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This blog has been on hiatus for some time now, not because of a lack of things to write about, rather the opposite.  Yours truly has been afflicted with the American disease.  I’ve been too busy running around to pin down my thoughts with electrons.  Our last days before the onset of summer included a road trip to Asheville to see Biltmore, the largest private home in America, a brief visit to Washington DC for a law conference, a flight to Turin, Italy, and an excursion for a couple days into the Alps.

Upon our return to North America, we embarked on another trip from Durham to the Nantahala River in Western North Carolina for a few days of canoe instruction at the famous center located in the heart of the Appalachians.  Unfortunately, I had picked up a bad cold by this point, and we were not able to complete the course.  When we got back to Durham, it was time to pack up and head to Canada.  Our house in Nova Scotia was calling.

The trip to Turin came completely out of the blue.  Faithful readers will remember that we spent nearly four months in Italy last year.  This return visit was triggered by a gathering of academics who have taught (or who will teach) at a multi-university institution in London devoted to trans-border legal studies.  The University of Turin is one of the participants, and they were good enough to host the gathering.

I couldn’t resist tagging along with my wife in order to renew my acquaintance with Torino in late Spring.  The old adage about language and physical exercise is absolutely true.  If you don’t use it, you lose track of it.  I had not kept up my Italian despite the purchase of a CD program to do exactly that.  When I visited my wonderful teachers at “Italiano Porticando,” my brain and tongue felt jet lagged.  Fortunately, they are generous in their encouragement to anyone who makes at attempt to speak the language.

One of them asked me if I had seen La Sindone and I had to admit that I had not yet done so.  In deference to their wishes that I make up for my spiritual edification, I hoofed it to the ticketing agency set up nearby.  It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon the next to last day of the exhibition.  The Shroud is undoubtedly the most famous object in Turin and it has been on display only 18 times in 500 years.  My timing could not have been better for Shroud viewing.

According the the Catholic Church records, 2.1 million visitors joined the queue for a long wait and brief viewing of the relic.  My plane from Frankfurt had been filled with American tourists, which seemed unusual for Turin this early in the season.  It was a fine day, so the long shuffle that finally led to a brief communion with the cloth was tedious but not uncomfortable.

Our next-to-last station of the cross was a room adjacent to the church of the holy relic that housed a video projector, revealing the latent images fixed in a thin layer that clearly showed what all the fuss is about– a negative image of a head that seemed to be wearing a crown of thorns.  Much has been written about the Shroud by believers, skeptics and scientists, and I will not attempt to condense or reproduce the arguments.  Suffice it to say the controversy about the cloth will be around for some time.

What has me hooked on Italy is the graceful language and the fabulous food.  If you are confined to tourist restaurants, it is possible to get a mediocre meal in Italy, and I am sorry to say that we actually did eat one dinner that was less than stellar.  On the other hand, a little bit of nosing around can uncover some wonderful cuisine.

The standout on this trip was a lunch we enjoyed at four-star resort with a slow food cooking school and a “wine bank” in the countryside south of Turin.  Our host from the University of Turin chose this wonderful place to cap a day of touring the Barola wine country.  We had a simple, vegetarian meal made up of two dishes, pasta and risotto which was absolutely fabulous.

On our last day in Turin, we rented a car and headed south toward the southern Alps.  Our destination was a bed and breakfast in a tiny hilltop village near Mondovi– Villa Favolosa.  Our hosts hail from the Piedmont region of Italy, but live and work in Chicago during the winter.  The home has been in the family for four hundred years.  We arrived on Monday, the one day of the week when the restaurants are closed, so I was able to get a cooking lesson from our hosts i and a personal lesson in Italian at the same time.

After an excellent breakfast, we headed out by car, venturing into the town of Cuneo on market day, and as far as the historic Staffarda Abbey near the town of Saluzzo.  The next day we chose exercise instead, heading into a National Park in the mountains bordering France, an area called Valle Pesio.  It is home to a major monastery and some steep and spectacular trails.

Yet another part of Italy that has branded itself in my mind.  I hope we’ll have another excuse to return soon. There is much to explore, too little time.  Ciao for now.  I have some catching up to do.  Check back for additional pictures.


Here’s an update I promised back in the post about our river trip in Quebec – 48 48N 38 07W. These are the current coordinates of our friend Eric, who is sailing across the Atlantic ocean in the boat named Charlie 1.

If you plug those numbers into Google Earth, zoom out until you are 1400 miles or so above the planet, you’ll see that he and his mates are due east of Labrador, heading on a collision course with a volcano (just kidding, but what is that unnamed geographic feature out there?) I’ll keep you posted.

Summer has finally arrived in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia. All of June and the first half of July were leading up to this moment, this intense sunshine that makes you think of going to the beach or taking to the hammock. It is actually hot right now. And what am I doing? I’m gearing up to return to Melbourne. My days of sun are numbered. Yesterday it was colder there than it has been in nine years. The temperature hovered around 6 degrees. It is wet, cold and dark. Serves me right, you say? Well, at least I tasted fresh strawberries.

Not so long ago I used to come here every summer for four months and spin my spider web for tourists. I went into the B&B business to subsidize the substantial upkeep of a 220 year old house. It started out as a very casual thing. Some days I would take off for a long bike ride, leaving a note on the door that I would be back about three o’clock. Over the years, tourism got more regulated and professional. The expectations of tourists increased accordingly, especially those of my countrymen, the Yanks.

From muffins and coffee, I progressed to fruit salad, blueberry pancakes and scrambled eggs with feta cheese, along with any number of variations. I would get up at 6 AM to get breakfast on the table by 8. We bought new mattresses, put in bathrooms for every bedroom, invested in a brand new kitchen.

I flew back from Hong Kong every year we lived there (even missing the Handover.) I got a cell phone and fax machine, religiously forwarded calls whenever I left the house. Even then, it never generated a significant amount of income. It was little more than a contribution to the upkeep of the house my wife inherited and I so casually suggested she keep. Old houses, like boats, are simply holes in which one pours money.

The best part was the talk show. Every morning I got to be Oprah, orchestrating the conversation of complete strangers. Drawing out the introverts, occasionally changing a touchy subject or a dead end monologue. Inviting them to learn a little bit of history, learning what was on their minds. My favorite guest was a character actress who had been an ingenue with Alec Guiness in London. She was loud, opinionated and wonderful.

There were disasters, of course. The time my wife decided to water the garden during breakfast and drained the holding tank while a guest was still lathered up in the shower; a general who got himself so worked up over a misunderstanding that he left in the middle of the night, banging his suitcase all the way down the stairs; the occasional double booking; the overflowing coffee machine; the waffles sticking like glue to the waffle iron, the wet bed.

Some of the guests got to be regulars, a few still come to dinner (see the last post). We hung on to this old house despite our peripatetic lives. Every now and then I get to rattle around with the ghosts and shake up things. This summer we have renovated the only untouched bathroom in the house. It has good bones, the Stewart House, and when the sun stretches out long shadows across the grass, when the Bay of Fundy shimmers, when there’s a glass of wine to enjoy on the front lawn, it comes damn close to paradise.

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