Friday, February 15, 2019

Genoa: The Northern Italy Diaries, part IV

Genoa like Turin is an open air architectural museum, but with a very different feel. There is no French influence as in Turin; Genoa is very much an Italian city—in some ways reminiscent of Naples. Both are port cities built on steep hills with a rich architectural heritage; however unlike Naples, in Genoa for the most part the baroque buildings are in good shape and the city is clean with very little trash and graffiti.

Unfortunately, we both got sick for a few days—Rick with some kind of virus, me with what I think was food poisoning. However, we tried not to let it keep us from enjoying the city, but it did slow us down. Fortunately, the central historic district is very compact, with the spectacular squares, cathedral, museums all within easy walking distance.

In Genoa we stayed in another NH collection hotel,NH Marina, and although it lacks the charm of the small boutique hotels we used to seek out, it had all the creature comforts we now require and the staff was wonderful. When I became violently ill, they came immediately to clean up the mess, change sheets etc. It came on quickly and passed quickly and was no doubt food poisoning. I’m now a bit wary of picturesque little trattorias in the historic districts of European cities and I will be much less likely to order shellfish in one of these charming little restaurants.

NH Marina is in the Porto Antico district, right on the water. I rarely pass up the opportunity to stay by a body of water. Porto Antico

And since Porto Antico is a short walk to the Centro Historico, we had easy access to the cultural attractions without the urban congestion. It was just a five minute walk from our hotel into the outer fringe of the Centro Historico. Cathedral inthe Centro Historico

Unlike the grand squares and impressive architecture of the area around the cathedral, the outer fringe is a medieval warren of narrow lanes, arcades, and picturesque restaurants. I recommend SOHO, an attractive restaurant with very good food at reasonable prices and friendly staff—assuming you are willing to put up with slow service. So many Italian restaurants appear to be understaffed. We ate twice at Soho, excellent food and no food poisoning

The food poisoning set us back and unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the Museo di Palazzo Reale, but on our last day in Genoa, despite the rain, we did manage to see the palazzos of the via Garibaldi, considered by Michelin to be the most beautiful street in Italy. I can see calling it the most architecturally impressive street in Italy, but for me beautiful for has to include greenery. On the Via Garibaldi, the greenery was all in the interior courtyards.
Interior courtyard, Via Garibaldi
Also, two of the palazzos on the Via Garibaldi, Palazzo Rosso and Palazzo Blanco, have been turned into art museums—a consolation for not getting to the Museo di Palazzo Reale.

We had one truly magical day taking a train along the astonishingly beautiful Ligurian coast (the Italian Riviera). The Ligurian coast has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site—and for good reason. We stopped in the town of Portofino, once a sleepy fishing village, now a tourist mecca, but still charming.

We’d also like to see Genoa again some day, but as with Turin, it’s not likely to happen.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Turin, an open air architectural museum:Northern Italy Diaries, part III

Turin Cathedral

Turin was a surprise. Because of its association with Fiat and the auto industry, I expected a grim industrial city and was unprepared for its architectural riches, the legacy of the French Savoy dynasty which moved its capital from Chambéry to Turin in 1563. The French influence is very much in evidence both in the beautifully restored Baroque buildings in Turin's historic center and the spectacular piazzas. Piazza Castello with Palazzo Reale

Turin’s San Carlo with its twin churches is considered one of the most beautiful piazzas in Italy. I’d rank it number two, right after San Marco. twin churches of Piazza di San Carlo

Turin rightly boasts of being a city of museums, and we regret not having had more time for the museums. We spent much of our time walking around the city and only managed the first floor of the Sabauda Art Museum and the Museum of Resistance, Deportation, War, Rights and Liberty,which describes its mission as “communicating the history and memory of the values of the Resistance.” Rick thought the exhibits were badly organized, and that may be the case, but the recordings of personal testimony by surviving resistance fighters and holocaust survivors was compelling.

