Monday, September 1, 2014

Good-Bye, Good-Bye to Fiumicino

May 21

But first a recap of the past two days.

Monday was our day to go to the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel.

We had a reservation for 2, but not knowing what to expect, we took a cab and arrived before noon. The guy checking vouchers at the reserved tickets line said it was a little too early and to come back in half an hour.

We went down the block and found a reasonable looking place for a glass of wine and some pizza. The restaurant is Francesco Primero, named for the current pope. The place was in good shape, but was it that new? Maybe they rename it with each new pope.

The pizza had a very thin crust topped with tomato sauce, cheese, and sausage. For some reason, maybe because it was the earliest we had eaten lunch on this trip, I ordered white wine. This one wasn’t bad. I didn’t take a note of what it was, but it was Italian and wasn’t Soave, which I have had before. 

Whites usually taste lightweight to me, so I rarely drink them. The reds come across with much more complex flavors. How much of the difference is real and how much is suggested by the color, I can’t tell. 

The line to buy tickets without a reservation stretches around the block, which is lined by a high wall (probably of the museum itself) that seems to follow the border between the Vatican and Italy. 

The museum is nowhere as big as the Louvre, but there is too much to see even half of it in a day, so we didn’t try. 

We breezed through the Egyptian and Etruscan stuff. Not because it was uninteresting, but because we had spent an hour in the painting gallery called the Pinacoteca and needed to move along.

There is a Raphael of the Transfiguration that was carried in his funeral procession and was completed by his students.There is an unfinished Da Vinci of St. Jerome, and a Caravaggio of the deposition from the cross. 

The realism of Caravaggio is gritty. The faces are lit up and the background fades to black. But each face is a portrait of somebody the painter met, maybe at the local market.

Crowding in the museum gets oppressive at times. Sometimes, we were shoulder to shoulder with dense crowds and had no choice but to move with the flow. If you want to stop and study something, or read the Kindle for what Rick Steves has to say, you need to find a sheltered niche, kind of like an eddy in a stream.

I remember specific moments—lots of moments, mind—but disconnected and not always in sequence.

The Raphael rooms, covered with frescoes mostly painted by him, were done around the same time that Michelangelo was working on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. They were working for Julius II. It was for Julius II’s tomb that Michelangelo had sculpted the great Moses. That tomb was never built

One of the Raphael rooms is devoted to themes about Constantine, the so-called first Christian emperor. One wall shows the “in hoc signo” vision, where he sees the cross and is told,  “In this sign you will conquer.” The next wall, the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, shows Constantine mounted on a horse trampling the enemy. He has a crown on. Another guy with a crown on is fast sinking with his horse into the river that the Milvian Bridge spanned. The eagles of Constantine’s legions are topped by crosses.

A third wall shows him being baptized by Leo, I think, III. According to a friend of mine, Pyrrhus Ruches, who knew about stuff like this, Constantine was baptized late in life, The shock of immersion into the water caused him to lose control of his bowels, which earned him the nickname Constantinos Copronymos. Literally, Constantine the Shit-named.

As usual, I am not sure of this, so don’t quote me on it. I include this detail only because it is irreverent.

The fourth wall involves the “Donation of Constantine.” It shows the newly hatched emperor handing secular, indeed imperial, authority in the West to Pope Leo. This formed the basis for papal claims to superiority over sovereigns in Western Europe after the document miraculously appeared centuries after Leo and Constantinos Copronymos were dead.

I couldn’t believe my luck, though, because another of the Raphael rooms is devoted to Leo IV, almost 500 years after Constantine and Leo III. The year 800, in fact. And on one of the big walls, guess who Leo is crowning. Yes, Carolus Magnus shows up yet again. 

There’s no maroon dot in the painting, but that’s because this was in old St. Peter’s and the dot is in the new one. Nobody we spoke to at the Vatican, by the way, had heard of anything marking the spot where Charlemagne was crowned. But that’s all right. History, folklore, and bullshit—one’s as good as another when it comes to Charlemagne. 

The route passes through the apartments of Alexander VI. Joanna and I have seen “The Borgias” on streaming Netflix. The rooms looked bigger on television, but then they were a set. The story was also highly fictionalized. Still, it was fun to remember that we watched the Borgia pope chase Julia Farnese through these very rooms. 

“The Borgias” placed the discovery of the ancient Laocoon statue in the reign of Alexander. Notes in the museum say the statue, showing Laocoon and his sons being attacked by sea serpents, came to light three years after Alexander, during the papacy of Julius II.

We had seen a Laocoon somewhere else in Rome or Florence. I am beginning to lose track. But the Vatican apparently has the original. 

It’s in a sculpure garden open to the sky and filled with Classical pieces, including another famous one, the Apollo Belvedere. When the Apollo was discovered during the Renaissance it was regarded as the ideal of artistic achievement. It is serene and balanced, yet there is natural movement suggested by the figure.

The collection in the courtyard includes a Roman river god, who according to Steves was the inspiration for Michelangelo’s Adam in the center of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

In a nearby room is a fragment that I would have ignored except for Steves’s comments. It’s the Belvedere Torso, much admired by Michelangelo. It is muscular and appears to be turning. According to Steves, it was the model for the torso of the angry Jesus in the Last Judgment wall.

When you come into the Sistine Chapel, you are “invited” to be silent and to take no photographs. You pass some guards who are chatting and, if you’re lucky, you get to sit on a bench at the side. Like the rest of the Vatican Museum, it is crowded, but if you get off to the side, you can study the ceiling. 

Joanna told me to take binoculars, and I’m glad I remembered them. When I walked in and looked up, I thought: OK, nicer than the Mona Lisa, but what’s all the fuss about? That’s partly because of the crowding, and mainly because I crave detail. When the chance came to sit down and use those binoculars, I couldn’t get enough. I handed them to Joanna a couple of times, but mostly I was reading the Steves book and then scanning the ceiling. Yeah, there it is. I see it.

The beefy, sculptural figures are coming out at you: sibyls and prophets, and the ancestors of Jesus. 

Some of the Genesis scenes—God separating light and dark, and the land from the waters—aren’t entirely clear without some coaching. The creation of sun and moon was a little confusing because for some reason Michelangelo included someone’s bare behind. Maybe “mooning” was a term in use that far back and he was throwing in a little joke. 

There is a constant buzz in the room, so every once in a while, the guards leave off chatting and one announces over the PA, “Attenzione. Silencio.” Maybe they’re throwing in their little joke. Anyhow, everybody stops to listen to the guy, and then goes back to murmuring.

I remembered the river god and the Belvedere Torso, and found them easily enough. I was trying to sort out some to the figures in the Judgment wall when they threw everybody out at 5:30.

Another Rick Steves tip, and the reason we went to the painting gallery first: You can usually sneak out of the Sistine Chapel by an exit reserved for authorized tour groups. It takes you directly to the porch of St. Peter’s. So we sneaked into the basilica.

As before, the area around the altar was inaccessible. Around six or so, they started turning off lights and ringing bells and threw us out.

We took a cab to Campo di Fiori and had another great spaghetti carbonara followed by a chicken leg with roasted red peppers. 

We took a cab back to the hotel where I polished off the bottle of Sangiovese, which I had opened the night before.

After we checked out Tuesday morning, we walked past the American embassy at the corner of Via Veneto. Just for fun, we decided to stop. We were told it was “impossible” for us to go in. I didn’t mind because it was so much fun: We were American citizens turned away from the U.S. consulate by an Italian cop. Maybe we needed to book in advance.

We let gravity take us downhill to Piazza Barberini, where we checked the Metro. We were headed back to St. Peter’s and could save the equivalent of 40 bucks American by taking the subway instead of a cab.

There was political campaigning of some sort going on at the square.

We found that great place, La Stampa, where we had eaten the week before, and it was open. So we wandered the neighborhood for a while to build up an appetite. We came to more streets named for dates, one in November and another in May.

This brought us past a Classical site called Trajan’s market. We went in and before we could even look at the lobby a guard blocked our way told us we needed tickets. There wasn’t time or energy to tour a museum, so we left.

We ordered the carbonara at Trattoria della Stampa. When we ordered it before, it came as thick, crispy chunks of pancetta over spaghetti coated lightly with tomato sauce. This time it was the breakfast version, bacon and egg, and just as delicious. 

The Metro was crowded. At one stop, a couple of ladies got onto the train. One stood in front of us, the other next to me.

A few minutes later, the lady next to me, whose hand was under a raincoat draped over her arm, tickled me on the hip. So she either thought I was cute or was trying to get my jacket out of the way to dip into my pocket. 

