Palindromes, or rather, palindromesemordnilap are the subject of my blog today.

The day began with the number 36 bus to Grignano peremptorily stopping at the bivio rather than going all the way to the ICTP campus, where I work. I understood that this unexpected action must have been the result of a conversation the bus driver had with the other number 36 driver coming the other way, in the middle of the road, holding up a car or two. There was clearly too much snow to attempt the steep road that curves down to the porticiolo. So the usual dozen or so clearly NOT Italian people heading for the International Centre of Theoretical Physics (mostly identified by their air of complete bemusement) had to get off a couple of stops too early and slip and slide through the deep and melting snow (for the several visiting Africans among us, probably their first encounter), walking head on (and heads down) into the indifferent traffic. It was literally hit and miss whether we all arrived intact.

Anyway, later, I was having a coffee break with my ten year old (also at work rather than school since the steep roads up to Opicina were not worth tackling in this weather), and she was excited about the prospect of sitting in the library and finding a book on palindromes. Not a very likely find in a Physics Centre (and about as likely as her managing to sit till in a library for more than 2 minutes) but you never know.

Then, lo and behold, lovely librarian Valerio (also a talented magician) walked into the bar. He’s already taught Micky a trick or two, and so she asked him directly about palindromes. Valerio thought there might just be a couple of lines in a chapter in a book by….But anyway, he said, here is one of my favourites,

i topi non avevano nipoti.

Wow, Micky and I thought, that’s excellent, and somehow quite sad, and possibly the subject of a story or a novel or a poem. The mice don’t have nephews/ nieces/ grandchildren.

Then Valerio told us about the ‘magic square’ palindrome in Latin, consisting of five words, SATOR, AREPO, TENET, OPERA, ROTAS, that can be read backwards and forwards and up and down and…down and up and…in every which way.


No one seems to agree entirely what they mean placed together in this way, and one of the words (Arepo) doesn’t appear anywhere else ever (so must, apparently, be someone’s name). But this square was obviously meaningful to the Romans who bothered to carve it in stone in Pompeii (discovered in 79AD), and it was repeatedly carved throughout Europe until at least the 14th century. The point is, somebody bothered to make it up, and it has been used to ward off spirits, or protect people, or as a secret code for Christians, ever since.

Developing a passion myself now for the wonderfully absurd meanings that can come out of such contorted constructions, I found a forum discussing palindromes in different languages.

Here are my favourites:


“A mala nada na lama”

(The suitcase swims in the mud)

“Socorram-me, subi no ônibus em Marrocos”

(Help me, I got on the bus in Morocco)


“Naai ‘r dan, Adriaan” which means simply,

Screw her then, Adriaan.

My favourite English one has to be:

‘Madam, I’m Adam’

described in the forum as the first palindrome ever. To which someone replied:

And of course, she just answered with her name: “Eve”. (Second palindrome ever).

Palindromes in general remind me of other very constrained poetic forms such as the villein or the sonnet that force you to choose from an extremely limited range of possibilities, but in so doing, you come up with a totally unexpected and sometimes very suggestive creation. The straitjacket of rules can force you into freedom.



today. But, have got to stick to the challenge, a blog a day. So, since I haven’t much to say, I’ll leave it to someone else.

Went to sit in a bookshop this afternoon (Feltrinelli’s on Via Mazzini), which, while the rest of Trieste slumbers even more than usual, is gloriously open until 7.30 on a rainy Sunday evening! I went hoping to find an English version of The Iliad (14 year old is reading it in Italian at school – which seems like a challenge too far) but instead saw a new (for me) title by Jonathan Franzen, Farther Away. Turns out to be a collection of essays, and I went straight to the one ‘On Autobiographical Fiction’.

Writing good fiction is almost never easy. The point at which fiction seems to become easy for a writer is usually the point at which it’s no longer necessary to read that writer […] Unless the book has been, in some way, for the writer, an adventure into the unknown; unless the writer has set himself or herself a personal problem not easily solved; unless the finished book represents the surmounting of some great resistance – it’s not worth reading. Or, for the writer, in my opinion, worth writing.

He says a lot more stuff, about his own struggle to write The Corrections, “much of the struggle consisted – as I think it always will for writers fully engaged with the problem of the novel – in overcoming shame, guilt, and depression.”

There you go, it’s official: writing is painful, personal, shameful. I knew it!

Why do it then?

The rewards, I have recently discovered, are so much bigger than those three small words.

Form and Function

Saw this nifty wine rack in a bistro style bar (Leon D’Oro) in Udine yesterday.


It takes a great design brain to come up with a wine rack that really looks nothing like a wine rack – just a bunch of bottles going rock climbing. That’s really thinking outside the box.

But, the question is, does it work? I mean, it looks like the bottles stay there okay, there was no evidence of shards on the floor below. But, isn’t wine, especially posh restaurant wine, supposed to be kept at a horizontal angle (or is that an oxymoron too) ?

