sabato 24 dicembre 2011

Dream of the African departure

Some time ago I was reading an interesting article saying that the most exciting moment of a vacation is..BEFORE it starts. I immediately thought it was a nonsense, a silly idea, just impossible. How can it be true??? Well today it's the 24 of December, the day before Christmas (or "Vigilia di Natale"), my flight to Dakar will leave the 3rd of January and I am really so puzzled with those mix of feelings who make a vacation such an exciting and unforgettable moment of our life. In other words the author of the article was right! These last nights I just can not sleep well, everyday I buy new medicines, a water purifier, some plasters, a swiss knife, a mosquito repellent but every moment, yes even while I am sleeping, I ask to myself if these "homemade" first aid kit" would be enough or if I am overcautios, if I am going to overload my backpack against my recently adopted OneBag philosophy that rewarded me with such a confortable light bad in my last 2 travels to Thailand. As for Thailand no doubt that I miss and I will miss so much that smart, quiet, safe, relaxed culture. I'll miss all my nice friends (Vassana, Pornphipol, Ninja, Nui, ans so on) and their smile even in the worst moment. I'll miss those wonderful Thai massages and the great oportunity I could practise my little Shiatsu massage skills with locals who are used to be touched and manipulated while here in Italy (Europe?) even my parents, my closest friends are just scared to be touched by me.
However after a few years of doubts, fears, questions, dreams at open eyes in front of a map, I finally resolved to skip Thailand and Cambodia (I am so sorry Khonty) toward West Africa. I have so many questions; will locals assault me? will they be curious with an Italian Toubab? or maybe they will just be interested in my "argent"? Will their food be delicious and healthy?How many times will I catch an heavy "Montezuma Revenge" just not to mention the scaring Malaria risk...Whatever will be, I am so curious, excited, confused and let's say the truth; those few African friends just met in Italy (Yousufa, Ale, Modu from Senegal) or on the web (Brigitte, Justine, Marie Lucie) were so fine, friendly and helpful that I can not imagine so many Italians could do the same with an African friend. Going back to 11 years ago, I was experiencing the same feelings and fears a few days before my departure to Brazil. I heard so many bad stories of criminality and thefts and assaults, but after a while, picking up word by word some portuguese words, despite a few unpleasant stories I deeply loved Brazil and Brazilians, I learned how great was to live there, to meet such a solar people, to go out with friends, to listen to live Bossa Nova or Chorinho concert, to fall in love with the most charming women of the world. That's why I am looking forward this next adventure with no expectations but also with a positive and open mind attitude, who knows, one day I may talk with friends of an African dream that became real.

