Rome Journal

Andrew moves to Italy. Hilarity ensues.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

coffee coffee buzz buzz zzzzzzzz

Let me be clear: I love caffe. Pound for pound, there's no doubt that Italians know their coffee better than Americans do. I've had espresso that was absolutely ethereal: smooth, full of richness without a hint of bitter, the sort of coffee that fills your mouth and wraps your tongue in a loving embrace that tastes as wonderful as this metaphor I'm writing is turning out to be disgusting. Anyway, I'm not knocking what the Italians do with the bean.

Still, I miss American coffee. That's probably what I'm missing the most from the US: not good Chinese food, not the ability to easily to go to Target and buy stuff for the house without it being a huge hassle: just having a nice mug of coffee at my right hand, a trusty, constant companion against cold and fatigue. As fall is coming on, I'm wishing more and more for the good ol' travel mug; making a run to the corner bar when I need caffeine just isn't cutting it. Whether it's a desire for a more efficient caffeine-delivery system or just an oral fixation, I don't know, but there it is.

Friday, October 21, 2005

split, um, banana?

Here's the last batch of Split photos, showing all manner of zaniness:

Beth and I spent a lot of time walking around the center of the city. There are no cars, and the streets, as you can see, are paved with marble: a nice touch! Classy.

Beth is doing some window shopping here. Split is a very touristed city, and there are a ton of stores selling all kinds of stuff. We didn't do a lot of shopping, but I was impressed by the helpful advice our guidebook gave. It listed the Croatian phrase for "do you have any..." and then a list of vocabulary: "toothbrush", "comb", and, strangely, "chainsaw." Oh, how we laughed at that, thinking it was a joke! But then we saw a man walking down the street with a chainsaw (no hockey mask, though)... so maybe it's a Croatian thing, and I wouldn't understand...

Here's the Riva at night, taken from our ferry. The city is as beautiful as our cabin was tiny, smelly and disgusting. (Now let us never again speak of our ride on the Ferry of the Damned.)

Finally, the sight that greeted us on our return to Italy:

Sunrise over Ancona, welcoming us back to the good ol' boot. Hooray!

split infinitive

Here are some more random photos. First, here's me about to get medieval on somebody, I don't know who. (You can tell by the murderous gleam in my eye):

That was at the Museum of the City of Split. More exciting for me, in a geeking out kind of way, was the archaeological museum. It's a surprisingly good museum, well laid out, with a collection that's particularly strong on daily life sorts of things: a tessera used as a theater ticket, a little lamp shaped like a gladiator, makeup kits, tools, you name it. What I like about this sort of museum is that I always see something I've never seen before. In Palermo it was a cheese grater (looks pretty much like a modern cheese grater, only made out of bronze.) Here it was this thing:

This is a Roman branding iron, for branding livestock. (At least, I refuse to think about what else-- or who else-- it might have been used on. Ouch.) Evidently the owner's name was "Mut". (And no, I don't know where Jeff's ranch was.)

I'd never seen anything like this mosaic before. It shows a tombstone that reads "Here lies Aurelius Aurelianus, a most dutiful son. He lived for nine years."

This is the campanile of the cathedral, which is built into Diocletian's mausoleum. I'll bet that ol' Diocletus-- no friend of Christianity-- is spinning in his grave over this. (Well, he would be. Except that nobody knows what happened to his body...)

And this cat was hanging out in the imperial triclinium. He seemed pretty tough, though; maybe the emperor would approve.

split decision

I've finally gotten around to sifting through my Split photos. Here's a selection, with associated commentary...

We took the train from Rome to Ancona, and an overnight ferry to Split. That meant we arrived bright and early, at about 7 AM, with a full day of seeing the city.

Here's a shot of center-city Split. The old town is formed out of the palace of the emperor Diocletian, who was a local boy, from the neighboring city of Salona. When he got done reorganizing the empire after the chaos of the third century (no small accomplishment, setting up a new order that lasted until a guy called Constantine came along and mixed things up again), he retired (also no small accomplishment) to a massive palace he built on the coast in 305. The row of buildings that face the water (behind the palm trees) are built out of the front wall of his palace.

Here's a closer view, from the Riva, the pedestrian boulevard that runs in front of the palace. You can see how the colonnade has been blocked up as the wall was turned into houses. (And people are hanging their laundry between the columns. That makes me giggle.) I was pretty excited to see this; it's something I've wanted to visit ever since I took a fateful Roman archaeology class, fall term freshman year.

The red awning, by the way, belongs to the restaurant Bobis, a bar/cafe with great pastries.

The peristyle of the palace has become one of the central squares of the city.

Croatian food-- or at least Dalmatian food-- is pretty good. We had a lot of seafood (they bring out a tray of fish and you pick the one you want), and there's a strong Italian influence on the cuisine. Risotto? Yup (we had a very solid seafood risotto, in particular.) What's the word for bean soup? Fazul! That sort of thing.

Strangely enough, there are relatively few restaurants in Split. Every corner had a couple of "bar/caffe" type-places, where people would go to drink coffee or beer, but you'd never see them actually eating anything there. And there were plenty of fast-food restaurants, but not so many for sit-down eating.

Still, we found a couple of good restaurants, our favorite being Konoba Varos, just west of the old town. Great fish (especially a fish carpaccio), terrific grilled meats, and a fine rendition of... um, er, a traditional Dalmatian dish whose name I can't remember. But it involved braising veal in wine, and it was great. A slow food extravaganza, though: I think we spent three and a half hours at dinner.

The photo above isn't from Konoba Varos; I picked it to show three local specialties. That's octopus salad, lightly marinated with some basic vegetables (onion, celery), Dalmatian ham (aka prsut, softer and smokier than prosciutto), and a cheese from Pula, up the coast. Slightly tangy, slightly nutty, like a mix between cheddar and pecorino.

crash bang boom!

It's funny just how familiar you can get with a particular sound, in this case screech! then bang! then the fat shatter! of glass. Yup, another car wreck in the neighborhood. I'd like to blame it on the setup of the corner, which features the winner of the Most Ignored Stop Sign in Rome contest for the last seven years,* but no, it's just a byproduct of Italian driving.

Just heard Ol' Smashy again a minute ago, this time followed by yelling and screaming. Good times, good times.

*note: contest is a figment of my imagination

Friday, October 14, 2005

101 Dalmatians

When I was a kid, they told me that a sign of maturity was the ability to listen to the William Tell overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger. With the onset of old age (if not maturity), I've realized that that's a load of dingo's kidneys; or as any literary critic will tell you, blah blah intertextuality blah death of the author blah blah blah means never having to say you're sorry about making connections.

Still, I've been in Split, on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, for three days, and I keep on thinking about those spotted dogs. Which is pretty clearly a sign of my immaturity, because Split has a lot else going for it.

Number one, the palace of Diocletian, which now makes up the core of the old town. Probably the emperor would break down in tears at the sight of people hanging their laundry in his monumental triclinium (that's "living room" for you folks playing along at home). But what are you gonna do? It's cool.

Number two, the streets are paved with marble. That's also cool.

Number three, Dalmatian prsut, aka Dalmatian ham. Oh man, this stuff is good: like prosciutto, only smokier, softer and somehow more earthy. Worth the trip in and of itself.

Number three and a half (don't know if it rates a four) are all the cats roaming around. Lots of cats. Mostly healthy cats... though I can't help but think that a few spotted dogs might help thin their ranks a little.

See, there I go with the immaturity again. Ah well. Probably enough then, until I get back to Rome in a couple of days. Pictures will follow, from Croatia and Sicily...