Wednesday, September 23, 2009

(heavy sigh)

I have just enough time to get an espresso at Gerasmo's on the way to picking up Gus from school. Or, do I?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Il Volto Santo di Sansepolcro

This very old crucifix hangs in the cathedral in Sansepolcro. After seeing it on a tour led by our guide Rohaise, I revisited the Volto Santo a number of times during my stay, showing it to a number of friends. He has a large, wise and slighly sad face, long arms and fingers, and he is made of wood. In the Museo Civico, you can see the crown and robe the townspeople used to dress him in once a year, when he would be used in a procession.

In this picture, I am holding a card depicting Il Volto Santo. To my right is Simon, who gave it to me. To my left are Stephanie, Bill, Roseanne, Martin, Bob and Kathy. We are standing on the sidewalk in Anghiari.

Jokes told by 11-year-olds, and other miracles

Earlier this summer my 11-year-old told a version of this joke at dinner. Here is how he told it to me today:
So this guy goes to a job audition for the person who is going to ring the bell on the top of a great big tower to wake everybody up. It was a pretty easy job, so the man thought it woud be pretty easy and he would get the job. So he goes in the building and the job auditioner says "Well, you can just about have the job, all you have to do is ring a bell."
Then he says, "Wait a minute, dude, you don't have any arms."
And the guy is like, "Naw, don't worry, I can make it work."
So he climbs up the tower and the job auditioner says "Alright, show me how you're gonna do this."
So then, he starts slamming his face against the bell. Job auditioner says, "Ok, you can have the job, but that looks like it hurts."
Unfortunately, a few days later, the man accidentally fell off the tower. All the townspeople crowded around him. One said,"Does anyone know who this guy is?"
The job auditioner came up and said, "I dunno, but his face rings a bell."

This is the view of Sansepolcro from the bell tower of the cathedral there. The confraternity of bellringers performed a demonstration for us. I had forgtten the joke told in June and remembered it suddenly at this visit.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tour of a Factory

With the departure of the Napoleonic armies, the Busatti family chose to keep milling fabric in Anghiari, which they have done since 1842. Housed in a 500-year-old building, their fabrics are yarn-dyed and woven from linen, cotton, and wool and their products are of the very highest quality. As visitors, we were treated to a tour, offered prosecco and Vin Santo to drink, and entertained by a local pianist.

A walking tour of this town took us to the Town Hall, which contained a number of frescoes, including this one. I like seeing San Sebastiano because he is so easy to recognize; martyred when he was shot full of arrows, his depictions always include lots of wounds and the expression on his face is typically serene.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Lost in Rome

When the trains in Italy break down and you are stuck with a carload of Italians, they like to hypothesize about what has happened to the train, what might be happening to fix it, and when they've finished with discussing it amongst themselves, they use their cell phones to call whoever is waiting for them. I was viewed with suspicion, being unable to participate in any of these exchanges.
I did make it to Rome in plenty of time to find my hotel and wander around, but after an early dinner (which is against all the rules), I headed back to my hotel only to get turned around at dusk, whereupon there was thunder and lightning and torrential rain. In the end I found the hotel again and was asleep by 8:30.

The next day, I went to the Vatican to see a fresco by Raphael. There were other things to see along the way, like the Sisteen Chapel and a lot of headless marble statuary, but I had this one thing in mind: "The School of Athens."

Friday, September 11, 2009

Chocolate for dessert

Yesterday, I was told that if I headed out the Porta Della Ponte, crossed the street and the railroad tracks, passed under the freeway and kept going, I would reach the banks of the Tiber River. What I found was that pavement gave way to a gravel road, which became more and more rutted and eventually became a dirt road which did indeed go all the way to the edge of the Tiber. Along the way, I left behind the suburban homes to pass crumbling country estates, and then a couple of gritty rural shacks overrun with chickens and a pack of small, red, scruffy dogs. Surrounded by corn and tobacco fields, I was rescued from a full-blown case of the creeps by a couple of songs from Tom Brosseau's album "Grand Forks."
At dinner, my friends and classmates Alex, Justin and Simon hosted a dinner presentation on the herbal remedies industry, providing us with a multi-sensory experience. During dessert, they were extolling a few of the less obvious virtues of chocolate, and I made a snarky comment to Bill, seated next to me. "Nothing says let's get it on like the end of diarrhea."
Bill and I laughed ourselves sick.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

