The dinner went splendidly, and I still can’t help but laugh at the scene: two native Italians, one of which barely speaks english, dining with us in our second-story room with our mom, with four bottles of wine and the following menu:
- i fagiolini — green beans with ginger and caramelized onion
- fresh ricotta and spinach ravioli from the market with our home-made garlicy pesto
- steak with porcini mushroom and red wine sauce
We then went out to see Simone #2’s rival band, the Baro Drom Orkestar, who stole his songs and title. It was a very odd position to be in, but he wanted to dance raucously at the concert to ‘show his respect’ (truly to piss them off, I think). So we did. Then, across the street at a very crowded bar, we saw a funny rock band and moshed a bit. We bar-hopped all over this side of the river, and when we finally decided to go to bed, everybody showered us with extra cheek kisses and enthusiasm.
We’re now in Santa Marguerita Ligure, a little seaport town, quite sunny and fishy. We walked upon some fishermen hauling up the day’s catch, some orata, some shrimp, and a bunch of small fish that looked like sardines but which were named something with a ‘p’, I don’t remember. In any case, we bought a bunch of the little ones because they were cheap and the fellow taught us how to rip off their heads with our fingers, pull out the spine, and clean the guts with one swift motion. We brought them home and did just that, then we breaded them in polenta and rosemary, and fried them in butterfly fillets. Wee hee!
There are all sorts of splendid hiking trails all over this peninsula, steep secret trails through the olive groves, in the hills with hot rock lizards, wild boar, and views of ancient abodes. We walked to Portofino, a little town where cars aren’t allowed, and all of the buildings are lit with cheesy but beautiful christmas lights. The trails begin right outside our door, and we followed a trail up a mountain and down into a narrow valley to San Fruttuoso, so stunning I could have cried. Instead, we swam in the sun and fell asleep on sun hot stones.
The ubiquitous New Year’s Eve fireworks took the little town of Ligure back to a WWII zone, smoke everywhere, cats hiding in bushes, screams, booms. All in good fun, I suppose, but it made me wonder why people celebrate with so much destruction. I liked it, anyhow, especially sitting out on the dock and looking back towards the bay. The church with its neon cross stood as a beacon in a plume of yellow smoke, and someone let up a few Chinese wish lanterns (candle-lit paper lanterns) into the sky. They floated nearly halfway up to the bright moon. Walking back to our apartment, we were ‘accosted’ by a group of little children carrying candle lanterns. They gave us some citrus candy and a flag that said, “Buon anno, festegio con amici, botti e felicita!”
In Genova, I stumbled into an old-fashioned Drogheria, or drug store/ herbarium, so crowded with jars of tea, spices, candy, and medicine, that I could hardly pass from one end to the other. I got distracted by a shelf of essential oils: pepe nero (black pepper), vervena, aranciata, cacao, licorizia, anise, fincochio (fennel), rosa, etc.
There is one narrow pedestrian street that begins at the water in Genova and curves through the center of town with a story written on the cobblestones in white paint, something about the end of the world, middle-aged monsters and monsters from the middle ages, astrology, and so on. It continued through the red light district where a number of very obvious prostitutes and butchershops.
On the way to Savona, Liza and I took an impromptu nude dip in the ocean and edited poems on the rocks while we dried off.
We took the wrong road coming out of Quiliano, it soon turned into a narrow mountain road with massive potholes and only enough room for a cow to squeeze past, no guardrail. To make matters worse, the road steepened and became dirt, with big mud puddles and boulders in the middle of the road. I was a bit afraid for my life so I ran behind the car for 7 kilometers. At least I got a nice mountain run in.
Towards Turino, we stopped in Pollenzo to visit the campus of the Universita di Scienze Gastronomiche, where I applied for a Fulbright to study ethnobotany and creative writing. Lovely campus! We walked around an expansive farm with 280 degree view of the Alps, and then had lunch at a place called Carpe Noctem e Diem: http://www.carpenoctemetdiem.it/web/cucina.asp
- zuppa di topinambur with fried ginger slices and fresh walnut bread
- antipasti with carpaccio of beef, tuna, pickled celery, caperberries
- gnocchetti carbonara with sauteed sweet potatoes
In Turino, we are staying with the nicest folks imaginable: Giovanna, Fabrizio, and Sal. They turned their living room into a bedroom for the three of us and have been giving us a magical tour of the town, with the stories behind every building (renaissance, medieval buildings, fascist architecture, and modern.) There are weird modern sculptures everywhere, including bicycles on poles with wheels that light up to produce images, and a story in neon letters that continues for about 8 kilometers towards the Po river. One building has a giant piercing, complete with a little blood. Another tower has the Fibonacci sequence (golden ratio) lit up in red climbing the tower. They brought us to one of the oldest cafes in Turino, where many old italian films were made, and kindly bought some cioccolato caldo (real melted chocolate, no powdered crap), and a bicherin, which is chocolate liquor. We then dined at my favorite restaurant of the trip as of yet, a classic Sicilian restaurant, seafood specialties. We had four types of fish antipasti, some of which included sauteed squid, spada (swordfish) tartar, Dentiche (halibut, I believe). I ordered the Dentiche cooked in a packet with herbs and oil, and liza got bucatino, a hollow pasta served with sardine sauce. We also had two glasses of fantastic white wine and since we were the last people in the restaurant, the waiter served us limoncello for a digestivo. Sal gave us a little house concert: Tom Waits, Johnny Cash.
We went to explore the “balloon” market, just as large as the flea market in Paris, with just as many great, odd treasures. I bought a fur collar for a euro, and some leather boots, hooray. The food market nearby was just as large and cheap, to our delight, and all of the vegetable stands sold produce that was Actually in season, something quite different from the Firenze markets. We are making pizza with our hosts tonight, so we bought olives, feta, mozzarella, arugula, and prosciutto. For our own lunch: crunchy bread, a big chunk of spiced and smoked pastrami, olives, feta.