and the Piazza di Ferrari, a hundred meters from there.

Downtown Genoa is ridiculously compact. (Take a look at the picture accompanying yesterday’s post for a look at the courtyard outside my bedroom.) As far as I can tell, the only green space in Genoa is in some parks, and none of them is downtown. Downtown Genoa is entirely paved, but that isn’t as monotonous as it sounds: the paving materials vary from place to place depending on the age and prestige of the area. Most of the paving dates back centuries, so it’s pretty uneven.

On top of that, pet dogs are ubiquitous here, and ridiculously well-behaved, sometimes walking disconnected from their owners. One problem, though, is that there is no grass anywhere; so dog owners must clean up after them on the pavement. Most do; but, as with most behavior, not all: it gives pedestrians one more reason to watch where they’re walking.

We also visited Vico Lavezzi. A “vico” is essentially an alley, even narrower than a “via,” which might be only a dozen feet wide. We’ve never been able to find out who this Lavezzi was: we don’t know whether he is related to my family, or even if he came from the same villages starting tomorrow. But we always take our group’s picture under the Vico Lavezzi sign, and this trip was no exception.

Genoa is built on steep hillsides rising from its port on the Ligurian Sea. Downtown, just off the port, is just barely above sea level, but most of the town rises several hundred meters from there. To get a view of the whole thing, we walked partway and then used some types of public transit we’re not used to in the states: ascensores (elevators) and funiculars (cable-cars). From those heights, you can look down on the city and enjoy the presence of some parks, with trees and grass. It seems a world away.

We returned downtown for dinner in a cafĂ© in the piazza outside the cathedral, and got back to our apartment to get a good night’s sleep before we break camp for Bettola tomorrow.

We Play the Palace

Have you ever wanted to stay in a palace? Well, that’s what we’re doing tonight. Back to that a bit later, after I provide an update on today’s adventures.

I posted yesterday’s entry just before midnight local time, as Judy, Lew, and Elaine were en route to Venice from Barcelona, and the hope was that they would be able to get from Venice to Milan sometime before morning. And they did, just: about 4:30 AM local time. I had made arrangements to let them into the locked hotel and let them sleep in my room. So the four of us found places to sleep for several hours, right through the hotel’s included breakfast, until it was time–past time, actually–to check out of my room and get on our way to Genoa.

We loaded our luggages into the car Lew had picked up, grabbed a quick but delicious brunch at a nearby pastry shop, the Pasticceria Tantazione Siciliani (Sicilian Pastry Temptations), and then headed south to Genoa, about a two-hour drive. Parking in Genoa is very scarce, so Lew needed to find the place where he had arranged to park the car (within walking distance of our lodging). While he parked the car, Elaine, Judy, and I rolled our bags in the rain through the streets and alleys of downtown Genoa looking for our palace. (More on that later.)

Of course, we wandered about twice as much as we needed to. Phone touchscreens don’t work well with wet screens, and GPS doesn’t work well in a maze of ancient twelve-foot-wide streets. After a while, Judy explored Via Giustiniani as Elaine walked up Via Chiabrera while I stayed at the corner to keep visual contact with both of them. Judy and I were talking as she was about 10 meters away, when suddenly a door opened next to her and Rob and Elizabeth walked out to greet her! I called to Elaine, who rejoined us. Rob and Elizabeth had arrived from Berlin, found the place, and used the entry code to get inside out of the rain, and they had heard Judy’s voice outside the door! In perhaps another half-hour, Lew joined us after his parking expedition.

So, about this palace: We are staying in the Palazzo Giustiniani Franzoni, a 16th-century palace originally built by one Vincenzo Giustiniani, a Dominican who became a cardinal in 1570. The place is marketed as an “Apartment inside History,” and that’s pretty much what it is. We have a suite of four rooms with a kitchen, dining room, and bathroom. Everything is functionally modern, but it’s impossible to miss the fact that you’re staying in a 500-year-old building! We’re staying on a second floor that was installed about eight feet below the original vaulted ceiling.

