Sunday, December 26, 2010

Italy Day 4: Day after Christmas

We finally awoke to sunshine! The apartment and the city out the window were practically unrecognizable from the gloom to which we had become accustomed. The golden glow beckoned us such that we wolfed down our breakfast (scrambled eggs with bursting sautéed cherry tomatoes and grated fresh parmesan cheese and whole-grain toast with local cherry jam) so we could rush outside before the clouds returned.

It was another day of mostly just wandering around the city again. The views we could catch out over the Tuscan countryside were all the more arresting, much greener greens even than before, and the stucco and terra cotta houses practically glowed in the sunshine. Our first stop of the day was the Medici fortress on the outskirts of town, built essentially as bragging rights after the final decisive victory of Florence over Siena. It is large and brick and empty and in very good repair, now essentially a walled public park with great views from the high walls back onto the old city and surrounds.

Of course it was snack time next, so off to Nanini’s coffee shop for a rice pastry, which we dutifully ate sitting in the sun in Il Campo (the main plaza) like good tourists. Our next stop, a farm in a green valley within the old city walls, was sadly closed, so no Italian mountain goats for us.

Instead we briskly strode through the Torre contrada / ghetto neighborhood toward the church of S. Clemente in S. Maria del Servi from which Lisa promised great views. Of course, as soon as we got there, the sun disappeared. So we just enjoyed the church itself, which was more effectively decorated and seemed more cozy than the other giant churches of the city. This one had a great mosaic over an exterior side door in which the skin of all the figures had turned green, probably something to do with the ancient paint’s pigments. Inside were two remarkably well-preserved mummies of 1300s saints, one of which looked disturbingly like me, and some very famous frescoes by the Lorenzetti brothers, which we ignored.

Lisa took us next to the grounds of the former city psychiatric hospital, now part of the University, and the nearby Porto Romana (Roman gate), very well-preserved with its whole gatehouse and gate tower and everything still intact. It was funny to see cars zooming through the gatehouse, since the road still enters the city there. Sitting in an arrow slit nook, we took a quick repast of Lisa’s favorite Italian beverage, a packaged iced tea with lemon and rosewater added.

Then commenced an endless nearly-futile search for open restaurant. During our search we kept our spirits up by going via the alley of potted plants of the day before, admiring the whimsical figures topping the hundreds of iron horse securing rings along the streets, and noting the dangerous toilet balconies mounted on the outside of the high walls. Unfortunately, all the swift walking from today and the past few days has brought about shinsplints in my legs, so I was miserably hobbling along the later streets.

After searching through about five neighborhoods we finally found an open restaurant, which was really quite delightful entirely in addition to it being warm, having chairs, and having food. Our table was in a very low arched brick nook that was either an old wine cellar or tunnel or oven or just a room for really small people. We ate more delicious food.

After checking email etc at Lisa’s freezing cold office, we felt justified in further indulging with intense hot chocolate, mine with milk and Lisa’s without milk, from a specialty sorbet-and-chocolate shop called Grom. My mother insanely got sorbet (it was freezing out!), a delicious Mandarin orange flavor.

Then on to the Teatro Dei Rozzi for an early-evening concert featuring the Unione Corale Senese (the Sienese Choralle), soprano Cristina Ferri and tenor Altero Mensi, and directed by Francesca Lazzeroni (who also sang a few of the soprano solos). The theater itself was interesting, small and set up in a very old mostly-circular terraced style. I’d call it over-decorated, though Ma says it was tasteful and appropriate for what it is, and Lisa says there’s no such thing as over-decorated, especially since they were singing Madame Butterfly. We got to sit in a box seat, since it was a free concert with open seating and we were near the front of the line: I felt very posh. The program was like Italian Opera’s Greatest Hits, with short selections from Verdi, Verdi, Donizetti, Verdi, Verdi, Cajkovskij, Puccini, Puccini, Puccini, (intermission), Puccini, Puccini, Puccini, Leoncavallo, Mascagni, Mascagni, and an unbilled encore sing-along. The crowd seemed to know all the pieces by heart, though only a few sounded vaguely familiar to me. The soloists were very, very, very stereotypically Italian: confident, highly dramatic, strident, loud, endearing, and quite talented. The youngish Ms. Ferri was lovely enough with her honest delight in her own performance and perfectly tailored modern gauzy dress to mostly excuse her over-use of vibrato, while Mr. Mensi was as sweet and dignified as his white hair and paunch would lead one to suspect. We walked/hobbled home singing the main melodic phrase of the last piece.

Dinner back at the apartment was leftovers of the previous meals plus more almond cookies, and more pecarino cheese with honey drizzled over it, and a Kinder egg (with purple bouncy toy). The three of us cozied up on the couch and sang all the Christmas carols we could think of, occasionally sung in the mode of monkeys and/or fish, which made me laugh so hard I had real trouble breathing. The later songs I accompanied on guitar, making my fingers ask what I was doing to them (as I haven’t played in years). Then sleep.

No comments: