A dispatch from Italy in 1,200 words and 28 photos

Nobody likes hearing too much about somebody else’s vacation, so let me tell you about mine.

I checked into my Roman hotel, a converted convent, and napped for two hours because it was raining. By the time I woke up, the sun was out. I stopped for some pizza al taglio in Trastevere. The zucchini flower, fior di latte and anchovy slice was a hit.

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Then I walked to old haunts. Campo de’Fiori, Largo di Torre Argentina, where Caesar was assassinated, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, where I saw a piece of gum wedged into a flute of one its columns. What kind of animal would stick a piece of gum onto the Pantheon, I thought.

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Then I hit up the Imperial Fora, where Emperors like Trajan and Augustus build public spaces and temples. Next I explored the Palatine Hill. That’s where all the rich Romans used to live. It’s where the word “palace” comes from. The museum was closed so I just wandered. Eventually I made my way down to the Roman Forum proper. It’s a place that factors large into the work of fiction (that is also loosely based on real events) I’m working on while I’m here. I wandered back towards Piazza Navona, popping into Sant’ Ignazio along the way to see Andrea Pozzo’s extraordinary ceiling. That thing is a barrel vault just above the window but it’s been painted to make it look like it opens up high into the heavens. It’s a breathtaking illusion.

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San Luigi di Francesi was closed so those Caravaggio’s will have to wait until next time. I walked back to Trastevere, had an Aperol Spritz on the roof of the hotel. Then I tried to get a seat at Taverna Trilussa but they were fully booked. “But I came from Canada,” I said. “Then you should have made a reservation,” they thought. I ate some pasta at a place up the way. The cacio e pepe was surprisingly saucy. I had a ridiculous bath back at the hotel and slept like a baby.

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When I arrived by train in Florence, I didn’t think I would need a map. But I did. I immediately had an espresso at Caffé Giubbe Rosse in Piazza della Repubblica. Around its tables and bar the Futurist movement really took hold. It was wonderful that no matter what bar I had my coffee at, it only cost a single euro. I grabbed a panino with Tuscan fennel salami, goat cheese and arugula at i Due Fratellini. Then I walked to Alberti’s Palazzo Rucellai, which now has an Etro shop in its first floor.  Then I walked some more. I walked a lot—always keeping my eyes peeled for a David pin or earring for the Beast’s dad, who in recent years has taken to wearing jewellery.  He requested one just before I left. Easy enough, I thought. There must be a million pins of Michelangelo’s David in Florence. But there aren’t. There’s not one pin or earring featuring David in that entire city. I met Michelle for an aperitivo on the rooftop of the Excelsior Hotel. We hadn’t seen each other in three years. There was much catching up to do, which we did over our drinks and at dinner—a seven-course tasting menu with a bottle of Brunello to wash it down—at Ristorante alle Murate underneath 14th century frescos—including the earliest known portraits of both Dante and Bocaccio. We ended the night at 2:30 a.m. at a bar outside of the Duomo. Nine hours together, and not a moment of silence.

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The next day I visited Santa Croce where I was told I had to wrap my blazer around my waist because my shorts were too short. Inside, there were at least two dozen women and men walking around freely in shorts far shorter than mine. So, in a moment of extreme living on the edge, I put my blazer back on. I walked past the old apartment on Via del Casine that I shared with Michelle. I bought little itty bitty strawberries from the San Ambrogio market. I had a cappuccino at Caffé Cibreo. I had almond granita from Gelateria Carabé. I went to visit Michelangelo’s Madonna of the Stairs, which also plays a small role in my project, at Casa Buonarroti, but guess what? It was on loan to Rome. The six-euro entrance fee was worth it, if only to see this relief that Michelangelo carved when he was a teenager.

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After a very average pasta—pici in tomato sauce with basil—at Acqua al 2, I tried to track down this shop run by Simone Righi, who the Sartorialist just loves. Simone has a well-curated shop of menswear called Frasi and I thought maybe, just maybe, I could find a pocket square or a pair of socks for under a hundred euro for the Beast. When I got there just after lunch, the shop was closed. I had to catch a train to Chiusi-Chianciano so there was no time to wait.

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When I first saw Palazzo di Piero, a 16th century castle just outside of Chiusi–prime Etruscan country–that’s been updated over the years, I think I started to giggle. I’m living here for two weeks, I thought, as I explored the frescoed rooms, hidden staircases and the surrounding grounds of olive groves, fig trees and cypresses.

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Some of the writer’s rooms are quite ornate. Mine is monk-like, and I don’t mind.

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It’s Day 5 of the Lemon Tree House residency and I’ve established a great daily routine.

  • Wake up
  • Eat breakfast
  • Write for 1.5 hours
  • Workshop for 2 hours (Erinn is leading them, and killing it!)
  • Eat lunch (a lot of pecorino cheese and salami)
  • Swim and suntan
  • Write for 3.5 hours
  • Scratch entire body because of multiple mosquito bites.
  • Cocktails at 7:30 p.m.
  • Dinner at 8:30 p.m.
  • Stargaze
  • Bed at 11:00 p.m.
  • Fall asleep to DVD (I brought Spy Game, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Black Stallion, Sense and Sensibility and The Anne of Green Gables mini-series. I have no idea how or why I picked these films to bring along. Apparently, Under the Tuscan Sun is banned at the castle. I wish I brought Gladiator.)

You might be wondering how the Beast factors into all of this. Rest assured, he is doing just fine on his own. He’s almost finished the basket of peaches I bought him just before I left. He made pasta salad with leftover tuna salad he’d made for sandwiches. There were hot dogs and potato chips another night. He even made spaghetti alla matriciana. According to a text, the “gravy” was excellent. And he hasn’t had one frozen pizza.

There are daily emails. In one, I told him about hitting a rough spot in my writing. He replied, “Just imagine you’re telling the story to me.” In another, he imagined life without me: “horrible food, listening to Prince all the time, sweaters and belts everywhere, sadness and desperation and Criterion Collection bonus features.”

Actually, that doesn’t sound all that bad. It feels wonderful to miss him but the miss hasn’t overwhelmed me yet, like I thought it might.  He’s assured me that he will happily watch the Roosevelt documentary he finished, again, when I get back. So far, everything is better than fine. I’m away (except for moments like this one) from the Internet. Twitter, in particular, terrifies me right now. I think I would crumble into a ball if anyone directed vitriol at me. (It hardly ever happens. I wish I could laugh it off, however, when it does.) Maybe I’ll write about TIFF when I get back. Or better yet, maybe I’ll forget about it.

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5 responses to “A dispatch from Italy in 1,200 words and 28 photos

  1. Thank you for taking the time to let us visit Italy vicariously. Sounds like you’re having a wonderful, memorable time. Safe back to Canada…….

  2. Wonderfully entertaining read. I was in Italy for the first time last year and have been plotting to go back ever since.

  3. I loved reading this. You’re a great storyteller. Enjoy the rest of your time at the workshop.

  4. Sounds like a wonderful time. Go to the pharmacy and buy some Fargan cream for those bites. It is the best for stopping the itching.

  5. my heart aches for the dolce vita after this….*sigh

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