martedì 29 novembre 2011

Loreto and Porto Recanati

When my foreigner friends think of Italy suddenly they start imaging wonderful famous historical cities like Venice, Florence or Rome, and some of them try to rush into a one week tour in the absurd attempt to visit as much as possible of these, I repeat, wonderful spots. I understand them but I usually suggest that they broaden their view toward other smaller much less known but great anyway places like Loreto.
"Strange statue of a lady" discovered in a house near a laurel grove (loreto) after 1294; house said to be the Holy House of Mary transported from Nazareth by angels to Italy in 1294. Statue accidentaly destroyed by fire and replaced in 1921 by a new standing figure, 3 feet high, carved from the wood of a cedar grown in the Vatican. Analysis of literary sources, however, indicates that the transport of the Santa Casa happened by sea and not through the assistance of angels. During the medieval period of Christian history it was common for monks and crusaders to be called ‘angels’ by the common people, this explaining the legend of ‘angels’ flying the house from the Holy Land to Loreto.
I visited Loreto many years ago when I was a teenager student and never forgot its magical and simple atmosphere that's why I decided to spend a cold and sunny november sunday with my mum and my aunt Fanny.
Loreto (takes its name from the plant of laurel,) is a small town of 10,000 people in the region of Marche and it's well known for it's beautiful Basilica of Santa Casa (Saint House Basilica).
We arrived late in the morning just in time to assist the mass that was attended by important guests like Loreto mayor and Bishop. During the mass I could not refrain from admiring all the many paintings, marble and carvings that ornate this marvellous church, but the main attraction of Loreto is, however, the Holy House itself (in Italian, the Santa Casa di Loreto), a well-known Catholic place of pilgrimage since at least the 14th century. It is a plain stone building, it has a door on the north side and a window on the west; and a niche contains a small black image of the Virgin and Child, in Lebanon cedar, and richly adorned with jewels. St Luke is purported to have been the sculptor; its workmanship suggests the latter half of the 15th century. Around the Santa Casa is a tall marble screen designed by Bramante and executed under Popes Leo X, Clement VII and Paul III, by Andrea Sansovino, Girolamo Lombardo, Bandinelli, Guglielmo della Porta and others. The four sides represent the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Arrival of the Santa Casa at Loreto and the Nativity of the Virgin respectively. he Holy House of Loreto is alleged to be the house where Mary was born and raised, and where an angel told her she would be the mother of Jesus. The first historical mention of the ‘Santa Casa’ appears when Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, learned of its existence and had a church built around the house in order to protect it. According to a 14th century legend, after the Holy Land came under the control of Islam in 1263, the Holy House was flown by angels to Dalmatia, modern Croatia in 1291, where a vision revealed it to be Mary’s house. Three years later, in 1294, it was again transported by angels to Recanati(a few Km from Loreto) and finally, in 1295, to a laurel grove, the ‘Lauretanum,’ for which Loreto is named. The myth of the Holy House states that when the Holy House was lowered into place the nearby trees bowed down in respect.

Analysis of literary sources, however, indicates that the transport of the Santa Casa happened by sea and not through the assistance of angels. During the medieval period of Christian history it was common for monks and crusaders to be called ‘angels’ by the common people, this explaining the legend of ‘angels’ flying the house from the Holy Land to Loreto. Archaeological evidence and documents uncovered in 1962 suggest that the house may indeed derive from the region of Nazareth as its limestone and cedar construction materials are not available in the area of Loreto. The Holy House itself is quite small, and its single room with a small altar contains a Black Madonna statue and a blue ceiling with golden stars, and what I can say about this Italian treasure is that even if you dont believe in saints, in the Madonna or in miracles, we all could perceive a strong, powerful, sudden energy in front of this small shrine. It was undoubtful that I made a great present to my mum, to my aunt and to...myself!
As we arrived quite late in Loreto (my fault, I love to sleep a bit more on sundays mornings), we had to set off and drive to our small Osteria where a good, but not delicious as hoped, fish lunch was waiting for us in Porto Recanati. After this long lasting meal we had a lovely and relaxing walk on the gravel beach of this small town. Once more I realized how this small country called Italia can be different, amazing and interesting just moving a few kms from your hometown. I often travel around the world while there are too many half undiscovered gems hidden in my "courtyard".
I want to finish by greeting and wishing the best to my brother's brother in law, Maurizio Voce, who has just started his final and more important travel, I hope, I am sure to the Paradise.
Fai buon viaggio Maurizio!

sabato 5 novembre 2011

Viaggia, Rohita!

There is no happiness for those who never travel, Rohita!

By dint of staying in the men society,

Even the best man gets lost

Therefore, wander!

The traveller’s feet become flowers,

And his soul grows and gives fruits

And his vicious are washed up by the effort of travelling.

The fate of the one who stays still, doesn’t move

It sleeps when he falls asleep

And it gets up when he wakes up

Therefore, wander!

