The Price of Friendship

Portrait of Carini
Portrait of Carini

This month marks 40 years since I first set foot in Italy.  Arriving on the plane from the U.S., landing at Malpensa

(north of Milan), we needed to get a domestic flight from Linate (closer to Milan).  This meant a bus ride through parts of Milan to get from one airport to the other.

Having to change airports in a foreign land was in itself an adventure. On that bus, gazing out the window, I realized I wasn’t in “Kansas” anymore.  My preconceived notions of Italy, were disappearing like water in the desert.  The billboards of naked women advertising something or other, were the final straw. I vowed then and there to accept what is and to make no assumptions. Now, 40 years later, I’ve tried to do this in every new country, new town, new face.

There was never a saying so apt, as “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” So I did.

Starting with an open mind always helps, fate of personalities and timing are also clearly important.  Now, 40 years later, my Italian friends are more like family.  In that strange paragon that allows us different family roles, sometimes simultaneously. Thus, in Budoia, I am both the oldest son and the younger sibling. It’s great having an older sister. With Gino, I am the younger brother, carefree, always up for an adventure.  Slipping from my real life, I cocoon myself from my “normal” responsibilities.

So, in this little corner of Italy, nestled against the Dolomiti, in an area that mixes Friuli with the Veneto, I find myself ensconced in the familiarity of friends who are more than family. The family one chose.

My only jobs here are pretty much limited to opening the next bottle of Prosecco, getting up in time to eat, or my favorite, being the chauffeur (picture Driving Miss Daisy).  I love driving and in the western world, much of Europe is still the best.  The recent program to change intersections to roundabouts, traffic circles, has made the driving even sweeter.  Now every road has been transformed into a F1 track.  From Gino’s car showroom to Budoia, a distance of 14 miles, the route takes you thru Pordenone and two other towns, there are only two stoplights.  All the rest of the intersections having been converted to the above mentioned circles, (maybe 25).  A 20-minute trip during the day with traffic, becomes a 14-minute exercise late at night with empty roads. A pure joy to drive, rain or snow, sun or fog.  (Not even on Dauntless have I encountered fog so thick with visibility so bad, less than 20 feet!).

But as usual I digress.

This is post is about friendship or better stated, the value of friendship. Though maybe the driving allows me to be in a space in which I can free my mind to see and appreciate what is?   Forse, Perhaps.

Hanging around Gino’s car dealership, waiting for him to finish work, so we can do what we always do, eat! I thought of the last 40 years since I have known Gino.  This car dealership is actually Gino’s third. Some years were good, some were not, sort of like Trump losing $20 billion.  However, in Italy, one does not get those who did pay taxes to reimburse you for the next 20 years!

In my wanderings, in both body and mind, I noticed a picture portrait hanging on the wall of Gino’s disorganized office. You can tell it’s his office because he has 50 pipes sitting on his desk. My father liked smoking pipes and much like Gino had different pipes or combinations of pipes.  But I never understood why he needed more than one and he was certainly not going explain it to me, as he understood I only had a fleeting interest in the answer. (I think there is a lesson here for me in regards to my own nephews!).

But I was touched by that picture on his wall.  Oh, I certainly knew who it was.

It’s his friend, or really mentor, Senor Carini from Gino’s first car dealership.  I remember meeting and seeing Carini often in the Alfa Romeo dealership that Gino had for 25 years.  A tall, very elegant man, with a chiseled face that always had a pleasant smile and a kind word for someone like me in my stumbling Italian.

Back then, Gino was a young wheeler-dealer, (now he is an old wheeler-dealer), but he always deferred to Carini due to the man’s vast experience and steadfast style.

So, it was appropriate that Gino has Carini’s picture on his office wall, while having no other pictures, not even of his devoted wife and brilliant daughter. (though there may be a picture of them on this cluttered desk)

Carini passed away a long time ago. But seeing his picture on the wall reminded me of how faithful Gino has also been to our friendship.  Though good times and bad, more family than friend. Always there to help, advise, console, even during times that were not so good for him.

That evening, as I thought of Gino and his life, his successes and disasters, one thing remained firm and fast in his life, his devotion to family and friends.  His acknowledgement that his success was due to people like his mentor Carini and his wife and now, also, his daughter.

So now, in his third car dealership, and probably, hopefully, his most successful, his humility is evident for all to see.

Because whose name is on the building? Not his, as it was in the past; but that of his mentor and friend, Carini.

Carini Auto in Pordenone, Italy
Carini Auto in Pordenone, Italy

Had Donald Trump had even an iota of this humility, he would be our next President.




