A new way of looking at things
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things.” –  Henry Miller

Curt Veeneman, Ph.D.


Italy Rediscovered Part 1

10 February 2012

It was a setup.  I mean the way I ended up traveling to Italy again this last time.  I had been there a few times before, but it had been several years ago and I really had no plans for going there again soon.

It began one January at Green Apple Books in San Francisco, where I happened to be standing in front of some shelves while perusing a book.  I was initially unaware of its existence, but a large volume, standing on the floor and propped up against the shelves, gently tipped over and came to rest on my right foot.



I didn’t stop reading.  I merely balanced on my left leg, flamingo-like, and tipped the book back up against the shelves with my right foot.  “. . . situated on the axis of contraries within the semiotic square of veridictory modalities . . . ,” I muttered at a slightly audible level in order to maintain my train of thought in reading while performing the delicate maneuver.

A moment later the tome came to rest on my foot again.  As I was still engrossed in my reading, I long-sufferingly propped the book back up again with the toe of my shoe.

“. . . this thus excludes any relation (or any homologation) with an external referent.. . . ,” I continued reading, by this point distracted by one particularly unrelenting external referent.  Because now the book on the floor insisted on finding my foot, tumbling again, seemingly of its own accord.  I stopped reading and in exasperation leaned down, picked up the offending volume, and began searching for a place on a shelf where it might think about staying out of mischief.

Whereupon the words presented themselves:  Michelin – Italy:  Touring and Motoring Atlas.  Was I reading just way too much Umberto Eco. . . or was someone up there trying to tell me something?  In any case, I bought the atlas.



Now that I think about it, the stratagem must have started even before that.  I recall looking around our house earlier that month and noticing a lot of calendars — of the wall, desk, and appointment variety — with pictures of gondolas.  My wife Colleen had gone to an annual calendar sale that year (at another book store) and arriving late, found that Italian calendars were all that were left.  They seem to print so many of them every year, I rued.



No, even before that, in the very first hours of the year, there was the portentous “Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo [Merry Christmas and Happy New Year]" email greeting from Thea and Eligio.  Their recent acquaintance in particular resulted from a concinnity in this story that I still find difficult to believe.

A couple of months prior to said email greeting, Colleen and I were in France and decided on our last evening in Paris to go to a fun, primitif chic place called Nos Ancêtres les Gaulois on Île-Saint-Louis, where we had in fact dined seven years previously.

I should mention that on that previous occasion (seven years earlier), two women chanced to sit at the table next to ours.  Eventually, our tables being so close, we struck up a conversation and managed to communicate with one of the women, who is from Paris, using both French and English.  Her friend, however, who was visiting from Italy, spoke neither, and I ended up conversing with her all evening in Italian.

At the time, I remember contemplating the incongruity of speaking Italian almost exclusively throughout my last evening in Paris.  I imagined at that moment gazing across the Seine river only to see that some cosmic René Magritte force had replaced the Eiffel tower with the leaning tower of Pisa, with Parisians standing around making comments like,

“Q’est-ce que c’est?”

“What’s that?”

“Je ne sais pas — et je viens de m’accoutumer à l'asperge de métal.”

“I don’t know — and I was just getting used to the metal asparagus [Eiffel Tower]."

"Elle penche du côté de l’Italie.”

"It’s leaning toward Italy.”

“La tour est-elle de Pise?”

“Is it the Leaning Tower of Pisa?”

“Incroyable!  Et après? Pizza?!”

“Unbelievable.  What next?  Pizza?!”

“Quelle horreur!”

“The horror!”

Jump ahead seven years, to the very same restaurant, and who sits next to us? Again our tables were close, and when I asked (in French) where our dining neighbors were from . . . let’s just say that I was beginning to see a pattern emerge here.  Ancora gli Italiani!  As Thea and Eligio knew little French and no English, we spoke in Italian the entire evening and had a magnificent time.