(dai Brāhmaṇas)

lunedì 12 settembre 2011

Thai Women

My first contact with a Thai woman took place about 15 years ago, while attending and english course in Auckland with my good friend Massi. We soon noticed that New Zealand was packed with Koreans, Japaneses, Thai and other oriental people. Most of them escaping from the ipercompetitive Universities of their countries or just learning english in a very relaxing and quiet atmosphere. During Christmas vacations we organized a group of 10 people: 3 Italians, one from Switzerland, one German, several Korenas and 3 Thai girls. No need to say that I was astonished to see these short, cute and gentle creatures cleaning up our backpacker common room, washing the dishes, cooking  and doing this house duty, mostly considered as a hassle in my country, spontaneously and with a bright smile in their face.
Fifteen years later  I landed in Suvarnhapu airport, Bangkok, to meet a Thai penpal.
As I approached her to give an innocent kiss in her cheek, she suddenly jumped back with a sense of surprise mixed with fear..."what am I doing wrong?" I asked to myself. The following days thanks to my curiosity (yes I am a nosy guy), thanks to other Thai friends and thanks to Bangkok Days, I started to move my first tentative steps into Thai culture.
I realized that if Thai women have not that sensual appeal of a Brazilian or Peruvian woman nor they have that cold disarming beauty of a Russian, they are anyway pretty, earnest, always gentle and polite. Due to their education and to their Buddhist philosophy, they have no sexual taboos, (there is a deep respect toward "Katoeis" who represent the third gender or "the most beautiful side of masculine beauty") they always smile and even in the most difficult situations keep calm and positive,  That's great compared to our western culture I think. I soon discovered that they grow up with a strict social rules who make inpolite to kiss or hug or become angry or to shout in public. They have so many ways to say Mister or Miss depending to whom you are referring and the sign of Way is a wonderful greeting gesture, pity it's going to disappear.
They consider good "Jai Yen" (cold temper) and bad " Jai Ron" (hot temper). Thai society requires harmony, self-control and honesty (far from being a perfect country I may say it's the safest country ever visited by far). Yet Thai women love to keep their skin as pale as possible (as well as Vietnamese and Cambodian women) because milky skin is considered attractive as well as a sign of health just the opposite of western culture where charming women are always well tanned and like to sunbathe. Women are are the pillars of Thai families; since very young help their mothers with housework and when they start to work always send part of their salary to their families who often live far from Bangkok whereas many times I heard about men who get drunk, beat or betray their women.

mercoledì 31 agosto 2011

Buon Compleanno Fa Buon Compleanno Fla

This shattering tourist season is going to finish exactly when I get next to my birthday at the end of August. It's always so weird to wish Happy Birthday to my twin brother Fabio and of course to receive his wishes and his presents. As usual it was a great, relaxing, quiet, and friendly party who had its start at 1am after we shut the shop. No need to say that Alessandro was a wonderful host with its delicious food from Aqualagna (Marche):ricotta with marmelade, prosciutto, salame, capocollo, small pork sausages and lovely white wine along with great artesanal Belgium Beer (Triple Karmeliet is my favourite). I got marvellous presents like after shave, underwear, a lovely blue pijama, a nice pen, a good bottle of wine, a nice photocamera (let's see if I got it stolen of if I lose it as for the previous 3 ehehe) and lots of beloved books...well I do believe that books reading is definitively one of the pleasures of the life, don't you agree with me??? However the most brilliant present I got is for sure the friendship (but also SMS and emails by those who could not be there the 26th of August) and the love received by all those who reminded of my/our birthday: brother's, shop assistants, cousins, mum, dad (his phone call arrived late but really welcome), friends and those 2 lovely little scoudrels of Martina and Elisa who fell in love with Mirkao the Harley Biker! I am now 40, not bad I know, however I can not find myself as a sad old guy, I still love my family, I still bear so many heavy and naughty clients (although I do dream a lonely desert island at the end of every summer a result!), I still am emotioned everytime I meet new folks or I visit a new country or I get into a new culture. Well it's probably time I start to think to have my own family as well as to my own little scoundrels otherwise I risk to be their grandad instead of their dad, the problem is to arrange a good, reliable, clever and young woman...being discouraged by locals better I search for a Thai or Russian or SouthAmerican one eheheh. As for my next trip I am planning to fly toward West Africa (Senegal, Mali, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast or Ghana) although I will surely miss so much Cambodia and Thailand along with its great food, wonderful massages and lovely people. Let me now put some Photos of this Birthday Party and its Protagonists. And thanks again to all of you guys!!!!

