Sunday, October 14, 2018

Medicine Man

It’s a rare occurrence, to be sure.

You meet someone along your path in life, an instructor, a mentor or a colleague who -- despite a relatively brief professional association -- becomes an influence that lasts a lifetime.

That was certainly the case with me and Dr. Edward Francis Wilson III, who passed away at age 82 on August 28.

We first met in 1983. Ed was the clinical pathologist at McKenzie-Willamette Hospital and I was the newly hired editor of Pulse Beat, the hospital’s community newsletter. I was often referred to Dr. Ed, as I called him, as a source for feature articles on medical issues of interest to the public in the Eugene-Springfield area.

With a common love of mountain and river adventures, we immediately clicked. We had an affinity for the outdoors and a shared background in sports, travel and the arts. We both had a wild yen to visit Nepal and trek among the Himalayas. Only one of us was able to accomplish that feat, and it wasn’t me. Not yet, anyway.

Planning the editorial content for Pulse Beat one day, I had tackled a new disease that had dominated the news that year: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, now known by its acronym, AIDS. As a reporter seeking the best source for such a new and puzzling disease, turns out he was right under my nose: Dr. Ed.

As we began our interview, a lab technician poked her head in and asked: “Could you take a look at something quickly?” “Sure,” came his reply, as he excused himself. “On second thought, why don’t you join me?” “Me?” I asked, sheepishly. “Yes, I’d like you to take a look at something,” came the reply. "It will just take a minute."

Peering over a stainless-steel sink, I saw what appeared to be an internal organ of some sort; it was pink and round, and about the size of a softball. “What’s that?” I inquired, momentarily displacing my fear of blood and gore with a suddenly steely reserve. “It’s a woman’s uterus,” he replied, matter-of-factly. “Here, take a look.”

Then, with the skill of a Soji chef, he cut the swollen organ into fine slices. “Can you see the cancerous tumors?” Sure enough: black specks hidden within the otherwise pink organ. “It had to be removed for her own welfare." Such is the life of a clinical pathologist. Thanks to Dr. Ed, my tendency for squeamishness was forever gone.

After I left the hospital for EWEB, Dr. Ed would eventually become the Lane County Medical Examiner, an even more intense job. I’d occasionally bump into him walking for exercise at Valley River Center or the Amazon Trail, attending a concert at the Hult Center, or cheering the Duck basketball team on campus.

Despite his busy schedule, he always had time for me. Before an interview, we would swap tales of mountains climbed and rivers rafted. He knew the value of communication as a way for patients to understand the world of medicine. Kind, humble and always inquisitive, he was a much beloved medicine man.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Fire On The Mountain

It’s become an all-too-common occurrence: for the second year in a row, wildfires have ravaged the West, threatening man and beast alike. Indeed, another conflagration (above) has raged on Entiat Ridge near Plain, Washington for nearly two months, leading to numerous closures in the upper Wenatchee River Valley.

Thanks to cooler temperatures and rain showers this week, the wildfire has seen very little growth, which means it’s time to head north for a spate of rest and rejuvenation before summer officially ends. Yes, faithful readers, a pilgrimage to the Owl Conservatory is in order, along with a toast to the end of summer.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Heart Of The American Dream

We were somewhere around the Roseburg when the thick smoke began to take hold. Forest fires burned everywhere and the caliginous haze enveloped the horizon in every direction, from Sutherlin, Oregon all the way to Blythe, California in the Colorado Desert along the parched Arizona-California border.

To complicate the situation, we were driving the Great Yellow Beast, a fully packed, 26-foot long rental truck with questionable credentials: manual windows, flickering engine light and temperature gauge, intermittent stereo, broken headlight and faulty air conditioning, especially annoying in the 100-plus degree heat.

My sister, functioning as co-pilot, navigator and communications officer, appeared dubious. I figured the heavy smoke was bad enough; no point in mentioning the bats. She would see them soon enough. The mission? Move parental units from Oregon to the heart of the American dream in a gated community in Arizona.

This particular odyssey would literally entail driving a large lemon (an International Harvester, no less) about 1,400 miles along smoke-infested highways in unfriendly terrain with no air conditioning while dodging 18-wheelers and motorhomes. The possibility of physical and mental collapse had now become very real.

