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Sunday 29 December

0945h, sitting with a backache in the breakfast nook, Stefano still sleeping; more about backaches & Stefano's apartment later, but first go back and record the missing pieces!

Going back to my arrival day Friday, where my account stops right after the roof of the Duomo: a bit of wandering about — the weather was quite cold — including the discovery of the façade of the church of S. Fedele, attractive in an extraordinarily formal and cold manner, but completely unified 16c before the mannerist Jesuit rot (by and large, S. Susanna in Rome notwithstanding, I don't like the later stuff even if I'm getting used to it). Attempts to get a little pocket note pad, all failures, so I have a place to record what I'm photographing. So far it hasn't mattered: I'm unlikely not to recognise the Duomo or the Galleria; but when I start taking single pictures of statues or scenery or streets in small Tuscan towns, I'll need to write things down.a Also looked at a few bookstores, searching for good guides to Milan and collections of ancient writers, but no luck there, either; and one or two stores for a silk scarf for Les to match his eyes, no success on Friday, yesterday Saturday a partial success in the Galleria, bought it up caso mai I never find anything better.

So we closed up the shop at 7:30 — I'd come back at about 6, what was I going to do for an hour and a half in a dark city and a cold one at that? — and Stefano took me to Il Consolare, a rather nice restaurant where he is an habitué, on kissing terms with everyone from the owner to the waiters. [. . .]

Our main waiter a rather odd-looking olive-skinned young man with a wisp of beard only in the cleft of the chin, and a few visible tattoos; who when the restaurant closes apparently goes home to change into discowear then hits the nightlife every night! often until 6 and therefore is a sort of minor expert on night life, the straight places at any rate. For allowing his photograph to be used as advertising, he's soon going to get his whole back tattooed for free.

Service extremely slow, enough to get me in my hostage feeling — and Stefano was quite tired — we sat down at 8 and got up at 10 yet had only a primo and a secondo, no salads, antipasti, dessert. Stefano has an arrangement: he eats what they give him, and gets a special price. The primo was good: a couple of paste in different sauces, a bit of cooked vegetable I've already forgotten; my secondo was a frittata, tepid and not crisp, of zucchini (It.: zucchine, I heard it at least twice)b and artichokes: no more than OK. For some reason, Stefano who is an extremely sparing drinker if at all, allowed himself to be brought a whole bottle of wine, a Prosecco del Valdobbiadene — OK but certainly no stars.

 . . . .

Anyway, to finish this utterly chaotic account, more stream-of‑consciousness than chronological at any rate, all that's missing is last night's dinner. I've forgotten the name of the place — it was Stefano's third choice, but his first two were closed for the holidays — but it was quite good: a large, animated, superclean long room along a street, tables tightly packed in, where the selection of antipasti greet you at the door — which I had, nothing unusual or exceptional but everything quite good: swordfish in thin slices, gratinéed fennel, cold browned onions, cold seafood salad in clam shells, all kinds of good things; good little plate of focaccia at the table. We had no wine, just mineral water. Stefano had a largish pizza with a very thin crust, which I wound up eating a third of since he wasn't that hungry, and I had gnocchi alla Zola and poppyseeds: the latter were unnoticeable but the Zola, a characteristic strongish cheese, was good, so were the actual gnocchi (di patate of course, this being Northern Italy). For dessert I had a selection of 3: a chocolate mousse, an almond cake and a torta alla nonna, all quite good — We were out by 9 and immediately back to the apartment, a couple of streets' hop away.

 . . . .

It's 11:50 and Stefano is in the bathroom making various noises; I'm packed for our week in Tuscany and ready to go, sitting in the kitchen with a cup of tea: he doesn't touch the stuff but got some for me.

Indeed, he doesn't ever eat at home, never preparing a meal; the fridge when he showed it to me — a waist-high minifridge — appeared empty altogether, a few things were in the door which opens back towards the room and that I therefore couldn't see. He doesn't like the smell of food cooking; and the mess, etc. Needless to say, the place is spotless and neat as a pin, but unlived in; a few travel magazines, no sign of any books (I mentioned books at home, I was going to say what a problem it's been to lodge them all; he cut in to say they were decorative: that's disappointing, to be sure). Then yesterday we were sitting somewhere, he told me how he just wants to get up and leave Italy altogether —


Versilia º (Forte dei Marmi), 6:05 P.M. in a freezing room at the Hotel Miramare — Stefano's known the place for 15 years since his family used to have a summer villa down the street and they all gradually became pals with Paolo the owner as they occasionally used the hotel as an overflow for houseguests much as my own family used L'Hôtel des Thermes in Barbazan to house guests that wouldn't fit at Le Chêne.

Anyway the hotel is closed, but Paolo made a large room available to us — large, nice room but the heat was off and it's still heating up: Stefano is still in his topcoat sitting on the bed talking on the phone with various friends back in Milan. The weather is apparently extraordinarily cold — people are cancelling plans to go anywhere, staying home where they have heat. . . . It's 26°F here right now.

The road trip was uneventful. Up to Parma the plain of the Po, the way the interstate goes, is quite without interest: not countryside but not urban either — a sort of exurban sprawl; of course it's the same the world over along superhighways.

After the flat part, suddenly we were up in rather strong landforms, with mountains snow-capped in the distance, and almost no houses or towns, only very occasionally anything old: might as well have been parts of West Virginia sort of — Many tunnels along the way, with long pointed icicles hanging from the ceiling: in one tunnel a number of them had come crashing down and they'd had to close one of the two southbound lanes. I thought they were pretty but Stefano said he was frightened by them that they would come crashing down on the car; and indeed one small block of ice did fall about 2 m straight ahead of us, in the path of the car —


Later Notes for the Web:

a This is the single best piece of advice in my entire diary. If you want to remember as much of your trip as you can, a diary and a photo log are invaluable: even what you do not record will be summoned up to memory when you reread your notes; the investment in time is no waste.

b Armed with dictionary, Aug 98: both zucchino (plural: zucchini) and zucchina (plural: zucchine) are correct.


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Page updated: 7 Aug 12