Cipasso

I’m not a food writer.  I don’t know a rhubarb from a roux.  What I do know and can recognize is vision, entrepreneurial passion, style and taste.  Oleg Grossu, owner of Cipasso has all that and more.  You step into a clean open space with old brick walls.  American Jazz standards playing–not overbearing–but there.

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Grossu, and his partner, Aurica Danalachi, have realized a two-year old dream.  After years working in the restaurant business, Oleg opened Cipasso this May.  Oleg has been a sommelier for 15 years and former manager of La Buvette and Dilla.  Cipasso has a small staff of two in the kitchen and Oleg–plus mama.

Oleg knows his wines.  One full wall in the beautiful sunny space at Via dell ‘Orso 71 is lined with bottles ranging from assertive primativos to sexy brunellos, spritely prosecco to blushing rosato.

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This is not just a wine bar.  Cipasso offers more than delicious appetizers and snacks.  It offers light dinners also.  The appetizers tonight were bruchetti with a classic tomato topping set off with small amounts of red pepper, a unique panzanella with the inclusion of cucumber hinting at spring, and a creamy potato puree piped onto bruchetta topped by anchovie and a sprig of green. On another visit I sampled a delicious white bean puree seeded with small shrimp.  These antipastos are offered with your wine served in shapely sparkling glasses.

For dinner I had the meatballs served with a deep green mound of rapini–Italian broccoli.  The meatballs were beautifully tender and tasty with a light gravy.  The rapini was perfectly cooked and well flavored.

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Saving the best for last tiramisu served in a short pot filled with a yummy creamy pudding over a thin base of chocolate cake threaded with a liquor and a sprinkling of dark cocoa and for a surprise crunch–rice crispies hidden in the cake.

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To finish: a perfect cappuccino with firm, tasty foam.

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What I like so much about Cipasso is that it offers a relief from heavy dinners served late in the evening.  I prefer eating light: healthy greens, some protein, a good glass of wine, and sometimes a superlative dessert.  Cipasso is just the kind of place I look for.  Happily it’s located down the street from my hotel the Portoghesi and two blocks from Piazza Navona.  Lovely for an after dinner stroll.  Tonight a violinist is playing Ed Sherran’s “Perfect”    Yes, indeed!

Cipasso is a wonderful place to land at the end of a long day wandering and sightseeing–usually on foot.  It’s so nice to be warmly greeted; to sit and stay with a glass of prosecco and a savory bite or two.  It feels like you’re at the home of friends.

It Sprinkled, Rained, Poured, and Thundered

 

I had my umbrella at the ready and continued along remembered streets Via dei Coronari being one of my favorites.

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Of course I spent a lot of time looking into windows and dodging under overhanging lintels and awnings to escape the rain.

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I crossed over to Via Giulia and then found my way to Via dei Banchi Vecchi where I dropped by my friend sculptor Pietro Simonelli’s studio.  Pietro is very talented and as handsome as ever.  Next visit I’ll take a picture of the 40 kilo bronze wing he made recently.

I stopped for a hot pot of tea–having been out in the rain now since 9:30–it was approaching noon.  I was tired and damp.  I headed back but not before the sky opened and dumped a drenching deluge.  Every taxi in Rome was stuffed with clients.  I stood and watched the rain pour down huddled under an overhang.  And made it back to the Hotel Portoghesi not too wet but chilled and tired.  I grabbed a sandwich and ate it in my little room.  Dry and warm.  A nap was in order.

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Piazza Navona with the darkening overhead sky.

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Some of my Favorite Places In Rome

Il Ritrovo del Gusto on via Coronari
Il Ritrovo del Gusto on via Coronari

Shops

Sotto L’Arco

via del Pellegrino

Wonderful artisan-made jewelry.  Great design, stones and prices

Studio 9

vicolo della Moretta, 9

just off Banci Vecchi

local artists–very well curated paintings, ceramics jewelry

Lo Studio d’Arte

via del Pellegrino 44

photographs by Cristiano the owner that are augmented with paint and other materials

Pandora della Malva
wonderful scarves, hand bags, jewelry

Pza. S. Giovanni della Malva 3

In Trastevere

Sinopia Galleria

Raffaella Lupi, prop.

via di banchi nuovi

contemporary art of highest quality

Pietro Simonelli

Scultore

via dei Banchi Vecchi 125

Alain

decorative accessories, lighting, modern antiques

via del Pellegrino,  171

Restaurants

Barnum Café

via del Pellegrino, 87

Ristorante Vecchia Roma

pza. Campitelli )near Ghetto)

Ristorante Matricianella

via del Leone, 4 (near Spanish Embassy)

Il Ritrovo del Gusto

via dei Coronari, 30

Loving Rome

On our way home we spent the night at a Holiday Inn Express on the outskirts of Heathrow.  In the cattle call breakfast room the next morning I looked around and knew for sure that I was not in Rome.  These folks were not Italian and the breakfast certainly was not!  Eggs–hadn’t seen them for two months!  Coffee–undrinkable.  Where was my chocolate cornetti? I missed my baristo at Barnum’s and his delicious cappuccino?  The freshly squeezed orange juice. The brilliant Raphael-blue sky. This was not Rome.