But no sympathy for the devil on this cruel cavalcade: keep that in mind. You buy the ticket and you take the ride, and if it gets too heavy for you, chalk it up to forced consciousness expansion. The good news: we arrived safely if not soundly at our desert destination, considerably worse for wear.

Take it from me, there’s nothing like a job well done, except for the quiet, enveloping darkness at the bottom of a bottle of brandy after a job done any way at all. Besides, we would have been fools not to ride this strange yellow torpedo all the way to the end. There would be no reasonable way to stop. We were in bat country.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Questo E Quello (This 'N' That)

Travel writers list many reasons for visiting Italy; virtually all of them are good. But for me, three really stand out: the food, the people, and arts and culture. A fourth is the diversity of terrain, from nearly 5,000 miles of beautiful beaches to painted villages hugging craggy cliffs, from eye-popping mountains to forested lakes.

Let’s start with scenery. I now believe my grandparents chose to stay in Oregon because of the state’s diverse landscape, which despite the cooler climate, mimicked the terrain in Piedmont and Liguria where they were born and raised -- from glacial giants of the Italian Alps to the seductive seashores of the Italian Riviera.

Having now sampled the food in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Spain and Italy, I can confirm which one has the best culinary offerings. I know, should be a no-brainer. Shouldn’t need to travel to Europe to learn that Italian food is best. But for the sake of scientific method, the exercise confirmed what I already knew inherently.

We sampled as many ristorantes as possible. All were fantastic, though one stood out: La Pietra. Most dinner spots don’t open until 8 p.m., much too late for these two Americans. La Pietra opened earlier at 7:30 p.m., and the faire was delectable.

Because of Genoa's substantial fishing fleet, we subsisted on "pesci" (fish), the order of the day at every eatery, and streets were packed with seafood vendors hawking fish of all shapes, sizes and varieties. At the end of the day, vendors deliver what’s left to ristorantes.

The museums, churches, art stores and libraries were ready at hand, within blocks of the Hotel Columbo.

One shop known simply as “Art and More” near our hotel featured unique drawings of fairy tale characters (right), available for only a limited time by the artist.

Gina had purchased a couple on a previous trip, so she had us pick up a few more.

The people were all welcoming: our cousins, the Sanguinetis, our cab driver/interpreter extraordinaire Andrea Giovanelli, our hosts at the Hotel Colombo, Libero, Patrizia, Jacapo and Carlotta Sterlocchi. Even Nico (below), our “antipatico” server at the Café Barbarossa, who took about five trips to thaw, finally warmed up.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Widow And The Orphan

Initially traveling to Italy in 2010, my goal was two-fold: explore Genoa and the Italian Riviera and attempt to locate family in a mountain village outside of the city. All I had to work with at the time was the name of the town (either Orero or Isolona), the name of the family (Sanguineti) and precious little else.

Inquiring at the bus kiosk at the Genova Brignole train station near my hotel, the ticket manager explained there was only one bus to Orero a day. When asked about the return trip from Orero, she replied: “domani” (tomorrow). Feeling like a neophyte and unprepared (and unwilling) to spend a night in the hills, I gave up.

When son Jory and I visited Genoa in 2013, I hatched an idea to hire a cab driver fluent in both Italian and English. “Would that be possible?” I asked Libero Sterlocchi, our hotelier. No sooner said than done; we had enlisted the services of Andrea Giovanelli (below), who also spoke Genovese, which would come in handy.

Venturing off into the hinterlands of Liguria, we pointed ourselves north and landed in Costa D’Orero near Casella. Unfortunately, as we would later learn, there were two villages in Liguria with the same name and we went to the wrong Orero. The next summer, my brother Richard and family found the correct Orero, near Cicagna.

Subsequently, in 2015, daughter Gina and I would once again enlist Andrea Giovanelli to escort us to Orero (and more specifically, Isolona), where we found the Sanguineti family -- Iva, Anna, Andriena and Andrieno. Their grandmother, Anna Brichetto, was the younger sister of our great-grandfather, John Brichetto.

In 2016, I visited the Sanguinetis again before searching for the family of my grandfather, Carl Joseph Cargni, in Torino (below). There, I learned that Carl Cargni was born an orphan of “unknown parentage” and was adopted by a family in the small village known as Chialamberto in the Piedmont region of the Italian Alps.

