Thursday, June 17, 2010


In Bologna we also took in the Medieval Museum and tried to get to the City collection;

we just missed the entry time but ended up having a nice conversation with the ticket-taker; mostly in Italian! Much of our time that day was taken up by trekking through a gigantic open-air market and questing for a reccomended gelato place, which was well worth the walk;
Dried fig with honey plus lemon! Amazing!
We had a long 12-hour day to take advantage f the "slow train" prices, but it was worth it to have 2 meals in Bologna, even though the second one was apertivo.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Towers and Ragu and Musuems and...

It's all going by so quickly. Two and a half weeks left in Florence. It's almost over! I'm desperate to see everything I can here in the city; I have an appointment at the Uffizi tomorrow (if anything is mandatory here that is!), and I managed two musuems yesterday after my Food and Culture of Italy class.

First I attended the Leonardo Da Vinci musuem, which was a bit dissapointing. They had his robot-knight (which I think was not a copy, hard to tell from the placard), and three notebooks as actual artifacts. The rest of the display was composed of working models (mostly in wood) of the more famous machines from his notebooks. The sign said "no photos"but I cheated in the hall of mirrors.
Next, I made my way to the Antiquities Musuem. They have a breathtaking collection of Eutruscan, Greek, Roman, and Egyptian artifacts. The pottery collection on the second story is particularly exquisite, with many pieces of astounding artistic quality and expressiveness. Many of these pieces have been restored to be almost complete. There are also numerous bronze sculptures and an extensive collection of sarcophogi; also an intact Egyptian chariot!
I was pretty worn out after spending 3 hours on my feet staring at these treasures, but it was almost time for the San Marco curch to re-open (4:00) so I sat in SS Annunciata square to rest my legs until it opened at ten past. This church is over 700 years old, and I was deeply moved by the gravitas of the place and the heady air of centuries of worship. I am not a practicing Catholic, but I have a healthy respect for spirituality. I was moved to light a candle for my late Great-Aunt Pat, who I felt would like it if I remembered her in at least one of the many beautiful, old churches I have visited this month; in this one particularly I felt her urging me to make such a gesture. She was a devout Catholic, and would have loved to have been with me, and I feel that she has been.

Last weekend my friend Alycia and I visited San Giminano on Friday and Saturday we went to Bologna, this time joined by Alycia's friend Meredith. On Sunday I took a stroll through the Boboli Gardens and the connected Porcelain Musuem and Costume Musuem.

San Giminano is my favorite! The towers, the intact walls, the clearly Midaeval nature of the town have been preserved (though for the unfortunate reasons of repeated plagues and resultand economic hardship).
Alycia and I split up; she to shop, I to explore, and set a time to meet for lunch. First I climbed the Torre Forte
And took a bunch of pictures
Then I walked around for a while, and we met for a tasty lunch. After, we had gelato (of course!) at one of the best places I've been so far, and I had two of the best flavors so far; saffron and blood orange. Yum!
We then visited the torture musuem (big ripoff), and took the bus home.

Bologna was also lovely, with its famous loggia.

I could not visit Bologna without tasting pasta with Bolognese sauce, so I had Gnocci con Ragu for lunch. Delicious!
That's all I have time for today, I'll try to catch up more later this week; Rome this weekend (a change in plans) and San Giminano again for a Midaeval festival. Ciao!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Weekend Adventures, and More

Last Wednesday, June second, we has a birthday feast for my friend Ali who had a birthday on the 5th. Here is an excerpt from my report on the meal for my Food and Culture of Italy class:

Last Wednesday night I attended my friend Ali's birthday dinner at Il Latin. Her father is a regular and insisted that her friend arrange the dinner for her at that particular restaurant. He also arranged with the restaurant staff that we would be served the full spread and paid for the entire dinner. Ali has been told that this would be a 'nice dinner' with a few friends; when she arrived, she discovered that we were ten, in total; a pleasant surprise for her. Once we were assembled, the waiter started bringing in dishes. Before Ali arrived, the waiter had already opened table wine and served bottles of water. The table was already set for ten when we arrived. Cloths covered the whole table, and we each had a cloth napkin, two forks, a knife, and a spoon.

The waiter was extremely friendly, and explained to us that first he would bring us some appetizers if that was acceptable to us.

