Would It Satisfy Ya?

After getting cleaned up some twenty-six years ago, I was in New York hanging out, much later than necessary, with a couple of A&R men from separate record companies. Their music interest was nearly identical, which seemed fine for camaraderie, but made situations difficult crossing swords signing the next multi-platinum band. The pair, one Brit and an American, were as usual post evenings out, after bands stopped playing, each comparing that night’s gigs over more tootski, alongside leftover booze. Both had half million dollar salaries (sounded like a fortune back then) which came with huge perks covering any and every expense in town or during frequent travel, domestic and abroad — first class five-star royal treatment.

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Tunes we know and love wouldn’t have been recorded had these two guys not signed who were previously starving musicians. I’ll be considerate not naming specific bands, to remain professional, staying confidential concerning certain notable patrons. If I included a well-known film title and group one of these A&R men compiled songs for, his identity would be blown — less hashtags for me, better for him.  

As dawn crept in, the more blitzed they got, came upping complaints regarding what gruelling jobs they had. Rockefeller Center corner offices overlooking St. Patrick’s Cathedral’s Neo-Gothic spires, 10am to 5pm schedules, hearing an average of four bands per night, seven nights a week. Extended cocktail lunches, car service, dinners, strip bars, and club door fees, if they weren’t on some band’s guest list, all reimbursed by their employer. Following an hour or so of what could possibly be the most overindulged drivel I’ve ever been privy to, felt comfortable enough interjecting novice advice.

“If hours seem too long at the office, travel getting old and nights out not fun anymore, why don’t you get studio musicians to create those elusive smash hits you spend days hoping demo tapes will sound like, afterward listening to even more atrocious music in dive bars?”

The two gazed at each other with dumbfounded faces, looks expressing, why didn’t we think of that? To make sure they heard me correctly, made key inquiries. I responded saying something close to, “You know just about every top musician for hire; do either of you really care about principles or is your main objective to procure seminal bands?” Instantly they agreed, high-fiving one another, exhilarated, stating mine was a fabulous suggestion.

Nine or so months later, the English guy was promoted Vice President to a new, well-funded independent label. Shortly thereafter, I visited those SoHo offices and got treated to a pre-release of the label’s first signing. That band was one we all know, however, not previously starving musicians; they were as I’d earlier recommended, hired guns.

Jeanette, LouLou and I occasionally receive MTV or VH1 at our Airbnb when passing through Southeast Asia, Mexico, or Europe. Ever so often we’ll catch that group my Vice President patron masterminded, yet enjoyed this band much more initially as their first two records were practically flawless. The female lead singer simply didn’t have what it takes for long shelf life; her appeal, for my taste, declined immensely gathering super-star-stadium acclaim.

The music industry changed drastically since Napster and wide internet useage. Six-figure A&R positions dried up, unearthing a killer band in 2017 is rather like trying to find water anywhere around Death Valley. Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren shattered music history establishing the Sex Pistols, former street urchins. Vivienne and Malcolm’s vision arrived experiencing a New York Dolls performance in London.

This not-so crazy formula still stands strong, it has for a long time. Any spirited entrepreneur, whether he’s jack-of-all-trades who develops a handyman squad partnered with Home Depot or Sally homemaker baking to die for sweets, could if they were inclined, apply similar theory rolling out highly sought-after businesses.

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Funny Money

With expedited passport in hand, it took stopping through checkpoints at SFO, Charles de Gaulle, Malpensa, Palermo and Amsterdam airports, back to San Francisco, onto Los Angeles before a keen Phoenix TSA official noticed I hadn’t signed mine two months earlier. I’m gonna leave this passport unsigned until someone forces me to sign it before arriving or departing their jurisdiction. The thing that annoys me isn’t so much this slip-up on my part, now turned study, it’s what little attention those pay who are hired to guard global borders. Of course my name isn’t Salman Abedi or anything close to it, however, I find slipshod border control quite alarming given terrorist bombings, slayings and current trending massacres using vehicles.

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After spending seven consecutive weeks in a country where women still shake out rugs over their balconies, alongside men demolishing concrete and stone buildings by sledge hammer, I know culture shock will hit perhaps harder than jet lag; which form it comes always startles me.

Bitcoin’s ferocious rival, Ethereum, was our recent post-European trips hot topic during this last Bay Area engagement. No one speaking about Ethereum could explain them thoroughly; although what’s absolutely certain is Ethereum’s market cap: 20 billion dollars following Google’s quasi-endorsement. Ethereum’s stock rose 2700% this year; my patron who purchased Ethereum shares mentioned his only regret was not buying a large enough position.

Food can be a way cultures clash, language also, fashion too, and in some respects, climate. Sicily doesn’t suffer third world poverty; most Sicilians get by better than many living in Vietnam and Mexico. Staggering wealth, alongside how one achieves financial independence, specifically stemming from Silicon Valley, versus those counting down the years before cashing Italian monthly pensions seems disproportionate. Obviously that woman beating the dusty rug didn’t attend Harvard nor did her sweaty laborer husband. In spite of this worn couple tirelessly toiling, they’ll never buy status donating 100 million dollars to any hospital; in return see that medical center renamed with theirs emblazoned across its facade.

We didn’t necessarily need to travel 6,500 miles to realize upon return what a scale-tipping boom San Francisco continues holding. We could’ve driven 90 miles east to Modesto, come back, heard the Ethereum chatter, quickly logged into our Ameritrade account, snatching as many shares possible, comprehending cryptocurrency is a concept no one I spoke with could actually clarify. When I asked my brilliant patron, a founding member of an elite social media site-cum-venture capitalist, if he believed Ethereum’s stock could reach the 1,200 dollar range, he nonchalantly replied, “yes,” not “no” or “I don’t know.”

Psychedelic engineers inspired by Burning Man’s playa are under the assumption driverless cars are our future. Yet if I reported this opinion to the tirelessly toiling couple in Sicily, they would both laugh and tell me I’m pazzia. My business absorbs a 2.75 to 3.5% loss using Square, however, the ease of receiving our patron’s payment is worth Square’s processing fees. Few patrons use cash these days, less write checks. Half-joking, I inquired whether my wildly successful patron would mind compensating his Jehrcut with a few shares of Ethereum; he grinned — before leaving said, “See you next time,” shortly thereafter completed our transaction online with Jeanette.