Could it have been any more obvious?  The whole déjà vu thing — technically, déjà entendu, as I was hearing Italian again, at the same restaurant again, on my last evening in Paris again — and, interestingly, they mentioned that they had been to the same restaurant also seven years previously, it being her anniversaire (birthday — one of the few French words that she had used).

And so, by the time the Italian road atlas tapped my shoulder — uh, foot — in the bookstore, I realized that it was a perfect setup and I, the hapless bystander.

I immediately began making plans to go to Italy.



The photographs used in this blog, unless otherwise noted, are by Curt Veeneman.

Related Posts (Italy)

Who started Travel Con Brio®?

Composer, scholar (in music theory, ethnomusicology, and music history), performer, educator, conference organizer, and entrepreneur, Curt Veeneman received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

His additional interests, subsumed in wonder at the beauty of God’s entire creation, include art (he was an art major before the balance tipped ever-so-slightly toward music), literature, architecture, photography, mathematics, history, languages, cultural studies, world-cuisines, and, of course, travel.
photograph by Colleen Veeneman

In founding Travel Con Brio®, Curt was eager to synthesize all of these interests to create imaginative, stirring, and enlightening experiences to be enjoyed by both young and mature travelers alike.  The tours that he organizes reflect his extensive travel experience and familiarity with the art, music and culture of numerous countries, with each tour being richly enhanced by local experts.

Curt and his wife Colleen live near San Francisco.  They have three children.

What is this blog about?

Culled from a number of trips abroad, this blog compiles various experiences in an attempt to reveal the cultural nuances of places visited on Travel Con Brio® tours.  Sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, Curt’s observations are intended to describe and appreciate the personalities, character, idiosyncrasies, conventions, mood, and ambiance of places visited.  Contemplations of topics ranging from language and customs to climate and bureaucracies are freely offered alongside art and music reviews.  Any cultural issue, if illuminating, can become the focus.

These musings on the personal impact of various cultures are offered so that you, as a traveler, may compare and contrast your own impressions with them.  Do you share a similar interest?  Do you agree with a specific conclusion?  Or is there a fine distinction to be made regarding a particular point?  You are invited to leave your comments; please, however, be respectful of other readers.

And last, a caveat:  flukes, asymmetries, and twists of fate may suggest more about Curt than about any foreign culture under discussion.

What are some of Curt Veeneman’s musical activities?

As a composer, Curt has spoken and/or his works have been performed throughout the United States, in Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Bulgaria.  He is the winner of several awards, including the ASCAP-Hubbell Award for composition.

Curt Veeneman's compositions include Les Cloches, inspired by the life of Joan of Arc (premièred by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra), The Wiry Concord for 5-string banjo, dulcimer, cimbalom, harp, harpsichord, piano, viola and percussion (available on Capstone Records), Mountain Thyme, based on Bulgarian folk music (recorded by the Sofia Symphony Orchestra), Alcuin's Riddle, for orchestra and 15 soloists who cross the “audience-river,” Hommage for voice, flute, 'cello, piano, and percussion, Windmills, computer music featuring sampled wind turbines on California's Altamont Pass, and Pneuma for solo flute, (also available on Capstone Records).

Of this last work, the following comments have been made:  “J’ai beaucoup apprécié le lyrisme et la rigueur de Pneuma pour flûte de Curt Veeneman”  (I greatly appreciate the lyricism and the precision of Curt Veeneman’s Pneuma for flute) —Gérard Condé, Le Monde, Paris, 29 August 1996; “a well written piece”  — Robert Dick, flutist, author of The Other Flute; “it is quite exciting!” — Molly Alicia Barth of eighth blackbird; and “strong and imaginative” — Jules Langert, San Francisco Classical Voice, 13 March 2006.

As a new music promoter, he directed the new music ensemble Sonor Borealis at University of Alberta, Canada, and founded and directed the concert series, PACIFIC MARKET: Fresh Music From Around The World, at the University of the Pacific.  As a performer, Curt Veeneman is recorded on Music and Arts.

Other Threads in This Blog: