Thursday, September 25, 2014

full cup

It all seems a bit unreal. Take the weather, for instance. It's too good. Every time there is even a threat of rain, it quickly disappears. I've not had one dreary day since I came here now ten days ago.

And the luck that pumps each day to be so gloriously full! I come back to the olive farm in the evening and I fret -- I have too much for Ocean! I will never write the post well enough. Or work on the photos in the way that they deserve. I want to tell a good story, but I sometimes wish I hadn't so many threads to pull on. A full day is harder to write about than a simple day. And I'm my worst critic at these travel times. How could I be so dull here, when the day was so full of magnificence?!

They are indeed days of magnificence. I read the newspaper, I listen to stories of horror and then I face the day before me and what pours forth is a steady stream of gentility and goodness -- the type that makes you think that humankind is, for the most part, doing quite well. And I'm filled with joy knowing that.

I'm grateful to have these days here. I am. And here's another thing I'm grateful for: fortuitous coincidence. And serendipity. Let me explain:

When I finished writing my Ocean post last night, it was, as usual, close to midnight. I take the time after to unwind a little. Check a blog or two,  the paper one more time. Say, what's this? As I refresh the NYTimes page, a new story comes up (it's their next Sunday's travel story, which posts a few days in advance): 36 Hours in Florence.

Now that's exciting! These snapshots of cities are useful, in that they always try direct you to something new. Something only a person living there would know about. And sure enough, as I read through the article, I know right then and there that I have to go back to Florence one more time.

The weather at sunrise helps push me forward with this. It isn't promising out there. I had originally thought I'd take it easy and stay local on this last day in Tuscany, but a heavy fog has set in and it seems difficult to imagine that I can fill a day well by drifting around the river valley in its thicket.


Still, this is the day of the Rignano sull'Arno market. Surely I shouldn't neglect it. And so I set out very early, giving myself plenty of time to hike to town, walk through the market and still be able to catch the 10:10 to Florence.


I wouldn't have minded the fog, but it turns out to be one of those fogs that feels awfully like rain. As I hike up the olive grove hill, I ask myself why I am so trusting of the weather gods as to leave my umbrella at home!

In Rignano sull'Arno, the market is already in full swing. I'm always amused that in France, there are two shifts for the farmers markets: the early risers come to do quick, serious shopping for produce. Then at around 11 a.m. comes the second shift: those who want to shop and chat to friends and neighbors. I'm in Rignano at around 9:30 and the women especially seem to be managing both the shopping and the conversation just fine!




Alright. Now I'm on my 10:10 train, listening to Italian music, reading a magazine and feeling so comfortable in this routine, loving it because it is a routine.

In Florence, even though it is now 11, I hold off on breakfast. I want to check out the Mercato Centrale -- the Central Market, that is actually quite close to the station. The news story talked of additional layers, food stalls newly opened, levels and levels of tempting this and that -- I wanted to see it.

And this is how important Breakfast (yes, big "B") is for me: the Market is not good enough for my morning meal (small as that meal is in Italy). Yes, there's a lively coffee counter with youthful and energetic baristas.


Yes, there is also a pastry section where you can pick up your croissant. And tables in the middle where you can sit down with it all.

But it's too sterile. The atmosphere is not right.

I go back to Paszkowski's.

Snippets from my walk there:

(fruits at the market: I buy and munch on the strawberries)

(how can you not love walking in Florence!)

(Ocean author takes photos)

(What does this  say about raising boys and girls in Italy?)

Okay, at Paszkowski's, today's clientele:




My breakfast:


So, what now? Without question, two items in the newspaper article were a huge draw for me: the reopening of the Fortezza and also the deli-restaurant (Zeb) on the south bank, where mom and son cook wonderful, casual foods together.

I make my way across the river.

I check in at the Zeb to make sure I'll be able to eat there.  I had already sent the owner an email before I left the olive farm. Alberto, the son-chef-copropietor now tells me -- yes, I wrote back to your email, sure, no problem, come at 2. I tell him -- but you're famous now! Neither he, nor his mom had known about the appearance of the article. Their eatery is very small -- maybe a total of 15 spots spread between two counters. I imagined a NYTimes listing would immediately flood them. But only one other person -- a guy who admitted to being an insomniac and therefore, too, catching the article as it popped last night -- was there because of the listing.

And now I start the climb up to the Fortress. This is a new thing for me. In the past, I have done what many others do to get that five star view of the city -- go up to Piazza Michelangelo. I've done it enough and had no interest in fighting the crowds there on this trip. My true favorite place to enjoy the city view is from the Boboli Gardens, but as I noted, they're closed this week. But the Times author writes that the Fortress is now reopened, refreshed and it provides lovely views. I'm interested.