A Few Pictures of the famous town of Budoia

The Apls above Budoia
The Apls above Budoia
My little Via Pozzi in Budoia
My little Via Pozzi in Budoia
The church of Budoia
The church of Budoia
The Garden behind the Wall
The Garden behind the Wall
Another View of Via Pozzi
Another View of Via Pozzi
I drove to Sacile this morning and yesterday too. I do have responsibilities you know!
The Garden the Day After
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It’s tough life; but someone has to do it.

Another View from Budoia on a Cloudy Day
Another View from Budoia on a Cloudy Day

Dauntless 2015

2015 starts for me like a blast from the past.  Meaning, for the first time in a very long time, I don’t have this tremendous weight pressing on me.  The challenges of the last 15 years have been overcome, and the fact that I am writing this while in Ireland, on Dauntless, means we have been successful.

Only in the last week however has this really sunk in, though maybe sunk is not the best term.

Since the end of our Atlantic Passage, the last four months have been a blur of activity.  Since September, I have traveled to and around:

  1. England,
  2. the Netherlands,
  3. driven up and down the coast of the United States, from NYC to Florida and back, then
  4. flew to Denver, then
  5. Seattle and Mt. Rainier, returning to
  6. NYC for a day, before
  7. flying back to Ireland for a day before
  8. flying to Italy for three weeks.

And I’m not even a Medallion on Delta Airlines anymore for the first time in 25 years!

Finally, by the third week in Italy, under the loving care of long of friends wo are more than even family, I was able to decompress and appreciate just how much we have done in the past few years.

And even take a breath.  Getting back to Dauntless this past Saturday at 3:30 a.m. and finding her in the exact same mess I left her in so suddenly weeks earlier, was a relief.  Just as I tried not to worry about the consequence of an engine failure in the middle of the Atlantic, I also tried not to worry about the Boat, while I was thousands of miles away and there was nothing to be done in any case.

It worked, but as the Dublin to Waterford bus got ever closer in a windy, rain storm, my imagination did start to become hyper active.  So it was with great relief to find her, all as I left her, with no vagrants living aboard, still afloat and the lights still on (signifying the fridge and freezer were getting power).

As I was flogging my little rental car driving from Budoia to Bergamo for my late evening flight, I thought about the last months and all we have accomplished.  A real feeling of contentment came over me.  Knowing that even getting all of the traveling done this past fall, now allows me to concentrate on the projects that need to get done in the coming months.  Maybe I’ll even put away the crap that has been in the second cabin since before we left the U.S.!  That’s the real reason we have guests on board, it forces me to clean and organize.

It’s now Monday morning, 12 January 2015, and as I write this one of my projects is already done.  I replaced my 120v radio with an automotive one of 12 volts.  This stereo system was the last thing that was demanding I run the power inverter, to turn my 12 volt battery power to 120 v household current.  Since the radio only used about 1 amp, but the inverter used 3 amps, it constantly irked my sense of efficiency.

And with every project completion, I learn a little more about the boat and every time I think I understand something, I learn a bit more.  I have become a far more resourceful person in the last few years.  In large part due to the Trawler Forum and Cruisers Forum; on Trawler Forum in particular, I have learned so much, but one of the most important lessons is there is seldom one right answer.  If I were to ask an innocuous question like, “While tied to the dock this winter, should I start the engine periodically?”  The answers would range from: “What, you have an engine” to “What, you turned off your engine?”  But this range of responses is helpful in helping me see there are always many solutions to any particular issue.  It helps my open minded brain be even more open minded.

But I still find I do many things two or even three times before getting it just right. For example, yesterday, I pulled two cables thru the boat, from the engine room to the pilot house, quite pleased with myself, until I realized that I had a three wire cable I should have used.  So after ruminating about that for an hour, I decided to replace one of the wires with the new one, and leave the one unused for now. Finally getting into my cozy bed at midnight, I realized that I needed to change the on/off power source, which I did promptly this morning, but not before moving the wrong wire at first and wondering why nothing was working.

I’m quite entertaining at times.

Another Witch Bites the Dust

You have to marvel at a culture that while is one of the hearts of Christianity, celebrates such a pagan custom in such a big way, Pan e Vin, as it is called in the Veneto.  This was one of probably 5,000 fires (falò) last night throughout Northern Italy.

Falò di Dardago
Falò di Dardago

It’s what I’ve always loved about Italy and the Italians, their ability to bow to the institutions, while living their lives as they see fit.  Thus the lowest birth rate in Europe.

As America becomes ever more about rules, the fight to whom writes those rules and intolerance for those who break them, Europe and Italy in particular, are still about life.  Life as we have always lived it, for thousands of years, well before the church or various political institutions came into being and decided they know better how we should live.  They tolerate those institutions and yes, even give respect to the new gods, yet know better than to clutter their lives with the minutiae of this and that, and understand that just as the old gods were replaced, so will be the new.