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A Beautiful Thing

Taking my mother to Sicily twenty-two years ago for her seventieth birthday, as it turned out, was a dual transcendent gift. Mom would’ve been ninety-three this July. Had I left her here, Jean might’ve still been alive to see LouLou become the remarkable teenager she is today. Jean, bless her heart did hang on, but went to heaven when LouLou was only two months and six days old.

FB_IMG_1495101159374Seniors live longer in Sicily. They’re not out playing mahjong, golf nor tennis, nothing of the sort. What I do witness are similar situations: eighty-two year old Enza on an aluminum step ladder washing her wood shutters; same way she’s done for eight years I know of, probably sixty before that. Yesterday morning an old man wearing dark brown baggy trousers, wrinkled plaid shirt, rumpled slate sport coat and soiled hat was unlocking his trunk on the port putting just-caught fish away before driving off; he must’ve been eighty-seven or so. There’s no shortage of smokers here, though I don’t see old folks with lit cigarettes dangling from their lips. Walking anywhere in Castellammare requires strong legs and core; hills are simply unavoidable.

Geraci, alongside other Italian bottled mineral water goes down as if it flowed from a creek in the Italian Alps. Local town fountains here are ice cold and delicious. My grandmother, Anna D’Angelo washed her clothes in one we drink from right off Via Ferrantelli, where she lived a hundred years ago prior to reaching Ellis Island. When sipping from Anna’s fountain, I sometimes picture Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Nellie as kids, splashing each other while Grandma scrubbed away.

Tenacious Sicilians won’t back down; Byzantines and Carthaginians tried to conquer Sicily a thousand years ago; fat chance, wasn’t ever gonna happen. Occasionally Sicily’s ancient stone block walls are adorned by a flowering plant squeezing its way out from well-earned cracks. Where we’re staying this trip, streets wouldn’t even be considered alleys elsewhere; it’s the oldest section of Castellammare near Il Castello and Chiesa Madrice. These streets were designed with donkeys, horses and wagons in mind, not cars, Mercedes-Benz Smart car excluded. I can almost stretch over to touch the terrace across Via Sarcona, yet I’d undoubtedly fall, creating a ghastly mess four flights below.

It was like pulling teeth getting Jean to accept my gift. Independent as her mother, Mom hardly ever said yes to any kind of help, didn’t matter if she needed it or not. Once we finally got here, I was chopped liver; Jean stayed engaged in conversation with whoever said buongiorno or buonasera. I’d often stand aside waiting twenty minutes while Jean chatted as if she’d known this stranger her entire life. Initially I felt rejected — hoping to find out what this gabfest was all about, made the mistake of interrupting Jean, tapped inquiring, “Mom, what is she saying?” Delivering a convincing whack, Jean struck my shoulder to reprimand me, adding, “zittiti,” Sicilian’s fun expression for be quiet.

Our first morning stroll here started at the west entrance of Piazza Petrolo, overlooking a late August glistening Mediterranean Sea. We meandered across marble pavers, eventually arriving near Chiesa Madrice. Jean did not want to go inside. What I didn’t realize in those few seconds, my mother was preoccupied by an emotional thought — this church presumably was where Anna went to hear mass. When I did get Jean to go inside Chiesa Madrice, she became the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, quickly turned and hurried outside. It’s difficult putting two and two together during confusing moments, why did she seem so petrified? “Mom, where are you going? Let’s go back inside; please, we came all this way.” “What’s wrong with you? Can’t you see they’re in the middle of mass, we shouldn’t be in there right now.” “Don’t be silly Mom, it’s a church, everybody’s always welcome.” My not always cooperative mother could find nothing to disagree with, followed me back inside amid high mass, complete with mystical smoldering frankincense, myrrh, benzoin and storax — Catholicism’s pontifical blend. We sat in silence for a little while; Jean partially happy to be inside this church Anna prayed, though was so struck by another curious thought, still in the dark — where exactly in Castellammare did her mother live? Ten minutes after service concluded, the elderly priest who had been saying mass introduced himself. He and Jean, eye to eye, upright at 4-foot-11, their years too parallel. He escorted us toward a doorway behind the altar of Chiesa Madrice’s inner sanctum. Speaking in Italian, he glossed over the history of his church; during which time placed each fingertip together, thumb included, over a cupped palm, chest high — dignified and proud.

Fourteen years later on a sultry August evening, I saw that same elderly priest, although without my mother. Jeanette, LouLou and I were standing in the Piazza Madrice witnessing a candlelit procession: Madonna was being escorted from Chiesa Madrice on shoulder-borne palanquin, carried through town onto an awaiting boat at Castellammare’s port. Four human magnets — Jeanette, LouLou and I pulled toward this priest, he too seemingly swooned right into our arms. He presented himself as Monsignor Navarra; reminding us to trill the double r’s, afterward gleamed listening to our proper pronunciation of his name. Without speaking any English he suggested we visit him at his house some evening around five before six o’clock mass. LouLou’s cheek then rested on the Monsignor’s chest when he embraced her while standing.

Each year since we’d drop by at least twice during our seven week stays; he’d shuffle across his slick stone floor to retrieve a vintage New York souvenir serving tray stacked with napkins, four glasses, spoons, orange soda, and nocciola gelato. Monsignor Navarra was born inside this house, eighty-nine years ago, on the northwest corner of Piazza Madrice, feet from where “Poppa” as I call him, devoted his life following seminary studies in Turin. A walk-through of Monsignor’s house, where he lives alone, could easily take up an hour. Monsignor’s interior staircase has royal appeal: marble steps with beveled edges, uncommonly shallow, having generous depth — an ornate iron railing gently swerves leading onto the next floor, four in total. Poppa’s office is stacked with thick novels and leather-bound theology books; the faintest remnant of musty patchouli lingers, a sable color plume protrudes from his pen cannister.

Last year Monsignor’s body contracted, much more than recent years, as if arthritis had taken over. From a distance it was difficult to see Poppa driving his beloved beige 1960s Cinquecento; he could barely be seen looking above his steering wheel. Monsignor Navarra was inching along outside with a neighbor last week. He had on all black: vestment with a zillion cloth buttons neck to toe (street clothing underneath) floor length overcoat, handknit extra-long-loose weave scarf, and English driving cap. Castellammare’s temperature hovered seventy-five degrees that day; Jeanette, LouLou and I were wearing summer attire, as were most others in town. Last Friday LouLou’s cheek easily kissed Poppa’s ear while they were standing next to each other.

