Buon Giorno, friends!
I find myself at the keyboard for the first time after what is, sadly, the midway point of our adventure.
Today is, it turns out, the R&R day between two days of pounding the cobbles in Venezia and two days (yet to come) of doing the same in Firenza.
We are at John’s apartment in Faenza, relaxing and cooking for tonight’s dinner party. I’m grabbing a quiet moment as John has taken his nipoti around the corner to the gelateria. We’ve made a vow that we (at least two of us) must have gelato every day. Today is the first repeat. Last Thursday, too, was Faenza. Friday’s came from Bologna in a gelateria on the plaza that is home to a 98m leaning tower (498 steps of which took us to a windy view of the city high above the axis of a wheel, the city spilling out as spokes beneath us).
Saturday’s gelato was in Ravenna , a beautiful town southwest of here near the coast. And then two servings of gelato in Venice where we found ourselves for Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. [Yes, Easter Monday. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, I’m writing to you on Easter Tuesday.]
Where should I start? Getting dreadfully lost in a flooded Venice? The food? The hills of Faenza? I’ll let the wine to the talking and go day by day, in no particular order.
Day One (Wednesday into Thursday). Even the Bread Has Meat in It.
We arrived in Bologna at the end of our 3rd flight, on time, with bags, John waiting. We’d had no traveling challenges of any substance (CDG airport in Paris had filled our 2-hour layover with a confusion of where, why and with what, but nothing that actually impaired our travel).
We picked up an array of culinary specialties at the airport, fearing we’d miss shops in town this time of day, then we piled into John’s VW and headed “home.”
“This time of day” became something of a novelty as body-time, local-time and Boulder-time competed around the central truth that was simply exhaustion.
Time did allow, upon arrival at John’s apartment, to run first over to the open-air market to add some veggies to our collection of meats and cheeses. Also some dried funghi and spinacci that would, at dinner time, combine with fresh ricotta to fill our Ravioli’s (in a “sauce” of butter and fresh sage–nothing more). [I must say, the food at John’s convertible Ikea table continues to be home to much of the finest culinary experience I’ve had in Europe. Friday night saw risotto at the same table; and several lunches have seen fresh mozzarella di bufala, foccacia, pomodori, olive oil… and wine…]
In John’s apartment we spread our bags around his living room (there’s something about sprreeaaaddding out after the clutching that is airplane travel) and spread our lunch around his table. A trio of meats (two types of prosciutto and mortadella), a trio of cheeses (one soft and gooey, one aged beneath a shriveled rind, one—Henry’s new best friend—a smoked scamorza). Even the bread, essentially a tortilla, was fortified with animal fat. Grilled zucchini and fresh, plump, on-the-vine cherry tomatoes provided a memory of the vegetable world… as did the red wine.
Day Five. Sunlight in San Marco.
Unabashedly touristy we sat in Piazza San Marco enjoying the sunlight on our skin and sipping cappuccino priced with an unspoken surcharge for the privilege of sharing this space (albeit indirectly) with centuries of luminaries, friends, literary figures and movie stars. Equally compelling was the sun itself. Most of Venice has no use for direct sun, the rays of which prove incapable of penetrating the tall narrow corridors of the city down to human level. But San Marco provided a wide open swath for rays much needed to dry us out from the night before.
Just a dozen hours earlier we’d found ourselves trouncing around the same square in the dark and the rain and the flooding. In fact, we had returned to our apartment that previous night very late, very wet and very tired. Venice promises a few famously dubious experiences that add to the magic of the city, and we’d been served two of them that night. That is, we found ourselves hopelessly lost in a twisting maze of flooded streets: “Are we lost, or was this small canal a street last time we were here?”
That was Sunday night. It was after an exquisite meal at a place near the fish market that John had found on his last visit. We’d eaten very well through four courses and two bottles of wine—yes all four of us are enjoying the wine (Henry, in fact, is served regularly… supporting my suspicion that he’s the subject of a mathematical error on the part of his parents. He is, according to Italian law, 16. I think they’re right. He also shows more patience with his wine than his father, taking in the details of wine tasting from his soon-to-be-sommelier uncle while my wine has trouble staying in the glass). We were fat and satisfied, happy and wet, content… and lost… as Venice beguiled us with her magic.
We finished our Monday morning (ok… noon) cappuccino’s and then fed the pigeons. Well the younger pair of our party fed them. The square, as if by some urban law, is filled with pigeons, and the boys commenced to feed them, quickly learning how to find themselves wrist to shoulder with half a dozen pigeons (I’m sure it’s sanitary or else the nice man at the cart wouldn’t sell birdseed to the children). Then we ferried out to see glass blowing in Murano.
Day Two. Football on the Piazza.
The highlight of Bologna was undoubtedly our fortuitous landing at a bar off a side street in a nothing-much square. We’d bypassed several other bars for lack of room, or too much cold in the air… and landed here. Two espresso’s, cappuccino for Simon and tea for me and we sat outside—it was just warm enough—and settled into nice cushioned wicker chairs listening to the erratic rhythm of soccer solitaire (child and wall).
The settling part didn’t last long for the combination that is Simon and caffeine. Before much time had passed he was sprinting the length of the piazza and soon thereafter he’d approached the Italian boy and turned solitaire into a one-on-one match. They played for an hour or more in a uniquely European setting: passers-by were tormented, by American standards, by these two herding young boys tussling over a ball. Never upset, however, they would weave around and move past without worry. Occasionally a man two generations their senior would insert a foot for a pass. The two did all of this with no common language aside from the game.
Speaking of uniquely European. John’s town is filled with bicycles. People of all ages; with overcoats and handbags; with children (sometimes one on the bars and one on the rear); with groceries, weave in and out of the cars and the pedestrians. And, again for those of you who received my Easter 2005 e-mail from Provence , the town is perfect. It’s a different town in a different country… but still perfect. To prepare for tonight’s dinner party, we strolled into the main square for produce in the open air market… and then into—get this!—the bread shop for bread, the butcher for meat, the casa formaggio for cheese… [Oh the inconvenience!] Each shop the distance from the produce department to the cheese department at your local Whole Foods store. Each operated by plump, smiling shop owners.
And now, in case you’ve beared with me this long (to unsubscribe please reply with the words vietato l’ingresso e-mail) I must move on. The boys have long since returned from their gelato outing and it’s time for a nap before we head off to the farm. The farm is the office and bicycle hangar for Experience Plus, the bicycle touring company for whom John has worked most of his time in Europe. We’ll meet a dozen of John’s friends (many not for the first time) for a potluck that promises to rival John’s table… by no coincidence.
Guglielmo, Henry and Simon