And I am not disappointed! Again, part of it is the quiet. Fewer than a dozen people, spread over a vast expanse. (Am I the only one who reads the paper on line??) And truly, that most glorious view! I mean, just magnificent! I can't believe it's this good today!


The most beautiful city view in the world.
(The "trees with stones" are a temporary art exhibit in the Fortress)

 Florence is my selfie playtime. Here are two, on a self timer:



There is a cafe up here and although it's just about 1 p.m. and so getting awfully close to lunch, I can't quite imagine leaving here without sitting down. It may not be the right hour for an Aperol Sprtiz, but it is the right moment. The most perfect moment, in fact.


Alright, time is furiously running away from me. Let me start walking down to Zeb. Oh, but what's this? (Here's the serendipity!) On the quiet, beautiful little street leading away from the fortress, I pass what appears to be a museum. I'm toward the tail end of my third day here and only now do I feel the stirring of an interest to enter a museum. It's not one I've ever heard of and perhaps that is its charm: it's the Villa Bardini and it, too, is newly renovated and just recently opened. I can do it! The exhibits can't be large! And not a single tourist in the whole building! I can swing through it!

The permanent collection is interesting. But it's the special exhibit that draws me fully in:  canvases from the twentieth century painter Giovanni Colacicchi. This is where I got positively teary eyed with the joy of this unexpected discovery.

(he liked to paint every day life)

(this is indeed what the walk up to the Fortress looks like even now)

(titled the Resurrection of the Body)

I wish I could spend more words reflecting on his paintings, but it's not the time for it and I'm not the best person to do it. But the impact on me is significant. In moments like these, it helps to simply pull out a quote from the exhibition itself. This, describing his very last large canvas (the nudes above):

The theme of the nude becomes a metaphor for the spirit. .. The artist expresses here the essence of myth, a dancing myth, yearning for a lost serenity and a necessity to rediscover beauty.

Oh, I have to also tell you that the view from the Museum windows is breathtakingly beautiful.


Ah, but now I really do have to hurry. It's past 1:30. Still, I pause at the counter to tell the clerk there how much I loved the exhibit. And she smiles and tells me: and now you must see the gardens in the back.

I get choked up just recalling that moment of stepping out into the quiet, green spaces behind the villa. How did I not know about this place?! Apparently neither does the rest of humanity: the gardens are virtually empty.


Except for the cool people. The people in the know. This handful, sitting at a cafe inside the gardens, looking over at the city on the other side of the Arno.



Time wise, things are getting tight. I walk down to the lovely San Niccolo neighborhood just below the Museum...


...and I do get to the Zeb at 2, but I'm thinking -- where was my internal calculator? I have a train at 3:22 -- an earlier one today, because I need to get home and get ready for my departure tomorrow. How is it possible to fit in a meal?

Alberto and his mamma are hard at work.



I need to be decisive. As I sit down, I glance at various foods that people are eating and within five seconds, before she has placed a napkin by my placemat, I tell her -- I would like the spaghetti with white truffle slices, a mixed plate of vegetables, a glass of white wine and a mineral water. And the check please!

Oh, what a meal! And it's perfectly simple, informal... (Note the young couple across the way from me. Very plugged in.)


(And the older couple next to them wondering -- why is everyone always looking at their phones or tablets?)


The spaghetti is a pasta made with eggs, adding a rich base for the truffle slices.


The plate of veggies -- a godsend after a rather spartan veggie offering the past few days.


And mostly, it's just such a perfect place to eat alone. Because you're not really alone. You listen in to this person and the next one, you watch the mom and son team behind the counter and you really feel like this is what every lunch should be like.

But it is 2:50 when I finally leave. The question remains: If Zeb is in the south east corner of Florence and the railway station is in the north west corner, can a 61 year old person make it in time for the 3:22 to Rignano sull'Arno?

 (crossing to the north bank)

Yes. Thank goodness the answer is yes. On this beautiful blue skied day, I fly through Florence like a woman possessed. By happiness.

As I slink into a seat on the train, the sun pours in. The sign says -- don't open the windows, it's air conditioned, but no one believes the sign and all windows are down. As the train picks up speed, the curtains fly every which way, the chatter is lively, the breeze dances in one window, out the next.

This, this is what travel should feel like!

At the olive farm, there isn't even a question: the water of the pool, though cool, picks up the blue of the sky, inviting, oh so very inviting...


I plunge in for my final most beautiful swim at the olive farm in Tuscany.