It wasn’t entirely clear through translation, however, Monsignor’s neighbor, Elena, part-time caregiver these last eight years informed us he had slipped on the divine staircase injuring his head. Poppa’s driving rights were revoked; he’s presently living on the ground floor. This morning we saw Elena at the market, she explained Monsignor Navarra was receiving medical attention at home, but wasn’t being a model patient; he kept removing his intravenous drip, Elena’s reassurance closed saying we’d be able to visit him dopo domani.

Three years ago, Poppa heard my concerns regarding the melanoma tumor in my leg. Seeing I was visibly shaken, Monsignor held my right hand, folded it, surrounded mine with his, smiled inciting, “coraggio et fede.” Courage and faith: a pair of imposing words I’ll not forget when adversity crosses my path.

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Buon Appetito!

It’s true hearing this in America, “Sicilian recipes don’t taste the same when I try to make them at home.” Whenever I attempt to reproduce Sicilian dishes in New York, South Beach, San Francisco or Los Angeles they never quite measure up. Eating at an Italian restaurant after being jaded by Sicily’s fare seems lackluster. I wouldn’t even trust Joe’s on Avenue U in Sheepshead Bay. Comparing Sicilian cuisine to Italian, for me, forevermore ranks Italy’s eatables a distant second place. Italian flavors fall flat, Sicilian meals are brighter, less reserved; not only dining al fresco more months each year, courses hold sharper accents using far fresher ingredients. Regional frantoio extra virgin olive oil — basil just picked, alongside mint and oregano — rustic garlic strands — Sicily’s main stay, ricotta hours old — swordfish, langostino, mussels, squid, clams — handmade busiate pasta — scrumptious eggplant, tomatoes, artichokes — succulent chicken, its crispy skin wafer thin, while buttery from slow roasting. It wasn’t until biting into a Sicilian spring orange did I understand how Sicily could’ve possibly raised the bar on oranges — texture and citrus potency.

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Half a century ago the Italian Parliament in Rome voted to help bail out Sicily’s struggling economy; those funds never reached Palermo’s intended channels — Sicily since still remains wild. By and large whatever is eaten here is grown or produced locally. Capers for instance, are from nearby Pantelleria, a tiny Sicilian island between Marsala and Tunisia. I bought a kilo of capers packed in sea salt for about 8 USD; close to a pea in size, they’re fabulous. Three tablespoons of capers rinsed, blotted, and added into a pan with six garlic cloves sliced razor thin (Paul Sorvino’s method in Goodfellas) are the makings for an amazing pasta dish. I couldn’t find red chilis to save my soul; the season come to understand starts later this month. A crucial addition to the garlic and capers, I prefer red chilis pinky size, sliced long, removing the seeds before dicing. Low and behold, our pasta was improvised seeing a grocer’s shelf displaying an array of anchovy selections — one brand drenched in olive oil with red chilis. Two teaspoons of red chili anchovy oil into the pan with garlic and capers is what I needed for an addictive pasta topping. Fusilli has plenty of nooks and crannies for those sautéed morsels; we prefer pasta done al dente. When everything is mixed together, scooped into separate serving bowls, dress each with a handful of quarter inch spicy anchovy pieces. By the time these bowls are nearly ready, they would’ve cooled enough so those sexy anchovies don’t melt in a hot pan.

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Sicilians stick by stringent cooking guidelines, what goes with what is rarely deviated from. As an example: it’s a federal offense to spoon parmigiano-reggiano on any pasta with fish. On the other hand, sfincione, a foccacia bread smothered with concentrated tomato sauce, caramelized onion, hint of oregano and anchovy does include Southern Italy’s caciocavallo cheese. I feel that line-up alone gives me license to conjure whatever we’re in the mood for. Next Tuesday I’m gonna grate pecorino over fusilli with garlic, capers anchovy and red chili; I doubt the Carabinieri will storm our apartment to incarcerate me.

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One night we were in a hurry and hungry — an unwelcome combination. For over a decade, Antonio has been our go-to Castellammare frutta verdura guy. He has other staples on hand: outstanding Capricciu Sicilianu limone honey, several different olive trays, homemade wine, customers quibbling with Antonio over his prices while caged chirping parakeets, alongside singing canaries keep things cheery. I grabbed a small red onion, some arugula and fennel, leaving its stalk behind as usual. Dashed into a specialty shop next door to buy the best tuna in olive oil from a company that really should export its product from Sicily; Auriga’s catch runs right off Castellammare del Golfo. For eight years, beginning 2006, businessmen from Japan brokered a deal, paying questionable Sicilian officials to cast three commercial acre-size fishing nets; exporting Castellammare’s young tuna to Tsukiji fish market, wowing Japan’s sushi connoisseurs. Excuse me, I got sidetracked from a damn good salad that would go great before the pasta by criminal profiteering. Within minutes fennel was chopped, half a red onion slivered, arugula introduced and tossed, Auriga tuna with olive oil its main dressing, drizzling Antonio’s extra virgin olive oil in as well. If someone has no idea how to boil water, may I suggest planning a trip to Sicily. A complete novice couldn’t lose, it would be impossible; everyone is aware of their palate’s cravings. When meals are prepared using vegetables which arrived Antonios at dawn in some farmer’s dusty Fiat hatchback, made with nothing but his private reserve extra virgin olive oil, fava beans, onions and sea salt harvested nearby, it’s a proud plate worthy to serve grandma.

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If visitors had enough cooking on their hands before leaving for holiday, there are several options other than frequenting restaurants three times a day. The best take-out gastronomia in Castellammare is Scaraglino: eggplant parmesan, seafood couscous, lasagne, octopus salad, triangular shape chickpea fritters called panelle, arancini rice balls stuffed with ragu and peas, or oval shapes containing prosciutto and mozzarella.