Rome is a mystery. One day you hate it and the next day you love it. It is annoying and then delightful. You are repulsed by the crowds, and then, in the process of avoiding the crowds, you stumble on a new street and an unseen treasure appears. This is exactly how our two weeks in Rome went. Sometimes my feelings about Rome changed from hour to hour, but finally, in the end, I succumbed to the beauty of the place and the charm of the people, and yes, the food!

We spent two warm and sunny weeks visiting one splendid, wrecked site after another. We spent whole days strolling through marvelous, decrepid old palaces full of spectacular treasures.  We walked endlessly on dirty cobble-stoned streets carpeted with cigarette butts and garbage only to arrive at a restaurant with such delicious food I salivate at the memory.

Then there were the annoying aspects of Rome. Arriving at the post office laden with packages, waiting an hour and a half, finally reaching the head of the line, smiling and trying to please a surly mandarin at the desk and at the end, being told all the forms must be completed in Italian and the charges must be paid in cash–lot’s of cash. We definitely felt we were being held hostage but didn’t really know what our crime was. I think it was wanting to mail three boxes out of the country. Lot’s of extra work for the clerk.

Yes, it’s very annoying when the stores all close from 1-4. Very annoying! Yes, it’s a capitol city and it should adopt the efficiencies of modern business practices such as ours. But Italy hasn’t and probably won’t.

Yes, you should be able to eat dinner at 6 p.m. But you can’t. You can have a sandwich or a pizza anytime, but you can’t have dinner until 7:30 or even later.

more lunch in Rome
more lunch in Rome

Yes, I know children need 8 hours of sleep but Italian children eat dinner with their families and stay up late and somehow get to school the next day. They may nap all afternoon–perhaps they even nap at their schools, I don’t know, but no one seems to go to bed at 7 p.m., that’s when they eat dinner.

High flyer at Barnum's
High flyer at Barnum’s

At Barnum’s, our favorite coffee bar, we are greeted warmly by the baristo.  We sit and savor our cornetti and cappucino.  “Bonjour!”  It’s our friend, Alain, the antique store owner we like so much.  He introduces us to his daughter; calling us his  “amichi,” his friends.

Barnum's coffee bar on via Peligrino
Barnum’s coffee bar on via Peligrino

Heart warming.  You cannot imagine how good it feels to be recognized and warmly greeted after being gone from home for three months.  Alain is French. He married a Roman; they are raising two daughters in the center of Roma.   He and Ken developed a friendship of shared interests and sensibilities.  We hope to see Alain again.  A man who speaks English, French and Italian.  (His daughter speaks only Italian!)  He is a talented man and an interesting person who is eager to share his thoughts and feelings. It is unusual when a native shares his observations and concerns with “tourists.”

I realize that the a secret to enjoying a place is to stay there long enough to know your way around and be comfortable moving about without a map in your hand.  The other is to make some friends–even if you never see those friends again. It is important to reach out, warm up, do your best to speak their language, enjoy their way of doing things.

I read a few lines about Romans in one of Rick Steves’ books.  He says there is no word for privacy in Italian. He was commenting on the close, overly emeshed lives Italian families lead. Each morning as we walked to Barnum’s we passed a very elegant antique store and each morning a well groomed, very petite, and neatly dressed woman in her 80’s walked slowly down the street, leaning on a cane and the arm of a handsome man in his 40’s. Her thick gray hair was coifed in a perfect bob. It was so perfect it might have been a wig! Her pants suit was well cut for her tiny frame. She and her escort did not speak. They made their way to the store nearly every morning just as we were on our way to Barnum’s. There she was at the end of the day standing in the doorway waiting for her escort to walk her home!

One morning getting a later start, we glanced into the antique shop and saw the man with his shirt sleeves rolled up. He was busy re-merchandising the store. Hot and hard work. I’ve done it many times! The lady was facing him speaking to him. Suddenly he advanced swiftly toward her with his arm out in front of him, finger pointing at her. His face betrayed frustration if not barely controlled anger. We heard him say in a loud voice “Mama!” The rest was lost to us. We walked on. The stories you’ve heard about Italian men and their mothers and their lives together is real. When will her son leave home? Hard to say.

