The Odyssey: Sailing to Lignano Sabbiadoro

Excerpt from my book, “A European Odyssey; How a boxer’s daughter found grace”.

We’d already cruised to Sicily so we opted to sail straight through to Crotone, a port city in Calabria. We were back on the land where coffee tastes like a milkshake and pasta is al dente.

We arrived at the heel of Italy, at Porto Vecchio and parked next to the reddest boat I’d ever seen. Red sails, red interior, exterior, wheel, everything, owned by an older French couple. We chatted with our new, eccentric neighbors and I watched a vespa fly by on the dock. There must have been half of a family on that tiny moto and not one of them wearing a helmet. My body relaxed into the ryth of southern Italy surrounded by style and laughter.

We docked at Santa Maria de Leuca in the province of Lecce. That night we went out for dinner and met a dynamic father and daughter duo from Genoa. Soon our table was full of sailors and solidarity. We happily gravitated towards one another, comparing notes, which was immensely useful as we were cruising in opposite directions. The father had just sailed along the Dalmatian Coast which happened to be our next destination. After eating fresh fish and drinking local white wine we drank Mirto on the 50 foot Beneteau into the late night. Black lights were strung along the dock giving a gorgeous touch of the locale. Life became better by the day.

Francis’ IT project had a start date and we had a schedule to maintain. We had one glorious month to cruise the Dalmatian Coast and learn a little abouty Croatia. First we had to reach the eastern tip of Italy so we cruised up to the Adriatic until it connected with the Ionian Sea; where Italy sits directly across from Albania. Then we stayed in Otranto, a memorable port, and spent a week refueling, addressing issues, and preparing the documentation required for leaving the EU.

Otranto was atmospheric with its famous “Castello Aragonese”. This castle inspired the first gothic novel in English literature called, “Otranto’s Castle. At sunset the city center burst open with the most colorful street artists I’d ever seen. We anchored out for a couple of days, which was cheaper and more fun. At night we were serenaded by the coolest blend of techno opera music I’d ever heard.

If you’d like to read about the Odyssey and learn more about the book, here’s a link and some reviews on Amazon

Two Reviews on Amazon

London: “I was moved by this – and found it an enthralling read. A family secret is revealed early in the tale, and the dislocation it prompts is matched by a journey half way across the world. Bailey’s writing is light as air, keeping the right pace. The places are the main characters, and I could feel the sun and hear the sounds, and importantly, taste the foods and wine. The resolution is complex – more of a transformation than closure – and I felt every step of the journey.”

Buy This Book: “This book will take you on a magical mystery tour that is the fascinating life of Bailey Alexander. You’ll laugh, perhaps shed a tear, and get lost in her adventures but always feel the author’s emotions through her skillfully crafted prose.”

The Odyssey: From the moment I met Malta we both knew it wasn’t going to work out

Some moves were romantic, others, pragmatic.

Rome never asked for my love because there was no need and Paris was a dream come true. Those were serious love affairs.

But when we sailed to Malta and met, after one long look, we both knew this relationship was doomed. To ride on such a high I was destinated to crash. Like Icarus I’d flown too close to the sun. Life had been too kind and then it became cruel. I discovered the dark shadows lurking within my spyche.

In Malta’s defense, Italy and France boasted such cultural extravagance, who could possibly compete; to be honest there was little suprise on either side. Throw in the loss of my mother and subsequent pathological grief I was in the wrong place at the worst time.

It’s not that Malta isn’t a beautiful holiday destination located in the middle of the Mediterranean, where Europeans often take their children to learn English, but to live there and work, no, this was a poorly conceived recipe. There was no alchemy, no serendipity not a moment of synchronicity.

Six years prior we had sailed across the Altantic. It was the type of voyage I viewed as a means to an end. It was not a dream come true for me – from front to finish – as it was for my partner. But their were dolphins and the stars and that immense moon. And we made it safely to the other side. Yet I’d been on a mission. I wanted to live in Europe and no longer be a tourist. I didn’t even know Malta existed and apparently some maps agreed with me.

Now it appeared my guy had enough affection for this island, this island without borders, for the both of us. It almost felt like spite. I would have divorced my state of mind at that time if i could have – but there I was – surrounded by water. Ship wrecked. I could hear the water gods laughing at me as if to say, “You sailed across the ocean and almost died and ended up here! ha!”

Still, I was there, and Malta could boast about 7,000 years of history, so it was time to learn about this strategic island located in the middle of the Mediterranean. They were located between Europe and the Middle East. So what of the Maltese with their Pheonician based language. East or West?

They were part of the EU and floated close enough to southern Italy, but they’re also close to Libya, where they share extraordinarily strong ties in business. However, at the end of the day, it’s safe to say they are distinctly Maltese. With enough pride to ride alongside the Campanilismo I had witnessed while living Loazzolo, in the region of Piemonte, Italia.

Campanilismo, this grand sense of pride, this immesely strong spirit, this deeply ingrained love of one’s land. This pride found in the Maltese was both extraodinarily annoying and infectious. It was time to learn a little bit abbout Malta.