I didn’t ask. I just watched her hand for the rest of the trip. She even adjusted the raincoat so that I would see her hand was empty.

When we got to the Vatican, I did my frequent thing when traveling and stopped for drink before church. After a Campari and soda, it was a little before 4 when we lined up for the security check. This was a little touchy. During our wandering we had passed a shop with a selection of stilettos in the window. Not high-heel shoes, but the switchblades that inspired them. 

They were practically toys. I tried to shave the hair off my wrist with one blade but the edge was too dull. Still, the blade pops straight out. I had to buy one. 

Knives, even wrapped in the store bag, aren’t allowed through security at St. Peter’s. As usual, the metal detector rang when I went through, and as usual, the guard ignored it. I smuggled a stiletto into the Vatican. How cool is that? Can I be a footnote to “The Borgias”?

The line stretched part way around the collonade when we joined it, but it moves fast. Maybe because the guards ignore the metal detector.

The 5 p.m. mass is in Latin, with music. This is the only place in the world where Latin is also the vernacular mass. Nobody speaks Latin as a first language. Nobody is a native of the Vatican, because everybody who lives there is celibate. This is all so appropriate it makes my head hurt.

The mass is in the apse behind the high altar that has the canopy  and you see on television. Only the pope gets to use that altar.

As we passed it, we got to peek into the stairway in front of the high altar. You can see a glass case with bishops’ shawls and below that, according to tradition, is the tomb of St. Peter. Suddenly, St. Peter’s became really interesting. To see some of this stuff up close was very different from standing several yards away behind a fence.

Parts of the service were in Italian, so I didn’t know any of those responses. I did, however, get “et cum spirito tuo” in the right places. I was late on the “laus tibi, Domine” before the Gospel, but did get the “gloria tibi” after the reading. I was so proud of myself. Mrs. Dunphy, my high school Latin teacher, might also be proud. 

After the service, they took all the fences apart and let everyone into the area around the altar. 

We got to see the tombs of Paul VI and John XXIII. Now that they are saints, they have been moved up from the crypt into the nave.

This is getting too long. In brief: Back to the Barberini Plaza by Metro. Campari and soda again on Via Veneto.

Spaghetti pomodoro and grilled duck breast at the Priscilla Hotel’s restaurant (with Nobile de Montepulciano). Got to love that gamy duck.

The ride to the hotel near Leonardo Da Vinci airport in Fiumicino was 50 euro, very fair for the time and distance. The architecture of the whole area seems be airport modern, that brutalist midcentury stuff.

We weren’t safe, though. It’s maybe a mile from Leonardo Da Vinci Airport Hotel to the international terminal. The cab in the morning cost 25 euro, $35 U.S. Gouging is illegal, but am I really going to yell for a cop over what might amount to 20 bucks? 

I get fleeced a little everywhere, and a little is part of the adventure of travel. But we have never been robbed so much or so often as at Rome. 

It’s a colorful place, well worth a trip. There were times we laughed out loud just to know we were here.

Hell, Charlemagne was here, so you know it has to be good.

Love to all, and to all a good night.


P.S. home around 3, and headed to Egan's for raw oysters and an IPA.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Military Maneuvers

 May 20

We took a different direction on Sunday morning, up the street away from the center of Rome toward a nearby square. We made a turn and passed through the ancient city wall. 

We were strolling there when we came across a monument with a bronze soldier on top. It commemorate the Bersaglieri, a corps of infantry in the Italian army. The monument is across from Porta Pia, which is a gate added to the old Imperial city wall in the 16th century by Pope Pius IV. The gate isn’t particularly pious, but is named for a guy named Pius. 

We learned shortly later that it was here, on Sept. 20, 1870, that the Bersaglieri’s artillery breached the wall of the city and the troops stormed in. Their successful entry into Rome completed the unification of Italy. 

The interesting thing about this soldier monument is the date, 1936, maybe around the time that Mussolini was speaking to the ten thousand. Certainly it was a time when Mussolini was speaking to someone.

There’s a quote attributed to him on the side of the base. From what I can make out, it says: “Just a century of history, yet how many sacrifices, how many battles, how much glory.”

The Bersaglieri were formed in 1836 by somebody named La Marmora, which may mean marble. 

The Porta Pia is closed to traffic. The street now called Via XX Settembre divides and goes around it. The gate originally let traffic in through a large wooden door (now locked) in the middle of the structure. There were small office buildings on either side. The old offices now house a museum of the Bersaglieri. One side is early stuff, complete with swords. Mannequins display historical uniforms.

Since I saw the monument, I have learned a few details about the Bersaglieri. They are a highly mobile, fast-moving infantry unit, created to serve the Piedmontese, who couldn’t afford cavalry. Their dress uniforms are topped by a wide-brimmed hat with black feathers. They put the feathers on their helmets.

The museum has a shrine to La Marmora. My Italian being what it is, my reading of inscriptions in the shrine telll me that he died of cholera during the Crimean War. Where was Florence Nightingale when he needed her?

I found out later that there is a tomb here, not for La Marmora, but for Enrico Toti, a one-legged Bersagliere who threw his crutch at the enemy before he died. He also became an accomplished bicyclist after he lost his leg. Don’t take my word for it. Look him up on Google.

The other side of the museum gets creepy, of course, because it is talking about distinguished service in places like the Russian Front and Spain. And we all know whose side they were on back then. This room contains automatic rifles and a mortar.

We walked down the via and started to see some familiar sights, a men’s store called Bac & Harry’s, for instance. We were lost here briefly on Friday when we first left the Hotel Priscilla.

Joanna wanted to go back to Pepy’s Bar for lunch, so get this—I actually found the way. We took Via Venti Settembre to an intersection with four fountains. Joanna noticed the fountains first. We turned right on Via delle Quattro Fontane, paused in the garden of the Palazzo Barberini (now a national museum), passed the notorious leather goods shop, and went into Pepy’s to say hello to our usual waiter.

We had to wait a couple of minutes for a table, and while we stood in front of the refrigerator case I noticed that they had some Italian craft beers, including an IPA called CarAibi. It was the first IPA I had in at least two weeks and went very well with the salad. 

When the rigatoni alla Amatriciana came, I switched to Montepulciano. Beer goes with almost everything. Maybe not corn flakes, but just about anything else. But wine is superb with pasta.

Nobody stole anything from us, so after lunch we continued walking in what Rick Steves calls the Heart of Rome. 

We were near the Trevi Fountain and decided to try to something different. A street passes a guard house. It looks like a dead end at a prison gate, but then we saw civilians going up. So we did too. There’s nothing up there but a right turn down a street of steps. So we went down.

We wandered some really charming Old World alleys that I may be able to find again in another life. I was someplace else, so I was happy.

After a while, we had to stop. I was thirsty so I ordered two Campari and sodas, pretending that Joanna was going to drink one of them. She did take some of hers, so I had maybe one and three-quarters.

While we were sitting at the sidewalk table, Joanna noticed a file of soldiers coming down a hill. What the hell? They’re in camouflage, so they really stood out in the city. they were marching down some steps and turning into a doorway at the top of the hill. They even had guns. But no black feathers, so they probably weren’t Bersaglieri.

All right, this looks interesting. So after we overpaid for our drinks, we climbed up the hill and came to the steps, which we climbed. And we discovered an imposing prospect of just about nothing. 

There were some public buildings. You can tell because of the Italian and European Union flags. There was an empty square paved with black blocks, like most of the old city streets. A couple of guys in what may be Italian navy uniforms stood by a door and shouldered rifles.

We’re at one fence full of people. There’s another fence full of people across the way. There’s nothing but smooth rocks in between. What the fu?

I do the natural thing for a stranger. I look at the map and guess. My best guess is that it’s the Quirinale Palace, the former home of the kings of Italy. The royal family, the Savoys, have run off to Switzerland. I’m not sure who chased them or why.

The Quirinale is now the official residence of the president of Italy. 

That leaves a question. What if the Savoys come back? Where will the president live? 

I can’t say. I don’t understand Italian politics.

We wound up back at Campo di Fiori for dinner. The place is ringed with great, and reasonable eateries. Joanna had a craving for tripe. Sounded good to me. We tried Baccanale, where we had eaten once before. We were seated and ordered. They had run out of tripe. 

We left and went next door. Apparently that place shares the kitchen with Baccanale. No luck. So we walked two restaurants over, to La Romanesca, where we were assured that the tripe supply was sound.

We had spaghetti carbonara. We had tried two previous dishes of the same name. One was made with tomato and thick pieces of fried pancetta, which was excellent. Another seemed to be a cream sauce, and was disappointing.

