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Saturday 4 January

A few minutes before seven in the evening, we're back in Milan; I'm sitting in Stefano's dining nook catching up.

Yesterday wasn't that much, really, in part because I wasn't feeling very well. Stefano says it was indigestion — for a while because I was reporting aches mostly in the legs, he was saying flu — and I say it wuz food poisoning. Whatever it was, I wasn't very sick, but uncomfortable for about 18 hours, starting at around 2 in the morning and basically OK by last night 8 or 9 P.M.

Anyway, because I felt unwell, Stefano went off to the ditta in Empoli yesterday morning and I slept until he came back at eleven; then, after a cup of tea, we ambled off to S. Gimignano, chosen over Pistoia — which I think I will like better, when I do go there, than S.G. — because there is less to see, since I detest running around and missing half of everything. . . .

It turned out to be an excellent decision. Other than a fresco cycle, every bit as big if possibly lesser quality, as the upper Basilica of Assisi, in the Collegiate Church — just a small town with a lot of medieval skyscrapers, more atmosphere than interest, more impressive than attractive, more panoramas than details. We wandered around, and for lunch I had a couple of camomiles: somehow the minestra came back up as a topic, so I explained it all over again [. . .]

Anyway, we wandered around; Stefano bought a little bottle of grappa as a corporate-type gift: in fact he's never been quite free of work, always something. For example, when he decided to come back here a day earlier — to be readier easier for Tuesday's reopening (sales, post-inventory) — suddenly a German client wanted to talk to him tomorrow Sunday; etc.

The weather was mixed, a bit of drizzle, a lot of clouds, occasional clearings; at about 4 we left for his parents' house, I actually slept some more, a full two hours; a good thing too, since dinner at his close friend Mara's in Empoli was a somewhat chaotic if very relaxed affair lasting nearly to 1 A.M., counting the drive back home.

We first picked up Lucia, a very strong attractive woman of 40, and Emma who live within blocks of each other in Stibbio; then drove around in the dark on back roads all over the place — the geography of the area is not something I have a handle on yet — and finally arrived at an unpromising looking modern low block of flats: Mara's flat very stylishly furnished, and Mara herself — a beautiful woman, a shock of freshly washed mostly blond hair much the same style as the Russian skatrix I like so much yet can never remember the name of who does the vampire number with her partner — withal seeming very much of a businesswoman. Two basically grown daughters one of whom Martina and her friend Francesca (rather striking face, henna hair) had dinner with us making a total of seven.

Dinner, beautifully served — except for paper napkins even if grey-blue matching the nice china, azure opaline service plates, glasses with a red base, blue stem and yellow fond — sound horrible but quite nice and, surprisingly, show off the color of wines.

Bruschetta of polenta al fegato; very good but very rich and fat still for me (four hours later I would have enjoyed them much more); served with a simple Villa Antinori vino di tavola — OK —

A roast delicatessen-bought pork roll in pastry, good, with onions, brussels sprouts and potatoes pan-roasted with it; a bit burnt but still quite good.

A second meat dish — excellent — coniglio alla cacciatore; I actually had seconds, although out of prudence still very small portions. An unidentified since decanted red, quite good, gift to her of a friend; also a sip of a Vino Novello passed around to try (sort of so-what, of course). For dessert, grapes.

Conversation at times very hard to follow, very animated, c's turned into h's — "casa" becoming "has' ", people who've known each other twenty-five years, shop-talk, etc. Long, long discussion of some watches and how much it was reasonable to pay for them — the extreme figures were ₤1.5 million and ₤5.1 million respectively, with ₤2.8 million being the figure that kept on coming up:a withal, totally uninteresting; Stefano's watch is apparently a Rolex of this kind and this price, and mine looks better and seems to keep better time — I was extravagant at $100. . . .

A good portion of the talk was about [. . .] and whether she should, or even could, drop everything to be with her man in [a town several hours away by car], of now 5 years — and here's the catch his 10‑year‑old son by a previous wife still in the area . . .

Anyway, by midnight-thirty the conversation had spent itself — excellent limoncello, by the way, which I'd never accepted to try, assuming it was just commercial junk — and Stefano played chauffeur in reverse thru the dark rain; to bed shortly before one, but tummy feeling OK again.

Today, Stefano had to go back to Empoli for a sfilata (fashion showing) and dropped me off at 10:10 in San Miniato, telling me he'd be back by 1230 to 1 P.M. — mentally I thought 2 — and telling me now not to get nervous and feel abandoned.

San Miniato is quite small but all strung out along a road with another tentacle towards the church of S. Martino; and chock-a‑block full of stuff. None of it absolutely first-rate, but a lot of beautiful things just the same (curiously also, the death mask of Napoleon wound up here! whose family had palazzi here as leading citizens back to the 14c or so).


[image ALT: A large square oil painting of a Madonna with four saints, with four much smaller rectangular oil panels below it. It is by Domenico di Michelino, and is in the church of S. Domenico in S. Miniato al Tedesco, Tuscany (Italy).]

Domenico di Michelino (1417‑1491): Madonna with Four Saints.

In the Duomo, no later than 5 minutes after Stefano had dropt me off, I managed to set off an alarm. . . . bringing the parish priest and a woman volunteer out of the sacristy in six seconds flat. I'd leaned too far forward over a rope with my camera, to take a picture; they've had problems at least twice: the painting has small detachable panels; once thieves actually took them out of the church in broad daylight on market day! (Recovered in Germany or Switzerland after a year or two)


Interrupting my account of my visit of San Miniato to get some sleep —

[image ALT: A long horizontal strip of four small rectangular oil paintings on a panel. It is a close-up of part of a painting of the Madonna with Four Saints by Domenico di Michelino, in the church of S. Domenico in S. Miniato al Tedesco, Tuscany (Italy).]

The second panel from the left is clearly an Epiphany scene; the others, I cannot identify. (Yes, the fourth scene looks like a Resurrection — until you add an extraneous kneeling saint.)


Later Note for the Web:

a These ₤ figures are not British pounds (£), but lire (₤), converting at the time to roughly $750, $2500, $1400 respectively.


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Page updated: 7 Jan 03