We unpacked, made tea made on the IKEA induction range, and rested a bit. About 8:00 we headed out to dinner, and then wandered the streets of old Genoa, still very busy in the drizzle–restaurants and bars still open–and gave Rob and Elizabeth their first look at Vico Lavezzi, the Palazzo Ducale, and Cathedral San Lorenzo. Lew also found a gelateria (open until midnight!), so Rob, Elizabeth, and I had our first gelato of the trip before returning to our apartment. about 11:00.

And that’s where I’ll leave it for tonight. We still don’t have all of our group: John won’t get here from Barcelona until Tuesday. But the other six of us have enjoyed starting this sharing of the Lavezzi past. Tomorrow we hope for better weather and a chance to explore more.

About today’s photo: This is a placeholder; I hope to replace it with a better picture–a brighter one anyway–in improved weather tomorrow. This is the view of the courtyard below my bedroom window.

A Tale of Three Cities

I am writing this from my room at the Ascot Lodging Hotel, 2 kilometers from Milan Malpensa Airport. I arrived in Milan about 8:15 this morning–my flight had been delayed a bit leaving New York’s JFK–and killed a few hours at the airport until the hotel’s check-in time.

The most beautiful sight of the day was one I couldn’t photograph without shoving aside the passenger in the window seat next to me: as we approached Milan with the Alps on our left, we flew above a solid cloud deck, with Alpine mountain peaks sticking up out of that white floor in the early-morning light . Extraordinarily beautiful!

The plan was for me to welcome Judy, Lew, John, and Elaine to Milan, but it didn’t quite work out that way.

And that’s where the “third city” comes in. Vueling, their scheduled Barcelona-to-Milan airline, canceled their flight abruptly this morning, and put them on a flight to Venice instead. As I write this, they are in the air on their way to Venice, and then the question is how they will get from there to here. There are rumors of a bus, which would get them here sometime tomorrow afternoon; it’s a three-hour drive.

Except that “they” has now become three rather than four. John’s pocket was picked yesterday on a Barcelona subway. Thieves got credit cards, cash, and–perhaps most disruptive–his passport. Without a passport he can’t fly, and the US Consulate doesn’t open again until Monday. So, as I understand it, he’s saying on in Barcelona while Judy, Lew, and Elaine come to Milan.

There is wonderful stuff to experience in Milan, but our stop here was always intended primarily as an opportunity to assemble before going on to Genoa and the northern villages. So I spent a couple of hours napping, a couple getting caught up with all this funny business, and then went out in search of a meal . . .

which I found when I walked to El Quinto Elemento (“The Fifth Element”), a pizza place (I know, how clichĂ©) about a kilometer from the hotel. You see my delicious meal above. And now I’m writing while I stay by my phone for news. To riff on an old joke, usually the readers digest, but this time it’s the writer.

Will we spend a second night in Milan? Will Rob and Elizabeth beat us to Genoa and have a night there on their own? When will John have his documentary status restored? And where will he rejoin us? We’ll all just have to wait and see.

Today’s photo: food, of course. This was my table at Il Quinto Elemento tonight. Standard items in Italian restaurants: vino di casa (house wine, red–rosso–this time) and bottled acqua frizzante (carbonated, “with gas”) or naturale (still, “no gas”). I like frizzante. Pizza, too, comes in white and red varieties. Mine was a pizza bianca with sausage and friarielli–broccolini rabe, or rapini. Don’t be hating: that’s a regular pizza for one. The long, thin packages are crispy bread sticks. The bluetooth earpiece wasn’t on the menu.

Italy 2019, In Flight

If you’re reading this today, there’s a good chance that I’m in an airplane. I thought this would be a good time to provide some background about this year’s Italian adventure.

This trip will take us farther off the beaten path than we were in 2013. A little preview might be in order. Here you go.