This tolerance is what first attracted me to Italy almost 40 years ago and as America has become more intolerant to virtually everything, except for lawyers, Italy and Europe continue living life as they have always, and thus the witch got burned last night, so we are safe for another year.

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Falò di Dardago
Falò di Dardago

Italy, Germans, the Euro, the Lire and the Road to Moscow*

*Al Stewart’s haunting song about the last time the Germans were in charge. Now you’re asking yourself, what does this have to do with Dauntless and how are events from 75 years ago applicable to today.  Having Dauntless in Europe, gives me the freedom to visit my friends in Italy at a more leisurely pace than any time in the past.  Besides drinking Prosecco, I have the time to think and observe.  It’s quite nice really, but I’m seeing many disquieting signs and the fact that I am at this moment, sitting on the couch, writing this while wearing a tee shirt, a turtle neck, a sweater and a vest, while wondering if I could type with gloves on, says more than I could ever explain about the anemic Italian economy.


Driving from my friend’s house on the outskirts of Treviso to the little mountain village of Budoia, is a route I have taken countless times in the last 38 years.  It’s a route that provides a lot of variety, from the large factories, stores and shops along the main Venezia to Pordenone state road to the road that skirts the mountains from just north of Conegliano and passes through towns, each with its town center and stores common to almost every town.

This trip however has been an eye opener:   shuttered factories, vacant parking lots, closed stores.  During the last 20 years, I have probably come to Italy almost 20 times and seen the same towns  and roads.  By not living here, it is easier to see the gradual changes that have taken place.  Even in a Province like Treviso, probably one of the richest in the country, one sees vacant stores and prices that hare far higher for virtually everything than one would pay in Germany or the Netherlands.

This annual snapshot  shows a continual decline, only stopped at times with a leveling, a plateau, but not real growth. The advent of the Euro has locked in this decline, but the last few years have seen an acceleration of this decline.

Oh my friends are hopeful, yes, things are tight, but they will get better… it’s a refrain I hear every year.

I on the other hand, see a picture, not so bright and getting even darker.  I’ve never seen so many vacant shops as I see today, but in those vacant shops and factories, I also see the Euro and its impact on the places south of the Alps.  The refrain throughout Europe is the Germans, that altruistic lot; do not mind paying large subsidizes to help their less fortunate neighbors.  But in those vacant places, I see the real motive; whatever Germany must pay to keep the southern littoral in the Euro is worth it, as it eliminates European competition.

Budoia Rooftops
Budoia Rooftops

Having close friends in Germany also, and visiting there only a bit less than Italy, I see another side of the story.  I wonder why prices are actually lower in Germany and the Netherlands, yet their average salaries are much higher than in Italy.  In the old days, I did most of my shopping in Italy, with Germany second and the Netherlands third, and that was based on price.  While the quality of goods was a bit better in Germany, especially clothes, the prices were significantly higher.

With the advent of the Euro, everything got turned on its head.  I have not done any significant shopping in Italy in 15 years.  Prices are totally out of whack; whatever it is, I know I will find it cheaper in Holland or now, Ireland.  Italy is also flooded with items made in China.  It’s become the Wal-Mart of Europe. So now the land is flooded with LED light bulbs that inexplicitly, turn off for a second or two every couple of hours.  Houses are heated or not, to an ever lower temperature.  Every few years I must add an extra layer.  Soon I’ll be as tasty as a 6 layer cake.

Here is a little story I first heard on CNBC’s Squawk Box I think it’s worth repeating:

 Michelle Caruso-Cabrera recounted the comments made by Margaret Thatcher  in the 1990’s. Ms. Thatcher was saying how she had asked the Italian Prime Minister why he thought joining the Euro zone was going to help Italy? He responded that it was the only way for Italians to have any fiscal discipline.

I had not planned on recounting this story until one of my Italian friends used the Euro as the same excuse. But I wonder, what fiscal discipline have the Italians shown in the last 15 years?

In fact, to a certain extent, the Italian bond market certainly does not reflect the coming train wreck and has contributed to spending that cannot be sustained, well, it can be as long as the Germans are there to help!

This brings us full circle back to Al Stewart’s haunting song, Road to Moscow. The last time the Germans were calling the shots, the Italians lost an entire division of Alpini on the eastern front, never to be seen again. In this region of Italy, the Veneto, it’s not been forgotten.  Who knows if the Italians will ever have the discipline to cut the waste and fat that so many in this society benefit from, but one thing I have figured out in my life, it’s far better to suffer the consequences of one’s own mistakes, than those of others.

So, let’s see if the Italians can be their own masters and become competitive again, while they won’t be cannon fodder, they will be Euro fodder.