Go and Ski in Pragelato 2

January 7, 2007

pragelato1.jpgThis year too the Go workshop of Pragelato has been a success for AGI, that has been organising it for many years.

We had 15 players from Milano, Roma, Torino, Treviso, Varese, Venezia, Edinburgh, Valence, plus 10 non-playing guests. A lot of people for the most attended workshop of the last three years. Pity for the lack of snow… (last snowfall: 8 December).

pragelato2.jpgOur teacher was Li Jingrui 6 Dan from China (that’s the nominal EGF ranking, as he has played only three tournaments in Europe; actually his playing level is almost professional: among other things ha has played at two stones with Fujisawa Shuko…). Li Jingrui lives in Münich and studies chemistry.

The teaching level was therefore quite high: we discussed fuseki, recently fashionable joseki, positional judgement and thickness assessment to inform the strategy. Then games were commented: Li’s games, professional games and our games: Li made a running commentary of a game of Emiliano and me, played in front of everybody else.
Maybe it was the embarrassment, but somehow we managed to play a decent fuseki that deserved Li’s praise. Pity that I had to resign too soon, as Emiliano captured a group of mine that I had neglected in order to take a lot of profit elsewhere… Ah, the greed of Xmas season!

Days were very well organised: true skiers woke up at dawn (notwithstanding having gone to sleep pretty late…) in order to go to Sestriere’s ski runs, where they made use of artificial snow blasted from snowguns…

pragelato8.jpgWe hapless non-skiers woke up veeeery late instead, and then went cross-country skiing on Pragelato runs, the very same of past Winter Olympic Games; or just for a walk, or a dive in the swimming pool of the hotel we were staying in, the Casa Alpina Don Barra. Or even to play a little go, just not to be too obsessed… 🙂

At 17:00 Li started his lesson, until dinner at 19:30. After dinner we played go until we fancied, as we had a room reserved for our group only, equipped even with a stereo to play a little music…

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To sum up, a great occasion to breath clean air in the middle of beautiful mountains and imposing landscapes rich of historical events (Val Troncea, the very narrow valley where the cross-country ski run goes, has been the theatre of important episodes of the Italian Resistance against the nazi-fascists), to train our bodies first and then our minds playing go, and finally to deservedly celebrate with appropriate evening libations…

Those who weren’t there now know what they have missed.
See you next year!

P.S.
Click on the FilmLoop below to see a selection of pictures. Marchetto has made available the movie of two (as of today) lessons: you’ll find them at the URL below:

Lesson of 27-12-2006
Lesson of 28-12-2006

Lessons are in English; the file is about 290MB and will be available for downloading for a dozen of days.

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Go and Ski in Pragelato

December 26, 2006

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This year also we will spend the week around New Year’s at the go workshop that AGI organises every year in Pragelato (North-West Alps, close to Sestriere, Piemonte).

prag5.jpgSki, skating or treks during the day, and go lessons the afternoon and evening. This year the teacher will be Li Jingrui, 6 Dan.

As it has always been the previous years, we expect the usual feast of beautiful snow, landscapes, physical exercise, excellent food, wines and grappa. lot of partying, and go, go, go, and more go!

I will keep you posted, meanwhile here are some pictures taken two years ago.

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Scottish Pixies

September 24, 2006

Now, I’m experimenting with videos…

Still from Scotland, three Pixies sending greetings!

I am trying to see how (and if…) FilmLoop works…

Here’s a bunch of pictures from Scotland. I’ll tell you later about the journey from Edinburgh to Edinburgh, via Borders, Fife, Angus, Grampians, Highlands, Argyll… Pictures of the House of Dun and from the Fringe are not here as they are shown in the posts.

The Loop hasn’t come out exactly as I had in mind, because it seems WordPress doesn’t accept the code for a bigger Flash looplet… Still, click on the Loop and go have a look at our pictures!

Thistles at the House of Dun

Back to our travel to Scotland.
When I was looking in the Net for interesting events in the Fringe I searched for a concert of Emily Smith, who is one of the most beautiful voices in Scottish modern folk.

She wasn’t performing in the Fringe, but she had a gig in Montrose, in another festival called The Hairst. She was supposed to play in something called “Ballads and Bothy Ballads” together with other artists. As she’s really good, we bought the tickets.

The venue for the event was a place called the House of Dun – I didn’t look any further about it. We were expecting a “normal” concert in a “normal” venue so we were in for a big surprise when we got there in the evening of August 16.

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The House of Dun is a stunning Georgian House with fabulous Victorian gardens, designed by William Adam in 1730, enlisted in the National Trust for Scotland!

