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My Donkey, Eating Flowers, Ears Back

Giovanni Alessangdrini gave it all up for a piece of country, a collection of well-loved asini, and the hope that people would come, if only for a day, to experience a life disconnected from the logarithmic Armageddon the drugged demons of our financial world insist upon pushing us toward.

Giovanni is not connected to this Brave New World. He doesn’t have to double his profit every year; he is calmly linear. He does what he loves in rural Romagna. He is banking that you, too, are fed up with industrial “food” and the fast life of ever more work (for the corporation) for ever less reward.

Giovanni works for himself and his wife. He works, too, for his donkeys. Giovanni and his wife make cheese and wine. They share.

Yes, you can taste it all. You can trek with his donkeys. You can make a pit stop in the rat race and be amazed at how rejuvenated you feel. Human again. Well fed on real food.

There is little chance that city-sized, floating tin cans full of tourists will demand Giovanni expand his operations and ruin his little bit of paradise, as they are doing in the Cinque Terre.

Let’s start with the donkeys.

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Donkey Lovin'

They are loved. Imagine. You don’t just take out a fly-infested asino and start flailing away at its ravaged backside with a whip until the disgusted animal goes in the direction you wish it to go. First the donkey gets brushed, then misted with herbal oils that bugs don’t take well to. Groomed thus, the donkey is ready to walk beside you.

Of course, you have also been “intellectually” groomed. You have learned the language of the donkey. The animal is a bit of a genius at communicating his inner feelings via the angle at which the ears are kept. You didn’t know that, did you?

Once you know the donkey’s preferred way of telling you he’s pleased with the way you treat him or he’d rather you bugger off in favor of someone of a more gently nature, you need to know how to speak to the donkey.

Ours is Sardinian. You speak to him in Sardo. No “andiamo” for him.

Now you can walk with your donkey. He will carry your stuff, or lug around what you might forage in the woods, like chestnuts or porcini.

If you walk along the road, cars have to slow for you. You notice something quite odd. Instead of giving you a look of disgust and perhaps doing that finger thing, drivers are smiling. They are nostalgia tourists, too, giddy with the feeling of well being.

By the time you get back to the ranch, you are feeling a bit peckish. Not for long. There is wine. There is cheese, There is bread and vegetables from the garden. There is real olive oil, tasty and pure, not like the adulterated crap you pay too much for in the supermarket at home.

Artisan Cheese at Il Pagliaio

There is also a bloodhound and a turtle, the family pets. And there is a place where the cheeses are aged:

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La Fossa, The Pit

What’s the hole for? Formaggio di Fossa. Pit-aged cheese. That’s the pit.

Romagna, the western part of the region better known as Emilia-Romagna, is and probably always has been a hotbed of alternative life styles. It does its own thing (good thing for Fellini!)

You can dance the night away in some of Romagna’s small, out of the way hotels, you can buy herbal medicines and watch the distillation of essential oils from plants that grow naturally. You can enjoy the rolling hills. You can get your ass off the grid, if only for a test period.

Do it. Then let me know how it all turns off. Will your outlook on life change?

Start here: Il Pagliaio (The site is only in Italian, but if it were easy there’d be boatloads of American immigrants wanting to sample the good life, and we know how that ends, don’t we?)

Loc. Monte Finocchio
Strada Provinciale 128 Sarsina-Ranchio
47025 Mercato Saraceno (FC) – ITALY

Coordinate GPS: 12°07’59”E 43°56’51”N

Tel.: +39 335 5315580 (English spoken!)

(If you’ve read this far I’d like to share with something I found while researching this piece. “Perchè movimento, + buon cibo + buona compagnia = BUON VIVERE” It answers the question, “Why would anyone do this sort of thing?” Because movement, plus good food, plus beautiful countryside = Good Living”)

Get Your Ass Off the Grid originally appeared on Oct 05, 2015, © James Martin.

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The world offers its observers few examples of the past in which time has taken a sudden, abrupt stop. Pompeii is one example; a city preserved by the disaster that smothered it. When time takes a stop, we can imagine exactly the thriving city seconds before. A man abandons a still-wet painting, a woman wraps her arms around a frightened child.

The Biblioteca Malatestiana is another singular example. It is the world’s first monastic humanist library. It is as it was. Even the uniquely carved door, produced, as you can see, in 1454 still protects the treasure of books inside the reading room. In 2005 UNESCO included the Library in the Memory of the World Programme Register

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Biblioteca Malatestiana: Original Door, 1454

To this day the door requires two keys. Originally, one key belonged to the abbot, the other by a representative of the city; the sacred and the profane. Malatesta Novello entrusted this library to the municipality of Cesena, making it the first public library.

Inside the reading room designed by Matteo Nuti we see the simple and efficient design. A rose window lights the corridor, and individual windows provide ample light to the 58 rows of reading desks for reading during the day.

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Biblioteca Malatestiana: The Reading Room

Sacred tomes are found on the left side of the corridor and classics on the right.

You don’t take books out of this public library. 343 volumes are chained in place.

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Biblioteca Malatestiana and Chained Books

Across the hall from the reading room is the Biblioteca Antica, the private library of Pope Pius VII. Numerous manuscripts and an interesting collection of miniature books are found in the display cases, as well as books and maps of local interest and illuminated chorals.

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Biblioteca Malatestiana Miniature Volumes

The old library and reading room are part of a complex that includes a modern library and media center and small archaeology museum. Your ticket to the Malatestiana Library (guided tour) includes a visit to the museum. The complex is about a 15 minute walk from the Cesena train station.


Biblioteca Malatestiana Antica
Piazza Maurizio Bufalini, 1, 47521 Cesena FC, Italia
Info and Hours

Biblioteca Malatestiana: A Treasure in Cesena originally appeared on Sep 29, 2015, © James Martin.

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Every once in a while I go through some old Italy pictures. Yearnings to hit the road follow soon after. A recent memorable trip to the Abruzzo brought back these yearnings.

The very name “Abruzzo” has the feelings of wildness to it. It is a place too remote to have fallen into the the magical and refined grace-pit of the Renaissance. Tourists are few. There wasn’t enough wealth in the churches for the Renaissance they crave. Instead, locals clung to the land, listening to the pulsations of life in the wild as if their lives depended upon it, because, well, it did.

Pagans. Pagans are the much-maligned people who rely on the profound depth of their understanding of the dirt, the animals, the skies and how they interact, crafting from this immense knowledge the closely-held traditions of isolated farmers and herders—and exposed in festivals, superstitions, lively song and dance. These are the celebrations you must come to see.

It’s not that pagans are “against” God. He just has better things to do, loftier things.

So, potential tourist, walk among the places you see in these pictures. Even on a bright, sunny, spring day you can feel the earth cracking and surging, surrounding the new birth that pushes away the rotting old; April is the cruelest month…

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Abruzzo: a curve in the Road
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Abruzzo: verdant field and Alps
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Castelvecchio Calvisio; Gran Sasso

Read more on Castelvecchio Calvisio

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Flowering tree, one of many in the Abruzzo in spring.
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Abandoned Village
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Castle Ruins in the Abruzzo
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Abruzzo Castle
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View from the castle ruins
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Castel del Monte, Abruzzo
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Roman Archaeological Site:Peltuinum, second half of the first century BC

Find out more about ancient Peltuinum.


This is the area of the Abruzzo that these pictures were taken. Wander it. Explore it. You’ll come away changed. In a good way, of course.

Also to See in the Map Area

We stayed at a restored fortified monastery near the town of Ocre called Monastero Fortezza di Santo Spirito. A stay is highly recommended; all the pictures here (and hundreds of others) were taken on day trips from this place.

Grotta di Stiffe is one of Italy’s top caves to visit. A river runs through it.

Paper map: Abruzzo and Molise, Italy by Touring Club Italiano

Abruzzo in Pictures originally appeared on Aug 18, 2015, © James Martin.

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Perhaps the title has you miffed. Let me explain. There is a little place in the Roman rione of Trastevere that serves up books, chocolate and wine (and spirits). If you are old enough to remember a time when the population rose up and rejected the military-industrial complex and advocated “make love not war” (“gasp!”), well, you know the targeted era for the furnishings. They are eclectic, to say the least. Charmingly so, as if you were in a pawn shop and someone in a tie-dyed tee shirt came out from behind the enormous and ornate cash register and offered you a drink and told you to peruse the library and then someone came in a played the piano and suddenly you’re having the time of your life and it was all totally unexpected, a gift you’ll never forget.

the roman guy pictureCheers! Brandon of The Roman Guy.Anyway, I’m trying to paint Rivendita Libri Cioccolata e Vino with the broad brush of a very interesting time, especially if you spent it in San Francisco and ate frequently at a place called “The Family Farmacy”.

In any case, the specialty drink at Rivendita is a chocolate cup filled with liquor and topped with whipped cream and other delights. I had the Absinthe cream topped with cinnamon and hot pepper flakes. I would have cost 3 euro, but Brandon was paying.

If you’re a tourist looking for an interesting experience in Trastevere, you might find yourself on a street lined with lively eateries, the vicolo del cinque, the most lively and colorful walking street in Trastevere. This is where you’ll find Rivendita Libri Cioccolata e Vino.

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Straight Through and Belly Up to the Bar!

Nice, eh? Now if you get half way into the room and look off to your right, this is what you’ll see:

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The Salon and Library at Rivendita Cioccolata e Vino

Yes, the books, the piano, a place to sit amongst it all. At this point you might have something in your hand, something that will relax you and make you go with the flow.

The night we stopped in the restaurants were humming with tourists, but the place was, as you can see, a little empty. I don’t know how many refuges of the 70s there are, but even if you like endless war and politicians bought by corporations you should go there and check the place out. After dinner, I suspect, is when folks start assembling for the odd little drinks in the chocolate cups.

They’re good. Dessert and digestivo all in one. Amongst books. What could be finer?

Rivendita Libri Cioccolata e Vino
Address: Vicolo del Cinque, 11/a – 00153 Roma
Phone: +39

Rivendita is noted in our Trastevere Map and Guide

Rivendita Libri Cioccolata e Vino originally appeared on Aug 02, 2015, © James Martin.

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