Nobody, anywhere in Italy makes pastries the way Sicilians do. America’s cannolis are mere facsimiles of an authentic Sicilian cannoli. Each pasticceria here creates theirs slightly different: the amount of chocolate, half dipped, possibly shavings, candied orange peel, cherry placement, pistachio crumbs, ricotta consistency, or pistachio creme-filled and embellished powdered sugar, yet each bear Sicily’s superior quality by the shell’s delightful crunch. Many Sicilians swear up and down granita helps them digest; others are totally convinced it’s the quintessential pre appetizer consumed an hour before dinner. French pastry chefs are well-known for macarons; Castellammare though has an orgasmic almond cookie at Panificio Navarra, which upon initial bite made me blurt out, “Oh my God,” further stating, “these people are crazy.”

Tourist from Russia, China, and Great Britain spending a week or two here couldn’t possibly digest all Sicily’s kitchens have to offer during their vacation. Resourcing our hair and skin care line, along with blogging is an incredible la dolce vita experience in Felliniesque Castellammare; a chance to pace whatever we eat. It’s not necessary famiglia di Schiavo each gain fifteen pounds in two weeks gorging on La Duchessa pizza, Litus Victoria’s pane cunzato, Sfoglia d’Oro tortellini, Vernaci brioche con gelato, and Furco fig or apricot cookies.

Who knows who’s brilliant recommendation it was for Robert De Niro to spend six months in Sicily packing on weight for his Academy Award-winning Raging Bull portrayal of (post) World Middleweight Champion, Jake LaMotta? Whoever did had obviously traveled here prior; Bob certainly was shooting The Godfather Part II — apparently exercising better self-control.

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La Passeggiata

Years ago before searching under Castellammare’s crevices, our hotel or Airbnb of choice was paying top dollar to, quite possibly, the least respected family in town. Castellammarese locals practically spit on the ground hearing this family’s name mentioned. They own two of its oldest hotels, a family rarely seen socializing; most believe consumed basking elsewhere in supremacy. Prior to visiting Lampedusa three summers ago we rented a small house in town owned by the wretched family. This little place admittedly had its interior charm; although a boisterous proprietor across the narrow street stopped traffic day and night trying to drum up his business. I had my suspicions he was spying on us for our landlord. Following our abrupt departure, my gut instinct was confirmed after reading an email he sent bolstering his uncle, the hotelier patriarch.

True to form, us Sicilians. When Coppola’s Michael Corleone eventually discovered Fredo betrayed him, that was it; from then on Fredo’s days were numbered. Subsequent to exercising caution, we’re open heart and arms; the second any relationship goes south, a steel door slams shut — ain’t no turning back.

As everyone realizes there are two sides to every coin. Castellammare’s dark side is its deep roots with La Cosa Nostra. Twenty-two years ago, when I first came here Piazza Petrolo wasn’t even paved, decorative water spigots throughout town hadn’t been installed, drivers drove and parked as they pleased; Castellammare’s harbormaster didn’t yet foresee small cruise lines to soon dock — most looking forward to oodles of cash left behind.

In 1995, shortly after checking into our hotel, my mother, Jean and I returned from dinner; the man overseeing this establishment struck up what we thought would be a casual conversation. Within minutes, he took out a few 4 x 6 black and white crime scene photos of some local mob hit. The worn photos depicted a dead man wearing suit, tie and overcoat, gangster brim nearby, featuring an odious head wound oozing blood down his face. Jean didn’t flinch; speaking fluent Sicilian, in so many words told him: we’re from New York, these things happen there all the time — excused herself, going off to bed unimpressed.

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We tread lightly walking around Castellammare. Fortunately there is a cardinal rule among made men: “don’t shit where you eat.” Any apprehension should be discarded if ever planning a visit here — Castellammare’s safer than Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A. Same reason Budweiser, barbecues and fireworks aren’t going away on the Fourth of July, Sicily’s underworld will forever remain woven into government, from Silvio Berlusconi on down, corporate hierarchy, alongside Vatican City. It’s here, just don’t talk about it.cropped-screen-shot-2015-04-07-at-2-00-19-pm.pngA friendly grocer told me in Italian regarding an elderly male customer he was waiting on, “Talk to him in English.” I introduced myself, explaining my grandmother left Castellammare del Golfo a hundred years ago. He asked her name, I told him, “Anna D’Angelo — prima del matrimonio, Mione.” Upon hearing Mione, this man’s eyes popped wide open, then clenched a fist, exposing the thumb, slashing an imaginary scar across his cheek — silently indicating, Mafioso.

LouLou left the store keyed-up and giggly, “Poppi, does this mean we’re mafia too?” She sounded thoroughly adorable asking this ridiculous question, I forgot to tell her to keep it down; people have a problem concerning anything about that term, especially in Castellammare. It doesn’t matter who we talk to in this town of fifteen thousand; everybody’s somebody’s cousin, niece, nephew, uncle, aunt, grandmother, grandfather — and “connected.”

If we pass by, chatting up an elderly gentleman we’ve known who lived in New Jersey for twenty years, retired here (his birthplace) our thoughts don’t wonder about his possible Soprano’s past. We like him for who he is. Recently I inquired about his wife. Pointing uphill toward the graveyard, speaking in perfect broken English he said, “My wife sleepa the cemetery.” Naturally I placed my arm around his shoulder to offer condolences. He smiled and said, “She die two thousand two, whaddaya gonna do?”

Two widowed sisters: one in her seventies, the other sixties, constantly together, spend each day inside their windowless kitchen, which I assume had once been a garage/storage area. The low ceiling acts as an echo chamber, carrying their voices a block away. Occasionally in curlers, always wearing cotton print housedresses, mismatched aprons, clay colored stockings rolled up to the knees and slippers — why bother putting on makeup? Tantalizing aromas wafting from steamy pots and simmering pans would entice anyone slightly curious to their exposed sliding garage door entrance. They’re the type of ladies who’ll grab your forearm, won’t let go and drag you inside, ordering, “siediti.” Fine — you don’t drink espresso, here’s our personal stash (a gift sent from Argentina) we’re making herbal tea regardless. They’ll talk over each other by an endangered Sicilian dialect, having separate conversations with Jeanette, LouLou and I simultaneously. Occasionally, we’ll glance at each other thinking the same thought, can you believe we’re actually in here experiencing this, they were moments ago complete strangers. An hour later, following a ten minute Sicilian goodbye, halfway down the street, LouLou’s spirit of interest could no longer be contained, whispering, “How come all these old ladies husbands died so young?”

