End of November

10 weeks down and less than 2 to go. That’s my time in Italy. I guess time flies whether you’re having fun or not – and I am definitely having fun.

lites2The days have gotten much cooler and it rains a lot now. And surprisingly, I have adjusted. At home I tend to curse the gray Ohio days. But here, where everyone just keeps going, I don’t seem to mind. It’s so interesting to look out the window and see the streets still full of people no matter the weather. And when you go out, it is “Battle of the Umbrellas” in the narrow streets. Also, the city has been putting up lights for the past couple weeks. Today was the first I saw them lit and they are quite festive.

I usually keep to one side of the street and tilt my umbrella or lower or lift it as needed. Italians do not. They keep moving and give no leeway. They may be on the phone, or riding a bicycle, or pushing a stroller, and they maintain their space, umbrella and all. Even when cars come along, too bad. An Italian never looks sideways at anyone – just full speed ahead and everyone else can get out of the way.

No problemo. However, I must be looking more local. Lately I’ve been stopped a number of times by someone asking directions or a question in Italian. All I can say, of course, is “non parlo Italiano” but it is nice to see that they actually look surprised! Me – passing for a local – who knew?

I still go out to walk and explore a couple times a day, although I’ve been catching up on some work lately. Mostly now, before I go out, I try to have a mission in mind. My time left is limited and I want to make sure I cover everything I want to do. I shop at the markets and cook more, but I still like to seek out some cafes I haven’t been to. But mostly for lunch to keep the cost down, and to be back inside in the evening as it is getting dark here quite early.

ImageYesterday I sought out a place in Lucca listed in the Rick Steves book, Osteria Via San Girogio. It is not far from me, so I walked right to it. And in nicer weather the outdoor courtyard would be lovely. The inside was equally as nice and the menu was more than just pizza and pasta, which I liked. I tried something new – a poached egg with truffle creme. I love poached eggs, and I’ve never had truffle anything, so it was a great appetizer for lunch.

ImageI didn’t know what to expect of the truffle. All I’ve ever heard is that it is an expensive delicacy. Well, the egg came out with an oily sauce drizzled over it and a couple pieces of toast. The sauce had finely minced pieces of something in it – which must have been the truffle. I carefully took a bite of just the sauce. Mushroom-y. Very good.

Now I don’t know if it was real truffles in the sauce or if the oil was truffle oil to justify the name on the menu, but it just tasted like mushrooms to me. Nothing heavenly or divine. Quite good, but not to die for. Still, I enjoyed the place and the 1/4 litro of wine was only 4 euro.

Then I did a bit of window shopping and made my way back to the apartment to finish up some work. But you know what? I don’t mind working at all from here. It’s rather nice to know that as long as you have a laptop, you can take your office with you and work from anywhere!

Today was more of the same. Raining again and for the first time, a good bit of wind. I worked for a couple hours and then was dying for something to eat. And nothing I have in-house was appealing. I checked the Lucca restaurants online to see what I haven’t tried and I came across a couple rave reviews for a Chinese place. Wow! Chinese! There’s very little here that is not traditional Italian because there are actually laws to keep ethnic restaurants out. But, Chinese sure sounded good!

I looked up the address and it was just outside the walls over near the train station. I bundled up and took off. The wind was really blowing and I got a good preview of winter coming on. And my feet quickly got cold, but I made my way out the San Pietro gate. When I arrived at the address a few blocks later, it was boarded up. No Chinese anymore! Drats!

180 degree turn and back inside the walls. I actually feel like I’m living in a cacoon. Every time I go outside the walls I can’t wait to scurry back in! Now I was really hungry. And I know all the restaurants in my own neighborhood, so I took off down a different street.

Well, my goodness, the beggars were out in full force today. How is it that in the worst weather, they are thick as can be? Must be a plot to make them look even more pitiful. One little girl with frizzy hair and very crooked teeth, who seems to pop out of nowhere like an elf, has approached me at least a dozen times in the past few weeks. She speaks very rapid Italian, which sounds like gibberish, and I always shake my head no. On she goes, disappearing as fast as she arrived.

Then there was a man on his knees in the rain, hands outstretched, pleading for coins. I couldn’t even look at him. And an Indian girl with a bag full of something I didn’t look at. She came at me twice. Another man followed me from behind for a full block, chanting something in my left ear. I never even turned and looked at him.

All this in the space of a few blocks – plus the Africans with the umbrellas! They seem to come out of the woodwork in the rain! Are they sleeping under a rug somewhere in nice weather? I can’t imagine where they all come from, but believe me, you need to be carrying an umbrella if it even hints of rain to ward them off!

ImageAlong the way I saw some postal deliveries. There are regular postal trucks of course, but then there are more specialized vehicles. I see this guy near my favorite pizza place all the time.

postalAnd today I saw this other nifty little transport for the first time! I’m so fascinated by the ways they adapt here!

Finally I ended up at a restaurant I had seen but hadn’t tried, da Nonna Clara. I had not stopped there before because a large sign outside says “pizzeria” and I already have my favorites of those in town. But their menu looked a bit more extensive, so I went in. Boy am I glad I did!

I settled in and ordered some wine. Always the first step. Then I took my time looking over the menu. I wasn’t hungry for anything in particular so it was hard to decide. After talking with the waitress, I finally chose maccheroni broccoli e salsiccia. I had to ask what salsiccia is – it is sausage. And I already knew that maccheroni will be some form of pasta, but not the elbow macaroni of America.

