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Miscellany (waiting for a new film to be developed)

As much as I love shooting with film and sticking to analog-only photos for the blog, film takes time. Which is part of the charm of it all, of course: I love the moment when I go get my developed film and feel so eager to get an immediate glimpse of the photos that I can't help quickly browsing through them as I walk out of the shop, barely avoiding bumping into people on the sidewalk and smiling/laughing/frowning as I peek through the snaps of the months just past. I only shoot a few films per year, each one covering different moments, places, seasons, feelings... Trying to make them seem like a coherent group + rationing them so as to always have a few to publish, is a little tricky. For today, as I finish shooting a new film, forget the coherence and enjoy a few insights into the past winter. There are friends, coffee, Italy, Paris and flowers.


1. A quick winter escapade

At the beginning of December we took the car with a couple of guide fellows and headed for the day to Port-Royal des Champs, in the valley of Chevreuse, south-west of Paris. What used to be an abbey of Cistercian nuns is now a museums showcasing 17th and 18th century paintings and engravings. Our excuse was to visit the temporary exhibit of painter Sébastien Bourdon, but the site in itself is worth a detour (maybe more in the spring, when the gardens, orchard and farm are at their best).

Founded in the 13th century, the abbey really flourishes in the 17th century, when its many schools deliver a high quality education of which, for instance, poet and playwright Jean Racine is a product. At the same time it becomes one of the main centers of Jansenism, attracting intellectuals such as Antoine Arnaud and Blaise Pascal. But the political and religious power in France and Europe is then dominated by the Jesuits, and Jansenists are soon regarded as heretics: king Louis XIV adopts repressive measures going from closing the schools until razing the buildings of the abbey in 1712. Nothing (or almost) is left of the ancient site. Everything was reconstructed in the 19th century in the neo-Gothic or 17th century style, in an effort to cultivate the memory of the place and its rich history.

Say hi to Sinan and Evrard! These beauties happen to be among my best friends, but that's not why I would definitely recommend them as guides if you need one in Paris (and I'm not available!!).

After visiting Port-Royal we went for a little hike in the forest, to stretch our legs and take in as much as possible of the winter nature before heading back to the city. At some point, passing by a cottage, we ran into this box full of the tiniest, furriest and best tasting kiwis. The sign says "Help yourself (but leave the box - thanks)". The garden owners must have been slightly overwhelmed by their kiwi tree production this season... Isn't that cute?


2. Trieste, Italy

After spending traditional Christmas at home in Cremona with my family I left for a few days with a friend to celebrate New Year's Eve in Trieste, the most eastern of Italian cities, right by the border with Slovenia. I had never been there but had heard really good and somehow intriguing reviews from other visitors: being an ancient seaport at the top of the Adriatic sea, Trieste has been influenced throughout its history by its location as crossroad of Latin, Slavic and Germanic cultures. This rich mix shows through at many levels, going from Italian language, passing through grand, typical Austro-Hungarian architecture in the city center (elbowing narrow and charming streets climbing up the hill right behind), until the local cuisine based on exceptional fish + great wines, as everywhere in the Mediterranean area, but deeply influenced by the Serbian, Hungarian, Balkan traditions.

At the beginning of the 20th century, right before and after being annexed to the Kingdom of Italy, Trieste was an international city, bustling with intellectuals, writers and poets going from Freud to Joyce and the local Italo Svevo and Umberto Saba.


"Trieste ha una scontrosa

grazia. Se piace,

è come un ragazzaccio aspro e vorace,

con gli occhi azzurri e mani troppo grandi

per regalare un fiore [...]"


Trieste has a surly / grace. If one likes it / it is like a rascal, harsh and voracious / with blue eyes and hands too big / to offer a flower [...]