I couldn’t leave Turn without a brief visit to The Egyptian Museum,the oldest museum in the world dedicated entirely to Egyptian culture . It was unfortunately a very brief visit but I did get some sense of the vast scope of the collection.Anyone with a serious interest in Egyptian art should put Turin on their must see list.

We wish we had given more time to Turin and would like to return someday, but at this stage in our lives that is probably not going to happen.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Hotel Trauma in Turin: Northern Italy Diaries, part II

Hotel Carlina in Turin

Turin was even better than I had expected—an open air architectural museum. However, we had one really frightening experience at the Hotel Carlina, part of a chain of hotels, the N-H collection.

When we were younger, we searched for charming relatively low cost small hotels. An experience in Berlin in 2011 caused us to rethink our choice of hotels. We booked a suite at what was a highly recommended boutique hotel-- every bit as charming as advertised, but our room was a 6th floor walk-up and had no air-conditioning , no internet access, no laundry service. At that point we were down to our last clean clothes. The hotel staff suggested we lug our laundry to a laundromat—not exactly how we wanted to spend our few days in Berlin. We quickly found another hotel that lacked the charm but had an elevator, air-conditioning, internet access, and laundry service. Since then we’ve become wary of charming boutique hotels.

We decided on one of N-H collection hotels in Turin because we knew we could count on a good bed, reliable elevator and internet access, a laundry service, a decent restaurant , bar and good breakfast. If we got sick, we’d have a pleasant place to hang out. If we needed help there would be staff who could provide it—in short everything elderly travelers need to be comfortable.

The NH-Carlina in Turin had all of the above and was housed in a former monastery. But no matter how well you plan, stuff happens. We were awakened in the middle of the night by a loud piercing siren and the message: “This is an emergency; you must evacuate immediately.” There was no indication what the problem was—very scary.

The hotel guests were all outside—some who heeded the command to leave immediately were in their bathrobes. We managed to get dressed and grab our wallets and passports. In future hotel stays I will keep all medications together in one bag located near my pocketbook with wallet and passports.

We learned the problem was a breakdown in the hot water system which had caused major flooding—not a bomb as many of us feared. The hotel staff told us the hotel would be closed and we had no idea when we would be allowed back in to get our belongings. The entrance to the stairs was blocked by armed firefighters, but I somehow managed to convince the one woman firefighter to let me get Rick’s medications and she accompanied me up the flooded staircase to get them.

Finally after several hours we were allowed back into the hotel, told to pack quickly and leave the hotel as soon as possible; the hotel got us rooms in their sister hotel the San Stefano. We actually liked the less expensive, simpler San Stefano better than the Carlina with it’s gorgeous courtyard and rooftop terrace. The Carlina was a more impressive building, but the San Stefano had larger more comfortable rooms and I recommend it as a very good value.

All’s well that ends well, but unfortunately the change of hotels cost some of our precious time in Turin, an open air architectural museum.

More to come on the architectural riches of Turin.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Women’s March at a Crossroads

In January 2017, and again in 2018, millions of women worldwide poured into the streets of to protest the election of Donald Trump. The Women’s March belongs to all those grassroots women who marched for gender justice/racial justice and to the local organizers, who fundraised, secured permits, and planned the events. Their energy and commitment had much to do with the number of women who ran and won in the 2018 elections.

Beginning as a Facebook post and driven largely by social media, the Women’s March demonstrated the power of social media to quickly mobilize large numbers of people. We are now seeing the limits of a social media driven mobilization. When conflicts arise, there exist no agreed upon mechanisms for resolving them and for holding leadership accountable. Although a non-profit Women’s March Inc. emerged from the initial march, it was not a membership organization with the power to set the agenda and elect board members and officers.

Long smoldering conflicts in the organization broke out into the open in February 2018 when two of the co-chairs were prominent attendees at Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan’s Saviours’ Day event. Many supporters of the Women’s March saw the relationship with a notorious misogynist, homophobe and anti-Semite as a disqualifier for leadership of a movement committed to gender justice and the elimination of all forms of bigotry and discrimination. Co-chair Tamika Mallory’s widely publicized praise of Farrakhan, as well as the failure to include Jewish women in the March’s unity principles, led to calls for the co-chairs to resign.