The appetizer course began with a plate of prosciutto placed before each diner. They then brought plates of cantaloupe slices, a plate of some kind of cold barley salad, a plate of salad composed of tomato slices, fresh mozzarella and basil, and finally a plate of crackers with warm pate. Each platter came with serving utensils, except the crackers. This was all accompanied with baskets of bread. They gave us time to work on this course for a while then cleared away the plates. I was the only one at the table who ate a whole pate cracker. Flavia (a student from China) tried one but did not like it.

There were other tables nearby with other people dining. As the waitstaff served them, they kept aware of how far we had gotten with the appetizers. They cleared away serving dishes as we emptied them, and once it was apparent that we were finished with that course, they took the small plates that had been placed before each individual along with any silverware we left on the plates. If we left all silver off the plates, they took the one fork we had used.

After this, the waiter explained that for the first course he would bring pastas and soups, and for the second a platter of meats. Large bowls were brought to us and silverware replaced, then we were left with two platters of pasta and two of soup. We finished only one platter of pasta (the ravioli). The waiter stayed aware of our progress, and came over to ask of we were finished once we slowed down. The same protocol was followed once this course was over; new dishes were brought to each of us (large plates this time), silver replaced, and the second course brought. This course was a platter heaped high with roasted meat; beef, chicken, and pork. We were also unable to finish this course. At the end of this course, champagne flutes and a bottle of sparkling wine was brought to the table as the dishes were cleared away.

We were then offered dessert. New plates were brought (small ones), and a smaller fork for each of us, and two platters of flaky pastries for the table to share; each platter came with a larger fork and a knife for dividing the pastries. The lights were dimmed, and one of the platters was placed before Ali with a lit sparkler; the waitstaff and all of the guests in our room sang "Happy Birthday" in English. Then they brought glasses of limoncello, them finally glasses of amaretto and biscotti to dip in the amaretto. They offered coffee, but we were all too full to even think of drinking or eating anything more. We all then thanked the waiter and went for a long walk.

Last weekend I also took three separate day trips. On Friday, June 4th I went on a class-sponsored wine tasting in Suvereto. Gualdo del Re is the name of the winery. They grow their on grapes (and olives), press and ferment on site, and offer meals and accommodations.
First they showed us around the production facilities,

Here are the fermentation vats for red and white wine.
This is the aging cellar, where red wine is aged for 12-18 months.

Red wine aging in bottles.
Then they showed us the fields.
Grape vines.
Olive trees.
We took a walk to the town of Suvereto,

then came back for lunch.

First course; pasta with wild boar.
Second course: roast meats (all pork) with potato.
Dessert; Fig squares.
Each course was served with its own wine; the appetizers with white, the first course with a blended red, and the second course with a merlot. I am bringing home a bottle of the merlot!
After a long, leisurely lunch, we took a very short trip to the beach, then went home.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Getting There: 12 Hours in London

The last couple of days have been fairly sedate as classes are getting more serious and I'm concentrating a little more on just settling into the city after a fabulous weekend day trip to Cinque Terre. My excursions have been limited to scoping out the various open-air markets around the city; a useful task, but not narly as exciting. Therefore, I will take this opportunity to catch up on some of the experiences I skipped over since this trip began.

First, started this trip with almost no sleep. The night before my flight, I had the chance to spend some time with friends I haven't seen in over a decade- in Boston. It ended up being a late night. My fellow student, Alycia, had offered to have me stay in her parent's guest bedroom and have her mother drive us down to the plane together, as we had an early flight. I got to her house after 2, and we left at about 5:30 AM.

Once on the plane in Logan, I was able to doze for a couple of hours. We landed at Heathrow Airport in London, before I felt like more than a couple of hours had passed. We sorted out the tube and made our way to King's Cross

and the hostel where we were to stay for a few hours before getting up early (again) and jetting off to Gatwick to catch our flight to Florence.

78 Clink is an interesting building; once a courthouse that Dickens worked in (that apparently inspired some of his works), the courtroom is now a cybercafe!

I had to take the opportunity to sit in the judge's chair to go online.

The accommodations were minimal, but at least there were beds, and the bar was still open. We "nipped off for a pint" before bed, then sacked out for 4 hours or so; up at 5 for a shower (inasmuch as we slept at all; our room slept 14), then back on the tube.

We took the tube to Victoria station, changed to the National rail to Gatwick, then took a completely unnecessary ride to the wrong terminal. This is what happens when airlines consistently use "Partners" and you don't read the fine print on your ticket. The British airways clerk didn't help by being extra snooty.

