Green Building

Shroud of Turin

Monday

Memorial Day

Long ago, it was a day of parties and picnics, kids and fun.

Now it is just another day.

I came home early. I had to get away from the books. I got back from Italy late Sunday night a week ago. Monday through yesterday, almost all I did was go through old books. Every day. 8-10 hours a day.

And I am still behind. Not as far behind as I was, but there are still a lot of carts laden with “better” books and “problem” books and oddball stuff no one else knows what to do with.

It is unbelievable I could throw myself at a book problem with all I have… and still be behind.

I am fast with books.

Still.

If I can’t make a nearly instant decision, I can punt it to someone else to dig deeper.

Not fast enough, I guess.

By midafternoon, I could not look at another book.

I skedaddled.

I went to the grocery with my little list in hand and got shampoo, conditioner, dill relish… and some other essentials.

Of course, I bought some ridiculous stuff as well.

Polish hot dogs from Western New York state?! “Natural Casing.”

My domestic needs are simple. Last week, I had canned Genova tuna salad with chopped Romaine THREE nights. (Thus the need for dill relish.)

Then I went home. I wanted to do some work outdoors. I felt I “needed” to.

I parked close to the side door and began carrying stuff inside.

It started drizzling. Then the sky opened, and it began raining. There was some thunder rumbling as well.

Three thunderstorms in three nights.

Saturday was the worst. I visited Howard and Sue at their vineyard—New Market Plains Vineyard.

It was idyllic.

A couple of other friends were there as well. We sipped wine and chatted about books and work and life and travel and wine.

New Market Plains Vineyard

Howard and Sue wanted me to stay for dinner. I was tired. It had been a hard day after a hard week. I swear I still had some jet lag, and my body felt like it was 2 a.m.

When I could see the mountain, there was a slate gray cloud parked over it.

I’d left the dogs at the warehouse. They own the dockyard on weekends usually. It is fenced in—about a half-acre playground for them.

I had the evening to myself.

The car bumped up the mountain, and the world darkened. Part of it was from entering the forest. But the dark cloud made daylight dusk.

I heated some leftover pizza—putting some chopped cheddar atop it to make if gooier. I put on a DVD of Midnight in Paris because… I was in the mood to see it for maybe the 20th time.

“CRACK!!!”

“BOOM!!!!”

There was a flash of light outside.

Then the skies opened, and a deluge ensued.

How could there be so much water in the air?

The security lights were triggered. The bright lights shone on the curtain of rain just inches away. The rain became a light show, looking like glistening tinsel constantly cascading before the window.

“CRACK!!!”

“BOOM!!!”

The TV and the lights went out.

‘I hope I didn’t fry the TV,’ was my first thought.

I sat in the near dark and listened to nature’s show outdoors.

The lights flickered on. I turned off the TV.

I walked to bed and read while the world outside my bedroom walls and roof roared and poured.


Tuesday

The sun is rising far to the north. It won’t begin its journey south until the solstice around June 20th.

But it is a bright morning, and I had good sleep. Best of all, the sky is clear blue. My world will dry out some today. The porch roof outside the bedroom window is still wet and covered with tree debris—torn leaves, “helicopters”, twigs, parts of blooms knocked down from high above by the “thunderstorm a day” for the last three days.

Maybe I will be able to get out this evening and do some yard work.

Like so many aspects of my life, I’m way behind out there.

I turned on the air conditioning last night. It was so humid. Downstairs, the dehumidifiers are running to keep the books dry.

Forests are by nature damp places.

It has been a wet spring, a beautiful spring. The gardens are lush. The fern brakes out in the woods are vast carpets. They are expanding for some reason. I have nothing to do with it. Vast swaths extend all around the house and grounds, which are like an island in the wilderness.

The peaches and cream strawberries I got from Barbara so long ago have had their best year ever. So big this year.

Peaches and Cream Strawberries

They’ve spread everywhere. I need to head them back. Up here, you need to be able to see where you’re stepping in warm weather. Snakes. Last Friday afternoon, a pair of black snakes were intertwined on the driveway in front of the garage. A third, much larger one—all of 6 feet—was starting to slither under Giles to join the orgy. Both animals were unaware of one another. I shooed the big one away from the dog. It headed around the other side of the house, likely still headed for the party. There must be some pheromone they emit to find each other in times of need.

