Italian Folktales ~ Day 12 (July 6, 2011), Maniago and Venice

If you want a sharp souvenir from Italy, go to Maniago.

Metalworking has been an important industry in Maniago for much of the town’s history, and the small collection of artisan blacksmiths and knife makers busy at work since the 1400s blossomed into a cooperative of factories in the early 20th century.

Today, Maniago’s main piazza is studded with shops that carry everything from kitchen cutlery to swords. One of the former factory buildings houses the Maniago Knife Museum (Museo dell’Arte Fabbrile e delle Coltellerie).

Maniago Knife Museum

I took that picture of the museum while I sat outside, trying to recover from an unexplained queasy stomach that attacked me that morning. I sat on a bench in the Italian sunshine, while M and H explored the museum. I watched people briskly criss-cross the little square by the museum’s entrance: families with strings of skipping children; women pulling small carts filled with grocery bags; businesswomen clacking on the stones in impossibly high heels. I thought about Jany Kenyon’s poem, The Sick Wife, and I thought about my mother in her last days of illness, watching the world pass by. I began to worry a bit about being sick in a foreign land, but before I could get myself too worked up, my stomach started to quiet. I sat and watched, took a picture, rested my eyes, and slowly began to feel better.

In a little while, M and H came to collect me, and we all went in together to see the knives, the scissors, the axes, the corkscrews.

I got to watch M and H throw sharp things at each other (within the safe confines of a plexiglass box).

Knife fight

And I got to see H get cut in half by a large knife.


And we toured an immensely large exhibit of corkscrews. According to the museum, an astonishing percent of the world’s corkscrews are made today in Maniago. I don’t know if I believe the number we were told (somewhere in the realm of 80%), but I’m still willing to bet that it’s a very large number.

Pig tail

After you’ve seen a pig tail corkscrew, what’s left to do other than get in the car and drive to Venice?

I write, “drive to Venice,” but, as you know, there are no cars in Venice. You drive to the airport, drop the car, and then you take the water bus, Alilaguna, to Venice.


The water road

Approaching Venice

Had I been sick earlier in the day? I could hardly recall. Suddenly we were in Venice, the floating jewel of Italy, leaning against the railing of the Accademia bridge. The sky was blue, the canal rushing with traffic, and everything felt exactly right.

From Ponte Accademia to the southeast

Italian Folktales ~ Day 11 (July 5, 2011), Fanna, Maniago, Poffabro, and Frisanco

Visiting Fanna was like going home.

After ten days of traveling, and the last four in the mountains, it was awfully nice to find a comfortable place to settle in for a couple of days, wash our clothes, do a little grocery shopping, and reorganize our luggage to put away the hiking gear we no longer needed.

Fanna’s Al Giardino hotel welcomed us with its resident heron, a friendly cat named Bilba, and a garden full of singing frogs and swishing fish. It almost made me homesick for our own menagerie.


Bilba in the sun

Fanna also felt a bit like home because it was the one place in Italy that was familiar to us. Nearly twenty years ago, on our first trip to Europe together, M and I went to Fanna and Maniago (right next door). Although I didn’t remember much of Fanna from that first trip aside from visiting M’s great aunt in the most peaceful nursing home I’d ever seen, I’d never forget the main piazza and the Albergo Leon D’Oro, where we’d stayed.

Maniago Leon D'Oro

In a more literal sense, though, Fanna felt like home because it’s the town where M’s paternal ancestors are from.

On this visit, we were lucky enough to spend the afternoon with M’s cousin and his wife, Albert and Toni. Albert and Toni began our tour at the stunning nearby hill town of Poffabro.


Poffabro passageways

Poffabro stone

After a stop for coffee in Frisanco, they graciously toured us through Fanna and its cemetery (where many Mions and Maddalenas are buried).

At the end of the afternoon, before returning us to our hotel, they took us to their Fanna home and served us beers and juice on the patio beside their abundant, fruit-tree studded garden. We talked about family, shared stories, laughed, and even argued a bit (good-naturedly). Just like family.

Later that evening, the three of us, alone again, went out to dinner in Maniago. We talked about the day, ate too much (we never did get the hang of ordering the right number of dishes at an Italian restaurant), drank some delicious wine, and listened as the rain began to pour down on the roof tiles above us. Somewhere along the way, something got into us and we had a giggle fit in the restaurant. Everything felt carefree, funny, silly, simple.

We ate, drank, and laughed. Then we ran like mad through the pouring rain in a city that wasn’t home, but somehow was.