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We went from surprise to surprise: we were welcomed by the owners, complimentary glasses of wine were offered, the audience was no more than 50 people, the event was taking place in the Saloon and Dining Room, which had a big fireplace, was hung with family portraits and decorated with the most magnificent plasterwork on the walls and ceilings…

houseofdun1.jpgThen the artists came in, and simply sat on chairs facing the audience. One by one, they stood up and told a story or sang a song with voice alone, except a guy who accompanied himself with acoustic guitar and mouth harp. No mics, no amplification.
Only every now and then the singer was somehow accompanied by the others that hummed harmonies almost by themselves.
It was amazing! It was just like being among friends on a cosy and carefree night, and hearing the perfect intonation of all those solo singings was such a treat…

Stories were told or sung about lost and found love, hard work and frolics and drinks, ghosts and charmed tatty bogos that become beautiful lads when kissed by beautiful lassies…
I must say that I had some difficulties understanding everything, as when it wasn’t Gaelic from the Hebrides it was pure Scottish…
Funny stories set the audience roaring with laugh, sad tales produced more than one quicly hidden teardrop on many eyes…
What an evening! We just wished it never ended!

And now, let me introduce you the artists:

Scott Gardiner
A young guy from Forfar, who was the Master of Ceremonies and who sung funny and sad ballads from farmlands of the North East Scotland. If I understood correctly, one of the songs was about one of the very first combined harvester, boldly painted in yellow and red, that in the end killed its proud owner…

Margaret Bennet
A lady with a beautifully pure voice, singing songs, mostly in Gaelic, from her home island of Skye. Love, emigration, hard life… the lives of fishermen in joy and sorrow.

Emily Smith
She was the reason why we were there – we were just lucky that searching for a piece of gold we found a whole treasure.
She’s oh so good, at her ease both in strictly traditional ballads and in more modern songs.
Really, you should get some of her recordings!

Jim Malcolm
The guy with the guitar.
What astonished me was the ease of his voice, warm and expressive. We didn’t know then, but Jim is quite famous in Scotland, having also been the singer of the celebrated band Old Blind Dogs. In 2004 he won two awards by the Scots Traditional Music Society, as Songwriter of the Year, and as Scottish Folk Band of the Year with Old Blind Dogs.

Stanley Robertson
To some extent, the most astonishing number. Close to his seventies, Stanley is a tall, imposing gentleman with a powerful voice and a funny glint in his eyes. A natural storyteller, he also sung with unflinching assurance through some really harmonically and melodically difficult Gaelic tunes.
His were the ghost stories and the one about the poor Tatty Bogo that said “I loooooooooove you” to the beautiful lassie…

The beautiful lassie

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The Castle from the south side

Very well, here I am, writing my first “proper” post after my summer holidays in Scotland and a minor bout of laziness.
My good friend Ale, who manages the Angolo Nero blog, said in her comment that I had lost a good occasion to write a travelling blog. I don’t know… in retrospect, I can see a number of reasons why I didn’t even think of doing that.

First, I didn’t want to bring with me my somewhat battered, modem-powered, beloved old PowerBook G3.
Second, Internet cafés in Edinburgh are a bit costly. They could even ask 1 pound sterling for 20 min. Let’s say that the bargain is about 1,50 – 1,20 pounds per hour. It is still a bit expensive, if you ask me.
Third, Internet cafés can be found only in big cities – not in the middle of Glen Coe, just to make an example.
Fourth, and most important, I usually want to be totally immersed in my journeys. I do not like to filter my experiences through writing about them, or through filming them. I can write about them later. That’s why I am here now.
I took some pictures, though… 🙂

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Now, let’s start with Edinburgh and its festival, or festivals, I’d better say.

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This year was the Fringe 60th anniversary. Numbers at the end of the fair are impressive: 71 million hits on the website, more than 1,5 million tickets sold, 333 venues (proper theatres and halls, churches, pubs, yards, cellars, caves…), more than 28000 performances, more than 17000 artists…
More than 1800 shows, from comedy to music, from theatre to children’s shows, from dance to art exhibitions; and many other events, including food, wine and whisky tasting plus some show or other, Shakespeare at breakfast (free coffees and croissants), pub crawling with accompanying music, you name it.

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Anybody can present a show at the Fringe. Its staff is very helpful, suggesting procedures, ways for finding a venue, and so on.

But a great deal also goes on in the streets.

Flyerers in High Street

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There’s the crowd in High Street (part of the Royal Mile ), where hundreds of youngsters hand you flyers of shows, doing their best to tell you why you shouldn’t miss it. In 15 minutes you can collect a bookful of flyers… Most of the times it’s the artists themselves that do the job.

Then you have all sort of buskers, jugglers, acrobat, street artists in general. Just wandering around you can enjoy yourself for a whole day.

The Mound is another venue for artists showcasing their performance. So if you’re not sure whether something is worth the ticket, you may be lucky to see an excerpt.

I saw there a showcase that was almost the whole show (that was going on in an important theatre), by a Japanese collective called “Jump!”: they mixed martial arts, clownerie and music in a nice package.