domenica 19 giugno 2011

Talat Naam

One of the first words of Thai language that I learned is "Talaat" that means market. It is not by chance because as it happens in almost all the countries of the world, the Market is the pulsing heart of a society. I came across my first Talaat, or better my first Talaat Naam (Floating Market),  in the suburb of Bangplee Yai (a suburb of Bangkok) near the wonderful, cheap and friendly Sanawan Hotel. I asked to the staff how to get there and in 15 minute walk after a chinese temple, a modern temple with its crematory chimney and a nice school filled with pupils I got into this old floating market. With my greatest surprise and disappointment this very nice wooden structure almost desert except a few open shops, however when I returned there the following saturday I discovered a new world, a swarming, colorful, noisy, happy, tasty Thai microcosmo. It was amazing to see so many tiny shops selling so many different items, from rat cages to old style post cards, from hand made hats to wooden carved Thai figurines. But no point to say that the best, the strongest part of this magic untourist market was its delicious food. I really got crazy like a child could only be, hundreds of different delicious spicy Thai and chinese specialities like Pad Thai(Thai-Style Stir-Fried Noodles),  Poo Pià (chinese round cakes), Pat See you (Large Thai noodle with vegetable and chicken), Khao Pad Khung (white rice with shrimps), Tod Man Pla (deep Fried fish Cakes) and many many many others delicious dishes. From that moment on, when I get to a new destination, my main target is to discover where the market action takes place and I "dive into this mixture of flavours and smells until I got drowned of pleasure. So far my favourite markets were this of Bangplee Yai and that of Ayutthaya, both of them keep their strong thai charm with so many nice locals and Thai tourists and very few farangs.

martedì 26 aprile 2011

Chachoengsao: la Thailandia che non ti aspetti.

Vorrei tanto chiedere a uno dei 14 milioni di turisti che ogni anno affollano le spiagge di Koh Samui, la Kau San road a BKK o la walking street di PaTong a Phuket se hanno mai sentito nominare questo strano posto. Quasi certamente cadranno dalle nuvole, chiedendovi: "dove???". In effetti Chachoengsao non è presente neppure nelle mitiche guide Lonely Planet, anzi si fa fatica a trovare più di 2 o 3 citazioni in inglese su Google. Eppure questa cittadina a 80Km da Bangkok è stata una dell sorprese più piacevoli del mio viaggio in Thailandia. Non so esattamente per quale motivo, forse per il suo splendido mercatino Cso Klong Suan Market, forse per il suo lungofiume tranquillo, forse per il fresh fruit Market dove ho mangiato un delizioso Pad Thai preparato da una ragazza che parla un ottimo inglese, che ama viaggiare e che è stata anche a Hong Kong, forse per la minuscola e vecchia stazioncina. Ma soprattutto perchè Chachoengsao, da me ribattezzata la Feira de Santana (si trova nello stato di Bahia, Brasile), è uno di quei tanti piccoli luoghi dove puoi ancora incontrare sorrisi sinceri, interesse, curiosità dai Thai del luogo. Puoi cercare di praticare le poche parole di Thai imparate e stupirle con un "mai sai pomchulot" (senza glutamato please!). Ogni volta che mi dovevo sorbire 1-2 ore di treno (una volta anche 2 ore e mezza..) arrivavo tra il nervoso e l'incredulo, ma ogni volta ero felice di passare qualche giorno in questa cittadina "farang free". Spero che in Thailandia e nel mondo continuino ad esistere tante altre Chachoengsao, Feira l'abbiamo ormai perduta!