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Full of Grace

This week’s blog has been on my mind for awhile. Working from this pleasantly old-fashioned remodeled apartment, a stone’s throw from Chiesa Madrice, I’m motivated, believing today is the obvious opportunity for that posting. Without sounding religious, shoving God down anybody’s throat, I’ll graze over four points: Chiesa Madrice, alongside, Castellammare del Golfo’s history — my melanoma tumor three years ago, and a disguised method pertaining to prayer.

Castellammare del Golfo, its translation: Sea Fortress on the Gulf. A fishing village established by Arabs in 800 AD, then called Al Madarig, meaning The Steps. I sit here 19 miles west of Palermo, nestled by Sicily’s rugged mountainside. Fishermen in the 16th century had a vision of Madonna over Castellammare’s aqua-marine water. Perched a thousand feet above its quaint harbor near the Castello on Piazza Madrice is Chiesa Madrice — erected to honor Maria SS. del Soccorso, Patrona di Castellammare. Each August Castellammare del Golfo celebrates its festa; an evening candlelit procession hoists the Madonna and Child through town, finally boarding a small fishing boat, set off with Maria’s trailing flotilla — one frequently used scene in Italian films.

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Of any church or cathedral I’ve entered, this place absolutely sends me. Never caught the acclaim Lourdes nor Fatima did, although if Vatican PR pushed, Chiesa Madrice might’ve received its due press. Crystal-clear light from a cloud-free Mediterranean sky illuminates an unassuming altar from lofty windows. The modest star of this show has her own altar stage right. She gleams white and gold beneath a twinkling halo, her nude infant son cradled in one arm, ornamental wand held by the other hand; both leading personalities bespangled, wearing gem-encrusted crowns — an object of beauty Jeff Koons wouldn’t dare misappropriate. A carved Prince of Peace stands mid-theatre, untouchable inside an inlaid wood and glass case. Soothing eyes, flawless complexion, soft beard, clothed by painted embroidered robe, a platinum heart tied to Jesus’ left wrist; His other hand’s upright index and middle finger touch each other, indicating righteous healing is underway. Holy water, no charge; we receive a double dose for good measure on the way in and out. One rough year I dunked my entire California driver’s license in for a proper soak. Most Saturday mornings at Chiesa Madrice are reserved for weddings, late afternoons dedicated to parishioners who absolve sin through sincere prayers of contrition. The Chiesa Madrice bell rings daily; its crisp note requires no amplified modification. Three black and wicker side chairs are situated against a beige marble column ten or so feet from Jesus in His fancy box. Three summers ago, every day at five, after a broiling sun eclipsed behind Castellammare’s protective mountain, Jeanette, LouLou and I filled those chairs facing that life-size Christ statue. Belief in Buddha works, so does Brahma; I haven’t been a practicing Catholic for ages, however, I’m still mesmerized by Catholicism’s tangible pomp and circumstance.

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During that 5pm meditation several widows recited prayers together in Italian before the Virgin Mary; a stupendous backup group for our desperate plea to disintegrate my fuckin’ tumor. At summer’s close, early September, we flew to New York and had it removed; by then the tumor already became gelatinous mush, my doctor commented more than once how astonishing this was. Weeks later, a clean pathology report from UCSF confirmed victory on all fronts: one salvaged limb compliments of Chiesa Madrice — profound prayer, alongside an altruistic Park Avenue dermatologist.

Prayer is quite personal. It could come off proselytizing offering my personal experience, yet if you continue, a satisfying twist is under wraps. I was a thirty-three-year-old man, November 1991; wet behind the ears trying to cope with life no longer abusing liquor and drugs, two habits that prevented me from really living since age thirteen. AA and NA meetings were okay, however, what helped transform my behavior was CCC in Tiburon, California. Community Congregational Church is an interdenominational entity with panoramic views overlooking Mt. Tamalpais, Corinthian Island, Sausalito, Northwest San Francisco, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Jeanette and I exchanged vows on their lawn fourteen years ago come August 4 — seven weeks prior to LouLou’s arrival redefining our future. During my early, frangible days at CCC, I sat in on every lecture possible: a Native American Indian, rabbi, monk, shaman — dream workshops, meditation classes, anything and everything to make nice-nice with God again after so much self-destruction.

20170427_181115Tossing all the insight gathered from CCC into life’s caldron, letting it slowly simmer another twenty-five years; I’m presently convinced prayer can find momentum. My mistake had always been praying for what I wanted: “God, gimme me a bicycle, I’m too big for my tricycle. Dear God, don’t let Mr. Anderson give me another F in science. Oh God, let the Vietnam War end, I don’t want to end up in a body bag too. Please God, if you get me out of jail this time, I won’t ever do coke again.” Fruitless those prayers. I flunked science, excelling in truancy throughout high school. Lenny, the English cocaine supplier who bailed me out, promptly packed my nose inside his vintage Impala, right outside 850 Bryant Street, in front of San Francisco’s main jail.

Stupid me; if I only knew all those years how the power of prayer could actually be catapulted. Quite some build-up huh, for what undoubtedly makes common sense from God’s perspective. Forget personal desires, not completely, simply put them on the back burner — be specific, I’ve heard God’s a stickler that way. For example, Jeanette may be concerned her right shoulder’s persistent ache might not heal on its own accord — a legitimate cry for prayer. Keeping that concern on hold, we’ll then focus prayer on someone else close losing their home — another’s nerve-racking child custody case — friends struggling through chemotherapy, or a patron’s upcoming surgery.

A miracle response to another’s prayer is the answer to ours. I’m gonna be artful here; famiglia di Schiavo are in no way impervious, we too have unanswered prayers. Because of this, we’re officially taking requests; even if you’ve already asked for our prayers, we’ll take on more. If you haven’t, but don’t want to get into finite details, simply email or Facebook us to enter the prayer list — quieting whatever this is that weighs heavy on your mind.