I need to whip the garden paths. It is sad to knock down cultivated plants. Well, I only knock down the fronds overhanging the paths. Unless I’m wearing high boots, it wouldn’t be safe walking the blinded stone steps when hot weather sets in. Fortunately, the poisonous snakes are few and far between. But one unfortunate misstep, and life could be changed dramatically.

My librarian was in over the weekend. She found all these duplicate travel guides in the guest bedroom. There are also a lot of dupes of “better” books.

Duplicate Books

It is good to clear stuff out.

She also put up the stack of vellum I bought at the California rare book show in February 2020.

CA 2020 Vellum Books

That was the last event I attended before the world went awry weeks later with the plague.

That crazy time.

Strange the facts that are coming out now. And the government isn’t doing anything about it.

Weird.

Maybe aliens are pulling the strings…

Last night, I watched the rest of Midnight in Paris. It is a magic literary romantic comedy. To me, it is one of those “perfect” movies.

Magic… my life seems full of it. Well, almost full. The books—although they are a constant tough taskmaster. The enchanted forest I live in.

I had my 5th tuna and romaine salad in a week last night. Weird. I hadn’t made it for many months.

Monday, my younger son was back from the beach vacation on Bald Head Island. The family has gone every year for 25 years or more. I stopped going a decade or more ago. Someone needed to watch the dogs, and I don’t enjoy the sea, sun and sand the way I used to. There are other reasons too.


Tuesday

The day has ended. I have no juice left. I am toast.

Toast and Juice—mixed metaphors.


The last of Italy.

May 16. Thursday. The tour was winding down.

Another wonderful hotel buffet breakfast.

I rarely eat breakfast. Or lunch. I just push through til dinner. But the food here is so amazing I couldn’t resist. I just tried to pace myself.

The night before, I’d met the Ohio family of four at a nearby pizza place near the waterfront in Genoa. Pizza means something far different in Italy than even the best pizza in the states. I think we shared four or five. I only got a picture of two.

The mushroom pizza came with a side of thinly sliced cured ham?! It didn’t need any additions.

The menu described it as, “Crudo E Funghi—Mozzarella DOP, wild mushrooms, 24 month parmesan and Galloni parma ham—black label—served separately.”

The other one shown was called, “Portofino—San Marzano tomatoes DOP, mozzarella DOP, Genoese pesto from Pra, cherry tomatoes and fresh basil from Pra.”

It was perfection…

After breakfast, we finally saw our bus again. The windshield, which had been shattered before Cinque Terre, had to be repaired in Switzerland.

I bid farewell to the pirate ship outside my hotel room window.

Genoa Pirate Ship

And the group headed northwest over the Apennines and Maritime Alps to a castle winery tour which had been scheduled for us. Globus, the tour company I’ve used since I started this “bus touring” thing with an Iceland trip in July 2021, does an excellent job with side trips and excursions while balancing that with plenty of free time to explore places on your own. We were headed for the last city on the tour—Turin. Giuseppe pointed out the castle atop the mountain when we were still quite a distance away. Around us, the landscape changed, and there was a lot of flat land. Some of the fields were flooded—rice paddies, we were told.

The big bus snaked up the narrow road to the Castle Gabiano.

Castle Gabiano

The last few hundred yards we did on foot.

The castle seemed to get larger and larger the closer we got. Walls loomed above, and ravens circled the tower.

A guide met us and led the group through the wine cellars. It was a very evocative experience.

Castle Gabiano Wine Cellar

Back out into the open air, we were given the option of walking to the labyrinth.

Labyrinth?!

Indeed, there was a sign with an arrow pointing to the “Labirento.”

About 15 of us went.

It was a fairly long walk down a rustic path through the forest and then the view opened, and there, indeed, was a boxwood maze.

Castle Gabiano Maze

It didn’t look too imposing from the perspective above it. It appeared to be a low hedge one could easily walk through. There were gardens and sculpture all around it. I headed down ahead of the group. I wanted to experience the gardens without any other humans around.

