Thursday, June 17, 2010
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
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
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.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
This story is set in the city of Florence, at the Piazza del Duomo. My mother was completing her Teacher Training course as an instructor of Transcendental Meditation on the island of Majorca, Spain and at Fiuggi, Italy. She was taking a break with some friends, and they toured Florence and several hill towns in the vicinity.
I was about a year and a half old at the time, so we went almost everywhere together. It was a bright sunny day, and we were taking a moment from our tour of Florence before the famous doors of the Duomo to rest.
She had bought me some parched corn to feed the ubiquitous pigeons. I was very excited by the process of feeding the birds. I held the paper bag in my fist with one hand, and scattered the dry kernels before them with the other, bobbing and dancing with glee. I squirmed in the stroller, wanting to be free, to get closer to the few birds that pecked hungrily before me.
The corn was gone, and the pigeons started to wander, so I pulled out another handful and hurled it at the pigeons. The responded as expected, crowding in to compete for the food. A few more birds moved in to take advantage of the bounty. I threw another handful, drawing them closer, tensing and chortling with excitement. More pigeons came, now pecking fearlessly between the wheels of the stroller, almost close enough to touch. At this point my mother became a little alarmed, knowing my propensity for going overboard.
It was too late. I took the plunge. With a wild shriek, a preverbal paean to Pan, I upended the entire bag at my feet, spilling the corn right under me and between the wheels of the stroller, and into my lap. I disappeared from my mother's view, beneath a frothing, churning mass of wings and snapping beaks.
With the horror of my tender little face torn to bits flashing through her mind, she reacted instantly, pulling back the stroller, and shouting at the flock as she slapped them away. My scream of glee became a wail of stymied disappointment, fear, and frustration. When the flock cleared, I was untouched but upset, wailing unconsolably. Of course, my mother did not get to see the Duomo that day.
I barely remember this experience, and only as a impressionistic montage sequence, so I piece this narrative together mostly from my mother's telling (and retelling) of the story over the years. For some time, I had been relating this story to friends as set in Vatican Square. When I discovered that I would be able to study in Florence this summer, she told me "Oh, Tim, you'll have to go back to the Duomo where you were mobbed by pigeons!" Apparently we never went to The Vatican; in hindsight, I have to agree that if I had such a "spirited" child, I would not take them to The Vatican either.
So, it is now my plan that when I return to Florence, some 38 years later, I shall purchase a bag of corn, stand before the great doors on the Piazza del Duomo, and ritually re-enact my experience by dumping the corn at my feet and invoking a mob of pigeons upon myself. Hopefully, they will not pluck out my eyes and tear my face to bits as punishment for my impertinent perversity.
Photos by permission.
Friday, February 19, 2010
First, I must absolve my mother and all other adults nearby of any responsibility. I moved very quickly from the time I was small, and had the ability to disappear instantaneously. In fact, when I was an infant I could crawl as fast as other children could run. This got me into a lot of trouble, as my reach has often exceeded my grasp, and my inquisitive intelligence has continually outstripped my wisdom and previous experience.
We were at my grandparent's house on a bright summer day. They lived on a quiet street in a small town in New Hampshire, and we were staying with them, in the first home I have ever known. My mother was in the kitchen, and I wandered out the front door to play in the yard, a safe place in a safe, sleepy town.
My grandmother raised flowers in a large, rectangular brick planter in front of the picture window that looked out onto the street, and I noticed that the rich earth was dry from the strong sunlight. I wanted to help, so I tried to turn on the spigot by the front door so I could water the planter with the hose. It was too hard for my tiny hands to turn. I noticed that the garage was open, so I went over to look inside. On the floor of the garage, among my grandfather's yard tools I found a large (to me) red rectangular metal can with a handle on top and a long, curving spout.
I shook the container, and discovered it was nearly full of what I assumed to be water. I must add here that I have suffered from hay fever from childhood, and was usually stuffed up all spring and summer, into the fall. I couldn't smell anything at all, even something so strong as the fuel in the can.
I tottered over to the planter, and carefully poured a small amount of water on the base of each plant, just like my grandmother had shown me to do, so each flower got a good drink. After I completed this task, the can was still at least half full. At that time they had a pool in the side yard. Unbeknownst to my mother and grandparents, I had already figured out the safety latch on the gate that closed off the deck surrounding the above-ground peanut shaped pool.
