May 24 2016

Adventure Italia: Days 6, 7, and 8 of 9

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Adventure Italia: Days 6, 7, and 8 of 9

The places that we have known belong now only to the little world of space on which we map them for our own convenience.

––Proust[1]

Day 06

In the late afternoon we head south to Rome. In Florence, we encounter a major traffic jam on the A1 Highway, forcing us to detour over some back roads through Tuscany. We stop somewhere in a village south of Florence and have salami sandwiches, a bottle of Chianti, lemoncello. Some kids hear us speak English, so they rush up to our table to ask how one says “ciao” in the Anglo-Saxon tongue.

Driving past two men scuffling on a sidewalk, Cosimo points at them and says, “If you see people fighting in Rome, they’re most likely British.” (And they did look British.) We had entered Rome sometime around one a.m., and after our four–five hour drive, Scott is a little car sick, so he doesn’t see the couple kissing in Piazza della Rotonda. Chiara’s mother Rita comes out to greet us and says in a matter-of-fact, dry manner: “Welcome to the Pantheon.”

An interesting day: breakfast in Bologna, late lunch in Tuscany, dinner in Rome (cold homemade eggplant pasta, freshly sliced strawberries, breads and cheeses (including gorgonzola) I believe).

Day 07

Rome has been in the tourist business for over two millennia, so it’s no surprise that I wake up in this city and–as our accommodations overlooked the Piazza della Rotondato and Pantheon–hear someone playing Leonard Coen’s “Hallelujah” (1984),  then Ennio Morricone’s theme to “Once Upon a Time in the West” (1969), then Nino Rota’s theme to the “Godfather” (1972).

Our excursion begins after some coffee and pastries. First, the Pantheon: a Roman Temple built by Hadrian in the second century and now a consecrated church that holds, among other things, the tomb of composer Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713) as well as the crypt of painter Raphael Sanzio da Urbino (1483–1520).

Next, Basilica di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, consecrated in 1370, a church which immediately faces the southeast side of the Pantheon. Once inside we find that we happen to arrive at the right moment to see light shine through stained glass and illuminate the Madonna and Child Giving Blessings (1449) by Benozzo Gozzoli (1421–1497). Outside Sopra Minerva in the piazza stands a plinth holding an elephant that on its back supports an Egyptian obelisk. This is the Obelisco della Minerva, sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680).

We then stroll a few blocks westward into the massive Piazza Navona––full of tourists, music, fountains and food. And, at some point we make our way to La Casa Del Caffe Tazza D’oro on Via dei Pastini and Via degli Orfani: a shop, according to Cosimo, considered by the native Romans to be one of the best places in the city for coffee.

At evening we eat pizza at Al Forno della Soffitta near the corner of Via Augusto Valenziani and Via Piave. We are served appetizers of fried mashed potato balls, onion rings, olives stuff with prosciutto then fried like jalapeño poppers here in the States (except that all were battered in flour). Then, each of us is presented with an eighteen-inch pizza. All the pizzas have mozzarella, some with bufala (mozzarella made from buffalo milk). Scott’s is topped only with bufala and prosciutto. We are slightly mocked by our hosts for our slow intake of such fine cuisine. “You certainly don’t eat like Americans,” says one.

After the pizza, we settle our stomachs via vehicular sightseeing: in the warm, Roman night we see the Coliseum, the Bocca della Verità (which I knew only from watching a scene in Roman Holiday), then the Basilica Papale di San Pietro (St. Peter’s Basilica) and the entrance to Vatican City, Trajan’s Column and later the Column of Marcus Aurelius. We also see the Italian Supreme Court building and the Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio (Church of the Scared Heart of Jesus in Prati) whose neogothic architecture stands out in contrast to its more classical surroundings.

(Bocca della Verità from Roman Holiday (1953))

Our night ends with a walk to the Trevi Fountain (which I knew only from watching a scene in La Dolce Vida). Here many late-night tourists take selfies, American frat boys wearing NBA jerseys chug wine from bottles tightly clenched, as Roman police supervise everyone and seagulls flying overhead and bathing in the fountain before us. We throw in coins, make wishes, and are now obliged to one day return to Roma.

