Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Duce's Hotel

"Let's go and see Mussolini's hotel," Giovanni said when we were planning a motorcycle ride together. Huh? And indeed there it is, the bedroom used 56 times by the Duce ('leader' from the Latin dux, ducis) on his way from Rome to his home town in Emilia Romagna.

We dropped Layne off in the regional capital of Perugia and got going.

Our first stop after we men consulted our paper GPS was to head to the ancient city of Gubbio to stretch our legs.

We wanted to make the Palazzo dei Consoli was still standing after 800 years. It was.

Seen from the rear and underneath you get a better idea of what an architectural and engineering feat it was to build such structures on a slope.

After that hike up and down vertical streets we got riding into the mountains and we weren't alone as we discovered when we paused for a break.

The river and the gorge were our goal.

I had never previously heard of the Furlo Pass in the Marche and Giovanni hadnt been here for decades but other people have been busy.

We rode the gorge for a few miles and curves alongside the river, which has been dammed to make electricity, then we decided to turn back.

This was the longest traffic light I met in Italy. Giovanni had got off ahead and I was left to cool my heels for what seemed forever. However the good news was in could pull around the excruciatingly slow Dutch car thatched been holding me up by sightseeing and driving at the same time.

Back to e village in then pass where we were to have the worlds most expensive lunch.

It was a great ride under a warm sun with the unusually cool summer air that has hit Italy this summer.

They call it the Furlo Antico but itbis still known as...

...the Duce's hotel. "Hospitality prize for the Duce's hotel" reads the newspaper cutting.

It was magnificent dining room where we intrepid motorcyclists repaired for refreshment. The Duce was an avid supporter of motorcycle gatherings, and I remember my great uncle telling me about his trips on group rides on his 175cc bike organized by his workplace at the Terni steelworks where he was an accountant.

The rock on the hill was bombed by the allies during World War Two. Why bomb an empty mountain?

Because it was cut to resemble the Duce's features, that's why.

This picture of Benito Mussolini's wife, Donna Rachele shows the mountain before it was carved. She was a fairly tragic figure who married her husband before his climb to fame (via the Socialist party at first weirdly enough) and stuck by him through the Fascist years despite his known womanizing. She survived his execution, alongside his long time mistress Clara Petacci, on the road to safety in Switzerland. Though Donna Rachele and their children never made it to Switzerland she was allowed to live out her long life in their family home in Emilia Romagna. Her granddaughter is now running the rump of the Fascist Party and so it goes in Italy, land of second chances.

I suppose this is something of an ironic shrine to the man who led the country from 1922 to 1943 into a disastrous war that he himself knew was not going to end well. Yet he was no Hitler despite the fact the Nazi Fuhrer liked and admired the Duce. Fascism in Italy up to 1943 was a grossly corrupt way of rewarding stupid incompetent and petty people who abused their power as such people do which would have made me an anti-fascist had I lived then. Too often I find people speak of nazism and fascism in the same breath as through they were the same. Had Mussolini stayed out of the war like Franco, the Cold War might have looked quite different. But as it was he didn't and much misery ensued for all. Ego is a terrible thing just watch the current political posturing in Washington to get a nice illustration.

This decoration contains empty eggs Mussolini sucked dry. He believed eggs increased virility, which goes to show he wasn't that smart.

We ordered omelette truffles for lunch, not in homage to the Duce's notions of virility, but because it was the cheapest item on the menu. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

They were quite delicious and we lingered and and talked as one does. We talked about the economy and the good and the bad of Fascism. My mother hated growing up a Fascist, they made her wear black school uniforms, and she hated black and they made her learn to use her right-hand instead of the left even though she was born a left-hander. She was fierce in protecting my right to grow up in school as a left hander.

Giovanni wishes Italy were more disciplined, though he himself has no Fascist yearnings. He's not particularly political but he can see how things could be better if people pulled together, much as I do in the US. Meanwhile we had pudding to eat, he had boring ice cream and I had a nouvelle cuisine apple pie which was delicious. At €69 ($100) for lunch it should have been.

We asked to see the Duce's room and the waiter (who struck me as being a poof therefore not acceptable to Fascists who were boring narrow minded people) was very accommodating and reverently led us to The Room.