Besides netting beneath overhead frescoes which prevents peeling paint from falling onto churchgoers, my least favorite aspect of Chiesa Madrice is the absence of red and clear votive candle holders. Instead brass stands were installed some time ago, sprouting nine inch plastic faux candles, topped with tiny electric light bulbs and adjacent switches. You do have my solemn word — I promise not to offer your prayer at Chiesa Madrice’s electric candle stand, only from those three chairs in front of The Anointed One, or pews before Madonna and Child, stage right. 20170427_173520

Rushing On Our Run

Put a 1958 Christian Drouin Calvados close to any lush, chances are they’ll polish it off within an hour’s time. Set a generous dollop of gooey Nepalese opium near some dopesick junkie — chasing that dragon should occur quicker than blinking an eye. Leave an uncut ounce of Peruvian cocaine in the vicinity of a coke fiend, they too will immediately dip into that unaccountable seduction.

Who was kidding who? Back in February when Jeanette booked our flight (April-May) in and out of Milan’s Malpensa, did she or LouLou actually think the temptation being so close to Sicily would go without taking action? Did any of us for one minute really have confidence believing our upcoming (late July through mid-September) air tickets in and out of Palermo might fully satisfy an addict’s yearly Sicilia fix?

It started innocently at the Duomo; I’ll blame our change of itinerary on Milan’s main attraction. As I saw it, the intricate Gothic spires denoted funneled wet sand drizzled on a seashore, forming miniature summer make-believe castles. So much in fact, whatever wonderment housed inside Duomo di Milano had at that point vanished, as did the addict’s drink, o, or blow — a fragile switch instantly flipped. Milan tourist cafes featuring “Sicilian” caponata, panelle, pasta con sarde, sfincione, cassata and cannoli don’t fool us; we recognize the difference between Sicily’s authentic cuisine and insincere imitations.

Popularized by Las Vegas drag queens and cologne soaked Russian thugs, Donatella’s Versace never wowed me. If Gianni were around we probably would’ve gone into the Versace Milan flagship store, but I’m as convinced in Donatella’s couture ability as I am in Milan’s Sicilian cooking capability. Excluding relics Gucci and Armani, Milan’s contemporary fashion scene leaves us with Moschino. Since Franco Moschino’s untimely 1994 death, the Moschino brand was triumphantly resurrected through Jeremy Scott’s brilliance. Bearing in mind, the most exhilarating creations Milan offers arrived from Scott, headquartered in Los Angeles, it’s yet another excuse to skip town. Our recent stay in fundamentally fashion sound Bangkok must’ve sharpened my esthetic sensibility. Milan men preening in electric-blue suits, tapered dress shirts, slender ties (no socks, floodwater slacks) showing off waxed eyebrows, alongside pencil line beards and moustaches are ultimately outfits incomplete without their flouncy scarves — getups seemingly uncomfortable, while terribly affected.

Political upheaval, sadistic dictators, extreme poverty and growing terrorists groups caused sovereign countries to burst at their seams. The impact of immigrants, from Africa, in particular, is evident throughout Milan. Sidewalks in front of top name boutiques lost browsing effect — diminished by flea market style vendors selling knock-off handbags. Jeanette and LouLou receive African catcalls and creepy gawks by immigrants who loiter Milan’s Metro stations. We witnessed similar transformation to Rome’s once majestic landscape last summer; heard, although brushed off several Italians bitter complaint, “Milan is much worse.”

On the semi-related subject of immigrants: my grandmother, Anna D’Angelo left Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily for Ellis Island in 1917. I wonder how many African grandchildren will bring their kids to visit Africa in 2117, enjoying holiday after holidays there? My guess hardly, if any.

Castellammare del Golfo is a pleasant thirty minute drive from Palermo’s Falcone-Borsellino Airport. Casually cruise on the meticulously maintained autostrada, akin to Highway 29 in Napa Valley; Sicily however, boasts curvaceous marble quarry hills and matching bone color huddled towns. Visiting Castellammare during spring this year will be a first for us. Of five dozen acquaintances we’ve befriended these past eleven years, most have only seen their global bedouin amici in late June, July, August and early September. Gina and Franco at their macelleria, alongside Elena and Mariano, who own and operate Panificio Furco should be startled to see us; Francesca with Lydia watching over L’angolo Del Buongustaio will too. Our loveable eighty-five-year old, quasi-retired Monsignor Navarra won’t care what month it is; depending on the time of day, he’ll say buongiorno or buonasera, then hug us, slightly above a whisper expressing his usual, “Brava, brava, brava.”

The Milan objective was to stay in a groovy city, sketching an outline for my admitted, well overdue, socially responsible hair and skin care line — slated for launch, Autumn 2018. In naiveté I regarded Milan as Italy’s design capital. It took coming here to learn Milan is sadly like too many world-class cities today — a tainted image of its previous glory. Milan’s 15 minutes ran out.

Anna D’Angelo pursued reluctantly the American dream; little did she know her grandson would return a century later to absorb whatever vision I could from every Sicilian nuance. Richness, forever captivating Jeanette, LouLou and I on Signora Colombo’s taut eighty-six-year-old olive skin must be paid homage within our upcoming beauty brand. Famiglia di Schiavo set sail to Scopello from Castellammare three years ago on Italo’s ebony ketch. Speaking in Italian I asked Italo, another vibrant octogenarian, how his face was still smooth as a baby’s ass. Much of Italo’s communication is conveyed singing a verse from some 1940s through 60s well-known American song; subsequent to his lyrical awareness, the two word response came in English, “…. grilled fish.”

Twenty-two years ago I walked with my friend, Debra along St. Mark’s Place in the East Village; an elderly gypsy woman was sitting on a stoop reading tarot cards. I was to leave New York that next day for Sicily, accompanied by my mother, Jean. She was flying in from San Diego to JFK, the rendezvous point, setting off for our maiden journey, seeing where her mother lived seven years before Jean was born — a present for Jean’s seventieth birthday. I don’t recall the exact card this gypsy drew, yet distinctly recollect its directive. She claimed the trip I was about to take wasn’t strictly for pleasure, adding this journey would also have a definite business connection. Perhaps my twenty-two year old tarot reading is coincidentally falling into place now, or that gypsy woman really knew her stuff, and I’ve been pathetically slow out of the gate. Habits can be pricey, most gamblers will attest to this; other expensive addictions as ours found compromise — Sicily is a multigenerational investment.