(Trevi Fountain La Dolce Vida (1960))

Day 08

After celebrating a birthday brunch for Chiara’s mom Signora Rita with risotto, pasta, roasted chicken, pastries, cake, coffee, Chianti, bitters, we drive back to Bologna—but not before picking up some Roman pizza for the road (possibly from Pizza Zazà off of Piazza di Sant’Eustachio but I can’t remember exactly).

Too much to tell…. words only fail…. One could live in Rome for two lifetimes and still not have time to explore it all…. I need someone from Bologna who has written about Rome…. I need to imbibe Bolognese composer Ottorino Respighi (1879–1936) and absorb his symphonic poem “Pines of Rome” that those notes transposed might transcend and further ferment understanding my initial experience of the Eternal City.

(Respighi’s Pines of Rome (1924))

(Read “Adventure Italia: Days 4 and 5 of 9″ here.)

NOTES

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[1] Proust, Marcel. À la recherche du temps perdu. (In Search of Lost Time.) Vol. I. Du côté de chez Swann. (Swann’s Way.) Translated by Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff and Terrence Kilmartin. § “Place Names: The Name.”


May 9 2016

Adventure Italia: Days 4 & 5 of 9

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Adventure Italia: Days 4 & 5 of 9

Day 04

Running through Bologna is Piazza Malpighi, a major roadway named for hometown scholar Marcello Malpighi (1628–1694), the “father of microscopical anatomy, histology, physiology and embryology.” Our host Cosimo had to finish mastering a song with his friend Tosco today (a song for an advertisement for which they’d already been paid), so while they were working in the early afternoon, Scott and I were let loose to explore downtown Bologna. We were dropped off at the corner of Piazza Malpighi and Piazza San Francesco, just in front of the thirteenth-century Basilica di San Francesco, the Due Torri (“Two Towers”) ever-hovering overhead.

Walking through the touristy district of Bologna near the base of the Two Towers, at the corner of Vicolo Ranocchi (“Frog Alley”) and Via degli Orefici (“Street of Goldsmiths”), Scott and I each had a slice of pizza and a beer at a café called Forno Quadrilatero (“Quadrilateral Oven”)

We next decided to try some mortadella (real bologna) at another café on Via degli Orefici called Loste. Here we had another round of beers, and the mortadella served two ways: first, cooked in and served with beans; next, sliced and stacked on pieces of bread.

It was about time to meet back at Cosimo’s apartment, so Scott and I tried to find our way back without getting lost. Just as we arrived at the correct building we saw Cosimo, Tosco, and another Giovanni (whose stage name is “Kappasaur”) laughing under the porticos. We all walked together for a few blocks till arriving at Via dell’Orso (“Bear Street”). Our companions were hungry, so Scott and I watched the trio eat American style fast food in a place called simply “Chicken Taste,” owned and operated by Asian subcontinentals.

After they finished their dinner, we walked about a block to the corner of Via dell’Indipendenza and Via dei Falegnami (“Street of Carpenters”) where we sat at an outdoor table and had a glass of red wine, possibly at Piadineria Wine Bar. We then headed home for the evening.

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(more downtown Bologna)

Day 05

At brunch we were all too busy talking to each other to notice that the toast in the oven had started to burn. So after eating up and cleaning up and airing out Scott and Cosimo went to his music studio to work on a new track they later tentatively titled “Burnt Bread.” I worked on my novel while they composed.

Chiara’s car had been making a strange noise, and she wanted it diagnosed before our upcoming trip to Rome, so that afternoon we went beyond Bologna to the village/suburb of Calcara to see a Moroccan mechanic with whom they were acquainted. There we walked around for a few blocks in the suburb before the mechanic decided the noise was nothing important. As we were leaving, he asked Cosimo if I spoke French, perhaps because the straw hat I wore was banded with a tricolor of red, white, and blue.