Now I’m home writing and reflecting on our remarkable journey: from Shakespeare to Hadrian; from cave men to the Etruscans; from mosaics to painted villas. We saw the treasure and history of centuries of human endeavor. For me, the single most important aspect of these three months abroad is the realization that seeing new things and learning about them is what I most enjoy. The visual stimulation, especially in Rome, is what thrills me.

Basilica San Vitale Ravenna Italy
Basilica San Vitale Ravenna Italy

Two gasp-inducing places, Basilica San Vitale a 5th C church emblazoned with mosaics and marble in Ravenna, and Villa Farnesina in the Trastevere in Rome built in the 15th C where every wall and ceiling is hand painted are my touchstones. They are so visually spectacular–each in its own way–that I will never forget the moment I stepped over their thresholds and lost myself in wonder. Seeing the work of artists and crafts people who lived hundreds of years ago whose work can stop you in your tracks–bring you to your knees–will always remain with me.

The Perspective Room Villa Farnesina Trastevere Rome
The Perspective Room
Villa Farnesina
Trastevere Rome

Arezzo

 

Arezzo again 2013-10-08 001Arezzo, situated within striking distance of Firenze, Perugia, Siena, and numerous small hill towns like Cortona, is the provincial capitol of Toscana.  Arezzo is different from many towns in Toscana: no sweeping views, no fresco colored villas with red tile roofs as far as the eye can see. It’s not on a river, however both the Arno and the Tiber originate north of Arezzo in the hills and pass through the area. It sits on a low hill in the Clanis valley.  It’s not famous for leather goods, food, wine, famous museums and great restaurants but it has all of these things. I like it–a lot.

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The men and women of Arezzo are proud of their Etruscan roots. Their home town was one of twelve Etruscan cities. The statue pictured a above is Etruscan and can be viewed in the archeology museum. One of the great surviving pieces of Etruscan art was discovered in Arezzo in 1553 CE when the city walls were being rebuilt. This amazing bronze statue of the chimera dates to the beginning of the 4th BCE. It resides today in Firenze because Cosimo de Medici appropriated it for his collection in the Pitti Palace and never returned it. The chimera is a mythical beast with the head and body of a lion, a goat’s head coming out of its back, and a long tail that ends with a snake’s head! It is the mascot of Arezzo. I imagine if the Etruscans wanted to scare you into submission threatening an attacck from the chimera would do the trick!

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St. Mary Magdalene by della Francesca

Below: partial view of The Annunciation by della Francesca

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Arezzo today is home to hard working people who take great pride in their history and the artists and writers who lived and worked in Arezzo. Those artists include della Francesca, Signorelli, Cimabue, Angelico and others. Arezzo was the birthplace of Petrarch and Giorgio Vasari. Despite the difficulties of funding public works, the city is restoring the Teatro Petrarca. The Vasari home is now a beautiful museum with splendid painted walls and ceilings. They are also hard at work excavating the Roman amphitheater and renovating the adjacent Archaeology Museum.

Vasari home in Arezzo
Vasari home in Arezzo

Arezzo does not live for tourists; it welcomes them and you see groups wandering around the sites every day.  Arezzo does live for antiques.  It has a regional antique show once a month and a really big one once a year.  There are antique shops everywhere you look within the historic center.  The dealers are friendly and the goods they’re selling are interesting.

First day of Antique Fair--rain
First day of Antique Fair–rain

The post office will help with paperwork and information about how to prepare your box for shipping. The shipping cost for one very heavy box (4’x2’x2′) and a flat box (8″x3’x4′) cost about $350. There is an amazing Mail Box entrepreneur in new Arezzo who’ll take care of the more delicate or valuable items. It’s costly as they go by air but they will probably get home in one piece!

Next door to Corte de Re where we stayed, you’ll find the shops of two affable antiques dealers, Gianni and Marco. They were very helpful to us. Marco specializes in chandeliers. I was charmed by a wall painting of a pig, sheep, and bull in parade in his shop. He told me the shop was once a butcher’s. The animals are dressed for the main event–they are, or course, the main event!

Former butcher shop not antique shop
Former butcher shop now an antique shop

During our two week stay in Arezzo we lived in a building 500 years old surrounded by ruins and walls dating to the Etruscan period. It was built into the city wall over 500 years ago. Franca, the owner of Corte de Re is a delightful woman who delivers a terrific breakfast to your room and has information about anything you might want or need. Her home is one hill over from Arezzo. She lives there with her family and 400 olive trees. If you’re really nice, you might go home with a bottle of her oil.

After the Romans vanquished, or absorbed the Etruscans, Arezzo remained an important city. It was well situated to defend Rome against invaders from the north and east. Arezzo continued to flourish during the middle ages and into the Renaissance. There are many buildings in the city which date from medieval time.  Georgio Vasari was born in Arezzo down the street from our room at the Corte. The arcade that fronts the Piazza Grande was designed by Vasari.

 Vasara's Arcade

Vasari’s Arcade

The Medicis and other famous Florentine families vied for Arezzo and in fact did own and rule over it for a period of time.  You can walk around the fort the Medici family built and see the famous shield with balls that was the Medici family insignia on the walls of major buildings. Today’s cemetery is situated outside of and up against those fortress walls. It may well have been a cemetery for hundreds of years but we saw no trace of ancient grave sites when we walked around it.

Arezzo Cemetery
Arezzo Cemetery

We ate well and inexpensively in Arezzo. One of our favorites places is La Torre di Gnicche. It is well known for the typical toscana tomato and bread soup which is rich and thick. Always remember to drizzle olive oil on the top–for that matter olive oil goes on everything from soup to pizza.

Another favorite place was Trattoria Mazzoni which we stumbled into returning from the Vasari house. It’s located away from the Piazza Grande where we were staying. The trattoria has been in the family since the father of the current owner (who must be 70 years old), started it. He minds the grocery next door. All the fruits and veggies for your dinner come directly from his grocery to the kitchen to your table. The hostess is Mrs. Mazzoni, the chef is their daughter and the waiters are their sons! (The younger son, Marco, has decided to try another profession at the moment.) We ate there about five times and on our last visit we told #1 son we were leaving for home. The entire family gathered to wish us goodbye. It was a lovely moment.

Mariano’s, was another favorite. It’s located off the Pza. Grande on via di Pescaja. Mariano, the chef, and his partner, Gianfranco, serve fabulous cuisine. The food is delicious especially the pizza. Both men are witty and charming. Mariano hales from Napoli; Gianfranco from Calabria. I believe the Neopolitano influence is very much present in the pizza. If you’re lucky and it’s not too busy, Gianfranco will sit down at your table and schmooze.

We indulged ourselve–too frequently for our respective waistlines–on terrific coffee and pastries at Stefano’s. After a hard day touring you can stop in for proseco and mini pizze and a bowl of big green olives. Massimo and Simone, the owners, work from 8:30 – 8:30 every day but Wednesday! Hard to believe!

Massimo at the till at Stefano's
Massimo at the till at Stefano’s

Our go-to place for panini, cheese, and wine was Bodega di Gnicche. The owner makes the best sandwiches. She has a hand-picked unusual selection of cheeses. You simply cannot get these cheeses in the U.S. They are regional and made in small amounts by locals. One of my favorites was a soft gorgonzola that was embedded with pistachio nuts. You can sit in her little place with a glass of wine; eat, talk, watch the people on the piazza. I have never seen anyone work as hard as she did on the weekend of the big antique fair. She must have made a hundred panini each one hand made to order on her fresh delicious bread.

If this isn’t enough, there is great shopping and great prices on via d’Italia and via Cavour! We each treated ourselves to a new something: Ken a dynamite sports jacket and brilliant scarf, and for moi, a dazzling sweater with lace down the back and peeking out around the bottom of the sweater. Arezzo really is a marvelous place to stay and experience authentic Italian life.

Great shoes!
Great shoes!

A Cautionary Tale or Two or Three

View of Firenze from Villa Barzini
View of Firenze from Villa Barzini

Most of my blogs have focused on the physical beauty of the cities and the land, or the art or the history of all the places we’ve seen, but before you all book your tickets. I want to give you a heads up.

The European Union has erased long-time state boundaries.  There is almost unlimited possibility to move from country to country with or without means of support or income.  Over the past several years, thousands of individuals have left the poor and less developed countries in eastern Europe and Africa and the middle east and moved to Italy, France, Belgium, Scandanavia and so on.

During our trip we have had serious and passionate conversations with native Europeans none of whom could be labeled “racist.” They are uniformly very unhappy about two things: taxes and the vast influx of people from the “east” and from Africa who have no skills and no job when they arrive.

Sadly, at least in Italy, we are told there is no social service structure which would ease the transition of the immigrant and assist with acculturation: no food banks, job training, language instruction, help with housing, and so on.  I don’t know if the foreigner is eligible for health care or public education for their children either. Like most immigrants, the newcomers rely upon friends, family and often unsavory lines of work to get them money for a place to sleep and something to eat.

Italians speak of three groups: those from Africa, the Albanians, and the Pakistanis. They identify the Africans as those who commit violent crime (muggings, break-ins, etc), they say the Albanians operate in trained, organized gangs to steal and pick pocket, and the Pakistanis sell roses at every restaurant, trattoria, and bodega all day every day, or peddle packets of tissues outside church doors, and then there are just the plain old fashioned panhandlers, usually with a dog, that can be found all over the world including Seattle.