"I have a flight to Florence and your kiosk says I can't check in."
"Oh, we don't fly to Florence. You must need another airline." With a sneering smile, and no motion to take my ticket or continue the conversation.
"Well, you sold me a ticket to Florence!" Forcefully, and with no intent to leave her desk until she took the ticket from my outstreched hand and dealt with my problem.
Taking the ticket, "Oh, I see. You're flying Meridiana. South Terminal. You can take the shuttle over there."

So we run to the other terminal and get in line. Meridiana apparently enforces their (checked and carryon) baggage restrictions with a heavy hand; Alycia was charged an ungodly sum for her overage.

In security, my bag was pulled from the x-ray machine. After sorting out that my coat hanger were not, in fact, some large arcane metal object, we finally boarded the plane! We touched down in Florence a couple of hours later, were met by friendly and helpful staff from the Institute, and herded onto taxis to our apartments.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Gelato Festival

Photo Copyright:Claire Weaver

Friday, was the first day of the gelato festival. I slept in a bit (it was a late night the previous night), then went to my professor’s to pick up his keys; I was feeding his cat over the weekend as he and his wife go to Rome to meet up with family. Then I went back home and cooked up the lovely porcini mushrooms I bought at the market yesterday. These majestic, large fungi have to date resisted efforts at cultivation, so they are a relatively rare local delicacy. I’d purchased a huge bag (cheap at €10), only to discover that none of my roommates like mushrooms! So, I’m stuck eating them all myself. Tragic.

I cooked them with mint, fresh basil, garlic, oil, and salt, then sprinkled a little parmegian cheese on top. Molto bene! After a lunch of grilled mushroom steaks and bread, I went with a group to enjoy some gelato in the historic city center. There were bustling crowds flocked all around the pavilions set up in the piazzas. Lectures on how gelato is made were offered throughout the day, and open kitchens were set up as well. We each purchased a book of tickets (five tastes for €4, a great deal), and started tasting! There were many flavors offered; one of my favorite was ACE (orange, carrot, and lemon); I have not yet found the flower flavors I enjoyed in Cassis back in 2007. It is my quest to find lilac and lavender once again. Now we are enjoying a quiet afternoon at home, and will later pick up some pizza to have at the apartment.

My plans are finally firming up; Rome at the end of June, with day trips most weekends. I will stay in Florence this weekend to take care of Mr. Parker (the cat), but mostly because I want to get to know the city better. Fiesole is a possibility.

Thursday night a group of us met up and took the bus to the piazzole Michelangelo to sit on he steps and watch the sunset. Afterward we walked down, stopped by the ladies’ apartment so they could freshen up, stopped by our place to drop off our bags, and then went out for a glass of wine at a club that wasn’t completely swamped with Americans.

edit: checked my grades for last semester today: 4.0 again!

Thursday, May 27, 2010


So, I find myself in Florence, Italy and with some time and luxury to blog again. I will make an interlude from my series of near-death experiences to share some of what is going on in my life right now. My semester is complete (with some success), I am freed from my home responsibilities for the time being, and in a wonderful environment. You may ask, how did I get here?

I am studying abroad at the Institute at the Palazzo Rucellai in Florence through a program at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester. I will be here for a total of six weeks, until July 3rd. So far I have not really left the city, but have had a number of good experiences here. I will try to catch up on relating those as I continue, but first I will start with the most recent.This is the view from our apartment!

Today our Food and Culture of Italy class took a field trip to Il Marcato Centrale, the Central Market. On the way the professor had us try tripe (trippa).

Afterwards, we toured the market. They have giant wheels of cheese, exotic meats (rabbit, horse, guinea hen, etc.), and lots of cuts and parts that are not common in American supermarkets; tripe, lung, brain, and pig penis. I draw the line at tripe...

After touring the market we headed back to the piazza Della Republica to split up for the end of class. On the way there, we were going down a small side street en masse, when a a little delivery truck almost ran over the professor! I missed the beginning of the exchange, but when our professor said something to the driver, it turned into a shouting match with a distinct cross-cultural context; I heard the driver say "Tedesco" several times; our professor is German, and it seems that the gist of the driver's abuse was that our professor was another damn German that thinks he can come to Florence and do whatever he wants, etc. etc., hearkening back to the Nazi occupation of Northern Italy.

Out professor gave a cursory explanation but pretty much shrugged it off.

Afterward, I went back to the market with one of my fellow students, and picked up fresh porcini mushrooms! These only grow wild and are really fresh right now. Yum!