giovedì 17 marzo 2011

Khao Yai National Park

Il KY National Park si è da subito rivelato una bella sorpresa. Un mondo totalmente diverso dalla Thailandia che solitamente colleghiamo alla spericolata vita notturna di Pattaya, ai centri commerciali di Bangkok, alle belle ma ipersfruttate spiagge di Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lipe o Phuket. Il Parco è anch'esso circondato da discutibili centri turistici in cui Thailandesi del fine settimana si illudono di essere a Venezia, Firenze o Roma, ma appena arrivati all'entrata del parco tutto cambia. Non c'è traffico, pochissime auto, qualche temerario ciclista deciso a sfidare ripide salite e una manciata di centauri "farangs". Quello che più colpisce di questo enorme parco è il silenzio, la quiete, il fresco del suo clima, gli innumerevoli fiumiciattoli e cascate, il canto dei grilli, il cielo punteggiato di stelle, la tranquillità dei suoi abitanti. Questi sembrano vivere in una sorta di simbiosi con le creature che popolano il parco. Mentre gustavo il mio mediocre Pad Thai, davanti a noi un enorme cervo digeriva la fresca erbetta appena mangiata mentre un suo compare, altrettanto grande, si aggirava davanti alle cucine attratto dal profumo che ne usciva. Davanti al parcheggio un piccolo camoscio si rilassava al sole guardingo ma tranquillo. Si può visitare il punto più alto del parco, all'interno di una base militare, la vista è spettacolare perchè domina diverse vallate e l'aria è di una purezza incredibile, si può partecipare a safari notturni, visitare grotte abitate da pipistrelli, limitarsi a una oziosa ma indimenticabile vita in tenda..
I numerosi sentieri sono intervallati da utili  cartelli che spiegano i nomi e la tipologia oltre che le relazioni ecologiche tra le diverse specie: ad esempio anche piantine brutte e all'apparenza inutili come il Cong Grass (Ya Kha in Thailandese) ha una grande importanza perchè nei periodi di siccità  riesce a crescere trattenendo quella poca umidità presente nelle prime ore del mattino, oltre che a proteggere il sottostante terreno dai raggi del sole e a costituire il nutrimento per alcuni animali come Gauri e cervi.
Insomma un'esperienza seppure breve, indimenticabile, rilassante e istruttiva e il sicuro proposito di tornare al Khao Yai o di conoscere altri bellissimi parchi della Thailandia.

mercoledì 9 marzo 2011

Magia di un Treno Thai

Quest'anno ho scoperto la magia del treno, proprio viaggiando in Thailandia. Dapprima ho preso il treno per arrivare a Chiang Mai dalla bellissima stazione di Hua Lam Phong o, sia un enorme ritrovo di viaggiatori, a Bangkok.
E' incredibile come questa stazione dall'aria così affascinante, antica, e retrò, con una copertura simile a quella della stazione Centrale di Milantori stranieri e Thai. Anche le attese più lunghe sono piacevolmente assorbite dal via vai dei monaci, da intere famigliole con bambini al seguito, da piccoli set cinematografici, da trasmissioni TV e dall'immancabile presenza di cibo Thai.
Il treno è composto di semplici ma efficientissime carrozze "made in Korea", viaggiando di notte le cuccette sono quasi d'obbligo e l'esperienza davvero notevole; si scambiano chiacchiere, opinioni ed esperienze con altri viaggiatori, finchè non arriva il controllore e poi un addetto alle cuccette appunto. Quest'ultimo nel giro di 5 minuti trasforma un normale scomparto in due comodissimi lettini, sistemando con rapidi movimenti lenzuola, coperte e cuscini. Lo sferragliare e le fermate in piccoli villaggi accompagnano anche le tratte più brevi, come quelle che da Bangkok portano, a prezzi ridicoli, a Ayutthaya o a Chachoengsao.  In quest'ultimo caso si tratta di treni molto piccoli, con 3 o 4 carrozze, affollatissime di studenti, casalinghe o commercianti Thai. Gli orari dei treni sono quasi puntuali alla partenza ma assolutamente aleatori  all'arrivo. La linea infatti è a binario unico e spesso il trenino deve attendere il passaggio di un altro treno, per cui mi è capitato di arrivare con ritardi di 1 o anche 2 ore abbondanti. La scomodità viene però ricompensata con il paesaggio che si rivela in tutta la sua bellezza e semplicità, le risaie verdissime, gli spaventa passeri (ma da noi esistono ancora?), quei piccoli canali in cui pescano, nuotano o si lavano intere famiglie che vivono in casette di legno. Se poi si ha la bravura di imparare un po' di Thai, la possibilità di scambiare due chiacchiere con la signora che vende dolcetti Thai o spiedini di carne, è assicurata. Ma almeno quando siamo in vacanza, possiamo permetterci di viaggiare "slow travel"????

