On Monday May 21st, Deborah Newton and I set out to fly from Boston to Italy to attend Italcon 38. Actually, the convention was a tripartite one: Sticcon, for Trekkers; Yavincon for STAR WARS fans; and Italcon for the literary crowd.
Our entire trip was made possible by the extreme generosity of Elara, one of my Italian publishers, a fine firm helmed by famed Italian SF patriarch Ugo Malaguti and his second-in-command, Armando Corridore.
It's impossible to thank them enough. They, and every other Italian personage Deborah and I met, exceeded all common bounds of hospitality and friendship.
Our flight landed in Rome where we made a leisurely, albeit exhausted connection (we flew a redeye) for the short hop to Bologna. Armando had considerately scheduled a day there--the city where he lives--to allow us to overcome jetlag. He met us at the airport and we taxied to the lovely and comfortable Hotel Cavour, in the historic district.
[Sign from our window)
[Another view from our room]
[The strangely wonderful rafters in our room]
After catching a little sleep, we greeted our fellow US guests, David Gerrold and his sister, Alice McCain. Then, with Armando's wife Rosa, we all went out for a fantastic meal of traditional Bolognese dishes, the first of an endless sequence of delicious meals.
[L-R: Armando, Paul, Alice, David, Rosa]
The next day, Wednesday, we had a little time for sightseeing in the morning, and Deb and I walked around the historic center for a couple of hours.
Bologna is a city of colonnades, one more beautiful than another.
We saw the famous Two Towers.
I bought my only tangible souvenir of the entire trip: a postcard.
Deborah admired all the flowers of Italy throughout the trip. Three months after having had a total knee replacement, she was determined to put her cyborg abilities to the test, and seldom stopped.
By midday Wednesday, we were gearing up for the half-hour car ride to Bellaria, site of the con, which would begin on Thursday.
The round trip had to be made three times to shuttle everyone and all the luggage and huckster room props. All the driving on this stage of the trip and in Bellaria was accomplished by the magnificent Fabio, an SF fan and aide to Elara. His driving expertise was in constant demand, and he never flagged.
Bellaria proved to be a seaside resort town of unpretentious, family-style ambiance, affirming my belief that every such seaside town anywhere in the world is cousin to all such, exhibiting similar themes and characteristics. Our hotel proved delightful, and was only about a ten- or fifteen-minute walk from the convention center.
[Beachside back of our hotel]
[View from our room]
[Honkytonk signage is universal]
The convention activities flowed nonstop for us for the next four days, from hotel breakfast circa 8 AM to the last "buona sera's" around midnight. All three cons blended seamlessly together. I was thoroughly impressed with the depth of passion and knowledge and history connected with Italian SF and fantasy, both print and media. There is a rich and complex fifty-year history of genre activity in Italy about which non-Italians know much too little.
[The main doors]
[Lobby. L-R: Fabio, Armando]
The adjacent outdoor cafe provided a pleasant wateringhole throughout the con.
[Elara table in the dealer's room]
Elara printed special booklets of fiction by Gerrold and DiFi for the con, and our visages were on the cover of the program booklet.
[Issues of old Italian zines]
[Best Princess Leia ever]
Sicilian SF writer Claudio Chillemi, his wife Rosaria, and their friend Antonino would be among our hosts on the Sicily portion of the trip ahead.
[L_R: Antonino, Rosa, Claudio, Rosaria, Deborah]
[Fabio and Deborah prepare to beam down]
[Alice and Deborah at "il tavolo di tribbli"]
I met so many outstanding and talented new friends, it's impossible to list them all. But here are a few.
[Gianni Montanari, translator and critic]
[Standing with Rosa, Sabina, who manned the Elara table]
[Silvio Sosio, my publisher at Delos]
[The new Delos edition of THE STEAMPUNK TRILOGY]
[I carry Silvio's son Enrico back to the con after a great lunch with Elisabeta Sosio and many others]
[L_R: Ugo Malaguti and Fabio]
[Publisher Luigi Petruzzelli, his wife Marina and their two boys, who treated us to a magnificent lunch at their rental home]
[Artist Maurizio Manzieri, whose work has graced the covers of INTERZONE and ASIMOV'S, among other publications]
[Filmmaker Luigi Cozzi and comics writer Alfredo Castelli, discussing their seminal 1969 film TUNNEL UNDER THE WORLD, before its showing. Luigi has also written a massive four-volume history of Italian SF publishing.]