But it’s a pretty clever, simple system. Here’s a close up.




Sheldon Cooper would have something to say about this I’m sure.


Anyway, it appears the Udinesi are not the only ones to get creative about their wine displays (by the way, though the bar served the most fabulous proscuito – not difficult being so close to San Daniele – the food and wine were not so great. So only recommended for a quick snack before moving on…)


Apparently in the Radisson Blu Hotel lobby at Stansted airport there is an amazing illuminated wine tower. Waitresses/ somelliers/ trapeze artists ”fly’ up to the top of the tower, grab your wine, fly down again, plonk it on your table and then whip back up again. At least that’s what it looks like in this video.

Which begs a few questions for those of us who would never dream of staying in luxury accommodation anywhere near Stansted: is the wine at the very top the most expensive? Does the ‘wine angel’ only do her thing if someone orders a bottle, or does she go up and down (and around and around) regardless? In other words, what, if anything, is the relationship between the performance and the object and..does it matter?

Thoughts on a postcard please..

The Napoleonica

Also known as Strada Vicentina but I’ve never heard it called that. Apparently Napolean’s troops opened it (but there seems to be little evidence to back this up). It’s a beautiful gravel (is that an oxymoron?) path that leads from the Obelisk in Opicina to the edge of the village of Prosecco, with the brieze-block like triangular church of Monte Grise looming over it from above, and the picturesque ports and beaches and passagiate of Miramare way down below. If there is a fabulous sunset, this is where you should see it.

IMG_2413And seeing the sunrise here sets you up for the working day. I walked along it recently in the dark with the moon shining.


It was also the final leg of our long day’s bike ride from Cividale del Friuli back to Opicina – a gruelling 80+ km, but most especially a final 20k+ of  the very steep ups and downs of the Carso through Slovenia. Joggers love it because it is a do-able 3.7 k in one direction and 3.5 (obviously) back and there is a gentle gradient that can push those calf muscles further. Rock climbers love it because at the Prosecco end there is a sheer rock face that amateurs and professionals (and kids) alike practice on all day long.

But I have always loved it because it is so easy and at the same time, exhilarating. Any time – in the freezing cold, with the famous Bora blowing, even in the rain.

The Big Bang Theory

..is, after Prosecco and Pizza perhaps the third best way to focus on the good things in life.

The TV comedy series I mean.

‘Third’ is just random, by the way, as in coming next in the list but not in order of importance, otherwise that would put ‘snuggling up with my man who just got back from Mexico’ fourth and thereby AFTER Prosecco, Pizza and The Big Bang, and  ‘reading The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of A Window and Disappeared would be relegated to fifth. I’d rather not put a value on these things. That will only cause all kinds of trouble.

I’m beginning to sound rather like Sheldon, aren’t I?

(I wish.)

Maybe I should reduce the viewings…

Ode to Prosecco

There is nothing better to make you focus on the good things in life…Salute!


…followed a close second by TV dinners consisting of home-assembled pick-and-mix pizza (meaning the cheap trick of buying the base already covered with sauce and mozarella and opening various jars and pots of toppings [be warned some of these will put you off, but there’s no accounting for chidren’s tastes…] …olives, sweetcorn, capers, sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts…) and slapping some prosciutto, cherry tomatoes, marinated anchovies on a waiting plate …my, why do simple lists of food always sound so PRO-fessional? Then it’s pick and mix. 

Maybe tomorrow if I’m feeling more philosophical I might ruminate on pick-and-mix as a way of being. Or I might focus on bubbles for the same reason. Or I might just get drunk…Image


Parallel Worlds

Really can’t tell you what a lifesaver writing here can be. Even when it’s just blah blah it seems to help me make sense of things and aways lifts my mood. Blog I have missed you!

Today I’ve been thinking a lot about parallel worlds. Most of us have faced some kind of personal tragedy or challenge in our lives which has forced us out of our coccoon – and there is a sense of surreality, a haze over everything we do, as though we’re outside in the cold, rubbing a misted up window, looking in. You can no longer remember what it feels like to be inside, where the log fire burns bright, and everything is cosy.

But disastrous events past, present and future, ALWAYS co-exist underneath and alongside any happiness.  I’m thinking of a friend’s adopted son who was brought up in Africa with loving parents until he was two, when his whole village was massacred. Somehow he was saved. Even if he didn’t witness the atrocities, he knows his own history. He has to live with that, no matter how happy he might be now.

As I walk up Via Coroneo in Trieste, I sometimes remember to look up to the high walls of the prison there. I try to imagine what is going on inside. I think it must be unbearable, and I wonder why I have the right to this life of walking along the road, and asking these kinds of questions. I think it wouldn’t take much for the coin to flip. I could go over and join them anytime. And not because I would have committed any crime. Just because I might find myself in there.

Hospitals are like that too. Other worlds of suffering that we wander in and out of.

I have never quite known how to work with this other world in times of happiness. It seems odd to ignore it.