Years later, in the late-1920s, my grandmother, Gemma Emilia Brichetto, had lost her first husband, Antonio. A chef at an Italian restaurant in Portland, Oregon, Antonio died unexpectedly in his late-20s. A few years later, she met and married my grandfather, Carlo Giuseppe Cargni, and the union produced two children: my mother, Charlotte Nitta Cargni and my uncle, John Valentino Cargni.

With Andrea’s help with translation, I was able to relate the story of my beloved grandparents to the Sanguinetis, how they came to America separately -- more than a decade apart -- and then met, married and had a family of their own. I described it as a love story: "The Tale of the Widow and the Orphan.”

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Of Poets And Pirates

As luck would have it, we had the chance to visit Portovenere on the Ligurian border with Tuscany. Boats run from April 1-October 31, but stormy seas can suspend service at any time. Thanks to timely good weather, we scored the first boat of the summer season from Genoa to that mystical land of poets and pirates.

Perched strategically on the western end of the Gulf of La Spezia, Portovenere – known as the “Bay of Poets” -- is a favorite among literati. The poet Lord George Gordon Byron purportedly swam five miles from Portovenere to Lerici to visit his friend Percy Bysshe Shelley. Nearby “Byron’s Cove (below) is named in his honor.

The name of the picturesque town has been attributed to the Romans who founded “Portus Venerus” as an outpost and fishing village, with a temple dedicated to the goddess Venus. The Italian scholar Petrarch described Portovenere thusly: “Such sweetness made Minerva forget about her homeland, Athens.”

Another explanation links to stories of a hermit monk known as Venerio, who today is celebrated as St. Venerius, protector of lighthouse guardians. According to legend, during stormy nights, Venerio would light huge bonfires on the island of Tino to save ships out at sea as the approached the Bay of Poets.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Portovenere became a base for the Byzantine fleet and was eventually destroyed by the Lombards. Later a strategic base in Genoa’s war against Pisa for domination of the Ligurian Sea, Portovenere features a castle, fortified walls and other structures strategically facing the sea.

The site became a frequent target of raids by pirates from the Barbary Coast in Northern Africa. The Genoese erected the Gothic Church of St. Peter adjacent to the castle in 1198. Viewing the formidable fortification (above) from our boat, it’s easy to envision the Château d’If from the Count of Monte Cristo.

In 1575, Genoese Admiral Andrea Doria initiated a modern military seaport in the Gulf of La Spezia. In 1606, he built a small fortress (above) named "La Torre Scola" (tower of St. John the Baptist) on Palmaria Island. Portovernere and vicinity became part of the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1815 and the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

After a lunch of anchovies and chowder at a chic restaurant, the return trip to Genoa provided better views of the Cinque Terre (below) -- the collection of pastel hamlets nestled among terraced hills that descend precipitously into the jade and indigo waters of the Mediterranean along the Riviera Di Levante.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Hub Of Liguria

Shaped like a salmon, Liguria, Italy extends from the French border to Tuscany, and features nearly 250 miles of gorgeous beaches from Ventimiglia to Portovenere. It’s much like you'll find on the French Riviera, only with an unmistakably Italian twist. At its epicenter is Genoa (above and below), hub of the Italian Riviera.

Marking our 40th wedding anniversary, we booked passage to Genoa by way of Frankfurt and secured a berth at the Hotel Colombo, located among the cobbled, history-steeped streets lining Porto Antico. The old port has been renovated and features newer dockside areas lined with fishing boats, ferries, yachts and cruise liners.

Genoa, founded several centuries before the birth of Christ, was an important Roman port and was later occupied by Franks, Saracens and Milanese. The first ring of defensive walls was constructed in the 12th century. Just steps from our hotel, the Porta Soprano (above), built in 1155 A.D., is the only remaining section of the wall.

To its credit, Genoa was the first northern city to rise up against the Nazi occupation and the Italian Fascists, liberating the city before the arrival of Allied troops. Coincidentally, we watched “The Secret of San Vittorio,” the story of a small Italian village that refused to give up its wine to the retreating Germans, while we were there.

Our plan was simple, really. Visit all the shops, churches, art boutiques, and museums in Genoa. Then, we would explore the Italian Riviera, including the Cinque Terre, followed by a cab ride into the hill country of Liguria to visit our long-lost cousins, the Saunguinetis, in the little village of Isolona. Va bene!