The co-chairs responded to the outcry by including Jewish women in their unity principles, adding three Jewish women (including one trans and two black Jewish women) to their steering committee and by putting out a statement condemning anti-Semitism. For some, the statement rang hollow given Mallory’s continued refusal to disavow Farrakhan.

Questions were also asked about the co-chairs’ management of the more than $2 million raised through contributions and sales of merchandise emblazoned with the Women’s March logo. Women’s March Inc. is currently trying to trademark the name Women’s March and is being sued by four local Women’s March organizations, which have argued that it can’t trademark a movement. Given these controversies, it’s no surprise that the 2019 march attracted far fewer participants than previous years and saw a dramatic drop in the number of sponsors as well as competing marches in several major cities.

The Philadelphia March(es)

The conflicts on the national level played out in Philadelphia with two competing marches held at the same time: Philly Women Rally, which was unaffiliated with national Women’s March Inc. and Women’s March Pennsylvania, which was connected to the national Women’s March.

The Philly Women Rally at Eakins Oval was the larger event with participants numbering in the thousands and many elected officials among the speakers, including Mayor Jim Kenney, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, newly elected congresswomen Madeleine Dean, Mary Gay Scanlon and Chrissy Houlahan and Jovida Hill, Director of the Philadelphia Commission for Women, who gave a rousing speech drawing on the words of Sojourner Truth: “She told us that if women want more rights than they got, why don’t they just take them?”

Women’s March Pennsylvania, which rallied at Love Park, was considerably smaller with participants numbering in the hundreds. From all reports, however, the speeches were dynamic and the audience was energized. Among the speakers were city council candidates Sherrie Cohen and Melissa Robbins, Yaya Rivera of the Northwest Indivisible Reproductive Justice Working Group and Nina Ahmad, former Deputy Mayor for Public Engagement and candidate for Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor.

“To me, it was not a matter of choosing one event over the other but more about being given a seat at the table,” Rivera said. “It is important for me to share my personal experiences and reasons to why I fight for Title X funding and reproductive rights/justice.”

Ahmad celebrated the election of women of color to seats in the House of Representatives, and the impact of the Me Too movement. Her message to sexual predators was, “Be very afraid – we are coming to hold you accountable.”

Feminist organizations grappled with the issue of which march to recommend to their members. The Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) voted to support the march hosted by Philly Women Rally because, according to CLUW President Danielle Newsome, “We’ve built an institutional relationship over the last three years and respect that they hire union women to build and work the stage. We hope that in the future there can be one unified march in Philadelphia.”

According to Lynne Jacobs, President of the Philadelphia Council of Jewish Women, the Philadelphia Council followed the recommendation of their national organization to support local marches not affiliated with the national Women’s March Inc., and thus supported Philly Women Rally.

Philadelphia NOW decided to encourage its members to participate, but declined to endorse either march. “Some members chose to go to one over the other, but most of us decided we should attend parts of both to support all women,” said NOW President Krishna Rami.

It was a difficult decision for many feminist groups and for individual women trying to decide which march to attend or even if they should attend at all.

“Up until Saturday morning, I was truly ambivalent about marching,” said Mindy Brown, of Northwest Indivisible and a committeeperson in the 9th Ward. “But I decided not showing up would mean giving in to the other side, who’d feast on the stories of internal divisions and lower numbers. The fissures are real and painful, and we can’t sweep them under the rug. But maybe this tension can be an opportunity for us to work on solutions. For me, the Philly March has never been about the national leadership. It’s been about the grassroots. I was glad I went in the end. It felt like younger people had really come out in a lot bigger numbers. They were spontaneously dancing, singing and coming up with amazing, inspiring messages. It gave me hope!”