La Romanesca’s version had no tomato and was very good. It was yellow with egg. Indeed, a good breakfast pasta, with egg and bacon.

Joanna started to fall asleep after dinner, so we took a cab back to the hotel.

It was a good night, gang. As always, I hope yours is good too.

May 20

Carbonara and tripa a la Romana in one meal? How great does life get?

I made my own pasta for lunch, with leftover veal and rabbit meat, dried crepes, new local garlic (too much for most; just enough for me), and a tomato. Heaven with a white Vacqueyras.

Have a great trip back!



Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saints, Gods, and at Least One Thief

May 18

Lunch on Saturday was interrupted between the salad and the pizza. How the waiters knew where to go, I never did find out. But they came out of the handbag store and handed me Joanna’s purse. 

We had decided to go to see the Pantheon. This is an ancient temple devoted to all the gods. It has the largest dome built in Classical times. The current building dates to early in the second century A.D. and replaces an earlier one destroyed by fire. 

The original was built by Augustus’s son-in-law, Marcus Agrippa.

The dome was the model that Brunelleschi studied when he prepared to design the Duomo. Michelangelo studied the Pantheon and the Duomo before he did St. Peter’s.

The way was fairly easy to follow. We take our street and then walk to the foot of Via Veneto. At that point, we are on familiar territory—Piazza Barberini and the Triton Fountain.

We stopped for lunch at Pepy’s Bar. We had been there before, and sat maybe at the same table, in the open window looking out on the square and the fountain.

We put my hat and Joanna’s purse on an extra chair. The same waiter came up and recognized us. He even remembered that I had ordered Montepulciano last week.

We were almost through the Caprese salad when the man, possibly Australian, at the table next to Joanna said, “Lady, that man just stole your purse.”

A waiter standing nearby was first onto the street. The witness was next, and then me. The waiter ran up to an intersection and stopped. The witness couldn’t see the thief. Our waiter joined the group. They looked around, had a brief consultation,  and then went into a bag shop on the corner.

I saw them talking to a frowning woman who came to the door, threw a cigarette onto the street, and led them back inside.

They came out with Joanna’s bag and asked if it was the right one. Clearly it was, but I took it to Joanna so she could confirm that indeed it was hers.

They said later that they found the thief in there and he gave the purse back to them. Did they see the guy and guess he was the one they were after? Or is there a history with this store? After all, if you’re in the business of snatching purses, where better to conceal evidence than in a store full of hand bags?

A couple of zippers were open, but Joanna confirmed that nothing had been removed. Money was still there.

Given the brief time, perhaps five minutes, and the position of the wallet in the bag, there is little to suggest that her credit cards were compromised. Even so, she has to watch for unusual activity on the credit cards for a while.

The witness told us later that a man had sat at a table next to ours, and then had gotten up a minute or so later. “I was wondering why he had a purse,” the man said. 

I never saw the guy.

Joanna was clearly shaken, but by the time she finished lunch and a Campari and soda (with the bag on her lap), she felt better. The most important thing in the bag, she told me, was the camera. She had a few euros in a side pocket and credit cards in her wallet. 

If she could put them into pockets, she wouldn’t need a bag that had to be laid aside (or kept in her lap). So we stopped in a men’s store to buy her a jacket with pockets. So far, that seems to be working out very well.

The portico and plaza at the Pantheon were crowded. More so than usual, I guess, because there was a service in progress inside.

There were no sacrifices to Jupiter and Mars. The building was co-opted by the Christians and has been a church, Sancta Maria Ad Martyres, for more than 1,400 years. According to my guide book, the Pantheon has been in continuous use since it was built.

“Ad” is “to” in Latin. “Martyres” I believe is also a Latin form. The Italian is “martiri.” I think that the name means the church is named for the Virgin Mary and is dedicated to the Christian martyrs. But I’m not sure.

The wait didn’t matter much. After all, this is Rome. Right across he square was a place with a lot of tables outside serving wine and food to go with it.

We did get in, along with shoving hordes, mostly tours led by guides, which are a real pain in the ass. Tourists are bad enough, but the tours can have two dozen people that just plow in front of you. They have to follow the guy who carries an umbrella or some kind of symbol on a stick.


The tombs of the first two kings of unified Italy—Victor Emmanuele II and Umberto I—are in the church, along with Queen Margherita, for whom the pizza is named. 