Chuck in Castle Gabiano Maze

It was idyllic. I felt as though I’d crossed into the 18th century.

Eventually, I made my way back to the entrance of the maze. The bushes were 8 feet tall!

Castle Gabiano Maze

No way I’d take a chance on getting lost in there.

The guide counted heads before we made our way back up the path to the castle to be sure no one was lost in the bushes.

The air was full of birdsong, and I turned on the Merlin app on my phone. Strange names started popping up on the screen:

Castle Gabiano Birds

The family which owns the castle is developing some other ancient outbuildings into a boutique hotel and conference center and dining facilities.

Yet again, we were given a wonderful gourmet meal. This time, the style was Piedmontese.

It wasn’t too long a trip until we crossed the Po River—swollen with recent rains and snow melt from the nearby Swiss Alps. These mountains would occasionally come into view through the clouds and took my breath away. It was about ten years ago that I took my younger son to France to meet a friend he had met on a soccer trip to Barcelona. We played golf in Evian overlooking Lake Geneva with Montreux on the distant far shore. We’d driven into the Alps. I’d found my way to the picturesque alpine village of Zermatt, and we hiked up the long path to get a view of the Matterhorn. Now I was on the other side of the Matterhorn all these years later.

We checked in, and I immediately headed out into the city. I texted Ray and Jay that I’d arrived.

(Yes! The same Ray and Jay from Frederick, Maryland and Luxor, Egypt. Ray had a fellowship for a year at the Egyptian museum in Turin. Jay was busy writing papers and other scholarly stuff. They broke my heart when they left Frederick just about a year ago—it seems much longer. I miss them so much.)

We weren’t planning to meet until that evening, but Jay was available and found me on a pedestrianized street near a place named Gatsby’s—a bar which also offers pastries, including the local cube shaped croissants.

We walked through the squares of the spacious ancient city center. The Savoy family had ruled this region, and their imprint is everywhere. The Savoy were French, of course, and Turin has a definite Parisian feel to it. Wide boulevards and nineteenth century apartment buildings lining the streets.

The Egyptian Museum there is one of the best in the world. The Savoys were very early collectors of Egyptian artifacts, and so were able to snap things up before the collecting became much more competitive.

Jay took me into Ray’s office where he was busy matching up pieces of walls that had been disbursed all over the over the world.

Ray's Work

His specialty is the period of Akhnaton, and that is the research he is focusing on.

Then Jay gave me a tour of the huge museum—four floors in a building that seems to take up an entire city block.

Getting a tour from an Egyptologist gives an extra dimension.

Then we went out into the city. We crossed the huge square flanked by churches at one end, the palace at the other and long rows of shops and cafes along the sides.

When the afternoon had aged sufficiently, Jay found a sidewalk table at an old cafe. We sat and had Spritz’s—he Aperol; me Campari. We chatted and watched people pass by until Ray joined us—his workday ended.

We moved to another cafe. This time, I had a Negroni sbagliato.

We caught up on the past year in Maryland, Turin and their new home in Oxford (Mississippi) where the house they built is just about ready to move into.

Later, we had dinner in an old chapel converted to a restaurant—Signorvino. I had (among other things) Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe with black truffle. (Cacio cheese and black pepper sauce.)

Wonderful.

We walked around a bit more, and then I headed back to the hotel.

Friday morning, I sent the blog out and then went on a tour with a local guide.

We started in the bus, crossed the Po and went to a church high atop a hill overlooking the city. In the distance, on another hilltop, was the Basilica Superga. In 1949, the entire Turin soccer team—Grande Torino—was killed when their plane crashed into a wall below the church in dense fog.

After some more driving, we continued the tour on foot.

It is a stunningly beautiful city.

We were treated to a local delicacy in the Caffe Reale Torino—a cafe in what was once the kitchens of the palace. Bicerin—espresso with liquid chocolate then cream layered atop it.

Bicerin

From there, it was just a few steps to the cathedral which houses the Shroud of Turin. Our guide, a mature woman, was devout and debated the skepticism around the artifact.

