Close to the ancient city of Civedale in the Friuli region and on the border of Slovenia is a ancient stone house, re-built and lovingly restored by Toni and Paola (with the help of many friends) when they were young and full of hopeful energy and enthusiasm. The sturdy walnut tree provided small walnuts for my breakfast and the leaves and branches screened the wooden balcony outside my room. I kept the door to the balcony open all night and with the circulation of fresh mountain air enjoyed the deepest sleep, except the night when an Irish businessman gave agitated instructions on his phone to the lorries stranded at Calais by the migrant crisis and the French dockers’ strike.
A large garden provides the ingredients for Paola’s simple and delicious dinners and three well-behaved Macedonian donkeys live peaceably in their enclosure. Toni is a viticulturist and makes excellent red and white organic wine which is drunk with the exquisite pizzas from the outdoor oven (incandescent at 400C).
It was the birthday of one of the guests who stays here on a regular basis and Toni and Paola improvised a party where round after round of small pizzi (?) popped out of the oven flavoured with herbs and tomatoes from the garden accompanied by many bottles of wine. A jar of wildflowers was presented to the birthday girl. Darkness fell and a full moon rose and everyone talked and laughed like old friends. This is what Toni does so effortlessly- make everyone feel that they belong by creating a sense of instant community. After the pizzi we ate ice-cream from a gelateria in the village.
The village is the third point of an equilateral triangle. The two other points are Udine and Cividale, both of historic interest. Cividale was the seat of the first Lombard Duchy in Italy, but the town has always been a meeting point of different cultures and peoples: from the Celts to the Romans and from the Carolingian Empire to the Patriarchate of Aquileia. The Franks wrested it from the spendidly named Lombard king, Hrodgard, in 776.
The best coffee and cake is found in a small piazza at a cafe owned by a German couple, but the overall standard of restaurant food- especially gelati- is very good and staff are helpful and friendly. Udine has a better choice of shops but both cities are picturesque and full of narrow medieval streets and interesting brick and stone buildings. Slovenia is just a few miles away and Rilke’s promenade in Duimo, where he encountered angels, is close to nearby Trieste.
Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the Angelic
Orders? And even if one were to suddenly
take me to its heart, I would vanish into its
stronger existence. For beauty is nothing but
the beginning of terror, that we are still able to bear,
and we revere it so, because it calmly disdains
to destroy us. Every Angel is terror. (Duimo Elegies)
These poems are part of the essential library for New Agers and hippies and indeed there were a few wild haired weirdly dressed German wandering about viewing the Gulf of Trieste (to where James Joyce and Nora moved in 1902 and where he taught English at the Berlitz School).
One morning I set off from the Casa del Grivo to climb the path to the 14th century castle but Marion from Graz, a fellow guest, had beaten me to it. She and Gunther (also from Graz!) come to Toni and Paola’s every summer for three weeks with their yoga mats and bikes. She was already on her way down, having done her Tai Chi at the top.
Next year I’ll return and explore Trieste and the hills of Slovenia. I hope someone else has a birthday so the pizza oven can be lit.