Lesson 1.
So we take the train to Firenze from Arezzo. It costs about $15 for two round trip tickets. Takes about an hour. We step off the train both with backpacks. Nothing in mine but water, an umbrella, a coat and scarf. I do have a small handbag that goes over my head and straps across my chest with my credit cards, driver’s license, some money, and my Iphone. Ken has his Ipad, Iphone, his wallet, his change purse, and an umbrella in his backpack.

I suppose we look healthy and prosperous (possible elderly); we don’t look Italian. We don’t look Japanese or Chinese. Could be German? No, Ken has on sneakers and a Northface jacket. French? No, Northface jacket and Nikes. American? Sure. By appearances alone we have become targets but we’re not thinking about that at all. We sit on a bench and pour over the map.

Santa Maria Novella train station is very crowded. Firenze is a major hub for tourists and students visiting the art and the monuments; Dan Brown fans, and tour groups. The bench is a rare find and very crowded. Lot’s of jostling at our backs; I move my backpack to my lap. Ken remarks on how crowded it is and suggests we move on. We’re heading over the Arno and up the hill to an art show at Villa Barzini near the Boboli Garden. The streets are so crowded that we decide not to walk across the city but to take a taxi up the hill and spend our time and energy on the exhibit.

The taxi takes us to Barzini and when it stops Ken reaches for his wallet and can’t find it. I pay the taxi driver. We get out, Ken begins to pull everything out of his pack, checks all his pockets, finds his Iphone and his Ipad but no wallet or change purse having put them both in the outside small zipper pocket on the backpack. Gone! He is devastated.

He freaks out! Calls to the bank, the cards are blocked–already having been used up to the daily limit. How? We don’t know. Ken spends two hours in the police station at the train. I return to Arezzo. He returns to Arezzo later with a written police report. I don’t think it means a thing to anyone but Ken felt it worth doing. More hours on the phone. Business account must also be blocked. Yikes!

We’ve told this story to every Italian we know. They universally respond that organized gangs of eastern Europeans are responsible and that they are very skilled. Theft and pick pocketing is constant and the police cannot do anything about it. So DO keep your valuables strapped to your body and leave your passport in a safe place in your room.

Lesson 2.
Arriving at the Ravenna train station with all our luggage (two suitcases–one large and heavy–and a small roll-aboard with laptop–two packbacks and two handbags. We’re huffing and puffing and preparing to go down the stairs to take the “tunnel” to the correct Arezzo-bound binario. There are no lifts. (If there is one, it’s usually out of order.) Easy, kinda’, to bump the suitcases down the marble stairs. (By the way, Ken can’t lift or carry anything heavy.) In a flash, a young man steps up to us and says something in some language I cannot understand but by gesture indicates he’ll help us. He quickly takes all the suitcases. He’s about my height but obviously strong. He walks very quickly up two flights of stairs to the platform and then deciphers the schedule and goes to the correct binario. I’ve kept up with him–a little concerned about the small roll-aboard with the MacBook inside–and stand with him. I have three euros in my hand to give him. Ken arrives and the guy turns to Ken and holds out his hand and says 50 euros (that’s about $65)!! We both laugh; the guy’s not laughing at all. In fact, he looks quite threatening. Ken adds three more euros to mine and firmly says “This is it. Six euros.” The guy looks furious and continues to demand 50 euros. We remain adamant. He eventually walks away but looks very angry. Was it all an act? Who knows. We certainly planned to tip him and we did (about $13). So don’t enter into a contract without stating the terms before you allow anyone control over your possessions.

Lesson 3.
We’ve learned that there is no way to rely on “common sense.” By definition, customs common to your culture are just that “common in your culture.” That’s very tough to internalize because you think “Well, I’ll just use my common sense to (fill in the blank).

Very few apartments or B&B’s provide a washer, never mind a dryer. Electricity is VERY expensive. By the time we got to Arezzo we had so much dirty laundry the bidet could no longer handle the job of wash tub, so we asked where a laundry was. We were directed to a combination laundry and cleaners. We left a pile of laundry and a few pieces to be dry cleaned. Our land lady called the owners and asked them to expedite. Three days later, having worn the same clothes every day, I picked everything up, paid the 70E ($87)–after I got up off the floor–and staggered to our B&B.