Shroud of Turin

“There’s been a 1 million Euro reward for anyone who can duplicate it…”

The aura in the place was almost tangible. However you feel about it, the shroud covered me with emotion and passion.

Shroud of Turin

It isn’t on display except by papal decree—the last time was 2015. But it is housed under a large cover in a glazed chapel.

Shroud of Turin

Then we were on our own.

I headed for the castle tour—which is actually three tours on offer—the palace, the library and a gallery with a temporary art exhibition—Guercino.

Of course, I chose all three.

The library was nice, but not overwhelming. I wondered at the 15 Euro charge. Then I saw a young Italian couple—the only other ones there—disappear down some steps at the back. There was a da Vinci gallery in the basement!

Da Vinci Self-Portrait

In addition to the possible self-portrait, there was his Codex on bird flight and other drawings as well as a room full of later da Vinci stuff.

Then on to the palace, which was so extensive I couldn’t bring myself to walk through every gallery. The long room with maybe 20 full-size (hide-covered wooden) horses with knights in armor atop them was especially striking.

I texted Jay when I was done, and he was in the palace gardens reading. He took me on his walking tour of the city as well as a trolley tour. I got a feel for the city as a living place. We stopped twice for coffee, and then after a LOT of steps, I headed back to the hotel to freshen up.

We met later for cocktails. The restaurant didn’t open til 7:30. Italians eat very late.

Chuck and Friends

They’d made reservations at De Filippis (since 1872.) It was astounding. Among other courses, I had: Ravioli del Plin di Carne e Verdure al Burro Fuso Inalpi e Salvia. (Small raviolis—plin—stuffed with meat and vegetables in inalpi butter with sage.)

De Filippis

It is a meal I’ll remember forever, I think. We lingered over wine and desserts. Then we parted on the ancient cobbles of Turin. When will I see them again?

The next morning began the last day of the tour. We headed back to Milan. The Alps disappeared as we headed south.

We stopped at an old family rice farm in Vercelli. We got a tour of the fields and a demonstration on how rice is separated from its husk. Then we had lunch alfresco in the ancient courtyard—risotto, of course. (With porcini mushrooms.)

Then back to Milan. We had a few hours before the farewell dinner. I headed out walking.

I’d seen the famous “tree” building, Bosco Verticale, in the distance but wanted to visit it up close.

It won a number of awards, and it is certainly awe-inspiring. I just wonder at the maintenance and watering and pruning…

The next day, I flew home.


Back to this week.

Thursday is a very cool morning. It is in the low fifties, and the sunny day will barely get over 70.

I’m glad there will be a break in the daily deluges we’ve had.

I got fed up with sorting books on Wednesday and escaped with the truck to get a load of mulch from the recycling center not too far from the warehouse. I’d been unable to escape the day before. The county accepts plant waste in a separate section of the landfill. It had been moved since my last visit to the top of a hill. (Likely a manmade hill of waste from a time when not so much was recycled.) There they grind and regrind the branches and leaves brought there into steaming mountains of fine dark mulch. Rain started pattering on the windshield as I drove the bumpy road to the summit. A man in a huge front-end loader pointed to where I should go. He got a big scoop of mulch and approached my truck. Just then, the winds whipped and rain started pelting me as I got out to drag the tarp and stones out that would cover and hold down the load. He raised the scoop and dumped the mulch into the bed of my truck. I was covered in tiny brown bits of wind borne wet mulch. I covered the load using stones to keep the tarp from blowing away. Heading out, I stopped at the scales, was weighed and was charged $12 for the huge load of mulch.

I did some more carts—damp and dirty—before heading home. That storm had passed. I got out the weed whipper to knock down some weeds that had sprung up around the edges and to widen the stone paths that the gardens were encroaching upon. I hated knocking down healthy hosta leaves and bleeding heart fronds, but the plants as a whole were unaffected.


Thursday

Ernest, Clif and I are heading to Hagerstown. The landlord sent a long letter of things his insurance company didn’t like. He’s sent the notice 2 weeks ago, but it hadn’t come down to the main office. We never get “official” mail at the stores.