The kings’ tombs are decorated with plaques, wreaths, and flags. There are guards standing watch.

Raphael is also buried in the Pantheon, but without garlands or guards, just a rather primitive looking stone Madonna and Child and a boast on his coffin that I am told says that when he was alive nature feared he would outdo her, and when he was dead, was afraid she too would die. I wonder if he composed that or if a fan did.

The floor, made of various colors of marble, has the maroon dots, like the one in St. Peter’s where Charlemagne was crowned. It is supposed to be the original design from pagan days. I wonder if the floor, as well as the dome, was an inspiration for St. Peter’s.

Not far from the Pantheon is another curious church, a basilica whose roof is topped by a stag’s head with a crucifix between the antlers. It is the Church of St. Eustace. He was an aristocrat who went hunting one day and saw a vision of a buck with the cross on its head. He became a Christian and, eventually, a martyr. There is a similar legend about St. Hubert. They are the patron saints of hunters and the inspiration for the Jagermeister label.

Inside the church, a half dozen nuns were singing hymns in front of the effigy of Mary in the Lady Chapel.

Then we wandered some more, winding up in Piazza de Minerva. This was the site of another church I had read about, Sta. Maria Sopra Minerva. It is a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary and built over the site of a former temple of Minerva

We went in and found most of the nave roped off for a service. We couldn’t see much, so we went out onto the porch, where I sat down to read up on the church. Joanna took the Edward Hopper-like photo of the day, “Harry Reads Up on Sopra Minerva.” 

The body of St. Catherine of Siena, a nun who persuaded the papacy to return to Rome from Avignon, is buried under the altar, all except for her head, which is in Siena.

The church also has two Medici popes and a statue by Michelangelo, as well as frescoes by Fra Lippo Lippi. Wow, let’s go back in and see how much of it we can make out from the back of the nave. We went in and the ropes were down.

They even let visitors up by the altar to view St. Catherine’s shrine up close.

There was a cenotaph for a particularly avuncular looking cardinal that I found interesting.

The statue of Christ holding a cross is reminiscent of the muscular Jesus of “The Last Judgment.” Except this one has a piece of bronze or something added—I guess for modesty—that seems to defy gravity and is really weird. 

The frescoes are OK. They are about the life of St. Thomas Aquinas, who applied the logic of the pagans to prove the doctrine of the Catholic church. Are you convinced yet?

There is one in particular that is fun. This one contains a tiny St. Thomas in his Dominican robe. He is clearly interrupting the Annunciation—Gabriel, Mary, Holy Dove and all—to introduce the patron’s family.

Excuse me, Gabe, but this will only take a minute. It’s OK. I’m a tour guide. 

It was getting late, so lights were clicking off and bells were ringing to chase us out.

We hiked back to the hotel. On the way, we passed through Piazza Barberini, and Joanna wanted to take a snapshot of the crime scene.

While she was waiting for a bus to get out of the way, a group of young men, including a priest, thought she was trying to take a picture of them. So she did.

We were thirsty so we stopped for a bottle of water and a couple of Campari and sodas at a sweet shop on Via Veneto. The Campari drinks are all perfect here. Sometimes in the States the soda dilutes the liqueur, for a weak and salty flavor. 

This was the second Campari and soda I had taken on Via Veneto. I had one at Harry’s Bar last week. They don’t taste any better on this street than anywhere else, but it was kind of cool to sit at a sidewalk table and watch the people go by. 

Dinner was at the restaurant in the hotel. We had eaten pizza for lunch and decided to balance that with something lighter. We shared a mixed salad and plates of grilled vegetables and chicory in oil and lemon. Delicious combination, especially with the house red, Nobile de Montepulciano, a great combination of fruit, tannins, and spice from Tuscany. 

Dessert was not so light—tiramisu served in a parfait glass with layers of strawberries and champagne. 

After Sambuca and espresso and a little more wine in the room, I was ready to call it a day.

Good night, all.

May 18

Harry, this is fascinating, and fun.

In our beloved Firenze Alan had his wallet returned in the midst of a very crowded,  thronged with shoppers Piazza San Lorenzo. Alan hadn’t even missed it!

The vegetable-bread soup you described (in Firenze) I believe is ribollita. Once we discovered it we ordered it every time we was it on a menu.  We wish we were there.