“Go everywhere in the world, and tell the Good News to everyone. “

A global bedouin above all else must feel at ease wherever the night lures them. Famiglia di Schiavo for the last ten years say, “when we get home,” anytime we’re out and about referring to our temporary accommodations. Any blood ties on Jeanette’s side and mine are considered deleterious as far as we’re concerned. Jeanette’s situation is quite different than mine, most of hers are on this physical plane, however, those living on both sides remain spiritually corrupt. Milan wasn’t just another random choice; anywhere in Italy is more or less considered home.

20170413_203449Growing up in Queens during the early sixties when Louis Prima reigned supreme was practically being raised within Italy’s warm embrace. To avoid her young son from becoming in any way sissy, my mother, Jean only held my hand when crossing busy boulevards. Mom and I traveled on foot within the Ozone Park neighborhood we lived, a section of Queens not far from Howard Beach, John Gotti’s former stomping grounds.

The manner Jeanette, LouLou and I shop in Milan is rather like my first memory doing errands with Jean around Ozone Park. The local grocery store windows posted red or blue hand-painted newsprint displaying sale items, along with their prices — Italy uses these similar signs today; although fifty-five years ago in Ozone Park most grocery window advertisements used a cent symbol for beefsteak tomatoes and crenshaw melons. The corner grocer also stocked wooden crates packed with dried baccalà, nearby cucuzza spilled into broccoli rabe, half an aisle dedicated to every conceivable macaroni, as do markets throughout Italy these days and future decades. Jean dragged me into the neighborhood butcher shop; I hid behind her believing no good could come from raw meat. Back at home she’d bread the butcher’s thinly pounded veal cutlets, pan fry that batch to a golden brown, afterward squeezed lemon and sprinkled minced Italian parsley over them; upon eating, our afternoon macabre visit was totally forgotten. Those lost Ozone Park butcher shops are commonplace in Italy.

20170413_204635The miraculous instant Jean won an unconditional loving daughter with Jeanette, Jeanette’s gift was reaping a devoted Sicilian mother. Not only I sense home and feel close to Jean whenever in Italy, Jeanette also senses Mom nearby, while LouLou worships her nonna most everywhere we roam. The three of us will open a door at an Italian alimentari and immediately become woozy from aged provolone, alongside various prosciutto hanging from hooks. An antipasti feast in seconds flat: Parmigiano-Reggiano, artisanal olives, soppressata, mortadella, fire-roasted peppers, calamari insalata, and Italy’s rival to France’s baguette, a crusty sesame coated loaf of excellence. LouLou is Jean in so many respects; she’d too be satisfied solely by bread, cracked pepper and extra virgin olive oil.

For us, Easter morning wouldn’t be Easter morning without Italy’s classic cousin of Christmas panettone — Pane di Pasqua. The first recollection I have buying some was Good Friday in 1962. Back then Jean was a tried and true Roman Catholic, she demanded quiet from noon to three p.m. on Good Friday; 0ur chores were done in silence — except one interruption. Unlike my unsavoury language, Jean, never ever cursed; the closest she came occured during that walk to buy Easter morning’s special treat following church. At four years old, I was oblivious of my surroundings. Jean on the other hand seemed quite aware; my mother was raised on 110th Street between Lexington and Third Avenue in a mafia controlled strip of Cotton Club Harlem. Prior to our outing, I played with Mom’s rosary beads in church while she walked the stations of the cross; fidgeting no doubt, as she went into confession, later reciting whatever penance her priest ordered. Catholic graphic imagery instilled strong indication Good Friday was surely a gloomy day, one Christ suffered pure hell.

Leaving the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary that midday, the clouds drew a darkened set of curtains, swirling gusts appeared from nowhere rustling Queens’ established trees. Several blocks later Jean clutched my hand, yanking an arm barely developed, murmuring, “son of a beehive,” while jaywalking across the one-way street. Curious today, curious then; I turned my head back toward the direction Jean desperately tried to avoid, observing the tallest black man I’d ever seen standing between two chrome bumpered parked cars shaking his Johnson, flipping it back in his zipper after taking a piss. Jean was furious; I thought this mission we set about to the local bakery would be aborted. As mentioned, noon to three on Good Friday was sacred; I wasn’t gonna pipe up asking stupid questions. Jean kept up an angry pace, her firm grip swallowed my hand.

Focused she was — there in the Ozone Park bakery window, my eyes widened seeing a collection of Easter bread rings. My interpretation this year has nothing whatsoever to do with the Easter Bunny associated references of a four year old. I don’t know why, but especially this year, the braided ring symbolizes a crown of thorns; its dyed pastel eggs invoke new life beyond agony, even barbaric murder. Needless to note, Milan has no shortage of panifici nor authentic Pane di Pasqua or regionally specific Colomba di Pasqua, virtually impossible to locate in America these days. Nearly every San Franciscan of Italian descent living in North Beach made an exit for the burbs ages ago (currently inhabited by Chinese immigrants) as well as New York’s Little Italy, leaving a person hard-pressed to find an Easter bread ring. Not simply because Milan permanently exhibits The Last Supper, I’m convinced and stoked this global bedouin trio landed on a mighty fine patch of earth to honour Easter 2017.

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Vidal Sassoon’s Nemesis Tells All

Celebrated Hairstylist Jehr Schiavo Publishes Controversial Book

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A nonfiction beauty, health, and awareness manifesto, Mr. Haute Coiffure pierces the underbelly of a beauty industry unchecked, and denounces associated corporate overlords.

Jehr Schiavo, a celebrated nonconformist-hairstylist-raconteur, began his revolutionary ride four decades ago in San Francisco styling punk rock’s aristocracy for stage, print, music videos, film, television, and runway. He and his work have been recognized in such publications as Allure, Details, Elle, The New York Times, and Vogue Italia.

Schiavo’s acerbic wit and memorable turns of phrase carry Mr. Haute Coiffure’s readers through a series of vignettes which challenge the hypocrisy and excesses of the international beauty-industrial complex. Schiavo, writing under the nom de plume Gerard Saint D’Angelo, proposes a radical shift to the current state of affairs, in which women (and men) are force-fed powerful messages by society and media to turn themselves into unattainable images, their insecurity the fuel which powers the capitalist machine.

Schiavo is an artist with hair as his medium and his patrons’ life stories as his muse; with only his shears, comb, and water he creates hairstyles which allow his patrons to express their inner beauty.