He emailed me Tuesday afternoon asking if the changes had been made. I had actually first seen the notice 15 minutes before.

Damn. Just what I needed. A pointless mission due to an insurance company’s whim. Insurance companies are now “spying” on clients—using the insured’s own social media, drones, satellite footage—looking for problems they can use as leverage or wiggle room.

The van we are driving is acting rough. We pulled over, and the tires look fine. Maybe it is out of alignment. Maybe someone hit a curb or something.

It is always something.

I just want to play with books and plants and rocks and firewood.

And travel.

Well, “it goes with the territory.”

And I haven’t been up here for a while. It is a duty to show up and inspect every once in a while.

The mountains are green. The late spring, early summer, lighter green. The leaves will toughen up and get darker when the heat and sun begin bearing down.

When this story goes out, it will be June.

Everything is flying by so quickly.

Time.

Life.

Damn… I don’t want it to end.

Hell, I don’t want it to slow down.

I will just have to redouble my efforts.

Brainstorm.

Look for ways to do things faster. Better. Smarter.

Or, maybe, just get some flip-flops, a Hawaiian shirt, pastel shorts and move to Florida. LOL.

The insurance company didn’t like stuff out on the sidewalk.

Why? Who knows? I bet they don’t even know. A different inspector likely wouldn’t have even noticed.

So all the 5/$5 books and DVDs and CDs either went inside or were sent to be destroyed.

The place actually looks great. Amazing what a good, caring staff can do to change a bookstore’s “culture.”

Now we are heading back to the warehouse—just after noon. 68 degrees and mostly sunny.

When we get back, we will empty the van and then take it to Rice Tire and Repair a couple of blocks away. They are great at keeping our vehicles on the road.


I forgot to mention it last week, but we got a Last Supper in—I think it was here the day I returned. Of course, THE Last Supper figured mightily in my trip. Now I have my own.

Wooden Last Supper

It is carved out of wood. Old—at least 80 years gauging from wood and nails on its back. Heavy. It must weigh 60 pounds or more.

And I finally decided to take home the case of Guinness someone brought us from a house cleanup. “Take everything you can, please!” Sadly, this boon was skunked. Old and/or stored hot, it was undrinkable. It has lingered on the docks for a year or more til I thought, ‘I can pour it into a flowerbed. It will enrich the soil, and I can recycle the empty bottles.’

Beer Garden

I’ll christen that hosta bed the Beer Garden.

It is Friday. May’s final day. 47 degrees out. A soft breeze is flowing through the forest boughs and pouring into the bedroom window. I’m warm under the counterpane, in a sweatshirt, a dog pressed up against my flank. Along with the crisp air, birdsong enters and fills the room.

It was yet another crazy busy week.

Though I went to the winery Saturday and Sunday, I didn’t go out any other night this week. I came home and did chores—often truncated by daily thunderstorms from Saturday through Wednesday.

Last night when I got home from a frustrating day of too much work but not getting enough done, the ground was finally dry. First, I cut the firewood that’s been outside the barn since 2023. COVID prevented me from getting it to stove lengths in midwinter. Then it was too wet to bother with. I tossed the wood onto the pile in the barn where it will dry and be usable next fall when winter’s chill will come calling in October and after. Then I pulled the starter on the leaf blower and hoisted the straps over my shoulders. I blew away the torn leaves and other tree debris knocked to earth by the storms off the driveway and walkways, gravel and stone paths. I’d widened the stone garden walks by knocking down the overhanging foliage. Now they look inviting.

Cleared Garden Path

What will June bring?

Summer’s heat? Not for the first seven days, according to the forecast. It won’t rise to 80 if the numbers are to be believed.

Books certainly. So many tough collections have come in—tough in that the books will likely be great but are the type that require extra handling and scrutiny.

Travel? There’s a week away planned.

Gardens? Always. I haven’t bought a plant this year. Maybe I should go up to Ashcombe or the Hosta Hideaway in Pennsylvania. But there’s so much here to transplant. I have the three pallets of stone waiting to become a terrace wall somewhere when the land speaks to me and tells me where it belongs.

No matter what, time will pass, and I will try to fill it usefully.

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