I have so much to relate; I will try to post as much as I can!

Friday, March 5, 2010

I Should Have Died! #4, The Scorpion Pit

This story happens much later, in my late twenties. My friends (I'll call them A and B) and I were camping in the Superstition Mountains, just outside Tortilla Flat, Arizona, in a small diamond-shaped cave. The cave was up a wash in a narrow valley, above the road.

We called it the bat cave because, well, it had bats in it. Out of courtesy to the bats, the fire pit was located outside the cave in the wash. The cave itself had space for 3-4 people, but there were only a couple of comfortable spots. The floor was pitched and craggy, and although there were numerous chimneys in the center of the cave, the edges were cramped.

My friends had been camping there first, and were on an "extended stay". When I first came to the cave, it was dark by the time I got there, so I took the spot in the middle of the cave that they recommended to me.

B warned me before I went to sleep, "It's called the batcave for a reason. The bats will poop on you in the middle of the night. But don't worry, they're desert bats. It's totally dry, it just feels like little pebbles." So, when I went to bed a pulled a fold of the tarp up over my face. Sure enough, I heard rustling and squeaking above me, followed by a little pitter-patter of bat guano sprinkling down and bouncing off the tarp. I eventually got to sleep, despite this occasional distraction.

The next day, I woke up sore, as the slanted floor had slid me down and wedged me into an uncomfortable corner. My face was also slightly swollen from an allergic reaction to the guano. Dragging myself out of the cave entrance, I noticed a subsidiary tunnel I hadn't noticed the night before. It was just the size of a narrow crawl space. "Hey guys, why can't I sleep in there? The floor is all gravel, that's probably really comfortable. And I like sleeping in enclosed spaces."

They laughed. "That's the scorpion pit," said A. "When that old desert rat told us about the cave, he said never to go in there, that it was full of scorpions."

"Whatever," I said. "I don't see any and it looks really comfortable. I want to get a good night's sleep." So that night, after a strenuous, exhausting day of hiking, swimming, and rock climbing, I slept in the scorpion pit. I was a little creeped out by the thought of poisonous arthropods crawling all over me, so I wrapped my sleeping bag in my tarp, pulled a flap over my face, and cocooned for the night. The sub-cave was narrow around me in the darkness, and I felt swaddled and warm. The floor was level, and I could stretch out straight. Luxury!

I snuggled down into the gravel, feeling it conform to my back and spine; organic memory foam with shiatsu! The blue plastic tarp made crinkling noises as I shifted. I started to drift off, and I wasn't sure if I could hear the faintest scrabbling noises, like tiny claws all over the tarp, all over me. I tried to stay completely still. Was it me? the noises seemed to stop, then start again. The wind slipped in the cave mouth, moving the tarp again, making more scratchy noises. Was it scorpions? I strained to listen, to stay completely still... Of course, I fell asleep just like that.

When the warm sun awoke me, I forgot all of last night's horrors and sprung up to greet the day. From that night on, whenever we stayed in the batcave, I slept in the "scorpion pit". My friends thought I was crazy, but I shrugged it off. A few weeks later, we were able to move to a better cave as an occupancy came up, and I had only thought of the scorpion pit with faint nostalgia; it was truly the most comfortable place I have ever slept.

Epilogue: That was over a decade ago. I'd lost touch with those friends for a while, but recently reconnected with A. We ran into each other at the Middle East Cafe, and were catching up, straining our voices to be heard over the band. "Tim, I went back to the caves, do you remember the scorpion pit?"

"How could I ever forget?"

"I brought a black light out there, Tim. I shone it in the scorpion pit. Do you know what I saw?" I nodded grimly. The scrabbling noises teased at the edge of my hearing in the noisy bar, chills from a dozen years ago scrabbled up my spine, over my shoulders. "Scorpions. Dozens of scorpions. It was teeming with them. All over the floor, the walls. The ceiling. You've fucking crazy for sleeping in there." He laughed.

I gave a strained smile. "I know. I knew. I didn't care. I knew they wouldn't sting me." Was it bravado to say so? Was it foolishness to sleep in the scorpion pit, knowing they probably were there? How was I so sure they wouldn't sting? Was it perversity, daring death in a scene from a horror film? It's hard to say, now. This was not my only brush with death in the desert; but, to live out there is to live with the possibility. Everything out there in the desert is either sharp or poisonous; or both.

Cave wash courtesy Charles Buckley, Scorpion Wikimedia Commons.