Trieste, Umberto Saba, 1910





The weather was gentle on us. Trieste is famous for its violent wind, the bora, but during our stay it only showed up as a chilly breeze making the clouds race in the sky, often leaving place to a soothing sun and offering us beautiful sunsets. We really took it slowly - well, we didn't really have a choice since I was on crutches! - and left the moment's inspiration lead us through, and also out of, the city. Yes, one of the best parts of Trieste is the countryside surrounding it: being uphill it offers great viewpoints over the bay, easily reaching the Croatian coast, + what I suppose must be very nice walks and hikes through the flat-leaf forest (the B-plan if you're on crutches is sitting in the sun on a bench overlooking the bay with a good book). A local tradition that we really loved is the osmiza. An osmiza is an informal, family-run inn nested in the countryside and signaled by cut branches arranged around the road bends, leading until the entrance. Unlike actual restaurants, here you'll share a big wooden table with other passers-by and only be served a few, really simple and genuine, home-produced foods, typically hams, cheeses, bread and hard boiled eggs. Oh, and local wine, of course, and all for a very fair price. We found one somewhere around Opicina and were charmed by the very festive and casual atmosphere, with local families lounging in the shy winter sun, children playing soccer in the grass, an old man playing guitar, groups of young kids playing cards... I surprised myself enjoying Italy like a tourist would, just abandoning to the sweet far niente, the company, the smells and colors. Then I remembered that I'm Italian... Have I been gone for too long?

One other thing that Trieste is really good at, and proud of, is coffee. Yes, just like Naples, but differently from it, they have their own culture of the most Italian of all beverages. This actually goes as far as to calling it different names than you would find in the rest of the country, namely this one that you see up here, a macchiato from Turin to Catania passing from Rome, in Trieste is a goccia in b. A what?? That literally means "a drop in a b", "b" being the initial letter of bicchiere, a glass, because unlike anywhere else they serve it in tiny transparent glasses. Yes, Italians can get complicated with their coffee. Anyway we found this rather funny and entertained ourselves multiple times trying to order goccia in b's in cafes without laughing, really feeling like foreign tourists in our own country.

A stop by Miramare castle felt obliged. Just out of Trieste, this 19th century castle constructed for future Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico enjoys a splendid location on the shore and is surrounded by a beautiful park. Trieste has a few of these architectural and historical highlights, that you'll find in any tourist guide (please don't miss San Giusto's cathedral!), but honestly what we enjoyed the most was the general atmosphere, the little corners and the warm hospitality and kindness of the locals. I know, they are not known for being friendly but hey, there must be exceptions confirming every rule, and maybe because they pitied me for being handicapped, maybe because they found Georges and I so happy and beautiful to look at, in any case everyone was surprisingly nice. Really. Of course they have a, should I say, rustic way of being nice, with no frills, but that felt completely genuine and relaxing. This was all the more true for Piero, owner of the b&b Dai muli where we stayed and that I could not recommend enough. He was the sweetest host and really made us feel at home.


3. A few favorite cafes in Paris

The cold winter weather and the short days invite us to look for comfort by nestling up in cozy places. During the January blues, when Paris really felt like a grayish den of grumpy bears not quite ready to get out of hibernation, I often turned to a few warm and intimate cafes, both old and new to the city. Here are just a couple of favorites.

If you were familiar with the Bontemps pastry shop in the Marais, rejoice! At the end of last year they opened a tea room right next to the shop, so now you can enjoy their glorious sablés and lemon cake while comfortably sitting on a vintage sofa in a romantic atmosphere bathing in a soft and warm light. We went there with Federica back in January for tea and felt in heaven. Their January special galette des rois (with pâte sablée and hazelnut frangipane) was really something. And they have an outside patio! Looking forward to sipping ice-tea sitting among their plants as soon as the days get warmer...

Another favorite address is Désirée, nested in the neighborhood between République and Bastille, one of the trendiest hipster hot-spots in Paris right now. I found Désirée thanks to my friend Aude, who's all into anti-consumerism and buying organic and local. This applies to food, of course, but also to, say, clothes and flowers. That's how she learned about this little flower shop that only sells the freshest, seasonal and local flowers. I fell in love with it and honestly, if it didn't take me 45 minutes by subway (or 40 by bike if I'm feeling motivated), I'd go get flowers there once a week! Although that would be unnecessary since their flowers usually last longer than that... Anyway. They also have a cafe right next door. It's tiny and gets full real quick over the weekends, but their macchiati, cookies and cakes are really good.

The street offers more nice spots if you feel up for shopping: a wine cave, a cheese shop, a couple clothes boutiques... With Aude we stopped by Le baigneur, soap factory and shop, where we were welcomed by the friendliest, softest and cleanest (!) dog. Here they make soap from scratch using natural ingredients. If you happen to step in at the right time you might see them at work, otherwise they'll explain you about the process of soap-making. The minimalist tiled walls reminding of an old-time public bath have nooks showcasing their products: yes, they are conceived for men (if you're looking for beard-care items this is your paradise - I told you it's a hipster neighborhood!), but I got a couple of everyday-use soaps anyway - their packaging is just too attractive.