They had a conversation about History and the Passage of Time and the dark shade of Mussolini's taste in furniture while I hovered about taking pictures. The room is available and other occupants have seen fit to scratch their usual egotistical graffiti in the walls which I think is in gross bad taste as always.

Then we went to the terrace to digest our lunch.

"Even though it was a light lunch," Giovanni mused, "I feel quite full." I would not call it terribly light. I enjoyed it.

I also enjoyed the riding to get back to my wife in Perugia who had a very good day of her own, walking, checking out museums and people watching. She did not get to see the eggs the Duce sucked. That was a treat reserved for we mens.

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Carrara Marble And Lard

The guide books warn travelers that from the freeway the mountains look as they are snow covered but the reality still comes as a surprise.

This rather odd statue at the entrance to Carrara reveals the truth. The riches of this land are in the marble.

Carrara Marble is what every prince and potentate wants in his palace.

And the closer you get the more you understand that these mountains have been mined since Roman times. We drove through Carrara to find our way closer up the ravaged hills to the actual mines.

We found here what we had looked for in so many other places, a simple meal with a decent view.

The lady offered lard but we wrinkled our noses and went for sandwiches of regular dried meat. They were indubitably delicious but the taster plate she gave us was intriguing.

The slivers of pork fat were delicious, slightly spicy and clean on the palate. She was right! Lard tastes better than salame or prosciutto. Who knew?

We did now. So much did we appreciate her local specialty the lady offered to show us the process of making palatable lard in vats made of marble, naturally.

The stuff sits in these vats for several months marinating in a pungent mixture of salt rosemary cinnamon and other spices

Apparently it will never make it to the US owing to USDA regulations too costly for small producers to meet. However this stuff is exported all over Europe.

To try it yourself drive through Carrara up the hill to Colonnata.

And there it sits....

The home to the other white marble.

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July TwentyEighth #3

"Sail ho!" by GarytheTourist. Regular programming resumes in a few days but thank you Gary for letting me post your pictures and caption them for my blog this past month.

July TwentyEighth #2

Photo by GarytheTourist on drugs apparently. Or is that photoshop? I, Conchscooter, will be back, clean and sober on August First.

Motorcycles I Have Seen

Not a mirage, but a bright pink Vespa 125, this one spotted in the Tuscan town of Lucca though we saw several others on our trips.

As we traveled around I took pictures of motorcycles and scooters and the odd three wheeler for which Italy is famous among riders. My own ride was this BMW 1200ST, an air cooled twin cylinder sport tourer that I enjoyed more than any other bike Giovanni has rented for me over the years. At 110 horsepower it has more than enough oomph but unlike the water cooled four cylinder bikes of years past it felt lighter and easier to handle on the road.

I have always had a yearning for a Moto Guzzi, but when I was a kid I could only afford smaller motorcycles and in the 350cc range, Moto Guzzi was outclassed by Moto Morini and MV Agusta so I never did own the infamous transverse v-twin. And with the current lack of dealers and support particularly in South Florida it doesn't look to be on the cards. This guy in Pollenza has no such worries.

I saw this one, Moto Guzzi's answer to the retro Bonneville in Orvieto and lust overcame me. Silly isn't it? My bike is faster more reliable and more comfortable.

There are a lot more Ducatis around like this one, ideal to slip through the traffic and winding mountain roads of the Republic of San Marino.

ATGATT anyone? No wonder I find the 'all the gear' crowd in North America tedious and pedantic. Seen in Carrara.

Another feature of street life in Italy are the public fountains, some are artesian and flow all the time, others have faucets. They are left over from the time when piped tap water was a rarity in Italy. I am 53 but I remember when hardly anyone in the village had water in their homes. We were the wealthy family and we did but we also had cisterns under the roof that were filled automatically during the two hours a day in the summer that the mains water was turned on. Conserving water was a feature of life back then and considering how things are going may well be soon again. I wonder how my middle class American neighbors will take to water rationing in the twilight of American exceptionalism?

I always drink from public fountains for old times' sake and because it's cheaper than bottled water and when I looked up there was an elderly Sportster looking out of place in Piediluco.