When Ken got in he was delighted to see the cleaning and then opened up the laundry which was packaged in a tightly sealed plastic bag. He nearly fainted. Everything was perfumed. I don’t mean just a light whiff, I mean PERFUME1 The underwear, socks, jeans, shirts and so on reeked of cheap perfume! Our sinuses began to swell and Ken broke out in hives. Back it all went into the bag to be delivered to the laundry the next day for a redo. Did the perfume smell go away–not entirely.

Guess what, all laundries perfume everything, we’re told. “Why didn’t you say, no perfume?) “Gee,” we say, “common sense would indicate that many people have fragrance allergies so never perfume unless asked to do so.” Wrong! We can only assume that Italians have no allergies to fragrance.

So always clarify especially if you’re going to be paying for something. If you don’t speak the language, get a translation app or a native speaker!

All this said, we’ve had a great trip and almost everything has been wonderful!

Ravenna Today

St Appolinaire in Classe
St Appolinaire in Classe

OK, no more history–well just a little.  We need to spend just a moment in the 13th CE and remember that Darante degli Alighieri, better known as Dante, (1265-1321) spent the last five years of his life in Ravenna exiled from his beloved Firenze. Dante poster The Florentines have tried over the years to get his bones back home but have failed to do so.  They finally built a beautiful cenotaph for him in the late 19th CE which remains empty because the Ravenna caretakers won’t give him up.  There is a very pretty little chapel in Ravenna and a sarcophagus where he lies near the church where his funeral was held.

Dante's mausoleum in Ravenna
Dante’s mausoleum in Ravenna

Ravenna, like Dante, was treated rather badly after its heyday in the 6th CE.  First annexed to Venice in 1440, then sacked by the French in 1512, it then it became a Papal State and was left alone to molder in the boonies which had one positive effect: the mosaics and the churches and other monuments were left alone as well.  In the early 17thCE there was a big flood in the area.  In its aftermath the city fathers drained all the canals and swamps and opened the newly available fertile land up to farming.   Ravenna became a city self-sufficient and isolated but muddling along.

Ravenna today is lovely.  Everyone rides bicycles.  They say Ravennans don’t have thumbs which prevents them from ringing the bell on their bike as a warning.  There were numerous times we were almost hit or changed our pace or direction and almost collided with a cyclist.  Still it’s wonderful to have so few cars in the small town with narrow winding streets.

herd of bikes in Ravenna

The stores are well stocked and trendy.  Prices are modest.  The environs are clean and relatively graffiti free.  Ravennans love their city.  It is a pleasure to visit.  The sights are clean and well staffed by polite people many of whom speak English.  You can get a pass to the six in-town sights for 9.50E which is good for two days.  The walk out to Theodoric’s mausoleum is an easy 20 minutes and along the way you’ll see the old walls of the city and the fortress with a pretty park and playground which families and tourists enjoy.

Walls of old fortress in Ravenna
Walls of old fortress in Ravenna

The bus ride to St. Apollinaire in Classe runs frequently (#4 or #44) and costs about $5 for a round trip.  It runs from the center of town to Classe about 20 minutes away.

The train station is within easy walking distance or a short taxi ride from any part of Ravenna.  There are a few modest hotels, some 3*** and two 4**.  All very fairly priced.  And many excellent restaurants.  Our favorite was Ca’ de Ven; we also liked Temp Perso and Alexander’s.

We stayed eight nights at Palazzo Bezzi a freshly renovated hotel in a pretty room with two big windows with a view of the interior garden.   It was quiet and pretty and one of the nicest of all our accommodations since leaving Seattle.  The staff was superb, the breakfast lavish, and the price more than fair for the value received.

I guess I have nothing bad to say about Ravenna.  After two months of travel, that’s huge.

Teatro Alighieri Ravenna

 

Ravenna

Sta Maria Novella train station in Firenze
Sta Maria Novella train station in Firenze

Ravenna is not easy to reach. It’s a small town in Emilia-Romagna–90 miles south of Venice and 45 miles east of Bologna. There are no direct trains to Ravenna. You have to transfer at Bologna or Florence to a regional train which will deliver you to the train station in Ravenna only a short walk to the center of town. Ravenna is about ten miles from the Adriatic. It developed much as Venice did by early settlers–perhaps Etruscans–building houses on stilts on top of many small islands in the bay. Those islands eventually filled in and were connected by solid land until a village grew up on firm but swampy land. Ravenna, Venice and Trieste were connected by trade and eventually by Byzantine culture which was seated in Trieste.

Bear with me while I relate a bit of history. In 89 B.C.E. Ravenna became a federated Roman town. Forty years later Julius Cesare, stationed in Ravenna, gathered his troops about him, made his fateful decision, and crossed the Rubicon. Twenty years later, his nephew and heir, Augustus, now emperor, built a strategic harbor at Ravenna stationing 250 warships there to protect Rome from attack by Mediterranean-based enemies, principally Marc Antony who had the might of Egypt (that would be Cleopatra) at his back.