martedì 1 marzo 2011

Chiang Mai

Lo scorso anno ho visitato questa citta da vero turista, facendo escursioni di ogni tipo: rafting su un fiumiciattolo profondo 30cm, una cavalcata su elefante per la gioia di mia mamma, una bella pedalata in mezzo alla natura, visita al bellissimo tempio del Doi Suthep e limmancabile bellissimo Sunday Market. Quest anno invece mi sono limitato alle acque termali di San Kamphaeng, 36km da CM, passando una mezza giornata di relax in mezzo a famigliole Thai attrezzatissime per il pic nic in mezzo alle acque bollenti, perfette per bollire le uova che ti vendono dentro al parco. Piuttosto ho cercato di sfruttare le mie mattinate, quando il Mirkao era ancora nel pieno del suo sonno REM, per visitare i mercati di frutta e verdura locali dove era quasi impossibile non assaggiare ogni giorno qualche frutto, zuppa o dolcino diverso, bere un succo appena spremuto o comprare un raviolo di gamberi, ovviamente a prezzi Thai. In generale CM non mi ha entusiasmato, non so, forse per il suo traffico bestiale, per lo smog, per la tonnellata di Farangs (io sono uno di loro, lo so..)quasi ovunque, per la scarsa simpatia e spontaneita di molti Thai forse stufi di vedersi invasi da turisti e residenti occidentali, anche se soprattutto i primi portano soldi e lavoro ai locali. Splendide alcune librerie fornitissime di ogni genere di libro usato, ma anche nuovo, in lingua inglese. Anche qui viene fuori lo spirito affaristico dei Thai che comprano il tuo bel libro ancora nuovo e perfettamente rilegato a 40 o 70 THB (meno di 2 euro) per poi rivenderli a 5 volte tanto. La ragazzina della libreria mi ha giustamente detto: Sir, this is business...e come darle torto???

lunedì 28 febbraio 2011

Perché viaggiamo???

.One week ago while relaxing in my tiny shabby 8 dollar room on the Bui Vien road, SaiGon (Vietnam)I asked to myself: Why we travel?????Maybe to skip our cold unpleasant weather?or maybe to meet smart interesting people or to visit terrific unique places, or as suggested by my friend Mirkao to enjoy women far more charming and sensual than Italian ones? My opinion is that the REAL reaso is that we do need to travel to make our soul and our mind free. To make them escape from our routine, from our duties, from our work and/or family responsibilities, in other words to fly away and to return children when we could spend our time just playing, kidding and eating.

Here is a kind of confirm to my "idea" of our need to travel, written in the Guardian by Jonah Lehrer:
"..we need to change cultures, to experience the disorienting diversity of human traditions. The same details that make foreign travel so confusing – Do I tip the waiter? Where is this train taking me? – turn out to have a lasting impact, making us more creative because we're less insular. We're reminded of all that we don't know, which is nearly everything; we're surprised by the constant stream of surprises. Even in this globalised age, slouching toward similarity, we can still marvel at all the earthly things that weren't included in the Lonely Planet guidebook and that certainly don't exist back home.
So let's not pretend that travel is always fun. We don't spend 10 hours lost in the Louvre because we like it, and the view from the top of Machu Picchu probably doesn't make up for the hassle of lost luggage. (More often than not, I need a holiday after my holiday.) We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything."