domenica 2 maggio 2010

Day 21

Day 20

Last day.

We packed the night before to minimize the chances of leaving anything in the apartment and to be certain to catch our early train to Rome.

Early in the morning while the others slept, I snuck in one last visit to the basilica in the main square. It’s one of the largest in Italy, and notable because the exterior remains unfinished. Inside, the stark vastness take your breath away. The stations of the cross, though large in actual size, resemble piles of shiny coins in a large cave.

I then walked over to the street market to purchase mini strawberries and baked goods, which we devoured with passion. After breakfast, we loaded up, tossed the flowers into the trash, and the apartment returned to its barren self. We then toted our luggage across Bologna to the train station, a march that would be exceeded in duration by our walk up and down the hills of Rome to our hotel.

The weather in Rome was perfect, seventy degrees with a

slight breeze and just a touch of humidity. After a trip to the Pantheon (you’ve gotta love that place), we decided to go to a real Roman restaurant. Jenna had squid and boiled peas and I had octopus with lemon, tomato, and rocket. Let’s just say this about our eight legged friends -- too chewy by half. The boys, once again, played it safe -- pasta with parmesan.

Our original plan had been to return to the Forum for a

longer visit, but owing to the great weather, we decided to take it easy and meander (that would be Italian for "stopped and got gelato") over to Saint Peter’s. The Cathedral was incredible. We were so overwhelmed by the scale and grandeur that we hardly noticed The Pieta by Michaelangelo.

The boys had lots of energy. They had great fun jumping over concrete barriers in the main square. I wonder if children do that when the Pope speaks? I doubt it. Then off to the "Sixteenth" chapel as Cooper liked to call it. After nearly a mile of corridors filled with art, maps, tapestries, and then entire rooms painted by Raphael and his assistants, we arrived at the chapel. Jenna wisely had us sit down on a bench and just try to soak in the ceiling and enormous painting, The Last Judgment, on the wall. The latter features a self portrait of Michelangelo in a drapped cloak that resembles Voldemort.

As we sat, noticed that the noise level in the room would slowly rise as people got more and more enthused and captivated until one of the guards would loudly tell us to be quiet, then the cycle would begin anew. It was like a storm brewing. I've never seen, or I should say never heard, anything like it in a museum. I guess the room just begs you to chat up your neighbor. Mysterious.

We had miles to go to go before we slept. We had to cross an entire country by foot to get to our hotel (Okay, it's a very small country, but still.) I misread the map not once, not twice, not three times, but four times enroute to a hip pizza joint overlooking a shrine to Augustus. We never made it. We'd been walking for six hours (note that this follows the two great luggage marches earlier in the day), so my worn out family suggested that we stop and eat at the pizza place right behind us and try to determine our location. In an epic bit of serendipity, we were only four blocks from our hotel.

So, we sat, rested our sore feet and had one last round of pizzas, a fitting end to a great trip.

giovedì 29 aprile 2010

Day 19

Cooper, Orrie, and Jenna took the train from Bologna to San Lucia Station in Venicia. Five hours and one hundred and seventy nine pictures later they boarded the train and returned to Bologna. Every picture tells a story. And these pictures tell a story of a happy, warm day, a story of a boat ride the length of the Grand Canal, of finding an alleyway narrow enough for Cooper to span it from wall to wall, of a fabulous lunch in which both boys ate gnocchi, of birds eating their lunch off Orrie'shead, a story of the wind in everyone's hair and the sun at everyone's back, and finally, a story of the sea out the train window and a tired trio heading to see papa.

My day consisted of preparations for a four hour class that fell fifteen minutes short. I also managed some last minute shopping despite a credit card machine malfunction that necessitated finding an ATM.

At the end of the class, after I drove home one last time the difference between uncertainty and complexity, the students applauded loudly and then, as they exited, one by one thanked me for the class. Packages that come with bows are the best of all.

I hurried across town to meet the travelers in the piazza. I was twenty minutes early so had some time to sip a coke and listen to a woman channeling Enya fill the entire piazza with eerie wondrous music.

As always, few tourists in the piazza. Bologna is not Venice. Yet, as Cooper said, this was his favorite place -- besting Rome, Florence, and Venice -- because it was calm and peaceful here. And just maybe because the Roxy Bar across the street serves a fair vaniglia gelato. This same establishment, by the way, was made famous by Red Ronnie (Rossi Vasco) a couple of decades ago in a song called The Roxy Bar.

We finished the evening and our stay at Cantina Bentivoglio, the jazz club we visited the family's first night. This time, though, we were feted by Daniela, Carlo, and Trudy from the University of Bologna. The company was splendid. Everyone here has been so wonderful.

For dinner, Jenna and I both had tagliatelle with bolognese.

When in Rome (as they say).

Day 18

Jenna and the boys spent their last full day in Bologna. Tomorrow the traveling trio heads off to Venice by early morning train. I'll be here teaching a four hour class. No regrets. Only joy that the boys whirlwind tour includes Rome, Florence, Venice, and fourteen gelatos.

We slept in after last night's feast then bought ham, fruit, and bread for lunch from the locals. There is no Cosco here. Then we went out for a walk. Sadly, the public library has been closed due to some emergency, but the boys did get to climb the tower, all 498 steps. For those keeping score at home, the Duomo in Florence was a mere 460 steps

Earlier in the week, one of my students asked if we needed a babysitter. Jenna and I jumped at the opportunity. We first went to a trendy wine bar located in five hundred year old building with a thirty foot arched frescoed ceiling (where I got a British beer - oops) and then to Marco Fadiga Bristrot, a place that Jenna had read about in the New York Times. Jenna, as many of you know, has been featured eating in that very same paper, so even though all of the locals said we should go someplace else (Scacco Matto - a sicilian place), we followed Jenna's whim.

Reason #27 to be married to Jenna: her subtle adventurousness.

The chef, Marco, the son of a local judge and a professor, proved happy, wacky, and brilliant. With each dish, we had to look, smell, and taste small bits to identify the parts. We got to meet Marco and he proclaimed that his was the finest restaurant on the street. (It's located off the beaten path on a narrow alley.)

Here's a sampling of what we had:

- A warm green tomato bisque which came with a deep fried shrimp roll on a stick and some instructions to swirl the soup with the swizzle, to eat the wet roll and to drink the soup (which came in a teacup).

- A lobster and bacon burger on a mini sesame seed bun that dripped special sauce with each bite.

- Bread crumb pasta swimming in pumpkin soup.

- Sea bass tartare shaped like a rice cake covered in rocket with hidden bits of pistachio to add crunch and a sprinkling of poppy all around.

- Mussels and salmon covered in foam (finally foam!!!) served with a red pepper and tomato dipping sauce with a swirl of unidentifiable green paste.

- Fish risotto with bundles of fresh spices -- basil and marjoram mostly -- that tasted like juniper.

- Fresh creme inside wafers topped with roasted hazelnuts accompanied by a marvelous carmel tobacco (yep tobacco) sauce.

This was perhaps the most unusual and surprising meal, I've ever had. Jenna thought it far better and fun then say, Charlie Trotter's. What was really great was not knowing what in the heck we'd find inside each offering.

As we left, we got to meet Marco's sister who too proclaimed him a genius. The love between family members here is something special.

Last night Cooper came into our room with mournful eyes and a bowed head and stated that he wasn't ready to go back to Ann Arbor, that he liked it here in Italy. He's really had fun. He's thrown himself into picking up bits and pieces of the language. He's much like his mother in that respect. Orrie's been more interested in the food (hmm... interesting behavior).

We're a day from packing up, and as is always the case when ending a sabbatical, a little part of you starts walking away from the novelties of the respite and back into the mundanities and urgencies of your real life.

As April comes to a close, I can think of little more to add than a poignant shot of Orrie leaving Bologna followed by an amuse courtesy of Simon and Garfunkel

April come she will
When streams are ripe and swelled with rain;
May, she will stay,
Resting in my arms again

martedì 27 aprile 2010

Day 17

I begin the day with a high speed walk with Jenna and the boys to the train station so that they can catch the 10:23. Destination Florence. They board the train with two minutes to spare. I walk beside them as they traipse from car three to their assigned seats in car eleven. They're inside. I'm on the outside looking in.

As I walk home I wonder what magic they'll see during the day as I cross my fingers, hoping the rain holds off. Enroute, I sneak into a children's clothing shop to by a present for a former student who just had a baby.

The day was oddly sentimental for me. I saw familiar faces -- the guy with the bow tie, the woman with red, I mean RED, hair who works at the farmacia, and the black lab that sits in front of Le Petite Cafe. I wondered if they recognized me or if I'm part of the blur. Thoughts turn to E.A. Robinson's Mr Flood's Party and the idea of many strangers shutting many doors that many friends opened long ago.

My quotidian activities pale in comparison to those of Jenna and the boys. At Florence, they climb the Duomo (it's a mile high I think), and they see the David. Even though I'd built him up to extraordinary heights, the David did not disappoint. At the museum, Jenna manages to explain the concept of immaculate conception (along with not so immaculate conception) and how Michaelangelo released the David from the block of marble all in one sitting.

(Reason #247 why she's totally amazing.)

They eat an incredible lunch at the Slo Food place, Gozzi Sergio, that I had enjoyed a week and a half ago. They also buy some cool things at the street market, including a tree ornament. This has become a habit of ours - to buy ornaments on vacation. We do this in the spirit of Leo Leoni's character Frederick, who in the middle of dark, cold winter warmed his community with stories of happy times.

Jenna and both boys came home awed by the experience. When I met them at the station, they were full of appreciation for art, tall buildings, and, so I learn, the gelato of Florence.

When we get home, we're relaxed and happy, so we throw caution to the wind and take the boys to Pappagallo, the amazing old Bologna restaurant that I'd enjoyed a couple of weeks ago.

Our concern? How would the boys handle a two and a half our meal with tuxedoed waiters? And, how would the waiters handle the boys? We needn't have worried. The boys were angels, reading their books through dinner. And the waiters were professionals. They didn't miss a beat, whether it was bringing breadsticks immediately or making a huge deal out of opening the boys' orange sodas.

The symbolic act of the evening: Orrie asking for seconds on the pasta. The segundi primi -- Orrie style!

Pappagallo is very old school, and it's exactly what we needed. It's a place where only one person sees the prices. (Cooper assured us that he'd foot the bill!) What can I say, the food, the waiters. It was perfecto. From the Tri Monte Sangiovese Thea to the flan to the ragu to the duck to the deep fried apple coated in sugar to the "gredy" basket of creme and fruit, everything was just great, including all those pictures on the wall of celebrity diners, some apparently a hundred years old.

Day's end: Cooper and I on the couch listening to the sounds of the street pouring in through the open window. Around the corner, someone's playing electric guitar, a soft slow Stairway to Heaven. You can just make out the melody over the hum of the scooters outside the window. Jenna and Orrie have gone off to bed to read themselves to sleep. Cooper and I soon to follow.

lunedì 26 aprile 2010

Day 16

Rome 1 Boys 0

Or as John Keats put it:

Was it a silent deep-disguised plot
To steal away, and leave without a task
My idle days? Ripe was the
drowsy hour;
The blissful cloud of summer-indolence

No matter how you slice it, and here it's sliced pretty thin, the boys were whupped. Though they're happy hanging out until the wee hours of the night eating gelato, their little boy bodies need some serious Z's. We finally got them out of the sack with the lure of cereal and perfect weather.

Today was "back to work day." Scott had to teach his class and earn his keep, and Jenna had an EPIC grading day, in which she spent untold hours evaluating projects bad and good and listening to the buzz of scooters and buses outside the window.

This left the boys free to wander Bologna in search of biking
gloves, cheese, and other interesting items. No luck on the gloves front, but we did happen into some excellent little cookies, a sampling of which we brought home to Jenna.