Augustus outside St. Apollinaire in Classe

Ravenna continued to be subject to the ups and downs of political life but remained a key city. During most of the 5th century it was the capitol of the Roman Empire. It had become the surviving remnant of once mighty Rome–largely as a result of its isolated location and its valuable harbor. The papacy in Rome, and the Goths to the north fought over control of Ravenna for the next 50-75 years. Ravenna eventually became the capitol of the conquering Ostrogoths in the late 5th century.

Remnants of Theodoric's Palace on Via Roma in Ravenna
Remnants of Theodoric’s Palace on Via Roma in Ravenna

Theodoric, an Arian Christian and Ostrogoth, became emperor in 493. Italy was under their control and Ravenna was their capitol. Theodoric was a very interesting man; though an Arian Christian, he accepted the members of the Latin Catholic church, welcomed Jews, and when a mob burned down all the synagogues in Ravenna in the early 6C he required the citizens to rebuild the synagogues at their personal expense. Arian Christianity differed from Latin Catholicism in one important way: Arian theology proclaimed Jesus a mortal with prophetic and unusual attributes but not a god. Latin Catholicism proclaimed Jesus to be not only the son of God but one with God. Over time, the Latin Catholic version prevailed. Theodoric died mysteriously in 526 and by 535 his grandson and daughter were also dead. In 540, Justinian I conquered Italy and Ravenna became the seat of the Byzantine government in Italy and Arianism was denounced and fell into disfavor.

original church built near Theodoric's palace is depicted in the mosaics
original church built near Theodoric’s palace is depicted in the mosaics

I know that by now you’ve either moved on or fallen asleep! I apologize. I find the history of this town fascinating. Prior to arriving, I knew nothing about Ravenna except that it had world class UNESCO designated world heritage sites–eight of them. Its astonishing mosaics which date to the 5th century have miraculously survived and are as brilliant now as when they were installed. In addition to the spectacular mosaics in the basilicas, mausoleums, and churches, floor mosaics dating to Roman times have been discovered and preserved. I am in awe that a town as small as Ravenna can maintain these numerous sites, staff them, and develop new ones. I’m not sure how it is accomplished but I am grateful and impressed that it is

Placidia's mauseleumOne of the most lovely sites is the mausoleum of Galla Placidia. This 5C building is so stark on the outside you could easily walk by and not even consider entering. That would be a mistake. The domed ceiling is a flower and star filled wonder of lapis and gold and white. Scenes on the walls are brilliant greens, oranges and purples. Sometimes the subject matter portrayed–saints about to be roasted alive on hot grills–and so on disturbs me, but you get used to the thematic material and become consumed by the gorgeous colors, details, and brilliance of the artistic wonder you are seeing. I honestly cannot grasp how these artisans working with chisel and mallet, wooden scaffolding, inadequate lighting–sun and candle?–created this work. Not just here but in five other momuments as well as others which date to earlier times.

Galla is another powerful woman you’ve never heard a word about. She was Honorius’–Rome’s last emperor–sister. After her husband, the Visigoth king died, she became ruler of the Western world and regent for her young son Valentinian II. Although her marvelous mausoleum was built in her lifetime, she is buried in Rome where she died in 450 C.E.

The Arian Baptistry was built at the end of the 5C during Theodoric’s rule when Arianism was the official religion of the Court. The mosaic on the dome depicts St. John baptizing Christ with a white dove suspended over Christ’s head. The principal colors are gold–real gold backs the tiny clear glass pieces. We learned from a scholar that one of the properties of gold is that it does not tarnish or lose its brilliance over time.  One aspect of this scene that is very interesting to me is the portrayal of the river god as an old man.  This is not an image of “god.”   Here we see an odd blend of “pagan” and Christian iconography in the early 5C.  Jesus is a slender beardless young man.  His cousin, John is wearing an animal skin as he pours the water from the Jordan over Jesus.

Neonian Baptistry Ravenna

We stayed at Palazzo Bezzi on via Roma. You can always recognize a former Roman city because it will invariably have a road which is as straight as possible and traverses what was the Roman city. Via Roma is exactly so and Emperor Theodoric built his palace on via Roma and his personal church (now St. Apollinare Nuovo) next door. This large church has wonderful mosaics. My favorite is the terrific scene of The Three Kings scampering to deliver their gifts to the Baby. I love their clothing. The patterns are so “now” especially the leggings.

closeup of 3 kings

We spent the better part of one day visiting the Domus Dei Tappeti di Pietra “the home of the stone carpets.” Amazing mosaic floors were discovered when a large parking lot was planned and digging began. Once some of the floors were uncovered, an archeological excavation took over and the parking lot plan was abandoned. In some areas, materials older than the stone mosaic floors were discovered which are partially revealed. Another very impressive installation with excellent descriptive plaques.  (To be continued.)