Like their religion. Unlike the Italians, they wore their Catholicism in such heavy fashion it felt manufactured. As if too much gratitude towards St. Paul. Apparently he was ship wrecked on their island after being caught in a violent storm en route to Rome. Archeoplogists confirmed this happend in A.D. 60. The site of this supposed ship wreck was marked with a grand statue in a town called Valette which happens to be their capital. It should have been easier to believe; I too felt ship wrecked.

Eventually my skepticism wore off as I learned about Malta. I expored the Siculo-Norman period. I viisited two or three Renaissance towns and Baroque villages on display. I learned about Malta’s “Golden Age” when the Knights of St. John ruled the island, when the British introduced the neoclassical style seen at St. John’s Cathedral.

I learned how Berlusconi came to Malta to negotiate his first media deal. I heard how Kim Jong-il receieved his English language education at the University of Malta and how he’d been a guest of Don Mintoff, Malta’s former Prime Minister. I heard how Mintoff told the CIA to take their money and go elsewhere. That was really impressive because not many leaders carry that kind of nerve. Perhaps an advantage of defending yourself for 7,000 years. I wrote about the ‘social season’ in my book, “A European Odyssey; How a boxer’s daughter found grace”. The people could be as friendly as any tribe but I found it to be a deeply patriarchal state of mind.

Yes they are a proud people and no it was not the highlight of our nomadic odyssey, but it did give me the opportunity to watch up close how women were entering the work force when we domiciled on the island back in 2009. We may have lost a lot of money but my partner hired a lot of men, and women, and gave them new skillsets. They were moving forward and they were a keen member of the EU.

When my partner’s IT venture officially closed down I embraced my final task; to find a new home for MADI, our sailboat.

Fortuitiously, I found one located an hour from Venice, in a marina called Punto Faro in Lignano Sabbiadoro. It was full of Swiss, German and Italian boats; they had one slip available and we took it.

At last; success.

A dragonfly stops by while crossing the Adriatic

The Odyssey: From Rome to Paris where pleasure’s everywhere and time flies right by

Moving from Rome to Paris allowed me to compare the cultural cousins. Both tribes are chatty and both have been talking for an awfully long time. Each talk about food at lunch and dinner and most of the time in between.

When on a walk with Colette and Godot in Rome the Italian women would coo with half a dozen names for the little papillons – in Paris – I would pass a man and he would quickly offer a nod our way and say, “c’est petite chien” and continue walking towards his destination without missing a beat.

If I was hedonist and I was back then, Paris was a city of distractions, for anything you desire. I used to sit outside La Comedie Francaise at the cafe at Place de Colette, perhaps eating a Salade Nicoise, and watch the handsome actors relaxing over their coffee or aperitif before heading into the theater to act out Moliere, with their seductive canes and long, heavily curled wigs flowing down their backs over period dress on stage. And yet, so incredibly sexy.

We lived in the 5th and across the river in the 4th there’s Opera Bastille, down the street, in the 9th sat Palais Ganier and as much romantic ballet as you can imbibe at the Opera de Paris – tickets were easy to obtain back in 2006-2009. The ease of going online not yet available. I didn’t mind. Just grateful for another excuse to get out and walk the dogs, or put them in the basket and cycle around the city. There was true joy to experience, sensory overload to overwhelm, and yes, it was definitely Paris

Time passed so quickly I couldn’t catch up but the cycles of life and death caught up with me. But in the meantime it was such an intense social experience, people came to dinner, everyone showed up, they never ever said no; because it was Paris. Jim Haynes hosted informal weekly dinner gatherings at his flat in Montparnasse. He’d been hosting this Sunday gathering since the 60’s when people like John Lennon showed up. By the time I arrived it was just full of expats like me who missed their accent. And worth the trip.

I was given tickets in return for my own little soirees at our flat in the 5th arrondissemente. Special events like couture shows where you could see the craftmenship up close which felt magical. You could sneak into a vernissage, an art opening and one of my neighbors, from Vietnam had his own show full of landscapes. When he invited me down to his flat to view his art work my body automatically relaxed and was put into a meditative mood without even knowing it.

There was a famous soft porn actress who lived just below our horse-shoe shaped apartment, located at the top of the building. There wasn’t a straight angle to be found within and Notre Dame, the Patheon and the Eiffel Tower were easily seen while looking out. When friends came to visit and used the bathroom at the back of the flat next to our bedroom they would say, “Bailey, have you seen this?” I could have been entertained in that way but preferred theatrical drama on the stage.

I wrote about my life extensively in my book, “A European Odysey; How a boxer’s daughter found grace”. The cross section of characters I met was as colorful as any place I lived. There is something unique about the social opportunities in Paris. Everyone so open to meeting new people, to share their experiences, to get an invite, to dance along the Seine in spring when picnics are laid out.

Summer is when the Parisians let their protocol go and when musicians get together for Fête de la Musique on summer solstice. Every corner in the center of the city is filled with every single kind of music you can imagine and the sounds linger well past midnight. There’s no reason for anything as tedious as sleep – music is surround sound until the wee hours of the morning.

We’ll always have Paris where there is something for any pleasure you desire.

The Odyssey: There’s no place like Rome

…to her strange sense of time. Her alchemy is perfect, with her classical beauty, ancient history and fantastic food but time feels different. Which is natural, I suppose, in the eternal city.

Whether you’re going to spend 3 days or spend 3 years in Rome like we did, time will feel as if it’s stopped. It will play with your mind. When friends came to visit they agreed, it was like time ceased to exist, or they felt the sensation of having lived a previous life in the eternal city. Again, alchemy, or something else…

I fell in love as a tourist and found her residents culturally Catholic, like many Italians, yet uniquely relaxed about their faith. Romans, in general, just appear relaxed. Even with all her deep secrets kept at the Vatican, her hyper-surreal environs, surrounded by fountains bathed in sensual statues.

Her art stood still as well, in classical mode, achieving perfection, and yet the drama of Caravaggio’s epiphanies startle modern day gazers in the same way they did once upon a time. She is a most seductive city and you will want to succumb. Especially if you attend the ballet the the baths of Caracalla, this event I still remember like it was yesterday. I never really could quite believe I lived in Rome. It truly felt fantastical for me, an American, our country so incredibly young in comparison.

We visit as often as we can and each time it feels exactly like the first time I walked across the Tiber river and just knew we had to live in Trastevere; the heart of Rome. I’ve yet to hear of a visitor feeling let down. Like meditating, you might as well give in and let Rome takes care of the rest because she will take of you; I promise.

For example, I never thought I could spend 3 hours sitting down to lunch. But you will when you are in Rome. Nowhere else has the experience of sitting down for lunch felt as nautural as it did in that city for such an extended period of time under such a warm sun.

We often talk of Rome but I’m not sure about the next visit. I may have lived a nomadic lifestyle but I was never a natural traveler. I’m just grateful I did decide to jump off so may cultural cliffs. And now that we live so close Venice I think the gravitational pull may understandably shift.

But what a trip it’s been. When I left Seattle and sailed across the Atlantic on our sailboat in 2002, I felt like I’d weathered an emotional cyclone – both in Seattle and while sailing across a big ocean – not unlike Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz – but I think it’s safe to say…

there’s no place like Rome…

Moving house is about new beginnings and letting go

When we move house it feels like a new beginning yet it’s often an exercise in memory, nostalgia; about the past. Each key received had teased me it could solve a mystery, and unlock the secrets of cities like Paris, Amsterdam, Bucharest or Prague yet Rome kept her secrets safely tucked inside. 

Each move demanding review of books, precious knickknacks, but like the home, iteslf there is a price whether to stay or go. Assessing sentimental value, these things and keys seemed to host new dreams – so it seems I can’t rid myself these types of things. 

I will certainly miss the company of new found friends, I know this to be true. It proves harder to re unite in this brave new world we’ve entered. And so we take exit from a place called Piemonte, a secret that needs to be told as I write away in my next book called “Once Upon in Loazzolo”. And we move back and or more accurately, come full circle to Lake Garda, where the odyssey began. And rest assured Riva is a secret that’s already been told. 

So many moves since we left the US – in between Riva and Piemonte – often done quickly, when I was young and could overlook the stress as if it didn’t exist, but what a trip it was and so I wrote about it in my first book called, “The European odyssey; How a boxer’s daughter found grace”. And now for this latest move, oddly enough all I seem to feel is relief, because we coming full circle.

Now that I’m older I took my time to move, started early because it was complicated with clutter and garages and statues and vases purchased for all this land. I had to ask myself over and over again, do I really wish to see this on the other side, often I said yes, surprisingly often I said no – because it was time to let go. I will miss everyone and everything dearly because a move is like a divorce and yet why such relief? 

I had aspirations and lessons were learned while living in Piemonte, but I didn’t want to be a gardener or own allot of land. I now understand why people downsize as they get older, the cost is too great on too many levels to keep so much space.

And that snow and the work and time spent clearing it off the forecourt, several times a day carting wood from the shed to home in that wheelbarrow, so much snow, no, that will be the one exercise I will not miss at all. Paradise lost and found within the seasons and all that space.

Oh I do hope this is the last move and even though Lake Garda has been a second home since the odyssey began 20 years ago, it feels right and I am replete with relief, perhaps because I have let so many things go….

How the Germans found Lake Garda

The Germans love Lake Garda because when they drive down for holiday, it’s the first place where they see a palm tree, and they love Italy, as we all do.

By late October/early November their accent evaporates, and it’s a bit of a relief, I think, the tourists season is over – but in their defense – Austria used to own it

We are here

Two hours west of Venice and about an hour northwest of Verona.

Italy’s full of mountains, and we’re surrounded by dramatic ones. Technically the Dolomites are further noth, but I like to pretend they’re right here.

This makes Italy full of pretty drives….even where it’s flat, in the Po Valley, stretching from Torino to the Adriatic seas, Italy’s full of pretty drives.

Maybe you’re planning a trip…

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