The enigmatic Schiavo says, “Structured walls are outside the domain of Mr. Haute Coiffure’s satisfaction; I despised an industry riddled with greed, displaying petty integrity, if any at all. My publication urges idiosyncratic modifications that may indeed provide indelible inner beauty.”

Schiavo eliminated toxic chemicals in his atelier salons, shunned ordinary styling potions, invalidated typical heat tools — blow dryer, curling and flat irons — deconstructed predecessor Vidal Sassoon’s harsh geometric edges, and banished the archaic notion that any salon should require mirrored reflection before clients — alternatively permitting open space for vibrant contemporary art exhibitions. Presently, he continues writing while traveling between delivering chic, effortless, healthy, sustainable Jehrcuts to select patrons who commission him in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.

Available now!

http://www.jehrschiavo.com/mr-haute-coiffure

15,582 miles to go

Whenever Jeanette, LouLou or I start googling restaurants like Musso and Frank, feeling nostalgic, in a Rat Pack mood, while abroad typically means it’s high time we wind down that particular seven week sojourn. One thought indeed leads into others: maybe we’ll swing by Truly Mediterranean near San Francisco’s Roxie Theater March 28th upon arrival the following Monday land at Lindbergh Field, drive north toward Encinitas for Lourdes’ zesty chicken soup Wednesday hit Musso and Frank in Hollywood finally, Sunday after our Spring 2017 engagement is complete, grab Yonah Schimmel’s knishes on Manhattan’s Lower East Side before flying to Milan by way of a Charles de Gaulle layover sipping Angelina’s le chocolat chaud shall wait another year.  

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Moderation is invariably key; it kinda sounds posh in writing, however, I’m no Rockefeller; global bedouism on a set budget demands mindful organization. In observing  travelers throughout many airports I can’t help but compare the two carry-on bags famiglia di Schiavo travels with to six extra-large roller boards stacked high on a Smarte Carte by another family of three or four. Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper rumbled off in Easy Rider with an ideal amount motorcycles, bedrolls and the clothes on their backs. Obviously, our wardrobe or rather lack of here in steamy Bangkok is different than the bulkier attire necessary for San Francisco, New York and Milan. Los Angeles, along with San Diego’s North County by April should be as picture perfect as it gets anywhere; nonetheless, our two bags will be packed slightly fuller for points east.

Ninety-nine and nine tenths of my patrons accept me for the nonconformist I am. Less than a handful arrive for a Jehrcut, produce their cellphone before defrocking, accost me pulling up photos of previous cuts I’d done for them, pleading, “Jehr, can you do this again?” Months into years, the same patrons will show me those identical photos of previous appointments. I hope you realize these tenth of a percent exacting patrons wouldn’t mortify Alain Passard at Arpège entering his kitchen reminding him about a notable dinner he prepared months earlier. God bless my trusting patrons. The majority believe that cut they’ll leave with will reflect through osmosis my recent experience in a faraway location. For Alain Passard inspiration seeps in watching an awesome ballet, seeing a man and woman’s body become intertwined on stage. Sometime thereafter, a French chicken and duck were halved by Passard, each bird’s separate portion stitched together, roasted, surrounded by hay inside one of Arpège’s Le Creuset dutch ovens.

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Nobody’s awarding Michelin stars to hairstylists, though if they miraculously began I wouldn’t turn it down, as Keith Richards and David Bowie both shunned knighthood by Queen Elizabeth. The understanding I absorbed these seven weeks in Bangkok is certainly not what I’ll deliver to my patrons on May 24th after Milan’s peregrination. The manner in which I’m able to concentrate solely on Jehrcuts during our American engagements is a treasure I view an honor, particularly throughout these seven week jaunts away. Skeptics might be curious, “What the hell could he find so inspiring about Bangkok?” People such as those are me quite frankly; I’m too a skeptic, in all probability, way guiltier than most. The answer to a skeptic’s question can be summed up stating, “content chaos.” To be sure, hair is an extension of the soul it grows from. Frequently a new patron will object, “My hair has a mind of its own; I’m just not happy with it!”

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We’re itching to see Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper at Milan’s Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in the meantime, with footing firmly planted on Thailand’s soil, Buddhism reigns supreme. My response to a new patron’s grief could be easily solved (if he or she were open-minded) in Thailand. A whinging person ought to visit ancient Thai wats, remove their shoes before going inside, then permit Buddha’s quiet introduction, later ponder prayer mills, while sensing reverberation from baritone bells calling for the protection of Buddha. I’ve seen in amazement content on most Thai faces, whether peasant or inherited wealth; this culture without doubt appears serene. Most humans rise each morning disliking chaotic hair they see in the mirror. A Bangkok analogy: it’s trucks, cars and motorbikes vying for any available path forward, each vehicle eventually parking where they were headed. Ninety-nine and nine tenths of my patron’s opt to be at one with their hair; spending hours wrestling with it the first thing every day felt futile after our initial consultation.

We’ve met dozens of Northern Italian families vacationing in Sicily over the years. Sicily has forever been the brunt of many Italian’s ridicule (a boot kicking its younger sibling) yet their top choice selecting summer destinations. Each group of friends living in Lake Como, Verona, Cremona, Bergamo are within a comfortable train ride from Milano Centrale. These relationships have grown, presently entering a second decade, filling us with an extensive sense of connection. I’ve had a genuine crush on Navigli without having been there yet. From what I gather this enclave is Milan’s equivalent of Venice Beach, quaint canals and all. We’ll be hunkering down in the Brera Arts District near Milan’s center. Patti Smith is performing in the area next month, ticket prices are double what her American gigs cost, but hey, wouldn’t it be glorious?

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It’s tough for me to remember patience, now seven flights ahead of myself. There’s still a few last minute Thai items we’ve been eyeballing. In keeping with the Easy Rider approach, these frivolous things are small enough to fit inside those two loose carry-on bags we came here with February 9th.
I’m useless at multitasking; there’s no way I can concentrate on Jehrcuts while simultaneously meeting a weekly deadline for innersanctvm.blog. It’s possible I’ll make use of these upcoming two or three weeks with auxiliary postings. Be that as it may, April 13th does seem a realistic day for the next up-to-date Milanese prose.  

http://www.jehrschiavo.com/mr-haute-coiffure