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mosaic floor
mosaic floor

Monterosso al Mare

Monterosso beach twilight

 

This was the view out of the window in our room at Albergo Pasquale.  We arrived after a very trying day flying from Paris to Pisa and then taking a regional train to Monterosso.  As the sun set and we gazed at the harbor our attitude adjusted rapidly.  Monterosso al Mare is one of the 5 villages named the Cinque Terre which hug the western side of Italy.  The Ligurian Sea is clear and warm.  There is no sandy beach, however, just pebbles.   We were on the third floor which diminished the street noise which was considerable on the weekends; less so on the weekdays.

Monterosso churce black and white

Striped buildings abound.  The black and white one above is the principal church in the village.  The one below is an apartment building.

striped bldg Monterosso

 

The picture below shows the beginning of the hiking trail which connects Monterosso with Vernazza.  This trail can be hiked in two hours if you go to the gym a minimum of 3 times a week, or do half marathons on the weekend.  According to the travel maven who lives a few miles north of Seattle, the entire series of trails that connect all five of the villages can be hiked in about 5.5 hours.

Another piece of information you might want to tuck away for future reference, this trail, the one we hiked, is vertical for about half the three hours it took us to go from Monterosso to Vernazza. And of course dives down to Vernazza over rough shale-covered trails at the end.

 

hike trail begins here

That white snaking path you can see in the distance is the hiking trail. Most of the time it is too narrow to accommodate two hikers walking abreast. There are occasional wide spots which allow people to squeeze by.

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Here is Ken at the conclusion of the hike.  Proud indeed.  Holding a stick loaned to him by a kind young hiker who, I think, feared for Ken’s life!

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Here is Ken at the beginning.  We had no idea this was going to be the major part of the hike–UP!

view on hike

This is the view from the high point.  Looking south toward Vernazza.  I had a hard time initially but once I caught my wind, I enjoyed the effort and the views.  There were lots of young men and woman–college age or younger–on the trail.  There were also way too many “anziani” who were really struggling.  If you fall into the “anziani” category (I think you can translate, no?) be sure you’re fit and ready for the effort.  It is not easy.

Vernazza near end of hike

You enter Vernazza and continue on through small streets until you reach the harbor where you can catch one of the ferries which ply the coast and will deliver you to any island in the chain.  A great idea indeed!

boats and nets

This is the harbor at Riomaggiore which we visited by ferry.  You can hike there is you wish!

manarola harbor

This is Vernazza from the sea.  Not a lot to see except for the same old tourist stuff you’ve already seen at the other villages.  But don’t go for the stuff–go for the sights, the sea, and the color of the beautiful villages.  There is no internet, really, although all the hotels will tell you there is.  Italy has not invested in broad band so it’s slow if you can catch it and intermittent when you do.

nice flowerpots on balcony

Karl Lagerfeld

paris arts decoratif and street 2013-09-18 025Our last night in Paris I dreamed of Karl Lagerfeld, the maestro of the house of Chanel. He strode about in my dream dressed in his usual snug black suit–but his shirt was fuschia not blinding white–and he had removed his ubiquitous dark glasses.  In the dream his eyes were warm brown and revealed a kind and amused man. Amused at the world in which he operates and amused at the conversation we were having. I haven’t ever dreamed about Karl Lagerfeld before.

We spent most of a day at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs.  One of the installations displayed pieces from a recent Chanel collection on manikins lounging upon priceless furniture from the museum’s collection.

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Part of the display was a video of the presentation of that fall collection held at the Glass Palace in Paris which made a great impression on me. In person, the intricacies of the dresses were just as unbelievable as the inlay of tiny pieces of wood and ivory in the furniture or the elaborate gold paint on a mirror were.  The fabric of the clothing was made of sequins sewn so beautifully it appeared to be a solid piece of shimmering cloth.

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The placement of the whimsical fashion collection with the priceless jewelry, furniture, ceramic, silver, glass and so on that makes up the permanent collection at the museum summarizes for me all that I love about Paris.

Sometimes the officious and imponderable workings of the French mind annoy or baffle me, but over all the whimsy and the desire to join new with old excites and thrills me.   This museum and its trompe l’oeil exhibition delighted me.  I think I can forgive a certain amount of rigidity if it’s leavened by humor and reverence for beauty.

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This new red piece overlooks the principal entry hall of this wing of the Louvre which houses the Musee des Arts Decoratifs. Below they are preparing the hall for an event.
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