Once again, we encoun
tered our fair share of hams. We saw hams in places that defied explanation. Walking down an otherwise hip, trendy street, we saw some hams dangling from the ceiling of a wine bar. "Want some ham with that Chianti?" (That's a meeting of the hams to the left.) In another store, we saw hams wearing little suits and ties. Just let your mind wander. Hams have been there, done that.

Daniela, the cha
irperson of the department, went to lunch with the boys and I. She took us to a Sicilian pizza place where the boys got children's coloring books that juxtaposed racy pictures of women and "find the differences in these pictures" pages.

Daniela also took the boys our for gelato, which was great. No one would have ever expected they were tourists what with their Italia sweatshirts!

The evenings of great Italian food will soon be no more. Tonight, we went to another sidewalk restau
rant and the boys ate mortadella, pasta with parmesan, and a 2010 Fanta. Jenna and I traded dishes half way through so that we could each enjoy our share of a pumpkin tortellini all but swimming in a rich balsamic sauce (can pasta "wade" in sauce?) that resembled squid ink but tasted like pure heaven.

As none other than Pooh would say, we concluded the evening with just a little smackerel of gelato.

domenica 25 aprile 2010

Day 15

The Rise of Rome!

The day broke beautiful. An amazing breakfast at our hotel that included bologna, frosted flakes, and nutella. And then we were off. First, the Pantheon!

Closed -- again (argh)

Hope sprung eternal and we headed off to the Collesium. It was a free day, but we opted to pay for the guided tour, which was a good choice. We learned how they brought and killed thousands of animals from Africa and how they used trap doors to have the animals pop up on the floor of the arena. Arena, by the way, we found out means "sand", which was what was on the floor to soak up the blood. We learned about gladiators, and about how thumbs up meant slice the gladiators throat. (Not good).

We were told that the Romans would sometimes flood the arena floor to stage naval battles. Hard to believe. But, when you consider that they had a canvas covering for the entire place, nothing surprises you. The big tarp was hoisted by sailors. The big pillars by elephants. And the big cats by workers under the floor of the arena.

We then went up to the Palatine and saw Augustus Ceaser's old house. Incredible views. You turn back and you see the Collesium and these wonderful grassy fields.

Next time, we'll bring a picnic and just hang out up here. Rome is, and was, a city of seven hills. Sitting atop one that was largely unspoiled, you got a sense of what it must have been like thousands of years ago, just some little hills along a river.

The history can be overwhelming. No one has the feet or the head to gather it all in. We tried out best to balance relaxing and learning. We consulted maps and books throughout the walk so that we wouldn't miss the little things like the green stains in the forum floor that were remnants of the money changer's copper coins that had been seared into the marble when Rome was burned in the late fifth century. Or, the crazy view of the Circus Maximum.

We made the long walk back to the hotel and had a relaxing lunch and then FINALLY, to the Pantheon. It's two thousand years old and was built to celebrate all gods (Pan + Theos). Luckily though, the Catholics claimed it early and it's been saved. There are 22 little holes in the ground that drain off the water that pours through the roof -- that is when Cooper's head isn't stopping it up.
I don't know if it's the dome, the columns, the marble interior, or the sunlight pouring in, but this is one of the most impressive buildings I've ever seen. They say, if you come to Rome and don't see the Pantheon, that you arrive an a-- and you leave one as well.

I wonder what our not seeing the Sistine Chapel makes us?

On the way to the train, we stopped and saw a person blowing bubbles and even caught a glimpse of the famous Michigan Hotel (see left). For those less versed in history, on the second floor in a small room with a leaky window, Cicero spent many a summer in this hotel writing some of his best work. Some historians claim it was here he wrote the first off tackle play. It involved pulling a Samnite guard.

We caught our train home. We all read and vegged out and then had a fabulous dinner in Bologna at a streetside cafe. Jenna's genius revealed itself once again after Orrie had lost a bookmark. In full Agatha Christie mode, she correctly deduced he must have slipped it in his menu - a la Uncle Billy in "It's a Wonderful Life".

As we sat in the Bologna's gorgeous piazza and ate gelato by the moonlight, I was inclined to agree. It is a wonderful life.