In summertime, the sun would make the boards of the deck very hot, so we would splash water on the deck to cool it down and keep the boards from eventually cracking. Having successfully negotiated the gate, I started watering the deck, carefully pouring liquid on each board.
Once this was done, I found myself very thirsty-and probably quite high from fumes-so I walked down the steps to the yard, latched the gate behind me, and tilted up the can to take a drink, my mouth latched on the metal spout.
This is the clearest memory of my life, the feel of the cool liquid against my lips, the anticipation of my thirst being quenched, the concentration and balance it took to raise the heavy can high enough to bring the liquid down my throat. My head was tilted almost straight up before the fluid started flowing, and it came in a torrent.
I drank deeply, so deeply. Then the pain came, in my mouth and down my throat it burned, in my belly it burned. I wrestled the weight of the can down, leaned forward, and screamed. it felt like fire as as I shrieked in agony, and I thought for a moment that flames flowed from my mouth and nose as the gasoline and fumes burned my tender mucous membranes on the way out.
I ran to my mother, in through the back porch, to the kitchen, sniveling and screaming, the can still clutched in my little fist. "It burns, it burns," I wept.
It had only been a few minutes I was out of her sight. She looked at me aghast, my face and torso stained with the spill, the can still tightly grasped in my hand, the miasma of fumes emanating from me like a dark aura; "What did you do? Did you drink that?"
"Yes!" I howled.
"How much did you drink?"
"I went gulp, gulp, gulp. I'm gonna die," I wept.
"I'm not going to let you die," she declared in a fierce, firm voice. In seconds she had poison control on the phone. I understand that my aunt and grandmother were on the scene, but all I remember was my mother. She wasn't going to let me die. No matter how much it hurt, no matter how sick and toxified I felt, she told me she wasn't going to let me die, and I believed her.
The nurse at poison control instructed her to give me milk and vegetable oil to protect my stomach, and to neutralize the gasoline until the ambulance could get me to the hospital and a stomach pump. She instructed my mother in no uncertain terms that I was not to vomit under any circumstances, lest there be permanent damage. I didn't want to drink anything else, but she got the mix down me.
By the time the ambulance arrived, the paid had faded, and she had cleaned me up and soothed my tears. We were sitting on the front steps, and every once in a while I would let out a tremendous belch that smelled like milk and gasoline.
* * * * *
Over the years this story had become an amusing anecdote to me, just another story to tell. Yet, it caused deeper trauma than I realized. I could not drink anything without tasting it first. I couldn't take a shot of liquor, a sip of juice, anything, without holding in my mouth for a second to verify what it was. I thought nothing of this habit.
When my traveling partner and I camped for an extended period of time in the Arizona Desert, he noticed that I was not drinking enough water. It was summer, and my low intake could be life threatening. Annoyed, he finally said "Tim, I don't know why you don't get it." He lifted a gallon jug of water to illustrate. "You have to go, 'gulp, gulp, gulp!" I reeled back in shock, sat down, and nearly wept. No, I wanted to scream. I can't. I can't go gulp, gulp, gulp. Of course, once I'd made the connection I was able to work through it.
I learned many things in the desert, and this was not the least of them.
Stay tuned for I Should Have Died #2: The Birds
The most dramatic story is my earliest full-narrative memory, of when I drank gasoline at the age of 3. I'm sure family members may be able to offer editorial comment on my surely faulty memories, and I offer the disclaimer that I will almost definitely omit, alter, or create details in this series of mini-memoirs. However, I assure you all that any over-illustration is purely inadvertent, and a result of subconscious processes, not a willful choice to prevaricate or make the story "more interesting" a la "A Million Little Pieces".
So, stay tuned for my next post, I Should Have Died #1, "Gulp, Gulp, Gulp!"
Thursday, February 11, 2010
My event horizon envelopes your city
Am I Buckaroo Banzai or Walter Mitty?
Not even your light can escape
Now even time will break
The temple wasn’t built
So your city shall fall
It’s not my fault
No, not at all.
Am I the Christ you’re looking for?
Marx or Elvis, or no one at all?
It doesn’t matter If I can’t meet your eyes
I just can’t reach, though I try
We don’t speak
So the story ends
And it’s not my fault
If it happens again