[SF writer Dario Tonati]
[Translator Annarita Guarnieri]
[Artist Luca Oleastri, in costume. Luca did the cover for the Delos STEAMPUNK TRILOGY]
[Editor and translator Giuseppe Lippi]
I was interviewed for an hour onstage, with the aid of an expert translator also named Paul.
[L-R: Paul, DiFi, Armando]
David Gerrold and I helped to hand out the trophies for the Premio Italia.
On Sunday night there was a wonderful closing banquet for over 300 people. An enormous cake arrived, decorated with a photo-realistic reproduction of the program book cover.
On Monday May 28, we drove to the Rimini airport, named after Fellini, whose hometown Rimini was.
I think he would have liked the billboard right at the entrance to his airport.
We said a goodbye to Fabio (Rosa had already departed for Bologna and a return to work) and Armando, David, Alice, Deborah and I caught our plane for the quick flight to Catania, Sicily.
Mt. Etna dominates Catania. In fact, the city has been repeatedly wiped out by eruptions and earthquakes. Most of its buildings are no older than three and a half centuries. But the city has a Gormenghast feel anyhow.
[Etna from the airport]
Lava is a prime building material. The streets and sidewalks are composed of carefully joined blocks of the substance. I was inspired to coin the proverb, "When life gives you lava, make strada."
Our hotel was the "NH Jolly Bellini" and we had a wonderful room.
[View from our room]
By the time we got settled, it was early evening on Monday and the five of us went out for a stroll and dinner. This began a continuous parade of food, conversation and sightseeing. It seems impossible now that we crammed so much into the next three days before our departure very early on Friday June 1. If I were to list everything we did, saw, said and ate, this report would be ten times the size. Thanks to the infinite knowledge and generosity of Claudio and Rosaria, as well as many other Sicilian fans, we had the trip of a lifetime. I'll list only a few highlights.
Our constant food treat was arancini, fried rice balls in a variety of flavors. As Claudio said, when the arancini arrived, it was a "war of man against food."
We visited a dozen churches, inside and out, each uniquely beautiful.
We strolled through a huge outdoor market.
Deborah at the one spot where the underground river Amenano is visible, near the Duomo.
We drove up the coast to see three more towns: Aci Castello, Aci Trezza and Aci Reale.
[The castle on a rock that gives Aci Castello its name]
Armando is also a talented composer, besides being a talented editor, and one highlight of the trip was a concert featuring one of his compositions in a full slate of modern music, held inside a humongous former monastery now converted to university facilities.
[Auditorium at the Benedictine Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site]
[Inside the monastery courtyard. L-R: Salvo, Antonino, Claudio, Luigi, Alice, Deborah, Rosaria]
We capped that day with a great dinner at I Vicere.
Here's Deborah and Rosaria with violinist Enzo Porta and flautist Annamaria Morini.
This ancient Roman theater hides behind an innocuous facade next to the boyhood home of composer Vincenzo Bellini, which we also visited. A trip to the home of writer Giovanni Verga was equally stimulating.
Finally, on Thursday the 31st, just when it seemed impossible to top what we had already experienced, we ascended Mt. Etna by car, and stopped at several points to admire the lava landscape and views.
[Partway up Etna: L-R: Rosaria, Paul, Claudio, Armando, Antonino, Alice, David, Francesco]
The Silvestri Crater was as high as we went.
I decided to climb to the bottom of it, a fairly gentle slope.
Our last meal in Sicily was delicious stuffed pizza in the town of Zafferana, which provides Italy with the majority of its honey.
We only got about five hours sleep that night, before the flight. Saying goodbye to all our friends and their beautiful country was sad.
But Deborah and I knew that we would return at all costs!