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We didn’t see many shows: even going for cheap tickets you can reach quite an expenditure seeing something every day – as you would like to do…
Then some shows we wanted to see (Jason Byrne, Ed Byrne – no relatives, Danny Bhoy) were sold out even before the start of the Fringe.
These are the things we managed to see:

CHANBARA
A Japanese show mixing taiko drumming and sword (katana) choreographies. The latter were performed by the group that worked with Quentin Tarantino for Kill Bill’s sword scenes.

MUMMENSCHANZ
The legendary, beautiful, playful show of mime, mask, puppetry by the Swiss-Italo-American group. I last saw them at the end of the Eighties…

DAVID O’DOHERTY
A stand-up comedian from Ireland smashing corporations and human stupidity in general, aiding himself with a cheap Casio toy keyboard…

ANDY PARSON’S INTERNATIONAL INDOOR CHAMPIONSHIP MOANING
ROTFL for one of the best stand-up comedians and his ferocious social and political satire.

EDDI READER
A superb Glaswegian folk (but not only) singer, one of the mellowest, honey-toned and at the same time powerful voices I’ve ever listened to. After having done backing vocals for, among others, Eurythmics, she embarked in a solo career that has topped (IMHO) in 2003 with an album of songs based on Robert Burns poems.
The concert was absolutely fantastic. She was in top form and the band followed suit. Just perfect.

BOTH SIDES OF THE BAR
A play staged in a pub, about a successful actor, his fiancé (to whom he’s unfaithful) and a wannabe actor who has to work in the pub to support himself and who’s secretly in love with the other’s fiancée… Sort of fun, the three actors were much better than the play itself. I confess I went because of the free beer included in the ticket…

victoria-street.jpgAnd then there’s Edinburgh itself, its museums, pubs, gardens…
Beautiful, full of life and of kind people.

A city that doubles its popolation during the festivals month and still manages to look normal, as if guests from the whole world just belonged there and were part of the city texture.

A joy to be there.

P.S.

Re-reading everything, it may seems that I picked up the Scottish spirit for parsimony, but I strongly deny such hint…
Showcase at the Scott Monument

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Long time no see…
Well, I was baking under the Sardinian sun and I was too busy putting high-filtering creams on Emily’s back, or sampling food at the local fish restaurant on the beach to write anything.

Back to Rome now, and to my job. But I want to recall those days by the beautiful sea of Sardegna’s west coast with the recipe of the pasta dish we ate every single evening!

Spaghetti con arselle e bottarga

What you need for two people (a romantic dinner, why not? perhaps a little aphrodisiac…):

  • 200 grams of spaghetti
  • 500-600 grams of arselle (Venerupis Decussata, a kind of clams, or, in a few english translations: grooved carpet shell, purr, butter fish). Normal clams will do…
  • A liberal quantity of Bottarga. This is dried mullet roe, typical produce of the west coast of Sardegna. It is oh so good and quite expensive, so as to be called the caviar of Sardegna… You should choose the most dried ones, as you have to grate it on top of the spaghetti. There are kinds that are a little softer, suitable to be cut in very thin slices that go as hors d’oeuvre, topped with a drop of extra-virgin olive oil.
  • one clove of garlic
  • a certain quantity of red hot chilli peppers, according to your taste
  • parsley
  • extra-virgin olive oil of the best quality you can get
  • coarse salt

Wash the clams under running water. They must be closed (i.e. alive): those already open or broken are dead – throw them away (if they are too many, go and complain with the fishmonger, ask your money back, etc.). Then, to purge them form sand, leave them in salted water (a spoon of coarse salt per litre) for 30-45 minutes. Clean them again under running water.

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Put the clams in a saucepan with nothing else (no oil, no water, nothing), put the lid on and cook on a medium flame the time necessary for the clams to clearly open the shell, not longer else they get too dry. Take the open clams away, filter the water they have left in the pan and keep it.

Cover the bottom of a frying pan with the oil, add the peppers and the garlic cut in pieces (so that you can remove it later). Cook until the garlic becomes golden: at this point grate a liberal quantity of bottarga on top of the oil, let stir-fry for a few seconds and add the filtered clam water.

Keep everything on a medium flame, stir the clam water while it thickens a little bit. Not to much, as you have to finish the cooking of spaghetti in the resulting sauce.
When the sauce is at the right point add the clams and keep on the fire just the time necessary to season them.
No salt is necessary.
Turn the fire off, grate some more bottarga, add the chopped parsley and mix everything

Meanwhile bring abundant water to boil: when it does add salt and the spaghetti. Stir every now and then. When the spaghetti are very “al dente” (if you’re Italian you know what I mean, otherwise they must be hard under your teeth but not crunchy) strain them and add them to the sauce with the clams, which you have brought to boil on a high flame.
Stir the spaghetti in the sauce until “al dente”, turn the fire off, serve in large plates with a little tuft of parsley as decoration and top again with as much grated bottarga as you like.

Don’t quarrel on who has more spaghetti or, worse, on who has more clams… It is not romantic!

Suggested white wine: Vermentino di Sardegna “Is Argiolas”, Argiolas Winemakers
Serve chilled, and drink moderately, it makes 14°!

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