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(blooming succulents in Calcara)

From Calcara we returned to Bologna, drove past the Ducati factory, and made our way to what Cosimio and Chiara described as the best restaurant for Bolognese cuisine in Bologna, Nonna Rosa Trattoria. The four of us shared three courses. The first was a platter with a soft cheese (similar, but not as tart as sour cream), sliced mortadella, fried bread, and a cooked vegetable root similar to onions, leeks perhaps. Second course was tortellini; third was fried pork chops topped with prosciutto and cheese. Desert was torta di mele, an apple pastry served over mascarpone. We finished this off with coffee some lemoncello.

Arriving home around 12:00 a.m., Cosimo suggested visiting a nearby record store, just off Via Sante Vincenzi, that sometimes holds late night listening parties. Here at a place called Mint Sound we listened to records and were served a glass of complementary white wine. Evidently Mint Sound has only recently opened, and the store had made a marketing deal with a local winemaker to where the winemaker made a limited number of bottles with the record store’s logo printed on the label. These limited bottles were then served to guests at the listening parties.

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(late night listening at Mint Sound)

Instead of white wine, Cosimo had coffee (because he was driving). The coffee must’ve been strong, because after leaving the record store Cosimo,  in a kind of manic euphoria, drove Scott and me around for another hour or so, through the hills surrounding Bologna, finding panoramic points from which we could see the entire city, sometimes up to three-hundred meters below. Atop one of the higher hills sits the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca (or “San Luca” for short), which was spectacularly lit at night (the moon was big and bright and crescent), and this special high spot can generally be seen from any point down below in Bologna. Or as Cosimo put it: “You know you’re home in Bologna when you can see San Luca.”

It was either very late or very early when we got home, took tea, and took to bed.

(Read “Adventure Italia: Day 3 of 9″ here.)


Apr 26 2016

Adventure Italia: Day 1 of 9

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Adventure Italia: Day 1 of 9

After leaving Austin, Texas at 4:30 p.m. on a Saturday, we arrived in Bologna, Italy around 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. Our host Cosimo was waiting to pick us up. He lives about ten minutes from the airport, so after a short drive we were at his apartment. There we met his girlfriend Chiara and had some late afternoon snacks (almonds and spicy chip-cracker things) along with coffee.

We went out later that night, probably around 8:00 or 9:00, to meet some of Cosimo’s friends: Tosco “The Tuscan” and Giovanni, “the Yugoslavian,” who isn’t really Yugoslavian. We met them at a café on the corner of Via del Partello and Via Paradiso, just across from the Tribunale per i minorenni di Bologna (the juvenile court of Bologna). The entire length of the street of Via del Partello appeared to be located in a bar district with lots of foot traffic. The cafe served pizza and craft beer.

Tosco and Giovanni were not impressed by either the beer or the pizza. And soon enough I spilled the first half of my second beer on the last slices of pizza; so we finished our grub and moved on.

Giovanni said something like: “Texas, eh? Tony Lama boots, right?” and I replied with something like: “Yeah, those are the Gucci of cowboy boots.”

We made our way down Via del Partello for a few blocks until its intersection with Via San Rocco. Here we entered a techno music club–combination record store called Quattro Quarti (Four-by-Four).

I tried ordering a beer at the club, but it was cash only and I had yet to exchange any dollars for euros. So I thanked the bartender but declined the drink, then, about five minutes later, the bartender enters the dance floor (where I was standing, not dancing), hands me a free beer. Cosimo says: “It’s probably because you’re a tourist.”

Later at that same club we were all given a glass of champagne by one of a group of folks celebrating someone’s birthday. We were also offered a spliff outside the club, and later walking home Cosimo noted that, in terms of the crowd and enthusiasm at club Quattro Quarti, tonight was exceptionally festive.

We got home around two or three in the morning, and began a pattern of ending each evening (or morning) in Italy with a cup of tea.

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(club Quattro Quarti)

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(Vinyl from Quattro QuartiI don’t remember a suicide scene in “Rocky”)

 (Read “Adventure Italia: Day 2 of 9″ here)