Introducing the Ape the three wheeler produced by Piaggio who are the manufacturers of Vespas, and these days my beloved Moto Guzzi as well. The Ape (pro: aah-pay) means 'bee' where Vespa means 'wasp' and its the work horse of lower middle class Italian laborers. It has a scooter engine usually around 175cc though they make a moped model with only 50cc which can be driven without a license. They have handlebars, a bench seat a windshield wiper and a hand brake and they come in a zillion different formats, flatbeds, covered and tarped.

With gas at €1.60 a liter, or ten bucks a gallon, these machines are economical especially compared to a V8 pick up.

Another Moto Guzzi that I never get to see in Key West, the Norge 1200 tourer, which Giovanni likes quite a bit himself as the rival to his BMW RT.

He says one doesn't see many Moto Guzzis on the street in Italy but I saw a ton including this Nevada 350 cruiser, a style I am not actually very fond of paradoxically.

And of course the classic, perfectly restored elderly Vespa as daily rider seen in Gubbio. I love this picture taken in a hurry as we were about to ride off.

Giovanni's eight valve R1200 RT tourer was described in Motociclismo as wide as a car and agile as a bicycle. He is struggling to imagine replacing it with the ridiculously overwrought K1600GTL. I think he's an idiot and I told him so. This is then perfect bike for him.

Another workhorse Ape. My nephew used to race his 50cc Ape but I have never driven one, and my few rides as a passenger have left me enamored of a machine that doubtless doesn't deserve my wistfulness!

This guy in Deruta caught me admiring his restored Vespa. "I did everything except the paint," he told me with well deserved pride.

Oh god another Moto Guzzi. I passed him on my BMW going up the hill out of Terni, and I got far enough ahead to stop and pull out my camera as he came chugging up to the village of Cesi. He slowed and stopped as I clicked away. He was 18 when he bought it brand new, his Moto Guzzi Falcone 500, the flat single produced in one form or another from 1922 until 1978. He bought it in homage to the racers of his youth who won riding this machine.

I told him I wanted to buy one in 1976, a Moto Guzzi I could afford brand new. My friends put me off (Giovanni!) saying the new Falcone was old and slow and a bad idea. I got a sport bike instead. Silly me. It wasn't until the Yamaha SR500 came into my life in 1979 that I finally got to enjoy my Big Single.

Gas stations are a feature of life when you ride 1500 miles in ten days. €20 a tank didn't seem so bad until I realized it was three times what I'd pay to fill my Bonneville at the Ramrod Key Shell.

This Yamaha is an example,of the type of basic Universal Japanese Motorcycle not imported into the US. These bikes offer easy city transport, a step up from a modest scooter with touring and sport riding abilities as well. In the US lane splitting and slicing traffic lanes isn't allowed and the utility of a fast commuter is lost. The art of adding chrome and useless "personalization" is decidedly not an Italian trait. These bikes were bought to ride.

I loved parking the funky three wheeled MP3 at angles, locking the front wheels and walking away. No side stand needed. In the two days I had it I didn't figure out locking the wheels as we rolled up to red lights, it was always feet down for me at stops.

The same argument against scooters prevents their best use in American cities. In Italy the scooter is the only sensible way to get around in a hurry. Buses and even bicycles can't keep up with a well ridden scooter slicing and dicing traffic. Note the universal windshield and top boxes. These riders ride not out of scooter passion like Americans fondly imagine but because they have to. Most of these people would rather be in cars if they could afford the time and expense and hassle of parking and fuel and insurance and taxes and fees paid to drive cars in city centers.

Riding clothes are work clothes. Helmets are required these days, and no half helmets or pudding basins allowed. Not wearing a helmet could lead to confiscation of the motorcycle.

A tour to the Gran Sasso d'Italia is for fun.

"As wide as a car..."

A Triumph Adventurer rumbled by, making a noise peculiar to triples. I saw a surprising number of Triumphs on the streets, far outnumbering Moto Guzzis.

Free scooter and motorcycle parking outside every city. This was Giglio Castello.

And then we close with a calesse, based on the recently superseded horse carriages, at the Vespa Museum of Pollenza, in the Marche.

I was encouraged to ride by my mother who didn't take enough risks in her short life. Surrounded by these machines it's hard to imagine quitting before I absolutely have to.

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