I heard variations on Brown’s comment from quite a few participants who also noted the number of young women involved and insisted that the march belonged to the grassroots women who built local and regional marches across the country.

Another common theme was disappointment that there were two marches and frustration that the two groups could not come together. “I was disappointed at the paltry turnout for these events,” said Mt. Airy activist Susan Schewel. “I think a lot of people stayed away because they did not know which event to attend. Even though I read what was available about how we ended up with two rallies, (and even a third that I learned of later) it just did not make sense. I wish that the organizers had managed to combine their efforts beforehand. I hope next year Philly has one strong march and rally with diverse voices represented.”

What lies ahead?

Only time will tell how the current conflict in the women’s movement will play out. While concerned about the conflicts, Mt. Airy social justice activist Antje Mattheus said that some conflict should be expected in building that movement.

“We are setting ourselves up for failure if we assume that we can reproduce the success – in terms of attendance and broad alliances – of the 2017 worldwide Women’s March and call it a movement,” she said. “A march is an action. In 2017 it was a very large action, but a march is not a movement.
The ‘cracks’ – lower attendance, simultaneous marches, infighting among leaders, disunity between racial and religious groups – which we now see are normal in social movement development and should be expected because the work to achieve a united movement has not been done. Movement building, especially on the level desired by 2017 Women’s March organizers and attendees, takes much time and dedication.”

This article appeared in the Chestnut Hill Local,

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Northern Italy Diaries, part I

Town Square in Mestre

I usually post our travel notes right after a trip. This last trip we returned to fall clean up, election work, and publicity for my book In Search of Elena Ferrante. The travel notes got lost in the shuffle. Fading memories are a downside of posting months after a vacation. What remains are a few highlights—the best and the worst of the trip.

Travel is getting harder, for sure. It’s much more difficult to get an upgrade. So-called premium seats in economy were uncomfortable; I can’t imagine how bad the non-premium seats must be.

Last year we flew SAS to Scandinavia. The premium economy seats were so good, we didn’t feel any need for an upgrade. We thought about going to Denmark this year—in part for the pleasures of SAS—but the lure of Italy was too powerful.

We have never been to Northwestern Italy, so we decided it was time to see this region, while we're still capable of international travel. Since there are no longer direct flights from Philly to Milan, we flew into Venice, but since we’ve already been to Venice four times we decided to pass on going into the city. Getting in and out of Venice is not easy and with more and more cruise ships stopping in Venice, the crowds are unbearable.

We used to be capable of getting off a transatlantic flight and immediately hopping onto a train for 3 or 4 hours, but sadly that’s no longer the case. So we decided to spend the first night in Mestre (essentially a suburb of Venice) and take the train to Turin the next day. It turned out to be a good decision as we found a wonderful hotel, the Villa Barbarich. The restaurant was probably the best value we’ve ever had in Italy. restaurant at the Villa Barbarich

There’s not a whole lot to do in Mestre but we weren’t up to doing much more than unwind. However, there is a beautiful town square—evidence that Mestre was once a wealthy town. We hung out there for a few hours sipping (in my case) Campari, (in Rick’s) Fernet Branca.

The next day we dealt with the challenges of train travel. If the elevators are working, it’s manageable. If they’re not--and this time the elevator to the platform was not--it was a struggle. Fortunately there was someone who could help us. One of the great pleasures of traveling in Italy is the Italian people who are almost without exception kind and helpful, especially to old folks.

At this stage in life getting our luggage into the overhead bin is impossible and unlike planes, there are no attendants to help. Our way of dealing with this is to always get business class—it doesn’t cost that much more than economy—and get there early so we can put our luggage in the small space allotted for luggage that doesn’t fit into the bins. Granted if we could only learn to travel super light, this would be less of a problem.

Aside from the luggage problem, I like train travel. The train from Mestre to Turin isn’t a scenic spectacular, but there were some glimpses of Lake Garda and the seats are so much more comfortable than those ever shrinking economy class airline seats.

Next stop, Turin.