What we have eaten in Italy

Of course I have had a lot of pizza in Italy, and pasta as well. Two nights ago, I enjoyed a mushroom risotto dish that was certainly the best risotto I have ever had. Last night, we had a picnic of bread, salami and cheese with some truly good wine, and because it was a group of us who had built the bonds of friendship both over some miles of mountain trails and in the context of a leadership class we did together, it will be a meal I think of for a lot of time to come.
Some complain that in the past gelato was a seasonal treat in Italy, but now it is ubiquitous. In areas of towns with regular tides of tourists, a gelateria can be found on nearly every block. Gelato is something one can enjoy while walking and talking, two things both Italians and tourists do a lot. So far, I have tried zabaione (which was made with the local dessert wine Vin Santo and easily the best gelato imaginable), stunningly white cocco (coconut), nocciola (hazelnut), pesca (peach), stracciatella (chocolate chip), pistacchio, and a surpringly tasty and fresh pineapple. If it sounds like I have eaten a lot of gelato, I have.

Tierser Alpl

Terminal #3 has been very uncooperative as I attempt to post a photo to the previous entry. Rather than fight it, I offer this shot of the Tierser Alpl, the lodge to which we hiked in the Dolomites.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Before we headed into the Dolomite mountains from Seis, my friend Tony and I found ourselves waiting for some other people in our group, and since he couldn't remember it, I told him the story of Rumpelstilskin.
The next day, the subject of my telling this story came up a few times, and I was asked to tell it again. At the end of the day, once I had already crawled into bed, a couple of friends from the expedition came into my room to hear the story, and were soon joined by a few others. I told the full version of Rumpelstiltskin, which has an ending that is both satisfying and not. To remedy this, I told a version of the story "Princess Gorilla and the New Kind of Water," complete with my own embellishments, including monkey noises, Baboon advisors, and an ending extolling the virtues of allowing a princess to choose her own husband, or even no husband at all. I am not sure I am telling it the way it appears in print, but I like my version well enough to stand by it anyway.
The next night, a number of my classmates wanted to hear it again. Others had missed it, and really wanted to be sure they would get to hear it. We packed our room (which had three bunk beds and not much room for more than that) and I told both stories again. As you might imagine, the story got longer and better every time.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Tigre contro tigre

What can I say about Rimini?
The streets of Rimini are lined with many medium-sized sycamore trees--some of the loveliest trees I have yet seen in urban northern Italy. Watch out for the storm drains, though, because from them emanates a smell more unpleasant and pungent than any city drain I have ever encountered. There is a vast swath of dark tan sand at the water's edge, covered from the pavement to the surf with umbrellas and beach chairs. The waiters at the Gatto Nero were AC Milan fans and set up a chant of "Mi-Lan, Mi-lan!" when I told them I knew the team. And I did have a nice dinner (pasta with the tiniest clams), a decent bottle of Sangiovese, together with a group of good friends I made on the leadership course in the Dolomites.
Breakfast has been included with the hotel, and always seems to consist of a tray of ham and cheese, an array of sweet pastries, and a baffling coffee machine.
Now I have arrived in the small Tuscan town of Sansepolcro. Some of us nearly missed the train from Rimini to Bologna, and having flung ourselves on board discovered that we had taken some other peoples' assigned seats. We fought our way out of that car and across several other cars to find we were seated with the very people who had ditched us at the station. Another train from Bologna to Firenze (where there were no seats so we had to stand for the hour), and a third from Firenze to Arezzo. Finally, in Arezzo there was a bus ride to here.