ImageThe restaurant is very nicely decorated and there is a large saltwater fish tank right in the middle. It must be someone’s hobby because it was very clean and brimming with huge goldfish.

ImageSomething interesting in this restaurant was being able to watch the chef prepare the dishes. He is right behind the counter with everything laid out to cook with. Notice the pasta on this top shelf? When he gets a pasta order, he pulls a handful out of the container and drops it into a pot on the stove. Totally fascinating. I really enjoyed watching him cook Such a great setup!

tomato soupI took a few photos, poured myself a glass of wine and got out my book to read. Then the waitress brought me “something to taste while waiting” – tomato soup with bread. Wonderful! Warm and comforting. I am a soup kinda girl.

ImageWhen the “maccheroni” arrived, it was a beautiful dish. At first I couldn’t spot the broccoli, but it was part of the sauce. Very finely diced. It was so tasty I kept moving everything around to find the pieces of broccoli. Alas, I could only eat a small amount and as usual, the waitress thought I didn’t like it. “No!” I protested. “Fantastico! Please, vorrei take-away!” She looked dubious and I tried to explain that I only eat a little at a time. But she wrapped it up while I returned to my book and finished my wine.

Well, that was just long enough for things to settle, so I asked about dolce – dessert. The waitress told me the options and I couldn’t decide. “What is your favorite?” I asked. “Tiramisu,” she replied without hesitation. Well, since that is my all-time favorite dessert, I said to bring me some of that.

ImageI watched as she went to the service station, picked up a plate and loaded it with a cream sauce. Then she drizzled it with chocolate and inverted a prepared tin of tiramisu right in the middle of the plate. It was in front of me in no time and I dug in.

ImageOh my. I have never had tiramisu like this. MB and I had a version that was absolutely light and dreamy – but this one was different. It was quite cold (freddo), almost icy. I’ve never had one like it. But it had a lot of flavor and combined with the sauce and chocolate, it was perfetto. Probably a tie for one of the best I’ve ever had. I rarely eat a full restaurant portion of anything – but I ate every bite.

ImageThen, of course, I had to order caffe to stay awake! I was ready to lay my head on the table for a nap! And caffe means espresso in Italia. Just the “shot” you need after such a rich dessert. (Costs 1 euro!) And yes, I did dump the packet of sugar in it. Most Italians do (even though I’ve always been bully on black coffee – but now I know that’s Americano coffee) and I am converted. Love these small cups of caffe! (Italians do not understand the concept of large Americano travel mugs of coffee. Caffe is a meant for a quick boost several times a day!)

Then it was back out in the rain, past the beggars, and back home to work and paint. But I did take a break with my book. My landlady has a nice collection of paperbacks to choose from and I’ve enjoyed reading again in the past few weeks. First I read a huge novel, The Seventh Scroll by Wilbur Smith. Several years ago I had listened to his Egyptian series on tape and loved them. This book was a followup to that series, so it was fun to read the sequel.

Now I’m into The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. An oldie but goodie I haven’t read before. And let me ask you, is there anything more wonderful than coming home on a rainy day, making a cup of tea, and snuggling up under the covers with a good book – then dozing off for 30 minutes? I think not. It’s even better after a brisk walk in the rain in Italy and having lunch out in a cafe.

So I guess you can see that I am not suffering at all here. I am making the most of each day as I can because this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. I am treasuring every moment.

Just a few moments ago, my sister-in-law, Mary Beth sent me a photo. It is of the drawing I did for her while she was here visiting me in October. She had a great fascination of “doors” so I took one of the photos she shot and made a sketch for her. Now she has had it matted and framed. What I love is that she took the photo and I was able to do a drawing from it. Great collaborative effort!

MB door

And yes, I am painting now with the end of my trip in mind. But the paintings will stay under wraps until further notice. The painting part of my trip is a very personal journey and I’m not sure how they are going yet, so they will be shared later, if at all.

Thanks, as always, for checking in to the blog. Ciao for now…

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Paula
    Dec 01, 2012 @ 00:38:02

    What a nice day! It is so interesting to me that you can explore a side street and find these little gems to investigate. There is little wonder the Italians eat everything on their plate. Look at how beautiful your food looked. Even the bottles are pretty. You seem to be so relaxed just wandering around. I hope so!


    • thesketchylife
      Dec 01, 2012 @ 04:05:09

      yes, the cafes and restaurants are everywhere here. Nothing like it at home. The Italians take food very seriously. The markets are beautiful and overflowing, restaurant portions are generous and they are very offended if you don’t eat! And to be able to walk everywhere is nice. Keeps you moving without having to “exercise.” Life here is exercise. Love it! (And as you can tell from all the photos – I just keep my camera in my coat pocket!)


      • walking monkey!
        Dec 03, 2012 @ 16:29:07

        And I love the photos! Walking would be right up my alley as well. I don’t like formal exercise either. Give me a bag of mulch or a ladder and paint. Keep your treadmill Dave!!! You’ve got the best of walking exercise and I am soooooo Jealous! Well as little as I can get away with and still be good.

  2. Billy D
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 06:44:16

    That big hunk of tiramsu looks as delicious as that little mail buggy looks goofy!

    Walking to the market or cafe every day has to be a nice change from driving to Kroger. This euro lifestyle is fitting you well!


  3. the more punkin pie eatin' billy
    Dec 05, 2012 @ 20:58:56

    oh really… not sharing the paintings? hmmmm…


    • thesketchylife
      Dec 06, 2012 @ 03:55:30

      I just mean I’m not gonna plop them on the blog all at once. I actually have a plan in mind for the “reveal”…


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