Homage to Friuli

Jul 14, 2012 1 Comment by

At the Feltrinelli event in Udine, I borrowed Gianni’s guitar for an impromptu version of “Let Down.”

A little over a week ago, I returned from one of the most remarkable travel experiences of my life. It involved flying to Italy to talk about Radiohead and sign copies of my book on the band. Just that would have been fun enough in itself, but the unexpected way this trip came together elevated it into the realm of the magical.

Back in February, I received an email out of the blue from a fellow named Mario Rimati in Udine, Italy. He’d seen the Italian edition of Exit Music and he wanted to know whether I’d be interested in coming to Udine in July for a talk/book signing, which would also serve as a preview for the concert Radiohead would be playing nearby on the grounds of the palatial 17th-century Villa Manin. Mario was working in association with the tourism office of Friuli Venezia Giulia, a region in Italy’s extreme northeast (go any further east and you’re in Slovenia).

It turned out that Mario and the tourism folks had been developing a series of such events, bringing rock writers to Friuli Venezia Giulia to “advance” some of the big summer concerts scheduled in the area. Other notable people who’d gone over included authors Susan Masino and Joel McIver and Robert Santelli of the Grammy Museum; they’d spoken about AC/DC, Metallica and Bruce Springsteen, respectively.

The more I learned about the “FVG Live” campaign (as it was called), the more it struck me as a brilliant idea. Tourism is, of course, a major component of the Italian economy, but the Friuli region doesn’t get the same number of visitors as Rome or Florence or its immediate neighbor, Venice. And yet a growing number of major music acts are performing in the area, drawing fans from all over Europe. Why not take advantage of this and create events around the concerts that would give those fans a reason to stay for another day or two—and give local businesses some much-needed funds? Sounds like the kind of thing we could stand to do more of in America.

Having been reassured that Mario’s offer was not only legit but also a great promotional opportunity, I agreed to go. Then tragedy struck. During setup for Radiohead’s show in Toronto on June 16, part of the stage collapsed, killing drum tech Scott Johnson, injuring three other crew members, and seriously damaging a great deal of sound and light equipment. The band announced that it would have to postpone the first seven shows on its European tour, including the one at Villa Manin. At this point, I assumed that it would make no sense for me to travel to Italy as originally planned, and that my event would either be canceled or rescheduled to match up with the new concert date. Imagine my surprise when the FVG tourism office contacted me to say yes, it was too bad about the postponed concert, but everything else had already been arranged and they’d done a ton of publicity—could I please still come?

So I went, and I’m so glad I did. The event itself was an amazing success, bringing a standing-room-only crowd to the top floor of the Feltrinelli bookshop in the center of Udine. I got to talk about a subject I love, meet lots of cool Italian music fans, and be regaled by the playing of local guitarist Gianni Rojatti, who bookended the talk with ingenious instrumental versions of classic Radiohead songs. If you’re curious, you can see an edited video of the proceedings here.

But what happened at Feltrinelli was only a small part of the trip. The people at the tourism office weren’t kidding when they said everything had been arranged. For three days, my wife and I were treated to a guided tour of Friuli Venezia Giulia. We saw a gorgeous 8th-century chapel in the town of Cividale—home to a black-and-brown spotted cat named Trudi, who seemed rather smug about her situation (and understandably so)—and we sampled excellent reds and whites at the La Tunella winery. We visited James Joyce’s favorite café in Trieste and we gazed in awe at the 4th-century mosaic floors of an early Christian (possibly Gnostic) church in Aquileia. On our last day, we visited the seaside resort of Lignano and escaped from the searing heat by taking a dip in the Adriatic, finishing up with a meal for the ages at the La Pigna restaurant; the baby shrimp with polenta was especially memorable.

Along the way, we were very lucky to be in Mario Rimati’s company. A citizen of both Italy and Canada, he’s a fearsomely skilled interpreter and gracious host. All the ladies and gentlemen we met at the tourist office deserve praise as well for their kindness, hospitality, and attention to detail. Special kudos to Riccardo Sgarlata, Fabrice Gallina, Deborah Portello, Tatjana Familio, and Elisa Sabot.

In sum, this was an experience I won’t soon forget. If you’re thinking about a trip to Italy, you should seriously consider the Friuli region. There’s plenty to see and taste, the streets are blessedly free of tourist gangs, and the people are wonderful.

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One Response to “Homage to Friuli”

  1. Susan Masino says:

    Thanks Mac for mentioning me in your homage to Friuli. My trip was magical, as well, and I dream of going back someday soon. We were both very lucky to get an invitation to visit from Mario Rimati, who spearheaded the whole idea of authors coming to Udine for a book signing. I will forever be grateful to Mario and the whole FVG Tourism staff for making my trip so wonderful. Thanks again!
    All the best,
    Susan Masino

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