At the center of this trip is September 29, the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel. We plan to be at the Church of St. Michael the Archangel in Soglio on September 29 as parishioners celebrate their patronal feast. For me, one week of the vacation is before the feast and one week is after.

I’m flying to Milan via New York; I’ll arrive in Milan early tomorrow morning and welcome Judy, Lew, John, and Elaine at Malpensa Airport a few hours later. We’ll rent a car, find dinner and gelato, and spend one night there before driving to Genoa on Sunday, where we’ll meet Rob and Elizabeth.

After a couple of days in Genoa, we’ll head up to the ancestral towns to meet some relatives, do some family research, and enjoy the feast. Next week, Rob and Elizabeth will head to Florence and Venice, and the rest of us will head south. (More on that later.) On October 3 I’ll fly back to Milan from Bari (on the east coast) and on October 4 I’ll return from Milan while Judy, Lew, John, and Elaine continue on for a week in Sicily

With luck, I’ll be able to post something from Milan tomorrow.

About the photo: This 2013 picture looks down the Fontanabuona Valley from the front steps of the church.

Italy 2019, preflight check

I’ll be heading to Italy tomorrow for a couple of weeks. Friends and family claim that they enjoy reading my travel notes, so consider this the teaser for a series of posts.

(It’s been six years since Noel and I made our first trip to Italy. If you’d like to see what we did then, you can find the story at In ways that will become clear, we expect this trip to be quite different from that one.

As we go through these adventures, you’ll be hearing about the rest of our party: son Robert and his wife Elizabeth; cousin John Lavezzi and his wife Elaine; and my sister Judy and her husband Lew Grothe. Judy is the main organizer of these expeditions, and Lew is her designated enabler.

Complicating this trip, our party has three different itineraries. Judy, Lew, John, and Elaine are already in Barcelona, Rob and Elizabeth are in Berlin, and I arrive in Milan on Saturday. We’ll meet up in Genoa on Sunday. We won’t be staying in any one place longer than three nights, but we will all be together for the central part of the trip from Sunday, September 22, to Monday, September 30. (We’ll get into just what that is in a future post.)

Photography and writing can turn vacation into work, and I am trying to avoid that. I’ll take my camera and laptop, but I plan to do some relaxing. I am going to try to limit myself to posting one iconic photo each day and providing enough context to make sense of the day. Eventually–probably after returning home–I’ll revisit, revise, and extend the blog postings, and post an album of the choicest photos.

I invite you to check back here as the trip unfolds.

About the photo: This was our group in 2013, in Vico Lavezzi. Some families have a highway named after them; we have a “vico,”which is a “little way”–sort of an alley–in Genoa.


CIFF43 logo

People still ask what movies I saw at this year’s Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF43) back in April. Here’s my list. All-caps indicate a feature film; mixed caps and lowercase indicate a short. These are films I actually saw at the festival–not the films I previewed last year.

We’ve now started screening films for CIFF44, which starts on March 25, 2020.

  • The Elephant’s Song
  • The Double Date
  • Brotherhood
  • The Wild Drive Life
  • All My Guardian Angels
  • Valentino and the Prodigy
  • Lose and Found
  • Deviant
  • The Wind Phone
  • Life in Miniature
  • Borthplace
  • Disfluency
  • Spin
  • Santuario
  • The Corner Store
  • Guaxuma
  • A Mythology of Pleasure
  • Jesse’s Girl
  • The Astronaut
  • Pickle Man
  • Skin

No Rush to Judgment in SCOTUS Decision

Here’s my letter to Senators Brown and Portman:

Let me be clear about my political leanings on Judge Kavanaugh. I have no idea what he did or didn’t do as a high school or college student. That doesn’t mean it isn’t important. What’s more important is what he does in this moment. And seeing and evaluating that will require time.

Continue reading “No Rush to Judgment in SCOTUS Decision”