I am now back from Istria, where I spent my time eating truffles, absorbing scenery that was not real, staring at all the different colored leaves, and walking through medieval villages. All in all, time well-spent. The hotel where we stayed was in a bona fide medieval city. It was protected by the steep hill all around it, and two stone walls. As I walked the perimeter of the castle (the hotel), I could practically feel a metal helmet digging into my forehead.
The first place we stopped at, before we got to the hotel, was a coastal town called Pirano. If Regina Spektor ever needed proof that “the sea is just a wetter version of the sky”, as she wrote in a song, I have proof.
Here are various pictures from Istria, from over the last few days:
And here is what I wrote in my journal last night (a little rambly, but bear with me; I was tired):
“My favorite part of today was dinner, when Massimo, Cinzia and I went to an agriturismo called Toncic. We only found this place because Massimo and Ciniza had been there before – like many places in Istria, Toncic was off a tiny little road. And yet, despite being a Monday night in the middle of nowhere, Toncic was packed. When I walked in the door – past the thick, hand-packed stone wall – the heat from the fireplace enveloped me. The sounds of Croation, Italian and Veneto blended together, thin like the fog outside. From my first bite of food I knew I had been transported into another age; home-made pasta and white truffles mixed together, tasting so rustic and classic and earthy that I knew they must’ve come from a recipe book kept intact only through distant memory and perhaps oral tradition. Gingerly sipping some of the nearly purple house-brewed wine, I notice a man at the table behind me with an accordion. As a bite of pork, black truffles and creamy potato warms my tongue, I hear a chord emanate from the accordion. The accordion breathes faster and faster, in perfect sync with the man, whose respiration has turned into hearty song. His voice is full like his smile. He transitions into what strikes me as the Venetian version of “She’ll be Coming Around the Mountain.” Out of the corner of my eye, I see Cinzia’s head swaying; she knows the song. I notice a voice equally enthused, and slightly out of tune; Massimo knows the song. The tune is easy enough; next thing I know, I’m singing along. I can’t take my eyes off the man playing the accordion. His voice – steady and perfect and imperfect all at once – has plunged me out of the present and into some time too nuanced and vital to be in the history textbooks. I’m laughing and feeling the warmth of the fire and trying to reconcile my senses when I realized he has switched songs.
Oh portigiani, porta mi via, che mi sento di morire.
I nearly spring out of my chair, and gush in broken Italian that I know this song, I actually know this song!
Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao!
My mind races back to ambling through Rome and Florence and Pordenone five years ago, cheerfully singing this song with my brother at my side. Toby, right now sweet-toothed hunger pushes you from house to hopeful house. But you are also here with me, bellowing and hooting and grinning, the ring of the accordion falling on you lighter than gold flakes in chocolate.
Ciao, bello. Ciao, ciao, ciao.”